Sunday, 11 April 2021

I’M AN ORDINARY MAN [291]

Original 1985 release - the orange tint is to indicate the energy of the music 

I have been attempting to write a song, an entry for a competition, and I decided to write what I know: it is titled “Nostalgia’s Gonna Get You,” and crams in as many nostalgic references I can while still rhyming – Stephen Sondheim once said you should not leave half-rhymes in your songs, at the danger of giving your audience a fraction of a second of doubt. I also add in lines like, “if hauntology is your pathology,” and “if your kind of place is a liminal space.” For someone who has never properly attempted to write a song before, the result most definitely sounds like only I wrote it.

Naturally, the musical arrangement needed to be based in the 1980s. To that end, I used a Yamaha Reface DX, with its “LegendEP” preset evoking their DX7’s famous “Piano 1” sound, and constructed a drum track using sampled sounds from a LinnDrum machine, most famously used by Prince on the “1999” and “Purple Rain” albums – the drum line on “Let’s Go Crazy” sounds so much like a ticking clock, only a LinnDrum was going to be appropriate.

 

In learning how best to construct a 1980s pop sound, I found myself copying what Orson Welles did ahead of directing “Citizen Kane” – just as he watched John Ford’s film “Stagecoach” forty times, I wound constantly listening to tracks from a defining Eighties album, almost an archetype for the sound of that decade: “No Jacket Required,” by Phil Collins.

 

Released in 1985, “No Jacket Required” was Collins’s third solo album, but while his previous albums yielded, for me at least, one identifiable hit each – “In the Air Tonight” from 1981’s “Face Value,” and the Supremes cover “You Can’t Hurry Love” from “Hello, I Must Be Going!” (1982). His first US number 1, “Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now),” was made separately for a film soundtrack. 

 

“No Jacket Required” had three hits I knew straight away: “Sussudio,” “One More Night” and “Take Me Home,” with a fourth that was used as a B-side, “Only You Know and I Know,” becoming a firm favourite, along with “Who Said I Would,” which sounds a little like “Sussudio” in the same way that “Sussudio” sounds like Prince’s song “1999”: you can hear the influence there. Collins had deliberately made a more dance-oriented album than before, in order to take himself out of his comfort zone, something that appears not to have been repeated, except with his next album back with Genesis, “Invisible Touch”.


2016 reissue cover


The five songs I mentioned all use FM synth keyboards, most obviously the Yamaha DX7 used on “One More Night” and “Take Me Home,” with arpeggiators filling in the sound like a rhythm guitar would in a band, and a punchy keyboard-based bass on “Sussudio.” The fuzz of analogue synthesis is replaced by the more glass-like polish of FM synth, which changed the overall sound of pop music until the advent of General MIDI and sample-based synths at the end of the decade. Despite its distinctiveness, it immediately dates any song made using these sounds, and creating a mood and moment from which nostalgia can be drawn when used again by other artists in the future (I hope).

 

There are also the distinctive sounds of certain drum machines: on “One More Night,” Collins programs the Roland TR-808, whose synthesised sound is so distinctive it gave its name to a group (808 State), and an album (Kayne West’s “808s and Heartbreak,” which uses it on every track). The other songs use the more sample-based LinnDrum and Roland TR-909, the hand claps of the latter being very prominent on “Take Me Home,” this song also demonstrating Collins’ use of these machines as a basis on which to provide more intricate drum arrangements.  

 

Most importantly for me, the deluxe edition of “No Jacket Required” includes demo versions of “Only You Know and I Know,” “One More Night” and “Take Me Home.” Having also heard the demo of “Sussudio” elsewhere, these works-in-progress show that Phil Collins essentially improvised what is still his most successful album and, with over twenty-five million copies sold, one of the biggest-selling albums of all time. He laid the drums, switched on the arpeggiator, and poked out some chords from his DX7 – Collins’s liner notes for the album say, “I’m a lousy keyboard player, but I can make what I like to think is a ‘nice noise.’” He sings the melody for each song, but the words are not there yet, so he almost sings in tongues, with snatches of Ehglish, anything to get the melody recorded. But this is where the lyrics ultimately appeared: the line “One More Night” was improvised while listening to the rhythm of the TR-808, while the non-word “Sussudio” turned out to be a happy accident, prefaced in the completed song by “just say the word.”

 

It was heartening to hear how these songs turned out to be more spontaneous and personal than you think the mainstream music industry would allow. It certainly made me feel happier about my own efforts at writing a song. All I need to do now is see if I can sing a C sharp above middle C. 

Sunday, 4 April 2021

RETURN TO SENDER, ADDRESS UNKNOWN [290]




Here was the idea I had:

After nearly five years, I had reached the conclusion that I could use a website address that was shorter than www.dancingwiththegatekeepers.com, ideally one that used my name. This was compounded when, after describing what I wrote to someone at work, I had to write out the site address for them, instead of confirming what top-level domain followed my name, whether it was .com, .co.uk or .net. I could also do with getting some business cards printed, but that can follow later. For the record, this is not because I am phasing out “Dancing with the Gatekeepers” from my site – if something like that comes to you in a dream, you use it, and you keep it.

 

Here is where we are now:

 

I am now the owner of the address leighspence.net - entering this into your web browser will redirect you to www.dancingwiththegatekeepers.com. I chose the top-level domain .net, one of the first such domains to be introduced on 1st January 1985, because of the hard T sound making it clear to anyone who asks for my website. (The other six domains introduced onto the internet on the same day were .com, .org, .edu, .gov, .mil, and .arpa, as in “Arpanet,” the predecessor of the internet.)

 

As convenient as this sounds, the original plan was to have leighspence.net as the main address, and www.dancingwiththegatekeepers.com would be retained as a redirecting address. I hadn’t realised how that wouldn’t work.

 

I am sure that, if you have read any of my articles before, it is more because you have seen a link to it on Google, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, rather than going straight to the website. I thought that, as I own both addresses, you could have the individual weblinks, or “metalinks,” for each individual article, remain under www.dancingwiththegatekeepers.com, while future articles would use leighspence.net in their metalinks.

 

That was naïve. Instead, changing the main address for the website broke the connection for five years of existing links, which is when I realised that these were the more important web addresses of them all.  I could have added the new address to the metalinks, but there are nearly three hundred of them, and any connections they have made with anyone will be broken by this action – it would be like rebuilding the connections I have made from scratch, and I am not prepared to do that. 

 

What I am left with is the remnants of a good idea. I guess I could copy across my work to a new website that uses leighspence.net, but that would also be starting from scratch. I don’t honestly know what the best option would be. Does anyone have any ideas? 

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

I WANT MY MTV [289]


Sunday 1st August 2021 marks forty years since MTV launched with an opening sequence comparing its innovation, playing musical promo videos around the clock, with the Apollo 11 moon landings. 
 

But that innovation has long since evaporated, just as the words “Music Television” has from under its logo: MTV is now a parade of reality shows, a genre admittedly pioneered by them with 1992’s “The Real World,” its original programming shunted off to automated sister channels which, in the UK, includes names like “MTV Hits,” “MTV Base,” and the infuriatingly tautological “MTV Music.”

 

The usual explanation given for this shift was the advent of online streaming of video content from around the 2000s, initially with MySpace, and especially with YouTube. This fits with personal experience: I only had a direct subscription to MTV from 1999 to 2002, and what non-musical shows there were numbered few: there was “Jackass” and “The Real World,” but “The Osbournes,” the show that precipitated the shift away from the music, had not launched yet. Whenever I saw MTV after then, the character of the channel had moved away, although watered-down substitutes like TMF and Viva existed for a while.

 

However, it was when watching “I Want My MTV,” a September 2020 entry in the A&E Network’s “Biography” series of documentaries, that I began to realise why this shift has happened, and why MTV is no longer a part of it. Towards the end of a feature-length look at how young TV executives attempted to start a revolution in television on a miniscule budget, and how it struggled to convince record companies to make videos for their songs, the documentary concluded that the channel’s audience wanted to see itself on television, not just have somewhere that catered to them – this is perfectly reflected in the reality shows that followed like “Jersey Shore,” “My Super Sweet 16,” “The Hills” and “Catfish.”

 

What became clearer to me is that MTV had begun as a creative outlet of one, which has now been supplanted by a multitude of outlets. The initial videos shown on the channel were often by bands that were proactive in creating their own videos, adding individual style to a genre sprouting from the necessity of providing a stand-in if the artists could not appear on a TV show in person: I knew that The Police shot their video for “Message in a Bottle” in a dressing room between engagements, but I did not know that Devo turned down stand-up ads of themselves in shops to use that money to shoot the “Whip It” video. The most surprising of these was REO Speedwagon noticing the potential of MTV before their record company, readying videos of four songs in time for its launch. 

 

Add in to this the ever-changing stream of channel idents, left to the freedom of animators and designers to create as they wished, and the message was clear: if you had what MTV was looking for, you stood a very good chance of appearing on it. The sense of ownership generated by the slogan “I Want My MTV,” created as a campaign to get cable providers to sign up to the channel, was only needed for those wanting to sit back to watch the results. 

 

One genre of songs that has disappeared from the UK charts has been the comedy record, which I argue is because the impetus to create something like this is more easily completed through the mechanics of placing the song, or the video of the song, onto social media or YouTube, instead of submitting it through the traditional route of record companies and record pressing plants – the faster you can get something out, the better, especially while the joke’s still funny. 

 

If that immediacy can now be applied to anything creative, so why wait for it to funnel through the established structures of network television before it can be seen? No wonder we went elsewhere.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

WE HAVE FIESTA AND FERIA [288]


Two weeks ago, I bought a book I remember checking out, on multiple occasions, from the library of my secondary school. “Let’s Call It Fiesta,” written by Edouard Seidler and subtitled “the auto-biography of Ford’s Project Bobcat,” was published when the Ford Fiesta first went on sale in 1976. I had been transfixed by the vast array of conceptual designs and models made by various parts of the company, as Ford grappled with producing their first “world car” since the Model T, although I didn’t try to draw them myself either back then, or now. The book chronicles how both an oil crisis, and competition from small cars like the Renault 5 and Fiat 127, created the smallest Ford so far.

Last week, Ford announced that their factory in Valencia, Spain, built to manufacture the Fiesta, will begin making engines for their electric car range. This marks the end of the road for the Ford Mondeo after twenty-eight years, and the end of their producing and selling large family and executive cars in Europe, breaking a link that extended back through to the Consul, Granada, Cortina and Sierra - the nearest car left in their range will be the Mustang Mach E, the electric crossover vehicle as forward-thinking as the Sierra was (which I have talked about previously). When the Mondeo is withdrawn from sale, Ford of Europe will only have two vehicles that are not sports utility vehicles, crossover cars, or vans: the Focus, a smaller family car that replaced the Escort in 2000, and is currently the size of the original Cortina; and the Fiesta, which is now the size of the original Escort, and twenty inches longer than the original version of itself.

 

There hasn’t really been a time since the 1980s began where Britain’s best-selling car wasn’t either the Ford Fiesta or the Ford Escort. At different times, they have been the standard, middle-of-the-road car: a front-wheel drive hatchback, about fourteen feet long, and big enough to carry a family of four, or five at a push, along with luggage or a pet. Since 2014, the Fiesta has been the best-selling car in UK history, overtaking the 4.1 million sold by the Escort from 1968 until its replacement by the Focus. Indeed, the longevity of the Fiesta may be down to Ford never having changed the name.

 

However, as evidenced by the numerous designs in the book I now own, the Fiesta has continued to sell because of the space it leaves for the personality of its owners. The original 1976 car was designed by Ghia, to this day a Ford-owned Italian firm of coachbuilders and concept car designers, whose name was once used by Ford as their byword for luxury. There was nothing brash, imposing or excessive about the original Fiesta design, but the curve created by the side windows is a subtle, more European touch. The ubiquity of the Fiesta makes it a part of most driver’s journeys, from having learned to drive or taken their test in one, to it perhaps being the first car of their own. For years, the Fiesta has been the default “British” car.

 

The fragmenting car market is now weakening the Fiesta’s hold – as off-road and crossover vehicles continue gaining popularity in Europe, even Ford could sell you Fiesta-sized versions of each in the EcoSport and Puma. Crucially, with the Fiesta having increased in size over the years, and with the Ford Ka city car now withdrawn due to lack of interest, Ford no longer makes a car to compete with the current Fiat 500, or the upcoming new electric version of the Renault 5, both of which were precisely the reason Ford made the Fiesta in the first place. It is easier than ever to find the car you want - I guess the Ford Fiesta will continue until we don’t need it anymore.

Sunday, 21 March 2021

WE'LL BRING IT BACK NO MATTER WHAT IT TAKES [287]


“Bandit? This is Mr B., and I'm gearjammin' this rollin' refinery, you got another smokey on the rubber?”

I’m surprised I am not more of a fan of Burt Reynolds. Perhaps his career trajectory, by his own admission taking roles that were often more fun than challenging, means we try to focus on his more critically successful roles, like in “Deliverance,” “Boogie Nights,” “At Long Last Love” (with hindsight) and “The Longest Yard.” However, that kind of self-correction does overlook the fact that, if you want a film that guarantees to put a smile on your face, you really can’t do much better than one that gives Burt Reynolds the ability to play a version of himself – that kind of charisma is too hard to replicate.

In watching “Smokey and the Bandit,” you are reminded of a lot of films that will come later, particularly the outlandish car chases of “The Blues Brothers,” but also of “Fast and the Furious.” The strange vernacular of CB radio, a powerful device that links whole groups of people to help the Bandit’s shipment across state lines, entered general usage after the film, no longer the reserve of convoys. Sally Field, shedding the image created of her in TV shows “Gidget” and “The Flying Nun,” plays a runaway bride that drives as well as the bandit, and Jackie Gleason’s sheriff Buford T. Justice, spouting the “sonbitch” swearing that was woven into the script at Reynolds’ suggestion, having been inspired by his father, became the basis of Boss Hogg and “The Dukes of Hazzard,” the stars of whom also have roles in “Smokey and the Bandit.” With that series, and with Roger Corman making a rip-off film named “Smokey Bites the Dust,” such a thing as “Smokey-sploitation” can be said to exist.

As told by his daughter, Alfred Hitchcock was, apparently, a fan of “Smokey and the Bandit.” When I first heard about it, my first action was to try and rationalise it: the film was released by Universal Pictures, and it would be rather odd for one of its largest shareholders, through the sale of “Psycho” and his TV show, to talk down one of its releases. Hitchcock was also known as a collector of fine art, most notably Paul Klee, the sort of thing that requires contemplation with a furrowed brow.

And yet, the plot of the film is hinged on a “MacGuffin” as big as any of those in Hitchcock’s films, and probably one of the MacGuffin-iest of them all: Coors beer, more specifically Coors Banquet Beer, using “banquet” in the same sense as the KFC Boneless Banquet. 

Bootlegging beer is something rather alien outside of the United States, but in an age where anything can be bought everywhere at any time, the idea that Coors could only be bought in eleven states in the US to 1976 is already rather strange, while the company’s decision not to pasteurise its beer made it illegal to bring it into any further states. However, because it tasted nice, it became a national sport to try and take some home with you, creating the narrative timebomb of “Smokey and the Bandit”: Cledus Snow and the Bandit had to get the beer to its destination within 28 hours before the beer went off. Coors only started nationwide distribution across America in the mid-1980s, using refrigerated trucks.

Sunday, 14 March 2021

SWINGS BRINGS NEW TECHNOLOGY [286]


On 23rd August 1994, the K Foundation, an art group best known when performing as pop group The KLF, travelled to the Scottish island of Jura and burned a million pounds of their own money inside a disused boathouse. A visual record of the event was made to a Hi-8 video tape. Even after curtailing their musical career in 1992, continuing royalties from record sales led to a decision on what to do with the surplus that had not been spent on other art projects, so it was chosen to make an artwork using money as its medium. The name of the piece is “K Foundation Burn a Million Quid.”

On 3rd March 2021, the YouTube channel “BurntBanksy” posted a video depicting the burning a print of a work by Banksy, “I can’t believe you morons actually buy this shit,” marking the moment when a physical work of art becomes a digital one. A non-fungible token (NFT) representing the physical work was minted in a blockchain before the burning, which was subsequently sold on an online auction site for $380,000, marking a $285,000 increase in value over its original form when purchased by a blockchain firm. Banksy’s original work depicts a traditional auction room, its title contained within the frame of the work being sold.

 

Both art works were considered as cynical moves after their creation, particularly the latter being derived from the work of another artist, but it is clear that the K Foundation were most interested in the moments their work was created and existed, whereas the NFT created from the burnt Banksy print, and the selling of it, was intended to be the end product. 

 

With the international art market currently in the grip of a speculative bubble blown by NFTs of Jack Dorsey’s first Tweet (sold for $2.5 million), a corrected version of the “Nyan Cat” GIF image ($800,000) and “Everydays: The First 5000 Days,” a JPEG compendium of images created by Mike Winkelmann, known as “Beeple” ($69 million), and the knowledge that this bubble is powered entirely by blockchains, from the minting of the NFTs to the existence of the cryptocurrencies used to buy the works, what has been created is an alternative ecosystem of existence that is dependent on the provenance of computer code.

 

Two weeks ago, I had never even heard of NFTs, let alone have various articles explain the concept of fungibility, which I had also never heard about previously. The notion of an item being rendered irreplaceable with another item only by its registration in a system that may require more energy in its lifetime to maintain its code than the original item would have needed to be created in the first place has become something that needs to be contemplated, let alone the virtual token acting as something to which a monetary value can be assigned in place of the item itself. 

 

If I did that with this article, how much do you think I could get for it?

Sunday, 7 March 2021

IT’S MORE THAN I DARE TO THINK ABOUT [285]


One of the many arguments for public service broadcasting is the ability to commission and broadcast a long-form polemical documentary, composed almost entirely of stock footage, telling a huge and difficult story, with the guarantee that it will be watched by a small but highly engaged audience and, because of the rights for the stock footage, cannot be issued on home video. It is entirely the sort of project in which the BBC is expected to invest, but it is also the signature form of Adam Curtis, whose latest series “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” was unveiled on the BBC iPlayer in February 2021.
 

Curtis specialises in densely-packed stories about how power is structured, from how memory and history is manipulated by politicians in 1995’s “The Living Dead,” through the exploration of concepts of freedom in 2007’s “The Trap,” to how computers distorted our view of the world in 2011’s “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace.” From the feature film-length “Bitter Lake” (2015), which looked at the failure of the political good-versus-evil narrative, Curtis’s work was freed of the constrictions of TV schedules, free to flourish on the BBC iPlayer, telling stories bigger still: “HyperNormalisation” (2016) was a two hour, forty-minute film about how we reached where we are as a society today, and why we don’t know where to go next. 

 

These series and films mix sociology, politics, psychology, philosophy, along with eclectic uses of music and stock footage to support the narrative: Curtis has explained that his signature use of the latter, starting from 1992’s “Pandora’s Box,” came from trying to find a way of illustrating the concepts of rationalism and systems analysis found in that series, compounded by the twin threats to a filmmaker of desperation and deadlines. Watching films by Curtis can be intoxicating in the conviction with which his narratives are told, and with the inspiration in the visuals chosen, but you can also see how his work inspired similar videos on various subjects on YouTube and other video services, as stock footage libraries and professional video editing become ever more accessible. 

 

Lasting seven hours over six parts, the last running for two hours, “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” is billed as an emotional history of our times, about how power shifted from the old ruling classes and elites towards individuals, and how this shift created its own set of problems. The lives of individuals like Jiang Qing, the single-minded Chinese actress who became wife of Mao Zedong and chief of Chinese propaganda; Michael X, an enforcer for a London slumlord who became a Black revolutionary; and Julia Grant, a transgender woman whose transition challenged the medical gatekeeping of her time. Good or bad, they were out on their own by necessity, and despite the system. 

 

Watching all six parts of the series is overwhelming – I am supposed to be sceptical of grand narratives like the one weaved by Curtis through these episodes, building a picture of a world that has lost its way, but the central premise of the series is that it is not clear where we are going, so having Curtis attempt to untangle the threads, building on both the themes and the weight of his previous work, is welcome. I get the feeling that the final two-hour episode was originally envisaged to be the whole story, but you realise the magnitude of events being weaved together required the previous five hours of explanation first. My takeaway from it was that revolution is not possible because the world has been made too complex to understand in a predictable way, and that while using computers made the complexity more manageable, it rendered consciousness essentially useless – you can see the world how you want, but it won’t make any difference. This is where populism and social media could then exploit “high-arousal” emotions in people, like outrage and suspicion. Anything can be made to be anything, and societies have become exhausted.

 

I was grateful for two examples of human gullibility, excavated and woven into the narrative, that I should have framed: “Operation Mindfuck,” the thought experiment that placed a fake letter in “Playboy” magazine about the conspiracy theory of the Illuminati, because an 18th century Austrian society being in charge of the world today was supposed to be transparently a silly thing to believe; and that the imagery of the Ku Klux Klan was not only a fictional creation from the novel on which the film “Birth of a Nation” (1915) was based, but that the novels of Sir Walter Scott that inspired that imagery was itself fictional.   

 

It is hard to expect a documentary series to provide answers for how we should get out of the hole that has been described, but “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” makes clear that whatever comes next, especially after the catastrophe of Covid-19, will be something we have to think about, and whether individualism is something stays or melts back into society, we may have more reason to be confident about making those decisions than we thought. 

 

The series is a towering achievement for Adam Curtis, not least because of its size and ambition, but also because it feels like the climax of the stories he has told across the last three decades. It is also telling that BBC Three, the online channel for which the series was nominally made, has been chosen to return as a regular over-the-air TV channel from January 2022, as if the stories told for it need to be seen as widely as possible. I suspect Curtis is already looking for what that next story will be.

 

The series ends with the line chosen to begin it, written in Curtis’s customary bold Arial font, from the anthropologist David Graeber, from his book “The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy”: “the ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something we make, and could just as easily make differently.” I have a copy of that book, so I should perhaps read it again.

Sunday, 28 February 2021

HE DID THE MASH, IT CAUGHT ON IN A FLASH [284]


Lately, I have been waking up extremely early on Saturday mornings. With the work week done, my mind turns to writing the next “Gatekeepers” article and will already be running through what the next subject will be, or what I should include.
 

This week, it became increasingly obvious what I should be writing. Hasbro has announced their “Mr Potato Head” line of toys will be renamed to simply “Potato Head,” with Mr and Mrs Potato Head as parts of the lines. Instead, this was interpreted as Mr Potato Head itself being made gender-neutral, and Piers Morgan was triggered into his usual Twitter tirade about woke virtual-signalling imbeciles, because “woke” uses fewer characters than “politically correct.” Perhaps everyone should be made to provide their own potato once more.

 

Meanwhile, American Republican politicians Marjorie Taylor Greene and Rand Paul – the latter named after Ayn Rand – were both rebuked for comments aimed at transgender people, repeating the usual mischaracterisations and talking points, into which I cannot be bothered to repeat, except to say that Dr Rachel Levine will become United States Assistant Secretary for Health because she proved herself to be supremely qualified for the job, and does not stop being transgender because other people decide they can live in a world that excludes things they don’t like. I wish I could do that; I would be much happier.

 

I had already decided I was going to write that transgender is not postmodern, although I feel like just saying that and leaving it there. I shouldn’t have to explain it any further than that. I don’t need discourse to explain away my own existence as a transgender woman, and if you think you do to make your own life easier, then how am I the one who has problems?

 

Anyway, transgender isn’t postmodern because transgender is older than postmodernism. I also do not need an argument about how “transsexual” became replaced by “transgender,” because it does not preclude its earlier existence. Pointing out logic does not rationalise something out of existence. Even more obviously, I don’t think transgender people that existed before even the coining of the term “postmodernism,” like Albert Cashier, Joseph Lobdell, Billy Tipton, Mark Weston, Lili Elbe, Christine Jorgensen and the Public Universal Friend – put all these names into your nearest search engine – had any problems with reconciling their existence with those of anyone else, let alone what each individual believed at any particular point.

 

And yet, I somehow left out the following from something I wrote a couple of weeks ago:

 

“Gender isn’t constructed, but an individual who desires gender re-assignment surgery is to be unarguably considered a man trapped in a woman’s body (or vice versa). The fact that both of these cannot logically be true, simultaneously, is just ignored (or rationalized away with another appalling post-modern claim: that logic itself – along with the techniques of science – is merely part of the oppressive patriarchal system.)”

 

Somehow, I wrote an entire article about Jordan Peterson a couple of weeks ago without mentioning the above statement, from page 315 of my copy of “12 Rules for Life,” in the section for rule 11, “Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.” (The italics are his.) A few sentences earlier, Peterson talks about the “insane and incomprehensible postmodern insistence” that gender is constructed, and the moral imperative for this is to make all outcomes equitable. Yep, somehow, I just focussed on his misreading of Jacques Derrida.

 

What Peterson wrote does not change anything I have said. Historical precedence overrules present-day ideology, and I can sleep at night. I prefer to take the example of Alan L Hart, a transgender man best known for pioneering the use of X-ray photography in detecting of tuberculosis, saving many lives, who completed his transition in 1917. Three years later, Hart’s surgeon Joshua Allen Gilbert, wrote, “Let him who finds himself a tendency to criticize an to offer some constructive method of dealing with the problem on hand. He will not want for difficulties. The patient and I have done our best with it.”

Sunday, 21 February 2021

COME ON, MAKE IT MAC TONIGHT [283]


This article is my first to have been written on my new computer, and therefore about why I took what amounted to a calculated leap of faith into spending a large amount of money on a tool to help me work better and more creatively. The leap of faith is hoping that the most obvious decision to make was also the right one.
 

My current computer is a Lenovo tower PC, a former display model bought in December 2015 from PC World. Its processor, an Intel Core i3, is really only suitable for web browsing, and while it could probably cope with making basic videos, what I need now was something more professional – video and audio production, 3D graphics, photography, things that require as much processing power as you can find. I could have gone for a Lenovo ThinkCentre, or an HP EliteBook, but in the back of my mind, I knew that PCs are not the industry standard for what I want to do.

 

What I bought is an Apple Mac mini, the first desktop computer to use their new Apple M1 system-on-a-chip processor. The company is moving away from using Intel chips to using ARM-based processors made to their requirements, just like similar chips found inside iPhones and iPads, but tests users have made after buying them have shown they are so much faster at rendering video and processing on-screen graphics, Intel-powered PCs have difficulty keeping up with them – “snappy” is a word often used in reviews I have read. 

 

There is never any shortage of people online telling you how good their products are, but what Apple seems to have done this time is create a desktop computer that can genuinely command the premium paid for their name. The new Mac mini replaces a model using a newer version of the same Core i3 processor in the computer I am replacing, but sold for twice the cost.

 

Once I finished setting up my Mac mini, I realised the premium is not just being paid for the computer, but for the escape from Microsoft Windows. After over twenty years of PC ownership, from Windows 3.1 to 10, ownership of a Mac appeared only to be for those that could absolutely justify their decision for buying one, whereas Windows-powered PCs are so ubiquitous, choosing to go elsewhere is to choose compromise.

 

However, in the light of what the Mac mini can offer me personally, staying with Intel processors and Microsoft Windows is its own compromise. Apple’s operating system, macOS, only has to work for the computers it is designed to work with, rather than needing to work with any and all computers, so the program only needs to take up as much space as is actually needed. A nice side effect of this tighter control, and other security measures, is not needing to buy anti-virus software. 

 

I am taking the transition from PC to Mac slowly in case that, if a problem does come up, I can address it easily. For example, I can connect to work remotely on macOS, but we use Windows at work, and Windows expects you to use a two-button mouse, which Apple has never made. You have to supply your own mouse and keyboard for a Mac mini, but if you decide to buy an Apple Magic Mouse, remember to look up how to enable a virtual “right click,” or keep a PC mouse on standby, in case you have to go back to old ways. 

 

It also turns out that software compatibility can be artificially enforced: I already bought and downloaded Microsoft Office 2016 for my PC, and thought I could move it to Mac until the next new version is released, but it turns out that the program for which I own no physical copy can only be downloaded for PC, which wouldn’t have mattered at the time. I had thought the Rosetta 2 program Apple provide to translate Intel-based programs to their new processor would bridge the gap, but no, because I didn’t originally specify “for Mac” when I bought it, I can’t have it at all. 

 

The biggest lesson in switching computers has been the face that software is not really something you own anymore, as if it ever was. From just buying the licence to run a program you need, the standard is now to subscribe to a suite of them. The Microsoft Office issue was solved by subscribing to Microsoft 365, which was cheaper than I imagined – although this could be economies of scale due to how many people still need Word, Excel and PowerPoint – while Adobe’s Creative Suite is more expensive, although the likelihood is you are only buying the use of these because you need them for work, not to play with in your spare time. This has led me to explore what you can download for free, like the Photoshop competitor GIMP, and the 3D graphics program Blender, both open-source and provided by foundations dedicated to keeping them free to use. The Mac mini’s compatibility with iOS mobile apps means that LumaFusion, the video editor that has been used to piece together “Gatekeepers” videos for YouTube, can now take advantage of the faster processor.

 

I have never spent so much on a computer before this one, so I intend to make the most of what the Mac mini can offer me as someone who wants to expand what they can do creatively. With that hope in mind, no better computer has been made for the job.

Sunday, 14 February 2021

YOU GOT MORE RABBIT THAN SAINSBURY’S [282]

 


This is going to be a short piece about why the name of Jordan Brent Peterson has barely appeared in my writing of the last five years, and why it probably won’t appear again.

There is certainly no point in my presenting a long analysis of what the Canadian clinical psychologist believes, and what is contained in his 2018 book “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos,” because this has been covered exhaustively elsewhere in reviews, columns and videos. I am not planning to cover his sequel book, “Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life,” when it is published in March 2021, because that would involve having to buy a copy of it.

Most likely, anyone who has also heard his name has already formed their opinion as well, and I am not planning to change anyone’s mind, so I can focus squarely on my own reasons for not wishing to engage with his thinking.

I already own a copy of “12 Rules for Life,” the success of its release meaning I could find a paperback copy in my local supermarket for £2.99, but I tried to read it, and I don’t think it was for me. It states pretty straightforward rules such as “stand up straight with your shoulders back,” and “be precise in your speech,” symbolises order as make and chaos as female, and used lobsters to explain how human social hierarchies are formed. The analysis and reporting of the book were pointing towards addressing a crisis in young men, so I had no reason to look any further.

The section where Peterson completely lost me is on age 306 of the paperback edition, titled “Postmodernism and the Long Arm of Marx.” I had never encountered Marxism being mentioned alongside postmodernism up to then, and even though he mentions that key postmodernist figure Jacques Derrida referred to his ideas as a radicalised form of Marxism, he wasn’t precise enough.

Derrida referred to his signature “deconstruction,” understanding the relationship between text and meaning, as being a radicalised form of the spirit of Marxism. Derrida’s book “Spectres of Marx” (1993) is about how the ideas of Marxism persist almost like a ghost, haunting Western society from beyond the grave. Derrida coined the term “hauntologie” in this book, pronounced the same in French as ontology, the study of existence, being and reality, and hauntology is now used as a shorthand for when a culture cannot escape its own past.

However, Peterson has created the term “postmodern neo-Marxists,” and is popular enough to make that term stick among those that take his own words as gospel. I’m not sure why he spent as long as he did on it in the book as he did – Derrida said he didn’t like “de facto” Marxism, as in Communism, but Peterson goes on about how postmodernism is someway of resurrecting Marxism, and... isn’t one of Peterson’s rules “pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)”? This culminated in a debate against the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, titled “Happiness: Marxism vs. Capitalism,” where Žižek requested the names of the “cultural Marxists” Peterson had been talking about, there were no names.

The Jordan Peterson industry means there is now an ecosystem of books, videos and online content to which you can subscribe, which makes me think of Ayn Rand, another person I have little time for. There is also no shortage of people who could defend and explain his writing to me, which also makes me think of Ayn Rand. Even among professors of the University of Toronto, I would take Marshall McLuhan over Jordan Peterson.

Sunday, 7 February 2021

MAYBE TOMORROW I'LL FIND MY WAY HOME [281]


I have two reasons why I believe the idea of “the future” ended in 2003.

Firstly, Concorde was withdrawn from operation by British Airways and Air France. Supersonic passenger air travel has been a thing of the past for almost twenty years.

Secondly, the BBC cancelled “Tomorrow’s World,” a science and technology series that went out in prime-time, for a mass audience, demonstrating innovations from computers and the CD player, to the breathalyser and bulletproof vests.

You may argue that neither of these stayed viable – a downturn in air traffic following the 2001 terrorist attack on New York, and a change in demands of “luxury” air travel the Concorde could not be modified to meet; or a downturn in the ratings of “Tomorrow’s World,” along with new technology being incorporated into the BBC News show “Click,” formerly named “Click Online”.

Both have joined the museum of what was considered “the future” – an example of Concorde can be found at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, alongside the Space Shuttle Enterprise; and “Tomorrow’s World” lives on as an archive used to mark where progress has previously been made.

Postmodernism does not aspire to the same earnest drive for progress that characterises modernism. Postmodernism is more concerned with how we see the world, and while its characteristics of fragmentation, collage and nostalgia do not require new material, anything that does come along will simply be added into the mix. Innovations may come, or refinements can be made, but there is nothing to suggest that the world of 2050 will be as radically different to that of 2021. “The Jetsons” was set a hundred years from when it was made, but as I sit in 2021, I don’t see flying cars and cities in the sky becoming commonplace in the remaining forty-one years left, although the robot maid could be a close-run thing.

However, I do not believe the de-emphasis of progress can be blamed on postmodernism. A kind of contentedness arrived in the Western world after postmodernism became part of the cultural background. Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 book “The End of History and the Last Man” hypothesised that the end of the Cold War in the previous year meant that liberal democracy had effectively won, and while events still occur, the progressive procession of “history” has ended. Meanwhile, “capitalist realism,” as popularised by Mark Fisher in his 2009 book of that name, takes a German term originally describing commodity-based art, redefining it as the notion that corporate capitalism and neoliberalism are now so dominant, there is no visible alternative to them. While it might not have been the kind of future we envisaged, it may well be the one we were destined to have.

This tends to be characterised by overt recycling in popular culture. For example, the music instrument manufacturer Roland sells a drum machine, the TR-8S, that for all the advanced programming and sampling features included, exists mainly as a new version of their original 1980s drum machines like the TR-808 and TR-909, working in similar ways to achieve the same effect, because music from the 1980s and 90s remain popular. I cannot honestly say what popular music will sound like ten years from now, because it endlessly refers to itself, perhaps from the moment Jackie Wilson’s “Reet Petite” became the UK Christmas number 1 single in 1986.

This may be the sort of conclusion that would still be made before the year 2020 began, as the emergency caused by Covid-19 accelerated the advent of human behaviour we still thought would be more commonplace in the future: working from home, communicating by video calls, the hastened end of brick-and-mortar retail. New medical innovations in vaccinations and personal protective equipment may be one thing, but these are innovations we needed and expected to occur. Envisaging a future of flying cars and unlimited leisure involves an element of force to enact the change, closing the gap between reality and the imagination.

Sunday, 31 January 2021

I FEEL IT COMING TOGETHER [280]



The situation doesn’t normally arise when you feel like alluding to Susan Sontag’s essay “Against Interpretation” in an article about an online comic created by your sister, but sometimes you would rather talk about how good something is, rather than dissect it until you know how good something was before you killed it. Sontag’s essay ends, “in place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art,” and my intention here is only to tell you why you should read Layla Spence’s “Ill Fame” [https://www.webtoons.com/en/challenge/ill-fame/list?title_no=382596&page=1].

Set in and around an island, “Ill Fame” centres on Frankie and Rhys, who have found a life together, but only in their human forms – Frankie is a seal, and daughter of King Augustus, while Rhys is a crow, and the King’s messenger. When Thomas Reid, an envoy for the Land King, comes with Caritas, a snake that can see the future, with an offer of help, lives will be changed.

I initially attributed the title “Ill Fame” to Frankie’s father holding her in low esteem for her relationship with a crow through their ability to change forms – the ability to communicate as seal and crow is rendered crucial for them to survive as a couple against the threat of royal protocol and destiny. However, the “ill fame” also belongs to the kingdom itself, neglected by the Sea King, and given the opportunity to fall in with the Land King.


I have never really been a fan of fantasy as a genre – I do remember we once had a copy of the film “Krull” recorded from TV, and I had a copy of the Terry Jones novel “The Saga of Erik the Viking,” illustrated by Michael Foreman – but the world of “Ill Fame” is, for me, entirely of itself, not harking back to particular stories I might have seen elsewhere, or overtly trying to use its genre as an allegory for our present, unless that has happened and I have not realised yet. The state of both the sea kingdom, and of Frankie and Rhys’s relationship, remains precarious at the time of writing, and I am interested to see where this goes.


Of course, the art pulls you into the story. Presented in the online comic format of a downward scroll, each part is defined by bold black lines, spare in detail, with extremely expressive character work. The use of the sea as a setting complements the scrolling nature of the comic, allowing for a more play in how scenes unfold, and the grading of the colour through each scene, usually restricted to three or four colours to set mood, is particularly impressive – it makes the way printed comics are presented feel particularly choppy as a result, as the speed of the story is determined only by the reader.


Art demands to be considered on its own terms, any words I have are written in the hope that I can push you in the direction of “Ill Fame,” and I hope I can add to the people already following the story. Moreover, because I know how much Layla puts into her art anyway, I want more people to see it out of a sense of solidarity and pride, so make sure you follow her Instagram account for updates too [link].


Sunday, 24 January 2021

ALL ABOUT THE LOVE AGAIN [279]

A Donald Trump cake delivered to Trump Tower, New York,
ahead of 2016 election festivities.

When Joe Biden finally took over as the 46th President of the United States, it was at 5pm GMT, meaning I listened to his speech on the way home from work. That evening, and through the following day, I felt very distracted, almost like I felt anxious about having much less to feel anxious about.

Hearing a politician sincerely recognise the problems besetting the nation they must now guide, promise to address them, and pledge to lead on behalf of all their people, and not just those that voted for them, reminds you these actions are meant to be fundamental to being a leader - it is just nice hearing from someone that actually wants to do the job.

I can now understand what Barack Obama meant about the “audacity of hope”: democracy standing defiant, and in splendid progress, despite the events of two weeks before, and of the previous four years.

The attempted coup on the US Capitol building was the Kmart Blue Light Special of insurrections. (For UK audiences, read as the Debenhams Blue Cross Sale – two dead department store chains for the price of one.) It was like there was a cheap 4K television in every room. People were so excited to be there, they made sure others knew they were, helping the CIA and FBI most efficiently. Most shocking was the level of entitlement, both to storm their own seat of government, and to base their indignation out of something conducted from nothing but unsupported prejudice.

I didn’t think Donald Trump had it in him to incite sedition and insurrection, but when his businesses have declared bankruptcy as often as they have - six, between 1991 and 2009 - perhaps it was worth a go. I sincerely thought that the election of Joe Biden, a man now declared President more often than Franklin D Roosevelt, would be the end of the matter, and Trump would slowly realise his game was lost, and he would allow us all to get on with our lives. But too many people were wreaking havoc in his name for his ego to back down. If a second impeachment trial in the US Senate doesn’t convict him, something else will – there must be a lesson for him to learn.

Often repeated are the lessons taught to Trump by his lawyer and mentor Roy Cohn, formerly chief counsel to Joseph McCarthy, of the witch trials, and defender of mob bosses: “Dominate in every interaction, never admit wrongdoing or defeat, never pay your bills, and sue anyone who objects to your behaviour into financial submission.” Cohn, who denied he had AIDS up to when he died of it – he said it was liver cancer – was given a square on the AIDS Memorial Quilt: “Bully. Coward. Victim.” 

Trump achieved all three before being exiled, a pariah from American life. Trump bullied so much on Twitter that it had to be taken away from him, the benefits for American democracy and discourse in the short-term everyone outweighing the later questions over free speech and the nature of social media – that Trump effectively disappeared until the end of his Presidential term confirms how much he relied on it. Meanwhile, the domestic terrorists now arrested for storming the Capitol wonder why their leader has deserted them, leaving other extremist politicians in the Republican party to continue a pyrrhic crusade against the truth, at the expense of their party’s unity. For anyone still interested in ever thinking of Trump as a “victim,” his niece Mary L Trump, the best-placed psychologist in history released, in May 2020, the timeliest book with the clearest title: “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man.”

With “Dancing with the Gatekeepers” having begun during the 2016 US Presidential race, Donald Trump became the de facto “Gatekeepers” bogeyman: a man whose choppy utterances and half-formed, half-stolen slogans enraptured millions, and radicalised thousands more. Words were often beyond him, left to those in his administration to make sound reasonable, but the longer the noise, the threats against the media, and the pronouncements on Twitter went on, the more it became the stifling daily rhythm to everyday life.

Fewer articles will be written, and fewer minutes on television will be aired, about Joe Biden’s presidency because it will simply be less eventful, and conducted more conventionally, than Trump’s presidency, which is entirely to be expected. Good – the time freed up to all of us, as consumers of media, can be put to greater use. Therefore, outside of any impending arrest, conviction and imprisonment, this will be the last time I feel the need to write about Donald John Trump. He really was the worst of us.

Sunday, 17 January 2021

NO MORE FREE STEPS TO HEAVEN [278]


From the notes I made in 2002, I can see that the first place I came across postmodernism that delineated its concepts most easily for me to dive into them was a book by Tim Woods, “Beginning Postmodernism,” published by Manchester University Press, a second edition of which has been published since I first read it. As dry as most academic books can be, for such a book to write about its subject in a way that makes you feel excited about it is extremely valuable. It was certainly enough for me two write ten A4 pages of notes from it, since rendered moot by my actually buying a copy of the book – I can only assume the original library copy was once I was able to take home
.

The notes I made start by explaining that postmodernism is:

“a knowing modernism, a self-reflexive modernism, a knowing modernism that doesn’t agonise about itself. Postmodernism does what modernism does, only in a celebratory way, rather than repentant way. Thus, instead of lamenting the loss of the past, the fragmentation of existence and the collapse of selfhood, postmodernism embraces these characteristics as a new form of social existence and behaviour. The difference between modernism and postmodernism is therefore best seen as a difference in mood or attitude, rather than a chronological difference, or a different set of aesthetic practices.”

That is the kind of introduction you want. Modernism was never replaced by postmodernism, and the impulses to find new ways of explaining how we see the world, and creating new forms in art and society, is true of both movements. Even a modernist group that Dada, that you would think would match postmodernism on mood and attitude, is actually separated from it by its earnestness to abandon the modes of thinking that led society to world war, instead of playing about with them.

My notes contain lots of lists, with Woods creating many summaries of the key characteristic in postmodern forms of thought, economics, architecture, visual design, music, television and film. For example, the list for film talks about pastiche of other genres and styles, alluding to particular scenes and cinematic styles from other films; a flattening of history, presenting the past in the present; self-reflexivity of technique; and celebrating the collapse of distinction between high and low cultural styles, with “Pulp Fiction,” a major Hollywood film aiming to evoke pulpy crime novels, being used as the example. It helped that, during my film degree, we were shown a Jean-Luc Godard film from 1967, “Two or Three Things I Know About Her,” that often abandons its narrative to talk about consumerism, and has characters addressing themselves directly to the camera. I enjoyed it a lot.

A thought my mind always replays is how I am glad I discovered postmodernism when I did, because it has helped explain how the world, and particularly politics, has developed in the years since. The philosopher Jean-François Lyotard, the source of the predominant postmodernist stance of an incredulity towards metanarratives, has his own list made by Woods – in particular, Woods says that postmodernism, according to Lyotard, “does not seek to give reality, but to invent allusions to the inconceivable which cannot be presented. In this respect, there is something theological in his concept of representational art.”

I can see I also made this note from Joseph Natoli’s book “A Primer to Postmodernity”:

“We are responding to a world that is in the process of breaking out of our certitude of knowing, out of the reality box that we have built for ourselves and called it Reality. A lot of formerly closeted people are now out of the closet; or you can say that the camouflage screen, the barrier curtain is down. We’ve got a hunger now to hear everyone’s story at the same time that we paradoxically want to put a gag on everyone but our own buddies. We’re split between two vastly different ways of dealing with the world. But in actions, in how we go about constructing our realities, we are less and less attached to the ‘old order’ of knowing, feeling, perceiving, and more and more attached to exploring as many other realities as we can bring into being.”

“A Primer to Postmodernity” was published in 1997. I also now have a copy of this book, and I can see the above passage was preceded by the author hearing from people that want things to be like the “good old days,” and wanting what we know to be grounded, when it cannot be. After the passage, Natoli then says that his book can only be a “primer” for people to do their part on the ongoing creation of culture. Later, he explains that one viewpoint held by postmodernists is that a gap exists between the world and how we understand it, even if there is not one between ourselves and the world: multiple realities can exist, and while they do not battle for supremacy, they can fade in and out of significance. A later chapter is titled “Moving Across the Profound Surface of a Postmodern Life.”

I don’t treat postmodernism as a religion, but I can see why it may look like that. When coming across something new influences your view of the world, it is great when it is a view that does not insist on someone being wrong as a result, but if you know you are right, you will be able to prove that most easily. What it has never meant is that you can say what you like – if something is not valid, it will go away.

Sunday, 10 January 2021

DON’T FORGET YOUR BOOKS [277]


Childhood is meant to the happiest time of your life. I believe mine should always be ahead of me, but the time I spent working for my degree in film studies, from 2001 to 2004, is definitely up there. I was more aware of the world than in childhood, but still without the responsibility – everywhere was open, especially my mind. The person I am today was formed then – curious, sceptic, and voracious for knowledge. I just need to feel like I need to know more about, well, anything and everything - I may have the degree, but the research never stopped.

I had never before properly examined why I became interested in postmodernism and postmodernity during this febrile time but, fortunately, my degree notes and other things from the time have all been splendidly preserved. I have four lever-arch folders for my degree notes, and another one for all the other subjects I picked up along the way, along with a further wire-bound notebook. I did not realise I essentially had two projects on the go at the same time.

The earliest notes I have on postmodernism date from May 2002, and at that time, with the World Wide Web still relatively empty in comparison to today, libraries were still the place to find your primary and secondary resources – it took until my third and final year of my degree before I wrote an essay that used a website as a reference. The sections for both film and postmodernism were on the same floor, but the photocopiers were on a different floor – I only remember this because a number of books I used at the time, but have bought second-hand cheaply since, were not to be removed from the premises, so there was a lot of note-taking and photocopying to be done.

The books on postmodernism were on the same floor in the library, but their setting was a little more dramatic – they were in a separate room, accessed through a set of double doors, with a couple of steps down to the floor – it felt a bit like a mismatched extension to the existing building. Among the sections in this room were the books on “Philosophical Systems,” which is category 140 in the Dewey Decimal System for filing library books. I was looking into Buddhism a bit at the time, not that I have kept up with it much – Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that, unlike Christianity, Buddhism doesn’t promise anything, but at least it keeps that promise.

Further on through the shelves, you get to category 149.9, “Other Philosophic Systems,” where Postmodernism is placed. It looks like I started with Buddhism, and carried on down the line, because I apparently have notes on cultural identity in cyberspace, and on “post-humanity” – somehow, I hadn’t watched “Blade Runner” yet. From there, I made a huge number of notes, copying whole passages out of books, and doing a largely good job of citing my sources to myself, which made finding the books themselves years later very easily.

So, I put myself in the right place to come across the right books, but at the same time, I have to consider that I was there primarily to look at the modernist art form of film, requiring me to learn how reality is constructed by art, and how art constructs reality. This focus is then turbocharged by postmodernist thought that exists to play about with what I am learning in those film classes. I gave myself an awful lot of homework, which I will look at next time.

Sunday, 3 January 2021

AND YOU MAY ASK YOURSELF [276]

Memphis “Big Sur” sofa by Peter Shire

Judging from what I have read, we already appear to know how the year 2021 will unfold. A new normal is coming, and when it is unlocked, we must be ready to make up for lost time, and to take up new opportunities. As we breathe out, politics and economics can settle, as the United States gains a president that wants to do the job, and the United Kingdom trades from outside the European single market for the first time since 1973. With these long-standing conundrums solved for now, and with shops back open, the indignant heat of social media may simmer down. Why make your own New Year’s resolutions when the whole world is changing?

This year could be the latest chapter of renaissance and progress. Especially after a year blighted by disease, it is natural to embrace this hope - it is the grand narrative we all share. But for someone that has written as much as I have about postmodernism – the broad artistic social and philosophical movement that, among a large number of things, is meant to be distrustful of grand narratives – why am I thinking about the coming year in this way?

Nothing says that someone who deals in scepticism and irony can’t also be an optimist. It pays to have all your discursive tools to hand, and have a full understanding of them, but giving yourself time off from work is also nice. You can try to live your life via philosophical concepts of criticism made to use in cultural and textual analysis – Roland Barthes’ “death of the author” concept is not intended to help you read a book written by someone whose views you don’t like, unless you plan to judge only the text, and nothing else.

However, I plan to spend some time looking further into the concepts of postmodernism, in something I will be calling “Postmodernism 2021.” I have been looking into this rabbit hole for close to twenty years, with time for breaks. There is something attractive to deconstructing ideas to find new connections, or to play with different ideas and smash them together, whether that is by looking at a skyscraper that was built to resemble a grandfather clock, new music that evokes nostalgia for the 1980s, or blending genres together in a science fiction novel.

As I understand it, we are largely supposed to have moved on from postmodernity into a sort of modernity powered by the internet. But when you have people like Jordan Peterson, talking about “postmodern neo-Marxists,” and the UK Government’s Minister of Equalities, Liz Truss, blaming postmodernist thought for dominating debates on equality, in a speech made in December 2020, it is clear that postmodernism, or at least the concepts that exist at one end of a movement that has influenced art, is still very vital.

The most egregious part of Truss’s speech, later removed from the Government’s online record of it, having been placed under the title “The Failed Ideas of the Left,” read: “These ideas have their roots in post-modernist philosophy — pioneered by [Michel] Foucault — that put societal power structures and labels ahead of individuals and their endeavours. In this school of thought, there is no space for evidence, as there is no objective view — truth and morality are all relative.” Foucault’s 1966 book “The Order to Things” looked at how truth is constructed, and how this has differed through history, but that does not mean the same as “nothing is true, everything is permitted.”

With May 2021 marking five years of Leigh Spence is Dancing with the Gatekeepers, I will use the time until then to take stock of what postmodernism means to me, what it means to how I see the world, and how a movement most relevant in the 1980s and 90s continues to be so today.

As I work out where to start, I shall provide links to when I first talked about postmodernism and postmodernity back in January 2017 [link], my first touch upon its being used to blame for “alternative facts” [link], a look at the key concept of nostalgia [link], the fact that poststructuralism means you can’t say what you like [link], my trying to explain the concept of hauntology [link], and my walk around Manchester’s Trafford Centre, a shopping mall engaged entirely in postmodern architecture [link].