FIVE YEARS, STUCK ON MY EYES 
|First logo (May-December 2016)|
Hello there. There is a question you often hear in interviews where the answer is always going to be “no.” “Did you think that when you started Leigh Spence is Dancing with the Gatekeepers on 30th May 2016, that you would still be doing it five years later?” “Yes, yes I did, I always knew that I could write articles about various aspects of popular culture, philosophy and the news, then deliver them weekly for that that entire time without a break. That outcome was baked in from the start.”
Of course, I never planned it, but I’m glad it happened. I began this site to keep my mind working, learn more about different subjects, and build confidence in putting my name out there. I was inspired by the Three Minute Thesis competition, begun by the University of Queensland, which challenges PhD students to present their research in only three minutes, to an audience with no specialty in their subject. Trying to explain a complex subject in an engaging manner is a brilliant way to develop your communication skills, so I deliberately put myself in a position to make myself do this over and over again, refining my approach and style as I go. I originally set myself a five-hundred-word limit, which would take about three minutes to read, and if anyone else happened to read what I wrote, then that was good – and if they found it entertaining, better still.
I certainly did not expect to arrive here, at my three hundredth article, having reached over 196,000 views so far, with another sixteen thousand for the “Gatekeepers” videos posted to YouTube. I can only assume that my plan must be working, especially as that word limit was abandoned a long time ago! To anyone that has read or watched my work over the last five years, thank you for your time.
The question is, what have I learned in that time? What lessons from five years of nostalgia culture crisis will I take into the next five, provided I get that far?
|Second logo (January 2017 to May 2017)|
1. STAY CURIOUS
I am happy I have never restricted my choice of subjects. I may like to find out new things, especially about how ideas, machines and personalities are constructed, but there is a difference between a hobby, and your natural state of being. I cannot imagine a version of me that is simply contented with things being as they are – I would want to know why that was the case.
Therefore, my top ten most read and viewed works here, combining views on my website and YouTube, is as varied a list as I could have hoped for, and I am happy with what has appeared. Some weeks may feel like I’m throwing spaghetti against a wall to find a subject, but it is amazing to see what sticks.
1. Why BBC Radio had no news to broadcast on Good Friday 1930 (#88 I’m Just Second Hand News, written version posted 29/12/2017, video 24/02/2020)
2. My January 2020 walk around the doomed Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre (#217 An Elephant Never Forgets, video posted 15/01/2020)
3. The shipwrecked ocean liner SS American Star, formerly America and Australis (#76 Just a Dream and the Wind to Carry Me, written version posted 06/10/2017, video 26/12/2019)
4. Looking around The Bridge Shopping Centre, Portsmouth in 2019 (I’m Giving Up on Trying to Sell You Things That You Ain’t Buying, video posted 13/10/2019)
5. How “CheapShow” is the “Goon Show” of podcasts (#234 Welcome to the Cheap Seats, posted 03/05/2020)
6. A list of interesting facts about Jeremy Beadle, who built a library onto his house (#26 Watch Out, Beadle’s About, posted 11/11/2016)
7. The HP-12C financial calculator, which no-one has stopped buying since 1981 (#200, I Am Adding and Subtracting, I’m Controlling and Composing, video posted 29/09/2019)
8. the battle to grow blue roses (#78 I’ll Pick a Rose for My Rose, written article posted 20/10/2017, video 25/05/2020)
9. The ornate pleasure dome that is The Trafford Centre, Manchester (#192, Plastic Palace People Sing Silent Songs, written version posted 11/08/2019, video 22/03/2020)
10. The ridiculous Sports Direct Giant Calculator (#208 Everyone Seems to Know the Score, video posted 24/11/2019)
Is there anything I wish was on the list? Not really, as writing about a particular subject never means I am then done with it. However, if you read what I am calling “The Myra Breckinridge Trilogy” - #149 Come Outside (Shove It) (03/02/2019), #150 I Wouldn’t Tell You Where to Go (10/02/2019), #204 Mama I’m Sure Hard to Handle (27/10/2019) – suggests I am not done with that film yet.
|Third logo (May 2017 to April 2018)|
2. ALL THEY HAVE ARE WORDS
In hindsight, I find it funny that I started this series by picking apart why The Beatles are called “The Beatles,” but it set the tone I wanted. The intention was to point out that, while the true inspiration came from Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and the name of Marlon Brando’s motorcycle gang in the 1953 film “The Wild One,” the “official” origin is instead a man coming to John Lennon in a dream, riding a flaming pie, declaring the name of his band will be “The Beatles” with an “a.” It turned out that Yoko Ono pushed for this version, a flippant answer once given by Lennon to a journalist, to be the origin of the band’s name as given in “The Beatles Anthology,” with Sir Paul McCartney admitting, “There are still a lot of things we have to fudge because of compromise. If we don't all agree on a story, somebody has to give in.”
Well, I dreamt that I had recorded an album titled “Leigh Spence is Dancing with the Gatekeepers,” and one song on this album will feature me repeatedly singing “all we have are words” – I’m guessing I was incandescent, either in the dream or earlier that day, about being told what to think, by someone who claimed they had all the answers. I will write that song eventually, but after having to reject any comparison I could have made with The Beatles’ flaming pie, I concluded that “Gatekeepers,” as a series, will “be more about me trying to make sense of an issue, why I think the way I do, or why I am expected to think something, rather than coming to a decision. Ultimately, I want this to be a fun exploration of the stories we tell ourselves.” Keeping this in mind would, hopefully, prevent me from being seen as a “gatekeeper” myself.
So, the angle and tone for my writing was set by The Beatles. It was at this point I decided to use song lyrics as titles for my work, as a kind of primitive search engine optimisation, although that first title came from David Bowie’s “Word on a Wing”: “Ready to Shape the Scheme of Things.”
I did talk again about The Beatles, except to explore how multi-track recording meant John Lennon didn’t have to play his harmonica anymore.
|Fourth logo (April 2018 to May 2021)|
3. ALL THEY HAVE ARE WORDS
When I began “Gatekeepers,” Barack Obama was still President of the United States, David Cameron was still Prime Minister, the Brexit vote was a few weeks away, and Donald Trump was an also-ran… and then, 51.9% of 72.2% of the British electorate voted to leave the European Union. I don’t give the figures like that to question the legitimacy of the vote, more to point out that the single issue that has dominated British politics, and social life, ever since, was decided in a process where over a quarter of people who were entitled to have their say said nothing at all. I personally believe voting in elections and referendums should be mandatory, so the winner knows they have to answer to their entire electorate.
I consider my political position to be slightly left of the middle – many would consider me to the “right” of them, and many more would consider me to be the “left” of them. As a result, I have never found talking about the “Right” and the “Left” to be overly helpful. The last five years pushed politics and people to extremes of opinion and thought, whether that be Labour and Conservative, or Democrat and Republican, and I am left in the middle thinking, “what happened?”
I never feel I need to talk about my own politics, but I feel I have become more informed about what mine is. I just wished that politics could become the background to general life again, instead of carrying the tune.
4. ALL THEY HAVE ARE WORDS
I began 2021 by writing several articles about how postmodernism, a branch of arts and philosophy deeply rooted in the 1980s and 1990s, still influences public discourse today. Most notably, the route normally taken is to think that, just because Jacques Derrida deconstructed texts to look at meaning and motive, reality itself must therefore be relative, and you can do and say anything you want. Even worse, deciding you can say what you want, because you know it ultimately doesn’t matter, is dangerous.
No wonder I spent four out of the last five years excoriating Donald Trump. Originally just someone who needed people to explain what he is trying to say, the alternate reality Trump’s words created became so dangerous to the security of his own country that he had to be banned from Twitter. Now a relic of his own era, Trump had to start a website to continue issuing his own statements – anyone can do that (I said, living in a country where a right-wing newspaper columnist became Prime Minister).
Imagine putting ideology over life. Imagine being so strident with your language that it killed people.
|Fifth logo (from May 2021)|
5. ALL I HAVE IS WORDS
Words can only take you so far. That is why I started making videos as well.
When making a trailer for my YouTube channel I ended it by saying, as a joke, “That’s Leigh Spence is Dancing with the Gatekeepers, the longest name in culture.” The truth is, if I knew this would turn into an ongoing project, I would have chosen a shorter name, no matter how evocative “Dancing with the Gatekeepers” is – I once had to tell someone, “It’s not an affirmation, it’s a website.”
Therefore, I am changing things a bit. The new name for this series is “Leigh Spence,” subtitled “dancing with the gatekeepers since 2016” – there will still be “nostalgia culture crisis” in the mix, but that can be taken as read by. The new address for all my work will be www.leighspence.net.
I also have a degree in film studies, but YouTube opened the year after I graduated - I wish I had been in on the ground floor of that in 2005, but streaming video never mixed well with dial-up internet. Now that I can fit a video camera approaching TV broadcast quality into my pocket, allowing me to use it like I would a pen, there is simply no excuse to take the leap I need… said someone who made a video questioning if videos need pictures, and presented my thoughts on Ikea plastic plants in 2.39:1 Cinemascope.
From now, video will be my focus. I will still post my scripts to read, but they will have been made as videos first. Separate written articles will still appear on occasion.
What has cemented this decision is that top ten list. Three of the “articles” were made as videos first, and my walk around the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, a fifteen-minute video with no voiceover, constructed entirely through editing pictures and captions, is exactly what I should pursue more. That this video is also the second most-viewed “article” of the series makes that decision extremely easy.
For this reason, I may not post something new every week – you tend not to be in pre- or post-production on a written article. I also need to work around a full-time job until something causes that to change, like a lottery win. However, more time will produce, I hope, even better work.
In short, I owe the confidence I have to the work I have done, and I am the person I am due to that confidence.
After five years, and three hundred articles… I think I’ll give myself the week off.