Archive for the ‘the UK’ Category

Some charming British themed videos

September 29, 2009

Well, as the title of this post suggests, I recently managed to get ensnared in some charming British themed videos.

It’s a double feature — First, Patrick Stewart on his struggle to come to terms with male pattern baldness:

Then, a retrospective on TV classic Dad’s Army.

(I used to watch unhealthy amounts of this show when stuck in England without Nickelodeon.)

Fresh Ideas and Less-than-Fresh Undies for Village Festival

August 25, 2009

I’m back from Beijing!

I spent a happy summer there brushing up on my Mandarin, with plenty of good food and cheer to boot, not to mention the generous support of the Asian Studies Dept. They will be happy to know that I had little opportunity to waste time on the Internet, since erstwhile CCP censors have blocked both wordpress and facebook in China. As usual, the Chinese government has all our best interests at heart…

I’m glad to be back not least because I can alert eco-conscious readers of a new environmentally friendly development in the field of event management, pioneered by my British auntie!

If, sadly, you don’t know what I’m talking about then you have been paying far too little attention to BBC Radio or the East Anglia Daliy Times, which I’ll go ahead and quote in full:

Knickers to the Credit Crunch

LAURENCE CAWLEY

Last updated: 8/22/2009 6:00:00 AM

HARD-up villagers in Suffolk have got their knickers in a twist – and replaced the worn-out flags for their traditional fete with bunting made entirely of underwear.

An urgent appeal brought in more than 100 pairs of smalls ranging from sensible pants to skimpy lingerie. These have been turned into strings of gaily-coloured flags which will be strung up around the village green in Stansfield, near Haverhill.

The idea came about following a meeting of the village fete committee last month.

They were discussing what still needed to be done when one member asked about the bunting amid concerns whether they had enough of it in good enough condition for a fete.

A decision was made that the expense of replacing it with new bunting could not be justified in the current economic climate and an alternative needed to be found.

So after the meeting, in the village pub, helpers came up with their knicker-bunting idea and the unwanted underwear flooded in.

A collection bin in the community’s only street was soon filled with donations and local seamstress Delia Berridge and helpers began turning the pants into 40 metres of decorative pennants.

Chairman of the fete committee Mary Evans [shoutout! woo!] said: “When we realised that we could not afford to replace the old bunting we hit on the plan to use knickers instead. As is the case everywhere, money is a bit tight and we thought we could afford to replace the bunting.

“It seemed an excellent recycling idea and people have been very generous. We have had a whole range from sensible M&S and Bridget Jones knickers to some rather risque lacy ones which were donated anonymously.

“I am sure visitors will take a second look when they see yards of pants flying in the air. We got about 100 pairs and in a village of about 200, that’s a lot of people offering up their underwear.”

She added villages had been very conscientious in ensuing all donations had been well laundered prior to handing in their smalls.

The fete – which includes Morris Men, a Punch and Judy show, birds of prey, a dog show, a steel band and fancy dress competition – will be held today from noon until 4pm and is expected to raise hundreds of pounds towards the village hall.

Never doubt the problem-solving power of community..or the ingenuity of aunties, for that matter.

Late Night w/ Degrassi — An Inquiry into Values

July 9, 2008

Unable to sleep the other night, one of my roommates and I stayed up watching this Canadian teen drama called Degrassi: The Next Generation on cable.

It was a roller coaster of a show.

Really, I can’t stress this enough: it was absolutely insane.

This show is teen drama on steroids. Watching this show is like being beaten to within an inch of your life with the drama stick. Every scene is relentlessly awkward, thoroughly awash with gossip and secrets and fragile teenage bonds being tested on the mantle of everyday life; the adolescent joy, fear and sheer adrenaline in this show is palpable. You can’t help but be sucked in because every moment is a set up for the next — and you’re waiting for it with bated breath. Wow!

I mean, the popular teen drams when I was a kid were crude and quite obviously silly. But Degrassi is genuinely compelling and incredibly sophisticated. Not only that, Degrassi is edgy — the show deals with real issues! Gone is the saccharine world of Saved by the Bell, where caffeine pills are the hardest drugs out there. Now we’re face to face with complicated real-world situations. (For Peter Jackson nerds out there, I think it’s fair to say that Beverly Hills: 90210 is to The Muppet Show as Degrassi: TNG is to Meet the Feebles.)

Media educator Sharon Ross also happened to discover the show at random late one night and was immediately impressed with its depth and realism — she proceeded to watch episodes featuring “date rape, cutting, relationship violence, school shootings, parents with cancer, abortions…all with minimal preaching and maximum information. The kids were played by kids, the issues weren’t resolved in a half hour (nor did they involve special characters coming in for one episode to “be the issue” and then disappear)… How in god’s name had this show ever made it onto my TV set? ”

To answer this question Ross took a trip to Toronto and talked to the creators of Degrassi TNG, the latest installment in 25 years of wildly popular Degrassi shows. “Writers Brendon Yorke and James Hurst spoke about the importance of writing so as to make a point: not ‘let’s do this because it’s a hot button issue,’ but rather, writing to demonstrate that ‘if you understand your neighbor,’ you’ll see that there is always some other side to a story — some angle you might not have considered. This, dare I inject some academia, is the cultural forum I constantly seek in TV…some sense that TV can and should provoke discussion and debate.” That’s right — TV that seeks discussion and awareness rather than simply consumption.

One sub-plot that I watched featured a girl who, after struggling to deal with a history of sexual abuse, built up the courage to have consensual sex with a boy she liked — who turns out to be secretly HIV+. When she tells her friends about it tearfully, one cries, “oh my god, did you use protection?!” to which she responded “of course I did! But there’s still a risk!” She then searched the internet for more information.

There you have it. Complex feelings (betrayal, fear, anger, etc.) frank portrayal and discussion of female sexuality (girls are both rational and enjoy sex), mixed with a positive public health message (*of course* I used protection!) In her book The Lolita Effect, M. Gigi Durham cites Degrassi: TNG as a shining example of progressive media which serves to resist pervasive (and oppressive) stereotypes about women, girls and their sexuality. I concur!

And yet, amidst these claims that the show promotes ‘realism’ and ‘TV with values’ you have to ask, is all of this edge-of-your seat drama really an accurate representation of teenage life? Is it so progressive to portray a world where adolescent social hierarchy is the driving force behind the characters’ lives, then play 5-minute ads for super expensive acne cream between scenes?

My high school years were filled with boredom and frustration rather than non-stop anguish and romance. Teen dramas respond to this reality by implying that it is possible to be someone else, to live another kind of life altogether — and what better way to achieve this impossible goal than to go out and buy stuff? Ay, there’s the rub.

Claims that Degrassi is a new step towards “critically aware” television programming fail to understand that the show is borrowing from a long tradition of British soap operas. For example, the enormously popular and long-running show Eastenders has consistently portrayed normal looking working class Londoners living in council flats and facing real problems (drugs, AIDS, divorce, racism, bacon sandwiches) to critical acclaim and mass popularity. It is virtually impossible to find a British actor of the stage or screen who hasn’t appeared on Eastenders at some point or another. The most famous fore-runner of this kind of show is the ubiquitous radio show The Archers, which used to intersperse real farming tips with its episodes of drama among rural English folk as a public service. Realism, public service facts, and normal people — these are old hat to some markets (Canadians?), but very different generic conventions than the ones that American soap opera viewers are used to.

Portraying the world in a realistic way, such that sex and violence have real consequences, different characters have different backgrounds and perspectives, and everyday choices may have long-term ramifications, is good. But making a TV show that uses heart pounding drama to sell a conventional consumerist version of teenage values isn’t all that terribly progressive. Even with all the innovation and realism, Degrassi is still a soap opera — just an uncommonly watchable one.

Finally, part of the bizarre sensation of watching the show is this looming awareness that the marketing machinery behind it is aimed at the generation below me. My demographic is no longer the center of attention! That feels, well, kinda weird. Hmph!

Great tits

May 9, 2008

The BBC news service recently posted an article “Great tits cope well with warming”, which just so happens to be the #1 most clicked-on story for today…

Damn brits!

British excursion

November 13, 2007

Only a week abroad and I did everything I wanted to do!

Admittedly, my goals were few: see friends and family, celebrate my dad’s 60th, eat fish and chips, drink fine wine, hang around in Brighton…simple and elegant. Several days in the Suffolk countryside for pubs and bonfire festivities, another few days in Brighton for (gasp!) more pubs and lots of wandering through the Laines, and a final day in London for a family party. Which took place in a pub. Yay for England!

There were certain people there that I don’t know if I’ll ever see again, which was both joyous and awful.

My friend Bill recently said matter-of-factly that feelings are always bound to change over time. Several late night memorial glasses of the remarkably strong “Jimmy Thom” scotch whisky, bottled and subsequently sipped upon in honor of my grandfather James Flockhart Thom, caused me to have a different thought on my last night in London: Even though it’s been almost 3 years, my feelings about my family and about my Sussex friends haven’t really changed at all. I felt like I fit right in; that sense of home hasn’t changed. Some feelings it seems are extreme enough or deeply enough rooted that they won’t ever change.

Also, the jet lag gave me an opportunity to get up early in the morning, do yoga for the first time in ages, and be both thrilled and baffled by Al Gore’s appearance on the latest 30 Rock. Oh, how I love that man.

Rule, Britannia

November 3, 2007

In a couple hours I’ll be making my way to the airport, thence to London for a long awaited stint in the UK!
I’ll be seeing old friends in Brighton, aged relatives in Suffolk, various others in London. Oh and my dad will be around because it’s his 60th birthday. Apparently it’s easier for him to meet me on the other side of the planet than to drive up from DC?
The Turnpike must really be getting atrocious.

I have been constantly on the move since returning from Beijing. Getting things organized for Burning Man, moving to New York, starting work…now this. On the other hand, I hope that this trip will provide me with an opportunity to relax and an impetus to get my various and sundry shit together when I get back.