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Previous Olympic opening ceremonies bear scant comparison with Danny Boyle’s droll attempt to distil the British spirit. It certainly didn’t look back to London 1948, where the occasion was marked by the release of 2500 pigeons (a pestilent legacy still raining over London’s landmarks). Neither did it take any cues from Beijing where the opener was more evocative of the awe striking and disturbing spectaculars managed by Leni Riefenstahl for Hitler’s Third Reich. No, if the extravaganza of 28 July, 2012, in London has any echoes, they rumble from centuries before the Olympics were reinvented.

Recent opening ceremonies have set out to make a statement to the world about the host country and have usually done it passably well. Boyle went a step further. His was not a mesmerising snapshot of the present or desired state of things, his was a cultural discourse, a compelling argument not for how Britain is, but for why Britain is. He sought to engage and instruct where others have tried only to impress.

The political purpose was entirely different but this style of cultural manipulation reached similar heights in the Jacobean court of the newly united kingdom. For Danny Boyle and his writer, Frank Cottrell Boyce, read Inigo Jones and Ben Jonson.Jones and Jonson turned a sycophantic and frankly lascivious type of court entertainment into a theatrical art form infused with political persuasion. The masque was an amateur dramatic entertainment, popular among the nobility of England as the 16th turned into the 17th century, which consisted of dancing and acting performed by highly costumed players representing mythological or allegorical figures. Since the players were usually drawn from the highest echelons of the audience they tended to wear masks to enable them to slip into character more easily. In the reign of Elizabeth, the noble amateurs drew on the minor literary talents of men like Gabriel Harvey to provide the framework for some highly elaborate dressing (or undressing) up. Under the Stuart kings, the masque became a diversion in more senses than one. They seized on culture as a way to overcome obstacles to royal policies. A way to imply a more tractable reality and to divert the minds of courtiers from the distastefulness of the true political situation.

It is arguable whether it was Jonson or Jones who was most instrumental in transforming the masque into an artistic event of considerable worth and effect. Jonson was a highly learned and moralistic playwright who in his time cast a  broader shadow than Shakespeare. He could be hired but he couldn’t be bought. Seizing on the court masque as an unfettered vehicle for his dramatic imagination, Jonson penned serious literary works which moved beyond the heavy satire of his plays to instruct as well as applaud his courtly audience. He didn’t do it without help, however. Jonson did not share limelight easily and It irked him that his powerful audience were wowed more by the form than the substance of the great masques presented to the court of King James. The form belonged to Inigo Jones and the jealous Jonson ridiculed him in a series of his works, written over a span of two decades.

Masque costume for Countess of Bedford by Inigo Jones

Inigo Jones not only brought great Renaissance architecture to Britain, he brought the breathtaking theatrical design of Palladio and the Parigis to British entertainment. Jones was an apprentice joiner who rose to fame (and the office of Surveyor-General of the King’s Works) by devising costumes and scenery for masques, plays and other court entertainment. Before he built magnificent buildings, Jones brought unity to the diverse elements of the masque, allowing Jonson’s moral and poetic message to seep through. In much the same way, Danny Boyle and his Technical Director, Piers Shepperd, gave coherence and impact to the ideas of Boyce, the designs of Suttirat Anne Larlarb and Mark Tildesley, and the music of Rick Smith.

The reach of the Jacobean court masque and that of the 2012 opening ceremony is markedly different. Hundreds of English and Scottish courtiers versus global billions. Their political and cultural impacts are less far apart. Neither court masques nor Olympic opening ceremonies are created in a vacuum. They are not individual or idiosyncratic artistic creations. They have a political job to do and their creators must answer to at least part of the agenda of those who pay them. The governments of England during the opening decades of the 17th and 21st centuries were both vulnerable, the first to political instability, and the other to economic vulnerability. They needed masques and Olympic ceremonies to disguise dissatisfactions.

There’s no implication that Prime Ministers, any more than Kings, input heavily into these bombastic entertainments. The results bear no relation to propaganda. It would be easier to teach a grizzly to samba than to get Boyle or Jonson to work to order. Surprisingly, the Department of Media, Culture and Sport (and their Jacobean counterparts, Queen Anne and the Countess of Bedford) understood that sheer entertainment could be more persuasive than instruction. With the chokingly awful Millennium Dome a not too distant reminder of any British government’s inability to package culture, creative genius was allowed to flower unwatered at the London Opening Ceremony. Of course there were political undercurrents in both ceremony and masque but these stemmed from Boyle and Jonson, not their political paymasters. That’s why a Conservative MP, as loud of mouth as low of intellect, could fume about “The most leftie opening ceremony I have ever seen…”. Yet the overall effect was as uplifting, or diverting if you prefer, as any royal or politician could hope. Britons, unsure of their identity in a new world order, revelled in Boyle’s exposition of a tattered but still proud nation who gave much to the world but kept its effortless sense of humour very much to itself. Just as English courtiers, for a time, learned to tolerate a vain, corrupted and uncouthly Scottish king when they took part in the lavishly staged and costumed dramas with highly moralistic messages put together annually, if the Plague allowed, with no regard to cost by Jonson and Jones.

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I fear I’m a Social Media size zero with a Social Mass Index well into the danger zone. That’s not right for the Editor of an online magazine and self-published author.

I didn’t realise I had an SMI until I discovered Social Mention. Now I find out I’m hardly registering on the SM scales. Size 0 doesn’t cut it in the social space however you dress it up. I don’t want to be another Ana Carolina Reston of the Social Media world.

I’ve either got to do something about it myself or join Social Weight Watchers (anyone know where my local group meets – please don’t tell me it’s in a virtual place?)

What’s a target SM weight?

How big should my SMI be? I know big is really beautiful out there in the social networks but I’m not temperamentally geared to letting it all hang out. I survived well enough in the real world without feeling the need to be stared at. Now I’m not sure the world is real any more so I’m banking on the idea that a virtual leopard can change his spots.

I can see that shyness isn’t tolerated in SM, that it’s as lethal as anorexia. To continue the metaphor, I also get the feeling bulimia has no equivalent risk factor in SM. Consuming as much as you like and then spewing it all back straight away is seen as healthy behaviour. I’m equally convinced smediacolism is not rated as a morbidity issue. It doesn’t affect the liver, heart or lungs and the strain it puts on the bank balance is minimal. I’d need a few large scale, randomised, double blind trials to convince me that brain function is not impaired by SM overindulgence but the gods are lining most of us up for senile dementia anyway, so what do I care? It’s reassuring to know you can’t be overweight in Social Media. However, that doesn’t help me with setting a target. Size matters because there’s a lot of grown up girls in the social space.

How big a fish, how small a pond?

I’m not in any conventional media spotlights. For all I know, a paparazzi is something you wash down with a Peroni in Pizza Express. So unless I get into serial killing – the writing about or committing thereof – I’ll never get among the heavy weights like Gaga and Bieber. No matter, all I want is to make a splash in some small ponds like history, creative writing or online publishing. I’ve got to bulk up to do that. I could set my sights on being the kind of guru Seth Godin is in Social Marketing though I haven’t got his advantage of sounding like an apostle before I type a word. I could try to emulate the queen of twitter , Laura Fitton of oneforty, for sheer output but that would involve too much multitasking for a bloke.

Instead, I Googled ‘Social Media Diet Plan’. The best I got was Christian Collard’s pretty pyramid, which is about average monitor time in the US. No good to me, I’m not targeting average, I’m after obese.

I decided the only way forward was to make up my own diet plan and try to stick to it. I only started it last week so who knows when or if I’ll start piling on the SM pounds. I’m not recommending it to anyone else but I’m laying it on the table so you can all share my pain.

My SM diet

Breakfast

It’s tweets for breakfast. I’m starting with continental (read 5-10 tweets, retweet two, one @ and one new send) with a view to working up to Full English (read 30 tweets, RT several, ditto for @s, schedule 5-10 for posting over the next couple of days). As a reminder to myself of what not to do, I’ll constantly search #pointlesstweets.

How will I count my SM calories?

  • No. of tweets
  • No. of follows
  • No. following

I’ll target 10% higher every week. I’ll set a ceiling for no. following because I doubt following more people will increase my SMI, in spite of all the experts banging on about how crucial it is to listen.

Lunch

Lunch is Facebook. I’ll be checking my walls (personal and business) and adding a brick or two if I can find something to give or say. Whenever I can, I’ll update my Profile or load some photos. I won’t just duplicate my tweets. I may say the same thing as I said in the morning but I’ll breakthrough the 140 character barrier so the message looks more comfortable in its Facebook space.

Calorie count:

  • No. of recent comments I’ve made
  • No. of recent comments from others
  • No. of Likes
  • No. of discussions raging

I’ll keep telling myself ‘More is more’.

Dinner

Evening meal is Linkedin (Social Media Today, B2B Social Media, History Enthusiasts etc.)and other professional networks or resources including Social Marketing on Xing, History Teachers on diilgo. History News Network on Ning, Historum, Stumbleupon, Mequoda, Quora and Alltop.

I won’t go for a banquet every night but be disciplined about consuming them all at least twice a week.

Calorie count:

  • No. of activities
  • No. of comments
  • No. of connections

Evening work out

I’ll interrogate Google, Bing, Social Mention, Klout or Listorious for any sites or people I should be spying on. And watch how prominently they are listing EditorEgo and Egopendium. Or not.

Calorie count:

I know this will vary.

Social Mention scores on Strength, Sentiment, Passion and Reach. I can hit all of those, girls, just give me gym time.

Klout positions me on the Listening-Participating, Sharing-Creating, Broad-Focused, Casual-Consistent quartile map. I’ll constantly go back to http://klout.com/pistachio to remind myself what a hefty SMI looks like.

Weekend

They never happen in SM. I’ll have to accept that.

And what about my SMIQ?

That’s how I’m attempting to beef up my SMI. Any suggestions on or criticisms of my diet plan welcome. I do realise that it’s not all about when and how often you diet. Content is king. Anyone know of any exercises to improve my SMIQ?

Note: This blog was first published in Egopendium.

Here’s a question to which I’d love to know the answer.

Now that you won’t find a UK ad for cigarettes in the press, on tv, at the cinema or by the roadside, have the tobacco companies started pouring money into tv drama production? Or is it just that the progs I like are all set in the heyday of the ciggie?

I can’t seem to tune in without getting smoke blown in my face at sometime during the evening. OK, I don’t get brand names stuffed down my throat and the cancerous effect on my lungs is less than negligible, yet I can’t escape the implication that I’d be a more interesting character if I got into the habit of burning dried leaves in my mouth.

Personally, I’m not vulnerable to any sort of advertising or marketing suggestion, subliminal or overt. I do realise that I’m in a minority of one in that respect. It’s the rest of you susceptible lot that I’m worried about. Because there does seem to be an unnecessarily thick tobacco haze around some of the major tv offerings.

Frank shamelessly sets the tone

I’m a relatively heavy tv inhaler. About three to four programmes most nights, mainly drama brand. Call me over-protective, but I’ve got into the habit of rating my favourite series on their likely ciggie content in case someone more vulnerable turns up to watch one of them with me and I have to give them a health warning.

This would be especially necessary if my companions were lapsed smokers. According to the Journal of Neuroscience simply watching movie and tv stars take a drag is enough to spark a pattern of activity in smokers’ brains which mirrors the act of lighting up. This response to seeing smoking on screen is thought to make cravings more intense for those who are trying to quit a habit that kills 5 million people worldwide each year.

While ‘The Borgias’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ tempt me into all sorts of undesirable practices, they are refreshingly free of smoke rings. Any programme set pre-nineteenth century tends to fall in that category, though I suspect that ‘The Tudors’ could have made more play with Walter’s weed than they did. In contrast, a number of the more modern shows revel in creating a smoky atmosphere.

It’s the actors I feel sorry for and I don’t usually sympathise with the breed.

Watching as much tv as I do, I come to the conclusion that an actor would be permanently ‘resting’ if they were a committed non-smoker. Happy to take any actor’s comment on that assertion. I don’t know whether it’s driven by the script writers, the directors, the producers or the actors themselves but the general consensus seems to be that the cigarette is dramatic shorthand for depth of character. If I was cynical, I might imagine that the tobacco corporations are encouraging them to think that way. God forbid, they may even be inducing them!

If I’m right, the promotion of smoking has become  a lot more insidious than it used to be. I was an avid consumer of tobacco ads. The ‘Hamlet’ tv ads were hilarious. The ‘B&H’ double page spreads were beautiful, even though their psychological underpinnings were strangely dark. ‘Silk Cut’ posters were almost pornographically attractive and I’ve always wanted to go to ‘Marlboro’ country. They never persuaded me to buy a packet because, as I said, I’m the one man immune to marketing.

This singularity might mean that I’m overreacting to the puff content of current tv drama. It’s likely that my drama tastes incline me towards programmes set in times when heavy smoking was the norm. Of course tobacco companies wouldn’t be so underhand as to try to influence characterisation in tv drama, would they? Equally, of course, tv producers are known to be incorruptible, aren’t they? And actors never smoke off set, do they?

I’m worried that I’m getting a late-life Mary Whitehouse complex and that I shouldn’t object to being given a virtual smoking habit. However, in case I’m not alone with my misgivings, I’ve published my ciggie ratings for the programmes I watch on my Egopendium website.

It’s a small percentage of tv drama output so I’d welcome other people rating their own viewing habits by the fag factor. If you see some smokin’ tv with a bit too much smoking in it, tell me. Just use the Comment box at the bottom of the page to give a 0-5 score for a programme and I’ll add it to the ratings.

Otherwise ignore me. You definitely won’t be in a minority if you do.

Note: First published in Egopendium