Everything’s okay.

What a little gem of an exhibition. Everything is Going to be OK is an installation by US conceptual artist Allan McCollum, currently on show at the Thomas Schulte gallery in Berlin.

Allan McCollum at Thomas SchulteContemporary Art Daily
From his image archive An Ongoing Collection of Screengrabs with Reassuring Subtitles with currently 1.200 screenshots from American TV series and movies with subtitles such as “It will be ok” or “Don’t worry, Babe,” McCollum has chosen 400 motifs to be printed on canvas, each framed simply in black wood and measuring 26.3 x 43.8 x 4 cm (10.4 x 17.2 x 1.6 in). […]

Allan McCollum began his collection of screenshots in 2015 as a visual essay about the meaning of closeness and comfort in our society. He wants his project to serve as a reminder that it is through the telling and sharing of stories that we perceive the world. It is also a critique of Hollywood and populist rhetoric which both instrumentalize our emotions by promoting the narrative of a hero coming to the rescue, while in reality we depend on being part of a community of family, friends, neighbors and colleagues.

Playing with themselves

Remember that young guy with four saxophones playing the Wii theme tune? It seems the lockdown has provided an opportunity for others to have a go at similar recordings.

Bassoonist pulls off one-man “Thomas The Tank Engine” quartetInspireMore
Everyone deals with quarantine boredom differently. Maybe you deep cleaned your house, built a swing set for the kids, or finally beat that video game you’ve been working on forever. Michael Elderkin took a more musical approach.

You can join in, if you like, though I think I’d rather play along to this one.

Knight Rider for 8 cellosKottke
You’re either the type of person who can’t wait to click on a link that says “Knight Rider for 8 cellos” or you are not.

Things are looking up #3

Find yourself staring blankly into space more often these days? Here’s how to do that properly.

The secrets to stargazing from your backyardThe Guardian
How to search the sky and what to see, from moon and stars to planets and the International Space Station. Go on a journey of billions of miles … from your garden.

This is something you won’t see, though.

New image captures ‘impossible’ view of the moon’s surfaceLive Science
McCarthy trained his camera on the craters closest to the lunar terminator every night for two weeks as the moon waxed toward complete illumination. By the time the moon was full, McCarthy had a series of high-contrast, high-definition photos of every crater on the moon’s Earth-facing side. Blending them into a single composite image was “exhausting,” he wrote, but ultimately resulted in the gorgeously detailed shot seen above — an image that McCarthy calls the “all terminator” moon.

looking-up

Whenever I look at a full moon I find it hard to remember it’s spherical. It’s just a flat white circle an inch or two across that someone’s pinned up there, surely, not a solid ball of rock, the size of the United States, that’s slowly drifting away from us. This image, whilst being incredibly detailed, doesn’t help—for all its deep shadows and highlights, the lack of a ‘proper’ lunar terminator still makes it look more disk-like than globe-like, I think. (I wonder if there’s a Flat Moon Society I could join.)

If the moon is a fundamentally strange and other-worldly object, what to make of black holes? This film, like the composite photograph above, might be bending the truth, but is nevertheless equally impactful.

An unnerving new film by Paul Trillo imagines Earth moments before it’s sucked into a black holeColossal
“Until There Was Nothing” considers how Earth’s natural landscapes and city life would look just moments before being consumed by a black hole. The surreal work shows massive waves suddenly crawling up the left side of the frame, the tops of taxi cabs shooting into the air, and an entire forest of trees ascending in an amorphous mass.

If contemplating our cosmic oblivion is all too much, let’s lighten the mood with this lockdown-inspired blast from the starry past.

Nebula-75, a new puppet lockdown drama from the folks that brought us Thunderbirds, Stingray, Fireball-XL5Boing Boing
Nebula-75 is a new “puppet lockdown drama” being made by some of the folks at Century 21, the Gerry Anderson studio that was responsible for “Supermarionation” programming in the 60s (and beyond), with such shows as Thunderbirds, Stingray, Supercar, and Fireball-XL5. Nebula-75 is also being filmed in “SuperIsolation” and Lo-Budget! […]

Nebula-75 feels so much like the show I wanted to make myself, with cardboard boxes, kitchen implements, and household junk, after watching these programs when I was a wee one. That was one of the things that made them so seductive to a young and over-active imagination — they seemed so doable. And here, lo these many years later, folks associated with the legacy of these shows are doing it. At home. With cardboard boxes and junk. I’m inspired all over again.

Thunderbirds! Captain Scarlet! They don’t make ’em like that anymore. It turns out, they do.

Trailer From The Loop

Two years after I first saw his work, it’s finally hitting our screens.

‘Tales From the Loop’, a wondrous Amazon Prime series based upon the artwork of Simon StålenhagLaughing Squid
The series takes its title from a pair of books written by Stålenhag about “paintings from a childhood that never was and a future that could have been.” The series focuses on a machine that unlocks such a future for those who enter.

Tales From the Loop enlivens the gravity-defying dystopia of Simon Stålenhag’s illustrationsColossal
Launching April 3, the television series is based on the understanding that “not everything in life makes sense” as it chronicles the lives of those residing in the Loop, a machine built to uncover answers to the world’s mysteries. It features a gravity-defying universe that sees floating objects, snow ascending from a pile on the floor, and pieces of a house ripped upward. Retro robots even foster relationships with the families and children immersed in the explorative environment.

trailer-from-the-loop-1

trailer-from-the-loop-2

Next month, then, for Amazon Prime customers. Let’s hope it’ll spill out wider for those of us who aren’t primers. Meanwhile, here’s an interview with the man behind those melancholic images.

Simon Stålenhag: meet the artist behind Amazon Prime’s mysterious new TV showDigital Arts
Tales from the Loop is based on the books and artworks of Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag, so to coincide we’ve looked backed to when we interviewed him about how he conceives and paints his sci-fi worlds – and what the hell is really going on.

trailer-from-the-loop-1

Fangs out after dark

Seeming to lift a page from Kumi Yamashita’s sketchbook, the BBC have brought Dracula to life in this spooky 3D poster for their gripping new series.

BBC’s ‘Dracula’ gets push with clever marketing campaignMy Modern Met
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a well-known tale, which is why ad executives in the UK needed to get creative when coming up with a campaign for the BBC’s new series. Dracula premiered on New Year’s Day and in the lead-up to the event, BBC Creative dreamed up an eye-catching billboard that gets spookier as the sun goes down.

Just as vampires only appear at night, there’s no trace of Dracula as the sun shines. Instead, once night falls, his sinister shadow emerges across the billboard. Mouth open wide and fangs out, there’s no mistaking the silhouette of the show’s lead character.

fangs-out-after-dark

The executives at BBC Creative were looking for a fresh take on the classic tale as a way to get viewers engaged in the new series. Located in Birmingham and London, the two billboards are an exciting, out-of-the-box vision that pairs well with the series’ dark humor.

A clever poster for a clever, gripping, rejuvenated series. With this and A Christmas Carol, the BBC really raised the bar this Christmas. (Via Colossal)

Time to take Media Studies seriously

There’s nothing new about fake news and misinformation, now. These topics are part of our landscape, unfortunately, and we must do our best to deal with them. A thorough understanding of the media is needed now more than ever.

Commission on Fake News and the Teaching of Critical Literacy Skills in SchoolsNational Literacy Trust
[T]he final report from the Commission on Fake News and the Teaching of Critical Literacy Skills in Schools, published on 13 June 2018, found that only 2% of children and young people in the UK have the critical literacy skills they need to tell if a news story is real or fake. It also found that almost two-thirds of teachers believe fake news is harming children’s well-being by increasing levels of anxiety, damaging their self-esteem and skewing their world view.

Only 2%? That’s shocking.

Why media education in schools needs to be about much more than ‘fake news’The Conversation
A growing number of educators, policy makers and third-sector groups are calling for news and critical digital literacy to be taught in schools, with over half of teachers reporting that the current national curriculum does not equip pupils with the literacy skills they need to tackle fake news.

In its final report on Fake News, published in February 2019, the UK parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee reiterated its calls for digital literacy to be the fourth pillar of education alongside reading, writing and maths. But thus far these calls have fallen on deaf ears.

It’s not just our young people that need upskilling in this area, of course. Remember that photo of the boy lying on the floor of the LGI during the election campaign?

‘Do not believe a stranger on social media who disappears into the night’ – An open letter from our editor to youYorkshire Post
Margaret, it may well be that those who will benefit the most by breaking the bond of trust you have with the likes of The Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post have already won, but I urge you to consider which news source you can get in touch with. Who is willing to look you in the eye and tell you they did their best to get it right versus those who pop up on Facebook, spout something so compelling that others share it, and with that undermine the truth and discombobulate decent citizens.

So, farewell then, Clive

Sad to hear about the loss of Clive James (and Jonathan Miller and Gary Rhodes) earlier. A man of many talents.

TV reviewers the world over owe debt to Clive JamesIrish times
live James, who died this week, was a man of many impressive parts, poet, essayist, literary critic, broadcaster, songwriter and blogger among them. But for me, it was the TV reviews he wrote for the Observer newspaper from 1972 to 1982 that left the most vivid and lasting impression. That’s partly because James essentially invented the newspaper TV review as a particular sort of place where writers could flex their muscles and show off in a way that might have been frowned on elsewhere. But it was mostly because he was so damned brilliant at the job that everyone who followed remains in his shadow.

Clive James’ best quips – from Beyoncé takedown to Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘condom full of walnuts’ jibeMirror
On novelist Barbara Cartland: “Twin miracles of mascara, her eyes looked like the corpses of two small crows that had crashed into a chalk cliff.”

“Windows is Shutting Down” – Caltech
Clive James is an illustrious expatriate Australian poet and author living in London. The title (and opening phrase) of his poem will be familiar to everyone reading these words. I’ve read them often enough myself, but it has taken James’s wit to point out how they should have grated painfully on my grammatical ear. It is a marvellously chosen example to illustrate his claim about declining grammatical standards, since digital technology has been such a powerful force for generating mangled syntax.

It’s through his TV work that I know him best, and his shows in the 80s and 90s were compulsory viewing.

Clive James on Television – ITV, 14th August 1988YouTube

The Clive James Show (Carlton) – 26th May 1996YouTube

And yes, that last one does include a demonstration of the musical talents of one Margarita Pracatan.

Open for (more) business

News that Chernobyl is expanding its tourist offer.

Chernobyl control room now open to visitors — but only wearing a hazmat suit
The move is part of a government drive to encourage tourism in the area after President Volydymyr Zelensky signed a July decree designating Chernobyl an official tourist attraction.

“We must give this territory of Ukraine a new life,” Zelensky said at the time. “Until now, Chernobyl was a negative part of Ukraine’s brand. It’s time to change it.” […]

“Most of the people say they decided to book after seeing this show,” says Victor Korol, director of SoloEast. “It’s almost as though they watch it and then jump on a plane over.”

Chernobyl’s infamous Reactor 4 control room is now open to tourists
As for what to expect, in 2011 the Guardian reported that the room had largely been stripped of its plastic instrumentation switches by “souvenir-hunters among the decommissioning staff,” though some things such as diagrams on the behavior of the reactor and aged wiring remained. […]

Sergiy Ivanchuk, director of SoloEast tours, told Reuters in June that his bookings for tours had risen 30 percent in May 2019 (when the HBO miniseries was released) compared to years prior, while bookings for the summer months had risen some 40 percent.

Take a look inside radioactive ruins of Chernobyl’s reactor No. 4

Interestingly, YouTube has added the line “RT is funded in whole or in part by the Russian government” underneath that video, with a link to RT’s Wikipedia page. Make of that what you will.

So, farewell then, CEEFAX

Teletext was slow but it paved the way for the super-fast world of the internet
The BBC has announced that 2020 will mark the end of the Red Button text service – the final incarnation of what was originally known as CEEFAX and Oracle. Those old text-based TV services would seem ridiculously clunky and old-fashioned to an internet generation used to instant streaming and apps for everything. But – as slow and frustrating as that old text system was – it paved the way for the World Wide Web and helped prepare us for the world of social media.

A kind of internet but without social media — what could be better? It wasn’t quick though, was it?

When you fetch a web page, your browser sends a request to the server and the server sends the requested data back to you. CEEFAX, on the other hand, sent each page in turn, on a sort of endless loop. So you would put in the page number you wanted to see using your remote control, but it could take some time before that page came around again. It was a bit like waiting for your favourite sushi dish at one of those Japanese restaurants which use a conveyor belt to deliver the food, or your suitcase at an airport baggage claim.

Those were the days.

Televising the climate crisis

Those articles earlier in the week about climate science misconceptions were published by The Conversation as part of the Covering Climate Now initiative.

A new commitment to covering the climate story
Co-founded by The Nation and the Columbia Journalism Review, in partnership with The Guardian, Covering Climate Now aims to convene and inform a conversation among journalists about how all news outlets—big and small, digital and print, TV and radio, US-based and abroad—can do justice to the defining story of our time.

This issue is not going to go away, however intangible it may still feel.

Nature documentaries need to get real about climate change
Climate change is often visualised in the same way, says Thomas-Walters, with the image of a polar bear on melting ice being a classic example. “Having things which show the impact on humans tend to be more effective.” This could include the depiction of severe weather events such as hurricanes and floods as they affect both humans and wildlife.

And now the weather.

How TV weathercasters became the unsung heroes of the climate crisis
Local TV weather forecasters have become foot soldiers in the war against climate misinformation. Over the past decade, a growing number of meteorologists and weathercasters have begun addressing the climate crisis either as part of their weather forecasts, or in separate, independent news reports to help their viewers understand what is happening and why it is important.

And the reports are having an impact.

Elisa Raffa: ‘I love learning about how weather and climate impact everything we do’

The armchair traveller’s hero

Yay, Richard Ayoade’s made it into the New Yorker!

“Travel Man,” Richard Ayoade’s travel show for people who hate travel
His persona is warmly amused, broadly skeptical, and gently astringent—i.e., British. He’s not a joiner. His intros conclude with him saying, in that episode’s particular city and with that episode’s particular guest, “We’re here, but should we have come?” It’s a refreshing tone for a travel series—somewhere between jumping in with both feet and looking askance at everything on earth, including the notion of fun on a weekend getaway. Where Rick Steves adopts an attitude of agreeable derring-do—in Siena, while wearing a Drago contrada neckerchief at a Drago contrada feast before the inter-contrada horse race, Steves says, “Even if I don’t fully understand what’s happening, the excitement is contagious and the wine is delightful!”—Ayoade does things like approach a toboggan on a snowy Norwegian hillside while muttering, “Generally, anything that requires a helmet, I avoid.”

The thrill of seeing

We take so much for granted these days, screens are everywhere, moving images are all around us. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like before this deluge.

Our ideas about what early movies looked like are all wrong
During the first film screenings in the 1890s, viewers marvelled at moving images that had an unprecedented power to transport them to faraway places in an instant. At first, these shorts – which included glimpses of everything from Niagara Falls to elephants in India – had no narrative structure. Audiences flocked to theatres simply for the novel experience of seeing people and places, some familiar and others deeply strange, rendered lifelike and immediate before their eyes. And, as the film curator Dave Kehr explains in this video from New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the images were hardly the grainy and frantically paced footage that has become synonymous with ‘old film’ today. Rather, viewed in their original form on large screens and prior to decades of degradation, these movies were vivid and realistic. In particular, early 68mm film, which was less practical than 35mm film and thus used less frequently, delivered startlingly lifelike impressions of distant realities to early moviegoers.

The IMAX of the 1890s – how to see the first movies

It’s quite arrogant of us to dismiss those early films as merely a stepping stone to our superior technologies today. You could argue that, given the quality of these new versions and the freshness of those first audiences, these movies made more of an impact than what we see today.

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And perhaps the same can apply to television a few decades later.

I love the idea of fake aerials. Of course, you can take a love of television too far.

Someone left old TVs outside 50 homes in Virginia while wearing a TV on his head. No one knows why.
“Everyone started coming out of their houses, walking around the neighborhood looking at the TVs there on the doorstep,” said Jeanne Brooksbank, one of the recipients, who lives in the Hampshire neighborhood. “It was very ‘Twilight Zone.’ ”

the-thrill-of-seeing-1

Magnetic Chernobyl

Before 26 April 1986, Chernobyl was the name of a city in Ukraine. It was also the name of a nuclear power plant close by, near the city of Pripyat (population 49,000). I can’t imagine many people in the West would have heard of it. After 26 April 1986, that all changed, of course.

In 2014, Danny Cooke and a documentary crew spent some time there, and showed us around.

Eerie drone footage shows Chernobyl from above
“We spent the week together exploring Chernobyl and the nearby abandoned city of Pripyat. There was something serene, yet highly disturbing about this place. Time has stood still and there are memories of past happenings floating around us.”

Postcards from Pripyat, Chernobyl

Its radioactive magnetism keeps pulling us back.

Chernobyl’s horrifying realism merits its place as TV’s top show
It’s this combination of forensic attention to detail and chilling terror that has made Chernobyl, now IMDB’s highest-rated TV series of all time, so compelling. Creator Craig Mazin has captured why, 33 years after it occurred, Chernobyl continues to grip the public’s imagination, and why the event has become a metonym for grand-scale, human-induced suffering: the prospect of nuclear disaster still makes for the ultimate horror story.

HBO’s Chernobyl vs Reality – Footage Comparison

Pripyat may be a ghost town, but it’s not empty.

Meet the dogs of Chernobyl – the abandoned pets that formed their own canine community
After the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, Pripyat and the surrounding villages were abandoned, and residents were not allowed to take their pets to safety. Chernobyl Prayer, a devastating oral history of the period, tells of “dogs howling, trying to get on the buses. Mongrels, alsatians. The soldiers were pushing them out again, kicking them. They ran after the buses for ages.” Heartbroken families pinned notes to their doors: “Don’t kill our Zhulka. She’s a good dog.” There was no mercy. Squads were sent in to shoot the animals. But some survived and it is mainly their descendants that populate the zone. […]

While the dogs get some food and play from the visitors, their health needs are met by Clean Futures Fund, a US non-profit organisation that helps communities affected by industrial accidents, which has set up three veterinary clinics in the area, including one inside the Chernobyl plant. The clinics treat emergencies and issue vaccinations against rabies, parvovirus, distemper and hepatitis. They are also neutering the dogs. Lucas Hixson, the fund’s co-founder, says: “I don’t think we’ll ever get zero dogs in the exclusion zone but we want to get the population down to a manageable size so we can feed and provide long-term care for them.” This makes Chernobyl safer for the dogs, but also for the workers and visitors.

‘Visitors’. They’re not to be called tourists, that would be too- … crass?

As seen on TV: Fans of HBO series flock to Chernobyl, Geiger counters in hand
Fallout zones don’t usually make popular tourism attractions, but tour agencies are reporting as much as a 40 percent jump in daytrip bookings to the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident since the debut of the hit HBO miniseries Chernobyl, according to Reuters. More than six million people watched the series finale last Monday, so there’s every reason to expect the tourism boomlet will continue. […]

Scientists have estimated that it will not be safe for humans to live in the 770-mile Chernobyl Exclusion Zone for up to several hundred years, given that contamination levels are not consistent in the surrounding area. Still, the Ukrainian government opened Chernobyl to tourists in 2011 and about 60,000 tourists visited Chernobyl last year, noted local tourism official Anton Taranenko at a recent press conference.

Milka Ivanova, from Bulgaria, and Dorina-Maria Buda, from Romania, were five years old in 1986. They’re now academics at Leeds Beckett University. Here, they share their perspective.

Chernobyl: we lived through its consequences – holidays in the fallout zone shouldn’t be a picnic
As I write this – decompressing my memories and digging up those of my family back in Romania – there’s still a heaviness in my chest. Milka and I channel our anxieties over Chernobyl and life in communist eastern Europe into our research. To overcome the restraints of those days, I have travelled, worked and studied in eight countries on four continents. My published work deals with psychoanalytic theories of the death instinct, trauma and nuclear tourism – the industry that monetises a fascination to visit places where nuclear accidents have laid waste to people and their communities. The Fukushima disaster of March 2011 in Japan created the most recent entry in this list of tourist hotspots.

Interestingly, 2011 was also the year that Chernobyl was officially declared a tourist attraction. The HBO miniseries has generated interest in nuclear tourism, but this fascination with our communist history is nothing new among western tourists.

We’re all plugged in

Earlier this year I linked to research from Ofcom on children’s use of technology and media. Here’s their report on the rest of us.

Adults’ media use and attitudes – Ofcom
The annual adults’ media use and attitudes report provides research that looks at media use, attitudes and understanding, and how these change over time. The report also includes a particular focus on those who tend not to participate digitally.

Basically — phones. They’re everywhere. We’ve tried to dumb them down, we’re trying to reduce screentime, but there seems to be no stopping them.

media-literacy

Adults: Media use and attitudes report 2019 (pdf)

Key findings

• Mobile phones are increasingly integral to everyday life and half of adults now say, of all devices, they would miss their mobile phone the most.

• One in three adults never use a computer to go online and one in ten only use a smartphone, an increase since 2017.

• Video-on-demand and streamed content is becoming a central part of adults’ viewing landscape.

• Social media users are less likely than in 2017 to see views they disagree with on social media.

• Compared to 2017, internet users are more likely to have encountered hateful content online, however most didn’t do anything about it.

• Although most internet users are aware of at least one of the ways in which their personal data might be collected online, less than four in ten are aware of all the ways we asked about.

• There has been little change in critical awareness in the past few years, with many still lacking the critical skills needed to identify when they are being advertised to online.

• One in ten internet users say they don’t think about the truthfulness of online content, although those who do are more likely than in 2017 to make checks to verify the information.

• Thirteen percent of UK adults do not use the internet, unchanged since 2014; those aged 55 and over and in the DE socio-economic group remain less likely to be online.

• One in seven adults of working age in DE households do not go online, and when they do, one in five only go online via a smartphone.

It’s still 1984, and always will be

It’s 2019, but are we any further on?

Nothing but the truth: the legacy of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four
Orwell was both too pessimistic and not pessimistic enough. On the one hand, the west did not succumb to totalitarianism. Consumerism, not endless war, became the engine of the global economy. But he did not appreciate the tenacity of racism and religious extremism. Nor did he foresee that the common man and woman would embrace doublethink as enthusiastically as the intellectuals and, without the need for terror or torture, would choose to believe that two plus two was whatever they wanted it to be.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is about many things and its readers’ concerns dictate which one is paramount at any point in history. During the cold war, it was a book about totalitarianism. In the 1980s, it became a warning about technology. Today, it is most of all a defence of truth.

Speaking of liars.

Boris Johnson may be the UK’s next Prime Minister, but he’s up on criminal charges for Brexit “Battle Bus” lies
Ball’s complaint claims that Johnson knew that his NHS promises were lies, and as evidence, cites instances in which Johnson used accurate figures. The complain calls for a criminal sanction as remedy for these lies, because “lying on a national and international platform undermines public confidence in politics.”

There will be preliminary hearings tomorrow, and then one of four things may happen: Johnson may appeal, the Criminal Prosecution Service may allow Ball to continue with his own private proceedings, or the CPS may take over the proceedings, or they may shut them down on the basis that the prosecution is not in the public interest.

George Orwell jumped ahead 36 years. With his new TV series, Years and Years, Russell T. Davies only leaps from five to 15 years ahead, but his vision of the future feels likelier and far scarier as a result. Why do we, the audience, keep doing this to ourselves?

From Years and Years to Bird Box: why we turn to dystopian dramas in a crisis
Right now, it’s hard to think of a more prescient film than the 2006 thriller Children of Men with its depiction of environmental catastrophe and xenophobia; call me naive but not in a million years did I think we’d get so close to Alfonso Cuarón’s vision. Great art is supposed to reflect life, or so we are told. For me, the power of Years and Years lies not in its moments of high drama but in its more subtle drawing of the growing tensions between families, generations and cultures, and the line the series draws between now and the years to come. The future is here on TV, but the question is: have we got the stomach for it?

Years & Years (2019): Official Trailer

So, farewell then, 80s icons

Some sad news from earlier this month.

Magenta Devine, presenter of Network 7 and Rough Guide, dies aged 61
In addition to her TV work she was appointed as a UN Goodwill Ambassador in 1998, heading a campaign for women’s equality and reproductive rights. In the 1990s she was treated for a heroin addiction and declared bankruptcy in 2003. In a 1996 interview with the Guardian, Devine was asked how she would like to be remembered, replying: “Brilliant, witty, clever, beautiful, generous, sexy, wise. Well, that’s what I’d like …”

Magenta Devine: an 80s TV icon of effortless style and substance
Certainly, the moral effect her shades had on her was impressive. Unlike later yoof TV presenters such as Amanda De Cadenet she was never exposed as poorly briefed, gormless or self-absorbed. I was interviewed by her myself while working for Melody Maker (for an item about George Michael) and was impressed by her methodical calmness and discreet, unflappable intelligence. This could have been Joan Bakewell. Whether reporting from the frontline of an acid house event, or presenting an informative item on Dublin in her Rough Guide series or calmly putting a typically blustery, snarky John Lydon in his place, she was the appropriate frontperson for a style of TV which, initially at least, sprang from a good countercultural place, genuinely wishing to inform rather than patronise young people.

Later, of course, Yoof TV mutated into the dismal The Word, a braying freakshow for the Friday night back-from-the-pub crowd. But Devine had largely disappeared from our screens by then. She was very much of the 80s, stylish, attractive but never an object of the sort of boorish, sexist attention of the laddish 90s. She was forgotten; now that she has gone, however, she should be remembered as a representative of a lost era of TV idealism, when style and substance went hand in glove.

I’d forgotten all about Network 7 and just how much I loved it.

Magenta Devine, TV presenter, dies aged 61
According to Guha, Devine was representative of the “yoof” TV genre, “a new kind of television that had attitude, irreverence and a commitment to telling it like it is”. “I knew she was ill, but her death is a body blow,” he went on. “I have lost a soul mate and a partner in adventure.”

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And news of another iconic sunglasses wearer from the 80s.

Mark Hollis, lead singer of Talk Talk, dies at age 64, reports say
Hollis’ influence has often been referenced by musicians, including Elbow’s Guy Garvey. “Mark Hollis started from punk and by his own admission he had no musical ability,” he told Mojo. “To go from only having the urge, to writing some of the most timeless, intricate and original music ever is as impressive as the moon landings for me.”

Talk Talk – Life’s What You Make It

What a song, so deceptively simple. Here, writer and musician Tom Maxwell gets to grips with Mark’s later work.

Remembering Mark Hollis of Talk Talk
Songwriter and Talk Talk frontman Mark Hollis died in late February. He was 64. I would love to say that I knew the man’s work beyond the 1984 synth-laden hit “It’s My Life,” but like many people, that was not the case. Knowing how much extraordinary music is available to audiophiles, as yet unheard, can be a concern as much as a comfort. It’s wonderful when a new star appears in your musical horizon, but how many are yet to be seen? Anyway, it’s doubly sad when an artist’s death is what leads you to marvelous art.

Kids and screens

There’s a lot of talk about today’s children oversharing on social media. But what kind of example are the parents setting?

When kids realize their whole life is already online
While many kids may not yet have accounts themselves, their parents, schools, sports teams, and organizations have been curating an online presence for them since birth. The shock of realizing that details about your life—or, in some cases, an entire narrative of it—have been shared online without your consent or knowledge has become a pivotal experience in the lives of many young teens and tweens.

It seems we’re all on our screens, all the time. That plural is key, though, isn’t it? It used to be that there was only the one screen at home — the TV in the living room — but now everyone has their own screen and we sit and watch them all separately.

Here’s a report on research Ofcom carried out on what children are watching, and what they’re watching it on.

Life on the small screen: What children are watching and why
The evidence gives a sense of what attracts them to online video rather than traditional TV – and just how much has changed in the course of a generation.

We’ve got a couple of teenagers in the house, and so some of these conclusions struck a nerve. Here’s an extract about live TV.

Life on the small screen: What children are watching and why – A report for Ofcom (pdf)

What role does live TV play in children’s lives?

Key findings

  • Most children viewed live TV as a family ritual, often watching programmes routinely every year (e.g. Strictly Come Dancing, I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!)
  • Parents welcomed live TV as an opportunity for “family time”, and were often actively encouraging their children to join them for communal TV watching
  • Children were often using live TV as ’background noise’ while doing another task or to fill time while they were waiting for something
  • Most live TV viewing was on a communal screen or device and therefore usually it was a compromised choice between those watching (e.g. parents and siblings) …

Conclusions

The children loved being able to find whatever they wanted, whenever they liked. As YouTube responds to demand, it can offer a seemingly limitless choice of content. YouTube offers everything they could possibly want, and then allows them to easily access more of what they like the most. …

Live TV is explicitly thought of by the children and their parents as an opportunity for “family time”, when they all sit down to watch something together. However, the children tended to feel that they weren’t choosing the content themselves, or it was a compromised choice. At other times children put live TV on for a few minutes as a ‘time filler’ while they were waiting for something or had a few minutes to spare. Overall, children seem most attracted to content that they can view on their own device, over which they can exercise maximum choice, and which directly feeds the things that interest them.

I think I miss that “family time”. It feels less natural now than it did when the kids were little.

TV’s golden, black and white age

A TV Licensing report out recently revealed that there are still 7,000 households watching TV in black and white. You might wonder why. Stuart Jeffries from the Guardian has a theory.

Black and white TVs are a lo-fi rebuke to a world gone wrong
One champion of black and white, TV historian Jeffrey Borinsky, asked rhetorically yesterday: “Who wants all this new-fangled 4K ultra HD, satellite dishes or a screen that’s bigger than your room when you can have glorious black and white TV?” Viewed thus, black and white TV is like craft beer, lo-fi reproof to a world gone wrong.

It’s a good point. Technological “progress” often just gives us more of what we don’t want. Endless choice is misery-making rather than liberating. No wonder the 7,000 rebel against colour TV’s gimcrack lunacy of red buttons; endless channels screening nothing worth watching; the binge-based death-in-life of modern viewing, and the whole lie that having access all the time to everything will make us happy rather than confused and sad.

The report doesn’t break down the demographics of those 7,000 into lavishly bearded, vinyl-collecting, folk-loving, vegan hipster devotees of the slow movement; but it’s my guess that this group is well represented.

I doubt it. Perhaps the sets (or their owners?) are just simply dying off. As the Guardian says elsewhere,

7,000 UK households still watching TV in black and white
Regular colour broadcasts began on BBC Two in July 1967 with the Wimbledon tennis tournament. The number of black and white licences issued each year has since been in steady decline since. In 2000, there were 212,000 black and white TV licences but by 2003 that number had shrunk to 93,000. By 2015, the number had dipped below 10,000.

I did remind me, though, of the old black and white portable I had in my student days. And specifically, of watching a strange little art film about television, starring solely the voice and face of the newsreader Richard Baker. I can’t find anything about it on the web now, or really remember much about it at all. Just a close up of his face, in grainy, flickery black and white (to me, anyway), intoning, “This is my voice. This is not my voice, merely a recording of my voice. This is my face. This is not my face, merely a recording of my face.” Or something.

Watching it on a rickety black and white portable TV set really brought home the artificiality of the medium: the people on your screen are not really there, they don’t actually exist as we imagine them too – it’s all mediation. I wasn’t so much watching television as looking at a site-specific installation which included a TV screen and a recording of one of the most trusted voices in Britain.

Richard Baker: The birth of TV news
“All I did in that first programme, at 7.30pm on 5 July 1954, was to announce, behind a filmed view of Nelson’s Column: Here is an illustrated summary of the news. It will be followed by the latest film of happenings at home and abroad.”

“We were not to be seen reading the news because it was feared we might sully the pure stream of truth with inappropriate facial expressions, or (unthinkably) turn the news into a personality performance.”

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Simon Stålenhag’s sci-fi to hit our screens

I was happy to read that the work of sci-fi illustrator Simon Stålenhag may be on our screens, in the not-too-distant future.

Simon Stålenhag’s dystopian art to come to life in a new Amazon sci-fi TV series
Its eight-episode run will tell the tale of the town of people who live above ‘The Loop’, a machine built to unlock and explore the mysteries of the universe. A cast hasn’t been announced, but we do know Mark Romanek (Never Let Me Know) will be directing the pilot, while Legion‘s Nathaniel Halpern and Planet of the Apes sequels director Matt Reeves are on board as executive producers.

They’re talking about his book Takes From The Loop, but my money’s on his other work, The Electric State, being the bigger winner. As I mentioned before, this one may also make it to the big screen, if the Amazon page for its Kindle edition is to be believed.

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