Pop culture and the Olympics

We’re a few days off of the London Olympics. In case you’re not dry-retching at the mention of the word, here’s the Zeitgeist Tapes guide to pop culture and the Olympics.

First up – the Olympics song. Doubtless you’ve been humming this for the last few weeks, whilst drinking pepsi, eating burger king and wearing your nike trainers. You may even have chosen it for any important services on the horizon (weddings, funerals, boat launches etc). It sounds exactly like a Queen single played backwards and we can guarantee it’s the worst song you’ll hear today. Rather than conjuring images of international participation in an event on an unprecedented scale outside of war, it prompts the sensation that you’re watching a bad 80s film about some kind of confusing international conflict. You’ll probably hear it through someone else’s headphones whilst being stuck for three hours on a packed train. You won’t be grateful.

After that godawful harbinger of overblown, pompous arseholery the G4S corporate anthem doesn’t sound too bad does it? At least it’s sort of upbeat and you can hum it without imagining it playing in the office of the budget writers they bring in to do cheapo Dr Who episodes every now and again. ZT is no fan of private security firms at the best of times, but we can safely say that the Team America inspired ‘Securing Your World’ is our favourite thing about the firm.

The Olympic mascots are the relentlessly inexplicable Wenlock and Mandeville. These ominous, cycloptic cretins are the cheerful child-friendly face of sportsfest 2012 and you will see them squidged behind police motorcade windscreens, badly-printed into cheap t shirts and installed around zone 1 as giant, un-climbable stereotypes. You can tell them apart because Wenlock looks like it is smarting from having been struck several times with a police baton. Mandeville looks as though it has pissed itself. Here’s their story:

You can buy your own mini mascot on Amazon, kitted out in police regalia. 94 people have reviewed the figurine at time of press, and they are all hilarious.

As the Olympics seem to be cracking down on sponsorship, plenty of people aren’t selling merchandise. One shop who definitely isn’t infringing on anyone’s rights to anything is thatbigeventinlondon.co.uk. They’re offering three slogan bags, at £15 each. Zeitgeist Tapes’ favourite is “it only took me 3 hours to get to work this morning.”

Speaking of travel, you’ll be aware that you have already been advised against going anywhere. British Airways have used ‘London Calling’ to advise people residing in the UK not to fly. We’re not entirely convinced BA execs listened to the words before they signed it off. Engines have stopped running, war is declared and battle comes down aren’t the vibes I look for in an airline, and nor is the fact its managers may be thick enough not to listen to the song that’s soundtracking their adverts. Still, it’s probably better than Muse and at least they’re not Ryanair.

The Londonist have put together the most practical guide to Olympics commuting you’re likely to come across:

“Walking is a great way of getting around London – and quicker than you think. Walking from Trafalgar Square to Croydon, for example, can take as little as three and half hours. Great exercise, too!”

If you’re staying at home you’ll be spoiled by the BBC’s Olympic offer. Here’s a list of Olympic programmes you might enjoy. As well as the Olympic Torch charade you can also catch the Olympics on a bunch of other shows. There will be profiles of athletes like Tom Daley and Victoria Pendleton. Your full BBC Olympic viewing experience might include:

  • Absolutely Fabulous, Olympic special
  • A Question of Sport, Olympic special
  • Faster, Higher, Stronger, stories of the Olympic games: 1500 metres
  • Pointless
  • Eastenders

All these programmes were broadcast on Monday 23rd of July on BBC London. To mark the Olympics fictional mishap Billy Mitchell carried the Olympic torch around Albert Square. Being Eastenders the Olympic torch storyline was juxtaposed with someone giving birth in a Kebab shop. (At least the square’s residents didn’t need to get the bunting out twice.) The Eastenders torch relay was a surreal touch given that had it been real, Albert Square probably would have been levelled for the games and its once-fictional E20 postcode has been given to the Olympic Park.

The live broadcast was almost stranger viewing than seeing Black Eyed Pea Will.I.Am tweet his way round Somerset, torch aloft.

The Opening Ceremony sounds seventeen kinds of crazy. And as for Friday’s weather?

Image

Ah well, it should go well with that Muse song at least.

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Horrible Histories

Deborah has written about Horrible Histories. Which is neat, because if it was up to me this page would be a poorly-punctuated mess of youtube links and ill-mannered enthusiasm with hearts doodled in the margins and garbled text insisting you ‘watch this bit again!!!’…

I wasn’t sure which show to write about this time and then my daughter got chickenpox, and the sight of her smothered in pustules, and the medievally awful pain and misery of the illness made me think of Horrible Histories. In fact, yesterday morning she woke me up by doing the ‘Stupid deaths’ song and dance next to my bed, all covered in bleeding spots and with matted, unwashed hair full of four days of cereal eaten on the sofa. I nearly crapped myself, it was so frightening.

Horrible Histories is a show that takes history, and picks out all the bits featuring nasty diseases, poo, strange fluids, murder on a large scale and other things that normally go into history books, and sets them in a fantastically funny sketch show format.

There’s a vein of pop culture running through Horrible Histories, which parodies various shows like The Apprentice, the Orange film ads and Ready Steady Cook. Steven Kelly writes about this in the Guardian blog. Personally I suspect that children watching won’t really be all that aware of very much adult tv in that genre. They will be playing games on their smart phones and watching inappropriate films on You Tube, surely?

This doesn’t in any way at all reduce the amazingness of the show – but I think pop culture is just a hook for them to hang the stories on and give the show some shape. Also let’s not forget it’s got a huge adult audience too, and the tv asides are really for them. Despite the anarchic, evil-panto feel of the show it’s really quite sophisticated and works brilliantly to entertain just about everyone. This makes sense when you wonder why it’s such a success, as it is designed for children aged about 6 -12 which is a huge span in educational terms. The younger ones will get the silly tunes and poo references, and as you go up the age ranges the children can get some of the pop culture allusions and maybe also learn some facts.

Proving what a stupendously superb show it is, it was awarded Best Sketch Show at the British Comedy Awards 2011. Yes, it won an award instead of a grown-up’s show. This also demonstrates that much adult comedy/drama is a bit patchy and a lot cowardly, and deserves to be beaten soundly about the head with a mace by the fearlessly funny HH. It also reminded me that the best bits in Mitchell and Webb were often based on history, such as the SS officers wondering about their part in the WW2 narrative and, given the skull and crossbones on their helmets, were they the baddies?

My interest in HH is really quite pure, I just watch it for the laughs, but apparently some mums actually FANCY THE ACTORS! Yes, despite their gurning and bony-elbowed-dancing, the males in the show actually have a following of ladies, as reported on Digital Spy and seen across a bunch of tumblrs. Come on though, where does that leave Steve Backshall (Deadly 60)? What a kick in the pants – you spend loads of time getting ripped and then fighting various toothy crocodiles, slimy eels, enraged hippos etc, all with your vest off, only for the emaciated crew of Horrible Histories to overtake you in the sex appeal lane. Bad luck Steve. Goes to show us ladies prefer GSOH to rippling muscles, or else it just means we’ll fancy anything in trousers/toga/kilt/whatever.

I tried looking up some facts for this blog, and I ready somewhere that the author of the original children’s book series on which this show is based, Terry Deary, has sold over 25 million books worldwide. Cor, that sounds a lot, I thought. Then I read somewhere else that JK Rowling has sold 400 million books. But to put that in perspective most children’s authors only just cover their advances and have proper jobs to keep them alive, so anyone thinking that writing a kid’s book will be a ticket for the gravy train, forget it.

Possibly at the root of the show’s awesomeness is the set of famous comedy names involved with producing, writing and acting HH: Steve Punt, David Baddiel, the cast of the League of Gentlemen to name but a few. The regular cast are the backbone of the thing however, and they deserve the odd drool from Mumsnetters. When you get cameos from the big guns, in reality HH is doing them a favour by introducing them to a new young audience who would otherwise not have a clue about them. So don’t feel sorry for ‘grown-up’ actors and comics next time you see them on children’s tv, they haven’t come down in the world, they are building up their fanbase.

Eurovision

Europe’s biggest TV event, the Eurovision final, takes place tomorrow. Here’s your Zeitgeist Tapes guide to the pop show to end all pop shows. 

  • This year Eurovision is hosted by Azerbaijan, because they won last year. The country’s human rights abuses were documented in Panorama this week, which is still on the iPlayer. So you can watch it whilst you watch Eurovision on Saturday. (link)
  • So many countries are keen to get involved in Eurovision that as well as the Grand Final on Saturday, there are two semi-finals. These took place during week on the 22nd and 24th of May. Six countries are exempt from the semi-final process: the host and the Big Five. The Big Five are Britain, Germany, France, Spain and Italy, and they are guaranteed a spot in the final because they are the biggest financial supporters of the European Broadcasting Union.
  • The UK will be on first on Saturday, and our entry this year is Engelbert Humperdinck.  at time of writing it’s got 1,151 ‘dislikes’ on youtube and even Engelbert doesn’t seem entirely convinced: “my heart is with the Germans. So I’ll be singing on Saturday for all Germans, especially for German women!” Of course, this may be a ploy to garner douze points from Germany. (link)
  • For those who fancy getting involved, voters are not allowed to choose their own country but can vote up to 20 times, should they wish. The top 10 get 12 (“Douze points!”), 10, eight, then counting down to one. 
  • Bloc voting is a bit of a thing that seems to happen. It may or may not be interesting to see how the Eurozone Crisis plays out in the world of pop music.
  • Some countries, such as Poland, haven’t entered a song this year, in order to save money. Other countries have taken the Father Ted route. The Spanish entry was quoted as saying “If we were to win, it will be impossible because of the costs”, though she is now saying she was mis-quoted (link). Others, like Georgia, have just fielded acts which are inept are rather unpleasant. .
  • San Marino’s popularion (c. 30,000) went home from the semi-finals disappointed, as their act was forced to removed the word ‘facebook’ from their performance and subsequently failed to get through the semi-finals with the newly-generic ‘Social Network Song’
  • Latvia’s investment in nominative determinism failed them, as they did not make the final with ‘Beautiful Song’.
  • Austria’s entry, from the group ‘Trackshittaz’ didn’t make the cut either. Probably because it looks like the sort oif vision that might befall you if you were to inhale too much Lynx.
  • Italy are looking as though they might do well.
  • Sweden are also something of a fan favourite.
  • And you should never discount Jedward, who came eighth last year and have spent the last few weeks campaigning and touring in ‘EDzerbaiJOHN’ to build support. 
  • Oh, and this bloke is Dr. Eurovision. (link)
  • The BBC’s website has some handy printable resources, such as two kinds of score sheet and some posters urging you to ‘Get Behind the Hump’. Print out their kit, including a nifty set of ‘Engleburns’ and if you’re lucky you might get featured in one of their awkward-cuts-to-Eurovision-party clips they use to pad out the gaps left for advertising. (link)
  • Graham Norton will be presenting Saturday’s Grand Final. He took over from Terry Wogan in 2009. “Everybody in the UK knows it’s rubbish”, Wogan said. (link)
  • If all else fails, drink.

The Eurovision Grand Final is on BBC 1 at 8pm, this Saturday.

8th-14th May 2012

POP MUSIC

  • This week’s number one single is by Rita Ora. Rita was born in 1990 and initially received attention on the 2009 Eurovision selection-show Eurovision: Your Country Needs You. R.I.P. is the lead single from her debut album. It’s got an all-star cast: it was written by Drake for Rihanna, who turned it down. It was then co-produced by Chase & Status and Stargate. It features Tinie Tempah and a sample from Nneka’s 2008 track ‘Heartbeat’ (link).
  • The week’s best-selling album was by Keane. Adele’s still at number 4. There are probably as many copies of this album as there were freebie AOL CD ROMs kicking around in 1999. (link)
  • Train’s latest single managed to get to number 6 in this week’s chart. If you thought ‘Drops of Jupiter’ would make Train into a one hit wonder then it looks like you might have been right. (link)
  • If you’ve not been following news of comedy rap from mid 2000s Newport, you might have missed the fact that a bloke out of Goldie Lookin Chain was elected local councillor (link).
  • If you have tickets to see Blink 182 in the UK don’t panic. The dates will go ahead despite Travis’ emergency surgery. (link)

TV

  • Saturday was the Britain’s Got Talent final. The competition was won by a dancing dog and the 15 year old who trained him. Simon Cowell has mentioned his quest for a dancing dog before, so now that ambition is taken care of maybe we should start keeping an eye on him and his political aspirations. (link) The People’s coverage of Pudsey’s victory is almost worthy of note. (link)
  • Prince Charles tried out presenting the Weather Forecast on a visit to BBC Scotland. (link)
  • Lady Gaga will be in the Simpsons. (link)

soap news

  • Coronation Street had the most-watched episode of the soaps this week. 7.79 million people tuned in to watch Lesley’s death. (link)

FAMOUS PEOPLE DOING THINGS

  • Lots of people wore fancy clothes to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s gala ball. It’s the one night where everyone is kind of encouraged to turn up in their most outre  glad rags, Beyoncé for one certainly didn’t disappoint. (link)
  • Serena Williams has recorded a song, features the lines: ‘I cut the track up like a frozen pizza/beat’s so crazy it might blow ya speakers’. (link)
  • Maurice Sendak died. Here is a video in which he speaks about making his work. (link)
  • Jennifer Hudson saw the sentencing of the man who murdered her mother, brother and nephew. (link)

SHIT FILMS

  • We were all for the Paddington Bear movie, until the line ‘modern take’. It would be lovely if they’d recreated it in period, like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. (link)
  • Piranha 3DD has got some poor reviews, which comes as no surprise. We reckon that when David Hasselhoff is your mitigating factor something has gone horribly awry. (link)

ANIMAL NEWS

  • Following on from Piranha, we have some bad news for dolphins at raves 😦 Not cool. (link)
  • To cheer you up here are some photos of Paul and Linda McCartney and some sheep 🙂 (link)

FUrther reading:

  • Once you’ve caught up with pop culture, why not read up on the week in internets? (link)

Children’s TV: Tree Fu Tom

Another awesome guest post from Deborah, watching children’s TV so you don’t have to!

This week I have been watching a new show on CBeebies called Tree Fu Tom which sounds a bit like a Chinese restaurant dish but is in fact a cartoon about a magic elf, voiced by former Doctor Who David Tennant, and his friends, voiced by Sophie Aldred. Sophie played Ace in Doctor Who during the Sylvester McCoy era.* Tom and friends live in a village and in every episode some apocalypse or other threatens to wipe it out. Kids watching are meant to join in a movement routine which will generate the magic to help eliminate a flood of slime, or an escaped wind turbine flying around and chopping down trees with its blades.

I’m not sure yet if I love it or hate it, so I’m going to give it time. I don’t find it violently irritating yet. You can’t really criticise a show with a blatant mission to get children to heave themselves off the sofa and do some exercise. Mind you, my first born normally watches everything in total hypnotised submission to the holy light of the flat screen. Nothing can break through to her frozen synapses, not even offers of chocolate milk, so there’s no way a cartoon elf will cut it, no matter how much I bellow “Let’s do it together! Go on, stand up! Wave your ARMS!! Like this, Look!”

I mean, it’s obvious really, the whole reason parents put children in front of the TV is that it’s the human equivalent of putting a tea towel over the budgie’s cage. So any TV show that is trying to make children actively participate is fighting the power of the medium. Even in the days of Why Don’t You… (40-somethings altogether now: “… Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go and Do Something Less Boring Instead?”) there was an implicit Tadmission, in the fact of the programme’s existence, that watching TV is better and more fun than doing absolutely anything else. It is a fact, my friends, that all children are born with a screen addiction that parents feed and exploit as a control mechanism. Not all parents, no, my friend’s friend rations her child to 20 minutes a day, but she doesn’t get out much because she is working full time as a dental nurse for chickens.

*Is there some hidden will behind this bringing together of cast members from parallel Doctor Who universes? Is it even safe?

Children’s TV

One of the areas of pop culture I know least about is children’s pop culture, and the massive stars within the genre. Children’s writer and illustrator Deborah Fajerman however, is something of an expert. In her first post for Zeitgeist Tapes, Deborah discusses two children’s TV stars and the shows and spin-offs that made their names…


There are two Tracy Beakers

Me and my nearly four year old daughter get confused by Tracy Beaker. The thing is this:

Tracy Beaker and Tracy Beaker Returns are shows about children living without parents in a large, clean house with a cast of improbably attractive teenagers. Dani’s House is a show about children living without parents in a large, clean house with a cast of improbably attractive teenagers. They both have the same lead actor – Dani Harmer.

Dani has been playing Tracy since she was 12 and had curly hair, when the show was called The story of Tracy Beaker. Dani is now a young adult with tonged hair, making occasional appearances in the sequel Tracy Beaker Returns, as a trainee care worker. Then there is Dani’s House, in which she inhabits the same TV universe, but in a parallel reality. In this series Dani plays a TV actress. When Dani’s not in these shows, she’s also presenting continuity segments between programmes on CBBC, starring in the Tracy Beaker’s the ‘Movie of Me’ or presenting Tracy Beaker: Survival Files. The inevitable record deal eventually came to nothing (though the official video can still be found on Chinese video sharing sites). Fans of meta-textual children’s TV will be pleased to hear CBBC have comissionned a new spin-off series, to be shown in 2013, called The Dumping Ground and set in the care home where Tracy used to live.

I think this is confusing for tired working mums, and small children. In the middle of the night when she couldn’t sleep after a bad dream, my daughter recently told me: “Mummy, there are two Tracy Beakers”. This is what she was reflecting on in the dark hours before the dawn. The dual identity of Dani has gone deep into my daughter’s psyche.

A superficially similar issue affects Mr Tumble, aka Mr Gigglebiz, aka Justin Fletcher. He straddles CBeebies like a titan. He’s in nearly everything. Most children from the age they can focus their eyes on a tv screen (thus allowing their parents to walk around free from a child attached to their ankles while attempting to assemble a plate of dry crackers and humous in the rough shape of a children’s meal), absolutely adore Justin Fletcher. They tend to identify him as “Mr Tumble” whichever programme he is on, so really, the duality is not a problem for viewers because he is essentially a clown in all his shows. Also, unlike Dani, he has curly hair whether or not he is wearing his clown wig. As Mr Tumble he is unique in being the only clown in history who is not fucking terrifying. He is an all round genius; I hope he is a zillionaire.