Song Of The Day – Astral Traveling by Pharoah Sanders

From the album ‘Thembi’ (1971)

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Black Mirror’s jumped the shark with Euro 2020

During the group stages of the European championships I was only half watching. Thanks to a slew of games compromised by negative tactics (even adopted by the likes of the Netherlands and France), a ridiculously bloated and therefore watered down competition which is indicative of UEFA’s perpetual greed, featuring minnows who you’d ordinarily not watch if this wasn’t a ‘major tournament’ or you didn’t have a serious gambling problem. And yeah, I’m giving Scotland the minnow designation to avoid being labelled a hypocrite.

(Even worse, there was the involvement of Hungary, again, thanks to UEFA’s expanded finals format. What a nice bunch, passing laws that discriminate against LGBT folk, booing players kneeling, racist and homophobic chanting, and a full stadium in Budapest with not a mask in sight. UEFA’s refusal to allow the Allianz Arena in Munich to be illuminated in the rainbow colours before the game between Hungary and Germany to appease these arseholes was risible. I was disappointed the Bavarians didn’t call UEFA’s bluff and just do it anyway. At least UEFA’s weaselly justification showed that kowtowing to those who maintain their revenues and status, not inclusivity and equality, is what matters most. Add it all together and Hungary’s involvement in Euro 2020 has been the equivalent of inviting your local paedophile to a street party.)

This brings us to an extremely drab group game between Denmark and Finland at the start of the tournament. I had it on in the background. When I finally glanced back at the telly I saw a Danish player lying prone on the ground with a paramedic repeatedly pressing down on his chest. My initial reaction was one of shock, but not the kind you think I mean. I wasn’t shocked that a footballer was having, what appeared to be, a heart problem. Sadly it’s an occurrence which happens periodically. Most of us only hear of footballers dropping dead of an overexerted heart after the fact (it has its own Wikipedia entry), and most of us don’t have the opportunity (for the lack of a better word) to witness them collapsing and the attempts to save them. But yet here I was, in sheer disbelief, witnessing Christian Eriksen trying to be revived, on prime time TV. The really unforgivable part was the attempts to spin out its narrative, with a series of choreographed camera angles. It was fucking grotesque, and peculiar. What’s next, showing executions by Islamic State in full (with instant replays)? Or how about the Islamic State execution channel (on demand)? Necrophilia? Giving David Icke’s Lizard-people illuminati theories another airing? Someone impersonating Jimmy Saville fingering the arsehole of a decomposing horse while shouting ‘different class’ on a live stream?

It’s tiring to focus on the negative, so let’s first focus on the positive. Christian Eriksen was revived, is still alive and is likely to fully recover. Maybe he’ll even be able to play football again at some point soon.

But back to my gripe. The BBC not cutting away from this coverage. It is indicative of editorial opportunism to appease the new diseased populism. But at least they know their audience; socially and politically apathetic viewers that don’t care about the consequences of their actions and latently depressed sofa dwellers who wallow in their discontent of a life lived vicariously through rubber necking. It’s why we get so many car crash compilations, ghastly news channels in America showing police chases, and reality TV shows. The Beeb’s decision to continue the coverage belonged to this dismal species. This speaks to how jaded I am, but I’ve seen Eriksen’s eventual recovery wielded as justification for showing the entirety of it. It was so tasteless that even Twitter, shockingly, and to their credit, censored it. Not even Charlie Brooker would write a Black Mirror episode incorporating such a scenario.

Showing Eriksen collapsing, and even the close up shots of his lifeless body and face, with his eyes open while he lay prone on the floor all but dead, you can somewhat forgive as it’s nigh on impossible to diagnose what is happening at that speed. But once the Danish players started panicking and CPR was clearly being administered, the coverage should’ve been cut and reverted to the studio (who were more than capable of keeping you updated). Instead the BBC chose to indulge morbid curiosity at a level that was pornographic and dramatisation over decorum. We were treated to shots of bemused Finnish footballers not knowing what to do, spectators watching in horror, the Danish players forming a circle (admirable, but with little effect with so many cameras in the ground) around Eriksen and the paramedics, before, and this is the bit that really ticked me off, his wife was brought to sidelines, clearly very upset, all the while Jonathan Pearce and Martin Keown, who, to be kind, didn’t sign on for this, or are equipped to handle such an ‘event’, provided ‘commentary’.

I’ll be empathic here – if you didn’t feel like a horrible cunt, or deeply uncomfortable, for continuing to watch this then there’s something wrong with you. Shame on me for watching it. I’ve never watched someone be executed, or a kid being gang raped by Tory peers in a boy’s home in North Wales in the 1980’s, but I’d imagine they would conjure a similar feeling of revulsion and regret if I had the misfortune of unwittingly witnessing them too.

The hypocrisy of Eriksen’s ‘treatment’ being shown was made elsewhere, and I’ll regurgitate it here. If the producers of sporting events can follow the widely held convention of cutting all camera shots of the pitch/action when a streaker or protestor stops play then why didn’t they cut away here? And the excuse that it was an unprecedented live TV event is laughable. It soon became clear what was happening, and it was just indecently invasive. The coverage kept rolling because this was deemed newsworthy and in the public interest, no doubt, whatever that means. What does it mean? That we might get to witness someone die on television? Edgy. A real conversation starter. Certainly to the Beeb, no matter if Eriksen lived or died, keeping the coverage going guaranteed an increased audience share for the wasteland that’s their Saturday day time TV coverage and helps to justify the licence fee. Here it got to be the epicentre of a media cycle for the next few hours. Outside of election coverage on the day of and day after, and, say, a Kennedy assassination level event (I’m coming back to this phenomenon), when else can they achieve this? Certainly not through their normal programming, that’s for sure.

I have a list of things, events and people to blame for the masses indulging in this insatiable proclivity to gawk. Lockdown certainly hasn’t helped. Most people, housebound, waiting for it all to end, are desperate for something different to happen to break the monotony of working, sleeping, shitting, eating, barely leaving the house and in a lot of cases have become trapped in a daily cycle of being stuck in front of some form of screen communicating virtually, if at all.

The timeline of decline is also clear: OJ fleeing in his Bronco was the first instance, I can recall, on television where rumour and conjecture were reported as fact to satiate curiosity and gossip. The subsequent trial was the first one by media to become an entertainment event, shortly followed by Diana dying and her funeral becoming the biggest show of self-pity since Hitler topped himself. Then came the 11th September attacks in 2001, the ultimate TV car crash. In the case of latter, even I’ll concede that as a spectacle it was extraordinary. As was the loss of perspective and tact it and the aforementioned events accelerated. Crucially, said series of events occurred right around the advent of the internet (and not before social media had drastically altered sociological behaviour) and set the template for how we’re expected to stop and devote ourselves unequivocally when they occur. Witnessing is the new living. Social media shifted the paradigm, adding an instantaneous feedback loop to consumption of said events. Everyone can go Gonzo with the right tweet or reaction. TV as a medium (struggling to maintain its relevancy) in the new landscape simply can’t keep up, unless it unwittingly happens upon something and becomes the source, as it did with Eriksen collapsing.

Thankfully, the mute button still exists, and I’ve been watching the knock-out stages of Euro 2020 with the sound off (so far so good, as the second round games have been largely excellent). It’s good to know that in most circumstances I can watch a game of football blissfully unware of any additional editorial projection by switching on just before kick-off and leaving the room at half time to avoid bleak nationalistic collage pieces infused with trite xenophobia that perpetually follow England’s involvement in a finals tournament. The coverage of Eriksen’s brush with death broke through the barrier I’d crafted and served as a reminder of the disease that lurks beyond. It’s sad to concede, but we’ve declined to the point where not even a man nearly dying on a football pitch is safe from the foul stench of tabloidization.

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Song Of The Day – Dream 2 Science by Dream 2 Science

From the album ‘Dream 2 Science’ (1990)

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Song Of The Day – Rattled By The Rush by Pavement

From the album ‘Wowee Zowee’ (1995)

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Returning to Deadwood, fifteen years on. It’s even better second time around.

Amid all of the Friends reunion bollocks, I opted for one that’s worthwhile, by watching Deadwood again.

If you haven’t seen Deadwood, drop whatever shit com, reality TV or any other drama you care to mention (with a few exceptions) that you’re degrading your brain on and binge watch this. Not only is it captivating, compelling, idiosyncratic and poignant, but also hilarious ‘I won’t fuck a Chinese, I got a mother living yet’.

Once you get past the initial pre-occupation with the profanity’s frequency (thanks mostly to this infamous scene) and you get your bearings around the dialogue’s structure, the profound commentaries of the characters penetrate more effectively. At one point Seth Bullock indirectly muses with Sol Starr about feeling guilt at his clear attraction to Alma Garret, with Bullock being married to his dead brother’s sister out of loyalty;

Sol Star:
I don’t suppose you need me to say it. But if there’s a Heaven, your brother sees what you did and he’s grateful.

Seth Bullock:
Perhaps he sees me borrowing his life so that I didn’t have to live my own.

Sol Star:
People have made good lives out of borrowed ones before.

This is only one example, but there’s many more, so many that it’s practically Shakespearian level gear.

Unknown to me when it first aired, a number of the events and characters in Deadwood are based on historical fact. However, given the show’s unique construct, it’s best to be utterly indifferent to any level of authenticity, be it partial or inconsistently applied. Regardless, splicing modern profanity with period dialogue firmly punctures realism. It’s an effective trade-off though, as the emotional struggles and plight of these characters, who lived in a period of immense geopolitical change in America’s formation, become more relatable to a contemporary audience.

Deadwood’s unusual amalgamation makes most other westerns feel tawdry and stoic, because so many elide sophisticated insight into the human psyche, characterisation and multiple plot strands in favour of the aesthetic. Deadwood takes a different tack, it’s character and plot driven first, with the characters often adopting a pessimistic, cynical, even nihilistic tone that’s synonymous with Cormac McCarthy’s work in the genre and far more suited to the setting and their existences.

It’s Deadwood’s structures of timber and canvas that ubiquitously convey the pathos of life here, as virtually all the narrative’s events occurs within its confines. Deadwood is still designated a camp, and has been as quickly cobbled together as the rush for gold. All of the dwellings and establishments are dingy, made of wood and exist in varying states of squalor, the ground of the town’s main street is a mud pit, dirt and dust constantly swirls through the air and some of the characters look so filthy and their clothing dishevelled that you could sense the stench and discomfort was unimaginable. Prostitution, drugs, drink and gambling, which constitute a large portion of the establishments in Deadwood, abound. The amount of booze consumed would shame Keith Floyd, Oliver Reed and Peter O’Toole and clearly there was no such thing as an alcoholic in the 1870’s. Life here, or on any frontier, is, in this period of history, all about adversity, and hardship makes for good theatre as it inevitably exacerbates tension whenever squabbling over money is involved. But it’s the threat of annexation by the wrong (read unsuccessfully bribed) state confederacy potentially ruling all existing titles and claims void that makes for entertaining manoeuvring by the central players.

While the sanctimonious Bullock offers a foil for all the cut-throating, stealing and scheming, and Calamity Jane brings a quixotic mix of caustic drunken levity while showing immense charity for the plight of others, the most enjoyable turns in Deadwood are still the most despicable. The insatiable greed of George ‘power comes to any man who has the colour’ Hearst and his bagman the Patrick Bateman like Francis Wolcott. Cy Tolliver is deliciously ghastly, as the cigar toting, suave, psychotic, constantly conniving pimp who’s not quite as clever as he’d like to think he is. His rival in that line of business, Al Swearengen, is in a league of his own. Al, to borrow a word he regularly uses, may be a cunt, but he’s a cunt always worth watching. No more so than when operating the grift, as a salesman temporarily offering discounts on booze and girls at his establishment, his one per episode ranting soliloquys (usually at the stupidity of someone else or as means of therapy when recalling a scarring experience from his youth – often while being fellated) or as a Svengali figure manipulating the townsfolk and his underlings, a selection of brutes, halfwits and the rodent like E.B. Farnam – the useful idiot hotel manager, camp mayor and perpetual spy – all of whom would be lost without his leadership and the sense of place, value and meaning being in his orbit provides them.

For those of us who grew up in the UK above a certain age, seeing Ian McShane’s turn as Al Swearengen; Machiavellian, lewd, unapologetic, and speaking to a severed Sioux Indian head he keeps in a box, after famously turning out as the luvvie duvvie Lovejoy, a dealer of Victorian antiques (a suitable connection given Deadwood’s set during the Victorian era), in the show of the same name, is a jarring juxtaposition. But as Jane Austen rightly observed even despots have admirable and endearing elements to their nature, and in Deadwood, where the law is decidedly grey, nothing is ever black and white. We see Al’s humane and generous side; a mercy killing, employing a heavily palsied cleaner and showing complete loyalty to those who return the favour.

I’ll avoid delving too deeply into linguistic anthropology, and without keeping a dedicated count of all the shit, cunts, fuck and fucking used, (this should help) ‘cocksucker’ is also commonly used, and serves its purpose in all contexts. In Deadwood’s era it works as a demeaning slur equated to the lowest profession, and in its modern context it packs additional heft, as in this day and age it’s seldom heard, rightfully banished for its homophobic connotations. That said, the visceral glee with which it’s used, and its scarcity in the modern lexicon, does highlight that an insult, rarely used, packs far more heft than one that often is. As with any vice from yesteryear that’s been banished as being bad for you hedonists and or the collective, or is well on its way to being; Phrenology (kidding), cigarettes, sugar, red meat, the word cocksucker has been so suppressed that its prevalence in Deadwood makes it feel like a quaint artifact. Housed within these boundaries it’s guilt free, and even offers us a safe space to enjoy it.

So what of the Deadwood film released in 2019? An epilogue of sorts set ten years after the TV series. I have no idea whether it’s good. I suspect so, but even if it disappoints, at least it enticed me to blitz though all three seasons of Deadwood proper as a refresher. And that brings us to the only negative, this show got cancelled after season three. It’s unforgivable. We deserved more. It deserved more than a two hour film for closure. It’s a good reminder to treasure something great when it comes along, as there’s no accounting for taste or common sense of the stupid cunts and fucking cocksuckers that don’t have any.

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