Friday, 25 January 2008

Friday Grab Bag: Rule Britannia Edition

Nothing cures Anglophilia like actually living in England. What seemed quaint or quirky from the comfort of your easy chair, "Masterpiece Theatre" flickering on the TV, is maddening when confronted in the flesh. For example, it's amusing in the abstract that the English don't give you a glass of water when you sit down in a restaurant, but, Jesus Christ, when all you want is a freakin' glass of water--I mean, come on, I'm dying here--it suddenly isn't so funny.

But true love means accepting something, someone, warts and all. Which is a very roundabout way of getting to the seminar I attended last night. It was at the Said Business School and it was entitled "The U.K. Media Sector and the Global Media Business: Global or Bit Part Player?" Gathered to speak were David Levy, an associate fellow at SBS and former controller at the BBC; Will Hutton, journalist and chief executive of workplace consultancy the Work Foundation; Helen Alexander, chief executive of the Economist Group; Peter Bazalgette, former chief creative officer at media giant Endemol; and Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC.

Sadly, the session was off-the-record so I can't tell you about the BBC's plans to scrap "Newsnight" and replace it with "Celebrity Dwarf-Tossing."

I think I can reveal, however, that the panelists are very keen on what they called Britain's "creative economy" or "cultural industries." These are things like media production, advertising, publishing, design, architecture, performing arts, software, etc. They directly or indirectly employ close to 2 million people in Britain. At the same time, the U.K. is the world's leading exporter of cultural industries.

The world can't seem to get enough Britstuff, which means Blighty should be producing even more, and be smarter about how it produces and disseminates its cultcha. I heard, not for the first time of course, that digital will change everything. Throw out the business models. Trying to make money with old-fashioned notions such as sticking commercials in the middle of TV sit-coms won't work in a world where users download, mash-up and forward to friends.

So, a pep rally for Britain, with only a few dark notes thrown in. No one really nailed exactly why British creations are so popular, although one panelist's comment that Britain "brings a lot of character, some might say eccentricity, to the mix" is probably close to the mark. I confess I was a bit surprised at how in-demand British culture seems to be. BBC America never struck me as that good, and while I loved "The Office" I can't see some of my favorite movies, music, novels and TV shows playing well in Peoria.

Or course, that could just be the Anglophile in me. When you love something, you hate to share it.

BritNews RoundUp
No one can compete with Britain when it comes to wacky news stories. This News of the World subhed says it all: "Man traps penis in mannequin and complains to makers." Don't you just hate when that happens?

Things have been quiet on the Daily Mail breast front lately, but the paper came roaring back this week with another hard-hitting look at the science behind women's bosoms, with a story headlined "Why the British woman's cleavage has gone from 34B to 36C in a decade." Frankly, I didn't read the whole article (something to do with hormone replacement therapy and estrogen loose in the environment) but I did look at the pictures.

Swinging Virgin millionaire Richard Branson this week unveiled the design of the futuristic craft that will allow tourists to experience space. Here's the story. Make sure you watch the little animation, for it raises a question I hadn't thought about before: The video shows the space-suited passengers unbuckling their seatbelts to float around for "a few minutes" of weightlessness. The next thing you know, they're all buckled safely back in as the ship starts its reentry. What's neatly glossed over is how exactly the Virgin Galactic crew is going to get them all back in their seats. Can you imagine the mad rush to corral a half-dozen floating passengers and strap them in? I'm betting a few don't make it to their seats in time and have to be scraped off the ceiling back on Earth.

Here's a touching tale: A pair of black-clad Goths were ordered off a bus in Yorkshire because the man leads the woman around with a dog leash. "The couple said they 'loved each other to pieces' and the use of the lead was a 'sign of trust,'" wrote the BBC. It takes guts to dress like that in Yorkshire, by gum. And do watch the interview with the couple. Those accents go great with those clothes.

Jeremy Paxman is host of the respected BBC program "Newsnight," regularly grilling newsmakers with a ferocity unknown on American television. He entered the news last week when an e-mail he sent to the chairman of British retailer Marks & Spencers (imagine a slightly more upmarket Sears) was leaked. In the e-mail, Paxman complained that the quality of Marks & Spencer underwear had declined noticeably. The socks fall down and the underpants don't, well, don't adequately support the family jewels, creating what Paxman termed "widespread gusset anxiety." This would be like Mike Wallace dashing off a letter to the head of Fruit of the Loom. In other words, odd. But in a way encouraging. Unless the whole thing is a publicity stunt, it suggests that you don't have to stop caring about the little things just because you're rich and famous.

Gargoyle of the Week

Isn't he great? Now that's a gargoyle. My Lovely Wife took this picture at St. Mary the Virgin Church in Iffley.

My, look at the time! Thanks for reading. Here's hoping we can all avoid widespread gusset anxiety this weekend.


mark from alexandria said...

No wonder Saint Mary remained a virgin with a dude like that looking out for her!

For a hard-hitting American journo,take a look at Krauthammer in the Friday Washington Post. A reliable right wing nut, he slashes poor pretty Johnny Edwards quite harshly.

Candadai Tirumalai said...

A restaurant I went to in Oxford had a pitcher of water on each table; all you needed to do was to ask for a glass. But this was a rarity. When he was brought a glass of water on saying that he was thirsty, Dr. Johnson replied that he was thirsty, not dirty.
It may be all right to ask for beer in an American tavern but in a British pub one has to name the variety: lager, stout, guinness, and so on.

Chuck said...

Whoa - the masonry under that gargoyle makes it look like one of those vomiting pumpkins. Do you see many hurling gargoyles?