Saturday, April 30, 2005

Lance Armstrong's LIVESTRONG™

In the summer of 2004, Lance Armstrong worked his fan-base like no other athlete. He returned to competition, after beating testicular cancer and won another Tour de France. He also launched a charity cancer campaign and published another best selling autobiography. I first came across the LIVESTRONG™ campaign in a Nike town store in San Francisco. At the cash register, the LIVESTRONG™ rubber bands were there in handfuls. They cost only $1 and, at that moment, I thought that this seemed to be an interesting initiative: a charity marketed through the celebrity of someone who had all the characteristics of a hero, accompanied by an attention to style. However, I did not purchase one.

Over the course of the summer, LIVESTRONG™ mania caught on around the world. Even a year after they emerged, people can still be seen on the streets wearing them. My next encounter with these rubber bands occurred a month later at the NikeTown store in London, similarly stylish and rubber band aplenty. Accompanying them was a wide range of Lance Armstrong ‘yellow’ clothing. By this point – the end of July – he had won the Tour de France for yet another time. Feeling part of the vibe, I made my purchase proud that I was helping cancer research with my measly £1 (they are a little dearer in the UK, due to the currency conversion). Convincing oneself that cancer research is cool is so much easier when you don’t have to pin a ribbon to your designer jacket, not that I wear such lavish items. But, you see my point; LIVESTRONG™ appeals both on the level of celebrity endorsement and as a sufficiently subtle fashion accessory. Pins are just a little too much of a statement about beliefs, or too much of an inconvenience to wear.

A couple of weeks later, LIVESTRONG™ was most visible from the footage at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, where a number of athletes wore these rubber bands around their wrists, which surely helped to raise the profile of the campaign. Back in the UK, subsequent weeks would demonstrate the aftermath of LIVESTRONG™. Young children could be seen wearing them, along with a range of similarly coloured counterfeits. The press coverage of LIVESTRONG™ had developed its own momentum. For example, Prince William can be seen wearing the band in a range of photographs about his impending adulthood.

An additional consequence, at least within the UK, has been the emergence of many other kinds of rubber band. We have a blue one that represents a stand against bullying, allegedly prohibited from schools because wearers were bullied! There is also a black and white set of bands – two intertwined – which represents opposition to racism (also a Nike initiative). Most recently, UK Prime Minster Tony Blair has been photographed wearing the ‘Make Poverty History’ blue band. The list goes on, to a point where some schools have banned students from wearing them, because children would have an arm full of rubber bands, which, like jewellery, is seen to be risky to wear in schools

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Smiths - Guardian Conference Review

It's not often that you see an academic conference review in the Guardian, but this week, the meeting at the Manchester Institute for Popular Culture attracted the interest of writer Grace Gent. The article discusses a symposium on The Smiths held at the MIPC. Here's a link to the review.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Has Beckham's pulling power pushed off?

The conference on David Beckhan, due to take place in the summer of this year at University College Winchester has been cancelled! Andrew Blake, head of cultural studies at UCW is quoted by the Guardian saying:

"We were mildly surprised by the lack of interest in our call for papers - we have found it far easier to stimulate interest in conferences on Walter Benjamin and King Arthur, and we don't anticipate problems next year in recruiting for a conference on film violence, or the following year on Sherlock Holmes," (Blake, cited in McLeod, D (2005, April 19) The Guardian,)

Has Beckham really lost it? A couple of years ago, you could not move for conversations about David Beckham. Ellis Cashmore's book 'Beckham' might well have closed the pages on this topic.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Voice of the Dinner Lady

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver recently launched a new campaign to transform the food system in UK schools. The climax of the campaign came when he had the chance to 'convince' Charles Clarke to add a bit of extra dosh to the school food budget. Ffootage describes Jamie's plight as his life long ambition within the food industry; to make people healthier and cooler through eating ‘pukka’ food (not the pies). I was fortunate enough to catch some of the essential, governmental conversations that took place around this subject. Yet, the meeting with Charles Clarke needs unpacking. Is Labour aligning itself with the simple ideals of a popular celebrity or being made to look subservient to the protests of this peculiar individual? Was it a coincidence that Labour announced its change in lunch plans for children on the same day that Jamie went to Downing Street, or is it useful for Labour to capitalise on this link given the impending election? How is governmental policy shaped by the celebrity activist? What is the role of the docu-film in this process? Many questions.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Hitler and the Pope

Last night, it was announced that the Pope, John Paul II, was preparing to die. We left the media to play it out, setting the video to record the entire evening, seeking that moment of catastrophe that only the news presenter can now convey to us. It was not clear how much time he had left, but the news would suggest only hours, as they continue to do today. It is now around 6pm and the coverage has become considerably more measured and expectant, though it is likely that he will continue for another night. After setting the video, we proceeded out to the cinema, where we watched the long-awaited German film, The Downfall. It tells the story of Adolf Hitler’s final days, as the war is about to end. As I was watching the portrayal of this historic figure, I could not help but compare the life and character of this man with the contrasting greatness of John Paul II. While a comparison of this kind might appear to be grossly untasteful, there does seem to be something meaningful about their different iconic status.

There seems first something terribly interesting about Downfall. The film maintains a dignified encounter with the terror and grade of this figure and one finds compelled by his vision. There also seems something very authentic about its having been made by a German production company, which further reinforces its importance as a statement about how far we have come in dealing with this forgettable past.

To this extent, the fading of the Pope is similarly moving for me, an agnostic at best. One feels the need for people to gather and reclaim some sense of the spiritual and non-trivial celebrity whose character – for better or worse – is based on something sincere and real. This is what they both represent. This is why Hitler’s Downfall is reminiscent of the Pope’s death and both are played-out through their respective fictional spaces - for the Pope BBC News 24, for Hitler, The Downfall.