Thursday, June 30, 2005

Live8, g8, Geldof, Bono, and Others

It seems important to blog something about the Live8, G8, Bob Geldof activities. I read this in one of Mick Hume's columns in Sp!ked OnLine, which captures the tensions well i think:

"No doubt the pop stars and other celebrities involved in Live 8 and the Long Walk to Justice campaign see themselves as radical troublemakers, holding the politicians' feet to the flames. Yet in a sense they are more like unwitting stooges of the political class, helping to give the politicians more credibility in getting their message across. That is why government ministers and politicians of all parties have been falling over themselves to express support for Live 8. It is why chancellor Brown, not a man one would ever associate with street activism, has called on people to support the mass demonstration in Edinburgh planned to coincide with July's G8 summit of world leaders in Scotland. It is worth recalling that the Commission for Africa, which issued a highly critical report on the international community's attitude to Africa and is now commonly referred to as 'Bob Geldof's Commission', was actually set up by Blair to perform that role." (link to article)

With the G8 protests just around the corner, I doubt this will be the only entry on this subject. We still don't know how easy it will be to get to Edinbrugh on Saturday, though it seems likely that getting to Gleneagles will either be impossible or pointless. There also seems to be considerable confusion about what is happening on each day. The 'Geldof' day of the 6th is unrelated to the 'Make Poverty History' day of the 2nd.

It can be quite difficult to discern how 'important' Live8 and the G8 is for the rest of the world. We have spoken with people in Spain and the USA who have certainly not heard much about 'Make Poverty History' campaign. Over the last few weeks, the multiplex cinemas have been screening a new Orange advert featuring Ewan McGregor and the MPH work. The format is consistent with the recent Orange cinema adverts, where the celebrity makes their film pitch to the Orange funding committee.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

Taking the Michael

So, Michael Jackson has finally been found not guilty this week on all counts in his trial on child molestation charges, ending a two-year legal case. However the question of how he is to resurrect his previously celestial pop career remains unanswered. Jackson's stunned response denied the world's media with hoped-for footage of a jubilant star, and wall-to-wall media pundits queued up on television news to speculate as to his recovery plan (a show at Vegas? Touring Asia? Setting up a theme park in Africa?)

Meanwhile the real star of the trial was Jackson's defence attorney, Thomas Mesereau Jr. (nicknamed 'The Mez') became his official mouthpiece and something of a celebrity in his own right. With his flowing white hair and tenacious cross-examination of witnesses, plus an intriguing past: an amateur boxer, defending celebrities such as Robert Blake and Mike Tyson, recently acquitting (without fees) a man on Death Row, it is surely not long before The Mez joins the celebrity chat-show and book promotion circuit.

Jackson's trial undoubtedly dominated the news agenda of the last few weeks. I suspect that most people thought he would ultimately be acquitted, not least due to an increasing cynicism in the legal process that has led to a number of celebrities - from O.J. Simpson to Kobe Bryant and Robert Blake - walking free from serious crime allegations. However Douglas Gomery has suggested that by not having cameras in the courtroom Jackson may have got a fairer trial, less influenced by his celebrity status. Of course, despite the lack of a live feed from inside the court, there was no shortage of television crews outside and following the daily vigil of his fans at Neverland.

The lack of media access to the proceedings created, for me, the most fascinating part of the trial: Sky News' television reconstruction of the events of the day each night. Turning the celebrity trial into a compulsive soap opera, as a viewer I felt compelled each day to check up on the day's events. Part of this fascination, of course, lies in the simulation of the real: marvelling at 'Jackson's' performance (played by impersonator Edward Moss) and that of The Mez (a gripping performance by Rigg Kennedy) overseen by Judge Rodney Melville (Star Trek veteran, Jack Donner). Watching the nightly performance, followed by 'expert' commentary and, online, by a discussion group, allowed us to speculate about the case in ways that reading a court transcript could not. How did Jackson look when witnesses took the stand? How close did the actor that played Culkin resemble the former child star? How did the evidence presented stack up?

Although Sky emphasised the programme was a 'reconstruction' and not a 'dramatisation' , and emphasised the meticulous copying of the actual court-room, the presentation of events, often complete with cliff-hanger ending, inevitably led me to look forward to the next 'episode'. It seems that the Jackson story will be continue to run and run. Today I read in the Hollywood Reporter that a television project featuring Michael Jackson and some of his relatives is being pitched to media companies. A prospective six-episode series revolving around the Jackson family (a kind of 'Meet the Jackson's') has been touted, with exclusive footage promised from during the trial.

Doubtless one might see these programmes as some kind of postmodern mediatisation of celebrity, where the simulation replaces the real. However all celebrities are mediated - this is the nature of our para-social contract with them - and the authenticity of Jackson may ultimately be no more demonstrable than that of his impersonator. And yet, the promise of the 'real me', the revelation of the authentic celebrity remains, for us, as consumers of media, as alluring as ever.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

How Arnold Won the West

A couple of weeks ago, the local art cinema screened this documentary made by Alex Cooke. There was a brief introduction from a local journalist who was, not suprisingly, a little alarmed at the state of California. The documentary seems to pursue this peculiar charcater, deliberately highlighting its wackiness - somehow it makes sense that The Terminator is Governor here. In fact, in one of the crucial candidate debates, Arnie even throws in a few one liners from his movies. Aside from the prostitute candidate, that guy from Different Strokes, and a range of superheroes who were interviewed for the documentary, this is a really regular film! Actually, it seems a little too gratitutious, as if some commissioning editor has just experienced a Eureka moment when realizing that Arnie might one day become Precident.

The celebrity as spectacle finds its paradigmatic case through this film, but it also feels a little like the bottom has dropped out of protest-documentary making, which was disappointing. There is no protest here, message here, except 'weird, huh?'.

I much preferred the Spike Lee short 'We Wuz Robbed', which was 10 times shorter (and not about Arnie's governorship). Watchable, if only to witness how lazy documentary making might become, though I am sure it was not an easy film to assemble.