Jeremy Corbyn is winning on Facebook

He may not be doing so well with real voters, but it’s a different story on the Internet. Helen Lewis on a virtual reality revolution:

We talk about the “Westminster bubble” but we should talk about the “Facebook bubble”, too. Most of us make friends who are like us in background and political leanings. Facebook’s algorithms give us more of what we have already shown we like. This creates increasingly polarised communities without us even noticing. Unlike when you walk into a petrol station and see the Sun next to the Guardian, on the internet it’s easy to forget that other opinions are possible…Then there is what the behavioural economist Cass Sunstein calls “group polarisation theory”. In closed communities, the louder, more extreme voices dominate; moderates leave; those who remain fall into step with the prevailing direction. That’s how you end up with unofficial Corbyn-supporting pages on which words such as “Zio” (short for “Zionist” and proscribed by Shami Chakrabarti’s review into anti-Semitism in the party) are bandied about, or forums on which suggesting any potential accommodation with the wider electorate on welfare or immigration will have you labelled a “Blairite”, “Tory-lite” or, simply, “traitor”.

Posted in Social Media, UK politics | Tagged , , , ,

High camp & high culture

pet shop boys programme gesamtkunstwerk

My review [£] of the Pet Shop Boys’ show at the Royal Opera House. Most of the other notices I’ve seen (here’s one) have been a lot more enthusiastic.

Sometimes the packaging can eclipse the music. Take, for example, the programme accompanying Inner Sanctum, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe’s four-night run at Covent Garden. There was enough purple prose from journos and academics to fill Private Eye’s Pseuds Corner for the rest of the year. My favourite essay? “Pet Shop Boys, Singspiel and Electronic Gesamtkunstwerk”.

It would be reassuring to think that this was another of Tennant’s quirky in-jokes. Yes, it may be possible to detect echoes of TS Eliot in the lyrics, but can those genial, but repetitive synth-pop melodies support all this hyper-intellectual stone-cladding? Then again, when a pop act acquires enough box office and cultural clout, it really can try to convince itself that high camp is the same as high art.

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Lucas worked on the “Star Wars” script for two and one half years, writing at the back of his house in San Anselmo in a room that he shared with a gaudy Wurlitzer juke box… First there were too many characters, then too few. They combined, and then divided again. The plot was too simple, too complex. Princess Leia’s role grew bigger, then smaller. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader, initially one character, became two. The Force got a good side (Ashla) and a bad side (Bogan). Annikin Starkiller became Luke Skywalker. Kenobi began life as an elderly general, became an addled hermit and then an elderly general again. A Kiber Crystal appeared, then disappeared. Lucas, meanwhile, was afflicted by headaches, pains in the stomach and chest. He became compulsive about his writing materials, insisting on No. 2 pencils and blue and green lined paper. He took to slicing off bits of his hair with scissors, depositing them, along with crumpled sheets of paper, in the wastebasket. He could never remember how he spelled the names of his characters, rendered Chewbacca differently every time he wrote it. When Lucas finished a draft, he would show it to friends: Coppola, Huyck and Katz, Robbins and so on. No one was supportive. “They said, ‘George, you should be making more of an artistic statement.'”

Peter Biskind, “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls”.

Posted in Film, Notebook | Tagged , , ,

Fiction into fact


A couple of decades ago, I interviewed the critic John Lahr ahead of his not very successful stage adaptation of “The Manchurian Candidate”. (It was a bit of a mess, to be honest, and only served to remind you how ingenious Richard Condon’snovel and John Frankenheimer’s hallucinogenic screen version had been.) Lahr and I were talking over the phone, as I recall, and I was feeling lukewarm about the play, having just seen it at the Oxford Playhouse. I also remember pooh-poohing his claim that American politics were so infantile and corrupt that the election of the kind of authoritarian buffoon dreamed up by Condon was a distinct possibility.  Lahr sounded almost hysterical to me. True, Washington was in one of its fever swamp moods then – Bill Clinton was driving the Republicans crazy – but who would have imagined that, twenty years later, a figure as bizarre as Donald Trump could get within spitting distance of the White House? Well, now he’s taken an other step closer to his goal. Time to dig out my copy of the novel, perhaps.

trump convention

[Pic via @mckaycoppins]

Posted in Film, Literature, Theatre, US politics | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Architectural follies (pt 286)

The Paddington Pole may be history, but there’s another monstrosity on the way. Simon Jenkins uncovers a new threat to the London skyline.

Eager to dress it up as “art”, [Renzo] Piano is quoted in the Architects’ Journal mouthing the usual architect’s tosh: about it being “a clear floating cube levitating above the ground … obsessed with lightness … defying the laws of gravity … crystalline, like a fine lace of steel and glass”. It is, he declares, “like the beautiful arches and skylights of Brunel’s Paddington station” next door.

This is garbage. For Piano to compare his work with Brunel’s masterpiece is comparing a chicken shed with St Paul’s. Brunel was a master of space and style, and designed Paddington as a secular church. His Paddington west- side wall was designed to merge into the surrounding terraces of Bayswater. Piano’s glass merges with nothing but a balance sheet. It might be in Victoria Street or Euston Road. He is merely shoving up 38,000 square feet of office space on the most floors he thinks he can get away with. He let his computer design the box and went out for lunch.

Posted in Architecture, London, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , ,

The Shard, reflected

Posted in London, Photography | Tagged , ,


“Sir, I’m thinking: it would only be fair, and it would certainly be to the country’s advantage to promote your philosophy more widely. Eidolon Books would be very happy to perform this service for you. Right here and now I think I could promise you a six-figure advance against royalties and a very agreeable royalty and reprint clause. The contract could be drawn up and signed in a day or two, and you could have the book for us, let’s say, in about a year or two.”

“I can’t write,” said Chance.

Stiegler smiled deprecatingly. “Of course – but who can, nowadays? It’s no problem. We can provide you with our best editors and research assistants. I can’t even write a simple postcard to my children. So what?”

“I can’t even read,” said Chance.

“Of course not!” Stiegler exclaimed. Who has time? One glances at things, talks, listens, watches.”

Jerzy Kosinski, “Being There”.

Posted in Literature, Notebook, US politics | Tagged , ,

The ballad of a disillusioned Bob Dylan fan

” I can honestly say I want everyone’s money back…” Not entirely fair, maybe, but very, very droll. No one writes wittier songs than Rich Hall.

Posted in Music, Uncategorized | Tagged ,


Dusk at La Baie des Anges, Raoul Dufy.

Posted in Uncategorized

A bad case of groupthink

Frank Furedi on academia’s response to the referendum result:

At the end of the conference, a Dutch colleague who knows that I voted Leave calls me aside and whispers: “I agree with you on Brexit.” When I ask her why she is whispering, she gives me a knowing look, conveying that it is best to remain discreet about such unpopular thoughts in an academic environment… [A]cademia has embraced the caricature of Brexit voters as racists or manipulable halfwits unworthy of political engagement. For many on the receiving end of these sentiments, it feels as if, in all but name, they have been no-platformed.

In years to come, when the post-Brexit dust has settled, I will still remember a comment made to me by a social scientist the day after the Brexit verdict. Still in shock, he expressed his sense of astonishment by noting that he had “never met or talked to anyone who supported Brexit”. And that’s the nub of the problem. It seems that too many academic supporters of the Remain campaign have talked only to people like themselves. They may be “experts”, but they are certainly not public intellectuals.

Posted in Education, Europe, UK politics | Tagged , ,