Friday, 18 December 2009

Vic Reeves in Comedy U-turn

Vic Reeves this week blasted Michael McIntyre for not performing edgy enough material.

Branding the comedian 'too easy and soft', he concluded: "I haven't seen much of him - but what I have seen, I didn't like."

Am I the only person who remembers that last year Reeves made a completely oppositional statement?

In an interview with The Sun around this time last year, Reeves slated Frankie Boyle for his edgy material. Calling edgy comedians 'grubby and lazy', he complained that there was too much swearing on television.

He continued: "It's really easy to do dirty jokes and swear for a laugh but it's a lot more difficult to do clean stuff."

Last year Reeves made the controversial comments while on the publicity trail, promoting the return of Shooting Stars.

This month he is promoting the inevitable DVD release in the run up to Christmas.

Clearly Reeves knows how to get the media's attention; by laying into popular modern comedians he can bank on a number of 'Reeves Blasts McIntyre' headlines, many stories containing references to his new DVD. But perhaps newspapers should look over their clippings in future when dealing with the Vic Reeves. They've fallen straight into his trap. There is no sincerity to his comments. He has flip-flopped from last year's position.

With falling circulations and a global recession full force, journalists are being made redunant by the week. With less and less journalists on hand to fill each day's newspapers, fact checking is becoming increasingly difficult. Journalists simply aren't given the time to do their jobs properly. This is how such stories end up reproduced en mass across the entire British media. It fills space and the presumption is made that the original outlet checked the story before publishing it.

Until corporate owners decide to stop robbing journalists of their assets and resources, such stories will become more and more prevalent. In the meantime, celebrities are fast learning how to manipulate an industry which is being prevented from doing its job properly.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

PCC rules in favour of columnist who portrayed Jackson as a paedophile

The Press Complaints Commission last week responded to ten complaints made about a Guardian article in which writer Tanya Gold strongly insinuated that Michael Jackson was a paedophile.

Perplexingly, the PCC ruled in favour of the Guardian.

The PCC listed two main reasons as to why they had not ruled against the offending article. First, that Michael Jackson's family had not complained directly. The PCC said:

"Many of the concerns raised rested on the impact of the coverage on the Jackson family and the singer's memory. Two complainants were concerned that Clause 4 (Harrassment) had been breached and two individuals argued that the article was discriminatory. In this instance, the Commission felt that it must be for the Jackson family to guage such issues as this and to make clear whether they have found that there has been an incidence of harrassment or discrimination, as alleged by complainants. They had not done so."

So in other words, it is perfectly acceptable for a newspaper to strongly insinuate that an innocent man is a paedophile, unless his family complains directly to the PCC.

How and why, exactly, would the Jackson family - who live in Los Angeles - be reading the Guardian? The newspaper is published on the other side of the planet.

This rule is absurd, placing the onus on the families of well known figures to scour thousands of newspapers on a daily basis in case a libelous comment has been printed about their loved one. It is ludicrous to expect the Jackson family to dissect the world's media on a daily basis in case somebody has called their son/brother/father a paedophile. What kind of rule is that? The onus should clearly be on the newspapers not to print the libelous comments in the first place.

The family is essentially left in a catch-22 situation; either spend their entire lives scrutinising national and international newspapers on a daily basis, or simply turn a blind eye to the systematic portrayal of their loved one as a predatory paedophile. The ruling is utter nonsense.

The second get-out clause that the PCC pointed to was that the article was an opinion piece, not a news article. The PCC ruling states:

"The Commission noted that the article was an opinion piece clearly identified as such in the 'Comment is Free' section of the newspaper in line with the erms of Clause 1 (iii). The piece contained the journalist's personal impression of Michael Jackson's lifestyle and talents."

This section of the ruling is totally irrelevant. Complaints relating to Tanya Gold's editorial did not pertain to her opinion. In my own blog on the subject I stated that Ms Gold clearly has the right to an opinion. But the article did not only contain Gold's opinion. It contained a number of factually inaccurate statements.

While a writer of course has the right to his or her opinion, they do not have the right to misstate crucial information or twist facts in order to suit their agenda. Gold used numerous inaccurate statements to support her opinion.

The publication of inaccurate information most certainly is within the PCC's remit. However, in a lazy attempt to dismiss the complaint as quickly and easily as possible, the Commission has skirted around the issue of factual inaccuracies entirely.

The PCC ruling in this matter is a joke. The Commission purports to protect the victims of inaccurate reporting but in this instance it has condoned the publication of a bigoted editorial which used inaccurate statements to support the notion that Michael Jackson was a paedophile.

The PCC has ruled and it isn't pretty. Let it be known; It is perfectly acceptable to use inaccurate information to portray an innocent black man as a paedophile. The onus is on his elderly mother, as trustee of his estate, to scour newspapers on a daily basis looking for allegations that her son molested children. That the article was printed on the other side of the planet is irrelevant; it's still her responsibility.


Monday, 14 December 2009

Common sense prevails in X Factor final while snobbery prevails on Facebook

For a brief moment during tonight's X Factor final, Joe McElderry's victory seemed to be in question. Before Olly Murs performed the winner's single, Simon Cowell introduced him to the stage with a knowing smile. "Singing for what could be his last time on the X Factor, although I've got a feeling it won't be," he beamed, "Olly Murs."

I wondered: 'Does he know something we don't?'

He didn't. Olly promptly murdered the winner's song - 'The Climb' - although Cowell, who was apparently experiencing the performance through a haze of mushroom-induced hallucination, proceeded to heap praise upon it anyway.

Moments later Joe McElderry took the stage and made Olly's performance look like amateur hour, giving several of the night's ropey guest performers a lesson in vocal dexterity while he was at it.

With his soaring vocals and his cheery disposition, Joe had to win this year's competition. The show was a one horse race from beginning to end, McElderry being the only stand-out vocalist of the series, easily outshining the competition every week. That he found himself in the final with a wobbly-legged Austin Drage impersonator was indicative of this year's talent drought. Even the real Austin Drage didn't make it past week four.

Newly released figures reveal that Joe ranked highly in the phone polls every week and won the last five shows of the series by a large majority, eventually beating Olly in the live final by a margin of almost 25%.

But already McElderry has been the target of overwhelming cynicism and nasty abuse on various blogs and social networking websites, much of it laced with subtle homophobia; Joe "belongs in musical theatre." The winner's single "suits Joe better because it's a girls' song."

Olly is a geezer; a snappily dressed Essex boy with a couple of dance moves under his belt that might be passable on a drunken night out in Bas Vegas. With tabloid coverage of his serial womanising and frequent mention of his apparent football skills, he's become a hero to blokey blokes up and down the country.

Joe, by comparison, is young and a tad effeminate. A drama school student, Joe is self-confessedly bored by sports, prefers to hang around with girls and tends towards ballads. He has reportedly not had a girlfriend since his early teens and a friend today claimed that he "was teased for years about his sexuality." While the friend states that at the time Joe 'was adamant he wasn't gay', the friend never states outright that he's straight.

Olly's fanbase has seemingly come to view Joe as a sissy and apparently feels that its jack-the-lad hero has been robbed. Seems to me like just another case of pointless belly-aching. Perhaps if Olly's fans had picked up their phones and voted a couple of times each then he wouldn't have lost so spectacularly.

As for Joe's tendency towards ballads - that apparent fault only served to highlight how much more talented he really was than his competitor. While Olly chose to hide behind big productions - chasing girls around the stage to loud backing tracks which disguised his often breathless vocals - Joe wasn't reliant on gimmicks. Tonight his talent has been deservedly rewarded.

Congratulations Joe - a worthy winner.

Elsewhere, the X Factor has been targeted in recent weeks by a series of vindictive campaigns to prevent this year's winner from taking the Christmas number one spot.

One such campaign, started on Facebook, aims to send Rage Against The Machine to the number one spot this year. Very christmassy. What exactly do they think they're striking a blow for? What will be achieved by sending an already filthy-rich act to the top of the charts? In what way is that combatting the supposed capitalist conspiracy they're campaigning against?

Cowell's label Syco is a branch of Sony. Sony owns Rage Against The Machine. So the money will end up in Sony's coffers either way.

Another campaign aims to send Dame Vera Lynn's 'We'll Meet Again' to the top of the charts instead of this year's X Factor winner. Why? Dame Vera Lynn didn't write or compose 'We'll Meet Again', so what exactly makes her a more legitimate artist than Joe McElderry?

The campaign is predicated on nothing more than snobbery; an assumption that anybody who enters the X Factor is a fame hungry mongrel and anybody who watches the show or buys the singles is a moron, incapable of independent thought. Such campaigns are mean-spirited and condescending.

The campaigns purport to be striking a blow against Simon Cowell's capitalist regime. However, in reality these campaigns will still favour the rich, lavishing cash upon already famous acts rather than sending it into the bank account of a young, working class lad whose only opportunity to achieve his dream is to enter a competition like the X Factor. That Christmas number one spot could change Joe McElderry's life, affording he and his family a better quality of life and opening doors that would otherwise have remained forever closed.

If the X Factor single were to lose a Christmas number one battle fair and square, that would be a different matter altogether. But these campaigns actively encourage people to buy music not because they want to listen to it, but for the specific purpose of crushing another person's dreams. Such campaigns are not only unfair, they are fundamentally spiteful.

Should any of these campaigns succeed in their aim, the impact on Cowell will be non-existent. He will still celebrate another carefree Christmas in his LA mansion. All they will achieve is to crush the spirit of a young boy who has spent much of this year working hard towards his lifelong dream.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Daily Mail in more Jackson lies?

The Daily Mail today published an article claiming that Janet Jackson's performance on Sunday night's X Factor was actually pre-recorded on Saturday.

However, Janet Jackson was clearly seen still onstage as Dermot O'Leary introduced last night's results. The star was seen stood at centre stage as though waiting to be interviewed, then dashing into the wings when she realised that the results were being introduced.

Jackson was clearly seen stood at centre stage as Dermot O'Leary introduced last night's results, whilst the Mail claimed her performance was pre-recorded on Saturday.

The Mail claimed that Jackson's performance was recorded 'after Saturday night's show'.

But X Factor fans will know that immediately after Saturday's episode finished on ITV1, partner show Xtra Factor aired live from the same studio on ITV2.

During Xtra Factor, the ITV1 audience was seen in the background leaving the studio. But Jackson's performance was clearly filmed in front of an audience. So how was it recorded after Saturday's show?

Once again, the Mail's facts don't seem to add up. Perhaps the performance was pre-recorded and clever photography was used to place Janet Jackson onstage during the results show. But the Daily Mail's claim that the performance was pre-recorded is unsourced and given the newspaper's history of libeling the Jackson family, it doesn't seem unlikely that the story is fabricated.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

X Factor Round-Up

Originally I had planned to write a weekly X Factor round-up. Complacency put paid to the first few and as the weeks passed I realised what a futile act it would have been, given that most of this year's acts take the stage every week and do pretty much exactly the same thing.

But with a week until the final this seems a good time to post my musings on the series so far.

First and foremost, it's been an undeniably poor crop this year. Around two thirds of the acts that reached the live finals wouldn't even have passed boot camp in previous series. Weakest by far was the groups category, all of them being dreadful.

When Louis Walsh's segment of the 'Judges' Houses' episode rolled around I recognised only three of his six acts. The groups had been so uunspectacular that we never even saw their auditions. His final six included two brothers who appeared to spend much of their time crooning love songs to one another and an acapella doo-wop group who looked like they'd met in a young offenders institute.

Walsh's best bet appeared to be 'Miss Frank', a trio of mediocre solo applicants thrust together by Cowell and co, presumably to bolster the fledgling category. The trio were repeatedly sold as 'contemporary' and 'relevant' artists, apparently on the basis that one of them could sort of rap a little bit. Said rapper, Graziella, appeared to suffer from a baseless superiority complex, spending much of her time offstage refusing to contribute more than three words to any group interview and much of her time onstage attempting to outsing her two amigos. And failing quite miserably.

Of course, surprise hit of the series was Jedward, but enough has been written of the pair already. What I will say is that I don't subscribe to the bloodthirsty hatred which has been directed towards the pair. Could they sing? No. But their vivaciousness was infectious and at least they had the audience laughing for the right reasons, unlike some of the other contestants.

In a ludicrous controversy reminiscent of last year's Laura White debacle, there was much whinging when Lucie Jones was booted out, two weeks after Danni Minogue took to dressing her up as Avril Lavigne and proclaiming that she had 'found her voice' (which sounded suspiciously like Avril Lavigne's voice).

'Outrage' was sparked when Simon Cowell announced that he didn't feel strongly about Lucie or Jedward, so handed the deciding vote over to the public. What ensued was perhaps the most postmodern media storm witnessed this decade; the public's decision to complain about Simon Cowell's decision to back the public's decision.

As in the case of Laura White, the public was left to protest against its own stupidity, never once stopping to consider that if they really felt so strongly about Lucie Jones, perhaps they should have picked up their phones and voted for her.

This year we lost two passable but mellow vocalists to the X Factor's bizarre mandate that any successful musician should be able to sing any song in any genre. This, of course, is a nonsense. Billie Holliday was one of the greatest jazz vocalists of all time - but confronted with a Robbie Williams week on X Factor, she would have been told she wasn't versatile enough and kicked to the curb.

Said mellow vocalists were Ricky, most famous for his eyebrows and fondness for pork pie hats, and Lloyd Daniels. Neither was a phenomenal vocalist, but nor are three of the four semi-finalists, so what does that matter? Each could have soared if afforded jazzy or acoustic song choices but mentor Cheryl Cole failed massively in her representation of both acts. Ricky was sent packing on diva week after Cheryl Cole inexplicably handed him an Aretha Franklin tune. Lloyd lasted much longer on account of his haircut but was eventually sent home last week.

In week 10 - semi-final week - we are left with four contestants.

Stacy, the only girl left in the competition, is a fair vocalist but not amazing. Her speciality appears to be the last 20 seconds of any grand scale ballad, during which she can easily hold a long, shouty note. Her problem comes... well, everywhere else.

Lacking in confidence, Stacy's vocals are often wobbly. When required to sing in a low register her speaking voice seems to set in, which is most unflattering. Noted for her 'bubbly' personality, Stacy can be seen before and after most performances talking nonsense and pulling funny faces - an affectation which has become more exaggerated every week since her first audition, during which she actually seemed quite genuine.

Simon Cowell is the only judge with two acts in the semi-final. First is Danyl, frequently lauded by Cowell as 'the best male vocalist in the competition' and 'one of the best male vocalists we've ever had on the X Factor'. Danyl wasn't even the best male vocalist at his audition.

In fact, Danyl can't sing at all. His USP seems to be shouting at the top of his voice in an increasingly bizarre American accent. 'Pwar-pow reh-heeeen, Pwar-har-pow reh-hee-heen-AH!' (Purple Rain). 'Eena yaow kintell eyaf-ray-bow-day-uh, theyat this is yow sow-wow-wowng!' (Your Song).

Still, this is perhaps marginally more substantial than former housemate Jamie Archer's USP, which seemed simply to be 'having an afro'.

Cowell's second contestant, Olly Murs, is one of the weakest vocalists to reach the final twelve of any X Factor. He seems to have coasted from his first audition to the semi-final on the sole basis that he can sort of do one not very impressive dance move. Watching him crowbar it into any performance, from Robbie's 'She's The One' to Queen's 'Don't Stop Me Now', is quite hilarious.

However, watching the judges shower him with undeserved praise on a weekly basis is less hilarious. He spends so much time trying to incorporate his rubbish dancing into every song that most of the time he winds up entirely breathless and delivers a terrible vocal performance. The one time that Danni Minogue pointed this out, the other judges reacted as though she'd taken a dump on the desk.

Olly lost fans last week after his frankly unsportsmanlike attitude during the results show. With no bottom two, Olly and Lloyd were both left onstage waiting to hear which of them was going through to the semi-finals. When Olly got through, rather than showing any decorum or compassion for housemate Lloyd he scrunched up his face and began aggressively punching the air, edging towards the audience and screaming 'Come on! Come on!', like some manner of football hooligan. An entire thread cropped up on the Digital Spy forum for people who would no longer be voting for Olly on account of his rude outburst.

As I said at the beginning, this year has been a very poor crop. With only one stand out vocalist, the judges have been seen heaping praise upon mediocre performers week upon week in an attempt to legitimise the competition.

That stand out vocalist - and clear winner - is Joe McElderry. The happy chappy from South Shields has delivered a pitch perfect vocal every single week. Unlike his rivals he has never delivered a bum note, never missed a dance step and never appeared to be struggling. Every week he delivers what is asked of him with ease. Displaying more talent and professionalism than even most of the show's high profile guest performers, he's a little star in the making.

Arguments have been made that Joe is more of a musical theatre star than a pop singer, and there may be a modicum of truth to those arguments, but the fact remains that he is the best vocalist in the competition by miles.

Additionally, he is the most likable. Since the competition began fellow contestants have accused Danyl of bullying them. Stacy was revealed to have lied about the absence of her son's father in an attempt to win sympathy votes and Olly showed himself up last week. Joe meanwhile remains untarnished after almost three months in the limelight.

If anybody other than Joe wins this year's X Factor, it will be a travesty of gargantuan proportions.

Joe to win!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Best-selling author to prove Jackson's innocence in TV documentary

In 2005 Aphrodite Jones was one of only two authors granted access to every day of the Michael Jackson trial. With seven New York Times bestsellers under her belt, her book looked set to fly off of shelves when it hit stores.

But when Jones came to write her book she hit wall after her wall. As one of the only journalists willing to admit that Jackson's 2005 trial had proven his innocence once and for all, Jones found that publishing houses were unwilling to give her a deal.

Thomas Mesereau, Jackson's defence lawyer, encountered the same problem. After the trial almost every major publishing house in the US approached him with lucrative book deals. When he maintained that Jackson was truly innocent and he wouldn't write anything to the contrary, every publishing house retracted its offer.

Jurors were offered book deals too. Two jurors claimed after the trial that they really thought Jackson was guilty, but only after they had signed six figure book deals. Other jurors claimed that they had been offered identical deals by the same publishing companies - but only if they too would change their opinion from innocent to guilty, casting enormous doubt over the sincerity of both rogue jurors' u-turns.

One juror, Ray Hultman, lost his publishing deal after it was revealed that his manuscript included portions plagiarised from an inaccurate Vanity Fair article. These included allegations that the former juror couldn't possibly verify, such as claims that Jackson had a detachable nose.

The book was co-written by Stacy Brown, a serial Jackson detractor who also co-wrote a book about the star with Bob Jones, Jackson's former aide. Jones was forced to admit on the stand in 2005 that portions of his book 'The Man Behind The Mask' had been fabricated by Brown in order to boost sales.

Hultman's crediblity was further damaged when it was revealed that after the verdict he had commented to one reporter, "The evidence just wasn't there. We couldn't have gone any other way." A strange comment from a man who would later insist that Jackson had been guilty.

The second juror, Eleanor Cook, also never published her book. Cook's granddaughter caused controversy when she announced during jury deliberations that the juror had already signed a book deal - and had agreed to it in principle before the trial had even begun. Ghostwriter Ernie Cariwel admitted on June 7th 2005 - five days before the verdict was reached in Jackson's trial - that he had already begun writing the book despite never having spoken to Cook.

Fellow jurors slammed the pair two months after the verdict, calling them 'traitors' and claiming that their allegations were 'ridiculous'.

As the publishing industry set about convincing the world that Jackson was guilty - printing books such as 'Be Careful Who You Love' by Diane Dimond, an author who has claimed that her sole aim in life is to destroy Michael Jackson and who writer Ishmael Reed once described as a 'Jackson stalker' - Jones began conducting deep research. Obtaining a special court order from Judge Rodney Melville, who presided over Jackson's trial, she was given access to all of the evidence and transcripts related to the case.

It took Jones days just to photocopy all of the court transcripts and a further six months to read them. The wealth of information needed for the book forced her to invest in a second computer. She used one to store all of her research and the other to store her writing. It took her a further six months to finish the manuscript.

'Michael Jackson Conspiracy' was explosive. Not only did it reveal all of the exculpatory evidence and testimony which the media had failed to present to the public, it also exposed deliberate media bias against Jackson and explained the motives behind it. The blurb described the book as follows:

"...A scathing indictment against the media for conspiring to distort, dehumanise and destroy Michael Jackson... Jones argues convincingly that the case against Jackson amounted to nothing more than a media made, tax paid scandal, and she makes an impassioned call to the public at large to think critically about, question the integrity of and demand truth in 'the news'."

Despite its sensational contents and in spite of her seven previous bestsellers, Jones was unable to convince any major publishing house to print the book. She was forced to self publish.

When I interviewed Aphrodite Jones shortly after the book's release she told me that she intended to make a documentary about Jackson's trial, describing her vision for a 'TV version of the book.' Yesterday she emailed to tell me that the project is moving forward.

"The one hour docu-show I did on Michael Jackson will air during my new series called 'True Crime'," she said. "It will begin in April 2010 on a new Discovery channel called Investigation Discovery (ID)."

The hour-long film will cover Jackson's 2005 trial, the media falsehoods which surrounded it and why Jackson 'died with a broken heart' after being 'divorced by America'. Jones insists that the 2005 trial proved Jackson's innocence and says the documentary will show this.

Jones is otherwise tight lipped about the show, saying that she can't elaborate without network approval. However, fans will be ecstatic that a factual documentary on Jackson will for once air on television, as opposed to the conveyer belt of nonsense that is usually paraded before the public.

Jacques Peretti - sit down and take notes.

Click here to read my June 2008 interview with Aphrodite Jones.