Friday, 15 October 2010
Gertrude Stein once said ‘remarks aren’t literature’. But then she lived in a world before twitter. There is some kind of art to the perfect tweet, from ‘Lif is too short’ (Peter Serafinawicz) to This is the very tits by Graham Linnehan in a set up to a link, I’m sort of getting into the brevity/wit/soul thing. A powerful production controller who used to work at Saatchi and Saatchi was once set up by an creative team into believing that a TV company wanted to make a documentary about him called 30 second man. He fell for it because he believed that someone could take anything so short seriously. But working in advertising, I am made all too aware that some people do sometimes achieve amazingly powerful feats of chimerically short communication, because they win awards. The economist posters were for a decade or so perennial winners with such lines as Blunt, yet sharp. Then there are the most expensive three words in a screenplay, ‘The fleets meet.’ But jokes, observations and selling copy aren’t yet literature, Stein would say. A haiku maybe gets there, with 17 syllables. Trouble is most of them are shit.
Wednesday, 13 October 2010
|'Bernard Ingham? I shit Bernard facking Ingham.'|
Forget about truth for the moment, let's not get religious. Consider the kaleidoscope of refracted deviosity that 'lies' throws up when put under the light of scrutiny. Remember economical with the truth, spin, dark arts and weasel words? Course you do. That was the Peter Mandleson's contribution to the taxonomy of the politically expedient inaccuracy, an unscrolling list of dodgy terminology as suspicious as an expanding wallet full of credit cards.
I first heard the 'spin doctor' term in the UK when it was applied to Bernard Ingham, 'Fatcher's' press secretary. (Like fridges, the US seem to have had it decades earlier.) Ingham's technique was a simple one. He would go on the Today programme saying 'Well, no, the Poll tax is actually a very good thing and here's why...' Ingham lied in a cuddly way. He'd find an excuse to thump working class people behind your ear and produce it with a twinkle. You'd leave the room like a molested public schoolboy, uncertain as whether something good or bad had just happened.
From 1997, spin became a richer concept, one that incorporated such variables as timing, i.e. slipping out news of a cow dying of foot and mouth in Argyleshire while the world was distracted by planes hitting the World Trade Centre. Then the, I think, the brilliant distinction of 'I misspoke' arrived, a joyously 'get-out-of-jail free' invention to cover the publicly-proven wrongism. The best recent example was Cameron's bland assertion that Iran has nuclear weapons shortly after becoming PM. Instead of the world rounding on the callow toff with an almighty snort of derision it was blaffed away with a Maggie Smith facial expression that implied a slight yet understandable inexactitude of word order cause by a earwig or something on the microphone stand.
Yet that's not a lie, that's ignorance. Ignorance isn't lying, even when it helps your argument to deny the facts. For example, Michael Gove chiding Andy Burnham for saying 'a third less' rather than 'a third fewer' to roars of supremacy from his own coterie in parliament. Judging by his crowing manner he was probably ignorant of, rather than ignoring, the fact that 'less' is correct when talking of fractions, which Burnham clearly knew from his bellowed classist insults across the Commons chamber.
But what about Eric Pickles stating that the Audit commission wasted public money by spending a day at the races. The impression was that the body responsible for careful use of taxpayers money was gambling it away wearing top hats. The solid unmovable fact that the facilities were used on non race days had only two possible interpretations. Either the Audit Commission top brass were pretending to ride horses round the track while others played betters and punters, or they were innocently using the conference facilities in the same way as Prontaprint, CarpetMaster and Dolly's 50th birthday party organisers, as a way to cheaply accommodate a large number of people.
How Eric Pickles jumped to the wrong conclusion is unimaginable, unless he was looking to gain acceptance for his plan to close the Audit Commission. I prefer the more obvious explanation. His face looks like a pie so I'm going to go ahead and assume his brain is actually cooked entrails.
But lie? Never.