Sunday 4 October 2009

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. And the first rule of celebrity TV stardom is: you talk about it as much as you can. In fact, you go overboard. You spill the beans everywhere you go. Actually, let's go one better. You grow your own beans (it's to do with being green and all that), you carry them around in your pockets and then you spill them: on the tube, at your parents' Sunday roast when the whole family is present, in Trafalgar Square and of course, on the telly.

Modern polity has taken the renowned Warholian maxim of being famous for fifteen minutes and revamped it for the 21st century: nowadays everyone will be famous through fifteen people. And sometimes fewer.

If not, have a look at the current batch of reality TV celebrities and their contribution to society. Katie Price, aka Jordan and Page 3 model, famously bedded Gareth Gates, a former contestant on Pop Idol, a few years ago and then eloped with Peter Andre - apparently he releases the odd album every now and then - after the two of them met whilst taking part in "I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!". The couple split up last May only for Jordan to start dating cage-fighter Alex Reid shortly after, whilst Pete, allegedly, began a romance with ex-Big Brother 'star' (oh, please, no giggling at the back!) Chantelle Houghton. Are you keeping up? What do you mean you are not paying any attention? This is important! This is the stuff that makes headlines nowadays.

When did the world become a gigantic Truman show? When did some people take leave of their senses and allowed the lunatics to take over the asylum?

Just like in the 1998 film featuring Jim Carrey, sometimes I switch the telly on and I feel as if I am in a town where everyone else is an actor or actress. And I am not referring to programmes exploring the realms of fiction. When I recently read that Channel Four was thinking of bringing to an end its infamous Roman circus show, Big Brother, I clapped and cheered on the common sense displayed by my fellow humans. But my ecstasy lasted as long as an ice-cream cone would last in hell, niente. I soon began to imagine how Channel Four would now commission a reality-TV series based on their decision to scrap Big Brother with producers and directors running havoc in the television company's building, vandalising property and painting graffitti on the walls. Cameras would be placed strategically to capture each minute of the action until a teary-eyed programmer was shown in the Diary Room recounting how ashamed he/she felt about defecating on the Director General's mahogany desk. And for some people that would be an American Express moment: priceless.

All facetiousness that my previous words might have conveyed is rendered a more sombre tone when faced with the hideous deeds committed in the name of reality TV and the rewards reaped by it.

Recently the Brazilian city Manaos, capital of the Amazona state, has become a cause célèbre due to a series of events that could well serve as a reminder of how low our society has sunken.

Wallace Souza was a journalist and producer who directed a television programme called Canal Livre, which had a similar format and brief to BBC's 'Crimewatch'. On it, Wallace showed the most sordid aspects of Brazilian society: crimes, assaults, rapes and the like. As many other programmes dealing with the same subjects, Souza's regular outing was a ratings-chaser. And I think we are all full aware of the price some people pay for such high profile.

Wallace acquired such notoriety that he traded his journalistic career for that of a politician. Some people might argue that between a bloodthirsty reality TV producer and a representative of the government there's hardly any difference, but that's a moot point, although perfectly understandable. Wallace became a deputy in the Amazonas state attracting the largest share of the votes amongst the candidates contesting the seat. All was well until the local police arrested a small-time crook. Moacir Moa Jorge da Costa was an ex-copper who doubled up as an assassin for hire. He was guilty of a string of murders and felonies. Under harsh interrogation and possible torture he confessed that indeed he was responsible for these crimes but that he had only been following orders. By whom, you ask? By the charismatic politician Wallace Souza. After the initial shock, the detectives began to piece together all the different missing links from the puzzle and arrived at the conclusion that all the violent acts in which Moacir Moa Jorge da Costa had taken part had featured at some point on Canal Livre whose cameras were always the first one on the crime scene.

Gulp. Yes, I know, I had to do it, too.

Last night I dreamt about an elephant playing chess with a donkey. The latter mocked the former and called it a liar. The elephant struck the table and the board cracked. Sorry, that has no relation to this post whatsoever.

To sum up: Wallace Souza, allegedly, ordered hitmen to carry out horrible crimes so that they could be filmed before any other competitor did. In order to achieve this he commanded an infrastructure made up of both members and ex-members of the police force. Although many of his accomplices are in jail, the politician is still free (as I write) enjoying his impunity. Will the National Assembly take away his exemption from punishment? Only time will tell. But what this tale does show is that Wallace Souza is not the only culprit in this sordid saga.

You see, for the Brazilian deputy to break the law he had to have a motive. I am not implying that Wallace did not have a money-minded conscience. But what he also had was a public eager to switch on and enjoy the debauched episodes on offer. Souza understood his mission and he tried to fulfill it in whichever way he saw fit. Even if that included killing. In the same way an alcoholic reaches for the bottle and promises him/herself that will be the last drink, Wallace's audience kept his avarice alive. That's why I cannot absolve the erstwhile journalist's spectators. The myriad morbid morons who tuned in regularly to watch women in distress, beheaded youngsters and gangs fights are just as accountable as the politician.

It would not be hard for any person with half a brain to reach the conclusion that Souza is a product of our 21st century where the ruling philosophy is that one found in Tina Turner's excellent song 'Private Dancer': I wanna make a million dollars/I wanna live out by the sea/Have a husband and some children/Yeah I guess I want a family. And this principle is not gender-based. Far from it, men apply it as well as women.

And how did Wallace choose his victims? Were they picked up at random? I doubt it. Many were allegedly drug-addicts and prostitutes, gang members or beggars from economically deprived backgrounds. So, there was also an element of class and moral voyeurism. Look at them, the working class. This is what they do. This is how they behave. On this point, one of the most obvious examples that comes to mind is that of Jade Goody, another ex-Big Brother contestant who was demonised and lionised in equal measure before her untimely death earlier this year. Jade lived her life on television until she exhaled for the last time.

If this is the world that awaits us as we are about to wrap up the first decade of the 21st century, then maybe, just maybe, we need to modify Tyler Durden's words in Fight Club: 'Reality TV was the beginning, now it's moved out of the basement, it's called Project Mayhem'.

Copyright 2009

Next Post: 'What Makes a Good Writer', to be published on Tuesday 6th October at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. Good Morning Cuban,

    ottimo post, ottime riflessioni! Mai parlare del Fight Club come disse Tyler nel famoso film di culto. Ma cosa é precisamente il Fight Club, Cuban?
    Hai elencato benissimo: il giornalista che usa popolaritá per andare in politica (mi ricorda qualcuno in Italia). Il grande Fratello che poi cosi grande non lo é alla fine. Se non fosse che al contratio del Grande Fratello che ci offre Orwell nel suo romanzo, ci costringe ad essere partecipe e fare da boia, lavandosi le mani affermando che il publico (o popolo) ha deciso cosi. Come un tempo nei giochi romani.
    Con differenza che non si usa solo la TV per espandere questi giochi, ma con l'era dell Internet si espande l'istrumento in modo tale da manipolare di piú di quello che si possa fare con i massmedia classici nel senso della parola.
    E noi? non facciamo parte di questo grande meccanismo? Non ci rendiamo visibili nell'occhio di questo grande fratello? o di famigliari che vogliono sostituiro o scavalcarlo?
    Prendiamo i blog, prendiamo Myspace, o anche Fa(k)ebook.
    Si, alla fine ha ragione veramente Tyler con la sua scelta di chiamare tutto: Progetto Mayhem ;)

    Post perfetto per una domenica mattina Cuban :)

    Saluti da Colonia,

  2. Buenísima reflexión de domingo, Cubano! La verdad es que el mundo está del revés... a dónde vamos a ir a parar?

  3. You know that reality television has taken over when I actually recognize the names of all of these so-called "celebrities" -- despite the face that I've never seen any of these shows or read the mags/papers who regularly feature their exploits. And yet, just by scanning the newsstand a person becomes (unavoidably) familiar with their ubiquitous mugs.

    The story of Wallace Souza is horrifying!

    This far-ranging essay has many aspects to it, but the premise you begin with -- about the modern notion of fame -- makes me think of something that I learned in a govenment class many years ago. Namely, (pun intended), that a majority of people will vote for the name they recognize -- even if it is for notorious reasons. Jesse James, for instance. (This was Texas.) I guess that's where the maxim that all publicity is good publicity comes from.

  4. Great piece Cuban. We really have become a culture where one of the highest values is celebrity. I loved your phrase 'the myriad morbid morons'! Like the Roman Empire, we are in free fall right now. Decay, collapse, and implosion are all around us. Perhaps it is the only way to get us to rethink, re-evaluate and rebuild.

    The Souza account boggles the mind! Such perversity - ready to do anything to attain inhumane goals. What have we come to?

  5. Do we give out grades for posts if so A++.

    You are dead on about all of this.

    I would also add that what they really want is fake reality (loser reality). The rest of us would bore them to tears.

    Give me Paris Hilton doing dick all to really telling me that people are getting killed in real wars. Iraq and Afghanistan keep your numbers of dead soliders and civillians and just tell me instead about who screwed who's dog.

    You are brilliant.

    Happy Anniversary to you and your dear wife.

    Love Renee xoxox

  6. This guy made the news all over the world. I remember hearing about his misdeeds and could not believe how awful it was to order murders just to get ratings. It took the cops a while to figure it all out how he could always have such good 'tips' on murders and crimes about to happen. You think? I hope he goes to jail a long time and other reality shows do not partake in this course of action simply for ratings.

  7. Gulp. Scary stuff. Synchronicitous post, since I just watched Terrence Malick's "Badlands" last night.

  8. I understand everything you say and your are right, of course. But, as with trashy newspapers, SOMEBODY consumes this stuff, otherwise it wouldn't exist. I never watch any of the programmes you mention but even the supplements of the quality papers occasionally have articles referring to items of mass interest. And that is surely what they are. What comes first, the hunger for this stuff or the provision of and conditioning to crave it?
    As with politicians and governments, do we also deserve the mass media we have?

  9. My take on it is that SOMEBODY does consume this rubbish but that is because a part of us is being called to. My theory is that humans are divided into two camps: those who like watching and those who like being watched, with grey areas, of course; we have to throw some balance into the mix. But ultimately we either are very outgoing or extremely introvert. Being introvert does not exclude the infliction of suffering, only that it is sometimes carried out from a more passive position, i.e., as a spectator. Like Renee said, this reality is fake. It doesn't exist. It's only created and re-created for a willing audience. So, to answer your question, Friko, I believe that the hunger comes first and a cunning producer will realise that he/she has a goldmine in their hands and exploit it. Since we live in a consumerist society, other companies will jump on the same bandwagon trying to squeeze every single penny out of the format created by the first company with the sad result of people being used to push up ratings.

    It is nasty but it is here to stay.

    Many thanks to you all for your kind comments.

    Greetings from London.

  10. At the risk of repeating what others have said, Cuban, you've written another fine post. I truly enjoy rhythm of your prose, and your choice of words. Thanks for an intelligent read.

  11. I liked a lot the post, it has several interesting thoughts, that made me refelct and still think about the things you spoke of. By the way I love the jame carrey movie, I think it is an excelent one, I am not a big fan of him, but I take my hat off in that.

    Regarding communication media, I thought about leaving you here some comment that baudillard made regarding that:

    Baudrillard's philosophy centers on the twin concepts of "hyperreality" and "simulation." These terms refer to the virtual or unreal nature of contemporary culture in an age of mass communication and mass consumption. We live in a world dominated by simulated experience and feelings, Baudrillard believes, and have lost the capacity to comprehend reality as it really exists. We only experience prepared realities – edited war footage, meaningless acts of terrorism, the destruction of cultural values and the substitution of "referendum."

    Twisted Society: We are living in a society of excrescence, meaning that which incessantly develops without being measurable against its own objectives.We live in an Information overload: era, so many messages and signals have been produced and transmitted that they will never find the time to acquire any meaning. Fortunately so for us! Fortunately, we ignore 99% of all information. The tiny amount that we nevertheless absorb already subjects us to perpetual electrocution. We are already liberated and vaporized in the same historical moment; there is no life anymore, but the information and the vital functions continue ... the current decade, in a certain way, will not take place, The silly sentimentality of yuppified peace & human rights movements is easy after the orgy but radical pessimism is what might save us.

    Just a few of his thoughts, there are many interesting more.

    Cheers dear londoner

  12. Hola Cubano! Gracias por el comentario en mi blog y me alegro de verte!

    Qué bien que te gusten los cuadros de mi cuñado. Puedes ver exposiciones suyas regularmente en la Galería Flowers East de Londres. También hace unos paisajes muy bonitos.

    En cuanto a Woody Allen, estoy totalmente de acuerdo contigo. Match Point fue la última película que pude más o menos aguantar, pero las demás... uf! malísimas!!! Desde que tiene a Scarlett Johansson de "musa" no valen nada sus películas, vaya decepción. Y por cierto (y aquí me criticarán algunos de los lectores de mi blog), Vicky Cristina Barcelona la encontré PÉSIMA... llena de estereotipos estúpidos. Penélope está acertada en su papel, Bardem también lo hace bien ya que es un gran actor, pero el guión, la historia, la imagen que se da de los artistas... es todo absurdo. No sé... no me gustó nada. Si la ves, ya me dirás qué te ha parecido!

  13. Many thanks for your kind comments.

    Mariana, I had come across Baudrillard's comments before, more speecifically when the first series of Big Brother aired here in the UK 9 years ago. There was a lot of talk then of what reality was and if BB was the ultimate expression of it, as in that was the world as came to perceive it; a subversion of it, we twist our reality so that it becomes a 'fake' one, or a total negation of it, that is the creation of an 'alternative' type of reality.

    Susana, estoy muy de acuerdo contigo. Para mi, Penelope pertenece a Almodovar. Woody tiene a la musa equivocada y le sigue dando guiones pesimos que la pobre tiene que transformar en joyas. En cuanto a Javier, uno de mis actores preferidos.

    Saludos desde Londres. Greetings from London.

  14. HOla, gracias por pasarte por mi blog. La profunda reflexión que haces de los medios y de nuestra sociedad, la respaldo. Lo malo es que todo esto te deja el día depre. Quizá una buena peli lo remedie.

  15. Yep, this rubbish is here to stay and it has shaped a generation of young people.As for SOuza, I believe he was really shaped by contemporary Brasilian society and the push to prosper at all costs. He isn't the only one that has done such horrifying deeds, he's just the most notable.

  16. You know what's really funny about all of this. I have never heard of any of these celebrities. Well, Jim, yes.. Either I'm totally tuned out, or for some strange reason these fab "stars" have not yet dipped a toe into the waters of celebrity mad USA! Come on down..just what we need, some more folks being famous for being famous!!

  17. As usual, an insightful and thought-provoking post -- sometimes they get the "be careful what you wish for you just may get it" ! but not enough times....lawd

  18. I'm not a reality TV fan and never have been. People who sell their souls for a distinctly notorious celebrity status are not my idea of "fun to hang with," even if hanging is only through my TV screen. But apparently, there are just far too many people with far too few things to do, and so observing the daily minutiae of another's life somehow becomes a critical need. I say no thanks. I have better things to do with my time...

  19. Muy interesante, donde ira a parar todo, esa es la pregunta... y quizas la podemos responder de que ahora es la oportunidad de crear y hacer la diferencio
    Un abrazo grande tienes un blog muy hermoso

  20. My coffee doesn't do all that for me, maybe I should change my brand.
    I did enjoy the story of the elephant and the donkey. My favourite, I think.
    And I thought it now was that every fifteenth person should be famous for a minute.
    Great post. I'm gobsmacked with admiration.

  21. Their victims are physically dead, and the way they died shows that Souza and his accomplices are dead inside.

    Horror is an acquired taste. And once you acquire it, it acquires you. It changes your brain, kills the normal emotional responses. You become dead in the sense that you cannot perceieve or feel as a living person can. Worse and worse horror is needed to produce the same “thrill.” Only evil seems interesting anymore; good seems boring.

    I did this to myself in high school. Then Christ began to regenerate me inside. He allowed me to see slowly, over a period of years, what an awful state I’d allowed my mid to get into. Each time I had to repent, and ask for further renewal – cleaning and rebuilding – of my mind. It can be done, but He is the only one who has the power to do it.

  22. Hey Cuban!
    Thanks for coming by my blog, again. Very decent of you to stop by and leave a comment every time I comment on your posts.

    Thanks also for leaving up my previous comment. I realize that for a reflective atheist such as you, that is a bit of a stretch. But you had just described a truly horrific human problem, so naturally some people are going to propose solutions. Someone else proposed radical pessimism; I proposed Christ.

    I’ll reply at more length to your comment on my own blog – when I get a chance; I have a baby & a toddler. :-)

  23. ahhh yes. i hear you and definitely understand these sentiments. you've inspired many thoughts within me. (in the post and in your comments here)

  24. Many thanks to you all for your kind feedback.

    Greetings from London.

  25. I gave up on tv years ago. Couldn't stand all the nonsense. I missed the whole reality craze (thank goodness). Can't understand the appeal.

    The story you've told is appalling. And brings to mind part of Dave's (Pics and Poems) poem On Turning Over a New Leaf:
    "When humankind turned over its new leaves
    it took leave of its senses".



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