Cold salad 5-6-2012
Cold Salad our service of cuttings from Luddites’ Gazette 5 June 2012
How to play up, play up, and play the games
Now is the time for all loyal citizens of that island nation in a silver sea to hail the approach of the Olympics, a festival able to bring thousands together from around the world to experience a unique blend of sport, meretricious glitter, arrogant commercialism, drugs, propaganda, contemptuous indifference to civil rights by ‘authorities’, outrageous interference with daily life, triumphalist nationalism, fictitious sentiment, philistinism, dubious mathematics and much else that is wrong with present-day humanity.
Inevitably, and regrettably, the games have always reflected their times. There have certainly been some changes since naked Greeks were pounding round the stadia. In those days barbarians were not allowed to take part. (That originally meant anyone who was not Greek, though acceptance of military realities later allowed them to see that Romans were not barbarians.) Women were not even allowed to watch. When the games were refounded in the 1890s the refounders, who had no wish to look ridiculous, did not even attempt the one month truce in wars between competing nations; they wisely confined themselves to noble platitudes about increasing international goodwill and contributing to the construction of a better and more peaceful world. However, at one point they deviated out of fantasy into reality, proclaiming that their movement was to promote the moral values at the heart of sport. Who looking at the way that modern sport is run could fault their foresight there?
One remarkable feature of modern Olympiads is that the world evidently considers by far the most interesting parts to watch to be not the sporting events but the opening and closing ceremonies, rather as if a restaurant critic passing verdict on a sandwich should give ringing praise for the qualities of the bread and allow the ham barely a mention; and this observation prompts the thought that the answer to Olympian elephantiasis would simply be to scrap all the athletics and swimming and stuff of that sort, and to concentrate on the two elements that are really popular. If people want to see gigantic displays of fireworks and schmaltz and muzak, let them. Some may doubt whether crowds would rush in to see even the mightiest overpomped spectacle if it is merely to open or close an event which does not actually exist, but this is a footling objection. If a simple calendar transition to January can serve as a peg for lavish ostentation, why not just declare a World Sport Day, and a World Fun Exercise Day, or transfer them to any convenient dates – which do not even have to be two weeks apart – if they already exist. This would drastically reduce the disruption, expense, restrictions, and chaos for the unlucky host populations; and indeed if it seems helpful why not carry the reduction further by holding Opening and Closing ceremonies on the same day? More important to many however, such a proposal would actually increase opportunities for sponsoring companies to gather profits from eager consumers since there would be thousands of related events all over the world on the same day or days. A useful bonus would be a great lessening of the temptation to terrorists, since the bulk of the target at the main venue is something which is intended to be sent up in flames anyway. This would be a wonderful solution but could it be a disappointment to would-be competitors? Not in the least, since there is an independent series of International Championships, which moreover take place every two years, whereas the Olympics only turn up every leap year.
However, this is a pipe dream. Elephants do not do back flips. Nevertheless some think that the Olympics are stuck in a rut. The meat in the sandwich is going off and we need to spice it up to keep the public buying, so here are some suggestions: fancy dress (a popular feature of most marathons); a figure-of-eight running track instead of the standard shape (to add excitement as runners try, with or without success, to avoid collisions at the crossover); sponsored relay teams to include CEO of sponsoring company (strict checks out of season to make sure he is really in the office raking in the ‘compensation package’); pro-celebrity three-legged 100 metres (lithe blonde starlets with Caribbean musclemen); and – really striking a blow against exclusivity – opening up the games further to all comers, with e.g. trained seals in the swimming events (humans to get an 80% start), greyhounds chasing athletes dressed as hares in the 400 metres, gorillas in the weightlifting. Think of the take at the gate (or rather on the internet sites).
That should get closer to a true representation of the spirit at the heart of modern sport.
The non-lethal killer
Is there any ‘authority’ anywhere around the world that has authorised itself to rule exactly how many people must be killed by the use of a taser before it is ruled to be a lethal weapon, and subject to precisely the same rules as ordinary ballistic firearms? And if not, why not?
Facing the future
The fuss about the image required of those presenting programmes on television is a persisting annoyance. Recently a professor, star of a programme about Roman archaeology and one of the leading world experts on her subject, was described as looking too old (which remark casts ignominy not on its target but on the one who uttered it). News presenters male and female, but especially female, have complained angrily about the non-renewal of their contracts, suspecting that a major factor was a perceived shortage of fresh-out-of-highschool appeal, whatever the management may have claimed. It was uncharitable of some to remark that their onetime fresh-out-of-highschool appeal may have been a major factor in getting a contract in the first place. However, all that is like arguing over who will stand next to Canute as the tide rolls in. Soon, very soon, there are not going to be any more jobs for presenters.
The Japanese addiction to robots is notorious. One of the most serious faults with Japanese robots, apart from being built to look cute, is that they are often made to sing pop songs. Until recently, these sounded appropriately vapid, but eerily unnatural. The essence of the problem was that each individual note would be fine ( if you can tolerate that sort of thing) but somehow the song as a whole would sound as if it was being played backwards. The precise fault was that the musical joints which human singers make without even trying were missing. With painstaking effort a technoboffin assembled some 600 such joints, each one suitable for connecting syllable x to syllable y, each sung at a given pitch, and inserted them into the right auditory gaps, giving a result that is regarded by Japanese fans of pop songs as being, auditorily, really cute.
At roughly the same time scientists in British Columbia were doing some minute analysis on the movements of human facial muscles, concentrating of course on the frontalis, orbicularis oculi, the zygomatic major, and the depressor anuli oris, (but certainly not overlooking the corrugator supercilii). These all come into play as part of facial expressions of emotion; it is thought that one of the main outcomes of the research could be to use their techniques as a more reliable lie detector than any of the fairly useless efforts heretofore. (This is probably worth pursuing as it may open the door to rich contracts with their southern neighbour, enabling investigators to know whether or not unlawful insurgents are lying when they claim that the enhanced interrogation they undergo is agonising.)
Put these two lines of research together and you have opened the door to any halfway competent programming team to develop an animated character that can not only look and sound natural while reading the news, but can match facial expressions to the words on the autocue (which won’t in fact be needed). Even better, from the controllers’ point of view, the facial expressions will look fully genuine; a human may try to announce the news about the 70% hike in expense allowances for government members with that reassuring intonation that indicates roughly, ‘predictable news in line with national progress’ but be let down as her facial expression gives observant viewers subtle but telling evidence of an inner dismay and contempt.
From that point on, the shallowest acquaintance with the mighty currents of our civilisation makes future developments easy to guess. In short order, all human presenters are evicted from their chair, and replaced on screen by animations which not only need no salary but combine dignity, authority and friendliness, and of course the message intended by the channel’s contollers. Then a few weeks later, one of the channels that has been losing ratings brings on a rather glamorous female version. Glamour quickly spreads across the networks. The number of male ‘presenters’ drops, and the photogenic quality of the animations rises rapidly to improbable levels. Soon, dazzling forms of dress appear and ever more friendly, not to say suggestive, pouts and moues and flutters of the eyelashes are offered to eager viewers (and it is about here that we start to see a gap opening again between spoken word – an ever shorter part of the broadcast – and facial expression). News programmes often outdo soap operas in the ratings, and many ‘presenters’ receive hundreds of letters including not a few proposals of marriage. Introductions and sign-offs become ever longer, to allow them plenty of time to preen and perform and strengthen their relationship with, by now, tens of thousands of fans. (Meanwhile in East Asia, those channels that still cling to notions of propriety are bringing on various presenter teams of animated animals that intone the news while performing quite unbearably cute dance routines.) Then one channel has the news read, all three minutes of it, by an animated presenter who has not only a huge fanclub of her own, but a weekly magazine exclusively concerned with her imaginary, and largely pornographic, activities. As it is a public festival, she has promised viewers a ‘special treat’ and in the remaining ten minutes of the programme she performs what programme executives refer to later as an erotic dance, and newspaper headlines call a sensational striptease. The designer team break their existing contracts and switch channels and countries, to become multimillionaires, but there is a moral backlash. This lasts nearly a week before normal service returns. Thereafter the frenzy gathers speed again.
Somewhere about 2015 one of the presenters who has more Twitter followers than Lady Gaga announces that she is intending to stand as a candidate in the next presidential election.
corrections and criticisms are welcome (especially if ill-founded) honor honestique floreant