Friday, 23 October 2009

The death of Stephen Gately and the rise of public pack mentality

I’ve been biting my tongue since receiving news of Stephen Gately’s death for two reasons. First, I was waiting to see how the media would handle the story. Second, I was waiting to see who would be first to ask a few bloody obvious questions and start the complaints ball rolling. The latter was inevitable, like watching a car crash in slow motion…

Jan Moir’s article on Stephen Gately’s death has attracted 25,000 complaints and counting and she has been vilified for her allegedly homophobic comments, but I detected something much more sinister lurking beneath this whole debate when it hit the headlines earlier this week. Leaving the content of Moir’s article aside (we’ll come to that later) lets start with how the story broke. What really concerned me was the way in which the whole thing kicked off on Twitter. I watched it happen first hand and was amazed at how quickly it spread across the Twitter network. By the time that I had read Charlie Brooker’s first tweet on the subject (which read ‘Jan Moir manages to walk the difficult tightrope between being a bitch and a c**t’ – lovely sensitivity there, Charlie, now what’s that you are saying about causing offence?), clicked the link, read the article and returned to my Twitter page, my news feed was crammed full with fellow twitterers complaining about Moir. Now I’m a fast reader, but that was pretty fast work! Then a number of other celebrities retweeted the link to the article and shortly after, within only minutes, the bandwagon had picked up full steam and was fast rolling out of control. I watched the whole network light up and before long a real sense of pack mentality had set in. Regardless of the article content, the rabid eagerness with which we scrambled to ‘burn the witch’ was pretty scary stuff. Moir herself noticed this, as she pointed out in her subsequent article:

‘Certainly, something terrible went wrong as my column ricocheted through cyberspace, unread by many who complained, yet somehow generally and gleefully accepted into folklore as a homophobic rant. It lit a spark, then a flame and turned into a roaring ball of hate fire, blazing unchecked and unmediated across the internet.’

I can’t say that this sort of outcry was entirely unexpected because for some time now I have observed a worrying change in public behaviour. It is becoming cool to complain. It almost feels as though the public are trying to trump the number of complaints mustered from the previous mass outrage. But why are we doing this?

There have been several incidents in the entertainment business over the last few years that have attracted a large number of complaints. Take, for example, Jade Goody’s argument with Shilpa Shetty in Big Brother 2007? Hands up all of you who registered a complaint about the treatment of Shilpa on BB8? And how many of you actually watched the entire series of BB8? Now I watched that series (it was a slow summer *ahem*) and way, way before the Jade-Shilpa incident occurred I had made up my mind that Shilpa had a seriously self-righteous princess syndrome thing going on. And who knew that the argument was sparked off by Shilpa’s decision to undercook a chicken? In hindsight, I would have reacted in exactly the same way in the face of any potential food poisoning and ‘don’t you know who I am?’ pomposity regardless of my dinner host’s race, colour or ethnicity...only with a little more decorum and a great deal more vitriol. Many felt the same as the backlash on the BB forums and support for Jade was considerable, with even a few BB related celebs throwing their support behind her. And how many folk who were calling for Jade’s head on a pole after her ‘racist attack’ were fawning over her at her funeral?

And then there was the Brand/Ross/Sachs incident. First we were led to believe that the twosome had taunted a delightful elderly actor whose innocent granddaughter had fallen under the spell of lecherous old Brand. Yes, I thought, Brand and Ross should both be castrated for revealing the gruesome details of this liaison to the woman’s grandfather. And sure enough, the complaints came flooding in. Shortly after the story hit the headlines, a number of comedians on both the TV and radio noticeably toned down their acts, clearly afraid to draw criticism while this vast wave of prudishness was washing through showbiz land. I genuinely thought that I would eventually be reduced to Miss Marple, a pack of cards and a sing-song around the piano for evening entertainment. It then transpired that Sach’s granddaughter was a member of the dance group Satanic Sluts and a number of saucy images of her posing half-naked started to appear in the press. Then rumours began to circulate that Sachs was using the incident to jumpstart his acting career. Sure enough the backlash began, a number of celebs spoke out in defence of Brand and Ross and some of those who complained – and I certainly speak for a large number of people here - felt more thoroughly shafted than anything that Brand was capable of.

Now the complaints are flooding in regarding the ‘homophobic’ content of Jan Moir’s article. Homophobes are a pet hate of mine and I’m more than happy to light my flaming torch and storm the castle when faced with anything even remotely homophobic in the media, but there was one thing in Moir’s article that struck a chord with me. It is a fundamental, albeit regrettable, aspect of our humanity that we like to stick our nose into other people’s business. We like to know why marriages break down, or why someone has been seen leaving someone else’s house in the early hours of the morning. Just consider the media interest currently surrounding the separation of Jordan and Peter Andre. And when a celebrity dies we like to know the cause and circumstances of the death, regardless of whether or not we have any right to pry into the private life of another individual. In this instance a pop star has died suddenly at a young age and I expect that many people, including Gately’s own fans, are curious to discover what exactly happened that night. Yes, people can die suddenly of natural causes at a young age and, having had someone very close to me die unexpectedly in their early-thirties, I can accept this as an entirely credible and acceptable explanation. But there has been such a fluster in the media to sugar-coat the surroundings of Stephen’s death that I must confess that it has raised my eyebrows a little. And now further details of Gately’s death are being made public, it seems that things are not as cut-and-dried that the media would have us believe. Talk of drug use and a stranger accompanying Gately and his partner back to their apartment is surfacing in a number of newspapers. Have the public yet again received an ‘edited’ version of events that serves to fob them off with a nice fairytale ending…?

Whatever events took place that night and whoever was present with the couple may be completely irrelevant to the cause of death and Jan Moir may be entirely wrong to speculate that the cause of Gately’s death was anything ‘unnatural’. Certainly the generalisation that a gay lifestyle = a sleazy, hedonistic lifestyle and ultimately = an early death, is more than offensive in itself. And Moir deserves all the fury that she gets in that respect. But I have spoken to some fellow twitterers recently who are offended at the simple fact that she is casting out wild speculations about his death, regardless of her comments on his sexuality. But aren’t we all guilty of this kind of speculation at some time or other? Just consider the death of Michael Jackson. Rumours were in circulation about the circumstances of his death before his body was even cold, but somehow it was acceptable to ask questions about Jackson’s death. Why is that, I wonder? How about all the conspiracy theories that abounded immediately following Princess Diana’s death? And why is it that if, for example, a member of parliament is found dead in the back of a wardrobe dressed in S&M gear then this usually makes for front page news, with graphic colour photos and a cheeky ‘ooer missus’ headline. Why is that ok, I wonder?

Why is it ok to ask questions about certain celebrities and not others? Are we not allowed to ask questions about Gately’s death because he was in a gay partnership? Is that why? If so, will we all be branded as homophobes for asking questions about celebrities in gay relationships in future? Surely not. We are living in the 21st century, not in the Victorian era! If we are to be encouraged to see no distinction between a homosexual relationship and a heterosexual relationship and treat both partnerships equally, then both must be subjected to the same, albeit often vile and intrusive, treatment by the media. If we want to speculate on the breakdown of a gay marriage or the death of a gay celebrity then we must do so in exactly the same way that we would speculate on the breakdown of a heterosexual marriage or the death of a heterosexual celebrity. Surely treating both relationships differently in the media spotlight is keeping homophobia alive and kicking. And Moir obviously feels the hot breath of the thought police breathing down her neck in this respect:

‘Can it really be that we are becoming a society where no one can dare to question the circumstances or behaviour of a person who happens to be gay without being labelled a homophobe? If so, that is deeply troubling.’

I’m sure that there are many individuals out there in the ‘equality business’ who make a decent living out of drawing up fake battle lines and pointing fingers, but there is no need to keep scratching the scab in order to keep the doctors in business. Yes, any articles written with evidentially homophobic content, if that is how it is rightfully deemed, deserve all the complaints that they receive. But our Lord of the Flies eagerness to bay for blood the very second that a celebrity cries ‘offensive!’ also sends shivers up my spine. We fall for it every time and often without giving the matter any serious thought. It seems that the ‘angry mob’ syndrome is kicking into gear a little too often these days and we need to keep a watchful eye on it…

By the way, if you want a genuine reason to light those flaming torches, take a look at this article on Gately’s death in The Christian Voice. Love thy neighbour…?

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Birmingham Topman CTRL gig and Limited Edition Gallows T-shirt Competition


This month British punk rockers Gallows will be taking the reigns of Topman CTRL and they have hand picked a line-up of hot new bands for the CTRL live gig, taking place on 29th October at the Flapper in Birmingham. Gallows have gained a well-deserved reputation as one of the most vital and exciting bands in the UK and the notoriously outspoken band released their second album, ‘Grey Britain’, earlier this year.

Headlining the gig at the Flapper in Birmingham are NME Future 50 stars, Invasion, an electrifying combination of killer, heavy rock and belting, soulful vocals with a pinch of shamanistic dressing up and a rumoured perspex guitar (!) thrown into the mix. Warming up the crowd on the night will be Soni-Quella, who describe themselves as ‘alternative bi-polar experi-metal’ and sound a little like controllers Gallows themselves, and Shapes, a fiery blend of raging vocals and instrumental noise who have developed a big international following in just over a year of existence.

More info on the featured bands and further details of the event can be found at the Topman CTRL Myspace page.

The Geek Muse is hoping to catch up with some of the bands playing the CTRL Live gig and also speak to Gallows on their current US tour, so watch this space for interviews!


To celebrate Gallows taking over Topman CTRL in October, Lags from Gallows has designed a strictly limited edition t-shirt (and I mean seriously limited – there are less than fifty in existence in the world and they will not be available in the shops!).

The Geek Muse is giving one lucky fan the chance to win one of these limited edition Gallows t-shirts. To enter simply email your name, address, email and size you require, with Gallows Competition as your subject line to

Entries close at midnight on Friday 31st October. One winner will be selected entirely at random and contacted via email. This competition is open to UK residents only.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Santa Claus is coming (a little too early) to town

Who - WHO - suddenly decided that we are in the Christmas season?! Last night I saw two Christmas adverts on TV – one for furniture and one for air freshener – both with animated snowmen, Christmas jingles and the whole ‘Santa Claus is coming to town!’ jolly vibe. And today I’ve just returned from a shopping trip that can only be described as ‘festive’; mountains of stolen, mulled wine and boxes of shortbreads wrapped in tinsel in the supermarket, woolly coats and thick tights in various ‘winter’ colours in the clothes shop and packs of Christmas cards stacked to the rafters in the window of the newsagents. Even the chemist is selling Rudolph and Father Christmas shaped bottles of bath oil.

Now I love Christmas as much as the next person, but it’s still early October! Did I miss the global decision to upgrade Christmas ahead of Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night on the calendar? And, most importantly, are we all in a hurry to dig out our old, drab and over-sized jumpers again? My summer wardrobe has had nowhere near the airing that it deserves and I am clinging to the desperate hope that we can still wring a few more warm days out of 2009. But it seems that God is on the side of the early-Crimbo brigade too. A number of friends have commented that this week has been cold, dark and… well… Christmassy. Last night I flicked the house lights on at 6pm because it was way too dark to see anything in my front room and I confess that I have switched the heating on three times this week. I’m even considering recovering several pairs of leather and suede boots from atop of the wardrobe to ensure that my toes will be toasty when I pop out to the shops.

If marketing-land has decided that it is now officially Christmas-time and God thinks that it’s right about time for winter, then I might as well resign myself to it. They probably have some kind of Faustian deal going on between them anyway. Maybe I would be more inclined to accept that Summer 2009 is over if it had lasted just that little bit longer, but it feels as though we are seeing less and less of the sun each year. In fact, if summer-time is to be limited to two weeks in mid-August in future, then please point me in the direction of how to get this global-warming scenario off the ground. I might invest in a huge, gas guzzling 4x4 and install a smoke belching coal fire just to give it a shove in the right direction. Parched land and arid deserts all year round? I’ll take a dozen please!

Merry Christmas all... *sigh*

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

It’s not fair and it’s really not ok: Lily and the file sharers

My Twitter feed has been snarled up recently by a huge influx of propaganda, self pity and false rebellion from one person in particular. Lily Allen. She has been spouting nonsense about file sharing for an insufferable amount of time now, so yesterday I did the decent thing and ‘unfollowed’ her. Boy oh boy is my life peaceful now…

I’m not inclined to go into the pros and cons of file sharing, but let me give my credentials to ‘cast the first stone’. No I don’t share tracks over the Internet, but I’ve borrowed albums made by previously unknown bands from friends and grown to become huge fans of that band, subsequently spending big money on merchandise and tickets to live gigs. Would I have taken a punt on buying a random album from an unknown band? No. Is the band financially better off since I borrowed that album (which I have since bought a bloody expensive limited edition version of)? Yes. More exposure = more fans = greater income. So where’s the problem, Lily?

What is frustrating about this whole issue is that it is not the up-and-coming amateur bands that are making all the noise about this, it’s the mega bucks earning chart-toppers that are throwing all their toys out the pram. And we all know what happens to greedy children, don’t we? First off, there was Metallica. Their vitriol directed towards file sharers was not what I expected from a hard-living, f**k the system, rebellious rock band. The second that their hard veneer split in half to reveal an unpleasant side to the band, my Black album was firmly slung to the back of a drawer.

Now it’s Lily Allen on a one-woman vendetta, enlisting major bands to support her war against the file-sharers. I could cope with the ‘I’m fat’ Myspace thing (everyone has a self-esteem wobble now and then) but, to top it all off, now it’s the ‘I’m quitting music forever’ line. It smacks of the ugly kid at school who threatens to kill himself so that all the girls will tell him that he’s handsome. Please Lily! You are teetering precariously on the spoilt wingey brat precipice already. For God’s sake don’t wrap the rope round your neck and kick the stool out too!!

And not only is she throwing her own weight behind this campaign, but she’s dragging a number of decent bands down with her. I really hope that none of my favourite bands sign on the dotted line…I would hate to view them in an unfavourable light just because of one little girl’s weekend project…(on that point, please don’t do it MUSE. I love your music and I would hate to reconsider…)

Still, at least while she’s on Twitter she’s not in the studio producing god-awful albums…*pats her on head*…

Thanks to fellow blogger Gamma Goblin at Riemanns Cut for the link to the Open Letter to Lily vid below…

Friday, 2 October 2009

Flipping the (curse)bird

Yes, yes, I know it’s not big and it’s not clever….

If you ever find yourself sat at computer on a Friday afternoon, feeling a little downcast and waiting for the weekend to kick in, then cheer yourself up with Cursebird!

Cursebird is a ‘real-time feed of people swearing on Twitter’. It not only displays a live feed of tweets sent by irate tweeters but also rates the frequency of swear words used. There are some absolute comedy gems on there that are guaranteed to raise a snigger in even the most po-faced party-pooper.

(Interestingly, according to the site I ‘swear like Eric Cartman’ and rank 905, 760th worldwide on frequency of swearing. That’s pretty respectable. Mother would be proud…)