August 27, 2011

How to Write an X-Factor Script

X-Factor is into its 27th year, or something, and one thing remains the same: everything the stupid voiceover script that talks us through each episode. Be it Dermot Oh Lordy or Kate Blondegirl (or even that guy who does American Idol), they all recite the same, bland, fill-in-the-blanks dross.

It goes something like this:

  • This week the X Factor arrives in [CITY] where the public have been queuing for [TIME PERIOD], eagre to show the judges their [word meaning TALENT/SKILL] 
  •  This year the competition is [SUPERLATIVE] than ever  
  •  [AGE] year old [CONTESTANT] lives in [TOWN] with [HIS/HER] [SINGLE PARENT]. [HE/SHE] always dreamed of being a singer, but at the age of [AGE] tragedy struck. [DESCRIBE TRAGEDY]. Now, [HE/SHE] comes to the X Factor to get [HIS/HER] dream back on track.
  • After [x] hours of auditions, the [EMOTION] is starting to show with [JUDGE]. (Cue montage of [JUDGE] showing [EMOTION]) 
  • We're half way through our time in [CITY] and the judges are frustrated at the [BADJECTIVE] auditions so far. Will [NEXT CONTESTANT]finally prove that [CITY] has the X Factor 
  •  The sun sets on [CITY] and the judges reflect on the day's auditions (Cue montage of judge's talking about [ONE SPECIAL CONTESTANT] from the back seat of their limos) 
  • [CONTESTANT] has turned up at [VENUE] with one thing on his mind: impressing [JUDGE THAT HE/SHE IDOLISES] (Cue clip of [CONTESTANT] saying, 'I really want to impress [JUDGE]... [CREEPY SENTIMENT ABOUT JUDGE]. 
  • Among the auditionees, is [CONTESTANT]. But [CONTESTANT] has more on her mind than the judges. (Cue contestant talking about her [AILMENT] [FAMILY MEMBER])  
  •  The day is almost over in [CITY] and only one contestant remains. [AGE] year old, [CONTESTANT]. (Contestant is either amazing or on the verge of a mental breakdown)

August 13, 2011

The Courier: Newspaper for Ex-Pats

While Tabloid Watch and co (1, 2, 3, 4,etc) have done a sensational job of keeping their analytical eyes on the UK press, they haven't perhaps had the chance I have of visiting an English-run villa in Spain.

I've just come back from a holiday with friends in Alicante, and happened to find a newspaper in the magazine rack called The Courier. It was 4 months out of date, but I found it far to irresistible to ignore. It's a newspaper for English folk who have abandoned Blightly for the sunnier sands of Spain. An Ex-Pat newspaper, if you will. You know Ex-Pats? They are the ones who comment on Daily Mail articles to complain about how Britain has gone to shit because we have to separate our recycling and we can't belt our kids any more*.

The Courier is an interesting paper. It has the feel of a local paper, like the News Shopper but the flavour of the Mail or Express.

For example: The front page (above) has decided to focus on two 'outrage'/'blunder' stories. The main story - an "exculsive" (snort!) - tells the story of a English couple who were accidentally charged thousands of pounds to their water bill when an underground pipe burst. You'll notice the classic sad-people-holding-object-related-to-the-story which is a tabloid staple. 

Running down the left hand side, you'll notice a dig at UK parking prices and how things are so much better in Alicante. Until you get your water bill, of course.

The rest of the paper is a fairly light read, keeping you abreast with all the news that you'll want to bitch and gossip about to your neighbours over your sun-baked villa walls. It appears to have less sub-editors than the Daily Express, mind:

It does, however, have a couple of things you won't find in your standard Mail or Sun style UK rag. One of these things is media analysis:

You'll notice they've taken a slightly different approach to editorialising the UK papers than, say, The Guardian. They've employed Donna Gee, the 'Grumpy Old Gran' to give her take on the state of the media. Ms Gee hasn't just been pulled out of the old folks' home - she has experience in the Express, Mirror and Star. According to her byline, she 'now plans to solve all the world's problems via The Courier', which is nice.

I'm not entirely sure if the cascade of newspapers above her article are meant to be reflective of her career or if they represent the 'gutter press' she refers to in her article. If so, she appears to be turning on her own paper! 

The other item that might take a UK newspaper reader by surprise is a full-blown apology. A proper apology, not a clarification of a 'suggestion' or a 'misleading phrasing', a full out sorry. In big bold letters:

Not only that, but it's an absolutely hilarious apology (with some premature capitalisation for good measure):

"In an article in last week's issue we referrer to the image of Jesus Christ being discovered in a puddle of vomit in Benidorm UNDER THE HEADER, THE FATHER, THE SON & THE HOLY VOMIT. However, following several complaints we now realise that an error of judgement was made by our hopeless editor, Dave Bull, and the article should not have been printed. The Courier apologises to all those offended by the article which was meant to be funny as part of the April fool's Day fun but, unfortunately, it was one that went to far. We hope that readers will continue to enjoy The Courier's 'different' take on life and continue to keep an eye on us so that we can bring you the best newspaper in the region... most of the time.

An excellent apology, I think. Genuinely regretful and apologetic, names the responsible party, explains itself and uses a tone appropriate to the error. Fun.

So, what can I say about The Courier. In the single issue I saw I thought it was a better version of The Sun or The Mail. Ranty and moany, but sedated and self-aware. Also, it's in a different country, which helps.

*Yes, I know all ex-patriots aren't like that. I'm sorry, ex-patriots; I'm being facetious.

August 02, 2011

The Power of the Rant

I recently had to consider the nature of the rant. I'd linked to a particularly sharp-toothed attack on the  politically and socially ultra-conservative part of America, framed in a 'North vs South' rhetorical narrative. I was called out for promoting the type of language and rhetoric that leads to denigration of people from the southern states as a whole. While that is a good point, and one I hadn't considered at the time (and I definitely am against attacks on (e.g.)  all Muslims for the position of Muslim extremists), I actually want to focus on the idea of the 'rant' itself as a device.

I actually really like rants. Not to write, or speak - I certainly don't have the raw emotional potency for that - but I really enjoy reading or hearing a wonderfully worded rant. For me, part of it is therapeutic. I'm not one to vent my emotions much, so having someone do it for me really can work a treat.

For a rant to work, it has to be eloquent. A page and a half of "Fffffuuuucccck off and die" won't do it for me, though I know some people enjoy that raw bitterness. Not me: that's not a true rant; that's profanity (which can be fine). I need rants to have a structure, a purpose, a reason, some character and to be convincing. I want to know why you're so angry and I want to be convinced or I'll just call you a raving pisspot, or something. I'm not good with insults.

Goodness gracious, I haven't even defined a rant yet. I assumed you'd all know what I meant, but for the purposes of this blabber: a rant is an argumentative essay, using the rhetoric of anger and/or insult to characterise its prose and make its points. Its tone and hostility may vary, but the idea is the same. It's offensive, in the sense that it's an attacking piece of debate, as opposed to a calm and balanced analysis.

I tend to prefer writing in that balanced, analytical style. I normally have a point to make and a side to take, certainly, but I'm not one to go all out on the offensive. But a rant is a massively powerful tool. For one, they are more interesting to the observer. Someone completely losing their rag over something is very entertaining and often hilarious, even if the subject matter is very serious: and this is, of course, the point. You want to suck people in; you want to persuade people to see your way of thinking by demonstrating the sheer emotional impact this issue has had on you. If something has caused the author to blow their top, then surely it's an issue worthy of your investigation, right?

The Daily Mail knows the power of the rant all too well. Its entire arsenal of columnists are essentially all rant artists, to varying degrees. The Mail (and most other papers, to be fair) use this technique for three main reasons: 1) it makes for an entertaining reading, so people will keep buying the paper; 2) it bolsters the opinions of its audience so it can keep covering topics like, say, immigration, because it's already formed an army of anti-immigrationists; 3) flame-baiting. Flame-baiting is the art of ranting to such a degree that you start sucking in your opposition, who can't help but flock to rubber-neck at the utter car crash of bile and spittle that has ranted across their website. The anti-tabloid folk have cottoned on to this and invented - a proxy server one can use to avoid reading tabloid rants directly and contributing to their hits.

So aware are the Mail aware of the power of a rant, that they recently moved to bully Kevin Arscott into removing a post he made against its editor, Paul Dacre. Mr Ascott, of Angry Mob (which is a lot less angry than the name suggests) was so incensed by the paper's behaviour that he wrote a long (and fairly out of character) rant about how Paul Dacre must die and how we would queue for miles to use his grave as a loo, to put it lightly. The Mail threatened his web hosts and now the article doesn't exist (but you can probably find it. The internet doesn't forget).

With the power of the rant, of course, comes a great responsibility (has a comic book ever again said anything so profound?). The melody of an offensive argument carries like the tune of the pied piper, with followers dancing to the oomph of the emotion, too caught up to stop and ask questions or check for evidence. The wave of support for classic ranters like Melanie Phillips, Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly, - people who are clearly so far removed from reality that you wonder how they get dressed in the morning - shows how a rant just isn't enough. It's a weapon. Like a gun: when used correctly, anyone can make headway, cause damage and lead armies with it. In a sense, it is neither good not bad outside of any context. But it is dangerous.

That's why I'd say, for goodness sake, if you're going to have a bloody good rant as part of your argument you'd better make sure that you've backed up that rant with facts and evidence. You'd better be sure that you know what you're talking about because you are wielding a powerful and persuasive weapon. And on top of that: be aware of your audience. Websites like Annotated Rant, have excellent, well-cited arguments in a terrifically bitter and furious style. But, my god, they tend to cast their net wide. With Fuck the South, they make very good points about the political problems in the American south, but unless you're aware that they are using the term 'South' as a metaphor, it can cause a lot of problems. You probably wouldn't get rants titled "Fuck Muslims", for example, because you wouldn't want to accidentally incite hatred towards all Muslims from people who don't pick up on your subtlety.

In conclusion: I love to read rants, I think they are a valuable and powerful tool, but when used carelessly they can be dangerous, so take care if you fancy having a public rant.

The word rant has lost all meaning, by the way.

PS: If you want to watch some world-class ranting, search for Matt Dillahunty on youtube. He is monumental at off-the-cuff, brilliantly reasoned takedowns.