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“AMY” AND “LOVE & MERCY” DISCLOSE THE UNDERSIDE OF ROCK MUSIC

Q: About three years ago I read the results of some research on 1,489 rock, pop, punk, R&B, rap, electronica and New Age stars who became famous between 1956 and 2006 – from Elvis Presley to the Arctic Monkeys. Researchers from Liverpool John Moores University found that 137 of the stars, or 9.2 percent, had died, representing “higher levels of mortality than demographically matched individuals in the general population. So I was struck when two films now on general release examine the decline of two rock artists. I imagine you’ve seen Amy, about the late Amy Winehouse, and Love & Mercy, which is about Brian Wilson, who is still living, but went through a mysteriously dark period in his life when he didn’t get out of bed for over three years. Any thoughts?

A: Both films are superb. Amy is a bio-documentary, even better than the director Asif Kapadia‘s previous film Senna, which was excellent. Kapadia’s thesis, if we can call it that, is that Winehouse never craved fame and when it arrived was totally unprepared for it. The film stitches together footage from her childhood and adult life, so we actually see her saying she would probably kill herself if she ever became famous. Of course, she became accustomed to the bright lights pretty quickly, but never seemed fully comfortable. This was a factor in her death in 2011 at the young age of 27. Brian Wilson, now 73, was also a troubled soul, though the attention of the media and adulation of audiences was never a problem: in fact, he craved recognition and was embattled with other members of his band, the Beach Boys, and his father who managed the band, who wanted to stick to a proven musical formula while Wilson tried to break musical boundaries. “Who do you think you are, Mozart?” asks one of his fellow band members in the film. Wilson doesn’t answer, the implication being that he probably did see himself this way.

Q: One of the findings of the study I mentioned was the role played by the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Both Winehouse and Wilson were no strangers to toxic substances, right?

A: True, but the power of both films, in my view, is that they show that rock musicians on the rise tend to attract the close attention of people who don’t typically share their creative aspirations. In Amy, we see Blake Fielder-Civil assist her towards her use of hard drugs. Fielder-Civil comes across as the kind of guy who puts his own interests before all others’. Amy’s father Mitch Winehouse is angry about the film which reveals him ready to exploit her fame, at one point pushing her to have her picture taken when she clearly wants to escape this kind of thing. We hear producer Lucian Grainge explain that, when she became a bigtime celebrity on both sides of the Atlantic, Amy acquired what he describes as an infrastructure of agents, bodyguards and assorted other personnel to act as a kind of buffer zone between her and the media. Grainge says it was necessary, “but it wasn’t reality.” Wilson’s father was a famously tyrannical type, who initially managed the Beach Boys in the 1960s. Bill Pohlad‘s film is a drama, rather than documentary, and paints an ugly picture of Murry Wilson, Brian’s father. Anyone who has read Wilson’s autobiography knows that Murry was a domineering dad who beat his children. In the film we see him pouring scorn on Brian’s attempts to experiment with rock music. Wilson felt challenged by the work of the Beatles. His father mocks his son’s striving to keep pace with their innovations. Wilson’s masterwork Smile was never completed and was released only in 2004. Like Winehouse, Wilson used drugs, but the film doesn’t big up their role in his retreat. Though Wilson himself has talked openly of this. The other key character in Wilson’s life was Dr Eugene Landy, who is show to be a therapist-cum-guardian-cum-protector, who takes care of Wilson, but in a way that suits himself.

Q: So the so-called rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle is probably to blame for the troubles of both artists, but not in the way many might think. It seems you’re saying there is a kind of sociological process going on in which artistic and commercial success attracts self-serving people who see rock stars as exploitable.

A: Yes. Remember though, in Wilson’s case, Murry was probably well-intentioned, but, like a lot of intensely ambitious parents, just didn’t allow his son enough freedom to express his art. This may or not have been a factor in Wilson’s mental state. The conclusion of both movies seems to be that rock music presents a landscape in which artists can flourish, but where there other figures who see them as geese who lay golden eggs.

CAN A WHITE PERSON BE BLACK? ETHNIC IDENTITY IS A MATTER OF CHOICE, NOT NATURE

IMG_Rachel Dolezal

Q: Can a white person be black?

A: Yes. I know the case you have in mind: Rachel Dolezal (pictured above), who is a leader of the National Association of Colored People, and professor of Africana studies at Eastern Washington University, has built a professional a career as a black women; but her parents last week stated that her ancestry was Czech, Swedish and German with a dash of Native American and, while she mixed with and African Americans as a young woman and married an African American, “She’s chosen to not just be herself but to represent herself as an African American woman or biracial person. And that’s simply not true.” That’s what her mother said.

Q: That’s the case I have in mind. She’s a fraud, right?

A: Not in the slightest. She’s chosen to adopt an identity as a black person. What’s wrong with that? Barack Obama describes himself as an African American, but he’s never called himself black. Tiger Woods avoids both African American and black and has invented his own identity as Cablinasian – meaning a hybrid of Caucasian, Black, American-Indian, and Asian. So I see us at a stage in history when we’re able to select whatever ethnic identities we choose, maybe several. But it’s a matter of choice.

Q: But surely some people are black and that’s a fact of nature?

A: There is nothing natural about being black or white. Whiteness has origins in the second half of the seventeenth century when English, Irish, Scottish and other European settlers in America began to see themselves not as individuals or members of national groups, but as parts of a race. Most occupied a status not greatly above that of black bondsmen, that is, slaves. The antislavery movement argued that slaves were sentient human beings and deserved appropriate treatment and this prompted slaveholders to defend themselves. Slaves were like livestock, the plantation owners argued, but without anticipating the force of the Quaker-led movement. The need for a sharper, clearly defined barrier of delineation became more pressing as antislavery campaigners grew in confidence. The title of Theodore Allen’s 1994 book The Invention of the White Race conveys the action that followed: whiteness was invented.

Q: So let me get this straight: slaveowners created whiteness to convince workers from Europe that they had a kind of unifying identity and should stick together and that the slaves, who were descended from Africans, were black.

A: Not quite: whites were persuaded they were part of the same group, but slaves were called a variety of terms, most of them suggesting a natural grouping. Blackness, at least in the sense we understand it today, is a creation of the 1960s, when radical African Americans started to use it.  For example, “Black is beautiful,” and “Black and proud of it.” There’s a tremendous James Brown track from 1968 called “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” (check it out at the end of this blog).

Q: But the fact remains: people who identified as black were and still are African American. Dolezal isn’t. How can you argue against that?

A: In 2011, after splitting up with her partner, a white Canadian, Halle Berry (pictured below) pressed for custody of their daughter. The custody was contested and Berry based her claim on her daughter’s ethnicity: she was black, insisted Berry, drawing on what has become known as the “one drop rule.” This is an old idiomatic phrase that stipulates that anyone with any trace of sub-Saharan ancestry, however minute (“one drop”), can’t be considered white and, in the absence of an alternative lineage – for example, Native American, Asian, Arab, Australian aboriginal – they are considered black. The rule has no biological or genealogical foundation, though, in 1910, when Tennessee enshrined the rule in law, it was popularly regarded as having scientific status, however spurious. By 1925, almost every state in America had some form of one drop rule on the statute books. This was four decades before civil rights. Jim Crow segregation was in full force. Anti-miscegenation laws that prohibited unions of people considered to be of different racial types, remained until 1967, when the Supreme Court repealed them completely. By the time of Berry’s court case, it might reasonably have been assumed that the rule been exiled to America’s ignominious past. Berry herself has an African American father and a white mother, who is from Liverpool. Her parents divorced and she was brought up by her mother in Cleveland, Ohio. Prior to the custody argument, she had declared she considered herself biracial, this referring to a child with a black parent and a white parent: “I do identify with my white heritage. I was raised by my white mother and every day of my life I have always been aware of the fact that I am bi-racial.”

Actress Halle Berry

Q: Berry is hardly a controversial figure, but I know she’s occasionally talked about the particular predicament of biracial people, but, at various points, she’s also used black, African American and woman of color to describe herself. She’s talked of how she never felt accepted as white, despite her white mother. Her appeal to the one drop rule seems a bit like a physicist trying to explain the movements of celestial bodies by citing astrology.

A: Actually, while it seemed irrational, Berry’s explanation of her actions was far-removed from any kind of faux biology or pseudoscience. “I’m black and I’m her [daughter’s] mother, and I believe in the one drop theory. I’m not going to put a label on it. I had to decide for myself and that’s what she’s going to have to decide – how she identifies herself in the world,” she was quoted by Chloe Tilley, of the BBC World Service. In resisting conventional census categories, or labels, such as biracial or multiracial, she was not returning to another label black, as if returning to a default setting. Black, in her argument, is no longer a label: it is a response to a label – a response, that is, to not being white. Blackness, on this account, doesn’t describe a color, a physical condition, a lifestyle, or even an ethnic status in the conventional sense: it is a reaction to being regarded as different or distinct.

Q: You’re saying black no longer describes a designated group of people, but the way in which those who have been identified as distinct from and opposite to whites have reacted; their answer.

A: That’s basically it, yes. When Berry allowed, “that’s what she’s going to have to decide,” she meant that her daughter has some measure of discretion in the way she responds. Blackness is now a flexible and negotiable action; not the fixed status it once was. More likely we’ll witness the kind of situation encouraged by Berry, in which ethnicity becomes a matter of choice, people electing their ethnic identities. Note the use of plural identities: Berry’s child may change hers as she grows, perhaps opting for several at one time, changing to suit different situations. It will be – probably already is – possible to have multiple ethnicities, all interchangeable and all utterly fluid. We live a “liquid life,” as Zygmunt Bauman calls it.

Q: For some, this lack of certainty must sound like a waking nightmare. Surely we can’t change identities and switch ethnicities as we change our appearance with cosmetic surgery, replace limbs with prosthetics or restore vital functions with organ transplants from human donors, can we?

A: That’s what is happening and, for this writer at least, it’s no bad thing: the death of blackness will bring with it the demise of whiteness and all the inequity, oppression, bigotry and manifold wrongdoing that whiteness has engendered. Oh, and excuse the plug, but, if you want to read the full version of this argument, it’s all in my book Beyond Black (that’s Halle Berry on the front cover, by the way).

NIKE: IN CRISIS, OR GETTING STRONGER? OR BOTH?

Justin Gatlin-Men's 100m Final-London 2012 Olympics

Q: Wearing any Nike clothes?

A: Eh? No, I don’t think so. Oh, wait a minute: I’ve got some Nike socks on – I’ve just been for a run. I imagine everybody reading this is either wearing something with the “Swoosh” logo on it, and, if they haven’t, they’re bound to own something from Nike. It’s one of the most ubiquitous and most profitable brands in the world. Forbes rated Nike’s brand value at an incredible $15.9 billion and, only last month, Nike reported $7.46 billion in revenue for the previous three months alone. Why do you ask?

Q: Because I notice Nike has been drawn into two scandals over the past week: Alberto Salazar was the subject of a BBC Panorama investigation into doping and his training base is at the Nike Oregon Project in the USA, where Mo Farah, among others, trains; and Nike has been implicated in the Fifa scandal – according to the American US Department of Justice’s indictment filed against 14 Fifa officials and marketing executives, in 1996, “Company A,” which is now widely accepted to be Nike, agreed to pay $40m in “marketing fees” to the Swiss bank account of an affiliate of Brazilian sports marketing firm Traffic “on top of the $160m it was obligated to pay”, apparently to secure the sponsorship of the Brazilian football team. Traffic billed the company for an additional $30m in fees between 1996 and 1999, according to the indictment.

A: I can’t think of another global brand that has courted controversy quite so often as Nike and yet still emerged, not just intact, but actually stronger. In marketing terms, the company is living testimony to Nietzsche’s dictum, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” Just think about the previous scandals in which Nike has been involved courtesy of the athletes with whom it held contracts.

  • 1992: Eric Cantona was banned by England’s FA after his infamous kung-fu kick on a fan.
  • 1997: Mary Decker-Slaney was banned from competition after an irregular doping test result, which she explained as the result of her taking birth control pills.
  • 2003: The NBA star Kobe Bryant was accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman, who eventually dropped her case.
  • 2006-2010: Sprinter Justin Gatlin (pictured above, right) served two suspensions for using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs)
  • 2007: Michael Vick, the NFL quarterback was jailed after being involved in a dog-fighting ring.
  • 2009: Tiger Woods’ “transgression” led to several other companies dropping him. Nike’s ten-year contract with Woods is worth $124 million.
  • 2012: Lance Armstrong had been associated with Nike since 2006 and had insisted he hadn’t used PEDs.
  • 2014: Disabled runner Oscar Pistorius was convicted of shooting dead his girlfriend.

Nike stood by all but Armstrong and even then stated, “it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him.” His contract was valued at over $7 million per year. In the other cases, Nike has ridden out the storm and suffered no obvious collateral damage. So my guess is that it will distance itself from the Salazar case for the time being and, if the situation demands it, reiterate its stance on doping and remind everyone that its training facility in Oregon is not a panopticon i.e. a structure in which everyone can be observed at all time.

Q: But the Fifa scandal is a different matter, right?

A: Yes, I think so. But remember how Nike managed to navigate its way through the sweatshop controversy. “Nike product has become synonymous with slave wages, forced overtime, and arbitrary abuse.” Who said this? A protester at a G20 summit? Someone from the North Korea Confederation of Trade Unions? Unicef? Actually, it was Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. In 1998, faced with the uncomfortable reality that Nike, despite its position in the market and its reputation as a global brand, was being embarrassed by constant revelations about its treatment of workers across the world. Nike employed nearly 800,000 workers in 52 countries. Ninety-eight percent of its shoes were, at the time, produced in four countries: China, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. For a long time Nike  it had to defend itself against criticism of its apparent exploitative workplace practices in the emerging world. Nike’s business model is based on outsourcing its manufacturing, and using the money it saves on aggressive marketing campaigns. Nike put its hands up: as Knight’s admission indicates, the corporation was prepared to concede that its early efforts of setting codes of conduct and monitoring compliance didn’t end the abuses across its factories that produced its goods. It needed more comprehensive action. Perhaps more importantly, people believed Knight when he said he was going to pursue this kind of action, augmenting efforts to improve labor conditions with environmental programs.  So it advertised that it was monitoring its outsourcing labour practices and rectifying them and, basically, advertised its way out of trouble. That’s what it does so brilliantly: advertise in a way that persuades consumers that, by buying Nike products, they are involving themselves with a brand that is basically … well, cool.

Q: All the same, the company is going to be hard-pressed to extricate itself from the Fifa scandal, isn’t it?

A: Hard-pressed, maybe. But it’s not beyond Nike to turn a negative into a positive. Think how all the previous scandals have involved or seemed to involve some kind of wrongdoing. Nike can appeal to what we might call unstated sensibilities. For example, people might publicly decry maverick figures, rebels or rule-breakers, but they might also secretly admire them for having the audacity to flout authority. So I think Nike’s cunning advertising creates a way in which consumers can identify with rule-breakers but without openly acknowledging it.

Q: And the Fifa case?

A: The corporation has claimed the overpayments were not bribes or kickbacks and pointed out that the indictment does “not allege that Nike engaged in criminal conduct” or that “any Nike employee was aware of or knowingly participated in any bribery or kickback scheme.” And I have no doubt it will maintain this throughout the coming weeks. As long it remains a peripheral presence in the scandal, it continues to thrive. Like all scandals, there are personal focuses, like Sepp Blatter, Jack Warner and Chuck Blatter. While these are portrayed as pantomime villains, no one will think too much about the more abstract Nike brand. Compare this with another example of potential brand damage: Alton Towers is going to have to work hard to rehabilitate its brand after last week’s crash. Consumers will experience the impact of the event by imagining, “there but for the grace of god …” and this may affect the way they think and respond to the Alton Towers brand. But no one is going to think if they buy a new Nike top or a pair of trainers that they’re suddenly complicit in an attempt to undermine the integrity of a sport they like, or even love. The associations are not immediate. As I argued earlier, Nike’s ability to weather storms is based on its credibility and its preparedness to own up to its own sins and meet the challenge set by the consumer market. My guess is that Nike will emerge unscathed, its position as the world’s market leader in sportswear unchanged.

 

 

 

WHY DOES THE REST OF THE WORLD LIKE SEPP BLATTER (WHILE MOST EUROPEANS HATE HIM)?

Joseph Sepp Blatter

Q: Let’s cut straight to the chase: will the World Cups take place in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022?

A: Yes and possibly: it’s too late to change Russia, but the current investigation into Fifa will probably lead to revelations about how the bidding process for the World Cups was flawed by corruption and bribery and this could force Fifa to change the host nation for 2022. Qatar is already an unpopular site, anyway. Head of the English Football Association Greg Dyke doesn’t think Fifa president Sepp Blatter (pictured above) will survive his next full term of office (4 years) and he’s probably suspecting the trail of the current FBI case will lead all the way back to 2010 when the results of the Fifa vote for the World Cup hosts were announced.

Q: I heard you talking on radio last week and you seemed to think the big sponsors, or Fifa’s partners as they call them, would wonder whether their own brands are likely to be tarnished by their associations with Fifa. I guess you mean the likes of Coca-Cola, Budweiser, adidas, McDonald’s and the others, right? Surely they’re big enough to survive the latest scandal.

A: No doubt about it, though Visa, one of the major sponsors, has expressed doubts about Fifa and publicly declared that it will ask the organization to account for itself. Visa and each sponsor pay roughly $30m a year to be featured on official Fifa merchandise and have their logos plastered all over the screen when the games are being played. These global brands don’t throw money at Fifa out of the goodness of their hearts: they get good value from the exposure.  If they thought they’d suffer, they’d pull their money in a heartbeat. I imagine several others besides Visa will make pronouncements over the next week or so, but they’ll probably declare that they’re holding meetings with Fifa and expecting to get assurances that the type of corruption we’ve been hearing about will be stamped out. The usual anaemic platitudes, in other words.

Q: Were you surprised Sepp Blatter retained his presidency, despite the turmoil 48-hours before the election? His credibility must have been shaken.

A: I thought this initially, but now I’m not sure. After all, he had no credibility in Western Europe anyway. In North America, he was held in suspicion, and the Aussies have mistrusted him since Fifa voted down their bid to host the 2022 World Cup — the one that was awarded to Qatar. By the way, I think Australia will go on the offensive and try to snatch the World Cup from Qatar in the future. So Blatter was never banking on the support of those nations: his friends and stalwart admirers are in Africa and Asia. He can do no wrong with these nations.

Q: You’ve hit on an interesting point here: our media has been scathing about Blatter, but elsewhere in the world they haven’t been so destructive and, as you say, he enjoys support from many other parts of the world outside western Europe, North America and Australia. Why is that?

A: One of the first terms I learned when I was a sociology undergraduate was ethnocentricity (sometimes, ethnocentrism): it means evaluating other people and cultures according to the standards of your own culture. That’s what we’ve been doing. I was listening to Greg Dyke recall how, at last week’s Fifa election, he was talking to delegates from Africa and Asia who weren’t concerned about the allegations and whether they implicated Blatter. It “didn’t worry them at all,” said Dyke, “if you get into a position of power, you take cash.” In other words, there is a more relaxed approach to casual bribery in many parts of the world. It lubricates wheels. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that we’re above this; it’s just that we take a disapproving attitude that’s not so apparent elsewhere. So Blatter isn’t seen as the unscrupulous figure he is over here.

Q: All the same, a change of leadership would’ve made a difference, wouldn’t it?

A: Would it? Again, I’m reminded of my undergrad years: one of the writers that struck a chord with me was an Italian scholar named Vilfredo Pareto (pictured below), who lived 1848-1923, and who analyzed how ruling groups, or elites, clung to their power no matter what the political regime, whether capitalist, socialist, communist or whatever. There are always cliques that rise to the top and engineer ways of staying there. He called it the Circulation of Elites. If he were around today, he’d probably conclude that, in a largscale organization like Fifa, which has reserves of about $15 billion, it really doesn’t matter who’s in charge: the people in positions of power will try to feather their own nest — make money for themselves. Even organizations committed to democratic ideals succumb to the rule of a small, self-serving elite. By the way Pareto was part of a group of scholars known as Machiavellians — after the Italian nobleman and author Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), who advised rulers that, if they wanted to hold onto power they would have to use devious methods.

Wikimedia Commons - Vilfredo pareto

Q: As usual, your cynicism guides your understanding. But what should the nations that are genuinely alienated by Blatter and want to show their disgust at the way he’s governed the football world actually do? There’s talk of a boycott. Will this help?

A: Why leave it at a boycott? If you want to get out, there’s nothing to stop national football federations pulling out of Fifa completely. If say, Germany, Italy and Holland decided to withdraw from Fifa, they would probably expect to be joined by Australia, USA, France, England and a few others. They’d only need eight nations and they could easily get one of the global media corporations, such as NBC, Disney or Fox, interested. One of them would part with $500 million or so for exclusive English language rights. And it would rip the heart out of Fifa’s World Cup. There have been breakaways in cricket, tennis and boxing; and all of those sports survived. So it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility. Michel Platini, the president of Uefa (the European governing federation) is a known critic of Blatter, but we’re not sure how brave he is: he could propose a complete Uefa withdrawal from Fifa. There would be strong dissent from Russia, which hosts the 2018 World Cup, of course. Russian president Vladimir Putin is an outspoken critic of the FBI’s investigation into Fifa. Spain wouldn’t be keen on leaving Fifa either. Even so, the football world could split. The World Cup is as big as the Olympics at the moment, but that could change.

Q: One final question: is this whole affair really so bad for football?

A: No one likes to admit it, but scandals like these keep interest alive: the whole football narrative is populated by notorious characters who indulge in repugnant behaviour that turns the rest of us into moral judges. We like tut-tutting and issuing condemnation; it’s satisfying. When scandals like this make the lead stories not just for a day, but — in this case — for three straight days, we can’t escape them. How many sports can boast as many high-profile scandals as football? Historically, boxing and baseball have come close, but today football is dominant. Scandals make football the most fascinating, exciting, most pleasurable sport of them all. The least interesting aspect of football is the 90-minutes of play!

100 MOMENTS THAT CHANGED FOOTBALL #1 The Hand of God

Hand of god

When did this happen? June 22 1986

Where? Mexico City, Mexico

What was the occasion? Quarter-Final of the Fifa World Cup Finals, England vs Argentina

Who were the key figures? Diego Maradona (Argentina); Peter Shilton (England); Ali Bin Nasser (Tunisia)

What happened? Six minutes into the second half with the score 0-0, England midfielder Steve Hodge sliced a high ball into the middle of his own area. The ball flew over the penalty spot where it was met by the leaping Maradona, who artfully used his left hand to direct the ball over the England goalkeeper Peter Shilton and into the empty net. England players crowded around referee Ali Bin Nasser in protest and there was confusion for nearly two minutes, none of the 114,580 spectators knowing for sure whether the goal stood. Bin Nasser remained unmoved, so Maradona’s deft, undetected foul gave the South American team a crucial advantage. Television replays initially proved inconclusive, though later analyses showed unequivocally that Maradona — then regarded as the world’s premier player — had handballed, an offence that is today punishable with a red card. Argentina won the game 2-1, Maradona also scoring his team’s other goal. At the end of the match, Maradona exchanged shirts with Hodge, observing etiquette in a way many found ironic. “It was the nearest Hodge got to Maradona all day,” noted several observers wryly.  Later Maradona, when asked how he scored first goal, replied: Un poco con la cabeza de Maradona y otro poco con la mano de Dios, meaning “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God.” Hence the phrase, which has now become part of football’s folklore. After that allusion, Maradona never confirmed that he intentionally used his hand. Argentina progressed in the competition and ultimately won the World Cup — though England and its fans will forever remain convinced they won it by foul means rather than fair.

Why did it change football? The old adage, “Cheats never prosper” had never had much resonance in a sport that had been professionalized since 1885, at least officially — players had accepted payments for years before. But even in the 1980s, there was a vestigial commitment to the principle of fair play. Maradona demonstrated the redundancy of such a principle in a sport in which the most fundamental and perhaps only objective was to win. All other principles were subordinated to this. Integrity, probity, honour and decency were, historically, tenets of football, though most had been corroded by commercial considerations as the twentieth century progressed. Had Argentina’s opening goal been scored in a similar manner by a lesser player, the moment would have made news, but not history. Maradona was acknowledged as the finest player since Pelé, and, even in the context of the world’s leading team, an outstanding individual, who commanded the attention of the global media. Handling the ball is, of course, considered one of the crassest of all fouls in football. If the world’s greatest player was prepared to resort to such fraudulence and be rewarded, why would other players hesitate? In the years that followed, players progressively played as if in a competition-within-a-competition, pitting their guile against the referee in efforts to persuade — some would say dupe — the ref into believing that they had been fouled when they hadn’t (known as simulation) or fouling without being detected. Players today often appeal to referees to penalize opponents, an action that would have been unthinkably unsportsmanlike (sic) as recently as the early 1980s. Maradona’s example was, for many, an unwelcome mandate for fouling.

This is the first of a series of iconic moments that shaped football, so feel free to tweet suggestions for future treatments. @elliscashmore/

PRIVACY? THAT’S SO 20th CENTURY!

Q: I want to start by asking you about your relationship with your mother. I believe you had a somewhat troubled childhood and that there was tension between …

A: Hang on! This is a bit personal, isn’t it? What are we doing here?

Q: Those were Robert Downey Jr’s very words just before he walked out on Channel 4’s interviewer Krishnan Guru-Murthy the other day (interview is above).

A: Oh, I’m with you now: Downey thought he was just appearing to promote his new movie  Avengers: Age of Ultron (below) and he got upset when Guru-Murthy pressed him on more personal issues, including his past use of drugs and alcohol. In fact, he got so upset, he just pulled a face, said “goodbye,” yanked off his microphone and walked out, mumbling, “it was getting a bit Diane Sawyer” — a reference to the American interviewer who tends to probe into private lives.

Q: So has Downey any right to restrict his interview to promoting his new film and refusing to talk about his private life?

A: In my opinion, anyone who is either an A-list celebrity — as Downey clearly is — or has aspirations to becoming a celeb of some distinction has to come to terms early on with the fact that they have no private life that they can keep offlimits: everything in their past and present is fair game, not just for the traditional media, but for everyone. Social media, twitter in particular, has pretty much made privacy redundant. But even before twitter started (it launched in 2006), celebrities had entered into a new kind of arrangement in which they agreed to cough up any details of their lives the media wanted to know about. And, of course, the media are our proxy: they probe because we consumers want them to probe.

Q: When did all this start then? Because I can’t imagine the Hollywood stars of the 1950s or even 1960s surrendered their right to a private life. In fact, my reading of the old stars is that the film industry kept a very tight control over the information they released to the media. What changed?

A: After the rise of Madonna in the 1980s, anyone who aspired to be famous had to stay mindful of the sacrifice she made. She may not have slaughtered an animal or child as an offering to god, but she gave up something that had been regarded as important to previous entertainers: her privacy. Had social media been around, she would have had no choice. But in the days when traditional media were dominant, she opted to start a process that would eventually turn privacy inside out. Eventually, fans, instead of relying on what the media provided, asserted themselves. But they needed assistance. Consumers have no need to depend on traditional media for information on celebrities’ lives now: they can access it for themselves; and, if they can’t do that, they will make it up. Either way, it satisfies the voyeuristic impulse.

Q: Voyeuristic impulse? You mean we take pleasure from watching other people? Are you saying that we are all voyeurs nowadays?

A: Actually voyeurism doesn’t quite catch it: it sounds too one-directional, as if one group is peeping at another through a keyhole; celebrities supply raw material to eager followers. Madonna certainly delivered a product in the 1980s, but she was forced to change. The relationship between celebrities and fans became progressively more fluid, involving a collaboration and exchange of ideas between celeb and audience (reaching an unedifying point in 2012 when Justin Bieber’s fans elected via twitter to name his penis “Jerry”). It’s difficult to imagine unapproachable, unreachable, untouchable stars, such as Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and their contemporaries in the 1950s and 1960s, tweeting. But, if they were around in times of 360 degrees connectivity, they would be obliged to do exactly that (though probably not sharing nomenclature of genitalia).

Q: I guess twitter and Instagram have changed the way we understand privacy completely then.

A: Yes, it’s a kind of two-way situation: we follow others’ lives, but we don’t mind sharing our own. The kind of material people put on the two sites you mention would have made people shrink in embarrassment twenty years ago. But think about how relaxed everyone is about sharing what used to be called private information today. The Jerry Springer Show is one of the most important shows in television history: it really captured the zeitgeist when it debuted in 1991. Audiences could hardly believe they were watching and listening to people air their dirty linen in public, and, of course, the public was in millions. It was, in many ways, an incredible   show and paved the way for so many others, including our own Jeremy Kyle Show. We’ve become so used to eavesdropping on other people’s lives that we feel no guilt. We even discuss others’ behaviour in a way that turns us into judges. I mean that quite literally, we make moral evaluations about how other people live. That’s what I mean by the voyeuristic impulse.

Q: So I come back to my initial question. Downey: right or wrong?

A: Ah, I see you want me to make my own moral evaluation on him. Well, I think he has become such an interesting guy because of his checkered background. It looked for a while as if he would be cast out into the wilderness. In the 1990s, he was in and out of rehab and jail for drugs issues. At earlier periods in the twentieth century, this would have been ruinous for an actor, but when Downey got into trouble, audiences were not simply interested on what they saw on the screen, so his various travails made him a fascinating character. He got a part on the tv show Ally McBeal and was so good that he got big movie parts. Presumably, he’s aware that his troubled background has in a perverse way contributed to his success, but just wants to put it all behind him now. It’s understandable, though it suggests he may not quite understand that every time he’s giving an interview audiences are not just interested in his roles in Iron Man or Avengers: they’re actually more interested in Robert Downey Jr.

SLY STALLONE: IS HE WORTH IT (TO WARBURTONS, THAT IS)?

Q: Yo, Adrian! I see Sly has taken a job as a delivery man for Warburtons bread. I love the commercial (above), but I’m scratching my head: what on earth did the toughguy want to do this for?

A: I’ve give you a clue: five letters beginning with “m” and ending with “y.” Not that Sly is short of a few bucks. But the days have gone when A-listers thought twice about cheapening themselves by becoming pitchmen or pitchwomen for products they had probably never heard of until their agents called.

Q: I hear the total commercial, including production, cost in the region of £15 million, which includes Stallone’s fee, their ad agency’s commission and so on and so forth. Warburton’s are going to have to sell an almighty number of loaves to justify this. It hardly makes commercial sense, does it?

A: Not on the surface: customers are no suddenly going to rush out and buy Warburtons bread as a result of viewing the commercial. But advertising doesn’t worth in such a straightforward fashion. In his book Advertising, the Uneasy Persuasion, Michael Schudson makes a good point: “Advertising is much less powerful than advertisers and critics of advertising claim,” but qualifies this with “advertising helps sell goods even if it never persuades a consumer of anything.” He argues that a self-fulfilling prophecy operates, with key personnel tending to believe advertising works. In other words, if retailers and sales staffs think advertising works, they tend to push one product rather than another. For an ad to work, it must be seen to work.

Q: Let me get this straight. If an advertiser can design some way of not just distinguishing a product, by distinguishing it in a way that enables both vendors to stock it and consumers to confer extra value on it, then they have something like the goose that laid the golden eggs.

A: Yes. And this is, of course, where celebrities come in. Advertisers are always on the lookout for a “face of … “ some product or another, that is, someone who personifies a product or a range or products or perhaps even an entire brand. That someone might be the right match or fit for one type of product rather than another. Elizabeth Hurley was the spokesperson for and hence the face of Estée Lauder for ten years up to 2005. Presumably Lauder — which owns, among other lines, Bobbi Brown and Clinique — felt she radiated the kind of values it wanted associated with the brand. That is, until she hit 40, when Lauder replaced her with Gwyneth Paltrow, seven years her junior. Cheryl Fernandez-Versini endorses L’Oreal products. Budweiser or thousands of other products would have found little use for Hurley, Paltrow or Cheryl. Unless Bud decided to re-position its beer in the marketplace and tried to target women. This is an unlikely scenario: Budweiser knows its demographics, which is why the company often uses male artists, like Jay-Z, who are easily identifiable and embody the kind of values typically associated with an uncomplicated beer. Check out this commercial:

Q: Of course, we don’t need it pointing out, but, whatever the pitch, the appeal or the spiel, the consumer appears to get only one thing — merchandise. A celebrity’s approval might convince some consumers that they are buying something authentic, substantial or even profound. The product might be promoted as desirable and “real.” And the consumer might walk away from the store feeling like they have acquired something of genuine value. They might even believe they have taken another step toward being the person they want to be. That doesn’t alter the fact that they are buying a commodity, plain if not simple.

A: Value doesn’t exist in any pure form: products are invested with value. Think of the countless items discarded by celebrities and endowed with great value when circulated on eBay or some other exchange system. An old toothbrush, a used tissue or a worn sock become exceptional items. Most shoppers are aware that endorsed products are, essentially, the same as the generic ones: the majority of products are functionally indistinguishable. Advertising agencies are as aware of this as consumers; which is why they get paid to make those indistinguishable products distinguishable. Selecting a celebrity to advertise a product is a science, like astrology or alchemy; in other words, a nebulous, imprecise and uncertain one. The metrics are equivocal. Media visibility (exposure in print, television, radio and online) is a key factor. Hence film and television actors, tv personalities, models, sportsmen and woman, authors, musicians, comics and, of course, reality television figures are obvious candidates. Their visibility is measurable in terms of appearances and namechecks. Beyond that, the science becomes, at best, art, and, at worst guesswork.

Q: But there are some celebs, like Taylor Swift, Beyoncé or George Clooney who offer instant recognition practically everywhere in the world. The cut across all demographics. This surely makes them worth it to advertisers, doesn’t it?

A: Yes, they and the likes of JLo and Angelina Jolie are among an elite of celebrities whose name or image adds value to a brand and, in turn, make products move off shelves. In this sense, they are in the same league as Michael Jordan once was. Jordan is still busy endorsing Nike products, of course, but in the 1990s he was without peers. Then along came David Beckham and showed that Jordan wasn’t a one-off: sports celebrities are sought-after endorsers nowadays. Such is the confidence of advertisers in the added value brought to a product by the imprimatur of a celebrity that Chanel No. 5, in 2004, bought the services of Nicole Kidman for just one television commercial.

Q: Advertising has moved away from the practical approach in which product information was at the forefront. But seriously: does anyone else in the world believe Kim Kardashian or any of the other celebrities are sincere when they advocate, recommend or vouch for a smartphone? Is anyone so absolutely, completely and utterly gullible that they are prepared to accept the word of a well-paid mercenary when they part with their hard-earned cash?

A: I’d probably like to say the answer to all these is an emphatic no! On inspection, though, we probably conclude that it’s no-ish. If a person who is endorsing a product is believable, what he or she says is likely to be convincing; but the fit between the two is crucial. Both the statement and its source must be believable. When advertisers scan for likely endorsers, credibility is uppermost in their minds. If consumers regard the celebrity as credible, they’re more likely to take notice of the message. Which brings up back to Sly. No one thinks he is a devoted fan of Warburtons bread (I doubt if they can get it in Californian supermarkets, anyway). But he is known by everyone, well-liked (as the boxoffice of his movies confirms) and is not known for advertising any product that pays him. I still think it’s risky advertising, but the commercial has received national publicity, which means the ad has been seen over and over again and the name Warburton’s has been on everybody’s lips. Hey, it’s even got the like of you and me talking about it. So maybe Sly is worth it, after all.

COULD THE ELECTION BE DECIDED ON LOOKS?

” … We have a conception of good looks and, in all probability, we want our elected politicians to look good”

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Labour needs more than empathy and catchy pledges to win power - Telegraph Labour needs more than empathy and catchy pledges to win power - Telegraph

Q: Looking at the Election debate on telly last week, I got to wondering: who looks the most likely leader here? Do we judge people’s capabilities on such cosmetic features as their looks? I know this is totally superficial; that’s what made me think of you. Your arguments are usually pretty superficial. Do you think it’s possible that the way people look could influence the way we vote in the Election?
A:  We’re likely to be influenced by a candidate’s looks as we are the more substantial features, such as taxation, public spending, immigration controls and foreign policy. Looks do make a difference. Not just in politics either: whether you’re applying for a job or asking someone out, looks do matter. We might attach too much importance to good looks, but it’s a fact of life: if you have them, it’s a start in life. Physical attractiveness is an advantage.

Q: That’s a terrible indictment of today’s culture. It means that poor old Ed Miliband and Ed Balls (above, top)  who have often been likened to Wallace and Gromit (above, bottom … sorry, I mean the other way around), are starting from an immediate disadvantage. Do you have any research to back this up?                                                                                                                                                            A: Actually, I do. For a start, over ten years ago America’s NBC television recruited Dr. Gordon Patzer to assist in a minor experiment in which they got a couple of super-good-looking models to drop a file of papers in the street, just to see how quickly people rushed to their assistance. Then they got an NBC colleague (who we assume was plain looking) to do the same. “That was a classic example of everything we find in the scholarly research that we do,” said Patzer. “Those of higher physical attractiveness are automatically or immediately assisted, provided help.”

Q: Wait a minute. That’s just getting help in the street. Is that all you’ve got?                                          A: Patzer’s research goes wider: he reckons we actually trust people who are good looking. Trust is a powerful acceptance of a person: it means we take what they say as truth, without evidence or the need for further investigation; it means we believe firmly in someone. Patzer concluded: “We trust more those people of higher physical attractiveness.”  He went on: “This is something anthropologically that has existed for as long as history exists.” Even justice is not blind to beauty. Studies have shown that juries find arguments more persuasive if they’re made by attractive lawyers.

Q: Presumably, this would mean that better looking people have an edge when it comes to getting a job.                                                                                                                                                                  A: There was some research published in 2009 on this subject. People with facial disfigurement, birthmarks or scars are more likely to receive poor ratings in job interviews than people who do not have any noticeable facial marks. Professor Mikki Hebl who conducted the study explained: “Our research shows if you recall less information about competent candidates because you are distracted by characteristics on their face, it decreases your overall evaluations of them.” So flawless skin and an absence of prominent features will put you in good shape for a job.

Q: This is all very depressing. It suggests we have become a superficial society. Surely, an important political election is different.                                                                                                                         A: I wrote a blog a few of weeks back in which I referred to the impact of  John F. Kennedy, an impressively handsome man, who was the first politician to use television to his advantage. Now, this didn’t mean that every successful politician since JFK had to look like George Clooney or Angelina Jolie (below), both of whom are politically engaged, by the way. But it does mean that candidates who have faces that are liable to distract voters with particular characteristics, are at a disadvantage. Researchers at Princeton University found that voters never admit they are influenced by faces, but produced evidence to show that, in fact they were. The lesson here is that we don’t even realize how we are influenced by looks.

Angelina Jolie

Q: I’d like to think that, as we approach the Election, voters will use intelligence, analysis and an understanding of policy implications when they weigh up their options. In the cold light of day, they will, won’t they?
A: These are all factors, but, at a more basic level, perhaps at a level below our consciousness, we will be influenced by how the politicians look. We live in a culture that places a high priority on the way people look.   What counts as good looks and ugliness are culturally specific, of course; beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. In this place and in this time, whether we like it or not, we have a conception of good looks and, in all probability, we want our elected politicians to look good. All politicians are aware of this, which is why they pay attention to their dress, their hair and to how they will appear on the tv screen. They all know that their looks play a part in their ultimate success or failure. Let me return to your original question: looks will play a part in the Election.

THE TWO JEREMYS

Q: Last week was one for Jeremys. First we heard that Jeremy Clarkson (pictured below) got dropped by BBC, then Jeremy Paxman dominated his interviews with the two main political candidates in the General Election. Let me start with JC: I heard you on radio recently talking about how we licence celebrities to break rules the rest of us stick to. I disagree. It’s nothing to do with us if the likes of Clarkson goes about trampling on people’s feelings and assaulting his colleagues. So your argument is pretty much like everything else you pontificate on: BS. No disrespect.

Jeremy Clarkson

A: Think of all the wellknown figures we follow devoutly but have crossed the boundaries at some point. It doesn’t make them any less fascinating; quite the opposite in fact. Take Tiger Woods’ transgression, as he called it: we actually found him more interesting as a result of his philandering. We thought David Beckham was wholesome family man who would never dare look at another woman before the Rebecca Loos affair. But the episode gave him a bit of devilry as far as we were concerned and that sort of humanized his public image.

Q: So you don’t think because we see a high profile celeb violating acceptable codes of behaviour, we tend to emulate them? After all they are role models, aren’t they?

A: No. Just because Clarkson hits his producer doesn’t mean his millions of devoted fans will ape his aggression. In any case, just think: people who break rules at one point in history are often seen retrospectively as pioneers. It wasn’t so long ago that being gay was a serious violation of social norms, and domestic abuse was seen as a private matter. At the same time, bullying at work was not seen as such a big deal. Now the first is not an issue at all, the second is a matter of social concern and the third is met with, in Clarkson’s case, a dismissal. History doesn’t stand still and nor do social rules.

Q: Which leads me to Paxman (pictured below): he was the star of the show when interviewing David Cameron and Ed Miliband. He dominated the exchanges and pressured Miliband so strongly that he asked, “Are you alright, Ed?” at the end of the interview. Is he a bully?

The Paxman stare

A: Not at all. He’s a self-important figure and he always makes sure no politician is going to steal his thunder. But you have to remember, he’s grilling the men who are aspiring to be the leader of the UK. So I think Paxman is our proxy.

Q: What’s that mean?

A: He’s acting on our behalf. So he’s asking difficult questions and expects the likes of Cameron and Miliband to be able to answer them. OK, he’s got a research team behind him to design his questions. But we want to see how politicians handle them. Asking Cameron if he knew how many food banks there were was a mischievous one because it’s doubtful if any other politician, or anybody else for that matter, would have the answer at the ready. His insistence on repeating one of the audience’s questions about Miliband’s brother was also below the belt. I mean, Ed is there to answer questions about himself, not whether his brother would make a more credible candidate. But this is Paxman’s stagecraft: he manages to entertain rather than educate us. It was an enjoyable programme, though I can’t say we learnt much more about the two candidates than we already knew.

Q: Is that what you think these televised political debates are for then? Entertainment?

A: You’ll recall I wrote a blog a week or so ago about how politics has been hijacked by tv. Bill Clinton was the first politician to master the transition to pure showman. I don’t think our main candidates are in Clinton’s class. Not yet anyway. Both take their cues from him mind.  Take a look at this from 1992: Clinton is brilliant. I think we learn a bit, though not much, about the politicians’ skills. But the main effect is to entertain us, yes. Television is a wonderful medium for this. I know some think it is an instrument of enlightenment and, on occasion, it can be; but its primary effect on politics is to make them more entertaining. That’s no bad thing, mind: if it gets people engaged, then it’s done its job.

Q: Before you go, what about Zayn Malik? I’ve never heard such a fuss about a guy leaving a boyband. What on earth is all that about?

A: I haven’t got time to explain here, but I’ll refer you to something I wrote the day after the split. See what you think. You’ll probably think it’s more BS! Click here.

RACISM: SHOULD WE FIGHT IT, OR MANAGE IT?

Q: Nowadays, do-gooders are everywhere; they line up to get our attention. But I wonder if Trevor Phillips (pictured below) is trying to do any good at all. Apart from give his own reputation a boost, of course. I mean, he’s been on tv urging for more openness on the issue of race. He’s discovered a lavish opportunity for showcasing his gamekeeper-turned-poacher turnabout. The Labour Party made him a member of its London Assembly in 2000, and three years later he became head of the Commission for Racial Equality. So he used to promote the policy of multiculturalism he is now criticizing.

A: Well, hang on a minute: that’s not quite true. His support for multiculturalism hasn’t suddenly disintegrated. He had reservations of Tony Blair’s approach to the policy, which he thought would lead to a kind of ethnic isolationism.

Trevor Phillips OBE

Q: Unlike the American policy that’s encouraged the acceptance of core values and the cultivation of sort of hybrid identities, like African-Americans or Asian-Americans, for example?

 A: Let’s remind ourselves that the USA’s policy has not exactly been a runaway success. We only have to glance across the Atlantic to remind ourselves that, despite ending segregation 50 years ago, introducing affirmative action, or positive discrimination, and even electing an African-American to President, America has more than its fair share of racially-charged episodes. In the 1980s, Britain feared Britain was going to follow the US: the riots in London, Birmingham and other cities (see picture below) seemed to reflect the riots in America twenty years before.  So the British pursued its own policy: ethnic difference was welcomed and those who wished to preserve their distinct identities through their language, faith, customs and overall lifestyle, were put under no pressure to assimilate, that is become absorbed into the wider society. Phillips argues now — as he did then — that this was a mistake and has led to the cultivation of distinct ethnic groups with little in common. Of course, the American approach has been fraught with problems and, in recent years, we’ve seen evidence of this.

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 Q: But, as I understand it, Phillips has been saying we’ve deliberately ignored the race issue, abiding by a kind of code of silence.

A: He exaggerates: I don’t think we have been unduly silent about race in the UK. Think about the Stephen Lawrence Report’s publication in 1999. It prompted a heated debate for years. And, when Phillips argues, we were silent about the sex exploitation cases in Rochdale and Rotherham, I think he forgets that, while there were Asian gangs behind many of these cases, we all knew about this. We also know that several whites, sometimes prominent whites, have been involved in similar activities. I get the impression that we talk about these issues. Occasionally, we hear about cases of the police protecting the identities of Asian sex grooming outfits secret; there was a case in Birmingham last year, but the truth eventually reached the headlines with “High number of Asian child sex abusers in Birmingham” I doubt if this is likely to persuade anyone that all British Asians are involved anymore than hearing that Victoria Climbie’s parents were African was going to convince anyone that all Africans are child-killing black magic worshippers. So I don’t think we are as silent as Phillips supposes. In any case, I doubt if there is any benefit in making our thoughts and feelings too well-known. Sometimes, free speech can hurt. That’s the reason the Wigan Football Club owner Dave Whelan got into hot water when he made a reference that had an antisemitic implication and then compounded this with an racial epithet about Chinese.

Q: But I was reading recently that the US Army  is investigating a platoon of soldiers, who were given a free pass to use racial slurs against each other during what was known as “Racial Thursdays.” And, in any case, we have laws against “inciting racial hatred.”

A: And this is why I think a code of silence is sometimes preferable to, as you say, a free pass to express your opinion. When Phillips says we have to be ready to offend each other, he should think of the consequences. I’m in favour of freedom of speech, but you have to stay mindful that it’s a potent power. The balance is a fine one: you have to limit the kind of speech and expression of thought that will impact negatively on the life of others. Clearly, there are people around who harbour racist ideas and we have to accept that they will cling to these. In practice, we can’t do much about that, at least not without some form of thought control. What we can do is impose limits on their behaviour: to prevent them harming innocent people.

Q: So you’re actually managing racism rather than addressing it?

A: It sounds defeatist when you put it like that. But that’s about right. I think we should spend our energy on protecting groups. In time, changes in attitudes will follow. But it’s a glacially slow process. The first significant manifestations of racism were in 1958 at Nottingham and London’s Notting Hill and the fact that we’re still discussing it suggests the rate of progress is not impressive. I think managing race is the primary task.