From Emo to Indie

Such is art to be introspective, but how much is too much?

The Emo Diaries: The Digital Generation and How They Express Themselves

Zach Braff’s would-be mistress in The Last Kiss first seduces him with the bittersweet truth that: "The world is moving so fast now that we start freaking long before our parents did because we don't ever stop to breathe anymore."

Mid-life crises make for less trendy material, and so it’s the quarter-life crises of hipster working professionals that have the digital generation all a buzz. Proving to the world they have their fingers on the pulse, the creative team of Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick – also behind My So-Called Life and the Leonardo DiCaprio film Blood Diamond – are set to release Quarterlife, an online internet series about twentysomethings "coming of age in the digital generation," on November 11th.

Quarterlife will be distributed through Myspace in eight-minute video clips. Shortly after, episodes will also be available for download off quarterlife.com – a new social networking site targeted at media-types and creative-wannabes with promises to help them "get discovered". The show itself follows a group of young writers and artists who are searching for their "big break".

Internet series have been made before, such as YouTube’s infamous http://nymag.com/arts/tv/features/19376/”>lonelygirl15. In 2006 Imogen Heap used MySpace to choose supporting acts for a UK tour. And more recently Film4 and Vertigo Films used MySpace to audition actors for Faintheart, a romantic comedy set for summer 2008.

But Quarterlife has been hailed by some in the media industry as "the first ‘network quality’ show to be produced specifically for the Web."

Harry Potter and Crises of Identity: Who do you belong to?

Last week, Harry Potter as a left-wing intellectual hero who triumphs over the middle-class petit bourgeoisie. The cover story, "Why Harry Potter is of the Left" identified the non-magical Muggles as the Thatcherite middle-class, and the magical population at Hogwarts as the intellectual aristocracy of the Left.

But this isn’t the first time someone has claimed Potter as one of their own. And this isn’t the first time that reader subjectivity clashes with current debates on identity politics.

Previously, parallels had been drawn between Harry Potter and Jesus Christ, not to mention the suggestion that Rowling’s books are none other than Looking for God in Harry Pottermodern-day adaptations of biblical parable. Some had suggested using Harry Potter’s popularity as a way to spread Christianity, and the Church of England even published a guide to evangelism using Rowling’s books.

Meanwhile, Rowling set cyberspace ablaze last week with her revelation that Dumbledore is gay.

London Gets a Big Dose of Canadian Indie

Canada has proved to be an Canada’s rock’n’roll renaissance unlikely hotbed of musical talent in recent years with indie-rock bands like Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene and Feist. Some of the country's best bands are hitting the UK this month.

The crash-course in Canadian indie began on 26 October when the Montreal-based Arcade Fire brought their emotionally-charged live show to Glasgow. The band - on tour until 19 November – are busy promoting their second album, Neon Bible, while issuing witty and incisive rebuttals to the New Yorker’s music critic Sasha Frere-Jones, who recently called today’s indie music too white and too polite. They responded last week by compiling an mp3 of clips that prove he’s wrong. Their 2004 debut album, Funeral, was called one of "the decade’s most remarkable rock albums".

And that's not all. November sees an invasion of jittery dance-punk and introspective vocals from the northern bit of North America. The energetic British Columbian group Hot Hot Heat will be in the country from the 10th – 21st. Soon after Hot Hot Heat get started, the Ontario-based Alexisonfire will hit London on November 13. Finishing it off are The Weakerthans, the smart and introspective indie folk band with punk rock roots from Winnipeg, Manitoba. They land in the UK on November 23 and are promoting their new album, Reunion Tour.

Food-Obsessed: If we are what we eat, how self-absorbed can we get?

In what should have been an ironic joke – though probably just a result of poor planning – this week was both British Sausage Week and National Vegan Week. But in general this year has seen a deluge of debate and discussion on the things people eat.

Over the months we’ve seen piece after piece of quasi-anthropological "why do we eat what we eat?" writing, from Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Mineral – in which she documents a year lived as a locavore (one who only eats food grown locally) – to The Omnivore’s Dilemma – the book by Michael Pollan which looks at how our food is grown and asks (for reasons of both health and ethics) "what should we have for dinner?" For the more historically inclined, we have the natural and social History of Food coming in December.

Meanwhile, Milk-n-Honey, a play based on interviews with farmers, cooks, dumpster divers, and others involved in production and consumption of edibles is currently on in New York.

Also taking advantage of the fusion of food and ideas, the London Review Cake Shop opens 7 November, as the London Review of Books expands its property and mandate to include the sale and consumption of baked goods, hoping the move will not be seen as an emulation of the fusion of big-time coffee chains with equally big-time bookstores, but rather the "London coffeehouse of restoration times."

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Stanley Johnson's Diary

The author on iguana burgers, cricket with Boris – and what Russia really knew about Brexit.

My week began with the annual Earl Spencer v Boris Johnson cricket match, held at Charles Spencer’s Althorp House in Northamptonshire. This is a truly wonderful event in a wonderful setting. Boris’s team has not yet notched up a victory, even though we once fielded Kevin Pietersen. This year, we actually came close to winning. The Johnson team made 127. Charles Spencer’s, with one over left, was on 123. It was a nail-biting finish, and they finally beat us with only two balls left to bowl.

Clapping for Britain

The day after the match, I was invited to lunch at the Travellers Club to meet Alden McLaughlin, the premier of the Cayman Islands, and other members of his government who were travelling with him in London. I discovered that his vision for the islands’ future extended far beyond the financial sector, central though that is. He was, for example, proud that the Cayman Islands – like other UK overseas territories – contribute enormously to the UK’s biological diversity.

“The blue iguana is endemic to the Cayman Islands,” McLaughlin explained, “and it is one of the great environmental success stories of our time. It has been brought back from the brink of extinction.” If the blue iguana is on the way to recovery, it seems that the green iguana is superabundant. “We must have a million of them,” he said. “They are getting everywhere. We are working on a strategy to deal with them.” I told him that I once had an iguana burger in Honduras. He shook his head. “We don’t eat iguanas in the Caymans.”

Premier McLaughlin was also able to offer a useful insight into Britain’s current Brexit-related tensions. In 1962, the Cayman Islands were forced to decide whether to stay with Jamaica, as Jamaica became independent, or to stick with Britain as a separate crown colony. “We decided by acclamation,” McLaughlin told me. “One side clapped loudest; the other side clapped longest. The loudest side won. We stayed with Britain.” Like the latest Johnson-Spencer cricket match, it was a close-run thing.

Light touch

Last week, we went to the first night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall and, in the course of an inspiring evening, heard Igor Levit, born in Nizhny Novgorod, give us a haunting version of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto. There were mutterings afterwards that he shouldn’t have chosen Liszt’s transcription of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy as his encore, but if Levit meant this as a political statement – and he probably did – it was done with the lightest of touches. He doesn’t paint his message in huge capital letters on the side of a bus.

An open goal

My sister, Hilary, who emigrated to Australia in 1969, has been visiting. We spent two days on Exmoor in the middle of the week, on the family farm where we grew up, before coming back to London for the launch of my 25th book and tenth novel. Kompromat is a satirical political thriller that aims to recount the real story behind both the election of Donald Trump as US president and the pro-Brexit vote in last year’s referendum. There is a quotation from the former London mayor Ken Livingstone on the front cover: “It’s brilliant and, who knows, maybe it’s true.”

In interviews, I have been asked whether I really believe that the Russians might have been behind both Trump’s victory and Brexit. My response is simple. In the US, the idea of Russian interference in the election is being taken very seriously. Over here, we don’t seem to be bothered. I asked myself, when I started writing Kompromat in February, why wouldn’t the Russians have taken a shot at an open goal?

My fictional British prime minister, Jeremy Hartley, is a deeply patriotic man, convinced that the only way to take Britain out of the EU is to call a referendum – with a little help from his “friends”. But I don’t want to give too much away. Channel 4 has bought the rights and will be programming six half-hour episodes.

All in the family

Hilary and I went to Wimbledon for the ladies’ final as the guests of her old friend David Spearing. Usually referred to by tennis addicts as “the man in the black hat”, he first became a Wimbledon steward in 1974 and, even though he has lived in Abu Dhabi for the past 50 years, he never misses a season. As the longest-serving steward, he gets to sit (wearing his famous hat) in the “family box” at Wimbledon, the one where close relatives of the players are invariably placed.

We met Spearing in the officials’ buttery during one of the intervals (Venus Williams had just been walloped by Garbiñe Muguruza). Later, as he walked us back to our seats, people kept stopping to ask him for a selfie. “I’ve been on duty in the ‘family box’ for 20 years,” he explained. “They all know me, from the TV or in person, seeing me sitting there hour after hour. The first time Andy Murray won the championship, he climbed up into the box to hug his girlfriend. I noticed he had missed his mother, who was sitting over to the side. ‘Don’t forget about Mum, Andy,’ I told him!” 

Stanley Johnson’s novel “Kompromat” is published  by Oneworld

Stanley Johnson is an author, journalist and former Conservative member of the European Parliament. He has also worked in the European Commission. In 1984 Stanley was awarded the Greenpeace Prize for Outstanding Services to the Environment and in the same year the RSPCA Richard Martin award for services to animal welfare. In 1962 he won the Newdigate Prize for Poetry. He also happens to be the father of Boris Johnson.

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder