Thursday, November 26, 2009

Columns from last while...

(Meades: "Somewhere on the spectrum" according to my ever politically correct mother.)

NOBODY happened to catch that ‘Jonathan Meades: Off-Kilter’ documentary on BBC4 last week, did they? Of course not, it was on BBC4. But if you had watched it, you might have been a little bit offended. Have a look on BBC iplayer and you’ll see what I mean. The show featured the verbose Mr Meades driving around what he calls “the football pools towns” - towns only known in southern England from playing the football pools, which are however quite familiar to you and I, since we live in them - all the while displaying a smug sense of intellectual superiority.
While Meades, who has presented programmes on architecture and written restaurant reviews for The Times, is often funny and a great deal of the comments he makes about the bleakness of Scottish towns are quite accurate, I feel he is a little bit uncharitable.
In his brief visit to Kirkcaldy, for instance, Meades describes Raith Rovers as “up and down like a barmaid’s knickers, not that barmaids are reputed to wear that particular garment in these parts”. While it would not be appropriate for me to pass comment on the underwear habits of female members of staff in Kirkcaldy’s many drinking establishments, I have to say that it is awful presumptuous of someone whose sole experience of the town is driving past Stark’s Park, filming a 30 second piece to camera and then retreating to a four-star Edinburgh hotel at the licence-payer’s expense.
Elsewhere in the show he suggests that Fifers and Scots in general are workshy drunks who sustain themselves on a diet of deep fried Mars Bars. He tosses us accolades like “highest teen pregnancy in western Europe” “highest rate of alcohol related brain damage in western Europe” and “more likely to get assaulted in Scotland than anywhere else in western Europe”. I would suggest that if Mr Meades ever returns to Fife, I don’t much fancy his chances. He even goes so far to say that the fact we have “the lowest life expectancy in western Europe” is sweet release from all the post-industrial ghastliness that we have to put up with on a daily basis.
This is, I think, unfair. I have often been surprised by this tendency, undeniably southern English and very specifically London based, to see not only Scotland, but northern parts of England as well, as if they were parts of the third world. The British media, which sees London as the centre of the universe and anything past the Watford Gap typified as ‘north’, makes programmes for a southern audience, never for one minute considering what it must be like for a Scot watching it. I would like to see how they would react if I made a programme in which I went down to London and essentially poked fun at their culture, food and architecture. If I provoked the stereotype that all Londoners are wishy washy new media types or crooked bankers, all of whom are privately educated and seemingly allergic to graft, I wonder how it would be perceived there?
Speaking as someone who has lived in both Scotland and England, I can with confidence say that the problems that my home country experiences are exactly the same as the ones experienced down south, and that if I had a choice between facing a generic Scottish ned or a London chav, I would face off against the ned any day. At least you know you aren’t going to get shot.

MICROSOFT’S decision to block Xbox users who have modded their console to play illegal copied games will no doubt be seen by most as a strike against ne’er-do-wells who broke the rules and are getting what they deserve. However, this is undoubtedly a watershed moment in the battle against computer piracy, that most hard to prosecute of crimes.
Indeed it might seem unnerving to some people, who spend there time and a significant portion of their bandwidth downloading games, movies and music from the internet. These are the people who should be watching out now that Microsoft have taken a stand.
Earlier this year, the founders of peer-to-peer file sharing website The Pirate Bay were jailed for a year in Sweden in another swoop against piracy, which ended up achieving absolutely nothing since the site, now owned by a Seychelles-based company, is still online and its users are still distributing files willy-nilly with no fear of the authorities. But, I think, things soon may change. In this current climate, even profit generating industries like video games need to guard every penny jealously, and with the industry losing as much as $750m a year, Microsoft’s decision, however unpopular it may make it with users, makes sound business sense.
The argument against piracy has been around for ages, ever since music companies first kicked up a stink about people taping their records (remember them?) and swapping them with their friends. One copy means one less record/CD/DVD/game/cinema seat sold, so less money for the industry, less money for the artists and people who actually produce the entertainment that we consume, therefore a decline of quality all round.
Except this hasn’t happened, not to any great extent. The film, music and game industries still make huge revenues, largely for the suits in charge rather than for the artists. The film industry will never be taken down by illegal downloads, mainly due to the fact that watching a film on a 15” laptop screen is mince. People tend still to go and see the movies they would have on the big screen, and reserve the small - or very small - screen for films they weren’t significantly curious about to go and see in the cinema. The music industry has been hit worst by downloading, because the experience of listening to an album can be easily replicated on a computer, provided it has decent enough speakers. You can even download the album art to go along with the tunes. However, this is offset by the way the music industry has used the internet to market and promote bands. In fact, many music acts even rely on the free distribution that file-sharing provides to get their songs out in the first place. Games are the most difficult thing to pirate, because of the specialised knowledge required to download the right files, get a crack for the game, and burn or mount .iso files. This ensures, at least for the moment, a dependence on retail to buy games.
In the future, when we look at the early days of the internet, they’ll look at it as the biggest free-for-all in history, a sort of electronic equivalent of the gold rush. The powers that be have made huge steps in the regulation of file-sharing and it won’t be long before they develop a fool-proof method of policing and punishing persistent offenders. Maybe it won’t be legal punishment, but broadband providers have been kicking around the idea of banning the IPs of file sharers for good. So if any of you sneaky people have been trying to get your entertainment without paying for it, shame on you, but watch out, because you could live to regret it.