Saturday, 15 May 2010

Y'all know me. Know how I earn a living.

I Saw Elvis In The Woods was saddened to hear of the death of Frank Frazetta on May 10th 2010. He will be greatly missed.

In other news Generation Minus One is 2 years old everybody. I’ve written two articles for said site, and so therefore I am completely responsible for their success. Go me.

Controversy in Australia as a white man is cast in a television drama. No really. According to news reports, a project dealing with the famous Gallipoli campaign in WWI has caused outrage among ethnic minorities after the part of Billy Sing was awarded to a Caucasian actor. The problem? Well it turns out that Billy Sing, an Australian hero of the Great War responsible for dispatching around 200 enemy soldiers to meet their maker, was from Chinese stock. Now apparently the producers of said epic have claimed they couldn't find a 60 year old Chinese actor to play Billy Sing's father (Gee Note: Because it's not as if there's a lot of Chinese folks around is there? What with China only having THE LARGEST POPULATION IN THE WORLD).

So rather than doing the sensible thing by, you know, using make-up or hiring Burt Kwouk (Gee Note: Because there is no way in Hell Burt Kwouk is going to be busy right? Although he should be. Dude was awesome in the Pink Panther movies. Not the remake with Steve Martin mind. That was rubbish. By the way, isn't it about time that Steve Martin stopped messing about and made a sequel to the Three Amigos already? After all, horses singing "Moon River" positively screams franchise), the powers that be have decided instead to cut their loses and "white out" Billy Sing and his pappa.

Of course while this is a scandal worthy of true wrath and anger, it does set an interesting precedent. Namely that when dramatising historical figures, the subjects race doesn't matter a hill o' beans. Which I would imagine would be sweet rapture to Hollywood's ears. Think about it. Why cast some pasty faced English man with a strange accent when you can have Will Smith portraying William Shakespeare? Can't afford Denzel? Hire the cheaper and more internationally marketable Chow Yun Fat to play Martin Luther King Jr. Not sure where the crusades happened and don't have the time to look it up? Then get Morgan Freeman to play Robin Hood's Arab slave (Gee Note: Oh wait. They already did that. Nevermind). Want that big box office name to give your "Birth of America" Historical flick a little juice? Then why not convince the world that Samuel L. Jackson IS Thomas Jefferson? I mean "All muthaf***as are created equal" is totally a T-shirt line waiting to happen.

If you haven't guessed it by now, the world which television inhabits can be a strange old place sometimes. And no one in this world is stranger than Derren Brown.

For those who aren't in the know, Brown was born in London in 1971. Educated at Whitgift School, he later attended Bristol University to study law and German. It was there that Brown was inspired to take up performing on stage as a hypnotist and close-up magician after watching a show by a chap named Martin Taylor. Carving out a niche as Britain’s premier “mind reader”, Brown broke through in to the mainstream in 2000 with a television series entitled Derren Brown: Mind Control.

Refreshingly Brown’s entire gimmick is based around him not having any supernatural powers. Instead he claims that he achieves his results by a mix of “magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship”. Often Brown will “lift the curtain” as it were, and provide a detailed explanation on how he pulled off this or that stunt. Usually however these are a load of old bunkum, as Brown will present himself as some sort of psychological genius where in reality he’s used a simple magic trick and dressed it up a bit.

Still he does manage to remain in the public eye, thanks to things like predicting the National Lottery results before that weeks draw took place. Indeed say what you like about the man, but you can’t deny that he’s bloody good at what he does. Even if he is a bit odd. No really. This is Derren after one of his stunts went wrong and he decided to apologise by doing a Stewie Griffin impression.

(Gee Note: Ummm. Okaaaaaay).

Anyway following on from our last post, this week Derren’s new show kicked off on Channel 4. Taking a break from his usual smoke and mirrors routine, Brown has instead hit the road to investigate claims of supernatural powers. Now all kinds of Colombo every week for the next three weeks, Derren will be proving all ‘dem skeptics right and all ‘dem believers wrong.

The subject of Derren's first documentary is the one and only Max Joe Power. Joe is a rising star on the medium circuit, kind of half way up the fame pole as far as psychics are concerned. While not having the public profile of - say - a Derek Acorah or a Sally Morgan, Power is still well thought of enough to have a regular column in a national magazine as well as appearing on various radio and television shows across the land. Bizarrely Joe may even be more famous in America than he is over here, having been part of a show designed to contact the spirit of John Lennon (Gee Note: Although I can't imagine Lennon being all that pleased about being disturbed. "Hello John? John? Is that you John?" "Yes. Yes it is. Who are you?" "My name's Joe Power and I'm contacting you from the other side." "Oh. And?" "Well I was wondering if you had a message for those of us in the living world?" "No. Wait. Yes I do. Everyone should go out and buy a copy of my greatest hits album. Now do you mind? Me and George were about to play Elvis in Battleships. We had him beat last time but then he claimed he had to cut the game short in order to appear on a toasted cheese sandwich and mess with some rednecks".) aired exclusively in the USA. Still he's hardly a household name, and no doubt agreed to appear on this show hoping to cement his place as one of Britain's lead mediums.

He's probably regretting it right now though.

You see despite Brown being a bit weird, he still manages to come across as basically a nice guy. Joe Power on the other hand comes across as a bit of a dick. For example Derren first meets Joe at the latter's home and it's almost instantly clear that Power has an inflated opinion of himself. From the way he keeps on referring to his interviewer with a condescending "Mr. Brown" (Gee Note: Which becomes like listening to Quint drag his nails across a chalkboard after a while), to the way he answers a question of how long he has lived at his house with "10 years. But you should've known that with your mind powers Mr. Brown!", the inference is obvious. I don't care who you think you are, I'm smarter and better than you.

But the problem is Joe is blatantly the worst example of prima-donna psychic bullshit going. Now I feel I should clarify this before I get a ton of angry emails telling me that I'm talking out of my bum. I, much like Derren Brown, would love there to be such a thing in this world as mediums able to contact the dead. The idea that a tangible after life exists where everyone gets along swimmingly would be a brilliant brilliant thing. In fact I don't know anyone who disagrees with this. And there may very well be people out there who, genuinely, posses powers that defy rational explanation. In fact I'm sure there is. But the problem is that, in my honest opinion, a large percentage of the people who claim to be psychic are in fact shysters. Con men of the worst kind, praying on the emotions of those unable to properly quantify their grief. It has nothing to do with the supernatural and more to do with cheap carnival tricks designed to sucker people in to handing over their hard earned cash. The thing is if someone is psychic, and I mean really psychic, the chances are they are not touring around the country wearing a sparkling jacket shouting out "Does anyone know a Paul?" in a rundown bingo hall.

Now don't get me wrong, Power is very smart. In fact at the very first reading he takes Derren to he scores hit after hit after hit. Even Brown himself admits that what he's seeing isn't "cold reading" (Gee Note: Which is when someone appears to have more knowledge of their subject than should be possible without being forewarned. This is accomplished by using blanket statements such as "You sometimes feel insecure, especially around people you don't know", making note of the subjects body language and clothing, and by taking educated guesses. Not by, as I first thought, forcing someone to eat a litre of ice cream and then while they're distracted riffling through their pockets). And he's right, it wasn't. Sadly however, it was in fact the complete opposite. It turns out the person he gave a reading to happened to live on the same street as Power's sister, a fact that was revealed after the program had finished filming. Now of course Power claims that this was a complete coincidence and re-iterated that he had never spoken to his subject before, nor he claimed did he have any information about them prior to their first meeting.

Which would have been fine had Power actually managed to repeat that success with any of his other readings. But, well, he didn't. Joe and Derren travelled to the set of Hollyoaks (Gee Note: For those not in the know, Hollyoaks is a soap opera filled with early 20 somethings, none of whom have any discernable talent other than looking pretty. It is of course rubbish, and yet strangely soothing on a Sunday morning when your brain is being beaten to death by the mother of all hangovers). And so Joe get's to play the verbal version of pin the tail on the donkey with three cast members. First up you have a young man in baseball cap, who Joe correctly guesses has a car and that he might have had some trouble with it once. Then you have a slightly floppy haired goon who Joe get's absolutely everything wrong about, until he guesses that the guy has a dead grandmother. "She's standing behind you right now, and she's very proud of you." says Joe. "That's amazing!!" says the goon. "What?!?" says the audience "He fell for that? I mean… wow. I wasn't aware that having a frontal lobotomy was a pre-requisite for joining the Hollyoaks cast. Also how do I get this guys number? I have a time share opportunity in Baghdad he might be interested in".

But the real fireworks are reserved for actress Claire Cooper. At the urging of Joe, Derren decides to give this whole cold reading thing a bash and does pretty well, correctly guessing that Ms. Cooper has two silver cats, has recently split from her boyfriend, and spent time in the Maldives with said ex hoping to repair the relationship but ultimately failing. Impressive stuff. However this obviously irritates Joe who jumps in with a "Tell me Claire, have you ever owned a Mini?", "Well yes", she replies, "I drive a Mini now.". "There we go," says Power, looking every bit the pompous douchbag, "I deal in facts. Facts. Not generalisations". For some reason he seems immensely proud of this despite Brown doing basically the same thing with the vacation to the Maldives.

But Joe can't resist the opportunity to show off and in doing so causes is own downfall (Gee Note: You know like a Greek tragedy. Maybe Sophocles' Ajax. Except if Ajax was a bald Liverpudlian with a messiah complex rather than an insane cattle mutilator). You see as Claire gets up to leave Joe blurts out "We won't mention the affair!", obviously having taken note of the animated way she discussed her previous relationship with Derren, and guessed that it ended when one of them cheated on the other. Or both of them did. With a family member. If this was the Jeremy Kyle Show. Anyway this rather predictably led to:

CC: What affair?

JP: No? Oh well nevermind. We'll leave that until next time.

CC: No you can't do that. What do you mean by affair?

JP: (Nervous laugh) No no we'll save that until next time.

Sensing a chance to hook the slimy toerag Brown forces Power to explain what he meant. Joe, realising he's made a bit of a boob of himself, quickly tries to argue his way out of it before offering some lame ass excuse about "energy fields" which doesn't make any sense what so ever.

Oh and by the way, Derren's driver later confides in him that Power had seen Claire pull up in a Mini earlier that day. "Facts" indeed.

Joe's fall from grace doesn't end there, as when asked to participate in a test in which he would not be able to talk to whom ever he gives a reading to he refuses. His reason? Well apparently spirits don't have voice boxes and so he needs that dialogue to help them communicate. (Gee Note: Which doesn't explain how he's able to write an agony aunt column for Soul & Spirit Magazine by reading a letter someone has sent in rather than talking to them face to face. Really it's not rocket science is it? You would think that the silly sod would have thought of these things beforehand and tried to come up with something a bit better. Like, oh I don't know, "I need to be able to speak face to face with the subject as spirits are generally more open if they can see me talking to their loved ones". I mean sheesh Joe, it's like you're not even trying).

So instead Derren puts an ad in the paper for a free psychic reading. From the replies he chooses one, and lets Joe do his thing. The twist being that Derren has advised the woman in question to use a different first name than her own as well as meeting in a house she doesn't live in. So Joe turns up and asks the question "Have you met these people before?" to which Derren replies "Yes this morning". "Good" says Power, as he confidently strides through the front door.

Fast forward five minutes and we see Power a broken and rather pathetic figure. The reading has been a disaster, one of train wreck proportions. And given a hard time by the client Joe loses his cool and starts blaming Derren for entering the house and meeting the subject previously, something Brown freely admitted to before the reading took place. "You've corrupted the house. You're taking the piss out of psychics and mediums", screams Joe before storming off in a tantrum. When he re-appears a couple of days later he engages Brown in a heated debate in which in denies being a fake, which ends with the two shaking hands while probably silently wishing the other some mishap involving a threadbare piece of string and a falling piano.

And so ends a remarkable program. Remarkable because Joe Power was given an opportunity to prove that there are genuinely people out there who can communicate with the spirit world, and yet he failed spectacularly to do so. Remarkable because he will still undoubtedly get work after this even though he's been shown to be as trust worthy as a $300 bill. Remarkable because despite all the talk of "energy fields" the one remaining impression we get is not of mystical powers but rather that Joe Power is a thoroughly dislikeable human being.

And remarkable because somehow in comparison Derren Brown doesn't seem all that strange after all.

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