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Posted by markswill in About me, Media, That's Entertainment.

A cartoon in a recent New Yorker, reproduced below, mercilessly sums up the motives of those who scribble on the internet. Or at least mine and, I suspect, the majority of others. There is however a minority who actually get paid to regularly promote or pontificate online, but I bet it’s a tiny one. After all, if a digital monster like the Huffington Post can get away with paying zilch to the hundreds if not thousands of writers whose work it aggregates, then I suspect only the p.r. arms of large commercial and political institutions do actually reward their bloggers financially.

(C) The New Yorker – so sue me why don't you?

Sometimes this angers me, not least because as little as four years ago I had seven paid monthly columns in various magazines, plus regular feature commissions from most of them, all of which amounted to earning a modest living. Now I have but two such columns, at reduced rates, very little feature work and two of those magazines have closed. The rest have imposed greater workloads on their permanent staff with, I maintain, a subsequent reduction in quality which will in turn likely lose them readers… but I would say that, wouldn’t I?  Crocodile tears I can live without, but it’s a measure of how the print publishing landscape has changed so radically in just a few years that many journalists who genuinely love to write – and I count myself amongst them – largely if not only are able to do so, and only for free, in a medium that has confiscated large chunks of their income. Irony overload.

One of the other paradoxes of this is that in response to the rolling but often superficial news formats prevalent on radio, t.v and most especially the internet, the newspapers which we used to rely on for news and investigative journalism have reduced such content considerably, replacing it with columns, criticism, commentary pieces and general interest features. Which we used, and to an extent still get, in the dwindling cohort of magazines.

Much of this I no longer bother to read because it is simply anodyne, or in shameless thrall to the entertainment and fashion industries. For example, most of what we once called the quality press is full of puff pieces promoting a new film, album, t..v. programme or, just occasionally, a book via an up-their-arse profile of its star or creator, especially at weekends which is when I (sometimes) have time to sit down and read them.

Which might – just – be alright if the standard of critical reviewing and editorial oversight counterbalanced such fawning prose, but increasingly it doesn’t.

One example of this which particularly irked me concerned a new film by newish Danish director, Nicholas Winding Refn, with star du jour, Ryan Gosling leadenly playing a virtually mute getaway driver. Admittedly with its taut if spare plot, lots of gratuitous violence and some decent performances from Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks (about time too), Ron Perlman and a neat cameo against type from Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks, Drive isn’t a bad film. So far, so okay. But not one, not one single reviewer in any of the ‘papers I read – and after the first two or three I made a point of seeking out five or six others (my local newsagent loves me) mentioned that Drive is a hugely derivative rip of The Driver, a far superior film by Walter Hill. Released in 1978, it features Ryan O’Neal in the eponymous title role and the witheringly beautiful Isabel Adjani as the femme fatale he hooks up with. (If you haven’t seen it, read a brilliant critique in my seminal 1981 tome, Road Movies, which is rarely available via dusty secondhand bookshops, oh and Amazon, for about tuppence).

Even The Observer’s Philip French, who generally knows his way around cinema’s back catalogue and often references obscure foreign language flics to make his point in a showy-offy way, even he failed to point out the plagiarism. It underlines the poor standard of film criticism which ill-informed, perhaps willfully ill-informed journalists are allowed to get away with these days, journalists who a year ago might’ve been restaurant, motoring or music critic or op-ed columnists or some fashion editor’s favoured off-spring – yes believe it or not, even in the morally unimpeachable world of print, nepotism happens. And so the media merry-go-round continues its ever-decreasing circle around and around and eventually up its own bum.

Except, of course in the New Yorker where although they may be what is politely called ‘seasoned’, the same old meticulous but largely brilliant and knowledgeable journalists ply their trade untrammeled by the disruptive and coarsening predations of the interweb. Needless to say, the only critic who had the gumption and perhaps, given the power that Hollywood wields  in this economically-strapped medium, the courage to establish in considerable detail that Drive is simply a flashy reproduction of The Driver was the New Yorker’s Anthony Lane.

Read previous blogs, subscribe to get them automatically or make a suitably acerbic comment via the column on the right.



1. George Snow - October 12, 2011

I must read your book on Road Movies Mark. That would very much interest me. On the matter of reading (I don’t read very much these days- I guess it’s the spirit of the age) I bought Saturday’s Guardian. I found it this morning on a window ledge- pristine and unopened. That would never have happened 10 or more years ago. The journal would have been scattered (and read) across the entire house.

I stopped reading books several years ago. No time for them anymore. But I have recently discovered eBooks. I am almost finished Moby Dick- after several thousand kilometres of cycling across Tuscany. The eBook. The perfect antidote to the boredom of long-distance cycling.

Somehow I don’t think an eGuardian would be such an informative companion.

markswill - October 13, 2011

As ever George you are at the media’s cutting edge, which I grudgingly envy you for. However I fail to see how one could have more time for eBooks than paper books, and if you’re comfortable contributing to the dominance of a few foreign conglomerates who dictate what and how we consume, and putting zillions out of work in the process, then so be it. Fortunately you and I will both be long dead before the world really has gone to hell, but if you keep up your relentless keep-fit campaign, you’ll at least last longer than me!

2. David Cobbold - October 13, 2011

What mmore can one say?

3. xmoron - October 13, 2011

Great point about The Driver. How did reviewers miss it? Could it have been part of a PR deal: access to the stars provided the original was not mentioned, or is that just paranoia? It was a terrific film with a great bit of stunt driving when eponymous hero crashes a car to pieces with surgical precision in a car park – starting with wing mirrors and working inwards. Odd that I can remember this but not where where I left my reading glasses but that’s a another point.

Papers have been hoisted with their own petard. All they have going for them is the expertise of seasoned journalists – the very thing they have chucked away to cut costs.

markswill - October 13, 2011

How could reviewers miss it? Because they’re 13 year-old no-nothings – that was my point.. The jerks who review restaurants spend half their pieces telling you what fascinating people they are, the motoring journos spend half their reviews wittering on about, well, bugger all to do with cars. In such a climate is it any wonder that film reviewers feel no need to do any research, especially when they’re forced-fed slanted primer by the film co’s. And yes, the scene where O’Neal wrecks the Mercedes 180 in an underground car park was a classic. Except of course it was stunted by the great Everret Creach. Try that in your Citroen XM, m’boy.

4. Benzina Moto - October 13, 2011

On being a paid scribbler (albeit on a much more modest scale than Mark) – spot on: and the hard-pressed permanent staff have to be more superficial simply because there’s no time for research. On reviews – there’s a huge PR machine behind this and one step out-of-line and there goes your red carpet invites for ever. I seem to remember Bike lost Honda advertising because Bill Haylock didn’t get the Goldwing over 30 years ago, so it was ever thus. Ironic really that all this means there’s sometimes more honesty online than in print…

markswill - October 13, 2011

Your remarks re. PR are certainly relevant, and hinted at in my blog. However although there’s SOME honesty in bloggery, the fact that most of it – including my own rants – is unregulated and unedited speaks volumes. Hell, big yank mags and newspapers like New Yorker and the New York Times have a small army of fact checkers without whose ministrations nothing gets onto the page.

5. rik - October 13, 2011

I did hear the comparison between “Drive” and “The Driver” on Front Row on Radio 4 so perhaps it is the last bastion of balanced analysis and historical accuracy. Your problem as a journalist appears to be market forces; you and your ilk are being driven to the fringes by the 146 character twitterings of pseudo celebrities, premiership footballers and people who came second on x-factor and Lorraine on gmtv and ad nauseum which the kids of today seem to prefer. You’ll have to go and build your own online magazine for people who care then find out how many of them exist. If there are enough of them you could maybe make a living selling them things off the back of your site. What a bleak world we live in…

markswill - October 13, 2011

Well of course I’m far too busy scribbling self-indulgent bile to listen to R4, but you’re probably right in your assumption… at least until the latest BBC budget cuts kick in.

As to how I’d be better off spending my time, well of course you’re probably right about that too… but you know how I tried, and failed, to accomplish that.

Maybe you should become my media guru, Rik?


6. noel - October 13, 2011

” Admittedly with its taught if spare plot ” …….

putting myself at risk of showing a lack of understanding of words,

I wonder if ‘taut’ might have been what you had in mind ……..

(Strained, tense, nerves taut with anxiety etc )

kind regards

your other p*oof reader


markswill - October 13, 2011

Hi Noel,
Mr Chambers’ lovely dictionary, my reference work of choice, confirms that it can be spelt either way. But just to keep you and El Blez at bay, I’ll bow to your scolding and revise it.
Which is not to say I couldn’t use a good proof-reader but like fact-checkers and good editors, they’re rather thin on the ground these days.

7. WTK - October 13, 2011

Uh-oh. I feel the taint of the sirens wailing for the “Good Old Days” in this blog and comments. Of course you are accurate and insightful in dissecting the media world today—I agree entirely, and without comment. But, I hear my grandmother’s voice recalling how the Good Old Days were ruined by the automobile, electrical washers, the vacuum cleaner, the reduction of a woman’s importance in the household, ankles showing, the dang flappers dancing, horrors—the radio, and on and on; and then my mother extolling the virtue of bar soap, the suburban grid, TV dinners. I’m afraid the world changes and the older gneration yearns for what dmade them comfortable.

markswill - October 13, 2011

As ever, you’re right Mr T. I just yearn for the comfort of my mother’s apron strings and that pungent smell of warm patchouli oil behind her ears. And I suppose your nightly excursions to the fleshpots of lower Manhattan decked out in your white three-piece suit with an 18 year-old foxtress on your arm is proof-positive of your embrace of all things moderne?

8. Linda Stokes - October 13, 2011

Hmmm …..teste, are we?
Of course i agree about it all, but still, as the chart from the
cartoon in the NewYorker shows…I’m going to have to classify your blog under conspiracy theories….

markswill - October 13, 2011

Wise beyond your years Prof. Stokes, and ’tis a shame I don’t have your clarity of vision.

9. Liz - October 13, 2011

I’m with you Mark. Spot on as per usual.

“The past is a foreign country – they do things differently there,”,,,,,,,,,,,,, mmmmm ………well, it appears that the present is a foreign country to most of us old timers where things are lamantably different here.

I still write a journal in long-hand into which I paste cuttings from newspapers and magazines. Should I be put down?

markswill - October 13, 2011

Lizzie, the day you need putting down is the day we’re all in deep trouble. I obviously agree with your previous sentiments but having read the likes of Terry’s comment earlier, I wonder if we’ve just failed to appreciate the necessity, never mind the (alleged) benefits of change? After all, we were rebels once, too. But then again, unemployment, especially amongst the young, was a mere fraction of what it is now and optimism and a sense of anything being possible was what drove us: not the case with today’s young ‘uns.

10. julesbollocks - October 13, 2011

I think most of the blogs are written in the desperate attempt to ward off the angst caused by the fact that no listens and that ultimately our completely disempowered lives require us to have imaginary friends, like god or jesus used to be.

as for journalism, I am sure the lack of quality was being condemned at the beginning of the last century. Probably for the same reasons as the profession is fed by the dreadful interment system where only the bored rich get to work.

The Driver, I remember it as some very slow bits with car chases. Hardly worth copying or re-imagining as they call it now.

my blog [in an attempt to ward off the angst] is bollocks2012.wordpress.com

11. Paul N. Blezard - October 21, 2011

You’re absolutely right about the know-nothing teenagers who don’t bother to check anything Mark. And yet, paradoxically, it has never been easier to check facts, thanks to the internet (although it’s also essential not to take everything on Wikipedia as gospel!). FWIW, I am very grateful to be able to receive the New York Times for free, with a ‘ping’ into my London lap top every morning. I regard it as a bastion of good and well-checked writing which I only dip into occasionally. And talking of the gospel, I absolutely loved the docu-spoof-omentary about the Pythons and The Life of Brian shown on BBC 4 this week. Bloody brilliant. I even watched the whole of the re-screening of the original Friday Night and Saturday Morning discussion that was shown afterwards, with that old bugger Malcolm Muggeridge pontificating away. It’s stuff like that which makes me happy to pay my TV licence fee, along with Radio 4, Radio 6Music, and selected parts of Radio 2 and BBC London.
As for “the dreadful interment system” mentioned by Mr Bollocks, surely interment is burial? I presume you mean the intern system, as in “unpaid apprenticeship at the meedja coalface” Jules?

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