Saturday, March 15, 2008

Malcolm McLaren has seen the future and, in it, he works

We always get nervous when Malcolm McLaren starts talking about the future. We've seen his futures in the past - skipping ropes and opera mash-ups - but let's at least see what he's got to offer this time, shall we?

About 10 years ago I gave a lecture in London to the Television Society in which I proffered that it would not be long before culture became fully interactive and people would start making their own programmes in every shape and form in every medium. Did they listen? No, sadly, but to me and others it seemed obvious.

Ah, the old trick of pretending that you were the voice of wisdom that everyone ignored. But would McLaren really have expected the BBC to suddenly change what it was doing on the basis of a coming change that the technology wasn't quite ready for? ("And now on BBC2, it's over to you... well, we seem to be three or four years ahead of being ready for that next programme, so until then, here's some music...")

And, unless McLaren is tuned in to nothing but Current, we're still not quite at the point where "everybody is making their own programmes in every medium". But McLaren is convinced that we're there now. And why? Because someone's let him make a show:
Well, here we are in 2008 and the BBC are embarking upon expeditions into that world with things like The Game, a radio show starring myself. It's set in a place called Parispace, and involves me fighting boredom for what I call the "outlaw spirit". The whole thing is set as a computer game and I travel through various levels meeting people like Jean-Paul Sartre and the Phantom Of The Opera.

"Starring myself". Yes, Malcolm's brave new world is a video-game conceit documentary on Radio 2. It sounds from the press release like the sort of programme that Channel 4 were churning out in their early years, and - indeed - like the sort of thing that McLaren has been banging out for years. In effect, it's Ghosts of London meets Sonic The Hedgehog.

Malc then bangs on about how film is "dinosauric" and TV has "gone the same way". He dismisses them as media for "the over 40s" - which, since that's the fastest growing demographic, doesn't seem to be such bad news, and, since he's made this programme for Radio 2, shouldn't really be a worry.

McLaren's somehow convinced that his programme is going to unleash a new age:
You're definitely going to see something with a lot more authenticity and therefore more integrity and something with a lot more confidence. We're seeing that desperate fast track now in Hollywood - the whole system is breaking down and becoming anti-corporate. It can't do anything else because being anti-corporate and anti-globalisation and anti-commodification of the culture is now de rigueur, it's fashion. And it's borne out of what is happening on Broadway and the radio.

So the BBC should be praised for commissioning mad, experimental, programming like this, as much as a disaster one might want to suggest it is. Everyone should be commended for allowing people to make disasters, to make failures - you've just got to be sure that it's a magnificent failure and that, by creating a magnificent failure, you plant the seed. The Game needed a much bigger budget to make it work, but at least there is a willingness there to not make the typical, dull, DJ formatted programmes. And following this route may ultimately, dare I say it, make the BBC more culturally subversive.

We love the way that McLaren still believes that his schtick is in any way subversive - and, indeed, hasn't appeared to have listened to any radio output from the last twenty years judging by the way he seems to believe that it's all "DJ formatted programming".

A thing to remember: McLaren's love of subversive television, and understanding of the current media world, led him to agree to go on I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Here.


Simon said...

Actually, I'm surprised McLaren has never publicly made the connection between his Bow Wow Wow Your Cassette Pet music-as-lifestyle-accessory-player theory and the rise of the iPod, although when the iPod was rising he was more concerned with telling everyone that Chinese teenage girls playing chipped Gameboys were the future.

Andrew said...

Whatever happened to McLaren's "Fashionbeast" chiptune album concept? Did the actual artists he was going to recruit to do the music get cold feet or something?

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