Brian Sewell, to whose name it seems obligatory to append the word acerbic (I sympathise), is the best art critic writing today. On a weekend break to Cornwall, where I had the displeasure of visiting Tate St Ives, always a wretched disappointment, I finished the first volume of his remarkably explicit autobiography.
Here are a few passages that touched me.
I learned from them that love can be extraordinarily cruel and destructively submissive, that love of a sort can remain long after the sexual interest is extinguished, and that lovers can be lovers for years without ever understanding each the other’s needs and wants – Keith was both a sadist and a masochist, tormenting himself with whip and thong while longing for a victim, but Ramsay was neither and did not know how to gratifyingly respond. Only in Keith’s confession that he spent two thirds of his waking hours dwelling on sexual matters, did I find some reassurance.
We have to talk. This thing you’ve been doing, it has to stop. When I ask you for a recommendation for an app, or a restaurant, or a new brand of toothpaste, I do not need to know that the CEO is a personal friend of yours. We all have impressive-sounding address books because this industry is the size of a postage stamp. So cut it out.
Seriously. It’s like a sickness. (Before I go on, let me just get one thing out of the way: it’s an illness I have periodic and obnoxious bouts of too. This post is partly an attempt to shame myself out of bad habits.)
It impresses no one. It adds nothing to the meaning of a sentence and it just makes me think the speakers are cocks who locate way too much self-esteem in utterly fucking unimportant things. And that makes me sad, because I know they’re not cocks. That’s why they’re my friends.
Is there any industry as pathologically addicted to name-dropping as the start-up world? I only ask because this particular epidemic seems to be spiralling way out of control. You see, I was talking about this last night to two dear friends of mine who are chief executives of two of the most successful British internet start-ups. I won’t name names but you’ve probably heard of them.
There are always outliers and eccentrics: blow-hards who swank and bullshit their way through, fibbing and flirting to get what they want. Like Julie Meyer. She’s kind of a big deal. (I can introduce you, if you want.) But seriously: when did “Oh, and she’s a really good friend of mine” become as necessary to the end of a sentence as a full stop?
I don’t need to know who people know - if they even actually really do – at every possible opportunity. When I ask how they are, I don’t need to know the name of the hotel they’ve just checked out of, as if that’s somehow relevant, or which class they flew home in. (Don’t even get me started on airport lounge bragging.) I don’t need to know that they were speaking at a conference; that they were there is all the information I need. Even that is often unnecessary.
At it’s simplest, this behaviour is a class giveaway. These are working class-nerds on the make – or, in some cases, achingly nouveau wide-boys desperate to show off because they’re so insecure about their newly acquired social standing. Beta males to a man and hating every minute of it. We get it, you had no friends at school. My friend Anthony, who used to be Mark Cuban’s PA, and I were laughing about this with Tim Ferriss at a dinner in San Francisco in 2010. Ferriss picked up the check.
At times it can seem as though the technology industry is one big happy family. Except, as we all know, it isn’t.
The problem with all this constant public back-slapping, self-congratulation and obsequiousness is two-fold: first, that you forget the almost preternatural power of a subtle, private endorsement from someone with serious clout. Like that time the president of a huge American foundation who’s on the board of like seven multinational corporations, and who is now a friend and fan, put in a good word for me with some conference I wanted to speak at.
Or that time I was at a dinner with Steve Ballmer opposite. He probably doesn’t remember me, but I know Larry Ellison does because his office got in touch to invite me to lunch in Redwood City. I don’t think I ever got back to them because I was invited to a private island for a meditation retreat with the cast of a US TV show. That was a fun summer.
Second, when everyone’s being nice to each other and praising everyone else, no one is really saying anything, are they? It’s a bit like politics, where the rows are all basically bollocks because the whole Establishment is run by a tiny elite who all went to the same schools and who don’t really disagree on anything. I’ll bring this up when I have dinner again with the leader of the UK’s third largest political party. He’s a hoot!
If it’s not a pat on the back or a bit of self-aggrandisement, no one wants to know. You see, the tech industry has inherited oppressive thought police culture without the style or substance even of politics. (That’s a good line, actually; I might mention it the next time I’m in the House of Commons. I dated an MP, you know.) Nor does it have the effete charm of the fashionista who air-kisses and daaaaaahlinks! her way through a cocktail party. Nor, even, of the movie industry, where at least mutual compliments are passable because everyone’s so damned good looking.
This reminds me of the time I was couch-surfing in Beverly Hills in 2008 and at a pool party just off Mulholland I was talking to a really cute guy for about an hour outside by the pool and we nearly made out and it suddenly dawned on me that it was Tobey Maguire. At least I think it was Maguire; it could have been Gyllenhaal. Whoever it was, he offered me coke. I was shocked, and said no.
The tragic irony of all this saccharine sucking-up is of course that the characters at the top of the air-kissing tree are such grim, sociopathic bastards. Except the ones who are my friends, of course, who are really just very misunderstood. I just wish people would be honest, like Aaron Levie from Box. I met him in 2010. He gave me his business card.
I wouldn’t have brought all this up but I thought a touch of comic verisimilitude might help me make my point.
I mean, to drop such things gratuitously would be appallingly gauche.
The other thing we don’t know is who is bankrolling this vanity project by a liar and suspected pornographer who has yet to apologise personally to any of the people he viciously libelled. Because, if Johann Hari is actually at Columbia “retraining”, as he claims, he will have needed to conjure up $50,000 just for the tuition fees.
The only celebrity currently associated with Hari is Sir Elton John. The singer should be warned: this act of “gay solidarity” may come back to haunt him.
Years ago, Sir Elton was grossly libelled by The Sun newspaper, which accused him of using the services of rent boys. He should ask himself: does he really want his name to be linked with that of a self-confessed character assassin – and one suspected, moreover, of writing repulsive dirty stories about rent boys?
If Hari had shown genuine remorse for his crimes – and they were crimes, which could easily have landed him in court – people might now feel disposed to forgive him.
As it is, his latest conceited and incoherent piece of self-promotion will ensure that his name remains synonymous with plagiarism, mendacious fantasy and outright deceit.
And that’s before we even get to the subject of Hari’s finances, which Inspector Knacker might find repay close examination.
Oh, and Sir Elton: perhaps you ought to warn your chambermaids about your young visitor’s less-than-sanitarytoilet habits. The brilliant young writer is apparently too preoccupied with exposing injustice (or thinking about donkey-dicked black teenagers) to remember to flush. Wire hangers at the ready!
Margaret Thatcher is a divisive figure, it is true. There are normal people who stand in awe at the enormity of her accomplishment, the depth of her integrity and sincerity and the strength of her resolve as a fearless woman in a cruelly misogynistic world. Then there are the whingeing fuckwits who say they can’t stand her as a way of courting popularity with their mates.
But whatever your view of Britain’s greatest peacetime Prime Minister – actually, let’s make that greatest ever Prime Minister – if you have an ounce of human sensibility in your body you can’t but be appalled at the callous abuse of a woman in her twilight years for such shallow dramatic purposes.
I say shallow because there is no artistic purpose whatsoever to the depictions in this film of Maggie as an aging half-wit. They only serve to reduce the time available to its admittedly sublime highlights: those moments during Thatcher’s leadership – her triumphant acceptance speech on May 3, 1979, her fearlessness and clear thinking during the Falklands conflict – that the film manages to re-enact with almost their original grandeur.
National treasure Jimmy Savile is dead. Without meaning to puncture the respectful atmosphere, given all the eulogising going on it is perhaps worth remembering that there was a dark side to this family entertainer too.
Savile, star of children’s television favourite Jim’ll Fix It, sued the Sun in 2008 over a series of articles linking him to Haut de la Garenne, the Jersey children’s home where human remains were found and children were allegedly tortured and sexually abused. He initially denied ever visiting the home, despite photographic evidence to the contrary.
In fact, Savile had close links to managers at the home. A journalist who reported on the case told me there are gruesome revelations waiting to surface that no newspaper felt able to publish at the time, given UK libel law.
And then of course there’s Savile’s reported friendship with Gary Glitter. (A case for phone hacking if ever there was one.)
Now that Savile is dead and no longer able to issue writs, how long before people start talking?
It’s not too late to nip out to the shops and pick up your Hallowe’en costume. But several readers in search of inspiration have been in touch to ask if I have any… unorthodox suggestions. Well, yes, I do. And here they are: the most terrifying things to go bump in public life in 2011…
5. MARGARET BECKETT
Nicknamed ‘Rosa Klebb’ by Private Eye and others – no doubt an appreciative nod to the good looks she shares with Bond’s 1963 nemesis – Margaret Beckett is best known for destroying British farmers’ livelihoods while at Defra, championing Labour’s insane climate change buffoonery and enjoying kooky caravaning holidays with her husband. More than egregious enough, I’m sure you’ll agree, to earn her a place in this year’s list – despite the fact that she’s now, thankfully, in Opposition.
4. JOHN BERCOW
Charlie Brooker recently used his Guardian column to call David Cameron a “lizard”. I’m guessing that’s because he doesn’t know much about politics, because John Bercow is surely a much stronger candidate for that nickname. Drenched in goo like the most frightening beast of your imagination, and with spectacularly bad taste in ties, the Speaker of the House of Commons is as loathed by his party as he is by his own wife, who only narrowly missed appearing in this list herself. This year we’re carving our jack-o’-lantern into a mock-up of the Squeaker’s slimy visage.
3. POLLY TOYNBEE
Toynbee is by a considerable margin the most hypocritical and irresponsible journalist in Britain, spewing forth dodgy stats, vitriol and class hatred from her Tuscan villa twice-weekly for the Guardian. Dead-eyed and dangerous, Polly invariably sports Joseph-style jackets stitched together with the metatarsals of young Tory researchers from bits of hazardous waste. Toynbee is impressively, almost superhumanly wrong about everything and her columns are a useful negative barometer to what’s going on in British politics.
2. CHRIS HUHNE
People of Hampshire: lock up your children! Creepy Chris Huhne, the most unpopular man in British politics, has been accused by the wife he has since left for a jackbooted lesbian called Carina Trimingham of trying to palm his speeding points off on her. The last thing you want is for Felicity and Peter to be innocently trick or treating in the neighbourhood when Mr Huhne is anxious to get home! Huhne’s also a climate change fanatic, who refuses to investigate Britain’s game-changing shale gas reserves.
1. MICHELLE OBAMA
America’s First Lady has never quite shrugged off the humiliation of being compared to Lady Macbeth, Shakespeare’s psychotic, scheming temptress, by my mate James Delingpole – particularly since it came so early into her husband’s presidency. As for that famously natty dress sense? Hmm. Don’t see it myself. As she gets more relaxed in front of the cameras, Mrs Obama is starting to let her personality shine through, as this recent picture shows.
As of yesterday, we know that Amy Winehouse died from alcohol poisoning. Astonishingly, it seems to have been the only substance present in large enough quantities in her bloodstream to finish her off. Robert Le Fevre, celebrity addiction specialist, took to the airwaves late last night to dissuade us from remembering Amy Winehouse for her troubled end, praising instead “that voice… what a voice”. But he is wrong.
It’s important first to put Winehouse’s talent into perspective. She was a gifted vocalist, yes, but an interpreter of the human condition on the level of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday or Nina Simone she was not. For one thing, she didn’t have enough common ground with normal human psychology. She then squandered what gifts she had by embarking on a selfish and reckless lifestyle, condemning herself and her intimates to a toxic downward spiral of dependence and misery from which she eventually found herself incapable of escaping.
When Lady Gaga rips off someone else, it’s high art; a loving homage in the finest tradition of pastiche – even when the results look more like theft than mimicry. But it appears that Gaga takes a somewhat dimmer view of her own admirers’ attempts to celebrate her all-consuming narcissism. She can dish it out, it seems, but she can’t take it.
This remarkable, almost comical lack of self-awareness deserves a fresh mention today, in light of her High Court triumph over London technology start-up Mind Candy, the company behind Moshi Monsters.
Mind Candy’s Lady Goo Goo, a parody character of the singer, has been banned from YouTube. Mind Candy isn’t now allowed to sell Goo Goo’s single, The Moshi Dance, either.
The parallels, though incidental, between Moshi Monsters and Gaga are admittedly striking: Gaga even calls her fans “little monsters”. But there is no suggestion that Mind Candy has sought to gain commercial advantage from these coincidences.
Steve Jobs, the legendary technology chief executive who finally lost his battle with pancreatic cancer last week, had some odd habits, which led to him being adopted by the Left as a liberal icon. He was a vegetarian, got married as a Zen Buddhist and dabbled in voodoo alternative medicine that nearly killed him after he was initially diagnosed with malignant tumours.
Perhaps that’s why, among the many tributes paid to this iconic business leader, few have paid adequate regard to Jobs’s commendable social and economic conservatism. He strongly disliked bad language. He admired Ayn Rand. In 2007, he railed against teaching unions. He was fabulously snobbish about journalism, speaking of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal in reverential language but privately scoffing at bloggers and user-generated content. He was even a blood sports man, participating in a shoot in Cambridgeshire as recently as 2009.
Above all, he was an anti-pornography crusader. In fact, the defining moral statements of Jobs’s life were about pornography. Jobs didn’t simply object to X-rated material: he detested it and waged war against it, excluding pornographic content from his devices by including rules in his App Store that restricted what other people were permitted to sell on his devices: the iPhone, iPad and iPod.
If there are to be any firings in Alan Sugar’s boardroom this week, one hopes it will be his media spokesperson getting the chop, for allowing the East End bruiser free rein to snipe at national newspapers over the past few years.
No doubt the reality television star and businessman thought himself very droll while publicly bashing the Daily Mail on Twitter and, if what I hear is true, devoting an entire chapter of his new book to critiquing the paper’s journalism. Such behaviour is, I suppose, to be expected from a lowbrow popular entertainer.
But Sugar, or his people, ought to have known better. The Mail is notoriously brilliant at settling scores. Its editor, Paul Dacre, oversees massive and brutal retaliation for the slightest of perceived insults, and his newspaper just loves to publish devastating exposés of self-important public figures.
One of the things I thought everybody knew about Steve Jobs, darling of the Left, was how gloriously conservative he was, in that peculiarly American way.
Sure, everyone admires what a ball-busting, ruthless boss he was at Apple, and how enthusiastically he embraced free-market principles. But looking at Twitter today it seems that some people forget what a old-fashioned family man he was, too: he abhorred pornography, for example, making it exceedingly difficult for app developers whose products contained even hints of nudity to make it onto his devices. He disliked bad language. In 2007, he railed against teaching unions. He admired Ayn Rand. And he was fabulously snobbish about journalism, speaking of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal in reverential language but privately scoffing at bloggers and user-generated content. As for “crowd-sourcing”, forget it: Jobs repeatedly scoffed at the wisdom of crowds. “You can’t just ask customers what they want then try to give that to them,” he once said. “By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”
The fatuous Silicon Valley philosophy of “changing the world” through technology is couched in language complementary to that of the Left, but it has nothing whatsoever in common with the Left’s political agenda. Jobs didn’t want to save the rainforests (he famously did nothing for charity, and scrapped Apple’s corporate philanthropy programmes when he returned to the company in 1997); he simply wanted everyone in the world to own his consumer electronics devices and to buy content with them to use and enjoy on his own closed platforms – preferably the sort of polished, family-friendly studio content he himself created at Pixar.
That’s what Steve Jobs meant by changing the world: all-encompassing global market domination. It’s something the liberal Twitter mobs like to forget. (Their selective blindness extends to other liberal darlings, of course: ignoring Twitter’s tax avoidance strategies while using it as the service of choice to make noise about, yes, tax avoidance, for example.) In that goal, Jobs was perhaps the most successful capitalist in history: one who hoodwinked the goons on the Left into gushing over his products and spending their publicly-funded wage packets and student loans on them while manufacturing everything as cheaply as possible in China, only paying lip service to environmental issues when shamed into it by Greenpeace, eschewing charity and laughing all the way to the bank. All the while extending the same brilliant marketing principles he deployed at Apple to his personal brand.
And that, more than anything else, is why I love and will miss Steve Jobs. RIP, dude: you made idiotic hypocrites out of society’s most obnoxious members without even really trying.
In some circles it’s considered bad form to review books in which you appear. Fortunately for you, I don’t move in those circles. Because as one of this volume’s (admittedly minor) characters, I’m better placed than most to verify what might otherwise appear a wildly implausible series of ludicrous drunken adventures.
The Icelandic rock stars. The near-death experience with Spanish drug dealers. The hairdressers’ convention. The 6,000 mile booty call. In short: yes, it’s all true.
Paul Carr has forged a surprisingly stable career out of his alcohol-fuelled antics, failed relationships, friendship with infamous London entrepreneur, networker and mischief-maker Robert Loch and his opinions about the latest internet technology. But despite weighing in provocatively on privacy, copyright and media issues in his TechCrunch column, his forte has always been writing about himself, which is the singular subject of both of his books to date. Even more surprisingly, he manages to be fresh and entertaining without slipping into limp Hunter S. Thompson burlesque.