English is a dominant language – the third most common in the world. It’s a source of national pride – a gift to the planet. It helped to civilise the fuzzy wuzzies and spread culture and joy throughout distant lands.
So when you hear people bleat on about their language disappearing – it doesn’t really register. There are more important things to worry about in life than some bloke in Aberystwyth demanding a bi-lingual sign on his local fish and chip shop.
But what if things were different – if the cultural boot was on the other foot? If the English language found itself under attack. Let’s say those loony UKIP types were right – Brussels really did want to absorb Britain into some creepy all-powerful Euro state.
And that’s exactly what they did.
Germany emerged as the dominant player and German became the common language. It started being used in the legal, government and business worlds, so more English began to learn German as a way to improve their job prospects.
German corporations controlled the media and began to bludgeon the public with anti-English messages. The English language was causing many of the country’s problems – it was dusty and outdated. It helped to explain why the English were such a backwards, thick and bigoted people. The language was holding the nation back – blocking its progress.
Middle-class parents wanted the best for their children, and that meant giving them the gift of German. The BBC began to broadcast more of its output in German. And society started to split and divide along language lines.
Your prospects in life became determined by the language you spoke. German became something for the educated and the powerful. English for the manual classes and the poor – for the people who clean your office toilets.
And within a couple of generations, it was all over for English. It’s now a cultural curiosity – spoken only by weirdos at clog dancing festivals in Northumberland.
As a German speaker you’re sick of hearing these people drone on about their language. You’re sick of them chuntering on about Dickens and Keats and Dad’s Army and The Beatles and all the rest of the cultural twaddle that you don’t understand. You don’t care about some bloke in Altrincham moaning about the German signs on his local fish and chip shop.
Now, this all sounds absolutely nuts; like the deranged ramblings of some purple nosed Daily Mail columnist. But this is what has happened to Wales and the Welsh language over the past 150 years. It was done by England and it continues to tear the country apart, affecting every aspect of Welsh life.
Because back in the 1840s, around 80 percent of people living in Wales were Welsh speakers, many of them spoke no English at all. Fast forward to the recent 2011 census and that number has dropped to below 20 percent.
But this hides the true scale of the decline. Welsh used to be the language of the everyday world, people would spend their entire lives never speaking English. Now, it’s rare to hear Welsh being spoken on the streets, apart from in a dwindling number of communities in north west Wales.
You probably don’t care much about this if you’re an English speaker – it doesn’t affect you. And that includes the majority of Welsh people who were brought up speaking English; who have been taught at English language schools, watched English telly, listened to English music and read English books.
And I’m one of them. Language was a choice made for me by the school I went to. I was taught to read and write in English with Welsh only taught at secondary school. It was treated the same as any other foreign language – like French or German. It gave you tourist Welsh – enough to ask directions to the nearest zoo in Colwyn Bay – and not much else.
So why did Welsh schools stop teaching children to speak the language?
The popular narrative is that it’s just a natural process – a stronger and healthier language replaces an older and weaker one. That the Welsh language is dying of natural causes – like an elderly relative withering away. It’s sad but inevitable. What can you do?
That’s the common explanation – but it’s bollocks.
The Welsh language has declined so rapidly because the English placed a pillow over its face and smothered it. It has taken around 150 years to complete, there have been occasional bouts of kicking and thrashing against, but it’s pretty much job done.
And it was only when the body was limp that England placed some chocolate biscuits on the bedside cabinet – bilingual road signs, a Welsh TV channel. And then started to berate the lifeless patient for its lack of appetite.
England’s policy towards Wales is not the only reason for the decline, but it’s the main one. It’s the consequence of the state treating the Welsh language as a sickness which needed to be cured.
It’s the way that the British Empire used language to control their various colonies during the C19th. It was a benign method of dominating occupied nations with minimal bloodshed or confrontation – a very English form of tyranny.
Whether it was Ireland, Singapore, Nigeria or North Borneo – the method was the same. English would become the official language used for government, commerce and law. Natives chosen for positions of power would be sent off to English public schools to learn the language and the ‘British’ way of life.
It would seep down through society, exploiting people’s natural desire to better themselves, to have the best opportunities in life. In doing so, it created a vicious form of divide and rule – collaborators versus separatists, English speakers versus native speakers. It was a seed which, once planted, took on a malevolent life of its own – spreading and mutating over generations.
This is exactly what happened in Wales. The country in the C19th was viewed by the English as being a dangerous and lawless land – Wild Wales. It was a fear fuelled by the growth of Welsh working class radicalism; the rise of the Chartist movement, outbreaks of rebellion such as the Merthyr Rising of 1831 and the Rebecca Riots of the 1840s.
These were Welsh people joining together to fight against corruption, inequality and injustice. But they were portrayed in the London media as being a kind of sub-human rabble; wild and barbaric people who babbled and plotted in their primitive language. It was a view endorsed by the Government; an 1847 report into the state of Welsh education and morality found the country’s population to be dirty, lazy, drunken and over-sexed.
The report concluded that the main problem with Wales was its language. And the cure was simple – the eradication of Welsh from the education system. It proposed that state funded English language schools should be set-up – and that’s what happened. It’s one of these schools where I, like most Welsh people, was taught.
So a deranged report by three English inspectors who couldn’t speak Welsh and who didn’t have any background in education became the blueprint for Welsh schooling; the reason that generations of Welsh people have been taught only English.
But the report’s other toxic legacy was to give many Welsh speakers a deep-rooted sense of inferiority and shame about their language. It was no longer something to be proud of, it was a problem that needed to be tackled. It was a sickness infecting the country, something the English had found the cure for.
The power of this feeling can be seen during the late C19th with the practice of ‘Welsh Not’. The ‘WN’ initials were carved onto a wooden plaque which school kids were made to wear around their neck if heard speaking Welsh in the classroom. The pupil wearing the plaque at the end of the day would be beaten. It was a practice endorsed by Welsh parents who wanted the best for their children.
This division of the population by language has been eating away at the country ever since. It has created two versions of Wales, two distinct cultures which view the other as a threat. What one side gains, the other side loses. What’s good for one, is bad for the other.
It has left non-Welsh speakers feeling like outsiders in their own country, forever left out in the cold and staring back in at a history and culture they can’t access; at jobs they’re not qualified to do. For Welsh speakers, they have been battered from all sides, endlessly under attack, having to justify the use of their own language – mostly to fellow Welsh people.
It’s a cultural civil war which has brought out the worst aspects of both sides. A nation which once fought for its rights, which fought against inequality and injustice has been effectively turned in on itself.
If the attack on the Welsh language was done to subdue and weaken the country, to create a servile and utterly compliant people who would accept their British medicine – then it can only be seen as a monumental success.
Wales has become a husk of a nation. The decline of the language, the stripping away of links to its history and culture, has induced a kind of dementia. It’s a country which no longer remembers who or what it is – so it simply exists. And accepts the guiding hand of its neighbour.
The removal of the Welsh personality has created a void which is being gleefully filled by the English media’s tub thumping brand of Britishness – the royal family, the Armed Forces, Team GB and all that. And there seems little hope of anything changing.
There’s no fight or energy left. No upsurge of anger. No dissent. No political will. No obvious solution. Just a blank stare, a rugby top and a grim Welsh cheeriness; a nihilistic acceptance of fate. While Scotland gains confidence and considers independence, Wales is left retreating into the arms of its abusive partner and going gently into that good night.
Surely, that goes with the territory. He’s an illusionist and his shows should be treated as entertainment – they’re not meant to be taken seriously. The problem is, vast numbers of people do; they believe they’re watching something more than just an illusion by a skilled showman.
His latest programme, Fear and Faith, was presented in the style of a factual show exploring the power of the placebo effect. Taking on the role of a science based self-help guru, Derren Brown took ordinary people’s problems and ‘fixed them’ with a few taps of his psychological wand.
The overall message wasn’t much different to that of an evangelical preacher – you can achieve whatever you want, as long as you believe. You can cure dermatitis, remove phobias, defeat addictions; even change your personality – all through a little Derren Brown inspired self-belief. And a dab of instant hypnosis.
So where does Channel 4 stand on this kind of thing? What if his seemingly legitimate demonstrations of science and psychology aren’t always what they seem? The broadcaster has clear guidelines in their charter covering this area. Here’s what it says:
“Simply because a programme is primarily designed to entertain or is ‘formatted’ does not mean that there is a licence to mislead the audience. Our viewers are entitled to respect and that means they must feel confident that they can take what they see or are told in a programme at face value.”
So a programme featuring a science based demonstration of hypnosis which misled viewers would presumably be a serious breach; not something a publicly owned broadcaster would turn a blind eye to – even if it involved one of their most valuable assets.
In Hot Water?
Which is why it’s interesting to look back at one particular Derren Brown show – The Assassin. This was broadcast as part of last year’s series, The Experiments. This was a series Derren Brown talked about in previews as being an attempt to move away from ‘tricks’ and towards a more science-based approach.
Like Fear and Faith, the programme didn’t come with any on-screen disclaimer to warn viewers that this was anything other than factual. It was based on a real-life murder case; the assassination of Robert Kennedy by a man called Sirhan Sirhan. It included archive footage of the murderer and an interview with a family relative; all the hallmarks of a factual programme.
It explored a theory that Sirhan Sirhan may have carried out the assassination while in some kind of induced hypnotic state. To test if this was possible, Derren Brown took a member of the public, somebody called Chris, and took him through a process of hypnotic ‘treatment’, to turn him into a potential assassin.
To demonstrate the power of hypnosis he carried out an experiment on Chris in front of a studio audience; this was referred to as the Ice Cold Bath test. It was presented as a way of exploring whether hypnosis could help Chris control the pain of exposure to the icy cold water.
With a click of his fingers, Derren Brown put Chris into a hypnotic slumber and told him to believe the cold water was warm. Protected by this mind control, Chris submerged himself in the cold water as Derren Brown’s voiceover explained how this was a life-threatening test, something never attempted before.
An electronic gauge showed the water temperature as Chris stepped into the icy bath. It started at 3.6C, after a minute it was 2.3C and just before he stepped out, it had dropped to 1.4C. Derren Brown’s voiceover dramatically stated:
“The water is just 1.4 degrees away from turning into a solid block of ice and his heart rate has dropped to 85 bpm. He’s clearly very able to disassociate himself from the freezing temperature. The test is a success.”
To add authenticity to this demonstration, it was monitored by a scientist from the University of Birmingham, Dr Stuart Derbyshire. So it seemed a particularly impressive sequence; a legitimate scientific test showing the powerful ability of hypnosis to enable people to manage pain.
But one of the strange things about this demonstration was the way the temperature plummeted. You might expect that when a big warm human gets into a bath of cold water, the temperature would gradually increase; especially when the bath is placed in a hot studio.
And that’s what a member of the studio audience remembers happening. Andy Linton, a fan of Derren Brown, was sat opposite the electronic temperature gauge during the test; filmed at the London Oratory School. Here’s what he remembers:
“On television they showed the digital display with the temperature falling while he’s in the bath but it wasn’t falling – it was rising. So what they showed is really not what happened and I presume they must have used those shots out of sequence to make it look more dramatic for television.
“I was on the front row and sitting right opposite that meter. I had a clear view of it. I’m a technical kind of guy so I was interested in that side of things and the temperature was definitely rising – it was going up. The temperature started at around 3C and then it crept up to around 4C or 5C.”
If this is correct, you could understand the temptation to try and make the test look slightly more extreme than it actually was. Without the plunging temperature you have a bloke sat in a bath of cold water which gets a bit warmer; not the kind of death defying act required for mind-blowing television.
Because sitting in an ice cold bath isn’t unusual or particularly dangerous. They are used in many sports as a way to help athletes’ bodies recover after exercise. It’s not a pleasant experience but it’s something routinely used and without any need of Derren Brown’s hypnotism.
But what about the scientist observing the experiment, surely he was monitoring the temperature? Unfortunately not; this is what Dr Derbyshire recalls:
“I wasn’t paying too much attention to the temperature. I know the water was uncomfortably cold and I remember it being around 3C but I don’t have any recollection of it going up or down.
“I was surprised to see the temperature did appear to be dropping and I can’t come up with any obvious explanation. I would be concerned if they had edited it because it would start to call into question the validity of everything else.”
The programme makers, Objective Productions, completely reject any suggestion that they misled the viewer. A spokesperson said:
“The water temperature dropped from about 4 degrees to 1.4 as shown in the programme. The studio audience were not near enough to read the temperature clearly – that was being viewed by Derren and the scientist and the director and producer from the production gallery.”
So we’re left with a mystery. It’s a question of which version you believe. But seeing as Derren Brown’s role as an illusionist is to twist and manipulate the truth; it’s tempting to think this was edited to heighten the effect.
Second Time Lucky
But there’s another quirk about this sequence; one which questions whether Channel 4 should be allowing this type of thing to be presented as a legitimate scientific test.
The finished item showed Chris submerging himself into the cold water, having no ill-effects and then getting out again as Derren Brown’s voiceover declared the test to be a success.
What actually happened was a bit different.
The first time Chris dropped himself into the water, he had to get out again because he found it too cold. This was witnessed by both the audience member and the expert, Dr Derbyshire.
Andy Linton said:
“They actually filmed him doing it twice. The first time they tried Chris had to stand back up again because he said he was having trouble breathing. So then he came out, they put him in a robe and sent him off to warm-up.
“Then there was a bit of a kerfuffle and after a while Derren came back and said there had been some kind of a cock-up with the recording of the thermal imaging camera so they would have to do it again. So they dragged this poor bloke back out again and he tried it again.”
Dr Derbyshire confirms this:
“He got in the first time and was obviously not comfortable, so he had to get out. The explanation was, which is not untrue, that you hit that cold water and there’s a shock to the system. You can’t breathe easily – everything constricts. So he stepped out.
“It’s a tricky thing because hypnosis is not magic, it doesn’t rip your nervous system out, and you’d expect a physiological reaction. But I accept that the effect would have been much more powerful if it could have been done first time.”
By editing this genuine reaction out of the sequence it’s hard to see how it can be viewed as anything other than misleading. Hypnosis may or may not be able to help people control pain but it’s not something Derren Brown demonstrated and he shouldn’t be allowed to claim it.
It needs to be remembered that Derren Brown is an illusionist who practices a form of magic known as mentalism. This is magic – tricks and misdirection – but packaged as a demonstration of some kind of ‘genuine’ power. Derren Brown uses science and psychology as the chosen wrapping for his illusions.
For this to work his TV shows have to be plausible. Which is why he uses all the trappings of a factual TV show and why he will often use experts like Dr Derbyshire; it’s a way to heighten the effect. But being used in this way, as a prop for a trick, was something which left Dr Derbyshire uneasy about his role in The Assassin. He said:
“I have a lot of mixed feelings about it. On the one hand it’s just entertainment and it shouldn’t be taken too seriously – and I don’t think Derren Brown takes it seriously. The science is just there to make it more interesting.
“On the other hand, he’s using a guy who committed a major crime – a man who shot somebody. And he’s presenting him as an innocent man who has been imprisoned for a crime he’s not responsible for – which is pretty serious.
“He’s also planting the idea that we can turn ordinary people into killers – fairly easily. Both of which I think are highly dubious positions to take.
“The problem is that people are given no way of knowing if it’s a serious show dressed up as entertainment or an entertainment show dressed up as something serious. And because it’s so hard to tell the difference – that makes it morally awkward.”
It’s a general unease shared by some within a community that Derren Brown is seen as representing – skeptics. This is a loose group of scientists and academics with a shared interest in using logic and scientific reasoning to challenge extraordinary claims – whether they’re psychic or pseudo-science.
Derren Brown’s popularity within the skeptic community comes from his work exposing the fraudulent methods of psychics and spiritual healers. In his 2010 series, Derren Brown Investigates, he took a critical look at three people claiming to have psychic powers.
He has publicly lambasted psychics for using fraudulent methods to give people an unfounded belief in the existence of an after life or in special healing powers. But it’s hard to see how his own illusions are much different.
Derren Brown’s TV shows give people a similarly unfounded belief in the power of psychological ‘powers’ such as hypnosis, ‘anchoring’ and subliminal messaging. His presentation of himself as a self-help guru gives fans false belief that his brand of ‘mind-control’ can transform and improve lives. It sells the idea that our brains are like simple calculators which can be easily repaired and reprogrammed.
But it’s an illusion – a sophisticated trick.
And it’s hard to see how Channel 4, a publicly owned broadcaster with a clear commitment to not misleading its viewers, can continue to allow this disinformation to be spread in the guise of factual television.
Professor Chris French, a leading skeptic and Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths College, said:
“I have a great deal of respect for Derren Brown; both as a performer and as a skeptic. He’s somebody who has helped shine a light on some of the more questionable practices used by those who claim to have psychic powers.
“But I do fear that he’s pushing things too far with the way he’s presenting himself as using science and psychological techniques on his television shows.
“I’m sure many people accept it as entertainment and realise that he often uses science as a form of misdirection for more conventional tricks, but a great many of his viewers don’t see this subtlety. They take his explanations at face value and believe that what they’re seeing is genuine.
“The problem, from a science point of view, is that it’s muddying the waters and creating a false perception about the way these things actually work.
“I wish these psychological effects were as powerful as Derren Brown makes them appear – but they’re not. The effects are subtle, mild and unreliable and of little use from the point of view of a television performance.”
So, for somebody who has built his career on performing magic wrapped up in a tissue of impressive scientific twaddle, Derren Brown’s greatest ever illusion could be his acceptance within society as a respectable man of science.
Derren Brown’s latest Channel 4 show, Apocalypse, appears to be the product of a magician who’s bored with what he does – at least on television. His increasingly formulaic shows now involve just one real ‘trick’ – that the person selected is acting under hypnosis and unaware of their role in a TV production. If you remove this conceit, you’re left with a dull and plodding ‘reality drama’.
There’s been speculation that Steve Brosnan, the person featured in Apocalypse, isn’t what he seems; that he’s really an actor. And as usual, Derren Brown has released a convincingly vehement denial. Because as he has drummed into our heads over the years – he’s ‘honest about his dishonesty’. And that’s the trick – he’s not.
Derren Brown’s a magician who achieves his effects by any means necessary. But that’s balanced against the need to keep the mundane reality of his methods away from prying eyes. He has no need to use actors – at least not actors in the conventional sense.
To get an idea of how his illusions are created, here’s an interview with somebody who featured in one of his earlier TV shows. They wanted to remain anonymous so anything referencing the specific show has been removed but it gives an insight into the way it works. Here’s what he said:
“I agreed to take part because I thought it would be a fun experience. I enjoyed Derren Brown’s shows and it was exciting to be a part of it. I approached it as a kind of acting role; like I was playing a version of myself – rather than it being me.
“And as a piece of entertainment I can appreciate the finished item; it worked well. But it was really strange to see people’s reaction after it was broadcast; how seriously some people took it. They don’t see it as entertainment, they genuinely believed Derren Brown was demonstrating some kind of special power.
“The reality is nothing like what you see on screen. With me, they made it look like I was being secretly filmed during my day-to-day life. It’s something they often do. But that was all planned and pre-arranged with the production team. They told me where to go and what to do. There was a man lugging a big camera around right in front of me – so it was hardly secret.
“When it came to the final scene I was supposed to have been ‘programmed’ to act in a certain way by various subliminal messages and triggers, but that was just part of the misdirection for the benefit of the viewers. The way it actually worked was that Derren was off-camera and giving me directions, telling me what to do.
“Before the filming had started he’d been through a hypnosis routine with me; although this was never mentioned or shown in the finished item. I never felt hypnotised but I went along with it.
“And after a couple of minutes Derren seemed to drop the pretence and switched to more of a work mode. When it came to the filming he was directing me from off-camera – not much different to how a producer would direct an actor.
“It was all slightly disappointing. I’m not sure what I’d expected exactly but I just thought there would be more of a ‘trick’ involved. It blows away the mystique – but it’s the viewer the illusion is being created for.”
So in this case, it’s a real person being used but Derren Brown’s insistence that he doesn’t use stooges appears a little wobbly. Technically, he may be right in that the person was playing along with a situation in which he’d been placed – with some prompting from Derren.
But it shows that, like with most magic, the truth behind an illusion is usually painfully mundane. Derren Brown doesn’t need hypnosis or subliminal messages or ‘anchoring’ to achieve his effects, he uses the same powers as any reality TV. It’s the reason why it’s not really possible to debunk Derren Brown’s recent shows – because there’s nothing there to debunk.
There’s no trick being played, other than a person going along with whatever situation Derren Brown plonks them into; the only contrivance is their willingness to respond in an appropriate manner. It’s the reason why he usually selects people from his pool of followers, people who feel privileged to be allowed into the world of their hero and who understand the role expected of them.
And what somebody like Steve Brosnan will have found is the pressure that any performer on reality TV feels – a pressure to perform appropriately. He finds himself the pivotal figure in a big budget production, there’s an innate pressure to provide what they’re looking for. Especially when it’s the reputation of somebody he admires at stake.
Here’s how the participant in a previous Derren Brown illusion described it:
“Something which is hard to appreciate, unless you’ve experienced it for yourself, is the huge pressure you feel under when it comes to filming.
“Nothing was ever said to me, but it didn’t need to be. You just know how much time and effort has gone into setting up something like this. And you know that everything ultimately depends on you to make it work. So you’re trying to give them what they want.”
The thing that needs to be understood about Derren Brown is that he’s a mentalist – that’s not an Alan Partridge insult. It’s a brand of magic which sells the tricks and misdirection as demonstrations of a genuine power. And 20 years ago, another mentalist performer occupied Derren Brown’s position, an entertainer who also shocked and confounded with his mind control ability.
The power that Uri Geller claimed to use was ‘psychokinetic’, it gave him the ability to bend metal with the touch of his finger. The power Derren Brown purports to use comes from his innate knowledge of science and psychology, something which enables him to control humans like obedient puppies.
To succeed as a mentalist performer requires the person to throw themselves into the role 100 percent – they have to live and breathe it on and off the stage and screen. They have to convince not only their immediate audience that what they’re doing is plausible but the whole of society needs to buy into it. It’s something Uri Geller achieved with a handful of magic tricks and his natural gift as a showman.
It enabled Geller to convince scientists, academics, media organisations and a large slice of the public that he was accessing a genuine ‘PK’ power, or at least that he may have been. The aura he managed to create was a world away from the conventional magic of somebody like Paul Daniels – but behind the packaging, it was exactly the same.
The public gradually became weary of his wide-eyed spoon bending routine and his claims to have special powers were debunked. The more he raged and railed against those who dared claim he was a fake, the more desperate and pitiful he appeared. These days Geller makes occasional appearances on the TV shopping channels where he uses his special powers to flog jewellery.
And Derren Brown is leading a similarly precarious existence, caught in the same kind of trap as Geller found himself. He has created the illusion that it’s his knowledge of science and psychology which provides the core of what he does. He’s also been able to convince society that he’s not merely an illusionist – there’s more substance to him. He’s a man of science, reason and logic.
It’s helped him to attract high-profile support from the likes of Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins. He’s built a large and passionate following of people inspired and energised by the powers he displays. They show the same kind of faith and belief in his science-based demonstrations as you might expect from the audience of a spiritualist.
These aren’t merely tricks – there’s something we need to take notice of here. It’s what he’s been telling us for the past 10 years. His latest Channel 4 shows have dispensed with the usual disclaimer about the illusions featuring a mix of psychology, magic and showmanship. He said that last year’s, The Experiments, was an attempt to move away from his ‘magic’ background. It included interviews with academics, scientists and references to real-world case studies.
And Brown has started to position himself in the role of a kind of self-help guru. Somebody who takes hapless losers from their humdrum existence and converts them into winners with the inspirational wave of his mind control magic wand. There’s really very little difference between what he does and the psychics he has used his TV show to expose as frauds and charlatans.
One claims psychic power, the other claims psychological power. The people who believe it are similarly deluded.
So Derren Brown continues to furiously protect the persona he’s created; he has no real choice. He has to maintain the pretence, to keep churning out the TV specials, to clobber any accusations with legal threats. Because the alternative is to deal with the wrath and rejection of those who have believed in him. And to face up to the haunting prospect of a 2 am slot on a shopping channel.
Nintendo President, Satoru Iwata, owns a small cinema on the outskirts of Carlisle – it’s just off the A69. He doesn’t really; I’m just using a painful analogy to explain why I think the Wii U will fail.
Anyway, this cinema shows a strange mix of classic old cartoons and newly released DVD fodder. It used to be really popular, but attendances have dropped in recent times. So he needs to take action.
You might think he’d start by reviewing the films he shows – maybe that’s the problem? If they showed better films, more people might want to come. But no; this is a Nintendo cinema and they do things differently.
Instead, he gathers together a crack team of dungaree wearing creatives; he sets them the task of reinventing his cinema – to blow people’s minds. And after an afternoon of doodling, eating bananas and playing Lego; they come up with something a little bit special.
It’s essentially a fuck-off big hat.
It’s white; battery powered and features lots of clever bells and whistles which allow it to ‘talk’ to movies. So when you’re watching a film, your massive hat is going to start honking and burbling and rumbling.
It’s a revolution – it changes the way we watch movies. And for film directors, it unlocks an exciting new world of creative possibilities. Now they’ve got this powerful tool, they’d be daft not to use it.
So they start to create films which make the most of this buzzing, flashing, bleeping, burping, Internet enabled hat wonder. They re-release all of their old films with new hat functionality added.
Mr Iwata thinks this will save his cinema from going bust. He can keep showing the same dusty old line-up of movies he’s always shown, while making infinite money by selling his celebrity endorsed Nintendo movie hats – which come in a range of colours.
This all sounds daft – but it’s essentially what the Wii U is attempting to do for the struggling fortunes of Nintendo. And it’s what the original Wii has already done. It’s the ability to sell an average console using only the power of marketing and a gimmicky controller.
It’s what Nintendo does best these days. They used to make truly great games – now they make great ads, they devise fantastic marketing campaigns.
The Wii U is similar in power to an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 – the difference is that it comes with a tea tray sized controller – it’s bigger than the console itself. And like the Nintendo movie hat, it has all the bells and whistles you could want – including a touch screen.
It gives Nintendo something to market. It’s not just a controller, it’s a new concept in gaming. It’s bringing families together, it’s dazzling celebrities, it’s freeing games designers from the shackles of not having a giant tea tray sized controller. And it’s yours for only £250.
From a gaming point of view – it’s likely to do exactly the same as the Wii motion controller. It will encourage developers to make an avalanche of shit games as they struggle and strain to find ways of making use of these gimmicky new abilities. It’s creating a new range of games design problems – rather than solving anything.
And when the novelty of the tea tray controller wears off – you’re left with an average console and a range of overpriced and poorly made games. It’s the reason why the attics and cupboards of the land are already packed full of discarded Wii consoles.
That’s the problem for Nintendo. There’s only so long you can keep distracting people with gimmicks and hype. If you’re looking for creative and innovative gaming these days, you can find it on your tablet or smartphone; games won’t cost you £40, they’ll be free or cost a couple of quid.
Cinema goers aren’t interested in wearing big hats – they go to watch good movies. And it’s the same for gamers. If you fork out £250 for a console, you want to play good games – and that’s no longer the focus for Nintendo.
As the Olympics drew to a close, it was time for BBC 5Live to start basking in the brilliance of their own coverage. And it was left to DJ Nicky Campbell to sum things up so perfectly. After reading out a gushing Tweet from a listener, he said: “You know, it would have taken a real idiot not to have produced great coverage of such an amazing event”. And he was right.
His roving reports during the tournament had been a tour-de-force of moronic, mawkish and jingoistic banality. He had made a mockery of the idea that a BBC presenter covering an international event should retain a degree of objectivity. Because despite the bludgeoning message of the media – we don’t all share Nicky Campbell’s evangelical fervour for this mythical “new Britishness”.
The role the BBC allowed him to play was that of a rabble-rousing idiot, endlessly babbling and bellowing about the glory of Team GB. No sense of perspective, no analysis, no genuine interest in what was happening outside the Team GB bubble – just an endless repetition of lazy clichés; delivered in the style of somebody flogging Zumba DVDs from a market stall.
The tone was set at the opening ceremony when he encouraged the crowd to drown out a French journalist who had dared to express a reasonable opinion; that the opening ceremony was too much focused on Britain. As the days passed Campbell’s happy clapper persona became increasingly boorish – drunk with the power to manipulate the crowds with patriotic Team GB soundbites.
Campbell spoke on behalf of “the nation”. The Olympic spirit had united us all. We were all basking in the golden glow. We were all inspired by the heroics of Team GB. Even the biggest critic had been won over by the triumph of London 2012. We all now felt a special pride in what it was to be British.
It was hard to tell, but this was coverage of a tournament involving 300 countries and more than 10,000 athletes. But for Campbell and the 5Live crew, the rest of the world served only as a colourful background haze as they gazed lovingly at the majesty of Team Britannia.
Campbell was the cheerleader for a brand of patriotic tub-thumping which the BBC peddled throughout their Olympics coverage. There seemed to be a competition to see who could be most emotional and least objective. Commentators started to scream and holler, presenters began to sob, reporters began hugging athletes.
What used to be an occasional lapse into jingoism had become the BBC’s default setting. It was something they encouraged by setting up cameras to capture the commentators and pundits during their obligatory outbursts of red-faced jubilation.
It was the sporting equivalent of having embedded reporters. The BBC viewing themselves as part of Team GB; their role not to report, but to support. When a reporter stumbled on a great story; a Team GB rider admitting to deliberately falling in order to help Chris Foy win his gold medal; it was quickly buried. Nothing to look at here – move on.
There was a similar incident involving the two rowers, Hunter and Purchase. They appeared to feign a mechanical fault to get their race restarted. Co-commentator, Sir Steve Redgrave, showed his true Olympian spirit by encouraging them to cheat: “If it isn’t broken, then make sure it is.”
These were the same two rowers whose theatrical show of self-pity at having only won silver was enough to reduce presenter John Inverdale to sobs of despair; overcome by the tragedy of two privileged Team GB athletes finishing second.
For Nicky Campbell everything he encountered in this Olympics wonderland seemed to be unnaturally moving and emotional and inspirational. His favourite question when accosting members of the public was, “What’s made you cry the most?” – a passive aggressive way of forcing people to prove their Team GB support.
It all combined to create an X-Factor stained BBC coverage which cranked up the emotions and drowned out any objectivity or sense of journalistic perspective. The successes were down to heroism, British grit and determination – not the four years of generous funding that they had received.
And it’s an approach which worked. For lots of people it made for a great experience – passionate and emotional. People wept and sobbed along at home. Team GB was turned into a palatable fantasy – something people could believe in during these scary and uncertain times.
If this was purely about sport, it could be viewed as harmless. But it’s not. Team GB and this brand of BBC endorsed Britishness comes as part of a package. Bundled in alongside Bradley Wiggins and Nicola Adams you find some more toxic elements: support for the royal family, backing for the military and acceptance of England’s role as the dominant British nation.
It requires the adoption of a Daily Mail sense of British pride; a smug, arrogant and inward looking attitude which feeds on sentimentality and self-glorification. It also means buying into a brand which is enthusiastically used by major corporations to flog you a multitude of products. It was a matter of hours after the closing ceremony that the Team GB athletes appeared in their first flag waving advert.
So the more the likes of DJ Nicky Campbell pronounce that we’ve all been carried along on the euphoria of Team GB, the more divisive it becomes. By trying to ram this down people’s throats, the BBC is pushing people apart, rather than pulling them together.
So that’s it for another year of E3. And the assorted games industry execs can bristle with pride at a job well done. For this was the finest demonstration yet of just how feckless and shite mainstream gaming has become. It was a performance they have been collaborating on for the past 15 years, but this time it all came together. It was a barnstorming show.
One-by-one they took to the stage to hammer home a simple but powerful message – mainstream gaming is dead. Go back to your homes – watch television, read a book, play the clarinet, go to the movies. If you must play games, do it on a smartphone or a tablet. We repeat – mainstream gaming is dead. Until next year; thank you and good night.
What made this message so effective was that it wasn’t just marketing talk – they had the proof. Up on the giant screens they bombarded the audience with a dazzling display of the dullest and most sterile games that this flaccid industry could muster. Different execs. Different publishers. Different consoles. Different titles – but all merging to form a glorious kind of gaming sludge.
It’s a brown, bloody, shitty sludge. Submerged within you will find a guy with tattoos and a gun. He will be running around and crouching behind things and switching weapons and shooting people. There will be death, pain, screaming, stabbing, slashing and bloody splatters in the mud. And crouching behind things.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Modern Warfare 3, Halo 4, Battlefield 4, Far Cry 3, Dead Space 3, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, Crysis 3, Resident Evil 6, Lost Planet 3. The names aren’t even important any more. Let’s just stick to numbers – 2-3-4-4-3-3-3-6-3…
This is the culmination of 40 years of games design. If this was the movies, we would be entering the Golden Age. But it’s not – this is games. And we’ve transcended creativity and innovation. We’re way past that – we left it behind some time in the mid 90’s.
We don’t need it because we have this shitty bloody sludge to roll around in. To cake ourselves in; to protect ourselves from the idea that games could ever be something more than just running around and slaughtering people.
But what about those oddballs who don’t like games involving endless shooting and killing – which is around 98 percent of the world’s population. Or what about those who don’t mind them – they’re just fucking sick of them? Well, that’s not a problem because they have Nintendo.
You may remember Nintendo – they used to make great games. But they too have gone past that stage – they’re so much more advanced. Now they make gimmicky new consoles on which to play those old games.
At E3 we saw the latest version, something called the Wii U. This is similar to the Nintendo Wii; that thing you have stored in a box in the attic – but this one comes with an all-singing, all-dancing tea-tray controller. Suddenly a whole new world opens up. You can play Super Mario with a giant controller and tilt it and things. It’s a gaming revolution.
And the great thing about the Wii U is that Nintendo now has a console with the power to join Sony and Microsoft in their bukakke party. Already you can see them licking their lips, developing a taste for this bloody, shitty gaming sludge.
You’ve heard about these bucket lists, right? The idea is, you make up a list of ‘amazing’ and ‘uplifting’ things to do before you ‘kick the bucket’. It’s all the rage these days. In fact, you can hardly move on the slopes of Everest for crowds of braying public-school toffs hugging each other and ticking another ‘experience’ off their list.
They all travel around the world in herds doing exactly the same stuff – fondling dolphins in the Great Barrier Reef or slobbering at majesty of the Northern Lights. It’s a load of crap really – and it costs a fortune.
It’s all very well for Marcus and his jug-eared mates from Eton, but the rest of us plebs have to live on planet earth. So thankfully, there’s no need to spend a fortune on amazing experiences. You just need to stick to the Bargain Bucket List.
Yes, these are all ace things to do before you die which cost less than a Sky subscription.
Bull-running Festival, Madrid
Cost: Flight to Madrid £40
Where to stay: Madrid
It was the great Jim Bowen who once said: “You can’t beat a bit of Bully”. And when it comes to bucket lists, he was cock on. But every fucker in the world heads to Pamplona for the bull-run. The biggest danger you face there is being stampeded by tourists; it’s about as dangerous as an MK Dons football hooligan.
If you really want to experience the delicious thrills of being horrifically gored by a bull then you’ll need to head for one of the smaller events. And your best bet is the bull gore-athon held at San Sebastian de los Reyes, a northern suburb of Madrid.
This week-long festival features a daily bull run and it costs you nowt – apart from replacement underwear and hospital fees. This takes place from August 23 to 27.
KGB Shooting Range, Latvia
Cost: Flight to Riga £90. Shooting range £70
Where to stay: Riga, Latvia
Top item on any bucket list should always be ‘to shoot a man in Reno’. But that’ll get you done for murder and it’s too expensive to visit America. So you’re better off heading for a place like Latvia where they’ll gladly let you get your paws on a fuck-load of high-powered weaponry.
This is a shooting range on the outskirts of Riga; it used to be where the KGB practiced shooting dissidents. The civilised gun laws here mean that anyone can wander in off the street and start going postal. You’ll have a choice of weapons: a Glock, a Winchester pump-action shotgun or one of them cool ‘Saiga’ sniper rifles you always see in FPS games.
They won’t let you shoot any helicopters or zombies but they will give you a couple of minutes training and then let you shoot live ammo on a range. You’ll get about an hour’s worth for £70. It’s best to have a few bevs beforehand, just to steady the hand.
Breakfast Eating Challenge, UK
Cost: Travelodge £39 Breakfast £10.95
Where to stay: Bolton
The big thing about this bucket list malarkey is finding stuff you can bore your kids with in later life. Unfortunately, if you tick this one off the list, your clogged arteries make it unlikely that you’ll be around that long.
Because this is the most heroically stupid eating challenge the UK has to offer. It’s the Big Breakfast Challenge at Mario’s Cafe in Bolton. What you’re getting here is a plate the size of a dustbin lid sagging under the combined weight of 10 eggs, 10 sausages, 10 rashers of bacon, 10 slices of toast, five black pudding slices and a mountain of tomatoes, mushrooms and baked beans.
To tick this one off you’ll need to comply with Mario’s strict rules – it has to be wolfed down in under 20 minutes. The failure rate for this bad boy is high – about 80 percent. What’s up for grabs here is genuine fat-bastard legend status.
Chernobyl Disaster Site, Ukraine
Cost: Flight to Kiev £100, Tour £80
Where to stay: Kiev, Ukraine
Most of these bucket-list types go for places of natural beauty; Niagara Falls, Everest, Rhyl and all that. But you can see that nature stuff on telly. What is a load more impressive is seeing first-hand the amazing destructive power of man-made radiation.
Yes, this is a trip to Chernobyl; one of the few remaining places on the earth where you won’t find a McDonalds or an Irish bar. What you will find is the closest thing to a real-life video game location which is literally crackling with creepy atmospherics.
You need to book this 10 days in advance so they can sort out a pass to get you into the radiation zone. Then you’ll be taken on a tour of all the cool deserted towns and villages. If you’re lucky, you may even see a 17-foot-high three headed squirrel.
Cotswold Olimpicks, UK
Cost: Bed & Breakfast £32
Where to stay: Gloucester
It’s the year of the Olympics. Wahey!!! The chance of a lifetime to take part in such an incredible event but fuck that. They’re already talking about hotels tripling their prices. No, from a Bargain Bucket list perspective you want to keep well clear and head instead for Chipping Camden.
This little town in Gloucestershire is where the real sporting event of the year is taking place. This is the Cotswold Olimpicks, celebrating its 400th anniversary this year. It’s so old that they didn’t even know how to spell Olympics back then.
Instead of watching people fannying around big stadiums in Lycra, this is the chance to take part in the highlight of the event, the World Shin Kicking Championships. Yes, stuff straw down your trousers and enter a muddy field as you trade shin kicks with a bunch of boozed-up cider yokels.
The real mystery about Jarno Smeets is not whether he can fly like a bird – it’s what he’s trying to flog.
And that’s sad. It’s sad that human inspiration has become a tool to be artificially created and used to market commodities.
It’s sad that whenever we see a video of something like this, something inspirational or extraordinary or moving, that we have become conditioned to expect it to be fake.
It’s sad to read some of the genuine comments from people energised and uplifted by the story of Jarno Smeets; a 31-year-old Dutch man who followed his dream to fly like a bird.
Because the euphoric video where this dream appears to be fulfilled has the overpowering stench of a viral marketing campaign. In a digital age where seeing is no longer believing, it’s hard to prove or disprove the footage itself.
But what can be shown is that the back story presented by Jarno Smeets is a complete fabrication. His various social media profiles refer to him as being a former mechanical engineering student at Coventry University. He then went to work at a local company called Pailton Steering Systems, before moving to Holland to join Philips Design.
Nobody from any of these organisations has any record of Jarno Smeets.
Nanda Huizing, head of communications at Philips Design, said: “We really don’t have a clue who this person is. We have checked and double checked but there’s nobody called Jarno Smeets who has ever worked here.
“This is a matter we will be looking into to try and find out why these false claims have been made, but from what we understand, he doesn’t suggest his flying video is connected to Philips.”
Pailton Steering Systems in Coventry were similarly bemused. A spokesman said: “We’ve checked back and he’s never worked here. We’ve even put in some checks with our Dutch office and there’s nothing at all.”
When you look at the blog posts and various social media profiles you see evidence of a carefully constructed narrative and few signs of genuine lives being lived. Everything is too neat. Too cute.
Like the heartwarming story of Jarno taking his inspiration from some dusty plans he finds in his attic; long-lost designs for a flying-machine drawn-up by his grandfather. The fact that his dutiful assistant is a photogenic student who appears to be studying dreams – but not at any particular university.
There is also the fact that the majority of Jarno Smeets’ profiles were set-up on July 4, 2011 with little sign of his existence on the Internet before that date.
It’s obvious that a fair amount of time and money has gone into creating this story, something which suggests it’s connected to a corporation rather than being the hoax of an individual.
And the pernicious nature of viral marketing means that just by identifying this as fake, is helping to achieve its objective.