Sunday, May 24, 2009
Mario Kart: Traded some stuff in today and bought this used ($40) with two used "Whiils" ($7 each). Played it for approximately two hours and have realised that this isn't just a good reason to own a Wii, it might even be a good reason for living. What. A. RIOT.
Opera Browser: Oh, what a disappointment. And a waste of 500 Wii points. If this had come free, I could probably look past its faults and say "oh well, no harm no foul", but the fact that it cost money just makes it's shiteyness all the more insulting. This is the twenty-first century, if people don't have a computer at home, chances are they can get online at work for most of the day, or are able to do their essential online to-ing and fro-ing via their cellphone. So the only real use for a browser on your Wii is for video services like YouTube and Hulu, right? In the ideal world, yes. In Nintendo's world, it's a big, fat, 'no'. Hell, YouTube even offer a "big print" version of their site, specifically designed for viewing on a TV! But the Opera browser is so behind on Flash updates, that trying to watch something fullscreen on YouTube is like watching security camera footage. I'd be shocked if it was as high as four frames per second - and just to put that into perspective, regular telly is 30fps. (25 in Britain) In the smaller window, it fares only slightly better, at roughly 15 frames per second. It's fine if all you want to see is "baby laughs at spoon", but if you want, say, PBS's Nova on demand, you're buggered. Checking my mail on it was frustrating what with all the zooming and such, reading news was pointless since there's a perfectly adequate news channel on the Wii's main screen, and listening to online radio's a no-no thanks to Opera's inability to stream audio. So... really. What's the point? Playing simplistic flash games? Woo. Hold me back. Firefox, please rescue us from this shite and develop a real Wii browser.
Pro Evolution Soccer 08: Got this one free a month or so back thanks to a 'buy two get one' deal on used games, but I only picked it up this weekend because I knew I was going to have to have some peace and quiet to get used to the gameplay. Jeesh... if you had asked me about this 48 hours ago, I would have put it at the top of my 'to trade' list. I've been a Fifa faithful since the mid 1990s, when I had my PS1. That's before it was even the PS1, it was just the PS! Put it this way: I've been married to Fifa for longer than I've been married to my wife! Since then, I've casually kept up with the franchise and used my "pass and dribble to the top left, pass back and down in front of the box, wiggle around the defenders, circle button" technique to great success. Then, via various good reviews, I decided to forgo Fifa on the Wii and pick up the game that all the sports nuts were talking about. And lemme tell ya... my learning curve isn't what it used to be, so when you dump me in the middle of a game that should be familiar, and allllll of the controls are different, it's frightening. Rather than being controlled by the anologue stick, players are now dragged around the field by Wiimote, almost as if they've been lassooed. Shots at goal are achieved by twitching the nunchuck instead of mashing the circle button. Tackling? Forget it. It's got the same hit and miss ratio as trying to find something amusing on Comedy Central: overwhelmingly miss. Tackling is a big part of my football game. If the opponent has the ball, he's going down. If that means I'm playing with eight players, so be it. PES's tackling technique appears to be 'highlight the offending player, drag a defender over to him, pray.' I count myself as being spiritual, but I'm not much of a praying man. I've not prayed for many things in life; health and success, mostly, and you can see how that's worked out for me. Praying to get the ball off an opposing player in PES has the same result.
That said, I'm warming to it. It's clunky and awkward at times, but perhaps that's a more accurate representation of the real game. Particularly Scottish football. What I loved about Fifa was that the same tricks outfoxed the artificial intelligence almost invariably. Maybe not knowing how to swindle PES makes for a better playing experience, even if it does meet with less league success. We'll see. I'll stick with it for a while longer. The on-screen graphics are a bit annoying, and the players small during gameplay, making my elderly eyes even less compatible with my eight year old 27" scratched screen TV, but it looks nice overall. The players in the game move very much like real players do, but they've not mastered making people's faces not look like weird masks instead of actual people in close-up. Realistically, that advancement is probably a long way off.
Party Fun Pirate: Remember that old game where you had to jam swords into a barrel and hope that the pirate wasn't going to pop up? What was that called again? You know the one - the one where you lost if the pirate popped up. Anyway, for a mere 500 Wii points ($5 more or less), the Wii version of that game can be yours, and it's riotously good fun. Use the T-pad to pick a hole in which to shove your sword, old down A, poke your Wiimote. Simple, but fun. It's not got a whole lot of sound variety, which means the "oi, captaaain!" and plinky plonky tunes take on a Chinese water torture feel to them after an hour or so's worth of play, but the ability to play with one Wiimote and pass it, or with up to 4 other Wiimotes makes it a great way to waste an hour with friends or family. Two hours, possibly, if wine is involved. Well worth the points.
Cue Sports: Another 500-point WiiWare purchase comes up trumps! Ever since the days of Jimmy White's Whirlwind Snooker on the Amiga, I've loved playing pool/billiards/snooker on the computer. I'm rubbish at it in real life, because there are no lines that show you where your shot's going to go, but on the computer... watch out. Cue Sports has 'em all, including 9-ball, pool AND snooker, so it's great to have the choice between them. The in-game music, like that of Party Fun Pirate, has a shelf life of approximately nineteen seconds, but after you've muted that, you're set to go. You can play like a Billy No-Mates and pot all the balls by yourself, play a game against the computer or play online with a friend, which is a nice feature, but yet another reason that Nintendo's reluctance to include some sort of all-game voip communication makes playing with someone you know no different than playing the artificial intelligence. All in all, it would be a game that could easily retail for $15-20, so dropping the equivalent of $5 is a steal. There's a great Geordie review of the game here, which explains the faults (including faulty snooker rules) and advantages much better than I could. And in a far cooler accent.
I've got my eyes on a few games that I'll try and pick up if the opportunity arises; Wii Fit is on my radar as is - surprisingly - the Shawn White snowboarding game, which looks like a lot of fun. Is there anything that my fellow Wii-ers recommend as a must-have?
Friday, May 22, 2009
I should point out that there are some legitimate talents on You Tube. One of those people is a You Tube member called "kutiman", who has found a way to take the "look at me! look at me! FOR CHRIST'S SAKES, LOOK! AT! ME!!!" crowd of You Tube and turn it into something valuable. In the tradition of Portishead, a band that didn't sample songs as a backing track to go "ice ice baby" over, but instead took miniscule portions of songs and used them as instruments, Kutiman takes The Drum Guy, The Keyboard Guy, The Cello Guy and The Singer, re-jiggs and re-orders what they do, and combines them together. There's not a scrap of original footage in his videos, it's all recycled - and it's amazing. And I mean "omfg" amazing, particularly when you consider all the work - mental, musical and physical - that goes into creating these songs.
You can check out the whole album of 'found footage' here, at http://thru-you.com/. Here's the best one, though:
It took twenty-one samples to make it, and Kutiman links to all the originals on the main You Tube page. Stick with the song until at least 4:38. It's well worth it.
Friday, May 15, 2009
Buzzardbilly and I are from totally different worlds, and as a result, I either learn something not previously known, or a pre-conceived idea I had about something is challenged. Y'see, DoubleB is an expert on this fair state of mine, specifically the people at the lower end of the poverty line. I see irresponsible rednecks, she sees people who are trapped by circumstances and act in the only way they know how to. She's from Boone County, a part of the state in which one could easily take any joke about hicks, 'necks or hillbillies ever heard on Hee-Haw or a Foxworthy routine and turn it into a factual anecdote.
I keed, naturally, but her writings on that subject are so challenging to my big city European attitudes that they have often caused me to stop mid-sentence to really absorb what I've just read. Our philosophies don't match all the time. Our conclusions don't match all the time. But I freaking LOVE that. When someone smart and competent puts together a compelling argument that is completely counter to where my head is on a subject, it's like a whole new door opens.
So for some reason, maybe to make up the numbers, DoubleB decided to give me an award. Quoth teh buzz: " Spike Nesmith (is) interesting, seems to have a whole extra dollop of the old grey matter, and finds a way to share heaps of knowledge in quick succession." Mrs Spike will tell you that that last part isn't necessarily a good thing - just the other day she was subjected to a half hour lecture on how the Americans and the Irish seem to be perfectly able to make talk radio that works and is profitable, but the British can't. She's also had to hear, at length, why the BBC's Test Card F is one of the most legitimately awe-inspiring, iconic and beautiful pieces of art, because it looks great, it defines a generation and there's not a square inch of it that's not there for a reason. It's a good job I've got good looks and money, or she'd be off.... oh, wait.
So - this award. Here it is. It's called "The Bella Award". Don't ask me why. I don't know.
It's nice though, isn't it? I'm officially "lovely". But, like all good free things, the award comes with strings. And here, via the gift of cut and paste, are those strings -
"The Bella Rules:
1) Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award, and his or her blog link.
2) Pass the award to 15 other blogs that you've newly discovered. Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award"
In case you missed it up at the top, here is the link to Buzzardbilly's blog: http://buzzardbilly.blogspot.com/
As for the second proviso, I decided to embrace the spirit of New Media, and use its immediate interactivity to full effect. I've got to pick fifteen blorgs, right? How about this... how about I pick seven blogs and you, the reader, nominate a few of YOUR favourites that I might not have discovered and you think I might like? And then, for the last one... umm.. I don't know. Maybe I'll pick an ultimate winner. Bella Plus. Yes, that's a good idea. I'll research your suggestions and unveil the second seven in a later post. So get linking in the comments section and, in the meantime, onwards!
1 - No surprise here, it's my talk radio/podcasting mucker and fellow Chinee obsessive, Mr Paul Higginbotham. http://redzeppelin.wordpress.com/ It's rare that he posts something that doesn't inspire a snort of approval or laughter. In fact, I think the only post I remember was the one where he typed "all work and no play make Paul a dull boy" a bunch of times. That one was just... unsettling.
2 - Everyone's favourite film geek, The Film Geek. http://thefilmgeek.blogspot.com/ I get the feeling that once this award gets around the circle of Charleston/Huntington 30s-ish bloggers, every other post on his blog will be a response to a Bella Award. Filmy, in my case, you are excused having to pick ANOTHER 15 bloggers. Just take the damn thing and run, and keep being awesome.
3 - Iiiiiiit's All Click! http://allclick.blogspot.com/ Clickers and I have very similar circumstances and experiences, being 'furnrs' and all. Whether it's the frustration of ordering in the drive-through at Tudor's or the joy of finding proper Heinz baked beans in Kroger, I always feel like he manages to take the minutia of the reactions to those experiences and make them interesting and readable. Plus, he's got cute cats. And who doesn't like cute cats?
4 - I laboured over this one, since it seems to be the abandoned mansion of WV blogs, but... Jedi Jawa: http://not-my.blogspot.com/ Assuming that he will, one day, post again, every word JJ writes down is both an education and a tapestry of description. Any time I write a blog post that goes over three paragraphs, I feel like I'm droning on. But JJ's posts are so easy to read and structured so incredibly well that most of the time, they don't seem like they're long enough. I should say something along the lines of "i don't know where he finds the time to write those mammoth posts", but since the blog has been rather Marie Celested since February, I don't know if that rings true anymore. Come back, Jedi!
5 - If there's another blogger in West Virginia whose political views are more diametrically opposed than mine, I'd be shocked. But that doesn't stop me from picking Muze Euterpe as my next pick - http://muzeuterpe.wordpress.com/ Believe it, two people who should be mortal enemies can trade ideas and views and not have it turn into a mudslinging contest. And on the internet, too! Whoda thunk? Muze and I have butted heads over many issues, particularly during election season, but always with respect. Well, except for that time she called me a douchebag and threw a brick through my window with "communist assbag" written on it. Without breaking out that hideously worn free-speech cliche about fighting to the death, I'd gladly give ANYONE a chinese burn who would fight against Muze telling it as she sees it. At LEAST a chinese burn. Maybe even a slightly-too-hard noogie.
6 - Can you smell the ramp pizza? Can you hear the sounds of a mid-80s WWF DVD coming from a widescreen HDTV? Then you must be close to Chris James' blog - http://sourappletree.blogspot.com/ I think most bloggers could boil their writings down to one high-concept sentence. CJ's blog... not so much. And that's what makes it worth coming back for. Between the ongoing "ASAT picks" series, the food reviews, the YouTube clips and the "where in the bloody hell did THAT come from" moments, it's everything a good blog should be; Totally disorganised and inexplicably random. Hey - I've only just realised that in the two (maybe even three) years I've been reading CJ's ongoing adventures, I have never questioned what "...A Sour Apple Tree" means, or where it comes from. Hmm. Odd.
7 - I can't let this one go by, even in the knowledge that it will mean absolutely nothing to 99% of the people who come here, but let me at least give you some back story before you click on it, scratch your head, and say "ooooooo-kay." Some years ago, there was a website called "Some Of The Corpses Are Amusing", which had vast, info-rich sections on British comedy. One of the most fascinating sections dealt with edits that had been made to certain programmes, and for what reasons. Now, as far as I know, this information wasn't available anywhere else, but it was backed up with production notes, dates and, often, quotes and comments from the people who were involved in the productions themselves. But in addition to that was a beautifully airtight sense of irony and sarcasm - never too much, never too little. It was an antedote to the TV Cream website, whose success and status as the kings of the sarcastic sneer had gone to their heads, rendering it almost unreadably smug rather than delightfully disrespectful. Where did "SOTCAA" go? I have no idea. There's rumblings of a legal issue. But one of the contributors has started a blog which, though sporadically updated, retains that wonderful tone that made the website so brilliant: http://sotcaa.net/blogcaa/ The good news is that the website still exists, albeit in a radically stripped down form: http://web.ukonline.co.uk/sotcaa/ The Monty Python section, if you're a fan, is required reading before you claim out loud again that you "know a fair bit about Python".
OK, so... your turn. Recommend a blog to two (or three) that you think will tickle my fancy. It might be one I already read that deserves some mad props, it might be one I've never heard of. But let me know in the comments section below.
Monday, May 11, 2009
The Paul And Spike Show 109: Original Radio Six International broadcast, Friday May 8th 2009
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00:00 Roger Slipknott dips into the BBC radio archive, bringing you exclusive off-air clips not heard since 1978, when The Dark Lord Satan sat in for Simon Bates on Radio 1. Satan, apparently, is none too happy with his newsreader. Uh-oh.
03:36 Right, enough rubbidge. Our Heroes make a triumphant return, having spent two weeks on the beach, sipping drinks and looking at the lovely ladies. Not really, but you will find out where they've been for the past fortnight, and hear of an upcoming exclusive offer from Time-Life! Paul looks back to his very first car, where the stereo and the brake lights just couldn't get along.
20:21 The Boys sift through the week's news in a country music stylee in "Pickin' and Grinnin'". Expect the NBC Nightly News to take on a similar format soon...
22:54 It's This Week In Stuff! Ergo, "the stuff that we're inta". The Boys discuss what's on their nightstands; "The Name Of The Wind" (spoiler alert! The name is revealed!) and a book about presidential campaigns that Spike is enjoying, but can't remember. (it's "Presidental Campaigns" by Paul Boller, by the way). Has Paul been watching a Scat movie? You betcha! Spike ruins a movie for a couple of cheeky teenage girls, and there's also some discussion about Paul's DSi, Spike's Wii, and why Nintendo are receiving an utter spanking by Microsoft and Sony over their online content. GEEK ALERT!
49:40 Meanwhile! In the Halls Of Justice! Superman! And Batman! Have unionised! It's "Over/Under", in which Our Heroes pick an over-rated cartoon series from their youth, and one under-rated one. Also, were Hannah Barbera demon recyclers? Did Tweety deserve everything he got? Oh - they need your help! Get in touch via email, the Facegroup Book or in the comments section below, and tell us what your Over/Under rated cartoons were. The parameters are any cartoon series made between 1965 and 1985.
Think you'd be a good guest on the show? The Boys are aiming for a summer of guests, so if you'd like to get in on the action, email the show and let 'em know. Whether you have a specialty, something to plug, or you just want to hang out, you're always welcome. Skype's your best option, but we'd also be happy to call you on the phone to join in, too.
The Paul And Spike Show airs weekly, every Friday night on the mighty Radio Six International, from 11pm UK time and 6pm US eastern time. It also airs on 88.5 World FM in Wellington New Zealand at 7pm Saturday night local time. You can listen online every Saturday morning at 2am US eastern, or 6am UK time. Check out the other great programming on both stations; Radio Six brings you specialist music shows and unsigned artists, plus drama and comedies. World FM's varied schedule includes the best in international news, and music from around the world. You might also hear us on shortwave anywhere in the world, via WBCQ's 5.110MHz and 9.330MHz frequencies.
We love feedback at the show, and there are plenty of ways to get in touch. You can email us at the usual address, or you can book our faces in the Paul And Spike Show Facegroup Book. Or leave a comment below. If you Twitter, you can befriend Spike here, and Paul here.
It would be very awesome indeed for you to spread the good word about the show on your blog or your myspace, or your whatever. Click this link, and it will take you to a .txt file, in which resides the raw html code for you to use. Sounds complicated, but it's really not; it's just a cut and paste job, and the html elves do the rest. It will post the fancy-schmancy flash player you see at the top of the screen plus the direct download and the RSS feed. We'd really appreciate your passing the word on!
Thursday, May 07, 2009
Where I live now, Bedford Falls, it's unusual for something to be in the newspaper and someone not be connected to the subject in some way. There was a fatal car crash not too far from my house a few weeks ago, and within two days I knew more details from the Bedford Falls grapevine than the media did, because I knew A, who knew B who knew C. News, as the minister in "Local Hero" points out, travels fast around here.
In Scotland's largest city, however, it's different. A bigger and more dense population means it's a little more unusual to know the subject of a major news story personally. That's why I was shocked today, when my old high school drama teacher's mugshot turned up in the paper... convicted as part of a child porn ring.
He's been convicted, apparently of some hideous stuff, but I don't know if it would be right to tell you his name. I'm not sure why, it just doesn't feel right. I know since he's now officially a criminal, I could legally tell you. Instead, I'll call him J. If you read the articles, you could probably work it out for yourself.
J taught drama for many years at my high school, and was a huge source of encouragement, to the point where existing plans for a school production were scrapped and I was given control of the whole project, including writer/director/set design/lighting responsibilities, based purely on one piece I had written and my "leadership skills" in the class. He heaped praise on my abilities and strengths.
OK, so... I know what you're thinking: Grooming. Ex-drama teacher convicted on child pornography charges takes 'special interest' in teenage male student. I'd think the same thing, and since reading the article, I've been racking my brains, trying hard to think of incidents or comments or uncomfortable touches that should have been red flags... and I can't think of *any*. Throughout the two years of school (including after hours drama club meetings) J was nothing but professional and extremely encouraging to me and the other drama students in the class. Hell, I can't even think of a time when he physically touched any of us, for any reason. But make no mistake, were it not for J, I wouldn't have had the confidence to get into radio and I probably would have stopped writing altogether (did I hear someone cheering?), but I built a career on that, and all because I had someone in authority, someone that I respected, who encouraged me. You non-kiddyfiddler teachers out there, take note.
Did I know he was gay? Of course I did. Everyone knew, but that didn't matter. It shouldn't matter. Did I think he would be part of a paedophile ring, or charged with possession and distribution of indecent images of children? Never. Not in a million years. Maybe that's what hurts the most, the fact that I didn't know what he was capable of. He had been in trouble with the law before, though. There were rumours after I left school of him being sacked because of an indecency charge, charges which were then dismissed on appeal, but nothing I knew for sure. The accusation, performing "the Chattanooga Choo-Choo" up a back alley (literally and figuratively) with two other men, is behaviour which one could argue is unbecoming of a high school teacher, but it was between three consenting adults, relatively hidden away, in the middle of the night. Bonehead move, but not the end of the world.
I'm not defending him or his actions. He's guilty and I'm glad he's been put away. And for anyone who is part of the old school of punishment and think that British jails are a holiday camp, let me assure you that when it comes to the prisoners that are isolated from the rest of the population for reasons such as this, ways are found for internal justice.
Here's where I'm torn. The guy's been convicted of some pretty horrific stuff. Possession of some really ghastly sounding child porn. Even the British media, which loves to pepper stories with unit-shifting softcore descriptions of anything sexual, are turning away in disgust at the details of this one. But J wasn't just a casual collector of pre-pubescent filth, he was part of the ring that made the stuff, headed by a guy who used his position as babysitter to not only abuse kids, but to take pictures and film of it. Certainly the discovery and dismantling of the ring is a good thing, right?
Flashback to November 1997. 70s glam rock icon and 90s ironic comeback star Gary Glitter takes his laptop to PC World to get fixed, where a repair man discovers a cache of kiddy porn on the hard drive. Thus begins a twelve year jail - foreign country - charges - jail - deportation - foreign country - charges - jail - deportation - foreign country cycle that takes him from Cuba to Cambodia to Thailand to Vietnam and finally back to the UK. Guilty? Yes. Sure. Deserved everything he got? Absolutely. Odd discovery? You betcha.
And so it was also in this case that one of the offending protagonists got caught, thanks to a PC repair man discovering the evidence on his computer. Quoth the BBC article:
The computer belonged to Neil Strachan, 41, a paint company engineer who worked for a firm at the Crown Decorator Centre in Edinburgh.
It had a rogue hard-drive slotted in the back, and when a repair technician began work he was confronted by the image of the naked 11-year-old boy.
I don't look at illegal porn. I don't even have any porn saved on my computer, but if I did, I'd make sure I hid it well enough that if a friend were to use my computer to check their mail, or if I took it to PC World to get repaired, it wouldn't be glaringly obvious. I'd either back my stash of filth up to a DVD and delete it from the computer, or I'd bury it deep and call the folder something innocuous like "Christmas 02". I'm not the smartest or the sneakiest man in the world, so I'd assume that these guys took those cautions at least. I mean, would anyone really have a folder called "Fwaarrrr_Kiddy_Porn" or "TheUnderEightsWankFile" on their computer at all, let alone one that you were going to have a stranger repair?
Which means only one thing... the PC repair guys were snooping. In this case specifically, this ominous sounding "rogue hard-drive" was most likely a second drive, often called a Slave Drive, which is actually a great way to backup data. That way, if the drive that runs your operating system gets an error or a virus, your data isn't harmed; you take it out and plonk it into another computer. So in order to be "confronted" with this image, he had to have been rooting around in a drive that he had no business rooting around in. If the issue was with the operating system - and I'd have to assume it was, otherwise why would he need to have it repaired - then there would be no reason to access the slave drive. And let's look even deeper, into the issue of being "confronted by the image of an 11 year old boy". When were you last "confronted" by anything unexpected on a computer? When was the last time a picture of your Aunt Nan just suddenly appeared out of nowhere? Just popped up without you physically clicking on the icon? I'll answer that question for you: it's never happened.
The argument could be made that this was a desktop background, but the article said that the porn was stashed on that "rogue" drive in the back and not the main one, so that scenario is unlikely. I'm no IT guy, but I know enough to tell you that if an image is stored on a slave drive, which - again - has nothing to do with the day to day comings and goings of the operating system, it's not going to open unless you specifically tell it to open, and you're not going to find it unless you're a nosy bastard, looking in places you have no business looking in.
So, bad men have been put behind bars and who knows how many kids have been spared ongoing abuse. Great news! But remember this fact: if you take your PC in to get repaired by someone, expect the nosy bastard to be snooping around in your folders. Looking at your holiday pictures, jotting down your credit card numbers and passwords, reading - maybe even copying and selling - that novel you've been writing for the past couple of years, backing up your address book and selling your friends' details to spammers, emailing your porn around to their friends.
What if you and your significant other have private pictures of yourselves? What if you have private pictures of your ex on there? What if you have perfectly innocent pictures of your own kids playing in the bath, and the guy who you are paying to crack open your computer and make it work again is part of another paedophile porn ring...? A friend of mine used to work in a photo development shop and believe me, if there were pictures that were worth copying, like the one of the woman who... ahem... 'used' the vodka bottle, they'd be copied and distributed. It happens. It's an absolute breach of trust, but it happens.
Even if you think those things are safe, remember this: nothing will stop the intrusive neb of the PC repair guy. Good or bad, legal or illegal, it will be looked at.
Friday, May 01, 2009
Since writing my previous post, I have whined to quite a few people about the number of hits I get from people a-Googlin', trying to see if I have uncovered the gory Holy Grail of death obsessives; the Christine Chubbuck video. It's been quite shocking to think that there are people out there who are falling over themselves to see this poor woman end her life, some of them writing in eager language about what they think it would look like. Yuck.
No, grizzly death fans, I haven't uncovered the video - as I said in the blog post, if it's not been destroyed by the family, the 2" quad tape will no doubt be unplayable after all this time unless it's been stored properly - but since writing, another gory Holy Grail has turned up: the televised death of comedian Tommy Cooper.
And I watched it. I actively sought it out, and I watched it. Hyp. Oh. Crite.
Unlike Chubbuck's death, which took place in a small market in Florida in the early 1970s when domestic VCRs were out of the average American's pricerange, Tommy Cooper's final moments played out on national television, in primetime, at a time when videotaping was becoming more affordable and widespread. The real miracle, in fact, is that upon these here internets, where whole websites are dedicated to showing crime scene pictures, suicides and 'photos of peeplz what got run over by trains n shit', a recording of the comedian's death hasn't sneaked out until now, a quarter of a century after it flashed around the living rooms of seven million Britons.
Most British people of my generation and above are familiar with his thirty-five year career. I'll spare you the adjectives like "genius" and "comedy great", forgo the worn cliches like "cor blimey, 'ee only had to walk on stage and you'd be larrrfin'!" and "d'yer know, I 'eard 'ee was actually a very good magician!", but to add perspective, Cooper was at the height of his game. Having established and perfected the 'magic tricks going bad' act, he was comedy royalty in Britain, a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, which is why his presence on those familiar late 70s/early 80s variety shows was a given.
The unavailability of his final performance and, thus, lack of detail and hazy memories, has given rise to many apocryphal stories about the incident. I was told in the playground the next day by friends who claimed they had seen it that he had staggered around, said "I'm not feeling very well" and received a massive laugh as he hit the ground like a stone. Newspaper reports claimed that "the audience chuckled as he clutched his chest". Tales have been told that his size thirteen feet continued to poke through the curtains as the show went on to great gales of laughter as CPR was administered backstage. The actual event is less dramatic, albeit still not pleasant to watch, but there is one tragic thread of truth that runs through these tales; the fact that the audience did, indeed, keep laughing as he died.
See, Cooper was a comedian who specialised in the unexpected. The whole point of his act was that he would bring out the cheezy magic tricks and screw them up. Boxes would explode, metal rings would get tangled up, an endless stream of Martini bottles would appear from the tube and he would be unable to stop the onslaught, props would malfunction. He was known even within the industry for adding bits in to his act at the last minute, so when his expression changes and he slumps backwards into the curtain, there's still an undercurrent of laughter from the audience and no-one backstage twigs that something's gone wrong. His peroxide dizzy dolly assistant looks back and giggles at him hunched over before she prances off stage.
What follows feels like an eternity, with Cooper's broad six foot three frame crumpled against the curtain, his final gasps being broadcast around the theatre and around the country by his wireless microphone. The director even mixes in a few wide and close shots, apparently also under the impression that this was part of the act. Cooper's confused expression never changes as he puffs, eventually either being pulled through the curtains or slumping backwards, the trademark fez tumbling comedically off his head, giving the audience one final guffaw, assuming they are all still in on the joke.
The version that's now doing the rounds bears all the telltale signs of it being a home recording. And I'm quite pleased about that, I can't fathom ITV licensing the original clip to anyone, let alone to the show where it eventually ended up. It appeared on You Tube via a Dutch TV show, "De Wereld Draait Door" (literally, "The World Runs Through") which appears to be a sort of cross between 'The Daily Show' and Leno/Letterman. Worse, it was shown on a section where they show 'hilarious' clips from TV around the world, like a Southwest Airline steward rapping safety procedures to his beatboxing passengers, and a fishing show host getting his line jammed in a ceiling fan. Ho ho ho. They did have the good taste not to cut back to the giggling host after the Tommy Cooper clip, though. Instead, they jumped straight to a flashy promo, hawking some of the show's merchandise. Tasty.
What is it that draws us to these clips? What pulls people to search so thoroughly, bother ex co-workers and negotiate trade deals with people for the Chubbuck tape? What draws people to be so obsessed with the tape of R. Budd Dwyer's suicide that they write songs and make movies about it? Why did I cheerily search for the video of Tommy Cooper's last moments, knowing that I'd regret watching it? Knowing that thanks to my own myriad of health issues and heredity that that's probably the way that I'll go too? Do we watch these clips to feel better about our own lives and perceived immortality? Are we looking for a clue that there's something else after death? A look? A smile? A whacking great angel coming down and pulling a white outline of the person upwards?
....or are we just voyeurs who like to watch the things we're told we're not supposed to see?