Sunday, 28 December 2008

Clever and stupid? Pinter and his intelligence

Minette Marrin's column on 'Pinter and the odd literary law of geniuses with crazy politics' in The Times today raises some interesting points.

Marrin asks why it is that, so frequently, our admired, adored creators – be they artists, musicians or (especially) writers – often espouse extreme, distasteful opinions and causes outside their work.

Pinter's a good example. A brilliant playwright. But his extreme, vitriolic anti-Americanism is rabid and slavering. It is one thing to criticise the invasion of Iraq; another to extrapolate that the governments that sanctioned such an invasion are therefore pseudo-Nazi, evil, as dangerous and malicious as the worst dictatorships.

How – the key question – does a man capable of intelligent, nuanced writing adopt so horrendously reductive and willfully blinkered a worldview?

Marrin puts it thus:
Wondering about Pinter’s dotty political positions, I began to understand an odd natural law of literature: creative writers are often silly political commentators. This is puzzling, because we tend to turn to creative writers for wisdom and understanding of the world. However, it is surprisingly often true that they have nothing sensible to say outside their fiction.
The line she takes in explaining this disparity is that creative intelligence is a very different thing from 'critical, logical analysis' – and that writing may indeed be 'an unintellectual knack that some people have naturally ... but which lots of clever people can't do.'

Agree? Sort of.

She's right about different varieties of intelligence. People may be clever in a great variety of ways. Clever with their hands, their quick witticisms, their numbers, their imaginings ...

But I think she overemphasises this line. It is not convincing to argue that writers such as Pinter simply possess 'the gift for [verbal articulacy]', simultaneously lacking 'critical, logical intelligence'. Yes, these are two different forms of intelligence. And, yes, we shouldn't expect brilliant political thought simply because a man has shown himself capable of brilliant drama and human observation.

But there is nevertheless a link between power of expression and power of analytical thought. Surely this is true. The construction of sentences is itself logical. To call something an 'unconscious knack' is a verbal sleight of the hand. The greatest mathematicians, it may be, are unable to explain how they instinctively see patterns in figures – but their mind does it automatically. A great sportsperson does not think through, calculate and rationalise each movement; his or her instincts simply guide unerringly.

The greatest creators – from craftswomen to poets to dancers to composers – are able to harness their instincts and channel this raw talent.

Indeed, logic and critical analysis are like shovel and trowel alongside the JCB of instinctive intelligence. When we reason something out or construct a logical argument, we find ourselves mired in slow, painstaking work. Intuition, by contrast, is chaotic, penetrating, immensely powerful.

There is no such thing, I submit, as 'logical, analytical intelligence'. Intelligence implies a spark of inspiration and of intuition. Logic and analysis imply deliberate pedestrianism. Which is in no sense to demean these fine tools. How many Egyptian tombs would've been excavated by JCBs?

But those who are gifted in the realm of logic and analysis possess an enviable degree of patience. Of restraint. Of measuredness and orderliness.

And this quality is in marked opposition to the ability to make conceptual leaps. To use the power of instinctive intelligence (the 90% of our brains that deals with unconscious thought) suddenly to surge above the gridlocked city streets of rational thought, into the realm of inspiration, insight, creativity, invention.

I do not seek to argue that rational analysers are incapable of intuitive leaps, or inspired creators incapable of reasoned argument. But there is a pattern discernable in human advances – be they literary, scientific, political – throughout history: inspiration forges ahead; analysis then consolidates. Those that make the leaps are seldom those that carry out the meticulous post-rationalisation. Who fill in the gaps. Thus our 'geniuses' tend either to be chaotic and farseeing or methodically neat and more modest in their scope.

There are, of course, exceptions. Einstein. Shakespeare. Joyce.

But Pinter – to get back to the original subject – is no member of that select party. He is of the chaotic, instinctive school.

We need to think about what it is that drives a person like Pinter to creative greatness.

It is not enough that a great writer should simply possess a brilliant, fluent, distinctive, original writing technique. He/she often also needs the ability singlemindedly, doggedly to pursue an idea or theme – often in spite of criticism, derision, indifference ...

One kind of person that tends to rise to the top in creative spheres is the kind that is very good at establishing an audacious new idea or methodology – often pretty extreme – and sticking to it. Someone with an extraordinary persistence alongside a new way of looking at things. And, frequently, iconoclastic tendencies.

These people burn with the force of their conviction, requiring no other fuel. They are sustained by their grand concept, casting aside objections and hindrances, pursuing always the shimmering ideal.

Is it, then, so remarkable that such people as this be seduced by extreme creeds and dogmas? The pattern of their creative craft is to cede the full force of their intellect to the unquestioning service of their inspiration.

In a realm such as politics, sadly, it is all too often the extreme, the divisive, the aggressive arguments that glimmer most seductively, with a conceptual purity that belies their smallmindedness.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

A la recherce des odeurs perdus ... OR ... Through The Nose Of A Child

Mmmmm. Nice. This one's for you, ladies.


I been away a long time.

The closing words, if memory serves me right, to Ken Kesey's One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest – uttered by a narrator who has finally made his escape from a mental asylum.

(Please do not read too much into this allusion.)

[Cough]

Returning to my parental home for Yuletide, I discovered that I'd been away a long enough time for my bedroom to have been refurbished. Or, more accurately, stripped bare, in preparation for refurbishment.

This discovery affected me relatively little (I suffered, I confess, no great pang of loss. Heartless, non?). Until, that is, the consequential olfactory deprivation struck me.

For numbered amongst the items cast into the abyss (quite reasonably) by my parents was a certain, exhausted deodorant. Possessed of the kind of scent that only a blocked-nosed eskimo might be fooled into considering 'citrussy', it had nevertheless provided a nasal counterpoint to many of the leitmotifs of my teenage years.

My first foray to Birmingham's mighty clubland – bedecked handsomely in two-tone shirt, acrylic black trousers clinging with static to my spindly adolescent legs? It was with me then.

My school's (misguidedly entitled) Leavers' Ball – held, grandly enough, in the school dining hall – at which I found myself exchanging more words (and certainly more lucid words) with my teachers than the hoodlums of my own age? It was with me then.

My first student 'bop', at which 'ironical' youngsters gyrated alarmingly while condensed sweat dripped from the stone ceiling? It was with me then.

I confess that it had become the Intellectual Hooligan's habit, when returning to the parental abode, to avail himself of a surreptitious – yet narcotically intense – nostalgia hit from this venerable item, for which 'body spray' is too cursory a denomination. It was my homecoming.

And now it is lost.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Does [Merry Christmas] Offend You (Yeah)?

I've been reading and commenting upon the latest thought-provoking piece on Penelope Trunk's Brazen Careerist blog.

(This blog, incidentally, is one of my RSS staples. I'd struggle to identify an RSS subscription which more consistently delivers intelligent, stimulating, original content to my feedreader. By no means do I always agree with Ms Trunk's post (though often I do); I simply always want to know what she's writing about. Win.)

Anyhow, rhapsody aside, the post that caught my attention criticises the pro-Christian bias inherent in making Christmas Day a mandatory holiday. Rightly, in my opinion.

What I want to write about, though, is an issue that arose in the comments beneath the post. And it is this: a good number of people seem to take offence from being wished 'Happy Christmas'.

Is it only me that finds this utterly bizarre?

How can one possibly, genuinely, take powerful exception to another human being demonstrating positive sentiment towards them? If I wish someone a merry Christmas, I certainly do not assume them to be Christian. I do not assume them necessarily even to celebrate Christmas. What the greeting means – to my mind – is:

'This is a time of year at which many people, including myself, celebrate and exchange good wishes. As you are someone whose wellbeing I care about, to whatever degree, I join in the custom and extend my good wishes to you, pegged arbitrarily enough on the fact that it's Christmas.'

Heck, maybe that's what I should say. Christmas cards next year are going to be RSI-inducing.

(Who'm I kidding? The Intellectual Hooligan never gets round to sending Christmas cards.)

Would anyone be offended if a member of a faith other than Christianity were to extend good wishes on the occasion of their own religious festival?

I guess the issue is that, in traditionally Christian-dominated cultures, ubiquitous Christmas wishes may have the effect of intimidating Christmas non-celebrators.

But ought our efforts to be channeled into promoting acceptance of the festivals and customs of all faiths and cultures – rather than taking offence (rather wilfully, it seems to me) at what is surely a positive sentiment?

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Comedy Photomashup


The above image, courtesy of The Times blog, prompted an intellectual snort or two of laughter (the original image is from the film Ghost). So I thought I'd share the snorts.

I think – more than anything – it's the look on Blair's face. Fantastic.

Read the full Fantasy Face Swap post on the Times Blog – there are a few more amusing/disturbing mashups. Boris Brown, Hillary Putin ...

Negligence of the highest order

My dear blogprodders, may I apologise profusely for neglecting y'all of late. It's been – by turns – a busy and sickly time for your favourite (dare I presume to be your favourite?) hooligan.

By means of apology, I give you:

The Evil Actifed Guy



PS  The Evil Actifed Guy is the one on the box. Don't pretend you needed me to tell you that.

PPS  Don't spend too long looking at my hand in this image. It's a little like something by MC Escher, in its 'is that physically possible?' quality. Or possibly HR Geiger, in its eerie, tortured hybridity of organic and pseudo-mechanical. Troubling.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Hamlet -- regurgitated

Now, many months back (in the sun-soaked days of June), the Intellectual Hooligan penned a paragraph or ten on the subject of Hamlet. It's a play. You may've heard of it.

The collection of paragraphs was entitled: Shakespeare Hated Hamlet

(Provocative? Me?)

Since then, the kind folk at Bardblog saw fit to include the post in their Shakespeare blog carnival. To them I raise my glass: many thanks.

Last night, I received a lengthy and considered comment on that original post from an individual named Willshill. Read it, if you please ...

... And I started replying to Willshill. Indeed, I notched up a few paragraphs in my initial reply. But – as ever, as ever – I found myself with too much to say.

So this post was born:


… Hamlet – Regurgitated

The story of Hamlet wouldn't have been new to Shakespeare's audience

As a result, they would have had expectations of a play called Hamlet

Specifically, they'd have been expecting a bloodbath. Low on the thinking, high on the gore. Like turning up at the cinema to a popular thriller.

Even more specifically, they'd have had expectations of the Hamlet character himself. They'd have expected him to be a heavyweight. A fighter. A Bruce Willis in Die Hard type chap.

This is because Hamlet fitted into a hackneyed type of character in Elizabethan drama: the Revenger. There was a whole genre of Revenge Tragedies – basically, an excuse for a slaughterfest. Everyone dies at the hands of the bloodthirsty hero.

SO ... audience turn up at Hamlet expecting a thriller. A simple, easy-to-understand, eye-for-an-eye, gaping-flesh-wound type play.

The (amazing, inspired) first line of the play – 'Who's there?' straight away alerts us to the major theme of the play (one of Shakey's faves): identity. Nobody knows who is who.

This extends to the audience themselves. They do not know who is their hero. They are expecting – remember – a macho killer.

(It's easy for us to forget this, because we're so familiar with Hamlet, thanks to centuries of Shakespeare reverence. So Shakespeare's Hamlet is the one conjured up in our minds. But the original audience would have had utterly the opposite preconception.)

When Hamlet does show his colours, in Shakespeare's play, it becomes clear, fairly quickly, that he is not the Revenger the audience has been expecting. He is all talk and thought. He hesitates. He doesn't do anything.

This is a major, major subversion.

Imagine turning up to the latest Saw movie (I've never actually seen any of these, so forgive me a rather vague analogy) and finding that instead of horrific violence, you got some guy who kept rhapsodising about the nature of life and death, and whenever he did kill someone, it was pretty much by accident and almost comical.

This is what Shakespeare was doing. Audience-baiting of the highest degree.

Hence my irreverent turn of phrase: he gave the audience an emo-kid rather than a muscleman.

But where he is brilliant – of course – is in showing us that this is far, far more interesting than the tedious revenge tragedy we were expecting.

Showing us that drama just as powerful may be created without a barbaric, raving lunatic of a lead character.

(Taking Arnold Schwartznegger out of Terminator 2 and replacing him with, oh, I don't know – Jake Gyllenhaall).

I believe, then – to bring this back round to Willshill's thought-provoking comment – that Hamlet is emphatically not a paralyzed person of action. Indeed, the point is (in my reading) that he's not a person of action, full stop. He never has been.

He's not paralysed by indecision, or freudian tension or cowardice or anything; he is simply not that kind of guy.

Because, to be fair, how many of us are?

The audience's gut reaction, perhaps, would be disappointment: Hey! No fair! Where's the blood, the drama, the melodramatic rhetoric? What's all this realism? We came here expecting good, honest, simple blood'n'guts!

But Hamlet's enduring appeal proves: psychological tension and complexity is more interesting. No surprise.

In my original post, then, I wanted to bring it around to the fact that – when Hamlet does finally start acting like the cliched revenger ("Now could I drink hot blood!" he cries – pretty extreme (and pretty unconvincing), from the guy who gave us 'To be or not to be?' an act or two ago, right?) – when Hamlet starts to go into cliche revenge mode – then Shakespeare loses patience with him.

After all, everyone knew how the story of Hamlet ended. And there really did have to be a bloodbath. Old Bill Shakes couldn't avoid it in the end.

But once Hamlet starts acting like a cutout figure (acting, in other words, in the way that a lesser playwright would've made him act throughout the play) – it's at that point that Shakespeare takes away Hamlet's soliloquies. Because he's become two-dimensional. Boring.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

'This Is Not News'


I've just spent a face-achingly amusing few minutes perusing the comments on the Guardian website in response to John Sergeant's withdrawal from the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing.

Entertaining were such perspectives as:

1) SCD is a programme for people who love watching high-quality dance. Those who voted for Sergeant were not real SCD fans, just 'having a laugh'. (Sidesplitting, eh? That's my idea of a screaming Saturday night jape.)

2) We should bemoan Sergeant's success in the contest (despite his paucity of talent) out of sympathy for those other more talented celebrities, to whom his presence is a wounding affront. (Diddums for the poor celebrities. How their poor hearts must bleed.)

And, most hilariously (and frequently/vociferously stated):

3) This is not news!

No, my friend, this is news. You may not like it, but it's news. So much so, you pissing idiot, that you are yourself commenting on an article about it.

News is what people read/watch/listen to. Current events. There is an infinite number of potential 'news' items at any second. What makes the difference as to what is reported and what is not is – [frickin' drumroll] – public interest.

I'd be prepared to bet that this story has already garnered (and will continue to garner) extraordinarily high reader-counts and comments. Things aren't headlined on the Guardian website solely on the whim of the editors. They are highly-placed because they are read by many people.

Newspapers don't just print stuff and hope. And the newspaper that ignored the interests of its readers would be pretty sodding short-lived.

Think about it, idiot commenters. Or, alternatively, go stand on your soapbox outside a MacDonalds and start yelling: 'This is not dinner!'

Fools.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Ghost cars


Sadly, this is rather late for Hallowe'en. Nevertheless – behold! the terrifying Ghostcars!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Autumnal Hooliganism


Now, a proper, dyed-in-the-wool, hooligan – mayhap one of a less cerebral bent – would've given this the kicking it deserves.

Right?

Your hero, of course, walked meekly on by.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

My US Election Hero is ...


As Flickering Too Long says, Obama's victory speech was excellent. And last night was moving in many ways.

Obama himself is a mesmerising figure, and one (as object of such attention, such rhapsody, such excitement) by whom it is easy to be moved. (Which does not in any way detract from the man's talents.) Many people, no doubt, have been touched by Barack Obama, despite never having met the fellow. We've somehow got to know him over the past year or so. We feel a connection.

So far so unremarkable. The headline 'People Feel Connection to Obama!' ain't going to sell many newspapers.

But what about all those other people with whom – as a result of this election – we might feel a connection?

Over the past months, I feel I have formed a one-way e-bond with Michael Tomasky, of the Guardian – whose Tomasky Talk video blogs have followed the American election (he also writes).

At first, I found his tendency occasionally to sniff, resonantly, mid-sentence, extremely distracting. And I'm not about to claim that this has since become a habit I cherish.

However, I'm fascinated by the transformation that has occurred. At first, I watched the videos purely for their substantial content – slightly frustrated by the fact that video, by nature, is so much slower than the written word.

But, of late, I've found myself watching for Tomasky. Wanting to get his take. And wanting to see him give it.

How curious.

His latest (perhaps final?) American election piece was rather affecting. Watch it, why don't you? I've come to think that this is an incredibly pleasant, intelligent and sensitive human being. And will miss regular Tomasky talk bulletins should they (as I fear) cease.

***

One pundit, however, by whom I was not impressed is David Dimbleby – whose chairmanship of the BBC's election night coverage I found (at points) exceptionally irritating.

I cannot stand it when some pompous, establishment-endorsed arsehole has to have an answer for everything. Whenever a guest or co-presenter made a joke or flippant comment, Dimbleby had to come clunking in with some kind of rejoinder to undermine the attempt. He came across as impatient, frequently humorless and self-important.

When you're as well-established, respected and (I have no doubt) well-off as Dimbleby, you don't need to get the bloody last word in every exchange. It impresses nobody.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

What does one drink on such a night as this?

So: it's election night.

Therefore, despite a general tendency not to consume more than token amounts of alcohol on weeknights, the Intellectual Hooligan has cracked open a bottle of Election Day Pinot Grigio.

(Er ... It's not actually called that, you understand.)

Ah ... Limpid, complex, aromatic ... I'm getting citrus oils, elderflower – a hint of gooseberry. Elegant ... Balanced...

Actually, it's a couple of steps away from cats' piss. It's Pinot Grigio, for Christ's sake. Insubstantial yet harshly astringent; cheap, designed for the mass market. In tribute to Sarah Palin, therefore, I raise my pinot-grigio-filled glass.

That's what I get for buying Marks & Spencer 'Eat In For 10 pounds'. Heck, I had to choose something – and it was either that or the cheap Australian Chardonnay...



For the record: it's easy to slate Palin. And, by internet standards, I've probably been fairly subtle, here. But – my spittle-drenched opposition to every last one of her views, my wholesale condemnation of her politics and my heartfelt wish that McCain had not seen fit to cheapen his ticket thus aside – I say without bitterness or hostility: this woman has performed sodding brilliantly, given her inexperience.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Juicy flies in the web


To mark the end of the month of October, the Intellectual Hooligan presents you with a number of web-bound nuggets into which any e-spider would surely be glad to sink her fangs.
  • My enviably creative and observant friend Rebecca blogs about adopted objects. This is an enormously RSS-friendly blog in general – a feedreading treat. Have a look at bespectacled man with moustache – and then subscribe.
  • Over at the superbly-titled Flickering Too Long, meanwhile, there's a review of the Coen Brothers' Burn After Reading. A film I am now determined to see ...
  • The Anglo-Buddhist Combine (explanation of the blog's title) is substantially better-informed and more lucid than the Intellectual Hooligan on matters political. I recommend this piece on US politics.
  • Finally, this article about the poetry of spires is rather interesting (was originally published in the Chicago Tribune, but far better-presented by Slow Painting). The prose tends toward the purple at times, but nevertheless worth a look.

Friday, 31 October 2008

The Article I've Been Looking Forward To Reading All Week

Paragraph two of the article I've been looking forward to reading all week:
"For all the shortcomings of the campaign, both John McCain and Barack Obama offer hope of national redemption [in the eyes of the world]. Now America has to choose between them. The Economist does not have a vote, but if it did, it would cast it for Mr Obama. We do so wholeheartedly ..."
A few more choice excerpts:
"McCain has bravely taken unpopular positions – for free trade, immigration reform, the surge in Iraq, tackling climate change and campaign-finance reform. A western Republican in the Reagan mould, he has a long record of working with both Democrats and America's allies.

If only the real John McCain had been running."

"Most of the hoopla about [Obama] has been about what he is, rather than what he would do."

"There is no getting around the fact that Mr Obama's resume is thin ... [but] a man who started with no money and few supporters has out-thought, out-organised and out-fought the two mightiest machines in American politics – the Clintons and the conservative right."
And the concluding paragraph:
"[In some ways] Mr Obama is a gamble. But the same goes for Mr McCain on at least as many counts, not least the possibility of President Palin. And this cannot be another election where the choice is based merely on fear. In terms of painting a brighter future for America and the world, Mr Obama has produced the more compelling and detailed portrait. He has campaigned with more style, intelligence and discipline than his opponent. Whether he can fulfil his immense potential remains to be seen. But Mr Obama deserves the presidency."
Now, some people probably misconceive The Economist, taking it to be a dry, overly intellectual, stats-heavy sort of publication for CEOs and MBAs.

(Er, okay, so I guess it probably is for CEOs and MBAs, to quite some degree. Oh well.)

... But, actually, it's an extremely readable, highly intelligent newspaper. In the opinion of the Intellectual Hooligan. And its writers have a pretty good grasp of (a) humour, (b) drama and (c) iconography. (On that last, just take a look at the front cover:)

And, somehow, reading its editorial pieces reminds me of being in a tutorial. The tone of the writing is authoritative and direct, yet 'human' and unclouded by pompous phraseology or obscure jargon. Proof – once again – that the people most worth listening to/reading are the ones who aren't afraid to make the effort to express themselves simply, concisely and clearly, rather than relying upon a 'scholarly' vocabulary and otiose writing style to create an aura of false intelligence.

To anybody who is interested in the craft of writing, or whose job involves the same, I heartily recommend The Economist's style guide. Spot on. And funny, too.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Oh those CRAZY pharmacists ...



I can think of three potential explanations for the 'quirky' way in which the artwork is rendered in this sign.
  1. Instead of in regular cash, the artworker was paid in his/her choice of certain prescription-only over-the-counter "medicines"
  2. The sign is actually a cunning ninja marketing (2, 3) tool: it's designed to give you the headache which prompts you to go in and buy paracetamol.
  3. The shop owners nostalgically (and who can blame 'em?) decided to hire the same design team that brightened the lives of our 486s with the fine Day of the Tentacle (screenshot below. Boy, that was a good game.)

Any possibilities I've missed?

Monday, 27 October 2008

The Mobile Phone Grim Reaper (or: Patronising Idiot Coins Ridiculous Anthropomorposis.)

Okay. So the Intellectual Hooligan recently acquired a new mobile phone.

Just as surely as night follows day, so followed – this evening – a pleasant phonecall from the warmhearted and considerate purveyors of mobile phone insurance.

"Great news, Mr Hooligan! We can halve the amount you're paying for insurance on your new phone!"

And, you know, he wasn't lying. Half of zero ... ?

Without allowing me the opportunity to explain exactly how easy it would be for him to halve my insurance costs and piss off, he launched straight into a lovingly-crafted spiel, the conclusion of which was something like:

"... So if I can just take down a few details, we'll get the stuff to you in the post and have you changed over and saving money in a few days."

At this point, I had my first opportunity to interject:

"Would you mind telling me what this is going to cost?"

"Well, you're currently paying £140 pounds a year, and this plan will halve that."

"I don't have mobile phone insurance."

To his credit, our man did not even pause:

"Yes, £140 is too expensive, isn't it? We can offer you cover for only £70!"

"Sorry, I'm still not interested."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes."

Here's where the guy deviated from the usual script. And from reality:

"You are dicing with death."

I am what?

Now, the Intellectual Hooligan is normally polite (some would say excessively so) to those who assail him with unsollicited sales calls. But his benevolence began to crumble at this juncture.

"Um ... Thanks for that."

"I'm serious. The Mobile Phone Grim Reaper is looking over your shoulder!"

Christ alive and breakdancing! What is this guy talking about?

"... Mate, you are dicing with death. Accidents happen ... And this cover basically allows you to safeguard your nice new phone against that!"

"Yes, I understand the principle of insurance. And have made a rational decision that I do not want to purchase it."

"Well ..." said our friend, in tones heavy with gentle can't-say-I-didn't-warn-you recrimination. "I'll do my best to call off the Mobile Phone Grim Reaper. But I'm afraid I just can't promise ..."

Monday, 20 October 2008

Patronising Idiots Hit Marketing Jackpot

Residents of the United Kingdom: hands up everyone who admires the state of the national rail network.

Okay.

Now, bearing the hypothetical result of such a vote, take a look at the following couple of ads that I've recently noticed appearing around the web:




Sorry, excuse me while I cough up chunks of lung in maniacal, uncontrollable laughter.

... Right. Yes. So. Am I alone in considering these pretty poorly judged? Borderline insulting to those consumers (such as myself) who always buy train tickets at the station?

Implying that the behaviour of such consumers is idiotic?

Consumers who, perhaps, have better things to do with their life than plan their sodding train journeys weeks in advance in order to avoid train companies' exorbitant markups for failing to do so.

Consumers who don't actually know the exact time they plan to travel and are therefore unable to book in advance for a specific journey time, the only way it is possible to book.

So – it's us – the aforementioned consumers, that are the stupid ones?

I'm sorry, thetrainline, but you can just sod off with your 'quirky' sheep-featuring ads and your cunning, ninja marketing technique of taking the piss out of your customers for failing to jump through the hoops you've set up for them.

Yeh, sod off.

And get back to what you do best: fleecing.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

A Sickening Notion

I'm looking at Saturday night's 'treat'. And I am thinking: my dear sweet Jesus ... What in the name of all that is sacred and profane is a 'Meat Raffle'?

Actually, wait. I don't want to know.

Disgusting.



Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Brilliant Inside-out art from Tara Donovan

I recently e-stumbled upon photos from what looks like rather a splendid art exhibition.



The Artist is Tara Donovan, at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

I very very much like the playing off between artificial/organic: very clever. The above sculpture is made from styrofoam cups, yet its undulating shape belies the regularity of its constituent parts.

When you look at another of Donovan's pieces – Moire – the pattern becomes clearer.

Here, rolls of adding machine paper are wound and piled in such a way as to create complex, amorphous shapes. Have a closer look:

There is a heavy suggestion of wood grain, as well as – in common with Untitled (Styrofoam Cups) – of cellular structures.

To me, there's a lovely inside-outness to the whole thing. A kind of moebius effect (as illustrated here), whereby inside seamlessly becomes outside. Paper made from wood is compressed and manipulated to become wood again. Wood-like forms piled together become cells, from which wood is formed.

In other words, the artifacts Donovan has constructed from these manmade objects remind us of organic cellular structures. Which in turn remind us that all things – manmade or naturally occurring – are in fact irregular and organic at a molecular or cellular level. If you zoom in close enough, in other words.

So the straight lines and 'perfect' forms of the manmade objects are somehow thrown into deep relief. The work very cleverly challenges the misconception that there is a distinction between the geometric/regular and the organic/irregular. Both contain and are contained by one another. A straight line is a series of curves; a curve is a series of straight lines.

It's all a question of scale.

Fantastically inventive and intelligent. The work also passes the (more important test): just imagine how fascinating it would be to a child. It is hugely striking. Engaging on a visceral level. These are powerful, mesmerising forms.

A+

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Photos on the internet for drugs

The JobCentre. Where the happy people go.

One of the Intellectual Hooligan's roving correspondents found herself, yesterday, in this fine national establishment. She was waiting to speak to one of the advisers.

Having waited some time, she decided to send a swift text message. However, no sooner was her phone whisked from her pocket than did the figure of a security guard loom above her.

"Excuse me, miss. You can't use your phone here."

"Oh ... right ..." she replied, a little discombobulated, allowing a faintly quizzical note to enter her voice.

"It's not allowed, see," elaborated the guard. "People have been taking photographs of staff on their mobile phone. And putting them on the internet ..."

He paused.

"... For drugs."

Of course – following so grave an injunction – our correspondent hastily sheathed her mobile and whispered her chastened apologies.

Only – on reflection – what was that he said?
  1. Taking photographs of staff
  2. Putting them on the internet
  3. ... For drugs?
How does that work, exactly? Just how valuable are these photos? What's the going rate? Two lines of coke for a slightly blurred shot of the guy on reception?

And – what's more – how have these shady dealings escaped the notice of the national press?

The Intellectual Hooligan notches up one more scoop.



(Honestly, though: does anyone have an idea what the guy might possibly have meant?)

Sunday, 12 October 2008

The Internet Is Funny

An engaging find, courtesy of Found Magazine. It loses its poise in the final sentence (overreaching), though.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Naked, tender hummocks

The Intellectual Hooligan, courtesy of a kind and tasteful benefactor, has just started reading Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road. From the first 50 pages alone, I feel it is rather brilliant – but will save any vaguely summative words until I've finished the thing.

Meanwhile, though, I'd like to serve up two very short extracts of great writing – the first descriptive; the second empathetic.
'At first their rehearsals had been held on Saturdays – always, it seemed, on the kind of windless February or March afternoon when the sky is white, the trees are black, and the brown fields and hummocks of the earth lie naked and tender between curds of shriveled snow.'
This is brilliant. Strong and simple prelude (sky is white, trees are black) gives way to a metaphor that – at first glance – might seem overblown or sentimental, then reveals itself in fact to be perfectly-judged. The obvious sexuality of 'naked and tender' seems glib and perhaps obvious – until Yates adds that masterstroke: the 'curds of shriveled snow'.

Curds. Genius.

Debasing the image of the (feminine) buttocks with those measly semen-like squirts. And, crucially, the metaphor passes the test: it's also real.

Then, 20 pages or so later, a fantastic piece of psychological observation. (One of many, I might add: I've chosen this particular example fairly arbitrarily). Two characters, wife and husband, have just had a taut emotional exchange (to call it an argument is perhaps to simplify). They've pulled over their car, and the woman has dashed thirty yards away along the roadside, pursued shortly by her husband. She '[isn't] crying; ... only standing there, with her back to him.':
"What the hell," he said. "What the hell's this all about? Come on back to the car."

"No. I will in a minute. Just let me stand here a minute, all right?"

His arms flapped and fell; then, as the sound and the lights of an approaching car came up behind them, he put one hand in his pocket and assumed a conversational slouch for the sake of appearances.
That's the difference between okay writing and great writing. The great writer remembers that even amidst anger and emotional turmoil, we can still be painfully self-conscious; laughably prim.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Belfast snaps

Herebelow, the Intellectual Hooligan's holiday snaps ...

First up, a fine piece of art on show at the RUA exhibition. Brilliant:




... And here's the view outside the RUA exhibition.

Bashful barrel:

And Pier House No. 3:

Excuse the rather mediocre image quality ... Skypephone does not good photographs take.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

The Evils Of The Telephone

In this post, I'm merely your compere, ladies and gentlemen. The limelight belongs to Mr Ally Craig, towards whose highly entertaining and empathy-rousing anecdote (in epistolary form, no less) I direct you.

Telephones are terrible instruments indeed.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Google is not making us stupid; Google is kicking greengrocers up the arse.

There is a rather long but very interesting article in The Atlantic entitled Is Google Making Us Stupid?

My short answer to the headline's rhetorical question: no, Google is not making us stupid.


What does the article say?

(Because, Christ alive, you can't be arsed to read all that ...)

Nicholas Carr argues – correctly, I'd say – that the internet discourages depth and perseverence – a 'researcher' style – in favour of breadth and cherry-picking – a 'skimmer' style.

And, yes, that feels right. I certainly find I have little patience with convoluted arguments and lengthy descriptions, these days.

(Except when I'm writing them. Goddamn.)

We, as internet users, are undergoing fundamental changes in the way in which our minds work. Just as, a generation or two previously, people underwent similar changes thanks to the popularisation of TV.

So we skim. We are distracted. We dot from place to place. We seldom pause, ponder, assess. We do not cogitate, deliberate and come to our conclusions in the measured, scholarly way in which traditional academic standards might stipulate.

Carr thinks that's something to be worried about.

But I disagree. In fact, I believe that the only perspective from which this change is bad is the perspective of a sentimentalist.

Here's why.


Difficult does not equal more beneficial

Just because something's hard – ploughing through dense prose, getting to the bottom of a complex argument – it isn't necessarily good for us. The Atkins diet is hard, no doubt.

Hopping blindfold across a motorway is hard.

Remember back at school, where you had to do all that work on comprehension and analysis of written sources at all that dry crap? Why did you do it so much? Because it's a "valuable skill". Why is it a valuable skill to be able to fathom complex, verbose documents? Because people write them that way.

Is there any other reason that we benefit from being able to do this? Is there something intrinsically useful in the ability to plough through difficult, extended passages of prose? No –it's like being able to ride a unicycle: only a valuable skill if they just banned bikes.


Why book authors are like greengrocers

What the internet has done for writing is what supermarkets did for shopping. Raised the bar big-style. Everyone goes on nostalgically about 'the days of the local greengrocer'. Do you remember your local greengrocer, before Sainsbury's moved in? I remember mine.

It was shit.

Now I'm no great supermarket fan, I might add. But I reckon the arrival of these leviathans has singlehandedly brought about a massive improvement in the general quality of food on sale in this country. Especially in the aforementioned local shops – which have had to ensure that they compete. I now love my small local shops. But make no mistake: they are not what we would have in this false-utopian supermarket-free world that people yearn for.


Do you dive for a pearl – or pick one up ready-giftwrapped?

Likewise for the internet. Back when the only way to communicate en masse was via print, you could assume that, if someone bought or borrowed your book, he/she would make the effort to digest it. Just as, if you were the only greengrocer in town, you could assume that the locals would make the effort to dig through your wrinkled old apples.

Then along came the web, and – bam! – nobody had any reason to be grateful for your pearls of wisdom, firmly clammed as they were in that formidable oystershell. Because all of a sudden, someone was giving away just the pearls – shining clean and shell-free.

That's democratisation, man. Hell yeh.


A shout-out for capitalism. Yes, really.

Okay, so perhaps this is not the best time to be extolling the virtues of a capitalist ethos. But, seriously: competition is a good thing, in the end. It raises standards. People now demand that things are written in an easily-digestible, simple, accessible form. Bad thing? No. It merely means that, if you're a writer, you have to try way harder.

Or else you end up as the abandoned greengrocer, with your apostrophe-laden price-signs written on corrugated cardboard and your wrinkly apples.

Friday, 29 August 2008

When is a computer like a departing lover?

... When you try to send an email and get this back:

MAILER-DAEMON@server1.domainname.com wrote:

Hi. This is the qmail-send program at server1.domainname.com.

I'm afraid I wasn't able to deliver your message to the following addresses.

This is a permanent error; I've given up. Sorry it didn't work out.

We could all learn something, I feel, from Mailer Daemon, with his heavyhearted semicolons, who certainly breaks it to us gently – but doesn't leave any room for doubt.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Heavy Soil

Like music?

Well, do you?

Back at school, in French lessons, would you heartily respond to the question, "Qu'est-ce que tu aimes faire?" with a joyous, "Moi, j'aime beaucoup ecouter de la musique!"?

Does your CV list, "A keen interest in and enthusiasm for contemporary popular beat combos" under the 'hobbies' section?

(Your CV has a hobbies section, right?)

When you're making your suave, casanovan move on a delectable human being (er ... or non-human being, if that's the way you roll), do you cosy up with the heart-melting question, "What bands are you into?"

If the answer to the above is yes (and, knowing my readers as I do, I suspect it will be), may I ask you to cast your e-gaze towards the latest addition to my family. Of blogs.

Her name is Heavy Soil.

What a pretty name.

The idea? Every day, one - just one - mp3 that's available or listenable-to freely and legitimately via the wonders of the worldwide web. And some burblings by me about what makes it interesting.

Short(ish) posts, if you can believe it.

And ... music.

So: get heavily soiled. Maintenant!

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Bored of the Credit Crunch

When did it happen? Was it when the 'man on the street' on BBC News complained about "not being able to put bread on the table"?

Was it when I overheard a Gucci-handbagged woman in Marks & Spencers complain that a lemon now cost 46p?

Or was it when I received a marketing email which included the line, "We know: times are tough"?

I'm not sure when it was, my friends.

But I have this to say to the global economic downturn:

Crunch my ass.

(Something I've said, in a number of contexts, as you may well imagine.)

Crunch my mo-foing ass.

Man on the street: sell your goddamn flatscreen TV and start taking the frickin' bus before you start complaining about "not being able to put bread on the table". Or take a trip to Haiti: that's crunch, mate.

Gucci-woman: buy a nice big string bag of organic lemons. Open 'er up. Savour that zingy, citric aroma ...

... And stick one of them into every orifice.

Roasted on a spit, you'd feed a famine-ravaged family for months.

And to whoever wrote that marketing email: let me tell you - times are not tough. Really, really not tough. If 'times' were a steak, they might be medium-rare at most.

Get a sense of perspective.

Friday, 8 August 2008

I'm incredibly sorry

... I just realised that my last post was over 1,000 words long.

Without subheads.

Not very web-friendly, innit?

What can I say? I got carried away. Heck, it almost felt as if I were at university again.

Next time, I'll serialise. Or, at very least, subheadise.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Martin Amis. Like Henry James. But way more of a bastard.


I just came to the end of The Rachel Papers.

Actually, what am I saying? "Came to the end"?

I was like one of those cartoon characters, running straight off a cliff, pedaling the air for several seconds, before plummeting. I careered to the end. The abrupt finish-line of my Olympic 100p dash. (See what I did there? Topical Hooligan.)

Martin Amis is a savage writer. He is also, very clearly, an extremely intelligent man.

The Rachel Papers is a story about intolerable adolescent arrogance (inevitably stemming, of course, from titanic insecurity). I suppose – from a zoomed-out perspective – it's a kind of 'coming of age' novel. But it's the kind of 'coming of age' novel that Henry James might've written if he'd been rampantly heterosexual and dosed up on amphetamines.

What do I mean by that? How could a writer like Amis – whose prose is so angular, cynical, brittle, aggressive – possibly be likened to the elaborate, nuanced, increasingly (with age) fussy writing of James?

(I should add: I may wheel in a pejorative adjective like 'fussy', but be assured: I hold few authors in higher esteem than I do Henry James).

Well. Amis accomplishes - by the end of The Rachel Papers - a rather Jamesian coup de theatre. Via a technique called ironic inversion. This technique is a little like the 'twist in a tale' so beloved of short story writers ... but instead of being executed over the course of, say, 50 pages, it plays itself out across the rather wider-ranging (and more subtly-contoured) landscape of a whole novel.

And – whereas a twist-in-the-tale is presented more or less starkly to the reader, the ironic inversion is often invisible – because it has been developed so slowly. When he reaches the end of the novel, the unwary reader may well not even realise the extent to which his expectations have been overturned. Indeed, James typically does this so subtly and seamlessly that a good few critics (ha!) are utterly oblivious.

Take Portrait of a Lady, James's most popular novel. James sets us up to expect that Isabel Archer (the lady of the title) is going to become the victim of unscrupulous 'fortune-hunters', thanks to her large inheritance.

He plays upon the literary cliche that is 'rich yet innocent woman is seduced by cynical, blackhearted man; innocence is besmirched by loveless greed'.

But then goes on to invert the expectations. Gilbert Osmond – holder of the fortune hunter role – does end up marrying Isabel. But the point is: he actually does so out of love. Not cynicism.

Sure, it is love that does indeed prove misguided, and does indeed descend into mutual spite and acrimony. But the kernel around which it is built was in fact pure. Which throws the whole of the rest of the tired cliche into astounding technicolour.

Portrait of a Lady gives all the cliched framework of the conventional trash romance tragedy –but subverts it with genuine, complex psychology.

(Wikipedia, of course, totally misses this crucial fact in its trashy summary, setting its horns about James's finest crockery with taurean abandon. Are we surprised?)

The point of all this? Ah, yes: Mr Amis.

So, The Rachel Papers is a coming-of-age novel with an ironic inversion. As it turns out, it is twisted in on itself with an irony rather more uncompromisingly nihilistic (or, at least, more starkly painted) than any of James's.

The narrator is an arrogant, self-centred, hideously realistic 19-year-old boy. Narcissistic, manipulative, borderline misogynistic. But, maybe halfway through the novel, we realise with alarm that our initial distaste has somehow been transmuted: we are actually rooting for him –hoping that he does succeed in his pursuit of the elusive Rachel.

What's going on here? Why are we sympathising with this bastard protagonist whose ill-treatment of females we have already witnessed? Clever Mr Amis has been at work on us.

... and, magically, we have started to side with said protagonist. We have realised that we are seeing through his adolescent nastiness to a vulnerable, insecure child. Amis has maneuvered us neatly between his sights. We have started to believe (and, what's more, to hope) that, over the course of this novel, our immature narrator will come to see (however fitfully and incompletely) the error of his ways. And this will be thanks to the love of a good woman. Natch.

Amis, though, is resolutely unjamesian in the savage manner in which, in the novel's closing chapters, he brings us eye to unblinking eye with our own sentimental 'coming of age' fantasies – before (absolutely without mercy) crushing them.

As a result of this savagery and abruptness, I finished the book with a sensation reminiscent to that I might experience at the close of a very intelligent, very pacey, very well-made cinema semi-thriller. Something like Fight Club or Memento. It's that kind of a novel. Not, I think, a brilliant and enduring work of art. But an extraordinarily intense experience. One has been laid out, had one's wrinkles smoothed by faux-tender hands – and then been put through the mangle. Quite deliberately.

What would make it a brilliant novel – and more of a work of art?

For my money, if Amis had only half-crushed our sentimentality. Or had crushed it subtly, with a light seasoning of ambiguity, rather than thrusting its maimed, flattened corpse in our faces.

So intent is he upon achieving the breathtakingly unpleasant emotional effect of his close that he goes too far, is too extreme, and loses sight of realism. I don't propose to spoil the plot – actually, to be honest, I'm just too lazy to explain it all. I couldn't care less about spoiling anything ... everyone knows what's going to happen in a Shakespeare play, and that doesn't seem to spoil 'em much ...

... But, yes, I don't propose to tell you how the novel ends. But the weakness, I think, is this – that I'm left wondering, of Amis's narrator: Christ ... was that likely? Could anyone actually be that much of an idiot?

Interesting enough, as a thought to be left with, of course. But not with the delicate, torturous, balanced subtlety of a genius like Henry James.


Similar posts
Enjoy that? Why not cast an eye over Shakespeare hated Hamlet
– The Intellectual Hooligan: putting the 'lite' into 'literary criticism'

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

The Brilliant Bechdel

Some time soon, I'd like to write about Alison Bechdel's fantastic Fun Home. The book that made me realise what an exciting, potential-stuffed form the graphic novel is.

Some time. Soon.

Meanwhile, though, I've just stumbled across Bechdel's own blog – upon which she (relatively) recently posted what I suppose is the graphic equivalent of a short story. About reading. Here's the first page. A hook, yes? But I urge you, go read the whole thing.

Then go and buy Fun Home, and read that too.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Making customers like me feel special

Two great ties. Arriving in one equally mouthwatering bag.

Aw, I'm such a goddamn sucker for packaging.

Friday, 1 August 2008

EXTRA! EXTRA! Kleptomaniac Operagoers! Read all about it!


I'm not sure I'd enjoy an opera break-in.

Bloody hooligans in their DJs (= tuxedos), smashing windows with their opera-glasses – all the while yobbishly belting out Bizet arias.

Bolt your doors, hide away your valuables. The Kleptomaniac Operagoers are in town.


Previous amusing (in fact, borderline terrifying) sightings:

Thursday, 31 July 2008

It's The End! Lexicographers and Linguistics Professors Alike Fall Upon Their Swords! Anarchy! Chaos! Terror Stalks The Land!

Does web programming encourage tautology?

I am currently ploughing my way through stylesheets and XHTML documents - the task: redesigning the d'Overbroeck's College website.

And as I write my tags and nest my divs, like the merry old codemonkey I am, a thought strikes me. This happens, from time to time. Like a pebble disrupting the peaceful surface of a lake.

The thought:

We web designers focus, one and all, on the holy grail of high Google rankings. When someone types into google a keyword that relates to your site, you want to be up there on the first page of results.

Easier said than done, naturally.

Google generates rankings in complex, mysterious ways. Its 'spiders' – automated program scripts that comb through websites to collect data about the web – crawl through a website's text, which is fed into the Googlebrain. If your text uses certain key words and phrases in an effective and moderately natural sort of way, Google will assume that your page is about these things. Very roughly speaking.

Now, say you had a website which was a catalogue of road signs. Your title might be, imaginatively enough, Road Signs of Great Britain

Now that's my kind of website.

But then you might start to think, "Ho hum ... what if people aren't searching for 'road signs' ... maybe they're looking for 'road symbols'? Or 'traffic signs'? Alack! Will these unfortunate enthusiasts be deprived of the pleasures afforded by my fascinating and comprehensive catalogue?"

A vexing notion, you'll agree.

The temptation - o! most insidious temptation! - might be to change the title of your page - to Road, traffic and highway signs and symbols of Great Britain, the UK (which is to say, the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) and the British Isles.

Y'know. Cover all the bases.

Not a good idea, on so many levels. Including, quite probably, search optimisation. But the point is: if one is catering for an audience whose search terms may well be imprecise, is one not encouraged to employ similarly imprecise terminology in one's writing, to some degree?

Yes, The Intellectual Hooligan Broaches Yet Another Issue Of Momentous Importance That Possesses Devastating Implications For Us All.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

'Perfecting the Look'

... Such were the words of my wry young friend Rebecca when I sent her the following image of my charming mug.

I just received these glasses in the post from Urban Outfitters (go on, snap y'self up a pair, if you dare).

As you'll note, the black dominates my pallid features, somewhat. And they are massive.

I think - as I remarked to Rebecca - the expression on my face in the above shot eloquently conveys my feelings. Note the slightly rueful twist to the smile (and the telltale anguished finger-bending of my left hand). Embarrassed amusement. Shock, manfully contained.

And, dear reader, do you detect a hint of fear? Fear at the prospect of somebody suddenly walking into my office to find me posing in front of Photo Booth with my joke-specs.

So: thumbs up, thumbs down? Roll up, roll up, for the Intellectual Hooligan's first poll (I thought I'd start you off with an easy question ...) Oh, and feel free to debate the finer points down in the comments, won't you?

Should the Intellectual Hooligan adorn his visage in this way?
Aye! This 'perfects the look' admirably.
Nay! For shame!
  
pollcode.com free polls

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Cherries

My sister cut cherries
Knife-punctured
Circumnavigated
Spread each clot

Not so much bitten as crushed
In our mouths each contusion
Bled sweet

The operating table
(Cherrybloodstained) remains
Dead wood imbued
With dying juices

And I fail, but try, to reconcile
The smooth blotted board 
With the blade's
Scrape
Against rough stones

Following which
All the rest
Is bland

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Giles Coren: that spectacular 'leaked' email


For a long time, I read - with quasi-religious fervour - Giles Coren's restaurant reviews. Every weekend (Saturday), in the Times magazine. For a taste (see what I did there?) of his scathing best, read Coren's review of Goodfellas in Belfast. Mole poached in Ovaltine.

Hell, when I used to buy a paper, Coren was the sole reason for my choosing the Times, rather than the Guardian or Independent.

Giles Coren is a funny man. In the years since first I read his reviews, his profile has - I observe - grown considerably. He's been Edwardian Supersized, has presented (in slightly cringe-inducing fashion) various TV shows, and has written officially bad sex scenes.

Anyhow. He is now attracting attention on the Guardian website, thanks to a 'leaked' email sent by him to Times subeditors. "Furious and foul-mouthed", we are told.

Now, it seems to me, this is one of those convenient 'leaks' that has done Mr Coren very little harm. Indeed, he comes out of it rather well. Okay, so readers of the 1,000-odd word email may (if they fail to sympathise with the man's tirade) consider its author a sarcastic, pedantic little arse. But that'll do his 'personal brand' absolutely no damage - as it's the image he's deliberately (if occasionally coyly) courted for years.

If it was indeed a genuine leak, lucky man.

If not: well played, sir.

Now, go and read Giles Coren's angry email for yourself. If you're pressed for time, though, I urge you at least to scan the more brief scribal smack dealt to fellow reviewer Feargus O'Sullivan. Rhetorically, the build is fabulous.

Friday, 25 July 2008

O Ye Disciples of The Blog

You are reading my words. A fact that gives me no small degree of pleasure.

I'd like it to stay that way. You'd better believe it.

Question is: how are you reading this? Okay, smart arse. With your eyes. But do you use your internet browser to visit the blog site itself every time you fancy a dose of prime-cut intellectual hooliganism?

Reader: there is another way. Subscribe by email. At the mere click (or two) or a button, you can receive an email version of each post, on the day I write it. Bliss.

And then there are the wonders of the RSS feed. Don't know what this is? Read this fellow's handy RSS primer. And your blogreading experience will never be the same again.

Sure, it'll be sort of similar, I guess.

But not the same.

Crotch-fixation

As a male of the human species, I am profoundly disquieted by the findings of eyetracking studies carried out to measure the attention paid by site visitors to various areas of given webpages.

Before you click (with gay abandon) upon the above link, I should warn you that the article in question could itself be written and laid out with considerably greater attention to usability and reader appeal. That it has not been I take, naturally, as deliberate irony.

So I'll summarise. Basically, on the internet, people like clear, sparse, to-the-point prose.

(Basically, I'm screwed.)

Scientists (you know, Scientists ...) use eyetracking to measure the time for which site visitors' eyes rest on each area of a given page. The results of their experiments show which areas of a site are focused upon - and which are ignored.

All very interesting. If you design sites, it's certainly worth reading the full shebang.

If not, though, may I direct you simply to one section of the article, near the end. I'll quote the relevant part, magnanimous blogger that I be, to save you that scrolling.
When photos do contain people related to the task at hand, or the content users are exploring, they do get fixations. However, gender makes a distinct difference on what parts of the photo are stared at the longest. Take a look at the hotspot below.
Although both men and women look at the image of George Brett when directed to find out information about his sport and position, men tend to focus on private anatomy as well as the face. For the women, the face is the only place they viewed.
Male readers: any comments?

And, with the nonchalance that only true scientific impartiality can muster, the article goes on:
Coyne adds that this difference doesn’t just occur with images of people. Men tend to fixate more on areas of private anatomy on animals as well, as evidenced when users were directed to browse the American Kennel Club site.
Now, I really didn't want to know that.

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