Friday, 14 January 2011

The Verisimilutude of “Skins”: Using Sociological Diffusion Analysis to Determine the Accuracy of the Popular British Drama Using Linear Regression, Graner Causality Tests, Empirical Evidence, and Anecdotal Evidence


Skins is indeed a pretty popular show on this island. Like a lot of American teenage dramas i.e. Gossip Girl it seems like most of its audience is younger than the characters depicted on the show, but it definitely has a strong following. The big thing about Skins is it is supposed to be a realistic depiction of life in Britain. It was created as a kind of rejection of the overblown outrageous scenarios seen on other British teenage dramas at the time (and knowing what they show on Skins they must have been really terrible). A teenager had a huge say in the creation of the show and the show has teenage consultants to make sure they keep it somewhat realistic.

I am guessing none of you have seen any episodes of Skins so I will fill you in on the little I know about it. Basically it follows teenagers in Bristol, a city west of London and kind of far away from me (and home of Portishead and Massive Attack and instrumental in the creation of trip-hop) as they do drugs, get pregnant, engage in same-sex relationships, suffer emotional breakdowns and other things of that variety. A big focus is on being realistic. While in most shows characters get their comeuppances shortly after committing some kind of salacious or scandalous action (usually by the end of that episode, anyway), in Skins such characters don’t face such consequences until later if at all, at least according to the New York Times article I read on it. Most of the characters are wealthy. They are in the British equivalent of high school. Continuing with that whole keeping it real approach, Skins started out using completely amateur actors, like Kids by Larry Clark (what a reference! Was that movie even reviewed anywhere outside of the New Yorker when it came out? Speaking of which, look what I bought for the plane ride from Newark. BOOM! I even read the first two pages of the article on psychoanalysis in China before the words got too big and the article became way too boring). The show is also unique because it is filmed with actual quality film stock. At dinner (the only time I watch television here, and this is just an unfortunate consequence of having televisions in our dining hall) all the shows look like youtube videos. Like Coronation Street, which has apparently lasted fifty years  As the dubstep article and this clip proves, British culture is horrendous.

Again, I am not a total expert in the field of the life of the British teenager, but I definitely have more knowledge about them than I do on dubstep. However, like dubstep, my contact with British teenagers has been completely involuntary, and unfortunately more extensive. Skins portrays teens as constantly using recreational drugs and drinking constantly, and I would say that this is pretty true all in all. In high school and colleges, the only things that matter for British students is tests at the end of the year. So basically they don’t have any tests or essays that are meaningful in the interim. This frees them up to go clubbing and engage in various buffoonery beforehand. Some follow soccer, though many of the Asians seem more into it than the Britons. A lot of them, especially the Indians seem to enjoy weightlifting and do it almost every day. Fun Fact: They all wear very expensive gloves and the amount of bicep curl variations they (exclusively) do would put any Pitt fraternity brother to shame. But there are club nights every weeknight at random clubs. I went to one hosted at LSE and as stated in the dubstep post it was terrible. A lot of house music, very drunk people, and it was too loud to talk to anyone, not that you would have really wanted to anyway. But people here do drink a lot. There aren’t any common rooms where people sit around and watch tv in my dormitory. The only social space is a bar in the basement. Social life definitely revolves around drinking.

Skins also deals with the consequences of sex and STDs seem to be an actually big issue in Britain. Earlier this year I had a terrible fever that thankfully got me out of attending a Benny Benassi concert. After the night of the concert I decided the fever was annoying and went to the local NHS for a prescription to deal with it. While the doctor did give me a prescription and confirmed my fever, he spent most of the time bragging about their STD-detection system and cajoling me to have my urine sample tested for syphilis (I had to bring a urine sample to my doctor visit, I don’t know if that is standard protocol for every NHS visit in England but it might be). Three weeks later, waiting for my public economics class to start I received a text from a random number saying “the results of your syphilis test were NEGATIVE. That means you DON’T have syphilis.” It startled the hell out of me until I remembered signing up for the notification at the clinic. I was actually going to write down one of your cell numbers on the “Send my results to this number” form but then I realized it would a) cost significant duckets b) definitely wake you up c) you might actually have syphilis, and that wouldn’t be very nice to send you a text from NHS saying otherwise, now would it? In sum, STDs seem to be somewhat of an issue and Skins seems to accurately depict that aspect.

Skins also seems to focus on religious and racial issues and gay issues. I haven’t seen any racism or racist stuff in London, though I know the skinhead culture isn’t the most tolerant in the world. I did see some racist British nationalist party protesting outside of the Royal Courts once but besides that it hasn’t been an issue. My Indian friend thinks he is mistreated by the Pakistani owners of our local convenience store but I don’t really see it. Britain and London are pretty godless places, especially compared to parts of America and I haven’t seen any religious issues. While gay characters on Skins often face problems, I haven’t seen any issues regarding that in London. I’m assuming they are more tolerant of gays here in general but I honestly haven’t seen that many.

The series does seem to fall flat in other areas. For example, to my knowledge none of the characters have ever read any journal articles concerning the delegation of monetary policy authority to independent central banks or the gradual convergence in Western European telecommunications policy in eighties, which has basically taken up all my time that isn’t spent running or answering questionsthataretoolongforfacebook, and the same is true for most of my friends. But again, my British sample could be skewed by the fact that I go to a school devoted to the studying of economics. But basically British teenagers like to drink copious amounts of alcohol, do drugs, and go to clubs where awful music is played. Americans in my program seem to generally follow this pattern as well, only they often lose various personal items and significant amounts of money in the process as well.

As for the American version of Skins, I would expect it to be a lot like Gossip Girl and other shows where rich people with too much money get drunk and do drugs without facing many tough consequences. However, the show is apparently being set in Baltimore, so the whole wealthy character scenario seems pretty unrealistic. But after watching the trailer it seems like more of the same. I think it should do alright financially considering how Jersey Shore demonstrated television viewers love awful programming geared towards drinking and clubbing.

Speaking of awful cultural imports, don’t think the Jersey Shore phenomenon has evaded Europe. The Europeans wouldn’t shut up about Jersey Shore the first week when I told them I was from New Jersey. It has led to the reality series The Only Way is Essex, basically a British Jersey Shore with “actors” whose English is even harder to understand than their New Jersey counterparts.

This post features a special question from Lindsay from London, UK. She writes: “What exactly is Eurotrash?”

I honestly have no idea. After looking it up on Wikipedia I realized that it is the name of a show that I have seen on in the reception area of our dorm. While I have filled my daily (really hopefully lifetime) quota of British television series synopses I will tell you that it is ostensibly a “comedy” series looking at weird European things. As with all British television shows, don’t watch it under any circumstances

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Dubstep Answer

Honestly the last thing I wanted to do today (my last in America for at least five months) is talk about crappy European club music, but this is what I signed myself up for when I began this blog and I will do my best to explain dubstep and grime and garage and other terrible music.

First I would like to admit that I really am not an expert in this regard at all. I am not the biggest fan of clubs in general and I don't actively seek out dubstep music. My entire exposure to dubstep has been involuntary. And while I am sure I am working with a weird sample (it isn't really fair to extrapolate 9,000 college students, most who aren't even from Britain to represent the tastes and knowledge of the British music populace) most of my fellow students at LSE know nothing about dubstep itself. They actually all thought it was American (they wish). The only people I've met at LSE who like dubstep are the WASP-y Americans that basically make up my entire study abroad program. It is definitely big in London though, just not among the student body at LSE. Overall, I haven't gleaned much good information about the genre from my classmates though.

I guess I have made enough excuses. As I told Tim, basically the only thing British college students do is go to clubs, normally during the week. At said clubs DJs play horrendous music that people dance to (and if the club is expensive enough they will also take ecstasy while dancing). There are some hipsters in the country, but they are mainly old. When I saw the National the first thing I thought about was what a boon the concert was to the British babysitting industry. Fun Fact: British hipsters don't wear flannel. Based on empirical observations at the Tate Modern Gallery and the National concert. So basically, club music is huge, and all genres of dance music (besides the good ones (Four Tet, Aphex Twin, Chef Boyardee)) are big among British youth. So basically, while dad-rock and twee/indie/baroque pop/chillwave/c86/witch house (actually that last one isn't true thankfully) are popular in London, they aren't at LSE or among the general London student populace.

Garage is probably the first dubstep-ish genre. Its similar to house music. The drums here are very house-ish.

Like all of these moronic genre distinctions, there is tons of overlap between garage grime and dubstep and everything else. The Streets was a Pitchfork darling back in the day and incorporates a lot of garage elements in his music. He has these ambitious ideas and concept albums which is definitely refreshing but his phrasing is incredibly awkward on basically all of his songs, especially on his material after Original Pirate Material.  Basically garage sounds a lot like house with some rap elements. They don't flow like American rap artists though. I have noticed that British rappers in all of these silly subgenres have no flow whatsoever and kind of just throw in their lyrics wherever they see fit with no real logic behind their decisions. 

Grime predates dubstep and is the closest thing to American rap music I guess. I haven't heard any British rap music that sounds like American rap (fast tempos, dense beats, (somewhat) intelligible lyrics) and grime and garage are the closest. Dizzee Rascal is probably the most popular example of that. Pitchfork was all over Boy in Da Corner when it dropped in 2004. It is honestly probably the worst album I ever bought. I tried really hard to get into it before I went to London and I just couldn't do it. This song highlights the terrible "grimy" bass that is in grime and garage songs. Everything is pretty sparse as far as production goes.
Tinie Tempah and Tinchy Stryder are also huge in London. This actually sounds a lot like commercial American rap with the hook and everything. This shows how much the British like that dirty grimy bass sound and generally bare-bones production. It also showcases the complete lack of lyrical coherence in most British songs songs. British rappers also love vocal manipulation just as much as American ones.

Then there is dubstep. I think it grew out of grime, garage, and dub. I have also heard it applied to virtually every electronic artist and it seems people are careless with classifying stuff as dubstep. I will go by the definition given by clubs i.e. stuff that is played when the club has a dubstep night. It has the same dirty grimy sound as garage and grime especially when it comes to the basslines. Most of the songs aren't that complicated. And that whole ambient-dubstep sound that Burial is big on is not that popular. Burial is not that popular at all here compared to other lamer more dance-friendly dubstep artists. This is pretty drum and bass and faster than what I considered dubstep before I went to London but it apparently falls under the umbrella. Note the generally lethargic rhythms and how every song sounds the same.

And then there is electro house. I would say that this is the most popular genre among my British contemporaries. Swedish House Mafia, Deadmau5, and Benny Benassi are the big names. Its really repetitive music that has pretty fast tempos. It leads to actual dancing instead of the wobbling preferred by dubstep listeners. Revolution 909 by Daft Punk also falls under house (probably electro house too). There isn't that much overlap with the dubstep family here. LSE has a club night on campus and I went once. This is the kind of stuff they play. Miserable experience. Its basic trance and house stuff.

Don't ask any British people to check me on this. They will undoubtedly say I have no idea what I am talking about.

Moral of the blog post: If you find yourself in London, buy large noise-eliminating headphones and avoid clubs. Don't wear flannel to hipster concerts.

While your question suggests otherwise, if you or anyone at Larry David are interested in quality electronic music, I recommend listening to this song. It reminds me of Pogo, Four Tet, and Koushik.

Baths- Aminals