Monday, December 29, 2008

Bravo BBC Today Programme

We all have our tales for recounting our meetings with celebrities.

One fine afternoon, some years back, my agent, yes those were the days, rang me up to appear at a Warehouse in South London.

There it would transpire a number of young black professional had gathered for what was to be a photo shoot and article for the Evening Standard.

There was little other that connected the people gathered.

Small talk ensured, but truthfully it was a played-down theatrical performance in the peacock syndrome. Not purposefully from the writers, fashion designers, journalists and musicians, but instigated by the newspaper.

The photo shoot was ten young black men and women supposedly going places and the photographer and Evening Standard journalist needed everyone to be at their most upright proclaiming the great things they had done.

On the far side of the lineup was my first glimpse of a true celeb, and a rare one. Tall elegant, not saying much, almost slightly irritated, it wasn't difficult to ignore her.

She had just broken through the conservative league of writing a novel that was monumental in many ways.

This was true talent, which is not to say the others were not, but what this writer would go on to achieve is testimony of the chatter back then and now.

When I picked up the Evening Standard afterwards, that one quote - a sort of phrase that is murmured but dare not speak itself, screamed.

"It'll be progress when black people don't have to necessarily gather to show what they've achieved" - or something thereabouts.
Zadie Smith - author White Teeth.

BBC's Guest Editor
Today, the BBC's flagship news and current affairs programme that imprints on the day's digest of news was given over to Zadie Smith to edit - a typical run of guest editors for the festive season.

And what a superb collection of reports and packages she chose.

A discussion on avant garde writing, classism in comedy, a deeply provocative report from Libera, which played more to quiet gonzoism than traditional reportage, and then a one-on-one with the Today Presenter Evan Davies where she queried whether Obama's style of politics differed for different races and cultures.

If you're interested in the germination of thought-bombs, the stuff of "blink", "Wisdom of Crowds", then I'd advise you spend sometime listening back on the programme.

I was particularly interested in the ideas surrounding 21st Century avant garde, and as Ms Smith put it, if there exist a movement that challenges traditional writings?

It's a question you could apply to modern journalism and one I constantly ask. As a side step, why do we still refer to is as journalism, when the objects we write for are no longer exclusively journals.

Hari Kunzru, another superb writer [I have a video interview of him somewhere] argued against the romanticism of the avant garde in favour of a vanguard.

The relevance of this can't be emphasised enough and dovetailed nicely into Zadie Smith's panoramic radio report, as well as a her observation of US President-elect Obama's "sweet potato pie" oratory. [ New Yorker article by Mark Danner]

Explanation: In electronic story telling, modern reportage, contemporary web story telling, is there a new discourse we (non traditionalists) can either tap into or spawn.

In the 80s this was evident in the music industry. For whatever culturally popular modernist programmes did like Top of the Pops, there was always a Guy called Gerald or Tricky.

Zadie's poetically authored, yet disturbing piece, from Liberia, in which she deliberately became part of the report, veers off to Hunter Thompson's Gonzoism, but for a completely different form - radio.

The BBC's already does this to an extent with "From our own Correspondents', but Zadie's story illustrated how the feelings, mannerism, demeanour, the ability to feel shit, guilty, impassioned could seep into a report without taking away the grand message.

It's quite deconstructive, and if anything floats towards the discursiveness of a facet of blog writing. Whilst traditional broadcast reportage, for instance at the BBC, is proud to proclaim its objectivity and impartialness, their blog has become the outlet for the story, about the story.

Over the last few years this level of reportage is becoming common place, which begs the question, what lurks behind ?

The underground by its very nature is that, often misunderstood, not universally accepted, but part of a quiet brew, which potentially could become the zeitgeist.

The many backroom experiments performed by millions, the non-conformists, is the spark plug for ideas of the future.

Zadie's report about Liberia, was as much a report about Zadie; a report within a report.

Perhaps it could only be pulled off by those adept at seducing us with their skill for words, but it works all the same and has a place to be studied or experimented with with the new vanguards.

Here for Zadie's ideas she contributed to the programme

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