That Ice Bucket Meme

Posted: August 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

Memes were named when evolutionist God-smiter, turned social media embarrassment, Richard Dawkins was challenged to think of something other than genes that would replicate and change through a process similar to natural selection. They’re pieces of cultural information that spread among communities like a virus, evolving slightly in the telling, where ones that fail to interest or engage die out in the “meme pool”, and strong ones continue to spread and to evolve.

Dawkins (of course) cited religion as a key example of a meme, the idea being that the religions that last the test of time have evolved certain features that make them more robust and survivable, including such as things exclusivity, visual identifiers, fear of eternal punishment for doubt, and encouragement to have lots of children. But memes can be a lot more subtle and ephemeral than this – an idea, a song that gets in your head, or a funny picture of a cat.

Why am I babbling on about this? The latest meme to emerge from the primordial soup of Facebook is the Ice Bucket Challenge, where you find yourself nominated to video yourself throwing a bucket of iced water over your head, or else give money to the ALS Association, or Motor Neurone Disease Association (although I’ve also seen it done for other charities, especially MacMillan Cancer Care).

The throwing of water over your head is not a new concept. The ‘Cold Water Challenge’ has been around for a while in New Zealand and the US, and earlier in the year the meme spread randomly to the Deaf community, who were liberally slopping water over their heads, seemingly just for the sheer heck of it without an attached charity involved. It also has more than a whiff of a cleaned up Neknominate, where instead of challenging a friend to drink enough booze in one gulp to make their liver explode (something that was a cross between a mass online frat party and Darwinian natural selection in action) it’s something that’s a bit uncomfortable, but much less dangerous and far more socially acceptable.

It’s also a variation of the ‘No Make-up Selfie’ craze that lived and died its natural death a few months ago, where women, in an act that pushed feminism back about 30 years, were “dared” to take a photo of themselves revealing the ragged harridans they obviously look like without their slap on, to “raise awareness” for cancer charities. People soon realised the “raising awareness” angle was abject bollocks, and added a donation link to proceedings, raising a metric shitload for charity. 

And this is where a very clever memetic mutation kicks in. These aren’t charities that have decided to think of a cool way to raise money. These are memes that have had arbitrary charities tacked on to them to help them spread. If you don’t do as you’re told by them and – most importantly spread them further – then you are a heartless bastard who does not care about the charity involved. And when oodles of cash are being raised, how can you criticise? The arbitrary charity involvement is an evolutionary masterstroke of these memes, as it’s made them flame-retardant.

Let’s be clear about this. I have no right to tell you to throw a bucket of water over your head. Nor have I got a right to demand you give to a particular charity at a particular time. None of the charities I have mentioned here are undeserving of money or attention. But there are many other charities out there, and it is a personal choice which one you give to, when, and by how much. No-one knows what their friends are donating to charity quietly, without fuss, and without an accompanying attention-seeking, bandwagon-jumping video filmed in portrait mode on their phone (sorry, another pet hate there…). 

If I messaged a Facebook friend and told them to take a picture of themselves filling their wellies with Malteasers, or else they had to give a donation to the RSPCA, would anyone actually do it? Make a video of you dancing round a fountain with a lampshade on your head or donate to British Heart Foundation? Hit yourself in the knackers with a conker or you have to donate to the Campaign For Real Ale? 

Just because millions of other people are doing it doesn’t make it less annoying or more appropriate to order people to give to charity, or else do an uncomfortable forfeit. You do not have the right to shame people into passing on what is essentially a particularly cold, damp chain letter.

These memes will run their course and die, both the ‘Ice Bucket’ meme, and the wider ‘I nominate you!’ “charity” meme. But until they do just ask yourself if you have the right to order people to do this, and don’t harass them or shame them if they choose not to. They may well be giving way more than you know to charity, without a meme telling them to do it.

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A guide to Christmas

Posted: December 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

Christmas is an occasion in which we celebrate (or, in many cases, completely ignore) the birthday of a 2,000 year old Judaean preacher, who may or may not have been the Son of God. We celebrate this on the 25th December. We don’t really know his birthday, but this seems like a good time to have it anyway. All we know is he was born in a shed to a virgin, some wise men gave him some not particularly age-appropriate presents, and some donkeys were present.

This momentous story is celebrated in the following ways:

  • The first signs of Christmas start to appear some time around August Bank Holiday Monday. Little festive adverts start appearing, and before long Christmas songs start being played in shops, because otherwise you would forget it was going to happen. (Christmas songs are released by pop artists, who release slightly substandard versions of their usual songs accompanied by sleigh bells and choirs, as a kind of failsafe pension scheme. Nothing can stop a Christmas song being played in perpetuity once it is released, except possibly Operation Yewtree).
  • Some time during December, a medium-sized fir tree is brought into the house and placed in the corner of a room. Sometimes this is a real one that drops all its needles before its left the boot of the car. Alternatively it can be made of plastic. This is adorned with baubles, tinsel, laughably unreliable lightbulbs, assorted festive miniatures on strings, and, if you have small cats, small cats. Also during December, children open doors on a cardboard ‘calendar’. This can either be a series of boring, badly-painted religious scenes, or chunks of soapy chocolate hidden behind a huge picture of Homer Simpson in a Santa hat. Depends on the parents, really.
  • Following a tradition started by the wise men of old, presents are exchanged at Christmas. This basically involves the country spending billions of barely affordable pounds on items you know deep down people don’t want, which you exchange for items that you don’t really want, when if everyone just kept the money and spent it on crisps everyone would probably be happier. But that’s not the spirit of Christmas. This fun activity is aided by the group experience of wandering around packed chainstores, crammed with crying shoppers staring listlessly at racks of consumer items wondering which one is the least inappropriate thing to purchase for a vaguely racist uncle they bearly know or like, and others wondering how they can actually afford to eat in January because advertising pressure has forced them to buy a top spec MacBook Air for each of their sixteen third cousins.
  • Children are especially showered with presents at Christmas, as it is well known (by children) that the number of presents a child receives is in direct proportion to how much they are loved. For some reason no-one really owns up to (possibly this is a tradition thought up during the heyday of 1960s LSD consumption, but no-one really knows), they are told that a fat bearded man in a red suit comes from the North Pole on a magic flying sledge pulled by reindeer and delivers all the gifts to every child in the world on Christmas Eve. This is despite the fact most of the offerings are obviously from the Argos Catalogue. Parents spend the entire night carefully fabricating a visit from this man, known as ‘Santa’, only to be awoken nine minutes later by braying children, completely off their tits on a heady brew of sleep deprivation, magical lies, and rampant consumerism.
  • As well as presents, pieces of cardboard are bought and sent to people wishing them a merry Christmas, even if you see them every day and can physically wish them a merry Christmas. But that’s not the spirit of Christmas. They exist to fall off mantelpieces when doors open and close, creating a fun Christmas game of “pick up card”. These cards depict various items and scenes associated with Christmas. This includes pictures of the baby Jesus in English winter landscapes, snowy scenes (although it almost never snows at Christmas in Britain), robins (a small thrush-like bird present in Britain all year), holly (a spiky plant present in Britain all year), penguins (a flightless aquatic bird that lives in Antarctica, where there is actually snow at Christmas, I’ll give them that one), and the aforementioned Santa. Sometimes a combination of these images is proffered, but only rarely are Jesus and penguins found together.
  • On Christmas day a huge meal is consumed, the centerpiece of which is a large North American game bird accompanied by traditional English vegetables, many of which nobody eats for the rest of the year because they’re rank. The meal is followed up by the ‘Christmas pudding’, the only dessert in existence that absolutely no-body likes, which we make even less edible by putting coins in it and setting it on fire. This opulent banquet, that everyone has been waiting for all year, is almost always spoilt by the fact most of the family have somehow forgotten to leave room for it and have been eating industrial quantities of Miniature Heroes since 6am. It is also made extra traditional by reinforcing old-fashioned gender roles, where the chief female of the household does all the work while everyone else plays with new toys and belches to themselves.
  • After the meal people pull toilet roll middles wrapped in shiny paper, in which has been placed a very disappointing explosive, a terrible joke, a paper hat that tears instantly, and more often than not a yellow plastic scorpion. This is followed by a short TV broadcast by a posh tortoise that rules the country, a special episode of a soap opera in which one of the main cast has their arm ripped off in a gas explosion and gets run over by a runaway hearse, and ends with everyone playing a series of board games that by now everyone is a bit too tipsy to know how to play properly (note: Christmas is the only time, outside long haul air travel and Scotland, where it’s acceptable to drink alcohol before 7am). The most popular is a game called ‘Trivial Pursuit’, which is usually an edition bought from a charity shop thirty years ago and bores everyone rigid with questions about the 1980 Winter Olympics, and the shadow cabinets of Eastern European countries that don’t exist any more. All family members over 40 will insist on incorrectly calling it ‘Trivial Pursuits’ – this is one of the fundamental laws of the universe.
  • After Christmas Day comes ‘Boxing Day’. This is a day where you catch up with all the people you didn’t manage to see on Christmas Day, and do exactly the same things for a second day running. The only change is shops start their post-Christmas sales, meaning in just 24 hours the cost of everything you purchased is now a fraction of what you paid, making a cruel mockery of the three store cards and eighteen Wonga loans you took out in fear of looking like a horrible Mr Scroogey McScroogepants.
  • Christmas is over, but the festive period has one more tradition in the form of ‘New Year’, in which the world gets really excited because they get to start a new calendar. This occasion involves having a competition to see how many fire regulations you can break in one pub, linking arms, and singing a barely intelligible Scottish dirge that no-one really knows. For those that do not like the occasion, a small goblin man puts on a televised event called ‘Hootenanny’, in which he plays boogie woogie piano with Mark Knopfler, Salif Keita and Rowland Rivron, in an exercise in smug middle class bonhomie designed to make you wish you’d bothered to asphyxiate in the local pub after all. In some families the raging hangover caused by this event is mocked by older members, who decide the lunchtime after is a time for a huge roast dinner, because it’s now nearly a week since you last consumed one, and it’s the obvious choice of meal to soak up the 32 blue WKDs and small bath of Malibu you somehow, against all odds, managed to squeeze to the bar to purchase.

So that’s Christmas, the most wonderful time of year, and I’m sure you’ll agree the perfect way to cherish the memory of a holy infant. Ho ho ho!

Some ideas for George Osborne

Posted: October 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

Today George Osborne laid out his idea for a fantastic new venture – workers relinquishing their employment rights in exchange for company shares. Trifling stuff like the inability to be unfairly dismissed, the right to redundancy pay, and generally not being treated like a 19th Century mill worker, given up in exchange for shares for a company that may or not be worth jack shit. Why has no-one come up with this before? It’s a winner!

Here are some further ideas in the same vein which I think Osborne would like to add to his manifesto.

1. Council tax rebate in exchange for promising never to go to the doctors.

£20 a month off your Council Tax if you promise not to seek NHS care, and if you get ill vow you’ll just not complain about it and curl up in the corner of your hovel and die.

2. A Terry’s Chocolate Orange in exchange for your right to a fair trial.

Juries, judges… all namby pamby, left wing flippancies. What people want are lovely Chocolate Oranges. Who really cares if you’re wrongly accused of a crime and thrown into a cold, shit-filled well, if you’ve got a fake citrus fruit made of tasty milk chocolate to enjoy while you’re down there?

3. A half-filled Starbucks loyalty card in exchange for clean, running water.

The Labour government drove this country to the brink of financial disaster by wasting billions on pipes and treatment works. Do your bit to stop this waste, and you could be enjoying a lovely foamy latte before you know it. Mmmmmm.

4. The ability to watch Homeland without adverts in exchange for freedom of speech.

Everybody hates the fact the tense narrative of terrorist-thriller Homeland is interrupted by adverts for phones and cars and shit every 5-7 seconds. You can end this by relinquishing your right to free speech. You may note the irony that you’re exchanging this for a drama about evil Muslim plotters, but don’t voice it or you’ll be bundled into a van and hit with a stick.

5. An iPhone 5 in exchange for oxygen.

Come on, it’s a no-brainer isn’t it? Who needs to breathe when you’ve got the world’s greatest telephonic device at your disposal? Thank Osborne with a special “Thank You George” app – but hurry before you fully asphyxiate!

I think these ideas are just as great, feasible and not-at-all-sinister as George’s. If anyone from Conservative HQ is reading this, I demand nothing for giving you these ideas, except a peerage and a choc ice.

I can pinpoint the exact moment when my deep Olympic cynicism started. It was the end of the Beijing closing ceremony, after China had put on a truly beautiful, breathtaking show with impressive organisational skill you suspect only a Marxist-Leninist authoritarian state with 1.2 billion people at its disposal could manage. And then came shambling the Brits for the handover.

Enter a double decker bus, followed by the grinning chiselled face of David Beckham, possibly the only British sportsman we thought anyone would recognise, and Cowell sausage-factory alumnus Leona Lewis warbling from the top. And to make it worse it introduced the world to the recently-elected London Mayor Boris Johnson, who appeared less like a man than a drunken Paddington Bear that had killed someone and was wearing their skin as a suit.

This embarrassing display made me dread our opening ceremony, thinking we’d get more of the same and show ourselves up good and proper when our turn for the Olympics arrived. And in the four years between Beijing and London a lot happened. We stared into the abyss of debt, we replaced a tired Labour government with an unholy Tory/Lib Dem alliance, and saw cuts across the board on welfare, health, security, higher education, local government, the arts and much else that is good, and decent, and necessary. The cost of The Games spiralled out of control, and it seemed that in the face of such service-slashing, spending upwards of £20 billion on some hopping and jumping for Londoners seemed even less appealing. And from a personal level the sport just didn’t interest me at all.

As the games got closer more cracks appeared to show. The security was revealed to be woefully inadequate. There were fears for the working conditions of the volunteers. Anti-aircraft missiles were plonked on top of residential tower blocks, fuelling fears of a terrorist attack. Ticket prices seemed to out price normal people. “Brand police” were protecting sponsors’ interests to the degree that people were seriously wondering if they could wear Nike trainers into the arena. It was looking like an almighty cockup waiting to happen.

But flash forward to just over two weeks ago, and one man pulled off the impossible and thawed our icy hearts, and that was Danny Boyle. His opening ceremony was an absolute triumph, and silenced almost every cynic. It was an absolutely brilliant encapsulation of Britishness, highlighting our history, a kind of grim cheerfulness, weird sense of humour, and great music. It even managed to piss of some Tory MPs by having an entire section praising the NHS, and having some black people in it. Those of us that needed converting the most – the leftie joy stranglers – were won over. We were feeling patriotic, on our terms, and it was great.

And then the sport happened, and I surprised myself by being glued to a good chunk of it. I think of lot of my antipathy to sport stems from the fact football is our “national game”. A game that worships mardy, millionaire sex pests, who seem pathologically incapable of winning an international tournament despite being paid per year more than most will be in a lifetime, never really appealed to me that much. Yet we were showing what we were actually good at as a nation – cycling, rowing, athletics, prancing about on horses, all performed in the whole by sportspeople who seemed like thoroughly decent people.

In the end the Olympics was brilliant. There, I said it. All the perceived problems never happened, and we cynics were proved horribly, embarrassingly wrong by two impeccably-run weeks of sporting fun, that it was totally impossible to sneer at without looking like a churlish, humourless prick.

Last night’s closing ceremony was pretty awful though, almost exactly what I dreaded the opening ceremony would be. For everything that was good – The Who, Ray Davies, Eric Idle, Pet Shop Boys scooting around like gladiators on little keyboard chariots – there was something awful – Kaiser Chiefs, Jessie J taking Freddie’s role in Queen, Spice Girls bellowing from atop taxis, organisers deciding to let George Michael do a song off his new bloody album. But even this tawdry end to proceedings couldn’t spoil a good couple of weeks.

The word “legacy” has been bandied around so much, and it’s now up to us what we do with it. In the next few weeks politicians will be trying their hardest to use the good feelings of the nation for their own advantage. Cameron for example has jumped on everyone’s sport-loving wave of euphoria, and announced he’s ploughing funding into competitive sports in schools, and ending an “everyone’s a winner” mentality where schools are too politically correct to run competitions (which sounds too much like a Richard Littlejohn wet dream to be reality, surely?). He’s singled out for ridicule “Indian dancing” in schools as the epitome of the excesses of this and (taking the vague racism aside) misses the point that those who aren’t so good at sports need to do activities to keep them fit where they don’t feel like a constant podgy failure. Why not a bit of Indian dancing for those who can’t compete at rugby or football? (And why is that laughable, but rhythmic gymnastics, synchronised swimming and chuffin’ dressage not?).

And while we’re pumping money into school sports, is that really the most important thing in the world? While I’m happy for them, I’d rather have a society that’s not slashing support for the disabled and the sick than see a gold medal hanging from Chris Hoy or Jessica Ennis’ necks. And of course that’s a ridiculously simplistic, over-emotive, one-or-the-other attitude. But that’s exactly the kind of argument put forward to us when arts funding was slashed. Times are tough… would we rather have a UK film industry or treatment for sick kids? Libraries or care homes? Museums and art galleries or a stable economy?

Medals for athletes are inspiring for the British public, and great, but so was the King’s Speech winning Oscars, but that didn’t stop the end of the Film Council (despite having tangible financial rewards too). Sport and arts aren’t that different really when you boil them down – intrinsically pointless hobbies for individuals that are nonetheless important to a nation for its morale and wellbeing, that enrich people’s lives, that employ people, and give a passion and voice to young people. If we’re admitting sport is well worth the cash, we must admit the arts are too.

I’ve heard it said the vast wedges of cash thrown at the Olympics have been money well spent as they’ve cheered up a gloomy country. And possibly that’s right, but with politicians poised to sweep in and take credit for this good feeling, we have to make sure we’ve be not been too distracted from the fact nothing much has changed – we may have a bit of national pride, a smile on our faces and an overflowing medal cabinet, but we’re still seeing terrifying reforms for the sick and the needy and the vulnerable, the NHS dismantled around us, ridiculously large tax breaks given to the rich, a gaping hole of debt that shows no signs of being filled despite swingeing cuts, and the futures of young people dissolved in ways that increased sports spending will do little to improve.

But despite all that, in conclusion on the Olympics, yes I was cynical, and yes I was proved wrong. They were superb, and fair play to all who organised it, and congrats to all the athletes.

Unmenshnably Crap

Posted: June 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

Yesterday I signed up to new social networking site Menshn. I must admit I did so to wallow in a bit of  schadenfreude, as not only is it being launched by high-profile Tory MP Louise Mensch, but the co-creator and technical mastermind behind the site, former Labour “technology expert” Luke Bozier, had claimed it would “rival Twitter”. All indications suggested it would be rubbish and… well it is. But there are much deeper and more worrying problems than that.

Let’s start with the site itself. The name is actually fairly clever, until you realise it’s a pun on Mensch’s name. Imagine how different it would be if all masterminds of Internet startups were so vainglorious – would we have been so keen to embrace FaceZuck, Walesipedia or TomSpace? If I started a video streaming service and called it PeteTube would people do anything else but laugh in my face? Yeah “Menshn” is a nice pun, but it’s cringey to use it in this way.

So the purpose of the site is it’s very much like Twitter, except you have to speak on certain topics. These topics are very few, so far only consisting of US Elections, Tech, UK Politics, Euro 2012 and, um, Women. Want to talk about Wimbledon or the Olympics, or Greek politics, or what’s on TV? Sorry, you can’t. The masters have spoken – these are the only topics you can discuss. You can request a new topic, and if it’s deigned suitable for the site then they might add it if they feel like it.

(And “women” as a topic?! Really? Doesn’t it beggar belief that one of the most high profile female Conservative MPs approves the retrogressive shit that “women” counts as a topic of discussion?!)

This is both a failure to understand social networking, and a worrying insight into how Louise Mensch sees the Internet working. Twitter and Facebook work by allowing us to think that it’s our online space. They’ll wade in if you break the rules to a degree that’s illegal or obscene, but generally they sit back and allow you to do what you want, while they reap benefits from your personal data or ad clicks.

What people don’t want is to be told what they’re allowed to talk about, and go scraping and bowing to the web masters when they want to talk about something else. It shows up again Mensch’s stupid grasp of the Internet (remember this is a woman who said Twitter should be switched off during national crises – no Arab Spring for us then!). She obviously thinks the social networking should be a nice walled, carefully policed area where web masters vet everything that’s said and posted is moderated for its suitability. Do we really want that Internet? If she wasn’t a high profile and politically ambitious MP with an interest in these matters it would be funny, but as it is it’s very concerning.

The idea as well that this solves a problem with Twitter – that people just don’t know how to find stuff to talk about – is pathetic. Anyone who knows how to use Twitter properly can find a conversation in no time. Consider this – imagine something unexpected has just happened that people want to discuss, say half way through an episode of Time Team Live Tony Robinson sets his arm on fire. You want to follow people’s reactions? Click on the hashtag #timeteam (or #tonyrobinson, or #baldricklimbinferno). Job’s a goodun. On Menshn you’d have to either beg the web masters to allow you to talk about it, or lose the conversation among the whole of the TV Section (which doesn’t exist yet). So how is this better than Twitter again…?

Another big issue is scalability. To keep threads on-topic (which is the point of the site), there must be heavy moderation to weed out not just the trolls and spammers, but the genuine drift of conversation, and people plonking topics in the wrong place because there’s nowhere else to post them. At the moment – seeing as the contact details is to direct message Mensch or Bozier themselves – there seems to be a staff of two, and one of them is the MP for Corby and presumably (and hopefully) too busy serving her constituents to spend her time answering technical support queries and moderating troll attacks. And they do seem to have a very heavy-handed moderation policy – more on this later.

Another thing is that posts only stay on the site for a week. Supposedly it’s to keep topics fresh, but cynics would say it’s because the site only has piddly server space. So people can’t see how a conversation started if it began more than a week ago? So a big news story breaks while you’re on a two week holiday? Well, there’s no way of going back and skimming through what people were saying on Menshn. Ridiculous.

But let’s be honest – the site is terrible, but crapness is not a crime. It’s up to startups to try these things, and if people don’t like it they won’t use it. But there are far bigger issues than the fact the site isn’t very good, and that’s the gaping security issues.

I signed up via Facebook, and was on the site. There no warning it would install cookies although it did (naughty!), and I instantly started to get emails from the site with no mention on them of how to unsubscribe. But the worst part is the site has proven to almost pathetically easy to hack. For a social networking site, with ambitions to take over Twitter, the lack of security protocols and disregard for the protection of users’ personal details is unforgivable.

So the mix of utter pointlessness and security minefield led me to decide, a couple of hours after signing up, I’d delete my profile. Um… there’s no way to do it. Once you’re in there, you can’t leave. So I PM Bozier and the MP for Corby, saying I want to leave as the security issues are bothering me and, to be honest, the site isn’t worth staying around. Bozier replies (he’s going to be busy guy isn’t he?) and says:

 ‘The security reports are unfounded, and based on malicious rumours. We\’d be sad to see you go, but we are implementing a \’close account\’ function shortly.’

So… not only is he downplaying the security issues (either there’s a lot of lying geeks out there mocking up fake screenshots of hacks, or Bozier’s not being totally honest with his users), but he hasn’t thought of putting a ‘close account’ function on the site before launch. The whole fiasco is basically a complete exercise in tin-pot amateurishness, which makes me wish I had more than one face and more than two palms to really convey the utter ineptitude that’s going on here.

So on Menshn, one wag suggests I slag off the Conservative Party to get myself booted off, which seems to account for a lot of missing members. So I do. I post:

The Tory Party is a big pile of shit!

And within minutes when I revisit the site and get a screen blank except for the word “blocked” in the top corner. Result!

I’ve no idea why this actually caused my blocking – was it the profanity? Was it because I was trolling? Was it because I insulted Mensch’s party? Was it deemed off topic? Don’t they like you making obscure Spaced references? Who knows, because they didn’t tell me. They just hit the “block” button.

BUT! On using a different machine in a different building this morning, I decided to see if my account was deleted or I’d been IP blocked, and I find myself automatically signed in via Facebook, with a different username (PeteM2, rather than PeteM1) and signed up to a completely fresh account, without doing anything. What the hell is going on? This is getting stupid now.

Menshn is a bad idea, very poorly executed. Bozier’s a supposed tech expert that has shown terrible judgement and created not only an appallingly thought-out social network, but one that fails spectacularly on the technical front. And in Mensch it shows just what a terrifying prospect she is should she ever become a minister – someone who seems so interested in how we use social networking, but shows a terrifyingly misunderstanding of what it actually is. This, everyone, is her vision of the Internet – people told what to talk about, and pounced on it they transgress. Scary, scary stuff.

(EDIT – Just noticed there is now a “close account” button in your control panel, and it’s refreshing to see it’s a “delete” not a Facebook-style “deactivate”. ANOTHER EDIT – Although with Mensch on Twitter claiming she can “restore accounts” is this actually true?. THIRD EDIT – I deleted my account. It said “Sorry to see you go. Come back soon”. Job done, I thought. Then I go to the site’s homepage and it’s automatically signed me in again via Facebook. Seriously, this is getting ridiculous. EDIT 4… It seems that whilever you’ve got Facebook permissions set to access the site you will always be logged in with a new account if you have Facebook open, even if you’ve deleted your Menshn account. So if you delete your account make sure you delete the app from Facebook too.)

In two of the local bus stations I’ve recently seen a very ominous poster informing that CCTV operates in the area. Made to look like a 40s propoganda poster (in the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ vein), it starkly proclaims ‘My Eyes Never Blink’. It’s as if the advertising execs have gone: “People think CCTV surveilance in public places is creepy and sinister, why not just work with that and ramp up the creepiness?”. It’s a weird kind of honesty – instead of cooing reassurances of “it’s OK, love, we’ve got our eyes on the baddies, don’t you worry”, it’s a balls-out “WE’RE WATCHING YOU, CITIZEN”.

Which, in a funny way, reminded me of that horrible Littlewoods Christmas ad. For those fortunate enough not to have seen it, it’s a heart-smashing tribute to all that is wrong with the festive period, with children using the setting of a school nativity to praise their “lovely, lovely mothers” for providing a range of high-end consumer goods which she’s purchased with interest free credit. A blinging D&G watch for dad. An HTC mobile phone for Uncle Ken. A top-spec Macbook Pro for Grandad. A Lambourghini for next door’s guinea pig. (I made one of those up).

The ad pisses with enthusiastic gusto on many Christmas traditions, from reappropriating the traditional schooltime telling of Baby J’s birth into a theatre of consumerist horror, to stripping away the Santa myth and replacing it with the slightly less charming “your mum orders it from a catalogue”. And it spreads the idea, marketed directly to children, that real Christmases are made from a massive pile of barely affordable tat, and mothers that do are the good ones, ergo that ones that can’t, aren’t. It’s a horrible, cynical campaign.

But, like the scary CCTV posters in Barnsley bus station, surely this is just honesty? Every Christmas ad is essentially saying the same thing – “Christmas will be better if you buy some stuff, it would be even better if you bought it from us”. The John Lewis snifflefest featuring a young lad counting down the days until he can give his parents their Christmas present, seems on the surface the complete antithesis of the Littlewoods one – a selfless little boy who can’t wait until he can bring joy to his parents as opposed to a bunch of braying brats wittering on about X-Boxes. But deep down there’s no difference, the message is the same – “giving people things is very important at Christmas, it would be better if you bought them from John Lewis”. It’s done with more finesse and in a less obnoxious way, but the intention of the advertiser is the same.

So perhaps we should thank Littlewoods for laying bare the true meaning of Christmas advertising – not wrapping it up in an engineered heartstring-tugger like John Lewis, but bringing to the surfice the true ghastly offensiveness of advertisers’ drive to teach the world that Christmas is ruined if you don’t lavish your loved ones with extravagant gifts, preferably purchased from the store in question. Like the CCTV posters the advertisers know it’s creepy and sinister, and for once aren’t hiding it.

The other evening, you’ve probably heard, middle-aged celebrity troll Jeremy Clarkson angered the nation by going on the One Show sofa saying striking public sector workers should be “executed in front of their families”.

Now obviously he was joking. Only a fool would think he’s about to get a rifle out of the back of whatever ridiculous penis-substitute he’s driving these days and start taking pot-shots at passing lollipop ladies while their weeping children look on. It was exaggeration, so over the top his comments have a refuge in audacity and cannot be taken seriously. Some people have taken this too seriously – I’ve seen one union statement that makes me think its leaders actually fear he’s coming round to kill its members one by one (whether or not they expect James May and the Hamster to help out, or wether Jezza will be a lone angel of death, I do not know).

And it was largely part of a, badly executed and misjudged joke, about BBC impartiality. The fifteen seconds of him calling some unholy petrolhead fatwah has, to be fair, been taken out of context.

But is it worth complaining about? Yes. Offensive as the idea of a tight-jeaned, paunchy motoring correspondent casually offing teachers and cleaners is, it was the slightly less headline-grabbing end of the statement that riled me. “They should all be shot,” is a stupid punchline to a shit joke. The end of the statement – “I mean, how dare they go on strike when they’ve got these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed while the rest of us have to work for a living?” – is the bit that stings.

Agree with the strike or not, we’re talking nurses, teachers and others who do often thankless yet vital jobs, for not fantastic wages, and get a pile of grief off many because at the end of it all they could (previously) expect a pension that was a bit less shitty than some other people get. While Clarkson’s comments only mirror a surprising number of people in the private sector (as Facebook taught me on the day of the strikes), it’s the idea that he’s “one of the rest of them” that’s insulting. Basically saying nurses, teachers, ambulance drivers, police and firemen don’t “work for a living”, but a man paid to prance about with his mates talking shit about cars and telling oh-so-hilariously-un-PC jokes about such worthy targets as Mexicans and truckers DOES, seemingly without a hint of irony, even as part of a crap joke, is deeply, deeply wrong. Oh, and who pays his wages (estimated at £1.2million a year)? Tax- and license-payers. You could get an awful lot of nurses for that.

But, I have to concede that I wouldn’t like to see Clarkson sacked (or indeed, executed in front of his family) for this one ill-timed gag. I don’t want to live in a country where people are forced to leave their jobs for telling a joke. But I think we have to ask ourselves – with Top Gear one of the biggest exported brands the BBC has to offer, do we really want childish, purposefully-offensive oafs like Clarkson representing us to the world? Do we really want to tune in and watch some idiot saying the most outrageous thing he can think of just to wind up people who really don’t deserve it (ha! That’ll show the Mexican bastards! And those truckers! And those nursing wankers!)? He’s standing up against liberal PC-oppression! say his apologists. Is he bollocks. He’s just being a dick. He’s not anti-establishment in a shape or form, he is the establishment, in a way only one of the Prime Minister’s cliquey best mates can.

So while I think sacking is over the top for what essentially boils down to a crap, misjudged joke, I do think it’s time the BBC considered retiring the Clarkson character. There are better ways to spend £1.2million of our hard-earned cash than some sneering millionaire laughing at those less well off than him.