March

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: 100% quarantined with no mention of coronavirus (except that one)

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

Obviously COVID-19 has been the ONLY thing in the news this week but luckily we've managed to keep our Trends quarantined and can happily confirm that the below commentary on the timelessness of prankster stunts, another theatre scandal, the second age of influencers and the 'fight fire with fire' approach to fake news. 

The Timelessness of the Prankster Stunt

Prank-based publicity stunts are timeless and this week we've seen a couple which have captured enough imagination to shine through certain higher profile events (see above, this doesn't count as a mention). 

Infamous prankster Oobah Butler's latest work involved moulding himself in the image of Andy Warhol, as a response to the upcoming Tate Modern exhibition of the artist's work, opening this week. The escapade saw him 'exhibit' a topical pastiche of Warhol’s famous Campbell’s soup can, replacing it with a product that has exploded into the public’s consciousness over the last few weeks, a face mask, which he presented in in a glass box on the street.

Butler's coronation as king of the millennial pranksters came when he tricked the British public into believing that the hottest new restaurant in London was his garden shed, having previously gained a more niche level of recognition for creating sham fashion label 'Georgio Peviani', with a persona to match, which he showcased at Paris Fashion Week in 2017. With his latest stunt he's cemented his position as lord of the high-concept prank and continues to blur the lines between smartarse mischief and performance art. 

This week also saw everyone's favourite ex-Royals the Sussexes fooled into thinking that they were talking to Gretta Thunberg on the phone when it was actually a prank call orchestrated by a pair of Russian media personalities. The sheer audacity of pulling off such a stunt in the current climate of pandemic, knife-edge West-Russia relations and against the tragic backdrop of the last royal prank call made headlines which will do its perpetrators no harm whatsoever. 

On this evidence, the puerile prank as a publicity vehicle is going absolutely nowhere.


Wreckfast on Pluto

Another scandal hit the theatre world this week, after a male cisgender actor was cast to play a transgender woman in a new musical production of Breakfast on Pluto. The decision prompted transgender actress Kate O’Donnell to pull out of the play, while a number of prominent performers and campaigners penned an open letter arguing that casting choices are “failing the next generation of trans performers.”
 
After 2019’s controversies around misbehaviour in immersive theatre and the dropping of 2 female writers from a high-profile project, it seems that this is just the latest in a long line of failings within the theatre establishment.
 
But that reading is a little simplistic. Theatre, after all, sits right at the boundary of sensitive cultural issues. Few other cultural industries make such consistent efforts to push the envelope of accessibility. But as in every other industry, we are now seeing the social sensitivities of performers and fans far outpacing that of higher powers.
 
It’s a valuable reminder that powerful communications is about more than trying to stamp your narrative on the world. By listening to your audience and staff, and adapting your behaviour accordingly, you can kill off a crisis well before it rears its ugly head.


Fake News: Fighting Fire with Fire pt. 3

Whether bots are being deployed by the Russian government to spark fake news or used to increase Instagram influencers’ followers count, inflating their ‘influence,’ their use is rampant across the internet.
 
Tech experts have been predicting for several years that facial recognition, bots and smart hacking tools will be deployed and aimed to dismantle and topple both consumers and businesses. Whilst this is largely true, could social media users spot irregular patterns in the comment section and bizarre language, undermining a bot's integrity?
 
This week, thousands of nearly identical messages of support for Boris Johnson were posted to Facebook pages stirring up concerns that Boris’s campaign team had paid for bots, prompting concerns bots were being used to sway voters.
 
However the BBC spoke to real people, both for and against Brexit, who posted these suspected bot comments.
 
It turns out that Boris’s campaign team weren’t behind this. In fact, members from Fight4Brexit were appearing to mimic ‘bot’ language to wind up ‘lefties’.
 
To confuse things further, in retaliation, the ‘lefties’ responded with fake bot code to appear as “malfunctioning bots”, reading:
 
//"brilliant fantastic"
&name=”Doris”
Code:syntax/error/
 
This has been presented as the latest attempt to fight fire with fire in the battle against Fake News (we previously discussed those of Elizabeth Warren and Martin Lewis). But when actual people are pretending to be bots, it muddies the water and could be used to the bots advantage furthering their impact.
 
With the proliferation of fake new and 'bot warfare', the addition of social media users cynically mimicking bots be another signal that we are entering into dangerous times.


Forged in the Fyre: A New Influencer age? 

For a festival which never happened, the ill-fated (and oft-cited in this newsletter) Fyre Festival has proven influential to say the least, becoming the byword for disastrous cultural projects driven by entitled millennial hubris, and also as a crucial moment of seed change in influencer marketing.
 
But its latest legacy this week was something of an amusing surprise, generating international headlines and ample social media chatter: Andy King, the one professional sane adult in the whole fiasco – whose willingness to perform a sex act in lieu of paying a customs charge was the defining symbol of the festival’s descent into insanity- is now FULLY PREPARED to launch a speaking tour of the UK.
 
The irony of course is that this death knell for the first age of influencers has created a whole slew of new ones, with Andy, one of the more popular characters to emerge, now looking to make the transition from Meme to media personality. He’s an affable, articulate guy but so intense was our fascination with Fyre that there isn’t much new detail he can reveal; he’s going to need another topic if he wants to remain part of the conversation much longer.  
 
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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends - Comedy Special: Spitting Image | Netflix | Hugo Boss/Joe Lycett | Public Enemy

Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

We're maintaining our vow not to mention a certain illness whose primary symptom seems to be total domination of news outlets the world over. Instead we've got a bit of a Comedy Special this week with some room for more 'rock star' high jinks.


Spitting Image: A Pale Imitation?

The return of legendary satirical puppet show Spitting Image - on Britbox after over 20-years in the televisual wilderness- has split opinion. Consensus is sliding into the environs of the negativity heaped on the streaming service’s launch, slowed only fractionally by the nation’s cuddly nostalgia for the original series.

On the surface, this was a reasonable punt by Britbox’s execs for whom cuddly nostalgia is the main chance of domestic success (buttressed by a uniquely small-town-boomer rejection of the idea that some television doesn’t age well socially or politically).
 
But, as we’ve discussed before (around the return of Gavin and Stacey), a comedy reboot can only be successful if enough of the premise and the humour on which it is built have survived. Political satire does not fare well under this hypothesis.

To outrun the Mr Blobby-ish destructive incompetence of our political reality, modern satire has to be unrecognisably brutal compared to the original Spitting Image. Armando Iannucci’s venomous nihilism still cuts it, but we’ve entered an age when even a Chris Morris film can be yawned away as ‘muted’. Same goes for the live scene; Jordan Brookes’ reigning Edinburgh Comedy Award winning show is rife with suicide, incest and apocalypse. God help anything too much lighter.

If Spitting Image isn’t shockingly edgy and surgically incisive then it’ll surely suffer the same demise as another tragically Eurydicean comic resurrection, Yes Minister.


Netflix is in on the Joke

Last year Netflix’s gradual transition from small screen ubiquity to major player in the events world kicked into gear with a range of own-brand cinemas, confirming most people’s suspicion that the world’s newest major studio is ripping up the cinematic rulebook.
 
The big guns are now trained on the live space, with this week's announcement of Netflix's first comedy festival in LA. This is significant both in terms of media giants injecting their delicious, syrupy content into our real lives, and utterly transforming a live comedy scene which lacks a truly dominant force.
 
On one hand, Netflix is unfussily making its content available outside of our bedrooms and living rooms (alongside the cinema and the comedy they allowed Secret Cinema to fiddle with their Stranger Things IP) - fulfilling their target demographic’s dual desires to discover more experiential cultural activities and to NEVER STOP WATCHING NETFLIX.
 
On the other, Netflix already has enough money to outright buy the Edinburgh Fringe – the incumbent world-biggest comedy festival, and dwarfs the current ‘giants’ of the industry like Live Nation. They have to produce their comedy specials anyway so might as well cash in by selling tickets to the live events. If the model works, and Netflix grabs enough land to establish a serious headstart over its fellow media giants, this could change the face of live comedy permanently.


Who's the Boss?

Comedian Joe Lycett has risen to highest echelons of his trade thanks to a gilded combination of being a genuinely nice guy and a master of the self-promotion stunt.
 
His latest was to legally change his own name to Hugo Boss to protest the fashion behemoth’s decision to send a cease-and-desist notice to Boss Brewing – a beer company which shares no easily discernible brand similarities other than a couple of tenuously named beers.
 
The caper made headlines around the world, even inspiring a ‘hilarious’ series of sub-stunts in which people changed their names to Joe Lycett, and has surely added another layer of gloss to the comedian’s already very healthy public image. But – borrowing our government’s distinctive style of streamrollering mockingly over criticism- Hugo Boss’ blackslappingly patronising response dismissed the protest out-of-hand, revealing that Boss Brewing had already (after parting with significant legal fees) consented to change the names of two of their beers to keep the big beast at bay.
 
Still, at least more people know who Boss Brewing are now…and Joe Lycett’s next tour will almost definitely sell out. Every cloud…

Drake adds youthful touch to 'Ageing Shock Jock' Brigade
 
As Spotify attempts to increase profits by devising new methods to force artists and labels to pay them money for promoting their music on the platform, Kendrick Lamar has hinted at an alternative to the streaming giants' dominance, with the cryptic launch of 'pgLang': “pgLang is multilingual. Our community speaks music, film, television, art, books, and podcasts

It’s unclear what exactly pgLang will do but it’s whipping up hype with an exciting launch video featuring Jorja Smith, Florence Welch and Kendrick himself, proving that sometimes less is more when attempting to generate excitement.
 
Kendrick’s subtlety seems to elude Drake, after the rapper released a brand-new song referencing Michael Jackson and the child molestation allegations. We’ve previously written about Wiley, Eminem and Green Day’s ageing shock jock tactics, and now the trend seems to be spreading to younger artists closer to their commercial peak. Why? Maybe because the others, while taking a slagging off, are making headlines.
 
On that very topic, hip-hop royalty Public Enemy had a vintage bust-up, firing Flavor Flav over an apparent internal clash over their decision to perform at a Bernie Sanders rally. Petty, petulant, of no moral substance, but we talked about it. While that's the stock public response, expect more of the old guard to follow suit. 

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