Thursday, 18 November 2010

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Catch you on the flipside!


Thursday, 4 November 2010

Can I Get A Witness?

Recently, everyone I know has been eagerly debating the case of the police marksman who may have deliberately included the titles of pop songs in his evidence. It's easy to see the appeal of this story; the 'did-he-didn't-he' aspect provides far more innocuous entertainment than in, say, the case of Ian Huntley. It also presents an absolute gift for news outlets, giving them full permission to present dry legal transcripts liberally annotated with the names of pop acts - a format that (if they're being honest) has probably been brought up in at least one 'how to target young readers' brainstorming session, most likely in the development stage of the Independent's new 'i'.

In fact, the conspiracy theorist in me suspects that song-matching is just a game journos play to enliven court reporting and in this case they just happen to have hit the motherload. (How else was it spotted? Whoever noticed it would make a mean Never Mind The Buzzcocks guest. They can take Phil Jupitus' increasingly-reinforced seat.)

Aside from the seamless way the story ties in to popular culture (that is, in any use of the term loose enough to include Barbara Streisand and Chris de Burgh under its heading), the story also gives an excuse to spark up the same trite outrage at callous and casual abuses of power in government institutions. If, rather than marksman's testimony on using lethal force, the evidence had been movie titles in NHS doctor’s notes it’s doubtful whether the resulting furore would differ much more than in the specific details of what film/song titles were mentioned where in recounting the death of a human being, which is troubling .

The whole case mostly reminds me of the case during the height of rock music’s controversy when Judas Priest was actually sued after allegedly the words 'do it' were audible when playing one of their records backwards and this subliminal 'backmasked' message was apparently all the persuasion two men in Nevada needed to forumalate a suicide-pact. The story goes that after preparing a lengthy and reasoned argument for why they, in fact, weren't systematically trying to wipe-out their entire fan-base they, on a spur of the moment, took the opportunity of the court's recess in order to go to a local record store, buy a handful of the most innocuous pop hits in the charts and then brought them back and presented the argument that if they suggested to the listener what they were going to hear before they heard it, this became a self-fulfilling prophecy as that became all anyone could hear. (A great list presenting this theory can be found here: ).

The unlikelihood of this spur of the moment genius of almost scientific rationale notwithstanding, it’s easy to see a correlation with this case and that of the police marksman (currently known only as AZ8). So, in a similar vein, I decided I would make a project of taking a famous speech, such as Martin Luther’s 'I Have A Dream' or Abraham Lincoln’s 'Fourscore and seven years ago...' and highlight every song title present. I chose President Obama’s inauguration address and quickly found myself clutching at straws as I trawled through the lofty proclamations and highlighted words such as ‘Today’ or ‘Greed’ knowing they would be easy hits (though I’d argue that’s not a mile away from highlighting the word ‘Faith’ in the case of A1 and adding the words 'George Michael' next to it.)

Now, this leads me to two, equally possible, explanations: 1) Such a confluence of song titles is a rare occurrence, not that this means that U2 must therefore be guilty, but at the very least it is unusual enough that it made news (that is, excluding the aforementioned appeal in running such a story, or 2) Obama’s writing team, in the hundreds of things they have to bear in mind when making the man sound natural yet aspirational, firm yet fair, also probably keep an eye out for the use of phrases such as ‘American Idiot’.

That isn’t to say I find UB40 innocent of any untoward behaviour. The deliberate phrasing apparent before every questionable choice of words - such as: "I switched the light on, he turned towards me and I thought, 'Fuck My Old Boots, I've got a gun trained on me.'" - suggests a rather clumsy attempt at playing a game we’ve all daydreamed of if we had to have our day in court (though we might reconsider the wisdom of such hijinx in a case where we have shot and killed a young, mentally-ill man). Rather, my biggest concern is that the legality of the kill shouldn't be brought in to question because the marksman made a reference to Duran Duran, but because the firearms team he is a member of (CO19) has been the subject of controversial police shootings in the past - including that of the Brazilian commuter shot for carrying a particularly shotgun-looking table leg - and have in the past been accused of using suspiciously similar wording in their testimonies and have been collectively referred to as 'trigger-happy' by none other than Boris Johnson himself.

Tempting as it is to end this post with an obvious song title gag, I've resisted that particular tabloid urge and instead hidden one in the body of my post. Read it backwards to find it. DO IT.