The Sunday dozen

27th January 2024

John Wyver writes: as usual, I’m pleased to share twelve of the articles and audio contributions that engaged and challenged and intrigued me during the past seven days.

How the government captured the BBC: this is excellent from Alan Rusbridger, late of the Guardian and LMH and now editor of Prospect [£, but limited free access] – here’s the set-up, with the handy cutout-and-keep diagram above also coming from the article:

This is a story of wheels within wheels. It takes us into the clouded intersection between UK politics and media. We meet a cast of characters who have long wished to control, abolish or diminish the BBC and its public service broadcasting cousins. We peep into the shadowy world of how public appointments are fixed. We learn how fragile some of our great institutions are. And we discover that Sir Robbie Gibb, until 2017 a -middle-ranking TV executive, may well now be the most important journalist at the BBC, and therefore in the country.

I smell mink coats: for London Review of Books [£, but limited free access] this is a richly detailed and deeply insightful response by Paul Keegan to Tate Modern’s current glorious Philip Guston retrospective, which is on only until 25 February; if you’ve not yet seen it, go, and with Keegan in hand.

Cindy Sherman – woman of an uncertain age: terrific New York Times essay by Nancy Princenthal about the artist’s most recent work, now on view in New York at Hauser & Wirth, including some really striking artwork images.

W. G. Sebald’s deepfakes – on Shadows of Reality: a very fine LA Review of Books essay by Adam Sobsey reviewing Shadows of Reality: A Catalogue of W. G. Sebald’s Photographic Materials, which has an introduction by Nick Warr:

What Sebald was really about, it seems to me, was the deep and dramatized study of the problems of memory and time, and of the distortions and even destructions of identity that result from the images we make—they turn us all into deepfakes… Shadows of Reality allows us to perceive his world through his eyes. It is a catalogue raisonné of his life.

On the matter of the British Library cyber incident: published 20 January on cyber specialist Ciaran Martin’s newsletter, Ciaran’s Crispy Cogitations, this is an essential read on the BL’s digital disaster and its wider implications.

AI-based disinformation is probably not a major threat to democracy: Dan Williams offers a thoughtful and productive corrective to some of today’s AI alarmism.

Don’t stop: this Future Utopia x Avelino x Tomorrow’s Warriors version of the Fleetwood Mac classic, directed by Samona Olanipekun for Greenpeace, with exec producers Steve McQueen and Bona Orakwue, was selected this week as a Vimeo Best of 2023 branded video (although the link here is via Youtube) – it was released last June, and is simply brilliant.

What the West forgot about democracy: a smart, urgent essay for last weekend’s FT by Erica Benner with a host of tremendous photos of voters.

The company of friends – the miracle of BBC Radio 3: Billy Smart kindly pointed out to me that we lost the brilliant Coventry-based music writer Neil Kulkarni this week; see also this brief Quietus report – and the link here is to a wonderful newsletter piece that he wrote last autumn.

What can the Commonwealth really do? At last I have an answer: from last weekend’s The Times [£ but limited free access], Sathnam Sanghera (whose new book Empireworld: How British Imperialism has Shaped the Globe is out this week) makes an eminently sensible suggestion for the future of the Commonwealth, which is that it should become:

a forum through which Britain and other nations face up to the imperial legacies that continue to generate headlines in the 21st century, whether requests for slavery reparations, or questions about loot that has ended up in British museums, or border disputes in places like Guyana, or geopolitical instability in places such as Israel and the Palestinian territories, and so on.

Tailor Made – Season 5 Official Teaser | MUBI Podcast: a short smart trailer for the new season of the MUBI Podcast which explores ‘landmark films that captured a major fashion look of an era’; episode 1 considers Jean Seberg’s style in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1959).

Bill Aickman is a brillant fiction al character: a friend sent this Nation essay by Kurt Andersen saying that he thought I might enjoy it. I did, and I think you might too. Here’s a tiny sample:

The Ackman character is a dark-comedy hybrid of Kendall Roy from Succession and the narrator/protagonist of Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire, Charles Kinbote, whose punctilious academic analysis of a long poem by someone he knows morphs into a delusionally grandiose conspiracy theory starring himself. 

And finally…: ‘We open in Venice’ from the second greatest Broadway musical of all time, Kiss Me, Kate – and this is from the 1953 film version; included here (not that any excuse is needed) because I’m lucky enough to be spending this weekend in Venice and because a new production at the Barbican has just been announced for this summer.

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