Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Friday, April 04, 2008

It was easy, it was cheap, go and do it...

Once upon a time, when the world was young, or at least when I was, there was a spectacularly inept punk band called The Desperate Bicycles, who released a magnificently pointless single called The Medium was Tedium. The music was skeletal, based around a one and a half chord organ riff, echoed by a deliciously inept bass guitar line. The main crux of the lyric, indeed the only crux of the lyric, was that anybody could make a record - "it was easy, it was cheap, go and do it!"

The band maintained that the only reason that they formed was to make a record, and show that anybody could do it. It was the perfect visualisation of Andy Warhol's oft repeated concept that "anybody can be famous for 15 minutes".

I don't think that even Warhol himself ever visualised the current state of affairs with the mass media, whereby not only can anybody claim their allotted 15 minutes, but that the media would feed upon this, and become completely out of control. We now live in a world where not only can anybody become a star, but the people who do become stars seem to do so by virtue of their overwhelming mediocrity.

Paris Hilton is a star for Christ's sake. The bar has become that low.

But all this has been said before. The Internet is full of middle-aged men like me moaning into their computers about the depressing state of affairs which is the world of faux celebrity, a well-known band half my age recently released a song which bemoaned the fact that "everything is average nowadays", and one other middle-aged git adding his two penn'orth to the argument will make not a jot of difference. I am rapidly turning into my father. I remember, back in 1973, when my father was the age that I am now, that he was wont to spend Sunday lunchtimes complaining about the world which the younger generation had created, and although as I approach 50 years old I find myself becoming more and more of a cliche every day, I don't want to go the whole hog just yet. Okay, each year there is less and less that I want to watch on television, and the little bits that I watch by mistake seem fashioned with only one idea in mind; to give people like me high blood pressure and incipient apoplexy, but I can always read a book, and usually do.

No, the reason that I'm bothering to write this blog entry, is not so that I can vent my spleen upon media nonentities such as Paris Hilton, Jade Goody, and their ilk, because I have a far more serious adversary than merely taking pot shots at a gaggle of ill-educated, slutty, and vulgar nonentities. My bete noir is the media itself. And more exactly, the people who work within it.

I have been making films for TV companies around the world for 15 years now, and whereas, a lot of the time, it has been an exciting, and even uplifting experience, ever since the beginning I have noticed a particularly disturbing syndrome within media types. Furthermore, this syndrome seems to be spreading faster and faster, and threatens to become almost ubiquitous. Media people - on the whole - have absolutely no fucking manners!

I have spend most my adult life doing my best to be a gentleman, and although anybody who knows me will be perfectly aware that on occasions I have been, and will continue to be, incredibly rude to some people, I have always remembered my father's axiom that a gentleman is somebody who is never unintentionally rude to anyone.

I certainly have always done my best to treat eyewitnesses, and fellow researchers courteously. I am perfectly aware that when making films things don't always run to schedule. However, if I'm going to be late, or - worse - am going to have to reschedule, I will always make sure that the person whom I am inconveniencing has a convincing apology, and quite often a bunch of flowers.

One would have thought that this would be standard practice within the media. After all, logic tells us that a service industry so ephemeral would have to rely - to a greater or lesser extent - on the goodwill of its consumers.

Ha bloody Ha!

Over the past 15 years the mass media has brainwashed its audience so thoroughly that practically everybody in this poor benighted country has only one ambition - to be a star! When I was a kid in primary school if you had asked a class of seven-year-olds what they wanted to be when they grew up, some would have wanted to be soldiers, some train drivers, some farmers. I wanted to be a monster hunter, and to own a zoo. These days the vast majority of the poor little sods want to be television presenters.

An acquaintance of mine has an eight-year-old daughter. She has two imaginary friends (like little girls have always had), but with a difference: her imaginary friends are Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie. Two brainless little pop tarts. The cult of celebrity is so ubiquitous that it has even infected the voice recognition software that I'm using to dictate this rant. Whilst the software does not recognise the words `praying mantis`, or `katydid` the names: `Paris Hilton` and `Nicole Ritchie` are hard wired into the original programming.

Because the mass media - knowingly, or not - have now got the vast majority of the population of the United Kingdom exactly where they want us, they can do exactly what they like, and they can treat people in as cavalier a fashion as they wish.

We get approached by TV production companies at least once a week, and at least once a month a representative from one of these companies comes to visit us, and promises us the moon on a stick. They all want to do the same thing. They all want unparalleled access to one of our expeditions. They all want free access to our - after nearly 20 years - sizeable archive of photographs and video footage. They all want to spend hours interviewing me and the boys about what we do. And they quite often - because cryptozoology (another word which the voice recognition software significantly failes to recognise) is lumped in their eyes together with the more colourful aspects of the lunatic fringe - want to film us wearing silly hats, jumping out of bushes, or parading around the garden wearing pith helmets.

I am always polite to these people, and when - occasionally - I am mildly impressed by their professional pedigree, I co-operate with them to a certain extent. I refuse to do anything stupid, and forbid the boys to do anything stupid either, but on at least four occasions in the last 12 months, I have put in large amounts of time and effort into helping someone from a media production company to put together a programme submission.

On each of these occasions, the producer/director/researcher has gone back to London, and - over the next week or so - followed up his visit with a string of long and exhaustive telephone calls. On each of these occasions, I have been assured that the senior commissioning editor from Channel 4/Living TV/BBC2/Animal Planet/Discovery Channel has assured them that the decision-making process is a mere formality, and that we are just about to be the subjects of a lucrative, and career changing TV documentary. On each of these occasions, the telephone calls have simply fizzled out, and I never hear anything from them again.

On other occasions, they make appointments, and simply don't turn up. When they do turn up, it seems that the days of being paid for contributing to a TV documentary are a thing of the past. If I had a fiver for each time I am told "we can't pay you for your photographs, but we may be able to put your website in the credits", then I would be significantly richer than I am now. If these people looked as if they really were running on a tight budget then I might feel sorry for them, but they turn up in expensive cars, wearing clothes but I certainly can't afford, and boasting about their expense account lunches, the limo that takes them into the studio, and the fact that they flew to Los Angeles the week before last for a commissioning conference.

Well screw you. I have had enough of being exploited by an increasingly soulless and self-serving hegemony. I, too, am a filmmaker. A film we put out last year has been seen by over 30,000 people - the sort of viewing figures that some minor cable TV channels would kill for. Over a thousand people a month watch my monthly WebTV show - not astounding figures, but perfectly respectable, especially when one considers that it is made on a budget of practically nothing. Things are only going to get better. I am rapidly beginning to think that I don't need the mass media. And when I look at the mass media, and the soul destroying, vapid nonsense that it spouts out for an increasingly undemanding audience of morons, the more I begin to feel morally uncomfortable with being a part of it.

The conventional record business has collapsed. Musicians and songwriters now know that they do not need to sell out to what George Harrison once described as the "old grey buggers of Manchester Square" in order to sell their music. Authors, and small publishers like ourselves have discovered that we no longer need to put ourselves through the soul destroying process of kowtowing to a major book publisher in order to get our books into the marketplace. We no longer have to submit to editing by focus group, stupid changes of title in order to fit in with the dictats of somebody else's marketing department. And we no longer have to accept royalty rates of 25p for each book sold. We can do for ourselves. The Desperate Bicycles were about 30 years too early, but now what they said in 1977 is true. It is easy. It is cheap. We can go and do it for ourselves!

In October 2006 we were in the Lake District making a film called Eel or No Eel about the giant eel sightings from Windermere and Coniston water. The local BBC telephoned me out of the blue and insisted on speaking to our health and safety officer. What on earth are you talking about? I asked. "Well, if you want us to come out on the lake with you, in time to make it on this evening's news, we will have to review your health and safety procedures". What on earth you talking about? I reiterated. He repeated exactly the same thing. I knew nothing about any scheduled TV appearance and told him. "But of course you want to be on television" he insisted, "otherwise what would be the point of you being here?" I told him that I didn't care whether we were on television or not. And tried to reason with him that we were there on a mission of investigation, not on a search for spurious sell publicity. "But everybody wants to be on television" he insisted, "let me speak to your health and safety officer".

"No" I said, and put the phone down, and returned to the task at hand.

Two minutes later he phoned back. "Everybody wants to be on television" he insisted in an increasingly hysterical voice. "Don't be so bloody stupid" I said, and turned my telephone off.

Two hours later, the crew who had driven like madmen from Manchester turned up completely uninvited, and once again insisted on viewing our health and safety procedures. Half an hour later an enormous truck festooned with satellite dishes turned up, and then a sports car containing a blonde bimbette who was planning to make amusing comments about our activities for the studio audience.

"But I don't want to do an interview" I said. "Before we start, can I see your health and safety procedures", she said. "I am not interested in appearing on your programme" I said. "But everyone wants to be on television", she said with what she fondly imagined was a winning smile. I will draw a discreet veil over what happened next. But like Rottweilers on an inner-city housing estate, they got most of what they wanted. With the worst possible grace I gave them an interview.

A few weeks ago I had an unfortunate experience with a camera crew from one of the Bristol based TV stations who wanted to talk to me about mystery cats. Springing it upon me that they needed to film that very afternoon, and they insisted that I be in Somerset at three o'clock. This is impossible, I said, because it is a two-hour drive, and I had an appointment in Bideford 1.30. This person would not accept this, and became increasingly rude. When I finally arrived - at 3.45 - he had forgotten his laptop onto which I was going to transfer some video footage which - by the way - I was letting him have for nothing. He insisted that I give him my portable hard drive which he would return sometime in the next few days. I refused. It contained a number of pieces of sensitive information, including stuff I needed that very evening. He just wouldn't understand that I am not one of these people who do anything to get on television.

Yesterday I spent all afternoon waiting for an American TV crew to come and talk to me about licensing some film. They did not even do me the courtesy of telling me that they weren't going to turn up. This morning a man with a silly name telephoned my wife, and said that they would be coming today. No apology. No asking whether it would be convenient. She said that I would phone them back. I haven't bothered. If they do turn up I am not quite sure what I'm going to do.

Today I feel as mad as a bag full of cheese, and am in no mood to suffer fools - or anybody else, for that matter - gladly. If they do turn up unannounced, and uninvited, then I am sorely tempted to play them The Medium was Tedium and to tell them to commit a biologically unfeasible act of self procreation.

However, my wife is nicer than me, and is the only person in the world who can tell me what to do, and she will probably tell me not to do it. And I always do what Corinna tells me...


Neil A said...

Here, here! I second all this entirely...rock on Jon.

Finn said...

I agree with you on all of that! They used to have a name for people who tried to be famous but weren't, it was called dellusional! lol At 32 I'm not young anymore, I know. But it seems to me people have gotten so self centered and arrogant it's really laughable.

Ego Ronanus said...

My eldest never wished to be a celebrity. When, at the age of 6, she was one of a class asked to write down what she wanted to be when she grew up, she wrote down, "I want to be a murderess and you'll be my first victim." The teacher, a picture of whom accompanied this with a knife sticking out of her, was not amused.


Anonymous said...

Right on John -

stick it to the buggers.

Our 13th rule of Bigfoot is


Make them pay for travel, meals.
phones, etc.

NEVER give them a hard drive. Nor film.

Never, never, never.

Erik Beckjord


nigel the tall jew said...

Hi Jon!!!....

that is one hell of a blog mate!!! well said that man!

see ya!


Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Yes, you put into words what's been in my mind, Jon.

Bill Hicks said of Debbie Gibson, the early 90's equivalent of Mademoiselles Hilton and Goody: "To think that there are people dying because they can't get a kidney and two of them are wasted on this bitch!"

It's true that people become celebrities for no apparent reason these days; they can have no talent and even be thick as pigs' excrement, but they end up opening children's wards and having perfume named after them! And ironically envy and wannabe-ism towards modern celebrities is more intense and venomous than ever before!

It's having an effect; I can see it! Rudeness and agression is becoming the normal way to do business. Society is becoming much more social-Darwinistic. I mean, someone rescueed a bloke from drowning in the Oxford canal and the bloke sued him because his rescuer dislocated his arm while pulling his saturaed body out of the water. But that's the attitude nowadays: if you can make a killing off someone then just do it! "It's a dog-eat-dog world out there, man. Law of the jungle, dude!"

nigel the tall jew said...

well now!..if ever there was a true tv "star" it's Jon!..a fine wit matched with a watchability second to none!..if you want proof of this, then watch any of the cfz's youtube vids!

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Yeah, I love 'em. I'm going through the Mongolian expedition one at the moment. I know Jon stayed at home and let Richard and the others go, but he was definitely there in spirit if not in body.

nigel the tall jew said...

Hi Ben!..

just to sa that I wasluck to be a small part of a CFZ uk feild trip, which included Jon. Imagine having a tank ride with Gen.Patton!, and you will be getting the idea of what it was like! (sorry Jon!..just could not resist that one, my freind!)
Great fun, I would not have missed it for the world...

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Jon's got slightly more hair than General Patten, buit I appreciate the analogy! That must have been fascinating, Nigel. Was that the time they saw the BHM in Northumberland?

nigel the tall jew said...

Hi Ben!..

Many thnaks for the kind comment!..No, it was not the BHM trip ( wish it had been!) this time it was looking for a croc in a gravel pit near birmingham!..did not find it, but was great to spend some time with the crew, and we took some time out at cannock chaise too. A fantastic place!

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Hi Nigel. Ah, I remember that. I think Jon mentioned it in "Monster Hunter". Glad you enjoyed it.

Anonymous said...

You Tell em Jon! Worthless b*****ds to a man away. Up the C.F.Z.