Cameron's Artifice

I have been having a good giggle this week at the redesigned election posters at for readers outside the UK, this is a site that lampoons the opposition election campaign by inviting the public to creatively vandalise one of their posters. The example illustrated, by one Ian Yates, is particularly nice, although I am baffled by the UK public’s supposed indignation about one element of the campaign.

There are plenty of things to argue about in British politics — real issues like education, health, crime and defence. And yet a large proportion of this week’s debate seems to have been about the fact that the picture of opposition leader David Cameron has been *airbrushed*. As if this is some sort of sin against nature.

I find it odd largely because the newspapers and TV shows behind this furore will be fully aware that everyone is airbrushed. On my days as editor of Manga Max, Vanessa the designer used to spend hours touching up the covers, even though they were often supposedly flawless anime digital images to begin with. She spent similar intricate efforts making the insides of the magazine look nice. Few images available to the press are ever plug-and-play.

Back when I was a presenter on Saiko Exciting on the Sci Fi channel, there was a brief storm in a teacup over the revelation that I wore make-up on air. This was whipped up by some people who thought that there was something unmanly about it, as if I were duping the viewers by not letting them ogle my zits. The plaintiffs seemed unaware that everybody wears make-up in TV, because you’re sitting under zillion-watt lights that make you look like zombies otherwise.

Most large-scale advertising images are doctored. If you’re on an billboard at 1200 dots per inch, why on earth would you want to look bad?

This isn’t even new. There was a little squib of fun in the 1940s, when a British politician’s wife, Lady Diana Cooper, was amused to discover that the president of Finland, Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, was wearing make-up when he met her. She didn’t consider that Mannerheim was also meeting the press that day, facing down the world’s media, and hoping not to look like someone who had been living in a shed in the forest.

A digital effects technician of my acquaintance got his first break in the industry going through a film that you have heard of, frame by frame, gently erasing the blemishes from the face of the leading lady. An actress of whose career you are aware, sure to be named in the top ten actresses you come up with if I asked you to list them, has an asking price that includes a million dollar fund to clean up her image digitally. Now, politicians are not actresses, but give them a little credit. If David Cameron had a big spot on his nose on the day that picture was taken, only a complete idiot would run with it as a campaign image to get him elected.

In the movie field, there’s a broader issue. If you’ve got a copy of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis the book, you may have already read my discussion of the possibility that animation is now perceived as a threat to “real” films. Some forms of artifice, it seems, are more acceptable than others. Special effects that make actors look good are welcome to many Motion Picture Academy voters. Special effects that make actors redundant are a very different matter — a large proportion of MPAA voters are thespians. As “animation” becomes so heavily integrated into special effects, and special effects so heavily integrated into live action, that we see “live-action” films that are almost entirely “animated”, the chance finally arises that a “best actor” award might go to a cartoon character, that a “best movie” Oscar might go to a… well, a cartoon.

You know, I don’t think David Cameron’s people are all that worried about the satire. I think they are telling themselves that no publicity is bad publicity, and, I suspect, storing up a whole series of stories about their rivals in the Labour party (shock!) wearing make-up and doctoring their photographs, ready to roll at the next news cycle. But as for David Cameron’s long-lost cousin, James, artifice is something to be proud of. He might even get an award for it.

Hissy Diva Fit

On 14th June 2002, I reported at Universal in London for a promotional photoshoot. I was one of three presenters on a new TV show to be called Saiko Exciting. The channel was called Sci Fi, which everyone in SF fandom thought was a daft decision. If only they knew what they’d change it to! We should have just called it Schoolgirl Milky Crisis.


Two make-up artists are crouched over Sarah and Emily like surgeons, slapping in Wound Filler, Botox and whatever else it is that make-up artists slap in.

“The song goes ‘Saiko-Exciting! Come in it’s so inviting!’ Or something like that,” Sarah is saying. “I had the whole dance routine worked out, but then they made me perform it running the wrong way down a travelator, so it was kind of hard to do. Sort of like doing the can-can on roller-skates.”

The make-up artists tut sympathetically as they crimp.

“I’d have a complete HDF,” says D’Arcy, who is unfeasably camp.

The producer drags me outside and down to the studio. It’s a pokey room in the basement of the Universal building, complete with a super-smooth floor for camera tracking, which means you can’t really wear shoes on it. Inside, the cameraman and his assistant are setting up what appears to be a small radio telescope.

“This is where we’ll be doing the show,” the producer says.

“Oh,” I say striding inside purposefully. “I was expecting something much smaller.” I poke my head around the corner, to discover it isn’t a corner at all. “Actually,” I add. “Perhaps I wasn’t.”

Emily, the new presenter, has just squeezed herself into a stretchy pink thing under partly-undone military-fatigues.

“Does this make me look tarty?” she asks.

“Darling, I think we could sell you right now,” says D’Arcy.

Emily heaves a frustrated sigh, causing the topmost button of her fatigues to fly off.

“Fuckity shit,” she says, gracefully.

“Darling, don’t panic,” says D’Arcy. “I’ll just sew it back on. All we need is a needle and thread.”

Nobody has a needle and thread. It was left off the list of Important Items along with a crystal chandelier. The producer puts out an APB on the Universal intranet, and before long, a burly giant of a man from Video Editing has turned up with a hotel sewing kit.

D’Arcy gets to work. I have already read my magazine and the book I brought with me. I have however, found one of those sucky things that allows you to pick up panes of glass or climb walls like Spider-Man. I start trying to climb the wall with it.

After two and a half hours, the cameraman calls me in for my first set of shots. Because I am taller than his stepladder, I have to do the splits at a 90-degree angle to be the right height. This becomes tiring after roughly 15 minutes.

“Now listen,” says the cameraman. “It’s very important that you understand… blah blah blah… depth of field… blah blah blah… slow film… blah blah blah, focus length, blah blah, which means you can’t move off that X on the ground. Not even if we are rocked by a massive earthquake. Because it will RUIN the shot!”

I nod dumbly and he starts fiddling with lenses.

A perky girl wearing multicoloured jeans suddenly walks in front of the camera and offers me a sewing kit.

“Were you looking for a needle and thread?” she asks. I point her at Emily and D’Arcy and she shuffles off again.

“Back on your mark,” says the cameraman calmly, as he trains something like an anti-tank gun on me.

After about ten minutes, he gets off his ladder and looks at me with a look of utter befuddlement.

“It’s not the camera,” he says with knitted brows. “Your face is actually out of focus.”

It’s time for my shots with Sarah.

“I’ve never stood this close to you before, Jonathan,” she says as we gaze into the lens. “And I’m not sure I like it.”

We both check behind us for inappropriately placed signs. For the last year, there has been a picture of Sarah on the Sci-Fi channel website in which she appears to have the station logo sticking out of her arse. Nobody is sure how it got chosen, but everybody thinks it is very funny.

I discover there is an unexpected advantage to being photographed with a pretty half-Japanese model. Sarah stands in front of my beer gut and thereby helps conceal unsightly blemishes.

A shaven-headed Operations Manager built like a brick shithouse blunders into the studio holding something tiny and dainty in his hand.

“Was someone asking for a sewing kit?” he booms. He starts smiling the moment he sees Emily. She thanks him profusely while he beams ecstatically, and sends him on his way a happy man. After he has gone, she chucks it onto the growing pile.

Emily has decided to change costumes. She dons a kimono-thing which is somewhat low-cut.

“I can sew you into it,” says D’Arcy, grabbing supplies from the stack of needles and thread that is building by the door.

“You’re up next, Emily!” calls the producer.

Emily turns to answer, and connects head-on with D’Arcy’s upwardly-travelling needle, which impales her in the cheek just below her left eye.

“OH MY GOD!” screams D’Arcy. “I just stabbed the Talent in the face!”

“Ouch,” says Emily, calmly.

D’Arcy gingerly pulls her off the needle, and as she walks across the floor to the camera set-up, bright droplets of blood start to seep out. By the time she has hit her mark, she is crying red tears.

“That’s very manga,” I say to Sarah, who starts laughing.

“That’s it! That’s what I want!” yells the producer excitedly. “The two of them laughing at each other!”

“Hang on,” says the photographer, turning back from what appears to be a hospital EKG monitor. “Er… F8 I think. Give me a light reading, Andy. Eleven? Eleven! You must be joking. Oh, okay… right… change lens, take the back out… sort his collar again… is that lead in the way? Okay, backs straight… and… BE SPONTANEOUS!”

We try to be spontaneous and move off our marks.


Behind him, D’Arcy mouths the letters “H… D…F…” and I finally understand.