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Friday, September 27, 2013

Comic Cuts - 27 September 2013

I've rather lost track of the month—I almost typed 20 September rather than 27 in the subject line. I'm spent, or rather I'm spending as I haven't finished yet, a lot of time working on a piece for a newspaper. It's a file obituary, so I won't reveal the subject. What I will say is that I've spent almost every waking moment re-reading  this creator's work and reading as much about him as I could find. The results are, at present, nearly 5,000 words of notes and I'm going to have to boil that down and down and down into a rich, thick stock containing the essence of those notes at a fifth of the length.

This is the obituarists art and I must admit I have, once or twice, been an editor's worst nightmare: a writer who submits features overlength with the plea that they cannot find any way to make more cuts. I've also been on the receiving end, so I know how annoying it is. In my defence I would argue that sometimes it takes a dispassionate eye to find 300 words that, albeit an interesting anecdote, don't really add to the story of someone's life. On other occasions I've left them in knowing they will most likely be cut but in the hope that the editor will agree to run something a little longer.

Brevity doesn't come naturally to me. You'll know this if I've told you a story. If something took half an hour to unfold, it usually takes me half an hour to tell you about it. Events unfold in real time with many diversions and explanations and trips up side roads that look interesting. I usually have no more idea than you where those side roads will take us. When I die and St Peter's looking in that big book that tells my life story, he'll probably comment on the number of times I said: "Well, anyway, back to what I was actually telling you about..."

... which was about writing a piece for a paper. Except it wasn't. The key sentence in the above three paragraphs is "almost every waking moment". Almost. Because we went out Wednesday night and saw Mark Thomas performing his show "100 Acts of Minor Dissent", which was absolutely superb and the funniest show we've seen all year. See if you can catch it yourself.

I've been following Thomas since the days of The Mary Whitehouse Experience. Since then we've had TV shows like The Mark Thomas Product, radio shows like It's the Economy, Stupid and The Mark Thomas Manifesto and tours like Serious Organised Criminal (also available on DVD) and Bravo Figaro, which was also published as a book and broadcast on radio. He's had a few books out but I only have one: As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela (Ebury, 2007).

The current show is about Thomas performing 100 acts of minor dissent within a year. To motivate his efforts, if he fails to perform them before May 12 next year, he'll donate £1,000 to UKIP.

The show has developed over time; on Wednesday, one of the acts he discussed was a protest, two days earlier, outside the offices of the Daily Star and Daily Express, papers forever complaining about migrants—for the most part a hardworking, tax paying section of the British workforce. The Express papers, on the other hand, contribute less to the British economy than they might otherwise do. "According to Panorama, UK companies in the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) pharmaceuticals group and the Northern & Shell media group paid interest on substantial loans from Luxembourg subsidiaries. That interest was effectively taxed at less than 1% in Luxembourg, while a deduction for the payments reduced the profits chargeable to UK corporation tax at 28%." Richard Brooks was quoted as saying: ‘The company puts its money into Luxembourg and borrows it back. It just sends money round in a circle and picks up a tax break on the way.’" This isn't the first time Richard Desmond's companies have been investigated by the media.

So you need someone like Mark Thomas who, as he says, has reached 50 and now doesn't care  about what people think of his stunts. And they are stunts ... but stunts with a purpose and stunts that often turn the law in on itself. The show at the moment is a little bitty because events are still unfolding, but Thomas has already been pretty active, working with feminist artist Tracey Moberly to make porn magazines more acceptable to feminists and surprising for their readers, helping organise a GBLT party outside the Russian Embassy in Edinburgh and involving himself with the controversial move by Royal Parks to appoint a company to start collecting payment from people playing organised sports in Hyde Park.

Thomas and others responded by organising a What's the Time Mr. Wolf? championship and, whilst they didn't get charged by the company who collects the fees it highlighted the problem and being forced to pay fees to play in Royal Parks has now been dropped. A win for all of us, not just Thomas, although we can't all take the credit.

Thomas outlines dozens of ways you can enjoy yourself at the expense of corporations, multinationals and chain outlets (but not local businesses). He slips heckles into bad novels and sells stickers for books ("Also available in charity shops"; "Staff recommendation: keep the receipt"). He's trademarked Bastardtrade, his answer to Fair Trade.

These are little things, but little acts of dissent swell over time into movements and eventually into policies from governments. Maybe not everything, but more than you'd imagine. And Mark Thomas makes it look like fun, so go and see the show and think about maybe getting involved.

No time for any random scans today and no clues as to what will be appearing next week. I should have a John Masters cover gallery up over the weekend, which is why there aren't any other book covers today. And I'm now off to bed  because we're off to another gig tonight. It's almost like I've got a life.

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