11 December 2009

Knife edge

On 4Music (yes I know, but they have it on constantly at the gym so I can't avoid it) they're running a pair of ads designed to deter youthful hobbledehoys from carrying knives. Each ad is halved, acting as a top and tail for the whole adbreak. They've been running the campaign a good few weeks now.

The first top is of two black lads, both saying the same thing. "I love music, it's all I want in my life, but I never thought..." and then it stops. The other ads come on, then at the end the tail comes on, with the two lads emerging in different scenarios. One says "I never thought I'd be producing hit albums!" and we see him in a studio. The other says "I never thought carrying a knife would get me in prison" and we see him being cuffed and taken away.

The second top is of two girls, one is black and one is white although this time their skin colour isn't the issue. Again, they're saying the same sort of thing. "I love music, it makes me want to dance, but I never thought..." and then, again, it stops. After the other ads have played, the girls return. One says "I never thought I'd be dancing for a living!" and we see her onstage, and the other says "I never thought that carrying a knife with my boyfriend would get me in trouble" as she is cuffed and led away.

So, is the first ad racist? Both boys are black. One is seen doing the right thing, one the wrong thing. Does the fact that one boy is doing the right thing neutralise the prejudice against the other boy? I feel uncomfortable with it.

And as for the second ad, is it sexist? After all, a girl is more than capable of carrying a knife with evil intentions without the company or influence of a boyfriend. She seems to be arrested as an accessory rather than actual aggressor in waiting. The inference is that it's her boyfriend's fault really. Why?

The anti-knife message is fine and worthy, of course, but they do seem to be conforming to horrid arcane stereotypes here - ie, that black lads exclusively cause trouble and girls are easily led by boys and can do no wrong on their own.

Or am I reading too much into it?

10 December 2009

"Can you repeat that please?"


Call centres in India have become something of a cliché in recent years, a shorthand for uncaring big business in the UK that has decided that the customer service department doesn't deserve major investment and so employ a bunch of sub-continental people because they're much cheaper.

In many cases, I suspect they're a myth now. Indeed, some companies are using "UK call centres" as an actual selling point these days, whereas before you'd expect it to be a given. Churchill's Insurance ads, which you can't avoid if you're a watcher of Dave or Sky Sports News, make a big play of this. Given that they're also shelling out for Melanie Sykes, I'm surprised they can afford call centres over here.

Anyway, I had cause to telephone a call centre yesterday which happened to be based in India. Your heart goes all heavy when you hear the pre-recorded message (in an American accent) telling you the call will be charged at the national rate, and then there is a gap just long enough to make you suspect you've been cut off, before finally a call centre worker connects to you.

There are three straightforward problems. Firstly, the accent of the call centre worker is very strong indeed. You have to listen intently and even then you occasionally ask them to repeat, which makes you feel bad. And I suspect a Hull accent like mine isn't awfully audible when travelling down a phone line to Mumbai either.

Secondly, the quality of the line is not terrific, with a delay that often prompts you to talk over the person at the other end, thereby again forcing you to ask them to repeat. A slight cough from you and the other voice is drowned out entirely. And woe betide anyone in the same room as you who tries to suggest what you should say or even offer you a brew. Even the most flexible of multi-taskers would struggle here.

Thirdly, the person at the other end often doesn't realise you're talking to them when you ask a question and therefore doesn't reply. You then repeat the question, and finally say "HELLO?!" in a semi-agitated way which finally digs their ribs and returns them to your query.

And all this at the national rate.

It was Netgear I was ringing, as we'd had to acquire a new wireless router because the old one had suffered a power surge too many and had bust. Of course, replacing one wireless router with an identical new one doesn't just mean it automatically takes on your broadband and computer settings, and so we had to go through this rigmarole from the call centre somewhere in the sub-continent.

It's a long old process, but boy are they patient and boy, do they know what they're doing. In the end we had to ring twice due to a software issue they couldn't solve (it involved the re-installation of Internet Explorer, which I don't use and haven't for years) but once we got past that hurdle, we kept going.

They sent me a survey afterwards and I felt compelled to fill it in, as I suspect it's a thankless task to have impatient people from all over the world yelling at them and so when they do the job well, they deserve to be thanked for it. Like those occasions when a cold caller interrupts your day, the chagrin you feel should be aimed at those who choose to exploit them, rather than the exploited themselves.

For all this, I really hope the new router never, ever, ever breaks.

8 December 2009

"It's very hard to even say 'bum'"

Somebody whom I shall love forever has uploaded this to youtube. Embedding is sadly disabled but it enhances the surprise (or disappointment) when you click it, I suppose...

Rik Mayall was a massive hero of mine when I was nine and remains a massive hero of mine now I'm 36. I saw this interview at the time and couldn't believe it was the same guy, as I'd never seen him just sit down and chat as himself before; used as we all were to the grotesque character he was playing in The Young Ones, the second and final series of which had just been screened when he went to see Terry Wogan.

This remains the straightest interview about his career I've ever seen him give. He appeared on Wogan one more time, to my knowledge, but was there solely to promote Comic Relief and so could just goof around - indeed, I seem to recall the interview was truncated by Mayall claiming Wogan had farted and protesting to the audience about it.

Subsequent interviews to hacks and talk shows have done what he refers to in this clip - people expect him to be funny all the time and and seem disappointed that he is relatively normal and nice to them. When he appeared in the stage play of The New Statesman all of the publicity interviews he gave to TV and radio were in character as Alan B'Stard. Even his autobiography was semi-fictionalised, hiding a little behind a character.

I think this is still a genuinely enjoyable interview, a thoughtful response to the questions with a few extra asides for the audience. And to think my mum thought his "type" were a bad influence...