There are upward of 66 million people in Great Britain, but not a single one was watching GB News during two of its broadcasts on Wednesday. While it’s true that viewer numbers have nose-dived since the right-wing current-affairs channel shot out of the blocks, in mid-June, this remarkable achievement—literally no one watching—was, in a sense, wind-assisted. There was a boycott. Guto Harri, a news host, had the temerity to take a knee on-air in support of England’s soccer team, which had suffered racist abuse.
The gesture “led to widespread fury on social media from GB News viewers who pledged to stop watching,” reported The Guardian, “making accusations that it had sold out and gone ‘woke’, secretly harboured Marxist values, or was in favour of Black Lives Matter.”
In the ensuing spin, it also became apparent that GB News is still finding its footing P.R.-wise. “GB News stands four square against racism in all its forms. We do not have a company line on taking the knee. Some of our guests have been in favour, some against,” it tweeted, before tweeting, “On Tuesday a contributing presenter took the knee live on air and this was an unacceptable breach of our standards.” Time for a huddle?
The reviews of Meghan Markle’s children’s book, The Bench, which is based on a poem the Duchess of Sussex wrote about the relationship between a certain prince and his baby son, have been mixed at best—a “semi-literate vanity project” that “limps along” but “did at one point bring a tear to my eye,” to aggregate three different takes. But the marketplace appears to have spoken loud and clear, at least in the U.K.: recently it was 4,934th on the Amazon chart, and 127,188th on the Kindle chart. (Who knew there were so many titles available on Kindle?) The Bench has fared better at home, as it were: on Amazon’s U.S. chart, it’s cracked the top 2,000.
It seems Britain’s chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, will be going to prison—“I guarantee it,” claimed Geza Tarjanyi, an anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-lockdown, anti-what-sensible-public-health-measures-have-you-got? activist who recently harassed Van-Tam in Whitehall, an unpleasant harangue captured, by its perpetrator, on video. Although Van-Tam is a popular, “wryly ebullient” professional who “appears to have won the nation’s trust,” according to The Guardian, he and his like (experts fighting the pandemic, saving lives, etc.) are, it turns out, “liars” and “traitors,” according to Tarjanyi. The Lancashire man’s scientific credentials? According to The Times of London, Taranyi is “a professional clown.”
This time, it’s the actors, not the pictures, that apparently got (too) small: Zhou Dongyu is the latest female Chinese star who finds herself battling to succeed against harsh critics who simply don’t like her looks. Now that Ancient Love Poetry, a $62 million, 49-part, period drama series examining the tribulations of deity love (“When commoners encounter difficulties, they will pray for Gods, but what if Gods meet obstacles?” goes one online synopsis) has debuted, “critics and viewers say Zhou’s small stature and distinctive features do not lend themselves well to her role of Shang Gu, an ethereally beautiful goddess,” according to the South China Morning Post.
Other big-screen stars have recently drawn barbs for their television efforts in China. Zhang Ziyi, memorable in Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, was 38 when she played a prime minister’s daughter in Monarch Industry, aging from a teenager to middle age, and “was slammed for being unconvincing and embarrassing” in the early episodes, according to the newspaper. And in the costume drama Ming Dynasty, Tang Wei (of Lee’s Lust, Caution) “was panned for her so-called bad acting and unattractive looks.”
The suggestion, in a law professor’s lecture at Sciences Po and Paris Nanterre University, that French food is racist has ruffled toques and then some across France. No sooner had it become clear that when Mathilde Cohen alluded to “food whiteness” she wasn’t talking about yogurt and cauliflower than the backlash began. Even Sciences Po distanced itself from its lecturer.
Cohen, a former research fellow at the French National Centre for Scientific Research and currently a professor at the University of Connecticut’s School of Law, details her argument in “The Whiteness of French Food. Law, Race, and Eating Culture in France,” on the SSRN (Social Science Research Network) site. The abstract reads, in part: “Food is fundamental to French identity. So too is the denial of structural racism and racial identity.… This article purports to identify and critique a form of French food Whiteness (blanchité alimentaire), that is, the use of food and eating practices to reify and reinforce Whiteness as the dominant racial identity.” And so, before you can say, “The boundaries of whiteness are policed through daily food encounters,” that bite of couscous you took has turned to ashes.
It’s a safe bet that the classic corporate-speak statement “This e-mail was sent in error and we apologize for any inconvenience caused” can usually be translated, more or less, as “We screwed up in an embarrassing way and fervently hope that by blandly copping to it, in this legally vetted manner, we can shove the whole sorry episode back under the radar and get on with making money hand over fist.” In this case the temporary “inconvenience” was to Robin Moxon, a London fishmonger who was surprised to learn from Amazon’s legal department that his businesses could no longer employ the term “prime day”—used for generations to signal the availability of the freshest fish—because the gazillion-dollar, multi-national e-commerce behemoth had trademarked it.
“If we can get the references to Prime Day on your website, and anywhere else on your social media accounts where it may exist, pulled and your assurances on the above, we can consider this matter closed,” wrote Amazon’s lawyers, according to The Times of London. Moxon told the newspaper that he found the e-mail “heavy-handed and offensive” and noted that the phrase “prime day,” which he’d been using for 30 years, was common in fishmongering circles before Jeff Bezos “was a glint in his mother’s eye.” One phone call and one corporate mea culpa later, it was Moxon who was able to consider the matter closed.
This past week’s Goodwood Festival of Speed saw the local debut of the Airo, designer Thomas Heatherwick’s high-concept, glass-topped, pollution-eating car. (It’s his first. He’s known for buildings such as the Google HQs in London and Mountain View, California, and the glorious Barry Diller–financed Little Island, in New York.) A front-grill air filter will “collect a tennis ball worth of particulate matter per year,” Heatherwick told the BBC. “That might not sound a lot but think of a tennis ball in your lungs, that is contributing to cleaning the air, and with a million vehicles in China alone that adds up.” The Airo was unveiled in Shanghai in April and is expected to be produced for IM Motors in China in 2023.
That’s not all: in truth, the Airo sounds like half-auto, half–rumpus room. From the Heatherwick Web site: “The car’s customisable interior can be configured into multiple functional spaces that turn the car into a moving room or a space for your life.… The seats rotate from a traditional forward-facing driving position to face each other for social activities such as dining on the four-leaf table which neatly folds away to transform the space into a lounge. A foldaway screen turns the interior into a perfect gaming-pod and when you’ve exhausted yourself, the beautifully contoured seats fully recline to form a spacious double bed.”
Some observers are skeptical. Peter Wells of the Cardiff Business School told the BBC, “I cannot see how this car can make any significant contribution to resolving the many problems associated with car ownership and use. The contribution of this car to cleaning the air in our polluted urban centres would be so small as to be impossible to measure.” Whether you prefer to regard it as transportation or as housing, the Airo will set you back about $55,000.
A survey by Perspectus Global, a research firm, has concluded that the mispronounced word respondents are most irritated by is “pacifically” (for “specifically”). The rest of the Top 10, in order of annoyance, are: “probly,” “expresso,” “specially,” “Artick,” “nucular,” “tenderhooks,” “excetera,” “assessory,” and “triathalon.” Perhaps the most telling pacific finding—sorry, specific finding—was that two-thirds of those interviewed admitted they’d be too embarrassed to correct an offending speaker. Did we mention that the study was conducted in England?
Bach sells, advertisers long ago discovered, and according to the music historian Peter Kupfer, it’s because the composer’s work “has more or less taken on a single function: reassurance.” All that soothing counterpoint, excetera. (Damn: et cetera.) So, if just a few measures of the comforting architecture of Bach’s music makes you suddenly want to switch financial advisers, or order a pizza, or both, don’t be surprised: the seemingly unaccountable impulse to buy, buy, buy only means you’ve entered a kind of, well, fugue state.
George Kalogerakis is a Writer at Large for Air Mail