“Justin Lee Collins: Turning Japanese”

Five just aired the first part of three in this series where Justin Lee Collins checks out Japan. You can catch the first part here as well as find the promotional material and synopsis. I was always going to be interested in this as I have an uninformed fascination with Japanese culture and have recently taken up learning the language, despite skeptical about what the comedy persona of Justin Lee Collins would bring to it. The blurb starts off well:

Justin arrives in Tokyo on a mission to learn more about the people and customs behind Japan’s often baffling image

However, I think the programme potentially added to the “baffling image” by focussing on what would appear to be quite bizarre aspects of Japanese culture: meeting a man with over 100 sex dolls, costing over £250,000 and sending Justin Lee Collins out to be a host in the city’s Red Light District, where a single night can cost the customer >£1000. I could be totally wrong here and that is pervasive behaviour across Japan but it seems unlikely to me, not least because of how much it costs.

There were some genuinely interesting and troubling moments when the programme visited a sex doll showroom and saw child sex dolls, but this is interesting because it doesn’t need to be presented as “normal” for us to find it shocking and it was spoiled by rest of the programme which seemed to dress up fringe activities as normal.

Frustratingly, I think they skirted around the actual issue they were discussing. The lessons on meeting people, the sex dolls and the host bar were all lazily hung from an interesting point on population decline in Japan that could have been treated in more in-depth way whilst still fitting in some of the kookier aspects which presumably sell the programme.

I would like to see a proper, genuine comparison of both similarities and differences across these cultures, rather than programmes such as this and Beckii: Schoolgirl Superstar at 14 which play into stereotypes rather than challenge them.

“Beckii: Schoolgirl Superstar at 14″

I’ve just watched Beckii: Schoolgirl Superstar at 14 on the BBC iPlayer (originally on BBC Three last night). It chronicles the fortunes of Rebecca Flint/Beckii Cruel, her family and finding global fame.

There are plenty of things that are really interesting about the documentary; from the way the Internet can make stars of people, the concept of multiple identities across different cultures and the conflict of interest between parent and offspring. (That last one may just be some unsympathetic editing towards her father, Derek, but even so, it made me think about childhood success and the parents wanting “in”).

The aspect I really want to talk about is the fandom, or inappropriate fandom that the girls received.

The film devotes much of the middle section towards this, but mostly parries it off as being a “cultural difference”, especially when her manager is asked about it. My question is: just because another culture allows a fixation with young, female teenagers, does that make it acceptable? Or to spin it around, because British (Western? I hate that word though) culture doesn’t allow it, does that mean it is wrong? For sure, I got a slightly uneasy feeling watching parts of that film, but of course I’ve internalised the British view.

Incidentally, I think Beckii has an amazingly level head on this, perhaps more so than her parents and manager. Her piece to camera after she receives the bass guitar is very considered, and her take on the “cultural difference” is equally sensible, where she talks about making sure she is happy (31mins in on iPlayer).

I think working to get away from the sexual side , that’s why we’ve turned down a lot of offers for [?] magazines and everything because we don’t want to do that and I never want to do that. I mean I’m 14 years old and even if [?] “oh, its just a different culture”, even so, I’m a British person with a British mindset and I think it is wrong so, yeah.

My basic problem is that if we assume that 14-16 year old girls getting attention from 45-54 year old males (27mins) isn’t a problem but part of the culture, then why are is it important to make sure that the girls clothing is so carefully checked (29mins and 10mins) and that their “look” (from 9mins) of large eyes, chiselled chin is so important. From 9-14 mins is particularly illustrative of this.

To me, printing photobooks of a 14 year old girl – where the girl is the product, not like a clothing catalogue – and making out that it isn’t sexual/objectifying doesn’t quite add up. Part of me wonders if someone, somewhere, is ignoring the “elephant in the room” on this.

That is not to say that printing her photobooks and other merchandise is necessarily wrong. I want to explore why and if behaviour of those consuming those materials and generating that market is acceptable. I mean surely she should be able to publish whatever materials she wants, and it is up to those consuming them to be responsible in the way that they contact her and behave to her. Pragmatically however, should she censor herself to minimise the risk of unwanted attention?

Obvious follow-up questions are: is there ever an age for objectification as above?  Is this solely a problem for girls (cf. Justin Bieber)?

Maybe I’m coming at this with too much of a gender and culture bias? Anyone else have thoughts?

Update: I just had this conversation with @Tom5mith on Twitter, about our take on the ‘moe‘ and ‘idol‘ culture. Relates strongly to our attempts as Brits to see through the cultural difference.

Look ma! I’m on the telly!

So this is a bit late given it happened on Saturday, but I (once again) had the pleasure of watching Over the Rainbow live from the studio. This time I had the fortune of just turning up at the studio and hoping to find a kind soul with a spare ticket. I turned up at about 3.15pm and luckily found Lionel who (it later turned out) had a spare priority ticket, and so was in about the first 10 people to be allowed in to the studio! Thanks Lionel!

The gods must have been looking down upon me favourably that day, because I then got selected to be one of 8 people who got to sit in the stage right front row seats, when they weren’t being occupied by the munchkin kids who performed at various points. This gave me a prime opportunity to catch myself on screen, which I have duly uploaded here.

For what actually happened during the final (and the rest of the series) I can recommend Monkseal, Over the Rainbitch and (the extraordinarily named) Millie Moo and Chewbagga blogs. All 3 of these have me in fits of giggles at some of their insights during the series. Anyway, back to (me) the screenshots.

Here I am in the first show during the former Dorothy’s performance of Empire State of Mind:

Ex-Dorothys perform. See me in the bottom left!

This was pre-recorded just before the first show, I guess so they didn’t have to all change into their ‘dorothy dresses’ live at the same time – would have been a wardrobe nightmare! I was sitting right next to the Dorothy benches as well, which meant I got to overhear their chat and watch them mess about before they performed. Highlights included the muchkin boys mocking Steph because with their hair all gelled up they were nearly as tall as her and them pulling faces at each other across the stage from the wing spaces. I’m glad that people who work in theatre’TV in “real-life” have the same fun/serious balance as I do in student theatre! Also overheard were most of the ex-Dorothys (particularly Jenny and Stephanie) complaining about the fit of their new colour coordinated shoes – now that the sequined slippers are on the shoedelier behind the Lord – and being desperate to take them off at the first oppotunity.

I was also on telly a few more times at about that size, but sitting so close to the benches meant I was in a prime spot for the eliminations! Here is a screengrab from the second show when Sophie went to meet her family:

As Sophie greets her parents, there I am, lurking in the background!

Just before Sophie’s elimination, as her and Danielle walked down the stairs, I’d also like to claim responsibility for this smile to the crowd as I wished her good luck:

Nervous smile to the audience

At least, I’m 80-90% sure it was at that: it was at the same time as I called out, but equally there were a lot of well-wishers!

Another notable moment that didn’t show on screen was as Lauren was eliminate; during the farewell, Danielle carried the shoes to the Lord and stopped singing (or seemed to), which obviously worried Sophie as she was carrying the song so she gestured with a wave to all the ex-Dorothys to join in and help her out. It is funny some of the things you can see in the studio and not on screen!

It is a shame for me that Sophie didn’t win; on Saturday she finally gave the brilliant performances that I’d kinda hoped she would all series, especially her version of ‘Tomorrow’ against Danielle’s ‘76 Trombones‘. In fairness to Danielle, it was more of a rubbish song choice than anything else (as Sheila pointed out), but it did demonstrate Sophie did finally have the voice/talent required which I think was a revelation to many. I’d love to know what the exact votes were for Danielle and Sophie – it must have been very close I think.

In fairness, I’m not too worried; I’d pay to see almost any of the top 10 perform that role and have already booked to see The Wizard of Oz twice! And as for Sophie, given past precedent with these shows, I’m sure we’ll see her in the West End in the next year or two; and I’ll go and see that too!

Over the Rainbow – live from the studio

Inside the Over The Rainbow studio
Stealthily taken shot from where we sat.

On Saturday I had the pleasure of watching Over the Rainbow not from my sofa, but live from the studio at Wembley. As luck would have it, it was a particularly good week to pick, being ‘musical theatre’ week and a double eviction. We also got to see Charlotte Church perform, but to be honest, it was a little bit ‘meh’ in my opinion.

I’m not going to commentate on the show, as there are plenty of other blogs that do that perfectly (such as Over the Rainbitch, who I only found today, and whose comments seem spot-on), but instead address a few things that you’d have to have been in the studio to notice.


As when I have been to a TV recording before, the audience don’t decide when to applaud – we are told when the applaud and when to keep quiet by a couple of people standing between the audience and the stage. This means when everyone claps whenever the girls reach a high/loud point, it isn’t because they are all idiots, but because they are told to. In fairness, it does look quite good on the telly like that, it is just really annoying.

The same went for being forced to clap all the way through Tamsin Outhwaite’s number. And she wasn’t even there: it was a pre-record, as evident by the fact that the audience in her segment aren’t clapping and yet applause is heard.


Obviously the live show is live, so any pick-ups wouldn’t be possible anyway, not that it really needed them, but even the second show Graham Norton only made a single mistake that had to be re-shot – that cannot be an easy task, being faultless for a good few hours. I was impressed. We did have a few pauses for costume changes, but I think that is fair enough – why rush around live like mad things if you don’t have to.

Charlotte Church

Her song warrants its own section because she had to do it 3 times to get it right, and do the interview with Graham twice as she forgot to plug the single the first time round (duh!). Not particularly forgiveable given she is supposedly the experienced singer to mentor the Dorothys, who manage to (more or less) get 3 or 4 songs right each week in a single take. It was especially torturous as the song is pretty crappy anyway.

The Dorothys

Our first taste of the girls was when we realised we were sitting close to where they sit the guests/VIPs, so we congratulated/commiserated Stephanie on last week’s departure. The live show was relatively uneventful – I think it came across on telly the same way as it was in the studio. I definitely

think that Jenny and Sophie’s songs were chosen to try and unseat them; unpopular songs were never going to get as many votes as the well known numbers the other 4 produced. Combined with Jenny’s dog fiasco (again, I call fix…), it was predictable to see her go I think.

Sitting where we were, she then came up to join Stephanie which meant we got to have a chat (and a photo) with both of them. They were both lovely and relatively unfazed by the number of people wanting a chat/hug/photo. This confirmed my suspicions that I think I’d like to marry Jenny… 😉

In the results show, the only point of note was Sophie in the mash-up, as she managed to get the dance wrong (twice, I think). Having watched it back last night, I think she escaped having it broadcast though, but we saw! I also thought that Jessica did a good job of keeping composed after her elimination, and seemed to be in good spirits as she left, thanking well-wishers including us. It was also notable that the first person to talk to her after she came down from the moon was the Lord himself, who greeted her with a big hug, so it looks like she is gong to be in his good books for a while to come.

I’m glad that I didn’t manage to make it on TV, as I think I would have felt very self-concious,and despite the 2 and 1/2 hour wait to get into the studios, I’d definitely do it again and I hope I get tickets for either (both?) of the next two shows. It also made me remember how much I love live musical theatre, so I think a few more West End trips are in the offing!

Over the Rainbow – the halfway point

As background, this is about the BBC TV show Over the Rainbow, where they search for a girl to play the part of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. I’m not all about sciency/politics things you know!

Firstly, I know we’ve had more than half of the shows (no idea where the time has gone…), but with 6/11 girls still in and a double eviction next week, I think it counts! The questions for me are: how were my predictions from the audition stages and have I changed my mind!

My picks from the top 10 were listed in 3 groups like so. I’ve struck through those which have already been eliminated.




And then Emilie was the wild-card who has been and gone.

So apparently I can’t pick them! Although I still think Jessica stands a great chance.

Contrary to my original rankings, I’m quite glad that Stephanie went tonight as while I still think she would have been great technically, she just isn’t as interesting to watch as some of the other Dorothys. In some ways, now we’ve seen more of the girls on screen, in my mind I have mentally moved the goalposts so now they can’t just look and act like my mind’s eye thinks Dorothy should be but also have to win me over generally. I’ve fallen into a horrible trap of not judging them objectively at all, rather falling for the different personalities we are shown. Given I’m sure that is how most people vote, I’m actually surprised the programme-makers don’t have get the girls to engage more with the public and garner up more votes. Why don’t they publish diaries/twitter accounts/web-only video and the like? Certainly seems to be a demand for it if the way people lap up the official facebook page.

Embracing my change of heart, I’d like Jenny, Sophie or Lauren (I realise I’ve just named half the field…) to win as they are just very watchable, both in their performances and in flirting with the camera in the prerecorded segments. Otherwise, I stick by my shout of Jessica from way back!

I’ve also warmed a lot to Steph and her addresses to the camera, but I can’t see her as Dorothy: she just doesn’t seem vulnerable enough for me. I’d like to see her in something where she could use that confidence, Chicago maybe?

On a separate note, I’m going to see it LIVE next week at Fountain Studios in Wembley! I’m ridiculously excited, both by seeing it all live, but also in a geeky way by seeing how they work that mix of live theatre and live broadcasting. I’m sure it will be amazing, and I’ll try to write it up here. (Obviously without any spoilers, given the backlash in the Twitterverse last night over the leaking of potential spoilers!)

Nailing my colours to the “rainbow” mast

'Over the Rainbow' promo shot'Just finished catching up with last night’s Over the Rainbow on BBC1 and thought I’d nail my colours to the mast early on regarding who I think is going to place where, as well as a few observations on the show.

Firstly I just loved how brilliant David Grindrod (casting director) was in the first programme on Friday. Even when he gives good news he doesn’t sound excited, just delivers it and bids farewell. I like that level of emotional detachment when judging something like this; just seems to give integrity.

Also, I wonder what happened to cause the addition of the 4 extra girls into the call-backs at ‘Dorothy Farm’. I have trouble believing it was always going to happen to unnerve the other auditionees, so wonder what the motive was. Equally, it seems unlike a TV programme (with the judges) to openly admit they’d made a mistake. I wonder who in the production company/production team for the theatre show wanted those girls in contention. Regardless, they seemed to be right given that 3 out of the 4 went on to make it to the studio (Jessica, Steph and Emma), and 2 of them made it straight to the live shows (Jessica and Steph).

Also, we get it, Graham Norton is gay. Last year we had Nancy jokes in I’d Do Anything and now we have “friend of Dorothy” jokes. Now it has been made, I hope we can move on, but I doubt it!

Anyway with out further ado, my predictions for the series. I should say that I like my musical theatre to be very typical musical theatre, so my choices are probably quite traditional, so I’m going to say who I’d like to win and how I think that will differ from who will actually win it. Also, I’m only going to take the 10 that went straight through to the live shows: will come on to the wild cards later, who are subject to a public vote for the 11th place.

1. Jessica
2. Stephanie
3. Dani

    My top 3 all give off a sense of “musical theatre” I think. I can’t really put my finger on what marks someone out (to me) as theatrical rather than pop, especially when they were singing pop songs, but they stood out. Not sure the public will agree with my traditionalist casting but we shall see.

    I’m not going to try and rank the rest, as it is probably too early to say, so I’ll split them into 2 groups based on when I think they’ll go out. I think I’m probably going to be hugely wrong (I wanted Jodie out from very early on last year and she ended up winning), but I’ll give it a go.


    This group is probably the most interesting as there isn’t much that separates them, they are all nice to watch, but just don’t stick out. With all the training that they are bound to have, this could all change and they will push into the top, or won’t take it on board and so fall to the bottom.


    I really didn’t take to this group for mixture of reasons, but mostly for stage presence or dance. To coin the awkward American phrase; they don’t feel like a “triple threat”, and have something really lacking for my taste.

    Back in reality, I think that the public vote might punish Amy for having been a glamour model and keep Sophie in for a lot longer than I would. I also think Jenny might do quite well, which is why she is in my second group.

    In terms of the Wild Cards, I would have put through Emma, Tegan and Claire Harbourne over my group, but I did pick my top 7 out of the original 20, which I’m quite proud of! I’m surprised they didn’t keep in some of the slightly more “out there” contestants such as Tasheka or Claire Hillier, and wait for the public to oust them. While they aren’t my choice for Dorothy, I thought they were both good and would had made interesting characters for people to get behind (and maybe they still will). My prediction for wild card Dorothy is definitely Tegan. I both want her to be back in and think the public will too, so a strong contender!

    To see if I am right, you’ll have to watch the programme next Saturday on BBC1 (I’ll be catching up on iPlayer in the week…), and then by the end of the series I’ll have to give myself points for how well my predictions faired. If you think I am massively wrong then leave a comment putting me straight!

      New Year’s Resolution

      I’ve never really done a New Year’s Resolution before, so this will be a first for me. And I think I’ve started with an easy one; my resolution is to watch more movies! It is well known that I have an awfully small amount of movie knowledge. I only know about big famous film and ones with Hugh Grant in. And even then there are some surprising gaps in my film-watching history. Particularly the so-called “classics” as I only tend to watch films at the cinema.

      I’m going to  change all of this though, thanks to getting a Blu-Ray player for Christmas and I’ve just set up a LoveFilm account to help me see a few of these films. Those that I feel strongly enough about might even get a blog-review of them if they are either excellent or really atrocious. My aim therefore is to watch at least 2 films a month (my current subscription).

      I just returned the first film I was sent, and it was Angels and Demons, the adaptation of the Dan Brown book by the same name, starring Tom Hanks and Ewan MacGregor. I think the movie makes the storyline more obvious than the book, but then having read it before I saw it, I guess I would think that.  Otherwise I guess it is a perfectly passable action/thriller, but not exactly ground-breaking.

      Apparently my next film is another book adaptation, The Golden Compass (or Nothern Lights as it was here in the UK). This is a book series that I loved, so I hope the movie doesn’t mess it up too much! If it does, you can be certain it will elicit a response on the blog!

      The hype that is The X Factor and Jedward

      Now, I don’t watch The X Factor, but being on Twitter and Facebook, I’ve obviously heard about this year’s contestants. I did, however, catch this weeks results show.

      Now all I’d heard of Lucie Jones was her part in the Katy Perry song at the top of the show (X factor Finalists sing Hot’n’Cold) and I don’t think she should have gone based on that – she did that song brilliantly. Equally, the twins can’t sing but are (relatively) fun to watch.

      This post isn’t about that though really – it’s about the way the internet can hype these things. After the show, I changed my Facebook status to “Jedward ftw!”, to see what’d happen. Sure enough I was inundated with replies, most of them incredulous that I could think such a thing. However, over in some Facebook groups, this was occurring on a much greater and more interesting scale. Within a few hours, thousands of people had joined a group called “I hate Simon Cowell for keeping Jedward in!” It is now at over 3300 less than 24 hours later, and this is just one group. What is also surprising is the level of vitriol that Simon Cowell and John and Edward are subjected to on it.

      I think this just proves the power of social media (maybe I should be a “Social Media Consultant” whatever that is…), along with the previous 2 notable social media stories: Trafigura/Carter-Ruck and Stephen Gately/Jan Moir.

      What got me actually thinking about this over dinner last night was this question though:

      Would The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing be as successful without “social media” and/or Web 2.0?

      There is of course data from the pre-Facebook, Twitter and MySpace age for shows like Big Brother and I’m a celebrity… so it couldn’t be that hard. Even so, pretty far away from my preferred field of structural biology. Think I’ll leave it to a social scientist somewhere…