Too big to fail?

Published on Don’t Panic on 5th July 2010:

Andrew Ross Sorkin, author of the critically acclaimed Too Big to Fail, spoke last Wednesday at LSE’s New Academic Building. The focus of his lecture was on the financial crisis, its aftermath and the future. The audience was a mix of two part professionals to one part student; the majority of whom were big, big fans.

His lecture was well rehearsed, punctuated with timely anecdotes that were richly rewarded with laughter from an eager audience. Unsurprising given the number of times he’s delivered it. Much of the lecture’s content came from the book and his journey to its creation, a quick look at the introduction and acknowledgement will tell you as much. The book itself has been addressed as the story behind the institutions and the people in it who thought they were invincible, woven to the web of the 2004 film Crash.

For me, the interesting parts in the discussion weren’t so much about the contents of the book, the outcome of which we are living. Rather it was Sorkin’s commentary on what happened next. Something which he touched on time and time again was regulation, or rather, the lack of it since the financial crisis. He emphasised that despite living in these cycles of booms and busts, there has been little change to remedy the underlying issues or to prevent them from happening again in the future.

The regulators failed in the first instance to prevent such a crisis. Although much needed change is now promised, is it too little too late? And what of the auditors who allowed for all these empty financial instruments to be traded at grossly inflated values, creating vast empty bubbles? Just because it’s a valid accounting technique, doesn’t mean it’s financially sound. Maybe it should be down to the shareholders to push for change, after all, they hold the real power in the boardroom. But while it may be in everyone’s best interest to do so in the long run, in the short term, this doesn’t seem so profitable an option.

The term ‘too big to fail’ is generally taken to refer to an institution which if failed, the consequences would be too disastrous to consider. At the same time, who says it can’t be an organisation so vast and expansive that everyone has a stake in its success, rather like Reginald F. Johnston’s ‘nei wu fu’? [Editor’s note: The ultra-bureaucratic Imperial Household Department that ran the Forbidden City before the Chinese revolution of 1911, as depicted in the film The Last Emperor.]

All this corrupt bureaucracy suggests that the lack of regulation and being too big to fail are closely related. Sure, a few giants have fallen here and there sending shock waves across the world since the crisis began in September 2008; but few have been brought forward to justice, whether it be the junior who acted irresponsibly or the senior manager who turned a blind eye. Like Sorkin, I can grant the complexity of the case but I can’t help but wonder, in this industry that’s kept ticking by vested interest, how easy is it to find the culprit or a cure?

Black Dynamite

Publish on Don’t Panic on 5th July 2010:

Black Dynamite is the melting pot for liberal sprinklings of disco ‘fros with predictable clichés and a few surprising guest appearances; where nigga-calling among ‘brothas’ (read intra-cultural racism) is more than acceptable.

In this sorry attempt at blaxploitation spoofing, Michael Jai White dons a Shaft costume to play an ex-CIA commando, Black Dynamite. Is he one cool gun-toting, nunchuck-wielding cat with slick kung-fu moves and an appetite for the ladies who’s as hard as, well, his six pack? Or is he just one of those brothas who thinks he can get by with a wink and a smile, minus the smile?

Whatever he’s aiming for, he has missed it by miles while avenging his brother, ridding the streets of dope and pimp slapping the First Lady into the china cabinet.

Expect plenty of action but be warned, between the sketchy storyline, unconvincing street talk and questionable facial hair, you could lose track of the fine line separating spoof and plain bad filmmaking. Its sole redeeming feature may be the unashamedly retro décor and costuming, which is so in now, if you can sit through the tedious tour of Homer, Hesiod and Ovid that is.

Spoof or not, in an already tired genre, one has to wonder if it’s just a little overworked.

Future Stars

Published on Don’t Panic on 7th June 2010:

The London College of Fashion presented its latest generation of fashion prodigies at The Dairy, London last week. As usual, the college’s graduates offered an eclectic mix of innovative design in texture, shape and colour with support from the well-heeled crowd, including everyone from singer Diana Vickers to entrepreneur Harold Tillman. The fashion pack crowded in, the models strutted to non-stop tunes and captivated the audience, before giving way to awards and a champagne reception.

The big winner of the night was Nattaphon Sampataphakdee, whose Collection of the Year Award was presented by NME’s Krissi Murison. The Thai fashion student’s collection, inspired by the works of Henri Cartier-Bresson, can only be described as gentlemen-in-bed with a cross between smart suits and pyjamas. His surprising ensembles never stopped playing with established definitions of masculinity in a breathtaking experience.

Other notable designers of the night:

Yelena Loguiiko

The Design and Technology winner took the audience to another time and place. Throwing together mohair and Mongolian wool with a dash of Picasso’s Portrait of a Woman after Cranach the Younger, the collection speaks 50s Russian glamour and luxury. No woman can be disappointed by the tailoring that says both power and sensuality.

Wei Ting Hu

Blink and you might miss the fact that this highly wearable collection was inspired by traditional Taiwanese buildings. Oranges and reds highlight the well-defined tailoring, while each form-fitting piece spins between fun and serious.

Xiao Li

This playful collection wouldn’t go amiss at Missoni. Knits, bobbles, beads and more all come together to create something that just works.

Kai Yeung Yau

When the first of Yau’s collection appeared on the catwalk, the universal reaction must have been one of shock. As the pieces went by, it was clear that their bold colours cut just so made a decidedly self-assured statement. Who knew colanders could be so chic?

Matt Jones

Published on Don’t Panic on 3rd May 2010:

Matt Jones

International celebrity and fashion photographer Matt Jones opened his first solo UK show with a private viewing at London’s Oblong Gallery on the 1st of May. I went to speak to i-D magazine’s New York editor about his work in photography

On taking shelter from the imposing sense of rain outside the bijou gallery space of Oblong, I was immediately confronted by walls of prints. The little exhibition showcases some of Matt Jones’s favourite images from over a decade in the industry. However, as you explore the photographs around the room, it becomes difficult not to be overwhelmed by their number and range of subject. To say it’s an eclectic mix would be an understatement. The selection ranges from portraits to landscapes, from nudes to, well whatever the opposite is. There are some very recognisable faces on the wall staring back but there are equally many average Joes vying for their time to tell their story.

Jones’ first ever solo-show took place in the summer of 2009 in the gallery space of Paris’ hipster fashion boutique Colette and featured many of the works on display at Oblong.

“It was really refreshing for me to go back and look at some of these pictures because a lot of these pictures were from many years ago”, the photographer explains. “The first portrait I ever shot, of Damien Hirst, is back there and the most recent would probably have been taken only a couple of weeks ago. So it really is a group of pictures taken over the last 12 years.”

So just how did he choose these photos then?

“Some portraits I have an emotional attachment to and for whatever reason it might have been an interesting or memorable day. Others were just portraits that I thought were strong for a historical reason. For example, there’s that McQueen portrait which has become almost untimely. I almost didn’t put that one in but I decided to because it was one of my earliest portraits and I felt very connected to it.”

Asked if he had a favourite, Jones laughs and points to a prominent photo on the left wall with a nude woman and old man.

“We use to take care of him. He was an amazing painter, with an amazing personal story. I was trying to encourage him to start painting again and wanted to introduce him to this model who I had photographed before, her name was Crystal. I was photographing her at his house and the idea was that he was going to paint her. Unfortunately, he passed away quite soon after that portrait. The portraits that I respond most to are people that I meet.”

In another photograph, an old lady in a wedding dress holds a portrait of a startlingly beautiful young woman wearing the same dress.

“I met her in Texas. I was actually photographing an actress at her house and I asked to do a portrait of her. The woman in the frame is her on her wedding day. I saw the picture on her wall, asked her if she still had the wedding dress and convinced her to put it on for the portrait. I guess for me when you stumble upon someone and it’s unexpected, those are my favourites. Another was a hitchhiker I picked up in Woodstock, that’s where we live. We got talking and turns out he was in a couple of Warhol movies and a couple of Bertolucci movies. He ended up coming back to my house and we did a couple of portraits together.”

It’s obvious from the photos that these are people that Jones’ has had a real connection with. They hold a special place in a chapter of his life. In particular, it’s people with stories, with histories, that Jones most enjoys photographing. Looking at some of the photos, it was impossible not to wonder what other stories he had extracted from his subjects while taking their portraits. Suddenly, the gallery seemed more alive. I wondered how his photography was influenced by working at i-D.

“I was around a lot of i-D photographers, so from a very young age I was aware of great portrait photographers like Wolfgang. There was Matthew Lewis who has recently passed away. He did a lot of work for i-D at the time and was a really strong portrait photographer. But now what’s really nice is to look back at early issues of i-D. I think there’s a simplicity to portraits and now I think it’s rarer to find that simplicity because of digital photography.”

Matt Jones’s exhibition is open until May 30 at Oblong Gallery, Islington.

How to…Get Bullied

Published on Don’t Panic on 1st June 2009:

Ah the British education system where open abuse and bullying are part of the curriculum. If you are fat, ugly or ginger, or a combination of those, you’re pretty much screwed. Don’t Panic has gathered a few simple steps on how to get bullied.

Get some braces

Think train tracks with lime green bands and food wedged in the cracks. This will contribute a great deal to your bad breath. This is a must, along with BO.

Facial appearance

A very good way of getting mean nick-names shouted at you. Eat some hormones, be pubescent, or maybe put some butter or fat of some sort on your face every night before going to bed and basically never wash. You will soon be called “Pizza-face” or “Pizza-face with extra pepperoni” or if you’ve got big lips then you’ll be “stuffed-crust” or something.

Get glasses

Getting really big glasses with gold frames which aren’t quite the right shape is a good way of being called things such as “specky” and “four-eyes.” Make sure you accessorise with spectacle chains and greasy smudges. Furthermore, using lenses which make your eyes look like the size of your head will send those bullies crazy for you.

Personal appearance

Leave your messy bed-head and definitely never spend hours achieving the I-just-got-up-look. Just get up. That means to never put on other clothes than the same ones you had on the day before and the day before that. Trousers and t-shirts should be too short and jackets should be too big. But don’t exaggerate too much; you don’t want the bullies to feel sorry for you.


Having too much of a personality can make you the funny one. Even if you’re a bit weird, funny is an effective deterrent to bullies. You’d be better off being the quiet one who only says absolutely weird and nonessential things, preferably when someone else is talking. Also, make up absurd things about yourself such as that you are living in a castle, your mum is Barack Obama and you have a relationship with Paris Hilton. As soon as you’re old enough to get a job, tell people that you are modelling or working in your spare time as a secret agent. Soon people will be talking to you just so that they can laugh straight up your face. Remember to always aim to fit in with whatever the coolest group is but never quite get it right.

Embarrass yourself

If, for some reason, you fail with at the above because you’re too cool for school or simply because you just look fabulous no matter what you do, there are still a few tricks in the book. Be clumsy; drop your food in the canteen. Make sure your face goes red no matter what you do. Also, eat beans, broccoli and brussel sprouts to make sure that you’re farting badly wherever you go, sitting and standing, running or walking. Try skipping on your way to the toilet, or just don’t use the loo at all and make sure you’re wetting and shitting yourself in public. Follow these simple steps and your school years will be long and immeasurably miserable.