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Alexei Toliopoulos: the funniest things I have ever seen (on the internet) | Culture

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My whole life is a deep dive into the mysteries of pop culture. I don’t think I’ve seen the surface in years and likely have a permanent case of the bends.

Each of these treasures I’ve unearthed in my life’s mission of pop culture exploration and investigation transcends in some way. Whether it’s capturing the rarest and most authentic moments of verisimilitude or the beauty of unintentional chaos. Each of these examples reflects something pure and holds immense amounts of power.

1. Vin Diesel dances in combat shorts

Vin Diesel is a complex figure of 21st century machismo. His deep gravelly barely audible growl, tank-like physique and signature glazed doughnut dome have always been bolstered by a strong undercurrent of deep sensitivity. This vulnerable and deeply ponderous side of Vin has always been hiding in plain sight on his Facebook profile.

Over the last 13 or so years I’ve seen him share bizarre fan art with inspirational quotes attributed to Vin that feel like Ed Hardy T-shirts, hint towards a long gestating dream project playing Ancient Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca, a sincere video of him emotionally singing along to Rihanna’s Stay (which, featuring an attempted falsetto, might be the most vulnerable thing an action film icon has ever done), but the video I always go back to is one brimming with pure joy. Vin Diesel dancing to Beyonce’s Drunk in Love in front of a webcam wearing the longest pair of combat shorts and a tank top. The power held in this video extended my life by at least a year. Vin is feeling himself, honey!

Vin Diesel is feeling himself, honey!

2. Nonstop insults in Fat Families

Reality TV from the UK is really special. It feels so powerfully rude in a way that is in extreme juxtaposition to the perception of their formal culture of manners and the etiquette of sequential cutlery. This montage of introductions for a reality show called Fat Families is the Platonic ideal of wild reality TV. A bespectacled man with ungodly confidence and angelic cadence stating his weekly mission of helping families battling with obesity as “about to meet some right jelly bellied jumbos” while standing in front of a parade of elephants is the stuff of myth and legend. As a resident of “North Porkshire” myself, the rapid succession of insults in a presentational style just absolutely levelled me.

It feels so powerfully rude in a way that is in extreme juxtaposition to the perception of Britain’s formal culture of manners.

3. Bar Italia asks ‘R U OK’ in pasta

Iconic cafe in the heart of Sydney’s Little Italy posted this for R U OK Day 2020. Bellissimo!

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4. Neil Cicierega’s guide to the Lord of the Rings

The multi-talented Neil Cicierega may be most known for the Harry Potter parody Potter Puppet Pals, but his magnum opus is this perfect parody of obsessive YouTube fan videos that mainly act as a catalogue runsheet of collected information while imparting no wisdom. It’s not just the mis-rememberings, or mispronunciations of the characters and events from the Lord of the Rings that sets me off, but just the detail of speaking way too close to the microphone.

A perfect parody by a master.

4. Actors accepting Oscars

As a professional celebrator of cinema, I hate to admit it but the Oscars are so important to me culturally. There’s something about the elegantly dressed heights of popular culture experiencing clashes of emotion and ego that transcends time and space.

Matthew McConaughey’s best actor acceptance speech, where he declares he is his own hero and his dad is up in heaven in his underwear with a pot of gumbo, lemon meringue pie, a cold can of Miller Lite and he’s dancing, has slowly become a fount of daily inspiration for me.

This Oscars speech is testament to McConaughey’s chameleon powers.

Patty Duke’s acceptance speech for The Miracle Worker (1962) is the shortest speech in Oscars history. The buildup of her finding out she’s won, the long walk to the stage, the emotion brewing on her face as the orchestra plays a rushed rendition of Hush Little Baby, a moment basking in showbiz glory before she reaches the mic and tearfully squeaks out “thank you” and immediately leaves the stage undercutting every ounce of ceremonial pretension. It’s a magnificent minute-and-a-half of buildup to three seconds of pay off.

‘Thank you’ – that is all.

5. Unconventional director sets Shakespeare play in time, place Shakespeare intended

This Onion headline has been lodged in the most sensitive part of my skull since 2007, when I was but a chubby theatre nerd in high school drama class. At the time I was obsessed with a little Australian film called Macbeth that, despite its modern Melbourne underworld setting, used the original language of the bard himself. I was also performing the monologue from David Mamet’s salesmen drama ​​Glengarry Glen Ross as a man left ranting homeless during the ongoing global financial crisis of the day. This laugh was a wake-up call to the pretension of needing to put that authorial stamp on everything.

6. Paris Hilton makes lasagna

When this video dropped on YouTube last year it floored me. The only thing I may hold dearer to my heart than cinema is food. Paris Hilton making lasagna from scratch (jar sauce, tubs of ricotta and boxed pasta sheets like we all make it) is like a document from another planet. She never takes off these little leather fingerless gloves while preparing the food and pours bottled water to wet a paper towel over the sink, while her stunningly cavernous kitchen quickly accumulates emptied packages like a dragon collecting gold. For nearly a year I waited for a follow-up episode to no avail, until just this month Netflix released an entire season of Cooking with Paris.

This was when I truly realised I’m not even the same species as Paris.

7. Donkey Kong kill screen is coming up

The documentary feature film The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, about the continuing battle between good and evil through the world of competitive arcade video gaming, is one of the most formative texts I encountered in my teen years. I was starting to get interested in pursuing comedy, but seeing comedy happen naturally because a filmmaker happened to be pointing a camera at it, and then constructing it in the edit after, awoke this notion of documentary factual storytelling in me (without The King of Kong there’d be no Finding Drago/Desperado).

This segment featuring an uncharismatic man trying to build hype around a “potential Donkey Kong kill screen coming up” as not a soul listens to him is what I always come back to watch. It’s character comedy unfolding in the real world filled with heartbreak, triumph and disappointment.

It was the first time I saw a comedy happen naturally, simply because a filmmaker pointed a camera at it.

8. Patti LaBelle does not have backing singers

Iconic diva Patti LaBelle’s battle against poor event management is a divine miracle of chaos and live television. Watching this has slowly become a Christmas tradition in my household. It’s that juxtaposition of the elite level professionalism of Patti LaBelle’s perseverance, while a teleprompter fails, she calls for her background singers to support her, in between god-level ad libs to maintain whatever sense of cohesion she can. The twist, that this isn’t just some rinky dink town’s Christmas celebration, but instead a ceremony attended by sitting president Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary is the only gift you’ll ever need to bring you merriment this yuletide.

The twist: that this isn’t just some rinky dink town’s Christmas celebration.



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Philippines imposes 12 per cent digital services tax • The Register

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The Philippines has become the latest nation to impose a digital services tax.

Such taxes require the likes of Netflix and Spotify to pay local sales taxes even though their services are delivered – legally, notionally, and physically – from beyond local jurisdiction.

The Philippines has chosen a rate of 12 per cent, mirroring local value added taxes.

“We have now clarified that digital services and the goods and services traded through digital service providers should generally be subject to VAT. This is just a matter of common tax sense,” said Joey Salceda, a member of the Philippines’ House of Representatives and a backer of the change to the nation’s tax code.

Salceda tied the change to post-pandemic economic recovery.

“If brick and mortar establishments, which are the hardest-hit by the pandemic, have to pay VAT, the giants of e-commerce shouldn’t be exempt,” he said.

However, local companies that are already exempt from VAT by virtue of low turnover won’t be caught by the extension of the tax into the virtual realm.

Salceda’s amendments are designed to catch content streamers, but also online software sales – including mobile apps – plus SaaS and hosted software. The Philippines’ News Agency’s report on the amendment’s passage into law even mentions firewalls as subject to VAT.

The Philippines is not alone in introducing a digital services tax to raise more revenue after the COVID-19 pandemic hurt government revenue – Indonesia used the same logic in 2020 .

But the taxes are controversial because they are seen as a unilateral response to the wider issue of multinational companies picking the jurisdictions in which they’ll pay tax – a practice that erodes national tax bases. The G7 group of nations, and the OECD, think that collaborations that shift tax liabilities to nations where goods and services are acquired and consumed are the most appropriate response, and that harmonising global tax laws to make big tech pay up wherever they do business is a better plan than digital services taxes.

The USA has backed that view of digital services taxes, by announcing it will impose tariffson nations that introduce them – but is yet to enact that plan.

Meanwhile, the process of creating a global approach to multinational tax shenanigans is taking years to agree and implement.

But The Philippines wants more cash in its coffers – and to demonstrate that local businesses aren’t being disadvantaged – ASAP. ®

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How to ask your boss for more flexible working

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While returning to the office is now possible for many, some workers might still want the option of flexible working some of the time. Here’s how to broach the subject.

This week marked the beginning of a phased and staggered return to workplaces for many employees in Ireland.

It essentially marked the first official green light for employers to ready their offices and start putting plans in place for their staff’s return.

Click here to check out the top sci-tech employers hiring right now.

However, HR body CIPD Ireland urged employers to be mindful of anxious workers as they face “another round of upheaval” with the return to offices.

So, while employers are finalising plans about how, where and when their teams will work, some employees may be wondering how to go about expressing their preference, worried that it’s not in line with what the company wants.

While there have been plenty of discussions and remote work advocates calling for leaders to be more flexible and recognise that the future of work will be hybrid, the reality for individual employees can feel very different.

While big-picture debates around the right to request remote work are happening, how do you ask for what you want in the here and now, when your boss is determined to have a full return to the office?

Explain your reasons

If remote or flexible working isn’t something your boss is already willing to give you, then you must treat it like a pay rise request.

Explain clearly and concisely the reasons why you want more flexibility, how it will benefit you and make you a more engaged, happier worker.

While family commitments might be an important factor, so too is work-life balance and getting rid of long commutes. And, while there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, Covid-19 is still a very real concern, so don’t be afraid to express your reservations about this too.

Make a business case

When you ask for a pay increase, you provide proof of the value you have added to the company. Take the same approach here and explain to your boss how flexible working will actually be beneficial to them.

Some managers who resist remote working might still have an office-based mentality where presenteeism is key. But there are numerous studies that show that knowledge workers are more productive when working remotely.

And, when done as a purposeful business strategy, remote working can help teams prioritise work more clearly as well as allowing for more downtime and work-life balance.

Be realistic

Depending on your manager, your team and the work you do, it may not be feasible to ask to work from home five days a week.

It’s important that you are realistic about asking for what you want and also realistic about what you can deliver in return. Remote workers can be more productive but they can also be in danger of burning out so be thoughtful about what strategy will work best for both you and your manager.

Listen to their perspective

While conversations around remote working appear to be mostly positive, it can be a different situation behind the office doors.

Many managers and leaders are still hesitant about moving to a fully flexible working strategy and this can lead to workers feeling like they are not being listened to.

However, one of the best ways to combat that hesitancy from managers is to listen to their concerns and address them in a problem-solving manner.

Being able to alleviate some of your manager’s worries might make them more amenable to allowing for more flexibility.

Make expectations clear

If you do convince your boss to allow for a more flexible working plan than what they had originally considered, it’s important that both sides understand what is expected.

Without clearly defining the outcomes of the new set-up, misunderstandings can lead to disappointments and feelings of mistrust in the idea of flexible working.

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The Lovers’ Guide at 30: did the bestselling video make Britain better in bed? | Relationships and sex education

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The second sexual revolution began 30 years ago, on 23 September 1991, with the release of an educational videotape called The Lovers’ Guide. The revolution’s unlikely figureheads were a film producer who had been making how-to videos about gardening and pets and cooking, and a 56-year-old doctor, while their ally was an American former TV and theatre director who had become Britain’s chief film censor.

The producer was a man called Robert Page, who had been approached by Virgin – which had recently started making condoms – to make a sexual health film for men that explained how to use one. There were two difficulties with that. The first was that no erect penis had been shown on screen in Britain. The second was that Page had no interest in making a film about penises. The censor – James Ferman, the director of the British Board of Film Classification from 1975 to 1999 – took care of the first issue.

“I was talking to the great James Ferman,” Page says, talking from New York, where he now lives, “and he went, ‘There’s only one law, and it’s called obscenity and it’s that which will deprave and corrupt.’ He said, ‘I see nothing depraving or corrupting in a man pulling a condom on in this era. I think it’s downright sensible.’”

Page brought up the second issue. “I went, ‘You know all these how-to videos? There’s this area of life that we don’t talk about. You wouldn’t let me make one about sex, would you?’ He said, ‘What would you want to show?’ I went, ‘Men and women, with actual intercourse.’” Page wanted to show oral sex. He wanted to show genitals. He wanted to show the things that even films made for sex shops couldn’t show, and he wanted to show them in a film that would get an 18 certificate and be sold as a VHS tape on the high street.

Film censor James Ferman.
Film censor James Ferman. Photograph: Evening Standard/Getty Images

Ferman laid down conditions. The film had to be fronted by a doctor. The script had to be approved by a reputable organisation. There was to be no lingering on the explicit shots. It was not, in short, to be a mucky film, regardless of what its viewers might use it for.

Page wanted Alex Comfort, the author of The Joy of Sex, to be the doctor, but Comfort’s publishers rejected the idea. Instead he turned to Andrew Stanway, another veteran “sexologist”, with a string of books to his name (Stanway did not respond to requests for an interview). “He was a quite tall, wide man, with huge hands,” says Simon Ludgate, who was hired as director. “He had greying, curly, fair hair, a pointy nose and beady eyes. He reminded me of a bad magician with a ‘look into my eyes’ hypnotic stare.”

It’s Stanway who gives the clinical narration – “The clearest sign of male sexual arousal is an erection. Tissue within the penis fills with blood, making it stiffen. As arousal increases, so does heart rate. Breathing quickens and the nostrils flare” – and he both co-wrote the script and helped recruit the film’s stars. Chief among them were Tony and Wendy Duffield, former patients of his, who went on to be the Brad and Angelina of the sex ed video market. They later appeared on Desmond Morris’s The Human Animal making love with tiny cameras inside them to show the processes at work.

The Duffields weren’t the real problem, though. “There were a couple of people, who were supposed to be a couple and weren’t,” Page says. “One of the guys, the one who stands up to masturbate – Marino – was an adult film professional. We didn’t know that, but the press knew right away. I can’t tell you how naive we were. We had no idea. We had never been in this world. We had done very wholesome stuff, so doing this was breaking new ground.”

The press did indeed know right away, and before the film came out the News of the World revealed the fact that The Lovers’ Guide featured porn stars. “It almost sank us,” Ludgate says. “Woolworths at that point said they weren’t going to stock it, and Woolworths at the time were massive. And then WH Smith said they weren’t going to.”

The shops relented in time for release, and The Lovers’ Guide arrived on the high street. Page and Ludgate are insistent that their motives were purely to help couples, though the film’s makers knew the first certified film to feature explicit sex, even with Stanway’s lugubrious voiceover, would fly out of the shops, and not just to people wanting to learn some new positions. And so Page spent more on The Lovers’ Guide – it was shot on film, not tape, with purpose-built sets – than anything he had ever made before.

He says now he thought it might rival the 250,000 copies of a Neighbours tie-in video he had made. In fact, it sold 200,000 copies in its first fortnight, going on to sell 1.3m in the UK alone, and hundreds of thousands more around the world. (“My greatest regret is not taking a percentage,” Ludgate says. “I still kick myself about that.”)

Dr Andrew Stanway, who did the voiceover for The Lovers’ Guide.
Dr Andrew Stanway, who did the voiceover for The Lovers’ Guide. Photograph: Honey Salvadori/Channel 5

Looking at it now, in a world of Pornhub, YouPorn, PornMD and everything else, The Lovers’ Guide seems almost unbearably innocent. It is sex at its gentlest. Everything is shot in soft focus; candles are everywhere. (Page was insistent the film’s primary market be women, though the soft focus and candles spoke more to male ideas of female sexuality. Nevertheless, 55% of buyers were women.) Couples wander through fields, smiling happily, before retiring to bedrooms and bathrooms for soft and sensual lovemaking (with a voiceover). Nothing from it would now get anywhere near the front page of a porn aggregator site.

“Some of the sex scenes in The Lovers’ Guide were certainly erotic,” Ferman – who died in 2002 – would later say. “But eroticism was never, I think, the primary purpose of the scene. The primary function of the scene was to be helpful to couples in the audience who were trying to improve their own sex life.” He argued that what separated the finished film from pornography was context: “You weren’t looking at two bodies, two strangers on screen having it away. You were actually looking at people who told what sex meant to them, what their relationships meant, what they wanted to do, what they were trying to do. And they were real people. And ordinary people watching felt, ‘They are just like us, and if this is what they do, this is what we can do.’”

Page accepts that not all his audience had education in mind, but takes the view that he was smuggling greens into their meal. “We discussed this with Jim Ferman. They were buying it to get off on it, but actually they’d learn loads of things along the way. If it had been some medical thing with diagrams, who would have bought it?” (Curiously, Ludgate says that’s exactly what Stanway wanted – women with their legs in stirrups while he pointed out the clitoris.) “There were 10,000 or so letters,” Page continues, “saying, ‘We’ve been married x years, we started watching your programme and we were making love on the living room carpet before it had finished. Thank you for saving our marriage.’ And that was fantastic.”

What was crucial was that you could buy The Lovers’ Guide easily. There were only 80 or so licensed sex shops in the UK, selling R18 films – which were not, at that point, as explicit as The Lovers’ Guide. “My family moved to Cornwall in the 1990s,” says Clarissa Smith, editor of the academic journal Porn Studies, “and the nearest sex shops were in Plymouth or Bristol, but you could buy The Lovers’ Guide in WH Smith. The ease of access was definitely really important.”

While it wasn’t pornography, it was revolutionary. Politics has the concept of the Overton window – the range of policies politically acceptable to the mainstream population at a given time – in which the centre of political gravity shifts left and right. One might think of sex, too, as having its own Overton window, and the 90s saw that window shift to allow portrayals of explicit sex, and an explosion in pornography.

There were simple, practical, legal reasons for that. From 1986, the Reagan and Bush administrations in the US had vigorously pursued obscenity prosecutions against pornographic film-makers. Bill Clinton came to power in 1993 promising to follow that agenda; in fact the Clinton administration had virtually no interest in prosecuting pornographers. In 1992, there were 42 prosecutions in the US in which federal obscenity offences were the lead charge; by 1998, there were only six. The result was a boom in porn production, and the rise of mega-studios such as Evil Empire and Vivid Entertainment.

That would have been irrelevant had porn remained the preserve of sex shops. But three things were happening at once. First, escalating traffic loads caused the first wave of free porn sites – often run by college students, and usually consisting of images stolen from professional porn – to fade from business, because they didn’t have the bandwidth to continue. Second, in summer 1994, a man sold a Sting CD to his friend over the internet, described by the New York Times as “the first retail transaction on the internet using a readily available version of a powerful data encryption software designed to guarantee privacy”. E-commerce was born. It wasn’t long before those who lived too far from sex shops, or who couldn’t bring themselves to walk into one, would be able to buy those Evil Empire and Vivid films without leaving their homes: they could visit a site such as Blissbox and have them delivered, in plain packaging, for the same cost as a Hollywood film, rather than the high prices charged by sex shops for something tamer. Third, a dancer and stripper called Danni Ashe noticed how many of her pictures were being traded on Usenet groups, and set up her own website, sparking a rush for porn producers to sell content directly via the internet.

Margi Clarke’s TV show The Good Sex Guide launched in 1993.
Margi Clarke’s TV show The Good Sex Guide launched in 1993. Photograph: PA Images/Alamy

At the same time, the culture was changing. Soft porn mags for women were launching, as was the hugely explicit Black Lace series of novels, also aimed at women, which sold more than 4m copies between its launch in 1993 and its closure in 2009. Margi Clarke’s TV show The Good Sex Guide launched in 1993, and got unheard-of ratings for a late-night show: 13 million viewers. And a new kind of male culture – in which it was assumed and accepted that viewing porn was nothing to be ashamed of – was emerging. Porn was in newsagents, in the “lad mags”, and it was on screen.

By the end of the 1990s, what was officially licensed lagged so far behind what was readily available to anyone with an internet connection and a credit card that change was inevitable. The driver of change, again, was James Ferman. He was convinced the only way to draw people away from violent pornography – his particular bete noire – was to grant R18 certificates to films depicting consensual penetration and allow them to be sold in licensed sex shops. The test case was a film called Makin’ Whoopee, to the outrage of the new home secretary, Jack Straw.

Straw summoned the BBFC’s vice-president, Lord Birkett, to his office and railed at him. “Do you really mean that you are going to allow oral sex and buggery and I don’t know what else?” Birkett later recalled Straw as saying. “That you are actually passing this? You are giving a certificate to it?”

In the face of Straw’s rage, the BBFC withdrew Makin’ Whoopee’s certification, and Straw changed the body’s leadership, with Ferman and Birkett departing. But in his final report for the BBFC, Ferman displayed prescience. “It may well be that in the 21st century, it simply becomes impossible to impose the kind of regulation which the board exists to provide,” he wrote. “After all, what is the point of cutting a gang-rape scene in a British version of a film if that film is accessible down a telephone line from outside British territorial waters? I am probably the last of the old-time regulators.” Ferman may have lost his job, but he won the fight with Straw – for another statutory body, the Video Appeals Committee, simply reversed the BBFC’s decision to back down, and seven porn films were licensed for sale in sex shops. Censorship of pornography had, to all intents and purposes, finished in the UK.

The Lovers’ Guide did not cause the collapse of censorship. It did not lead to YouPorn. That was the internet. But it was the starting point for a decade of change. “I think it was one of those moments in social history where there was a need for change, and we fulfilled the need,” Ludgate says. “I think there was a collective need for change, and curiosity. Since the 60s, the cult of the individual had grown and this was part of that process. It was something people wanted individually that changed a lot of attitudes towards sex. I think it was a massive, seismic shift in attitudes.”

And still it does its work. A few weeks after we talk, Page forwards an email he has just received. “Hi Robert. I just want to give you a VERY, VERY BIG THANK YOU AGAIN. I have bought your complete collection of The Lover’s GUIDE. Your work is impeccable. I began watching them, and all I can say is. You sir are AWESOME. What I have been learning from them is amazing, and I just really wanted to THANK YOU AGAIN!!!!!!!”

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