Published on Misery Tourism
Short-notice tasked to take minutes in meeting. Don’t know how. Never done it before. Will make long notes now and hammer into shape later. Googled how but cba too long. Whatever. Internship so great: work for free! Sit in office! Make coffee! Take minutes! Say nice thing! Smile at face, hello boss, coffee? So glad got Master’s for this.
Still. Biggest project of year apparently. Glad get to see agency in full flow.
Let’s begin: Time place: Monday 1st December 2015, big white office top floor. 3pm. V. big window overlooking busy street below, museum far-end, park in middle, v. nice, movie version of London, light snow on buildings and tree branches, none on ground, v. posh, v. lovely. V.
Projector set up and connected to tablet. I write on laptop. Played with projector. Fun to get images blurry then right. Lovely alone feeling. Lovely empty room, magic hour, beam of white light broken into colours on screen like Pink Floyd album. Sunset outside, sky cold. Lovely sitting above London, white walls take on aura of video playing on screen, changing colour. Reminds of sunlight touching seabed on holiday.
What are you doing?
Hear voice, turn round. Is Vijay, in doorway. Heart beating like crazy.
Fuck are you watching? He say, comes in, sits. You’re supposed to be getting meeting ready, not fannying on Youtube.
I have, I say. Was just to test-
OK OK, he say, agenda up. Wipe everything down.
Everything already clean I say.
Water? he say.
I show table, places set, small bottles of water, glasses, snacks.
Only water? he say.
Huh? I say.
Coffee he say.
Unbelievable. Make coffee. Come back with cups and sugar. Like waiter. I have master’s. Before I go out, Vijay big man say:
I turn video off and put agenda back up on ipad and screen. Just names of people in meeting: Michael, Head of Creative Strategy Vijay, Deputy Head of Creative Strategy, Ben,Deputy Head of Creative Strategy, Penny, Creative Tone Coordinator: and at bottom my name, why not, Alexander, Intern. Not ‘Alexander, Master’s in English and Film Studies’. Not ‘Alexander, winner of best essay prize at Uni’. Not even ‘Alexander, first of his family to go to uni’. Just, Alexander, intern.
Come back and Vijay already eating biscuits. Readjusted biscuits on plate to cover tracks. Jeez. Plate almost empty. What a guy. Kinda messy guy. Unkempt. Chubby. Then he stand with back to me looking out window, chewing chewing, not looking at sunset, not understanding beauty. What a guy.
Business guy. Better take all this out later. Reminder: should not be in minutes.
Still need internship. Don’t want to be ‘Alexander, fired from internship’. No.
Ben comes in sits opposite.
Vijay turns. Ben say:
You’ve been at biscuits already?
Huh, no? say Vijay.
Shirt, say Ben.
Vijay clears crumbs from belly, big blue shirt. Makes angry eyes at me. I look down.
So, say Vijay sitting next to me, I turn laptop towards me, but it OK, he just wants to talk to Ben, ignore me. Ben, say Vijay, you know that this is biggest deal in years. Michael wants us to go forward together, united. I hope you can agree with me on this. Hope you get behind me. Agree?
Ben opens laptop clicks around.
Mmhmm, Ben say.
Is that yes?
Well it not no, say Ben.
I prefer yes, say Vijay.
Have biscuit, say Ben.
I laugh. Vijay angry. I stop.
In come Penny with guy I don’t know. Both quietly say hello, sit down, open laptops. Penny so pretty OMG. Like painting. Like soft painting. OK. Stop staring. Creepy.
This Tim, say Penny. He Social Media guy.
What social media, say Ben. Haven’t met properly.
Tim take care of accidents, say Vijay.
That right, say Penny. Tim our celebrity lifesaver.
Tim not say anything. He look kinda stoned. Then he smile at me. See me staring at Penny. I look down. God everyone so good looking. Penny gorgeous. Tim handsome. Ben thin. But Vijay big baby. And me, Alexander, intern.
Next Michael, old, slim, handsome, smelling of smoke, like old Hugh Grant come in. He have folder with him, say:
Good afternoon, afternoon, glad starting on time. Had last cigar of the day.
Down to two a day.
Oh impressive, say Vijay.
Michael not see it this way, say:
Don’t take the piss, vee dot jay dot.
Still cigars,say Ben.
Exactly, say Michael. Cigars, my lungs are fucked. Who this?
This Tim, say Penny. He social media guy.
I want to laugh at Vijay’s fat face, at V.J.’s fat face, but he angry. Angry at everyone, at world, I think. But what can I do? I just intern. If I laugh then maybe fired? What if VJ my boss one day? VJ and Ben managers. Penny and Tim normal workers. Michael big time boss. Penny so pretty. Me poor intern. Poor, poor.
Yeah well social media, social media, say Michael. Everyone going on about social media. It not enough.
Want me to show you? say Tim.
Everyone surprised. He can speak.
Michael rubs face and temples, sits. Say:
OK, show us. Show me social media do something interesting.
Tim uses tablet connected to projector. In one sec twitter page of LaLaLopez open.
This LaLaLopez, say Tim. Everyone know she one of hottest singers in UK two years ago.
Oh yeah, say Ben, love in the big city, do-do-do-de-do.
Penny taken aback. I try to make my face also taken aback. She not notice.
Enough, say Michael.
Exactly, say Tim. Well, hottest singer, but two years ago. Her next song tanks. She get into legal problem with ex-boyfriend over dog, she in trouble for champagne bottle over barman’s head in club. Everything going bad. So she come to us.
Yeah, what you do? Charity drive, say Michael.
Yeah, say VJ, you do big social drive from her account? Collect for homeless?
No, say Tim. She break her leg. She go skiing, and when she alone on piste, someone on snowboard rams her. She alone, screaming. When she in hospital, I call as representative of agency and say, let’s use this, get boost across her socials.
Someone, say VJ.
Pssh, say Michael.
Small time, say VJ.
Then the dog die, say Tim.
Look, say Tim. He show LaLaLopez post, bye bye best friend, best dog. 200k likes. And look: we made video of dog’s best moments. Suddenly, bad year for LaLa turn into great year. She back. She have new song, it get way more attention, she donate some to dog charity. She look great.
How it die? say VJ.
Poison, Penny say. At least, that what police say.
Ben say, her new song not so good.
OK, OK, enough, say Michael. Let’s not get sidetracked. That not why we’re here. We all know what we have to do. Thank you for taking minutes (then I tell he forgot my name), say, thank you thank you. Anyway. So, we need to start. Alright?
First, why this set up? say Michael, (point to projector).
Oh for presentation I say.
What presentation? he ask.
Oh God. Nervous. He suddenly seem so big. Tell self he just a man, just stylish man in a suit. But suddenly can’t talk. Just like that time at uni, during-forget it.. Worried. Sweaty. But then brave moment. Deep breath:
Made presentation for meeting: agenda notes and also short movie.
Agenda? Say Michael. He scary again. You thought you could tell us what agenda was?
Now VJ laugh.
OK, say Michael. He gets up shuts blinds sits down, scrolls through tablet, my agenda and notes projected on screen. Everyone reads.
Not good, say Michael.
Ben reading, VJ smirking, Penny perfect, Tim stoned. Feel bad. Feel scared. Have to find different job. But from somewhere something happen. I say:
Everyone look at me.
There’s video, I say.
Michael press play.
It start, Lovely colours. Video I made.life of Edward Valentine. And it really beautiful. Everyone gripped. My heart slow. Penny look happy. Compilation of his life, from movies, at awards, newspaper headlines “Valentine first British triple Oscar Winner”, “Actor elected MP”, little Ed just a kid in school, oh they like it, they eat it up, Penny smile, Tim like it, Ben nods at me, VJ looking at Michael, Ed shaking hands with Presidents, kings, dancing with Dutch Princess. Then words come up: how did one person win the hearts of millions for so long? Then beautiful story in montage: Ed as poor boy in old school Yorkshire streets, Ed as kid in school, with parents, Ed in first film as extra, then child superstar, then man in so many films, then Ed doing good work, then Ed big time meeting heads of states. Then Ed fighting for justice, becoming politician. My story progression obvious: kid from tough background faces adversity goes to great success and gives back.
Enough, say Michael. Lemme give you some advice. One, when you set agenda, you ask for agenda from manager and then you type up, nothing more. Two, if you make a video, make it relevant to discussion. Not just stuff we all know. Just take notes, OK? We all know who Edward Valentine is. Actor, politician. We all know. Open the blinds.
I go. I do. I sit back. My face hot. I sweat. My God. VJ laugh. Ben kick my shoe under table. He mouth: don’t worry.
Ben say: Michael, you OK?
OK, say Michael. Maybe there is point to what you did. We here to figure out what to do re:Edward Valentine. We his agency. We need to shape his legacy. His story. Storytelling good. It powerful. Ed’s story need to be remembered forever. Nobody remembers ageing hero, but they love dead one. We want people to be able to say where they were when Ed Valentine died. Your video, Alan, (VJ say Alex quietly), Alex, your video Alex, it remind us of why people love him.
I feel bit better.
Well, say Ben, he spent entire life in public eye. So why not same for death?
Explain, say Michael.
We could JFK him. Imagine. Crowds go see him, he waving, then suddenly, flash! Back and to the left! Woman picking up bit of his brain.
No one say anything. I think of my video, took half a day putting it together.
Not sure say Michael. Public shooting so difficult these days. We have to find guy, train him, give him backstory. No, too complicated.
Well, say Ben, I just thinking out loud.
Ben say: just try to get ball rolling.
He put head down.
Blood though, say Michael. Blood good.
Ben back up:
Yeah point is Ed needs to suddenly go in public view. People so used to him, Edward the actor, Valentine the politician, they love him, like he will be around forever. But have him suddenly die, like in car crash, then everyone suddenly sad, sudden loss. Blindside people.
Again OK, say Michael, but there no story. We need story. We need people to remember him. Exactly like Alex’s video.
No, you’re right say Ben. Here story: Ed Valentine driving up from London to old Yorkshire home, plan to visit family, and old neighbourhood. In boot of car large gifts for school and hospital. Cheque for million pounds. Suddenly out of blue, a truck. Crash! He die on arrival to hospital, cheque for hospital in pocket. So he die and still give money to hospital.
No, say VJ, I see it differently.. Sudden is overdone. Shock value wear off.
We need to give him disease.
Hmm, say Michael, go on.
You want to give him disease? say Ben.
Well, say VJ, Michael right, we need story (he nod at Michael, Michael nod). Story is: Ed is the hero. When he young, he fought bad headteacher and became king of school, then when he old he action hero and fight bad guy and save world. Then when he change to politics, he fighting for good guy, small guy, at least that how we present him. Like when we did that project for him with Yorkshire factories. He not actually do anything, but we present him as lone champion of little guy, going to factories, helping. Everyone love him for it.
So? Say Michael.
So he get disease. Something anyone can get. He in hospital, alone, stoic, tragic, fighting for life. Struggle. Battle to very end. Until finally, his last word: his wife tells news later. His last words: I will never stop fighting.
Then room quiet again. Vijay makes big gesture. He in love with self.
Penny roll her eyes.
And then what? say Michael.
And then. He gone, say VJ.
Yeah, say Michael. Then he die. So it like I will never stop and then immediately die. That stop. That not good. That sound dumb. That like saying I will never eat biscuit and then fill mouth.
No no no say Vijay.
Yes yes yes say Michael. Need story.
Now Ben happy.
If I may, say Penny.
Oh God her voice so nice and deep. Tim smile at me again. Am I really so obvious? Can’t be creepy guy. Calm down. Also, I forgot Tim here. She say:
Look I think VJ’s story arc is stronger, and Ben’s details are stronger. We could combine them, but why not consider data first? We surveyed 10K people across country: what they think of Valentine? They love him because he like real guy. Can imagine having beer with him. So it not about showing him heroic getting JFK killed, and not about fighting stoic battle. He has to do something normal. Like being hero in movie but every day hero.
Story, say Michael.
Story, say Penny is house on fire, ordinary house, he happen to walk by, say he come out of pub, he go into house save family but then get trapped and die. This way, he fight like VJ want and also it shocking like Ben want. And plus data show it what people want.
People want him to burn? say Michael.
No, people want hero, say VJ.
Michael look tired. He go to window. It lot darker now outside. London like photo of itself.
Burning tough, say Michael, he shake head. Burning tough.
Tim suddenly look tense. VJ angry at Ben. Penny not saying anything.
But I like hero angle, say Michael.
So we go with burning? Say Vijay.
No, say Michael. But we make it hero story. Tim who do you have lined
Tim go through laptop and show, we have a list of Twitter 1,000 influencers to say where they were what happened when Ed die, and we have tweets from celebrities.
Penny interrupt him: For e.g. here is K-L-K, a well-established rapper, he say; Edward Valentine was the most inspirational and blessed man. I watch his movies as kid and I follow his causes as man. I support and love him. Rest in peace, KLK.
Something vibrate on the table. Penny phone.
One sec, she say and read phone. Ah, she say. It is different account. For Wes Masters. He in trouble over-
Yes racist language scandal, say VJ, and?
Well, say Penny, we try to make him big again. Hang on.
She speak words as she writes on phone: the studio is full of cowards and pussies who hate free speech. This is more than one actor’s life. This is about freedom.
Then she put phone down. She say: that go to factory, then workers-
Create variations of it which are tweeted out from thousands ofTwitter accounts, we know, say VJ.
This isn’t getting anywhere, say Michael. Let’s take break.
We do. Everyone goes toilet. Penny and Ben flirting as they leave together. VJ takes biscuit. I stay in room with Michael only. Ah God. Penny obvs not going to like me, poor Alex, intern. Ben is obvs going to get her. But he and VJ have weird energy, so competitive. Michael lights up another cigar. He say you don’t mind? I say no. He say good. How old? He ask. I say twenty four. You I ask? He laugh and say near sixty. He say he can’t remember being twenty four. But it feel like he remember Ed Valentine his whole life. He say:
You know how many people I see like VJ and Ben in my career? Dozens. All them fighting after my attention. They all want to be next big guy. All want to pull trigger on how we end life. All want to get the legacy for their account. Get the story right and the legacy pay forever. You know I know the guy who had the account for Patrick Hanratty? That one account, one famous golden-era moviestar, one moment where he go squish against Grand Canyon, that one account put his grandchildren in private school. That how much this worth. VJ and Ben both want it so bad.
He look pensive somehow. He not smoke cigar. It just sitting in ashtray. I ask if he want biscuit. He say no. I eat one. He pour water for me. I say no. He say:
I tired. So many famous people dead. Sometime at same time. It weird. Never done one I actually like. My favourite of Valentine was Locked Out, you remember?
I say: where he try to break out of prison with idiot mates. So funny.
So funny, he say and start laughing. That scene with the fish.
He laugh. I pretend laugh, it not such a funny scene.
He say: and then when Ed became politician, even though I worked on team to present Ed as hero, got him elected, when Ed said those things about changing the world, I really believed it.
He laugh, look a little nostalgic. He say:
These thing become more moving the older you get he say. You learn one day.
Everyone come back in.
Good say Michael. Sit. He put out cigar. So we have nothing. Penny?
I wrote something she say.
I notice Tim not back. Maybe he busy with another celeb. She pick up paper and read:
Today is sad day. A tragic day. I like so many others am in shock at news of Edward Valentine’s death.
Who say this? Michael ask.
Prime Minister, say Penny.
Shock at his death, say Penny. There is something so profoundly saddening about seeing someone so generous and life-affirming at being so cruelly taken from us. I like everyone in this nation-
OK OK, say Michael. That enough.
Penny put down paper. Look sad. Everyone look sad. No one idea winning.
Everyone sad. Michael look at everyone. Then he suddenly about to speak:
Then knock at door.
Come in, say Michael.
It me Carol, say Carol.
Yes, say Michael.
Mr. Valentine is here.
Here? say Michael.
Yes shall I send him in?
Michael start cleaning desk. So does everyone. Then he slowly comes in.
He smaller in real life. My heart beating faster.
He sit down.
Ed, say Michael.
Hi everyone, say Ed. Good to be here.
Horror on all face, Michael and Ben and Vijay. Penny too. We have nothing.
But we need to show something.
Michael say: Ed, you’re not going to be disappointed. You will be remembered forever. Edward Valentine, actor, politician, hero.
Hero ah? Ed say, yeah, was a lot to pack into twenty-two years.
Everyone laugh. I still amazed he so young. Twenty two. He younger than me and million times richer.
Well what do you have he say. I hope its not car crash.
VJ laughs. Ben doesn’t. Michael nods to VJ. VJ super happy. Super. Ben has face like life over. Feel like want to hug Ben. Say nevermind. Maybe he still has chance to do big job one day.
No, say Michael. No.
Then he quiet for one sec. He look at Ed and smile. He look like he want to hug Ed. Then he say: We have this: shut the blinds please.
Penny do. Then Michael press play. Video. My video. And Ed watching.
Video playing, Michael speaking.
Imagine this. You have always been a hero to people always fought for little guy, actor, politician. Yes you hero, but that not what important. What important is how you make people feel. And you make people happy, your whole life. Look here you on Yorkshire streets. Here you with parents. You look so young here. Everyone remember you. Joy you bring. You as child actor, you as adult politician. Look at you. You bring happiness to millions. (I can’t believe Ed watching my movie, everyone else in room look like they die of tension, but still cool Ed watching my movie). Everyone remember first time they see this. And they will remember where they were when they heard that you were murdered.
Murdered? Ed say. Oooh. Intriguing.
Music in video gets louder, piano music, sad, beautiful, Debussy.
Everyone love you, you bring them joy. But no one really question this. No one understand joy dangerous.
How? Ed ask.
One day, one fan who you bring joy to becomes stalker, and so happy to see you, wants you to be like you are forever, then they shoot you. They don’t want you to age, become imperfect. Want joy forever. Same joy in you all time.
You, big funeral, perfect forever, they have you as you are forever. Public remember you forever. Why? Because they remember their love for you forever, and their shame forever. They look at you and remember forever when they watch your movies, see you, young you, and remember. Here is beautiful man. We killed him. We killed him with our joy. We are all that fan. Obsessed. We sorry forever he gone. Here is not just hero, here is super hero.
Room silent. Ed silent. Video I made playing. Ed as kid. Ed in movie. Ed at uni. Room reminds me of sea at midday, lovely light. Lovely, but tension hurts. Everyone silent.
Ed say: who would do it? Who’s gonna kill me?
Everyone tense. No one say anything.
Room feel huge.
Then Michael say: Me. Ed, I do it.
Ed not say anything.
London outside, so dark. City endless. He do it. My God.
Then Ed look at Michael.
Michael, Ed say: I love it!