Featured Site: Random Perspective (Ben Dickson)
Online since: November 25, 2002
Webmaster: Ben Dickson
Location: Norfolk, UK
Biggest claim to fame: The interactive George Bush Desktop flash feature
The flash and multimedia features alone would make Random Perspective worth the visit. But this site offers a substantial collection of sharp, quirky, at times acerbic satire as well, with a distinctive British bite. Dickson is not afraid to satirize anything, even his own writing; his exuberance encourages readers to forgive the occasional typos which mark the otherwise sharp prose. With more multimedia features on the way and a (mostly) regular stream of articles, Random Perspective is just getting warmed up.
What do you actually do for a living?
I'm a Quality Auditor at Hazlewood Foods, Wisbech producing some of Tesco's Ready to Cook and Cooked Ready Meals.
What do you actually want to do for a living?
Write books, make films, make TV programs; I even have ideas for computer games.
What led you to start Random Perspective?
I made the George Bush flash game and couldn't find anywhere to submit it to. So I figured I should make a website to put it on. But I realized that coming up with original flash content on a regular basis would be time consuming. Having found the few news satire sites I'd visited amusing I had a couple of ideas of my own, so I decided to have a go at that. Also, my sister had just moved to a new school to start her A Levels and she kept going on about her friend's website -- www.mc-uk.co.uk -- and I said I'd one better than it! It was no surprise that I eventually became friends with the guy who ran that website. But mine pwns as I am teh 1337 haxor!!!!111 -- ahem.
How has your site changed since you began it?
My first layout featured flash navigation but ultimately looked awful, took ages to update and was difficult to understand. Three months I realized I needed a better method of organizing it all -- so I spent a couple of weeks in March writing my own content-management system in ASP. It's been tweaked along the way with a popular ratings system which attracts a comment for every 60 visits. I've been planning to overhaul it with a brand new CMS for the last 6 months -- it'll be amazing if I ever get around to starting/finishing it. It'll be Google Page Rank friendly, will allow people to choose their own 'skin' for the website as well as being more stable and far more customizable.
The George Bush Desktop interactive flash feature
What is your favorite RP article/feature? Why?
It's hard to look at anything other than my George Bush desktop --≠ it's finally attracted attention and is just not going away. By the time June is finished I will have had as much traffic in those 30 days as the 18 months that preceded it. Anything else on my site -- no matter how clever the satire -- just looks tiny in comparison.
What is your least favorite article/feature/aspect of RP? Why?
I really don't like the fact my website isn't 'finished' --≠ I designed the CMS to handle a much wider range of content that it actually has. I think this is hereditary: I keep criticizing my father for only having one out of three screws in each of the door hinges.
Most recent book you've read? (Or favorite book.)
I confess, I am not the greatest reader. I love to write -- I have even written a 120,000 word novel -- but when it comes to reading I easily get distracted. Rather embarrassingly, the only books I have been able to sustain concentration though have been Harry Potter -- but then they are aimed at children who have short concentration spans. You give me a webpage to read that requires me to touch my mouse wheel and you'll be lucky if I stay to finish it.
What music do you listen to?
A lot of Radiohead. I also like the White Stripes, The Strokes, Manic Street Preachers, The Eels, Elbow... a couple of lesser known bands I like including and an up and coming band called The Duke Spirit. I bought their CD "roll, Spirit, roll" - it's fantastic, it was all I listened to for days.
What's your educational background?
I took my GCSEs at 16 (maths and Drama were taken at 15) and A Levels at 18. Then I set up my own business, but being 18 years old with no experience, it predictably failed. That's how I ended up working in a food factory, but no matter how negative that may sound, I feel I've learned a lot more from all of that and my strength of character has improved far more than it ever would have at University.
Best subject in school?
Math has always been my strength from the day I started school. In Britain we take nation exams at 11, 14, 16 and 18. At 11 I got the top grade; at 14 I was 2 marks from getting in the top 100 nationally; I took my GCSEs a year early at 15 -- still getting the top grade.
It's too easy to say PE, but that's because it's accurate.
What are some of your favorite websites (satire and other)?
There are a lot of clever websites out there -- Trepanning is an excellent concept. So excellent I had a brilliant idea, and then realized it was Trepanning and it was already being done. Social Scrutiny is great as well. Because I spend so much time either writing satire or deleting junk emails I rarely check anything else out other than news sites. I'm a big follower of Formula 1 motor racing so I visit F1 websites quite often.
What are some of the most important issues affecting journalism today?
Political bias. Bandwagons. Public opinion polls. With the advent of radio through to television through to the Internet, we now live in an age where we are immediately exposed to what's going on and who's doing what. As a result, we are no longer governed by people with political ideas and beliefs but by the party who most closely matches the public's opinion at the time. Poltical parties used to talk about five-year or 10-year plans -- but the truth is these are pipe dreams. People are impatient and anything longer than a 10-second plan is ambitious. As foolish as he may seem, and even though I don't agree with his original decisions, it's an admirable quality in Tony Blair that he continues to stand by his stance on Iraq. Politically, the right decision would have been to shift the blame on to the Bush Administration or the intelligence services. I would much rather see politicians sticking by their beliefs for longer than the time it takes for the tide to turn on public opinion.
What is your favorite drink?
Due to the fact I require to drive to most places I do not drink alcohol - and I am allergic to caffeine! So my choices are somewhat limited. I tend to mostly drink fresh fruit juice to which my current favourite is Tesco's Apple & Raspberry.
If canelloni is on the menu I will order it. Particularly the vegetarian variety --≠ even though I am not a vegetarian.
Most memorable trip?
2001: I was in Scotland for a week starting September 9th. Two days later I was up a mountain -- well it turned out to be a hill but it was a very steep one! -- and a text message came through on my mobile from a friend at home saying, "They've attacked the World Trade Centre and the White House, it's war I tell you." Or words to that effect. We assumed he was playing Red Alert 2 and continued climbing but obviously turned on the TV when we got back and found out the truth. Being British, the effect of 9/11 on me is obviously not going to have been as great as if I had been American and I was able to enjoy the trip as well. But I think the fact that the most important piece of history that has occurred in my lifetime happened whilst I was there will help to keep it in my memory.
Favorite thing about the UK?
London; that apparently American girls dig our accent; our ability to take irony to a whole new sublime level; the fact we are the only nation in Europe that can pronounce the word 'Squirrel.'
Least favorite thing?
David Beckham... but then we had just lost at the football [soccer] -- if we hadn't, I would probably say the fact that there seems to be a growing trend towards xenophobia. Britain has historically been a nation built on the influx of different people, and people who say that new cultures are clashing with our 'traditions' have no idea what they are talking about. We became the world's most powerful nation two centuries ago by being forward thinking.
What stereotypes about the UK bother you the most?
Dental hygiene. I brush my teeth thank you.
Overall, how would you compare British online satire with American online satire?The British scene is a lot smaller so it is difficult to compare, though I do not think the differences are so great. At the end of the day we are all satirists and we will all be looking at things through that cynical eye.
Do you think satire is a valuable and/or potent form of social commentary?
Definitely. Generally, I would favour a piece that makes a serious point over one that had a hilarious line -- as I feel exposing the ridiculous is ultimately the greater comedy -- but I do try to use both when writing a piece.
Where do you see the Web in ten years?
The mobile cell phone is the obvious evolution. With four gigabyte hard drives the size of small coins and palmtop computers running with 400Mhz processors, it will only be a matter of time before the processing power and storage capacity of your cell phone equals that of the modern PC. The only limiting factor is the interface.
How about Random Perspective?
That depends on the wishes of the person I sell it to for a seven-figure sum... but honestly, I don't know. It might not always be there to do satire. If tomorrow I decide I've had enough of satire and I want to write poetry it will become a poetry site. It's MY 'random perspective' after all...
Biggest website traffic milestones?
Despite 18 months I've yet to break the 1,000,000 mark. I'm about half way there. This month though, I will have attracted nearly 200,000 page views. My highest day was in excess of 27,000 page views. On that day I was in the top 50,000 sites viewed that day, according to Alexa. I think that considerably more people looked at my site than the 27,000 recorded because they were linking straight to the flash file rather than the page so the page views were not recorded. It's possible I topped 100K for that day alone -- I will never know though.