09 August 2011

I wonder to myself; could life ever be sane again?

This blog has been roused from its six month slumber to ponder over the immense stupidity of the current riots in the country that I happen to call home.

Now, I'm no nationalist, not one bit. I do not love my country nor do I think it is the best in the world. It is merely the place where I was born and raised. Now I am lucky that my birthing and raising occurred in a developed country tha promotes the freedom of its citizens (or at the very least pretends to).

Now I'm not from London, nor am I of an ethnic minority, and like a lot of people I'm not aware of all the facts surrounding the shooting of Mark Duggan (suspected cocaine dealer) by the police. As I write this I'm only aware that some reports state that a bullet found lodged in a police radio from the drug raid in which Mr Duggan died, does not match the ammunition used by the police, but I do not know for certain if this means Duggan shot a police officer or not.

On the 6th of August family and friends of Mr Duggan numbering somewhere close to 200 engaged in a peaceful protest march to demand justice for his family. After the peaceful protests however, the riots began. Now, I do not understand rioting in Britain in the last few years. Historically I can understand it, take the Poll Tax riots, which railed against a wholly unfair tax proposed during a time of mass unemployment that favoured the wealthy and discriminated everyone else. To engage in violence on the cusp of such a tax being enacted in a last-ditch attempt to display the level of dissatisfaction with the government is perfectly understandable to me, the cause was just.

If we look to the current riots, I cannot see any justification for them. 'We're smashing shit up and looting in our own town to... umm... it's... it's.' It's theft is what it is. These riots have no agenda, there is nothing to be gained at all (except stolen electronics). While many would like to claim connection to the death of Mr Duggan, the actions undertaken with regards to looting do not bear this out. Others involved are claiming that they are rioting in protest against police persecution of minority groups. To me this sounds like a hurried attempt at justifying wanton destruction. It'a a rather clever excuse in that any footage of police defending themselves, or engaging in the use of force to quell rioters will be used as evidence of further persecution of ethnic minorities. Whereas the fact is that not everyone in North London is rioting and looting right now. There are innocent people trapped indoors and afraid to leave in case they become embroiled in the fucking carnage being wrought by groups of small-brained morons.

What seems most idiotic to me is that the rioters are looting from their own areas, smashing up local businesses, buses etc. It puts me in mind of that scene from Four Lions in which Barry (part of an Islamic terrorist cell) suggests suicide bombing the local Mosque in order to radicalise moderate Muslims to their cause. Rightly so, Omar compares this to punching yourself in the face during a fight. Barry then claims that sometimes you have to punch yourself in order to 'go mental' and win the fight.

That's what the rioters are doing, they're punching themselves in the face, hard.

28 February 2011

...a shyness that is criminally vulgar.

For the first 11 or so years of my life I was a happy, smiley child, popular even. I was actually 'the funny one'. Then I moved to secondary school where I was picked on, bullied, derided and demoralised. Secondary school turned me into the apathetic, cynical, sarcastic husk you've all grown to lust after and admire.

Now, the bullying didn't last long. I broke the nose of the boy who bullied me, that put a stop to that, but the relentless march of puberty and lack of any social interaction beyond school kept up the feelings of apathy towards people in general as well as the growing sense of loneliness that I had. 

Like most boys in their teens I wanted someone to love and be with, someone who didn't mind everything I'd come to hate about myself and who I could love in turn. Validation and knowledge that someone loved me, not because they had to, but because they just did, was all that I craved. Sadly, it didn't happen for me in my teenage years; while I had wanted all that I have just told you in a relationship; mutual trust, affection, attraction etc. what my hormone-addled teenage mind had crystallised it down to was a desperate want to be kissed; to know what it would be like for someone to find my face (something I had come to consider as a supremely ugly thing) attractive enough to kiss me. It did not happen. 

I retreated into myself. I felt the stereotypical angst and light brushes with self-loathing that occurs in most teens, but this time free of the crushing tedium and depersonalisation of secondary school. In college I still struggled, this time with trying to construct an identity now that I was free of that awful uniform that had robbed me of any expressed individuality. I didn't know who I was; I tried various things clothing-wise and also decided to grow my hair out. Something approximating a unique person emerged, if only slightly. I wasn't just reasserting myself in my appearance though, during this time (and with the new possession of an iPod) I really discovered music; I had my own tastes, of course, but I also took on more and more of my parents' tastes as well. And it was during this extended period of self-discovery that I happened upon the song that I felt defined all I had felt since losing myself to sadness, angst and self-pitying singledom.

'How Soon is Now?' was written by one of the all-time great songwriting partnerships; 'Morrissey & Marr', the lead singer and lead guitarist respectively of The Smiths. Originally released as a b-side it was nevertheless popular on the radio and was included on their rarities and b-sides collection, 1984's 'Hatful of Hollow'.

While the music of the song, in particular Johnny Marr's reverberating rhythm and screaming slide-guitar overdub that permeates the full 6 minutes and 42 seconds of the track, is utterly sublime, it was the lyrics, in conjunction with that music that captured me. The song is in no way a prime example of the sound of The Smiths; it's a much darker piece, devoid of the usual sarcastic humour that Morrissey lent to their songs. 

Ostensibly the thoughts of someone desperate to break out of their crippling shyness and make a romantic connection with someone, it has been argued that the lyrics are exemplary of the gay culture in Manchester in the 1980's. Personally I never gave much thought to the sexual orientation of the song's protagonist, as the words transcended such matters to me.

              "I am the son and the heir, of a shyness that it criminally vulgar.
               I am the son and heir, of nothing in particular."

I was mesmerised by the song, I'd heard it as a very young child through my parents' love for The Smiths, but hearing it again as an angsty teenager it really resonated within me, as I was utterly convinced that I was marred by an overwhelming shyness myself, that at its mildest, stopped me from having a worthwhile social life, and at its worst prevented me from speaking entirely in any social situation whatsoever.

              "You shut your mouth. How can you say I go about things 'the
               wrong way'? I am human and I need to be loved, just like
               everybody else does."

As someone who didn't drink and therefore had never felt alcohol's relaxing qualities as a social lubricant, to hear such advice as to 'just get myself out there', was nothing short of infuriating. 'Why should I have to change myself to find love? Am I not entitled to it as much as anyone else? And what is so wrong with me that I must change to almost deceive someone into liking me?' were the questions I would ask myself.

              ""There's a club if you'd like to go, you could meet somebody
                who really loves you." So you go and you stand on your own,
                and you leave on your own, and you go home, and you cry,
                and you want to die."

Besides, I'd tried that advice before and it had left me feeling, if anything, even more dejected and alone. That last verse was, in 2006, voted the second best lyric of all time in VH1's 'Top Lyrics' poll, losing out to a line from U2's 'One'.

I'm eternally thankful to my family for keeping me sane through what I imagine is always a hard time for people when they're growing up; puberty. And hearing that the good times were just around the corner, that all I wanted for myself would happen very soon was heartening, except that 'very soon' seemed to be and indefinite period that in the end lasted for 7 lonely years.

                "When you say it's gonna happen 'now'... Well when exactly
                 do you mean? See, I've already waited too long and all my
                 hope is gone."

I myself waited a long time for it to happen 'now'. At this point in this blog entry I've transcribed the entirety of the song, barring any repetitions of lines. So you can see exactly how much I felt this song explained how I felt. It remains one of my favourite songs for that very reason; that it kept me going when I was at my worst, battling depression, years later.

It propped me up through the loneliness of having only a few friends (until that changed). And also through the desperation and crushing sadness of having no-one in my life that loved me because I stood apart from everyone else they knew and meant something special to them.

Well, about 6 weeks ago I had my very first kiss; it wasn't a drunken affair in some grotty club somewhere with someone I didn't know. It was with someone I'd gotten to know months beforehand, someone who I'd found very attractive when I first saw her and had then fallen in love with once I'd immersed myself in her personality. In that short space of time I can feel the chapter of my life consisting of those long years of sadness and loneliness being closed, naught but a memory of a time when I was almost an entirely different person. 

So while 'How Soon is Now?' no longer explains every single emotion coursing through me, as it did for a long time, it still remains one of the most personally important songs I've ever heard. And for that I will always hold it in high esteem.

14 January 2011

If there is a hell I'll see you there.

This has bothered me for a long time. I came across this via the master cynic Charlie Brooker, it's an excerpt from an American TV show called 'The Way of the Master'. Aggressive Christian stuff.



Ugh. Ok, I'm going to try and take as little time as possible to do this.

This is a banana:

A wild banana, as you would find them...in the wild. It's through selective breeding and cultivation by man over centuries that we end up with this:


Quite a difference, product of nature:


Product of man:


Thank you.

30 December 2010

#2010

Hello to you, you person I likely know and who has been kind enough to humour me in my little ramblings of insanity. This is how I’ve viewed the year that’s nearly passed us by, purely in unimportant, media-y terms.

Film in 2010 was marked by the relentless behemoth of 3D marking its territory like an incontinent puppy, spoiling my love for the art form by reducing the viewing experience to a nausea-inducing gimmick. But that’s my view; here are some films that sort of made a splash, yeah?

Shutter Island came out in February, adapted from a 2003 novel I’ve never heard of, nor heard anyone talk about; Shutter Island was directed by Martin Scorsese and has quickly become one of my all-time favourite films. An absolutely gripping mystery fraught with uncertainty and self-doubt, everyone’s acting their arses off in it, even the sometimes-maligned Leonardo DiCaprio. Nail-biting stuff from beginning to end, the music’s amazing as well, making Hans Zimmer my joint favourite film composer.

In March we had Kick-Ass and ultimately flawed and tiring comic-book adaptation saved only by Nicolas Cage having the time of his life as ‘Big Daddy’. Incidentally I hate Aaron Johnson now; his acting makes me want to slit my own eyeballs open. The Film was ruined with over the top violence, I mean beyond ‘300’ levels of the stuff and completely unnecessary swearing (by which I mean it was put in purely for the shock factor and not because it is something the characters would say fuck-bugger shit-nipple) I hope that they never, ever make a sequel.

May was a mixed month for films; Robin Hood came out, proving that Ridley Scott might have just lost his magic, and that Russell Crowe is really touchy about how shit his accents are. Sex and the City 2 came out, showing us that television adaptations for the big screen don’t generally work the first time, let alone a second. It also let me know that I’ve achieved true equality in my hatred for people, I can (and do) wish harm on these women without it being about misogyny. And Four Lions was released, marking the arrival of Islamic Terrorism and suicide bombing as being fair game in humour. I, for one, am happy about this; religion shouldn’t be vaunted as an untouchable subject, fuck Mini Babybel!

In June Toy Story 3 was a spark of pure joy that reduced well-rounded and emotionally-mature audiences of all genders and ages to floods of tears at the touching depiction of the coming of maturity and death of childhood, another win for Pixar.

July, and your mind was the scene of the crime in Inception; the second entry for Leo DiCaprio and Hans Zimmer in my little list in Christopher Nolan’s ultra high-concept masterpiece of existential uncertainty and big CGI set pieces. Also in July; M. Night Shyamalan showed us why he hasn’t made a film that’s even passable since Unbreakable in 2000. M. Night Shyamatalan wrote and directed the adaptation to the cartoon ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ and made a mockery (apparently) of it. He claimed that European audiences were the only ones to get him, but proved he didn’t get them when he kept inserting reference to ‘benders’ (people who can manipulate the elements) into his script. This means that M. Night Shyamarmalade’s film had some memorable scenes and lines such as one where a man is dragged away from his father’s throne room, but on recognising a potential assassin in the room yells “He’s a bender!”, or “I always knew you were a bender.” or my personal favourite, “There are some really powerful benders in the Northern Water Zone.” M. Night Shyamagnesium phosphate, you are an arse.

The Human Centipede disgusted and delighted people with a trailer alone. The tale of a mad German scientist who wants to join people from the mouth to the anus to create a ‘human centipede’ the trailer got everyone talking about the sheer disgusting nature of it all and ultimately showed them my viewpoint on the rest of ‘society’.

October inevitably arrived and with it, ‘The Social Network’ a more or less fictionalised account of the foundation of Facebook; the film marks the point at which social networking is cemented as a real cultural movement, an artefact of the first decade of this putrid century. I’m looking forward to Twitter: The Movie, which will likely consist of some nerds looking at Facebook saying “But I want money as well!” until shifting to show Stephen Fry tapping at a keyboard for 4 and a half hours.

And in November the first part of the adaptation of the final book of the Harry Potter series, otherwise known as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 came out, making otherwise rational people scream like banshees. The film features a bobble-headed version of Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson’s eyebrows, expect the second part in July next year.

2010 was the endpoint for a number of big television dramas; some have been almost irresistibly touted for a big-screen outing like sponsored terrorism-a-thon ‘24’, while others are simply over, either sadly or with good reason.

Arguably the biggest TV death of the year was that of David Tennant, or rather his portrayal as the supremely popular tenth incarnation of The Doctor in Doctor Who. Child’s drawing of himself Matt Smith stepped into some ocean-sized shoes and was met with immediate hatred, by me at least. Of course by about the twelfth minute of his own debut adventure I had been won round, as had the legion fans that had gathered since the show’s return in 2005.

Ashes to Ashes ended in May, revealing that the world of Gene Hunt was actually a kind of pre-afterlife specifically for the police with Gene being some sort of modern-day Charon, ferrying dead coppers to the pub…that is literally what he does.

Exercise in headless chicken scriptwriting Lost ended in similar fashion also in May with what has been one of the most dissatisfying and unwelcome endings since the Sopranos ended mid-sen-

The Tudors ended 4 series of historical lies and mischaracterisation, oversimplification and downright ‘Hollyoaks-ifying’ of the reign of King Henry VIII. Good.

And just this month, no-one’s favourite show Medium was confirmed as cancelled, alright it ends in 2011, but the announcement was this year, what do you want from me!? Arsehole.

And now some shows you might not have watched/heard of:
Hamlet-inspired Californian-biker epic Sons of Anarchy continued into its third season following the last remaining storyline threads, which unfortunately meant the main character of Jax Teller (played by Geordie actor Charlie Hunnam) going to Northern Ireland with all his biker friends in pursuit of the Real IRA who have kidnapped his baby son. I say unfortunately because this prompted some of the most piss-poor Irish accents I’ve ever heard; fake ones I mean, this is meant to be Belfast and it sounds like they’re auditioning for the part of a cartoon leprechaun. It’s painful to hear, which is a shame as otherwise it’s a very good show, of note is this season’s stand-out guest star Paula Malcolmson, who is, as it happens actually from Belfast.

Lie to me* began its third season; not sure how well-known Lie to me* is, but it deserves more. It’s your standard investigative show, the distinctive feature of which is, apart from Tim Roth seemingly having the time of his life playing arrogant but somehow likeable genius Dr. Cal Lightman, that the investigation is done by a team of experts and experts-in-training that study ‘micro-expressions’ in the face and body language to tell when people are telling the truth or if they’re experiencing (and trying to conceal) specific emotions. It’s better than I’ve made it sound, honestly.

On to technology and the world’s most expensive dinner tray; the iPad was announced by recently reanimated corpse Steve Jobs in January, and the press conference alone was enough to make me want to fire jets of my own scorching pancreatic juices across the Atlantic Ocean to find him and scald his fingers off. Essentially a giant iPhone, but without the practical applications of the easy to use, compact gadget, the iPad’s greatest flaw, in my eyes, is that it somehow makes Apple whores feel smug without the usual qualification of having done something to feel smug about.

The world’s top brand showed it is utterly unfazed by complete failure when it rolled out Google Wave to the public, which it claimed was what “…email would look like if it were invented today.”. Essentially a sort of Frankenstein’s monster stitching together of  e-mail, instant messaging, wikis, and social networking, Google Wave proved too technical for normal human beings to use, being far better suited to some sort of mass intelligence housed in a computer the size of the sun. Development ended in August; try not to cry too much, robots.

Speaking of social networking; the world lost its mind this year when it was revealed that that personal information you so readily entered into a website run by people you don’t know might not have been so secure after all. Facebook’s privacy debacle hasn’t done much to stop new users signing up, nor indeed to cause a mass exodus, MySpace-style. I think I’d mind more if the private, personal information they garnered from my profile was of any use to them, but, as it seems, the personalised adverts that I get, the ones tailored to my social situation and are deemed relevant to me are for Orthodox Jewish dating…I’m not Jewish, Orthodox or otherwise. When they get scary good at pulling my information, then I’ll give a shit.

Video games this year continued their trend as the most lucrative media launches of all-time, that’s in monetary terms you understand, try and talk about video games in company outside the age range of 11-29 and you’re likely to be sneered at with the kind of derision usually reserved for people who start sentences with “I’m not a racist, but…” Here are some developments I’m not happy about:

Sony and Microsoft, both eyeing Nintendo’s causal gamer audience with bizarre envy, launch their competing add-ons to their consoles. Kinect for XBOX360 and PlayStation Move are both attempts at the player using their own bodily movements to play games, sounds good to the kind of twat who thinks all entertainment should take place on a treadmill, i.e. no one. But what it serves to do is make every twat-head who uses it look like Louie Spence without the modicum of likeability or talent. Ah, feels good to get that out of my system, now, onto some titles.

Red Dead Redemption came out in May after a few years heavy speculation and proved to be one of the best things ever made out of 1’s and 0’s. The story is set in the waning days of the American Old West where you, as John Marston, are blackmailed into taking down your old gang members by a couple of ruthless federal agents, taking John from the prairie to the Mexican revolution and on to the modern society at odds with gun slinging outlaws, RDR proved to be a wonderful looking, fun, thoughtful and downright moving game that will be looked on fondly for years to come.

Halo: Reach unsurprisingly was a huge success, despite the fact that all titles in the series after the original 2001 outing ‘Halo: Combat Evolved’ have been accurately judged as self-important, stagnant crap by any gamers with more than two neurons to rub together. Halo: Reach serves as a prequel to the rest of the series, taking place on the colony of Reach, which players of previous games will know, was a massive military defeat for the human forces of the UNSC against a multi-species army known as the Covenant. Now the fact that it takes place in such a doomed scenario means that you’re playing the game with the full knowledge, especially if you’ve ever seen any war film EVER, that you, your team-mates the supporting cast that don’t appear in the main series, are all going to die…probably. Having criticised the series as a whole, Reach does sit as the bright spark in the family, a much better game than previous entries with a story that doesn’t bore you at any turn despite its collection of clich├ęs. It’ll live on as a multiplayer relic for years, which angers me greatly, but it is a good game.

Call of Duty: Black Ops, the biggest, most over hyped of all games released ever that didn’t involve Peter Molyneux, was released in November and morons everywhere would have kicked children over walls to get a copy. The jealous younger brother series of the actually good Call of Duty games, Black Ops was developed by Treyarch, who also previously made the World at War entry. Black Ops’ campaign surprisingly consists of a series of ‘Black Ops’ taking place in various situations of the Cold War, and that’s about it really. It’s the multiplayer aspect, which I’ve never played, that is most definitely the main reason for about 98% of all purchases of the title, which in my opinion, should be seen as ridiculous as buying a DVD you’ve never seen before, melting down the film and only keeping the ‘special features’ disc.

If you want games to be taken seriously then multiplayer has to be a fun aside, not the main feature of the game.

And finally, Heavy Rain was released in February, and deserves mention here as the realisation of something promised to people my age years ago. Alright so the plot sounds like a rejected proposal for a B-movie knock-off of Se7en, but Heavy Rain, a game about a serial killer who drowns children in rain water, was presented in a compelling, new way, playing out entirely as a narrative, the player, as one of four characters throughout the game, interacts with scenes by pressing the appropriate button at the correct moment in order to progress the scene, failing to press the right button will still push the plot along, but in a slightly different way and always in a cinematic and believable way. Now, those of you in the know will know that that means it’s a game made entirely of quick-time events, but that’s not the point. The point is that Heavy Rain plays like a film, with real dialogue and proper camera-work. It is what people in the nineties used to say to older generations when trying to explain what video games were, an ‘interactive movie’.

And that was the year in media for me. Whether you agree or disagree, I’d rather stick a fork in my eye than have an argument about it.