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London Riots: don’t be misled by the debate

9 Aug

With the london riots, there has come the inevitable debate between sides as to the cause of the situation. Both sides have already begun wading into the argument with their own particular brand of special.

(Credit for the pic goes to whatever photographer who took it. I got it from, but it’s probably an agency copy. Apologies to the owner if you take offence at me using it, do let me know)

I heard a conversation last night on the BBC news channel between ( I think, not sure if I remember correctly) Ken livingstone the ex-mayor of London and the newsanchor. Livingstone, was quick to highlight the massive unemployment, bleak education prospects and huge cuts to youth services that had a hand in laying the foundations for such violence and destruction, and then the cuts to the police force and emergency services that had a big hand in denying them their ability to tackle the situation and do their job right. The newsanchor was quick to condemn this point of view, saying that we could not dismiss simple hooliganism because the people commiting it had no jobs: to do that would be giving them a free ride, which is true…to a point.

While I agree with both sides of the debate, I do lean towards the sociological explanation a little bit more, for this very simple reason:

To persistently say the London riots have been caused by simple hooliganism and thuggery -and nothing else-, is like saying the East African famine has been caused because the people there don’t have enough tomatoes. Sure it’s a part of the problem, but to hold it up as the absolute only reason the situation is as it is? well…that’s just ridiculous. There are a lot of other parts of the jigsaw that need to fit correctly before that particular piece fits*.

*Whether a person should learn morals, ethics and principles as soon as possible or only when they are financially and socially stable enough to tackle those big subjects is an interesting question, one that I don’t know the answer to.

The opportunism many people have displayed in looting businesses during the riots is most definitely a point of self control and personal responsibility, but quite a lot of the people involved need basic foundations before they can start worrying about the ethical remifications of their actions. When a kid of fifteen sees a louis vuitton shop bared open for anyone to waltz away with an armful of goodies, they’re not gonna think “Well shucks, I better wonder a minute about what my actions will do to my community and society”, they’re gonna think “Well fuck this innit, I’m stuck on the dole and want something nice to give my ma…louis vittin never done nothing for me, why should I care bout him”.

But, to only focus on these two points of view is a mistake (and to only agree with one side an even bigger one). A lot of the destruction can probably be put down to simple mob mentality and the fact that when you’re wandering round the empty streets looking at it with fresh young eyes- eyes that scream “Hang on a sec…the world isn’t as efficiently well ordered as we’ve been led to believe…I can do anything I want!”- you’ve got a tendency to go crazy and follow the crowd.

The crowd, which is made up of mainly your friends and peers. Single yourself out by not taking part, and there could be a lot more serious repurcussions than a few weeks in a juvenile detention centre. You could be cast out from your group for not manning up.

I should stress that I am not in any way condoning or agreeing with this mentality. There’s a huge difference between agreeing with something, and understanding it.

I read a pretty interesting quote this morning in the paper. I can’t remember it properly, but it was something to the effect of “It’s not about what you do anymore, it’s about what you buy…We’ve got a generation of kids raised on consumerism going wild out there…”

Yes, the riots are based on an excess of aggression, destruction, a wildly skewed sense of entitlement on the rioters part and an an unhealthy disregard for people’s safety. It’s stupid to leave it at that though and forget about investigating the underlying causes. Economic depression, unemployment, lack of services, discrimination, lack of opportunities, apathy. (And of course, there’s the underlying causes for the length of time it has taken the emergency services to react properly to the disorder: massive budget cuts made to the public services). These are all parts of the jigsaw: each one needed to make sense of the next. To hold one single piece up and blame the whole ugly picture on it and it alone is a horrifically small minded mistake.

Captain America: This is the logic we’re teaching now? really?!

8 Aug

I haven’t seen the film yet, so no spoilers ahead. I know admitting this might render my argument completely invalid, but I highly doubt that seeing as it’s near impossible to hide a shakespearean tragedy underneath a punchy blockbuster. Yes, it happens in the comics, but almost never in films which are hoping to rake it in at the box office by aiming themselves at the widest marketshare possible.

There’s one line in the trailer that caught my attention. It’s an innocent, shy little line that can easily pass unnoticed. But, unfortunately, it’s the basis for pretty much the entire films logic.  I should tell you now that I hesitate to apply the same logic to the comics, because I do love me some Captain A. He’s a legend…I don’t want to think about it too much just yet to be honest, i don’t think I’d like it.

After Steve Rogers asks doctor Abraham Erskine, the doctor who will transform him with the super soldier serum he has created, “Why me?” The good doctor replies:

“Because weak men, know the value of strength…know the value of power”

It’s a tight argument, one I agree with to a point. I don’t agree with the implication of it though, an implication that shines through once you take into account the rest of the setup.

Steve rogers is chosen for the super soldier programme because he has repeatedly applied to join the war effort but been denied because he is physically inadequate. He doesn’t have half the muscle mass the other men have and, in the film, he’s actually ridiculously exaggerated. In the comics he’s just an average guy with a bit of an underdeveloped body but in the film he looks a malnourished child who has to grapple with gravity itself to gather enough air to breathe.

Anyway, you’ve probably seen the scene: Scrawny guy steps into a machine then steps out of the machine a hulk of a man, ready to fight for his country.

Now, my (first) problem is this: All those other guys, the odd million or so who succesfully got into the army, didn’t start off looking like Adonis. (for the sake of argument I’m gonna deny historical accuracy and ignore the fact that most of those who enlisted were nothing more than average joes who played a season or two of highschool football). They all toned themselves up through sweat and hardwork. They put in the hours working on their fitness, and it paid off. They got in by virtue of that work they put in.

But it’s not okay to give them the super soldier serum because they “Won’t know the value of strength”? Oh I’m calling that one. I’m calling that one straight up. They’ve decided to improve themselves, probably gone through a hell of a lot of heartbreak for it, and they won’t know the value of strength just because…well, damn, I dunno: just, because! Because they said so! Because!!!1!

But the kicker, and the thing that has me really worried for the state of the world, is that the implication is this:

You can bestow great power and strength on a weak but intelligent, morally strong, courageous, humble, respectful, honourable and benevolent person, but you can not bestow these virtues on a person who’s already strong and powerful.

This is the lesson we’re teaching people: If you’re strong, muscular, or if you can be described in any way near the label ‘jock’, you’re finished, we can’t teach you anything. You just keep on keeping on. No no, it’s okay, don’t worry about it. You’ve got great power and strength, but don’t you worry your little head about the essential virtues which, throughout history, have been used to keep the powerful in check and the warrior class aligned on the side of justice and righteousness. We threw those out the window with the 80’s, so just chill: you’re all good.

I’ve been scratching myself to think of a tribe of warriors in Western history that could illustrate my point properly, but none quite come up to scratch. The spartans, although they’ve gotten a good reputation in the past few years, were a crazy bunch. Sure, they pushed themselves to the pinnacle of the art of war, but they denied themselves a lot of virtues along the way that makes a good warrior. The greeks, although not in the same class as the spartans, were much the same.

The vikings, although they had a great reputation for courage and bravery, were a little bit too keen on rape and pillage to be held up as perfect examples of the warrior pinnacle. Native americans were pretty close I think, but I don’t know enough to say definitively.

No, for a good example of what a warrior should be we have to look East. The samurai in japan and the warrior class (shaolin monks, if you must…but there was a lot more to chinese warfar than the monks) in China lived by a strictly defined set of virtues and principles that kept them in check throughout their life.

Granted that didn’t stop them from getting into fights and wars the same as anyone else, but my point is that when being trained in martial arts and warfare, they weren’t simply taught how to fight, maim and kill. They were taught how to live humbly, with honour, courage, benevolence and a host of other virtues drilled into them. No matter who you were or what size you were, you were taught the same as everyone else. If you were  a weak little shrimp you were taught how to fight and how to live a virtuous life. If you were a seven foot powerhouse, you were taught how to fight and how to live a virtuous life. There was no distinction, or rather -ignorant presumption, made on someone. If they wanted to learn, they would learn both sides of the coin, not just the one which they already knew.

Sure, weak men know the value of strength and power, but who’s to say we can’t teach strong men the same?! Why can a weak man be given incredible power and strength, but a strong man not be given incredible humility and perspective?…it saddens me to know that this corrosive mentality running through society is, and will be, met with a simple “hey, that’s just the way it is” mentality.

Anyway; if your interest has been sparked by the idea of a complete person then I suggest you read ‘hagakure’ or the ‘Tao te ching’. Both were read furiously by ancient warriors in the East to help them gain a complete understanding of themselves, the world and how best to live in it.

(oh, and I’d turn this one up…those first few bars are just beautiful;)

The secret of Frenchman’s Cove; better the devil you know than the one you don’t

8 Jul

TheFrenchman’s cove resort was a pretty big deal back in the 60’s. Set in the beautiful surroundings of the Jamaican coastline, it was used by anyone and everyone who had the money to stump up for the privilege. At it’s height it cost the equivalent of a years salary (today) for a two week stay. Steep stuff, but apparently worth it.

Being tucked away from the main hustle and bustle of the island (which was actually possible in the 60’s), it was luxuriously isolated, so much so that this was one of the main selling points. If you didn’t have the right money, you wouldn’t get anywhere near the place. Quite an attractive prospect for the monied class, seeing as they only wanted to associate with their own type and avoid all those awkward “So what is it you do? Stocks, bonds or good old fashioned national pillage?” questions…it’s just undignified. Best to go somewhere you don’t even need to ask the question.

But, the absolute main draw of the resort was its luxury: there were no menus, choices or options. You could do or have anything your heart desired. Once you paid for your stay you could, at no extra cost, ask for a boat to take you fishing, order a selection of dishes from around the world, request a specific make and model of car to use during your stay, ask reception to entertain you during dinner with a blood sacrifice etc… you get the idea. It was the first place to embody the “have anything you want” mentality of luxury.

I saw a documentary on the hotel industry recently, and it had an enlightening interview with the owner/manager of the Frenchman’s cove resort. While answering the question of his resorts attraction, success and the matter of it’s luxurious stasus, he said something incredibly canny. I can’t remember his exact words, but it was something to the effect of

“…well because we don’t offer any menus to our guests, they’re given the choice of anything in the world. They can ring up reception and request absolutely anything they want for breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, as is usually the case when someone is offered limitless options, they almost always end up asking ‘Well, what do you have?’, in which case we end up serving everyone baked beans on toast”

It’s an incredibly insightful thing, especially coming from an industry that bends over backwards to use the most convoluted of management speak. Although in fairness, he did say this back in the 60’s; it’s probably the last known example of a hotel manager speaking truthfully.

I was struck by the statement, and how brutally honest it is. Give someone the choice of anything in the world, and they’ll probably go for what they know.

It’s a sad thing, that most people are too afraid of the unknown that they won’t try and actively get away from what could be damaging or destructive routines and behaviour.  “Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t”, is a classic justification for staying in one spot. It pretty much boils down to saying “Hey, it could be worse!” as a good reason to carry on letting your mind dull, your body melt and your soul wither.

And it’ll work. It’s a nice fix, reassuring yourself like this. Many, many people get through life doing it, and it works for them. They might end up feeling  a little awkward everytime they put down their friends in a passive-aggressive manner because it makes them feel better about themselves for, oh I dunno, a couple of minutes. But it could be worse. They might get a little down when they get out of the shower and notice that flab under their arms jiggling for a few seconds more than it did a year ago, but it could be worse. They might wonder quietly about the world outside, and maybe even pine for it a bit, when they accidentally catch sight of a documentary on television but it’s alright because it could be worse.

Yeah; it could be worse, but it could be better. A lot better. A Whole lot better.


Zombie apocalypse: Are you ready? You probably aren’t…

30 Jun

Although I’d love to think I’m ahead on the circle of these things, I’m probably way behind the times with this subject. Still, it’s an interesting one to me.

After shouting a drunken argument for the futility of Zombie survival lists across a crowded table at someone that I barely know, I thought I’d get those thoughts together on page. It was a huge trend at the time, taking over most parts of the mainstream culture. Zombies: what will you do when they come?

I’m not against preparing for the inevitable, no way. The part of this trend that got me thinking was the sheer stubbornness of it all. You had people making lists of their favourite weapons, escape plans, vehicles, places they’d settle and how many buxom blondes they’d save on the dash away from the city regardless of the reality of it all. It all got a little bit delusional to be honest.

I did find it uplifting to see that people weren’t averse to creating plans to save their family and friends in case something horrific happened, but the superficial level of thought put into it was a little disturbing. You’d use a baseball bat to knock the heads off Zombies? well done, well done…you do know that it takes a lot of strength and awareness of your physical abilities to do that, don’t you?

It’s all well and good to proudly declare you’d be knocking them off left, right and centre, but what happens when your first feeble attempt at heroics results in the bat gently bouncing off the zombies head because you either just don’t have the strength to hit any harder or don’t know how to apply bodyweight behind your swing?

As for using a sword, that mainstay of well seasoned zombie hunters, well…I always giggle at the thought of someone bravely running into a group of ferocious brain hungry zombies, ready to do some damage with a glint in their eye, before realising that they can’t get the blade out of the first head they chopped into because they just haven’t got a clue how to handle a weapon like that.

Then comes the hard question, the really hard one. The one that probably didn’t cross anyone’s mind when making these lists and grand schemes of heroics. But before that, there’s a slightly easier one to ask:

What if you won’t be the hero? What if, instead of rampaging through hordes of zombies in an effort to save a doomed stranger, you’d be the one running amok on innocent groups of women and children, doing your best to look out for yourself and yourself only? What if, rather than bravely standing out as a beacon of hope in an otherwise ruined world, you’d be the one bastard raping and pillaging your way through the last remnants of civilisation?!

What if, when faced with the complete destruction of civilised social structures and boundaries, you realise that you’re not as good a person you thought you were?

And the hardest question of them all? the one that none of us could probably contemplate without ending up a gibbering wreck huddled in a corner?

…don’t go huddling into the corner now, please, do as hobbs sez..

…What if you’re just not good enough to survive in the first place? We all like to think of ourselves as the one-in-a-thousand who miraculously survives the zombie apocalypse, but what if we’d end up dead in the first few minutes; foiled by a late night stoner haze that made us think that zombie creeping along the ground was nothing more than a pile of laundry. Or else, even though you’d stocked up on twenty different guns and cases of ammo, you’d be undone within seconds of a zombie getting close to you because, tragically, you were too focused on using a gun to adapt to a changing situation?

I’m being too hard, I know. People made zombie survival lists because it was a fun thing to do, nothing more. Aside from a few, rare, people constructing safehouses and going to bed every night with a survival kit ready beside their bed (I swear; i didn’t keep a kit…okay I kept my shoes close, but that’s just common sense, isn’t it?) no one gave the phenomenon more than a passing glance in the grand scheme of philosophical, moral and ethical debate. They’re just zombies, right? there wasn’t much point in connecting the dots.

But it still got me wondering, because it’s a good basis to jump off from. You’d save your family? cool, what are you gonna do if you’re injured? cool, what would you do if it was a disabling injury, like you can’t walk or run? etc…

These are good questions to ask, to begin with, but the basic ones are the most important. Forget about which grenade attachment you’d put on your rifle, where you’d settle in isolation, what car you’d drive and which bland backup party-member you’d seduce first. Start with the basics: Would I survive in the first place? and then, would I survive as the same person I am? and if you’re really serious about those questions, and the zombie apocalypse, ask yourself how you can make sure of these things.

I’m sure you’ll find It’s not with fancy lists; just a good, old fashioned-back to basics- look at yourself.

Freaks and Geeks, part one: Freaks

29 Jun

In honour of a weekend spent watching one of the greatest shows ever created, and cancelled, Im gonna link a few things I’ve been wondering about together under it’s heading.

I had the misfortune to catch a bit of the monster’s ball concert recorded by lady gaga for HBO (Oh HBO…how did you fall so far from the wire) recently, and her wince-inducing monologues caught my attention. I’ll get to the content of it later, but the first thing that got me was the delivery which was, to put it mildly, cringeworthy. Sorry Gaganauts, but this won’t be kind.

Obviously she was partly sticking to her image; that of a stone cold goddess who doesn’t really care what people think, because she’s doing her own thing and loving it. Fair enough, that could account for some of the woodenness. Unfortunately, after the third or fourth badly executed dramatic pause in her soliloquoy, I started feeling awkward. You know when someone is really putting their heart into something, you just do. The content of her carefully crafted speeches were worthy of some heart being put in- well, the content stood up to a few minutes of basic logic anyway- but to me it just fell flat.

Take this one. Even though it’s a video ( you can’t get that personal-contact level of understanding with videos), you still just know he believes what he’s saying. It shines through, relentlessly.

Now compare that to this one:

(Quick edit: WOW, watching the two vids again, it strikes me how divisive lady gaga’s speech is compared to Henry’s)

Again, she’s got that whole cold as ice/madonna-like/fashion icon/strong person thing going on, which I’m sure must account for some of the lack of any discernible emotion in the speech, but to be honest if I hear someone in person making an inspirational speech I don’t equate being loud or shouting with rousing inspiration. (you could say that she doesn’t want to be seen as one of those weeping, feel-good, people gushing over how we can all get along, something I’m down with, but the Henry Rollins clip above shows that you can walk the line between cold hearted honesty and uplifting emotion damn well)

As a side note, I find it a little funny that she tells the crowd to forget all the people who told them they couldn’t be something in their life. It’s a useful tool,  for a quick fix I suppose, but you can get a lot farther by acknowledging those things and either working on them or using them as a spur. Then again, emphasising a groups persecuted nature is a classic strategy for collecting them together under a single banner- something I thought about touching on, but figure I don’t want that can of worms opened just yet: It’d distract from my main point below…although I’d love to tear lagy gaga’s logic apart)

(Sorry; I should say now for those of you not in the know, that in another speech on the tour she speaks about how they’ve locked the doors and left all the ‘Freaks’ outside, presumably the people who don’t understand or agree with her fans and their lifestyles, which is why I’ve titled this post Freaks)

Which brings me to the reveal. “Born this way”. That was gnawing at my mind for a good while before I realised what annoyed me so much about it. I’m not going anywhere near the debate of whether someone is born of certain sexual preferences, personality traits, prejudices, needs, wants, desires etc… or anything else like that. NO sir-ree. I’m nowhere near knowledgable enough on the subjects of genetics to go wading into that one.

Simply saying “I was born this way” is a complete cop out. As if you never did anything other than ‘be’. I’m not gonna dance round the subject (although I did do that a little up above, apologies), but she’s obviously talking to her gay fanbase. You were just born this way? Really?!

No, you weren’t. You went through countless hours, days, weeks and months of wrestling with yourself before admitting the truth and embracing it. You completed a mental marathon the likes of which many people in the world would never experience.

You spent even more time worrying about the effect that revelation would have on your family and friends. Before tackling the issue you worried constantly about their reactions and the honest light it would shine on your relationships.

You might even have spent gallons of tears, both happy and sad, when the subject was broached and discussed with those people. You became grateful for the people who supported you, appreciated their presence in your life and maybe recognised a layer of them you never knew they had. For the ones who reacted negatively, well…you dealt with it, somehow.

You weren’t just ‘born this way’. You worked hard, went through countless times both good and bad, and came out a better person for it. You were forced to question yourself, the world around you and your relation to it before finally deciding whether to open yourself up and embrace it, or close yourself off and forget it. For me, that’s a much better rallying call than simply saying “I was born this way”.

You went through a lot to become that person, and it’s made you all the better for it. Please don’t cop out by just saying “I was born this way”…it sets a terrible example for everyone else.