Archive for the ‘Good News Week’ Category

So, there’s this online feminist publication called Bitch Magazine, famed far and wide for its intelligence and integrity. And a couple of days ago, their library coordinator, a woman called Ashley McAllister, posted a list of 100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader, the actual contents of which (as opposed to the subsequent shitstorm) can be found here. All was well for about a day – people were commenting, books both on and off the list were being discussed – until this commenter (whose handle, aptly enough, is Pandora) unleashed all the evils of the internet by objecting to the list’s inclusion of Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, citing agreement with an online review wherein it is argued that the story promotes a culture of blaming rape victims. Not having read the book myself, and being unwilling to judge a whole novel on the basis of a single paragraph, I’m not about to enter into a discussion of that interpretation, although I feel it’s important to point out that, according to those who have read it, there is no rape in Sisters Red. Regardless, as a result of Pandora’s complaint, Ashley McAllister admitted to not having read the book herself and, out of concern that its contents could act as a trigger to victims of rape or sexual assault, removed it from the list.

At this point, author Diana Peterfreund – whose novel, Rampant, sits in 71st position on the list – weighed in, criticising the removal of Sisters Red and pointing out that most of the books on the list, including her own, could similarly be said to act as a triggers for different types of people. After a short exchange with McAllister failed to resolve the issue, Peterfreund requested the removal of Rampant in protest at Bitch’s censorship.

It’s possible that things might have stopped there, but a few posts later, a new commenter expressed outrage that Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan was on the list, too – this being a book which, for many reasons, has never been far from controversy. This time, McAllister’s reaction was to reread the book with the commenter’s objections in mind, and then, two days later, to announce that not only had Sisters Red and Tender Morsels been removed and replaced with different books, but so had Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott. The last of these is particularly puzzling, as nobody whatsoever had complained about its inclusion.

And then, the internet exploded.

Readers of all stripes started vehemently protesting the removal, expressing disbelief and outrage that Bitch had effectively censored their original verdict in response to the comments of just two dissenters. And then, taking a leaf out of Peterfreund’s book, other authors began chiming in, either requesting the removal of their own books if they’d made the list, or condemning the removal itself if not. First Scott Westerfeld, then Justine Larbalestier, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Kirstyn McDermott, Maureen Johnson, Ellen Klages, Lili Wilkinson, Emily Lockhart, Jeff VanderMeer, A.S. King, Penni Russon, Paolo Bacigalupi and Alina Klein – which is a pretty fearsome list of authors, by the way – all made their thoughts known at the site, and now other authors (such as John Scalzi) and feminist websites (such as Smart Bitches) are blogging about it themselves.

Right now, I feel sorry for Ashley McAllister, despite the fact that what she did was stupid. Because clearly, she’s a proponent of good YA novels. And clearly, she was trying to do the right thing – or at least, what seemed to her to be the right thing at the time, being as how her original efforts were intended to make rape victims feel more comfortable with the list. I’m not going to slam that as a motive, because really, how can you? But as the thread itself points out, it is impossible to write a book, or review a book, or do anything even vaguely artistic or critical without running smack-bang into fact that someone, somewhere, will wish you hadn’t, and if your first response to criticism on the internet is to back down – even if your intention was to be considerate – then the question becomes, why put up a list you weren’t confident in to begin with? Saying, “Oh, but we didn’t notice that negative interpretation the first time around,” or pleading ignorance because you hadn’t actually read the book and were just going off what other people said, is the worst possible defence. Abdicating responsibility for your own critical judgement will not win you sympathy with authors and readers who come to your magazine purely to engage with exactly that, and who therefore expect you to defend your opinions as a matter of course.

So when you recommend a list of books for feminist readers, then quickly remove three of them because you didn’t realise that some people would consider them un- or even anti-feminist, what you’re actually saying is, the dog ate my homework. Because, to crib shamelessly from Neil Gaiman, it’s not as though the only true criticisms of Sisters Red, Tender Morsels and Living Dead Girl are hidden in a cave in the black fucking mountains. All you have to do is type any of those titles into Google, look for reviews, and pow! – controversy! In removing those books from the list, Ashley McAllister wasn’t just backing down, no matter how pure her motives. She was effectively acknowledging the fact that a feminist magazine, in seeking to create a list of feminist books, had done their research so poorly as to feel obliged to change their verdict after two commenters told them about controversies they should already have taken into account. The reason so many people spoke out against the removal of Lanagan’s work in particular isn’t because Pearce and Scott’s books are somehow less important or less worthy of defence: it’s because public, prominent and heated debate has raged about Tender Morsels since the moment of its publication – is still unceasing, in fact – and if the team at Bitch were so unaware of that maelstrom as to be blindsided by the outrage of a single ranting commenter, then what the hell else did they miss?

Having made the decision to remove the books in (presumably) ignorance of how that decision would be received, I can appreciate that neither McAllister nor the team at Bitch wants to back down again, even if the subsequent debate has made them regret the initial decision. Doing so would only compound the offence, and cement the idea that their critical approval can be swayed by whoever shouts loudest. But even so, I imagine there’s a lot of soul-searching going on at their HQ – and if, as so many people have said, they are otherwise known as a bastion of good sense and good journalism, then I imagine that, further down the line, a frank discussion of where they went wrong can’t be far off – even if we don’t all agree with the verdict.

Update the first:

Given that the reaction to this whole thing is still ongoing, I’m going to link here to authors and other notable peeps who blog about the decision as and when I notice them to have done so. Thus, you may also like to read the responses of:

Holly Black

Karen Healey

Margo Lanagan

Kirstyn McDermott

Diana Peterfreund

Update the second:

In the original version of this blog, I stated that Diana Peterfreund had asked to have her novel, Rampant, removed from the list in solidarity with Jackson Pearce. Since then, I’ve read Diana’s own blog (linked above) about the incident, and have therefore corrected her motivation.

Since our arrival in Scotland, we’ve been introduced to a whole new suite of advertising, particularly through the miracle of digital TV. Three such ads, all of which are shown with hateful regularity, have been driving me absolutely nuts. They are:

Covonia Nose and Throat Morning

Reason For Suckage: Shows a black woman sick in bed, her hair in a natural afro state. After taking the medicine, however – surprise! Her hair has been straightened and coiffed to denote that she is now both healthy and professional. Oh, and she also meets western standards of physical attractiveness, as denoted by her white, male neighbour blowing her a kiss from his bath. Verdict: Racefail.

Kingsmill 50/50 Bread

Reason For Suckage: Dad comes downstairs for breakfast, where mum, already perfectly made up, is doing the ironing in the kitchen while the kids eat, because we have apparently been transported to the 1950s. Alas! Dad’s shirt is creased and he’s in a hurry, so mum offers to iron it – but because Kingsmill bread is so delicious, dad decides he’s got enough time to sit down to eat the toast his wife had made for herself. Both daughters giggle, and mum, smirking, takes her revenge by ironing a huge burn into the back of her husband’s white shirt, which he, oblivious, wears to work. Yes. Because passive-aggressive housewife rage at the selfishness of her breadwinner (HAH!) spouse is OH SO FUNNY. Verdict: erafail, and also feminismfail.

Feminax Express

Reason For Suckage: Boyfriend and girlfriend are watching TV on the couch. Boyfriend laughs at the show; cut to girlfriend scowling. Boyfriend inspects his fingernails; girlfriend’s scowl deepens. Then, because enjoying the show and staring at his hands apparently constitute a hanging offence – or, you know, ANY KIND OF PROVOCATION AT ALL – girlfriend pulls a lever on the lounge that catapults the screaming boyfriend out the window and into the wild blue yonder. As girlfriend stretches out, smiling, across the whole length of the lounge, the female voice over chortles: “If only getting rid of all pains could be as fast as Feminax Express!” Who says that PMS turns women into irrational bitches? Answer: advertising! And what’s more, girls, we should all be able to laugh about our crazy together! Verdict: feminismfail.

GAH. I mean, SERIOUSLY. Who are the braindead ad execs who greenlight this bullshit, and where do I queue for the privilege of kicking them in the face?

So, people. Have we all heard of James Frey?

Neither had I, until I checked my Google reader yesterday eve, and saw John Scalzi explaining at length why Frey should be kicked in the balls. Since then, I’ve read the original NY Times Books piece on the unimaginably sleazy contracts being pimped by his company, Full Fathom Five; writer Maureen Johnson’s take on said asshatery (spoiler: it involves criticism!); Lili Wilkinson’s POV and a redux by local blogger, Megan Bourke. All of which makes me want to put Frey in a cage fight with Nicholas Sparks, and then throw in a few rabid wolves, and then set them both on fire. With napalm. (The wolves will be spared.)

So, for those of you too lazy to click the above links, here are Frey’s crimes in a nutshell. Note that I’m stealing this summary verbatim from Maureen Johnson, partly because I, too, am lazy, but mostly because her summary is awesome. Thus:

“A few years ago, James Frey (author of “A Million Little Pieces,” the book that was claimed to be a memoir, was picked by Oprah, then turned out to be fictional, ending with an appalling session on Oprah’s couch) decided to put together a company in order to grind out YA books. The writers who sign up to this company sign mind-boggling contracts that essentially pay them more or less nothing and offer them zero protection …

“The contract says that the company can give you credit or not give you credit, as it desires. They can force you to write another book, or they can drop you like a hot potato, for no reason.

“The contract has no audit provision. What does that mean? It means that they can pay you ANY AMOUNT OF MONEY and you just have to accept that the percentage you’re getting is the percentage you are due, and that you are getting an accurate reporting of the number of books sold. And let me tell you, even on good and honest contracts, human error is common. Companies make mistakes on their reports all the time. It’s not necessarily malicious—things just get messed up. So in James Frey world, his company could provide you with statements saying the book sold one thousand copies and that the advance was fifteen dollars, and you might know that the book has sold many thousands of copies and the advance was a hundred thousand dollars, but there would be nothing you could do about it. You will literally never be able to verify the advance the book sold for, the foreign rights deals, or the sales.”

So, yeah. Urge to stab, anyone?

Now, this whole thing ammounts to an exercise in weapons-grade asshatery. And I am outraged! But what really made me crazy was the following paragraph of the NY Books piece, which itself was written by one of the MFA students approached by Frey:

“It appeared that putting out my first book wouldn’t be as easy as Frey had made it seem. But Full Fathom Five was proceeding apace. In June, Almon put out word that they were looking for new writers for four untitled young-adult projects: a project about a girl raised in a cult who “suddenly begins to remember her previous life”; an “untitled paranormal love story” about teen lovers, one dead, in which “we watch the couple struggle to communicate: he miserable in heaven, and she understandably distraught”; an “untitled apocalypse idea” about a girl who enrolls in a summer camp and “finds herself in for a hell of a lot more than rope climbing”; and a “high-school revenge project” in which “four girls from separate cliques at a high school discover they’ve all been date-raped by the same guy and team up to plot vicious revenge.”

Now, look. In the right hands, all of those ideas could be awesome. In fact, being as I am both a YA fantasy/SF reader and writer, there is every chance that if I picked up a book espousing one of those plots under different circumstances, I might buy it. Neither am I some sort of crazed artistic purist, viewing the relationship between creativity and money the same way a hardcore Calvinist might the relationship between the physical body and sex, viz: as two interrelated entities that can only interact at the junction of shame and pragmatism. I get that writers want to make money – I am among them! – and I also understand that this can involve assessing what sells and what doesn’t, and then acting accordingly.

But when I see someone laying down such a seedy series of contracts as Frey has done, given his history of shameless lying for sensationalism, and in the context of creating so-called marketable concepts with the aim of outsourcing them to as-yet unnamed writers, I throw up a little in my mouth.

I mean, a story about a group of teenage girls who’ve all been date-raped by the same guy and their subsequent revenge? That synopsis ought to have a restraining order issued against the phrase “wacky hijinks ensue”, and yet in the context of Frey’s production, that’s exactly what I hear next. Let’s not even go into the idea of yet another paranormal romance about the problems of one dead teenager struggling to love a live one; or rather, let’s not go there when the concept, instead of being someone’s beloved brainchild, has inevitably been chosen for its perceived marketability by Frey and then foisted off onto a different writer who, given the contract they’ll be offered, will have no artistic control whatever.

Bottom line: at this point in the proceedings, the only thing I’d pay for in relation to James Frey is to watch him be strapped down in an arena while John Scalzi, Lili Wilkinson and Maureen Johnson kicked him in the balls, over and over again.

Goddam asshats. Must they ruin everything?

There has been some concern this week about sexism in Australian university colleges; specifically, at St Paul’s College, Sydney University, after it came to light that a group of male students had created a pro-rape/anti-consent group on Facebook called ‘Define Statutory’. Not without reason, this has sparked outrage in various quarters.

Allow me to add to it.

Prior to commencing my time as an undergraduate at Sydney University, I interviewed for a place in two of its co-educational colleges: St Andrews and Wesley. From all the reading I’d done beforehand, St Andrews had been my first choice. Ironically, given that it was where I ended up living in 2004 and 2005, Wesley was something of an afterthought; what swayed me was being introduced to the resident turtles, a trio of doleful chelonians camped in the courtyard pond. During my interview, I distinctly remember joking to the now outgoing master, Reverend David Russell, that any college with turtles couldn’t be all bad. He laughed, and as much as anything else, I suspect it was this which saw me accepted as one of his students.

I was also offered a place at St Andrews. I turned it down. Arriving for the interview, I was already nervous, and when the petite female student giving me a tour of the college mentioned having been stuffed into one of the dryers by a group of male yearmates, my trepidation was not improved. She waved off the incident as a prank, but with a sort of wry, wary eyeroll that wasn’t entirely reassuring. Her anecdote followed me into the interview room. I don’t recall whether I mentioned it explicitly or voiced instead a general anxiety about the behaviour of male collegians, but whatever my words, they caused the master to straighten in his chair, his voice to change. He admitted, seriously and with a mix of shame and anger, that there was still a ‘rugger bugger’ culture in the upper forms, but that I could rest assured that both he and the college as a whole were doing their best to stamp it out. Perhaps he assumed my knowledge of campus sexual politics to be greater than it was, or maybe my concern was more obvious than I remember. Either way, he went so far as to say that, though there had been ‘incidents’ even in recent times, he deplored them. Because of these assurances, he said, I could feel safe at St Andrews.

I appreciated his honesty, his forthrightness and his clear willingness to fix an entrenched culture, but I did not feel safe. On that basis, as much as for the turtles, I chose Wesley, where my chances of being bundled into a cramped metal box seemed smaller. Certainly, I never had to fight free of any laundry equipment in my two years as a resident. I did, however, have fun: I got drunk, I made friends, played copious amounts of MarioKart in lieu of attending morning lectures, went to parties at the surrounding colleges, and acted in most respects like the undergraduate I was. I was never sexually abused at college, nor did I know of anyone during my tenure, male or female, who was. But that is not to say that nothing ever happened.

In 2005, I went, alone, to a party at St Paul’s. I was feeling adventurous, rebellious, flush with the need to meet new people and enjoy my youth. Being an unaccompanied, slender blonde in a short blue dress and rainbow knee-socks, I soon found myself a group of new acquaintances – friendly lads, all of them, and not the least bit menacing. We drank together for most of the night, and at some point, the ringleader of our particular group suggested we retire inside, where the drinking continued in his room. There were about fourteen of us, I think – not a small number – and from hazy memory, I was the only girl. This was not an unfamiliar dynamic to me: the vast bulk of my school friends were male, and I’d often been the lone female presence at various teenaged gatherings. I was confident, if drunk; I laughed with everyone else when the guy whose room it was stripped down to his underpants and tackled a mate, and did not object to his occasional hugs. I did not feel threatened, or preyed upon, or vulnerable, but whether this would be true for every girl in that situation is a different question.

Twice during that night, I wandered into the hallway – not alone, but as part of the general overflow of bodies. There was a boy I didn’t know whose room was across the hall; I’d seen him throughout the night, and he seemed to have noticed me, too. The first time we met, he beckoned me over to his doorway. I went, wondering drunkenly what he wanted to talk to me about, only to find I was being quite unexpectedly kissed and pulled into a room. I disentangled myself as graciously as possible; he grinned as if to say ‘oh, well’,  and let me go. The second time, I was warier, but still lacking in sober judgement: it took several attempts for him to coax me over, proffering apologies and saying that, in all seriousness, he needed to tell me something. It turned out to be a case of fool me twice: I escaped again and left the party soon after, having been jolted back into my senses. Once outside, the cold air woke me up further. Had I drunk just a little bit more, been a little less in control of myself, I might have done something I later came to regret. The guy hadn’t been forceful, or aggressive: just hopeful. That’s not a defence, of course – or at least, it wouldn’t have been, had my decisions been less intelligent. He was soused to the nines, and so was I. We were both stupid, but we were also lucky. There are worse combinations.

On another occasion in 2004, I failed to lock the door to my room at Wesley. I went to bed after a party, fell asleep, and was woken up about half an hour later when one of my male yearmates climbed in next to me. He’d blundered into the wrong room, but after I pointed this out to him, he professed himself too drunk and too weary to correct the mistake: could he sleep on my floor, please? I was tired, he was persistent. After a minute of arguing, I took the path of least resistance and agreed. Inside of three minutes, he had climbed back into my bed, at which point I lost my patience and ordered him out. After some complaints and several futile promises to mend his behaviour, he finally staggered to the door and left. I locked it after him and went back to sleep with little more than a muttered complaint and a weary eyeroll. Really, college men. What else could you do?

Both times, I emerged unscathed. To say that alcohol was a key factor in either incident is an understatement: arguably, it was the only factor. I was never assailed, per se, nor was the behaviour predatory: rather, I chalk it up to drunken male optimism. But the fact remains that it was male, and it was drunken, and it took place at college. Does that make it a consequence of chauvinist culture? Arguably, yes. Had my resolve been less firm, or either male more insistant, this would be a much darker narrative. Physically, I was at every disadvantage. The boys I encountered were undeniably opportunistic, but they didn’t press the issue once my feelings were made clear. That being said, they both made more than one sally; a more tired, more hesitant, less stubborn girl might have made worse choices, or had the possibility of choice taken away from her altogether. Not having spoken to either male in a state of sobriety, I am no fit judge of their daylight personalities. Were they sexist? Did they take pride in their college culture? Were they rugger buggers? I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now, but there are those who would contend, not unreasonably, that it shouldn’t matter either way: sober, they might never have climbed into my bed or tried to pull me into theirs, but sobriety didn’t enter into it.

When I read about the St Paul’s Facebook group, I feel angry, outraged on behalf of men and women alike. Rape is not funny, and it is not simple. Throw alcohol into the picture, and a college environment, and it is even less so. Being too drunk to remember forcing yourself on someone is not a defence, no matter how out of character it is. The act of rape does not fall into a moral grey area, even if the circumstances surrounding it might conceivably, hypothetically, be said to do so. No matter how wonderful a time I had at college, it would be naive and inaccurate to say that there weren’t problems, and that these problems did not sometimes involve a combination of sex and alcohol. The fact that there is a documented history of such incidents is undeniable, which in turn suggests a pattern of behaviour within a particular context. Of itself, this does not invalidate the good times I had at Wesley, nor does it lay a shadow over my undergraduate years. But I will not pretend, for the sake of a rosy-tinted memory, that nothing happened at all, or contend that what did happen was insignificant. In my personal recollection, what matters most is that I was neither harmed nor threatened. I joked about it the next day. I was not the only girl to do so. But there will be others who couldn’t, and still can’t, and never will. In the end, I was lucky, and though it served to help me twice, it is not something I would encourage anyone – man, woman or college authority – to bank on.

Part of me wants to preface the following rant with an introduction to Vegemite, how it’s an Australian intitution despite being owned by an American company, blah blah blah, but really, that’s Googleable data. Let’s cut to the chase, viz: iSnack 2.0, the recently chosen and equally recently abandoned name for Kraft’s new Vegemite-with-cream-cheese spread.

I mean, seriously: iSnack two-point-oh. There are so many things wrong with this that it’s difficult to know where to begin. Cribbing Apple’s lowercase i-prefix in an ironic context is one thing – it falls into the same category as using ‘Mc’ to denote cheap, homogenised and tacky produce, a la McDonalds – but bestowing a stolen moniker on an actual, honest-to-god product? It’s like Kraft has set out to mock themselves.

Pardon by French, but what the fuck does a glorified condiment have to do with the already amorphous concept of  Web 2.0? Both technologically-oriented parts of the name constitute the most dismal attempt at being Hip To The Young People I have ever seen. Even the civilian who came up with the title as part of Kraft’s ‘Name Me’ campaign admits it was ‘all a bit tongue in cheek’ – something which Kraft, in their rush to appear savvy, seem not to have noticed. The name was chosen, they say – or said, before the mockery set in – ‘based on its personal call to action, relevance to snacking and clear identification of a new and different Vegemite.’ Say wha?

How does Vegemite with cream cheese constitute a personal call to action? How is referencing the internet and the products of a successful computer company in any way relevant to snacking? I mean, wow. Really. That is some grade-A bullshit right there. And another thing: given that Kraft presumably wants this product to endure in the same way regular Vegemite has, why would they name it after the techno-cultural ephemera of the noughties? When Web 2.0 is but a naff reference to past events and Apple or somesuch corporation has long since replaced the iGen fad with something newer and cooler, how obsolete would something called iSnack 2.0 be? Give it a couple of decades, and maybe it would be retro, but until then, you’re stuck with an unberably passe product name that causes mass hysteria and blindness.

Even by the standards of bad marketing, this stands out as a clusterfuck of epic proportions. Kraft might change the name, but it’ll be a long time before they live this error down – and rightly so.

Consider the following incident: in December 2005, a healthy, happy, normal 34-year-old woman (Rebekah Lawrence) attends a self-help course (Turning Point) run by a Cremorne-based company (People Knowhow). Four days later, after undergoing an extreme change in behaviour, Rebekah falls to her death, naked, from an inner-city office building. The Turning Point course is referred to, both worryingly and ambiguously, as being “high intensity”, and speaking on its behalf, the founder of People Knowhow, Richard Arthur, claims that the course is not suitable for “highly vulnerable people”. 

Is it just me, or does this statement sends shivers down the spine?

A quick Google reveals several interesting things about Turning Point, not least that it “offers you the opportunity to come home to yourself”, a proposition which is sufficiently cult-spooky to set off warning bells. It is also worth noting that Richard Arthur is not a trained psychologist. He is, in point of fact, a computer scientist. Huh?

Clicking through to the People Knowhow site, things soon become even stranger. There is a course called Mastery and Service, linked to the founding principles of Turning Point, which is intended to help participants “grow in consciousness”. For those over 50, there is the Way of the Elder, which features a grainy sunset graphic and a promise to “guide you through a series of reflective exercises towards reconnection with your life’s story.” Of greatest interest, however, is the link to the webpage for the Australian College of Contemporary Somatic Psychotherapy, which, in keeping with the non-psychology background of Mr Arthur, states cheerfuly that anyone wishing to teach their courses need not be deterred by a “lack of teriary training”. Rather, their training programme “welcomes applications from people who feel attuned to this way of understanding human experience and growth”.

Type “somatic psychotherapy” into Google, and you’ll find that the first webpage to come up is – surprise, surprise – that of the Australian College. Wikipedia has an entry on somatic psychology and another on body psychotherapy, but not a specific entry for somatic psychotherapy; a website called Goodtherapy, however, defines it as the brainchild of Wilhelm Reich, a German psychologist who believed, among other things, in a cosmic, primordial energy called orgone and who was known to try and increase the ‘orgiastic potency’ of patients by treating them in their underwear. Leaving aside the question of Reich’s more extreme theories and practices, there is a more pertinent question to answer, viz: how do members of the College – and, by extension, People Knowhow – use somatic psychtherapy?

The definition given on their page is lengthy and obtuse, hinting vaguely at deeper methodologies without actually explaining them; you can read the whole thing here. Among other things, the College mentions the idea of “toxic cultural practices” being passed on through contemporary psychology and the importance of people’s “sensing/feeling patterns” being developed “throughout the life cycle”. The introduction concludes on a rather ominous note, with the acknowledgement that “all psychotherapy theories (including somatic based theories) invoke particular ethical practices, either explicitly or implicitly, and we need to ask ourselves, as Foucault suggests, whose interests are best served by these practices; who gains power.” (My emphasis.)

What, pray tell, are “particular ethical practices” in the context? Perhaps they have something to with the fact that, like Richard Arthur, the Director of the Australian College of Contemporary Somatic Psychotherapy, one Jeff Barlow, has no formal training in psychology, either. Reading between the lines, one might conclude that the College’s view of the “toxic culture” inherent in non-holistic psychology has lead most of its members to eschew it entirely, although given the number of somatic psychologists who don’t appear to have studied it at all, one wonders where and how they have developed this perspective. Curiouser and curiouser.

It is not difficult to concede the existence of a genuine link between our physical and mental health, but by all accounts, the teachings of People Knowhow and their affiliates seems to resemble cultish mysticism more than genuine science. Combine the cryptic poetry and riddle-style aphorisms espoused by Richard Arthur, his lack of any relevant formal training and the fact that People Knowhow conducts corporate workshops, and you have a recipe for hokum, pseudo-science and general malaise. Perhaps I’ve been forced to attend too many day-long management courses, but I am deeply cynical of any form of emotional work-based consultancy, particularly in forms which claim to incorporate genuine elements of psychology – or, for that matter, any other discipline in which the facilitator lacks training. I once, for instance, had to listen to a grown woman tell me that the concept of human synergistics was pioneered by Aristotle. So when someone like Richard Arthur suggests, against all logic, that “the amount a person suffers in their life is related to how much they are resisting”, my bullshit detector goes into overdrive. When, on the same page, Mr Arthur references Turning Point and says that the course teaches “a cluster of techniques for permanently raising your stress threshold” so that “when the world doesn’t cooperate with you, your distress will be less extreme”, I wonder how many of those “techniques” were taught to Rebekah Lawrence.

How much longer can this culture of faux-uplifting, change-your-life consultancy by uninformed, pseudo-intellecual, would-be dilettantes continue? When will we wake up to ourselves? The real toxic culture is being peddled by modern witchdoctors, not trained psychologists.

I’ve been pretty silent lately on the subject of news and popular culture, not because there’s been a dearth of commentworthy topics, but because I’ve been singletracked by a pesky plot point in Book the Second. With the cancellation of Dance Your Ass Off, however, I can no longer remain silent. The time has come again to get my whinge on.

For those of you who’ve long since burned your TV guides, abandoned the internet and turned your unplugged plasma screens into a lightweight building material (and who are therefore presumably reading this via telepathy, the secret transmitters in your fillings or the subether waveband), Dance Your Ass Off was intended as a reality TV cross-pollination of Dancing With The Stars and The Biggest Loser, viz: fat people dancing competitively in order to lose weight.

Process that for a moment, if you can.

In what should come as a shock to absolutely nobody on the face of the Earth, ever, the show has been cancelled after one episode. However, in what should count as the jusitifcation for the extinction of the human species should a race of eccentric aliens ever point a space-based laser cannon at our fair globe and demand a moral accounting of our foibles, no less than one million Americans still watched the debut episode.

Process that for a moment, if you can.

In today’s news, the executives of Oxygen, the channel on which Dance Your Ass Off aired, explained the modus operandi behind a show which Absolute Power’s Charles Prentiss and Martin McCabe might very well have dreamed up in one of their more cynical moments – which is saying something – thusly: “that dance and diet were two areas of interest for younger viewers, so combining both themes into one show made sense.”

Process that for a moment, if you can.

This is more than stupidity. This is bot logic. The independent popularity of two things in no way suggests that they should be combined, unless your are a crazy person. Just because the human race currently needs oil and water to survive doesn’t mean we should try and blend them into a single super-substance that we both drink and use for fuel. Ice-cream and steak are both pretty good, but would you serve them together? (Note: lovers of chicken fried steak and twinkies aren’t allowed to answer that question.) I mean, seriously. The satire practically writes itself.

Unless, God help us all, you are Oxygen’s senior VP of original programming and development, Amy Introcaso-Davis, who said of the show that “if you have five pounds to lose or 150 pounds to lose, it’s something you think about all day long.”

Message for Oxygen: you’re so concerned with weight loss? Why not trim the Goddam fat from your upper management circles. Make them dance through the boardroom as they leave. Dangle the possibility of rehiring if they can demonstrate that they have had a single original, nonsensical thought since 2000, or at all. Film everything secretly, then air it.

It’s not like you haven’t made worse  programming decisions.