Archive for December, 2008

As 2008 draws gracefully to a close, one is lead, somewhat inevitably, to confront the imminent¬†prospect of its replacement. Next year, for instance, I will¬†turn twenty-three, complete my Bachelor of Arts and celebrate my second wedding anniversary. Steps will be taken which might, possibly, result in an eventual¬†move to China. Possibly – and very hopefully – someone might offer to publish my book. Regardless of whether this happens, the likelihood is that I’ll finish writing the sequel. I may also get drunk. And so on.

2009, therefore, is clearly a year for productive resolutions. Ignoring the typical-but-inevitable desires for better health and athleticism, here are mine:

1. My rolemodels for 2009 will be Zoe Washburne,

Zoe Washburne, 2iC on Serenity (Firefly class)

Zoe Washburne, 2iC on Serenity (Firefly class)

Temperence Brennan

Dr Temperence Bones Brennan

Dr Temperence 'Bones' Brennan

 and Jane Lane

Jane Lane, of Daria fame

Jane Lane, of Daria fame

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– because fictional or not, these ladies rock.

2. After a five-year hiatus,¬†I will take up¬†tennis again.¬†However, in the spirit of good sportsmanship, I shall¬†refrain from sulking when it turns out that I’m nowhere near as good as I used to be, because the point is to have fun, and also because I’ll get better again with practice. See that, universe? That’s growth.

3.¬†I will write more short stories, because they’re enjoyable, and because they’re a good way to figure out where the hell my writing style is headed.¬†

4. I will maintain and broaden my addiction to awesome TV shows, because a little immaturity is an excellent thing.

5. I will endeavour to surprise myself – and others – as often as possible. This may involve props.

6. I will reupholster my armchair anarchism.

7. I will find my poetry, and run with it.

8. I will do more jigsaw puzzles.

9. I will locate a second pair of comfortable pants, delight in getting caught in the rain, listen more, talk less, sing shamelessly in public and wear crazy hats.

And:

10. I will give thanks to Vizinczey.

You’ve been good to me, 2008. I’ll remember you fondly.

2009? Bring it on.

As with just about every other slang word or phrase in my vocabulary, I don’t remember the first time I said that so-and-so had hooked up. If I had to guess, I’d say it was somewhere in my mid-teens, which is when (ahem) the term first properly started to have personal relevance. For those unfamiliar with the phraseology, it essentially means that the object¬†met, kissed, hung out¬†and/or¬†had a one night stand with someone. The connotative emphasis is on casual (but usually sexual) interaction, while¬†the term is both standard and¬†non-judgemental.¬†As far as I know, it’s been around since at least the nineties, but apparently some people are only just getting a handle on it, as per this curious¬†op-ed in today’s New York Times:¬†The Demise of Dating. ¬†I say ‘curious’ because, right up until the final three paragraphs, it seems like the writer, one Charles M. Blow, is onside with both word and meaning, or at least an impartial observer. It turns out he isn’t. And that startled me, because I’d more or less assumed that hooking up was a pretty understandable phenomenon.

Blow’s complaint is both simple and, in the context, nonsensical: that instead of training to date, young folks nowadays have lost the ability to get to know one another. This seems to be a fairly unintuitive conclusion, especially given Blow’s earlier assertion that hooking up takes place mostly between friends: that is to say, among groups of people who already know each other. Despite acknowledging that this is a modern reversal of the dating structure he remembers from college, Blow fails to link the reversal to a changed social reality. When he talks about girls tiring of hooking up sooner than boys because ‘they want it to lead to a relationship’ and later realising ‘that it’s not a good way to find a spouse’, he is parroting gender stereotypes more closely aligned to the 1950’s than today. The idea that girls might be looking for neither spouses nor relationships seems alien to the writer, as does any notion that men might desire these things, too. One can readily see why Blow needed the concept explained to him; but even so, his understanding still falls short.

Personally, I think it’s a sign of progress that people no longer train to date; and in fact, the word¬†date itself¬†feels dated, or at least decidedly American –¬†another hangover of Blow’s (I suspect distant) youth. I don’t recall that I ever dated: instead, I hooked up or¬†went out. The whole idea of dating as a means of getting to know the opposite sex smacks of an era before co-ed friendships were the norm,¬†wherein partners couldn’t be drawn from one’s existing circle of acquaintances, but¬†had to¬†be sought – and interviewed – externally. In reality, such a concept of dating has been fundamentally usurped by mixed friendships¬†in an era of¬†sexual liberation, such that¬†when friends hook up, the ‘dating’ part has effectively already happened.

Random hook-ups are also common, but hardly a point of contention, unless one objects to premarital shenannigans. Ultimately, both Blow and his source, Professor Bogle, seem unintentionally antiquated. Kudos to them for grappling with a changed world, but despite trying for objective analysis, both end up reconfiguring the concept against their own, older ideals. Hooking up is here to stay, friends Рand that, I think, is a good thing.

Passing through my local second-hand parlour this weekend, I spotted three VHS tapes of the original, unadulterated Star Wars films – complete with original 80’s cover-art, pristine in all their seemingly unwatch’d beauty – and fell upon them with inarticulate cries of joy, punctuated here and there by feverish mumblings about nineties release-dates, pre-CGI meddling, Han Shot First and the original Ewok song. Six dollars and several minutes later, I came partially to my senses (only partially, because I still think of it as a prurient investment) and realised that we don’t have a functioning VHS player. Several meters¬†further still, I remembered that I was, in fact, wearing my Joss Whedon Is My Master Now t-shirt, on account of how I’d been hosting a¬†Firefly marathon. This lead me to experience a moment of disorienting guilt as to the exact nature of the Dark Side.

Subsequently, I would like to blame Antiques Roadshow’s recent 80’s-themed edition, wherein certain Star Wars memorabilia was valued, for my actions. Watching it, I am¬†certain, directly contributed to my belief that paying money for VHS tapes I cannot actually¬†play was an appropriate – nay, necessary – act, but seeing as how Google is unforthcoming as to the probable¬†worth of said merchandise, I am currently lacking external vindication. (Rats.)¬†

Also, at¬†this afternoon’s office Christmas party, I played lawn bowls while wearing a humerous Santa hat.¬†Photos were taken. They will be incriminating.

As a genre, I categorically loathe reality TV, primarily because – despite the name – there is nothing real about it. There’s a fundamental tackiness to taking a bunch of aggro, whiny, pouty¬†ingrates and locking them in an artificial environment with arbitrary rules designed exclusively, or so it seems, to exaggerate their behaviour and turn even the most tolerable participant into a caricature, no matter the window-dressing. I hate the explotative, morbid fascination these shows generate in people; the idea of nation-wide popularity contests; the kitsch showmanship that is brought even to the least awful end of the scale, wherein gifts or new gardens are bestowed upon charity cases. Reality TV is Not My Bag, Baby, and then some.

Still, people everywhere lap it up: rich and poor, religious¬†and secular, bright¬†and foolish, awful¬†and lovely, young and old alike. Despite dissenters like myself, the¬†world at large grooves on reality TV –¬†for the time being, at least. And supposedly, the reason for this is the human element: the fact that¬†all the posers, princesses, whore-madonnas, mansluts, bogans, C-list celebrities, tryhards, dorks and wannabees are supposedly representative of the population, which fact ensures that the audience relates. The total non-reality of the premise is conveniently overshadowed by the illusion of real people behaving as they would normally do, if (say) they were suddenly stranded on an island, locked in a loony bin or forced to turn into real estate agents. Even the most guilty viewer tends to justify the act as ‘people watching’, or something equally pseudo-scientific. Deep down, it seems, we have a voyeristic¬†urge to watch others of our own species at their worst.

Which is why, reading of British outcry at the fact that Craig Ewert’s death by euthenasia was aired on national television, I feel very, very angry. Because Ewert’s death – the actual,¬†tragic realness of it – is what reality TV shys away from, and yet purports to represent: the struggle of real people to cope with real obstacles. The same nation which rejoices in Idol and Big Brother shrieks in protest at an instant of actual, meaningful reality and – God forbid¬†– the fact that it might provoke serious¬†thought in the audience. At the very least, such outrage should make people realise that what they’ve been watching isn’t real, and, indeed,¬†never was; that all their cries of sensationalist vouyerism are hypocritical, given that the producers behind American Idol¬†are capable of putting a known stalker on their show to get a rise from one of their hosts, then shrugging when she subsequently commits suicide. In what universe should¬†a brave man’s death¬†be viewed as more awful than that?

Wake up, Western World. Wake up, put up, shut up and watch something real. Or would that be a bit too much like caring?

Behold! Рmy latest column, Jingo Bells, is now available at Halo 17 for your intellectual and viewing pleasure.  This week, I detail the trials and travails of patriotism. Come one, come all!

You can blame Nick Harkaway Рor rather, his thoughts on waterboarding Рfor this post, which began life as a comment on his blog. So: my thoughts on the subject of simulated torture.

“Simulated drowning” makes the whole question of waterboarding sound like a question of virtual reality. Which is intriguing.

Say someone developed a perfect VR machine and plugged in a suspected terrorist without that person’s knowledge. For days, weeks or hours, the suspect undergoes what they believe to be excruciating physical torture, when in fact it’s all just skillful, pain-and-sensory simulated VR. Having subsequently divulged their information or, if innocent, made up enough to satisfy their captors, they are then unplugged, waking – disoriented and frightened – to find themselves whole and strapped to a table, their flesh undamaged.

Which begs the question: in this hypothetical instance, has the Geneva Convention actually been violated? Given the fact of psychological torture, one would think so, because the intent was the same as if actual torture had been employed, a sort of Orwellian examination of the limits of human endurance. Which would, by inference, suggest that simulated drowning, despite the name, cannot be differentiated from torture, the entire point of which is not to kill, but to extract information under threat of pain and the fear of more to come. How anyone can believe waterboarding doesn’t fall into this category is beyond me; but if a VR torture chamber were invented, would anyone condone¬†its use as a more ‘moral’ alternative to conventional torture purely on the basis¬†that no physical harm was done?

The thought of people responding in the affirmative frightens me.

Whenever I listen to music, I focus on lyrics. The feel of a song is important – whether it tugs at me, what mood it evokes, how well it flows – but the relationship between that feel and the lyrics is paramount. Fundamentally, I’m¬†both a words person and a poetry nerd, which means that not only am I unable to tolerate bad lyrics, I can’t block them out. This means, somewhat aggravatingly, that I end up learning the lyrics to Delta Goodrem songs purely through chance exposure, like¬†skirting the perimeter of Chernobyl frequently enough to incur radiation poisoning. By contrast, my Long-Suffering Husband has the opposite reaction: being a musician, he finds it extremely difficult to listen to lyrics at all, simply because his attention diverts automatically to¬†composition.¬†This means that despite ‘hearing’ the same information, we process it so differently that neither one can register the source of the other’s interest.

Being word-oriented means I tend to gravitate towards individual songs rather than particular bands or artists: I’m not after melodic replication or common themes, but some kind of subjectively-approved symbiosis between music and lyrics. I don’t mind simplicity, brevity or repitition, provided they work – which, particularly in fast-paced songs like Moby’s Bodyrock – they¬†often do. I’m also a sucker for dual interpretation, wherein the same lyrics express two ideas. My favourite (geeky) example of this comes courtesy of Joss Whedon and the Buffy musical, as Spike, a vampire, sings his love for Buffy: called Rest In Peace, the song weaves between typical love-ballad and specific references to the fact that the singer is undead. Similarly, I love lyrics that tell a story, a¬†la¬†Don MacLean’s American Pie and Vincent; these examples are¬†classic poetry in their own right,¬†while more recent songs, like Release by George, are very much in an abstract, e e cummings oeuvre (although I have to be in the right mood).

Like most people, the music I dance or exercise to is beat-heavy, if only because the necessity of volume tends to drown out the lyrics; a few of these songs I’ll listen to for pleasure, but generally, there’s a difference between music I play when I’m walking, cycling or cleaning the house, and what I prefer in the background. Otherwise, I tend to¬†like soft music: songs like Love A Diamond (Tonic) and Mad World (Gary Jules), which I listened to compulsively through school, or¬†new obsessions¬†like Set Free (Katie Gray), Shipwrecked (Shane Alexander) and Fault Line (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club), all of which I’ve gleaned from watching Bones and iTunesing appropriately¬†(which is , coincidentally, a great way to find new artists).

Still, it’s interesting how different the addition of music makes, such that most lyrics, no matter how powerful when sung, would fall flat if anyone tried to read them as poetry; and yet some manage it. On that note, I’ll leave you with the lyrics of another Bones song I’ve taken a shine to – it’s my transcription, as there doesn’t seem to be one available online,¬†but the song is readily downloadable. So:

Tears and Laughter

(Tall Tree 6ft Man)

No one’s going to come along and line your palms with gold,¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†

And if they did, you would unfold;

And if they did, you’d be wrong to take it.

After all the tears and all the laughter,

Your happiness is a string of disasters –

Oh, what more could someone ask for?

No one’s going to say it’s wrong to set alight your soul,

But if they did, where would it go

With all your home in ashes?

After all the fear of showing ages,

On your face like the heavy scent of time

When time is all we’re after.

Step away, stay in the light,

Then we’ll watch them all walk by

To the waterside.

After all the fear of showing ages,

On your face like the heavy scent of time

When time is all we’re after.

Still, on all the walls we have reminders

Of the times we left behind us,

Now all your words are silence.

Step away, stay in the light,

Then we’ll watch them all walk by

To the waterside.

Dear Gods of Television,

Praise unto You for the gift of Daria, Seasons One through Five! As foretold in the ancient prophecies, Your generosity is boundless; yea, even unto providing a free downloadable player compatable with .rm files. Sing hallelujah also for this bounty of Torchwood, which brings us the wonder of John Barrowman getting it on with James Marsters; and verily, lest we seem ungrateful, your lowly acolytes must call further praise on the early arrival of Bones, Season Two, just as we anticipate the festive gift of Season Three, which has that episode where Bones and Booth totally kiss, which will be Awesome.

Thanks unto thee, Gods, for turning thy Universal Remote on those tireless Earthly avatars who, though they know it not, work tirelessly in Your service, be they family, friends, or the humble staff of Amazon and JB Hi Fi; for the DVDs, movies and soundtracks are Yours, now and forever, Amen.