1 More Reason ‘Why Not’

So first up I need to throw out a big ole spoiler warning for 13 Reasons Why season 2. If you haven’t seen this yet and think you might one day. Please save this article for afterwards. Not only will I spoil some stuff for you – this piece really requires an understanding of the season as a whole to be read and understood. Thanks for stopping by and I’ll see you again soon.

So, I have written and re-written this piece 4 times over the last couple of weeks. Primarily because the first two versions read far too close to what basically amounted to me having a whinge about creative differences with a team who are clearly more successful than myself. That is not a look I have ever wanted for myself, so those two drafts were out. The next one just wasn’t punchy enough – because make no mistake this is a topic about which I have more vitriol than I want to admit to.

I have a serious amount of time for the TV adaptation of 13 Reasons Why. Or rather, I have had that time in the past. The final scenes of season two have made me reconsider my position on the show as a whole – or at the very least how I view its messages. I thought that season 1 and the way it dealt with depression, suicide and rape was bold, confronting and important. The series and its creators didn’t seem to be cowed by the fact they were marketing very heavy, very involved discussions to a vulnerable audience. They didn’t seem interested in babying the future generation of adults. Nor did they seem interested in continuing the worrisome trend within modern society of allowing the infantilization of our youths to continue far past a point where such practices are useful. Season one famously broke a number of guidelines about depicting suicide and rape in media in order to drive home the true, brutal and lifechanging impact that these events can and do have on individuals and groups. Season 2 continued this trend almost all the way to then end. And then pulled its final, and I think, most valuable punch.

Despite continuing to strive boldly in showing the horror of rape and systemic protection of rapists in a realistic and informative light, season 2 of 13RW seems to have no real interest in exploring other significant issues despite having spent considerable time over both current series developing a B plot around Tyler as an emerging school shooter. This is where my break from the show has begun to emerge.

After seeing the initial set up in season 1 with Tyler’s large chest of weapons and seeing how he was routinely mistreated by the bad ‘Jocks’, the heroic outcasts and the broader school community I had an inkling that this would be developed as the series went on. Lo and behold, THE B plot of season 2 centred on how the type of routine abuse that Tyler was subjected to; abuse that seemed to fall beneath the radar not only of the school as an institution but of people who had told Tyler they cared lead to a serious break for this young man. This culminates in him being all but abandoned by anyone even resembling a friend in his life, regardless of social ‘station’, and literally sodomised with a mop handle in a truly brutal attack that bears the shows signature dedication to making the audience feel the true impact of teen issues. After this Tyler goes home and in his pain and true misery, seemingly plans to conduct a shoot-out at the prom that night

Now when I say that seeing so much time and effort put into building this plotline ‘excited’ me – I feel that I 100% need to clarify, I wasn’t excited to see simulated tragedy. The thing that had me so excited was the idea that a powerful voice in the ongoing #metoo movement was willing to show that despite having a significant portion of the current public attention that there were other sinister issues that needed to be addressed within western society. Issues, which much like rape and rape culture that have festered in the darkness of social invisibility. I was excited that a sane and rational voice from within a movement that can currently be described as ‘powerful’ was willing to reach in and elevate the visibility of another issue that we need to face together before we lose more young people to tragic and avoidable deaths. I was excited to see such a nuanced degree of self-awareness from a portion of progressive society that has, in my opinion, languished in retributive justice ideology and reactionary philosophy for far too long. I was excited to see a group of people with a platform willing to share that platform with others, equally at risk as themselves and boldly tell the world that it was time for us to face another demon.

But they balked, they choked – they copped out. Dues Ex Machina. Clay talks Tyler down – an M16 pointed at his head, whilst Tyler is literally still bleeding from his anus as Clay does so.

Yes – this might still encourage some discussion on a critical issue. Yes season 3 might spend some significant portion of its runtime on exactly this issue. However, the refusal to take Tyler’s plot through to its ‘full’ horrific end state, in a show that has not pulled any punches to date on horrific tragedy and violence smacks of disingenuousness within the creative staff. It says, to me at least, that this issue isn’t as important to the creative staff as Rape, or suicide. I simply cannot accept this. Not after having seen so much potential in the character arc that had been established for Tyler and the type of revelatory message that was ‘lost’ with this ending.

Just before I binged through season 2 of 13RW I happened to watch the Munk debate on political correctness. During this debate – Stephen Fry admitted to being afraid when he made public statements on his position. This shocked me, as within the conduct of the debate both the for and against members expressed a considerable love and respect for Fry and his personal philosophy. Fry has always seemed to me to be a fairly beloved centre in debates around touchy subjects, so to hear him espouse fear was truly unnerving. This ‘fear’ is the only way I can make sense of why 13RW took the easy way out at the end of season 2. It felt as if the creative team behind the show had bowed to this great fear that Fry had hit on. Either because of the minority of shrill reactionary members of the #metoo community that wouldn’t approve of a voice in their court sharing ‘their’ spotlight. Or because of equally shrill gun positives within the broader US community shouting the show down for perpetuating violence ‘myths’. In either direction a show and a creative team that had for 2 years not pulled a punch in their crusade for nuanced and real discussion around some of the biggest issues affecting our young people backed away from that quest at the exact moment I had hoped they would double down.

It leaves me feeling – horribly, truly – hollow. Like even those voices within our social narrative that have the power to truly say something, do not have enough strength to rise above the maniacal forces of single issue zealots, people obsessed with a retributive system of social justice or those who have a vested interest in preserving a monstrous status quo. And, I just do not know beyond screaming into my own corner of the internet abyss and trying, desperately, to open up some of these discussions about what we can do to fight for a world that we want. What we can do to send the right messages to finally create a world we can be proud of.

Advertisements

Talking Solo

This might be contentious – or not – but, I enjoyed Solo: A Star Wars Story. Earnestly. I think that it was a well-made film and far from the worst predictions of ruining a character/s it actually added to the mythos in a big way (with one obvious, red, exception).

From a technical standpoint the photography is gorgeous – not cutting-edge or craft leading but engrossing and well considered. The colour pallet is vibrant, varied and visually engaging. The choices of locale are divergent enough that the film never feels stale and you are getting new spaces to examine and settle into at about exactly the right pace so that you aren’t left feeling like the film is rushing. There is the obligatory ‘hive of scum and villainy’ moment that features an absolute cornucopia of imaginative creature designs and plays off some of them in delightfully charming ways as the scene unfolds.

This isn’t surprising given that Ron Howard was at the helm of the production team, as always, his product is well above average. Perhaps, lacking the signature flourish of a Lucas or Spielberg film – but consistently entertaining beat to beat. The film knows what it is about and gets right down to doing it. Masterfully, Howard manages to imbue so much of Han’s signature charm right into the structure of the film itself; each scene seems to exude the very smoothness Han embodies.

The performances are rock solid all-round. Alden Ehrenreich is exactly as smooth and slick as he needs to be to win over audiences as young Han and Donald Glover oozes Lando from the very first moment he is on screen. The standout performances for my money however, were Emilia Clarke and Woody Harrelson. Clarke has advanced leagues from her turn in Terminator and carries her integral role with the exact right mix of shrewdness and excitement as the film goes on. Harrelson is perfectly fit for his turn as a grizzled mentor figure to the young cast, his character arc is satisfying – if a touch predictable.

But for the most part you likely have already heard this from far more reputable sources and most people who wanted to see this already have. I want to spend some time talking about something I have seen around the web that is rather contrary to the review so far. My primary point of difference from other critiques I have encountered is that I enjoy the mid-plot turn presented by the film. As the plot progresses it becomes clear for spoilery type reasons that Han is not as ‘Scum and Villain’ as his appearance in the early parts of A New Hope might have been taken to indicate. This has ruffled a few feathers, and far better critics than I – with far more investment in the Star Wars history and franchise have suggested that this seriously undercuts his character arc in Hope.

Now I can certainly see the merit in this argument – it really does undercut the transformation from Rogue to Hero that is ‘apparently’ taking place over the course of episode IV. But thinking about this problem somewhat more laterally – I have to disagree. Solo doesn’t destroy this arc, but it has shifted it somewhat.  Now to continue I need to bring in one serious spoiler in here to make this argument cogent – I will attempt to minimise it though.

So, Han knowingly walks away from a life changing score in order to help the little guys and deal a blow to the big bads.  As he is doing this the ‘little guys’ in question invite him to join the nascent rebellion that his charity has effectively enable and he declines, suggesting he has to return to his life of swashbuckling piracy in space.

As suggested above, this doesn’t so much completely undercut Han’s development in episode IV for me as it does make it more nuanced and interesting.  One of the defining features of Han’s character is that he is a bad smuggler. Every time he is introduced (E4/ E7) we find him in debt to some gangster he has disappointed or another. Solo finally shows us why this keeps happening to him. As Emilia Clarke puts it – he is the good guy – and he always has been. This means that in episode 4 what we are seeing is not so much Han’s personal transformation from rogue to hero but, much more interestingly the final acceptance of his inherent character. What we are seeing is Han accepting that it is no longer enough to enable the rebellion in the course of his otherwise self-centred adventures but to accept a personal truth that he has spent his entire life avoiding – that his is in fact a hero.

I think that this actually make Han far far more interesting and relatable. A man, who is good, has been forced by his upbringing to do bad things struggling over a lifetime with accepting that he is not defined by his past. His future is not set in stone by the reality of his misdeeds. Han accepting that he can be a hero even while playing the rogue.

I’ll leave you with one last argument is support of this point. The Dungeons and Dragons alignment system is largely considered the gold standard for discussing the morality of fictional beings. If you take a poke around at pop culture examples of this system Han is almost always placed in the Chaotic Good section. Han’s character arc in the original film is not so much a transformation from Evil or Neutral to Good (as he and we thought it was) but rather the realisation and acceptance that there is an entire other axis upon which the system relies; the type of personal growth that allows for a nuanced understanding of the self. Han realises that he can be, and is good – without being lawful.

 

Treading Down The Path.

So the other day I read in the paper that Ed Sheeran has recently broken the record for most tickets sold to a stadium tour of Australia. Ed sold an actual Million tickets, which dethroned Dire Straits’ 960,000 – a record held since 1986. This had me somewhat worried, I wasn’t sure I was kosher handing over such a significant record to a ‘new’ musician. This isn’t to lay claim to the position of absolute arbiter of what is and is not ‘good’ music – I was just unnerved to see a record held by a band I admired retreat into the future. Eventually I reminded myself that, in fact, I like Ed Sheeran. I own all 3 of his major albums and I probably sing his material in my ‘shower hit list’ more than I would like to admit. Still a small part of me felt somehow historically aggrieved that a piece of my cultural past seemed to have been diminished. I was raised on Dire Straits – I have precious few happy memories of my childhood, certainly not many involving those who would later become my abusers.  One of the few strongly positive memories I have from my early days is the first time I heard Brothers in Arms. The sound of Knopfler’s iconic picking building a resonance deep inside me, that I still feel listening to the song today.  Despite all this, I reminded myself that Ed Sheeran is both objectively good and, certainly based on my understanding of his career, entirely deserving of his success – I like everybody, love the rags to riches underdog stories.

I went to work that day and had a conversation about this record with many of my older colleagues and their responses fit largely into two categories. The first being those who didn’t really care for Dire Straits and thus were largely uninterested and the second being those who, like me, had a certain cultural nostalgia for ‘the good old days’. I mean there were others who were huge Sheeran fans and had actually attended the concert the previous night, but they are largely irrelevant to the point at hand… Those who were unimpressed that Ed had beaten out Knopfler almost universally appealed to the greater quality of Strait’s catalogue. Which is where the cracks started to form.

Flash forward to a fortnight later. I have just finished watching the 2017 remake of Power Rangers. Half of me is still buzzing uncontrollably from the opening of the films third act. Whereby fully CGI Zords have just run across the screen to the original western Power Rangers theme. The other half is struggling to understand the early stages of cognitive dissonance I felt setting in. When asked about the film’s quality I immediately, and unthinkingly, responded with ‘Shit’. But this answer did not satisfy me in the least. The film had been fun, light-hearted on the whole, but unafraid to meaningfully engage, or at the very least attempt to engage, with the struggles of being a teenager who for some reason does not fit a mould. I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was derivative in this sense though. Even going so far as to surmise the plot as – “The breakfast club become Power Rangers”. However, in many regards I preferred the Rangers, because what self-respecting geek wouldn’t prefer his teen coming of age drama to also feature a 100ft monster made of gold… in any case despite not really having enjoyed the bulk of the emotional material the film had to offer, I could see how a younger less confident version of me would have absolutely devoured it.

This was the uncomfortable moment where it all fell in to place for me. I had gotten old. There was now officially a noticeable cultural generation underneath me. I was no longer a member of ‘the youth’. This realisation hit me like a slap full across the face. Young was generally the first adjective I would use in any description of myself. So to realise that it was no longer us fully applicable as it had been a mere two hours before was shocking. But It made me realise that there was a beauty to this new positon, I could appreciate culture in a new way. More objectively than I had previously seen it, I could now look at emerging properties and trends that were not made for me.

Both Ed Sheeran and Power Rangers had shown me something that as I grow older my image of what is formative and relevant and classic needs to grow with me. Music and culture and art can be timeless – but that is an incredibly high bar to clear. Even the best art is likely just – very good. And as such will age and become less effective and affecting with time. The idea that 2017’s Power Rangers was just “The Breakfast Club, just as Rangers” highlights this for me more astutely than I would have first thought possible. The breakfast Club is a classic, but it has aged and that is not a tragedy it is a product of reality. Time changes all things and we too must change with them.

We continue to move forward as a culture and create new and exciting versions of the timeless tales we always have. Timelessness here represents not so much a film or piece of art that has transcended time but rather a story that is spun up from the collective unconscious every time it’s last iteration loses value or meaning. Instead of viewing this process with revulsion or fear I want to learn how to embrace it better, and I challenge you to do the same.

 

 

 

All These Lights and Sounds.

This one has been a while in the pipeline. Not because the subject matter is challenging or because I haven’t had the idea fully formed in my head. Rather, because it has only recently resurfaced inside the contents of my consciousness as something that needs addressing for the rest of the world. To rephrase, this is something that I have long held to be kind of an inherent truth of Art – It is the role of Art / The Artist to describe ‘The Human Condition’. Now, that is an immense responsibility and certainly I don’t expect all ‘Art’ to fill this billet equally. Certainly, the expectations I place on Shakespeare are notably higher than those I place on the most recent Fast and the Furious film in this regard. But all Art has something to contribute to this process. As an aside, I feel that this owes a great deal to the fact that Art like Mathematics, exists external to Humanity and we merely transmit it by momentarily channelling it – we call this process ‘inspiration’ or ‘The Muse/s’. So, each piece of this greater universal truth adds some small piece to the consistent search for communal meaning that we all seem to share.

That was a pretty hefty intro – admittedly – but I wanted to fully situate you all in the type of idealistic mindset I slip into when I am considering any Art.

Recently, I finally managed to convince my poor and longsuffering partner to sit down and watch Darren Aronofsky’s most recent film Mother! I have been excited to see this film for about 2 years now. I gave my partner a stay of execution when the film was in cinemas. She had originally agreed to go and see it there with me, but as soon as I read the first reviews out of the US, I knew it was not going to be something that she would enjoy – all the reviews agreed on two things about the film, the film was both unforgivingly visually brutal and entirely open ended to the point of mindfuckery. This, for the record, basically describes my perfect film – and I am a huge fanboy for Aronofsky.

The end result of the viewing was less horrific/ painful than I might have imagined. My partner had reservations about the lengths the film had gone to in order to make it’s point. And she also didn’t like the fact that there was not a traditionally satisfying narrative conclusion. However, much to my surprise and satisfaction, she engaged in a fairly robust discussion about the 3 or 4 different readings of the film we could immediately discern from using a few quick google searches for other common readings of the film. This process made me remember why I adore these types of films – films that invite audience speculation. Because they allow for many tiny windows into that universal Human Condition I mentioned earlier.

Not particularly wanting to engage fully here with the continuing debate about Authorial Intent and its ir/relevance to how one should read a piece of Art – I shall merely note that I do not frequently look up a definitive statement by those engaged in the creative process and leave it at that.

With that put firmly to one side, I think it is the highest achievement of film when there are multiple equally valid and rather different ways to engage with the ‘text’. I think that these types of films have an important role to play in ensuring that we as a society are able to develop and maintain the type of curiosity that allows us to fully engage with films as Art. Specifically they allow everyone to engage across multiple readings, not just cinema geeks and critics.

It is common for cinema geeks and their ilk to analyse films by applying multiple genre lenses to them and thus be able to provide a type of ‘deep engagement’ to a fairly broad range of films. That type of analysis is a learned and practiced skill and I think films that have open ended narratives, like Mother!, are the gateway to that skill. I think that films that openly challenge the audience to look deeper and think about what the film is saying to them specifically and individually, have the potential to open people up to seeing this type of multiplicity of meaning in a far broader range of materials than they may have seen previously.

Now it is important to note here, lest a throng of angry Art purists batter down my door and lynch me, that this is not the exclusive domain of Film as Art. This type of invitation to engagement has existed for far longer than Film as an art form – I am just talking about it in this fashion as: 1) It was the first method by which I personally received this type of invitation and 2) I suspect that it is the most common method for people these days, as film has become almost ubiquitous in its circulation globally.

I think that it is important to remember that Art is only as valuable to us personally as we allow it to be. Authors, Creators and Channelers around the world, spend countless hours slaving away to manifest a piece of the collective unconscious in an attempt to make the world a more beautiful and meaningful place, or at least to provide a momentary reprieve from the cosmic dread that sits at the heart of everyone. I consider it to be a small victory for the ‘good guys’ every time I see a film or other piece of Art that openly invites and challenges its audience to take the time to notice the bigger and more meaningful picture it is painting about our lives.

Demystifying the Disney Myth

Over the course of a number of conversations in the last few weeks, it has become apparent to me that I have been living a truth I never really noticed nor truly realised. Now the explanation to follow – that outlines the nature of this ‘truth’ may seem banal to some. And for that I do apologise. But this has taken me years, blood, sweat and more than a few tears to come to and it now that I have truly grasped it – I wanted to share it, I wanted to maybe help some people find this truth a little faster than I have. Now this story is a little involved and requires a trip through the decidedly more warped parts of my psyche – but bear with me as we walk the thin line between Disney and happiness.

I looooooooooooove Disney films – like adore them – like have written about them in blogs before, like know all the words to, and frequently sing ‘Let’s Get Down to Business” – loudly. I love Disney -THAT MUCH!! So, when I say that as a young boy/man I had been ensnared by ‘The Disney Myth’, I doubt it will surprise you in the slightest. What is ‘The Disney Myth’? Well it is a nefarious offshoot of Romanticism. Specifically, it is the offshoot of classical Romanticism that afflicts those raised on happily ever after Disney films. Films that show the protagonist reaching self-actualisation either as a direct result of finding the love of their life, or as a lovely (and rather rewarding) coincidence of finding the love of their life.

Now we all know that the realities spun by Disney films are foolish fantasies for children. Mere distractions to help ease the burden of over tasked parents by enrapturing the children for 90 minutes at a stretch.  Unfortunately, despite the fact that we all intellectually accept, acknowledge and understand that the perfect partner for us isn’t actually a talking frog that falls into our lap, or a dashing street rat/ thief we just met. Sometimes we don’t actually stop ourselves from feeling as if maybe one day this could be the case. That maybe the reason we are failing to find love in our bleak modern existence, is because we just haven’t found that magical someone.  Now, very explicitly, what I am not trying to do right here is poo poo or decry the exactly two couples in the entire world who actually fit the Disney mould. You are a fantastic, magical and lovely exception to the rule and the world is made better by your being in it. However, for the rest of us; that type of magic doesn’t exist. That type of truly effortless and singular love is not ever going to be ‘for us’.  Not only is it not for us – but holding onto this idea is preventing us from moving forward in constructive and worthwhile relationships right now.

For most of us, the rather pedestrian experience of anxiety ridden nights on Tinder or blind dates or similar are the norm. These nights are often spent trying to work out if that other human across the table/ bar / bed is anyone close to the person we need in our lives right now. And all too often, these people are not. Not because they are a bad person or because we are truly an unworkable match, but rather because we (the Disney fans and romantics of the world) have expectations that make those of Donald Trump look prosaic by comparison. Because we are hopeless, hopeless romantics that still believe in a small, naive and protected corner of our heart that every single girl or boy we meet could be our Princess Aurora or Prince Charming. It is this belief that drives us to connect with this person/people and in turn, ensures that we will damage that connection irreparably almost immediately.

Love; the type that lasts, the type that feels good as it lasts (which is an even rarer breed still) requires change, requires a few sacrifices and compromises. The real evil of the Disney myth is that if you really really believe it, I mean believe it to the point where you feel it inside you. You will never be happy making these types of changes because you shouldn’t have to. Your Prince/Princess should be perfect. They should intuit your every need and respond before you even ask, and they most certainly should need to be reminded to brush their teeth at night time. Moreover, if you believe the Disney Myth – you won’t have a model in your head for what these types of changes and sacrifices look like. Because Disney never bothers to show you what happens after happily ever after.

There is a Frank Turner line that I adore, “Love is about all the changes you make and not just 3 small words”. It perfectly captures the problem of the Disney Myth. The myth would have us believe that love is instantaneous and complete in its magic and that those 3 small words represent the end to anxiety, loneliness and all those nasty Saturday nights spent yearning for ‘someone who understands’. Frank Turner’s line on the other hand shows that this is just not the case. Turner embraces change as the key feature of love. Change requires a number of things – but most glaringly it requires acceptance that no one is a perfect match, that no love emerges complete and wholly formed into existence in a single moment of tremulous and magical passion as a pair of eyes meet from across a darkened room… The small habit of not putting the toilet seat down, or of not coming to bed at the same time as you or anything else at all in some immeasurably small way proves that your love is not the perfect Disney cut-out they hitherto had supposedly been.

This can be a shock, it can be an unendurable shock. Certainly, in my time being a young, and often stupid man on this earth, this realisation has ended relationships. But I am here to tell you that it shouldn’t. That every time that a relationship dies because both parties had entirely unrealistic expectations of the other – because one or both parties needed a Disney saviour – Walt, that old Jew hating squillionaire, gets another dollar from Satan. If we want to make a better go of actually finding lasting happiness in our relationships, we need to stop buying into the Disney Myth and start accepting that the people who we love and who love us, are just as imperfect, crazy and relentlessly broken as we are and just like us, they can change for the better.

Subtlety and Fuckery.

So, I – like countless others it seems – was drawn in by the pithy title of Mark Manson’s recent literary offering and found myself working through ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F@*k’. Now up front I must admit that I have exactly no previous or other contemporaneous experiences with Manson’s blog or other works – so my broader contextual knowledge of the author is lacking. The intent of this piece is to be somewhat of a ‘hot take’ on how I experienced the book, because I have mentioned it to several friends and co-workers who have all asked me for my opinion as they: ‘Keep hearing that that one is good’ and ‘Should get around to reading it someday’. So, I thought hey – I have a blog and a semi-review, semi ramble through my experience of the book, in a mostly spoiler free manner, definitely fits my style and tone. So why not save myself some time giving this opinion out on repeat to all my different circles of friends over the next few weeks and commit it to binary.

Like many of the books I ingest I took Manson’s text in through my ears – god bless Audible and saving me from literally hours of monotonous driving a week. A quick completely non-spon aside here, if somehow you still haven’t trued audiobooks, or at least podcasts, just do. They will change how you view downtime and chores forever. Anyway; Manson didn’t narrate his own book in this instance, which I found a strange choice…. Many bigger, presumably busier author’s do these days – I have found it to be the standard, rather than the exception, so the fact that I was left with an, admittedly excellent, interpretation rather than the complete experience of the author’s intent and definitive tone, was a touch saddening. But that is a risk of the format and apart from leaving me with several unanswered ‘why’ questions, this didn’t impact my ‘reading’ at all. As I have suggested the narrator (Roger Wayne) was fantastic, I found his dry tome to be wholly suited to the text.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F@*k can be broadly split into 2 halves. The first is filled with punchy almost syllogistic ‘subtleties’ and the second is more fully fleshed out and so invariably contains far less sexy arguments from personal experience on the part of Manson.  I must admit I have a vivid recollection from the initial chapters of the book. I was sitting at a set of lights (on Toombul road of all places) listening to Manson (Wayne) wax lyrical about how we should divest ourselves of all fucks and there is nothing that is really worthy of our completely disparate supply of these precious little fuckers…. “NIHILIST” the accusation burst forth from me. Dirty filthy good for nothing Nihilist! Peddling his dreary, melancholy philosophy as self-help and getting paid to do it. My guard was raised – this man was trying to corrupt my beautiful existentialism with his honeyed words of darkness – I was sure of it. But given that I had spent this month’s Audible credit on this book (and that I am a completionist and also far too lazy to swap books with any degree of regularity) I pressed on.

As the book progressed and Manson fleshed out his personal story and how he came to develop his subtle position, I began to once again relax my intellectual guard. This book was the work of a man who had known failure and betrayal first hand – who was lazy, self-piteous and self-indulgent in all the ways that I find loathsome in myself. When I have the introspective energy to spot the beasts lounging around in my psyche and putrefying the place. As I delved deeper into the world according to Mike Manson, I found myself not only seeing the subtle differentiation of Mark’s position from that of those stinking Nihilists I had been so quick to throw him in with earlier in the text. But I was also thoroughly taken with the particularly accessible and earthy manner in which Manson had constructed not only his book, but also his thought. To be just a touch more specific; Manson’s bruises can be seen in every ‘page’ of this book. The hard-won nature of his wisdom can actually be felt. There is conviction, passion and sometimes even vitriol in his words and that cannot be faked – at least not to someone who writes a nothing blog in the middle of nowhere on the internet to rid himself of surplus conviction, passion and sometimes vitriol. That was what drew me to the end of The Subtle Art – not so much a desire to fully flesh out Mark’s particular little slice of dark existentialism – but rather a feeling of kinship with someone who wanted his life and his pain to be something more than what they might otherwise be if left unexamined and untold.

The greatest strength of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F@*k is that it and its author have honestly seen enough of the rougher side of life and don’t feel like watching you beat your head on the same old rocks. Despite having a start that might require some readers to steel themselves in order to get to the better meatier centre of the book – the journey is thoroughly worth taking – The Subtle Art is a charming and deeply relatable book that does deserves your time and one or two of your most precious resource -your fucks.

 

 

Retributive justice and its discontents.

So, disclaimer; this was written as a hot take at about 3 in the afternoon on International Women’s Day. I am aware that at the time of publishing – it is not, in fact, still IWD. 

-BB

Today is a great day, today is International Women’s Day. Today is a celebration of the continued movement for the equalisation of the playing field between the sexes around the world. At least that is what today is supposed to be. Unfortunately, there are elements within professional well-intentioned organisations that subvert and destroy this outcome. These elements, through a continued misunderstanding of what it is to be a feminist, fight for a retributive system of justice to be enforced upon the patriarchy that has held them back for so long. I ran into this in my own professional sphere this week and it so deeply disquieted me that I was moved to putting this piece together – oh well, I’ll get around to talking about Residual Self Image next week it seems.

In any case, I was putting together a guest list for a high level IWD event to be held in Brisbane earlier this week and canvasing my workplace for attendees – I approached one of the members of my team and we exchanged the obligatory jokes about the touchy nature of the event for some and I relayed that I had been brutally shot down by my boss last year when I tried to organise a similar event for International Men’s Day. The response I got from this person honestly shocked me “It’s what you deserve after being blessed by the patriarchy for so long”. I was stunned – surely this was a joke this person was intelligent, funny and charming, surely, they couldn’t hold such a troglodytic view of the world? “Surely you can’t honestly believe that retributive justice will solve the equality issues that we are facing?”  I asked. “Men need to be brought down a few pegs in order for Women to achieve equality”. At this point I politely made some noncommittal sounds and prefabricated phrases to extricate myself from the conversation before I got fired up and made an ass of myself in the workplace, particularly to someone who was more senior than myself.

This isn’t the first time I have run across this opinion in Australian popular culture or even within my own organisation and I can’t sit back and say nothing anymore. Now very explicitly, I am not trying to take a single thing away from IWD or the associated feminist/ egalitarian movement. I am trying to draw attention to fringe elements of the movement that have the potential to significantly hinder the continued progress of gender equality through poison and malice.

With that in mind – Broadly speaking as a society we expect that our laws mirror the values of the society that has constituted them. In Australia, we have a preventative / rehabilitative view on justice, the intent of punishment enforced by law is to prevent harm to the broader social group and try to rehabilitate members of our society that have lost their way, wherever and whenever we can manage it. The intent is not actually to punish unnecessarily, so it shocks me to find that on social issues such as gender equality there are elements that seem to ignore this broad social contract and attempt to bring about equality in this ‘zero-sum’ fashion. Now I am not so naive as to think that there aren’t elements within both the left and right spheres of political and cultural discourse that would implement retributive justice into law if they could (bring back the death penalty for instance – the ultimate expression of such justice). However, I am certainly convinced that the so called ‘feminists’ who push for retributive justice to be enacted upon men in order to level the playing field would cry out with a vengeance if such systems of justice became the social and legal norm.

My key point of contention with retributive justice is that it brings about a new injury for someone with every implementation. Every time someone is punished in kind for a slight it breeds a new source of resentment and suffering. We see this, not only in domestic laws but also in international humanitarian laws and the laws of armed conflict. Globally we agree that ‘an eye for and eye’ – does, in fact, leave the whole world blind. We simply cannot continue to allow fringe elements within the push for gender equality to continue to undermine the whole movement trough such narrow minded and destructive means as retributive justice. Not only are they hurting others, these people are hurting themselves by holding on to outdated and outmoded ideas that can only result in a cycle of dominance and suppression between the genders maintained rather than eliminated.

Instead of pushing the ‘mighty’ off their thrones, we ought to build new thrones for ourselves. The arguments that continue to rage about equality of opportunity vs equality of outcome aren’t going to go away any time soon – there is still far too much hurt left in people’s hearts, globally, for that. All I can do is ask you, my readers, to follow the golden rule – Do unto others… It honestly is the only way we will ever see true equality and true intellectual, spiritual and emotional peace between the genders in this world. One of the best ways I have ever seen this put forward was by The Doctor. The key is to forgive people, to forgive and let people know that they can build a future with you, together. That is what I ask of you all – the next time you catch yourself or a friend/loved one decrying ‘The Patriarchy’ or admonishing ‘Feminazis’ stop, and remember that in the ideological space that gender inhabits, words are bullets and they are continuing to fuel the cycle of ‘violence’ raging across the globe. Don’t let yourself be an unwitting solider in a war that you don’t want to fight.

In Defence of Games.

Recently I picked up a new Nintendo Switch for my Birthday and with it The Legend of Zelda; Breath of the Wild.  Now Zelda is a franchise that I go way back with – it is a franchise that will sell me a platform, I have bought 2 separate Nintendo portables in my years to play just 1 Zelda title. So, needless to say I have wanted to pump a great many hours into the experience. It brought up a discussion between my partner and I that pops up from time to time. My partner has playfully teased me on several occasions – almost always when a new Hearthstone expansion is released and/or when I get a title I have been waiting months for (I’m looking at you Complete Edition of Horizon; Zero Dawn) – about being ‘Addicted’ to this title or that and it has always stung just a little. This is an issue I have dealt with at several points throughout my life and I wanted to take the time to look at my own experiences with the darker side of game addiction and why it isn’t all bad.

Now up front – by in large I have a complex relationship with the terminology ‘game addiction’. It is not so much that I think it does not exist, I have spent enough time logged into World of Warcraft in my life for that argument to hold exactly no water with anyone who knows me. Rather the majority of my issues with the term arise from it’s over use and incorrect usage by people, generally not gamers themselves, to describe the specific type of fascination that is displayed by people engaged in gaming.

Games have always striven to be ‘immersive’, it is a term that has existed as the gold standard within the industry for decades. Little by little games, broadly, have achieved this goal. It used to be that only the truly extraordinary games could achieve immersion through a suspension of disbelief in the player. But now as technology has advanced the bar has dropped in terms of the technical prowess required to create a truly engaging simulation. On top of this the industry has matured and developed its own internal lexicon of systems and shorthand and the general gaming public become more and more ‘literate’ in these systems thus it takes less time to convince a player to ‘buy-in’ to these systems. All of these factors combine and create an environment where the median game is capable of being enthralling if only a limited capacity and the best the media can offer are truly inspiring masterpieces. It is this that I am referring to when I describe a ‘specific type of fascination displayed by people engaged in gaming’ the product of decades of research and development in order to grab a player’s attention resulting in an experience that demands total attention.

A number of years ago now I saw this amazing video from James Portnow; one of the lead forces behind the excellent YouTube Chanel Extra Credits – definitely go check them out when you are done here. The video was the end to a multi part episode on Game Addiction and it is an absolutely heart wrenching 25 minutes for anyone who has ever gone through similar experiences but it is 100% worth the watch.  The moist poignant point that Portnow raises in the piece, at least in my estimation, is that “The world will always welcome you back [from game addiction] – It will reward you for applying the types of behaviours that games train into you”. This is the thing that I am not sure many people see or can understand just yet, video games are still such a young media by compassion to even film, let alone the other visual arts. The type of focus, analysis and understanding of systems, and more importantly systems of systems, that games can engender in players is truly and remarkably invaluable in today’s society.

As our organisations become increasingly managed and complex it is important that we employ people who can navigate the layers of guidance and policy and understand how key systems of management and leadership interact to create corporate direction. Games are amazing teachers of exactly this. Understanding that the weather simulation system in a game directly effects a number of other key systems such as travel, combat and crafting teaches people to look for systems that interact with one another. In addition to this the type of patience that ‘grinding’ takes is an excellent way to render oneself rather immune to boredom from conducting repetitive tasks; or at the very least a key demonstration of just how willing one might be to conduct such tasks if the outcome is desirable enough.

In addition to this there is the type of ‘head fake’ learning that Randy Pausch talks about in his famous last lecture. Learning when you don’t think you are. Developers use common elements of history and myth and religion to form the basis for many of their settings and this type of information can spark interest in people. One doesn’t need to look far at all to see this exact phenomenon in the Assassin’s creed franchise, whose recreations of locales like Rome and Venice are so good you can actually navigate the modern day by having played the games.

Now I am not suggesting that going through an addictive phase with a game is required in order to reap these benefits, certainly I would urge everyone to live a balanced lifestyle after years of imbalance in my own. However; I am saying that the type of engagement that games ask of their players does not go unrewarded –  the peripheral learning opportunities are vast. Despite asking a fairly totalised for of attention during play, games give back in many forms not just entertaining but training and educating all at once.

Human-ness is next to Godliness.

Earlier this week a particularly wily friend of mine sent me a link to a short story by Andy Wier titled ‘The Egg’. Now I swear to you that the story is:

  • Eminently worth reading
  • Insanely short
  • Entirely necessary to understand the rest of this post.

So I want to spend the rest of this post semi-reviewing semi discussing The Egg.

First up – I absolutely adore this story. I am awed by how well it carries itself – it constructs an entire universe of possibility through a few scant lines of dialogue. Not merely in the fashion of the two-sentence creepy pasta but rather through a quick-witted back and forth between the man and God. Weir manages to build what could basically serve as the foundation for an entirely new subset of Christianity (if it doesn’t already exist). The story opens a mental door and then…poof. Done. Finito. The Egg knows 100% what it is about and once it has fulfilled its role – it strolls off over the horizon to awaken another person.

And awakening is exactly what the story does to those who read it. I was gobsmacked by how well those few unassuming lines fit into the far grander and universal narrative that philosophy and mythology have been constructing in my head for the last 2 years.  Firstly, The Egg gels with the fundamental Christian creation story. In Genesis when Adam eats the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge he becomes aware, not only of everything there is in the world – but of himself. He literally becomes self-aware, or self-conscious for the first time. Now for those of you who aren’t intimately familiar with their Christian mythology God doesn’t actually notice Adam and Eve eating the fruit in real time (or maybe he does and chooses not to act on it – but that is a debate for later). God only ‘finds out’ about Adam’s transgression when he enters Eden for his evening stroll with Adam, and finds Adam hiding from him in a bush – claiming he is not worthy to walk beside god in his state of nakedness. Soren Kierkegaard calls this ‘the birth of anxiety’.

Kierkegaard says that anxiety is created from the knowledge that the self is capable of an infinite number of possibilities. It is this anxiety we see Wier capture so perfectly in The Egg – man even when confronted with the entire possibility of time and existence and the knowledge he is fundamentally a God in his own right – balks, cannot accept his true nature – he must pay his penance and repeat his cycle. Depending on how positively or negatively you choose to read The Egg it is entirely possible to see this as an endless and inescapable loop – Man will never achieve his full potential, this being the curse of ‘The Fall’ to see the future, to see possibility and endlessly work and pay penance on the way to achieving that future – as Jehovah decreed in Geneses. The idea that ‘man’ is tied inexorably to the unwinnable battle to return to the state of grace – to return to innocence is one that has been explored countless times. The fact that Weir can so subtly imply it in this story with the mere line referencing living all of human history ever – surely a feat taking all of time itself – is genius.

It is also equally possible to read The Egg 180 degrees the other way and see the possibility that God is describing the inevitability of ascension to deific status.  Equally intriguing is the possibility implied by the story that this ascension is contingent on realising and accepting the universality of humanity under the model described in The Egg. If all men are really a mere manifestation of the single God-Foetus spun out endlessly across history interacting and living their lives towards ascension then the fundamental punishment of Adam in the fall is entirely fruitless. Self-consciousness and anxiety require an outside source of observation – Adam is only ashamed when he understands himself to observed either by Eve or by God. If, as Weir postulates in The Egg, there is no ‘other’ to observe the ‘God-Foetus’ anxiety is unnecessary, a figment of the illusion of multiplicity and the realisation of this fact may be the unstated key to solving Weirs puzzle.  As Nietzche said; “What is the seal of liberation? To no longer be ashamed in front of oneself”.

I adore this later reading – though I must admit the former darker reading does also strike a fancy with me – this concept that by overcoming that singular fear, the unstated darkness at the heart of each of us, self-doubt we might achieve something akin to deification is truly inspiring. It accords so closely with the best works of Camus, de Beauvoir and DeBotton in the call to action for each of us – to look inward and conquer the real challenges we face. The understanding that it is only ourselves holding us back. We are each our own egg, do not let self-doubt, self-consciousness and anxiety stop you from hatching.

Problems in a Galaxy Far Far Away… Gallifrey!

Toxic masculinity is a concept that has been gaining increasing attention over the last few years in pop culture analysis and political commentary. With the rise in global illiberalism reaching record highs in the form of BREXIT and President Trump, the issue of Toxic masculinity seems rather central to understanding the current state of things.

Our world is currently suffering under the weight of too many men and boys having been raised to strictly follow the Apollonian virtues, and consequently an Apollonian model of masculinity. We have raised these men to seek might, and conquer every challenge that stands before them through strength, grit and determination. These ideals leave no room for men to express their emotions, no room for men to quietly contemplate how they might develop themselves more fully.  Conversely, we have routinely mocked the Dionysian man. More specifically, mocked him as a role model for the masses. We accept that some fringe, artistic and dangerous men that transgress social and gender norms bring us fantastic art and music. But we do not allow them into positions of power or true authority in our cultures. These men are too weak, too effeminate in their connection with the ‘softer’ virtues to be trusted to do what is right and ‘necessary’ should the time come. We can see this worrying trend reflected in much of our modern pop culture. We have far too few silver screen mainstays that express anything resembling a balance between these two virtue sets. We have not allowed any semblance of synthesis in these models of masculinity to be included in the collective consciousness of generations of boys and men. This is where Poe Dameron and The Doctor come in as representatives on this issue in the current pop culture zeitgeist.

The fan backlash at the most recent Star Wars film should not be news to the majority of you. At the time of writing there is a 40 per cent gulf in review scores (90 – 50 per cent) between critics and fans respectively. Similarly, when Jodie Whittaker was revealed as the 13th Doctor there was significant backlash from elements of the Doctor Who fan base. This unrest over The Doctor’s new-found femininity has reared its head once more following the recent Christmas Special. In both instances gender and diversity issues were key talking points on both sides of the debate. This isn’t the work of those much maligned MRAs or regressive men needing to hold onto patriarchal dominance of the media (ok well it might be in some cases – but here is one argument from a different perspective). It is a symptom of a much larger and much more sympathetic issue about men and masculinity in contemporary media.

One of the key features of ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ that ‘right wing’ fans have condemned is the ‘continual’ humiliation of Poe Dameron. Every time Poe tries to take action, he is shown not only to be wrong, but often he makes matters worse through his attempts to ‘go in half-cocked’. Now fans have said that this represents a gender equality conspiracy, one set to destroy the traditional male ‘action-hero’ archetype and render him useless. Further, the same fans argue that destroying this particular vision of the male empowerment fantasy betrays the Star Wars brand. However, I would contend that it is a valiant attempt by director Rian Johnson to highlight the need for his Apollonian poster boy to learn the softer and more deferent virtues of the Dionysian man. It is worth noting that by the end of the film Poe has begun to see this himself. Towards the end of the third act, Poe is offered an opportunity to seize a decisive victory by a true male hero, another character similarly rounded through experience and defeat, if he is willing to recognise what he needs to do and to act against his ‘guns blazing’ instinct. This is an important step forward in our portrayals of masculinity as Star Wars is not only a mega-blockbuster film that acknowledges the value of the Dionysian virtues, but also a film that demonstrates that these virtues are best utilised in harmonious conjunction with the Apollonian virtues.

All of this however, has been learned before by another Sci-fi legend, The Doctor. Since the return of Doctor Who to television in 2005, the character has grown an enormous amount. We have borne witness to the Doctor in his most heroic Apollonian moments (think Burning Galifrey to save time) and we have seen the character come to personify charm, creativity and heart (think setting up an alternate universe version of himself just to love Rose). All of this, and a wonderful rainbow of shades in between, have blessed the successive series of The Doctor’s modern run. This is why it stings so much to see young boys lose such an important touchstone in their development. This is not to say people cannot have role models outside their own, race, gender, or religion – it merely acknowledges the well accepted fact that we identify far better with people who more closely resemble ourselves across all of these axes.  We have only just begun to see Hollywood accept the need to show more balanced male role models. To then lose The Doctor, the best example of this from within our contemporary pop culture, is most certainly a blow to the movement that calls not for additional male role models for men and boys, but rather cries out for better quality male role models is certainly a significant blow.

In 1994 the Australian Psychologist Stephen Biddulph published a book simply called ‘Manhood’.  This book was largely aimed at translating the works of Robert Bly into an Australian bloke’s context through Biddulph’s own work and experience as a psychologist. In ‘Manhood’, Biddulph talks extensively about fathering, and more explicitly the increasing phenomenon of under-fathering in young men and boys, focusing on the impact that this has on their development throughout their lives.  One of the key messages raised by Biddulph, is that young men and boys need ‘strong well-rounded male role models’ in order to flourish as complete and whole human beings. Biddulph acknowledges the integral role of mothers and female role models (teachers, aunts E.T.C.) in shaping and influencing male children, but ascribes the central role in the development of these male children to father figure/s.  In the terms of this argument it seems evident to me that Biddulph is calling for balance between the Apollonian and Dionysian elements in raising young boys and men. This is as true now as it was when he originally published ‘Manhood’, perhaps even more so.

The reactions held by the right-wing fan base to both the Star Wars and Doctor Who franchises contribute significantly to the destructive way in which we view male role models. If we do not take significant and immediate steps to rectify this imbalance we risk irreparably damaging another generation of young men through reckless and one-dimensional portrayals of masculinity in pop culture. This argument is not always articulated well, or even articulated at all, however when it is, and when it is expressed properly with respect and thought it can be the spark that lights the fire of change.