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.

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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.

 

 

 

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.

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.

Beautiful Scars

So before beginning in earnest I want to preface this blog as I have with some other content in the past with the statement that this is not representative of any deeper trauma that I am currently viscerally struggling with, I am just using my particular virtual street corner to try and untangle some of the more worrisome knots in my own emotional space.

BB

A few weeks ago, my partner’s mother asked me about the meaning of my half sleeve tattoo. Now the actual content of the tattoo from a visual standpoint is almost the least interesting part of this thought – but if you need to contextualise this idea in the same way I have, go find an Instagram account and search for The_Brave_Bothan (yes it is my online handle). For those of you too sensible or lazy to go looking for my IG, I hope the following description will suffice. The Tattoo is of a Dragon coiled about a sword on my delt, flowing down into a stag’s head whose antlers wrap my bicep, on the inverse side of the arm there is a wolf’s head, placid not snarling. The whole piece is tied together with dotted alchemical symbols and illusory 3D effect cubes. I told my partner’s mother that it had many meanings, but mostly, I thought of the three animals (if a dragon is an animal) as my totems. Things that represented me on a deeper emotional level. I also pointed out that I enjoy wearing my heart (Hart) on my sleeve, but she failed to register the fantastic joke…

Now all of the above is at an incredibly surface level, while true, it is far from the best answer I can give to the question, which I must admit has been rattling around in my brain for a while now. So here goes; more than anything else my many tattoos capture an emotional moment in time for me. They capture a powerful and devastating emotion and channel it, physically, into being. Through the effort of an artist and paid for with my blood, my tattoos are a way of magically making a memory that I could never before see or touch, real. This is exactly as ritualistic as I honestly think tattoos are – they really are a kind of blood magic to me. Certainly, there are enough instances of cultures placing magical reverence in tattoo ceremonies for me to think that they were onto something ancient and powerful that our secular society has forgotten.

The thing that tattoos do first is hurt – not a lot, mostly (unless your artist saves your elbow for last in an 8-hour session, the sadistic bastard 😂) but they do hurt. An old American slang term for getting a tattoo was ‘getting cut’ – and this is incredibly appropriate, because tattoos are at their core, beautiful and societally acceptable scars. Now this is of importance to me because I still bear other far less ‘acceptable’ scars. I used to cut to cope with my pain, not because I wanted attention from anyone, I was very, very good at hiding them even on my forearms and other obvious spots. It was honestly the best way from me to feel. My experiences with childhood trauma left me numb, I fled into the works of the stoic philosophers and read them with the misguided passion of a youth, forcing all feeling and emotion out of my heart until I was a husk who only had the sensation of cold steel to instil even the merest flash of feeling into himself.

When I finally turned 18 and worked out I could pay someone to cut me and people would admire this, they even called it art I was amazed. It was a dream come true. No longer would I have to hide my pain and shame from the world I could walk openly and proudly down the street and invite people to gaze upon a physical representation of all of the deepest, darkest pieces of myself. It was an explosion of catharsis. Of course, I got more and more tattoos; I poured more and more of my pain out onto my skin and it felt unbelievably good.

But there came a time when I had to face facts, I wasn’t coping well with my pain – I was spiralling downwards by continuing to put my pain new places without really addressing it. Skipping over the more morbid details of the interviewing time, I spent more or less in a depressive stasis, perhaps the topic of a future blog. Over time and through lots of professional help I began to open up about my pain and those experiences that had so deeply scarred me. It took years and more tears than I thought I had left in me, but eventually I got through to the other side and I haven’t gotten a ‘sad’ tattoo in a number of years now. Now at this point some readers may, fairly rightly, lean back and wax lyrical, about how foolish tattoos are and that their permanency is never good and this is one more story of regretting tattoos. Aaaaaaaand I’d scoff and have to explain that no – I am still deeply in love with every single tattoo I have and to a lesser extent with those regular ‘unsightly’ scars on my arms. I have on a number of occasions even gone so far as to say I’d consider myself entirely boring, plain even, without my ink.

As I have moved forward and found more effective ways to put the pain of my childhood behind me, rather than just outside of me, I have grown to more deeply appreciate the truer magic of tattoos. They don’t just externalise trauma for me, in the way I first experienced. Whilst they do still bear the indelible memory of their inception, that will never fade, they have come to represent my climb through life. They have come to represent my climb out of depression and out of the past that defined my entire existence for far too long. Now that I see them more fully, the true beauty of my tattoos and by extension of all painful scars, shines clearly to me. By having a beautiful physical representation of that pain and the moment it was made real to me, I can see how far I have come and be proud. I can see the beauty that pain has wrought not only in the artistry of scars that form my tattoos, but also in myself.

I cannot change my past, the people in it or what those people did to me – or more disturbingly in some cases, what I did to them. But I can continue to grow, I can continue to get better. Better than any of them thought I could or would be. Better even than I could have dreamed possible as a child or a teenager or a young man crying and praying for it to all go away. Every day I wake up and when I look at myself I see a roadmap of where I have been and how strong I have become – and I smile.

The Chaos of Serendipity

So, I was driving a few weeks ago I had a thought. Now this isn’t in and of itself a particularly notable or rare phenomenon, but hey we had to start somewhere alright? I was listening to a song I hadn’t heard in years and was recalled of how I had first become ‘introduced’ to the tune (for any wondering the song was ‘In the Sun by Joseph Arthur). I had first encountered the song through ‘Scrubs’. This in turn led me to think about how perfectly timed the entrance of that show had been into my life, specifically into my psychological development. It had been humour in a humourless place. An emotional guide on how to maintain a sense of the joy in life even at the heaviest moments we experience, which is a lesson I still find invaluable to this day.  Overall, I felt incredibly lucky to have been introduced to ‘Scrubs’ exactly at the moment in my life when I had been.  I’ve always been fascinated by the random chance that seems to govern our lives, so my thoughts drifted to the largest and most unlikely of happening in my life to date. How I met my partner.

That meeting was recounted in full right here in an earlier version of this blog, however after considering the relatability of the tale and the bulk it added, I was unhappily prevailed upon by kindness to my readership to cut it.  Suffice it to say the tale involves dramatic and unlikely hospital admissions, life and death struggles with weird medical conditions and 8 hour dates in art galleries, enthralling!

So, returning to the present train of thought. I found myself enamoured with this idea of serendipity and chance. Now whilst these words do have separate meanings; chance being a largely neutral term and serendipity having an air of romance suffused into it. They are largely used to describe the same phenomenon – the unlikely or uncontrolled sequence of events. Soon I realised that another word commonly associated with this is luck, both good and bad. As I continued I found I knew many, many words we use to describe this same phenomenon and the differing emotional inflections they each had. Serendipity for love, luck for financial gain, chaos for the truly bizarre, tragedy for the truly horrid. It was apparent to me that at the centre of it all was the absurd lack of predictability in life and the universe. Which of course excited my existential sensibilities to no end.

I have pondered this train of thought on and off for some weeks now and have come to regard these names as a kind of magic, or at least a modern attempt at magic. You may or may not be familiar with the school of the occult that deals specifically with ‘true naming’. Effectively, the idea suggests that each entity or thing in the universe has a secret ‘true’ name that will give it’s knower power over that entity or thing. Simple enough for me, it certainly has flavours of several strands of religious and mythological traditions baked into it. It seems to me that by attempting to brand the chaos and serendipity of the universe we are not just pigeon holing things for the sake of ease. We are attempting to control their outcomes, or at least their recollections and later influence over our lives. By branding what is effectively a pure manifestation of the chaos at the heart of the universe as serendipity we attempt to make it more palatable, more rosy, friendly and comfortable. We store it next to our happiest moments and derive comfort from it as the years roll past. This stands in direct opposition to a more honest reading of the events as mere dumb luck or improbable chance. Such a reading would serve to make one feel insignificant or powerless against the scale of all that had to occur for that one entirely improbable occurrence to eventuate just as it did.  By allowing ourselves this kind of ‘reverse control magic’ we shield ourselves from the harshest of reality and its unknowable nature and chaos by feigning control over it. It has been pointed out to me when giving this explanation to people that the secular version of this ‘magic’ is a legitimate technique used by people suffering from anxiety to move phenomena from an external to an internal locus of psychological control in order to rationalise our experiences.

Obviously, this sensation of chaos can also be combatted with faith ‘God moves in mysterious ways’ and such. Now I will not deny those who would use this explanation their comfort. Certainly, chalking the manifold nature of life’s Chaos up to a deity has its appeal. By giving every manifestation of that chaos, good or bad to one, or many deities, it removes the requirement for the human psyche to rationally explain those unexplainable patterns, correlations and chances that are required for a life to emerge just in the fashion that it does. The fact that through history we have seen a pendulum swing from polytheism to monotheism and back without ever losing the ‘mystery’ of deific control, to me is merely further evidence that it is this inability to comprehend the nature of the universal chaos that gives rise to religion.

At the end of it all though when I look beyond faith, beyond rational traditions of magic, everything gives way to the terrifying beauty and horrible majesty of the cosmos. Chaos, serendipity, luck, chance, tragedy all of it is unknown and unknowable and to attempt to put it all together is to be driven mad. To quote Lovecraft:

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

 

 

 

Modern Myths

Over the last few years I have become increasingly interested in the modernisation of the classical myths. The largest single force driving this movement is obviously the enormous success currently being enjoyed by the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the crossover between that material and classical mythology. However, around the periphery of this there are a number of far more interesting ‘goings on’.  We are seeing a far more proliferated movement to recapture, retell and update the ancient myths to suit our modern needs and sensibilities. It is this phenomenon of updating these texts that interests me most – certainly from the perspective of myths as living stories that evolve with each retelling and further through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s work in the space between psychology and mythology.

The classical myths have always seemed to fascinate us. From almost endless republication in one compendium or another to the more modern ‘Hollywood reboot cycle’  popular culture has never seemed to lose touch with the Greek, Norse or Arthurian mythologies. It does seem however, that as time marches endlessly onwards that we grow more open as a society to slight alterations and changes to the classic works. The initial spate of mythological films in Hollywood was far more interested in straight adaptation and imitation, rather than interpretation of the source material. Think of things like the Biblical Classics or even Ben Hur, Cleopatra or Clash of the Titans. Now clearly these films were wildly successful at the time of their initial release and for a plethora of reasons are remembered as classic films. But we simply do not see these types of straight adaptations appear in our media anymore.  Instead of wishing solely to bring the old stories to life as they were written it seems we have begun to fully engage in the process by which these myths were created and add to and reinterpret them.

Myths have never been a single fixed quantity in the way we understand a movie or a novel to be. This is widely attributed to the majority of myths initially finding their ‘homes’ in the oral tradition, rather than being committed to the ages in the form of words. By the time the populace was advanced enough to bother writing down stories and myths there were already far too many variations of any one myth or character to claim any type of totality and completeness over one version.  Each individual author or collector of stories could choose which previous tales were cannon and which of the characters traits were going to be accentuated in their own version of the narrative and as such held a radical power to re-imagine each induvial player in mythology. This then created a feedback loop – informing future tellings of the story. It is this very same process that we find ourselves currently engaged in. The MCUs Thor is not somehow separated from the Thor of the Poetic or Prose Edda, but rather the exact same being as the ancient Thor. More disturbingly the Thor in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is the eventual fate of the Thor in his Norse Mythology compendium. The truly fascinating part of this phenomenon is the rate at which we can see iterations on our characters. When there is a major Hollywood instalment into the MCU multiple times a year, many featuring these mythological beings. We get to see many directors make changes to our public ‘cannon’ of these figures in real time over only a few short years, rather than the decades or centuries it took ancient storytellers to recast characters in their times.

Bearing all of this in mind I am drawn inexorably towards the works of Joseph Campbell – Both ‘The Hero of a Thousand Faces’ and ‘The Power of Myth’.

Campbell talks about the requirement for myths to supplement and support religion in order to stabilise the Psyche of the collective and individual consciousness. To replace lost understandings of rituals that the modern age has forgotten or left behind. Perhaps this resurgence of myths and myth telling after nearly 60 years is due to the increase in religious and philosophical turmoil. People retreating into fundamental needs for community, safety and love. Certainly, there is no small degree of appeal in this reading of the current political and cultural zeitgeist for me. To think that in a deep seated fashion our entire cultural machine ‘knows’ that we need this return to the origin of storytelling. It is the seemingly unconscious and disparate nature of this movement that lends this reading veracity in my mind. Over the last two decades independent authors and studios have seemingly without collusion or correspondence independently turned the cultural production engines to reworking, updating and reinvigorating the classic myths just as Campbell has argued was and is necessary.

In my last blog I talked extensively in terms of Apollonian and Dionysian models of masculinity these frames of reference themselves are drawn from a classicist reading of mythological personae. Initially outlined in the works of Nietzsche these archetypes have been used throughout modern philosophy as a short hand for entire swathes of human being and experience.  These terms have also been used in artistic analysis; and in that capacity they were almost completely divorced from their parent deities. However, the innate and irreducible nature of their mythological fathers abided deep within them and has now begun to seep out and assert itself once more. If there was ever an argument for the continued importance and relevance of mythology to our lives this certainly is it.

I continue to be fascinated by the realisation that we have never truly abandoned mythology – it has moved, shifted and grown with us as a species being reimagined and reinvented to suit out needs. It feels as if we are witnessing the early phases of the next change in our conceptualisation and use of mythology as a culture and I simply cannot overstate how awestruck I am at the raw humanistic power of these stories to abide and morph to fit our sociological and psychological needs as we advance as a species.