Wot I Reckon: Jimmy Savile

I see in the paper today that The Independent has re-published an old interview with Jimmy Savile, which takes on a bleaker tone in the light of present-day revelations. The key quote would seem to be:

There has been a persistent rumour about him for years, and journalists have often told me as a fact: “Jimmy Savile? Of course, you know he’s into little girls.” But if they know it, why haven’t they published it? The Sun or the News of the World would hardly refuse the chance of featuring a Jimmy Savile sex scandal. It is very, very hard to prove a negative, but the fact that the tabloids have never come up with a scintilla of evidence against Jimmy Savile is as near proof as you can ever get.

And this has been the constant refrain: everybody knew, but nobody ever did anything about it; everybody “knew”, but nobody actually knew. (Except, obviously, his victims, who were either not believed or silent, knowing that they wouldn’t be believed.)

And that strikes me as a fair amount of bullshit – watch that Have I Got News For You clip and count the number of times Ian Hislop says “no-one actually knew“. Maybe not – if only there was an entire industry of journalists whose job it was to investigate rumours and find out if they were true or not – “investigative journalists”, you could call them… Everyone “knew” the rumours about Savile, including people who were in a position to investigate and prove the rumours true, but as that interview says, no-one did – or if they did, no-one published. What, seriously, the fuck?

Well, I don’t know, obviously. Jimmy Savile had little presence in New Zealand – at the time he was around, I knew his name and had heard of Jim’ll Fix It, but that’s about it. I know little of Jimmy Savile and his co-accused, I know nothing of his victims or what they must have been through, I know nothing of the enabling culture in that time and place. But here’s one thing I do know:

When I was eleven years old, I took a bus to the nearest intermediate school. Kids being kids, every day, at every stop, there’d be a rush to see who could be the first to ring the bell signalling the driver to stop at the next stop – usually there’d be a “ding!” as soon as the doors closed after letting off each load of pupils. One day, after one stop, the bell didn’t ring straight away for some reason – everyone thought everyone else was going to do it or something, I don’t know – and suddenly everything changed. No-one was ringing the bell. Anyone could have; normally it would have been prestigious to have done so; it would have been to the advantage of everyone who was getting off at the next stop to have done so; but no-one did it. The stop coming up wasn’t mine, so I had no stake in it, but I asked a friend who was due to get off there why he didn’t ring the bell. “Ah, the driver will know to stop,” he said. I couldn’t quite understand what I was seeing; the collective mentality had changed completely – now nobody wanted to ring the bell because nobody else wanted to ring the bell.

I have to wonder if that’s the sort of groupthink that applied in the case of Savile and his ilk – nobody wanted to point the finger at him, at least in part, because nobody else wanted to point the finger at him. No-one did it, not in spite of the fact that anyone could have done it, but because anyone could have done it. Anyone else.

In the end, the bus driver drove straight past the next stop without slowing. All the kids who were due to get off at that stop yelled, everyone made damn sure to hit the button for the next stop, and things went back to normal. I could have rung the bell, for the benefit of the others, but as I say, I had no stake in it – it wasn’t my stop. I can’t say how I’d have acted if it was.

More Internal Dialogue

BRAIN: “OK, here’s a fairly well-formulated thought – you can say it out loud now!”

MOUTH: *starts to say something*

BRAIN: “No wait, this thing makes more sense – say this thing!”

MOUTH: *stops saying the original thing halfway through, stutters for a second, then starts saying the new thing*

BRAIN: “Actually, that thing’s not 100% accurate – it’d be better to say this thing instead.”

MOUTH: *stops saying the new thing halfway through, uncomfortable pause as eyes glaze over then refocus, then starts saying the even newer thing*

BRAIN: “Um, actually, that’s getting a bit far from my original point, better bend that thing back towards the first thing – not the thing you were just saying, the thing before that. Remember that?”

MOUTH: *gibbers unintelligibly for several seconds to cover up the sound of gears grinding, then says a messy Frankensteinian combination of all three things*

BRAIN: “… good? OK, Matthew’s talking now. Ears, listen to what he’s saying – not so closely that you distract me while I’m thinking of what to say next, but closely enough that I can tailor what I’m thinking so that it vaguely relates to what he’s saying. Ooh, and if he makes a joke, just ignore that completely so that I end up totally standing on his punchline and sounding like a dick.”

EARS: “Oh, fuck you.”

And that’s what it’s like recording a podcast.

The Pod is Cast

It’s probably worth mentioning that, while posts here are becoming fewer and further between, I have been working on another project: a weekly (we assume) podcast on philosophical issues in conspiracy theories featuring me and Dr. Matthew Dentith, PhD. (He is a doctor.)

Episodes will appear on Matthew’s site as we do them, or you can subscribe to it on iTunes, just like a real podcast.

So there you go – go give it a listen and then stop judging me for my laziness here. I know you’re judging me – I can feel your judgement. It feels like home.

Let’s play Twister, let’s play Risk

Let’s be honest, that last post was a bit shit. Normally, that wouldn’t bother me overly, what with the laziness and the apathy and the futility of human existence and all, but I’ve been thinking about death lately*. Peaches Geldof’s death, to be specific – if you’d asked me a couple of weeks ago, I don’t think I could have told you a single fact about her aside from her dad’s name, but now everyone’s talking about her, and one thing stuck out at me in the reporting around her untimely passing: her final tweet. It was, apparently, a photo of her as a child with her mother. That’s either touching and poignant or massively creepy, given the nature of her mother’s death and the uncertainty around hers – the NZ Herald reported it with all of their usual WE CAN’T CALL IT A SUICIDE UNTIL IT’S BEEN RULED AS ONE, BUT IT WAS TOTALLY SUICIDE, YOU GUYS dogwhistles, although I’m yet to hear an official cause. The point is, if I dropped dead tomorrow, I’d hate for my final online words to be a rushed-out one-sided conversation between me and an imaginary strawman – better put something else up.

…I’m a decaying flesh marionette…

The first time the oldest boy asked me a question that I couldn’t answer was in July of 2012, when he was two and a half. We were driving in the car, when out of nowhere he piped up with “What’s time?” After I’d skilfully avoided steering off the road while my brain temporarily short-circuited, I managed to come up with a vaguely coherent ramble about time being change as we perceive it, which shut him up even if it didn’t actually explain anything. A while later, during his younger brother’s gestation, I managed to deflect “where do babies come from?” as being a bit complicated the one and only time he asked it. And more recently he’s been talking about death, although he’s yet to ask any real questions about it. He seems to get that it’ll happen to him, but I’m not sure if that really means anything to him, though – it wouldn’t have meant anything to me when I was his age.

As noted philosopher The Bad Guy from The Crow tells us: “childhood’s over the minute you know you’re gonna die”. For me that was when I was eight years old. I can still remember it: I was lying in bed on a summer day. At that time of year it didn’t get dark until well after my bedtime, and I was lying awake in the near-daylight thinking about my great-grandparents, when it occurred to me that they were quite old, and would likely die soon. And it followed that eventually my grandparents would too, and then my parents would, and then I would. As a child, that was just intellectual knowledge that didn’t have any real effect on me; obviously, as someone who can no longer credibly claim to even be in my “late-mid thirties”, I now spend every waking instant desperately repressing the knowledge that I’m a decaying flesh marionette careering unstoppably towards decrepitude and oblivion. Which is why I write multiple posts about nostalgia, obsess over hunting down Amiga games from my youth and listen to an iPod whose contents are more emblematic of the 90s than Princess Di crashing her car into a Beanie Baby doing the Macarena.

My great-grandparents are long gone and I have one remaining grandparent. Cancer took two of them; the other died of some TLA’ed degenerative condition whose details I was never clear on, and the one grandmother I have above ground is the kind of tough-as-nails little old lady who appears to be functionally immortal. By the reasoning of my eight-year-old self, the clock hasn’t even started ticking for me, but then you never know.

I guess that’s where blogging comes from, at least in part: the desire to leave something behind that will outlast me – and now that my stuff is out there, floating through warehouses of web servers like a particularly benign and uninteresting phantom, it’s guaranteed that something I write somewhere will one day turn out to be my online Last Words. Of course you often don’t know that your last words will be your last words at the time. You could end up a punchline, like the late Ervin McKinness, or you could be lucky enough to end on a high note. Freddie Mercury’s last recorded words were “I still love you” spoken to the camera at the end of the video for “These are the Days of Our Lives” – that by itself is a legacy I’d be happy with. Best to choose your words carefully, I guess, and think about what you’re leaving behind. Take my latest tweet at time of writing:

I regret nothing.

* Did I say “lately”? I meant “constantly, filling with inexorable dread my every idle thought that doesn’t involve coming up with names for Simpsons-themed pornography**“.

** “Whacking Off Day”, “Rod, Todd and Todd’s Rod”, “Dil-diddley-ildos!” and of course “Everyone’s Coming Up Milhouse”. Feel free to contribute.

Conversations I Will Never Have #1

Since I know no-one douchey enough to ask the question, this is a conversation I will never have, but why should the world be deprived of my hypothetical wit?

“So, what do you lift?”

“Expectations, mostly. Small children…”

“No, weights, man.”

“Oh! Bugger all, I guess. I mean, I don’t – never tried. How about you?”

“I do [large number].”

“Goodness! And that’s a lot, is it?”

“Hell yeah, it’s a lot!”

“Well, good for you. You know they have machines that will do that for you now? Big lifting things, with forks – I forget what they’re called…”

Coq et Bal

In my spare time, I have taken to cataloging local examples of contemporary penis-and-testicles-based artwork, in the hopes of one day releasing a comprehensive review of the genre. Here is my latest compilation – a series I call simply “Coq et Bal: Whither Jizz?”

Janus Awakens
Owairaka Park, April 2012 | Ink on Playground Aparatus

Coq et Bal1

A confronting piece. Note that one testicle has hairs while the other remains bare – a gripping commentary on the dual nature of man. Are we doomed to pursue our bestial side, or can we ascend our base origins, to emerge shorn of rapacity and corruption? The answers are known to none, save what gods there may be – and they remain silent.

Unidentified Flying Objects (Actually They Are Penises)
Royal Oak McDonald’s, August 2011 | Ink on Playground Aparatus

Coq et Bal2

A playful work, with nevertheless dark undertones. At first glance, we may even be seeing flying saucers, or perhaps a collection of sombreros – it is only on closer inspection that their true nature is confirmed. The fattest been placed directly underneath a sticker of a grinning Hamburglar – at once a statement on society’s attitudes towards the “criminal classes” and a reaction against the mascot of a corporate giant. The density of meaning in the piece is a statement in itself.

The Abyss Gazes Back
Enfield Street Car Park, March 2014 | Inscription on Elevator Door Interior

Cock et Bal3

In viewing this piece, one is initially forced to confront one’s own sense of self in the distorted reflection offered by the “canvas”. Is this how one is perceived by others? Is this how one perceives oneself? Compounding the existential disquiet is the fact that the elevator has doors on both sides – at some point one has no choice but turn one’s back on the piece, offering one’s own posterior to the rampant cock of nihilism. Will it be on ingress or egress? Powerful.

Leviathan
Ellerslie Overpass, January 2009 | Spraypaint on Concrete

Cock+Balls
It is with no hyperbole that I describe this work as a modern masterpiece. Compared to the minimalism of the previous pieces, this work stands fully complete – cock, balls, veins, hairs and even a lovingly rendered spermatozoa. Fully two meters in length, removal by conventional methods proved impossible – at the end of its exhibition the entire footpath was simply painted over. It could not be erased from the world; instead the world was forced to contrive a veneer of respectability, in denial of the primal forces that lurk mere atoms beneath its surface. An unqualified triumph.

“The Aristocrats!” – Internet Trolls

I’m fairly certain that if I were to mention that the Internet is a showcase for the very worst of humanity, your minds would remain unblown. Doesn’t stop it from being true, though; since writing a post that included “Lazy Town” and “fuck” in the title, the number one source of hits on this blog has become people searching Google for Lazy Town porn. (Just in case we’re not clear on the wrongness of that fact: during its initial run, the actress who played Stephanie would have been between 13 and 15.)

the centre of a dogshit pearl

The recent death of Charlotte Dawson has re-started the perennial debate on trolling. While I’ve witnessed plenty of trolling behaviour, I don’t have much experience as the victim of one. That’s not to say I have no such experience – here’s a message I received not too long ago:

Screenshot_2013-08-10-10-21-44

The person who sent me that message was moved to do so because I beat them at a computer game. A computer card game.

(I also once received the message “you finish to do the chicken wet”, which I assume was translated from some insulting phrase in French – less immediately offensive, but infinitely more disquieting.)

The first thing that strikes me about trolling is how clearly the victim is not a human being in the eyes of the troll. Most of the time the trolling is being done for the benefit of the troll’s peers – the victim is incidental as anything other than a convenient target. In the worst cases of mass abuse, trolling becomes a nastier version of the Aristocrats joke – you can see the participants trying to come up with the most offensive thing to say, to impress/one-up everyone else doing it – causing grief to the victim is secondary. Certainly, in the recent case of the people convicted of abusing Caroline Criado-Perez over Twitter, the two defendants didn’t give any indication of an agenda in respect to their target – they were just doing it for kicks or for acclaim within their own social circle. When trolls become a mob, the end result is a sort of feedback loop, where the abuse just gets worse and worse, and the longer it goes, the less human the target becomes – eventually they’re just the excuse, the grain of sand at the centre of a dogshit pearl. And obviously the less human they become, the more dehumanising the behaviour against them becomes, and so on.

So what can anyone do? Hell, I don’t know. Some people say “don’t feed the trolls”; others say you should engage them, and it certainly seems to make a difference if you can make a troll understand that it’s a real person they’re abusing (although when a person’s being inundated with thousands of hateful tweets, one-on-one interaction with all of them isn’t even possible). Nevertheless, it seems like trolling is just a subset of “being an arsehole” – trying to solve the problem of trolling is trying to solve the problem of people being arseholes. And people will always be arseholes, particularly when there’s a noted lack of consequences (is there anyone who hasn’t seen Penny Arcade’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory?). You’d need some sort of universal increase in empathy to make people mindful of the fact that there’s a human being on the other end of their ranting.

For the time being, my preferred response to trolling is this bit of classic Buzz Lightyear:

You could put that on a T-shirt.

I’m just going to leave this here

I first expressed this thought in February of 2009, but since it comes up every year, I’ll put it here where it’ll be easy to link to next summer:

The old man thought it was pretty important… Dick.

I’m quite a fan of both Sherlock and Elementary, to the point that I’ve just had to stop trying to compare them to decide which is the “better” take on Holmes – they’re really apples and oranges, each doing something completely different with the same source material*. I decided early on that I’d have to do the same thing with the Robocop remake – it didn’t seem like it was even trying to be the same kind of thing as the original. That was a subversive masterpiece – this one’s just a standard sci-fi action film. I figured if I went in assuming it was just a film in its own right, I’d avoid any comparisons with the original, which would almost certainly be unfavourable. I managed it with the recent prequel/remake to The Thing; surely I could do it for this one?

No, I couldn’t.

…more arsecheeks for us!

There’s a bit in the 2000 Charlie’s Angels film where Drew Barrymore’s angel is trying to tell her boyfriend that the person they’re talking to is actually a bad guy – she does this by surreptitiously spelling out the word “ENEMY” using Scrabble tiles on the table in front of them. Once she’s done, the camera zooms in as she points to the word, and then we hear her say “enemy!” out loud, completely destroying the point of silently spelling it out. The director’s commentary points out that they added her line in voiceover afterwards, on the assumption that people couldn’t handle reading a five letter word in block capitals. This was the clearest example of naked contempt for an audience I’d ever seen, until I watched the Robocop remake.

Everything about this film says “We, the filmmakers, do not give the tiniest fuck about you, the audience – all you are to us is a pair of arsecheeks on a seat in a cinema. Yeah, we’ve pruned away anything controversial to guarantee the PG-13 rating we wanted – that just means more arsecheeks for us!” Christ, I expected them to have sanded the edges off the original, but they’ve buffed it down to a perfect sphere. The one genuinely effective – genuinely shocking – scene in the whole film comes near the beginning when they show Murphy exactly how much of him is left under the Robocop suit (spoiler: not much). If you were of a mind to be the kind of wanker I like to pretend I’m not, you could take it as emblematic of the film as a whole – the façade of Robocop is dismantled, leaving behind fuck all of substance.

The first thing you notice about the film’s PG-13-ification is the near complete absence of blood – people are blown up in bloodless explosions, shot with incapacitating taser bullets or blown away in computer graphic night vision. When an ED-209 drone machineguns a knife-wielding teenager in a Middle Eastern warzone, he just disappears in a cloud of dust. Even the main bad guys, such as they are, are practically dispatched off camera, lest any sort of actual violence appear on the screen.

I say “such as they are”, because there aren’t any decent bad guys to speak of. Where the original had Ronny Cox’s snarling executive and Kurtwood Smith’s grinning psychopath, this film just has a bunch of corporate pricks being corporate pricks, and a bunch of criminals being criminals. There’s no evil plan or anything motivating them – they just want to make money and influence the government so they can make more money, which is something no mundane real life corporation has ever done ever. (According to the plot synopsis on Wikipedia, it was revealed that the corporation’s CEO was working with the criminals – I can honestly say I missed that fact entirely.)**

The film likes to think it’s cerebral and thought-provoking, but it has no decent philosophy beyond fragments of “what makes a man a man?” pontificating that get dropped as soon as it’s inconvenient:

“People don’t like machines – we need to put a man in a machine!”
“Right, the man in a machine’s not as good as an actual machine – make him more like a machine!”
“OK, now he’s a machine in a man in a machine who acts just like the machines that we were trying move away from in the first place!”
“Aaand now he’s overridden his programming – let’s say by magic – and he’s back to being a man in a machine. Let’s speak no more of this.”

It doesn’t help that they never really establish what’s so wrong with machines in the first place – there’s no equivalent of the scene in the original where the dumb robot ED-209 turns an unlucky executive into soup to prove how inferior machines are; it’s just taken on faith that robots that can do a good job without putting human lives at risk must be bad, presumably because the filmmakers know that modern audiences don’t like drone strikes. Indeed, the one attempt at aping the social satire of the original comes at the very end when Samuel L. Jackson’s superfluous Bill O’Reilly rip-off character says something along the lines of “What’s next? Are people going to start saying that maybe we shouldn’t be using drones in overseas conflicts *wink wink*?”

Speaking of aping, I can’t go past the fact that they force in the two biggest catchphrases from the original in ways that don’t fit the context at all – you can practically hear a producer leaning over some writer’s shoulder and saying “Shit, it’s nearly the end of the film and he hasn’t said ‘dead or alive, you’re coming with me’ yet – put that in now! I don’t care – anywhere, just do it!”. Even worse is the bit where a character, unimpressed by Robocop’s early performance, remarks “I wouldn’t buy that for a dollar” – but HE USES THE WRONG FUCKING DELIVERY! He says “I wouldn’t buy THAT for a dollar”, matching the intonation of the line from the original, but it doesn’t work the way the line is used – in that context, you’d expect a person to say it “I wouldn’t buy that for a DOLLAR”. I’m not sure why that bothered me as much as it did.

And yet, despite having none of the satire or ultra-violence of the original, it somehow seems more callous. The bloodless videogame deaths mean people just die anonymously as pixels on a screen – they’re not even treated as human beings. Where the original gives him a more-or-less clean break with his family, this one constantly dangles the possibility of a return to happy domestic life, which is never going to be possible – he’s a fucking robot who needs daily transfusions in a high-tech laboratory. By trying to be nicer, it just comes off as cruel. Similarly, while the reveal of Murphy’s remains did come as a genuine surprise, it too felt cruel – even though there’s slightly more of a man there than in the original (I’m pretty sure they establish it’s just his brain in that one – the sequel mentions that even his face is fake), it feels like a particularly low blow to actually throw it in his face (and ours).

That was a horribly mixed metaphor (a low blow to the face?) but frankly, this film deserves no better.

*I enjoyed season three of Sherlock as much as the first two – those complaining about it might be interested in this interview with Steven Moffat. Money quote:

“It’s interesting, when were we that mystery-driven?” Moffat said when asked if he felt that the series had changed its direction this season. “The only totally mystery-driven story I can think of is “The Blind Banker.” I mean, “A Scandal in Belgravia,” which is outrageous from that point of view, has a crime story going for about, what, 25 minutes? Then it’s about a boy and a girl missing each other … As we keep proclaiming to anyone who’s not completely bored of it by now, it’s not a detective show; it’s a show about a detective.”;

**UPDATE: OK, it doesn’t say that anymore – presumably some editor was trying to inject more coherence into the plot than was actually there, which is telling in itself.