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.

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.

“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.

Handle with Care

A recent conversation between me and the missus:

“Ah, my old hockey shirt – I haven’t worn this in ages!”

“You like that thing?”

“I would wear nothing but this shirt if I could.”

“You’d be naked from the waist down – like a Frenchman?”

“But wearing a hockey shirt.”

“Like a… French Canadian?”

…rapetastic escapades…

My wife, ladies and gentlemen – quick with a quip; quicker with a crude cultural stereotype. But it’s not her seething racism I want to talk about today – I’m back on punchlines again. As I’ve mentioned more than once here, I tend to build blog posts around punchlines, either by working backwards from one or by stapling a few together with a crude series of segues. And sometimes, when that all seems like too much effort, I’ve just thrown out a random punchline and left it up to you to imagine context for it (see above). Because it’s hard for a punchline to exist without context; without setup. Some comedians, such as Steven Wright, specialise in one-liners, building their entire routines out of them, but by and large a good punchline needs to be set in place. A context-less punchline can backfire on you in a nasty way, which brings me to the Roast Busters.

If you’re reading this, you’re almost certainly familiar with the Roast Busters case in New Zealand, but I’ll recap (if only to reinforce the delusion that this blog is read by more than a handful of my personal acquaintances). The case concerns the rapetastic escapades of a couple of local teenage fuckheads who took to gloating on Facebook about having sex of dubious consensuality with drunk and occasionally underage young women. There’s a lot more wrong with the case than just their reprehensible actions: the police have been less than energetic in their responses to it (which has nothing to do with the fact that one of the guys is the son of a policeman, nosiree) and it brought to the fore a lot of the victim-blaming that’s seemingly unique to cases of sexual assault. I don’t have anything like the knowledge to say anything of value about the case that hasn’t already been said by others; it has, though, provided a nice example of the dangers of a carelessly handled punchline*.

At the time, Metro magazine, which had been quite vocal in condemning the actions of the Roast Busters group and the culture that enables them, published the following as the first entry in its regular “20 Questions” column:

After the Roast Busters saga, should there be a new criminal charge: “Drunk in charge of a vagina”?

I can see what they’re going for there. They’re trying to say that the Roast Busters case has shown that a lot of people seem to believe that being “drunk in charge of a vagina” should be a crime, but that’s not how it comes across – on first read, it sounds like Metro itself is advocating the charge. My thoughts on first reading it were “Wait, what? They can’t mean – oh, I see…” – a lot of people quite understandably didn’t get past that first reaction, and Metro copped a lot of flak. I’d have thought their stance up until then would have earned them a little more good will, but the fact remains that they misjudged their tone more seriously than the radio ad I once heard for the Auckland Drape Company** and they can’t blame anyone else for that.

I’ve got some sympathy for Metro, because I can see that “drunk in charge of a vagina” is a punchline that could have worked elsewhere. (I’ve read commentary on this joke which claimed that the humour just comes from “hur hur – he said ‘vagina'”, which I think is completely wrong. As I’ve said before, jokes seldom rely on a word just being inherently funny; this sort of humour comes from the juxtaposition of a controversial word against an otherwise innocuous phrase.) I can’t imagine that anyone would have had a problem if it had been a throwaway joke in the middle of a column – “…one thing the case has highlighted is the attitudes of some people, who seem to think that ‘drunk in charge of a vagina’ should be a new criminal charge…” or whatever. But no – whoever came up with that particular bon mot was too attached to it to not use it, and instead presented it in a format completely lacking in context where it fell flat. (Metro’s editor did himself no favours by publishing a response that amounted to saying that anyone who has a problem with the joke just doesn’t get it, which, while possibly true, misses the point.)

I don’t have enough confidence in any of my punchlines to throw them out there without context (even if that context is just “hey – look at this punchline.”) My depressingly large Evernote folder of half-developed ideas for posts includes a separate file of one liners that need a home. If I’m lucky, I’ll come up with an idea for a post that will naturally accommodate one of them, but for some of them that may never happen. They’re not all gems, but there are some I’m proud of to the point that I’d really like to just get them out there for the sake of it; thanks to Metro’s comedic fumbling, I now have more than enough incentive to make sure that I never do that unless I get really bored and lazy. Oh.

* I’m hoping that enough time has passed since the case broke last year that I can pedantically overanalyse a joke relating to it without being overly insensitive. Like I say, I’m not equipped to handle the real issues here, but I don’t want to give the impression that they’re less important than a bit of comedy theorising.

** Seriously.

The Opposite of Nostalgia. Yestalgia?

I was recently involved in a brief Twitter conversation on the topic of things that you used to like, but now you can’t believe how shit they are. My contribution was Empire Records* – a film that’s not without its merits, but I was surprised at how much I hated all the main characters when I re-watched it recently – Liv Tyler’s an idiot, Renee Zellweger and Robin Tunney are annoying and Ethan Embry’s character who, at the time, was probably meant to embody the sort of slacker/stoner stereotype of the day, now seems to be genuinely mentally damaged – watch him gurn and struggle to remember his own name in this clip:

Christ, this is close to embarrassing

I’ve found similar things happen with music, usually when a more recent album makes you go back and re-evaluate the earlier ones you fell in love with. As a child (well, teenager) of the 90s I remember thinking “wow, this new Counting Crows album is really whiny – not like August and Everything After. Think I’ll listen to it now. Oh.” Turns out that, next to the backdrop of the inherent whinyness of my late-teens/early-twenties, that album just blended in – the added perspective of an extra decade doesn’t do it any favours. Similarly, because I was alive in the 90s and owned ears, “Stay” by Lisa Loeb was a big favourite. It still is, but again, I can remember listening to her later work and thinking “Christ, this is close to embarrassing – these lyrics sound like something a fourteen-year-old girl would write in her diary, dotting the i’s with little hearts and smiley faces. Think I’ll listen to all of Tails. Oh.”

And, tying in with the “shit I watch because my kids watch it” theme of previous posts, the boy has developed a taste for the original 80s Transformers cartoon movie, which I first watched on VCR at the age of ten. I don’t know if I ever thought it was that great, and I wouldn’t say that I actually hate it now, but it sure does look different through an adult’s pair of eyes. Quite aside from the cynical observation that it is easily the most blatant bit of toy marketing in a franchise that is entirely about toy marketing – beloved characters are slaughtered in the first act so that a new line of toys can be front and centre – I was surprised to find how dated it appears. This movie is the 1980s, crystallised into a tangible artifact – the visuals, the bombast, the hair-metal-heavy soundtrack (which also features Weird Al Yankovic because of reasons). And it was also Orson Welles’ last performance – I don’t even know where to go with that.

I guess all this is the flipside of the kind of nostalgia that I talked about here – that was about liking stuff that is otherwise objectively shit because of the fond memories they engender; this is having fond memories of stuff because I used to like it (stuff that turns out to be objectively shit). There’s bound to be some sort of ratio of actual quality vs. fondness of memories that determines whether a thing transcends its inherent shitness to become something you love in spite of itself, or ends up as a source of internal cringing and self-repudiation. These concepts are probably too nebulous to come up with any sort of exact measures, but I do feel compelled to start experimenting on the boys now to see if I can artificially mould their future nostalgia – make them watch and listen to stuff I know to be crap, but let them do all their favourite things afterwards, in the hope of building lasting positive memories to associate with them:

“OK, let’s watch the The Phantom Menace and eat all your favourite lollies! After that, we’ll listen to this entire Creed album then go to the water park!”

Childhood’s loss will be Science’s gain – I’ll let you know how it turns out in twenty years or so.

*The works of Kevin Smith came up as well. If I’m honest with myself, I haven’t really enjoyed one of his films since Mallrats.

Something for Something

New posts have been a little thin on the ground here for the past month or so, largely because I’ve been spending all my time working on the screenplay for a pornographic movie where a group of sexually frustrated female pensioners are teased by a well-endowed lothario who refuses to service them – I’m calling it No Man-Tree for Old Cunts.

Eventually I realised I was whining…

Obviously that’s a lie – I haven’t spent a month working on a screenplay; I’ve spent a month working on that pun. In the few spare moments when I wasn’t tinkering with Spoonerisms, I’ve been playing games on my wee Android tablet – in particular, I’ve become quite attached to Tekken Card Tournament, a “free-to-play” card game based on the popular fighting game franchise.

Now, I’ve dealt with marketing people, and I know that it’s all about “it ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it” – playing up the pretty bits, brushing the bad bits under the carpet and generally sticking to a “message” that may or may not have much grounding in reality. One of their most important tools is naming – the name you give something frames how you think about it, so they’ll work hard to come up with something that projects exactly the image they want to project, regardless of how divergent it is from the truth.

Even knowing that, I’m both aghast and kind of impressed at the audacity of whoever came up with the term “free-to-play”, a model that, in practice, equates to “not free to play”. You download the game for free and can play it a bit at a time, but to play it whenever you want, however you want, you have to cough up the dough. For games like TCT and perhaps the most well-known of it’s kind, Candy Crush Saga, there’s a “lives” system – you can play a few games, but then you’re “out of lives” and have to wait for them to regenerate (usually half an hour at a time) or pay to keep playing.

Yes, technically you can play it for free, and if the only options were that or games that you have to buy up front, “free-to-play” might be a reasonable term, but considering that these games exist alongside ones that are 100% free of charge and of restrictions, it’s more than a bit disingenuous.

In fact, it’s been this bait and switch that’s grated with me most of all – getting a game for “free”, then finding that it expects me to shell out if I actually want to enjoy it more. The more I thought about it, though, the more OK with it I became. For one thing, it’s basically a variant of (possibly an improvement on) the age-old practice of offering a free demo – this way, you get access to all the game has to offer, just at a throttled pace*. And to be honest, the “lives” system is good because it ensures that after twenty minutes or so I’m forced to put the tablet down and do something productive with my life.

Eventually I realised I was whining about being encouraged (not even forced) to pay money for something I was genuinely enjoying, which isn’t really unfair. It may be optimism on my part, but it seems like people are becoming more willing to pay a little bit for stuff that they like. Fuck Veronica Mars – the fact that 5 Second Films is getting to make their movie shows that lots of people are cool with the Kickstarter model. And every week, we take the oldest down to the video library to rent a new Disney movie for him – it’d be a piece of cake to find them online for free, but why not part with a few bucks for something that offers value? (I’ll admit there’s also an element of spite to it – discussions of copyright always seem to involve grumpy arseholes who insist that kids these days refuse to pay for anything. Nice to prove them wrong, too.)

Anyway, back to scripting Ponch de León, a CHiPs revival spin-off, where an aging Erik Estrada moves to Florida in search of the fountain of youth. I’m thinking we could get Erik Estrada to play the Erik Estrada part.

*That’s the Tekken experience anyway – I uninstalled Candy Crush Saga once it became clear that the only way to pass some levels was either to be very very lucky (which, at one game per half hour, would take a long long time) or to buy a bunch of powerups.

Updatery!

I’ve noticed two interesting trends regarding this blog. One is that whenever I put up a column here, within days I’ll come across an article or a cartoon or an opinion that would have been an ideal thing to reference, if they hadn’t come to my attention just too late. The other trend is that I’m incredibly tired and lazy.

I’m incredibly tired and lazy.

With these in mind, now seems like a good time to stop and revisit some of the things I’ve written recently, as a way of shoehorning in the more recent material I’ve encountered.

Much like my Viking forebears*, I’ll begin with rape. Not long after I wrote about humourlessly dissecting humour, Cracked.com published their 4 Questions People Debating Rape Jokes Should Ask Themselves. Some good points made there, including one of the things that bothers me when people talk about rape-based humour, which is the idea that rape is off the comedy menu on account of it happens a lot, as though it’s just a numbers game as to whether or not something is an acceptable object of humour. Have a read and see what you think.

If I were less convinced of my towering insignificance, I’d wonder at the number of times a Cracked article has related to something I wrote a few days before. It was not long after I suggested that the Toy Story toys were forced to listen to Andy masturbating for years that the exact same point showed up in one of their Photoplasty contests. Obviously, I’m not such a searing genius that this point can’t have occurred to other, like-minded people; similarly, there are plenty of introverts out there, so it’s no surprise that after I wrote about the foolishness of telling people to be more confident, I almost immediately stumbled over this cartoon, which hits the nail on the head with the conviction of a toolbox serial murderer. And it was scant days after that when those wacky bastards at Cracked.com listed the 4 Things Movies Always Get Wrong About Awkward People. The money quote for that one would have to be:

I know this is going to be hard for dynamic and interesting extroverts to believe, but some people are happy being introverts. Shy people don’t stay in on a Friday night because they’re broken, they stay in because they get more enjoyment out of reading at home than they do out of going to a sweaty bar or crowded party or loud concert or violent, I don’t know, quinceanera. Quiet people avoid talking in large crowds not because they don’t know how to talk, but because they prefer listening. Shy and awkward people are not looking for you to save them because they don’t need to be saved. Why do we throw around the phrase “She really helped him break out of his shell” as if that’s a good thing? If a turtle breaks out of his shell, he will die.

Yep.

The next one is entirely self-inflicted. It wasn’t long after I indulged my pet hate of made up swear words that my search engine referrals started filling up with the likes of this:

Screenshot_2013-06-30-15-36-49

To anyone who’s arrived here wondering what the made up swear words on Defiance are: FUCK YOU. FUCK YOU AND ALL THAT YOU REPRESENT ON THIS MORTAL PLANE – THOSE WORDS WILL NEVER BE SPOKEN HERE.

And finally, last night I saw Pacific Rim, which gives me the chance to throw back to my Iron Man 3 review, where I said “if Pacific Rim isn’t wall-to-wall robot punching none of you will ever hear the end of it.” Well, I don’t know about “wall-to-wall”, but there was certainly no shortage of robot punching there – there pretty much had to be, considering the plot, characters and dialogue were nothing to write home about.

Some of the fights are over too quickly (some of the giant robots are barely seen in action before they get stomped on), and they tease us in the opening sequence by saying “yeah, so those Jaeger robots spent years beating the shit out of giant monsters, but we’re not going to show you any of that – we’ll just skip to the point where the programme’s being shut down and there are hardly any left.” Nevertheless, there was much gorgeously rendered metal-fisted mayhem as the mighty bots pound on, stab, shoot at and incinerate an array of increasingly freaky monsters. I don’t think there were any moments that topped the “hitting in the face with a ship” bit that was spoiled by the trailers, but there were plenty that came close. And the human stick-fighting sequence, while coming worrying close to the “you do not know someone until you fight them” bollocks from Matrix Reloaded, was a lovely bit of fight choreography.

So yes, no need for “none of you will ever hear the end of it”. The Internet breathes a sigh of relief.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATES: I almost forgot to write about Pacific Rim without mentioning the fact that it’s called “Pacific Rim”. Best I can come up with so far is “Pacific Rim? Sounds like something you have to pay extra for at a Tongan brothel! Am I right? Heyooooo! And so forth!” Yeah, I should have put more thought into it, but see above re: tired and so, so lazy.

*I have a ginger beard, so I’m assuming there must be some Viking somewhere in my genes.

Get Confident, Stupid!

Here’s a wacky bit of classic Simpsons humour:

Ah, the hilarity. The idea that you could instil confidence in someone just by telling them to be confident and calling them stupid – such risible malarkey! In real life, everyone knows you give someone confidence by… that is to say… nope, it’s gone – help me out here, Salon.com:

Much of the PUA [Pickup Artist] canon focuses on feigning confidence — by taking up space and seeming unavailable. It’s true, confidence is wildly attractive — but instead of attempting to trick a woman into thinking that you’re a secure human being with a lot going for you, be one. This way everyone wins: You become happier with yourself and can show it off without being a false-advertiser. (And that’s one of the main problems I have with pickup artistry: Too often it involves trying to deceive women about who you really are. There’s no respect in that sort of sleight of hand.) This route may not be as fast as learning to lean against a bar like you own the place, but it will last much longer.

Oh, so basically, “get confident, stupid!” Seriously, “be one” – that’s the sum total of her advice on becoming a more confident person.

It is possible for fake confidence to turn into the real thing

This post is a bit of a throwback to the Nice Guy one – one of the few consistent bits of advice I was given at the time was that I needed to be more confident, and it certainly seemed to be the case that the women around me were attracted to more confident personality types. The thing is, if I knew what it meant to be confident, I already would be. Just telling someone to be more confident is useless unless you can tell them how that might be done*.

And it seems like the only people offering real advice on how to be more confident are these PUA arseholes, who do it in the context of “here’s how to get bitches to fuck you.” I’ll admit, I’ve not spent a lot of time looking into their techniques, because I’m married and also not a complete prick, but from what I can gather, it’s a “fake it ’til you make it” kind of plan – exhibit confident behaviour (“lean against a bar like you own the place”) and real confidence will eventually follow – success with women leads to confidence around woman, not the other way around. To be honest, strip away the misogyny, and this is about the best advice I could think of, and is certainly more substantial than the likes of that Salon quote.

It is possible for fake confidence to turn into the real thing – I’ve seen this happen in people I know – but it’s hard at the start. To begin with, you’re having to fight against the vicious cycle I’ve mentioned before, where a lack of confidence leads to rejection, which lowers your confidence, which makes rejection even more likely, etc. etc. Then there’s the fact that even faking confidence is hard when you don’t really know what you’re doing. It’s very easy to slip from “confident” into “annoying” or, even worse, “creepy” – I’ve seen this happen, too. And of course it can feel deceptive and dishonest, all of which is why I never bothered to try.

I’d certainly say that I’m a more confident person now than I was fifteen years ago, though – how did that come about? Fifteen years of experience for one thing – I’ve learned to have confidence in my abilities simply by seeing myself succeed at things. There’s a very specific “oh shit, I’m in over my head” feeling that I’ve come to recognise – I felt it when I started university, when I started my MA, when I started a full-time job, and each time it’s turned out to be bullshit – I wasn’t out of my depth and I ended up doing perfectly well. So I learned to ignore that feeling, and I don’t actually recall the last time it showed up.

That’s confidence in general – in the romantic arena, I don’t know if I ever really did get much more confident. Certainly, I’m more confident of my physical appearance, now that a couple of decades of weathering has put a little colour in my pallid complexion, and a slowing metabolism mixed with a little exercise has put some substance on my ectomorphic frame. If confidence did come, I’m pretty sure it didn’t happen until after I was in a relationship.

At the end of the day, all I’d have to offer to a hypothetical advice-seeker on the subject of confidence is just “be honest with yourself for, ooh ten or fifteen years, and it’ll eventually arrive. A bit. Probably.” Can anyone seriously do any better than that?

*Much as I dislike the current fashion of analysing all of human experience through the prism of privilege, “confidence privilege” is a good description of the phenomenon where those who have it don’t seem to recognise that there’s even an issue for those who don’t. About the only thing the non-confident have to console themselves with is the sour grapes offered by the Dunning-Kruger effect – those naturally confident people are just too stupid to know their limitations! Look at them, off being successful and happy – the morons…

A T-Rex with an Erection

Arguing on the Internet is like having your knees bitten off by a T-Rex with an erection: surreal, agonising and why the fuck does it have an erection?

An extension to the Never Read The Comments rule: never write them, either.

When I was young and foolish and new to the Internet, I got into an online argument over the merits of Joel Schumacher as a director (I was of the opinion that they are slight). It wasn’t a pretty sight – I made what I thought were persuasive points and then got more and more annoyed when the other guy ignored everything I wrote and talked about how Falling Down wasn’t bad. Eventually I went off at him and got told that I’d “lost it”, at which point I realised there was no pulling out of the death-spiral our interaction had become and abandoned it. Never again, I said. Never again.

Well, when I say “never”…

It still happens every now and then that I find myself in an Argument on the Internet. I say “find myself” because that’s how it always feels – I don’t try to start them, but it happens and once I realise where I am, I just stop. Say my piece, leave and never look back. Yeah, it’s a bit rude to just disappear without even reading the other side’s reaction to what I wrote, but to do otherwise is to risk that absolute nadir of the Internet argument: saying “right, I’m done”, reading the replies to your “final” word and then jumping right back in. You just have to get out before the inevitable slide into the petty, the personal and the pedantic.

Even in the rare cases when arguments don’t go in this direction, they’re still usually a waste of time. Take this video, for example (which I came across just after writing this post, to which it makes an interesting postscript):

This isn’t what you might expect from such a discussion – both sides are well spoken, level-headed, and never descend into the personal. There’s a little slip right at the end when they both revert to type – him the comedian being a dick to get a reaction, her the eye-rolling humourless feminist – but it manages to stay away from any real unpleasantness.

Even though, listen to what they’re actually saying: for the most part, Jim Norton is defending the notion that rape (and indeed any subject) can be used in comedy, while Lindy West is largely attacking specific types of rape joke (those that make fun at the expense of the victim, or simply use “rape” as a buzzword to get a reaction) and in some cases one specific instance of a rape joke (the Daniel Tosh thing). I’m pretty sure they’d both actually agree with each other’s position, and yet they spend most of the time talking past each other – one defending the aspect of the issue that’s easy to defend, one attacking the aspect that’s easy to attack, neither saying anything that impacts on the other’s point. Even the good arguments achieve nothing.

Perhaps the cleverest thing I have ever written or will ever write was this reaction to an argument I was following (but not, thankfully, participating in):

“The sky is blue!”
“Yeah, but grass is green!”
“No, the SKY is BLUE!”
“God damn it, GRASS IS GREEN!!”
“BLUE! BLUE, I TELL YOU!”
“GREEN! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU!”

I think I’ve got the hang of this – can I play, too?

Because that was what was happening – the specifics aren’t important, but both sides were arguing heatedly for separate points that didn’t actually contradict each other. (See also: arguments involving two parties that are 99% in agreement tearing each other’s throats out over the 1% where they differ.)

In writing this comment, it was claimed that I “summarised the Internet”, which is A) true, B) heart-crushingly depressing and C) more than enough reason to stay away from arguments online. Think of it as an extension to the Never Read The Comments rule: never write them, either.

All Holes Filled with Hot Subjectivity

Wow, that’s a terrible title. Wow. Anyway, I started writing a post in advance of the new Superman film and got about halfway into it before I could no longer ignore the nagging conviction that no-one gives a shit about how much I dislike the Christopher Reeve series of Superman films and the 2006 reboot that was reconstituted from a bucket of its stem cells*. It did get me thinking on the reasons people give for hating movies, though.

All movies have plot holes.

One of the (many) things that irritated me about Superman Returns was how Lex Luthor’s evil plan makes absolutely no sense. He’s going to kill millions of people creating a new continent and then get rich because he’ll own all this new land? Who says he owns it? What’s going to stop every army in the world invading and taking it off him, apart from the fact that the supposedly valuable landmass is a grey, lifeless, inhospitable lump of rock that no-one in their right mind would want to live on?

The question is: did that plot hole make me hate the film, or did I already hate the film, which is why I noticed the plot hole?

All movies have plot holes. Die Hard, as I’ve mentioned before, is an excellent, excellent film with at least one gaping plot hole. But, you know, it had never even occurred to me through multiple viewings until someone it pointed it out to me. (Patton Oswalt wasn’t the first to comment on it, but he sums it up well.)

On the other hand, there’s Prometheus – a lot of people went berserk over all of the holes in it, but I had trouble buying many of their complaints. Sure the film has no shortage of flaws – even while I was watching it I found myself saying “hang on – how did those two guys get lost when one of them is the guy who controls the mapping drones?” Some of the supposed plot holes can be explained away, though – many of the things people question about the film assume that the main characters’ theories are right, when the point is that they’ve actually got it all wrong**. In a lot of cases it sounded more like people, having decided they didn’t like the film for more visceral reasons, looking for post-facto justifications of their emotional reactions.

At around the time Prometheus came out, I noticed a discussion on plot holes among a few screenwriters on Twitter:

This sounds right to me – Die Hard is great entertainment that lets you overlook the holes; Prometheus just wasn’t that great (and had the added handicap of stomping over the much-loved Alien franchise).

Of course, enjoyment of films is subjective and it all gets murky – some holes are so glaring that you can’t ignore them, no matter how much you may be enjoying the film. In the better-than-I-expected Man on a Ledge, two characters breaking into a building come across a security sensor they weren’t expecting, and have to enlist the main character’s help to identify it as a heat sensor, then improvise a way around it. Later on, their plan calls for them to deliberately set the alarms off, which they do by placing a bunch of heat packs under the sensor. At that point, even though I was fully enjoying the film, I had to sit up and ask why, if they had no idea that there was going to be a heat sensor there, they purposely brought along gear to set one off?

So if a film’s good, you won’t notice its flaws, unless you do? Or does the fact that you notice flaws show that the film isn’t that good? Unless you enjoy it anyway? I guess it just annoys me when I read or hear people wanking on about the mass of plot holes in a film they hated, pretending like it objectively proves their opinion.

Hmm, that’s a suitable conclusion, but it’s not much of a punchline. Um. Penis?

*Is mentioning Christopher Reeve and stem cells in the same sentence in poor taste? It feels like it could be in poor taste.

**I also don’t see anything wrong with the Charlize Theron’s notorious “half a billion miles from Earth” line – it was an interesting illustration of how the vastness of space dwarfs even the human capacity for hyperbole (though not, apparently, the human capacity for pedantry). No-one would have complained if she’d said “a jillion gazillion miles from Earth” in the same spirit. And seriously, who would ever have cared – or even noticed – if Neil deGrasse Tyson hadn’t used it as a punchline?