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.

Two-fisted Tales of Toileting

BRAIN: Welp, time to urinate.

BLADDER: Use a cubicle! Use a cubicle! Urinals make me nervous.

Fine, there’s one free – in we go…

Wow, it’s really quiet.

Yes.

Like, weirdly quiet. The guy in the next stall is making no noise at all.

I guess not.

That means he’ll be able to hear every noise we make.

That is how sound works, yes.

Eeeevery noise. Every… little… tinkle.

Can we just do this?

I DON’T WANT HIM TO HEAR MY TINKLE!!

Fucksake, you don’t even know who’s in there. Who cares?

I care! I care more than anything I’ve ever cared about before.

OK, fine. We’ll come back later – maybe no-one will be around then.

NOOOO!!! If we go out now, he’ll have heard us walk into a toilet cubicle, do nothing for a minute then walk out again – what’s he going to think?!

Gnggh. OK, so go already.

Yeah… Yeah, I’ll just – NOOOO!!!

What now?!

Well, he’s already heard us standing here doing nothing – if I do it now it’ll sound like we were having trouble going!

Seems like we are having trouble going.

Yeah, but this is just… deliberation. He’ll think there’s something wrong with us – like, medically. Like our bits don’t work or something.

So what do you propose?

I think it’s obvious what we have to do: we stand here IN PERFECT SILENCE until he’s done, then we can go.

Right, that’s beyond crazy – I’m pulling rank here. You go now or I will punch us in the kidneys.

Uh… uh… OK. Yeah, OK. I just get a bit worked up sometimes. OK.

There, all done. And the other guy’s still in his cubicle. We can go now and no-one will ever know a thing.

Right. Right – oh shit, I can hear him fiddling with the toilet paper – he must be nearly done!

No biggie – we’ll wash our hands and be out of here in a second.

But what if we’re too slow? What if we’re still in here when he comes out of his cubicle? We’ll know who he is and he’ll know who we are! WHAT IF WE MAKE EYE CONTACT!!!

– – – – – – – – –

It was never clear just why Josh threw a live hand grenade into the men’s toilets, screamed “I’ll see you all in HELL!” and dived headfirst down the stairwell and into legend. No body was ever found.

The Further Adventures of Ted “Theodore” Logan

Come with me now on a journey back through the churning mists of time… It is the year 2000, and I am – holy shit, am I actually doing a misty flashback to the year 2000? Living in the future is weird. Anyway, it’s January 2000 and I’m turning 24. My preferred birthday celebration is going to the movies with a bunch of friends, but the problem with a birthday in January is that all the good films came out a couple of months earlier in time for the Christmas break – by mid-January, you’re left with the stuff that’s either too obscure or just too crap to be allowed to clutter the holiday schedule. What’s around this year that we haven’t already watched? Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. Skipping ahead through the years, my birthday hijinks would end up exposing me to a fairly even mixture of hidden gems (Enemy at the Gates, A Very Long Engagement) and banal shit (Battlefield Earth, The Spirit). This year, having let the tradition slide somewhat, I decided to give it a go – with 47 Ronin.

there’s nothing more evil than a sexually confident woman.

Come with me now on another journey back through the churning mists of time… It is now feudal Japan with samurai and honour and massive shoulder pads but also witches and demons and shit. Let me say at the start that I’m not sure how I feel about an action movie that doesn’t have Dwayne Johnson or Jason Statham in it. How do we even know it’s an action film? On the other hand, there are 47 of the buggers – one of them’s bound to be Statham in a wig. Probably two or three. Headlining the film is Keanu Reeves as Kai, a half-Japanese outcast with magical powers taught to him by demons that he almost never uses for fear of blowing the FX budget. Kaianu is pretty much Japanese Neo, which is to say he’s pretty much any Keanu Reeves character who isn’t Ted “Theodore” Logan*. It’s debatable whether or not he’s the main character – equal weight is given to Oishi, the leader of the eponymous Ronin, who is actually central to the story, as opposed to being bolted on to provide a white face and a supernatural angle.

The plot is based on the classic tale: A bunch of samurai are made ronin and exiled after the death of their lord. Their leader is thrown in a hole for a year, gets out and after a brief detour to swipe Kaianu off the set of a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, he assembles the rest of the crew and they organise an assault on the bad guys to avenge their master. The bad guys in this case are a rival lord, whose face appears to have been welded into a permanent evil sneer, and a powerful witch, who we can tell is evil because she acts kind of slutty and shows a lot of leg and we all know there’s nothing more evil than a sexually confident woman. As well as enemy soldiers, the ronin have to contend with demons, both CGI and half-CGI. (I get that Tengu are supposed to be bird-like, but why do they have four nostrils? Seriously, their beak/nose combo gives them bird nostrils at the top and human nostrils at the bottom – I’m not lying when I say that bothered me the entire time they were on screen.)

And, yeah, the good guys win, but then of course they all have to commit ritual suicide because honour, so Kaianu can never be with the woman he loves. With the amount of “I’ll find you in another life” pining, I was 95% sure that the movie was going to manufacture a happy ending with a flash forward showing the reincarnated lovebirds being reunited in the present day – instead it ends on a silhouetted fist-pumping ronin on horseback, which was one freeze frame and the opening bars of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” short of a Breakfast Club remake**. As a film, it’s not good enough to gush over, nor is it bad enough to mock satisfyingly – there was only one thing that really stuck out to me, but to explain it, you’ll have to…

Come with me now on a journey back through the churning mists of time, not as far as the last journey but a bit further back than the one before it… It’s 1991 and I’m playing the game Magic Pockets on my Amiga 500. I almost included this game on my list of life-defining gaming experiences, but its significance to me doesn’t really relate to gaming per se. See, when you complete a level, all of the goodies you collected spray out across the screen, and when I saw that my reaction was “wow, that’s an impressive number of objects on screen at once – that would have been hard to do on an Amiga,” which was the first time I noticed myself paying attention to the behind-the-scenes technical details of a piece of entertainment at the same time as I was supposed to be sitting back and enjoying it.

The more I learn about how movies are made, the more I find myself doing this. I’ve mentioned before not being able to unsee Teal and Orange or badly written action scenes once I knew how they work; more recently, Cracked.com’s podcast “Why Every Movie Plot Follows Weirdly Specific Rules” saw me analysing the timing of every film I saw after it. Back on topic, while watching 47 Ronin, I found myself thinking “hmm, that CGI’s OK; that CGI’s a bit dodgy; I’m assuming that background is CGI; good integration of CGI and real life in that bit” and so on. I don’t know why CGI sticks out more than, say, stop animation or miniature work – maybe it’s because it’s used to achieve things that you know can’t be real. On the other hand, maybe I just didn’t pay as much attention to how things worked back before CGI became commonplace – I do watch older films now and think “ooh, that’s a nice model.” Am I just going to destroy more and more of my movie watching experience the more I know about how movies work? Should I be actively avoiding any more discussions of film-making? Should I be scientifically hitting myself in the head with a flatiron to dislodge what knowledge I already have?

I could come to some sort of conclusion here, but I know that most of you stopped reading after “flatiron” to jump to the comments section and say “yes you should” so I’m just going to stop typing now.

* Of course, since he has access to a time machine, you can make the case that any time Keanu Reeves appears as a character in a period piece, he’s actually an older Ted taking a breather from being a rock god. Hell, he’s even got the beard in this one.

** Needless to say, that would have been awesome.

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.