June 26, 2012 § Leave a comment
On Friday, an event called Night of Festivals took place in Nottingham, bringing carnival-style performances from around the globe to the Old Market Square, with music ranging from salsa, merengue, bachata, to samba percussion, and Haitian horn blowers. It was nice to have another occasion in which to see Nottingham’s lunatics and eccentrics take to the streets and dance like only they know how. These kind of free, open-air events strike me as a brilliant holiday for homeless people. For once, they get to join in with the festivities. At one point on Friday night, a drunk, toothless, homeless lady was dancing with a Storm Trooper. If that’s not a holiday from yourself, I don’t know what is.
I noticed the other day that the kazoo I keep in the bathroom -which is not there for any practical purpose; humming whilst on the loo or otherwise- has been cobwebbed on the inside. You’ve got to lower your opinion of spiders after seeing such a thing. I mean, really, come on. That must be the spider equivalent of doing all your food shopping at the £1 shop. I love the thought of a fly flying through a kazoo, though. I wonder if their already drone-like hum would take on a new level of intensity at the core of the instrument?
I don’t understand the appeal of the Playboy logo as a kind of brand. Like the Nike tick, the bunny has now hopped out of its original context, and you see it on posters, trousers, t-shirts, as vinyl stickers on cars. Girls choose to wear jackets baring a symbol which stands for the objectification of women. I guess this says a lot about the nature of porn. Where there are men willing to objectify, there are women willing to be objectified; willing themselves a target. Some will say it’s ironic, or outside of its original context, or even perhaps that Playboy aren’t really the worst pornographers around, that they represent a kind of retro time-gone-by. Many men don’t need much encouragement to treat women badly, and if anything, this bunny is less a brand and more a branding: marking livestock for ownership.
In teaching teenagers it is easy to lose your own identity. In situations in which you are the responsible adult in a mire of screeching, spotty, hormonal try-hards, it is hard not to become the teacher you hated, or devolve to your own teenage form. Teenagers are terrible things. I have the utmost respect for Secondary School teachers who deal with them every day- especially those teachers of “less cool” subjects.
When you deal with kids infrequently, as I do, it is hard not to be a figure of fun, in the sense that if you’re not prepared, the kids will see you as prey for the taking. I have found that to be funny is the most important skill. Teenage boys in particular like to chat back, and I always enjoy belittling the “smart arse” of the class, responding to one of their attempts at humour by announcing in front of the whole class that I have taught hundreds of kids throughout my life, and in every class there is always one kid who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else. But unfortunately for them, they are not special or unique like they think. They tell the same jokes as all the other kids I have ever taught.
It takes them down a notch, and whilst it shows the whole class that I’m not there to be mocked, it also shows them that they can enjoy themselves in my class, but not at expense of some kind of order. It usually has a good effect on them from that point onwards. My ability to be cheeky to teenagers comes from the fact that as a teenager at my school, if you weren’t good at football or fighting, then you had to be funny.
The worse thing a teacher can do, I think, is try too hard to be “on a level” with the teenager. I remember numerous times as a kid when teachers would try this, and though it may work for a moment, soon enough the kids see through it, and will run merry rule over the lesson. I think teachers who do this are the ones who were uncool in their own school days. They see their intervening years as having endowed them with some kind of adult wisdom to be the child’s spiritual guru. I think trying to “talk on the level” of teenagers is more condescending than establishing a line of fair authority. They see through the facade.
I certainly wouldn’t classify myself as an expert in education, but my experiences as a child and teacher have taught me that drawing a consistent line is the key to working with kids. You set the boundaries, lead by example, and be good at what you do. If you are pretending, they will rip you to shreds.
Thinking back to the Night of Festivals, there really is a fine line between mime and dance. Especially for boys, who tend to act stupid to their mates in a dance situation, to thin the embarrassment of “expressing themselves”. Watching the efforts of the various assembled, I couldn’t help but think of holiday camps, and popular dance routines. Even though the music was inflected with a relaxed latino character, the British, bless them, were running around like bulls (sometimes literally, in a semi-racist fashion), and when dancing in pairs would throw their partners around like rag dolls, with little care if their lady of choice hit a hard surface, or another lady of another’s choosing.
I think, as a race, the British are more comfortable with pre-determined group dances. One I remember from one of those nostalgia tv shows had people sit in a line with their legs open, bum to groin with the person behind you and groin to bum with the one in front, from where you would then mime rowing, everyone’s arms moving in time, but bums firmly static on the ground. Really in no form does it resemble dancing. Maybe it was the possibility of a dry hump which made this manoeuvre so popular for a period in the seventies.
June 21, 2012 § Leave a comment
The other day I saw the advert for a ****** luxury cruise liner (as in six stars, not an unrepeatable six-letter swearword; suggestions on a postcard). I didn’t realise that a sixth star had been introduced into the lexicon of quality measurement? Doesn’t this undermine 5 star cruises still on the old system, or for that matter 5 star movies, and in fact… does it not render all lived experiences to this point, pointless?
“I saw Schindler’s List the other day. Pretty good. But it’s no giant boat.”
Clearly they see no moral issue in describing their boat in these terms. But surely, a hotel in which you are trapped throughout your holiday, that is more liable to sinking, pirate attack or giant squids than a non-floating one, should not be described as better than a 5 star hotel in Mayfair, or wherever. For me, a cruise is a bit like being trapped in someone else’s idea of fun. It could very well be compatible with yours, but more often than not you will be bound to the fancies of others. If my boat was big enough to account to all possible tastes, I would almost certainly worry about it sinking to the bottom of the ocean. But then, is there a better way to drown than in a leather-decked buffet?
Another thought. If Titanic was about the sinking of a 6 star cruise liner, would the film have got better reviews? Maybe it could have squeezed an extra star, or even added the film’s star rating to the boat’s?
Following on from some recent posts regarding language, comedy and tragedy, I will expand a little (deep breath) with some more recent thoughts.
Recently I came to this definition of language: a social convention of agreed meanings, essentially establishing a hierarchy of perception, and facilitating dependence.
Language is cultural consensus, which is why a translation is never a true reflection of the original meaning of a phrase, but more an approximation to communicate a gist.
Man has always been a communal being, at least the studies of Evolutionary Biologists seem to prove as much. In my first ever blog post I quoted from The Origins of Political Order by Francis Fukuyama, which I will repeat here:
(It is a fallacy that) “human beings were primordially individualistic and that they entered into society at a later stage in their development only as a result of a rational calculation that social cooperation was the best way for them to achieve their individual ends… it is in fact individualism and not sociability that developed over the course of human history.”
It is thus with the comfort of modernity, through thousands of years of evolution, that we can pick apart language, and what it means to communicate with a common tongue, in this age of information.
There is no separation between meaning and word. Though we may have private associations, culture is an imposed phenomenon, something we can influence, but something that it is older and bigger than our lives. It drives our morality and the nature of our interactions with others. A soon as an other (I.e. someone other than the self) agrees to a proposed perception, it becomes language, through that agreement. The meanings we draw from every second of our lives are the entrenched beliefs of our ancestors and families, and though we control our own lives, it is undeniable that these outside forces determine to an extent how we can look at things. And it suits us to keep it so. It enables us to be dependent, and thus a bit more comfortable.
But “dependence” has come to have derogatory connotations in recent times. If as an adult you are in full health, but describe yourself as dependent, some will call you lazy; others worse. But we are all dependent on an other. Is there a better word for it (that we can also ruin, given a few hundred years)?
If we see dependence as a weakness in today’s world, a fault in our character, then is the desire to be independent a desire to be unsullied from imperfection? To be truly independent is to be free of language. It is commonly accepted that anxiety about others often conceals a more profound anxiety about ourselves. All fear and anger in relation to others is a proclamation of our individual right to our personal place in the world. In that sense, anxiety is an expression of the rift between our personal perception and language, i.e., broader culture.
It is hard to deny that our behaviour is somewhat determined by cultural-social precedent. Again in The Origins of Political Order, Francis Fukuyama cites political scientist Robert Axelrod as having “demonstrated that a form of morality could evolve spontaneously as rational decision makers interact with one another over time, even though motivated in the first instance by nothing more than self-interest”. Without destroying the idea of free will exactly, the idea that language has led us down certain paths is an interesting, if a little depressing, notion.
In a recent article exploring the place of the theatre in the films of David Lynch (www.exeuntmagazine.com/features), writer Stewart Pringle wrote this about the performances of club Silencio in Lynch’s Mulholland Drive:
“The acts on Silencio’s stage denounce reality as an illusion, suggesting that free will is merely lip-syncing to a predetermined melody.”
Language is, at times, a bind. A word can’t always communicate an idea, a feeling. Some languages have words to describe specific sensations that others do not. It is inevitable that without speaking every language ever created, we will often fall short in description. In Japanese, onomatopoeic words have a real precedence. If anything, these words are more true to experience than denoting a said meaning through an arbitrary combination of consonants and vowels. But that said, the Japanese think dogs say “Lan” instead of “Woof”, so perhaps there is no answer to this.
Through my attempts at learning a second language (Portuguese most recently and so far successfully. German for seven years at school not so successfully), I have come into contact with the un-English idea of gender orientating objects. This is such an alien concept to an English speaker. Without looking into it much, there seems no particular rationale as to why something is thought to be male rather than female, or visa versa. I’d like to think there was a day when an arguing meta-man and his meta-wife walked through the universe dividing everything up for their divorce settlement.
Similarly, in Portuguese there is the separation between temporary and permanent states. E.g., “Eu sou um homem” (I am a man), and “Eu estou doente” (I am sick). Perhaps the idea of sexuality being fixed was true in a bygone era, but today with gender reassignment operations and the right of said Reassigned to live their life as the gender they choose, is it still as easy to state with such confidence “I am a man”? Who knows what radical changes your beliefs could take come 5 years.
“I am a man. I have no plans on changing that detail, but don’t swear me to that, because in truth, I don’t even know what I’ll even be eating for my dinner.”
And what about Portuguese Buddhists? Isn’t time fleeting and aren’t all things impermanent? How can you, with your beliefs, state with confidence that you are sat on a chair. If we are thinking of time and space as a constant fluctuation of matter, then the true description of your seating arrangements would include all history before and after you sat down, capturing all possible states of said matter. Hmmmmm
In a fantastic short story by Jorge Luis Borges, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius (1961), the writer imagines a world without nouns. Tlön, as he calls it, is a world that understands itself “not as a concurrence of objects in space, but as a heterogeneous series of independent acts”. In their language, a phrase such as “the moon rose above the water” becomes “upward behind the onstreaming it mooned”. Without nouns, there can be no such thing as observing the same object at different times, and thus no history. This implies a life lived in the moment, reflective of sensation.
It seems to me (and my feeble mind), that despite its limitations, language is not a bind. It is our minds that bind us, because we can not store enough information to have a language large enough to reflect possibility. The end
June 15, 2012 § Leave a comment
Like some kind of rare planetary alignment, the UK this summer is a playground for a combination of events, set to send its citizens into wild reverie, like dogs running wild before some big atmospheric change, or frogs in an earthquake. We have the queen’s Jubilee. We have Euro 2012. We have the Olympics.
The other day the queen (did I just capitalise that? Oops… undone) actually came through my home city, Nottingham, as part of her 60th Jubilee tour of the UK. I doubt the tour is anything like what I hope it to be for them- like Led Zeppelin, in an oversized coach with loose women passed out in their own vomit, whilst the family, half-hungover, in the haze of a massive come down, barter with some imagined sock demon who has stolen all their plectrums. (Plectra?)
From what I saw, whilst trying to avoid the whole thing, they were actually all crammed into one car, and driven through the crowd as quickly as possible, on their way to a country club north of the city, to gorge themselves on Duchys and boulders of Stilton.
In Nottingham, roads were closed, buses stopped in the street, and thousands of people, here on to be referred to as ZPCMs (Zombies Perpetuating Colonial Myths), stood in stupid awe of the impending visitation from better places. Maybe people need a reason to be happy with all the financial woe of late. Maybe hard times have brought out the latent Britishness in all of us. Labour leader Ed Milliband recently defined stoicism as a particularly English quality. Surely the Greeks have suffered enough recently? Let them have their stoicism at least. I would say disproportionate pride-delusion is more of an intrinsic English trait, as a leftover of having once been a global power.
I honestly think most ZPCMs were out, making my morning hell, because they genuinely wanted to see the queen. Others, I think, were there for “ironic” reasons. “Let’s paint flags on our face and wave little flags and shout at the top of our voices!” Whether ironic or genuine, I cannot understand the pleasure in waiting for two hours to see a bit of an old lady. I still haven’t decided in my mind what is more absurd: Wearing your best smart clothes to see the queen for three seconds, or to make a joke of it all and paint yourself red, white and blue. Those “ironic” ZPCMs are certainly the ones who annoy me the most. You should know better. If you really think it’s all a big joke, then stay at home and do something else. Don’t add to the chaos and make it fatter, uglier.
Just like during our spell of hot weather (written about in my previous post), the queen enlivened some kind of repressed fanaticism and animal brutality- feelings they usually save for shouting at their televisions. I must say it surprised me to see how many people cared about the royal family. In my parents’ day, the royals were all we had for celebrities, so this kind of behaviour was perhaps more understandable. But nowadays, the royals fill an otherwise hollow space in cultural life; an uncomfortable space, the equivalent of half a bus seat which is otherwise claimed by a morbidly obese man. In terms of who gets their photo in the paper more than once, we have a) people who are talented, who appear in features, interviews, or get snapped leaving events at which they hung around with other talented people. We then have b) celebrities, of moderate or no talent, who rely upon the press a little to continue their careers. We then have c) D-Listers, who exist in the “public eye” solely because of tabloid attention, and who otherwise have no right to be known any more than anyone else.
But where do the royals fit? They are hereditary celebrities- otherwise useless, and in some ways more dislikable than the D-Listers, in that they take our money to have their moment. So that would make them d) in the list. But I can’t say I dislike them per-se, not as much as some graduates from ITV3 holiday “documentaries”. The royals can continue to exist (in my future fascist utopia), but only if they earn their way a little more. Harry could get a proper position in the army, not just a pretend one, William could get money from his wife’s “working class” family of millionaires. Charles gets money from his biscuits. Granny Liz a state pension. Oh what? You haven’t been paying into your National Insurance? Hard luck.
All this hysteria, along with the usual football ruckus, means this summer (if these tropical storms allow me to call it such) is promising to be a strange, dangerous one. I get the feeling that all this yo-yoing in the weather is the work of a higher intelligence. Tempt all the idiots out with sports competitions and their queen, stun them into a burnt, drunken stupor with intense blasts of sun, then wash them away, like Noah’s B-Squad. Flotsam and Jetsam.
June 4, 2012 § Leave a comment
There is something indelibly apocalyptic about Britain when the sun is out. Normally hermetic, melancholic people, shifting through open spaces like silverfish in the middle of the night, suddenly our streets are awash with extroverts and eccentrics, and broad toothy smiles (with the odd gap).
People sit on things that they wouldn’t sit on, like bins, or the floor, drinking, talking, or just sitting… sitting, like all society has reduced to a new order, where objects have new functions, and time moves at a different pace. Children bathe in fountains, encouraged by onlooking parents in dirty tracksuits: the professors of the new School of The Street. All you need to know in this new order is where there is shade, where there is water, and where there is an off-licence.
As is usually the case, at this time of uncharacteristic heat, I was out of the country, in Italy. It was actually hotter back home in Nottingham than it was in Tuscany. But Tuscany is Tuscany. I was there for a week, and ate ice-cream like it was my fulltime job.
It is true when they say that Italians understand food like few. It is the simplicity of their cuisine that appeals to me so, but, without quality produce, it is impossible to replicate in England. I imagine it is the dream of most who travel in Italy to bring some element of that culture back with them, to open a little deli or bar somewhere, and sustain their mediterranean dream. I read a quote from Alain de Botton once that said that this kind of dream is among the most common amongst middle-class westerners; the core desires to be in a position of power, but liked.
If I could open an Italian ice-cream parlour, I would call it “99 Problems (but a flake ain’t one).”
Whilst in Italy there was a small local festival, with a stage on which a local gym advertised their classes with performances from their instructors. I saw Zumba for the first time in the flesh. God it’s inane. It’s advertised universally as getting fit “whilst partying”. It certainly isn’t the kind of party I’d like to attend too regularly. Plastered across the faces of the instructor and her assistants were the most fearsome grins I have ever seen; somewhere between that of a children’s entertainer and a crack addict. It reminded me of a quote from Martin Amis’ Experience, in which he described the mouth as a window into our own mortality, a view of the skull exposed. Certainly with the manic look in their eyes, I felt like I was watching a moribund puppet show, choreographed by some kind of sinister force. This effect was heightened by the fact that the lead instructor had a bit of someone’s hair extension stuck to her foot for their entire presentation, adding a comic twist to the deathly dance.
On Saturday I saw Moonshine Kingdom, a film by Wes Anderson. Two of Anderson’s earlier films are resolutely placed in my list of all-time greats: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) and Rushmore (1998). While his new effort doesn’t quite reach the standard of his two masterpieces, it is sufficiently excellent to offer hope that he will again reach the heights of best loved works, some time; but not yet.
In the past I have often thought the dialogue in Anderson’s films as being like that of Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts: stilted in some ways, with characters simultaneously innocent and wise. Indeed, calculating what I would write in this blog, I came across a small article in the Independent, which said exactly what I thought, in a clearer manner than I could have. (But without the paper to hand, I will attempt to paraphrase from memory, whilst making said ideas muddier and less coherent, much as if I had never seen the article at all.)
Anderson’s films have always has an animated aesthetic- the compositional squareness of the scenes, the woodenness he requires from his actors; all highly arranged and particular. But beyond this, he brings a flatness to his filmic reality, and much like other indie/arthouse pictures of this time, adults and children often act like each other, but unlike some of his lesser contemporaries, this flattening of characteristics is justified through the highly stylised whole of the picture. He makes American indie-whimsy palatable with his highly orchestrated and immaculately designed sets, costumes and scripts. Everything is tailored like a singular whole: beautiful and neat. It is possible to get tired of his style. I couldn’t bare it if all films were made by Wes Anderson, but nonetheless, I am happy he exists, and is so distinctive.
I would love him to step into design, much like David Lynch has recently. I would buy any piece of furniture he imagined, although I expect it would cost me my knees to own even a modest poof.
Another way to justify adults acting like children (or in an otherwise naive manner) in a movie, is to create a world in which the characters know no better. The other day I saw the Greek film Kynodontas (Dogtooth), (2009). It is pretty harrowing, telling the story of a father who keeps his three grown-up children locked up at home, ignorant of the wider world.
In their lives, interruptions of their false idyll (prison), such as aeroplanes flying overhead and cats in the garden are adorned with a myth of lies. Cats are depicted by the father as flesh-eating beasts, whilst distant planes are robbed of their scale, with the mother throwing toy replicas from the house window when the “kids” are distracted, as if the flying thing had crash landed, and was as small as it appeared to the eye. The children are encouraged to fight to claim the toy plane as a trophy, and at one stage forced to have sex with each other, to quell the potential for their animal desires to get the better of the family law. In this world, any outside ideas and influences are restricted, distorted and rebranded, with even language itself prone to re-appropriation for the purposes of their continued innocence, for example, “the sea” coming to mean a large armchair. The father does all he can to reduce their world to the environment of the house and garden, seemingly to protect his children from something he fears outside their family walls. But ultimately, the innate curiosity of his offspring gets the better of his plans, for the worse.
It is a powerful film, and an indictment of power which restricts the freedom of choice.