Friday, October 24, 2014

Fear Itself

Off the top of my head, I can think of the following recent political meltdowns that basically amounted to David Cameron's government conjuring supposedly frightening problems out of thin air, where once there were none -

- The petrol crisis, after Francis Maude urged citizens to stock up on flammable liquids;

- The national debt, aggressively and terrifyingly marketed as larger than that of Greece, despite the fact that the UK economy is effectively Richard Branson licking champagne off a platinum yacht to Greece's comparative pauperdom;

- The human rights crisis, after the government decided that the issue of prisoners voting was more useful as an expensive political hobbyhorse to be ridden like an old 10p children's ride at a supermarket, than it was as a fairly simple legislative correction; 

- The proposed EU referendum, skooshed onto flaming backbench discontent with all the effectiveness of a quick piss into a blazing bonfire, gaining only the most short-term benefit;

- The EU surcharge, long agreed upon by member states, which the Tories knew full well was coming long in advance and chose to pounce on as an opportunity to show off their throbbing, manly girth, and

- So on.

Of course, the list of actual disasters that the Tories have presided over - whacking a forty-grand pricetag on higher education, the Leveson debacle, Libya, the bedroom tax, to pick just a few - were downplayed somewhat.

I can't think of a government that has invested so much time and effort into fostering raw panic to combat phantom terrors, except perhaps the obvious administration during my childhood. 

Reader, can you think of any other utterly confected disasters to add to this list of recent Tory alarmism, or advise of any other UK governments that spent quite so much time pretending to soil their frillies over things that really, they weren't frightened of in the slightest?

God knows the last Labour government were prone to freak-outs about, oh, tinpot dictatorships with imperial ambitions, but this bunch are beyond comedy.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

It's Fun To Be In The Mujahideen

You never know how things are going to turn out but for now, let's just enjoy the reasonable likelihood that the War Nerd is right, and ISIS just aren't much cop at war.

After all, Kobane is not Stalingrad.  It's a town defended by a lightly-armed, poorly trained militia - a very brave one, but a militia nonetheless...  And the entire planet has just watched supposedly the most terrifying army of psycho-Jihadists around take a vicious beating off a bunch of smiling, thumb-upping girls.  A resounding defeat, from some smiling girls in blokey uniforms and immodestly bare heads, no less!*  Live, on worldwide TV!

The current state of the Battle of Kobane should tell us that far from being a bunch of battle-hardened badasses, at least a sizeable chunk of ISIS is actually not much more than a bunch of boastful, whooping evil idiots - very good at murdering unarmed civilians, and good at walking into towns vacated by people who don't want to fight them, but not very good at all at fighting people who actually shoot back.

And yet, I'm starting to hear mumbles about how really, all this shows that the joint airstrikes are working, and are proof of President Obama's bulging, manly testicles.

This is precisely the wrong message to be sending, so jaw-droppingly self-defeating and insane that it can only be coming from the very people making it.   

ISIS is scared of girls is an incredibly useful propaganda coup.  ISIS got robbed by the infidel's cowardly space-weapons is not useful, at all.  

I've spent an embarrassing amount of time banging the drum for some basic points about the type of person who's attracted to joining up with jihadi armies and so on over the years.  That is, that they're overwhelmingly gullible, credulous, small-minded, deeply prejudiced, wildly irrational, intolerant, no-dick weirdoes.  A sad and hateful bunch of twats and geeks, good for little but woofing nonsense about how tough they are on YouTube, and stopping bullets with their sternums.

In the Middle East, they're very good at maybe three things - killing defenceless people; intimidating and harrassing other defenceless people, and eventually getting splattered over wide areas by high explosives to no useful purpose. 

In the west, our committed terrorists are usually even more ludicrous, most often as thick as shitty jam and literally too stupid to make petrol catch fire.

Facing prison, your western jihadist typically turns from a demon warrior of God into a quivering, tear-streaked lump of boneless goo, hurling himself upon the mercy of the court with a series of weepy and increasingly hilarious excuses.   The sheer pitch-black comedy of this should surely be obvious to all - men who were prepared to blow themselves to smithereens with crude bombs for their cause, now reduced to quivering wrecks by the prospect of a bit of jail time. 

I realise that a long habit is hard to break and God knows, we Brits have spent the last fifteen years bigging up every mountain-dwelling goat botherer and laid-off Iraqi plumber into a bunch of eight-foot tall desert warriors, pissing gallons of raw terror over half of the planet.

Seriously, I understand that this stuff appeals to our leaders' and writers' desire to keep fighting lunatic wars, and of course to their ever-ballooning, vainglorious Churchillian pomposity.  It's plain that the UK authorities believe that inflating a sad bunch of nasty, none-too-bright revanchist throwbacks into a mortal threat to civilisation is useful and necessary. 

I'm just saying that, you know, it isn't.  We should've spent the last decade shouting out the actual truth about a lot of dumb-as-rocks gap-year twats getting rubbed out and killing other people for worse than nothing.  A chance missed, you'd think.

Still, there's always time to start making good.  Altogether now!   

(Fake ISIS propaganda music video; Dancing pyjama-clad men; Cue the disco beats)
Boom!  Boom!  Boom!  Boom!  Boom! 

It's fun to be in the Mujahideen!

It's fun to be in the Mujahideen!

*And no, you shouldn't be thinking Oh, how patronising and sexist at this point. You should be laughing and enjoying this huge, hilarious propaganda triumph over people who really, really deserve it.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

You Just Can't Pander Enough

A short reminder here, for people who have allowed the UKIP nonsense to distract them: notice, that the only time that we're ever lectured about how we must all indulge the "concerns" of parts of the electorate, is when chunks of it are all het-up with cretinous right-wing dickishness.

We are not generally urged to put ourselves in the shoes of low-paid people who would like bigger paycheques, nor those of the recently unemployed.

British political parties, papers and columnists do not much pander to the whims of those who think, to pick a few random examples, that higher education should be free, or that the NHS should not be privatised, or that we should desist from fighting quite so many insane wars.

Hell, about half the voting public of Scotland just upped and announced that they wanted out of the United Kingdom entirely, largely because they don't consider the modern British state to be a congenial place to live, work or raise a family, and the resultant attention to those people's "concerns" lasted the sum total of, what, five days?

And yet, a few tear-streaked wallopers announce that they're still very upset about immigration, and the entire country has to suddenly drop everything - yet again! - hunker down, and listen to the Kippers' very urgent democratic demands.  Every media outlet and politician in the land rushes to stroke their tiny, wrinkled gonads and utter soothing platitudes into their hairy little earholes, as if their complaints were forever and tragically unattended rather than constantly stoked and encouraged from the loftiest peaks of power and influence.

Well.  Fuck.  That.

Has it been ten years, or twenty, or fifty that we've all spent being constantly trolled about our compatriots' dislike for the foreigns?  I don't recall, but the topic has been front-page news for almost the entirety of my lifespan, and I'm thirty-six.

Isn't it odd, how certain issues merit near-unending sympathy, and yet others must dangle for all eternity?  Scotland, for example, is a near-tenth of the total population and our almost-secession, plainly sparked by contempt for decades of unstoppable right-wing dickbaggery, has incited bugger-all by way of a response*.

The current UK-wide laser-focus on this bunch of whining, girning dickheads' grievances tells us all manner of things about what is and isn't a respected political issue in Britain; what is and is not considered to be worthy of attention by men and women in positions of power.  Really, it shows us exactly where power lies and who wields it and damn, isn't it an amazing coincidence that the only electoral uprising in the entire country that merits serious attention is far out right-wing dickbaggery?

An amazing coincidence.

Who would've thought it - a supposed insurgency of anti-establishment revolutionaries, who are miraculously indulged and coddled by actually powerful people.  Why, you'd think that that would tell us something, wouldn't you.

And let's remember, after years and years of non-stop boiling, high-profile rage about the issues that this small but vocal section of the total populace considers its most urgent problem, their complaint is still that they're being ignored.  

Ignored.   Well, you have to laugh, because it's plain that you just can't pander enough to some folk.

*I'm not all that concerned that Scotland's obvious displeasure has sparked dick-all response - I think it's resulted in about the appropriate level of concern in the corridors of power.  Naturally, that's less than a few Home Counties bawbags kicking off like wankers in a by-election but again, this teaches us lots of very clear and unambiguous lessons about where power lies in this nation.

Monday, October 06, 2014

We Need To Talk About How This Affects Our Goals

I've been evangelising both the book and film versions of Gone Girl to anyone who will listen for some time now and I'm happy to do so again here for you, idle lunchbreak clicker.

Needless to say, this is going to spoil both versions for anyone yet to encounter them, and probably Fight Club too, so stop here if that bothers you.  


There's a lot of great stuff in both Gillian Flynn's novel and David Fincher's film - much musing on the battlegrounds of marriage and the extent to which we can ever really know the minds of even our nearest and dearest; how real trauma is experienced by the public at large via pre-cut news story templates, and how the participants in these dramas are required to assume hackneyed dramatic roles just to satisfy the public's demands.

It's not difficult to work out why this story left many people cold though, and it defnitely has prompted many vociferous complaints.  Cut the plot back to its bare bones and the tale that the author wanted to tell goes like this -

Boy meets Psychopath  >>>
Boy fails to live up to Psychopath's expectations >>>
Psychopath inflicts terrible punishment upon Boy >>>
Boy comes to realise that he actually loves Psychopath.

Which is basically the plot of 1984, and isn't exactly crowd-pleasing box office.

What raises this above a particularly depressing version of one of those rank Michael Douglas crazy-bitch stories is the expert manipulation of our sympathies.  It's a slow unfolding of horrors, by stages a portrait of a schlubby husband and a perfect wife; a violent asshole husband and an awesome, terrifying genius wife; a deeply-flawed and wronged husband with a psychopath for a spouse, and finally a portrait of a thoroughly awful power couple, each reinforcing and enabling the other's sick impulses and fully deserving of their miserable fate together*. 

It's not hard to see what attracted David Fincher to the book either - turning daft, pulpy potboilers with big ideas at their core into gripping, flashy thrillers is his speciality.  The structure of Fight Club - a similarly wacky and ridiculous story, held together only by the viewer's willingness to suspend their disbelief - has clear parallels with Flynn's bestseller.

Fight Club's needy, emasculated office drone, bent into unnatural shapes by a society that expects him to better himself in ways that he can't or won't achieve, who finds temporary fulfillment in punching and vandalising things.  Amy Elliot-Dunne, with her righteous fury at a faithless, craven husband and her boiling contempt for an American marital politics that she finds so offensively manipulative and banal that she seeks to revenge herself upon it all.

Tyler Durden and Amy Elliot-Dunne seem to be wiser than us.  They perceive systems and injustices that we miss and they have the guts and the brains to kick against them effectively.  They're as mad as hell and they're not going to take it any more and anyone who isn't punching the air at these speeches in both films would be better giving this type of fiction a wide berth.

And yet the cheer dies in our throats when we fully perceive what these people are capable of, in pursuit of their goals - skinheaded terrorism and a return to hunter-gathering for Tyler Durden, viciously murderous vengeance meted out upon those who dare to defy the wants of Amy Elliot-Dunne.

Both are stories about apparently admirable yet deeply horrying individuals.  We're invited to cheer them on, and then whiplashed by the full expression of their inhumanity.  It's shocking and brutal, as a good thriller should be. 

Much of the criticism of Gone Girl I've seen has focused on what are ultimately fripperies and diversions.  To pick just one - how are we to reconcile the supposedly deep universal analysis of relationships, with a self-harming, neck-slashing psycho Amy? 

Well, we can't - the analysis just isn't that deep, and it isn't even the point.  The famous Cool Girl rant about the manipulation of women's behaviour by men for their own ends, as perceptive as it is, is as much an act as the earlier Diary version of helpless, loyal Amy is.

We're being played again, encouraged to cheer Amy on in her vengeance, but it's not the injustice of modern gender relations that's driving her to acts of operatic villainy.  The lies and hypocrisy sure do piss her off, but the more time that we spend with her, the more we realise that it's the mere fact of another person's defiance of her desires that's driving her rage.

The same is true of Fight Club.  We're not being invited to cheer when Project Mayhem destroys those buildings.  We're supposed to think, Oh, shit.  Maybe Tyler Durden has a good point or two but ultimately he is, you know, the psychotic invention of a diseased mind, rather than the  cheerfully violent lifestyle guru we had earlier been led to admire.

In much the same way, we're compelled to respect Amy Elliot-Dunne's sheer invention and willpower.  She really is the Amazing Amy that the press are selling to the public.  It's just that she's not amazing in quite the way that we'd all been led to believe, much to our surprise and revulsion.

There are still plenty of people who'd say, well, so what?  For all that, it's still just nonsense - exploitative and deeply silly nonsense, at that.  And it is, as any really good pulpy thriller should be.

I'll go further than that and say that Gone Girl is the Mona Lisa of silly, exploitative nonsense.  The whole thriller genre is very silly indeed, or at least it is if it's any good, and that goes right back to Marlowe's flirtations with innumerable femmes fatales and his repeated druggings and coshings by fast-talking women and unseen thugs. 

The heart of a good thriller is mystery and shock value, tension and release.  As Chandler used to describe his method for overcoming writer's block, a man with a gun walks in...  Or a blood-soaked psychopath throws herself at her hate-filled husband in front of America's press, to the nation's delight.

Like it or not, you have to admire the panache.

Update!  A bit of a backlash forming about this film now - is Amy a Fatal Attraction-style monster from woman-hating central casting, or an icon of evil feminism for scorned women everywhere?

And the cop-out answer is, perhaps a bit of both.  We're certainly pushed towards the avatar-of-all-women's-vengeance interpretation in the big reveal, but Amy is at heart a pure psychopath from thriller nightmares and likely a raging narcissist into the bargain, willing to do anything to get what she wants. 

And, good!  Good melodrama needs interesting villains.   The slow reveal of these deeper motivations are what makes the drama compelling. 

I could go in-depth into Amy's apparent willingness to tolerate her husband's failure to maintain his perfect spouse facade and how the revelation of his unfaithfulness sparks her revenge mission, but the point worth focusing on is the one that she makes (in the film, anyway) at the end of the Cool Girl speech:

You do not get to win. 

The book goes deeper into Amy's view of her personal relationships as battles to the end, with a parade of framed former lovers and fitted-up ex-friends who dared to slight her, but the defining characteristic of her relationships with everyone else in the story is that sooner or later, she has nothing but contempt for all of them. 

She doesn't love her family or her friends - in fact, she seems to hate them all.  She seems to love Nick but as is made crystal clear, it's the pretense of perfection that Nick puts on for her that she falls in love with. 

That is, she loves Nick only when she can see her own reflection in him, making him raise his game to match her...  And unexpectedly, she comes to realise that she can force him to see their marriage the way that she does.  Because she's a narcissistic psychopath.

Narcissistic psychopaths, I assume, are not big on striking blows for people everywhere who just happen to share their gender, unless perhaps to bask in their adulation. 

This isn't a hidden theme or anything I'm talking about - Amy says this right out at the end of the film: Basically, she doesn't need Nick to love her or to care for her.  She only ever needed him to put on a convincing show of loving her to make her happy and, as she spells out graphically to her ever-dense husband, the act of putting on that show will make him love himself, and attain a kind of sick happiness too.

Does he agree with her in the film?  Well, he does in the book - they end entwined narcissists, utterly contemptuous of each other but each bitterly happy in their own way, stuck in the bespoke Hell that they have made for each other. 

Which isn't exactly And they lived happily ever after but damn, that's a cracking twist ending that nobody saw coming, I reckon.

*This - Nick coming to love Amy and accept that she's the only woman he could ever be with - is downplayed in the film version.  I suspect that this is because of strong negative reader reactions to this ending in the book.  Certainly, there was much talk of re-writing the third act, and it looks to me like writer and director decided to go with a less full-on version, to satisfy the book's fans and lessen the alienation for everyone else.  

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Political Map of (Most of) the British Isles

As a follow-up to my recent Political Map of Scotland, may I present my Map of (Most of) the British Isles.

Right-click and Open in new window to Enlarge.