4/20 Fiasco

4/20, a day unofficially recognised as a celebration of all things marijuana, a day to light it up and get high and other such shit. Look, I won’t even ATTEMPT to use the colloquial terms, I’m so square I could lie down flat and get a decent job as a spirit gauge. Point is, if you smoke weed, or even if you just have a general interest in the world beyond your bed, you know what 4/20 is all about. We all have our own ways of celebrating it, though I myself spend it celebrating my brother’s birthday that falls on the same day, but I think the weirdest recent recognition of the day was Snapchat’s Bob Marley filter, a photo filter for selfies that superimposed Bob Marley’s face onto yours and darkened your skin tone to match. Yeah, that does sound weird when you look at a literal description of it. Is this harmless fun? Well…

I want to put up a disclaimer and say I recognise the connection between Bob Marley and marijuana, I’m not an idiot, and my opinions on this are not influenced by the fact I have never smoked anything in my life, closest I get to smoking is salmon. As a liberal man, I support the legalisation of marijuana, it is far less harmful than alcohol, which is legal, and its criminalisation is the result of an idealistic and unenforceable war on drugs, started by our forefathers and fuelled by myths and ignorance. Marijuana is not a gateway drug or chemically addictive substance, it doesn’t blacken lungs or turn you into a violent lunatic, it is a plant that happens to have recreational benefits when set on fire, nuff said. Furthermore, my opinion is in no way influenced by the choice of Bob Marley, I’m not hating on the dude, I am not an avid fan but I do like his music and appreciate the cultural influence of the man. So, with that established, let me explain why personally I’m taken aback by this poor move by Snapback. Cue the non-PC outrage in the comments.

First of all, let’s face it, this is blackface. No, don’t bullshit me, don’t come out with “It’s not blackface, it’s…”, it’s blackface. You are taking a non-black face, putting a black face on top and playing it up for a laugh. Jim from IT is a white dude living with his mother who listens to Weird Al and Stereophonics, his weekends are spent modding Skyrim and he is most certainly not a famous rastafarian musician. Didn’t like that stereotype? Guess what? Black people don’t appreciate the making of Marley into a stereotype of a laidback black man with dreads and a funky hat smoking weed, he is a cultural icon. Snapchat has a history of struggling to accurately represent diversity, evading questions about the percentages of employee races in their company by saying they don’t think of people as numbers. I mean, amen to that but y’know, we kind of need numbers to make sense of what we’re doing, not looking at your bank balance is not the same as making the situation more financially manageable, trust me.

Bob Marley, as a man, was more than just a dude who got stoned and this filter, that immediately slaps his face on yours just because it’s the 20th April, reduces his legacy to his drug habit. Bob Marley was more than just a man who loved his weed and yes he campaigned for its legalisation but that was not all he did, he fought for peace and the fair representation of minorities, he opposed a system that dehumanizes us all but one that especially dehumanised people like him. The music he became famous for showed a love and respect for his culture and his faith, the lyrics of which resonated with the pacifists inside us and went on to influence not only a genre of music as a whole but generations of peaceful protests after him. Also, Marley didn’t smoke weed just for shits and giggles, he did it as a spiritual exercise of meditation, a means of understanding himself.

“When you smoke herb, herb reveal yourself to you. All the wickedness you do, the herb reveal itself to yourself, your conscience, show up yourself clear, because herb make you meditate. Is only a natural t’ing* and it grow like a tree.”

*Source uses ‘t’ing’ instead of ‘thing’, reflecting his accent, I have not changed this text

Read that and understand the difference between what you think he cared about and what he did care about. We far too often recall Bob Marley as just that reggae guy who got high a lot and this filter does nothing to combat that, all it’s done is said “Umm, 4/20, Bob Marley right?”, like some sort of bad joke.

Now, a counter-argument you might have for me is that Bob Marley’s family themselves approved this idea right? Well, hate to break it to you, they’re not the sole representatives of their heritage, it’s not like them saying “It’s not blackface” will make every other black person shrug and walk away like it’s not a problem, who are they to speak for everyone and tell them it’s not offensive or not perhaps cheapening the legacy of a national treasure into a joke? Marley’s image wasn’t a construct like the image of Elvis or Motley Crue, it wasn’t a style picked out to be memorable, he wore the clothes of his spirituality and his culture, making them into easy jokes for stoner humour is like making a Jesus filter for people on Easter. By the way, imagine the shitstorm we’d get if there was a whiteface filter to commemorate a dead white person hey, as a cheap joke no less? World AIDS day, we get Freddie Mercury tashes on everyone. The Marley family are, for want of better words, money-grabbers, licensing the Bob Marley image to everything under the sun they reckon would sell better if it had his face on it. I personally find that disgusting and a forewarning to my children if I ever become famous, if I die and you memorialise me by selling Old Man Wolfe branded soap, I’ll come back from the dead and wash your skulls out with it. Soap. Fucking soap. The man made an entire cultural history of music mainstream and known to the world and his name is stuck on a bar of hemp-scented soap. Fuck me.

I’m not just out to be a stick in the mud but I feel that making this filter was in poor taste, it’s harmless fun to the white would-be hippies amongst us but to those who share in Marley’s heritage, their sacred herb and an icon of their society is being made into a comic fad to amuse idiots. This will all be swept under the rug before the week is out and Snapchat won’t face any real backlash, nor will the Marley brand lose any customers for a lack of integrity, and that in itself is disturbing. We all, in 2016, just blinked at a show of blackface. Bob Marley, forgive us. Please please please forgive us.

The Fragile Man (Part One – Masculinity and Women)

Let me level with you reader – basically, last night I put together a blog post called “The Fragile Man”, meant to address the subject of Masculinity So Fragile, a campaign to show the frailty of masculinity in how men feel the need to showboat to prove their worth, justify the purchase of ‘feminine’ products by buying male-focused alternatives and mock those who do not fit into the predefined standard, be they genderqueer or effeminate. However, the culture of masculinity, the standards it imposes and the effects on men, women and all identities beyond and between is so profound that it won’t fit into one post. I did try but I missed out heaps, I had it proofread to find I knew very little of the female viewpoint so after talking about it with a variable collective of female friends, I’ve split this post in two. Tonight, I want to discuss the effects of masculinity on women, using my own reading and the real-life experiences of women I know, as well as the experiences of a genderqueer friend of mine. Just a heads up, it gets dark later on, if you’re the sort who reads sensitive subjects and gets triggered, steer clear of my blog for the next few days – it’s about men and women and power and sexism and gender identity, I’m sure you can guess which tough topics will be brushed upon, namely abuse for starters.

So if we think of the opposing standards of masculine and feminine, going on purely polar ideals, notice the difference in the traits? Masculinity is strength, resourcefulness, wisdom, stoicism, charisma whilst femininity is chastity, elegance, beauty, obedience and gentleness? A tough woman isn’t feminine, a quiet man isn’t masculine. The masculine traits are aspirational though – strength and ambition are goals to strive for, how does one strive for chastity or beauty? You might say you can do many things to beautify yourself but then you’re accused of faking it, you could refuse sexual advances but then you’re called frigid and prude, masculinity expects feminine traits of women but challenges them if they adhere too closely to the rules. Women are expected to be virgin saints, yet sluts in the bedroom, be cutesy and adorable yet also mature and alluring, it’s an impossible demand that the perfect woman be an angel and devil rolled seamlessly into one bundle.

You might think, so how does this relate to masculinity and its effect on women? Well, the Masculinity So Fragile dawned the No Hymen, No Diamond, essentially saying that women who don’t adhere to the most sacred of sexist rules imposed on women, chastity until commitment, don’t deserve marriage. Men attacked because they felt they were attacked, even though the masculine culture damages them too, but more on that another time. The stunted emotional growth of my gender, and myself for a good period of my life, led to generations of bitter angry men understanding any emotional response as anger, the unknown or the confusing is a challenge and challenges are qualms about capability. Challenges are accepted with aggression, machismo, violence – the word ‘fragile’ was an affront to their strength so they sought to prove it, as men often do. Women, does this sound familiar – a man treating you differently in the presence of his male peers to how he does when he’s alone? The difference being, with people to observe him he seems to show off? Has the boyfriend/husband ever referred to you as the ball and chain? A term suggestive that he is a caged or trapped beast, hindered in his quest for freedom and power. Masculinity, in the sense we know it, demeans women as the weaker sex in so many ways, some of which I want to discuss here and now.

The idea of women as sexual objects, as owing men sex for their patience or commitment, as sandwich makers, as posers and whores for having confidence, as the ‘ball and chain’ restraining a man, all are indicative of how women suffer because of masculinity. If a woman is a threat to a man’s testosterone, either by taming his beast through commitment or by having traits associated with men like confidence or wit, she is demeaned, abused, called out as being less of a woman or by being a nuisance to a man. She’ll be called a dyke, her gender identity challenged because they feel challenged in their own, seeing those outside their peer group display the personae they spent lives building. I have a genderqueer friend, they’ll remain nameless because I didn’t ask to use their name so I won’t risk it, but when they present as a man, they’re told they’re not so by other men, even though this person has the male identity down to a t – dress sense, interests, even their living space looks like a true bachelor pad. The rules of masculinity are unyielding indeed.

Here’s where it gets darker though, beyond the ‘friend zone’ fedora brigade and sexist jokes is the really horrid side – men who won’t date women more successful than them, the use of rape jokes and rape as a power play dynamic (To rape is to assert dominance, to be raped is to be dominated and thus, pathetic. Notice how men talk about ‘raping’ or ‘getting raped’ in contexts that aren’t even sexual just as indicators of performance). I fear for women in situations where there is the need for the ‘man’ of the house to keep people in line, so he will say, using physical or verbal abuse to show he is in charge. Men who fail and lash out at those that are physically weaker than them, at those who won’t hit back – wives, girlfriends, children. Men that were taught don’t cry and don’t fail and in turn become heartless savages, unable to talk through their grievances and finding release only in rough-housing others. The impossible standard of never bending and breaking can make men snap and some take it out on themselves but some shift the blame, be it selfishly or for sanity’s sake but very rarely do they unload their frustration on those who can endure it without consequence, they want to inflict hurt because they are hurt. For women in such a place, it’s not easy and it is certainly not right.

However, of the masculine image, the women I spoke to said that they liked a man who wasn’t so much masculine as secure. A confidence backed by substance and a self-acceptance, self-acceptance being the most attractive trait we seek in others, perhaps because we seek it so badly in ourselves. A remember a friend once told me “If you need to prove you have power, you have none at all”. Likewise, when I was a rough and tumble violent headcase, that wasn’t what got me noticed, it wasn’t fighting my way up to alpha male that got people to respect me, those who did respected traits I showed that were those of aspirational standards we can all seek – being self-assured, breaking the mold, expression of inner self. Masculinity and femininity are not inherently bad things, adhering to one like the law is, a truly good individual can feel comfortable in who they are whatever the label might be.

So you want a true man? A true man isn’t always the strong one, the smart one, the funniest or sharpest wit or possibly not all that practical but a true man has a strength all their own to use for good. A true man, as the standard should have it, is one who will stick up for those that can’t stick up for themselves, will go without because others need it more, will endure trial and hardship to win the day. However, a true man has tears, a true man has a heart that can love and lose, a penchant for pink he needn’t turn his nose up at and he needn’t see the world as stage to this contest that isn’t happening. In that, there can be a true man in us all and women are not less womanly because they strive for ambition and competition, nor are men less manly for wanting to wear mascara and bake cakes and above all, a man is no greater a man if he must achieve his greatness through the exploitation or abuse of others. We are equals, we are mankind.

White Yagami

I doubt anyone here will be surprised to learn I was massively into the anime culture as a kid and as a teenager, to a lesser degree I still am a fan. A love of Japanese animation planted in my heart by Pokemon and Digimon flowered over the years with exposure to more and more examples of the medium – Full Metal Alchemist, Psycho-Pass, Attack on Titan – point is, I can translate your ‘otaku’ friend for you into English again with some modicum of success. A good manga/anime I had come across in my travels through his sub-culture was Death Note, perhaps one of the most-well known mangas of its generation, it certainly passes the lips of every manga lover I’ve ever met at least once in their list of past reads. If you don’t know about Death Note already, chances are you either vehemently hate all things anime or you’re about to learn of its existence, either through me, or the impending movie release…

Death Note is the story of a teenage boy, Light Yagami, who finds a magical notebook with the power to kill whoever he wishes, just by writing their name on its pages. He can decide the time of death, cause of death and basically any set of foreseeable circumstances surrounding his target’s demise and rather than use this power for petty personal reasons like striking down bullies or grudges, he thinks big, real big. How big? He makes himself judge, jury and executioner to every criminal he sees in the news, striking them down and declaring himself an anonymous angel of justice. Of course, this doesn’t go unnoticed and in comes Detective L, a bizarre little man that looks like Gollum wearing a wig and eating more sweets than even the greediest of children, set on working with the genius Light Yagami to track down this mass murdering ‘angel’. What ensues is a manga that revolves around a contest of wits, enough plot twists to make the plot thread a double helix of confusion and gratuitous amounts of cold-blooded supernatural murder. Death Note is a very popular anime, manga, collection of films and source of fan-fiction and now Warner Brothers wants their name on it, specifically in the form of a Westernised Death Note, complete with a white cast and more American based story. Is this what we want? Well here’s the thing about that…

Warner Brothers have let slip precious little at this stage of their plans but so far we know this – it’s not Japan, it’s America and the lead role will be played by Nat Wolff. Nat Wolff isn’t a dreadful choice, in fact to give credit to him, he doesn’t look dissimilar to Light’s appearance. However, whitewashing is never a good idea, it just doesn’t work, you offend the people whose culture you’re essentially saying “You won’t be as good a hook for this film as said white guy/girl” and fans get irked, fans appreciate the culture of their beloved franchises as much as they do the franchise itself. Whilst the Death Note story is nothing that could not be white-washed, though the shinigami element (multiple death gods, something our culture sort of lacks) will be hard to get around, just a bunch of Grim Reapers everywhere? Or ghosts? Or haphazardly sticking with Shinigami but not the name Light Yagami? I’ve yet to see a film get whitewashed and come out better – Avatar: Last Airbender, Tonto in The Lone Ranger, Dragonball Evolution (the absolute worst thing to ever claim it was based on an anime) – it doesn’t work, it just doesn’t, you make those responsible into laughing stocks and whoever was interested in it before loses it because you’ve flipped a bird at their heritage.

In an age where Captain America is black, Thor is a woman and Spiderman isn’t always a story of a nerd given extraordinary power, maybe you’re of the camp that if white characters can be made black, why not vice versa? Firstly, white characters are not given a different ethnicity if being white is key to their character history, which is why black or Asian or Hispanic characters don’t get turned white very well, something about their heritage is key to their character. Tonto is a Native American, make him a white guy in make up and that’s what we see, a white guy in make-up, playing a parody of the character through ‘spirit magic’ and ‘war cries’, stuff the original Tonto did not do, he was actually an equal to the Ranger, not his goofy sidekick wearing a silly hat. Why can Captain America be black? Captain America represents the symbol of patriotism, at the time that was the Aryan build of Blond White Straight Male but since then there have been Black American idols – Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Barack Obama – the black culture got the recognition it deserved as being just as much a part of American history as white culture so with that in mind, Cap can be black. Thor can be a woman because it is whoever is worthy, plus Norse mythology specifically mentions female warriors in Freya and the Valkyries, no upset there, except to the Mjolnir/Penis comparison. Light Yagami might not fall in these same categories but Death Note established itself in Japan, it found a Western audience who knew it as Japanese, the entire franchise is rooted in such an origin, doing it differently alienates the old fans.

I have to say this movie premise stinks of desperation and a failure to consider who they are making this film for. Asian audiences? Offended. Anime fans? There’s already a collection of comics and films, what good is this cut-rate reboot to them? The mainstream audience? Maybe, but that either means compromising on plot and character to make commercial slop that won’t stand out at the box office or making an intelligent film that people will look right past for being boring and convoluted. You can’t claim this will be good for the source material, none of the original writing staff are involved. The director looks to be Adam Wingard, known for such films as ‘VHS’ and ‘You’re Next’ so is this going to be a horror story? Will the message of the original carry across, laden with contempt for the failures of the justice system whilst making insightful commentary on the idea of what if God’s hand did interfere and the inability of man to play that role, how power corrupts and how frail genius truly is? Or are we to expect a film about a crazed psychopath with supernatural powers played up for kicks? So many questions, how many were asked and answered at the board meeting?

I can’t predict things with certainty but I don’t see this film working out, anime to live action is a hard thing to pull off and whitewashing the entire thing only serves as a shot in the foot before the race has begun. I hope, I pray even that this falls in the gutter with the likes of Dragonball Evolution and Mortal Kombat (Granted, an American creation but Raiden, a Japanese thunder god was played by a white guy… badly… really badly) because last thing I want to see is a new wave of Westernised animes. Rachel Mayers over Ryuko Matoi, Joey’s Bizarre Adventure, another botched up attempt to make Dragonball a Hollywood franchise, there are just some things that should never happen, some things even the film industry should leave alone.

Little Big Pleasures

Yesterday’s article was kinda fun, barely a soul gave a toss but you know I can write a post on here just for the sake of writing it, that’s what blogs were for before they became a way to launch a promising career in writing… which I’m still waiting for. Anyway, that in mind, a conversation with a friend has got me in the mood for writing another fun fluff piece about video games and the astute ones among you can probably guess which game came to mind for me, Little Big Planet 3, the latest in a trilogy of platforming games that is fun for all ages.

As series go, some I can buy games from hit and miss, I can chip into a series late and go back, go from the start and watch it evolve or I can just try it and leave it. For example, I only own Sega All Stars Racing, not the Transformed version that came out later, the first didn’t excite me enough to merit paying money for me, my favourite game series Dynasty Warriors, I didn’t buy the games in order – starting with 3, than a crossover game, then 5, 4, expansion packs, 6 and so on. Thankfully there isn’t a continuity in Dynasty Warriors, it’s the same game made over and over again with better graphics, gameplay mechanics and expanded character rosters. Point being, Little Big Planet, I watched it grow. I played the first game at a friend’s house and fell in love and I made sure to acquire each game since. So why do I like the series so much? Well, this is not a rant today, today I’m here to rave, to sing praise, to review with a positive attitude so allow me to fill you in on why Little Big Planet might just be one of the finest series of games going.

Okay, for those who have never owned a PS3/PS4 and never played the game at any point, Little Big Planet is a platformer game in which you customise a cutesy knitted character with costumes of all varieties and run through themed levels to rescue a world of imagination from some big baddy, be it an owl driving a death robot, an evil space snake or Hugh Laurie in a bowler hat. You run, jump, swing, fly and glide through levels that take inspiration from just about anything – Medieval Europe, the Renaissance, Outer Space, 50s Style Diners, Giant Libraries – you name it, someone has made a LBP level about it. The game is artistically stunning, it has a style that makes it all look like it is essentially an enchanted art project, adding to this idea it is an imaginary world, a world consisting of doodles and craft sessions come to life and your main enemy is always some selfish, unimaginative monster who wants to stomp all over your creativity. With that explained, here’s why this series is so good:

Diversity and Suitability

You could easily make this the first game your kids play, their first real video game series and it would not corrupt them. Far from it, I would think it enriching. Across the series, the levels opt out of falling into the templates of Snow World, Lava World and Desert World, instead opting for culturally themed worlds – New York World, Japan World, England World – not in such obvious titles but you can see the inspiration. The costumes add to this, it’s not all armour and silly hats, though there a few, but there are costumes based on Chinese Traditional Wear, Japanese Robes, Ponchos, Tuxedos, Saris and Turbans, come Little Big Planet 4 or 5, or enough DLC, and this series will touch on every major world culture at least once. In this sense, the game is inoffensive. Granted, I’m a white hetero cis male, it’s hard to offend my demographic unless you question my masculinity, but with a game that so celebrates diversity and avoids violence (You defeat monsters by jumping on their weak spots and they turn into clouds of smoke, hardly that gruesome), this is a game that is either a light spot of fun for a twenty something like me, a tool for enjoyment and education for children or a game you could possibly talk Mum and Dad into trying. Parents, seize this game, fast, when you see kids playing it, introduce them to the cultures and histories that have inspired the artistic styles and level designs to make your children students of the world!

Endless Creativity

In terms of games that allow you to be truly creative, this is up there with Mario Maker, easily being worshipped as the new user-friendly creativity tool of the decade, a title it deserves – past the “Nyahahaha this is so hard!” levels, Mario Maker offers the chance for potential game designers to use assets they fully understand to create unique gaming experiences. Little Big Planet, by the same token, allows players to use any of the materials, monsters and power-ups they have encountered in game to create whole new worlds, stickers can be found to personalise existing levels and both your home screen and character are fully customisable. LBP DLC is endless, the blank canvas hero allowing so many possibilities – Baymax, Kermit the Frog, Solid Snake, Dr Eggman – You can be any of those guys, the DLC exists and the in-game content allows you to try out so many variations with costumes ranging from ogre outfits to jeans and shirts. The series includes a Create Mode, a Pod (your home screen) for you to decorate, essentially anything and everything can be personalised and because of this there is a wealth of user-created levels, some of which make me think the designer should be paid for making this stuff up. If games rot the imagination, LBP gives you a healthy dose of it again, it offers you so much chance to be creative, it is almost overwhelming!

Simplicity

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for games being complex, a good strong plot in a video game is a major selling point for me but as a gamer with non-gamer friends I love hanging out with, getting them into games I’m passionate about is hard. They get names wrong, they laugh at things that aren’t supposed to be funny, they simplify the plot to the level of a child’s understanding and I don’t mind, they’re not fans, they’re not invested, but games that you can pick up, play once and understand are great. Pac-Man, Mario, Ghosts and Goblins, Little Big Planet – you have an objective, you have basic controls, away you go, that’s that, jump in and out at any point in the story and it still makes sense. For this reason, LBP is the most popular game on game night with my friendship circle, it’s good clean fun you don’t have to be a gamer to understand but it’s not insultingly easy to the point of being boring, the difficulty curve is perfect in every game (Well, LBP3 is actually more challenging for me than the last two, I think they’re trying to stop loyal fans from getting bored). A game you can share is a game you can love even more, nothing is as satisfying for a gamer as making someone else love the franchise you love, LBP is so easy to get into that you find yourself never short of friends willing to be Player 2. Try that with Dynasty Warriors, I get a lot of “I’m gonna be… Uhh… This big red guy with the pike. Is he good? What do I do? Oh I died… This game is hard, let’s do something else”. Worst. Damn. Thing.

It Evolves

If you make a sequel to a game, you have to change things up from the game before, that’s just a rule, you have to give the player something they can’t get from the previous game. Sonic 2 brought Tails and more levels, Sonic 3 had the option to save progress, Sonic 3 and Knuckles had a new character and a game twice as long as the games before, for those reasons those games got progressively more and more popular. Little Big Planet One is good, it plays very simply and it is very easy, a sort of introduction to the game series with nice tight level design and precious few variations on the run and jump format. Little Big Planet 2 took that and added to it, it added power-ups like a grappling hook, a fire-extinguisher hat, super strength gloves – the game had whole new realms of depth and more creative options to explore. LBP2 even had better mini-games added in, competitive ones, shooting galleries and giant dodgem car levels, this was a franchise that just got better. How do you top that? Try LBP3 – Create Mode and Play Mode now blend together in some levels, requiring you to fill blanks in a level’s design to advance (Hmm. No bridge? I better build one out of those cubes stacked on the cliff edge), the game operates on several layers with the standard far layer, near layer and in between now swapped for very very far, very far, far etc. and the game added whole new characters of different shapes and sizes with their own powers (shapeshifting, flying, running on walls and more). LBP could easily just get away with new levels and costumes and a new big baddy but it does so much more that each game is a distinct improvement on the one before. I just love it, I really do.

In conclusion, Little Big Planet as a series probably isn’t the best game series either but it’s a damn good candidate, in three games it has made more keen and loyal a fan than some game series have done in ten. I could play it with pretty much anyone and have a blast, I could play a level of any theme I could imagine or design it myself and my hero is whoever I want them to be, be it a dragon, a luchador or a green cat in a mankini (No joke, there is a mankini in this game). If you have a PS3 or PS4 and no LBP in your game library, try it, there’s something for everyone and that is pretty darn impressive.

2014 Retrospective

Trigger Warnings – Mentions of suicide/depression, related to Robin Williams

2014 was a pretty full year, granted it’s not quite done yet but I’ll be damned if I’m waiting to the very last second for every single morsel of news and trivia to include in here. I had originally thought of making a month by month Charlie Brooker-esque look back at the news of the year – media, films, business, politics, technology, war – all that jazz and more but my god was there a lot to cover, far too much to squeeze into my usual article length. I mean, when I look back at the year, it feels like it went on forever, not like 2013 which sorta came and went for me at least.

A strange year, we lost many great names and we saw twerks and jerks all over our News Feeds – Russell Brand became a ‘revolutionary’, the battle for equality escalated tremendously with victories for Gay Marriage cropping up across the US, Scotland voted on independence, photos were hacked and made global, cinemas cowered from cyber threats, Rocket Raccoon became a recognisable character to the mainstream and we learnt the dark truths behind some famous faces of yesteryear. So much to cover on one little blog, some of it I only really rediscovered in my research and was surprised at how recent things had been and just how much had happened. I’ll cover what I can, in brief summary.

So globally, the most searched names were those of Robin Williams, Jennifer Lawrence and Kim Kardashian. Robin Williams being one of the most tragic losses, at least to me and to the public community, and he served as a reminder as to the truth of depression – that outward appearances do not portray inner feelings for this man who brought nothing but joy felt such intense sadness and pain inside that it eventually overcame him, that’s a blog post in itself, something I can relate to, but I’ll leave it be for now. Jennifer Lawrence, of course, was constantly in the public eye for her various film appearances in the likes of Hunger Games films and X-Men First Class, as well as being a victim of the nude photo hack scandal. To clear up my stance on that one, she’s a victim and no she shouldn’t have just not taken the pictures of herself, that’s like saying if you don’t want to be robbed, don’t own valuables, victims are victims, criminals are criminals, stop blurring the lines. Yes, leaving a door unlocked will let a burglar into the house more easily but I can walk post a door and not open it, if someone goes ahead and walks in where they’re not invited, they need to be punished accordingly, we shouldn’t shrug and say it was inevitable. As for Kim, Kim tried to ‘break the internet’ by posing naked on a magazine cover, apparently forgetting the internet already knows what she looks like naked. I heard talk of it being brave or bold or stupid or whatever, I just shrugged, it was the least spectacular bit of ‘news’ I’d ever read, it’s why I’d never even considered doing an article on it – I refuse to make my blog into a celebrity gossip dump.

In film, we had the undying popularity of Frozen linger on well into Christmas this year, so much so various shops had to enforce maximum budgets on customer purchases for Frozen merchandise, we had Guardians of the Galaxy make Marvel a shit ton more money than they already had, there were Hobbits and Ninja Turtles all over the place, Lego became a film… somehow, Divergent joined the roster of “Dystopian teen fiction made into long running Hollywood money machine” novels, and we learnt that Benedict Cumberbatch REALLY can’t say penguins and that apes can outmatch the military. A lot of good films, a lot of not so good films, a lot of films I meant to watch and didn’t but the most part of it was “You know what we need? A team of characters standing around in epic poses whilst stuff explodes, it made Marvel rich, it must be the key to immortality or something” – so much so the freakin’ Penguins of Madagascar parodies the scene with the penguins stood in the trademark everyone-is-here-let’s-stand-back-to-back position and their leader saying to hold the position until maximum coolness is achieved. I still have a lot of these films to catch up on, Big Hero 6 looks fun, definitely need to see The Theory of Everything and wouldn’t mind giving some of the others a go just to say I have done. Of course, there was the fiasco with The Interview, which has been resolved with online releases, though there is a discussion in that for another day maybe.

World news, the big charity pushes this year were the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that every fucker and their nan took part in and the fight against Ebola, which America handled by saying “OH GOD NO AFRICANS WILL KILL US ALL, EBOLA IS EVERYWHERE!” whilst actual charities worked hard to clear up the damages and the rumours. We heard news reports on wars and conflicts across the globe, so much so it all sort of blurred into one horrid mess for people who didn’t follow these things, myself included. Conflicts in Gaza, Israel, Crimea, Ukraine, it became this endless stream of human beings just doing horrid stuff to one another and I daren’t even step on the subject because I just didn’t read up on it, it passed me by, I’m sure it did for most of you – the advantages of our lifestyles huh? We have our complaints and financial insecurity but there are considerably less guns and explosions in Shrewsbury, I’ll give you that much. In my neck of the woods, UKIP enjoyed a surge in support, much to my disgust, but at least the Greens did too. Scotland had their vote on independence and said it wasn’t for them, which to me is a wise decision, Britain as a whole barely stays afloat, breaking chunks off won’t do anyone any favours. Yes, that’s very brief and vague, so what?

Ugh, my gosh, over a thousand words, barely scratched the surface. I haven’t covered ISIS or Ferguson or the Sochi Olympics or Peaches Geldof or Conchita Wurst or… do you see my point? A lot happened this year, it’s impractical for a man of my limited resources to go into these things in one go so maybe this post will jog some memories of “Oh yeah, that happened” and start a few discussions. Truth be told, in this modern age, our attention spans are short, things don’t stay relevant very long – try it, do an ice bucket challenge now, see who gives a flip. Come 2015, we’ll have forgotten most of this year, I’ve certainly forgotten most of 2013 and 2012 before that. Anyway, perhaps slightly more interesting, tomorrow I’ll do a review of 2014 for me as a person rather than parroting Google searches. I have a lot to say there and it’ll be my way of signing off this year, letting it go

Letting it go… let it go… oh fuck

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Patriots and Nationalists

Trigger Warnings – Strong language in some places.

I remember when I first heard the word ‘patriot’, it was in school, I must have been about ten years old and my teacher said it meant someone who was proud of their home nation, to put it simply. I thought this was true of most people and indeed it is but it was a word that I rarely heard being used, even in a country like Britain, for most of my life I never heard people refer to themselves as patriotic because it was just a given but now? Patriot is one of those words you just can’t escape any more and the problem with a common place word is that it is open to being used in the wrong context, this is the fate the word irony suffers at the hands of hipsters, or the word random suffers at the hands of those sorts of girls who shout out their love of dinosaurs and cheese and pink hair. I think we need to define the difference between a patriot and a nationalist, they are similar but not the same and so many people I encounter claiming they are ‘British Patriots’ are in fact, nationalists – nationalism being an irresponsible and selfish viewpoint whereas patriotism being perfectly fine and commendable.

Here’s some food for thought to start the discussion:

Patriotism is proud of a country’s virtues and eager to correct its deficiencies; it also acknowledges the legitimate patriotism of other countries, with their own specific virtues. The pride of nationalism, however, trumpets its country’s virtues and denies its deficiencies, while it is contemptuous toward the virtues of other countries. It wants to be, and proclaims itself to be, “the greatest,” but greatness is not required of a country; only goodness is – Sydney J. Harris

That’s a good quote but that was just the appetiser, here’s something to really sink your teeth into:

The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war – Sydney J. Harris

Now, do you notice a recurring theme here with his quotes? Granted, same guy said both quotes but this man was no fool, he was a widely respected columnist and author, as well as an advocate for women’s rights, pro-choice stances and bringing an end to the death penalty, which might land him in the eyes of a lefty-tosser to some of you but this man held honorary doctorates, awards from the National Conference of Christians and the Chicago Newspaper Guild, I think that earns him some merit. Even without it, he makes a good point about patriotism and nationalism, one that reminds me of something a friend of mine once said in that patriotism is rooting for the home team and turning up at their matches, nationalism is believing the team to be infallible and destroying the stadium at away games. A patriot feels a sense of responsibility to their country and even love has the ability to step back and tell someone they have failed or done wrong, you do not truly love someone if you blindly agree with everything that comes out of their mouth. You have to take pride in their achievements and feel the shame of their shortcomings, encouraging them to do their absolute best.

I hear some people speak of a foreign threat, this was what UKIP appealed to and it’s what Republicans appeal to in America, making people cautious and wary of those that are different in colour or religion or way of life, accusing them of stealing from your country’s resources or trying to bring their culture into your home and ruin your old traditions for you with their strange new ways. Ok, straight away, no white person alive has the right to say “You come over here with your foreign ways and try to make us change? Fuck off!”, that’s what our ancestors did to three quarters of the globe, I think we can overlook building a mosque when we had them baptised and decapitated once upon a time. If you are proud of your country and it’s traditions, you needn’t feel threatened when these changes come, the traditions will live on through you and all traditions need to adapt anyway, that is how we advance as a society from traditions of sacrificing lambs to idols into gathering in churches on a Sunday, someone has to say “Actually, how about we don’t do that any more? It seems a bit primitive/cruel/unfair/silly”. As for patriotism, well, you should be proud that your country is growing and attracting more people and encourage everyone to work together, but it becomes nationalism when you expect them to become like you to be allowed to live amongst you. I remember my stepmother taking her citizenship test to live here, the stuff she had to know was more than nine out of ten Brits actually did know about the country but even so, just because someone has moved to a new country, they haven’t left their heritage for dirt, what they must adhere to in order to live somewhere is the law, they don’t have to adopt the national stereotype to prove themselves worthy.

I’m mostly speaking to Britain here, I was inspired by a UKIP MP actually tearing down his own party for their racist views and that they need to avoid thinking about isolationist views because Britain became ‘Great’ through its allies and neighbours, we didn’t get given the prefix by God as if to say “Yep, you guys are really on the ball with that society you’ve got there, top job, God is British too, keep it up lads”. After all, that term in its most basic form was coined almost two thousand years ago and literally just meant “The bigger bit of the British Isles”, with Ireland being called “The smaller bit of the British Isles”. Don’t get it twisted, I love Britain, I really do, but it is because I’m proud of these isles that I don’t want it become a hive for hateful ignorants telling people to go away and never bother trying to change anything. I know some may strive for the traditions of old but as I said yesterday, that includes bear baiting, where do you want to draw the line? Britain, before it gained friends overseas, was a struggling little island with an infant mortality problem and an 80 hour work week in some instances, is that what we want to bring back?

Charlie Brooker made a good joke about this a while ago about how he liked Britain before the Romanians and the Poles and the Irish and the French and the Normans and the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons and the Romans, that was proper Britain, clearly exaggerating nationalism to the most radical extreme but perfectly valid. Nationalism is a related philosophy to tribalism when you think about it, it is not a love of the British public as a whole, it is a love of their allies. I mean think about it, really think, could you imagine Nigel Farage calling the left-wing political parties his brethren and respected allies, or even addressing them as good people? Boris Johnson called the left-wing party ‘tossers’, and admittedly I refer to my fellow Brits of wealth and status as entitled pricks, which is a tribal view point, a sort of “If you’re not one of us, you’re against us” mentality more befitting the Great Khans of Fallout than a political party. If you dare speak against the tribe, you’re disloyal, you’re disrespecting your great homeland, you’re a sympathiser with an imagined foe and should be shunned and loathed. Nationalism is essentially thinking your tribe or country deserves the status of the best, which is silly, we’re not in competition, not really, we all share a planet and at the end of the day, countries are invented concepts and if God exists, he won’t gather us all together in a thousand years and say “So it turns out the USA did the best at being a good country, all Americans shall get to go to VIP Heaven and hang out with Jesus, the rest of you get to go to Commoner’s Heaven and polish halos for a living!”

I know there’s an air of ridicule in this post but we need to be clear, you are not a patriot if you support a nationalistic party or believe you live in the best country ever or that your current society is what people should aim for, there is no set guideline as to what a country is supposed to be, a lot of people say we all want to be America really but that’s because it’s a rich nation and everyone wants to be rich. Support your nation, by all means, love it and wear the colours, but respect that people aren’t obliged to take part, even if they’re your next door neighbour, and if you ever start dismissing people for having a different cultural background to you or a desire to practice their own religion or language despite living in a place not reflecting that background, take a step back and imagine it the opposite way round. White people fear a white minority because they’re worried we’d be treated the way we treat them – racism, intolerance and ignorance bordering on being abused simply for existing. In time, maybe we can live in a world where no minority need ever live in constant fear, where every man and woman is a valid peer as should be true of democracy, and lord knows we all love a good democracy.

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A Matter of Correctness

Trigger Warnings – None

A progressive and liberal minded person will often find that when comedy and insensitivity mix, they tend to cringe, which can often lead to this talk of “political correctness” as being a negative thing. I hear it a lot, if you say to someone “I don’t tell people to grow some balls because your genitalia has nothing to do with your determination” then you’ll probably hear them say “Alright you lofty twat, I was just using a figure of speech” and then you look like the dickhead for daring to object to that racist/sexist/homophobic joke or remark. Right now, I bet some of you are thinking I’m a lefty tosser with pretentious standards I enforce upon everyone and recycle my own shit to save pandas or something, am I on the right lines? Political correctness has been painted with a bad brush, much like feminism or pride regarding sex and sexuality but in truth, political correctness isn’t about being the better man, it’s about forming a better community

I’ll start by admitting that in my time, I’ve told people to man up and made a racist joke here and there, I was a teenage lad in a chavvy school, you had to have something up your sleeve just in case. However, growing older and more mature, it’s harder to laugh at a joke in which the explanation is “Get it? Because they’re Chinese!” and we’re supposed to just go “Oh ok, so I guess that’s just how Chinese people work huh?”. I find such jokes less funny when the point of the joke is to laugh at the expense of a minority and generally think to myself “Could I make this joke with the sort of person targeted by this joke and still be on good terms with them afterwards?”

Now don’t get me wrong, comedy is on a first name basis with controversy and tragedy, that’s something I understand as well as anyone, but comedy can and should be better than the lazy effort of generalisation. You can often hear people make these jokes and justify it by saying they’re “half Black” or “my best mate is from Asia so…” and it’s a hard situation to handle but I find if they justify it in such a way, they don’t suffer the discrimination they’re inadvertently endorsing, someone who justifies their joke as “Well my sister’s a lesbian so I can do this” is NOT a lesbian, she can’t identify with how a lesbian would react to the joke and if she did tell her sister, her sister might tolerate it as just being an annoying sister

Political incorrectness is still very much a social norm and it’s a privilege we need to get over as a society, if you can’t think of a funny joke that isn’t about dumb blondes or wussy gay guys, you’re not a very funny person are you? Try harder, there are so many things in life good for poking fun at but it has to be a poke, a light tickle in the ribs, not just some dismissive “Well the joke is that you can’t drive properly because you have a vagina”. Jokes are always going to offend, sure, but it doesn’t mean we can’t have a cull on some of the jokes that are just based in the world of stupid stereotypes and ignorance as humour is the work of intellect, not burbling. I realise I might upset a few people saying this but frankly if you can’t have a laugh without it being at someone’s expense, that’s your problem, not mine

Now before people get in a huff about free-speech, let me tell you something about free-speech, free-speech is the right to speak and that is all it is, it is not the right to say anything without consequences, it is not the right to have everyone hear whatever you say and it is not entitlement to a podium or stage if you want one, it is literally just the right to open your mouth and say something if you want to but you still have to accept the responsibility for what you say. So, if you want to make racist jokes, fucking go for it but accept the fact you will be considered a racist. If you think I am infringing on your rights by telling you to not make these jokes, I’m not, my right is to say this to you as it is yours to make those jokes, it doesn’t mean I can’t suggest you don’t make those jokes or argue against these remarks if you make them

So, in exercising that right to free-speech, confront someone whose comedy arsenal is a load of jokes about Muslims, Indians and women, tell them these jokes should be left where they belong, in the past, in a world of division and ignorance and that we need to move forward. If you are an aficionado of the dumb blonde jokes or laughing at how Chinese words sound so funny compared to ours, why not try to broaden your horizons? You think you’re funny now huh? Imagine how much funnier you’d be if EVERYONE could join in your fun, if everyone around you thought you were a great guy, even the little people you might overlook. Political correctness isn’t about being smart or elitist or high-brow, it’s about being a decent human being that treats all people as… well… people. Call me a radical but I think that’s a damn fine thing to do