Monday, October 31, 2005

Spooky

I woke Sunday morning with a sore neck, with a foul taste on my tongue, a pounding head, and what appeared to be goat's blood slicking my forearms. What had happened last night? Racking what humourously passes for my brains, I remembered staggering with some shadowy figure across an equally shadowy golf-course somewhere in the wilds of the south-eastern suburbs, towards the sounds of bacchanalia. Had someone invited me to some sort of vile, sweat-soaked orgy, there to partake in such acts of depravity and debauchery as might make a lesser man quail? Had someone else insisted I dance with them the forbidden dance (i.e. the Nutbush)? And had still another watched on as I dragged sacrifices to the altar of Our Dark Masters, slowly chanting the black chant of Shub-Niggurath? Surely not, surely not!

The rational explanation is of course this: demonic possession. It being Hallowe'en time and all, Melbourne is currently awash with unclean spirits and boggins, all looking to snare an innocent choirboy like myself with their wicked wiles. Hallowe'en is a potentially dangerous period for those unlearned in the ways of ghosts, ghouls and things that go bump in the night. There being none so unlearned as those who read this blog on a regular basis, I've opted to post a few quick tips for safely enjoying All Hallow's Eve.

1. Speaking with dead friends and relatives via ouija boards may sound like fun, but remember that they will likely spend most of the time complaining that you don't keep in touch any more. Death rarely improves people.
2. Don't worry about vampires. There are no such things, just goths who believe that wearing a cape is an acceptable substitute for wearing deodorant.
3. Stock up on goats if you plan a demon summoning. It takes ages to get it right.
4. By far the scariest creature abroad during Halloween is the tax-man. Fill in your tax returns if you haven't already, people. This is your last chance. I know I will be - a 3 to 5 stretch for tax evasion is not healthy for fancy-boys like myself. They make you do things in prison, things that are not natural (i.e. making licence-plates).
5. Remember: trick or treaters are only children. They are therefore best dealt with with a quick punch to the cheaply-bought mask, or M&M's dipped in laxatives, depending whether you're after instant gratification, or like your vengeance served cold.
6. If, like me, you wake up suffering from delusions of having attended some sort of unholy ritual, then, like me, you should probably take your medication more often.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Man Himself

Where'd we get our name? The Guardian's new author profile reveals all.

Also, I can't wait to see this.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

I Know Where You Live #4

Seeing as this is my first contribution to this series, I thought I'd introduce one of my favourite locales. It's not quite a suburb, it's not quite not a suburb, but every bit of it is, incontrovertibly, Bacchus Marsh.

Bacchus Marsh (or "the 'smarsh", as it is almost never called) nestles in a valley some fifty kilometres north-west of Melbourne. Ringed by orchards, set upon by lettuce farms, and positively riddled with strawberries, Bacchus Marsh is a true fruit and veg town, and as such populated almost exclusively by dirty-kneed types in aprons. The road into town is lined with enormous oak trees, each commemorating the death of a chipmunk in the First World War, and ma-and-pa fruit and veg stalls, where the brave traveller can purchase disturbingly ripe melons and bizarre, phallic tubers for use in soups, salads, and orgies. Hey, they don't call it Bacchus Marsh just because it's swarming with Maenads.

The town itself is your typical bustling semi-rural centre. That is, it has a McDonald's, a supermarket, and four hundred flavours of unpleasant teenager. The cavernous shopping centre specialises in discounted seconds and is home to something called Target Country, which is just like a regular Target store except the staff wear Drizaa-Bone riding coats and chew stalks of hay and there's nothing to buy. The girls at the nearby Wendy's, however, do a mean coffee-and-doughnut combo. Mind you keep an eye on them, though - they spit.

No visit to Bacchus Marsh is complete without a visit to the marsh itself. Irrigated by the Lerderderg River (named for George Lerderderg, a local man who once held the rest of the town at gunpoint and forced them to name the river after him), the marsh is fecund with plant life and insects. During summer, young people gather on the marsh and perform strange, wild rites, as is appropriate for a town so named. Bacchus, presumably, is still the god of wine even when that wine comes in a cask.

Bacchus Marsh: three dithyrambs out of five.

Controversial Dress-To-Thrill Legislation Passed

The Senate yesterday passed the government's controversial "dress-to-thrill" legislation that will give federal police unprecedented powers to get all tizzed up and looking nice.

"This is a vital piece of legislation," said Prime Minister Howard. "It's no good fighting a war on terror if you look like no one owns you. This allows police to get down, get fresh, and get funky, and that can only be good for Australia."

The Opposition and minor parties expressed dismay that the legislation was passed with the contentious "Casual Monday" clause intact.

"The Prime Minister evidently finds it acceptable for police to kick off their Sunday shoes and cut footloose," said Labour spokesperson James Pervert, "but I think he will find that the Australian people want a professional police force dressed at all times in the latest snappy threads."

There was also consternation at measures allowing police to go barefoot and even shirtless in stations.

"Surely it is a case of no shirt, no shoes, no serving in the police force," said Mr Pervert. "As for this 'Fancy Dress Friday' business, well, if we want to be laughed at and attacked by terrorists, this is the right way to do it."

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Batman Begins (Questioning His Sexuality)

Ever the shocked virgin on her wedding night, Hollywood is pretending to be scandalised again following the confirmation of some leaked news from Warner Bros. studios. Christopher Nolan, the director responsible for putting the lead back in the pencil of the Batman franchise, has verified the rumours that he plans to use the sequel to this year's unexpectedly OK film to push the traditional boundaries of the superhero genre.

"In Batman Begins, we wanted to explore the motives of our main character," Nolan stated in his media release. "We wanted to delve deeper into his psyche and discover exactly why he was driven to fight injustice, and how far he was willing to go to do so, and then build a gritty, realistic film around that concept as an exegisis of the workings of the criminal mind - except with ninjas and Gary Oldman and cool CG effects and stuff. Bruce Wayne had to become a dark, violent man in order to face an equally violent foe, capable of enough brutality to beat an unconcious man, and enough masochism to kiss Katie Holmes."

"Now that we've done that though, as artists, we want to move the franchise into new territory. I've always speculated as to why Batman feels the need to dress up all fancy and have a swishy cape and stuff... seeing his parents die and wanting to clean up the city and hanging about with ninjas aren't really reason enough for the S&M get-up he wears about the place. The costume really does speak of an appetite for deviancy, and this coupled with his secrecy and enjoyment of beating people up suggests to me that Brucey may be compensating for his repressed homosexuality. The TV series, the latter movies: they were all reverting to an underlying type inherent in the Batman mythos, but trying to inject camp humour into the proceedings in order to keep it safe for the kids. This time though, we're going for a no holds barred, in-your-face exploration of the caped crusader's sexuality - from a classic love triangle between Bruce, the Joker and Robin, to a re-tooling of the Batmobile, making it a giant driveable phallus. Expect an intelligent, dark, gritty re-working of the legend, but with more steamy post-crimefighting shower scenes."

Looking for a fan's perspective on Nolan's new take on Batman, Sterne asked 35 year old comic book afficionado and high-ranking nerd Marvin Potts for his thoughts. According to Marvin, "I don't think the fan community will really mind Batman getting it on with other men. I mean, none of us can really relate to him having sex with women anyway, so it's not going to make much difference. As far as continuity goes? Well he wouldn't have been the first gay man to have kissed Katie Holmes, would he?"

No he wouldn't, Tom, no he wouldn't.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Aryan Idol

Hilary Duff may be white bread, but at least she's not a white supremacist. Twin sisters and self-proclaimed "racialists" (translation: neo-Nazi fucktards) Lamb and Lynx Gaede, who perform under the name Prussian Blue, are set to become the trivial-yet-disturbing issue du jour after America's ABC network ran a story on them last week.

The girls, aged thirteen, say they're "proud of being white, we want to keep being white. We want our people to stay white … we don't want to just be, you know, a big muddle. We just want to preserve our race."

According to Erich Gliebe, owner of the racist Resistance Records and a Prussian Blue "supporter", Lynx and Lamb are perfectly placed to promote the White Nationalist cause.

"Eleven and 12 years old," he said, "I think that's the perfect age to start grooming kids and instill in them a strong racial identity."

Anybody else feel like throwing up?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Science For Dummies

Science is fun. Sure, it has a reputation for being abstract and dull, what with the white coats, complex formulae and constant eyebrow singeing, but that's just the beneficial, practical aspect of the discipline. Purposeless, frivolous science is where the fun is at, especially if it's the kind of purposeless, frivolous science that is painted in primary colours and features lots of "interactive" buttons and knobs. The kind, that is, specialised in by the Museum of Victoria's hands-on edutainment complex, Scienceworks.

Did somebody say "hands-on" and "edutainment"? Oh, it was me. Well, that was quite perspicacious of me, because it is clearly empty neologisms of this sort that provide the ideological framework for the Scienceworks experience. We don't want the kids to be bored, now, do we? Of course not! So instead of actual information presented in a meaningful, coherent manner, let's give 'em what amounts to an oversized playground with plenty of buttons to push and things to sniff and touch, and hope their parents are dumb enough to go along for the ride. (Judging by the empirical evidence I collected at Scienceworks this morning, the latter experiment has been a roaring success.)

Some of the exhibits do attempt to educate, but they are simultaneously trying to entertain (or possibly edutate), and you can guess at which they are more successful. Most of the exhibits have only the slightest educational value, some have none. Look, a giant can opener opening a giant can! Look, a netball hoop! Look, a pianola! Are you feeling scientific, kids? Don't go nerding out on me or anything!

Scienceworks demonstrates the means and methods of science about as accurately as Indiana Jones demonstrates those of archeology. There is no reason why a science museum should be boring; there is still less reason why it should be dumbed-down to the point of worthlessness. And what the hell is it doing in the middle of a Spotswood industrial estate?

(Neil Mitchell-esque oh-what-a-world whine over.)

Dr Banville & Mr Black

John Banville's publisher has revealed that the Booker-winning author is penning a series of thrillers under the pseudonym Benjamin Black. "He doesn't want people reading Quirke [the first Black novel] and looking for the same things they do in a Banville novel," Picador's Andrew Kidd said. "With this, his main intent is to entertain."

Scott wonders if this amounts to a tacit admission that Banville's intent in his literary fiction is to "bore use to tears. I'd hate to assume that anyone would read literary fiction for their enjoyment."

Touché.

Meanwhile, hard-boiled crime author James Ellroy has announced that for his next novel he will doing something rather different.

"It will be plotless - I'm so fuckin' over plots," Ellroy told reporters. "What I'm doing instead is a sombre meditation on memory, grief, and guilt, just teasing out the fuckin' strands of a character's inner life. It's about this guy - a former English professor, but you know, a real greasebag - who returns to his childhood village and slowly - and I'm doing this in long, sinuous sentences, real ornate, Nabokovian shit - slowly he unfolds the story of his own past, revealing all the shit he went through as a child. It was gonna be his mother got cut up or something, but I decided to go way out and have it be all, you know, emotional scarring and shit."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

I Know Where You Live #3

I know all of you out there in blog land have been champing at the bit for another suburb review, and who am I to say no to your dear little faces? Pay attention, now; this week, it's:

South Morang.

The interesting thing about South Morang - the only interesting thing - is that, according to the map at least, there is no actual Morang to be south of. Perhaps this Atlantis, this El Dorado of suburbs does exist, but I for one couldn't be bothered travelling any further north to find it. South Morang is a ludicrously boring place which saps you of the will to do anything but turn around and go home.

Existing at the very edge of the greater Melbourne metropolitan area, South Morang is one of those places that appears to be waiting to exist: for humans to flesh it out, give it character. In it's current state, little can be said about it. It is generally quite flat. There are some cows. That's about it. The place feels like a weekend at your grandmother's, and the air smells faintly of cardboard. Any people that you spot - and it may be a while before you do - tend to be mooching along slowly by the side of the road, apparently wondering why they're in South Morang and what the best way out might be. If they see you, they will run and hide, terrified by your citified ways and upright posture.

As with all liminal spaces, however, there is an undercurrent of immanent change in South Morang. Civilization is pushing over the borders, and the excess population of Mill Park to the south is slowly spilling into its northern neighbour (in much the same way as a drain will leak sewage after a heavy rainfall). The evidence shows up in decidedly strange places, usually the middle of no-where: large, shiny and noticeably empty buildings can be seen dotting the otherwise barren landscape. Most often, these take the form of shopping malls - brand new, spotlessly clean shopping malls, crouching expectantly in the middle of windswept fields, apparently deviod of all life barring the occasional curious cow.

In earlier times, towns grew up beside watering holes, along trading routes, or around sites of religious or strategic significance. Nowadays, it seems, the shopping mall is the seed from which civilisation springs: "the opportunity to live near outlets for processed foodstuffs, tacky plasticised small goods and cheap! cheap! cheap! bargain basement clothing is an instant draw-card for your average nuclear-type family", the captains of industry have figured. "Let's bung a few malls in some godawful wasteland and watch 'em swarm". This 'if you build it, they will come' (and yes, I feel physically sick quoting from a Costner movie; let's just move on and never mention it again) mentality seems bizzare, but is apparently successful. Already one can see signage ear-marking tracts of land for high-density housing. It may be that some day soon South Morang will become a bustling metropolis; until that time the shopping malls wait, unlit but hungry.

The cows' thoughts on these developments have gone unrecorded.

South Morang: two heifers out of five.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

War Music

I don't know much about poetry, but I know that I like War Music, Christopher Logue's "account" of The Iliad. Logue's highly idiosyncratic take on Homer's epic is a thirty year work in progress, with the poet presently at work on the sixth and final installment. War Music is not a translation; Logue does not even read Greek. Instead, he has used a range of English translations as source material for an original poem that is not only fascinating, but also something of a page-turner.

Logue uses cinematic techniques to create a kind of poetic screenplay, full of jump-cuts, zooms, and striking juxtaposition. The authorial voice is constantly on the move, now describing a scene with sober precision, now sharing a knowing aside with the reader, now zooming in with unflinching certainty upon the endless honour feuds and violence, the twin engines that power the single-minded bravado of the Homeric heroes.

Logue's language is urgent and direct, occasionally coarse but always dancing on the page. It's hard to look away, particularly when at any moment you might strike one of Logue's bizarre anachronisms:
It was so quiet in Heaven that you could hear
The north wind pluck a chicken in Australia
Best of all is the way Logue manages to balance his very modern sensibilities with the pre-humanistic savagery of Homer's Greece. This is no sentimentalised version, no allegory or lesson. Logue builds around, rather than upon, Homer's ancient foundation. War Music is great stuff, proving (to me, at least) that poetry still has legs.

The edition reviewed here is the 2001 Faber & Faber paperback, which incorporates the first three installments of Logue's poem. Books four and five are also available separately.

Two Turntables And A Microphone (And A Stepladder)



Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Hayseed Dixie

Thank goodness I don’t believe in karma, or at least that karma doesn't believe in me. Recently I wrote a post about the residents of Mount Dandenong which was rather mean but nevertheless perfectly true. As a result, I felt going to Belgrave on Sunday night to see the Hayseed Dixie concert might not just be tempting fate to bite me on the arse, but to commit upon said orifice acts generally associated with prison showers, soap and large, lonely, socially maladjusted men. Fortunately, dear readers, no mountain man made me his wife that night, although the possibility remained tantalisingly, terrifyingly close throughout the event.

When I was younger, dumber, and ever so slightly more full of bile than I am now, I used to gravitate towards heavy metal bars (ooo, Jon, weren’t you hard!? No, no, just an foolish lad with a penchant for loud music that over-utilised the lyric ‘motherfucker’); therefore, when I say that the crowd at Ruby’s bar was potentially one of the roughest I’ve seen, and certainly the ugliest, I know what I’m talking about. An example: upon entering it took somewhat less than two minutes for a gorilla in a human suit - hulking, soused and broken-nosed; shirt stained with no less than three types of human effluvia – to repeatedly threaten me with violence while tenderly stroking my back.

It was an oddly mixed crowd, though. While the average concert attendee was about six and a half foot tall, weighed three hundred pounds and wore flannel, a grog-soaked beard, and an expression of idiot rage upon a lumpen, pig-eyed face, there was nevertheless a generous smattering of emo kids, hippies and soccer mums: weird.

This is to say nothing of the band, however. I am not a fan of bluegrass music, but I’d been told Hayseed Dixie were something special, and was not disappointed. Coming on stage looking very like the majority of their audience (i.e. over forty, insane, giant and red-necked), they informed everyone straight off the bat that there were only four topics it was right for manly men to sing about – drinkin’, cheatin’, killin’ and hell - before launching into a set played with more goddam brio than most teenage bands (if anyone out there in blog land was lucky enough to see the Wire last year, the energy levels were comparable). Throughout the performance the band kept up a witty repartee, chatting with the audience about the urinary habits of Coldplay, how they felt about Bush (they like it well-manicured), and their love of large women and moonshine. Was it all a piss-take? Of course (hill-billies don’t usually reference Decartes and Rorschach), but they audience either didn’t care or more likely didn’t realise, and they played both original songs and metal covers to the accompaniment of enthusiastic yee-haws, drunken do-si-do-ing (the mountain man’s mosh) and the sound of smashing bottles. Hayseed Dixie were not kidding about their music, though – anything played with such skill and passion is a pleasure to listen to, and while I’ve heard music I liked better, I haven’t had so much fun at a gig in years.

Fun interspersed with worry about one of the locals deciding you're purty enough to stuff in a sack and load in the pick-up truck for later is still fun, in anyone's book.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

This Is Not A Photograph

The Guardian's Frances Watson says author photos should be abolished. I agree. However, if you (or your publisher) insist on slapping your mug on the back cover of your book, here are some tips:
  • Chins are for sprouting beards or warts; they are not for resting a pensive finger upon in the vain hope that this will make you look intelligent.
  • We assume you own a lot of books - the writer is, first and foremost, a reader, and all that tosh - so don't pose in front of your book shelves, especially if your own work is prominently featured.
  • For God's sake, don't smile - you look like a serial killer!
  • If you write horror or fantasy fiction, do not allow your photograph to be touched up to include ominous black clouds, lightning bolts, or black cats.
  • Ladies: a come-hither look may inspire stalkers but it is unlikely to win you respect as an author.
  • Fellas: pipe-smoking is uncommon and politically incorrect these days, so put it away until after the shoot, there's a chap.
  • Try not to appear too surprised to be having your picture taken. It makes you look desperate. Ian Kershaw, this means you.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

My New Old Car

As of today I am the proud owner of a 1984 Corolla, a hand-me-down from my dad. It's my first car, and it's a beauty. Well, it's roadworthy, anyway. So to celebrate, I thought I'd post something I wrote about five years ago, inspired by the little shitbox that could...

***

At first glance the 1984 Toyota Corolla seems too good to be true. The sleek lines, driver's-side mirror, and moulded plastic hubcaps present an image more like the chariot of some ancient mechanical god than a compact sedan. My first impression was one of delighted shock. I stopped in my tracks as the air in my lungs was forced out, before being gulped back in, then exiting rapidly through my quivering sphincter. Yes, the Corolla is that kind of automobile.

The vehicle I tested was decked out with all the modern trimmings. Four doors, a sophisticated urine-on-a-bedsheet colour scheme, front seat AC with a guaranteed "operating percentage" of 35% when used in the shade on a sub-20 degree day. The standard hi-fi system delivers high-quality signals from across the AM band. On the day of our test we had little difficulty picking up 3AWs Neil Mitchell, whose self-righteous alto ramblings were conveyed clearly by the stylish door-mounted twin stereo speakers. Boot space is adequate for carrying anything from a picnic lunch to sports equipment or one or two small-to-medium size bodies, depending on your requirements.

Brake and indicator lights are positioned in their traditional locations, and while all operated consistently on the day of the test drive, Toyota representative Charles Thompson assured me that most units will incorporate the much-loved "bung light" feature of previous models, which sees at least one signal fail each time the car is within sight of a police officer. Completing my inspection of the vehicle's exterior I remarked that front, rear, and side panels of the car feature small raised lettering spelling "Toyota Corolla". "Thats so people know its a Toyota Corolla," explained Thompson. And indeed, with a vehicle of this calibre, who wouldnt want to show off its pedigree?

Entering the vehicle, I was immediately struck by both the comfort and functionality of the interior layout. Cushioned seats welcome your buttocks like an old, particularly close friend, while the close proximity of the steering wheel to not only your hands but your knees too, gives a sense of control almost unrivalled in this era of legroom overkill. The instrument panel is sensibly designed with the literate in mind - everything from the speed gauge to the volt meter is conveniently labelled in standard English - and comes complete with a special "crackable" odometer, allowing easy mileage rollback when the time to sell comes, giving the car added long-term value.

Aesthetically the Corolla is as opulent inside as it most certainly is outside. No expense has been spared, and years of development have ensured no nook or cranny remains unfurnished with the latest in automobile interior wizardry. With five ashtrays and a dashboard cigarette lighter as standard, enjoying a smoke is easy and safe for the entire family, and nocturnal map reading becomes a pleasure in the subtle glow from the central five-watt light fixture. Of the many interior safety features, one eminently worthy of mention is the backseat windows which cannot be opened fully; rather a full two inches of window remains raised at all times ensuring particularly fat children have little chance of falling to a blubbery death on the highway.

Satisfied with the overall quality and comfort of the interior I turned the key and felt the four-cylinder beast hibernating under the bonnet wake from its slumber and growl in readiness. I shivered in anticipation of the drive ahead. The Corolla had already knocked me out with its exquisite style and luxury, its perfectly pitched sense of fun, its innovative design. Now it was time to see how she handled the open road.

Charles Thompson had warned me to expect a few minor bugs. The Corolla has, of course, gone virtually straight from being a twinkle in its designers eye to a fully-fledged road vehicle in a matter of months, and small defects (bald tyres, worn brake pads, etc) are to be expected but the car performed admirably. On a suburban road in normal traffic conditions, the Corolla is unequalled, passing every challenge I threw at it. When I careened at approximately 130km/h toward a group of children on a school crossing, the Corolla screeched to a halt in under fifty metres, leaving several people seriously injured, but none dead. The same test was recently performed with a 1982 Holden Commodore, wiping out half of Woodside Primarys Grade 5 class. Later I tried some doughnut manoeuvres in the car park of a 7-11 and found the Corollas combination of small frame and strong axles perfect for "doin doughies"; in addition, the vehicle's front bumper has little difficulty dispatching most breeds of domestic dog, should such creatures venture into its path.

But it's on the highway where the Corolla really comes into its own. A standard acceleration test showed that from a standing start it was possible to shout "Wankers!" at a group of teenagers and escape their flick-knife wrath with seconds to spare. Similarly, mooning other motorists is a simple and satisfying task, with our tests showing that when in a traditional mooning position more than 85% of my total arse area was visible to passing vehicles. (With thanks to Toyotas Charles Thompson for quickly taking the wheel during this test.)

As I parked the car at Toyota HQ my heart became heavy. It is my privilege to be paid to drive and write about such magnificent machines, but there is a down side: saying goodbye. And saying goodbye to the 1984 Toyota Corolla was probably my toughest assignment yet. I'm not sure what touched me so much about this particular vehicle. Perhaps it was the way the steering column vibrated against my crotch for the duration of the test drive. Or maybe it was the way the car, more human in some ways than many actual humans, seemed to brighten with pride at my gentle attention, then, later, shed an oily tear at our parting.

Whatever the reason, the Toyota Corolla is a car I won't soon forget. The Corolla has the style, comfort, and all-round performance needed to place it well ahead of the field. Try it yourself but be warned: Once you've loved this car, you may never love another.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Goth Teen Shunned: Not Sad Enough

Australia’s anti-discrimination laws are set to be levelled against the underworld today, as a teenager challenges Melbourne’s goth community for ostracising him. Trevor Watson, seventeen, is preparing to take legal action after being informed that he was no longer fit to hold his position, which was usually around halfway up the steps of Flinders Street Station.

According to representatives from the gothic governing body, the Brotherhood of Darkness, Trevor was deemed unfit to wear black after being caught smiling on no less than three occasions. “It’s just not on,” Lestat (AKA Percy Timmons of North Balwyn), one of the Brotherhood’s oldest members, told Sterne. “We are creatures of the night, bound to forever haunt the shadows – slaves to our passion for the grave. We are beautiful and morbid and ever so piercéd. Being a goth is a serious business, and if Trevor wants to lounge around being all…happy, he can go and do it somewhere else. He’s giving the damnéd a bad reputation. Now, pray excuse me, for the sweet embrace of my tomb is calling.” It was later revealed that the thirty-three year old Lestat had left the interview early because his mum had told him to come home and clean his room.

Trevor has claimed the charges of Smiling With Intent (To Be Pleasant) are completely unfounded: he was merely displaying his teeth to passers-by in preparation for biting their throats. The children of the night are refusing to relent, however. Head of the Melbourne goth community, Saphonia Eldritch, Queen of the Endless Abysm, has declared that an example needs to be made to prevent further backsliding among young goths. Alternately sipping from a goblet of what she repeatedly maintained was the blood of a freshly slaughtered goat (but looked suspiciously like raspberry cordial) and attempting to untangle her cloak from the twenty-five pounds of occult jewellery around her neck, Saphonia informed us that the gothic way of life was in danger of disappearing forever. “Many goth kids today seem to believe that being miserable is just an option, that there’s no need to learn memorable quotes from Byron, or shave off their eyebrows. And what kind of a name for a goth is Trevor, anyway? Something must be done before our ancient, made-up heritage is forgotten completely. I mean, being undead isn’t a hobby, it’s a way of life. Some kids even go out in the sunlight! I myself haven’t even seen the sun in the last five years,” Queen Saphonia, who apparently hadn’t seen any pimple cream in all that time either, stated.

Eager to contest these allegations and undeterred from pursuing a career as a goth, Trevor has announced he will prove just how hardcore he is, and plans to sacrifice a frozen chicken during today’s court proceedings.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Aging Process

It was my birthday yesterday. "Do you feel old," asked Lady Sterne, "now that you're twenty-eight?" "Well," I replied, "considering I'm actually only twenty-seven, no."

At least she remembered my birthday, if not my age. There is hope for us yet.

UPDATE: Antigeist has a great post on aging.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

More Booker Stuff

Ellis Sharp hasn't actually read The Sea, but that won't stop him suggesting that the anti-Banville brigade have missed the point: "Banville evidently intends to disappoint those readers who think that serious fiction should aspire to the condition of genre fiction, where suspense and characterisation in primary colours is everything." Perhaps. Yet the problem I have with The Sea is not that it challenges expectations but rather that it doesn't. I can live without the trappings of realism, and I'm all for high style, but The Sea remains a listless, lifeless exercise in aesthetic pretension. For all the precision of Banville's vocabulary, the inventiveness of his metaphors, I felt no sensual response. Thematically, the novel is tired and unoriginal. The Sea does not evoke sensation, it does not engage the mind, and these must surely be recognised as valid criticisms even by those who insist that a novel need not entertain.

I also resent the notion - common to a certain breed of literary pundit - that those criticising Banville's win are doing so out of allegiance to some fixed set of "fictional values", to use Sharp's phrase. The stereotype is familiar: the "ordinary reader", that knuckle-dragging simpleton still clinging to the out-dated principles of realism, simply cannot understand genuine literary art. Banville is too much for their heads, the poor duffers. This sort of elitist piffle doubtless does wonders for the ego of those who espouse it, while pre-emptively discounting contrary opinions, which by definition originate in a philistine mindset. If you don't like The Sea, it's not because you judge it (subjectively, of course, but with due consideration) a bad novel, it is because it conflicts with your intransigent middlebrow idea of what comprises good literature.

In response, I suggest that it is perfectly consistent to enjoy the type of prose Banville is aspiring to, and dislike intensely Banville's own efforts. It is also perfectly consistent to enjoy both literature that aspires "to the condition of genre fiction" (sniff), and literature that aims for pure artistry; it is even possible to be mercurial in one's prefererence, depending on the particular books under discussion. I'm certain there are those whose idea of good literature ossified sometime in the late-1800s, but to dismiss all criticism of a book or author as the product of intellectual atavism is to commit snobbery of the worst sort.

***

Beth has links to all of her Booker reviews, including Zadie Smith's On Beauty.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Greatest Movie of All Time

Some talk of Citizen Kane and others of Casablanca, some of Apocalypse Now or L' Avventura, or Vertigo... but these are all wastes of celluloid. Some reverently whisper the names Bergman, Kieslowski, Kurosawa, Scorsese... but they are hacks, every one. David and Margaret want you to name your favourite movie, and though the cynic in me knows the winner will be Titanic, it will not matter: the greatest movie of all time is still to come.

For I say to you, I am as a voice in the wilderness, and I preach the name of a movie as yet unreleased; a movie whose coming will shake the world, will change the course of history. Will, in fact, make your undergarments tingle like they housed an amorous weasel.

Prepare yourselves, brothers and sisters. Come 2006, when this puppy is released, I predict the age of cinema will be at an end. No-one will need to go to the movies any more. Hell, folks'll probably put their own eyes out - nothing else will be worth seeing, not after Snakes On A Plane.

Yes, you heard me right. But I'll say it again for the slow of mind: SNAKES on a PLANE. Go ahead, process it. Let the phrase roll gleefully around your tongue, like a fat, naked man on a bed made of chocolate. I think you must agree, there can be no finer title, no finer concept for a movie. No need for subtlety, word-play, subtext; no need to worry about the burden of a plot - all you need to know is that magnificent name, and that Samuel L. Jackson will be heading up the fight against the snakes for control of the aircraft.

Directed by David R. Ellis, the visionary who brought you Homeward Bound 2: Lost in San Fransisco, Snakes on a Plane will encapsulate like never before the eternal three-way struggle between man, machine and serpent. Please, book your tickets early friends, avoid the terrible rush - but don't keep it secret. Spread the good news wherever you can: Snakes On A Plane is coming. My gods, it will be bloody gorgeous.

Noooo!

In a victory for the forces of mediocrity, John Banville has nabbed the 2005 Booker Prize for his rather dull novel, The Sea. How disappointing.

UPDATE: Banville, ever the poster boy for modesty and grace, is quoted as saying, "It's nice to see a work of art winning the Booker Prize". Oh, doesn't it make your snob-senses tingle!

Meanwhile, can we please have some new adjectives to describe Banville's prose. "Crystalline", "wry" and "mordent" are getting a little tired. I'm sure the man himself could be of service. Personally, I find his style too flocculent for words.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Booker Eve Round-up

The announcement of the Booker prize is scheduled for October 10, so I assume it will have been made by tomorrow morning Australian time. Below is my own shortlist (limited to five, as I felt there wasn't a sixth book of similar quality in the thirteen I read), and the remainder of the longlist, placed in order of preference with links to my reviews. As you can see, I didn't get around to four of the longlisted titles, but I certainly read more of the nominees than I expected, and in the process discovered at least three authors who I might not have otherwise read.

My shortlist:

Arthur & George, Julian Barnes
The People's Act of Love, James Meek
A Long Long Way, Sebastian Barry
The Accidental, Ali Smith
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

The rest:

Saturday, Ian McEwan
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Marina Lewycka
The Sea, John Banville
The Harmony Silk Factory, Tash Aw
Slow Man, J.M. Coetzee
Beyond Black, HIlary Mantel
All For Love, Dan Jacobson
This Thing of Darkness, Harry Thompson

Unread:

In the Fold, Rachel Cusk
Shalimar the Clown, Salman Rushdie
On Beauty, Zadie Smith
This is the Country, William Wall

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Books I Will Not Be Finishing #1

It's all very ambitious and profound, but I'm afraid Christos Tsiolkas's Dead Europe just doesn't do it for me. Want deeper analysis? Go elsewhere. I simply don't like it. At the risk of sounding defensive, I'll just point out that it is within my rights not to like this book, even if it is a putative landmark of modern Australian fiction. I will of course balance my defensiveness with a pinch of charity by saying that although I don't care for it, you may. Still, I couldn't finish it. Here's why.

Dead Europe is ambitious, too ambitious for its own good. Tsiolkas is so in love with his themes (discussed at length in any good review, i.e. not this one) that he can't help but ram them down your throat. Characters are forced to engage in absurd, programmatic conversations; every setting, every character drips with "meaning". It is unsubtle, irritating, and exhausting. By page fifty, I wanted to punch the book. The book, I tell you!

It doesn't help that the protagonist is as dull as Saturday night at Brian Harradine's place, and that he narrates his story with all the verve of a self-important first year Arts student. Hey, I've been there and written that way. You know, the combination of mannered rigidity and purposeless crudity that amounts to what I like to call the "this is a serious, meaningful book, and don't you tell me it's not" tone. You want to grab Tsiolkas and tell him to stop trying so damn hard. Relax, dude (this is me talking to Tsiolkas now). Stop being such an overweening smarty pants and maybe your prose would be half-way readable.

I wasn't even impressed by the novel's unrelenting bleakness. Michel Houellebecq's Atomised may have turned me off sex, if not the entire human race, for about a month, but at least its depravity was exhilarating, its pessimism so extreme that I found myself engrossed even as I was repelled. Tsiolkas's world-view is also gloomy, but perhaps owing to the flat tone of his writing, I failed to appreciate it even on a shocking, pornographic level. Ultimately, Tsiolkas bores me, and surely that is the worst thing you can say of a writer.

So, to reiterate, I do not like Dead Europe. Christos Tsiolkas can feel free to strike me off his Christmas card list - at least it will save me having to read another word from his pen.

And yes, I have been drinking. What of it?

Book length: 411 pp.
Pages read: 158 pp.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Baby News

This morning Lady Sterne had her nineteen week scan, revealing that our baby - until now known as "Ichabod", or "It" - is in fact a girl. This is great news. (Although of course I would also have said that had it been a boy.) The great thing about girls is they're less likely to want a go of your Playstation so, you know, you don't have to share.

Thanks to the wonders of modern medical imaging, I am able to post a picture of our little one:

Beautiful, isn't she?

Inquiring Minds

The Herald Sun asks its readers:

Would you buy a parachute and use it to jump off a tall building?

Well, would you? Come on, don't hold back. If you feel strongly one way or the other, let your voice be heard. This kind of frank, open debate is what democracy is all about.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Man's Inhumanity To Man

Sometimes I don't know whether to weep or laugh. Celebrities giving their children horrible, horrible names is an old trope, and yet I'm always amazed when some over-paid, over-exposed jerk comes up with a moniker which speaks more clearly than cigarette burns of a latent desire to damage their sprog as deeply as possible. This one, I think, tops the lot. It is the acme of depressingly ridiculous appellations. Child-services should be called on national treasure Nick Cage, post-haste, for he has named his son...wait for it...

...Kal-el Coppola Cage.

One can only hope that there is a special school somewhere for the kids of Hollywood morons - somewhere that little Kal-el and Heavenly Hirani Tiger Lily, Lourdes and Phoenix Chi can go and not be beaten to a bloody pulp for the sins of their mentally deficient parents.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Vulture

Anti-intellectualism is rife in this country, asserted one of the panelists on last night's edition of the ABC's new prime-time arts and culture programme, Vulture. Having sat through this mess of self-satisfied nonsense, I think I'm beginning to see why. Eddie McGuire may not be feted as a top intellectual (as was "ironically" posited by those funsters at Vulture) but at least his shows are coherent and have an identifiable point. They also don't feature Helen Razer, which is always a bonus.

Vulture gets it wrong in almost every department. The opening credits are a meaningless retread of the Enough Rope formula; host Richard Fidler looks distinctly uncomfortable; the panelists (last night, at least) are an irritating mix of the verbose and the practically mute. The show's brief is too inclusive, the discussion barreling from topic to topic, without really stopping to fully consider any of them. The alleged comedic element is disastrous. In one sketch, which petered out without so much as sighting a punchline, we were introduced to a (fictional) fan club of the poet Les Murray. In another, a reporter visited a garden show for a spot of vox pop hilarity, including a Wil Anderson-esque comparison between garden weeds and the invasion of Iraq. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the reason we remain under Howard's yoke.

These problems may well be ironed out in coming weeks, but I feel that the show's tone will be its downfall. Instead of insight, Vulture's panelists serve up cliche; instead of rational debate, they shout over one another. Always, there is the sense not of conversation, but of performance. Similar criticisms could be made of Vulture's predecessor, Critical Mass, but at least it was a genuine arts discussion programme, not some hybrid panel/sketch show that simultaneously decries the dumbing down of Australian culture while actively embracing it. Critical Mass also benefited from having a host, Jonathan Biggins, who was personable, intelligent, and skilled at directing the conversation to a point. Vulture is a waste of air time. Chalk up another point for the enemies of Aunty.

Lying to Children

Nothing brightens my day like lying to children. It's lucky I've got one of my own and another on the way, otherwise I'd have to borrow yours and lie to them. But I don't mean traditional Big Lies, about God and democracy and so on. I mean the crazy, off-the-cuff shit you can spin to kids, safe in the knowledge that they know no better. For example:

- The reason the cat's tail moves while he is asleep is because, like certain large dinosaurs, cats have a small brain in their tails, which remains alert while the rest of their body sleeps.

- The reason old photos and movies are in black and white is because until about fifty years ago the world itself was black and white.

- Your uncle was born a girl, but because Grandma and Grandpa didn't want a girl they dressed him in blue and forced him to play with Matchbox cars and toy guns until one day he suddenly changed into a boy.

- When you travel overseas, you can get special microchips implanted in your tongue that allow you to speak the local language like a native.

- When you are sleeping, apprentice hairdressers from the TAFE practice on your hair. That's why it's always so messy in the morning.

- God is dead. Daddy killed him.

- Every few years the government puts everybody's name into a big hat, mixes it up, and whatever name you draw out you have to live with until the next swap.

I can't wait to be a primary school teacher!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Platonic Letter of Application

Dear Sirs,

I am writing in regards to the position which you advertised last Saturday in a notice which, whilst impressively large and colourful, had no fewer than three typographical errors. Such attention to style over substance bespeaks delightfully nonchalant levels of incompetence - obviously yours is a workplace to which I am ideally suited: hand/glove, duck/water, dwarf/cage... you get the picture.

Sirs, let's face it, I am The Shit. I'm not one to blow my own horn or anything (not until I get those ribs removed anyway, ahaha), but quite frankly you're not going to find anyone more skilled, creative, intuitive, intelligent, handsome and pleasantly scented than me. Talented? I can juggle knives while managing client resources. Accomplished? I can mimic the mating call of the flamingo at the same time as improving your cost benefit realisation. Truly, I am the limousine of employees.

Do I have past experience in the field? Does the pope shit in a golden bowl? To tell you the truth I don't remember what this job involves, and I couldn't care less - all I'm after is some suitably filthy lucre to appease my justifiably angry creditors (and if I don't get this job it's back to the streets of St Kilda for me, for to whore out my poor, pale arse). Suffice it to say, however, that I've held a wide rage of positions in the past (spit-boy, bag-man, pirate-king) and I can and will turn my hand to pretty much anything, excepting of course physical labour, sales, computing, reading, writing and, in fact, actual movement.

Employing me will gain you a loyal, trustworthy worker, a lad who can be counted on to toil hard and to the best of his considerable abilities - for about the first fortnight. After this I can be counted on to become arrogant and complacent. Instead of kissing your arse on a daily basis, I will become surly and quite probably abusive to both you and your clients; putting my leadership skills to good use, I will also encourage other employees to follow suit. I wouldn't like to use the term gradual laziness to describe the deterioration my work ethic - not when words like indolence, sloth and bone-idleness will do so much better. I am yet to single-handedly caused a company to go into liquidation, but I am young and these are early days.

Sirs, I am convinced your workplace cannot do without me, and I'm more than happy to stalk you to prove it. I already know where three of you live - check your letterboxes for traces of boiled bunny tomorrow and see if I'm lying. Why miss out on such an opportunity as me? I am all that you need and so much less. I look forward to attending an awkward and uncomfortable interview at your convenience; in the meantime, if you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me for some more self-aggrandising lies. Hugs and kisses to you all,

Your newest employee (Esq).

The Real J.G. Ballard

There's a guy who comes into my work who is a dead ringer for J.G. Ballard. Every time he walks in, I find myself on some semi-conscious level contemplating telling him how much I enjoyed reading his books as a teenager. Then he opens his mouth and says,

"Yeah, g'day, mate. 'Ows it goin'?"

And the illusion is shattered.

Bruce Sterling talks about the real, non-ocker J.G. Ballard at Ballardian.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Hypothetical

Say Hitler didn't kill himself and eluded capture after the conclusion of WW2 and, upon seeing the error of his ways, set up shop as a chocolatier, only to be forced into mysterious reclusion by the combined forces of Mossad and Slugworth's Chocolates, and say he one day held a competition in which golden tickets were hidden in five Uncle Adolf's Extra Crispy Choc-ripple delight bars, and whoever found a ticket would receive a free tour of the chocolate factory, conducted by Uncle Adolf himself, and one day you peeled open an Uncle Adolf bar and there was a golden ticket inside, meaning you'd won, so you did a little song and got your elderly relatives all worked up about visiting the factory.

Ignoring the obvious concerns (potential for dental cavities, the attempted extermination of European Jewry), would you go?

Masterminds

Not wishing to detract from the intellectual aptitude required to figure out that detonating nail bombs in a crowded restaurant will result in horrific death and injury, but surely "masterminds" is taking things a bit far...

The People Next Door

We have people living next door to us. They:

- are young people, given to sitting on a hammock by their front door, smoking cigarettes and scowling at passers-by.

- enjoy revving their clapped-out Ford at odd hours of the night.

- frequently swan around their front yard with their shirts off, so that if one innocently glances in the direction of their house, one is confronted by a brace of pallid, ladyboy chests.

- have numerous female visitors, none of whom join in the shirtless frolicking. I've checked.

- are constructing some kind of vegetable/marijuana garden in their backyard.

- have recently begun lighting bonfires in their backyard on sunny afternoons, presumably to burn off garden waste. I'm pretty sure this is illegal. It sure smells like it should be.

- refuse to acknowledge my existence, no matter how many curt nods I direct at them.

- fail to promptly bring in their bins - a sure sign of degeneracy.

- are hopefully not reading this post, or else I fear for the safety of my letterbox.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Joker Poker

In newspaper interviews, comedians never say anything. Sure, they'll joke, maybe even quip, but never simply say. Yet the quotations attributed as jokes or quips are rarely actually jokes or quips, and are never funny. Perhaps it's something they teach you at journalist school: comedians don't say, they joke or they quip. Even when they're really just saying.

This is a roundabout way of getting to Channel Ten's new Saturday night shite-fest, Joker Poker, hosted (or possibly jokested) by comedian Adam Spencer. The concept is simple. Four comedians square off over the felt at Sydney's Star City casino, playing Texas hold 'em poker with sponsor's money, with the winnings going to charity. I assume the idea is to combine wise-cracking with high stakes poker and watch the late-night ratings climb. The reality, of course, is that Joker Poker sucks.

The show's limitations are implicit in its concept. Comedians are often skilled performers, capable of wringing every last laugh from a routine. Very few, however, are gifted improvisers, and many who are gifted improvisers are more insufferable than funny. Even fewer are genuinely funny outside of their professional work, or no more so than anybody else. And, it turns out, no comedians are funny when playing poker for charity on national television.

The other problem is - and surely somebody should have brought this up at a production meeting - poker is fucking boring. Oh, I'm sure it rocks if you've got chips on the table, especially if you're on your fifth mortgage and the kids are so hungry they can't even claw at the windows of the car you left them in outside the casino. I'm sure it goes off if you're playing for cattle ranches and the hand of the governor's daughter on a paddle-steamer on the Mississippi. But it is boring when played by a bunch of dull comedians at 11:30 on a Saturday night, even if it is for charity.

And check the morality. A show staged in a casino, funded by a liquor company, and promoting gambling is bad enough. But the fact that they allow Russell Gilbert to appear without physical restraint - well, it's nothing short of outrageous.

Trivia Night

Place people in a group, give them a common identity and purpose (real or imaginary), and two things will happen. The first is that each individual will identify their own self-interest with that of the group, and will set about reinforcing the collective identity. The second is that the group, and its constituent members, will come to see itself as inherently superior to all other comparable groups. Add the element of competition between groups, and conflict is the inevitable result.

This is true for all arbitrary groups, from nation states to Survivor tribes. Yet perhaps the most insidious, divisive example of this ugly group dynamic is the humble suburban trivia night. There, ordinary, peace-loving people are placed in groups and transformed into cheating, whining, self-aggrandising sociopaths, all for the sake of ephemeral glory and a crappy prize.

Lady Sterne and I attended one of these allegedly "fun" events last night. It was my parents' fault. Their Lions Club had organised the night and my parents thought that we'd be perfect ringers for their team, although the questions turned out to be piss-easy anyway. Frankly I think we were only invited so my parents could point me out to their friends who haven't seen me in a decade and say, "We always knew he would cut his hair, settle down with a nice girl and start drinking mid-strength beer." *

Anyway, despite the questions being so easy as to make those posed on Temptation seem positively curly, our team only managed second place. I say "only" because at a trivia night there really isn't a second place - it is all about winning. And boy, do people take winning seriously!

Barely a round went by without challenges to the veracity of a question or answer. Threats were regularly traded between teams, always in a jocular manner, but with accompanying glares that hinted at more serious intent. Worst of all, the organiser/quizmaster had a bad case of the Peter Berners, frequently rendering questions and answers alike unintelligable. It all amounted to a lot of shouting, pointing, and disgruntled mumbling. A huge success, in other words.

I of course remained aloof from the hubbub. No way would I forfeit my individuality for the insular, self-reinforcing superiority of the team. No, I managed to remain calm, seeing not competing groups, but deluded individuals, striving pathetically for trivia glory. Individuals, that is, except for those pricks on Table 4, who were quite obviously subhuman, and cheats besides, and who really should have given us that question in round eight, because after all we let them go with one in round three, and...

* Carlton Sterling, which I was drinking only so I'd have something to nurse that wouldn't result in me becoming outrageously drunk, in which state God knows what I might have said to the old lady tottering around in an oversized purple jump-suit.