Thursday, July 27, 2006

Don't Stand So Close To Him

I recently bumped into an old schoolmate (my first girlfriend, in fact, although I'm not sure that it counts given we were both six years old at the time) and, flailing about for things to talk about, I pointed out that 2006 is the ten year anniversary of our finishing school. "I don't want to know about it!" my Grade One paramour said. "It just makes me feel old."

I nodded agreement, but in fact I find the thought of being a decade out of school cause for celebration rather than despair. Grey hairs, weight gain, disintegrating cartilage, crumbling teeth, wrinkles, brittle bones, dementia, shoes with zippers, agonising death - the horrors of swiftly encroaching decrepitude are almost totally offset by the knowledge that high school is just as swiftly receding into the past.

(Cue flashback, replete with dry ice fog, “hilarious” wigs and appropriate musical cues, preferably something by Sonic Youth.)

There was just so much wrong with high school: the teachers, the curriculum, the dubious sausage rolls in the canteen. Particularly distasteful was the forced daily contact with the school’s complement of psychopaths, sluts, stoners, bullies, flashers, boozers, wankers, geeks, freaks, and people who brought samples of their ejaculate to school in jars. Teenagers are no more endurable just because you happen to be one, and I would gladly trade my memories of high school for, say, memories of a holiday on Mars, during which I became embroiled in a conflict between the planet’s corrupt government and a rebel organisation run by a mutant with a sentient baby in his stomach.

The problem with teenagers is that, to quote Matthew McConaughey’s uber-sleazy character in Dazed and Confused, I get older but they stay the same age. Callow, obnoxious, smelly, spotty, stupid – teenagers are bloody awful and they are bloody everywhere. Public transport is a nightmare because they always seem to want to sit next to me, particularly the girls, thus proving that either I (or my deodorant) am possessed of enormous sexual magnetism, or that I am so wizened and unappealing as to be virtually invisible. Callow, obnoxious, smelly, spot—…oh, I’ve already done that bit. Anyway, the point is that teenagers are pretty horrible, always have been, always will be. Case in point: today I saw a teenage boy put a plastic bag of rubbish on his friend’s car’s bonnet, then he got into the car and they drove off, the car’s motion flinging the bag onto the carpark of a 7/11 where it broke open, spilling garbage everywhere. Then they almost ran me over, cackling at their jape. The fact that this is typical teenage behaviour in no way disqualifies it as evidence in favour of the reintroduction of stockades and public whippings.

Grating as this kind of thing is, I find myself getting even more annoyed when teenagers do things like not acting like grade A free-range dickheads. Having been a callow, obnoxious, spotty (etc.) teenager, I feel somehow betrayed when I see a teenager assisting a disabled person or putting rubbish in a bin. Hypocritical? You bet, but whatever. (You will observe that the teenager is still strong in me.) It seems to go against the natural order of things to see a teenager actually contributing to civil society. It’s like watching a gorilla suckle a parrot – sure, she’s helping and all, but it’s still fucking sick.

A particularly egregious example of teenage goody-two-shoes-ing occurred yesterday when Carey Grammar student Stephen Battaglia gave the Prime Minister an impromptu birthday hug. I’ll repeat that: he hugged John Howard! What’s more, he reckons the experience “awesome”. Awesome? You hugged the Prime Minister? I think I need to pause for breath, otherwise I’ll end up rendering the remainder of this post in disbelieving italics.

[Calm blue ocean…calm blue ocean…calm billy ocean…]

Now, let’s give young Stephen some credit, as he did manage to “scare” the PM with the screwdriver he happened to be holding when he went the geriatric grope yesterday. But still – he hugged the Prime Minister! And he pronounces it “awesome”! I’m fully aware that many people, teenagers included, reckon John Howard a top bloke and a great leader, but who – seriously who – describes the experience of cuddling up with a 67-year-old – any 67-year-old – as “awesome”? It’s difficult to imagine circumstances in which clasping such a body to oneself could be considered anything other than disturbing. The fact that it was the 67-year-old body of our benevolent leader makes no difference. Stephen Battaglia, you are sick! Couldn’t you have done something relatively normal, like bring your come to school in an old Vegemite jar?

An example of the correct way to handle such an encounter is provided by my Year Eleven class who, on a school excursion to the city, spotted then-Führer Jeff Kennett striding down Springstrasse. We duly gave him a rousing chorus of "Jeff is a wanker!" (Kennett, waving: "Hello children!"). It didn’t get us media coverage or any brownie points with our conservative parents, but at least we maintained our dignity. Of course, Jeff responded by closing down our school, but at least we didn’t have to touch him.

Monday, July 24, 2006

New Comedy Duo Debut “Ambient Slapstick” Routine

Eno and Woodley, a new comedy duo comprising slapstick comedian Frank Woodley and music legend Brian Eno, last night thrilled the sell-out audience at the Sydney premiere of their show, Music for Being Hit in the Face with Rakes.

The show featured Woodley indulging in pratfalls, custard pie gags and general buffoonery, accompanied by a live performance of Eno’s specially composed score.

Eno told Sterne that, as with all his ambient works, “the idea is to create a low-volume soundtrack that subtly alters the listener’s perception of an environment. In this case, the environment was simultaneously and not so subtly altering Frank Woodley’s face and body. My favourite bit is when Frank gets smacked in the cobblers with a lawnmower. We worked really hard on getting the right accompaniment for that, drawing in particular on the music and culture of Africa, South America, and Australia's Funniest Home Videos."

The enthusiastic audience brought the duo back for three encores, during which Eno repeatedly beat Woodley about torso and head with an array of inanimate objects. The veteran musician and producer says that in such a performance, the professionalism of the backing musicians is of the essence.

"When I smack Frank upside the head with a crow-bar, I need to know that the band will hit the button that makes the "clang!" noise. Likewise, when I trip Frank over and kick a skateboard into his teeth, I better hear "zing! drrrr! ksh! argh!" or the whole bloody percussion section will have their own orifices interfered with after the show, believe you me."

Eno said that he enjoyed working with Woodley, and denied that the partnership was unusual.

“I spent three years in a band with Bryan Ferry, so it’s not like I’ve never worked with a clown before.”

Sunday, July 23, 2006

In the Heat of the White

Last week's Patrick White business provoked plenty of impassioned blogging, and not a few pun-laden post titles - Zoe's is my favourite. It also provided the impetus for one of those collective bursts of enthusiasm that blogging is so well suited to. Laura's suggestion of an informal online Patrick White reading group proved so popular that there is already a blog devoted to the idea. There's even a poll thingamy where you can vote for which book you prefer, The Vivesector or The Tree of Man. It's going to be pretty laid-back, so why not have a look and help take back the White!

UPDATE (26/07): And the winner is...

Monday, July 17, 2006

Why Bother Living?

You might recall this contrived piece of nonsense in which a couple of venerable Booker winners were submitted to publishers as unpublished works only to end up being recycled into Dan Brown novels or whatever it is that happens to rejected manuscripts. Six months later, The Australian has come up with the genius idea to do...exactly the same thing! Typing person Jennifer Sexton mocked up a chapter from Patrick White's The Eye of the Storm and represented it to publishers as the work of one Wraith Picket. (You'll notice that this is an anagram of Prick We Hiatt, a lovely place to stay if you ever find yourself in exotic downtown Prick We.) The result of this experiment? Wholesale rejection!

White/Picket was variously dismissed as "clever" but lacking ideas, referred to David Lodge's The Art of Fiction for "its lessons about exposition, dialogue, point of view, voice and characterisation", and advised to attend writing classes for further "critical analysis". Upon learning of Sexton's ruse, one publisher admitted that he had been trying to be polite in his rejection letter. Relieved of the professional obligation to be courteous, Nicholas Hudson of Hudson Publishing proceded to cut loose. "I thought is [sic] was pretentious fart-arsery. I don't like White." White has so far refused to comment.

Anyway, what lessons are we to draw from this cunning piece of journalistic subterfuge? Are publishers solely interested in what is going to sell, and to hell with literary quality? Well, yeah, actually.

"We want to find the good books, publishers are aiming to find brilliant new talent," Shona Martyn of HarperCollins alleged. "But publishing is a business and we are looking at what Australian readers want to buy. If more people wanted to read more books instead of watching celebrity ice-skating, I would be delighted."

Well, I saw Torvill and Dean's Dancing on Ice last week, and I have to say it'd be a pretty damn good book that would drag me away from that particular car crash. But I digress...

Obviously, publishers exist to make money, and they do this by publishing books that sell. How many copies did The Eye of the Storm shift in 1973? I don't know, but I'd wager it didn't trouble the scorers greatly. Yet White was published, whether for the "prestige" of his name or because publishers felt some kind of duty towards fostering a healthy literary culture. Is this an antiquated notion? I don't know, being neither publisher nor published. Doubtless those who are one or the other will have greater insight into this issue.

I do, however, find the hand-wringing, bet-each-way justifications from the publishing industry disingenuous. As Dan Green wrote in the aftermath of the original Times story:

To all the defenders of the status quo in current mainstream publishing: You can certainly prefer books that "sell," that define literacy down, if you wish. Obviously this is where the center of power and influence now lies, and apparently lots of people, even people who profess an interest in books and writing, will do what they need to do to accomodate themselves to this power. But please don't tell us that you're also interested in "quality." Your bad faith is conspicuous. If your allegiance to capitalism supersedes your allegiance to literary values, just admit it.


Cross-posted at Sarsaparilla.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Bullitt

- When people start taking even your most obviously facetious posts seriously, it's hard not to wonder a) how gullible people can possibly be, and b) how one might abuse said gullibility to further one's interests. Coming soon: a series of posts on why giving Jon and I money for doing nothing is a great idea.

- Intersecting Lines is no more. Again.

- Beth has started contemplating this year's Booker. Although I vowed not to, and although it involves reading a lot of average books, and although the prize itself is pointless, etc, etc, I suspect I'm going to end up blogging the longlist again this year. Maybe I'll actually get through it this time.

- Currently reading Paul Theroux's Sir Vidia's Shadow, a memoir about the author's friendship with V.S. Naipaul. Fascinating stuff, but depressing as all hell. By the age of thirty, Theroux had spent five years teaching in a remote African university, another couple of years teaching in Singapore, before moving to England; he had published four novels; fantasised about shagging Lady Antonia Fraser; and developed a deep and abiding friendship with a world-famous author, Naipaul, whose own list of achievements is even more daunting. My inferiority complex grows with every chapter I read...

- UPDATE: Syd Barrett's dead! (Warning: linked article includes "Shine on you crazy diamond" headline.) When I was told "somebody from Pink Floyd died" I never imagined it would be Barrett - I thought he'd been dead for years.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Beauty of Child Exploitation

We are all familiar with the grotesque world of child beauty pageants, so popular in the United States, in which pushy stage mothers trade the childhoods of their pre-pubescent daughters for a few seconds of vicarious fame. These pageants represent the nadir of the win-at-all-costs ethos. Contestants as young as two are routinely made up like underage hookers, wedged into heels and bathing suits, have their teeth capped and skin tanned, and are forced to perform degrading rituals - including walking, turning, and walking some more - all in the name of "beauty". In fact, these children are being forced to conform to a very narrow idea of beauty, in which all flaws are proscribed. The results are not only artificial, but often downright creepy. For example:


Even more distraughtening is the new trend of junior celebrity look-alike competitions. Parents across the US, and even Australia, are dramatically altering their children's appearance in order to win large cash prizes and modelling contracts. The most hotly contended competitions are, predictably enough, those seeking look-alikes of top models, singers and actors. Yet niche competitions are becoming extremely popular. Below is a disturbing photograph of Madison Brooklyn Murgatroid-Dandelion, a four month old baby who, through liberal use of make-up, hair pieces and corrosive chemicals, won first prize at the prestigious Junior John Updike Look-Alike Competition, held in upstate New York last week.

Another innocent life ruined. How far does this abuse have to go before authorities act? These cruel practices must stop, and I beg you to write to your Member of Parliament, your Congressman, or your absolute monarch and insist that child pageants be outlawed. This is a pressing matter: as I write preparations are under way in the Sydney suburb of Kogarah for the 1st Annual Junior Clive James Look-Alike Competition. The time to act is now!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Sex And Violence, Nerd Style

Because my computer and I are experiencing what the eminently qualified Dr Phil would no doubt diagnose as ‘issues’ at present, I have been forced to do my blogging from the confines of a local interweb café. And I’m not complaining about it, mind you, as this ill-lit den of technology permits me to enjoy such salutary web-browsing extras as greasy keyboards, dismal pop muzak, and the stink rising from foetid nerds as like Spring flowers their pores open in sweaty delight whenever they discover a new porn node. My fellow geeks have proved something of an inspiration, however. I’d been planning to rattle off some no doubt edifying gem of a post on my obvious genius and why the modern world is so poorly equipped to recognise it (the usual, in other words), and you are the poorer for being denied it, I can assure you. Nevertheless, I found it hard to concentrate on anything else once I overheard the conversation floating over from the next row of computers.

“Did you hear about Adrian?” spluttered one teenage nerd to another, as he pressed a tissue to his erupting acne. “He got raped twice last night!”

Hearing this, hard-bitten, cold and unfeeling man of the world though I might be, I was shocked. “Good grief…poor Adrian,” I thought. “What a hideous thing to happen to anyone. I hope he received medical attention and counselling. I hope the police have been informed.”

But no, for the second pimply youth giggled, “Yeah, it was me. I raped him so hard!”

Now, even amidst the egregious moral squalor of Box Hill, this constitutes something of an unusual admission. Confused, flustered (but undeniably comely), I listened further to nerd number two’s bizarrely enthusiastic confession, and as I did so, it slowly dawned on my ape-like mind that I probably wasn’t going to be called on as a witness once Adrian's assault came to trial.

It turns out that the back room of my ‘net café doubles as a LAN games arena, wherein gormless young (and not so young) men congregate in front of computer screens to commit vicarious acts of violence and lie about the multitude of hot babes that clamour for their slobby bodies. In my eavesdropping, I’d stumbled across some commonly used terminology in the gamer’s lexicon: to ‘rape’ someone is to beat them at a computer game. Fascinated by the admirably offensive expression, I wandered over to the doorway of the gaming room and listened some more. And after five minutes I was confused and flustered again (still comely, but).

As it turns out, virtually everything in a gaming nerd’s vocabulary revolves around acts of sexual violence: he got raped; I’m about to fuck your arse; get ready to eat my cock; let’s back-door him; I made you my bitch; feel my hot sex, motherfucker. The stream of abusive war-cries came thick and quick - relentless and definitively dirty. Tres charming, no?

The link between violence and sex is an old one, and potent. The Greeks, despite the fact they invented neither, liked to make a big deal about this on a regular basis – the first recorded piece of Western literature concerns rape – and went so far as to allegorise the association in their religion. Even a casual reading of their mythos soon reveals Aphrodite as the most capriciously bloodthirsty of the gods, and her illicit trysts with Ares symbolise not the quelling of war by love, but a longing within the act of love to possess and conquer regardless of cost. Not that I’m suggesting by this entirely spurious little bit of erudition that aggression or brutality are necessary facets of sexuality; it’s just unfortunate that human history reveals a long and unbroken correlation between the one and t’other. Knowledge of this, however, was insufficient preparation for the sight of game geeks screaming about coming in each other’s faces while blowing their virtual avatars up with lasers. No, seriously: yuck.

When it comes to psychology, I’m about as qualified as a certain aforementioned former football coach to offer an accurate analysis. Nonetheless, the inclination to run to Freud et al for any kind of explanation is a natural one, once you’ve seen a nerd fondling his joystick. It's true that a multitude of games are a sublimation of sexual urges, what with all the drive to dominate and humble one's opponent. The obvious examples are contact sports which offer the opportunity not just to whoop but to touch the arses of the opposing team, or any other part of their bodies (not necessarily in Hopoate-esque fashion; contact sport is in many ways an intricately constructed excuse to come into close physical proximity with members of the same sex without feeling guilty about it later); but even a game like chess is a vertiable minefield of oedipal symbolisms.

And just as these are fairly harmless, and probably even quite healthy cathartic outlets, so too I imagine are most video games. I'm not about to suggest there's anything inherently wrong with playing them, especially since I and several of the people I pay to be my friends have been known to dabble in them from time to time. Nor am I going to trot out the tired A Current Affair type arguments which maintain there is anything particularly wrong with the simulated violence they may contain (other than the obvious ethical/philosophical concerns, which I'm not going to raise here because 1. I've already become long-winded and tangential, and 2. I'm lazy). Computer games don't warp adult minds or instill violent tendencies - not like those evil fucking Harry Potter books - or at least don't do so to minds that were open to warping by other stimuli, anyway.

When the sort of language that the pack of nerds at my 'net cafe were flinging about comes to be employed as a matter of course, though, you can't help but wonder if the game is not longer an abstract sublimation of sexual urges but an automatic association between acts of violence (admittedly by proxy, but recognisably violence nonetheless) and humiliation and acts of sex. I'm not about to make a case for lingusitic determinism here - particularly since I thought up 'til last week that Sapir-Whorf was a character from Star Trek - but it's hard not to think that such obsessively sexual perjorations are reinforcing a sadistic fetish; not expressions of triumph but of arousal, which are reified every time they get used. And does the paraphiliac gratification extend beyond the computer screen? I don't know, but I'd hate to be the partner of a gaming nerd - would they want to beat you in the face Big Brother style with their weltanshauung every time you were in bed? Doesn't really bear thinking about, does it?

But what is to be done about such deviant dweebs, oh Man of Ideas, Man of Morals, do I hear you say? How nice of you to ask so obsequiously. But I wouldn't have a clue, nor could I really care less. I'm off to rape some dude at Tetris, hardcore. What, you were looking for a serious answer after all my self-righteous, half-formed dribble? Well fuck you. Just what blog did you think you were reading, anyway?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Dead Bird, Gonna Put It On You

Camberwell Market was fairly uninspiring this morning. Maybe the threat of rain kept all the interesting stall-holders at home (people with interesting things to sell are renowned for disliking inclement weather), or maybe it was my mood. Sometimes I enjoy sifting through table after table of yellowing paperbacks and assorted bits and bobs; today, I felt like buying a pair of fourth-hand flippers ("Only $5!") and gouging somebody's eye out with them. Next Sunday I'm staying in bed. Except I have to work, so I guess I won't.

It was almost worth going, however, to see this:


It is, or anyway was, some kind of bird that has been stuffed - in more than one sense of the word - and mounted - also possibly in more than one sense of the word. Somebody was actually attempting to sell this hideous ex-bird, although there didn't seem to be a price tag attached. Maybe it fell off along with most of the feathers.

Still, there's nothing like a grotesque objet de taxidermy to pull the well-heeled punters at Camby Market. I estimate that while I snapped away with my spiffy new phone-camera-doomsday device, no less than a dozen passers-by pointed, shrieked, laughed, or fainted at the sight of my patchy friend. Unfortunately for the stall-holder, not a single person was game enough to actually get close enough to the bird to examine any of the other stock on offer. I wonder why.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Review: [Insert Film Title]

[Insert title of Pixar or Dreamworks animation] is set in a world where [insert inanimate object and/or animal of the moment- into the review, that is, you pervert!] behave just like human beings. Imagine, instead of [everyday human activity] these [cute, anthropomorphised objects/animals] spend their time doing [everyday human activity, but with an ironic twist]! Once again the animation whizzes at [Pixar or Dreamworks] have worked their magic to create a world that is [insert cluster of stale adjectives], and guaranteed to entertain children of all ages.

The story goes like this. [Insert name of likeable-yet-bland protagonist] has lived a charmed life until one day [insert brief description of the event that disrupts the protagonist's neatly ordered world forcing him/her - but most likely him - to face his/her fears]. With the help of [insert names of protagonist's rag-tag gang of stereotypical losers, including best friend whose multiple character flaws the almost-perfect protagonist deigns not to judge nor attempt to remedy] [protagonist] sets out to right this wrong, having many thrilling adventures along the way.

Voiced by [insert name of second-tier Hollywood star who mugged his way through the script between visits to rehab] [protagonist] is a delight, and sure to be a hit with audiences. The voice ensemble, which includes [insert names of other featured second- and third-tier Hollywood stars, plus at least one former cast member of Cheers] is excellent, while the fast-paced narrative barely pauses for breath, sweeping the entire audience along with it. In fact [film title] is one for the whole family. Kids will love its gentle humour, while adults will enjoy [the quality of the animation and/or the occasional risque gag and pop culture reference inserted into the film in order to flatter the adult audience that their predictable range of shared culture is actually some kind of occult knowledge, thereby magnifying the humour's effect as the adults in the audience strive to demonstrate that they get the joke and/or reference.] There is even a moral to the story: [insert description of trite "lesson" that will be completely forgotten in the rush to get to McDonald's to buy the tie-in Happy Meal].

In short, [insert lengthy peroration consisting mostly of snappy, essentially meaningless statements of opinion as to the film's excellence in a desperate bid to be quoted on posters and/or other marketing material]. This reviewer hasn't seen an animated film of this quality since [insert name of Pixar or Dreamworks feature that took the world by storm last school holidays]. As [protagonist] says: "[insert banal catch-phrase revealed by focus groups to be the most memorable for audiences aged four to fourteen, thus providing residual brand recognition for up to six months following a single viewing of the product coupled with exposure to related promotions and/or hypnotic brain-washing via after school children's programming]!"

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Zap! Kapow! Repress!

I've got nothing worth blogging about, so why not have a look at Superdickery's collection of highly dubious comic books. I laughed so hard beer came out of my eyeballs. But then, I'm pretty immature.