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Sunday, 27 January 2019

Back On The Shelf

When I was asked when I was five years old what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said with full confidence that I wanted to be a robot.

It didn't take long for that to become wanting to be an astronaut, I think maybe because I realised when I was about six that robots get built and people get born and I was in the latter section of society. I don't remember being that upset about the revelation. I mean, today - if I was fully of the belief that in several years I would be contained in the chassis of an immortal machine, then told today that it wasn't going to happen, I'd be livid.

Other, more feasible dreams followed.

Being wealthy and happy after an indeterminate period of time, because all you had to do was live that long. Being a rock star. Being a professional writer. Being a rock star again. Being a writer again. That kind of calibre of aspiration, running at that kind of level of want or need. It was joined with a variety of other dreams, like travelling the entire world, living in California (I was young enough that I couldn't really differentiate different bits of an albeit huge state), owning a Lamborghini, owning a private jet.

I can tell you the approximate moment in my life when depression really started to kick in, and that was when I was thirteen years old, because my dreams and aspirations started to change.

Now, a lot of folks - the kind of folks who like to use terms like "never did me any harm" or "back in my day" or "that's just the way it is suck it up" - would point out that this is just part of growing up. You put your childish dreams away, and you start having adult ones. Right?

Well, my dreams and aspirations started to include getting through a school day without being verbally abused or physically assaulted.

Dreams of getting out of school and having a job, and maybe owning a record store, and having a flat that was near the shops. Of living near a railway line so I could hear the trains rattling through the night. Of being able to open my windows and hear the world existing outside them, without having to be out in it. Things became a lot more prosaic.

Around about 15, when I had to put down the groundwork for the rest of my educational life, I had dreams that I'd be successful. That I'd have an office in a legal firm, and a bowl on my desk which I would fill with cherry tomatoes, and eat throughout the day. ...I mean, I had no idea what a career in law actually entailed but I had to pick something, and the panic attack I had during the careers meeting didn't help much. Those dreams included waking up and wanting to do the things that I had to do that day, which was steadily becoming more and more unlikely - but the vague dreams of travel, of seeing things that interested me, of seeing the bands I loved, still remained.

Funny how things change.

When you're a teenager you never conceive of having a medical condition that could literally stop you doing things you want to do. Physical OR mental. It happens to other people you know, but you never really consider what it means, let alone what it is like to have it happen to you. That is, in fairness, partly because of society's habit to assume that every illness or condition can be prevented as long as you do the right thing. If you ever need evidence of that, ask people with chronic health conditions the advice they have been given by people without those conditions. (I have some stories, I tell you.)

So life happens to you - life in the boundary of the world as it stands today, here and now. Life in the expanding gulf between rich and poor, wherein all the things that you were promised as a child of the seventies, eighties or nineties becomes the purview of a thinner and thinner slice of society.

It can feel like calcification. Like a million doors that were previously open are closing one at a time, even if now and then a new one opens.

That's why it's important to grab onto the ones that are left, where you can.

It is easy to spend one's life staring at the aspirations on the shelf that we can't reach for any more. I understand that. The mentality of it - how hard it can be to reach for the new thing, when the old things we wanted so badly are unreachable. We have to find the things to reach for that we can grasp. We need to find our victories where we can, rather than pine for win conditions that no longer exist. It's the only way we can keep going. And if those win conditions are as simple as having a day end wherein you actually look forward to waking up tomorrow, then draw your plans and march your troops.

Everyone needs something to strive for.

I don't think there is some overarching point to this ramble. It's something that has been occupying my thoughts recently, after I was asked what I wanted to be when I was a kid, and I had the most incredible wave of nostalgia wash over me as I remembered the one thing I really, really wanted to be was a robot.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Friday, 18 January 2019

A Close Shave

So in case you missed it - relatively recently, Gillette released an advert which somewhat goes against their previous formula.

The theme of the ad is pretty simple, when it comes down to it. It takes a look at shitty behaviour which society has normalised, and says, hey, people are doing this - maybe we shouldn't do this. I've tapped up a summary of that behaviour below.

- Physically Intimidating People
- Sexually Harassing People
- Making Comedy Out Of Sexually Harassing People
- Demeaning People Because They're Women
- Physically Assaulting People
- Being Cool With Other People Doing Any Of The Above

I mean... seems pretty basic, right?

It seems like a pretty solid list. On your first day at a new job, meeting new people, going to dinner with a group of friends, like - that's not a bad list things to NOT do. If we're going to the pub and any of those things are on your list of things to do, then I kind of don't want to hang out with you.

There wouldn't be a blog about this if there wasn't controversy, of course - because the group called upon to not do these aforementioned things, statistically speaking the group far more likely to do any of these things, is men.

I think the actual objection is probably based around something other than the extant content of the advert. I daresay it probably didn't actually gain a lot of negative attention - for THIS reason anyway, trust me, I'm going to go into a little more of the corporate background of this in a minute - until people like THIS goon

got their hands on it and decided it was anti-men.

Now I'm not sure what Piers Morgan has going on in his past. Or any of the... dozens of men on YouTube who had to record twenty-minute videos about "ANTI-MAN GILLETTE AD IS TOTAL FAIL !!!!!". I'm just going to speak from experience when I say:

This ad isn't anti-me.

Like I have no problem in recognising that all the behaviours that ad calls out are shitty behaviours. I don't feel personally called out when someone says "kids beating up other kids is bad" or "maybe we shouldn't catcall women in the street" or "I defended someone from having the shit kicked out of them by a mob".

Is that how people like Piers Morgan want masculinity to be defined? By the right to be violent and sexist and generally shit, and never be called out for it?

Actually I rather think that Piers Morgan doesn't feel that way at all, but I think he wants to appeal to a specific demographic. He wants to appeal to a slice of society that isn't happy, and can't quite work out why, and so it needs something to complain about. It needs to grumble. It's already had significant advantage throughout its life, but that hasn't led to total success or satisfaction. He wants the ear of those who grumble about things being too politically correct, who want things to be the way they were back in the day, when Roy Chubby Brown was considered funny and women "knew their place". The "It Never Did Me Any Harm" brigade, who would desperately benefit from some therapy to try and undo the harm that it really, actually, did do them.

Is it better or worse that he is using this whole thing as a marketing exercise? Honestly, kind of worse, I think. Anyway, I digress.

If you really, really want to die on that hill - that being a man involves being allowed to treat people like that, like that is the only way men should act and that being called out for it is a bad thing - then be our guest. Be as loud about it as you want. Please.

It's a great warning sign. Like the bright colours on this little guy.

Let us know, that that is who you are, so the rest of the world can get on without you.

It can take some time to realise that masculinity doesn't have to be toxic. It can take a lot of work to uncouple the whole alpha-dude-me-tarzan thought process. Especially if you have been a victim of it previously, and are now repeating it because it's the way you think you get the power back.

I distinctly remember that happening when I was in school. The older kids bullied kids my age. Kids my age bullied weaker kids my age. Weaker kids my age bullied younger kids. Like a chain of arseholes, leading all the way up into this core behaviour that is being directly challenged. That should have been challenged a long time ago.

I mean... it seems like, if you don't want to challenge that behaviour, then you've watched Battle Royale as a how-to guide, rather than a dystopian action movie.

Empathy is not a weakness, no matter what the world and the old way of doing things tells you. Thinking about how your actions affect other people is not a weakness. Being considerate is not a weakness. It's the only way we are getting out of this alive as a collective people, and if you are threatened by the notion of people caring about each other, that probably says a lot more about you than you'd like.

With all that said, however.

It bears remembering that Gillette are a company. They exist to make money. They aren't a person, no matter what corporate law tells you. They don't have a personality. They aren't interested in being the good person. They're interested in profits.

Companies are going to increasingly do this - they're going to latch onto causes that other people campaign for, try and align themselves with the right thing to do. You'll see examples of it all over the place. The fact is that they can market themselves as being "nice" or "woke" or "socially conscious" or "not evil or greedy" all they want. None of it is true. You need to judge the companies based on how they act - and as the system that props them up doesn't reward kindness or solid morals, well... guess how that works out.

To point the finger at Gillette directly, of course - they're a razor company. They benefit from insecurity, leverage it, make it manifest if possible. Like any product in the grooming sector, the fashion sector, every sector that revolves around image. That attitude that women should always shave their legs and have no body hair that isn't pleasing to their husband/significant other? Thank razor companies for that. Literally. Gillette is just hoping that you'll forget the sexist and generally trash shit it has done in the past, in the light of its new "woke" image. Oh god, how I hate that term.

Companies like Gillette are in bed with media that tells you that you aren't good enough. You'll find adverts for razors and grooming products everywhere, but especially in magazines that tell you how important it is to lose ten pounds, to do this, to wear that. This is no accident.

And for all the negative attention that companies may get from aligning themselves with, well, not being assholes - from assholes - it will still get their name out there. The controversy is free advertising. Every video that talks about how someone is burning their Nike socks because they sponsor the kneely football man is more advertising.

I'm even advertising Gillette right now, paradoxically.

So really the message we should take from this whole thing is to be nicer to each other, to not stand by idly when people are assholes, and to not trust companies at all.

Get it? Got it? Good.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Gold Bricks & Mortar

I'm gonna lead with this from the County Press, from last month:

The article itself is here.

This is, of course, being pushed as a good thing - which is a perspective I'd like to challenge.

So let's say you are a homeowner. That's neat. Your home is worth more, now, than when you bought it - probably. Fantastic. Great investment! It just doesn't actually mean much, unless you want to sell - or leverage it against a loan.

Though, of course, if you end up buying another place - that increase in value of your own house is probably matched (on average) by the increase of the values of other people's houses. There's variations, obviously - but in the grand scheme of things, a slow and steady increase of home prices just means swapping all the bricks and mortar the same as always.

The banks make more money, of course. Charge the same interest rate on houses that are worth more, it's a no-brainer. Sure, they are leveraging a lot of capital out, but that can't possibly have any negative effect, can it?

Well, as long as nothing bad happens to trigger a large-scale failure of mortgage payments - but then, it's not like there's any probable financial crash on the horizon, is there?

Heaven forbid.

So what if you are one of the 20% of the country that rents? Like 13 million people?

Well, higher house values mean higher rents to pay. You may not experience an increase in your rent during your tenancy - but if you move out, damn sure the next people to move in will be charged more. Probably ahead of the inflation curve, too, which is about 2.3% right now.

What it does mean, though, is that 20% of the country is going to find it harder to actually stop renting.

Which is just fine for the people that OWN the houses.

Two years ago, the total mortgage bill paid - across the entire country, and keep in mind that the number of people paying mortgages is significantly larger than those renting - was almost £58 billion. In comparison, the total rent bill paid for the same period was almost £52 billion.

The fact of the matter is that a fifth of the population is seen as a resource to be tapped - a swathe of the population worth over fifty billion pounds, that it is best to keep in their lane, so they can keep paying.

It's not like rising rent prices is solely a house problem, either.

Speaking entirely personally, I've noticed a lot of places close in my own home town; and every time I have had a chance to speak to those involved, one of the significant (if not sole) factors is the increase in the rent of their property. If your high street is looking devoid, or that new place that seemed to be doing okay had to shut up shop at the end of a rental period, then it might not necessarily be because they aren't making sales.

Housing prices, then. As they grow, so does economic disparity. As they grow, so does the potential backlash of any kind of economic event. And it took precious little for the subprime crisis in 2007 to hole the economy of half the planet.

But hey, who's counting?

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

2019 Movie Time - #1 Into The Spider-Verse / #2 Bumblebee

So my lovely readers - welcome to a brand new feature.

I'm going to make a concerted effort to watch more movies, this year. So you're gonna get movie reviews - maybe in ADDITION to your weekly dose of whatever you read this blog for.

This being the first of the new feature, I'm going to dedicate the weekly blog to it, as it is the coolest thing that has happened to me this year so far, in its infancy.

I'll make sure these are labelled well and tagged so, frankly, if you don't want to read my opinion on movies both new and old - feel free to avoid them. Otherwise, welcome!

Also I will endeavour to avoid actual spoilers, and if you want to talk to me about spoilery things you probably know where you can find me, but be warned - I may infer things in the review which you may prefer to not know when you walk into the movie. Reader, beware.

So without further ado.

#1 Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018)

I have been hype for this since the first trailer.

Why, you ask? Well, because we've had - in the past 20 years - seven movies featuring three different Peter Parkers, and if we're fair, only half of them have been good Spider-Man movies. Spidey is great, and I love him, but - it wasn't until Homecoming that he actually changed up, stepped into the modern age.

So imagine my joy when I see that this one? This one is about Miles Morales - whose existence is hinted at in Homecoming. It's just a throwaway line, but a fan-pleaser.

Miles is a teenager from Brooklyn. He's from an intersection of multiple worlds. He's witty. He's funny. He's awkward, but not in a truly cringeworthy way until, well, certain things happen.

He, of course, ends up in the same shoes as Spider-Man. But he isn't the only one.

I'm not going to go into specific plot details - it's a good plot, and there's a lot of neat twists. The characters that you think you know really well, turn out to be a little different, and... I can't think of any way in which that turns out to be a bad thing. It's a very aware movie, too. Lots of injokes, lots of easter eggs. Love letters to various bits of Spider-Man's history. Yes. Including the Japanese show.

Why is it such a good movie?

For one thing - I laughed. I laughed a lot. I laughed myself into a coughing fit, with tears in my eyes. It is genuinely very funny, visually and verbally witty. If you don't come away from the movie loving Miles, then part of you is dead. If you don't laugh, then MOST of you is dead. The comic timing of the movie is superb, too - edited together in a way that modern comedy movies can't really hope for.

The action choreography, too, is fantastic. The agility and motion is just absolutely pitch perfect. Spidey moves and jumps and swings and twists and turns with the best of them - and the brilliant kinetic motion of the entire thing isn't just reserved for when he has his mask on. The bad guys he ends up facing off against (I am not telling you who they are) make a great counterpoint - for the most part, serious and solid sluggers, who provoke the Spiderpersons to acts of acrobatic mayhem just to stay ahead of the game.

Which in a movie animated like this, looks absolutely spectacular. It's 3D animated - and yes, people will hate it immediately for that. You will probably forget that partway through. The texturing, the mix of different animation styles for the individual characters, the way everything looks and feels on screen - the only complaint I have is that there's a lot of flashing interspersed throughout the movie, so it's really not great for those who are photosensitive.

I really liked the soundtrack. Loved it. The score and the soundtrack alike, in fairness. There's a few standouts, but the songs themselves - while great - are that much better in the context of the scene that they're used in. There's some neat surprises in there, too.

Fine details - there's things they didn't need to get right, that they did. The texturing on the characters, on the suits. Little background bits that you don't really think about. Phrases that characters use. How seamlessly Miles slips into Spanish when spoken to in it. The things in Miles' room, in his possession. The fact that Steve Ditko gets literally name-dropped in the movie in a salute to the creation of Spider-Man as a whole, as does Brian Michael Bendis, the creator of Miles Morales himself. The fact that Brooklyn LOOKS like Brooklyn. It FEELS like Brooklyn. It's enough to make you believe that they cared about this when they made it, not just to entertain kids.

The thing that Spider-Verse does so well is that it draws you into believing.

A big thematic of Spider-Man's is that, when the rubber hits the road, he finds what he needs inside himself to keep going and to get back up. Tenacity. Digging deep. Being on the lowest ebb, grabbing a double fist full of whatever it is that drives him, and carrying on. You've seen it in the setpieces of the movies - stopping the train, holding together two pieces of a broken ferry, trapped under the rubble. You are taken on that journey with Miles, and when he falls, and when he digs deep, you dig deep with him. You believe in him, with all your heart.

If that's not worth price of admission, I don't know what is.

#2 Bumblebee (2018)

So you would know if I hated this one because you'd get another blog like these two - the one shouting about how terrible Age Of Extinction was, and the follow-up about how awful The Last Knight was.

This isn't one of those.

I've said a similar thing to this about several movies and games in the past, but it bears repeating: I get the impression that the people that put Bumblebee together took a list of the things wrong with the other movies and then set out to fix them one at a time.

What problems, you might ask? Especially if you're unaware of my absolute venom toward the Bayformers movies.

Well, for one thing: this one acknowledges that the Transformers themselves are actual characters.

They have personalities. They aren't just two-bit throwaways. They aren't just there to spit out a couple of lines and then, poof, gone. Like - okay, I want to avoid spoilers, but the Decepticons actually have a personality in this one. They aren't just hurhur evil. Well. Okay. Dropkick kind of is. But the fact that he forms a contrast with Shatter? The fact that they are different, but work together, and communicate, and have plans? That their plan is a deception?

Bumblebee himself goes through an actual character arc. As does Charlie, the human that finds him. They find each other, and they develop in two similar directions. Not the same, though. Not the same at all, even if a key part of what they do is to find out who they actually are, underneath the battle scars.

You learn more about the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons, and what is going on IN that war, in the first ten minutes of the movie than the five that preceded it. How is it even possible? How can you go through five movies, and not detail the thing that brings the Cybertronians to Earth in the first place? ...unless you don't care for beginnings or origins, and you just want to show Shia or Mark reacting to them being here. Which was always the problem. Framing Transformers as a disaster movie.

A focus on the Transformers being actual characters in the movie means that thought is given to how they approach things, and how we see them do things. Which means that the fight and action scenes get blocked out better. They're not just a blurry mess - and fully two thirds of the other movie fight scenes were blurry messes. You have these primary coloured characters with distinctive personalities and combative styles, and you can make out what they are doing. You can SEE what they are doing. You aren't left wondering what the hell just happened.

Optimus Prime - yes, he's in this movie - goes HAM, at one point. Just full-blown 1986 movie You Got The Touch Megatron Must Be Stopped HAM. ...does he talk about ripping anyone's face off? Does he tear anyone in half? No. No, he fights. No brutal merciless slaughter. He's fighting against big odds. He's throwing himself into the thick of it to save his people, because that is what Optimus Prime DOES.

It's the first live-action Transformers movie about the Transformers, that seems to remember who they are.

It has a contiguous plot. A plot that makes sense. A plot that has a beginning, a middle and an end, and I would hesitate to identify any single scene that you could cut out and not change the film. And while you get the same "oh god I have to hide these giant robots oh god they are acting out" scenes as from the FIRST Bay movie? We've already established who Bumblebee is. We have already established his character. We CARE about him, and so we care about him not being discovered. And it's... charming. It isn't just tasteless jokes about how clumsy these warrior robots are, or how Ironhide (an Autobot) wants to kill, like, everything.. It's legitimately funny. It provokes laughter.

Because it isn't tacky, which is the word I would stick (harhar) on the others.

There's no jokes about dicks, balls, arses or anything similar. You don't get a long shot of a pair of wrecking balls, and then - just in case you missed the subtext - have a highly annoying and sleazy character that you objectively hate explain the joke to you. I'd struggle to spot random racist bullshit, which is pretty prevalent throughout the rest of the series. Similar on sexist bullshit. Less jokes that middle-school me would have laughed at but that high-school me rolls their eyes at in sheer embarrassment. Ironically for a movie set literally twenty years before the first one in the series, it is far more progressive.

And you know the very, very best thing about this movie? Better than even the soundtrack (which is excellent and ALSO dropped a very special thing in there JUST FOR ME which actually brought TEARS to my eyes)? Better than even the fact that the bot designs don't look like absolute shit any more? Better than even the cinematography, which in various places is gorgeous? Better than how this movie brings the late eighties LITERALLY to life, with a bunch of technology that I remember being around when I was a little kid?

It's the fact that by the time it is over - without a doubt, those first five aren't the canon any more. This is a new, fresh beginning. This is a nod to the past that steps into the future. The future in which Optimus Prime rips off people's faces and demands that people know what his name is, is gone. The hand of fate smoothing the sand of time clean.

Not only did I love Bumblebee - I am excited for the next movie in this franchise. And I know there will be one, even if Travis Knight doesn't direct it.

There you have it.

First two movies I got to see this year at the cinema, and they were both bangers for different reasons. I was more invested in Bumblebee, but I was more surprised by Spider-Man. Both of them are going to end up on my shelf.

Who knows where our journey takes us next, dear reader? Who knows. We'll see.

If you'd care to share my blog with your friends, I'd appreciate that! If you'd like to thank me in a fiscal form for entertaining you a little bit, I do have a Patreon right here, but please - no pressure. Thank you for reading, and check my social media to the right to keep in touch.