Saturday, 13 December 2014

The Political Panto


It is pantomime season and it is no longer restricted to the stage of popular theatres. It has now spilled over into the political arena like a tidal wave. From the wake has risen a series of supposed political messiahs that think this is their chance to rise. It is a damning indictment on the mainstream parties that such polarising players, who trade in substance and strategy for hypocrisy and hyperbole, are gaining such credible footholds 

UKIP, despite any negative press that comes their way, continue to make headway in the political scene. Some of the negative press they get is twisted to suit a negative agenda but the fact that some makes such an effort means that they have no other credible answer to their policies. The worst thing is that they hardly offer anything radical. Their primary policy is to leave the EU. For a country that tends to lean towards left wing politics, they seems to be a growing antagonism towards the European Union, which is effectively socialist at its core. UKIP is a symbol of a lot of people's disillusionment with the current establishment.

Then there is Russell Brand. A comedian that has become something of a self proclaimed crusader against the political status quo. Fine, except he isn't. He is a narcissist that repeats the problems we all know but offers no solutions. He claims to be a man of the people, while he enjoys his lavish lifestyle and, in fact, uses his crusade to further line his pockets. While his gripes about politics have merit, his idea that everyone can live affluent lives is grossly flawed. If everyone had good incomes, the cost of living would go up. Then those who are on the lowest incomes would fall back into the poverty trap. If he had a credible plan on how to make things better, he would stand for office. He gets traction from the previously apathetic and the Sun. The soapbox he stands on is an odd mix of sanctimony and sewerage. Talking for the 'little people' is easily done and is not to be commended. Talk is cheap. His idea is we shouldn't vote. That is not a solution. It is a devaluation of our citizenship and the freedoms that our forefathers fought for.

Finally, there is Joey Barton, who somehow managed to get himself a place on Question Time, a political show that seems to be trading in substance for potential sensationalism. He is not credible. His behaviour in the public arena doesn't suggest that he is some wise paragon of all things political. Yet, by virtue of his viciously verbose nature on Twitter, he has vaulted himself from sporting thug to man of the people. This is a man that put out a cigar by stubbing it near one of his colleague's eyes. I could list his indiscretions but I don't need to. He doesn't have a competing list of pros to counter them. None. Yet we give this man a stage to air his views and a crowd swarm towards them.

That is the problem. These, and others, have risen off the back of political apathy. Why? Because we have turned politics into Punch and Judy. We want the party we vote for to savage the other. We want to demonise the people we don't vote for. I hate to break this to you but everyone has at least one good idea, even Farage, Brand and Barton. The Tories have good ideas. So do Labour. And the Lib Dems, the Greens, the nationalist parties and so on. The problem is we are adverse to the idea of compromise and accepting the middle ground, so all benefit. If you don't accept that, then you can't complain that politics is a farce. You, like Farage, Brand and Barton, are part of the problem and we don't need problems. We need solutions.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

That's Not Why It's Sad


There are moments in movies that make us cry. The joy, the tragedy, the swell of emotions that comes with that heart string tugging moment. Yet, I think we cry at some movie moments for the wrong reasons. I think we've been duped by Hollywood and there is another reason such emotional moments are worth our pitiful precipitation from our peepers. Allow me to explain...

FORREST GUMP

This was the last film I cried to. The moment came as Forrest stood over the grave of his beloved Jenny. I wept, I'll admit it, but not for the reason everyone else was. They all thought it was so sad that Forrest's one true love was gone and he couldn't see her any more. Me, I thought Forrest, a fundamentally good man, had wasted so much of his heart on a horrid woman who didn't deserve his affection. This woman was a junkie who abandoned Forrest, who shunned his chivalry when he rescued her from those who would molest her, who only went back to him because she was in trouble. And when did she discover her true love for him? A few years after squeezing out his sprog, rapidly receding to the grave with a terminal disease, she suddenly spots that Forrest was the one for her all along. She didn't deserve his love. She deserved a Fathers For Justice campaign on her balcony!

HITCH

That moment when Will Smith goes running after Eva Mendes is one that got a few of my friends in tears. Me, I was enraged at it. If you watch the film carefully, the reason their relationship falls apart is 100% because Eva Mendes's character is a complete douchebag, making a slanderous judgement about Hitch without finding out the facts. She then wrecks his career where he has been helping people who deserve and need his aid. At this point, she puts up a struggle about whether she is going to take him back. Unbelievable! You're Will Smith, you can do better! The ending of this film made me want to cry because it just reinforced the notion that men should put up with women's crap. Why? Just because!

E.T

"I'll be right here" ET says to Elliott, as he leaves for his ship. People watching begin to sob because ET has to go and Elliott will miss him. Me, I'm thinking of the psychological scarring that will come from his experience and indeed the endless experiments NASA will conduct on him for the rest of his life. And possible probes. In all the painful places. Now that is something to bring a tear to anyone's eyes.

DEAD POETS SOCIETY

As Robin Williams get fired and is paraded out of the classroom to the cry "O Captain, my Captain!", everyone wells up. The reason they should be is because they just wasted two hours that they will never get back. Yes, Robert Sean Leonard kills himself but you honestly don't care. When he shows up as Wilson in House, you don't even give Dead Poets Society a passing thought. It's a crap film in every way.

I could go on but I think I've made my point. Stop being emotional basket cases. Some of your tears are not warranted!

Saturday, 8 November 2014

The Fall of Feminism


Do you know what feminism means? I bet you think it means women being overtly obtuse about the opposite sex in an effort to redress the supposed imbalance they see between the genders. It doesn't. The correct definition is this: Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, cultural, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment.

The problem is what feminism started out as is not what it is now. Feminism is now seen by most as an increasingly ultra discriminatory campaign, that is not just pro-female but fundamentally anti-men. The growing consensus is that feminism is painting women as victims in all scenarios and men as the aggressors.

A classic example of this was found in a conversation I saw online about a beaten wife. The person who put up the post in question was mortified that the first question someone asks when they hear about a beaten wife is "Why didn't they leave?" Now, it does show a shallow understanding of the situation when it comes to spousal abuse but the person who had put up the original post, a self confessed feminist, completely undermined her argument with her response. "Typical of a man to say that! Idiot!" What both parties forget is that women AND men suffer spousal abuse. In both instances, the victim struggles to leave. However, the man was just ignorant about the situation. The feminist though exposed an underlying hatred towards men. His question wasn't maliciously intended, just misguided and misinformed. Her reaction though supported the notion that feminism is no longer about equality, it has become about gaining supremacy for the female of the species by any means because, by her tone, men are inferior. They just don't know it yet.

The problem is you are not allowed to bring into question any feminist preferences, at fear of being labelled a bigot or sexist. I was in a discussion with a woman on Twitter about the fact that women and men win the same prize money at Wimbledon. I disagree with that. The men play the best of 5 sets and have to play at least 21 sets to win the tournament. That is the maximum the ladies champion will play. Either the women should play the best of 5 sets or their prize money should reflect the maximum amount of tennis they could play was my opinion. This was met with a response that said that it was about time women benefited more. A sort of 'Well, you've had it good for so long, it is time we earned more than you for less work.' That's not a fight for equality. It's a fight for superiority. And it is this ugly undercurrent that will gather strength and marks the fall of true feminism.

Feminism is a noble cause. Equality is something we should strive for. Differences should be respected. But it is a cause that has been hijacked by a childish notion of bullying your way to the best toys. Even when stone cold facts are presented, they are done in a way to skew the opinion towards this ultra-feminist rhetoric. 

For example, women are paid less than men. It's not open to debate, it's a fact. However, never is there a full assessment done as to why. In the US, it was found that women were being paid $0.75 for every dollar a man was being paid. In the UK, women are effectively working 57 days a year for free when their earnings are compared to their male counterparts. But no one dares ask why. If it was as simple as what I have presented, hell, walk me into any company as CEO. I'll sack every man in the place and hire only women. 25% saved on every replacement employee. It is not that simple. There are other factors but no one dares consider them because the ultra feminist rhetoric would condemn such an individual to be a misogynistic dinosaur. The stupid thing is by understanding the why, we would accelerate towards equality. Feminism has fallen from its true cause and unknowingly goes about sabotaging it.

The viral video of a woman walking around New York City for 10 hours in silence was another example of how feminism has lost its way. Watching the video, I found a few of the things genuinely unsettling. The guy who walked alongside her for minutes was creepy. Some of the remarks were not gentlemanly or acceptable. However, saying hello or offering a polite greeting in the hope a beautiful woman would respond is not harassment. It's not even close. If this feminism, then it is not looking for equality. It is looking to homogenise the world.

There is one other possibility. This comes as a reflection of the anti-feminist feeling that is growing among women. They are tired of being painted as victims. They feel that feminism has now become a wounded beast that looks for the next injury to roar about and if it can't find one, it will create one. Then it will wield that affliction around like mace, making their point in as loud and as destructive a manner as possible.

You know what... some men do treat women like crap. I get that. But some women treat men like crap too.  I'm tired of the hypocrisy of feminists, who think men should not be allowed to say anything about a woman's body but then can make small penis jokes. The "He's not getting any" remarks are hideously ugly, like using sex as a method of coercion is acceptable behaviour in any way. The "I don't need feminism" movement got its strength from women being tired of the movement veering away from its noble ideal to its current snide methods. Moreover, it is no longer wholly sure of its goal because if it did, it would not operate like it does today. It shouldn't polarise but the current form of feminism does and therefore, it is with sadness that I must announce that feminism is dead.

Friday, 24 October 2014

The £1.7 Billion Contradiction


There has been an instant outrage to the EU's demand that the UK pays more in fees to the tune just shy of £1.7 billion. At the superficial headline level, it does seem like a completely unfair thing. Let me tell you, it is. The idea that just because the UK economy has performed better in difficult times means that the nation has to take on an increased burden is ludicrous. It is punishing success and rewarding failure. There is no way that case can be argued. It doesn't matter that we may have started from a privileged position over some of our EU neighbours. They should not benefit from our industry and financial discipline when they could not manage the same principles, right?

There is one problem with that argument. If you believe in a progressive tax system, then you can't complain about the EU's demand. If you believe the rich should pay more and the poorer should pay less, you have to be okay with this request from the EU Commission. Because to be opposed to it and to think a progressive tax system is acceptable is a £1.7 billion contradiction. It is applying a principle when it suits.

Ironically, we have lambasted the rich for doing that. When Take That and Jimmy Carr invested in tax avoidance schemes, we cried moral outrage but now, we, as a nation, want to avoid a macro style income tax increase on us, the rich.

A progressive tax system is an unfair tool designed to make a fairer world. It has been described as a Robin Hood fiscal policy, which foolishly romanticises it when it is morally flawed. Currently 1% of the nation pays about 24% of the income tax bill. We are comfortable with this. In fact, we were outraged when the Government reduced the top rate of tax from 50% down to 45%.

The flaw with a progressive tax system is that it is effective telling one person they can an item for £10 and then telling the next person they have to pay £50 because they earn more. It is a preposterous notion. What is missing from this example though is social responsibility. The rich have become rich because of the nation affording them the opportunity. They have an obligation to those who were not so lucky to at least provide a decent standard of living because that is what they would want from them if the situation was reversed.

So before you jump on the outraged bandwagon against this European request, consider what it says about your stance on tax matters. It is an easy but expensive contradiction to make.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

YSA Convention Ideas


If you don't know what a YSA convention is, you might as well stop reading here. This isn't for you and will make no sense.

Still with me? Good. In my time as a YSA, I was involved in five YSA conventions. One as a committee member, two as the Senior YSA or Vice Chair, one as a consultant and the other as purely the purveyor of the basic premise. That basic premise went on to be a YSA convention called The Genesis Project.

The Genesis Project was intended to be a convention with a difference. The idea was to drag conventions away from bad habits they had picked up and challenge YSA to do something better. Basically, it was no longer a weekend filled with the same old stuff and it would provide a social experience. The chance to make new friends, built on the back of memories of a weekend spent doing something you wouldn't normally do. It was very successful. However, my idea was never for one convention. It had multiple convention ideas, ones that I did share with other YSA but they went on to get married (and rightly so). Yet, there was always something in me that thought my ideas were pretty good. I always figured that, eventually, someone would come along and have the same idea. They haven't. Conventions seem to have slipped back into the same old cliché routine. So I offer these ideas so that if someone thinks they are better than what they already do, they can give these a try. I'm not looking for credit or glory. It's just an idea shared and realised is better than a dream kept to one's self. So here they are:-
  • Zombie city game
This idea was created years ago but now they are big business. The idea was to build an action-adventure storyline involving a zombie apocalypse within a small city area. With missions to achieve and different teams chasing unique objectives, it was intended to be an intense mix of treasure hunt, tag, manhunt and capture the flag, all while a clock was ticking. The game involved trying to find vials of a cure that had been littered around the city, all while a team of zombies hunted you. An operative, someone who knew the city very well, would be trying to beat the teams to the cure too. Each team would be presented with a different advantage.
  • Road trip
How about a convention where, instead of registering as an individual, you came in a car together, one driver and three passengers? The idea being that you start somewhere in the north of the country. The passengers would have different designations (Navigator, Photographer, Messenger). Then people would get mixed up. A random set of four, made up of 1 Driver, Navigator, Photographer and Messenger, would be put together and off you go. The race would be on to get to the next checkpoint, a few hours away for lunch. Along the way, the messenger would be sent challenges that would require you to leave the motorway and find locations or unique things, which would be evidenced by the photographer. The navigator would have to get you all there. Then, at each checkpoint, the three passengers would have to find a new car to go in and the driver would have to find three new passengers, with points being picked up for speed, creativity in fulfilling missions and so on. All while this is happening, a team of drivers are assigned to chase down the racers, trying to take photos of them to cost them points.
  •  Gathering
Anyone who has been part of the YSA scene knows that half of the social aspect seems to happen in those long car journeys to dances. Why not use that to create an epic convention? Everyone attending starts in their respective Stake Centres when a joint broadcast is made to all of them, giving them a clue of where to head. As they succeed in one mission, the next clue is given and so on, leading them to a huge party held in location like none other. I'd suggest a massive dance in the grounds of a castle or on top of a hill. Something like that. The key to it would be that people send the central point photos of their journey, creating a massive photo wall for people to see where everyone has come from to get to the same place. To anyone who gets symbolism, there may be something more in that...

There were other ideas. The flash mob convention that The Genesis Project was could have been done again with different missions. You only have to look at groups such as Improv Everywhere to get an idea of what could be done. The YSA have already held a Hunger Games style event in Wales that could easily be expanded upon. Even staging a 'jailbreak' and inviting people to see how far they can get on zero budget would offer a memorable experience.

These are my ideas but I'm sure there are hundreds out there to be tried. I invite those who are YSA and do have the opportunity to organise a convention to try something a bit different. You never know, it may take off, become a phenomenon and then, in twenty years, it will be the cliché convention idea!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Erosion of Agency


The most powerful thing in this world is choice. Everything is driven by it. The world may be filled with certain realities that cannot be changed or undone but how we act or react is down to our God-given agency. It is something that is a certain human right. We all have the right to choose and that can only be diminished by the level of freedom afforded to us.

Yet recent events have brought about notions that seem to undermine this. The tragic death of Robin Williams brought about different reactions. Mine was to feel sorry for the family and the loved one who they had just lost. A fairly standard reaction, I'd like to think. However, some decided to demonise the fact that Williams committed suicide, calling it a selfish act. Whether it was or not was irrelevant because it's actually no one's business.

What was relevant was the defence of his action. It was to suggest that his depression robbed him of the choice. He saw no other option available to him. Now, I don't know Robin Williams and I don't know the situation or his mindset at the time when he took his life, so I'm not about to judge his actions.

However, the argument is deeply unsettling. There are undoubtedly people in this world who are not capable of making a rationale choice and I think we all know where that line is. People with deep set dementia, for example. For some reason though, we have decided to push that line further to accommodate other scenarios. One that is included is depression. It's not the only one. Other mental conditions, such as anorexia, have been identified as ailments that rob someone of their choice. I believe this to be a dangerous rhetoric to have because if there is anything that would help someone overcome a lot of these conditions, it begins with choice.

Will it solve the whole problem? No. That choice will have to be followed up with various medically proven methods or medicine. It will require dedication and support. It will not be easy at step one or a million miles on but the one thing that will start the mountainous journey to a level of liberty starts with making the right choices. Getting help. Facing up to it. Finding strength from that inner well that I believe every human being has. The very well that has made people overcome insurmountable odds and achieve the seemingly impossible.

There will be those who will say that I don't understand. I haven't been through what these people have and I don't get it. To those people who think I am making an arrogant judgement about other people, I'd suggest you're hypocrites, because you don't know what I have gone through. Either way, suffering the experience is not the only way of coming to a qualified opinion. For example, I don't have to be a smoker to know it is a bad idea or that it is a hard thing to quit. This is not to belittle people's predicaments in any way. It is just that our agency is the highest of any human right and anything that erodes such a sacred thing should be shunned.

Agency is what sets us apart. It what defines us and makes us who we are. Sometimes, that means accepting a truth which is horrible and uncomfortable but life is not a bed of roses. It is a life of choices and that's the way it should stay.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Education Is Not The Cure


Education is deemed to be the cure for all of society's ills. It will overcome poverty, eradicate hatred, confound corruption and liberate the oppressed. That's what people will tell you. Education is the solution. They're wrong.

We are the most educated generation of our species. We have near infinite information at our fingertips. Yet poverty is still rife. We talk about the things we can do and then what? We stage amusing or entertaining events to lovingly coerce money out of our pockets to help the downtrodden and afflicted. Yes, we are so enraged with the human tragedy but to lighten our bank accounts requires a bit of a show.

If that doesn't work, we crucify six hundred or so people in Parliament for not solving the problem. Because we, the people, a body of sixty million souls, couldn't have the collective endeavour to solve these issues ourselves. We have more University graduates than ever before. This is the educated generation, supposedly, that can't grasp that a Government cannot spend more and tax less. They use rhetoric designed to incite emotive responses rather than encourage informed debate. 

That then accelerates other issues. Better education is not creating a more unified society. It is as polarised as it ever was, hidden beneath a veneer of oppressive mob mentality, where people agree or are metaphorically annihilated. Education merely gave the emotive a more eloquent tongue. Rationality is a prisoner to rash rhetoric that achieves more rapid but less effective results.

Corruption was not and never will be cut down by education. It will become more clandestine, rooting itself more deeply before it can be exposed. Once the weed of greed has wrapped itself around the stem of society's soul, it doesn't matter how well we are educated. We will have paid the price and will feel the pain of a robbed season.

Education does not free the oppressed. Sharing videos of Joseph Kony didn't bring him down. News reports of Mugabe failed to bring him to his knees. The people above and below him refuse to give the one thing that would solve all these problems. It's not education. It's sacrifice.

Only a willingness to sacrifice everything we have, collectively, will solve the world's issues. We would give every penny we could to see no child go hungry again. We'd give up holidays, TVs, meals out and other luxuries to cure the ills of the world. Profit would be dedicated to investment to find the next important innovation, not to fill people's pockets. However, education is now geared to boosting your earning capacity rather than making a genuine contribution to a better world. Everyone has had a teacher that has used the stick of shame to get you to work hard at school. "You had best work hard or you'll end up at McDonald's" was the one I got. Never mind the sickening sanctimony of the statement, like someone who works in a fast food place is a lesser human being or can't contribute something important to the world; it instantly gears children to measure their success by the opulence they can enjoy. Money and comfort are the scoreboards of success, rather than advances and innovations that would make the world a better place.

Education is not the cure because it has become a slave to the worst parts of the human psyche. Greed, shame, judgement and division. It just got more shiny and slick in how it does it. If it wants to be the vehicle for change, it would teach the value of sacrifice. To give something good today for something greater tomorrow. To work for something better than something selfish. Imagine a world where every single person is willing to sacrifice for the greater good. That is not educated into a person. It is within us all. The only thing we need to do is to let it out. As Master Yoda put, we must unlearn what we have learned.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Lamb of God UK - The Review

Held at Watford LDS Meetinghouse on 19 April 2014 at 2:30pm.

Rob Gardner's musical masterpiece, retracing the tragic events of Jesus Christ's death, followed by His glorious Resurrection is by no means a simple or easy piece to perform. So when I tell you that the cast and crew of the first UK production did it with all the polish of a professional set up, you know it is not faint praise I am offering, especially when it was an amateur production.

The difficulty with this piece is the constant shift from powerful crescendos and then smoothly move to poignant, personal moments. The music tells an account that is epic in its importance but is fundamentally a personal trial for a few people. Since the Saviour is not represented, the account is told from important witness viewpoints, including Peter, played by Robin Dick, whose voice demonstrated incredible power and yet accurately portrayed the breaking heart of a man who denied knowing his Master. Yet the overall performance was not missing gentleness or tenderness. Montana Ellis, playing the role of Mary, Mother of Jesus, brought a broken softness with her performance. Trying to convey the feelings of a mother as she watches her son be scourged and then crucified in song is no mean feat but you felt her devastation, in a deep, dignified manner.

Other solo performances really shone and to name check them all would not be unmerited. They were that good. The choir as a whole raised the entire performance to glorious highs, the kind that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. This is a group that would not have seemed out of place in the West End and rightly earned their standing ovation at the end. Megan Hodun, Vocal Director and Executive Producer, should rightly be praised for the tour de force performance given by the choir.

The orchestra performed beautifully, keeping the story moving at a pace but never being intrusive. Masterfully conducted by Philip Siu, the other Executive Producer, the music swept us along from triumph to tragedy, from Christ's noble entrance into Jerusalem to his inequitable betrayal on Gethsemane. No visuals were required. The music accurately conveyed the grief felt atop Golgotha and then the joy felt three days later, as Mary Magdalene found the empty tomb and her Resurrected Lord. It was a piece of music that was executed brilliantly.

The sacred nature of the content means that the only true marker of success is whether people felt like they had a spiritual experience. I defy anyone who was in that room to say that they didn't. I have a heart of stone, at best, and even I walked away uplifted and edified from the performance. If I had a criticism, it would be the venue just wasn't big enough for such a performance. It was something I wish more and more people could have enjoyed. It was a sensational performance, simply stunning. All involved should be immensely proud of what they achieved. They represented themselves to a level above and beyond what anyone could have imagined. But more importantly, they represented the most sacred event in all history with power, grace and majesty. It was a performance that the central character, the Lord Jesus Christ, would have been proud of.

Monday, 7 April 2014

The Marvel Cinematic Universe

With the recent announcement that Marvel Studios have movies planned until 2028, I have to declare that what Marvel are doing is the most exciting thing in movie history. To build an effective cinematic universe that also includes TV shows and short films is unprecedented. What makes it all the more impressive is that the catalogue of films as they pile up continue to improve in quality, not just as contributors to the Marvel Cinematic Universe but as standalone films.

The recognition for this achievement ultimately rests with Kevin Feige and his team. This was clearly not something they stumbled on after a few successful films. With the first Iron Man film, the first of the consistent credit stingers came in with the introduction of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. From there, we knew that the Marvel film program was building towards a crossover film, namely The Avengers. By establishing the pattern of the now famous phases, you would think that the big crossover film would be the big lure and the individual movies would just keep the bank balance ticking over. It has been proved to be anything but.

The standalone movies, offering not only an independent story but an implication to the grand finale film of each phase, become more and more essential viewing. The two minute snippet hinting towards the nature of the crossover movie would not be enough to keep audiences coming back. The two hours that precede it has to be good and consistently it is.

First, Feige has a gift for picking the right director. Jon Favreau brought Iron Man to life with a directing resume that didn't exactly scream blockbuster. At that point, Elf was his most successful film. Not exactly the credentials you would look for in an action movie. Yet it came off. Kenneth Branagh would be anyone's first pick to direct a Shakespeare play as a film but asking him to take on Thor's origin story seemed bold. Fortune favoured the bold. It went on. Joss Whedon was an inspired choice for The Avengers and it continues, with Shane Black taking on Iron Man 3. He had only one previous directing gig before it and yet he raked in over a billion dollars at the box office.

Then the next impressive act is to find the right actors. Robert Downey, Jr. brought Tony Stark to life on the back of a slow upward curve in his career. He certainly wasn't in the league of being a name that could carry a film. Now, he commands a huge wage and is box office gold. Granted the Oscar nomination helped but ultimately, he commands mega stardom off the back of Marvel's bet. Chris Hemsworth as Thor was another big gamble but now you struggle to see anyone else playing that role. Chris Evans has made Captain America, one of Marvel's more dull heroes, relevant and interesting. It goes further than that. The villains are expertly cast, with Tom Hiddleston playing the conflicted Loki brilliantly and the casting of James Spader as Ultron being met with universal appreciation. Look at the list of actors who have worked for Marvel and you have to admit it is hugely impressive.

The road ahead isn't paved with just gold and no bumps though. Robert Downey, Jr. is due to come to an end after the third Avengers film. So is Chris Evans. And both men have already indicated that they will not be extending their contracts and both feature in franchises that are not only too lucrative to end but are pivotal to the crossover movies and phase building models. There is a suggestion that plans are afoot to deal with the issue, with the Captain America moniker potentially being passed to the Winter Soldier and Tony Stark being recast a la James Bond being the rumours doing the rounds. If they can negotiate past that and maintain the standards, which wouldn't be a shock when you consider they have over a decade worth of films planned, then Marvel Studios and its cinematic universe will continue to be the most exciting thing in cinema. In fact, it will be a licence to print money.

The future is bright. The future is Marvel.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Comparison Crime

I am a realist. The chirpy, annoying optimists disregard that statement and translate it into "You're a pessimist" when it isn't the case. A pessimist is never disappointed because if things go well, they are pleasantly surprised and if things go according to the way they thought, they feel validated. A realist is just experienced enough to know that the world is a terrible place and that the human race are, fundamentally, flawed fools who will eventually let you down. The problem is no one is willing to let a realist be. He or she has to change by the dictate of those they hang around with and there is a classic tactic these upbeat buffoons will use. An ugly one. A well intentioned but cruel one. A crime to the rest of humanity.

What they do is say something like "There are people starving in Africa" as a way of explaining that someone out there has it worse than you do. By that, they seem to think that because in your social situation, where you're better off than other people, you should revel in it. Think about it. Someone else is suffering more than you, so be happy about it.

It's like screaming about someone cutting your finger off, only for another person to remind you about that guy across the room who is having his leg sawed off. Yes, he might be in agony but how it should turn your pain into appreciation, I don't know. If you did, then the poor victim across the room would think you're an utter scumbag and rightly so! Why would taking solace in someone else's misfortune or pain be a decent thing to do?

When you sit back and think about it, it is criminal kind of outlook, where you spend your time looking down on what you consider to be those in lesser positions. This is the stance of the small minded optimists who insist that the rest of us have to change. Why? So we can validate their incessant Disney style attitude? They will tell you that life is better when you're happy. How would they know? They are never sad and only choose to be when they identify something in life they don't like. And to make things worse, those happy people take that moment to be fed up and when someone goes for the comparison crime, they react the worst way. They cheer up. They blindly buy into the sick, twisted idea of standing on other's misery.

I am not saying that you have to be miserable to be a decent human being. I am saying that being happy for the sake of being happy is ignorant and selfish. Then trying to impose that on others who choose not to actively embrace such a short sighted attitude is akin to a crack addict sharing their narcotics with you. It is a crime and one that the chirpy crowd need to drop. Stop standing on the skulls of the supposedly suppressed and let people be what they want to be.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The Perfection Pretence

I see the constant disgust at the media's promotion of the 'perfect body' via the magic of dieting, exercise and Photoshop. People say it pushes us, as a society, to demand aesthetic perfection from all around us. I think that this is false. It is like the argument that art causes society to become the way it is. The reality is that art is a reflection of the state of society. The only contribution that comes to society from art is to bring society's state out of obscurity into the public's consciousness. Sometimes art is a reflection. Other times, it is a reflection of an ideal or a desire.

Now, it can disputably be called art, no matter how glossy or trashy, but the current media trend to promote the perfect body is a reflection of a desire. Where does that desire come from? Is it the media enforcing an idealistic and carnal notion upon us, whereby we only appreciate the outward appearance of an individual? Or is it because that is what we truly value above all other things?

The natural inclination is for people to say that the media is responsible but I don't think that is true. We reach for that conclusion because we all like to kid ourselves that personality is paramount. That is because we tend to look at our flaws and perceive them above and beyond what most people see. We then hope that everyone else will see past them and see us for the good in us. Of course, since we are largely in the same boat, we do indeed see past the superficial and judge on the content of a person's character, right?

Surveys have suggested otherwise. Attractive people tend to be more successful. They are more likely to be hired for a job and not just in the media. The fact is that if someone is capable and beautiful to boot, we are not going to say no to that. How someone looks has a substantial say in how we esteem them. And when we see something visually stunning, we want to look at it more and more. Much like when we taste something delicious, we want to try more of it. So what happens when we demand more eye candy? Someone supplies it. And we show our gratitude by satisfying their greed.

Our desire for the visually flawless has caused the media, the crude art that it is, to reflect the desire of society. We asked to see it. Now we are paying for our vain binge by having it manifest as a craving to pursue that image ourselves. Our lusting for the pretty is like an addiction and the media has appeared as the crack dealer, a seller that is run by people like us. They take celebrities, who are already stunning, and alter them with endless tweaks that we want, when we apply our natural instincts above our ability to reason. We have established this pretence that they gave Photoshop perfect and that caused the craving. It's not true. We have always wanted it. The only thing that has changed is now we get to sniff line after line and it will take major rehabilitation before society can value someone's soul before their skin.

So don't blame the media. It is our fault. We are the shallow ones. We foolishly think that if we were aesthetically perfect, it would hide our flaws we have inside. It won't because more often than not, the only person who sees those flaws is ourselves. Outer beauty does not make us blind to who we are. It doesn't matter how well the present is wrapped, it is still the same gift contained within. Maybe, rather than vilifying the media, we should seek individual acceptance of who we are. We don't have to be spectacular, special or even noteworthy. We just have to be comfortable in the skin we were given and then we won't crave a false perfection. Rather we will see the beauty in all things, even the flaws and even in ourselves.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Pick Your Prejudice

We are not an anti-prejudice people. We are all for hating people when it suits. We bully those we deem to be unacceptably different.

There are forms of prejudice that have been deemed unacceptable by society due to an inextricable link with an ugly episode of history. We abhor racism, for example. It's connection with slavery and oppression puts weight behind the anger and condemnation it gets and deserves. The notion to demean someone based on the colour of their skin is vile. Yet, if that person was white but born with ginger hair, we can tease them about that. The notion to demean someone based on the colour of their hair is considered acceptable. It's not just ginger haired people, blondes get it too. Why is it that you can't torment someone for one genetic feature but you can for another?

You see, our supposedly righteous indignation at the headline prejudices of the world actually expose how hypocritical we are. Double standards are common. We sit at a buffet of prejudices and pick which ones we think are okay. It is not right to abuse someone because they are homosexual. Theirs is a love between two consenting adults and they have a right to live their life free from intimidation or vilification. I think that is an evolved sensibility that we can all accept.

Now what about a technosexual? They are a fairly obscure group of people who claim to have strong sexual feelings for technology. I bet your first reaction is "That's weird" or something in that vain. It is uncommon and so people think we can justify a prejudice or a disdain for such behaviour on that basis. Yet in 2011, a UK survey indicated that, at most, 6% of the British population is homosexual. That can hardly be classed as commonplace. The reality is that education about how the LGBT community feels when persecuted for their emotional feelings, coupled with the horrid stories about gay teenagers committing suicide off the back of being bullied, has built the strength of feeling against homophobia.

Now those are prejudices based upon how people are born but what about things people choose? There is an increasingly feeling that it is okay to persecute and belittle people for having a religious belief. The argument being that you are not born with a religion, so it is fair game. Yet someone who decides to have a sex change was not born that way; they come to that decision later in life. People may tell me that when it comes to a sex change, it is a deep rooted feeling that overwhelms a person but I could easily say they same thing about religious convictions. You don't have to agree with either but you do have to allow both groups the right to live their lives as they see fit. You can disagree as long as you don't promote hatred.

It is wrong to be mean to someone because of their skin colour but if that is true (and it is) then it is wrong to demean someone for their hair colour.  If it is abhorrent to persecute someone for having a loving relationship that is fair and free from abuse, then it is similarly vile to vilify those who have intimacy that we don't comprehend. If someone wants to make choices that seem odd to us, that is their privilege and it does not grant us the right to torment them about it. We shouldn't pick our prejudices but we do. We are not as good as we think we are. We are still bullies from the playground. It's just now, we pick on a different group of kids.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Trust Is A Myth

Who do you trust? Think about it before you blurt out an answer. Who do you trust completely? I am going to make a bold statement. There is NO ONE in this world you completely trust. People will say that they trust their spouse, their parents, their priest or their best friend but that's not true. And why? Because to trust someone completely would be willing to let them know everything and anything about you. There is no doubt in my mind everyone has a secret, an uncomfortable moment, something that they would rather not talk about and if that is true, then no one trusts anyone completely.

You see, I think trust is a myth. Or at least, our understanding of trust is a myth. The reality is that trust is effectively the name of a gamble we are willing to take within a relationship with a person. That is all it is. A gamble. No matter how educated you are of the situation or how stacked the odds are in your favour, it is a risk we take. A leap of faith with varying degrees of certainty that a net is there to catch you.

The issue most people will have is that it is a very uncomfortable truth to accept that we gamble on people because it suggests a negative connotation. Trust is a warm, fuzzy word, the kind that offers security. Gamble instantly makes the person feel like they are staking their life savings on red or black of a roulette wheel. Well, trusting someone is a risk. You tell someone a secret and ask them to keep it to themselves, you have as much control over them maintaining that trust as you do over the roulette ball landing in the colour of your bet. None. You can pretend that the potential damage that would be done to the relationship may lovingly coerce someone to not do it but that is a fragile thing. One argument, one fall out or offence caused and that factor goes from a strength to a crippling weakness. All that has changed is you've gone from having a Full House to a pair of threes. The odds have tragically turned against you. However, much like poker, the lower hand, the big risk, could win and the higher hand, the sure thing, could lose. No matter how much you trust someone, they always have the capacity to betray it, so there is always an element of risk.

The other problem with accepting that trust is a myth is that it encourages the growth of paranoia. Trust means never checking up on the person. A gamble is thought to be looking long at hard at the horse race we have a tenner on to see if it comes good. It isn't true. People can take a risk on someone or something and then be blasé about it or be supremely confident about it.

The reality is how much you are willing to chance on someone is the trust you place in them but it is never a full trust. You may say "Oh I don't need to bring it up with them" when keeping a dirty secret from the past or an uncomfortable moment. That is merely a justification to keep the trust myth going.

Now I say all this but I don't think it is a bad thing and this is why. Because this "trust" is not about your relationships with other people but how reconciled you are within yourself. When you are free to open up to someone to a greater degree, you have come to deal with or accept the good, bad and ugly moments of your life and parts of your personality. Some of the most liberating moments are found in taking the biggest gambles. Those who take the chance of a skydive or bungee jump will tell you it was one of the best things they ever did.

We think trust is the cement of our relationships. It isn't. Trust is the declaration that something in our lives is starting to heal or progress. The cement of relationships is understanding, reciprocation or absence of unfair judgement off the back of that gamble, depending on its nature. Someone who finds it hard to trust does not have a conflict with people, they have a conflict with themselves. So when you are prepared to take that gamble, don't fear that someone will betray your trust. Be grateful that you're finally getting past one more hurdle life has thrown at you. Then every gamble, every trust, will be worth it, win, lose or draw.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Mediocre

I once attended an audition for Britain's Got Talent. Not one of those where you stand on a stage in front of hundreds of people. The one where it is you, a producer and a camera in a room. That's it. I always said that I wanted to try out for one of these shows. I wasn't under any illusion I was good enough to win, I just wanted to do it for the hell of it. So I did. How did I do? I got a polite letter saying thank you but we're not progressing you. I put it down to being not very funny in my stand up comedy routine but then someone else struck on the more likely truth. You see, if I was really good or horrifically bad, I would have gone through. I was neither. I was worse than that. I was mediocre.

It made me realise that, generally, I am mediocre. In everything. There is nothing I am particularly good at. Sure I have turned my hand to many things and been somewhere between self aware of how rubbish I am at it, all the way up to decent at it. But never good. Never great. Just average, alright, okay. You might think it is better than being bad at everything but then people have forged great careers and lived memorable lives off the back of being rubbish. Being in the limbo of mediocre is the worst of the worse. You have nothing to offer the world and you won't be remembered. Your life will be about living for the weekend and doing a job you increasingly resent to pay the bills in between.

Being on the Z list of celebrity may be mocked but for a group supposedly on the bottom rung, they seem to do well in life. Always going to parties, featuring on random TV shows that you're addicted to and dating fellow celebrities from the C list or lower, you have to say being a incompetent freak tends to be better than what is perceived to be normal. Once you're in that realm of society, even failure pays well.

It's depressing being normal because mediocre is just so... common. Everyone can do it. That makes it the worst place to be because there is little to be proud of, little to look forward to and even less chance of changing it. Your mediocrity makes you anonymous. As much as you aspire to be something greater, unless you have some exceptional talent hidden away, you have probably peaked already.

It explains the ire of the public that Z list celebs get. Why do they deserve better than us because they are worse than us? You wouldn't go to school and think "Well, if I don't get an A, then I might as well shoot for an E. Don't want to be in the land of mediocrity that is a C." That would sound ridiculous. Yet it applies there too. Some of the most successful people in the world are academic failures, including Einstein, Edison and Richard Branson. Granted, they all had extraordinary talents and went on to capitalise on them but what they did was get noticed.

The point is that if you can be outstanding, you need to be able to stand out to get ahead in life. The world judges us by our covers, not the prose of our character or the blurb of our achievements. The last thing you want to be is mediocre. The difficulty is that it tends to be the best most of us, especially me, can be.