Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Our Unity is Flagging

Following a terrorist incident the customisation of your Facebook profile with a flag is not a display of solidarity. It is a perfunctory and self-serving gesture that infers compassion of spirit without the necessary demonstration of it. The only definite that can be concluded from such an action is that you have applied a selective mentality to determine that the victims of terrorism in one country are considered to be more worthy of empathy than the victims in another. The recent events in Belgium are a particular example of the pitfalls of this trend.

After the bombings in Brussels, Belgian flags appeared at a markedly lower rate than they did following the Paris attacks. A shared post indicated that this could be attributed to a software problem on Facebook. Further to that no temporary profile picture functionality was offered at all at the point of login. The result was that the vast majority of people who utilised the French flag were not willing to take additional action to utilise external software providers to make the same demonstration with the Belgian flag. So it can be supposed that these people were primarily concerned with software functionality, and secondarily concerned with demonstrating their concern for loss of life when they undertook said activities on Facebook. This is further suggested by the lack of status updates expressing support for the Belgian people posted as a substitute for the absent feature. These people do not consider a display of empathy worth the effort unless the opportunity is presented to them as simply as possible. And they are unconcerned about displaying hypocrisy or prejudice in the social media environment. This is how the trends of social media can reveal discrimination through passive participation.

This can be proved conclusive by the total disinterest in the 140 people who were killed by ISIS car bombs in the cities of Damascus and Homs in Syria on the 21st of February this year. There was not a single Syrian flag in my newsfeed.

But perhaps that’s just my friends.

Perhaps I need to keep better company. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Grand Quest Auto

I have turned my life into a game. And it has revolutionised the way I live. But something terrible has interrupted my quest. Something addictive and depressing that is sapping my life force.

But before I get to that, and before you say that gamification is nothing new, I should define my particular utilisation of this concept. Because there is a significant difference between gamifying your life and turning your life into a game. Gamifying your life is when you motivate yourself to succeed by using games that dispense rewards. But turning your life into game is when you choose a game to represent your universe and you play out your life like the hero. The crucial difference between the two, and the most-agreeable irony of it, is that turning your life into a game requires no software at all.

What it does require is the mindset to apply the tenets of gameplay to every aspect of your existence. The successful execution of this mindset hinges upon the type of game you have chosen and specifically the kind of quest you have chosen to undertake. It is pivotal that you choose the right quest because you do not want to waste your life playing a game that does not make you happy. The gamification template I have chosen is role-playing. My quest is to complete a series of five novels and to get them published. And this is the game that makes me happy.

The depths of my game are limitless. Every conversation with every person has the potential to unlock some wonderful new path on my quest. Casual suggestions by friends have turned into fearsome magical tools to be added to my list of spells. Gifts received have bestowed upon me power-ups far beyond expectation. New locations have contained hidden treasure for the narrative of the future and I have reveled in the searching of them. Even mundane tasks are now imbued with an inherent usefulness. Work earns coins to pay for food and accommodation upon my journey. Sleep and fitness improve my health points for fighting those end-of-level bosses: the Literary Agents who gate-keep the doors to the higher levels. And every time they defeat me I remember there are more weapons and items I can acquire for my arsenal. No matter how dire the circumstances might try to appear, I keep on playing. Because others have gotten past them. So if I work to increase my level there is a chance that I can get past them too.

But I must beware. There are distractions everywhere. Dead-ends in dark caverns. People who will steal my magic and strip me of my items. Mini-games that serve no purpose other than to distract me from my quest. One of these games is called Tinder.

I started playing to increase my Love points and possibly gain additional Stamina and Charisma. But after a week swiping through bushes looking for a match, I have found none. This has actually decreased my Love, Stamina and Charisma. And I have turned from a beautiful (yet modest) hero into a hideous troll. Being rejected over and over has pushed Depression and Disenchantment up to dangerous levels. My quest is suffering for it. Yet I cannot stop playing. Perhaps the idea of this min-game is that I become as troll-like as humanly possible. Only then will I unlock the Princess companion. But somehow I doubt it. More likely I will just continue swiping desperately.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Captain American Dreams

Original big-budget action films are supervillains and you should be afraid of them. But don’t worry. The Hollywood studios are on our side. They’ve got plenty of plucky superheroes who are here to help. The Avengers and the X-Men and Batman and Superman and Spiderman are all keeping our screens safe. And when they’re not around you can count on James Bond and the Mission: Impossible team and Han Solo and Mad Max and Rocky Balboa and those hapless administrators at Jurassic Park and John McClane when you need to see a familiar face. Because these are desperate times and so the multiplex must be a womb for your senses. Where you can feel safe. And there is nothing so safe and comforting as familiarity. Where you can watch a bold billionaire and his patriotic companions battle evil and win. Because they’ve got the money to save you, thank God, and they will. With their trillion-dollar heli-carrier. Victory purchased. The American Dream. Where the enemy is clear and defined and you can see what it is.

There is no reason for you to wake up from it. The box office figures speak for themselves. It’s what you want to dream about and good old Hollywood will keep that dream alive for you in great multi-coloured swathes. On as many screens as you need. Because the dream needs to keep going these days, more than ever. You don’t want it to turn into a nightmare. Filled with enemies who are not clear or defined. Who don’t spill out of wormholes in the sky. Who don’t wear capes. Who don’t look for the symbols on the chests of our martyrs before they open fire. You could go outside if you wanted that. Hollywood knows this so you don’t need to worry. There is very little chance of that encroaching upon your dream because the superheroes are making sure of it. And so are their trusty friends. The risk of originality has been pushed right out to the extreme. A supervillain on the edge of town. Powerless. Short on resource. Away from all the action.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Take a Running Trump.

So absurd is Donald’s campaign for the Presidency that I am beginning to wonder if he is a plant. A stooge employed by powerful back-room Democrats whose sole mandate is to drive the 2016 Republican party campaign over the political cliff tops and into the seas of history, where it will lay at the moral bottom as a notable wreck. If this is the plan then it is working seamlessly, what with the Great Wall of Mexico rhetoric and the tasteless impersonation of the disabled. The global press is united, for once, in disgust. And that is a great achievement. Whoever proposed that one to the Democratic Illuminati ought to be made a top-ranking lizard when they inevitably win out. And there is no doubt they will. Operation Trump cannot fail. If he wins the Republican nomination he will succeed in drawing the greatest democratic voter turnout in American history and they will steamroller his loudmouth circus hairpiece right into the ground. And if he loses, then his campaign will have done more than enough media blustering to smother the credible emergence of his rivals. Of course there will be a hasty rally-around in support of Marco Rubio, most probably, and a lot of desperate campaigning to rebuild the perception of unity. But it will be too late for that. Having seen the Democrats campaign against one another with at least some semblance of decency, the American public will be hard-pushed to buy into the fallacy of a Republican redemption. The minute they step into the polling booth they will smell the rot in that notion at a pheromonal level; the whiff of a half-baked last-minute solution wafting unbeknownst into their nostrils. Only die-hard Republicans will have a subconscious staunch enough to be immune. The kind of people who would vote for Barney the Dinosaur if he wore an Uncle Sam hat and stood in front of the Stars and Stripes shouting about Muslims. The rest will be repelled and vote Team Clinton-Sanders/Sanders-Clinton while Hillary and Bernie rub their hands with glee.

But our survival instinct means the worst must be prepared for, no matter how remote its possibility. If Trump’s presidential inauguration comes to pass then have no doubt it will be the worst. And remoteness will be a prevalent factor in the chosen locations of exile. We will all need to get well out of the way, and fast, before the horsemen show up. The obvious choice for me is my beloved Gers. I’ve got connections down there. Somewhere to hole-up with more than enough Pousse-rapiere and camembert to outlast the incumbent Armageddon. And that is what will happen when the Trump/Putin axis takes control of Saudi Arabia by force and starts shelling the rest of the Middle East, dropping napalm on North Korea and generally angering the Chinese with a display of naive arrogance. Communist bombing will inevitably commence. But the French will be spared. This is because they have a strong record of defiance in the face of American foreign policy. Particularly their active opposition to Gulf War II. So when Trump decides to dissolve the UN after watching Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, the French government will take the same stand again. And the Chinese will respect this, significantly reducing the chances of a nuclear fallout rolling over the vineyards and through my bones before finally breaking against the leaden face of the Pyrenees.

Unless of course Trump becomes enraged at this turn of events and just presses the button himself. It is not unfeasible to think him capable of that. And for this reason it is almost a wonder that he has lasted this long in the campaign at all. Not because he is a novelty but because there has been no attempt made on his life. He makes Dubya look like a moderate and fanatics have killed en-masse for lesser reasons than the foreboding implications of a Trumpian presidency. Despite his unashamed bad-mouthing of the Muslim community there is not a single report of an assassination attempt anywhere. It is almost as if he is protected from on-high. By some great firewall preventing his ascent into martyrdom. Remember that nothing galvanises the American people quite like a martyr. Especially a presidential candidate. And that would not be good for the Democrats. That would not be good at all...

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Unfriend indeed.

Abandoning pointless friendships is so much harder these days. It used to be the case that they simply stopped: no more calling, no more visiting, over. Simple. Everyone knew where they stood. But nowadays that isn’t enough. You have to navigate a minefield of socio-political administrative pitfalls.

Let’s say, hypothetically of course, you were in a close friendship that required you do all the legwork. And you were also friends with this close friend's friends, just as long as you, again, did all the legwork. A few times a month. For, say, ten years. Now let’s say that after ten years you got sick and tired of doing all the legwork, so you decided to stop and see what happened next.

Many years later you finally hear from this friend. But only for research purposes. This friend wants you to recommend a band for his girlfriend’s surprise thirtieth birthday party. A girlfriend you’ve never met. And there’s no mention of you being invited. Or any action taken upon your suggestion of going to see any of the bands. And having a catch-up, maybe. Instead there’s more silence. Because you just recommend bands now. That's what you're for.

Maybe a year later his Best Man includes you in a group message organising the stag do. He’s getting married you see. You saw it in your friend’s newsfeed. It was news. You decline because you can’t really justify spending the money. Maybe you would have gone if your friend had bothered to contact you himself at some point. But probably not. You just don’t know. You’re too alienated. 

Months later the fiancée sends you a friend request on Farcebook. Without introduction. But you know it's her. You recognise her from his newsfeed. It was news. And now you have to consider whether or not to ‘accept’ her. To give her the same equidistant status in your life as your friend. The friend with whom you shared years of experience. Experience that now amounts to nothing more than a face popping up on a screen occasionally. With some humblebragging. The fiancee wants the same thing from you. The same computer administration protocol. She’s really into Jesus. They both are. You saw it in your friend’s newsfeed. It was news.

Let’s say you accept her. You do this in case you bump into them somewhere, even though you haven't seen him in years and probably never will. But you get yourself in a twist about it despite the fact it’s really utterly meaningless. Still, it'll reduce the awkwardness. Won't it? Probably not.

Inexplicably you start getting messages from her. You’re grouped in with the other friends. You remember them? The ones who were friends with your friend and friends with you just as long as you did all the legwork. Yes that’s right. Them. The fiancée is trying to get you all in the same minibus (which wouldn’t be awkward at all) for the wedding reception. Presumably you’re invited. But no-one’s asked you. Certainly not your friend. Apparently you’re not being communicated with directly for some reason. Maybe he was too busy to address you about the stag do. And the wedding. Or anything else. For years. At this point you are offended. Finally you break the silence and contact your friend.

There is an intense watershed exchange of messages. Your friend says that you had the kind of friendship in which you see each other when you see each other. You indicate that this required him to make some effort in the last seven years to see you when he sees you. You make it clear in the most diplomatic terms possible that it’s not a friendship anymore. Your friend seems genuinely regretful and suggests you meet up for a meal to smooth things over. But you decline, graciously. Because the damage is already done. And there is far too much of it. You wish your friend all the best for his wedding and for his future and you assure him you’ll say hello if you see him in the street. But otherwise, take care. Done.

But no.

Now you see the wedding in the newsfeed because you weren’t thorough enough with the Unfollow function: the friends who were friends with your friend and friends with you just as long as you did all the legwork; they were there. That’s right; them. You forgot about them. You thought they were gone. But there they are. Blundering into your newsfeed. Bringing you news. News that you don't want. So you have to do more socio-political administrative tinkering to your social media edifice. Then, at last, you're free.

Or so you thought. Because you see the fiancée's relationship status become 'Married to'. Somehow, even after all this, you forgot to complete some torturously-obscure, god-forsaken sub-menu. Eventually you find it. Then you click what you need to click and breathe a big sigh of relief because now it really is all over, finally.

Months later, against all odds, this wife whom you have never met makes contact with you. This wife who is apparently oblivious to the message you sent to your friend. The one in which you specifically stated that you would say hello if you crossed paths in the street, and nothing more. Presumably she doesn't know about the message. About this watershed moment that ended 15 years of friendship.  Maybe it wasn't worth mentioning. Or maybe he mentioned it and she just ignored him. Or she forgot. Because now she's inviting you to an event. A 'Bring and Share' barbeque. 'Bring' and 'Share'.

Perhaps it's a mistake. An oversight. Maybe she's accidentally lumped you in with one of those group invites that include everyone on her list of friends. You can forgive that.

But upon further investigation you realise it's not a mistake. Because it's been sent to a select group. No more than twenty people. And the people on the list are the friends who are friends with your friend and were friends with you just as long as you did all the legwork. Them - again. Unwittingly shuffling back into your life like rubbish ghosts. And despite your refusal to attend the wedding, despite the brutal finality of the conversation with your friend, your name is on the list too.

There is no escape from this stupid, inconsiderate insensitivity. And it is all of those things, for one sole reason: she invited you. Your friend didn't. So why, after everything that was said in those uncomfortable messages, after you drove a stake into the rotten heart of what was left of your relationship, why is this invite not coming from him? Why, in the name of this god in which they believe, is it coming from her? What madness is this? You, at a Bring and Share Barbeque. With them. You would never go. Not in 6000 creationist years.

But just imagine if you did. Imagine twenty people you used to know asking you why you weren't at the wedding. Imagine your first spoken words to these people after seven years being an explanation that your friend is a bad friend. That he's been absent from your life during the hardest times. With an effortless disinterest. For so many years you wish you'd lost count. Friendships are about being around. Plain and simple. So that when something happens, you're there. When people need you and when you need them. You explain that this barbeque is a farce. You are offended that the wife had the nerve to invite you. You are even more offended that your friend didn't. After everything that was said. That's what you've chosen to 'Bring and Share'. Imagine having the balls to go there and say that. Imagine hanging around afterwards for dessert.

If you did, one of those rubbish ghosts bereft of anything interesting to report would definitely tag you in a status update. But you wouldn't see it. Unless you got the socio-political software administration wrong (again) and found yourself reading a poorly-spelt tirade about your uncharitable cruelty. OMG! SUM PPL R SO RUDE ULTRA!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It would appear above yet another shared post with an uplifting quote on it. Something about peace, plastered across Gandhi's face. Or beneath a picture of a cat doing something funny. It would make the newsfeed. It would be news.

When you stop fantasizing about what might have been, you wonder what on Earth she was expecting when she invited you.  Did she envisage the corpse of your vague acquaintance jolting back into life, reanimated by the simple greatness of her touch? The Creation of Adam amidst cans of Stella and Kraft Singles? Does she really believe she has that much power? That she could prevent your attendance at the Bring and Share Barbeque from being anything but the most hideously awkward social event of the year? Then it hits you. Of course she does. Miracles. She thinks she can perform them. This goddess who you have never met.

Maybe she'll invite you to something else. Imagine that.

There is only one word to describe this stupid inconsiderate insensitivity. It was once only an adjective. But now this adjective has evolved. In the name of social media it now contains an adverb. A software-functionality-relative adverb that suggests a best course of action.

It is unfriendly.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Hello?.... Hello?.............

Ah. Nobody, eh?

Well I’m not especially surprised. I think most people have moved on from this Long Form House Party to the snappy one-liners and sharefest that is the Facebook Global Word Rave – myself included. Crazy to think the party used to be so big around here. But all parties have to end. Otherwise they become deeply unpleasant. A jaded communal humping session in which the same old jokes are told over and over again in an increasingly-contrived atmosphere of false bonhomie, until someone can’t take it anymore and goes passive-aggressive oxy-nuclear. Kind of like how Facebook is becoming recently. Maybe that party will shut down too one day. Can’t see it happening any time soon though. None of us seem to mind that it’s eating its own tail.

I just popped in to my particular space in this old house to have a look at the stains on the carpet and the mess on the wallpaper. And, by Christ, what a mess it is. Looking around at the detritus it's apparent that I thought I was really, really, really coooool. Especially back in the early days. But just look at it now. On second thoughts, don’t: it’s colossally embarrassing.

But I’m not going to clean it up because it’s a dirty stinking reminder. The self-indulgence. The unflattering subtext. How I excused some of my behaviour back then. Laughable. The arrogance of it.

I think I’ll pick up some of the valuables and head off again before the smell starts to make me feel sick.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sell me this pen.

With his latest film, The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese has directed yet another modern classic. Like 'The Aviator' before it, his latest collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio is another exceptional character study of a successful playboy whose flaws bring his world crashing down around him. Based upon the autobiography of the protagonist, Jordan Belfort, the story charts the career of a fraudulent stock broker as he works his way up the ladder of Wall Street from lowly telephone operator to the head of his own company, and the inevitable crash that follows.

The film opens with Belfort breaking the fourth wall to directly introduce the viewer to his life at its peak. He presents us with everything he has achieved and - by frank admission of his vices - everything he stands to lose, before whisking us back to the start of his career. This sets the tone of the film perfectly from the outset: Belfort is the stock we are investing in: an unstable commodity who will fluctuate wildly because he is an obvious liability. Over the course of the film he continues this trend. And in sharing his truths with us and us alone, he makes us complicit - bringing us along for the ride whether we like it or not. So we become another one of his marks, sucked in by his charisma.

The acting is first-rate. Even from those in the smallest parts like Belfort's private investigator Bo Dietl, playing himself with a relaxed, unforced authenticity as he appears to improvise dialogue about security risks with DiCaprio. In fact, the seamless improvisation by much of the main cast is what makes this film so enjoyable to watch: McConnaughey's thin-faced, wandering-eyed, semi-hippy financial guru whose brief appearance is so compelling that it predominates much of the film's accompanying trailer; the boardroom scenes where dwarf-tossing and excessive lunch bills are discussed (to the enjoyable outrage of veteran improviser Rob Reiner); Jonah Hill's outstanding confrontation with Jon Bernthal in the parking lot when he reaches for every insult he can think of, and DiCaprio's exquisite quaalude-riddled, epic 10 metre journey from the doors of his country club to his Lambourghini - which is about as good a visual metaphor as you'll see in modern cinema for the argument that no amount of money can buy even a shred of dignity. It is DiCaprio's subtly mesmerising central performance that anchors the debauched madness when events become borderline unreal. He goes from naive first-dayer, to bug-eyed, drug-addled, vein-popping chauvinist financial compere - and all the way back again, notably for a scene in which he suavely tip-toes his way through a verbal minefield to make a savvy proposal of bribery to a federal agent.

This mastery is expertly cultivated by Scorsese; an auteur who seems to have a preternatural ability to determine when his actors are in full flow, how to inspire their confidence and how best to capture them on film. He does this particularly well in a series of scenes beginning with Hill's character (Donnie) and Belfort each taking a particularly powerful type of quaalude. Believing them to be duds, they each take a few more - despite having been told by the supplier to take only one. The dialogue hints that this course of action is a bad idea, but the audience is distracted from this notion by a sobering phone call to Belfort that draws him to his country club. Here, Scorsese slots in an establishing scene of Belfort making the journey, getting out of his car and striding into the building - which seems almost superfluous. Belfort uses a payphone and conducts a tense conversation, absorbing the viewer entirely. Gradually, Belfort starts slurring his words. It suddenly becomes apparent that the quaaludes have kicked in. Then the aforementioned return journey to the car occurs and the task of navigating the steps that previously appeared to be so simple is given a comical, Herculean level of difficulty when juxtaposed with the apparently-unnecessary establishing scene from earlier. It's this kind of complete attention to detail that makes Scorsese's films a joy to watch.

Another example of this occurs shortly after; when Belfort arrives home to warn Donny that he should not be using the house phone because it is tapped. But, due to both his and Donny's intoxication, Belfort cannot make this concept clear to Donny, who is in the process of trying to conduct a call, but failing for obvious reasons. So the exchange is essentially just the primordial bellowing of cavemen, and the most incomprehensible business meeting in cinema history. It is also satisfyingly ironic - given that anyone listening in to the phone call would be unable to glean any information whatsoever from a conversation conducted in that state. At one point Donny begins to choke and Belfort leaps on top him. Then Belfort pauses for a flickering moment, as if he is considering leaving him to die - it would solve his problems if Donny has incriminated him in any way. But he continues and begins performing CPR. There is no allusion to this in the dialogue or narration, and whether or not this was intentionally scripted or improvised by Scorsese or DiCaprio does not really matter. What matters is that it is so creative, and shows such an excellent collaborative rapport between a director and his actors.