Maybe we should stop playing God?

Have you ever watched a 2003 TV serial called “The Second Coming”? Well, I haven’t but there is great little speech in there from Christopher Ecclestone’s character. This speech was sampled by Orbital for their track, You Lot, and that’s where I heard it first:

You…are becoming Gods. There’s a new master of creation, and it’s you. You’ve unravelled DNA. You’re five years away from building your own people and at the same time, you’re cultivating bacteria strong enough to kill every living thing! Do you think you’re ready for that much power? You lot? YOU lot? You cheeky bastards! You’re running around science like kids with guns, creating a new world while the world you’ve got is stinking. Go on…hands up…hands up anyone who thinks you’ve got it right. Yeah…there’s always one – I can see you. If you want the position of God then take the responsibility.”

“You stupid, stupid people! I’ve seen what you’ve done! It’s finally happened. Heaven is empty…and hell is bursting at the seams!”

[Note: I’ve omitted the middle section of the speech as it doesn’t really have much bearing on what I’m going to be talking about. This isn’t me using selective quoting to erase part of what was said. You can listen to the full speech HERE]

First of all, I’m an Atheist and a believer in science rather than religion. Even so, what is been said here in the above speech is thought-provoking no matter what you believe in.

Whether you believe that God created the universe or that it was formed from The Big Bang, we should all be able to see that mankind has been making itself into the next Creator. We slice atoms apart and discover the secret building blocks of life. We clone living creatures in labs. We cure all kinds of terminal diseases and prolong life where perhaps life should have been lost.

You may look upon these feats of the human race in either a positive or a negative light. But there’s no denying that we’ve done some pretty bad shit too.

Using all of our knowledge and resources to find new ways to either kill each other more effectively or increase material gain…rather than improving our planet. Playing about with deadly bacteria and viruses in labs, cultivating nasty shit that could be freed (whether accidentally or purposely) at any moment to lay waste to our race. Working on making ourselves obsolete by programming increasingly automonous AI. Turning the people against one another through the power of the media in order to generate ad revenue and push selfish agendas that only benefit specific groups of humans.

I suppose much of it started off with noble intentions: seeking to understand the world around us and how it works so that we might gain knowledge and an understanding. So that we might chase worthy causes such as saving lives or understanding the knock-on effects of our various actions.

But knowledge is power and – as Uncle Ben famously reminded Peter Parker – with great power, must come great responsibility.

Ben-1
[Source]
Unfortunately, there are a great many of us on this planet who aren’t interested in taking any damn responsibility – at all. Do you think that those who commissioned the Manhattan Project thought ahead and tried to envision how a world stocked with nuclear weapons would look? Do you think any of those people are interested in taking responsibility for the way we live now with atomic energy being wielded so freely? Granted, if the Americans hadn’t created the atomic bomb first then somebody else would have. The Nazi’s were apparently close to a break-through if I’ve read correctly. American, German, British, Asian…it doesn’t matter. What matters is that somebody did it or somebody would have done it at some point.

Knowledge was pursued and knowledge was gained. Power was gained and a Pandora’s Box was opened, never to be re-sealed again. And so we discovered a new way to kill each other en masse.

To reference that speech again, perhaps we are cheeky bastards. We’ve got access to a near-complete toolbox that allows us to forget about how or why we were created, and just become creators ourselves. We think we know what we’re doing. We think it’s a great idea to do X and see what happens to Y. Fuck knows what is happening in top-secret labs the world over. I think I’d rather not know as it might be the sort of stuff that could keep you awake at night.

We’ve gotten a bit cocky and sure of ourselves, haven’t we?

The truth is, there’s so much that we still DON’T understand and so perhaps it isn’t such a fantastic idea to be experimenting with the building blocks of life. Even more importantly, the planet around us really does stink in many ways and I can’t help but wonder whether it would wiser to fix existing problems rather than creating new ones.

Now some of you might be wondering if I’m saying that we should just halt all advances in science and research. That’s not what I’m saying. As a race, we do need to move forwards and continuously improve. The alternative is to slob out and become slaves to mindless entertainment and convenience – as if we’ve done enough and should just call it a day. Right now, there is research underway that will save lives for example. Long may it continue.

But…

“if you want the position of God then take the responsibility.”

And this is our problem because we can’t even take responsibility for our everyday mundane lives, let alone major events that will impact the billions of people living on Earth. Young men unwittingly father children and won’t take responsibility for being too lazy or too selfish to have used a condom. People would rather take companies and other people to court rather than take responsibility for something that was REALLY their fault. A mistake is made in a workplace and everybody says, “wasn’t me.”

So how can we expect a scientist to take responsibility for developing an unstoppable flesh-eating bacteria? How can the billionaires and world leaders be trusted to put the latest break-throughs in technology to use rather than utilising it for financial profit or as a symbol of power? How can we, as a race, be trusted with the keys of creation?

We play at being God and think we know it all but we don’t. I just hope that we don’t find this out the hard way. Not that we’d likely learn from such a mistake anyway.

You’re not Extraordinary (and that’s okay)

In recent years, there has been a big shift towards being told that we are all extraordinary people and that we can all attain greatness – that we can all become legends. Perhaps this form of self-improvement advice has always been around and is now simply being magnified by the powerful influence of social media but I don’t necessarily think so.

There is an ocean of self-help books aimed at making you financially rich for example. Then there is the legion of popular Youtube channels pumping out inspirational and motivational content, telling us that we CAN be great and that we WILL be extraordinary…if we just listen to some ten minute speeches backed up by dramatic music and imagery of people working out. And let’s not forget the feel-good content enforcing the notion that we are ALL extraordinary people.

Being average = to have failed in life – apparently. Being average is to be a nobody and that’s a bad thing…apparently.

Before I continue however, let’s remind ourselves of the dictionary’s definition of “extraordinary”, shall we?

adjective

adjective: extraordinary; adjective: extra-ordinary

1. very unusual or remarkable

And here lies the biggest contradiction of all because if all of us could indeed become extraordinary then, by the metric of comparison, we would all once again be the same. We would be ordinary, not extraordinary. So to peddle the idea that we can all be extraordinary achievers living the high life is an outright lie. All of the self-help gurus seem to skip over this point but it’s hardly surprising when they are trying to get you to subscribe to their Youtube channels or persuading you to pay them money to access a simple five-step programmme that will have you wiping your nose with £50 notes and drowning in pussy within the year. The irony that they are making stacks of money from your desire to make money is so delicious, it has my mouth watering.

My initial inspiration for this post was Mark Manson’s book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck. It’s a book that I have referenced here numerous times (and even reviewed) and with good reason. The book contains straightforward, realistic advice centred around home truths and becoming more grounded. Mark puts the “extraordinary ordinary” contradiction like this:

Being “average” has become the new standard of failure. The worst thing you can be is in the middle of the pack, the middle of the bell curve. When a culture’s standard of success is to be “extraordinary”, it then becomes better to be at the extreme low end of the bell curve than to be in the middle, because at least there you’re still special and deserve attention.

A lot of people are afraid to accept mediocrity because they believe that if they accept it, they’ll never achieve anything, never improve, and that their life won’t matter.

This sort of thinking is dangerous. Once you accept the premise that a life is worthwhile only if it is truly notable and great, then you basically accept the fact that most of the human population (including yourself) sucks and is worthless. And this mindset can quickly turn dangerous, to both yourself and others.

The ‘dangerous’ part is actually quite relevant to a theory that I read about the other day; a theory that inspired me to finally write this post. It was a discussion on the problem of mass shootings in the United States and why there are so many shooters that appear to have lost their minds and all empathy for other human beings. Could it be that their disilluson and disatisfaction with society led them to unload on a shopping mall of innocent civilians? Could it be that they feel that they were promised extraordinary things and a certain type of life – that they are owed it – and when it didn’t materialise, they converted all of their bitterness and warped resentment into an ammunition clip before emptying said clip into a school hallway?

I’m no psychologist or expert. I’m not even American. But even so, I saw some potential truth in that searching explanation for these heart-breaking tragedies that continue to occur in the US.

Because the education system is flawed. It teaches children what the System wants them to know in order to to mould them into shiny new cogs to keep the machine running; to keep business running; to keep the rich and the powerful in rich and powerful positions. We aren’t taught the realities of life. We aren’t taught about the real battles that we will have to face as individuals. School taught us that if we work hard and make good grades on our exams then the pieces will fall into place on their own. Our grades will earn us good jobs, we will own our own spacious home and we will drive about in a nice BMW or Mercedes. We will have a beautiful wife and two beautiful kids that we love playing with in the back garden.

Perf-Fam-1
Is THIS “success”? It’s certainly not guaranteed, as nice as it looks. [Source – Google/German Edition]
Except it doesn’t necessarily work that way and to lag behind on reaching that destination means that you are failing. I worked hard all through school and got great grades but I haven’t “made it” yet. I left education just as the banking crisis tanked the economy and so my grades and CV didn’t mean jack. Eventually, I took a retail/manual labour job in order to get some money coming in and to gain work experience and guess what? I’m still there. In a different role but still there in the same sector. Thing is, school and education doesn’t teach you that there are other obstacles such as personal motivation and self-confidence, both of which I admit to suffering with. After all, you can get the best grades but if you aren’t great with people then the paper they are printed on could be irrelevant. In my case, I’ve never had any real direction or firm idea of what I wanted to do.

Right now, I too could be severely disillusioned and feeling betrayed by society. In fact, I DO feel a pang of jealousy when I see a dude around with his beautiful lady and two kids, enjoying themselves in the park or at the beach. I think to myself, “damn, that’s where I should be by now.” In this situation, it’s easy to feel resentful and bitter about society. It’s easy to hate on other people. But I have to remind myself that everybody’s situation is different and that some people DO have distinct advantages or have had better opportunities. I am an average guy with an average job, an average pay, average looks and you know what? That’s okay. I have Grand Canyon-size space for improvement but it isn’t failure. I know that I’m not owed anything. It’s all down to me to work things out in my head.

Unfortunately, our lovely media is more than willing to finish the job that education systems start. We are shown a 24/7 feed of people who have achieved extraordinary things. We follow and idolise celebrities with fat bank accounts who are untouched by the “street” problems that we average folk have. We digest carefully-packaged TV shows that follow successful people and their money-making antics. We put our brains on the shelf and stare at “reality” television which, in fact, is nothing like reality at all. We forgo personal development and improvement for hours of watching our favourite Youtubers and their lives or scrolling through the social media feeds of those with more money and material wealth than us.

And all of it is force-feeding our subconscious a highly toxic message: if you aren’t like these extraordinary people then you are a nobody – you are failing at life.

If you aren’t earning wads of cash and driving about London in a supercar then you are a lower-class person who is doing life wrong. If you don’t have Kate Upton’s tits or Kim Kardashian’s arse then you aren’t attractive. If you aren’t living in an expansive, modern home then you are slumming it and are failing. If you aren’t the life and soul of the party then you are boring and irrelevant. If you are a guy and you don’t have a trouser-straining horse cock then you won’t be able to satisfy women in bed.

Success-1
Should THIS be the definition of “success”? It doesn’t have to be. [Source]
I could keep going but there isn’t the need – you get what I’m saying here. The message from society is clear: if you aren’t like these uber successful or beautiful people then you aren’t doing it right.

Being “extraordinary” is directly linked to success and how we elect to measure it. The problem is that we have a pretty shitty metric for success, especially here in the West. We judge the worth of others based on their bank balance, material wealth or physical looks and we are judged on the same criteria by our peers. Worse still, we compare ourselves to others – compare ourselves to the extraordinary people that we are shown by the media. We are all different and live in different situations with different backgrounds. To pit yourself against somebody else, Top Trumps style, is utterly pointless and harmful to your own personal growth.

I should point out (disclaimer-style) that we aren’t all guilty of being so shallow and misinformed. Likewise, not everybody is out to reinforce the fallacy of extraordinary = successful. But it is an undercurrent that undeniably runs through our society.

I’m also not saying that there aren’t useful things that you can take from the abundance of self-improvement videos and books out there because there certainly is. Anything relating to how the human mind works or can be utilised in a better way for example. You should also still seek improvement but it needs to be on your terms, not somebody else’s. You need to improve for yourself and for your loved ones, not for society.

Basically, focus on yourself and do what you need to do in order to feel happy in yourself and be the best version of you. Don’t do what society encourages you to do. Don’t aim to be like what you see on TV or social media. Most importantly, stop comparing yourself to others and judging your worth based on whether or not you measure up to them.

It’s okay not to be extraordinary. Being average is not failure.

The Big Goosebumps Re-read #7: Night of the Living Dummy (R.L. Stine, 1993)

night-1In a previous post entitled “My Reading Journey“, I mentioned my complete set of the original Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine. Well, when taking them all out for a quick photograph for that post, I decided it might be fun to re-visit them all with adult eyes. There’s only 62 to get through…

Night of the Living Dummy is one of the more iconic and memorable books in the Goosebumps series. The idea of a creepy ventriloquist’s dummy gaining sentience is something you can do a lot with and I’m sure many kids who come into contact with a vacant-eyed dummy in real life would be unnerved. There would be two more Night of the Living Dummy entries in the original Goosebumps run, two more in the Series 2000 follow-up and a TV appearance in the live-action show so the popularity of Slappy is evident. The original book is a bit different however and Slappy himself isn’t even the main player…

The Blurb

Lindy can’t get over finding a ventriloquist’s dummy in her neighbourhood skip. Cool! Lindy names him Slappy. She’s going to learn how to make Slappy move and talk. Her twin sister, Kris, will be so jealous.

Then Kris gets a dummy of her own, and that’s when all the trouble starts. Weird things start to happen, nasty things. It seems as if Kris’s dummy is making them happen.

But a dummy can’t be causing all that trouble…can it?

Ultra-competitive twin sisters, Lindy and Kris, are always at each other’s throats, determined to one-up each other and constantly fighting. So when they find a ventriloquist’s dummy in a building site skip and Lindy decides to keep him, Kris grows jealous of how quickly Lindy gets to grips with operating Slappy and how much attention she receives from others for her act…

She’s jealous, Lindy realised. Kris sees that the kids really like Slappy and I’m getting all the attention. And she’s totally jealous. I’m definitely keeping Slappy! Lindy told herself, secretly pleased at her little triumph.

When these girls are around, you need to put the knives away. It seems as if they absolutely resent and hate each other’s guts ninety percent of the time. I felt a little more sorry for Kris as it seemed that Lindy tended to have the upper hand when it came to putting her sister down with nasty comments or verbal snipes. These girls are only eleven and not being a girl, a child or a twin, I can’t relate to their particular brand of intense sibling rivalry but even so…

br-1
[Source]
Anyway, this warring between the Powell sisters leads to their father buying Kris a dummy of her own from a local pawn shop. Now the sisters can compete at being the funniest, most skilled ventriloquist too! Great! Kris names her dummy “Mr Wood” and sets to work trying to beat Lindy at her new hobby.

But the arrival of Mr Wood also brings strange happenings to the Powell household. Mr Wood moving by himself for instance. He even speaks for himself while Lindy is operating him for some of their friends. In true Goosebumps fashion however, we eventually find out that the gradual ramping up of Mr Wood’s unnerving actions are an elaborate, drawn-out prank by Lindy to scare Kris. She even goes as far as to make her twin sister cry before ‘fessing up.

“No!” Kris shrieked, feeling herself lose control. “It wasn’t a dream! I’m so scared, Lindy! I’m just so scared!”

Suddenly Kris was trembling all over, and hot tears were pouring down her cheeks.

Lindy stood up and moved to the edge of her sister’s bed.

“Something h-horrible is going on here, Lindy,” Kris stammered through her tears.

“And I know who’s doing it,” Lindy whispered, putting a comforting hand on her quivering shoulder.

“Who?” Kris repeated, letting the tears run down her cheeks. “Who?”

“I have,” Lindy said. Her smile spread into a grin almost as wide as Slappy’s. She closed her eyes and laughed.

What a cow!

So all’s well that ends well then? Not quite…

Kris is practicing with Mr Wood when she notices a scrap of old paper tucked into his pocket. The paper contains words written neatly in an unrecognisable language and you can’t help but think, “don’t do it” but Kris reads them aloud anyway and that’s when Mr Wood really becomes a ‘Living Dummy’. At first, Lindy is convinced that Kris is simply trying to play her at her own game and their parents don’t believe Kris when she insists that the insults Mr Wood bombards their elderly neighbours with are coming straight from the dummy’s mouth, not hers. Naturally, Kris has no chance here because a) it’s a fairly unbelievable claim and b) she’s in a Goosebumps book and parents don’t believe ANYTHING in a Goosebumps book.

Despite her growing certainty that Mr Wood is really alive this time, Kris goes ahead with an on-stage ventriloquist performance at her school for an audience of kids and parents. You can see disaster looming a mile off and sure enough, things go horribly wrong for Kris as Mr Wood lays into music teacher, Mrs Berman with insults, much to the horror of the audience. But Mr Wood is only just getting warmed up…

“Please apologise. To me and to the audience,” Mrs Berman demanded.

Mr Wood leaned into the microphone. “Apologise for THIS!” he screamed.

The dummy’s head tilted back. His jaw dropped. His mouth opened wide.

And a thick green liquid came spewing out.

“Yuck!” somebody screamed.

It looked like pea soup. It spurted out of Mr Wood’s open mouth like water rushing from a fire hose. Voices screamed and cried out their surprise as the thick, green liquid showered over people in the front rows.

“Stop it!”

“Help!”

“Somebody – turn it off!”

“It stinks!”

Kris froze in horror, staring as more and more of the disgusting substance poured from her dummy’s gaping mouth. A putrid stench – the smell of sour milk, of rotten eggs, of burning rubber, of decayed meat – rose up from the liquid. It puddled over the stage and showered over the front seats.

Binded by the spotlight, Kris couldn’t see the audience in front of her. But she could hear the choking and the gagging, the frantic cries for help.

This is such an enjoyable scene and it really reminds me of the pie-eating contest scene from the movie, Stand By Me.

Again, nobody believes Kris and she is suspended from school. But even Lindy is forced to believe her twin sister when she witnesses Kris grappling with a very animated Mr Wood on the stairs one night. They come up with the idea of sealing Mr Wood in a suitcase and burying him at the construction site next door. Naturally, they manage to sneak out of the house in the dead of night and do all of this without their parents noticing! But Mr Wood is back the next morning, covered in dirt and grinning.

Their parents go out shopping and Mr Wood springs back into life. The ensuing struggle moves to the building site next door where the sisters manage to finally destroy Mr Wood by getting a steamroller to run him over. Again, a couple of kids were able to just walk onto a construction site where deadly steamrollers are operating? Whatever.

The gigantic black wheel rolled right over him, pushing him onto his back, then crushing him with a loud crunch.

A loud hiss rose up from under the machine, like air escaping from a large balloon. The steamroller appeared to rock back and forth.

A strange green gas spurted up from beneath the wheel, into the air, spreading out in an eerie mushroom-shaped cloud.

What’s that? We’ve reached the end of Night of the Living Dummy and the famous Slappy hasn’t featured? Well, it isn’t ever over until it’s over…

As she leaned over the chair to grab the window frame, Slappy reached up and grabbed her arm.

“Hey, slave – has that other guy gone?” the dummy asked in a throaty growl. “I thought he’d never leave!”

It’s interesting that Slappy is one Goosebumps‘ most famous characters and yet he isn’t even the star of the original book, only speaking up for the first time right at the end where the books tend to conclude with one final twist that rarely results in a sequel.

If you couldn’t tell from the way I had a lot to say about Night of the Living Dummy, I really enjoyed re-visiting this book. The pacing was good and Lindy’s cruel prank on Kris was actually much better than having countless, cheap end-of-chapter false scares padding out the story. What’s more, the central idea of a sinister, grinning dummy coming to life was a good one, even if it IS a lite version of Chuckie. The final third of the book when Mr Wood is alive for real is brilliant fun, especially the concert scene quoted above. Honestly, this is probably the best book so far.

The Cover

Not the most dynamic is it? Also, it features Slappy and not Mr Wood which makes little sense to me.

The incredibly dated bit

Lindy told them about the TV show she might be on, and they promised they wouldn’t miss it. “We’ll tape it,” Mr Miller said.

The nostalgia rating

Pretty decent with this one. I didn’t remember most of the plot but I did remember that it wasn’t actually Slappy at the centre of the original book.

Up Next: The Girl Who Cried Monster

 

Don’t buy a Dishwasher

dishwasher-4I know, right? An extremely random topic to concoct a post on (even for this blog) but hear me out. This might well be a public service announcement of sorts.

Or I’m chatting a load of bollocks and you will continue to rely on your dishwasher.

If there’s one kitchen-based chore that everybody dreads having to do and will avoid at all costs, it’s emptying the dishwasher. That’s the situation in our house at least. And it got me thinking: why do we put ourselves through it? Why do we knowingly and willingly load up these appliances with our dirty dishes, leave it to do its thing and then huff and puff our way into the kitchen late in the evening to FINALLY empty the damn thing lest the cupboards run dry of essentials such as plates and glasses?

For many women, it’s to avoid the sink and the effect on their hands that repeated washing-up sessions can have over a period of time. For men such as myself, I think it’s laziness. We don’t want to wash up. Have you seen the average single male’s abode? But women can wear rubber gloves to (mostly) protect their hands. As for us blokes? We need to stop being so damn lazy and pitch in – just get the job done. We aren’t beneath cleaning up after a meal.

The REAL reason that a dishwasher is so appealing is the convenience. There’s no standing at the sink, scrubbing pans or plates. You just load it up throughout the day, kick back while it does all of the cleaning for you and then empty it later. I get that; I really do. But the thing about convenience is that it rarely benefits you in the long term; it’s all about the instant gratification and relief at avoiding work. Convenience food for example is tasty as fuck but it’s bad for you in regular doses and gets you out of prepping a proper meal.

dishwasher-2
It’s not that bad – honest.

But convenience is what we seem to be all about these days. Dishwashers used to be a luxury appliance but now they are a standard feature of a kitchen. Heaven forbid it breaks down though (more on that in a moment) and you have to remember how to wash up in the sink. For some people, this is a genuine disaster. My father is an appliance engineer and has dealt with customers who are complaining that the dishes are piling up by the sink because the dishwasher is broken and they can’t cope. You feel like giving these people a good smack in the face and instructing them to just deal with it. Surely they won’t die from having to temporarily revert to ye olden days of using a scrubbing brush or sponge in the sink?

But back to convenience. When you are merrily filling the dishwasher up with the remains of your breakfast, lunch and dinner (‘Tea’ to us Brits), do you know what you are actually doing? You are delaying the inevitable and just postponing the work – not eradicating it altogether. It reminds me of a quote from Terminator 3:

“You only postponed it. Judgment Day is inevitable.”

So you’ve been avoiding the washing-up all day but there’s no escape from having to empty an absolutely loaded dishwasher.

It’s far faster to simply wash up after each meal. There’s less to clean if you do it that way and it takes a matter of minutes to get it done.

Plus you are saving money. A dishwasher is more than just an initial outlay of cash, remember. You have to buy tablets, rinse aid and salt. It becomes yet another object of constant maintenance in your home – another ongoing cost that never ends. And when it breaks down (which it will), it will cost more money to repair or – worst case scenario – replace altogether. Old-school dishwashers didn’t suffer so much in this respect as they were built to last but the current stuff is cheaply-engineered crap designed to satisfy rampant consumerism that demands everything NOW at bargain basement prices. You will get what you pay for and there’s no way your dishwasher will last fifteen or twenty years like your parents’ might have done.

This cost factor is probably the biggest issue here because you don’t really need a dishwasher do you? But those tablets and bottles of rinse aid all add up over time. A 60-pack of Finish tablets is currently £9.00 on the ASDA UK website for example. Let’s say that you put the washer on once a day (it could even be more) and that’s six packs that you will need to buy over the course of a year, totalling £54.00. Over five years, that’s £270.00. £540.00 over a decade. Obviously, prices go up and down and there are different brands available blah, blah, blah but that’s a lot of money to avoid washing up by hand and we haven’t even factored in rinse aid, the initial purchase price, repair costs or even how many dishwasher units you would have had to buy during that ten-year span. And yes, you could also point out that our lives are loaded with such compounding costs and you would be correct. But we really should look to eliminate as many as possible if we want more money in our wallets to do better and more enjoyable things with.

My point is this: for the sake of washing up a few plates, glasses and mugs after each meal, you can save yourself a load of money and hassle. In my eyes, it’s a no-brainer but maybe I’ve just over-thought this. But the next time you are moaning about emptying the dishwasher or arguing over who should do it, just remember that convenience is a double-edged sword.

Book Talk: The Deckle Edge

This is going to be one of those “the more you know” posts.

Also, potentially a post where I come across as a bit sheltered, particularly given that I profess to love reading and books. Forgive me.

DSC_0429Earlier this year, I discovered that there was a sweet, hardback special illustrated edition of Stephen King’s Joyland. I’d read my paperback copy multiple times (and reviewed it here on my other blog before I started reviewing my reads on Unfiltered Opinion) and it had become of my firm favourites. So an upgrade to a better version made sense. I really dug the pulpy, sexy cover of the illustrated edition plus it was a hardback (which is ALWAYS a reason to upgrade a book). Most importantly, I knew that I would read it again at some point so it wasn’t going to be one of those unnecessary impulse purchases that I’m doing my best to avoid these days.

But when the book arrived, I was pissed off. What was going on with the pages? What kind of awful factory defect was THIS shit?

DSC_0430

Now, you may well be sitting there – reading this – and nodding your head, having already spotted my embarassing error. Yes, this kind of finish is intentional.

I’d bought the book from ebay and considering that it was brand-new and only cost me approximately £12 posted to my door, I decided that I would just accept it as it was, warts and all. But, when I happened to be looking through my ebay purchase history one day, I came upon this book and the phrase “Deckle Edge” in the description (which I’d clearly either missed or ignored).

A quick bit of Googling later and I found the story behind my book’s ‘defect’.

Apparently, some books are still intentionally produced with this Deckle edge to give them a rough, old-fashioned look. Considering that Joyland is published under the Hard Case Crime banner, it made perfect sense for the book to imitate the old-school pulp classics in its physical appearance as well as its content.

The Wikipedia entry for Deckle Edging was quite informative by the way:

Before the 19th century, the deckle edge was unavoidable, a natural artifact of the papermaking process in which sheets of paper were made individually on a deckle. The deckle could not make a perfect seal against the screen at the edges and the paper slurry would seep under, creating a rough edge to the paper. The deckle edge could be trimmed off, but this extra step would add to the cost of the book. Beginning in the early 1800s with the invention of the Fourdrinier machine, paper was produced in long rolls and the deckle edge became mostly obsolete; although there was some deckle on the ends of the rolls, it was cut off, and the individual sheets cut out from the roll would have no deckle in any case.

With the appearance of smooth edges in the 19th century, the deckle edge slowly emerged as a status symbol. Many 19th-century presses advertised two versions of the same book: one with edges trimmed smooth and a higher-priced deckle version, which suggested the book was made with higher-quality paper, or with more refined methods. This tradition carried forward into the 20th and 21st centuries. As of 2016 modern deckle is produced by a purpose-built machine to give the appearance of a true deckle edge by cutting a smooth edge into patterns. Many modern readers are unfamiliar with the deckle edge and may see it as a defect; for example, Amazon.com has left notes to buyers that the deckle is not a flaw in the product.

The thing I find fascinating about this is that it used to cost the consumer more to purchase a neat book that had had its Deckle edge removed. Nowadays, the reverse is true and a bookworm should expect to pay a premium for an unrefined finish!

Personally, the idea of intentionally seeking a fake version of a crude finish in order to hold a status symbol in your hands is a load of bollocks. Secondly, I’m just not a fan of the Deckle effect. It looks cheap and feels annoying. If I’d purchased a very old book with a Deckle edge then that would be absolutely fine because a) it is authentic and b) it is unavoidable and understandable given said book’s vintage. But purposely reproducing this effect? Nah. It reminds me of people who make their car appear rusty and corroded, falsifying the weathering and patina. Each to their own but that sort of thing isn’t for me. It’s just fake.

The more you know.

Banned: “Your wife is hot” Air-con ad

It’s been a while since I made a post about some bullshit news but, to be completely honest, I no longer find it worth my time to get annoyed at the news anymore, especially when it plays into the hands of our lovely media and their determination to split us into Camp Left and Camp Right before pitting both camps against each other in a fight to the death. Perhaps I NEVER should have invested ANY of my time and energy into dissecting mind-blowingly pathetic ‘news’ but hey; you live and learn.

Sometimes however, a freshly-laid, steamer of Bullshit News comes along and, because I’m only human (as The Human League once reminded us), I cannot help but analyse the shit that pops up while I’m looking at other, actual news items of importance.

Such as this advert that got certain people screeching “won’t somebody please think of the children?!?”

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[Source]
I saw it and thought it was an amusing ad – a bit of harmless fun that raised a small smile. But I guess that makes me some sort of 1950’s sexist pig according to those who demand that all humour and fun be sucked from the atmosphere.

Before I go any further though, I will say (in the interests of being impartial and balanced) that I understand why an ad like this would irk the progressive types who see it as a throwback to ye olden days where ad agencies would drape sexy girls over cars to sell them. I get it; I really do. Furthermore, the billboard looks cheap and a bit tacky so it won’t win any awards there.

Usually I would try and write some sort of detailed analysis or debate-style piece at this point but instead, I’m just going to be lazy, quote stuff from the news article on the BBC’s website and call out the bullshit where I see it.

The air conditioning advert – described by an academic as “plain sexist” – features the line: “Your wife is hot!”

First of all, what kind of “academic” gets themselves involved in cheap journalism like this? What is their field of expertise?

It was meant to appear on seven buses in Nottingham but Adverta, which places adverts on buses and trams in the city, blocked it and said it could cause offence.

All I can say is that if you get offended by an advertising billboard like this then you clearly have little else to give a fuck about. It reminds me of those people who write into the rants section in the back of the TV guide to complain about an inaccuracy in a TV soap or the cleavage that a female host displayed at an “inappropriate” time of day. Roll your eyes and forget about it. As a man, I’m used to doing that when I see ads that make the man of the house out to be a fuck-up that can’t handle the finances without a woman’s help or is (apparently) unable to multi-task. Does it offend me though? No because I have more important shit to think about and – when it really – comes down to it? We are clueless when it comes to certain things that women are better at.

Prof Carrie Paechter, director of the Nottingham Centre for Children, Young People and Families, said the advert was “like something out of the 1950s” and called for it to be removed.

A professor now? Gee, we really are having some high-IQ intellectual types getting involved in this. I will agree with Ms. Paechter that the ad is “like something out of the 1950’s” however. Removing it though? I’m not a supporter of that. My main concern is that old chestnut of “where does it end?”. If we have certain segments of society shouting “Ban this”, “Ban that”, “Censor this” and “don’t allow that” then we end up with an environment edited by pressure groups to suit their own vision of what the world should be like. Obviously, there ARE things that should not be permitted but on the whole, free speech and humour should not be threatened because a certain section of society disagrees with something. There was no malice or sexism intended by the creator of this advert. In fact…

The advert – at the junction of Woodborough Road and Porchester Road in Mapperley – was designed by Not Just Cooling owner Mr Davies.

“I don’t mean to offend anybody,” he said.

“I saw an advert like this in America, I chuckled to myself and thought ‘why not?’. Air conditioning is a very hard thing to advertise.”

He said he ran the idea past his team of engineers, who are all men, and discussed the idea with his mother and wife, who approved too.

“My wife knows what I’m like,” he said. “She thinks it’s funny because my wife knows my sense of humour.”

I suppose the “academics” in our midsts would say that Mr Davies’ wife and mother were brainwashed or are being subjected to some sort of toxic masculinity regime. Or – back in the real world – maybe they are just normal women who can see the joke without flying into an offended rage about it? All I can say – from my own personal experience – is that I have yet to encounter any women (or men) who bang on about banning billboards or trivial things being sexist. At work, the blokes take the piss out of the women and they take the piss out of us. We might tell them that they can gossip for the country about utter crap. They tell us that we are useless, one-track-minded blokes. Nobody takes any personal offence or gets wound up about it.

“The subliminal message about society is that it’s OK to comment on women’s bodies, and comment on women’s bodies as if they are the possession of someone else – ‘your wife’.

Ah, the convenient and vague subliminal messages. First of all, it isn’t a fact – it’s a perception of one person. Second of all, it’s a crime to comment on women’s bodies? Look, I in no way condone insulting women or making derogatory remarks about their form if their body isn’t considered ‘optimal’ by society. That shit should indeed fuck right off. Nor do I condone groups of men publicly shouting at women and giving them unwanted attention – acting like slobbering dogs who have never seen an attractive female before. But appreciative talk happens. Always has done and always will do. It’s natural among men and no more “wrong” than when women get a twinkle in their eye and gush over the likes of Magic Mike XL or whatever the fuck he/it is called.

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Saying that a woman is sexually attractive is offensive but women debating the aesthetic values of men’s abs and pecs is fine? Double standards much? [Source]
And lastly…

“It also gives the subliminal message that it’s the man of the house that’s responsible for getting the air conditioning fixed.”

Another subliminal message that I guess we normal people are just too stupid to see lurking in the background like a social assassin striking from the shadows. Or is it somebody reading way too deeply into a fucking billboard that was created as a joke? Honestly, I can see BOTH sides of the argument for most of this billboard drama but these two lines here are absolutely hilarious. For a crude advertisement supposedly stuck in the 50’s, it sure has some intelligent subliminal logic behind its seemingly blunt imagery.

What do you know? I guess I did end up wasting my time on a petty news item after all. Stories like this are intentionally broadcast to us to wind up the political right and reinforce the idea that the world has gone maaaaad and that feminists are out to ruin their lives. The reality is that the internet, social media and the news outlets have seriously warped our perception of the world around us. As I previously mentioned, I have yet to meet anybody who thinks like those who get offended so easily in these news reports. Of course, I may well be wrong, but to me that says that the ‘problem’ isn’t as big as some paranoid blokes believe.

Ultimately, I would just ignore the easily-offended snowflakes and dismiss their outrage. It is only because of social media and virtual echo chambers that people are able to make a noise about things that nobody would have gone to the effort of giving two fucks about back in the day.

This billboard isn’t classy and it isn’t highbrow but not everything has to be.

The Big Goosebumps Re-read #6: Let’s Get Invisible! (R.L. Stine, 1993)

invis-1In a previous post entitled “My Reading Journey“, I mentioned my complete set of the original Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine. Well, when taking them all out for a quick photograph for that post, I decided it might be fun to re-visit them all with adult eyes. There’s only 62 to get through…

I’ve dragged my heels on this review series recently but now it’s time to get back to it with the sixth entry in the OG Goosebumps series: Let’s Get Invisible! Strange mini factoid for ya though; the title of this book includes an exclamation mark on the cover but not on the spine or interior title page…weird. As you can clearly deduce, I am a damn interesting guy. Anyway, here’s the book’s blurb:

The Blurb

While exploring the attic on his birthday, Max comes across an old mirror there. No ordinary mirror either – this one is ‘magic’ – it can turn you invisible!

At first it’s fun playing now you see me, now you don’t. But soon Max and his friends realise something scary is happening. They’re not controlling the mirror. It’s controlling them!

This is yet another of those Goosebumps plots that I think would make for a great, grown-up horror film and for all I know, maybe it already HAS been done. It wouldn’t be the first time that Stine has riffed on an existing horror concept. As it is though, we have to join Max, his irritating brother Lefty, and his friends Zack, April and Erin. After Max’s birthday party (where a bunch of twelve year-olds watch The Terminator – superb parenting there), the group decide to explore the attic in the Max’s house. Like most people’s attics (we call them “lofts” here in the UK), it’s full of old crap but there’s also a door concealed behind a load of old boxes.

Naturally, the room behind the door holds a mysterious mirror that can turn you invisible. Because that’s what all creepy attics are like, right? The group quickly discover that standing before the glass and switching on the attached light turns whoever is standing beneath said light invisible. With invisibility being such a great power with so many possibilities, it’s good to see that the boys in the group immediately think of a noble application for them.

“I wonder if we could go downstairs and still be invisible,” I said. “I wonder if we could leave the house like this.”

“And go and spy on people?” Lefy suggested.

“Yeah,” I said. I yawned. I was starting to feel a little strange. “We could go and spy on girls and stuff.”

“Cool,” Lefty replied.

Unfortunately, the rest of the book is a bit of a slow-burner. The friends take it in turns to get their invisibility on and compete to see who can stay invisible the longest. Y’see, the longer one is invisible for, the longer it takes for them to reappear once the mirror’s light is switched off again. Despite the dangers and despite the fact that they are all knowingly messing with something that they have no clue about, the kids continue to play with the mirror, even when it becomes apparent that remaining invisible for a longer period of time causes them to feel all ‘light’ and as if they are drifting away.

Most of the book is Max deciding to never get invisible again then caving in from the pressure of his friends, especially the ultra-competitive Zack. It goes back and forth like this for a while with these kids not just throwing caution to the wind but firing it in with a high-powered cannon.

But I guess it’s easy to roll the eyes at their naivete as an adult. If I was twelve or in my early teens again, I’m pretty sure I’d be well up for being invisible so that I could scare the shit out of people or sneak into girls’ changing rooms.

But that’s no excuse for the fact that this book just doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere quickly which isn’t necessarily a problem for fiction in general but it is when a Goosebumps book is quite thin and short work to get through. The finale is quite sinister with Zack and Erin being sucked into the mirror, their places in reality taken by their reflections. The reflections force Max into the mirror so that his other self can also escape but Max manages to resist and the mirror gets smashed, releasing the real Zack and Erin and sucking the reflections back in. It just feels as if this ending could have been so much more exciting but instead it’s crammed into the final few chapters. The origins of the mirror are never explained either.

Overall, it was a decent enough read but I just wish the book had spent less time on the false scares and more pages on the mirror’s dark abilities.

The Cover

Not one of my favourites to be honest. The hands coming out of the mirror behind Max are pretty cool but Max looks like a girl here and I can’t tell whether he’s terrified or having the time of his life.

The incredibly dated bit

We compromised. We played Twister . Then watched some of the Terminator video until it was time to eat.

You can’t GET much more 90’s than Twister and videotapes!

The nostalgia rating

I recalled the basic plot of Let’s Get Invisible! but I don’t really have any memories of the book so I would have to say that the ‘feels’ were pretty mild with this one. It was one of those Goosebumps books that I probably only read once whereas I read many of the others multiple times over.

Up Next: Night of the Living Dummy