Let’s NOT stay connected [Part 2]

Some time ago now, I wrote about the hassle of mobile phones and how I cannot stand being contactable at any time no matter where I am. If you missed that angry, anti-social rant then you can read it here. Unfortunately, things have gotten worse since then…much, much worse.

Now I am being hassled to join a work’s WhatsApp group. This is apparently going to be a good idea and allow the department to remain connected (*shudder*) and ditch the slower methods of text messages and those dusty old things from yesteryear that we knew as “phone calls”. For a stubborn, introverted S.O.B like me, the idea of my phone continuously pinging with work chatter or teh funniez isn’t fun at all. It’s absolute HELL and an inconvenient nuisance that I simply do not want to invite into my life. If you’re the kind of person that embraces all of this kind of shit and think Whatsapp is a cool thing then you’re probably thinking, “what the fuck is this weirdo going on about?”

So let me just break this down rather than attempt to form flowy paragraphs of justification:

  1. I hate work. I don’t want to talk about it any more than is necessary and I am confident in betting money on a work’s WhatsApp NOT shutting the fuck up once our shift(s) is over.
  2. I’m really not interested in pointless small talk or sharing humorous gifs or memes.
  3. I don’t want the hassle of being expected to reply to stuff.
  4. I don’t want the intrusion into my personal time/space.
  5. As I said in Part 1, any time somebody calls me while I’m working, it’s usually related to problems, disasters or shit that has gone wrong. I REALLY don’t want more of this when I’m trying to get my job done.

As I said earlier, I am an introverted person. I intend to hopefully make some more posts on this (often misunderstood) personality type sometime in the near future but suffice to say, we don’t enjoy this sort of thing and we certainly don’t find the idea of being connected something to get excited about.

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I would much rather turn my phone off completely and be done with it all as soon as possible. The world aggravates me. People aggravate me. That might sound cold and monstrously anti-social but I simply have a limited amount of energy for socialising and have to expend it all during the day dealing with customers and work colleagues. Anything extra on top of that is genuinely a big ask which is why I have zero interest in joining a Whatsapp group and getting involved in any more chatter than is necessary.

This isn’t me saying that I hate my work colleagues or don’t want to talk to people. It’s actually the opposite. I get on with the people I work with and there’s a part of me that wishes I was more extroverted (because it’s difficult being an introvert in an extrovert’s world) but I’m not and I’ve learnt from experience that fighting your natural personality (as opposed to accepting it) only causes greater despair and misery.

But sometimes it seems that society won’t let you just be you. Resisting the WhatsApp conversion nets you odd looks or probing questions. I understand and expect this of course but I wish that “no” was enough. If I don’t want WhatsApp then I don’t want it. Leave me be.

Please.

My problem with “Hate Crimes”…

Yesterday I wrote about the movie, Blade Runner, a futuristic vision which is just one of many possible futures that we may well face. We can laugh about such movies now and brand them sci-fi fantasy nonsense but the downsides of corporate-controlled, heavily censored, technology-ruled, dystopian futures are very real and will be with us soon depending on how careful we are with our decision-making NOW. After all, self-aware computers such as HAL and Skynet were once “just” sci-fi but here we are, inviting smart technology such as Alexa into our homes and giving it increasing access to the controls. Do a quick search on the internet and you will already find stories of Alexa getting a little too smart. People are laughing about it now but for how much longer?

Anyway – as I said – the avoidance of such futures will be based on intelligent decision-making now but unfortunately, I don’t have any faith in our species to make those calculated choices. Every time I dare to look at the news I see the planet’s sanity slipping away bit by bit as my brothers and sisters persist with their determination to flush common sense down the toilet.

And it’s that key phrase – “Common Sense” – that links my waffling about Terminator-style futures and that bitch, Alexa, to so-called Hate Crimes (we got there in the end). What does any of that have to do with current social issues, I hear you ask? Well, it’s the same lack of common-sense when dealing with today’s social issues that will see us ruled by our washing machines at some point in the future. It’s one of those classic “where does it all end?” questions.

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[image: pearlsofprofundity.wordpress.com]
But first, what exactly IS a hate crime? Well, let me go straight to the top and retrieve the definition from our own Metropolitan Police website here in the UK.

“A hate crime is when someone commits a crime against you because of your disability, gender identity, race, sexual orientation, religion, or any other perceived difference.”

“It doesn’t always include physical violence. Someone using offensive language towards you or harassing you because of who you are, or who they think you are, is also a crime. The same goes for someone posting abusive or offensive messages about you online.”

And it goes further…

“A hate crime is defined as ‘Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s race or perceived race; religion or perceived religion; sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation; disability or perceived disability and any crime motivated by hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender.’

A hate incident is any incident which the victim, or anyone else, thinks is based on someone’s prejudice towards them because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or because they are transgender.

Not all hate incidents will amount to criminal offences, but it is equally important that these are reported and recorded by the police.

Evidence of the hate element is not a requirement. You do not need to personally perceive the incident to be hate related. It would be enough if another person, a witness or even a police officer thought that the incident was hate related.”

A prime example of our country’s definition of a hate crime was reported back in March (I meant to post about it sooner but quite honestly, couldn’t be bothered…) when a Catholic journalist made the mistake of referring to a transgender woman as a man on good old Twitter.

From MSN News:

“Caroline Farrow appeared on ITV’s Good Morning Britain alongside Susie Green, whose daughter Jackie Green is transgender, to discuss Girlguiding’s decision to let children who have changed their gender join the organisation.

On Tuesday Farrow tweeted that she did not “remember said tweets”, adding: “I probably said ‘he’ or ‘son’ or something. All I have been told is that following an appearance on Good Morning Britain I made some tweets misgendering Susie Green’s child and that I need to attend a taped interview.””

“Using the wrong pronoun could be an offence under the Malicious Communications Act, which makes it a crime to send messages that are indecent or grossly offensive, threatening, or contain information which is false or believed to be false, if the purpose for sending it is to cause distress or anxiety. Breaking the law carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.”

The first issue here is that I titled this post “My Problem with Hate Crimes…” when I really should have used the plural, ProblemS. If you’re of a calm, common-sense orientated mindset, as I am, then you will no doubt have picked up on them already after reading the quotes above. I wouldn’t want you to do all the work though so in the interests of not being lazy, here are the glaring faults as I see them:

  1. We are constantly being reminded to respect the faith and religious beliefs of others and I assume that NOT doing that would also be classed as a hate crime. With that in mind, why are Caroline Farrow’s CATHOLIC beliefs on the subject of gender change being criminalised?
  2. What part of this so-called “crime” was motivated by hostility or prejudice? Farrow later stated that she tries “really hard not to misgender people” and that’s despite her Catholic beliefs, let’s not forget. Anybody with a brain (a dying breed it would seem) would realise that she simply made a mistake when choosing her terminology on Twitter. I don’t believe for a second that there was any malice or deliberate attempt to defy the “victim”s transgender lifestyle by selecting the words “him” or “he”.
  3. We need to talk about this Malicious Communications Act because being sentenced for two years in prison for using the wrong pronoun is bonkers. I’ve heard of ACTUAL criminals getting less time for doing far worse. The positive side of the Act is that it deters internet trolls and low-level, neanderthal types from targeting specific people with racial or sexual slurs for the sole purpose of attacking them with words and causing psychological harm. This is GOOD. This is why such legislation was needed in the first place. The problem is that the definition of Hate Crimes becomes far too loose and grey around the edges as a result. In the case of the Caroline Farrow story, the wrong pronoun may have been used but it was an innocent mistake. Unfortunately it seems that even non-malicious errors potentially carry the same consequences as intentionally setting out to spread hate. My big issue here is that if the transgender “victim” still looks and sounds like their original sex then it is highly likely that you are going to accidentally refer to them by their original gender out of pure INSTINCT. It is a MISTAKE, not an intentional attack which brings me to my next point…
  4. When did everybody decide to become so incredibly sensitive? In my mind, the normal reaction to accidentally being referred to by your original sex would be either to calmly point out the mistake or simply accept that people make mistakes and will be doing so for some time to come. As long as that person didn’t purposely set out to offend or ridicule your life decisions then I see no issue. To me it seems that so many people are simply waiting to leap to irrational conclusions and are prepared to see attacks and hatred coming at them from every angle, like a tripped-out stoner having hallucinations of ten copies of the same person sharing a room with them.

I’m also not happy about the constant use of the word “perceived”. Rather than have concrete definitions of a crime, it’s as if the victim gets to make the judgment call on whether something was a crime or not. Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t that sort of thing for the police, a jury or a court judge to decide? After all, somebody might say the same thing to two different transgender people and one will shrug it off while the other defines it as a criminal act. You can’t do that with other types of crime such as murder or theft; it either happened or it didn’t. And of course, Perception loves to share a bed with Overreaction.

Oh and let’s not forget this little nugget from the police’s description of hate crime:

“Evidence of the hate element is not a requirement”

So now we have “crimes” that don’t require evidence? Fuck.

Obviously, it isn’t my intention here to play down genuine offences or the struggles that the transgender community face because I know it is happening right now, all over the world, and that some of the legitimate hostility is quite aggressive and foul. But is it so far-fetched to believe that some people are overreacting over simple mistakes when they should be saving their fight for the REAL haters? Is it a case of the overall cause being so important that common-sense and rationale need to be sacrificed at the altar of progression? I think we need to be careful. It’s brilliant that the law here in the UK is offering protection for these relatively new movements but it shouldn’t also offer a blank canvas for people to decide what is and isn’t a crime, making the perpertrators of genuine mistakes out to be bad human beings.

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[image: thewomensuniverse.com]
There’s also another issue here that I think needs to be brought into the light: the difference between accepting something and agreeing with it. I sometimes feel that people think in black-and-white and can’t understand that it’s possible to disagree with something and still accept it. I personally don’t agree with people changing their sex, especially when they are children well below the age where the law classes them as an adult. BUT I accept that this is happening and I wouldn’t dream of insulting a transgender person or taking the piss out of them. As far as I am concerned, it is their life and they can do what they like with it. They aren’t hurting anybody after all and I have always bought into the philosopy of doing what you need to do in order to be happy considering that our lives are short and can end at any time. After all, the haters can spew their bile and waste their energy but if it’s YOU who are happy with your life and the choices that have got you to that point then who really gets the last laugh?

But I can’t help but see people searching for injustice and actively seeking it out; twisting even the most minor of things into a full-blown outrage that deserves media coverage and a Twitter-storm so that like-minded self-victimisers can get together in the echo chambers of the internet, their numbers bolstered by hoardes of tag alongs that have nothing to do with the issue but want to look fashionable by liking or commenting on whatever is trending. And once all of that has escalated to Red Alert status and the furious meltdowns begin, the trivial root cause of all the screaming is forgotten and somebody who perhaps said the wrong word by mistake has already been metaphorically tried and executed by social media as the devil incarnate.

If you think I’m making too big of a deal out of it then read the following news excerpts and tell me that these aren’t the signs of a society descending into madness…a society where people are furious about everything and set on turning non-malicious errors of speech into criminal acts.

“In February, a teacher who was accused of misgendering a child was told by police that she had committed a hate crime.

The teacher reportedly refused to acknowledge that the pupil self-identified as a boy and failed to use the pupil’s preferred pronouns of “he” or “him”.

Okay, I can only half give this one because the teacher in question did actively refuse to acknowledge the pupil but even so…how do we know that the student in question hadn’t just decided off their own (non-adult) back to “be” a boy? Is it fair to call this a hate crime? Is it right to force society to agree with it and not give the option to retain an opinion?

“Last year, it was reported that a teacher was suing a school after he faced disciplinary action for referring to a transgender pupil as a girl.

Joshua Sutcliffe, from Oxford, said he was investigated after he said “well done, girls” to a group that included a student who identifies as a boy.”

In this case, this has to have been a simple mistake. Let’s face it, if you were teaching a class of girls, wouldn’t it be easy – understandable, even – to accidentally forget that one of them identified as a boy? Let’s not forget that “identifying” as a boy doesn’t mean that you actually look like one so the mistake would be even easier to make. Finally, did the pupil even tell the teacher/school that they identified as a boy or did they use witheld/private knowledge after the so-called “incident” to retroactively lodge a complaint? This one is ridiculous as far as I’m concerned. Teachers shouldn’t have to go and do their job (difficult enough anyway with budget cuts and lack of discipline amongst school-age children these days) and then have to deal with this bullshit on top. I would ask those who are offended to put themselves in the position of the teacher and look at the situation from a different perspective, their own beliefs set to one side for a moment…

“Last October, a transgender lawyer launched the UK’s first “deadnaming” case in the high court against Father Ted’s screenplay writer after he referred to her using her birth name. The transgender activist Stephanie Hayden is suing Graham Linehan, the co-writer of the comedy TV series, for defamation and harassment after he allegedly published a series of tweets “deliberately misgendering” her by using her previous male name, otherwise known as “deadnaming”.

Hayden said Linehan “caused her distress” and that his actions constituted harassment, a misuse of private information, and were a “gross affront to her dignity as a woman”.

So now we have “deadnaming” too? And our old friend, Perception as well as that amazing word “allegedly”. We don’t know that Linehan intentionally used Hayden’s original name in his tweets. Could it simply be a conclusion that was leapt to without even asking Linehan? There’s no concrete evidence or fact to this one and yet it warranted a court case and the extreme terms of “defamation”, “harassment”, “distress” and a “gross affront”. How about that misuse of private information? The original name of a TV actor that was already out there in the public eye and no-doubt in the end credits of many TV episodes? Come on: get real here. Maybe Linehan DID do it on purpose but if he didn’t, I bet he was sitting there thinking “huh?” and wondering what kind of parallel universe he’d fallen into during his sleep.

And that’s about all I can stomach, I’m afraid. The whole hate crime thing is deeply flawed and far too open to any old rumours and personal perceptions being classified as criminal acts. There is well-meaning there and I am 100% in agreement that unnecessary prejudice and hate is out there and a real obstacle. But how about this: save the energy and passion for taking down the REAL hate-speakers, not the poor guy who saw a woman, didn’t know that ‘she’ identified as a man and ended up having to take a police interview for an honest mistake that anybody would make.

I need to go now anyway. I have to complete the move into my new house:

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[image: stevehamiltonphoto.com]

Movie Talk: Blade Runner (1982)

BR-1Release Year: 1982  |  Directed By: Ridley Scott  |  Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward Hames Elmos, Daryl Hannah

I don’t suppose that there’s much more to be said about Blade Runner by this point so this review is probably redundant (and certainly thirty-seven years too late) but what the hell. I fancied watching something the other night and chose this from the DVD collection that most certainly needs trimming as part of my ongoing battle against materialism. I watched the ‘Final Cut’ version, if that’s important. It’s the only version I have ever seen so unfortunately, I’m not privy to any knowledge on the changes/additions that were made over the original theatrical release. This is turning out to be a useless review isn’t it? *ahem*

Anyway, Blade Runner is set in the ‘future’ of 2019. Looking out of my window as I type this, I can’t see the flying police cars, towering buildings or giant neon advertising signs but then again, I don’t live in LA where Blade Runner is set so who knows. This future is loaded with technology and wondrous advancement but at the same time, the film depicts nothing but urban decay and slum-like living with the populance crammed into tight streets. Further, The Tyrell Corporation has developed bioengineered human-like beings known as Replicants to do the dirty/dangerous work of humans. The Replicants are a perfect mimicry of man and are even capable of developing human emotions over time. Explained in the movie’s intro, there is a rebellion amongst Replicants working on an off-world colony and they are thus made illegal back on Earth but a small group manage to steal a shuttle and successfully make it to Earth.

Harrison Ford plays Deckard, a special type of police officer known as a Blade Runner, whose role is to hunt down Replicants hiding in society and “retire” them.

As the plot progresses, Blade Runner explores several philosophical themes with the most obvious being the morality of playing God and creating life. There is also the question of whether it is right to create beings that are more or less human with their own personalities but then treat them as disposable appliances or slaves and kill (or “retire”) them without a second thought. It’s 2019 now and artificial intelligence/man-made “people” hasn’t quite happened yet as in the world of Blade Runner BUT we are getting there at a rapid rate and so I suppose these themes have turned out to be the most relevant since this movie released in ’82. In other words, the content of movies like Blade Runner and The Terminator aren’t necessarily just sci-fi entertainment anymore but real possibilities that throw up questions and potential concerns for the near future.

Looking at Wikipedia, there are (apparently) other themes running through Blade Runner including religion, Deckard’s morality, paranoia and even literary influences. I didn’t really pick up on most of these myself and I don’t mind because for me, Blade Runner is all about the visuals and world design.

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[image: BFI.org]
I mentioned the “urban decay” look before but Blade Runner really does paint a miserable, grim future. It’s always dark and pouring with heavy rain, tight streets are choked with people pushing past one another and seediness is around every corner. There is a police presence everywhere and corporations rule supreme with enormous advertising boards and airships with giant video screens beaming more advertising down from above. There is definitely a dystopian feeling to Blade Runner but I really like it and drank in the exhaustive detail of the sets. The Asian influence with the neon advertising boards and abundance of oriental-looking civilians wearing wide-brimmed conical straw hats doesn’t really make much sense to me but it kind of fits the futuristic vision somehow.

Blade Runner is one of the original influences of all things cyber-punk and many, many forms of entertainment – books, videogames, movies – have mimicked the dark, wet and neon look. This is where it all began however and the impressive thing is how believable the sets and special effects still look considering the age of the film. The take-off and landing of the flying “spinner” police cars for example look far better than you might expect them to for a 1982 film.

There are lots of things to like about Blade Runner but for me, the movie is all about the look and the vision of a technological future. It’s why I enjoyed it the first time round and why I still enjoy it now. The only negative in my opinion is the somewhat abrupt and open-ended conclusion that leaves the viewer to decide what happens next. I know that many appreciate these sorts of “thinking man’s” endings but I personally don’t. Other than that, Blade Runner is a sci-fi classic that deserves its status. I’m definitely interested in watching the recent sequel now too.

Book Talk: My Stephen King Top 5

I don’t particularly like doing Top Fives anymore because I genuinely believe that such countdowns are lazy and cheap ways of pumping out content. Sometimes however, you just want a greasy, fatty take-out meal over a proper dining experience. Or perhaps you find your eyes drawn to the woman in the tracksuit rather than the glammed-up lady in the stunning evening dress. Awful analogies aside, I am going to be cheap today and do a Top Five.

If you read my review on Peter Swanson’s The Kind Worth Killing, you may be aware that am finally branching out into the works of authors other than Stephen King. With this in mind, I decided that I would share my five favourite King books since I have read almost every one by this point. I’m not done with Stephen King at all but it’s time for a break and time to broaden my horizons when it comes to fiction.

There’s no order to this list by the way; these are the five that I enjoyed the most and have read several times as a result.

1. Needful Things (1991)

need-1Needful Things was supposed to the “end” of King’s fictional town of Castle Rock and the book’s conclusion certainly supported that promise. However, the author has recently returned to the ‘Rock with Elevation and Gwendy’s Button Box (the latter set in the past to be fair) so who knows. Regardless, this book follows my favourite Stephen King formula: richly-detailed small town life from the perspectives of multiple characters. The reader gets to know the various characters (plus their deepest secrets) before all paths finally cross for a dramatic finale. Central to the story is the evil Leland Gaunt and his shop, the titular ‘Needful Things’. Gaunt exploits the desires and fears of the townspeople to turn everybody against one another and incite destruction and chaos. The way he masterfully manipulates the residents makes for excellent reading and the dark playfulness of his sinister antics is a joy to witness. For me, Gaunt is up there with Randall Flagg as one of the best villains in a Stephen King book. As for Needful Things as a whole, it represents the ‘old’ style of Stephen King where the pieces (in this case, the people) are carefully and lovingly crafted before a giant fist is slammed against the playing board, upsetting everything as the plot threads converge. It’s a real shame that this style of King storytelling isn’t as frequent anymore but 2017’s Sleeping Beauties (co-written with son, Owen King) was at least very reminiscent of these types of book.

2. Joyland (2013)

joy-1I haven’t reviewed Joyland here on Unfiltered Opinion but I did review it over on my other blog back when I thought it was a good idea to add variety to a videogame-focused blog by talking about books and B-Movies (spoilers: I quickly regretted the idea). You can find the complete review here but I will quote a portion of my own words here to summarise Joyland.

“The story is short but powerful and contains a small splash of the supernatural but is largely grounded in reality and tells the story of Devin Jones, a young college student who takes a summer job at a carnival-style amusement park called Joyland. It is there that he meets new friends, has new experiences and tries to move on from the first girl to break his heart. There is a central plot strand running through Joyland that focuses on a series of unsolved, heartless murders – the last one occuring at Joyland – that Devin finds himself investigating but this isn’t really the main premise of the book.

Joyland is actually a story about love, being young and foolish and growing up. We’ve all been there at Devin’s age and through his eyes I was able to recall my own similar experiences, thoughts and heartache. I found that I really cared about the characters in this book – Devin especially – and wanted the best ending for them but as we know from real life, the ideal isn’t always possible and our naive, young selves have to learn these lessons along the road.”

I didn’t know what to expect from a Stephen King book with a pulp-style cover published under the Hard Case Crime label but it turned out to be one of the best ones I have read thus earning it a place on this list. Usually it’s the more monolithic epics that I can’t get enough of but Joyland proved that small can be beautiful when it’s perfectly formed.

3. Christine (1983)

chris-1Being a fan of cars and classic steel in particular, I was always going to be drawn to a book that revolved around a car. The fact that Christine is an evil, sentient killer car was the icing on the cake. The basic plot of a car coming to life and murdering people sounds dumb and comical, almost like something you’d have read in a Goosebumps book as a kid but Christine is so much more than that. While it’s true that the book IS about the car, the bulk of the storytelling revolves around the nerdy, unpopular Arnie Cunningham who buys Christine – a derelict ’58 Plymouth Fury – and gradually falls under the car’s evil spell. Arnie’s personality slowly morphs into that of the car’s previous owner, the unsavoury Roland LeBay, and he transforms from an awkward highschool loser into an angry, bitter and unpleasant young man in a symbiotic relationship with his car. Everybody around Arnie is inevitably drawn into the swirling vortex of evil radiating from Arnie, Christine and their pooled “unending fury”. The book is just so well-written and you can’t help but love the characters – both the good and bad – and there is a nostalgic throwback to teenage life in the 70’s. Christine is one of Stephen King’s oldest works but remains a solid favourite of mine.

[side note: the John Carpenter movie adaptation is well worth checking out. It cuts a lot of the detail from the book (as you’d expect) and changes a few scenes but overall, it is an authentic representation of the characters and the tone of the book]

4. IT

it-1Where do you do begin with this enormous book? IT is probably more well known for its two big-screen adaptations and Tim Curry’s famous performance as the evil clown, Pennywise. The original book however is the best as far as I am concerned. It focuses on a group of friends from the recurring town of Derry and flicks between their childhood years and the present where they, as adults, return to Derry to finish the battle with the evil that they fought once before as children. The genius of IT (as I saw it anyway) was that you got the superlative, almost gratuitous descriptive writing of King, supernatural horror and the perspectives of children and their concept of fear – all in one tale. Viewing the world through the eyes of the characters as children brings back a lot of memories of how we probably saw the world and our fears as minors – hence Pennywise the clown. Some have criticised the book’s finale for losing the plot completely and it’s easy to see why that might be. The evil infecting Derry takes the form of a giant spider in the sewers beneath the town and defeating it the first time involved the children all having sex with the only female member of their gang (really). For me though, IT is one of the best of Stephen King’s sprawling epics, up there with The Stand and Under The Dome. As a bonus, there is a very brief blink-and-you’ll-miss-it implied cameo from Christine.

5. The Eyes of the Dragon (1987)

DSC_0180I reviewed this book here on Unfiltered Opinion not too long ago after reading it for the second time. I recalled being pleasantly surprised with The Eyes of the Dragon the first time around purely because it was further below the radar than most big-hitting Stephen King books and yet I enjoyed it immensely. I expected a cooler response to it the second time around but found myself surprised again. It turned out that I liked it even more despite all of the excellent Stephen King books I had read since my first journey to Delain and the sinister mechanations of the evil sorcerer, Randall Flagg. This is one of the few examples of Stephen King doing fantasy in a classic medievil-style setting but perhaps he should have ventured there more often because Eyes is simply fantastic. Most of the book’s appeal stems from the villainous Flagg and how King writes him. To quote my own review of the book…

“King’s infamous villain is central to this book’s plot and – outside of The Stand and The Dark Tower – is his most major role which makes The Eyes of the Dragon‘s “lesser” status in Stephen King’s back catalogue even more of a shame. Here, Flagg is a sorcerer and advisor to the King of Delain, plotting chaos, anarchy and destruction through intelligent manipulation and deception. He poisons the King and successfully convinces everybody that his son, Peter, is the culprit. Flagg is afraid of Peter’s good-hearted nature, strong will and keen perception – traits that would make it impossible for Flagg to maintain his toxic influence over the throne and to put his plans for Delain into action. With Peter safely imprisoned for a murder he didn’t commit, his younger brother Thomas inherits the throne. Thomas is a bitter boy with far less wits about him who relies on Flagg completely to make decisions and be a King. Thus it is Flagg who rules Delain through Thomas, finally having his opportunity to begin unleashing darkness on the people.

Flagg should be an utterly one-dimensional villain. He is, after all, pure evil without a shred of goodness within, flying in the face of the concept of balance which says that nobody can ever be one-hundred percent good or evil. Flagg is disease and plague personified; a malevolent demon in human form who lives to destroy, ignite apocalyptic anarchy and incite mass bloodshed – all for his own entertainment. As rotten as Flagg is however, King writes him in such a playful manner that you can’t help but like him.”

I feel that this is the wildcard of my Top Five; a book that shouldn’t be here ahead of certain other big names from King’s back catalogue but it is impossible for me to deny my adoration for Eyes of the Dragon so here it is.

Honourable Mentions…

Ten other books from Stephen King that came very close to making my Top Five.

  • Salem’s Lot
  • The Stand: Complete and Uncut Edition
  • The Dark Half
  • Desperation
  • 11.22.63
  • Under The Dome
  • Mr Mercedes
  • Skeleton Crew
  • Bag of Bones
  • From a Buick 8

Giving Materialism the boot

It’s been a short while since I lasted posted but unfortunately, I had a small dosage of writer’s block. Additionally, I am also suffering with My-Back-Is-Fucked-itis 2: The Sequel which, let me tell you, is not enjoyable. To snatch a silver lining from a particularly black and moody stormcloud, I am now off work for a few days in order to recover and this means I have some time to get my writing back on.

So let’s fucking do this.

Today I am going to talk about materialism, specifically my determination to kick it to the gutter. It’s an affliction that one doesn’t recognise even when it’s right before their eyes and there are many reasons for this. Further, materialism is also widely classed as a negative personal value since it contributes little to your life. Obviously, a little materialism isn’t necessarily something to get freaked out about but as with all things in life, there has to be balance and moderation or else it is probable that another department in your life is out of whack.

mag1For me, the first reason that I am materialistic is because I’m a hoarder; a magpie who loves shiny things. Even worse, I am a big geek with a large collection of videogames, books, DVDs and all that shit. With the videogames, I was once obsessed with ensuring that I picked up collector’s editions, original prints and complete (i.e boxed with all original instructions, paperwork etc.) copies with the view that I would eventually get around to playing them all “some day” (such a magical phrase!). Problem is though, I can easily spend over a hundred hours on a good role-playing game so the reality is, I am never going to get around to playing everything I have bought meaning that at least 80% of my collection sits on shelves or in storage crates, gathering dust. There’s also the question of replayability and whether I would REALLY ever revisit something I’ve already beaten.

Moving onto books, it’s pretty much the same thing. I have a burning need to make sure that I have the first edition hardback copies in excellent condition. It costs more money and those hardbacks take up a LOT of space. The main problem with a swollen bookshelf is that I am unlikely to revisit a large chunk of those books even if I enjoyed them. For as many books as I have read, there is an ocean of other good reads out there and I intend to dip my toes in that ocean rather than remaining in my literary comfort zone. Also, great books that rely on incredible plot twists or mystery tend to blow their load like a male pornstar on that first read and as a result, often sacrifice their ability to provide the same rush on a repeat reading. It’s okay to say that you enjoyed these books but not revisit them. One such example that immediately springs to mind (and has ended up in my growing stack of stuff to get shot of) is Stephen King’s The Outsider. This was a fantastic page-turner but once you know what happens then the mystery is gone.

DVD’s are another space-waster and I tend to keep what I think I would 100% watch again but as I look through my collection, I find so many that are covered in dust and haven’t been viewed in several years, despite my best intentions. Again, it’s okay to say that you enjoyed a movie but keeping copies of every single DVD around “just in case” hasn’t turned out to be a great idea.

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A tiny snapshot of my videogame hoarding. These shelves are two layers deep and full of stuff I haven’t inserted into a console in years.

There is a second reason that materialism has crept up on me over the years and this is where I have to simply cut the bullshit and get straight to the point in true Unfiltered Opinion style. I collect things because it distracts from my real problems. Materialism is akin to a mask or smokescreen with the items and collections providing an illusion of comfort and something to waste away your time and attention on rather than dealing with real life issues.

With this in mind, I have decided that now is the time for an utterly brutal clear-out. I want a tidier, more streamlined living space that leans more towards minimalism. There is also a lot of money tied up in some of these things, especially the videogames, some of which have appreciated in value over the years thanks to a buoyant collector’s market. And having more money is always a helpful thing. Y’see, aside from the obsessions I have already spoken about, I also collect trading cards and have an appetite for performance cars, both of which aren’t cheap interests. I would much rather have just the one type of nerdy collecting habit so that I can focus on my car and my own life. As I said, some materialism isn’t necessarily bad but it has to be moderated and if that means cashing in on several defunct hobbies/collections in order to reduce it down to just the one then so be it.

Of course, anybody who has tried to do this before knows that letting go of shit is difficult if you have developed the hoarder mentality. Sentimentality is one of the biggest hurdles but I find that guilt over throwing out gifts or old presents is the tougher obstacle. On top of these nasties, you are also dealing with the fear of not being able to acquire X item ever again once it’s gone as well as trying to break free of this detrimental mindset of running away from root problems to bury your head in material possessions.

So I scoured the internet and various blogs to find the best tips for slaying materialism and leading a more minimalist life. Here is what I have compiled thus far; the wisdom that I will continually be referring to while I attempt to let go of stuff.

  • Love or associated memories of a person/event are not in the items themselves. They are in us and our memories. Taking and archiving a photo of an item before getting rid of it is enough.
  • Worst case scenario: I can always buy something again if I really need it down the line.
  • Keeping useful items to save wasting them is a waste in itself. A waste because other people could be using those items.
  • Ask “if I didn’t have this item, how much would I pay to get it?”. If the answer is “nothing” then you can let go of it because it is worth “nothing” to you.
  • Does it add any value to my life? Do I feel any kind of spark when holding the item? If not then I am simply stuck holding onto the past.
  • Always keep your ultimate life goals and dreams in mind. If these items won’t help you get there and don’t bring any joy then they can go.
  • If you own too much stuff then your stuff will own YOU.

So I’m going to give this a go. At the time of typing out this post, I have already piled up a load of stuff that I never thought I would let go of and despite the fact that it is still here in the house, I honestly have no regrets about pulling these items out and have no itch to put them back before it’s “too late”. Some stuff is already listed on ebay and I have many more areas to scrutinise and collections to slim down.

I have come to firmly believe that materialism is a bad thing and one of the largest problems in Western society that is rarely spoken about in the mainstream. Probably because the mainstream is so busy trying to sell us more crap and ‘fashionable’ products that won’t really enhance our wellbeing – just keep us drugged up on entertainment and gadgets so that we remain content and believing that we are happy (we aren’t).

Tried this yourself? I would love to hear about your experiences with battling materialism and the methods you used.

Comic Book Talk: The Amazing Spiderman – New Ways To Die [ASM #568-573]

The six-part “New Ways To Die” storyline in Amazing Spiderman is sort of a bookmark for me as this is when I stopped following Marvel’s most famous hero and ceased consuming Marvel comics in general. I’d simply gotten burnt out on the massive crossovers and wasn’t too crazy about some of the things that had happened in the Marvel universe. Sometimes I have a peek at some of the events that have happened since 2008 and I have to say that I won’t be returning to the fold any time soon.

In any case, New Ways To Die was a nice place to conclude. I was genuinely enjoying the Brand New Day arc that returned the tone of Amazing to that of the 60’s/70’s where Peter Parker’s life wasn’t so dark, miserable and tied-in with the rest of the Marvel universe. It allowed for some much-loved support characters such as Betty Brant, Ben Ulrich and Harry Osborn to return. BND also saw the return of simpler stories while nurturing some ongoing plot threads in the background.

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New Ways To Die sees the Thunderbolts, led by Norman Osborn, travel to New York to take down Spiderman, who is being implicated in a series of murders – killings that have all featured one of his spider tracer devices at the scene of the crime. Behind the scenes, it is candidate for the mayor’s office, Randall Crowne, who brings in Osborn and his team to eliminate Spiderman in the interests of boosting his election campaign. Dexter Bennet of the DB newspaper (formerly the Daily Bugle) is on smear duties, putting the Spiderman serial killer story on the front pages at Crowne’s behest.

All of this is just the backdrop and part of the ongoing Brand New Day storyline as are the appearances of Goblin-esque ‘Menace’ who has notable encounters with Spiderman and the OG Goblin of them all, Osborn.

The real attractions of this storyline are Osborn being as evil and calculating as ever and the emergence of a brand-new symbiote. Eddie Brock – the original Venom – is now trying to live out his final days as a cancer sufferer, helping a New York food shelter in order to make amends for his actions as a supervillain. Unfortunately, the (then) current Venom – Mac Gargan – encounters Brock at the shelter when hunting Spiderman and Eddie suddenly transforms into a new white-coloured symbiote, suitably dubbed Anti Venom. It was great to see Brock as a symbiote again and I really liked the design of Anti Venom. For me, there was only ever one Venom and the Mac Gargan incarnation of the character was something I never truly warmed to.

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Another major treat throughout this six issue run was John Romita Jr’s superb artwork. I have always been a big fan of J.R. Jr ever since first seeing his work on Spiderman in the 90’s and it looks better and better as the years pass. I know many don’t agree but I love his take on the symbiotes with their extending limbs, huge demonic mouths and almost comical abilities so it was a joy to see him illustrate the debut of Anti Venom. Heck, I didn’t even really mind Gargan when drawn in his style.

The battles are illustrated superbly and the interactions between Spiderman and Norman Osborn are fantastic, especially seeing as how Osborn looks and sounds as evil as ever here. He has brought the Thunderbolts in for a reason but really, he just wants to get at Spiderman himself. As a result of BND, Norman no longer knows Spiderman’s secret identity and this allows for a little bit of cat and mouse between him, Peter and Peter’s alter ego.

Overall, this was a very fun run of Amazing Spiderman that continued the Brand New Day trend of injecting much-needed life and raw entertainment into the book. The artwork is first class and Anti Venom was an excellent debut character that put Eddie Brock back in the picture at long last. Upon re-reading these issues, I’m even tempted to pick up some more Amazing from this era and perhaps even re-acquire the issues that led up to New Ways To Die from the very start of Brand New Day. That’s the power of a good comic book.

Desensitisation to violence

I currently have a large list of topics and ideas for posts that I will hopefully be getting around to in the coming weeks (if anybody is interested that is) but I wanted to put them all to the side and talk about this – something serious – for today’s post. The growing desensitisation to violence and cruelty in our society. It’s something I’ve noticed more and more as the years pass and quite honestly, it concerns me. Perhaps it shouldn’t but it does. And I think more people should sit up and take notice of what’s going on because there are many questions that can and should be asked.

I’m talking about indifference to the latest terrorist attack wherever it happens. A bomb obliterates a marketplace of innocent people in some far off Middle Eastern country? Shrug of the shoulders. No surprise there. Carry on watching Netflix.

An unhinged teenager brings a machine gun to show-and-tell day and fills his classmates with bullets just because “nobody liked him” or a girl turned him down for prom. Yawn. Seen it all before. Show me something new.

A woman is raped and brutally murdered on parkland simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whatever; it happens all the time. Push it down to the minor news items so that we can focus on the real news. Who is illicitly shagging who in showbiz for instance or how Kim K’s butt looked in public this week.

I get it. There’s nothing that getting upset or overthinking on stories like these will achieve. We are constantly bombarded with terrible news on a daily basis and so it is probably only natural that we can only be shocked by so much before the shocking gradually loses its ability to deliver a gut punch. Further, it’s easy to look at awful things happening in faraway locales and not feel threatened by it because of all that space between us and them. It’s a luxury of the western world that shouldn’t be forgotten.

But often I am seeing fun being made of atrocities and savage violence; horrific, needless losses of life being trivialised and accepted as ‘normal’. Don’t get me wrong: I can take a joke and see the logic in laughing so that you don’t cry but I see this desensitisation being taken too far, too often. Nowhere is this more prevalant than with school shootings in the US. These are some of the worst things I have ever seen reported on TV: innocent children being shot to pieces for no crime other than attending school. Young lives cut short for no good reason and families/friends destroyed. I see these events unfold on the news here in the UK and it genuinely breaks my heart…and I’m far from a weepy, emotional sap – believe me.

Others clearly don’t feel the same though. I recently watched the video for Foster The People’s Pumped Up Kicks on Youtube (a song that alludes to school shootings) and the comments section was interesting to say the least.

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I don’t believe that any of these people mean malice or are necessarily “bad” people. Also, this is a music video and not a political/social battleground so I wouldn’t EXPECT serious discussion. However, do these comments reflect a general lack of respect to the results of school shootings? Are these people US citizens poking fun at these horrible tragedies that are occuring in their own country? It’s one thing to be unable to react emotionally to attacks in foreign countries but in your own? Obviously this is Youtube and the internet so we can’t assume contributers’ locations.

But why is it that we – as a society – are able to make fun of apalling acts of murder and act so indifferent to them? I personally believe that it’s down to the “it won’t happen to me” mindset that too many of us have. We feel safe in the west even though we know that murders and shootings are happening in our midst. There’s also the fact that we are “drugged up” on entertainment and non-important life content. It is all too easy for us to shut out life’s horrors and bury our heads in videogames, movies and the internet. Sometimes, it’s the real world that feels like the fiction while the fluff and materialistic things have a greater power to offend or anger us.

Even so, try explaining your latest school shooting joke as “harmless fun” to somebody whose daughter was shot dead at high school. Inform the friends of a dead highschooler that they can’t “take a joke” after they get upset at the latest fatal shooting spawning “witty” humour. To me, it’s wrong. People are only able to come out with this stuff because they personally haven’t been the victim of a similar attack. I really hope they don’t ever have to experience it for themselves but if they did, I imagine that the laughing and clever jokes would stop.

Sometimes I look around and wonder how we got to this point so quickly. I don’t doubt that bad taste humour has always been around (because it has) but the millennial generation have taken to it like a duck to water and continually push the boundaries. Then I wonder to myself: how much worse will it get? How much are we prepared to laugh about? Children are growing up with shootings, stabbings and brutal killings being the norm thanks to a media that is determined to broadcast them to us on a rolling twenty four hour news feed. If it’s no longer out of the ordinary then how will it shock?

In my mind, it all comes back to our lives being too easy with no real hardships. Yes, we all experience suffering to different degrees for various, personal reasons but we are all fortunate nonetheless. If we lived in war-torn countries then I doubt we would be posting amusing memes about death on social media. Was WWII funny for the generation who being called up and sent to their probable deaths in trenches? I doubt it.

I’m not really sure where I intended to finish up with this post. All I can say in conclusion is that this desensitisation to violence is disheartening and unhealthy. I hope that attitudes might change but I think that the indifference is only set to grow.