So, we went to the moon…

2019 marks fifty years since man first set foot on the moon. It was an extraordinary achievement and a huge moment for our species, the magnitude of which I think is often taken for granted these days. The mathematics and engineering behind the mission were incredible. The same can be said for the mission structure and how such a meticulously-devised operation was pulled off as planned, with the crew all returning to Earth safely.

It was such a big moment for a species that had, less than a hundred years previous, still been traversing the globe aboard wooden ships reliant on wind. Neil Armstrong’s famous quote of “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” was the perfect way to summarise what NASA’s scientists and  – by extension – the human race had achieved.

I will sometimes look up at the moon and remind myself that men have been up there and walked on that far-off surface. Even now, it still strikes me as surreal, as if such a thing should belong firmly in the realm of fantasy.

Earthrise1

But when I then think of what we have achieved as a race since 1969, I cannot help but wonder if we have stalled somewhat. Obviously, things have been achieved – too many to list, in fact. We have had so many breakthroughs in regards to technology, medicine, science and the understanding of our planet, for example.

But we haven’t (in my opinion) done anything nearly as momentous as breaking free of the Earth’s gravity and successfully landing on an alien surface. If the moon landing was considered a precursor to even bigger and previously unthinkable achievements to follow, then I don’t believe we have lived up to that potential.

Instead, our “advancements” have been all about bigger and better ways to entertain our brains; more ways to sell products and services to the populance; new ways to make money; better methods of numbing our brains and, of course, more efficient ways to kill each other. In short, we have done a damn good job of increasing the comfort level of our lives and extending our life expectancy but we’ve not really taken many major steps towards propelling the human race to greater heights. In fact, you could even say that we have regressed in many ways. Take a look at what people are complaining about on social media or what the latest “big” news stories are and ask yourself just how important any of this shit is in the grand scheme of things. It’s quite sobering.

We’ve also trapped ourselves with our systems of money and finance. When NASA had its funding cut in the wake of the financial crisis, for example, it meant that research into projects that could push man forward was compromised. So we sacrifice progress to protect money and the economy; man-made concepts that actually hold us back. The focus is on the rich getting richer, the elite protecting their position(s) and the struggle for power. None of this is helpful in the big picture sense. It’s all dick-waving and greed that feeds short-term ambition and selfish gain. And all of these gains will mean nothing when the recipients are dead and buried.

The truth is, we could probably achieve a hell of a lot more if we just DID things rather than holding back because of funding problems or because of opposition. Obviously, this is all necessary to a degree if we wish to maintain order and a functioning society but even so, it’s something to think about. I think so anyway.

Book Review: IT (Stephen King, 1985)

DSC_0498Year: 1985
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: New English Library (version reviewed)
Format: Paperback (version reviewed)
Pages: 1116 (version reviewed)
ISBN: 0450411435

“To the children, the town was their whole world. To the adults, knowing better, Derry, Maine was just their home town: familiar, well-ordered for the most part. A good place to live.

It was the children who saw – and felt – what made Derry so horribly different. In the storm drains, in the sewers, IT lurked, taking on the shape of every nightmare, each one’s deepest dread. Sometimes IT reached up, seizing, tearing, killing…

The adults, knowing better, knew nothing.

Time passed and the children grew up, moved away. The horror of IT was deep-buried, wrapped in forgetfulness. Until they were called back, once more to confront IT as it stirred and coiled in the sullen depths of their memories, reaching up again to make their past nightmares a terrible present reality.”

Stephen King’s IT is one of those books that has long since transcended into pop-culture. Even those who have never picked up a book have possibly watched the original 1990 mini-series or the recent big screen two-parter (released in 2017 and 2019). Tim Curry’s 1990 version of Pennywise the clown is also widely held responsible for so many adults’ irrational fear of clowns. Indeed, IT is probably the most successful of all adaptations based on King’s books.

I first read IT a long time ago (and only the once) but the book instantly became a firm favourite of mine. This year I have been digging out quite a few of my favourite books and revisiting them. At last, I have gotten around to IT – actually a decent commitment to make given the size of the book! This paperback version I have is just over 1100 pages so it’s definitely one of the most voluminous Stephen King books.

And it isn’t difficult to see why IT is such a whopper of a tome. This is Stephen King at his unrestrained best. I’m sure that stuff was cut or re-worked but even so, I didn’t get the sense that the author was forced to hold back or be overly concise. The detail and world-building is indulgent; the main characters and the supporting cast incredibly well fleshed-out. Best of all, IT is a real page-turner and not a single page felt like unnecessary, excessive filler.

The voice broke up in a series of choking hiccups and suddenly a bright red bubble backed up the drain and popped, spraying beads of blood on the distained porcelain.
The choking voice spoke rapidly now, and as it spoke it changed: now it was the young voice of the child that she had first heard, now it was a teenaged girl’s voice, now – horribly – it became the voice of a girl Beverly had known…Veronica Grogan. But Veronica was dead, she had been found dead in a sewer drain –
“I’m Matthew…I’m Betty…I’m Veronica…we’re down here…down here with the clown…and the creature…and the mummy…and the werewolf…and you, Beverly, we’re down here with you, and we float, and we change…”
A gout of blood suddenly belched from the drain, splattering the sink and the mirror and the wallpaper with its frogs-and-lily-pads pattern. Beverly screamed, suddenly and piercingly. She backed away from the sink, struck the door, rebounded, clawed it open, and ran for the living room, where her father was just getting to his feet.

The most captivating part of this book is the characters because they are all just so likable and you – the reader – really feel as if you are a part of their group. Even the antagonists – the bully Henry Bowers and his friends, Pennywise/IT and other random unsavouries – are endearing in their own way. This is because Stephen King really knows how to write characters and make them living, breathing and believable. He also knows how to make them relatable. In this respect, IT is a tour-de-force of King’s talent.

The story jumps back and forth between the events of 1958 and 1985, providing two versions of the main characters to get acquainted with. Obviously, their adult versions from ’85 are easier to relate to but it’s their eleven/twelve year-old selves that are much more interesting. This is because IT does such a good job of reminding you what it was like to be a child, how we viewed the world through naive/uninformed eyes and what sorts of irrational fears we hid from. There’s definitely a coming-of-age element to IT as Bill, Ben, Beverly, Mike, Stan, Richie and Eddie have to deal with the strange world of adults as well as confront the evil lurking beneath Derry, guided by seemingly immovable forces that they don’t understand.

As with every other Stephen King book that I have read, however, I can’t say that the horror aspect of IT scared or disturbed me, but that’s just me. It’s certainly a grisly book though, with some graphic deaths. There are also a fair few explicit bits involving minors, such as the moment between Henry Bowers and Patrick Hockstetter at the town dump and, of course, the infamous sex scene in the sewers where Beverly loses her virginity to all of the boys, one after the other, as a form of ritual to keep them – as a group – close and the magic, that protects them, alive. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if King (and authors in general) would actively avoid such content these days because of how “sensitive” everybody is. This is a shame because these parts of IT aren’t presented in a needlessly-gratuitous or glorified fashion; they are just what they are.

There is also this very cool cameo from Christine, King’s famous killer car. Christine is one of my absolute favourite books so I really enjoyed this.

A sound impinged on his consciousness and began to grow. It was a car engine. It drew closer. Henry’s eyes widened in the dark. He held the knife more tightly, waiting for the car to pass by.
It didn’t. It drew up at the curb beyond the seminary hedge and simply stopped there, engine idling. Grimacing (his belly was stiffening now; it had gone board-hard, and the blood seeping sluggishly between his fingers had the consistency of sap just before you took the taps out of the maples in late March or early April), he got on his knees and pushed aside the stiff hedge-branches. He could see headlights and the shape of a car. Cops? His hand squeezed the knife and relaxed, squeezed and relaxed, squeezed and relaxed.
I sent you a ride Henry, the voice whispered. Sort of a taxi, if you can dig that. After all, we have to get you over to the Town House pretty soon. The night’s getting old.
The voice uttered one thin bonelike chuckle and fell silent. Now the only sounds were the crickets and the steady rumble of the idling car. Sounds like cherry-bomb mufflers, Henry thought distractedly.

He reached the intersection of the seminary path and the sidewalk and peered at the car, trying to make sense of the hulk behind the wheel. But it was the car he recognised first – it was the one his father always swore he would own someday, a 1958 Plymouth Fury. It was red and white and Henry knew (hadn’t his father told him often enough?) that the engine rumbling under the hood was a V-8 327. Horsepower of 255, able to hit seventy from the git-go in just about nine seconds, gobbling hi-test through its four-barrel carb.

I suppose the revealing of IT’s true form deserves a mention because I know that many were disappointed with the monster – after all the different ways it changed its shape to match an individual’s fears – turning out to be a giant spider. This has often been derided as a weak and uninspired finale but IT only appears in this form to the children because its actual form cannot be comprehended by human minds, and so it takes a physical shape that resembles one of the most common fears of humans. As for the conclusion itself, things do get a bit wacky, cosmic and spiritual and I can see why this spoiled the book for some, but I – personally – wasn’t left wanting.

IT just has so much going for it: the characters that you really connect with; the charismatic evil of Pennywise; the drip-fed lore of the town of Derry and how it has been tainted by mysterious, sinister events; the incredibly rich detail. I’ve said it several times before on this blog, but I really believe that Stephen King doesn’t do stories like IT anymore. The quality of his writing remains undisputed and, yes, he has written some large epics in recent years that describe the journey or evolution of a small town and its inhabitants (Under the Dome, for example) but for other, similar examples that centre around raw, supernatural horror, you have to go back to the likes of Salem’s Lot and Needful Things.

IT is simply one of the all-time Stephen King greats and absolutely warrants its status as a must-read. Additionally, if you’ve only ever watched the cinematic versions of IT, you have likely missed out on a lot of the detail and the inner thoughts of characters that only a book can provide.

In short, if you haven’t already, go and read IT. If you have, and it’s been a while? Read it again.

When you’re wrong, you’re wrong

If you’ve read this blog for a while, then you may be familiar with my posts on the subject of materialism. Unfortunately, it seems that I wasn’t completely sorted on my definition of materialism nor my use of terminology.

I’m not taking back anything that I’ve previously said on the burden of materialism, the fallacy of happiness being defined by material goods or the healthy practice of cutting down on materialism. All of that? I still stand by it. I still believe in it.

But I certainly put my foot in it when I accused my sister of being materialistic. I was being casual about it but she didn’t take it well and, initially, I couldn’t see what I’d said wrong. As it turned out, I’d got my terminology completely wrong. Y’see, she is easily advertised and sold to (by her own admission!) and can’t help spending, spending, spending on stuff that she really doesn’t need. Really, this is better described as consumerism.

From Collins:
“Consumerism is the belief that it is good to buy and use a lot of goods. “

Of course, you might still describe my sister’s actions as “materialism”…

From Collins:
Materialism is the attitude of someone who attaches a lot of importance to money and wants to possess a lot of material things.”

BUT, I specifically used the word “materialistTIC” and it slowly dawned on me that there might be some differences between “materialistic” and “materialism”…after being (angrily) informed by my sister of what it means to be materialistic. A great many of us are guilty of materialism after all, but a materialistic attitude is a bit different and not necessarily something that comes hand-in-hand with materialism itself.

She was upset by me describing her as materialistic because being materialistic is to put material items and possessions above people and experiences. By her own admissions, she can’t help spending money and buying excessive amounts of clothes and other stuff BUT she doesn’t put her stuff above the people in her life.

And I – of all people – should have known that.

But instead, I was an asshole, trying to throw about my “wisdom”.

So I was wrong, and that’s the big takeaway from this post. It’s important to be able to listen to the criticism of others and review your own actions/words. It’s okay to say, “you know what? I was wrong there.” But, unfortunately, it’s often much easier (and satisfying) to forge onwards and refuse to admit that you made a mistake; refuse to acknowledge that there is even the slightest outfield chance that you weren’t right.

Because we’re all wrong a LOT of the time. We just need to be open to this fact and be willing to take it on the chin.

 

The Big Goosebumps Re-read #11: The Haunted Mask (R.L.Stine, 1993)

hauntedmask-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…

What have I done with this series? Well, it’s time to get back to business and continue powering through these sixty-two Goosebumps books. Book eleven is The Haunted Mask; a fairly memorable one thanks to its simple yet unnerving plot…

The Blurb

Carly Beth wants a special mask for Hallowe’en. A mask so ugly – so hideous – that even her best friends are totally creeped out by it.

Now Carly Beth has found her special mask – and it’s perfect! Everything she hoped it would be, and more…

Maybe too much more. Because even though Hallowe’en is over, Carly Beth is still wearing that mask…

Carly Beth scares easily, and her friends KNOW it. In fact, the first twenty pages of The Haunted Mask set the scene for Carly Beth’s desire to wreak revenge on these so-called friends, as their practical jokes push her too far. It’s been a long time since I was an eleven year-old, so maybe I’ve just forgotten what it was like at that age, but these “friends”…are assholes!

Carly Beth uttered a disgusted groan and spat the chewed-up mouthful of sandwich into a napkin. Then she pulled the bread apart – and saw a big brown worm resting on top of the turkey.
“Ohh!” With a moan, she covered her face with her hands.
The room erupted with laughter. Cruel laughter.
“I ate a worm. I-I’m going to be sick!” Carly Beth groaned. She jumped to her feet and stared angrily at Steve. “How could you?” she demanded. “It isn’t funny. It’s-it’s-“
“It isn’t a real worm,” Chuck said. Steve was laughing too hard to talk.
“Huh?” Carly Beth gazed down at it and felt a wave of nausea rise up from her stomach.
“It isn’t real. It’s rubber. Pick it up,” Chuck urged.
Carly Beth hesitated.
Kids all through the vast room were whispering and pointing at her. And laughing.
“Go ahead. It isn’t real. Pick it up,” Chuck said, grinning.
Carly Beth reached down with two fingers and reluctantly picked the brown worm from the sandwich. It felt warm and sticky.
“Gotcha again!” Chuck said with a laugh.
It was real! A real worm!

Seriously, fuck these guys. That said, I doubt that this would even register on the savage-o-meter of kids these days so maybe Carly Beth actually had it easy in 1993?

Anyway, CB decides that she has had enough and absolutely HAS to pay her friends back, especially Chuck and Steve. And what better time to orchestrate a major scare than Hallowe’en? It’s going to take something pretty special to make Chuck and Steve leap out of their skin however, so Carly Beth is thrilled when she finds the most disgusting, realistic mask of all in the back room of the new party shop in town.

The store’s owner doesn’t want to sell any of the masks from the back room however. He tells Carly Beth that they are not for sale. These masks are apparently too scary. But Carly Beth is insistent and digs in…

“Thirty dollars,” Carly Beth said, shoving the folded-up notes into the man’s hand. “I’ll  give you thirty dollars for it. That’s enough, isn’t it?”
“It’s not a matter of money,” he told her. “These masks are not for sale.” With an exasperated sigh, he started towards the doorway that led to the front of the shop.
“Please! I need it. I really need it!” Carly Beth begged, chasing after him.
“These masks are too real,” he insisted, gesturing to the shelves. “I’m warning you-“
“Please? Please?”
He shut his eyes. “You will be sorry.”
“No, I won’t. I know I won’t!” Carly Beth exclaimed gleefully, seeing that he was about to give in.

FLW-1

Armed with her new grotesque mask, Carly Beth hits the 1993 Hallowe’en trick-or-treat run and achieves everything she sets out to do…and more. She succeeds in scaring Chuck and Steve but, on the downside, she starts to feel odd. Suddenly, Carly Beth is feeling all hot and aggressive, leaping about and howling like an enraged animal. She even steals sweet bags from other kids! And as for that aggression…

Her anger raged through her chest. Her whole body was trembling. She felt about to burst.
I’m going to tear this woman apart! Carly Beth decided. I’ll chew her to bits! I’ll tear her skin off her bones! Furious thoughts raged through Carly Beth’s mind.

Er…yeah. Chill out, girl.

It’s obvious to the reader but not – apparently – to Carly Beth: the mask is taking over. Seems like that store owner had a bit of a valid point back there, huh? The truth finally hits her back at her best friend Sabrina’s house.

Sabrina ran a hand through her black hair. Her forehead wrinkled in concentration.
“Carly Beth,” she said finally, “there’s something very weird going on here.”
“What? What are you talking about?” Carly Beth demanded.
“There’s no bottom to the mask.”
“Huh?” Carly Beth’s hands shot up to her neck. She felt around frantically. “What do you mean?”
“There’s no line,” Sabrina told her in a trembling voice. “There’s no line between the mask and your skin. No place to slip my hand in.”

Oh dear. Looks like Carly Beth should have taken the store owner’s warning a little more seriously! So she races back to the shop, desperate for help from the store owner, only to be informed that there is no cure. Except, there is. Gotta hold something back for those dramatic end-of-chapter cliffhangers to work, after all. He tells Carly Beth that the mask can only be removed once, using a symbol of love. After that, it will bond permanently to the wearer’s face should they put it on again.

Up until this point, The Haunted Mask was pretty cool. The concept of an evil mask grafting itself to the wearer’s face and turning them into a monster was good and you can imagine the claustrophobic panic that you would feel in Carly Beth’s shoes. But, in typical Goosebumps fashion, the conclusion lets things down somewhat. These extremely random rules that the store owner informs Carly Beth of aren’t explained. Worse still, there is some backstory about how he created the masks – real faces –  himself in a lab and they became monstrous (for some unexplained reason) once they were removed from the lab.

If all of that is too silly for you then the following sequence turns events up to eleven. The other masks begin to wake up and Carly Beth ends up fleeing the shop with the masks flying after her down the street! Of course, nobody else witnesses this. It wouldn’t be a Goosebumps book without a kid running away in terror from something supernatural while the entire populance of the town just happen to be oblivious to it all.

The conclusion was weak in my opinion, even by Goosebumps‘ far-fetched standards. Carly Beth does eventually get the mask off but there is a last-page twist which nobody should win a prize for predicting.

Overall, The Haunted Mask is a fun book, let down (in my opinion) by a daft few closing chapters. We’ll have to see, in due course, whether The Haunted Mask II does a better job.

The Cover:

Pretty cool. The artist nailed Carly Beth with her whole head taken over by a seriously ugly, gargoyle-like mask.

The incredibly dated bit:

Probably when Carly Beth is first exploring the party shop and sees Freddy Krueger and ET masks. You KNOW that this is an early 90’s book with characters like that.

The nostalgia rating:

I’m going to say “low” for The Haunted Mask. I did read this one back in the day but I didn’t remember much about it other than the general premise. I actually read The Haunted Mask II first.

Up Next: Piano Lessons Can Be Murder

Comic Book Review: JLA/Avengers (Marvel/DC, 2003)

JLAAvengers-1Year: 2003
Format: 4 Issue Limited Series
Writer(s): Kurt Busiek
Artist(s): George Perez (pencils), Tom Smith (colours), Comicraft (letters)

This year, I finally got around to reading this crossover series. I say “finally” because I’d only previously read the final part and, when it comes to comics, I can’t muster up much enthusiasm for digital editions so I’d been trying to track down the physical issues. Unfortunately, the collated graphic novel is ridiculously expensive and the individual issues took time to appear on ebay at non-silly price-points. Overall, I spent about £30-£40 acquiring the full set but it was money well-spent.

JLA/Avengers isn’t a crossover that I see mentioned very often which seems strange to me, because Marvel and DC collaborating and bringing their two premier super-teams together was a big event (a will they/won’t they deal going back to the 1980’s, in fact). I suppose in the modern age, however, the tone of JLA/Avengers might come across as antiquated. This was 2003, after all; a time when comics were still bright and not focused on dark, gritty “realism”, frequent seismic ‘events’ or shock deaths.

The plot is essentially just a vehicle to get this crossover moving and the likes of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman sharing the same panels as Captain America, Thor and Iron Man. Krona is continuing his relentless quest for knowledge relating to the secrets of creation. He enters the Marvel universe and simply destroys entire worlds when they fail to yield the answers he seeks. The Grandmaster attempts to prevent Krona’s insatiable lust for knowledge by engaging him in a game with the biggest possible stakes: if Krona wins, the Grandmaster must lead him to what he seeks, even if it destroys the universe. If the Grandmaster wins, Krona must leave the universe alone. The game involves two sets of champions – the Avengers and the Justice League – competing to see who can retrieve the greater number of powerful artifacts.

Obviously, neither team understands the full situation and the misunderstanding brings them into direct conflict with each other. Behind the scenes, the Grandmaster is secretly playing a deeper game while Krona has (surprise!) no intention of abiding by the rules should he lose. There are all manner of misunderstandings and dimension-hopping with cliched warped reality dogging our heroes at every turn.

Basically, it’s an elaborate excuse to get the Avengers trading blows with the JLA before they ultimately uncover the truth and unite to take down Krona. In other words, it’s some fucking serious fanservice.

JLAAvengers-3

Aside from the overall spectacle of the crossover, the prime motivator for reading JLA/Avengers is for George Perez’s magnificent artwork. Every action panel is an absolute joy to behold, especially when the two teams of heroes are fighting one another. There’s an immense clash of the titans when Superman takes on Thor, for example, and a tense, wordless exchange of testing blows between Batman and Captain America on a rooftop, in the pouring rain.

Then there are the large spreads involving multiple characters – a George Perez trademark. These are fantastic to look at and I spent a long time just absorbing all of the details and admiring the dynamicism at work; the arrangement of all of this action. Special mention must go to the endgame in the fourth part where the main teams are backed up by a constant stream of heroes from both universes. Naturally, Krona’s forces are bolstered by Marvel and DC’s villains and what you get are pages absolutely crammed with characters, fighting, explosions…you name it. You wouldn’t believe that so much could fit into a single page of a comic book.

The wrap-around covers are some of the best you will ever lay eyes on too, especially part 3’s mind-boggling assemblage of characters and the final issue’s image of a very battered and pissed-off Superman wielding Cap’s cracked shield and Thor’s lightning-spewing hammer. I’m so glad that I own these comics in physical form because they are honestly worth it for the covers alone.

JLAAvengers-2

This is George Perez in full-flow, providing everything that you know and admire him for – masterful anatomy, imposing male characters, beautiful, powerful females and insane spreads – then turning it up to eleven. In fact, I seem to remember reading that the final installment of JLA/Avengers was slightly delayed due to Perez injuring his wrist but I can’t find anything online to back that up. I could very well have mis-remembered but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was true!

In conclusion, the plot of JLA/Avengers is so-so but you won’t mind when the art is this good. Also – at the time of writing – this crossover holds the honour of being the most recent collaboration between Marvel and DC. Will it prove to be the last? Nobody can say for sure, but if it is, then it’s still one heck of a way to conclude a relationship between the two giants of comic books.

Narcissism Epidemic

From Merriam-Webster:

extremely self-centered with an exaggerated sense of self-importance

Does this sound familiar? It should do.

I have come to the conclusion that here, in western civilisation at least, we are seeing an increasingly narcissistic society where people are lost in their ballooning sense of self-importance. Entitlement is everywhere and a worrying number of people simply cannot deal with being denied something, or being informed that they are wrong.

Here’s the blunt truth: you are not important.

I am not important.

In fact, nobody is more important than anybody else.

Now, you may argue that the woman making crucial political decisions is more important than the man sitting on his arse at home, drinking beer in the middle of the day and sponging off the state but even this isn’t so. One role in society is more important than the other but the actual people in those roles? Nope. If you are talking about human life then neither person in that scenario is more important. After all, you can have all the money in the world and one of the highest positions in society, but you still take a shit in the same way. You can still contract a terminal illness such as cancer. And, in the end, we all die the same way.

Away from the crude and morbid analogies, my point is this: strip away the status and we are all just people. Yes, we are all individuals with different personalities, ideas and views on matters but nobody has the right to be considered more important than anybody else.

narcissus-1
[Image Source]
Narcissism doesn’t care about that though. Narcissism is most commonly linked with physical vanity and originates from the ancient Greek myth, where the young Narcissus looked into a pool and fell in love with his own reflection. That pool that Narcissus gazed into is still here today, only in the form of mirrors and self-facing smartphone camera lenses, rather than old-school water. But I would argue that selfies and the millions of photos plastered across social media of girls in their bedrooms showing off their make-up, outfits and even their bodies is only surface level narcissism. How many of those girls are showing off in front of the camera because they are genuinely in love with their physical self, do you think? I would wager that it is only a small percentage. This kind of behaviour is born of a need to compete and look pretty to live up to a set of standards that society and the media have cooked up in order to keep selling us products.

If you ask me, this isn’t narcissism because it stems from insecurity.

Narcissism operates on a sub-level. It’s the act of showing off to the world and subconsciously shouting for attention that is narcissistic, not the photographs themselves. We crave those Likes and positive comments on our pictures. We want our oh-so-dramatic status updates to pique the curiosity of others and get them asking questions or sending us their best wishes (if said status alludes to a bad experience). We want every piece of trivial, meaningless shit that we upload to social media profiles – amusing gifs, memes, reactions – to contribute towards wrenching the spotlight away from somebody else.

It makes us feel important.

Selfie-1
[Image Source]
It would be unfair to say that social media is the sole reason that we, as a society, have allowed our sense of self-importance to grow and swell until it dominates our decisions and thought processes, but it has a hell of a lot to answer for. The thing is, the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have given anybody with access a platform to speak to the world and blurt out their opinions and rash reactions to events, seconds after they have occured. In ye olden days, if something really fucking offended your principles or seemed worth pushing back against, you’d have to get off your arse and organise a physical rally or protest march. It took effort and organisation. However, social media allows anybody to scream and bawl about anything at all that they perceive to be a wrong, an insult or a problem. Anybody can whinge about anything and when like-minded users begin to agree, an echo-chamber effect amplifies the loudest of voices and, suddenly, the original issue appears to be a huge thing. Massive, even.

Back in REAL life, you are unlikely to meet that many people – if anybody at all – who are talking about the latest cataclysmic outrage that is tearing the internet apart. Why? Because it isn’t actually a big deal at all. If you had to physically organise a meet-up or go out and do something about a perceived problem, how many people do you think would actually bother? How many of these “issues” do you think would even be worth discussing in public?

People’s self-inflated sense of importance gives them the idea that their opinions are important; that THEY are important. And neither is true. Many people can’t deal with somebody challenging their opinion either. The default response is to shout and scream back at the other person, insisting that they are right and that the other person is absolutely, categorically wrong. It’s the equivalent of putting your hands over your ears and shouting, “LA, LA, LA…I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

You’ve no doubt seen it before, first-hand. Look at the comments sections in Youtube or any sort of debate/discussion on social media or in the comments sections of news articles and there is a distinct pattern. Raging, never-ending back-and-forths where nobody is capable of listening to other viewpoints or taking onboard rational, critical counter-arguments. Sure, some people concede or admit that their viewpoint may be flawed, but this is the rare exception to a rotten rule. Usually, it’s all about repeating your opinion relentlessly, and any sensible discussion is more or less guaranteed to devolve into hurling insults.

It’s the final line of defence that sees our supposedly intelligent race regress to the level of apes and start flinging its own shit around.

Ignorance-1

This happens because an exaggerated sense of self-importance also extends to one’s opinions. Narcissistic people simply cannot have their viewpoint threatened or challenged by another person. They don’t know how to deal with this and thus revert to a childish state where they ultimately throw a tantrum because they aren’t being allowed to have their own way.

In a previous post entitled, ‘You know nothing (and that’s okay)‘, I went into how it’s healthy to be open to the fact that you could be wrong. It’s an attitude that keeps your mind open and allows you to learn. It doesn’t mean that the criticism and opposing views of others are right, but you should be prepared to shut your mouth, listen and analyse what you’re hearing. There might be flaws in your view(s) that you have overlooked or you might actually be wrong. You also need to be able to question yourself at all times and, ultimately, you have to be big enough to accept that you were incorrect and that somebody else’s input was actually useful.

This mindset appears to be being driven to extinction however. It isn’t (as I said earlier) all the fault of the social media though. The other major catalyst responsible for this narcissism epidemic is rampant entitlement. So many people feel that they are owed something by society and life in general. They feel that they deserve all the good things in life without actually doing anything to earn them. And when they don’t get them, narcissism strikes again and they can’t cope with not receiving what they believe they are owed.

I’m sure that there are a multitude of reasons for this ugly and utterly flawed way of approaching life but I will try to keep it brief here because, after all, I’m no expert in psychology or social history. First of all, entitlement seems to have crept into western society over a period of decades. The most obvious reason is that multiple generations of people have grown up in peacetime with no wars to threaten their existence. As a result, millions of people haven’t had to learn the hard way that they are lucky to be alive and leading the rich lives that they are living. Growing up and living a long time with access to healthcare that can fix most problems is taken for granted, as is state assistance.

In short, people grow into adults surrounded by safety nets and help. They don’t learn the value of hard work like their grandparents and great grandparents did. Instead, they benefit from their immediate ancestors’ relative wealth. Those previous generations lived through a time where wages were more competitive and they were able to completely pay off mortagages and amass savings. As such, their children were able to benefit from the security and stability.

A lot of people grew up with everything they wanted and increasingly-lax parents that failed to instil any form of discipline or meaningful teachings into their children. Suffering (an incredibly valuable tool for positive growth) was kept to a minimum and a lot of children developed into adults with a resulting sense of self-importance.

lifeonsilverplate-1

To share a personal example, I remember being at school in the early-mid 2000’s and being surrounded by 11-15 year-olds decked out in designer-branded clothes and £100+ trainers. They had the latest mobile phones as soon as they came to market; all the latest videogame consoles and games, no matter the amount it must have set their parents back. I didn’t have anything of the sort and made do with old, outdated handed-down mobile phones and cheap, affordable off-brand clothes/trainers. When everybody else was raving about the latest Playstation 2 games, I was still using an original, handed-down Playstation and replaying games I’d finished countless times before! But to the other kids, having all of this stuff was viewed as normal – expected, even. I was the odd one out – unable to join in with discussing the latest videogames or mobile phones – and I can’t deny that I felt jealous back then. But now, as an adult, I appreciate the way my parents raised me (a post for another time), and I can see that many others in my school year were already riddled with entitlement.

So people became entitled and now, when life doesn’t treat them the same as their parents and hand them everything on a silver plate, they can’t handle it. Suddenly, their “suffering” (it really isn’t) is the fault of everybody else: society, the government, wealthy people…anybody else’s fault but their own. You’ve no doubt heard people saying, “why is this happening to me?”, acting like a victim. They can’t understand why every little thing isn’t going their way and they falsely believe that they are suffering terribly.

And now, this monstrous sense of self-importance is coming to the fore in mainstream media. Anybody with an agenda is shouting loudly and protesting – be it LGBT rights, #metoo, Extinction Rebellion, etc. – because they absolutely must be heard. Their opinion and cause is incredibly important and everybody must stand up and take notice. And don’t you dare disagree with what they want. Their right to take offence at opposing viewpoints is more important than anything else, including your opinion. They are important people, after all.

I’m not saying that everybody has fallen into this narcissism trap but it seems to be a problem that grows worse with each successive generation and I can’t see it going away anytime soon with social media’s influence now an integral part of our lives. The people who may as well be screaming, “look at meeeeee!” on Facebook are having children of their own and, to those children, this sort of behaviour will be imprinted upon them and become second nature.

There are actually some very worrying theories online from psychology experts and historians who believe that this is all building up to war, the collapse of society and rapidly degrading IQ levels across western society. There’s historical evidence and patterns that back up the theories too.

Worrying times.

 

Little notebook of wisdom

Sometime back, I made a post about an entirely self-inflicted (and pretty dumb) problem. I had amassed too many empty notebooks, none of which I had any concrete uses planned out for. Since then, I’ve put some of this unnecessary stash to use and in this post, I’m going to tell you about this little red notebook and what I’ve been using it for.

DSC_0481

I decided that I would use this pocket-sized book to record any useful quotes or scraps of wisdom that I come across. Good stuff to refer back to when the going gets tough or I need reminding of a harsh truth or two. The aim is to fill it up to the point where there is a handy nugget of advice for most situations.

So far, I’ve gathered together stuff from all over the place: books, films, even videogames. If something seems useful and relevant to self-development and the direction I want to take, then I’ve jotted it down. I’ve even taken bits of general advice and condensed it down into small, focused passages that are straight to the point.

I will share some of the contents here, in this post, then periodically return to my red notebook in future posts where I will divulge some more…

“It isn’t about whether you can or can’t; it’s whether you do or don’t.”

This one was me, in full-on nerd mode, taking a quote from a videogame and running with it. I feel that this is one of most profound quotes in my notebook. It’s applicable to a great many situations and reminds me of the importance of at least attempting something – no matter the odds – instead of avoiding it because you feel that you aren’t capable. After all, it’s better to regret something you have done over something you haven’t. And you never know; perhaps you will surprise yourself and actually succeed.

“Instead of complaining about bad experiences or mistakes, look to see what lessons can be learned.”

I think this is one that a lot of us can benefit from digesting. It’s very easy to just bitch and moan about negative experiences, but the truth is that these things have already happened and can’t be reversed. It’s much more constructive to analyse what happened and see whether you can learn something from it. The most powerful lessons usually come about as a result of the biggest balls-ups, for example. You’d be a fool not to identify said lesson and take it onboard.

“Take control of a situation. Don’t let it control you.”

A very important one, this. Sometimes shit happens that we have no control over and, in these cases, we are legitimate passengers. However, we often use this as an excuse to avoid having to act when we are perfectly capable of influencing a situation or straight-up taking the controls. If we can’t gain complete control, we are still responsible for our emotions and responses to a negative event in our lives. Things may happen to us that are 100% not our fault but there comes a transitional point where we are, in fact, responsible for how we react and proceed.

“A winning attitude is one that asks itself every day, how it can get better.”

Here on this blog, I will never equate “winning” with a load of macho BS or extravagant materialism. A “winning” attitude to me is simply a positive, constructive mindset. This quote from four-time Formula 1 champion, Alain Prost, is relevant to us all because, however good we think we are, we can always improve ourselves. Asking ourselves critical questions is also an important way of getting to the truth about ourselves and thus identifying our shortcomings.

And that’s all for now. I have plenty more scrawls on plenty more pages though so I’ll be returning to the red notebook in due course.