Monthly Archives: October 2011

Weird Stories From Ancient Legends

There are some pretty odd authors around nowadays. What with the genres of New Weird, Bizarro Literature, Slipstream, works which come close to one or the other, and work that seems to straddle the gap between all of them, there’s a lot of exciting work around that is, frankly, more than a little peculiar.

These strange, surreal veins of fiction are not just being read by academics or thoughtful artsy types, though — not-that-there’s-anything-wrong-with-that — they’re actually fun.

Chaos Nazis, cynical and violent anti-heroes, idealistic dupes played by the system, wig monsters, weird chimeric modifications of human beings, bizarre sentient personifications and loci, terrible things happening for little-to-no reason and a wry, dry sense of humour appearing now and again. I could be talking about this latest, excellent cultish trend in literature, or I could be referring to ancient myths. Except for the Chaos Nazis. I think.

Set bearing a flag marked with a warped Moorcock chaos symbol

I hope.

Take Adad, the Assyro-Babylonian god of wind, rain and thunder. He’s usually depicted standing on the back of a bull, wielding lightning bolts in both hands. Now, it probably doesn’t sound that awesome — so far, so god-like — but think about what a bull represented back then, what it actually would feel like to try to stand on a bull, what it would look like to come across a man calmly standing on the back of one of the most powerful animals you’ve come across.

The idea of drawing him like that is roughly equivalent in modern terms to the idea of drawing a superhero standing on a motorbike, except the motorbike is explicitly designed not-to-be-stood-on, and there is some random unnatural-natural powers malarkey going on about the head area.

Adad Compared With Ghost Rider

Ghost Rider, a character created almost entirely because motorbikes and flaming skulls are the epitome of cool, pictured struggling to match an ancient storm god for style points. He's not even standing up.

My point is that these ancient gods, heroes and morons weren’t created the way they were just by mistake, or because people genuinely believed these things about them to start with. The idea of a storm god was there, and then someone put him on the back of a wild bull with no saddle because it would be totally awesome to do that.

When you start to hear the voice of the person telling the story, you begin to get a sense of just how strange, imaginative and wondrous these myths and legends were — so strange that we’re only just catching up to them, and we still take a helping hand from them whenever possible.

In John Dies At The End, we have (Spoiler alert) Kuk/Korrok/Koddock malevolently guiding events from afar.

In Miéville, we find dead and dying gods littering the pages of Kraken.

In Gaiman, we have the love letter to mythology that is American Gods.

The Granddaddy of weird story-telling, H.P. Lovecraft, included a slightly fishy Phillistine god named Dagon in his mythos. It’s all dependent on the wonderful, bizarre, worrying tales that people were already telling each other thousands of years ago.

Here are some of my favourite weird tales from ages past.

AGDISTIS was born when some of Zeus’ seed fell on Mount Ida, near where Cybele was sleeping, the story already displaying the keen grasp of human sexual reproduction the Ancient Greeks were well known for.

Agdistis happened to be a hermaphrodite, which, in another example of failing to logic correctly, apparently terrified the gods like nothing else — androgyny was apparently evidence of the sort of wild, uncontrolled free spirit that the gods despise.

Thinking clearly, the gods got Agdistis drunk and tied shklis/shker genitals either to his foot, or to a tree (accounts differ, and I’m not convinced that the details of precisely what the crazy deities tied someone’s genitals to is exactly the most important part of this story). When he woke up from what must have felt like the worst frat party ever, Agdistis tried to stand up and tore his own penis off.

Simply for the crime of being an apparently terrifying androgynous figure.

Clockwise from left: Lady Gaga, David Bowie, Annie Lennox, Marilyn Manson

Gaze upon the many white faces of terror itself, oh you gibbering wretches! Ia! Ia! Bowie fhtagn! Ia! Ia! Gaga fhtagn!

Now most stories would probably end up there, with the newly castrated individual dying a slow and rather horrible death. However, what with ancient people seeming to hold some rather bizarre beliefs about sex, they refused to let this lie. Literally. Where Agdistis’ genitals fell, an almond (or in some versions, pomegranate) tree sprouted.

A nymph called Nana decided to cradle some of the almonds in her chest, as you would, whereupon one of the randy little almonds disappeared, getting up to some mischief that ended up with her being thoroughly up the duff. I probably should have mentioned, but you will have to re-adjust your definition of “strange” when reading about these myths. To mean “batshit insane”.

And this is where it all began to really kick off.

Nana eventually gave birth to a guy called Attis, who happened to be beautiful enough to make Agdistis fall wildly in love with him — Agdistis being Attis’ own grandmother, if you remember. Or possibly his transgendered father. Or both. Families in ancient myths were complicated. Either way, this deeply, deeply wrong love knew no bounds, except of course for the part where Attis reciprocated it.

There are a few versions  of the story from this point, but they all end badly. One version has Agdistis appearing in her true form, which drives everyone insane. Another has her show up in her form as the goddess Cybele, which is kind of cheating but still sort of caused Attis to profess his love to, um, “her?”, which drove his wife into a grief-stricken frenzy of self-mutilation, which in turn caused Attis to castrate himself under a pine tree.

No-one knows why the pine tree is important, but presumably ancient story-tellers were so bored of self-castration at this point that they started telling stories like, “yeah, and then, duh, he cut his cock off. Oh, and there was a cool pine tree there, you totally should’ve been there. It was all gnarly and weathered and stuff. Had this real deep, eternal sort of vibration to it. If cameras were invented I’d show you all my grainy black-and-white shots of it for hours and hours. But yeah, sorry, kind of a boring story — who hasn’t cut his own genitals off in a fit of passion, am I right?”

Attis was not a god, and therefore did not have hilarious post-penis shenanigans.

He died.

Of course, Agdistis repented, and begged Zeus for a favour (which he pretty much owed shkler, given that he seems to’ve been absent through much of shklis childhood, as well as either failing to intervene or actively being involved with the whole “getting drugged by the other gods and sexually mutilated” thing). What was that favour?

The chance for Attis to live again? Don’t be silly! The favour shklee asked was that Zeus keep the handsome body of the combination son/grand-son who shklee lusted after in perfect condition for the rest of eternity.

Extremely creepy. Extremely strange. But you’ve got to admit, a book like that written today would sell.

ULLIKUMMI was another product of a god effectively having sex with a rock. However, this time it was deliberate, which makes it alright, doesn’t it?

Probably not. This time, the cause of the whole mess was that a god named Kumarbi wanted to get vengeance on a god named Teshub, his son, who had overthrown him and was now king of the gods. Now, I don’t know how much you know about gods, but it tends to be pretty bloody difficult to become king, and they don’t often go down without a fight.

So Kumarbi’s genius plan of having sex with a rock seems pretty incomprehensible already. The fact that it worked was probably more luck than judgment, to be honest: goddesses don’t seem like the kinds of girls who do ‘pity lays’, so being an ancient ex-king of the gods there probably wasn’t a whole load of choice for poor, lonely Kumarbi.

The child that inexplicably resulted from this rocky (because he was made of rock, you see?) start was, of course, deaf and blind, being a rock but felt every second of his pitiful existence. Which was probably something of a downer.

Pet Rocks

So far, Kumarbi, your plan has left you sore, cold, lonely, pathetic, and with a son who, being both a rock AND blind, has LESS power than that famously awful joke toy, the pet rock.

To keep the boy safe, Kumarbi placed him under several fathoms of water on the shoulders of a giant, because hurr durr derp de derpity derp-tee durr.

Oh, to be extra safe, he didn’t tell the giant he was there.

Upelluri could’ve noticed at any time that there was suddenly an evil diorite boulder growing extremely rapidly on his shoulder, but fortunately for Ullikummi he did not. The task of telling Teshub of this hilariously non-threatening attempt on his life fell, instead, to the sun god, once Ullikummi grew tall enough that he was higher than the waves.

Teshub then decided, of course, to leave the boulder alone because it was a goddamned boulder, and no threat to anyone, much less a god, much less the king of the g- no, no wait, it says here he wept with fear. At an over-sized pet rock. Should I remind you that Ullikummi was both deaf and blind? And a rock? I did mention that part, right?

Eventually, after being comforted by his sister (I’d tell you to stop sniggering at the back, but these incestuous godly bastards being what they are, you probably have a point), Teshub decided to attack Ullikummi, the rock. He attacked Ullikummi, the rock with THUNDER AND RAIN.

At this point, you have to assume that Kumarbi had a genetic disorder of some kind, because all of his sons are involved in the most stupid epic battle for the future of the Universe I have ever heard of. An epic battle in which a quasi-sentient rock sits blindly (and deafly) growing quietly and unobtrusively in the red corner, while in the blue corner the king of the gods pisses himself and sporadically attempts to attack the rock using the exact things that it is incredibly strong against. The having-sex-with-a-hole-in-the-ground issue is another pointer. But I digress.

At about this point, Teshub lost the fight. To a rock. Ullikummi reached the walls of his city, somehow, taking him by surprise, somehow, and forced him to abdicate. Somehow.

Probably after having watched this go on for quite some time, laughing, the ‘wise’ (read: not a total idiot) god Ea stepped in with the brilliant idea of attacking the monster with a saw, which no-one had thought of before.

To be fair, it was a specific type of magic saw they had lying about the place, cluttering it up, but really that’s no excuse for forgetting it exists when faced with a large, very static enemy. Quite the opposite, in fact. So with the poor deaf-blind monster cruelly sawed-off at the ankles, lying helpless on the floor, the gods suddenly rediscovered their bravery and joined in the attack on the severely disabled, and now grievously injured, child. Restoring Teshub to the throne in the process.

Hooray?

I have to say, I wouldn’t be particularly interested in buying that book, if it were written today. It just smacks of exploitation, and I’m really not comfortable with that at all.

TEZCATLIPOCA was a Meso-American (Aztec, Mixtec, Zapotec, Mayan) god. They were all pretty damned messed up. Further to this, he was an Aztec god, probably the most expansionist (though not necessarily the most war-like) of the major Meso-American tribes. Now, picking an Aztec god for one of these stories is sort of cheating.

When you invite your buddies THE FLAYED LORD, THE FEATHERED SERPENT, and THE SMOKING MIRROR, also known as THE DARK GOD over to your place for some brews, you’re either going to end the night with some seriously messed-up stories to tell the next day, or you’re going to record a very kvlt black metal demo that will only ever be heard by the thirty trvest people on the planet.

Ihsahn sits with his guitar.

Black metal? It's like this whole thing. Click the picture if you're interested or don't know already.

Now, Tezcatlipoca was the smoking mirror, and the dark god. He could perhaps be described as an intimidating character. He could also be legitimately described as the Aztec God Of Jumping Out At People From Dark Places At Night And Wrestling Them, which, trust me, does not hold up as a defence in any court of law. To give you an idea of the kind of god he was, the Aztecs carved him many stone benches along their most prestigious roadways in order to give Tezcatlipoca a place to sit, rest and think. Tezcatlipoca used these benches as sites for ambushes.

So trust me when I say that it’s not at all surprising how this story starts:

Tezcatlipoca was walking into the city of Tollán one fine day, almost completely naked and painted green. As an insanely cunning (only one of those words is three-quarters accurate) cover for his disguise, he claimed to be a seller of green paint.

Blue Man Group

Come ON, you guys. Rule one of the paint-sellin' business, you do NOT get high off your own supply.

I suspect that the next part of the story tended to be written either by Tezzy himself, or his priests, because supposedly he decided to seduce the daughter of Huemac, governor of the city of Tollán. She was said to be so beautiful that all of Tollán were desperate for her love (she was actually said to be more beautiful than Mount Ixtaccíhuatl, but I’m assuming this was a regional thing — wait, what the hell is up with all the sexualising of mountains that goes on in these stories?). Also supposedly, he achieved his seduction by merely passing close to her bedchamber and hoping that she would see him lookin’ all green and nekkid and sexy.

I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH: NEVER GET NAKED, PAINT YOURSELF GREEN, ANOINT YOURSELF THE AZTEC GOD OF NIGHT-AMBUSH WRESTLING-FUN, AND GRAPPLE PEOPLE SITTING ON PARK BENCHES. DO NOT DO THAT. IT DOES NOT ATTRACT WOMEN AS MUCH AS THE AZTECS WOULD HAVE YOU BELIEVE.

There is apparently a finer line between Aztec god and meth-addict repeat-sex-offender than I had realised. But I digress from the crazy. Tez’s plan worked so well that the daughter of the governor became sick with longing for his lithe, green body. The guv’nor quickly found out who was to blame, at which point Tez entered part two of the crazy-person’s recipe for success.

This was to tell the father of the woman Tez was repeatedly flashing that he could take Tez’s life any time he chose. I think I would’ve chose, but given what happens later in the story I would probably have regretted the decision very quickly indeed. The father chose to let him live, because he could see that if Tez died then the princess would swiftly pine away to nothing, and this was a less than acceptable outcome. Obviously.

So, Tez got the girl. There’s nothing like emotional blackmail of close relatives, body-paint, violent brooding men and a hefty dose of near-nakedity. Wait, wrestling really hasn’t changed that much since Aztec times, has it?

Anyway, the people of the city were sort of disgruntled that this stranger had won the princess’ hand in marriage (probably not a church ceremony, otherwise fairly traditional), and he was probably quite noticeable due to all the prancing around like a great attention-seeking nonce he was doing.

For these reasons, even though he was let into the army under a “don’t ask, don’t tell (that you are the dark god of the obsidian knife and smoking mirror, Tezcatlipoca)” policy which they custom-made for him, a few soldiers noticed him. And sorta jostled him into the most vulnerable position in the army.

Now I want to make it very clear. This was a god whose job was fighting people at night. He was the god who got to be called the dark god in a pantheon which included someone whose sacrificial victims were flayed, then had their skin worn by priests for months afterwards.

That’s the equivalent of getting to go to the Hallowe’en party dressed as The Crow when one of your friends is The GODDAMNED CROW because you are more Crow-like than they are. He was not in any danger. Apparently, though, he took this pitiful attempt at ‘doing a King David’ (again, not what the actual Toltec people called it) extremely seriously indeed.

When Tezcatlipoca returned to the city, he was cheered by everyone, due to his great valour in battle, and due to his having survived in such a vulnerable position. The people forgot their petty grudge, and had learned to love this odd, violent stranger who’d married the most sought-after woman in the entire city — in the entire Valley of Mexico. More sought after than a mountain, and mountains were apparently rather hot property back in the day.

Volcano Erupting

I tried so hard not to put this image in after that sentence, but I just couldn't. Forgive me, I am weak.

Everyone loved him, he had a beautiful wife and the proud garb of the warrior — as opposed to the proud garb of pretty much nothing at all.  He’d never been in real danger, and most of the people present had had nothing to do with his “being-manoeuvred-to-a-slightly-more-dangerous-place-on-a-massive-battlefield”ing. Which was a slightly abstract ‘crime’ to begin with. I think you can all see where this is going.

He threw a lavish feast and celebration! He encouraged the people to dance and sing their little hearts out. By encouraged, I of course mean “forced _ against their will using his magic powers”, and by “their little hearts out” I of course mean “painfully fast, until he tired of his cruel game and made them dance their way into a ravine which he had just created”. Yeah.

Old Tez just didn’t like the people of Tollán. One time, he killed hundreds of innocents with a gardening hoe in the flower gardens, presumably just so he could make hundreds of gardening-related action-hero style one-liners.  Another time, he entertained the people by making the war god Huitzilopochtli, disguised as a child, appear to dance on his hands. Possibly Huitzilopochtli had lost some sort of drunken bar wager the night before.

So, naturally, the people crowded around to see. Unnaturally, they were so drawn to the spectacle that they created a crush, killing many innocents (there is a theme developing).  The survivors were annoyed, and turned on the two gods, eventually killing them, presumably through weight of numbers.

Once dead, the gods exacted their revenge: they leaked everywhere. The liquid and gas they exuded was so foul that anyone who smelt the gas died instantly. A few tried to drag the bodies away, wearing masks to protect themselves, but the gods were too heavy to shift. So they set up a massive crowd with ropes and cords to pull the gods away.

Naturally, the ropes broke, and the people tumbled over, causing further devastation and death. In the end, the entire population died. Because that’s what happens when you fail to kill a stranger, kids. The tales of Tezcatlipoca’s life are simply too dark and light-less to possibly work as a book.

He caused multiple genocides, jumped out and attacked people at night in a most disturbing way, and never appeared to do anything good (he killed an earth monster once, but I think that would go in the prologue [Aztec calendars confuse me], so we’d be left with arbitrary unremitting horrors for the rest of the novel).

There does appear to be a consistent moral of “be careful at celebrations because you’ll probably all die”, but I’m not sure how relevant that is to the modern age, or indeed any age, really.

These stories should be taken with a pinch of salt. I am no scholar, and I have deliberately chosen the most exciting, stupid or bizarre aspects of the most exciting, stupid or bizarre stories. These stories varied wildly, too: Leiwani, the Hittite god of the underworld, for instance, gradually transformed from being “King” of the underworld into a woman.

There are many different accounts of the lives and times of all these people and deities, similar to the different ‘continuities’ of modern day comic book heroes, only much more important because it was all seen through the eyes of religion. However, I think that we can safely conclude one thing. Ancient legends are bitchin’.

Modern authors might be getting stranger, but they still got nothin’ on the ancients.

I still think there are some mind-blowing modern authors. I was hoping the stories I picked would have a common theme, but they all seem to be utterly bizarre in very different ways, which actually quite pleases me.

Shame there were no Scandinavian myths in the mix, this time around…

There is now a Scandinavian myth to read, if you enjoyed this blog post.

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Types Of People You’ll Meet Online

A Comprehensive List of the Many and Varied Types of People you will Encounter on these Vast Nets of Inter

This is it, guys, this is all the people.

Sheep: Somebody who holds a mainstream viewpoint that you don’t, without being particularly willing to argue about it.

Example:

Alice: I don’t know, I just don’t think that it seems likely that the moon landings were faked.

Bob: See what we have to fight against? Wake up, sheeple! The truth must out. Open your eyes!

Alice: Have you seen this picture of a cat wearing a floppy hat? ‘s pretty cool.

Shill: Somebody who holds a mainstream viewpoint you don’t, and is willing and able to defend that viewpoint.

Example:

Alice: For the moon landings to have been faked, it would have required the complete co-operation, then and now, of almost half a million uninvested individuals, with no obvious motive (NASA hires companies to do its work for it, it doesn’t pocket the government money itself), leaving behind, with 1960’s technology, no hard evidence of fraud and somehow managing to leave evidence of lunar landings on the moon, which are visible from Earth. It’s not impossible, but it would have been so pointless and difficult a task as to render the difference between its improbability and impossibility moot.

Bob: Don’t listen to this corporate shill. Visit my website, timecube.com, to hear the real truth behind what the suits tell you.

Conspiracy Theorist: Somebody who holds an alternative viewpoint you don’t.

Example:

Alice: The financial markets and government are artificially increasing housing prices by a variety of methods, which will lead to a global recession by 2010!

Bob: Gah, you conspiracy theorists crack me up. What, you think that the miracle of sub-prime lending will somehow magically turn into a failure overnight?

Troll: Anyone who disagrees with you or your community.

Example:

Alice: I have faith in a higher power.

Bob: GTFO, troll.

Or

Bob: I’m not convinced by deist arguments.

Alice: GTFO, troll.

Nerd: Someone who spends more time on your chosen hobby than you do.

Example:

Bob: I hit level fifty-four!

Alice: Gz! I’m working towards level seventy, but it’s getting hard.

Bob: Pfft, nerd.

Poser: Anyone who spends less time on your chosen hobby than you do.

Example:

Bob: I hit level fifty-four!

Alice: Ha! Fifty-four. You must be playing at least, what, an hour a week? Go play Madden with your jock friends, poser.

Hipster: Someone who knows more about music than you.

Example:

Alice: I’m not sure that you can compare Def Leppard to Brahms in that way. I think they wrote different types of music.

Bob: This is why everybody hates you elitist hipster bastards.

Twelve Year Old: Anyone who knows less about music than you.

Example:

Bob: Cradle of Filth are the most extreme band I’ve ever heard! They blew me away!

Alice: What? What are you, twelve? Grow the fuck up and listen to Darkthrone‘s entire back-catalogue. Now.

Pseudo-Intellectual: Someone who uses polysyllabic words.

Example: 

Bob: Stop being such a pseudo-intellectual.

Alice: What? “Pseudo-intellectual”? You’re such a pseudo-intellectual. Speak normal English.

Bob: Ah, calling someone a pseudo-intellectual. The classic defence of the pseudo-intellectual.

Idiot: Someone who has made a typo.

Example:

Alice: I think you will find, sir, that it is you who are the psudo-intellectual.

Alice: pseudo*

Bob: HAHAHA, what an idiot. It’s not even worth wasting my time on you.

Fag: Human being. Supposed to be inoffensive, despite being explicitly an insult and also a common abusive term for LGBTQ folk. Most common on the chans, and also in any online gaming at all, up to and including children’s games such as Club Penguin or Neopets.

Example:

A|1<3: ‘sup newfag

Bob: suck it, oldfag

A|1<3: I can’t believe you’re using your real name, namefag

Bob: That hurts my feelings.

A|1<3: shut the hell up, moralfag

Weeaboo: Somebody from the West obsessed with Japanese culture. Supposed to be offensive, despite sounding (a) adorable and (b) like the person has an unusual (for the West) and thus intriguing array of interests and (c) inviting a spanking for anyone who says it.

Example:

Alice: Have you seen the film The Tale Of Zatoichi?

Bob: Is that film Japanese?

Alice: Yes.

Bob: Then hell no I haven’t seen The Tale Of Zatoichi, you Weeaboo.

Alice: O.K. It’s pretty good. It’s about a blind masseur who is also a warrior bound to a strict code. Rotten Tomatoes gave it 100%. You should watch it, it’s pretty cool.

Bob: Who are you talking to?

Welp, those are all the types of people that there are online. Sarcasm may or may not have been involved in the creation of this post. Watch The Tale Of Zatoichi if you get the chance, but don’t ask me anything about Japanese culture, because I don’t know anything.

Writing a proper post for Saturday.

Ablaze/A blaze/Ablaze

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The Noble Art Of Karate – Sorta

Like much of the blogging community, I was not especially well-built as a child, and was also something of a loudmouthed fool. Past a certain age, I could no longer bank on the strength of the cubicle doors keeping my assailants out, so I had to learn other self-defence mechanisms than slamming the toilet doors shut and waiting. For instance, acting as though I was mentally unwell fended a few of the more gullible attackers off for a good while, and only cost me my dignity and the respect of those with actual mental illnesses. The revered and deadly “kick-to-the-groin-and-run-like-the-dickens” technique was also useful for taking on one person at a time, but since I have been prone to using phrases such as “run like the dickens” for a good long time, I quickly moved past the phase in which just one person trying to kick my head in was anything other than an inexplicable but welcome break from the usual state of affairs.

I’m not going to pretend to have been especially ill-served. I received no long-lasting scars or particularly savage injuries from my angrier, more socially adept peers. I was also kind of a douchebag: if you remember the game “pixie-dust”, where you pretended to throw dust in your classmate’s eyes, and ‘won’ when they blinked as a natural reaction, then you will understand what a dick move it was for me to walk around with a handful of salt all day, shouting “pixie-dust” at people who had bested me previously and throwing the salt right in their stupid faces. This was a major, and I have to say justifiable, factor in my being singled out for the purposes of violence by particular persons.

I was pretty fed up with the whole ‘ritual beatings’ situation, though, and this was the reason that when my little sister signed up for karate classes I was pretty eager to join up, as well. I think this counts as the first of many warning signs, as there are few eight year old girls who are well-versed in the deadliest arts.

Image of "Disaster Girl" in front of burning house.

There are, of course, exceptions.

There are even fewer deadly arts taught by elderly ninja masters which also take place behind a soft play area at a local leisure centre, yet my expectations were inexplicably high. This is part of what convinced me that my time was best spent, not correcting and improving on the basic moves, but rather learning all the flashiest kicks and trying desperately to remember their japanese names. To this day, I can only remember the roundhouse and reverse-roundhouse, mawashi-geri and ura mawashi-geri respectively. Below you can see the ura mawashi-geri (referred to as the gyaku mawashi-geri for complicated reasons), demonstrated by Tom Selleck and that good-for-nothin’ kid who got your daughter pregnant then went down to juvie for four years.

As you can see, even with the most seasoned and skillful practitioners, what results is less of a kick and more of an excellent way to get people to charge and push you over while you’re off-balance. It also appears to resemble something of an elaborate dance, for reasons that will become clear soon.

Karate is primarily based around dancing. Did I say soon? I meant to say “reasons that will become clear now.” The Karate kata is the term for what Wikipedia calls “detailed patterns of movement practiced either solo or in pairs”, which the more meaning-oriented among you might have worked out means “dancing”. It is also the main way you progress up the typically martial-arty belts system. I made it to brown belt and never once threw a punch in anger, or even in mild irritation.

I did dance a lot, though, and when I explained to people about the mystic and ancient art I was learning, they tended to suss this out very quickly. The next thing they tended to suss out was the vast potential for piss-taking and lunch-money-getting from this veritable gold-mine of dorkitude.

I comforted myself with the knowledge that once I really learned how to karate, I would have my vengeance. I would be like the wind, silent but deadly, or like an autumn full moon — oh for god’s sake, stop tittering at the back. I’m doing the mystical imagery over here. Anyway. Short term, the fact I was attending dance class did not work out so well for me.

Billy Elliot looking angry as hell.

We'll see how funny it is that I'm learning a so-called "dance" when I dance your face off with my fist.

It probably didn’t help my cause that the first time I attempted to use my skills, I used a front kick, which I hadn’t actually been informed was supposed to be used to gently encourage people to give you more room on the bus rather than actually inflict pain. This resulted in much hilarity all round. Two people who’d only previously tormented me verbally rather than physically, and who I therefore considered ‘friends’, found my flat-footed pushing kick both hilarious and enjoyable, and invited me to perform my miraculous “painless kick” as frequently as possible, pushing them down hills and onto skate ramps and half-pipes on whatever makeshift vehicle they had created, then pissing themselves laughing at how I’d ever thought that the kick could do harm to a human being. Then they would spend a little while showing me how to perform a Granddad, a far less intimidatingly named kick than the mae geri I had ‘mastered’, and which mostly involved kneeing me in the thigh. For me, this was partly entertaining but primarily just humiliating, setting the tone for the rest of my social encounters throughout adolescence and well into early adulthood.

It was about that time that I came to an important realisation; Karate is not Kung-fu.

Well, it seems obvious when I put it like that. More to the point, Karate was not what I wanted to learn. What I wanted to learn was the shit that Neo learnt in the Matrix, the stuff that made people back off when you merely mentioned, almost offhandedly, that you knew it. I’m probably thinking mostly of Wing Chun which emphasises self-defence, but I’m sure other kung fu schools are applicable. Or at least, more applicable than Karate.

The thing is, the way freestyle karate tends to be taught de-emphasises practical strikes and self defence at all times in favour of learning how to perform the pretty moves in the right order. It can end up being closer to tai chi than a real martial art, albeit with more emphasis on making your clothes make a “swooshy” noise than tai chi has. The distinction is subtle, but important — swooshiness is vital in several of the major martial arts, though not, strangely, in krav maga. During one of the few practical lessons we had, paired up with a guy of equal weight, people regarded me with awe when I demonstrated my mastery of the principle of momentum when it comes to letting a guy throw himself around. Yet still, in real fights I spent most of my time fleeing for my life, or at least for my not-getting-my-delicate-skin-bruised.

Despite Karate’s drawbacks, such as the fact that I spent an hour a week for just over a year and a half unlearning how to throw a decent punch, I have to admit that my own physical shortcomings played a huge part in my crapness with it. Any martial art that I could turn my hand to, I would recoil from it moments later pulling an ‘owie’ face and nursing a broken hand.

The moment that I realised for sure that I would never be a ninja badass was probably when I managed to badly damage my face climbing about on the soft play area. It was at this point that I decided, shamefacedly, to call it a day, and instantly spent two months working up the courage to tell my parents that I was quitting.

I have to say, I’m really not a fighter.

The mae geri in the hands of a more expert fighter, against styles such as muay thai which incorporate rapid, low kicks, can be useful. It’s just not so good for a kid trying to defend himself from other kids. If you do happen to be good at karate, good for you.

Look at the CENT-ipede as he CRAWLS a-ROUND on the ground…

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy reading about my humiliation as I tried to learn how to do the boxing. You bastard.

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I Try Really Hard To Watch “Catwoman” Sober

Anyone who knows me in real life is probably sick to death of hearing me complain about Catwoman by now. This is especially bad because it only ever comes on late at night, when the important people with jobs and sweet sweet money have gone to bed, and neither the advertisers nor the channel itself are able to give anything that even slightly resembles a fuck. Why is this so bad?

Well, mostly, because this in turn means that I have never been sober while watching the damned thing, so I’ve never really been able to properly articulate why it was quite so bad. In some cases I’ve not even been able to remember anything about the film at all.

Pretty sure this guy was the main villain though. If he wasn't, he should've been.

So this time, I’ve settled down all comfy-like, I’ve put all the alcoholic beverages in the house safely out of reach, and I’m going to watch and record the monstrosity that is Catwoman so that you don’t have to suffer.

Let’s Watch Catwoman, as the kids might say.

Come on already. You can do this. BRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH-

Act 1: The Beginnening –

OK, it’s too late to back out now. We open with some Generic Ancient Artefacts (TM), we’re introduced to the idea of the Catwoman throughout history. Witches! Outcasts! There’s a general vaguely feminist-ique tint to this part that I didn’t remember from my post-pub viewings of the film. This actually bodes pretty well, from my point of view. I’m all for some dubious re-interpretations of mythology, too — metalhead here — so this is a damned fine start.

The music is godawful, though. It sounds like someone bought an early ’90s Casio keyboard and fell asleep on the “generic R’n’B” button. Again, bias, metalhead. Oh, and this is a bit weird:

This looks like the same cat in different poses photoshopped awkwardly in to shot five times. Not sure, don't care. Possible solution: Magic.

Now that the credits are over, we get to the real meaty chunks. Uh, action. Thinking about tuna a lot for some reason. And we have a cringe-worthy cliché to start us off — “It all started on the day that I died.” This is the kind of writing that only impresses coke-addled moronic film executives, because they never watch any films or television series and thus are as easily impressed as a week-old kitten. Only the kitten has a boner and blood running out one nostril, and is kind of looking at you in a way that you’re not comfortable with.

“Wait, what’s that Larsson? The day she died? Well – wait – wait, how is that even possible? She’s still talking to us! She’s not dead…but she is?! Interrobang! You’re blowing my mind here, Larsson, and it’s about to spunk a hundred million dollars all over your writing.”

This is also relevant. MEEEEEN.

She then says “but that comes later”, solidifying my suspicion that this was a cheap trick to get people to stay in the cinema. I realise I’m already getting angry at this cheap writing. I decide that a sip of wine can’t hurt, and might help me relax a bit, so I have one.

Hey, when I said “sober”, I didn’t mean like straight-edge hardcore sober. Just, you know, not pissed.

Not even taken the edge off.

Alright so I’m slipping already. We’ll leave that alone and go back to the film. Halle Berry is the least believable klutz ever, pulling off some of the best-choreographed and most elegant stumbles and trips I’ve ever seen. She’s just like us, you see. Except she’s a movie klutz, meaning she’s adorable and apparently has extremely developed fine motor skills (she’s a graphic artist), unlike us real life klutzes who keep accidentally kneeing our lovers in the face and cannot draw to save our lives. And- AHH! SHIT! The Merovingian! Why isn’t anyone doing anything?

I may have been wrong about accordion-feller being the main villain. The Merovingian here is cast against type as a villainous, deceptive, cheating European, with a powerful, attractive and rebellious wife, who surrounds himself with beautiful women.

Totally different situations. In the Matrix there is more leather and everyone is much less smiley.

So, Halle Berry’s character, Patience (yawn), hates her job as an up-and-coming artist within an enormous cosmetics company who is apparently “more talented than anyone else in the building”. And she is clever and sensitive and slim and her hair shoots freaking unicorns all over the damn place. But yeah, not happy.

Just like us, you see?

The term fanfiction writers use for this type of shenanigan is ‘Mary Sue‘. We shoot from here to her lonely apartment, where we find out that intelligent, friendly, pretty, talented Patience has not been invited to the party because ______. She doesn’t like the noise but she’s not a douchebag at this point, so she doesn’t ruin the party, she just (presumably) gets some earplugs, shuts the windows, and gets some sleep.

Oh, and outside there is a magical cat on a motorbike. It’s less fun than it sounds.

Missed opportunity.

So the next morning, a woman who knows that she is physically maladroit notices that there is a cat out on the ledge. Using her powers of logic and deductive reasoning, she- oh what the hell, is she climbing out her, what, fifth story window to rescue a bloody cat? Maybe she isn’t all that clever. Maybe she should in fact be fired from her job, as her boss appears to be threatening. A cop comes to save her, thinking that she is about to jump to her death in a hilarious and not at all insensitively played misunderstanding. Luckily, she was just a grown woman chasing a cat around a crumbling old building for no goddamn reason, so she had a much better reason for being out there and thus is attractive.

The moral of the story is that mental illnesses are ugly, and that helpless stupidity is charming and endearing in a woman. Yeap. That feminist slant might not quite materialise, I fear.

MEANWHILE AT WORK

Seriously, this film jumps around like a house of pain. Nothing much happens but the important thing is that it doesn’t happen very quickly and we’re not given time to notice that the last thing didn’t happen before we move on to the next non-event. The Merovingian is busy being a dickhead to his wife, who responds by appearing to be aroused, probably because his wife is played by Sharon Stone, who I believe has something of a limited repertoire.

The cop has now arrived at Patience’s workplace, ostensibly to return her wallet, but really because he is now in love with her and wants to ask her out to a meal. Don’t ask why, there’s no answer that you’ll like.

It’s all much better than I remember though, no-one’s said anything too too cringey just ye-

What. Some guy refers to the cop as a “man sandwich”, supposedly to convey the idea that he’s attractive but in reality only managing to convey the idea of a man trapped in some bread. Or possibly that he’s slightly doughy. Or high in carbohydrates. Whatever, the point is that no-one has ever used those words in that way in the history of ever, primarily because it would make no fucking sense. We have also just learnt that the writers of Catwoman have never met a real life gay man.

Alright, that was pretty stupid, but at least Patience’s pretty — uh, I mean, plain: this is Hollywood we’re in now — friend hasn’t turned into a mushy pile of hormones just because a mildly attractive man appeared. Oh WAIT, she totally just did.

Is this good use of police time anyway?

Couldn’t he have left her wallet at, you know, her flat, where he was, and where the wallet was? MY TAX DOLLARS PAY YOUR WAGES, COPPER or would if I lived in America.

Ugh, and now with the romance. I may as well finish this glass, since I already poured it. It’s fine, you can’t be drunk if you’re still using (non-plastic) glasses.

Not feeling a thing.

There is so little chemistry onscreen that the film failed to develop properly. For some reason the soundtrack here has been lifted from a no-budget uplifting teen drama about overcoming discrimination. Meanwhile: Jokes!

Jokes: now indistinguishable from looking like a startled serial killer mid-coitus.

MEANWHILE AT SOME SHADY PLACE PATIENCE HAS TO GO TO FOR SOME REASON

Seriously? I know the reason. But it’s a stupid reason. Knowing the reason won’t make you happy. Have a small packet of crisps instead, or a cookie.

But yeah, this place is pretty much a crappy supervillain’s lair. Some people are watching a supposedly terrifying supposedly secret presentation on how some beauty cream is addictive. If you stop taking it, you’ll get a skin condition, and it gives you a headache sometimes. On the other hand, it literally reverses the aging process of skin. So this cosmetics company has invented a product that could potentially dramatically reduce incidences of skin cancer (yes, I know the product wouldn’t really work) throughout the Western world, making them the bad guy.

Anyway, according to soon-to-die-lackey-with-a-conscience, having a skin condition is exactly the same as being a MONSTER.

Aaaaaand we’re back at the start. Patience floating face-down in water, ‘dead’. We could probably have skipped 90% of the last fifteen minutes, and she hasn’t been narrating or explaining how she knows all this shit since the start. Sloppy writing.

Question: Why would you use bad CGI to show a cat meowing instead of, I dunno, simply showing a cat meowing? Cats do that shit practically all the damn time.

Answer: got to spend that budget on something.

This pivotal scene can be summarised as follows: there are some kitties, and then she is a magic dude.

Should probably point out that in the comics, Catwoman was not magic.

So now we have reached the second part, and I am honestly flagging. I’ve had a glass of cheap red wine, but I’m not drunk, so technically I am succeeding. Kinda. It really is just…boring though. I’m sorry that you guys have to read it, but at least it’s faster and less mind-numbingly dumb than the actual film. And will hopefully deter you from watching it out of morbid fascination.

Act 2: The Hero-a-ning –

Patience jumps up her fire escape and smashes her window in because fuck doors.

I approve. This is the best part of the movie so far.

Then some actual plot happens. Patience meets a woman called “Ophelia Powers” and sees nothing suspicious in her name, or in the fact that she lives in a wizened old country house unceremoniously plonked in the middle of a major city. Ophelia is also a stereotype of a crazy cat lady, by which I mean she keeps to herself, doesn’t endanger herself and others, and hasn’t started walking like she’s in an appalling music video just because she caught a whiff of bad cat breath.

Note to Halle Berry (she’s been following this blog for a while now): you cannot jiggle your arse that much while walking and look normal. Those are two things that do not go together.

Patience suddenly likes cat-nip, she falls long distances onto her feet without suffering damage, sleeps on a shelf, and can leap tens of feet into the air.

Obviously, she tells herself everything is fine, as you would, and goes to work, where she has a painfully contrived confrontation with the Merovingian.

The cop, who it turns out is called Tom Lone (“Nah, Tom Wolf is just too obvious. We have to find something more subtle.”) is lecturing enthusiastic inner-city kids on morality while toting a basketball.

FUCKING SUBTLETY YOU FUCKING GUYS THIS ONE THIS GUY IS THE ONE WE’RE SUPPOSED TO LIKE

But yeah, subtlety is just a fancy word for un-American, so we’ll let that slide. Then we see some unconvincing basketball tricks from Halle Berry (unless you’ve recently leapt out of the way of an oncoming steam train that mysteriously never quite materialised, it’s unlikely that you’ll be fooled by the cuts, stunt doubles and terrible CGI on display here).

Oh god. And then Halle Berry gets all inappropriate with Tommy Gun in front of the bloody kids. Stop it you guys. They’re kids, they’re not stupid. Insipid R’n’B wank standard (wandard? wankard? stank?) Scandalous plays in the background. It seems a lot like a bad 90s music video, but then a lot of this film seems to be like a bad 90s music video.

Everything takes ten times as long as it should. We’re forty minutes into the film, and very little significant development has occurred. Maybe it’s like the Madame Bovary of superhero films, we’re supposed to find it boring, that’s the point. It’s a comment on the bourgeois nature of the superhero? Well that just plain makes no sense.

I have a second glass of wine, because I have to. Don’t judge me. You don’t get to judge me. No-one judges me.

You're not so great.

Then I watch Halle Berry shout at some ‘metalheads’ who appear to be listening to soft rock. And Scandalous plays again, because god knows no-one can get enough of that vacuous dreck. She really doesn’t appear to be able to act at all, and — oh no, oh no, oh no, she just made a “purrfect” pun. Why?

Why can’t she act? Why are there jewel thieves already in this shop? Why are we in a shop so quickly? Are these ordinary thieves supposed to make her look morally better by comparison? Wait, she can dodge freakin’ bullets?! Bad Special Effects? More puns? Is that much arse and boobage really necessary?

Fuck this, I’m finishing this bottle.

Still not stupid enough.

Oh wow! She’s on the internet now, googling “cats + women”, and geocities is dominating the results. There is a warm glow of nostalgia (wine) enveloping me right now. You remember geocities, right? Good times.

She clicks on a link, and is surprised to find out it contains nothing she’s interested in. Except, if you look at the screenshot I took, you can actually read all the relevant information all down the right-hand side of the screen. She chooses to ignore this, and shakes her head in exasperation at the amusingly dressed cat.

1) What was she expecting from clicking a link that read “Women’s cat lover’s club”? The Necronomicon?

2) Why is this club women-only? Cats are excellent people. Um. Cats. Whatever.

3) READ THE STUFF ABOUT THE PHARAOHS, PASHT, DEATH RITES AND ANCIENT SECRETS THAT’S CLEARLY VISIBLE ALL DOWN THE RIGHT-HAND SIDE, YOU FOOOOOOOOL.

4) Hehe. Kitty glasses.

There was no excuse for clicking that link, it still found you what you wanted, and you failed to recognise it. How could anything with your name possibly hope to outwit Batman?

In despair at the internet’s helpfulness going straight over her head, she goes back to the cliché cat lady. Probably the best character simply by virtue of having the fewest lines of any major player in the ‘plot’, and thus the fewest stupid lines. There is a kind of awkward semi-feminist wicca-lite thing going on here.

At this point I realise I am powerful hungry, and set off in a sort of interlude to find as much meat as possible, as cheaply as possible. This turns out to mean a kilo of ASDA’s finest pig’s liver for under £1. I cook and eat about half of it.

Do not eat half a kilo of pig’s liver.

Interlude

Act 3: The Beplottening –

Wandered down the offie when I realised that we were starting out on a ten minute talk about stuff the audience had already been shown. Returned just about in time for some actual plot; turns out someone tried to kill her, and she wants to find out why.

SUCCESS!

We knew this from the start, and even Catwoman actually knows why — she was somewhere she shouldn’t’ve been and learnt too much. We were all there. We saw it. Why is the film pretending we weren’t and didn’t?

I’m genuinely distressed by this, or possibly by the half kilo of pig’s liver.

On which note, at this point I’ve gotten so bored I’ve started throwing the rest of the pig’s liver around the room (it’s not good liver, don’t worry).  1 point for off the wall and in the bin, 2 points for straight in the bin, 2 points for bouncing off two walls and hitting the bin, 5 points for bouncing off three walls and landing in the bin.

All pretense of feminist ideals is now abandoned in favour of lascivious perving over Halle Berry’s arse for a good few minutes. There’s some CGI. It almost goes without saying that it’s awful, but it doesn’t quite, so I will; it’s awful.

They could rename this Sexy Bondage Girl Violently Attacks Some People Who Sort Of Almost Deserve It and I might enjoy it a bit more. What is this bullshit?

Pig Liver Points: 7 so far. Walls getting a bit bloody.

Have invented new level of drunkenness: pig-liver-chuckin’ drunk. Inordinately proud of it.

Oh god, “Cat got your tongue”? Really? You had no reason to do that to his tongue. It was just to do the line. You look like an idiot, stop doing absolutely everything in the most inefficient way possible. I should point out that she’s been fighting people who are essentially irrelevant for a while, but is now facing off against cop/boyfriend/Tom G Warrior. He appears to be belatedly making connections between his newly sassy and independent girlfriend who’s acting a bit like a cat and this strange woman who dresses like a cat and looks exactly like his girlfriend only wearing less.

Which isn’t how disguises work, but hey. As long as there’s some good ol’-fashioned sexploitation on-screen, I’m actually not very happy at all.

12 points.

My notes here get a little bit incomprehensible. It’s a bit like reading an apocalyptic log, especially with all the pig-blood and wine stains on the paper. I have made a few explanatory notes in parenthetical italics.

Catwoman literally could not sound more (?suspicious?) as she explains that she has some ‘business’ to take care of.

Squelchy porn bass ‘n’ arse. (Unsure if this refers to squelchy porn, bass and arse, squelchy porn-bass and arse, or squelchy-arse bass-porn. Or all three.)

What. Why are the Cirque de frickin’ Soleil here? WHY?

Gah. Cats can not run up walls like that. I notice my new bottle is empty.

Worst cop ever. IT’S YOUR GIRLFRIEND!

“I knew I felt a spark between us” — really? The cable? And the spark? Your boyfriend is for once, correct and smart. You will accidentally (? -?- ?) both of you to kingdom come with that loose high voltage cable. Speaking of Cable, where are all the comic book characters, anyway? Why is this ridiculously contrived ‘supervillain’ all we have? (Having rewatched this bit to find out what I was talking about, it turns out I meant Sharon Stone: Sharon Stone was the evil one, not the Merovingian)

Wait, her skin’s so y(oung that it becomes impenetrable. I remember this because I was still angry about how stupid this was when I woke up the next day [I was also angry about natural light and having to walk places and do stuff, to be fair]. I just never finished my sentence)

God this cop is dense. Your girlfriend is eating sushi like crazy, and she’s talking about catwoman like she’s in love with her. Surely he’ll arrest h-

Nope. Music-video sex, instead.

Damn you, Tom Dangereux!

I bounce some especially spherical pig’s liver off three walls and in! SCORE! Unfortunately I’ve lost track of my points.

Well, the villain is an older woman driven mad by jealousy and excessive use of beauty products. Women, eh?

I think that feminism is off the table.

Somewhere along the line I lost my shirt. I now look a lot like a member of Turisas.

Alright, I look like that in my head, anyway. Shut up.

Act 4: The Endening –

Well, Catwoman eventually got caught by being more of an idiot than her idiot cop boyfriend.

However, she escapes by cunningly sidling through the extra wide bars. No-one else ever thought of that. I’m suddenly reminded of an old French & Saunders sketch about Hannibal Lecter.

Our heroine steals a car due to a stranger’s admittedly kind of dumb concern for a woman who just fell several stories and got hit by a car without being damaged. This serves to solidify the antipathy I feel towards her, and the apathy I feel towards her goals. (I did not spell these words quite this well in my original notes.)

Beauline (the name of the beauty product that makes people’s skin so young it’s invulnerable) would make everyone superheroes, dammit! This is the same problem The Incredibles had only it’s not marketed towards children (I hope) and it has none of the jeffing charm.

Nomination for most stupid dialogue of all time: Tom Ahauke-Missile catches out the supervillain in her evil schemin’ ways (partly because Sharon Stone cannot stop seducin’ even when her freedom depends on it). Witness:

Tom Bombadil: You just told me it was you.

Sharon Stone: Now why would you believe it was me?

"Uh, you, uh, you just told me. That is. Um. That is the why- uh, that is the reason for that." "Oh! Oh yes, of course, you just said, sorry, sorry, busy day, not really concentrating on what's going on. You know how it is. Rude of me. Do go on, please."

Tom Rockhard unfortunately fails to pick up on how brain-twistingly stupid this is.

People I don’t care about keep hitting each other. (This would be a good name for a pacifist’s blog)

NATURAL DIALOGUE.

“And what are you? A hero? A thief? A freak?”

What’s most hilarious about this trailer-bait and obvious line-setting-uppity is that Patience McStupidPants fails to seize on it and deliver what could’ve been the only instance of decent writing in the whole stupid movie.

Ack. Sharon Stone dummy.

Spoiler alert:

I was waiting for Catwoman to say something like "You big dummy," but then I realised that she wasn't Deadpool and no-one involved in this movie actually knew how bad it was. Somehow. I still suspect it was a way of getting out of taxes.

She fell down. Very unconvincing. She falls for what seems like a good twenty seconds, and flips over maybe once every two seconds. If she’d only nailed the landing we could’ve had an olympic diver on our hands. Only because she’s made mostly of fabric and light-weight woods, but still.

She doesn’t splash as much as I thought she would, given how far she fell. Trying to keep it PG, I assume, except that that ship sailed the instant you outfitted Catwoman exclusively in impractical fetish gear and focussed the camera on her half-exposed butt for ninety minutes.

Michelle Pfeiffer wore practical fetish gear. Totally different thing.

And bad CGI and cut to Halle Berry’s arse and…scene.

Well. I failed. I don’t really believe that it’s possible to watch Catwoman sober, though. Throwing offal around the room was probably excessive, but…actually, no. It wasn’t. Drunkenly throwing offal around the room is exactly how Catwoman makes me feel, and I regret nothing.

What Happened Next?

The writers of Catwoman were found years later, drained of all their bodily fluids as a precautionary measure against them ever successfully making a mark on anything ever again. On closer examination they appeared to be pubescent bonobos, which explained rather a lot.

The sound editor was later revealed to be an avant-garde philosopher exploring the nature of meaninglessness and despair against a backdrop of spiritual emptiness. His impressionable nature and simplistic beliefs ended up getting him hooked into a death cult. Two people showed up at his funeral by mistake, looking for a Denny’s.

The director was gently asphyxiated as an act of kindness. In the event that he understood what was happening to him, he seemed to welcome it, smiling gently as he left a world he never comprehended.

The actor who played Tom PHROAAAARRRRGH has continued to be an extremely wide man and act in bad movies.

Halle Berry remains at large.

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The Five Easiest Ways To Win An Internet Argument

Internet arguments differ from real arguments in the same ways that porn differs from sex: instead of  two people attempting to arrive at a mutually satisfactory outcome, you are attempting to bludgeon your partner into submission, and there are probably far too many people in the same room making things awkward. With that in mind, special techniques are required to deal with these eventualities — because even the most well-meaning and placid person will eventually end up in one of these debates, if they spend enough time on the internet.

These techniques are invariably horrible, cheap, and efficacious. Because in practice no-one has the time to go through your page-long rant and turn it into a five-page long essay about why you are being horrible and cheap, in internet arguments you can get away with murder and ‘win’ because there’s no way anyone’s going to bother to call you out on it.

1. Use Personal Experience and Anecdotes

The best thing about this tactic is that, what with this being the internet, no-one knows for sure whether you’re telling the truth or not. At the very least you can embellish it a little. Did you see a homeless person pissing in the street, or did you see a homeless person killing your mother to steal the drugs that he maliciously sold to her in the first place? Memory can be a tricky thing, sometimes.

Regardless of truth, the important thing is to pick a theme and extrapolate wildly. In the example provided, the argument would be that homeless people are always killing all the mothers for all the drugs, and thus don’t deserve charity/shelter/drugs (delete as appropriate). Increasing the number of anecdotes increases your reliability as a source. Ideally, you could pose as the worst social worker ever and claim that in the course of your line of work you come across this sort of thing all the time. Be sure to be cynical. People love cynicism, no matter how plain wrong it is.

If the anecdotes involve intense personal emotional pain, such that anyone questioning them or even continuing to argue with you becomes an instant douchebag, so much the better.

2. Be Infuriating

People do not think so well when they are angry. Use this to your advantage! Being outright insulting is usually considered a sign that you’re not worth arguing with, but if your opponent is no longer bothering to talk to you, then technically you’ve won. Break out the Cup-a-Soup and the private-time sock, you’ve got some celebratin’ to do!

Celebrating!

A more advanced technique is to be snide and obnoxious rather than directly abusive. In this way, your opponent feels compelled to engage with any points you’re making, while still being at a disadvantage due to being mad as hell. Rely heavily on sarcasm, imply insults then back off when confronted, and make as much use of “lol” and smiley faces as possible. “Bro” is the most infuriating word in the English language, as proved by science.

What you are aiming for is an opponent who holds you in contempt, but cannot actually identify a point that you are making to refute. The great thing about this way is that when they inevitably explode with rage and attempt to pounce you with one flistthey will look like the bad guy. Ideally, they’ll also use the “he started it!” defence, making them look like a child into the bargain, regardless of whether you actually did start it or not.

3. Stick to Matters of Opinion

Facts are pesky things. Sometimes they will support your argument, while at other times they will appear to invalidate everything you hold dear. It can be very difficult to get out of an argument you are losing if the facts don’t stack up.

The most important thing on your side is that a person’s fundamental worldview is almost always completely incompatible with another person’s fundamental worldview. The most important issues always come down to matters of principle, which in turn come down to matters of opinion. Keep moving the argument backwards, away from specifics and towards these key words and phrases: free will, soul, spiritual, freedom, utility, virtue, the ‘first’ three Star Wars films, the first three ‘Star Wars‘ films, Star Trek, free market, free-falling, freebasing and free-freeing.

4. Use Fallacies to Invalidate Everything They Say

This makes use of the fact that your opponent is human. They are pissed off, you’re not letting them use any facts to prove their argument one way or the other, and they think you’re full of shit but aren’t quite able to say it, because they’d look like a douchebag. At this point, they’re going to slip up and something that they say will become a fallacy.

Good, simple-to-understand fallacies to invoke are ‘Ad hominem’ — attacking the person instead of the argument — ‘Reification’ — where an abstract concept is treated as though it exists in real life — ‘Appeal to emotion’ — where the argument depends or appears to depend on tugging on your heart-strings — and, of course Godwin’s Law — invoking the Nazis to make someone look bad. A handy list can be found here for easy reference.

The important difference between using these in a real life argument and using them in an online argument is that online, you must always seize fallacies as evidence that the entire opponent’s argument is wrong; not only that, but from their being such untrustworthy, deceitful, cunning individuals, we can deduce that anything else the opposition says is also inherently untrustworthy and partial. Ironically, this is itself a form of ad hominem attack. This is, in a way, the point of internet debating, though. Commit as many fallacies as possible while seizing on every fallacy the other guy makes, and seasoned debaters will be too baffled by your sheer impertinent cheek to make a coherent reply, while others will generally take what you say at face value. In fact, this whole argument style is based on another fallacy — the fallacy fallacy.

Be sure to stretch fallacies to cover things they weren’t intended to. For instance, if someone says that they don’t feel comfortable with compulsory abortions, you accuse them of appealing to emotion. If someone claims they’re not in favour of proportional representation because of the risk posed by extremist parties, such as, for instance, the Nazis, you Godwin the shit out of them.

5. Make Comparisons with Unpopular Political Leaders and Groups

Everyone knows that comparisons with Hitler or the Nazi party are wrong-headed and stupid. Godwin’s Law is now firmly a part of internet culture. That doesn’t mean you can’t invoke fear of socialists, anarchists, Stalin, Mao, Kim Jong-Il, George Bush, Barack Obama — whoever the boogeyman is in your corner of the internet, people will be forced to distance themselves from that group in their response.

It doesn’t matter how stupid the comparison is, the fact that you’ve brought it up means that either they refute it, or they look like they’ve tacitly accepted the comparison. The aim of the game is to make the other guy write as many words which are not about the argument as possible, tiring him and leaving him vulnerable and exposed, far from his young.

You then take his young and crush their throats using your powerful jaw muscles, dragging them off to a nearby tree to devour at your leisure.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention: picture your enemy as a buffalo to give yourself much needed motivation.

I’m not really sure if we’ve learned anything today. But the internet is probably not the best place for debating. The only real way to win these arguments is probably to avoid them all together, and save yourself some unnecessary aggravation.

Quest quest quest quest quest quest quest quest quest quest quest quest quest quest.

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The Adventures of Tatty Molasses

I recently decided that I wanted to enter the rich and rewarding world of making children’s cartoons, primarily because it looks so piss-easy. Having got this far, though, I quickly realised I was at a complete loss as to what to do next.

After some swift research into the kinds of things that kids throughout the ages have apparently liked (the Wiggles, the Teletubbies, In The Night Garden, Bagpuss, Pokémon, The Magic Roundabout, The Muppet Show), I came to the conclusion that there were certain key features any successful franchise aimed at children had to have, especially in regards to the main characters:

Proof, if further proof were needed, that children are untrustworthy psychopaths.

  1. The characters should be animals. Quirky, independent animals with a strong sense of individuality are favoured. Cats, dogs and various rodents are possibly over-represented. (Note to self: Frogs? Goats?)
  2. The characters should, ideally, not be recognisable animals, but rather a composite or amalgam of various kinds of animals.
  3. The characters should have some similarities with human beings, including but not necessarily restricted to standing on two legs at all times, a severely limited, garbled, or grammatically atrocious language, accessories such as hats, bags and masks.
  4. The characters should frequently demonstrate inexplicable magical powers.
  5. The names of the characters should hint at their nature, but not actually mean anything explicit. Bonus points if it sounds as though the character’s race have managed to name themselves with their own awful English. (Note to self: Tatty Molasses — perfect!)
  6. The characters should be as amorphous as possible. Round, blobby shapes are ideal. If they cannot be amorphous, make them disturbingly asymmetrical. If they cannot be asymmetrical, make them gangly and over-excitable. (Note to self: surely the ideal character would combine all of these aspects?)
  7. The narrator should adopt a tone of amused chastisement of all times, e.g.,”What are you doing there, Tatty Molasses? Oh! Oh, silly, silly Tatty!”
  8. The characters should largely avoid interactions with humans. Interactions are brief, and tend to serve the characters’ own ends.
  9. Episodes should attempt to teach children how to deal with day-to-day life. (Note to self: What kind of character would have limited understanding of human society, rarely interact directly with humans, but still hang around places frequented by humans? Think motivation, Jimmy, remember writing class!)
  10. The settings should either be charmingly antique, characterful places brimming with nostalgia, or hyper-colourful bright and pastoral locations. (Note to self: Tatty Molasses sounds more like the former than the latter)
  11. The budget/technical proficiency should be visibly awful. This will ensure misguided nostalgia from adults who should know better, and extra sales of DVDs to the lucrative stoner demographic.
  12. And finally, the entire thing should have the atmosphere of a fairly unpleasant trip on a hallucinogen of moderate strength.

With that in mind, I have created what I believe to be the ultimate children’s comic strip — prepare yourselves for The Adventures of Tatty Molasses!

Behold!

Tatty Molasses Goes To The Antiques Store

Be careful playing hide-and-seek, kids! Anything could find you!


Tatty Makes A Friend

Tatty Molasses loves to make friends! If he doesn't make a new friend each week, he'll get awful cranky!

Some might say that these were the hideous and incompetent doodlings of a man half-mad with the power that comes from having his own blog (his very own! You can’t tell me what to do now, society! I am holding all the keys and guarding all the locks!) — it is quite evident that this accusation springs only from jealousy and the frustration arising from a less-than-satisfactory love life. Superficially, these images might look as though I crudely photoshopped a monstrosity together using easily obtainable “creative commons” pictures and called it a day.

However, in actual fact, these strips are as close to an objectively perfect children’s cartoon as we can come using the scientific techniques available to us today.  I eagerly anticipate either the Cartoon Network or Disney getting in touch re: animation rights. I mean, it should be easy enough to animate, the characters hardly move unless they’re disappearing into the background.

In conclusion, children are terrifying, nightmarish creatures who should not be allowed to choose what they want to watch, because what they want to watch is invariably wrong. Also, I can create really really terrible designs and characters while hardly even trying, which has to be a skill that will come in handy later in life. Perhaps companies could pay me not to design logos for them?

Injecting soy sauce straight into my veins.

You’re welcome.

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The Five Most Ridiculous Songs About Dongs

If there’s one thing that history has taught us, it’s that men love their own cocks more than almost anything else in the world. It’s the one thing that explains both flashing and the Washington Monument.

"(It) should blend stupendousness with elegance, and be of such magnitude and beauty as to be an object of pride to the American people, and of admiration to all who see it." -- they're starting to get English majors in to write those spam emails, I see.

With that in mind, and what with me needing a bit of a dick-joke-writing break after my last post’s ridiculously long assessment of the works of perennial internet darling Joss Whedon, I give you the five most ludicrous penis paeans, schlong songs and dick ditties in the history of ever.

5. Level – Dumb Dick

Not so much amusing as it is utterly moronic, the defining moment for this song is probably the repeated refrain “bitch, bend over, over, over, over, over, over/ lemme bend over, over, over, over, over, over“. It’s re-assuring to know that no matter what happens, the art of seduction has not been lost to our generation.

This song recently came to a certain level of internet notoriety when it was briefly one of the most eye-popping top trending topics to have ever been on twitter. The song itself is reminiscent of nothing so much as a toothless old Soulja Boy with a long record of sexual assault attempting (with inexplicable levels of success) to hit on his niece at a hillbilly family gathering.

The only explanation for the levels of lyrical ineptitude on display here is that he was still subject to “Dumb dick syndrome” (where-in a male is overcome with lust and sacrifices rational self-interest in lieu of the urge to fornicate) when he was still writing the song. Which leads me to the disturbing conclusion, given some of the content, that he was actually banging some extra-impressionable groupie with pen and paper clasped in crude, claw-like approximation of hand.

4. Riskay – Smell Yo Dick

Being probably the most heartfelt and emotional song on this list does nothing to redeem this bizarre malarial fever-dream of R’n’B and real, deep pain. Watch the official video here, or check out the song below.

The deep sincerity and urgency in the singer’s voice, unfortunately, only serves to highlight the fact that she is repeatedly asking to smell our dicks. Sure, that’s one way of telling whether or not someone is cheating, but frankly, once it gets to the dick-sniffin’ stage, your relationship is not exactly built to last in any case.

Unless you're a dog. Dick-sniffin' is one of the deepest displays of affection a dog can offer.

The defining moment is probably the whole bloody song. My most pressing concern was, however, whether this was a wise course of action for Riskay to take in the first place. The kind of guy who would leave his girlfriend alone to go screw a stripper named Diamond, then come back at 5 in the goddamn morning and try to wake up and have sex with said girlfriend is exactly the kind of guy whose dick you want nowhere near your face.

3. Led Zeppelin – Whole Lotta Love

Blah, blah, blah, one of the greatest riffs of all time, iconic song, endlessly influential. The fact remains that this is fundamentally a silly song about peen. In fact I have a strong suspicion that Led Zeppelin were a great inspiration for Spinal Tap, of Lick My Love Pump fame (which didn’t make the list because it’s a composition for keyboard rather than a song).

Apart from the riff, there is almost nothing worth saving from this song. Not Robert Plant’s bizarre attempts at sex noises, not the clumsy ‘word-play’ (“gonna give you every inch of my love” — does it count as word-play if you just write a song about cock and replace every instance of the word “cock” with “love”?), and certainly not the cringe-inducing attempts at making orgasmic scream sounds with the guitar. I’m pretty confident that this song would not be out of place as a KISS song, except that it would be half the length and have much less self-indulgent bullshit in it.

Pictured: More credible artists than Led Zeppelin.

The defining moment is probably the weird, nerdy, nasal “nyeeeeeeeah” sound Jimmy Page makes with his guitar following most of the “Whole lotta love”s. Because with the kind of person who would write and perform a song like Whole Lotta Love on purpose, that is the only noise I can imagine them making during sex. Nyeeeaahhhhhhh.

2. King Missile – Detachable Penis

This one marks a happy change from the entries on the list so far, in that it’s actually supposed to be funny. Still, the good folk of King Missile go so far beyond what would be required of them if they were only trying to make me laugh, and so far into the realms of the absurd, that I can’t help including them on this list. The lyrics are ridiculous in the extreme. In fact, anything I could try to say about the song would only make it less funny, so I’m going to skip ahead and just post the video.

Defining moment? Probably the bit near the end where the line “People sometimes tell me I should get it permanently attached, but — I don’t know. Even though sometimes it’s a pain in the ass, I like having a detachable penis” is delivered with the deadpan, dead bored tones of a teenaged schoolkid summarising his talk on why healthy living is important in the modern world.

1. Powerwolf – Resurrection by Erection

You just know that a metal band called Powerwolf is not going to do anything by halves.

Sadly, the powerwolf has recently come under threat from poachers due to the black market trade in powerwolf crowns.

These guys go so far beyond what is reasonable when describing their erections they’ve actually been headhunted (heh) by the gay porn industry for freelance copywriting work. And for once, it’s not just one aspect of the song that’s utterly past the point of no return. Everything from the frantic hammering they give their organ, to the vigorous pummeling the rest of the band give to their instruments, to the vocalist’s “Hoo! Hah! Re-surr-eck-shun!” simply goes far above and beyond the call of duty for a song that, at its root, is about comic necrophilia and boners. Experience its glory below.

The defining moment for this one is pretty easy; the lines “Why do you think believer/ God gave you carnal lust?/ So pray to get a hard on/ before we turn to dust.” pretty much sum up the attitude of the entire song. A bizarre, blasphemous, cock-obsessed attitude that can only be described as “Powerwolfian”.

I think what we have learned today is that there is nothing on God’s earth that will stop sensible adults who really should know better from writing songs about men’s intimate parts. There seems to be no consistent reason for it, nor does there appear to be any real reason for most of these songs even being written. However, not just one lone madman, but a whole collection of assorted music professionals and record industry experts have conspired to create these monuments to man’s love of little man.

In many ways, songs about penises are a lot like the Universe. We cannot possibly hope to comprehend the totality of their brute existence, or to derive concepts like brotherhood, love and democracy from them. Our only option is to exist alongside them, and hopefully glean some poor, trivial knowledge of the insane inner workings that power them along the way.

Altogether now: Rrrrrrrrresurrection! It has been brought to my attention that KISS have done a dong-song that is easily as ridiculous as most of the songs on this list. Listen to it here.

This song is not about dongs.

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The Four Reasons I Love Joss Whedon’s Work…Because Of Everything Wrong With It

I will be using the following definition of “camp” during this article: “Deliberately exaggerated and theatrical behaviour or style” – Hollywood Camp. This is a pretty big post. Get a drink or something. Alcoholic, preferably, my prose doesn’t stand up to clear-minded examinations.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Dollhouse, Firefly and Serenity, not to mention Toy Story and Commentary: the Musical, it seems that there is very little Joss Whedon could do that I wouldn’t lap up like the stereotypical fan-boy I am. And yet, for a long time, something seemed awry.

Criticisms people made of his work would stay with me for days, leaving me feeling faintly annoyed, and with a powerful sense of dread, as though I were on the verge of a realisation.

Those of you who are able to read, and have correctly deciphered the complex word-bundle at the very top of this post, will already know where I am going with this, and can probably either skip ahead or go and do something else. Possibly something more productive.

No? Still here?

Wow. Well. You must have as much time on your hands as I do. I feel a strong kinship. We’ll go far together, you and I.

The realisation which I eventually came to was that the criticisms made of his work irritated me because I agreed with them, but loved the works even so. And it wasn’t a love despite the flaws. These flaws with Whedon’s work were what wheedled worship from me.

Verily, vying versus V veers via vainglorious vicinities -- avoid vexing Vendetta's votaries vis-a-vis variant verbal voodoo.

With that in mind, let’s start with the startiest of my points. The first one. Which goes in front of the othe-oh, I can’t write. Just read the damn list.

1. The Awkward, Nerdy Jokes

What’s Wrong With Whedon?

If there’s one thing I associate with Joss Whedon’s work, it’s these constant, weirdly-delivered quips. The actual jokes are fairly witty, usually.  Sometimes they’re slightly too arch, or knowing, but Whedon, whatever his faults, is a good writer, and it shows in the content. It’s the delivery.

Head cocked to one side, word-speed to 225%, looking slightly to the side of camera, wry smile completed, generic sardonic accent engaged: I'm-doing-a-joke-now mode activated.

Whedon’s characters frequently deliver their lines in a massively over-played manner, which can only be explained in one of two ways; either the well-paid professional actors have no understanding of line delivery, or Joss Whedon is standing off-camera with a massive loudspeaker yelling “Camp it up! Campier! I SAID CAMPIER!” As the jokes are often quite long-winded — usually part of the joke — this results in a curious and unsettling combination of ultra-rapid-fire delivery, as though the actor is desperately trying to get through it and be done with this silly humour stuff, uncomfortably juxtaposed with a bizarre pseudo-deadpan intensity and a funny voice.

In fact, they’re delivered with much the same “I’m doing a joke/Dammit, I don’t know how to do jokes” awkwardness as that creepy loner who used to sit next to you in science class, smell of haddock and try to talk to you endlessly about Final Fantasy 7.

No, that wasn't me. I was, uh, the cool one. With the hair gel and the voice breaking before the age of sixteen and the regular bathing.

It’s no surprise that, when combined with the unrelenting torrent of these quips that is a Whedon show, this is one of the most frequent complaints I hear about even Joss’ most popular work — Firefly, Buffy, Dollhouse.

Why Do I Love It?

Because it happens to be real. In real life, people don’t deliver sharp witticisms and then merely go back to whatever they’re doing, and it’s pretty damn hard to make an acerbic quip without that wry smile and smug, look-at-how-bloody-funny-I-am, sardonic tone of voice. No-one just delivers a joke like it’s nothing in real life, because a joke is, or feels, pretty damn important. If it falls flat, you’ve just committed social hara-kiri. Your metaphorical entrails are spilling out all over the floor and people are just pretending not to notice, stepping on them to get past. If it connects with the audience, it feels great, as though you’ve just validated a pretty fundamentally important part of your self.

Maybe that’s just me.

The important distinction between people who hate this style of humour and me is that for me, it’s the characters making the jokes. I believe in them, so I don’t criticise them for delivering the jokes the way I, and a good 99% of all the people I’ve known, have done as long as I’ve lived. It feels true.

For most of the people who hate it, it feels like either the scriptwriter stepping into the character, or the actor themselves stepping out of character to deliver the joke. At best, jarring, at worst, arrogant and completely alienating. The camp becomes something beyond just what would come naturally to the character, and changes the nature of the whole show. It appears to be more insincere, less meaningful.

There are other reasons, of course, but it seems as though your personal view of the believability of the delivery, rather than the smug quippiness itself, is the most important factor in whether you love or hate it.

And I am a believer.

Besides which, if you don’t like camp…uhm.

I'm not sure that Whedon is for you, anyway.

2. Awful Special Effects

What’s Wrong With Whedon?

Admittedly, this one is mostly restricted to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with an honourable mention to Angel for sticking pretty firmly to the latex-forehead and rubber-suit formula.  Firefly, by contrast, actually won an Emmy for its special effects. Wow, the Buffy effects were not so good, though, especially in the earlier seasons — they’ve really put several people I know off ever giving the series a try.

I promise, the monster fighting and explosions bit isn't the most important part of the monster-fighting-and-explosions show! Wait, where are you going? You haven't even seen the best forehead yet!

In that picture, we can see, from left to right:

Top row: Man dressed as partly-shaved gorilla-vampire, “intimidating” “snake” “demon” (substitute the word rubber for any or all of those words), man dressed as man dressed as werewolf, and the least visually appealing explosion since that unfortunate incident with the Scotch Bonnet and the German fetish site.

Middle Row: Definitely Angel, Absolutely Definitely Buffy, a wax model of an old lady being attacked by a malfunctioning prop from the set of Alien, forehead, forehead, forehead, and a huge rubber praying mantis that only seemed to be able to effectively move one part of its body at a time.

Bottom row: Man in make-up, man in latex suit, man in latex suit, man in make-up, bad CGI, man in latex suit, man in make-up, man in make-up, bad CGI, man in make-up under blue-ish lighting, man in heavy make-up, man with bits of plastic stuck to him.

The poor choices of stunt doubles, combined with the low budget poking through on multiple occasions, mean that if you’re not able to suspend your disbelief, watching an episode of Buffy can be a very painful experience.

Why Do I Love It?

Firstly, I find the low-budget special effects to be reminiscent of a mythical “golden age” in televisual sci-fi/fantasy. I never experienced that era myself, and the shows from that era that I do watch (old Doctor Who, Star Trek episodes) leave me feeling underwhelmed. But this? This I do get, it’s from my time, and it appears to be in roughly the same style as those classics; so I get a feeling of unearned nostalgia from it.

That’s the dumb reason for it.

Secondly, sometimes, I want to be told a story. The fact that I know a story is being told, because clearly the vampire is a jobbing actor and the weird snake-demon (which should, incidentally, have been called Spawn of Apep, but instead had to make do with Spawn of Sobek, the crocodile-headed god) is being hauled around by an extra just off-screen, doesn’t make the story less compelling; it makes it more compelling.

Without the story-teller to anchor the abstract concepts of a ‘story’, character, plot and setting for example, stories can become mere spectacle, whether they be spectacles of visuals, language, intellectual ideas or emotion. Without the story-teller, I sometimes don’t feel the same thrill from these spectacular, less narrative works, as I do when someone sits me down and just tells me a tale, whether that be from behind a character in a big rubber mask or from behind the character of “the narrator”.

Being able to see the rough marks where something has been made enables you to see more clearly what the maker was thinking. It puts you in closer contact with the story-tellers.

That’s the thrill of intimate communication, in some ways, of feeling as though you understand another human being’s mad, frantic, noisy, irritating, smelly gesticulations on a deeper level — that probably doesn’t exist. Because when you see those human thumb-prints in the make-up, or notice how they make the arms of the praying mantis move, you understand that people who believed in the story, who wanted to create something that would convey their ideas to you, were working on this product.

That’s a lot to get from industrial quantities of latex, stunt doubles thirty years older than their actor, and dodgy CGI. And it sounds pretentious when I put it into words (because, frankly, it is pretentious), but I really feel it to be true. What’s more, I think I have felt it to be true for quite a while, without being able to put it into words.

Lastly, I think that if you take the fairly low budget into account, the effects are actually not so very bad. There are some very creative costumes, and while the CGI, like the snake from Graduation Day, looks pretty ropey by today’s standards, it’s easy to forget that in 1998-9, television audiences were unused to special effects on anything approaching the same scale — at least in Britain. The ingenuity is pretty constantly impressive, even if the actual effect is not the most slick. Again, it’s the sense of being put directly in touch with a crafts-person, the way they think, the way they solve problems, that provides a certain amount of the enjoyment.

And this might just be because we didn’t know any better, but — it really didn’t seem all that terrible, or intrusive…most of the time. But hey, Buffy‘s not supposed to be about the flashy special effects and so on, it’s a low-budget show with a focus on good solid characterisation.

3. “The Characters Are All The Same”

What’s Wrong With Whedon?

If any other fans are reading this; I know. The first time I heard this criticism, I was beyond shocked. I was flabbergasted. I was dumbfounded. Confounded. Gobsmacked. Thunder-struck. Very surprised. Attacked by a fat ghost.

If it wasn't for this, I'd be in a place that was less good than the place I am at right now. Ahem, I mean, uh, I'd be in a dark locale, a tough position, a terrible bind.

Yahtzee Croshaw, in the video linked earlier, saying “He can’t write any characters except ditzes, or badasses, or characters who flip arbitrarily between the two,” is pretty strong stuff. Honestly? In a situation like an action-comedy series, you’re pretty much tied to this formula. Characters in action films and shows are defined primarily by their usefulness. We can tell a yuppy in a Die Hard movie is going to be evil because he’s utterly pointless in that situation, and we can tell that Rambo is going to kick ass for MURCA because he’s built to carry at least four heavy weapons at once. So already, there’s going to be a tendency to divide characters between their useful and their useless moments. When you add comedy, which is often about both hyperbole and the utter futility of existence the main character’s actions, you’re in dichotomy city, baby, population two.

The criticism Yahtzee makes is still valid, and although it might be ‘excusable’ that’s not what this post is about. Besides, belonging to a genre with typically extreme and simplistic characterisation is neither an excuse nor a convincing pitch to someone who’s sceptical. If anything, it’s just going to put people off other stuff in the same vein.

There are definitely quirks and traits that each character has, but they’re all cut from the same cloth. Which appears, frankly, to be inexplicable. Only the other day, my girlfriend asked why these clearly incompatible people (in Firefly) were hanging out together. I had no real answer at the time, but I think that the answer is, counter-intuitively, that they were all the same. The quirks are sort of little extras — shallow personality, like the classic example they give to budding writers of the detective whose ‘personality’ is defined by his love of acid jazz and buddy movies.

Why Do I Love It?

Simply, I find it much more believable than the typical alternative — no less disingenuous to my way of thinking. This alternative is the classic “group of mismatched misfits band together despite themselves against an outside evil.” Bullshit. When genuinely vastly different characters somehow manage to agree on something as vague and contentious as the nature of evil, and not only that but they’re all willing to work together against it, something is afoot.

As I resist the urge to post an oh-so-hilarious picture of a human foot (terrible pun day was this one), we’ll continue thinking about Whedon’s quirky-but-the-same bands of heroes.

In real life, friends really do tend to talk similarly, think similarly, do similar things, and generally just hive-mind it up. If you pay attention to it, it’s actually pretty shocking how new friends and even acquaintances can influence your thought patterns, your vocabulary and your beliefs. Sure, we all have friends who are very different from ourselves, but these people aren’t members of what we call our circle of friends, who would be our world-savers if we were being written by Joss.

If, to take an example completely at random, one were a chirpy, perky, out-going cheerleader type, sure you might have one dark, brooding, gothy friend. But the rest of your friends, your real circle of friends are likely to be just as charmingly artless as you, with the same goofy sense of humour, broadly the same ideals, and definitely the same slang and in-jokes — which can, in fact, seem smug to anyone outside the circle, another criticism often made of Whedon.

Certainly not talking about any specific example here.

Now, it’s possible — even likely — that Joss intends all of his characters to be special, unique little snowflakes. If this is true, his having failed (in my opinion) to achieve this goal does not make the positive aspects of his failure suddenly go away. I get a sense of genuine warmth and mutual respect from most of the (protagonist) characters in most of the series he creates, and that is really hard to do. You really believe that these people would be friends, because they act in much the same way as each other. The few that don’t tend to be sidelined, or, y’know, given their own spin-off show to play around in all they want.

Incidentally, I think if you do disagree with this sweeping statement, Dollhouse is a good way to back your case up. It’s a tour-de-force of experimentation with characterisation.

4. The Characters Are Plain Unlikable

What’s Wrong With Whedon?

Almost everyone who’s watched a Whedon show has their own personal hate-figure. One person I know thinks that Captain Malcolm Reynolds of the good ship Firefly is the biggest douchebag in the solar system. And they have a good point. The man is, after all, a glorified interplanetary space-pimp, who is controlling, verbally abusive and, lest we forget, a smuggler and thief(ish). What an arsehole.

If there's one thing that this blog stands against, it's space pimpery.

Several people have just straight-out stated that they hate all Whedon’s characters. This is linked in with the “all the characters are the same” complaint made by Yahtzee, but with the addition that “also, they’re smug wankers”. My own hate-figure is probably either Angel, he of the constant excuses to get topless, self-indulgent “woe-is-me” brooding and punchable, smirking face. Or possibly Faith, portrayer of the least convincing bad-ass since Kim Jong Il.

However, the particular person I latched on to could very easily have been, well, practically any of them (barring characters from Toy Story. I’m not a monster).

And I will demonstrate this:

Buffy is a sanctimonious, tantrum-throwing child in an adult’s body, River is clearly faking whatever previously-unrecorded wacky mental illness she claims to have with less enthusiasm and attention to detail than a thirteen-year-old on myspace, Reynolds is, as has been mentioned, a criminal and a bell-end, Kaylee spells her own name wrong and is dizzy as a bag of puppies in a washing-machine,  Willow and Oz are self-obsessed, self-conscious and generally pretty self-ish — the former nearly causing the end of the world, of course — Xander is a grinning imbecile with a complete lack of sensitivity and horrible taste in shirts (also tantrums, again), Spike is an attempted rapist for crying out loud (I’m not buying that “had no soul” excuse because in this case it hurts my argument), Tara was a wet blanket who kept taking offence at the slightest bloody thing, Lorne would just be irritating beyond belief in real life, Dr. Horrible is a spoiled kid with access to freeze rays, the nerds are all evil bastards and the evil bastards are all nerds, and I could go on but actually I’m lying. Still, that’s a pretty impressive register of bile for generally the more popular characters in Joss’s work.

And I’ve met people, or am people, who would genuinely believe one or all of these character assessments. I think they all have a greater or lesser degree of justification in the shows themselves — they’re all pretty arguable.

Why Do I Love It?

It’s dramatic. I feel, as I think most people do, that it’s necessary that conflict be maintained in a good story, and if suddenly Buffy decides to fuck all her friends over and run away from her responsibility to, uh, save the world, or Reynolds decides to spit abuse at the woman he loves and sells-the-body-of, or Dr. Horrible wants to pretty much be himself, that’s all in aid of creating conflict. Which is all gravy.

Flawed characters are interesting. They do the stuff that no-one else would’ve thought of doing, stirring shit up and moving everything forwards. They’re not doing things for alienating or unlikely reasons, like for the sake of abstract ideals or varying concepts like good and evil, but because they like doing things.

Now, the counter to this is that flawed characters are only interesting if you can relate to them and their flaws. All I can really say to this is; I disagree.

I don't really have anything else to say on the subject, so to distract you, I made you this. No, I don't know why.

So: What was the point of this post? If I was being forced to extrapolate from what I wrote here to make a wider point, I might say something like: my own experience shows that looking more closely at criticism of an artwork usually ends up revealing that most reactions to it are deeply subjective.

If I were to extrapolate from that, I would say that this is probably why criticism of art (here using the broadest possible definition of art that I can tolerate, i.e. anything that is defined primarily by its cultural value) of any kind provokes such heated debate, and why criticism of art that we love can cut deeper than criticism of even our politics or religious beliefs. By criticising an artwork, it’s nearly impossible to fail to criticise the people who appreciate that artwork, usually implicitly. It’s astonishing how quickly people rush to move from this implicit criticism to explicit, though, especially to shore up their own self-image and view of music.

It’s easy to turn these complaints on their heads, to claim them for yourself. It’s important to do it, too, because the most cutting of these insults have some truth to them, and by examining what you like about a show you can arrive at a surprising conclusion about yourself. Speaking as a fan of extreme metal, for instance, I never would’ve assumed that I was a sucker for over-played, campy, low-budget shenanigans, but by thinking about this issue I’ve started to reconsider what things I do, in fact, hold dear. There’s certainly a degree of camp involved in some sub-genres of metal, which shall remain nameless, and the low-budget sound of retro doom metal, new and old alike, appeals to me a great deal.

Nothing camp here, this is how Immortal always stand.

I might say all of that, but since I’m not being forced to extrapolate, you’ll probably never know.

Despite all the emphasis on camp, though, I get the feeling that it all comes down to suspension of disbelief — a misleading phrase, because it suggests that it’s a voluntary action. I believe in Whedon’s universes, so when something happens, I don’t say “Pfft, that wouldn’t happen in real life,” or “That characterisation was a little off.” I think “Wow, that was a strange thing to happen!” I assume that it’s ‘real’ in-Universe, so I’m able to enjoy it. Ultimately, you may as well ask why no vampire ever thought to shoot Buffy dead as ask why the characters all seem to have the same way of delivering their lines.

In the end, that’s all most of my points come down to. And since it’s pretty late on a Tuesday, which I have decided is post day, that’s as good a place as any to leave off.

Interesting Factoid of the Week Indefinite Time Period Of My Own Choosing: Dosey-do, the country & western dance move, has its origins in the French “Dos-à-dos” (back to back). I’m not sure why veesy-vee isn’t used for standing face to face with your partner, perhaps it  just sounded far too ridiculous for the ancient and noble art of pretending to be drunken ball-blistered farm-hands.

Sadistic Abductive: Dat Bass.

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