More-or-less disorganised thoughts on the difficulty of leaving Twitter

I’ve heard that Twitter is “hard to quit”.

But, no. I’m going to hard-disagree with that. Twitter is easy to quit. Lock your account, just stop posting, and after a while you simply forget it’s there.

It is, in fact, remarkably easy.

Listen to your elders, kids. The ones who burned through dozens of news groups in the 90s and VB forums in the 00s. They’ll tell you that the quitting part isn’t that hard. You can leave communities and websites behind. In fact, you’ve probably done it while in possession of a Facebook or Twitter account — you’ve just left a sub-community behind, a Facebook Group slowed to nothing, you started to forget to check in with your favourite hashtag as it began to bore you, that sort of thing. You almost certainly left something already, but the base of the URL just happened to stay the same.

I think we need to be honest about why it might feel hard to quit a big website like Twitter.

What’s hard to quit is that little dopamine rush you get when your notifications go haywire because your clout-chasing finally paid off and you got yourself a hit tweet.

What’s hard to quit is the FOMO from not continually refreshing a feed, because you accidentally re-wired your life to get news at random intervals from strangers who are clout-chasing for hit tweets instead of a healthier and, frankly, saner method for staying informed.

Does that sound smug and self-superior on my part? Yeah, probably.

Sure, communities are hard to leave behind if you’re forced to do so early, before they fizzle out with a natural end. But consider Twitter, you’re going to be in one of two situations.

Either

A) You’ve got a small account, with few follows and followers. You’ve met and replied to and post at the key people you like to talk to. That’s easy to pick up again elsewhere. If you actually care about others, you’ll find another platform. If it’s community that you’ll miss, it takes no time at all to rebuild it elsewhere.

Or…

B) You’ve got a much bigger account, at least in terms of follower number. Thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions even. I’ve seen these people say that it’s the community that they’ll miss.

But… let’s be brutal, and frank, and honest, here. If you’re in that second category, are you really in a community of tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people? Do you really know the names of those 150k followers? Be real, here; you’re not. If you’re experiencing Twitter at that scale, you were at the centre of, and on the receiving end of, multiple parasocial relationships. You were getting that buzz from the endless on-tap attention that such a following grants you. You’re the person who could post a poop emoji and get a hundred likes in minutes. For you, it was never a two-way street of communal interaction, because the influence and power are so lobsided in your favour.

And, yes, it really is the case that on Twitter, followers equal power. That site can ruin lives the instant someone with 1M followers quote-tweets a regular person to say they’re wrong. Follower counts are leveraged to win arguments by sheer weight of numbers, in chasing that ratio and winning by numbers going up — and even the “good guys” do this. Some people get the hit of dopamine from the hit tweet sending notifications constantly, but the flip side is the dread that the little bell is going to show you, at best, just some offensive slurs.

The splash damage from that culture is very real, and not imaginary because the website is somehow virtual. It’s an extension of, or part of, the Real World, not a separate entity that is somehow free of consequence for the meat and blood humans typing those words.

For some people, yes, the high follower count has been a vital part of their job. Authors, artists, anyone who used it to simply broadcast their work and gain an audience. Fair enough. It’s not right that those people are going to have their livelihoods threatened because some dick with money to burn decided to fire all the staff, alienate advertisers, and ban accounts at the request of literal fascist trolls. But, also, if you were sensible, you shouldn’t have bought into one specific URL only and should have a diversified presence to fall back on. After all, Twitter was not your job, it was just one tool, of many possible tools, to help with it.

Everyone else…? Just get the fuck over yourself.

The Trash Pile – 2022 in Netflix

I watch a lot of Trash. That stuff that people scoff at for being cheap, trope-ridden genre fiction. Well, guess what? I don’t care. It’s great. It’s TV that gives back way more than it asks of you. It sustains me. Please take the ratings below not as actual reviews, but as niche, dumb jokes. Here’s a celebration of 2022’s finest genre trash!

First Kill

I felt quite offended at First Kill wasn’t recommended to me until after I saw Rowan Ellis’ video on queer TV shows getting cancelled. It was a hit with the LGBT+ audience for its sapphic lead characters, playing supernatural Romeo and Juliette as a vampire and vampire hunter who fall in love – because of course they would.

But, to be honest, it’s pretty clear why the numbers completing the series were low. Despite a strong enough start, it suffers from some unimaginative vampire/monster lore (it could be straight up fan fiction of any number of other series from Buffy to Supernatural) and held together with some ropey, confusing moments — like, does the world know that these monsters and vampires are real? Or are they playing at mass hysteria? The show doesn’t seem to know. Or, at least, it glossed over it very quickly.

Still solidly entertaining if you’re into this sort of thing. At its heart it’s a queer love story if the kind we need more of. You could spend 10 episodes doing much, much worse.

6 sapphic wall-pinning moments out of 10

Fate: The Winx Saga (season 2)

As an adaptation of the cartoon series The Winx Club — about fairies and their adventures in a magical school and the wider conspiracies and threats to their realm — this series has made a lot of fans of the original very, very angry. Of course it has. It’s an adaptation. Fans of an original hating the adaptation is a given, it’s hardly “man bites dog”.

I quite like the setting of this one more than the story. It isn’t afraid to throw social media and mobile phones at a magical world (unlike other stories set in magic schools that contrive to remove the mod-cons that might be inconvenient to the plot…), and it really feels like a functional world with people and politics. There’s wholesome friendship themes throughout, making a nice change from the Grimdark of other popular shows. Though it jars with some of the plot, which can be pretty heavy, even gruesome at times.

I’m unsure about Season 2. Some interesting twists, focused plot, clear stakes, but… did they toss out a bunch of things set up at the end of Season 1? Or felt like a self-contained aside compared to get broader themes if Season 1. If it’s got this far, hopefully a 3rd will bring that all together.

5 slightly dodgy VFX shots out of 10

Fort Salem (season 3)

Good god I love this series. Absolutely unironically. The premise is that witches are real and, after the Salem Trials, witches were conscripted into the army to do the United States’ dirty work in winning the War of Independence. Now they have to face off against magical terrorists (including a unique and terrifying use of the term “suicide bomb”) and then later a secretive inquisition and the government itself.

The thing I really noticed is how the world building works seemlessly. Witches aren’t just conscripted into the Army, they are the Army. So, since witches do all the fighting magically, and can communicate telepathically, firearms and communications technology are pretty far behind the real-world — everything from the helicopters to TV cameras and even the light bulbs, and the complete lack of computers and phones makes sense. The show never labours this point or even points it out to you, it’s just in the setting and direction. The characters act like they already know what is going on. Add to that a well-developed magic system based around witches voices and sound (and some grisly corollaries about how normal humans can steal that power…), and it’s little wonder that many people assume (incorrectly!) that it’s a book adaptation.

Season 3 continues with the remarkable world building as the main cast go on the run into the Chippewa Cession — a feature of this alternate North America that divides the United States in two, retained by Native Americans.

It won’t get another season. But that’s the decision of the producers, not because it’s fading in quality and ratings (apparently). It’s come to a natural end, with plenty of scope to explore the working world it’s set in, but it’s raised its stakes about as far as it can get before it gets far too silly and incomprehensible. More TV should go out like this rather than hanging on and degrading to nothing.

Also, they’re hawt nubile witches who (at least in the first season) power up by fucking their harem of equally hawt, ripped, young studs. So, let’s be clear, even though I think this is a genuinely good series in the urban fantasy genre, this is absolutely God Tier Trash.

9 My fucking god! These witches gay. Good for them! Good for them! out of 10

Warrior Nun (season 2)

This is very, very loosely based on the comic series Warrior Nun Areala, which you can look up, but if I say “90s comic book” and “fighting nuns” you’d probably get the gist of it without help. Anyway the TV version strips out the split skirts, suspender straps, crotch-hugging body suits and wimples in favour of more leather, tactical gear and sensible footwear.

I genuinely think that the first 10 minutes of the very first episode is a masterclass in how to introduce a series. It lays out the rules of the world you’re in. It shows, rather than tells. And, impressively, the dialogue says everything you need to know without sounding lile forced exposition — the characters talk to each other like they already know what’s going on. So, I was a little disappointed that the opening episode of Season 2 took nearly half an hour to get going. It jumps around, trying to catch up after events that weren’t shown — and unfortunately couldn’t even be filmed due to the sudden departure of one of the actors that would be needed for it. So the connective tissue between the two seasons has been left as something of a mess.

Oh well, shit happens…

Once you get over that, Season 2 definitely raises the stakes and the action much more. It keeps the pace up where Season 1’s mid-game slowed to a crawl (if you happened to leave at that point, do give it another shot!) and they’ve toned down some of the voice over that left a cringe aftertaste during the first season.

Blood, guns, knives, magic, mystery, mayhem, demons, and minute-long single-take fights. There is nothing not to love about this. What? Check the title of the post, you weren’t expecting high brow Citizen Kane stuff were you?

8 overproduced fight scenes out of 10

October Faction

October Faction was released in 2020, as an adaptation of a comic that, obviously, I hadn’t heard of, so I got around to watching it this year and I’m including it now. (maybe I can retroactively do 2016 and talk at length about The Shannara Chronicles…)

Anyways, this is fairly normal monster hunting stuff. Secret societies protecting the world from invading supernatural beasties etc. So far so good. But this one does a good bit of storytelling about family, and parents coming to terms with getting older and their children becoming independent. That’s at least a novel feature of a densely packed field of supernatural dramas with a 15 Certificate. Like First Kill, the supernatural elements are the setting, not the story, so it doesn’t really need that uniqueness — even though it does weaken it a bit.

But, overall… meh. It didn’t quite grip me, and it looks like it didn’t grip many people as it got canned after one series. Which is a shame, as it does have its moments! Such as the two leads getting baked on weed before having to go on a monster hunt and that the high school angst that’s done pretty well. It could have grown a lot — but that’s the world we’re in now, and it won’t get the chance to.

5 stoned Gen X parents out of 10

The Imperfects

I went into this fully expecting it to be terrible. And, let’s be clear, I like terrible. Or, at least, my definition of ‘terrible’ greatly differs to most normal and well-adjusted people. But I did not have the highest expectations.

But, I was pleasantly surprised!

The Imperfects has a lot going for it. It’s a nice mix of the standard tropes — like one character who I’m pretty sure is referred to as Sexy Science Glasses Lady in the script — to the unusual twists on the usual and played-out tropes — our typical vampires/werewolves are replaced by a banshee, a succubus, and a chupacabra, to start.

Okay, sure, they’re basically C-List vampires and werewolves. Fine.

Rhys Nicholson’s camp take on a mad scientist might grate most people, but it’s a refreshing change to “grey haired men with serious faces and fake German accents” you see normally for far stock character. And there’s some unexpected but clever twists I didn’t see coming, along with its surprisingly high body count delivered by often-comic, accidental violence.

The whole thing is more “science gone wrong” than supernatural, but despite playing very fast and loose with the science it’s all… kind of plausibly done? The jargon seems like it’s come from someone who knows what they’re talking about, but gives it enough artistic licence not to kill the fun of the series. I had to take a moment on hearing cyclodextrin and t-butyl lithium used more or less correctly. Someone on the production has to be a chemist, surely.

Also, it’s always a good sign when your show could have someone’s shoe collection act as a character in its own right.

8 gratuitous bondage scenes out of 10

Honourable Mentions (the non-trash class of 22)

Stranger Things 4 was a huge hit, and felt to me like a much more focused, stronger story than the rambling 2 and 3. Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville upgraded its budget from “IOUs for back rubs” to “more money than god” and was totally worth it. She-Hulk and Ms Marvel got review-bombed by sad-act arseholes who hate fun. We got another Space Force, which was totally stupid in all the right ways, but I still think it could learn a lot from Armano Ianucci if it wants to be a satire. Speaking if whom, Avenue 5 came back after an extended pandemic-induced break. There was another round of Love Death & Robots, which was a good mix of tense and silly. And of course, the year was dominated by Gaiman’s The Sandman, which bravely asked the question “what if Doctor Who was depressed?”, and is an absolute no-brainer to get renewed, so get to it, Netflix, you bastards!

In fact, Netflix, you bastards, does come out of my mouth more often than it should…

FFS, I’ve always disliked Harry Potter…

One key reason that I hate JK Rowling’s speedrun of “I have legitimate concerns” to “send them to camps!”, is that she’s destroyed my ability to dislike Harry Potter on its own terms.

I have never been a fan of it.

Obviously, I never will be.

Yet that’s now fundamentally inextricable from the bloody author’s best attempts to make life hell for a number of my friends — and the complete denial of this from her most dedicated fanbase. That’s been covered better elsewhere, Shaun’s video on the people that have driven her radicalisation is pretty comprehensive, and Lyndsay Ellis’ contribution on Death of the Author explains why I think its fans are morally complicit in her views…

However, I just cannot stand this series, and it has nothing to do with any of that.

The memes are a saving grace of the series, I’ll give it that.

I tried reading a book in 2000-something. On a family holiday, I got handed it and told it would be enjoyable. I got fundamentally bored within pages. I cannot remember which one it even was. All I remember of it is:

Harry Potter was a special boy. Because, you see, Harry Potter was a wizard. That made Harry Potter very special. Because, of course, you should know, wizards are special people.

At least, that’s the impression I had literally at the time. Then, it turns out that this is exactly how she writes even in her serious, adult fiction.

Sure, you can get away with the conversational “settle down, children, while I tell you a story” method in a literal kids book, but a detective series that supposedly isn’t Richard Castle style satire? Good grief. This is an author that people fawn over as good!

A few years later, I tried another one after I knew the story from the films later. Whatever one opens with the exceedingly boring conversation with the Prime Minster that reads like political commentary written by someone who has only ever seen two episodes of Grange Hill. You’ve got to have quite a writing talent to lose my attention to staring out of a train window, instead.

“It’s so clever because the werewolves are named “Sirius” like the ‘dog star’ and “Remus” like the Latin or whatever for wolf!” Jesus Shitting Christ that is not clever. That is barely high school poetry level.

The films are, at best, so-so for me. They spend that much time gurning through this magical world that they actually forget to explain the plot. It’s borderline-incomprehensible if you haven’t read the books and don’t have someone next to you to explain plot holes. I have not read most of Lord of the Rings, I followed the films just fine. I haven’t read Song of Ice and Fire yet, but the TV show was perfectly understandable! They adapt, they cut, they merge, they add… all in service of moving people through a coherent and consistent plot in that format.

The Harry Potter movies? I’m still not entirely sure I know who it was that stole the thingy and left the note at the end of the film where they… I forget, it blurs into one. And who was the… werewolf one that was running around a corn field setting fire to things…? I’m sure I’ve seen these films more than once. But, honestly, without leaning on people who have read the books for explanation, these films make no sense. They’re so beholden to people who think “true to the book” means adapting the dialogue word-for-word, whether that makes sense or not.

I also don’t think the premise is that clever.

The “boy in a cupboard” and the practically-comic abuse he gets from his adoptive family at the beginning of the story is knock-off Roald Dahl at a best. I don’t think setting it in a stereotypical public school is that imaginative (the Worst Witch was released in 1974, please read a second fucking book). I don’t think the world is as fleshed out and well-realised as people claim, at least not compared to something with the momentous mechanics of Discworld. See, in Night Watch, Pratchett bothers to consider that, as a living, breathing thing, the city of Anhk-Morpork would have countless deliveries of food and materials heading toward it, and that would pile up in the event of a revolution. In Harry Potter, our hack of an author invents time-travel and then has to profusely apologise for it by accidentally destroying all the time travelling stuff off screen. Except for when it’s needed again.

I know it’s all opinion, but, come on, this is not good writing.

I especially dislike the reliance on paratext, with the author continually updating and ret-conning things in a way that, at best is cringe-as-fuck (such as naming a character after Elizabeth Warren in hindsight) but extends to outright fucking-offensive (Dumbledore is gay for the liberal cred, but, you know, not gay-gay, as in, visibly-gay or doing anything gay, ewwww). Still, I miss the days when this was the most objectionable thing on the author’s Twitter account. All being lapped up by a fanbase that’s rapidly ageing, with no threshold for cringe, and with no sign of every wanting to read a second book.

Eugh…

Then, you end up digging more into the subtle-maybe-not-that-subtle racism in it. The stereotyping. How the main character is an obnoxious jock if you stand back and look at it. I really cannot relate to this, and the only reason I think it ever took off was an accident of publicity sometime in the late 90s.

I’m openly not a fan of Lord of the Rings. But I don’t actively think it’s bad. I may even get around to re-watching the films or trying to get through the book again. Harry Potter, I actively dislike, and always have. I wouldn’t willingly turn one of the movies on again. I would not be paying Actual Money to see the stage production thing. I will not read a book, because I have tried it and failed miserably to care about a single word written on the page. I admire the sheer strength and belligerence of the people who have managed it to critique it as literature.

These are opinions on the series I have held for years and they’ve never really mellowed. From that first tedious attempt to get through the pages to sitting in a cinema in 2013 and shrugging as we were meant to feel sad about the deaths of characters that had 8 seconds of screen time to introduce them.

But, no.

Apparently, I just want to “cancel” her for “disagreeing” with me. I must dislike the series because I dislike something the author said. It’s my only possible motivation. After all, it’s popular, I must be wrong! I have to “separate the art from the artist”.

Fuck that noise. It’s not mere “disagreement”. I hate that she uses her wealth and privilege and platform to demand that several of my friends get erased from existence to satisfy her and her mates’ absurd conspiracy theories.

For that, sure, I do think she’s personally an odiously catastrophic fuck of an individual.

But, no, that’s not why I dislike Harry Potter. I formed the opinion that her writing is asinine, boring, trite, dragging, tedious, lame, clunky, dull, morally awkward and unimaginative 20 years ago. The only thing that’s changed is that I’m less bothered by letting people know that.

Now, look at yourself. You’re in your 30s. That Hogwarts letter is never coming. Grow up. And for the love of God read another fucking book.

The Twatterpocalypse – where next?

Given the inevitable implosion of Twitter following Pylon Crunk’s (really stupid) takeover of it, people are wondering “what now?”

Or, more specifically “where now?”

Which site will come rescue them? Where do they need to abandon ship to?

To me, I don’t particularly mind and don’t think it matters too much. Indeed, not thinking about it too hard and spreading around multiple sites might be beneficial. We all know the joke that the internet since the 2010s has been just five websites, filled with screenshots of the other four. Seeing that era die off feels like an exciting potential development.

I’ve certainly gained a lot from Twitter since kind-of-accidentally signing up in late 2016. I’ve created many new professional connections, reconnected with former colleagues, got conference speaking invites, and various inspirations for how to do my job as people share their work and ask to learn as much in return. Without that, I probably wouldn’t be in the (reasonably successful) position I am now compared to when I last published to this WordPress backwater.

But none of that is really to the credit of the site. It’s all down to the community that it happened to host. As someone else recently pointed out; if you buy Twitter, you’ve bought a community, not a tech company. I agree with that assessment. I also agree that, as something ran on ads and selling data, that community is your product, not your customers. It’s probably best not to destroy your product. Best not to alienate customer or product, either, but I digress.

The point is that it’s not a site, it’s a community, and it’s a (sub) group of people, that have made it worthwhile for me until now.

As a site, and as an overall culture, I actually have very little to say about it that’s positive.

Let’s be honest, it’s a bit crap

As technology, it’s remarkably limited. I don’t think I’ve watched a whole video via the platform, even a 15 second clip, before an endless buffering loop — but at least the interface is dominated by people shilling their crypto scams via the Spaces feature that I can’t get rid of. I can’t direct my posts to dedicated audiences, but I can buy a hexagonal Enn-Eff-Tee profile picture. I can’t edit out spelling errors, but it’s possible for hidden accounts to send abusive minions toward me for it.

Cool…

Culturally, Twitter is almost terminally self-obsessed. As if we’d get the UK back into the European Union if you simply follow everyone who tweets a single “follow back!” hashtag. As if you can swing an election by writing 200 characters on a website where only a tiny fraction of the population is actually active. People have acquired countless thousands of follows for simply following prominent politicians and replying “zingers” to them, in the hopes of mining it for likes. Entire personalities exist around “having a twitter account”. An entire cottage industry of people tweeting “Sir, this is a Wendy’s” was destroyed the day Donald Trump was finally banned.

Exceedingly tedious stuff that’s often difficult to mute.

The massive objections to an “edit” function seemed to reek of a weird “Twitter Exceptionalism”. The argument goes something to the effect of: what if you liked a tweet about cute puppies, and then they changed it to be a racist comment, and then they forwarded the screenshot to your employer? Certainly, such a convoluted plan that would fall foul of anyone ever checking the original post and seeing the edit history. And if someone isn’t going to check, then any of the fake-screenshot generators online — or, hell, even MS Paint! — could do the same job with or without editing tweets being possible. Web forums have allowed some kind of editing since forever, and yet no problems. Politicians have prominent Facebook presences, which allows editing, and yet no grand conspiracies to hide their mistakes have emerged. To Twitter’s userbase, that site is magically special, and different.

How? It just is!

But it is not.

Sorry to put on a costume and get on stage to play the “Grumpy Old Internet Guy” character, but it is not the centre of the universe. And, frankly, the site’s overall attitude is utterly insufferable. Flaccid internet drama doesn’t become less tragic and sad just because you’re on a social media site with millions of users in 2022 instead of a VB forum with 35 users in 2002.

Twitter’s centring in discussions and discourse is largely an accident of journalism. The posts are publicly visible, and various court rulings granted them a fair-game status for reporters to cite and use. Your posts, and your comments, are now a potential source of free content for everyone else. Suddenly, “So-and-so tweeted about…” becomes a headline. Pop-cultural reviews have descended into endless articles about how a particular episode or movie has attracted ire and criticism which, once you dive into the article, turns out to be two tweets with 6 likes between them.

Journalism ate itself in the last few decades for a multitude of reasons, but Twitter certainly provided some tasty seasoning for it.

The bad and the ugly…

Then there’s the abusive aspects of the site.

Twitter might not be unique in having problems, but it is very structurally based around promoting abuse. Tweets themselves — being short, isolated posts — aren’t so much easily removed from context, but exist atomically in a way that means they barely have any context in the first place. Caveat your points in the replies all you like, that won’t save you from countless people making those misinterpretations anyway. The site is one of the few of Web 2.0 social media that, to quote someone else, rewards being deranged more than being hot.

If you can’t say it perfectly in 280 characters, the site is designed to punish you.

The “quote tweet” feature, while valuable for sharing content you like with your own take, context, or a description to advertise it to your own followers, is the core mechanism for abuse to be spread. The site is filled with accounts whose main schtick is to use that quote tweet feature to send their hundreds of thousands of followers to spam and reply, and further quote tweet, the original — making life unbearable for one poor user who accidentally crossed the path of the bigger account, until the smaller victim locks or simply deletes their account.

And everyone feels like they’re justified in doing it. Chasing the euphoric high of that “like” number going up, up, up as you stick it to the Bad Person. The cultural obsession with the “ratio” of likes/comments/quotes drives it further. The “main character” trope where one person is the willing or unwilling victim for that day. It’s all structurally horrid.

Twitter showed no signs of curbing that behaviour, nor holding people to account for their followers’ actions, even actions driven by them. The plausible deniability of not being responsible for your following remains strong.

Moderation is frequently patchy — and the fear is that it’s going to become non-existent. That’s par for the course for any large site, let’s be clear. When your user base cracks into the tens of thousands (never mind millions), you either have to outsource your moderation decisions to under-paid people, forced to spend mere seconds on a decision to block/ban/suspend, or try your hand at some algorithmic magic to speed it up. In either case, context, background and intent are impossible to convey in your reports, and you end up in a situation where user “H1mml3rFan69” can say he has “14 words” for “globalists” and hopes they “88 themselves”… and it doesn’t break the rules.

Not unique to Twitter, of course, as the crypto-fascists of the world are very good at making themselves look reasonable to those without any knowledge. But Twitter seemed to put even less effort in than most large sites.

So, divesting out of it has been a goal of mine for a while, now feels like a reasonable time to start winding it down.

I don’t believe I’ll miss it, though. Some of the people? Maybe. If they care enough about me, they’ll find where I am. I’ve gone through half a dozen forum communities since the early 00s. Some of those people I still hang around with in other spaces! Some of those groups fizzled out slowly. Others died in a hellfire of profanity-laden drama. Some friendships burn bright for months and then end. Others become strong, almost intimate, over years or even decades, and yet can still evaporate overnight as you wake up to find someone has unceremoniously deleted their account.

“This, too, shall pass” should remain in the back of your mind whenever you join such a group. It’s the flip side of building a community not restricted by geography, but by membership of a platform stored on a disk somewhere. This is no different. It was never too big to fail, or too big to come to an end.

So what, or where, now?

After 4-5 years, is it worth returning to blogging? In fact, let’s do this all old-school! Everyone get a blog. Read them via RSS! Maybe. It’s tempting, sure. But might run the risk of being a bit rose-tinted about the period of transitioning to the social media era. But I think I might try it again. Twitter will die. One day, Facebook, too. I have long-form posts and material on there I might want to keep around, and a blog is a better-kept archive of that material.

So, yes, I might make this page more active again. What theme? Probably none, as before.

I spent some of today re-reading old posts and… actually, it’s not that bad. I expected to be far more embarrassed by some of it, having matured and developed further over half a decade.

It’s certainly not how I’d write now. We can be sure about that.

I’ve spotted a lot of instances where I’d approach things differently. In the specific, I’ve made a few odd references to “western / first-world democracies”, which is fine if you take the intent of addressing an audience that largely lives in those places, but still ignores a more global view. Some of it is less well-researched than I would otherwise do now. There are a few corrections I’d shove in. There are more diverse series of viewpoints I’d be capable of locating and acknowledging now. Some aspects contain slurs I wouldn’t use now — I used to hold a stronger use/mention distinction, whereas now I believe mentioning is still a deliberately form of usage. I can edit those out as I find them, although, contrary to the “I’ve been cancelled!” crowd, people can smell the difference between such mentions and deliberately malicious use.

The big, abusive creationist rant that hit Reddit and pinged my phone with endless notifications for 48 hours? I probably wouldn’t write that now, but I suppose I still stand by it. There’s a fair argument that you cannot shout and shame someone into changing their mind but, also, that wasn’t the intent. Also, they’re creationists. Any creationist capable of altering their opinion on the subject will do so of their own accord, and pretty quickly.

I’d have less patience with people in comments. I can take so much on good faith, but otherwise it’s so much less productive than it appears. In my earliest days on Twitter, I’d actually try to convince the transphobes (aka “TERFs”) that they were wrong. But, no. That never works. That’s a group, along with the forced-birth/anti-abortion crowd, are so used to lying to themselves and others that there is no point. Now they’ve all coalesced into a fanatical, single-issue pressure group, the best course is to just dump them into your blocklist. Pre-emptively if possible. I have better things to do with my life than deal with people like that.

And that’s where we’re up to… if you give a shit — and I highly recommend that you do not — I will see you the next time I hit the “publish” button.

Star Wars Episode VIII – THE REMAKE SCRIPT

Apparently some guys say they have backing to remake The Last Jedi.

Clearly, they need a script. So I would like to offer the following, which I believe addresses many of the totally valid criticisms levelled at The Last Jedi by True Fans of Star Wars:

Image result for The Last Jedi

STAR WARS

EPISODE VIII – RETURN OF ALL THE COOL JEDI AND STUFF

It is a time of GREAT CONFUSION. The REPUBLIC, which was reformed after the Battle of Endor across several systems, has been destroyed. The REPUBLIC isn’t the same as THE OLD REPUBLIC though. It formed separately, see the appendices about who runs it.

The FIRST ORDER, which exists because several surviving senior members of the EMPIRE banded together to form it, has risen and is searching for the RESISTANCE Rebellion (who have renamed themselves to save confusion).

Hopefully this fills in some “plot holes” so you can go add it all to WOOKIEEPEDIA the instant the credits roll.

SCENE 1 – DAY

REY HAS FOUND LUKE SKYWALKER AND IS STANDING IN FRONT OF HIM HOLDING OUT A LIGHTSABER. LUKE LOOKS ON AT HER.

LUKE
So… you have found me, my…

**LUKE PAUSES**

LUKE
Daughter!

**PAUSE FOR AUDIENCE GASPS**

REY
I’m your daughter?

LUKE
Yes. We hid you on Jakuu 18 years ago to hide you from the Empire. Because you were super-special and strong with the Force. MACE WINDU’s Force Ghost told me to hide you because you’re special. And, also, you’re the new CHOSEN ONE. Also, Midichlorians aren’t real after all.

REY
Really?

LUKE
Yes, really. Now, let me introduce you to your mother…

**LUKE PAUSES**

LUKE
Mara Jade!

**MARA JADE WALKS UP. THE CAMERA LINGERS ON HER CLEAVAGE FOR TWENTY SECONDS. THEN IT SCANS UP TO HER FACE. SHE’S PLAYED BY SOMEONE TOTALLY FIT BUT, LIKE, NOT IN A WEIRD WAY LIKE NATALIE DORMER, MORE LIKE… I DUNNO, JUST PICK SOMEONE UNDER 30**

MARA JADE
Hi.

LUKE
That’s enough speaking lines from you now. You might make people uncomfortable.

**MARA JADE WALKS AWAY. THE CAMERA LINGERS ON HER ASS AND LEGS LIKE MICHAEL BAY DIRECTED THAT BIT**

REY
Now what do we do?

LUKE
We fight. That’s what Jedi do. They’re the Guardians of Peace and Justice in the Galaxy™ and we also fight with lightsabers. Isn’t that right… OBI ONE?!

**OBI-WAN KENOBI’s FORCE GHOST APPEARS. BUT HE’S YOUNG AND PLAYED BY A DE-AGED EWAN MCGREGOR BECAUSE THAT’S HOW IT WORKS.**

OBI WAN
Yes, of course. You must fight to prove yourself.

**LUKE DRAWS HIS GREEN LIGHTSABER AND REY IGNITES HERS. THEY CLASH SEVERAL TIMES AND LUKE BACK-FLIPS ALL OVER THE PLACE AND IT’S TOTALLY SUPER-AWESOME.**

REY
Please stop. I can’t defeat you!

LUKE
That’s because you’re a girl.

**THEY FIGHT**

**THEY FIGHT SOME MORE**

**THE FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHY TEAM CAN FILL IN THE NEXT TEN, TWENTY, WHATEVER MINUTES**

———–
SCENE TWO – ON BOARD A SHIP

**A MAN WHO LOOKS LIKE BOBA FETT FROM THE PREQUELS WALKS INTO A ROOM AND MEETS POE DAMERON**

POE
Finn!

FINN
Yes, I am Finn.

POE
I’m pleased to see you and would like to remind you that you ARE AND ALWAYS WERE A CLONE and not some nig… erm, you know.

**FINN CONTINUES TO LOOK EXACTLY LIKE BOBA FETT FROM THE PREQUELS**

FINN
Yes. Isn’t it great that we’re manly alpha dude-bros.

**LEIA WALKS IN WEARING A CHAINMAIL BIKINI. THE CAMERA DOESN’T LINGER ON HER BECAUSE EEEEEEWW OLD PEOPLE ARE GROSS!!**

LEIA
Gentlemen.

POE
So I hear you’ve retired from being a general. And I hear that outfit is more comfortable than everything else you’ve been wearing.

LEIA
Yes.

FINN
Now you’re not a general. I hear you’ve transferred all power to Poe, who is now in charge of everything. He needs to be told of all plans.

LEIA
Yes.

POE
Don’t go using any force powers, now! Don’t forget you’re not actually a Jedi and only Jedi can use the Force.

**LEIA LEAVES**

—–

SCENE 3 – DAY

** LUKE IS EXPLAINING EVERYTHING TO REY **

REY
How do you know so much about the Force?

LUKE
When it came to my research, I never took any shortcuts. Over the past five years, I’d worked my way down the entire recommended reading list. The Lost Tribe of the Sith, Dawn of the Jedi, Tales of the Jedi, The Old Republic, Darth Bane, Legacy of the Jedi, Shatterpoint, The Cestus Deception. I read every novel by every single author and I didn’t stop there.

If it was one of Yoda’s favorites, like Rogue One, Empire Strikes Back, The Wrath of Khan I rewatched it until I knew every scene by heart.

I spent three months studying every episode of Rebels and memorizing all the key lines of dialogue. Only the meek get pinched. The bold survive. You could say I covered all the bases.

I wasn’t going to cut any corners. I wasn’t going to miss something obvious. I wasn’t some dilettante. I wasn’t screwing around.

You’d be amazed how much research you can get done when you have no life whatsoever. Twelve hours a day, seven days a week, is a lot of study time.

REY
You’re so cool and totally get everything this franchise is about!

—–
SCENE FOUR – INTERIOR OF SOME KICKASS MEGA-STAR-DESTROYER

SNOKE
Enter, Kyo Ren.

**KYLO REN ENTERS. HE HAS GROWN A BEARD TO MAKE HIM LOOK LESS GAY.**

SNOKE
Did I ever tell you the story of how I came to be here, and who I am and who I was?

KYLO REN
But I thought the entire point of you was-

SNOKE
I was once called…

**SNOKE PAUSES**

KYLO REN
Oh Jesus…

SNOKE
Darth…

KYLO REN
Please stop.

SNOKE

**SNOKE PAUSES**

SNOKE
TARKIN!

KYLO REN
I hate everything even more now.

 

About negative criticism…

No, no… this post isn’t because I’ve been heavily criticised recently and am about to have a cry. No, not that. The majority of “critique” I attract publicly is beyond inane and isn’t worth bothering with, anyway. This is about reviews and criticism of the subjectivity of art, movies, music, the theatre, painting, and so on. It’s a passionate subject — because for better or worse people’s very identities can be wrapped up in what they do – and don’t – enjoy. And those opinions are useful as they can tell us whether to it’s a worthwhile use of our time experiencing it first hand and coming to our own conclusions and opinions.

In that respect, reviews and critique are more than academic. They’re vital to ensuring we don’t spend 200 hours a day keeping up with the immense pace of art production from around the world for fear of missing out.

But is all that criticism equal?

Almost certainly not. There are bad reasons, or at least excuses and justifications, for reviewing something positively or negatively. Here, though, I want to focus on just negative criticism and opinion. Specifically, why I lend less weight to it when deciding whether to let it influence me.

This is not to say it’s invalid, just that it has to be a good reason before I let a negative review affect me. Besides, I can still be swayed against spending time on something even by a relatively positive review providing it’s an honest one that I can relate to.

Anyway, here are the reasons I don’t lend too much thought to negativity.

1. Expectation

Probably around 8 times out of 10, a negative review is an expectation issue. These are complaints along the lines of going into a production of Romeo and Juliet and complaining that it isn’t an action-comedy buddy cop movie. That’s an extreme example, sure, but how many times have you seen a negative review effectively amount to that? Reboots that change too much, or look too different. Comedies that weren’t to someone’s taste in humour – not everything needs to be dry, subtle wit and wordplay, and not everything needs to be Freddy Got Fingered. And sometimes mindless action films do set out to be all about the mindless action. It’s all about target audience, and if you’re intentionally outside that, then is your opinion really worth that much? In no possible universe could you actually feel salience toward art that literally isn’t for you and to your expectations by design.

The reason I admire Roger Ebert’s movie reviews is that this was his approach — he held a movie up to its own purported standard. Did the movie do what it set out to accomplish? If so, then I suppose it’s good by its own standard. If it didn’t accomplish specifically what someone else wanted, it doesn’t automatically mean the opposite.

See, when I watch, listen to or read something I want to see something someone else has made, I want to see their ideas. If I don’t happen to like it and it’s not for me, then meh. It wasn’t for me. I won’t hate something just because it refused to kneel down and cater to my every whim. I do feel the need to be surprised every now and then, and often that means consuming something that may healthily go against my expectations, and challenge me a little.

2. Actual Opinions

In my experience, I rarely see negative views really phrased as opinions. I have a fairly simple view of what counts as an opinion: can you disprove it? If not, it’s an opinion. You can’t disprove “I like mint-chocolate ice cream”, you can’t disprove “I didn’t like The Book of Henry“. You can disprove “I think the world is flat” — even appending “I think that…” doesn’t automatically mean it’s opinion, it just means you might well think something that’s wrong.

If someone likes something, they’ll usually say “I liked it”. If they loved it they’ll preach that out loud with a giddy joyfulness that I feel bad for not holding too. “I love it!”, “I enjoyed it so much!”, “I had so much fun!”, “it made me think a lot!”. People can just just be allowed to like things, you know, right?

But… if someone hates something, they say tend to “it is shit” and “that is bad”. It’s a phrasing that implies strongly that good/bad are properties of the object itself — they’re not, it is what it is, regardless — and not properties of the beholder. To me, that feels as if the opinion is so insecure they have no choice but to recast it as an apparently-objective fact about world instead. That way they can’t be wrong, at all. They’re right, and right objectively. Even though a true opinion is always right practically by definition, that doesn’t matter — it needs to be an objective truth otherwise they might just have a wrong opinion.

I don’t particularly care for that attitude, it implies (and often people will make this insultingly explicit) that people who like something are objectively wrong.

…And coupled with the point below, inherently inferior for it.

3. It’s “smart”

People treat negative opinions as “more intellectual”. I’m pretty sure that’s an established fact in psychology, but I can’t (currently, I might be back later to edit) track the down the source of that.

If you negatively criticise something, you have to do far less work to be seen as intelligent for it. Do you think Harry S. Plinkett would be as popular, and as praised for insightfulness, if he made a 90 minute YouTube show on why Star Wars is great as opposed to why Phantom Menace isn’t? I don’t think so.

You can see it in review videos — “why it fails” videos outnumber the “why it wins” ones by some margin. It’s especially true if it’s something that has been shown to be successful and popular. Any conversation with a metal or alternative music fan about Justin Swift and Taylor Bieber will prove this pretty quick; successful, popular artists are liked by the majority, but the minority are Just Too Smart for that. This is perceived as inherently better, but I think it’s an illusion caused by rebelling against the mainstream. Knowledge and views that a minority possess is rare, and rarity means value. It’s valued more highly, it’s perceived as more intelligent. These people aren’t haters, they’re the enlightened! See that time Corey Taylor said Bieber was actually a decent songwriter, see that time Tool fans did anything, you know.

It’s easier to hate, and people will more-readily bow down to your superior mind for hating something rather than liking it — even though you might not really have the nuanced, thoughtful view that you think you have.

So it takes a lot more work for someone to produce negative criticism that I feel I want to pay attention to and let influence me. I’ll respect Dan Olson shredding Suicide Squad’s editing for 30 minutes because he knows editing and backs it up with examples. But I don’t really care for a 30 second screaming whine about how Star Trek Discovery “isn’t really Star Trek because it just panders to SJWs”.

As I said, I don’t think all negativity is invalid if it’s a true, unfalsifiable opinion, just that I, personally, don’t put as much stock in it unless it’s a damn good rationale where I can see the workings and reasons.

It’s taken a while for me to purge myself of that kind of asinine elitism, thinking that I was better than others for disliking something. But I feel better for it. Understanding a diversity of actual opinion, and appreciating people for it, goes a long way toward spotting when people try to hide foul assertions and nasty, harmful bullshit behind cries of “it’s just an opinion”.

Except for La La Land, because Jesus Fucking Christ how the hell was that the greatest thing ever? I mean, it’s awful. Just the worst. All those people who loved it and rave about it are idi-

Oh… crap…

Floating Belief Networks

Some people literally believe that Barack Obama was responsible for the disaster relief for Hurricane Katrina. And the poll data looks mostly reasonable for this claim – albeit with a fairly dodgy question that didn’t have a “neither” option.

Image result for where was obama during hurricane katrina

We’re also seeing the same trope crop up again amongst Donald Trump supporters (though, at this point they’re better described as “apologists”) who want to imply that the then-Senator held some responsibility for the disaster. Even if you think the above poll is dodgy, these seem to be very honest expressions of sentiment.

At this stage, you might well think the obvious: these people are stupid, they think Barack Obama was president in 2005, they’re stupid because they don’t know he wasn’t president at the time!

But I don’t think this is the case. And I certainly don’t think “stupid” merely means “not knowing something”.

The ideas “[Barack Obama was President in 2005]” or “[Katrina happened during the Obama Administration]” probably aren’t literal beliefs that these people hold in their heads. If you were to ask them the years Obama was President, they’d probably get it right: 2008-2017. If you asked them for the year of Hurricane Katrina, they’d also get it right – maybe a small slither would land somewhere in 2007-2009 or so because things get hazy after a while, but not a significant amount.

I think the problem is that they haven’t connected these two facts together.

So, what do I mean by connecting ideas? Let’s beat this point to death with an example:

  • I believe that my office has a door with a lock on it.

It’s a simple, trivial belief,  but it connects to a lot of other further beliefs. It connects to the idea that I can’t get into my office without unlocking and opening the door. It connects to the expectation that if I don’t unlock and open it, I’ll smack my face right into the wood if I try to walk in. This is something I expect to see and feel. It connects to the idea that I need to bring keys with me. It connects to the broader idea and beliefs about how doors and locks work.

It can even be drawn out in a diagram.

belief_network

It’s still somewhat simplified, but hopefully you get the idea. The point isn’t so much the nodes, but the fact that they’re connected together. In a way, the words in blue are the actual important bits that make it function.

The other important part is that the connections attach to the outside world in a few places – what I expect to experience if something does or doesn’t happen. If I have keys, I will feel them in my pocket. If I haven’t opened the door, I expect not to be able to enter and for it to block my path and hit me in the face.

Mapping out ideas like this is hardly novel, but it is powerful. Here’s an example (usually known as a concept map in these cases) for chemical kinetics I ran through with some undergraduates a while back.

belief_network_kinetics

The reason that they’re useful in pedagogy is because it tests how well someone could expand upon an idea, how well they actually have a fully coherent model of the world in their head.

When it comes to learning theory to build mastery and expertise, the aim isn’t to just populate someone’s head with more and more nodes (pop culture and fiction do this when they imply that intelligence = “knowing a lot”) but to connect them together. Someone without these connections would be unable to complete a task if it’s presented in an unorthodox manner – even if they certainly can do it. Whereas someone with these connections has enough of a coherent model to apply their knowledge and analyse and evaluate new ideas.

So, what do I think is actually happening when people say Obama was responsible for the response to Hurricane Katrina?

I’ll just stick it in a similar diagram first:

belief_network_floating

The ideas just float around. There’s a core belief – and it’s locally consistent. In fact, if we were to expand this it might even be very consistent in attaching an “Obama is bad” sticker to almost everything – though whether that “Obama is bad” node forms a connection to other locations is an open question. But there’s no global coherence, and no interconnectivity. It can lead to contradictions very readily.

This is what I think is going on in the heads of people who you might call “stupid”. It’s not that they don’t know something – it’s that they haven’t joined the ideas together. It may also go some way to explaining why responding “but Obama wasn’t president in 2005” doesn’t make the Obama-Katrina problem go away. That knowledge/node is already there, and adding it doesn’t actually change anything.

We talk about the “post-truth” world as if it’s all about replacing facts with falsehoods. I think it’s more about destroying the connections between facts so that they can be substituted with the falsehoods more readily.

Currently in vogue is the relationship between the Democratic Party and the KKK – a point that falls to pieces once you consider the political shift between the two main US parties over the course of the 20th century, and a fact that is effectively page 1, chapter 1 of “American Politics for Dummies”. But that’s not the point, the people saying this are simply connecting “Democrats are bad” to another node marked “KKK is bad”. So no amount of contextualisation actually affects that belief – the context was never connected to it in the first place and so this fact can’t break the local consistency of the belief network.

So many beliefs stay firm in the face of being corrected: we’ve known for well over a year that the £350 million figure used to draw the United Kingdom out of the European Union was utter bullshit, and that there was never any indication that it would be saved and given to the health service. But the more that becomes clear to those who voted leave, the less it impacts on their beliefs – “Any amount is too much!” or “but we didn’t really think it would be given to the NHS… honest” they say. Is this cognitive dissonance resolving, or was there never any dissonance to resolve because it was never tethered to their beliefs in the first place?

And, yes, I do think the liberal-left do this, too. The rise of bullshit (aka “fake news”) from the liberal-left side of the spectrum is also a by-product of floating beliefs, no different to that “Obama is bad” loop above – because if you have a floating belief network, one that isn’t attached to any observation or expectation, you’re more likely to uncritically bolt the falsehoods to it.

But… if you do connect your beliefs strongly to reality, and use them to produce a coherent model of the world, you’re less likely to fall for bullshit. Or, at the very least, it will take a more in-depth, more-powerful, more-coherent hoax to fool you, and far less effort to purge it from your belief network when corrected.

You know, if you expect to bit hit in the face by a locked door, you’ll remember to take your keys with you.

Diana, (nearly) twenty years on… grief tourism and emotional performativity

Diana, Princess of Wales (née Spencer) has been in the news this week… well, she’s in most of the time for various reasons, but this time the 20th anniversary of her fatal car crash in Paris is fast approaching. It caused me to, if you excuse the pretentious term for a moment, reflect on what that even meant for me at the time, and since… no, no, please, stay with me, please. This isn’t going to be one of those posts.

See, I remember the day fairly well. And I also very clearly remember exactly how I felt…

…I felt nothing.

I didn’t care. And I still don’t, really.

No, no, please, against, stay with me… I’m not saying this because I’m one of those people, either. You know the kind, the one who so does not care about [insert today’s top story] that they have to tell you about it three times a day how much they totally don’t care about it. I’m simply saying that the event had very little salience to me. I had no basis on which to build the required level of “care”.

I was young in 1997, but I wasn’t even born in 1981 when Diana rose to fame and married Prince Charles. I was barely sentient for most of her good works afterwards (and, yes, I objectively admire her work and charitable contributions) but it has absolutely no effect on me on an emotional level. Her charitable efforts were only something that, literally, happened to other people. Her name was something that appeared on the news, like “Bosnia” or “Nelson Mandela”; something that got in the way of me watching Power Rangers. She was a thing, certainly, but I had no deep connection to her as a person or as a concept.

Her death elicited nothing but a shrug from me at the time. And it still does, to be honest. Yes, I do, objectively speaking, understand and hold a positive impression of her today, but that’s come to me in the context of her being an historical figure – in the same broad category as Henry VIII, Winston Churchill, or Emmeline Pankhurst. There was no true and current emotive connection to me, there still definitely isn’t. I have had, and continue to have, no salient value attached to Diana as a person or in the abstract.

Then we come to what happened that week at school.

Or, more specifically, what happened with one RE teacher who thought it would be a fabulous idea to make a lovely, colourful tribute board, made with the traditional materials of young schoolchildren. We were asked to write tributes and cards to Diana, expressing our sad feelings about the tragedy, and place them on a display in the school corridor. Looking back, it seems quite strange that a run-down school in a working-class mining town would celebrate a central figure of the Royal Family and the upper-class of the South, who rose to prominence in the decade when the Establishment was busy systematically destroying and disenfranchising the area, but hey, they must have thought it was a good distraction and good for us. Or something like that.

But I literally didn’t care. I couldn’t care, perhaps. I had the same feeling (or lack thereof) I just described, at length, above. I might not have known those words, I might not have had the confidence to express it out loud, but I definitely felt it – and even at that age I had the meta-cognitive presence of mind to know it.

I was asked to express my feelings, and I genuinely didn’t have any.

This wasn’t good enough for that particular teacher, though. I had to have feels, or I had to try to have them. Because I must have felt them, they were sure of that – so it would have been good for me to express it! I said I didn’t actually care (or words to that effect) and I was told I did, and had to express it.

So I did it…

Well… I faked it.

And, at the end of the day, it wasn’t that hard. I faked a few feelings. I wrote something that was, apparently, quite poignant for a pre-teen. I was complimented for it being so true and expressive. And that was it. It was so easy to fake emotional engagement.

I think that experience has shaped my life far more than Diana’s death itself ever could. I now had direct experience of faking feelings, expressing grief where there was none, and ever since I have been utterly distrusting of grief. To this day I’m uncomfortable with seeing other people do it publicly over people they don’t know or had no connection to. I remember watching the funeral and not quite understanding why people were throwing flowers and crying. They didn’t know her, they had no good reason to feel like that. At least, that many people couldn’t possibly have a good reason to. If I could fake it, so my reasoning went, surely they were faking it, too.

That’s been my default assumption ever since. I’ve distrusted public displays of grief. It’s even spilled out into distrusting my own feelings. How can I tell that it’s genuine? How do I know they’re not just performing because they think they ought to? How can I tell that they really feel sad, and don’t just think they’re sad because they have a much deeper, and much more demanding, believe that they should feel sad?

I can’t. I could just trust them… but if can fake it, then…

It’s left me cold and cynical. This idea of taking a tourist-like break into the grief of others only got worse after 1997. People flocked to places where children had been murdered, cried for the news cameras and left flowers and cuddly toys…

Okay, rapid aside. It bugs me that those cuddly toys would almost certainly have just been binned and sent to landfill after being left out in the elements for a week. It bugs me that these inanimate objects never got to fulfil their purpose of comforting or entertaining a living child. It bugs me that I have a greater emotional attachment to inanimate objects with cute faces than I do to actual humans. There, I’ve finally admitted that in writing. Moving on…

…and as the internet grew into a thing, these displays could be made even more easily. Now you just have to comment “Hastag-RIP!” or “you’re in our thoughts”.

Sorry, another one. Okay, I get that, should you feel pushed for what to say, as I was in 1997, then a ready-made, widely acknowledged phrase is a good thing to have, it’s a nice default for when you don’t know what to say… but I do think that silence is a more honest response if silence is all you can come up with when pressed for something original, anyway, moving on again…

To me, it comes across as a performance. You’re there, making sure you say the right things from a select set of pre-approved terms and phrases, and commenting on the death of someone you never met, someone who you probably didn’t care about before, and someone you almost certainly would never have heard of if they died in some other way. And… with it all being online these days, how can anyone know that this sentiment is anything other than a performance? How do we know they’re really “keeping you in our thoughts” and not just fucking off to play another round of Candy Crush and thinking about dinner, and anything but what they said they were thinking of?

I could trust them, but then again it’s so easy to fake, I know that too well.

So, a few years ago, someone was murdered (I won’t say who, and I apologise if this comes across as horribly blasé). The usual messages cropped up… “RIP”, “This is so sad”, and other delightfully original pithy phrases… but… this was different for me – because one of the victims friends cried in my arms for the best part of an evening. I’m not sure we got that much sleep that night. I was only two degrees of separation from the victim. Only some prior commitment and a long distance stopped me from being literally at their funeral. After that, the “supportive” messages felt so hollow to me.

I have to emphasise the “to me” part of that, though. I am emphatically not saying that the family and friends shouldn’t feel comfort from those messages if that’s how it makes them feel… but it’s not for me. I felt that grief a mere second hand – and it still wasn’t enough for me to truly comprehend the loss. I was in that category of someone who didn’t even know they existed, I didn’t feel I had the right to feel grief-stricken or out-pour it publicly in a great competition of who can feel saddest and buy the most flowers and write the most pre-approved buzzwords in a Facebook comment.

So what about people only read about it via BBC News, and probably couldn’t remember the victim’s name if asked today? Did they really feel something? Or did they feel the need to perform as if they did? Are these comments now only Pavlovian responses to the news?

Maybe not… maybe they’re real connections. But if I can fake it so trivially and so easily…

I felt first-hand, back in 1997, how easy it was to perform grief. I felt first-hand the pressures people are put under to show it. I’ve seen and felt the pressures we’re under to feel something, and the stigma of how cold it seems not to – and how afraid we all seem to be of just throwing our hands in the air and saying “look, it’s a bad thing, yes, but I have no emotional connection to this, I can’t feel anything about it and I respect the truly grief-stricken too much to lie about that”. I actively lied to the world about feeling something I didn’t because of those pressures. There was no benefit for it – no-one gave a shit what I wrote, even I can’t properly remember the words I wrote down. If I didn’t do it, the world would be no worse off. If I did a better job of it, the world wouldn’t be any better. I only did it in response to social pressure and social pressure only… and I don’t think I’m special in doing that.

Do I have an actual point to this? No, I suppose I don’t. I don’t want a massive call to arms that says “NO MORE PUBLIC GRIEF!” – I’m not writing for the Guardian, here. If you want to, go on, do it. If you take comfort from the support of thousands of people you don’t know, take it – if you’re in that position you need all the support you can muster. If you take comfort from expressing it, go ahead.

Just that, if I die, and all you can come up with is “#RIP”, know this; I’ll be back to get you.

The UK Election – John Oliver Style…

Welcome, welcome, welcome… I’m absolutely not John Oliver, but this will be the best impression I can muster via text alone. We start with the United Kingdom…

westeros

…a country you think about so little you didn’t realise that wasn’t the United Kingdom, that was Westeros from Game of Thrones crudely photoshopped into western Europe. This is the United Kingdom.

uk

The UK has recently finished the count in a snap general election to decide on a new Prime Minister and new ruling government. There were some ups and downs in typically British laugh-first-ask-questions-later fashion. At one point we were treated to, and yes this is genuine, a man known only as Lord Buckethead standing against the Prime Minister in her own constituency as a “strong, but not entirely stable” protest vote.

I look at that photo and can hear the dum-dum-dum of the Imperial March from Star Wars, but I don’t know who it’s playing for.

Unfortunately for incumbent PM Theresa May, while she did manage to defeat Lord Buckethead, the rest of the evening had not gone well. This has not gone well at all, and the vote has returned a hung parliament. This means that no one party controls an outright majority and can’t form a government on its own. This means that after seven weeks of scaring the public that her opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn would form a “coalition of chaos”, May has had to reach across the Irish Sea to the Democratic Union Party, the DUP, to form a coalition of her own.

Now, at this point most people in England, Scotland and Wales simply went… “who?” and were forced to learn as much about the DUP in the space of three hours that they possibly could.

Holy shit!

The DUP are, amongst other things, associated with young earth creationists, climate change denialists, and are both anti-LGBT and strictly anti-abortion even in cases of rape and incest. So reaching out to the few elected DUP members of parliament clearly an act of some desperation for Theresa May, whose Party under David Cameron tried to bill itself as a somewhat pro-environment, pro-LGBT and progressive affair.

To understand how the UK got to this point, and to play a bit of catch up, we need to go back about ten years to the resignation of Tony Blair. You may remember him from such things as super-awkward attempts to make politics cool…

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…his newborn son’s role in the MMR-vaccine controversy of the early 2000s, and, of course, sexing up a dossier on Iraq’s ability to launch weapons of mass destruction as a pretext to taking the United Kingdom and the United States into a war because, in terms best described with Pulp Fiction metaphors, Tony Blair was the Gimp to George W. Bush’s Zed.

After Blair’s resignation under a wave of controversy, the position was inherited by his long-term friend and political ally Gordon Brown, a man for whom the words ‘dour’ and ‘lacklustre’ were specifically invented for, and whose attempts at smiling still haunts the dreams of those who were children in the 00s and are now permanently traumatised adults:

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“PLEASE DEAR GOD NO! I’LL VOTE FOR YOU I’LL VOTE FOR YOU! JUST NEVER DO THAT AGAIN PLEASE!”

Now, there is nothing wrong with UK leaders simply inheriting this position. Constitutionally the Prime Minister of the UK is whoever leads the party with the largest majority in Parliament. But it does leave a bit of a sour taste in the mouth when one hasn’t actually stood for an election. So when 2010 rolled around and Gordon Brown stood for election, it was a big deal. A lot rested on the ability for Brown to win that election… which he utterly failed to do.

There was a disastrous combination of Tony Blair’s poisoned legacy, a perceived mishandling of the credit crunch and financial crisis of 2008, and Brown himself being recorded calling Gillian Duffy, a Scottish woman he spoke with about immigration while on the campaign trail, a “bigoted woman” on a hot microphone. All this left him pretty much unelectable. It was as if, after years of training a dog to do basic math by tapping out the numbers, when it finally came to the talent show final he just sat there, defecated on the stage and barked “bigot!” at the audience.

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“NO, FIDO! WE’VE BEEN OVER THIS BEFORE! JUST TAP YOUR PAW THREE TIMES! BAD DOG!”

Now, to be fair to Brown, the defeat here wasn’t a complete humiliation. 2010 saw the UK enter a hung parliament situation, the kind it’s in today, and the Labour Party’s main rivals, the Conservatives, still couldn’t form a majority on its own. So, the Conservatives reached out to the UK’s third party, the Liberal Democrats, and this man Nick Clegg:

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Clegg is a man who is perfectly acceptably normal on the face of it but, while you can’t put your finger on why, probably has something wrong with him. He’s like that cousin that occasionally comes to dinner that you get on with, you like, and you agree with, and is wholly charming, and erudite and intelligent, but almost certainly masturbates with both hands and can only climax while looking at cleaning products. Or a work colleague you respect enormously, would do anything for and would even be happy for if they got a promotion instead of you, because “Go you, Nick, you deserve it!”… but then goes to a bar and orders a Bud Lite Lime.

Now, the words here should be self explanatory, a coalition between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats appears to be the weirdest flavour combination since Ben and Jerry’s introduced Peanut Butter and Sweetcorn, with a core of cheap hotdog. Sure, you could technically eat it and survive, but… reallyjust really? You want to eat that?

And that continued into 2015 as an uneasy peace between the two ideologically mis-matched parties. The UK then held another scheduled election. This time, the Conservatives reached the threshold for a majority, and reigned as a full government. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats were destroyed completely, losing most of their seats to a combination of Labour and the Scottish Nationalist Party as revenge for leaping into bed with the devil amongst other things. So the Conservatives were expected to have plain sailing from then on… and then this happened.

In fairness, it’s easy to see in hindsight that this was the equivalent of David Cameron cycling along merrily and then jabbing a metal rod into the spokes of the front wheel, before toppling into a ditch full of horse manure. But at the time it was a shrewd strategy to try and silence anti-EU members of his party, and prevent his voters entirely defecting to UKIP, the United Kingdom Independence Party, a party whose name will remain forever a huge slap in the face for people actually fighting for real independence.

Obviously, the EU Referendum went badly for Cameron and he resigned in a shock announcement, declaring that whoever lead the country out of the EU it wouldn’t be him. This then opened up a leadership contest to become the Prime Minister. This would be something of a repeat of Tony Blair stepping down to leave Gordon Brown in charge – whoever replaced Cameron would have to do a very convincing job of it to keep that sour taste of “unelected Prime Minister” out of the mouths of the electorate.

So, who did the Conservatives have to choose from?

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Well, first, there was Michael Gove, a man who was such an incompetent education secretary that teachers now literally use his name as a verb to mean ‘blustering into a situation you have no experience in and fucking everything up’. Boris Johnson, one of those inflatable flailing tube-men you see outside used car dealerships who gained sentience during a Weird Science ritual. And there was also Adrea Leadsom, a woman so unknown that even her supporters had to repeatedly check Wikipedia every day to see who she was.

But it turned out there wouldn’t even be a leadership election anyway as those other three candidates eventually dropped out. Johnson and Gove stabbed each other in the back pretty much at the first hurdle, while that… Other One dropped out after saying May was unqualified to lead the country because she didn’t have children. Theresa May won by default – hashtag-itsokaytonothavechilden, hashtag-feminism. Yes, she won the same way that a half-blind, half-deaf octagenarian with no thumbs would win at Mario Kart: The other three players acted like stoned toddlers who took one look at the Rainbow Road and just fell over giggling.

But… meanwhile, behind all of that craziness, there was this man, Jeremy Corbyn, who was elected as leader of the official opposition, the Labour Party, in the aftermath of the 2015 election.

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Imagine Corbyn as something of an Obi-Wan Kenobi like figure. If Obi-Wan explicitly said he would refuse to push the button on his lightsaber, and instead sat down to discuss a peace deal with Darth Vader over tea, only for the photos to emerge years later to deride him as a Sith Sympathiser. Or, perhaps more close to home, he’s like a less-angry Bernie Sanders whose stunningly sober vices include gardening in his allotment and studying manhole covers, no really.

Corbyn was somewhat of a disaster for Labour initially. Despite having strong popular support from the Party’s membership, he faced almost constant criticism from Labour MPs, who, only a year into his time as leader even launched a coup against him, starting a vote of no confidence that Corbyn lost, forcing him to stand for election again, which he won again by a similar margin. Labour were in disarray for nearly two years following the 2015 election. It was as if the stoned toddlers from before had simply given up playing Mario Kart at all, and just started hitting each other with the controllers because, well, why not, we don’t need to play Mario Kart for another five years anyway, let’s have some fun hitting each other instead. For some time, it seemed like Labour’s prospects of political success were in the sewers, which ironically might be fine with Corbyn because he likes staring at manhole covers.

Further Labour in-fighting seemed like a dead cert for the next few years. And that’s where we find yet another bit of complexity in the story in the form of the ‘Fixed Term Parliament Act’ – a title of a law so boring that not even Tony Blair could sex it up. But in short, the act limits UK Parliamentary terms to five years, calling for an election on a fixed 5-year cycle, as opposed the previous system which was near enough officially “I dunno, whenevs, bruh?” There was, however, an out from this – if two thirds of Parliament voted to repeal it, an election could be called at any time.

No one, quite literally no-one, thought it would happen, though. Theresa May said there wouldn’t be one – the first of many, many U-turns in 2017 – and most people thought Labour would be clinically insane to go along with it since, in their drunken state of perpetual in-fighting, the only end result would be complete decimation of their party at the polls. But, somehow, it happened anyway and the election was called.

Why it was called is possibly even more complicated. On the one hand,  Theresa May was insistent it was to give her the mandate to tackle the Brexit negotiations exactly as she wanted. On the other hand, many of her MPs were facing police investigations into electoral expenses fraud. Now, to be fair, those investigations mostly ended without any charges being levelled against the MPs in question, and the police said their mis-spent expenses were mistakes, not intentional fraud, but the timing of the election has been considered suspect in the light of the scandal.

And this is where it gets difficult to really appreciate and follow exactly what has happened since the General Election was called and the result came in. British politics has almost, but not quite fully, inverted. Now, to be fair, Labour still haven’t won. They won’t be in government. There’s no indication that Jeremy Corbyn will ever be Prime Minister as it stands. He can attempt to form a minority government if Theresa May’s negotiations with the DUP fall through, but most likely that would take another election, and probably one pretty soon – and there seems to be very little appetite going around the UK to go through this shitfest yet again. But let’s look at a quick run-down of the things that have happened in only the last few weeks.

Firstly, Theresa May and the Conservatives basically shot themselves in the foot by targeting their own base – that is, wealthy, white old people – and threatening to force pensioners to sell their houses to cover the costs of dementia care, as well as taking away benefits including a winter fuel allowance. Both pledges became so toxic they became the first flagship manifesto promises to be broken before an election had even taken place. Then Theresa May refused to take part in any debates, televised or otherwise, and mostly hunkered down to take part in planned and controlled photoshoots with selected party faithful, rather than the general public. Then, during one televised debate, Home Secretary Amber Rudd – standing in for Theresa May – asked the audience to judge the Conservatives on their record to get the biggest outright laugh of the evening. The second biggest laugh possibly went to this man, Tim Farron, a man who is a pea-on-a-cocktail-stick crossed with the children’s TV presenter, when he used his final debate speech to compel the audience to go make a cup of tea and change the channel to watch the Bake-Off instead of listening to Amber Rudd’s closing remarks:

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And then there was the entire Conservative policy and manifesto, which was widely mocked for being very light on detail, or substance of any kind, but very firm on the words “Brexit” and “strong and stable” as if those were the only three words they had available at the time, because their austerity measures stopped them from buying new ones.

At the other end of the political spectrum, a minor miracle occurred in that the stoned toddlers in Labour stopped hitting each other with video game controllers long enough to snap to attention and get their act together, resulting in a huge surge in the opinion polls that put them neck-and-neck with the Conservatives by election day on June 8th. Then when the votes were counted, Labour had won big, the Conservatives had lost a little, but the Scottish National Party lost big with their votes splitting apparently at random between the Conservatives and Labour. And that’s without getting into UKIP, which may no longer exist by the next election, even if it is really soon, as it managed to win zero seats for the 3rd election in a row. And it’s also without mentioning the small gains by the Liberal Democrats, who recovered slightly from the beating they got in 2015. And that’s also without getting into how Labour managed their turnaround in the face of a very hostile media that has been widely criticised for not giving Corbyn a fair hearing.

And while all this was going on, Britain faced two major terrorist attacks that left dozens dead in two major cities.

The whole thing has left Britain a confuddled, weary mess, much like it was in 2010. And there is now a lot of uncertainty going around, perhaps even more so this time around. The deal between the Conservatives and the DUP seems to be strained, yet very casual, so no-one can say how strong and stable it will be in the end. Theresa May was looking to shore up her majority and run the country for five years, but has instead been humbled, and there are already calls for her to resign, opening up the Party leadership to many of those who fell flat on their faces the last time. Meanwhile, the fallout this will have for the Brexit negotiations is completely unknown, and the UK’s departure from the European Union will be even more up in the air than before.

So, the question is; how much more of this can Britain take?

And now, this…

Thanks, but I’d rather not have the cash…

Warning, British politics ahead…


Today, another fearmongering piece of toilet paper came through the letterbox, proudly proclaiming that I need to be shit-scared of the following…

tax_cut

My income tax cut is under threat should I vote Labour in the coming weeks!

Factual dubiousness aside – the Labour tax plan doesn’t suggest massive income tax rises for that many people – lets assume it was literally true. Let’s assume that the last tax cut (the raise in the tax-free allowance this year) will actually be reversed. Let’s look at the tax cut I’ve been granted this year under the Conservatives.

My pay slip shows this as about £11.60 – you can now use a tax calculator and the nationally-agreed pay scale for academic-related activities to deduce how much I earn if you like.

Now, the question I would like to pose to Conservatives – either official representatives or their voters – seriously, what the fuck am I meant to do with this?

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It’s not enough to buy private health insurance. That’s £93 per month on average.

It won’t pay off my student loan much faster. £10 a month would clear it in about 83 years from a rough estimate.

It won’t pay for private school for any potential kids I have. That’s a grand a month on average.

It won’t get me a car or fuel it, and it won’t exactly grow into a massive retirement fund.

I doubt I could employ someone and start a business. I might be able to pay someone to mow the lawn for me with it, which I’m sure will fix the economy pronto.

Hell, at best I figure it’ll buy me two pints of Brew Dog’s fizzy-piss-flavoured craft beers per month!

Maybe I’ll just up my charitable contributions by £10, that’s probably the best use I can think for it.

“Ah, but be grateful!” you might say “it’ll mean a lot to people on minimum wage!”. Maybe, sure. Maybe it’s a lot when you’re super poor – sure, I’ve been there. But even when I was, that was a fraction of rent, a fraction of commuting costs, and would only be a week’s worth of ramen. But I should still be grateful, because it’s rewarding me as a member of a Hard Working Family™.

But, more pressingly, what has this wonderful sum of money cost me? Let’s rattle a few things off that have been going on under neoliberal rule in the UK…

The wages in my sector have stagnated or even reversed in real terms in the last few years. The students I teach are now paying more (about 10x even my early-millennial ass did) for less return as graduate wages collapse. Education is being undermined. Children in school are having their meals threatened. The disabled are being forced into tests to see if they’re fit to work – and then die afterwards as if it was designed for it. We’re going to ruin the economy through giving the middle-finger to our nearest neighbours because Strong and Stable. Rents are going up uncontrolled. Funding for local services are going down, meaning rises in council tax rates alone will eat up anything income tax cuts will grant me. They’re punishing children who dared to be born third and poor. They’re dismantling the NHS, replacing it with a health pseudo-service whose principle aim is to turn government subsidy into private profit – as the rail privatisation has done repeatedly, having increased their fares above inflation for over a decade now. And I’m sure the list continues and people with more knowledge than me can be more precise about it.

All of this is going to, and has, cost me the equivalent of hundreds a month. If you want to put a figure on it a back-of-an-envelope calculation for my loss in real-terms earnings since Conservatives started is around £200 a month at least. The crash in the pound after that referendum cluster-fuck wiped even more off my earnings by contrast  to my overseas colleagues. Cheers guys, the extra tenner almost makes up for it! The price of living is going up and up – and they want me to get down on my knees and worship them for the extra tenner they granted me? That cut, which sounds like it could go somewhere useful, has been eaten up ten times over just by the shit they’ve caused granting even bigger cuts to the far more exceedingly wealthy.

“OH GREAT BENEVOLENT THERESA MAY AND YOUR WISE CABINET! I AM UNWORTHY OF YOUR GENEROSITY!!!!”

Can they just fuck off with their shit, already?