When We Were Assholes: In Defence of Context

Our social climate is perpetually changing, whether it’s the trudge towards racial equality, LGBTQ+ rights, or the proliferation of the emoji, there’s a constant intangible evolution of the way we interact with and respond to one another. And this has never been more closely documented than within the last ten years, with the advent of social media.

The minutiae of the changes in political correctness can be traced in timelines. Personal timelines. Individual Twitter feeds trace the death of taboos. The birth of social justice. And the homogenisation of what we consider appropriate.

And this is a good thing. It’s a great thing that I don’t see hard F’s in friends timelines after 2012. But they were there before. They were definitely there before.

In light of the recent Tobuscus allegations, people have been highlighting multiple tweets he sent in 2008. For example:

CaptureAnd yeah, that’s abhorrent in 2016. But how was it eight years ago? How was it when all we had been exposed to was endless comedians throwing the topic around and only a sea of dodgy online forums to meet strangers in? It wasn’t great but, unfortunate as it may be, it was probably par for the course.

Here’s something absolutely fucking stupid I tweeted in 2011:

mmI didn’t really mean rape, did I? I meant rough sex with someone powerful I’m attracted to. But I’ve flippantly used the word rape, and none of the ~300 or so followers I had at the time batted an eyelid.

Yesterday I wrote a blog post called Have I Been Raped? which seriously discussed both my own experience with rape and the nature of witch hunts on social media. But I didn’t tweet it out. Why? Because I was worried there would be backlash for tweeting the word rape on a public forum, even in this legitimate context. I didn’t want to upset anyone. This is 2016. This is my 2016 perspective. The above tweet was 2011. The above tweet was my 2011 perspective.

Here’s another 2011 tweet from someone else who, in 2016, is considered a good guy and a vocal advocate of consent:

dumdedo10aBecause, guess what? Shit was different back then. Today, discussions around what is and what is not accepted can spread faster and garner more awareness than they ever have before. This is an exponential growth. Regardless of whether or not Toby is innocent or guilty, a terrible joke made by anyone in 2008 shouldn’t speak as a complex testament to their character in 2016, or maybe we’d all be assholes. I know I would.

Here’s another disgusting thing I tweeted, in 2010:

2Body shaming. Would I tweet the above today? No fucking way. Did I receive any backlash for tweeing it in 2010? No fucking way.

Things change. 

One of these developments is endlessly encouraging and one is a shackle to the past.

Now this post isn’t in defence of anyone or anything other than context. And, of course, some people have tweeted abhorrent shit in the past: revolting, racist, homophobic, misogynistic shit, and it wasn’t a weak joke. They genuinely believed it. Some still tweet it today, but most have learned to keep it private.  Especially those with an audience and something to lose. But some of us were just your nice, normal jerks living in 2010.

Full disclosure, here’s some more of my shitty rap sheet:

6This one isn’t particularly incriminating, it’s just not something I’d tweet now I’m followed by people who know me. And also gross.

1Casually tweeting about drug use.

3More body shaming and, again, also gross.

jk

This isn’t really slut shaming because, well, I’m there and with all the rest of my tweets it’s clearly not, but I’m also making a joke at the expense of teens responsible enough to get themselves tested.

I don’t really like the person from those tweets. She seems like an utter cunt. But she’s me. And I know the context, personally and culturally, so I can dismiss it. I’m sure that’s infinitely harder to do from an outsider’s perspective, but if you’re reading this you probably know me quite well. You know I’m an advocate for equality, for self-confidence, for inner beauty, and self-expression, whatever form that is, and fuck anyone who tells you otherwise. But I still tweeted that shit. I didn’t like my housemate so I took easy swipes at him. For two years all I did was drink and ‘party’ because I was depressed and I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing with my life, so that’s all I had to talk about. And I did. Online. Where you joined me in the future.

These days, almost our entire lives are uploaded. Every thought. Every mistake. Every collective and personal mistake. And as the timeline gets longer the past will become more and more warped.

A tweet does not a villain make, and our pasts do not define us – cultural guilt and the weight of history hanging heavy – we’re all moving forward together.

 

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Trigger Warnings | Rant

I’ve been annoyed by YouTube lately, which annoys me in itself, because why should I really care about a platform predominately filled with creators making content for an audience younger than one I’d be genuinely interested in reaching? And I think the reason is twofold. 1) I am pissed off with myself that I make this shitty vanilla content because that’s the safe expected thing to do, and 2) because I see other people falling into the same trap.

The other day I became irrationally irritated by a Twitter conversation I wasn’t involved in. I saw TomSka tweeting with reference to a Tumblr post expressing disappointment with him for making a suicide joke in a video. I completely empathised with Tom’s point – to put a trigger warning on the video would ruin the comedic punches. He then sent a series of tweets trying to find a workaround for this problem in future videos, and some of the replies were infuriating.

And I’m wondering if it’s the platform. Or the audience.

Tom has built an audience of kids/teens because that’s the prime demo his content appeals to. If Tom had only ever made adult content, would he still be suffering backlash from that joke? Would he have grown a different audience? Would he have an audience who expect, enjoy, and respect comedians who don’t find anything off limits, other than the approach?

I am someone who believes comedy can and should be about anything, providing the joke is targeting the right element, e.g. don’t make a rape joke about the victim, and if you’re going to make a rape joke make sure the message is clever enough that it doesn’t come off as a cheap vehicle for laughs.

None of my favourite comedians work with trigger warnings, and what’s more I doubt their audience has ever even considered asking them to. Imagine Doug Stanhope opening a set with trigger warnings; it would take him fifteen minutes to reel off every taboo subject he covers in that hour alone.

So I’m wondering, should Tom just start making whatever content he wants and let the right audience find him? One that doesn’t stifle him or pressure him into making ‘safe’ comedy?

Whilst I don’t understand what it is like to be triggered, I’m not against trigger warnings. I completely understand that someone who has suffered trauma could be upset by an unexpected reminder or callous discussion. That said, I do think that people take trigger warnings too far, and the line is far too grey and subjective for me to even begin to make an argument for where it should be. It’s impossible for any one person to say, and no one person should get to decide.

However, if there are creators who don’t want to be held accountable to an audience who need to know the time stamps of the jump scares in a Five Nights at Freddy’s video, then they should simply start making content that those people won’t watch. They need to ask themselves what is more valuable: a large, broad audience, or an audience that enjoys the kind of content they find fulfilling to make? I am sure there are people who don’t watch (for example) Tom’s content because they find it too tame, but would probably love the stuff he would make if he didn’t feel any responsibility to the vocal minority of his current audience.

Don’t flirt with making it a safe space. If people know it is not safe they will stay away, giving you both freedom.

(That said maybe Tom would make exactly the same stuff in the same way, I am only using him as an example as of his prominent, recent Twitter discussion. I don’t know Tom. I am not speaking for Tom)

Recently, I was also frustrated by the #WeStandWithZoe shenanigans, for so many, many reasons. I saw many people using the hashtag as an excuse to tweet sexualised selfies. Obviously some people were casual and legit. But I saw a whole group of people, who usually tweet pictures of themselves every day, frothing at the excuse to tweet a panty pic. Zoe had a small portion of hip showing, but these narcissists were showing the whole thing, trying to look as sexy as possible, completely missing the point. Want to drive home that The Sun were being absurd with their remarks? Tweet ironically with too many clothes on, don’t turn it into something arguably sexual. Don’t turn it into something so sexual you then have to backtrack and ask that girls under the age of 18 don’t follow your example. I saw a bunch of SJW types eagerly tweeting pics, so wrapped up in this opportunity to finally reveal some body, that they ignored the fact they were encouraging their huge YOUNG teen followings into tweeting softcore underage porn. But where’s the uproar about this? About these poor-intentioned idiots actually causing a sleazy trend?

Not to mention all the fucking free advertising they gave The Sun… Jesus Christ. Congratulations on playing right into their hands, guys.

And this frustrates me because Tom is held accountable for making a joke personal enough to him that he feels ownership of it. That he feels he has the right to make.

I was talking to a friend as these two incidents were going on, both of us refraining from pointlessly throwing more public noise into the mix, about how we feel we can’t make jokes about our own depression, suicidal thoughts/attempts, or self harm, even though it is part of our lives, just because it will upset someone online and we don’t want to have to deal with that shit. We joke about it ALL THE TIME in real life. It’s part of who we are. But we’re censored online. We’re censored from making jokes about the shit we’ve experienced and continue to experience. Censored from being ourselves. Meanwhile, the same people who signal boost TRIGGER WARNINGS at every opportunity are encouraging an online tag for paedo bait.

Intent matters.

I am not doing what I wish Tom (and everyone in the same position) would do. I am not just making the content I want to make and seeing where the pieces fall. And I am a hypocrite for that.

12 Great Single Location Movies

I have a predilection for single location movies for the same reason we believe we can hear better with our eyes closed. Whilst I enjoy the creativity necessary to combat the relative restrictions on narrative, I am more interested in how the parameters of single location movies often engender the necessity to rely on other areas, such as dialogue. I love all aspects of film, and I would say that my top fifty movies are perhaps more alike in tone than genre or execution but, for me, a well written picture is almost always going to supersede a triumph of cinematography or performance. And, just like closing your eyes to hear better, single location movies typically have to rely more heavily on dialogue, imaginative conceit, or characterisation.

Of course, there are also many terrible single location movies because they’re cheap and easy to make, which means budding filmmakers can dream up a simple variation on the ‘people locked in a room’ plot and knock it out in a few weeks: see Netflix’s Circle (2015) for the Nth example of this. But that’s just a blight on the device we’re all going to need to accept.

Sleuth (1972)

Sleuth 1

Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier star in Sleuth, based on the Anthony Shaffer play of the same name. And that should be enough to sell this movie to anyone but, for posterity, it’s about a theatre enthusiast who invites his wife’s lover over for the evening to enter into a potentially deadly battle of wits. Bonus: the film was remade in 2007 with Caine playing the role of Olivier (don’t watch the new one first).

Dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Coherence (2013)

Coherence 1

Unlike Sleuth, the factual low-down on Coherence might actually put you off: Nicholas Brendon and some barely-knowns have a dinner party and something odd starts happening. However, Coherence has layers of intrigue. Without giving too much away, this isn’t a straight up get together: unusual events start to unfold and the cast have to decipher what’s happening, literally. The actors were only given details of specific points they had to include in each scene, leaving them to ad-lib the rest, uncovering the mystery with the audience. This could have resulted in something unusable but instead Coherence is an example of ‘people in a room working something out’ gone right.

Dir. James Ward Byrkit

Moon (2009)

Moon 1.jpg

Moon, the internet’s favourite movie, is an incredibly engaging story of Sam Rockwell’s life on the Moon. This film was never really underground, it even features the voice talents of Kevin Spacey, but it became championed online as this brilliant movie you may have missed to the point of parody. I’ve seen it, you’ve seen it, Sam Rockwell is superb, let’s move on.

Dir. Duncan Jones

Clue (1985)

Clue 1

Clue, infamous murder mystery Clue, is a ‘people in a room working something out’ movie, sure. But it’s the camp, 1985, Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd, epitome of ‘people in a room working something out’ movie. Plot: a group of strangers are invited to a mansion, given names relating to Cluedo characters, and a killer is among them. Who is it?!

The Sunset Limited (2011)

Sunset 1

This HBO movie, based on a Cormac McCarthy play, stars Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson as two strangers discussing suicide from the perspectives of a man with faith and a man without. On the surface we see the division between race, class, education, and beliefs, but ultimately it is simply a discussion of life between two men. This could have been cliché and redundant, but a simple glance at the names attached should assuage your doubts.

Dir: Tommy Lee Jones

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Dog Day

Dog Day Afternoon (mildly incompetent nice guy holds up a bank) is arguably one of the best movies ever made. Pacino is at his most likeable, there’s comedy, there’s tension, there’s camaraderie, there’s love, there’s Attica! it’s just a beautiful melting pot of something for everyone whilst avoiding the disgusting tepid nature of compromise.

Dir. Sidney Lumet

The Man From Earth (2007)

Man

The Man From Earth presents one of the more interesting in-depth conversations in film: a man tells his friends, a group of professors from various areas of study, that he is immortal and has been around since the dawn of man. At first this is interpreted as a hypothetical and his task is to convince them, but as the evening unfolds the question as to whether or not he is telling the truth causes tensions to grow. This movie doesn’t fall down any of the potential traps for pretension that it sets up, and whilst I find myself sometimes wondering what it could have been in the hands of Kaufman or Linklater, Bixby’s simple approach navigates the topic elegantly and accessibly.

Dir. Richard Schenkman

12 Angry Men (1957)

12

12 Angry Men is another movie from this list which could just as easily be in a top ten of all time, and both are thanks to the incredible talents of Sidney Lumet. ‘Courtroom drama’ might not be the most enticing descriptive coupling, but this timeless reflection on the nature of innocence and the burden of proof provides hefty insight into the hypocrisy of men. This film is as important as it is compelling.

Dir. Sidney Lumet

Cube (1997)

cube

I saw Cube for the first time about fifteen years ago and it has stuck with me ever since. As a young teen, I obviously hadn’t been exposed to the amount of movies I have been today, and the premise was something surprising I hadn’t seen before. But even today, Cube maintains its position as one of the more accomplished and gripping single location mystery thrillers I’ve seen, and it’s certainly superior to the more recent ilk, such as Fermat’s Room. Synopsis: a group of strangers wake up in a complex system of cube-shaped rooms, some of which are booby-trapped. Together, they possess a set of skills necessary to escape, but will they work it out or turn on each other?

Dir. Vincenzo Natali

Carnage (2011)

carnage

Two sets of parents meet with the intention of maturely discussing an altercation their kids had at school, but throughout the course of the evening their behaviour gradually deteriorates into antagonistic and petty childishness. An incredible script and strong performances from an all-star cast (Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, and John C. Reilly) make Carnage a funny, astute observation of human behaviour.

Dir. Roman Polanski

The Breakfast Club (1985)

Breakfast

The Breakfast Club is infamous, spawning parodies and homages in a plethora of TV shows, movies, and comedies. It is the pinnacle of eighties teen films: the perfect recipe of Simple Minds, the Brat Pack, and John Hughes, this movie lives at the nostalgic heart of a generation. Today, endless teen movies take us through the tired, clichéd cafeteria breakdown of social stereotypes, but in 1985 The Breakfast Club gave us The Jock, The Princess, The Brain, The Basket Case and The Criminal in Saturday detention, and it was god-damn perfect.

Dir. John Hughes

My Dinner With Andre (1981)

Andre

It’s inconceivable that you haven’t already seen this movie, so I’ll keep it short: two men have dinner. Andre Gregory talks of the twists and turns of his past, regaling Wallace Shawn with wild stories, whilst Wallace questions Andre’s fulfilment and the logistics of his lifestyle.

Dir. Louis Malle

Feel free to send any single location movie recommendations to me @opheliadagger

 

Novel Excerpt

It’s been almost five years since I wrote my first book, but in 2015 I started writing book two, so here’s the opening chapter from my second novel, IKIWABIDKIWS. It’s a work in progress; I’m currently about half way through the story at 40,000 words, so everything is on track. I mean, I don’t have a job and my dog died, but everything is on track with the writing… apart from the chapter where I shoehorned in a dog death. I thought it might be interesting to document this early unedited draft – maybe it will go through a complete tonal shift, maybe I’ll correct my grammar, maybe it’ll end up as chapter thirteen – but whatever happens, here’s what it looks like now.

Noah
Chapter One
November 28th, 2014

The sound of some guy who committed suicide twice depositing quarters in a jukebox scratches at my unconscious. I recognise his voice from that movie where he isn’t allowed to love, and then I’m fully awake and it dawns on me I’m alive, really alive, and I sit up, sucking air into my throat like it’s the first time. I focus on breathing. Easing my lungs out of tornadoes. The distant groan of transit undulates through the wall from the bypass. I can just about see the cars streaking through rat-tail midnight drapes like hallucinogens. Capsules. Silver-tongued secrets speeding past at seventy miles an hour, and I’m reminded of their existence but never their wholeness. Their intermittent headlights illuminate invisible hairs on my body. I am different in the light.

When the weight of ten wasted years is a fish hook through your heart, nothing dances. Everything is impassive. Sobbing isn’t solace, it’s a device of decay. Sobbing keeps the time slowly ebbing away. Here, in The Dog Tunnels, time croaks, growling grudgingly forward. Ramshackle shop-fronts sag, clandestine and asthmatic with winter steam, inside hunchback terraces. An eczema of worn cobblestone streets runs broken bones through the thinning dockland outskirts. Sure, it’s a quaint enough midday tapestry, but by moonlight The Dogs is host to a skittish menagerie of broken, crippled creatures… I’m late, I should leave. The heaviness of dreams will disappear against the night.

Wrestling into my jacket, I pull my hood tight around my ears so I can be faceless in the dark. The fear I had when I first moved to this part of the city all too abruptly left me for another; the fear of having nothing to lose. I’m safe walking along these cobbled bones the same way the homeless are safe in their cracks. I’m a zero sum game. The last time I had something real to lose, something other than myself, was ninety-seven. It was the day after my thirteenth birthday. An antiques fair with James and his parents. I can’t remember James’ surname now, but I remember that day. It’s caustic; burned into me. I was paralysed and enraptured standing in a thin alley formed between wooden stalls. The rickety table in front of me was covered in vases and flutes, chipped bowls and figurines, dusty lamps and waxy candelabras, but it was the dull, tangy glow of amber that hypnotised me. Entombed in that tiny orb was a spider caught suspended and crumpled at sharp angles. I’m an arachnophobe, but I’m an arachnophobe the way people roll down windows to better view accidents on the motorway; I couldn’t look away. I don’t know if I felt the hands on my shoulders, or heard the words in my ear, but I must have because my tears began to merge with theirs. The stalls warp and fade around me now, and I am left with that tiny lump of amber which wasn’t, but was, the shard of glass inside Tommy’s brain. The shard of glass which had, the day after my thirteenth birthday, killed Tommy.

The air tonight is so fucking cold it’s scratching my skin. But I go anyway. I go because I’m the only one who will listen, and the idea of his talent seeping out of that room unheard and trickling into the docks kills me. He puts it out there. He says it aloud to the world but the world never listens. He has more courage than I do these days. Secreting words in notebooks, hiding them in creases and folds; that’s my life. And that’s the problem with success, the expectation stifles. An artist at eighteen created a hollow man at thirty. Sometimes I miss the fire… I’m sorry, Tommy. I’m trying.

The door to the Tooth and Penny screeches in pain with each body entering its gut. Hunching over as it screams for me, I melt into the crowd. The discomfort of my entry ricocheting around the pub tells Quentin I’m here. Smiling, his willow-limbs scuttle around me. A long hand reassures my back, another gives me a whiskey.
‘Noah!’
‘Q.’
‘You’re here!’ The grin cuts his cheeks and lights his eyes. All of him is in this moment.
‘I’m always here.’
‘You’re a good friend.’ I am not. ‘I read your book.’
‘And only twelve years after I wrote the fucker.’
‘It’s good.’
‘The right people read it, I got lucky.’
‘It won awards!’
‘There are a lot of awards to win.’
‘I’m not sure if I understood it.’
Then how can you think it was good? ‘Which part?’ The whiskey howled.
‘Everything you didn’t say.’
Ceci N’est Pas Une Personne,’ the whiskey whimpered. ‘I was eighteen. It was about a soldier and a prophet.’
‘And?’
‘If there wasn’t any more for you, Q, then there wasn’t any more.’
‘Why did you stop writing?’
I haven’t. ‘Because I had written.’
The smile softened. He took his whiskey in one.
‘How much of it was true?’
‘Most of the time travel.’
The moment happened again, ‘How much of it was true?’
‘You mean-’
‘I mean the resentment.’
I was angry when I wrote it. At everything. ‘I was eighteen, I felt everything.’
‘She’d be proud of you.’
She’d think I was a stranger. ‘She wasn’t the sort of person you could disappoint.’

I’m curled on a stool, relatively sober, but my bones crumple over one another with the weight of apathy. I’d be four inches taller if I ever straightened my spine. Quentin is on the makeshift stage, addressing the room like he’s purging art from a lung. His organs are a gallery of fears. Along the bar, gnarled fingers cradle a stout whiskey glass, ice barely remembered against the heat of palms. A napkin, folded into a soft origami crane, rests wet and sagging at the beak. Younger hands are nearer to me; the forefinger and thumb absently massaging a pale ring of skin. A trail of water meanders closer still, waltzing towards yet more hands anxiously padding curves against the condensation of a cold pint. I look down. My own knuckles are pronounced from constant popping and cracking but otherwise soft and unmarked. I don’t know the faces of these men holding their vigils, but their stories are poorly hidden. Clues on fingertips. Relationships lacing joints. None are listening to Quentin. His words are drowning in the dock.

Voicemail – 18/12/2015

Today was a beautiful day, for today I learned that my voicemails automatically delete themselves after a month.

For reasons inexplicable to me, I can not delete the voicemail notification on my phone without listening to my voicemail. I can delete all other notifications but this one. Which is particularly aggravating as I don’t like to listen to my voicemail. In fact, I have recently completely refused to do so, because any normally adjusted person would text me instead, any normally adjusted person would shirk the hassle of a voice to voice exchange at the first opportunity. As such, I can only deduce the voicemails are from cold callers, drunks, or, at the very least, from people I would not get along with – the sort of person who would pause in a public doorway – and therefore not something I should concern myself with. So, as you can imagine, this one obnoxious alert has been an unhealing wound in my technological landscape… until today.

Until today I had seven voicemails, all from numbers I do not recognise. But then, earlier today, I received a message from my service provider, ‘You have an unheard voicemail from 18/11/2015 which will be automatically deleted in 24 hours.’ Oh, true beauty! The unknown which haunts me is soon to disappear completely, and I may one day be free of both the psychological burden of mystery voicemail and the petulant symbol living in my icon bar. In twenty-four hours only six of my ghosts will remain. In two weeks they should all be gone! Oh boy. In the wake of this enlightenment I immediately wrapped Christmas lights around my tripod (in lieu of a tree) with glee (because it is almost Christmas). But, little did I know, darkness loomed.

In a cruel skirmish with fate, and shortly after the text from my service provider, I got a new voicemail. I. Got. A. New. Fucking. Voicemail. The month-long timer has been reset. Of course, the burden has been lessened, the albatross around my neck is more of a manageable sparrow now that I know this new voicemail will one day be eradicated like all those which came before it. Still, the notification mocks me. The notification mocks me as I google ‘ELI5 Boston Tea Party’, ‘Asda opening times’ and ‘condom challenge deaths’.

It mocks me even as I write this. The bastard.

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