Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Week Three: Stop Trying To Make Big Brother (not) Happen

For this week's topic, Michael asked us to fill in the blanks: Stop Trying to Make BLANK Happen. I have been pondering this one for a while; nothing immediately sprang to mind. I think that's because I'm generally quite a positive, sunny sort of person, and my default setting is "hey, if you're into it, good for you!" There isn't much in the world that I find objectionable - barring, you know, racism and homophobia and prejudice, but I'm not sure Gretchen Weiners would appreciate an entry entitled "Stop trying to make the BNP happen!", and I'm absolutely certain it's been done better by people far more intelligent than I. Than me? SEE? I AM TOO STUPID TO CONSIDER POLITICAL MATTERS. I AM THE GEORGE BUSH OF THE GRETCHEN WEINERS BOOK GROUP.

(Oh, blast. I think I just got political without meaning to. Oops. To quote Zak Sally (formally *sniff* of The Best Band In The World™, Low) "We don't like to be political at our shows... but George Bush just SUCKS.")

Anyway. So as I am mostly down with everything, if you want to make something happen, I am right behind you. Fetch included. So I thought this would be a really tough week for me. But then it struck me. There are lots of things that people are trying to STOP from happening. Things that do not jive with me, my friends (such as the use of the word "jive"). And one of the things that people are trying to make NOT happen that I feel particularly strongly about is Big Brother.

Now, I have heard every criticism about Big Brother and I agree with pretty much all of them. The show can be horrible. It can highlight the absolute worst aspects of the British public, of modern television and of humanity in general. It has been racist and sexist and homophobic. It has inflicted some of the most boring Z-list celebrities ever upon us (Chiggy, I'm looking at you, so don't you think I'm not). It has been tedious (BB4), mean-spirited, over-hyped, nauseating (step forward Kinga and Craig) and, above and beyond that, absolute trash... but it has also moved me in ways other television programmes fail to do.

Whether it's Eugene crying in the diary room and taking his share of the money because he knows he would "never win", the BB7 housemates reading each other's letters from home and all bawling, Jonny so honestly delighted that Kate has won that he chicken dances all over the sofa, Hira crying because she is so pleased Rodrigo has got to fulfil his lifetime's ambition of writing to the Queen, or Craig achieving the now impossible task of hiding his intentions for the entire series and then donating all his winnings to a good cause, Big Brother never fails to make me cry. And it has never failed to make me laugh, either - Alex hiding behind the door on rollerskates and mouthing "That's The Way (Uh Huh) I Like It", Imogen and Glyn worriedly telling Big Brother they had just seen a ghost only to receive the response "Who're you gonna call, Imogen?", the sheer genius that was THE BOX TASK, Science's "I respect you, Mr Moth. You move for no man.", Kate falling over when drunk, the electric shock tasks, Aisleyne's fierce "You better know yourself, little girl", Big Brother burning Stu's massive cowboy hat... somebody stop me, I could go on all night.

And no housemate sums up the two greatest things about Big Brother better than Nadia. Nadia, for those of you who somehow managed to escape the phenomenon that is Big Brother, was a male to female transexual who entered the house having transitioned to living full time as a woman. Although the audience knew she was a transsexual, the housemates didn't, and it was the first time Nadia had been able to live entirely as a woman, without people knowing her history. While some housemates suspected, nobody said anything to Nadia, and she continued her journey through the house in absolute delight that she was finally able to be who she was. She was convinced, though, that she could never win, because the British public would never accept a transsexual winner of Big Brother. But she was happy just to be there and to be herself, and she provided some of Big Brother's all time genius comedy moments; her diary-room rants about the lack of cigarettes, her obsession with heels, her cleaning, and, my absolute favourite Big Brother moment of all time: Nadia, lathering up her hair in the shower and forming it into a cone, and finding herself SO HILARIOUS that she banged on the window and beckoned to her fellow housemates to come and laugh at her, too. Oh, Nadia.

But then, as she continued merrily not expecting to win, things started to turn around. The UK public were growing ever more fond of her. Okay, the Sun still ran headlines like "Show us your nads, Nads!" and "Portu-geezer!", but they were, surprisingly, in the minority... the rest of us had sort of forgotten about Nadia's past and were focused on the fact that she was sweet, funny, entertaining and bolshy in a truly brilliant way.

And then she went and did it. She won. She tottered out the house on her six-inch heels a winner, in hysterics the whole way. She hugged Davina like she might faint if she didn't hang on to something. And she cried in utter disbelief that even though we all knew her secret, we had decided we didn't give a toss and loved her just the way she was. She entered the house a 50-1 outsider, and left the house with 3.9 million people picking up the phone to vote her their winner. Not despite who she was, but because of who she was.

And I just don't understand how anyone can want to make THAT "not happen".

Friday, 31 July 2009

So Be For Real

As I've been super busy this week (and practically Spano-esque in my consumption of cheapo energy drinks, thus obliterating the few brain cells my endless playing of Pokemon didn't destroy), I regret to inform everyone I'm totally phoning it in this week. That said:

I don't particularly remember what I read as a ten year old. Enid Blyton was a favourite, as were the esteemed Goosebumps books (my dad used to bring me back dozens from his trips to America. They had infintely superior looking covers to the UK editions. It was My Thing for a while). However, what I clearly should have been reading is this:

Maybe then I wouldn't have become the drinking-and-smoking-games-playing fiend I am today.

For what it's worth, I am in fact capable of posting something without relying on a youtube clip. I just wouldn't count on it.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

BOGOF: What vampires were you reading about when you were 10?

Looking back on what you were reading at 10 is generally both rewarding, toe-curling and woeful in equal measure.

It's rewarding first and foremost because people are often surprised by the sheer expansiveness of their reading habits at a young age. At first they might remember a few select readings that have stuck with them (for better or for worse), but given a few minutes and some gentle nudging, the reminiscing snowballs until they realize that once upon a time, life wasn't just a series of Big Brother episodes and album torrents. We used to read! How woeful it is to think that we read more as children than we do as big-brained smartypants growed ups.

Some of us still do, of course, but speaking for myself, I've yet to recapture that ridiculous hunger for books that I had when I was younger, before it was something I was obliged to do and something I wanted to do. It's a piss poor excuse to blame your lackluster reading habits on school "ruining" literature for you (it didn't, and you don't have much room to complain when you majored in literature in the first place), but there is a nugget of truth in the story. These days I read at an incredibly leisurely pace, picking up and dropping various books and juggling between Aisleyne's autobiography and Kafka as my interest waxes and wanes. At 10? I couldn't put something down once I'd picked it up, and I'd get through trashy little Point Horrors a day at a time.

I was prepared today to wax lyrical about R. L. Stine's Goosebumps series - repetitive spookfests for the '90s generation that followed the flawless ("flawless") Dan Brown rubric of a false climax at the end of every bloody chapter, some of them hilariously half-baked ("and then Billy opened his lunchbox to a terrible surprise - he'd taken his sister's tuna melt!") - but upon further inspection, it appears that was my pre-10 reading. And looking at their publication dates and the dates when I was in primary school, I really did get through them like a terrifying book vacuum, sucking in everything I could borrow from wealthier friends whose parents had bought them the books that filled the gaps in my own budding collection.

But that was pre-10. I was 10 in 1997, the beginning of Buffy's TV run and my unfortunate obsession with a sassy teenage girl who was actually 20something. So naturally the book I most remember reading that year is the perennial classic and toe-curlingly awful Halloween Rain, an original Buffy adventure that would later be pissed upon from great heights by the cruel canon gods (it establishes that Halloween is a very mystical holiday - fans of the show may scoff at will). It's a convenient choice for a number of reasons - it introduces my penchant for trash, my championing of genre fiction, and my need to make up for being absent last week without a note. Because, you know, vampires!

There are actually very few vampires in Halloween Rain. It is about Buffy's Halloween being totally ruined by some low-rent Jack Skellington bitch getting up in her grill. He's an evil scarecrow, possibly with a pumpkin head (because of course), and he's resurrected every year with...magic rain or something. Anyway, Buffy defeats him by drawing a pentagram in a barn with her lipstick, a brilliant tactic that showcases her post-feminist mixing of girly trappings with superheroine baddassery. When I was first reading this book I was asked to write a paper during class on "whatever book you had with you", so there's a good chance that 10 year-old me wrote something like that as an "analysis" of the book's climax in complete sincerity. Oh dear.

That's not all I was reading! Oh no! Aside from being busy not reading Harry Potter (I was such an iconoclastic little bastard and much preferred Ibbotson's The Secret of Platform 13 - guess I called that one wrong), I was also very busy ratcheting through my parents' book shelves for anything and everything. With me, reading was very much something I did to imitate them, precociously scurrying into the room whenever they were reading and grabbing something far too hefty for my little post-Goosebumps mind ("The Stand isn't as good as the TV series with Gary Sinise, mum"). At 10 I was likely getting addicted to Terry Pratchett, possibly the best introduction to the fantasy genre ever, and from there I worked on my Gaiman cred with the fantastic Good Omens, a nice little apocalyptic read that I should return to some time.

In other vampire news, my dad was a big Anne Rice fan, and yes I have since busted his chops about his combined love for homoerotic vampire fiction and Cabaret, but at the time I thought Lestat was very edgy. It worked well with my babygoth aesthetic. As did my mum's copies of the Hannibal Lector books, which I inherited with much glee around age 10. I suppose, looking at this reading list, that 10 year-old Andrew saw books as a way to indulge in the kind of crude, over-the-top splatterhouse gore that I wasn't allowed to watch on TV. I mean, reading about mutilation and blood-letting is far more cerebral and useful in a child's mental growth than just watching Saw, right? Right.

It's only natural, then, that a few years later I'd be declaring Jane Eyre my favourite book ever, its gothic romanticism a convenient gateway from Goosebumps to the kind of rags to riches troubled romance that characterised my foray into what I looked up to at the time as "proper literature" - I didn't have time for trash anymore. Oh, how we change.

I'd also like to break from this week's theme to point towards one of the first things I ever read. Recently I was discussing it with my mum, and as it was a rather innocuous poetry and storybook, neither of us could remember the title of the collection but rather a single poem from it. Lo and behold, when I returned home from vacation this week I found a shiny new copy on the kitchen table - My Best Bedtime Book, in case you're wondering - with a homemade printer paper bookmark on the page of the poem we both remembered. "Because I'm good!!!"
Let me share its sweeping and majestic beauty with you:

Llamas in pyjamas
Make a very funny sight.
They keep them in a cupboard
And they put them on at night.

They wore them once in public,
And the people laughed and laughed.
So now they wait until it's dark
For fear of looking daft.

Llamas in pyjamas
Are aware that they look silly,
But when they snuggle down at night,
At least they don't feel chilly.


Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Week Two: What You Were Reading When You Were Ten

If I were to talk with any degree of honesty about this topic we would be here all night. Because the truth is? When I was ten, I was reading everything. Ev-er-y-thing. I read under the covers at night. I read at playtime. I read all my library books in one afternoon and whined at my mum for the rest of the week to take me again. I read when I went to my grandparents' house, curling up in their attic surrounded by sixty year-out-of-date children's books about smoking teddy bears and golliwogs. I hid at friends' houses and read until they found me and dragged me off to play. Hell, if I was caught out anywhere without something to read (God forbid!) I would hold my hands together in the rough approximation of a book and pretend. And when you are reading in pretty much every spare second of time - which, when you're a ten year old, is quite a lot - you run out of age-appropriate things to read rather rapidly. So as well as Enid Blyton and Babysitters' Club and Sweet Valley High and Judy Blume I was also struggling (painfully!) through Jane Austen, freaking myself out with Stephen King, getting historically misled by Barbara Taylor Bradford (WW1 and WW2 - exactly the same, the 50s - amazing, the 60s and 70s - never happened and the 80s - chock full of shoulder pads and emeralds), and being preached at by the various religious tomes my grandma sent me home with, leaving me wondering whether my soul really had black stains on it.

Oh, and reading Mills and Boon.

My mum is many things, but she is not a reader. Neither of my parents are, actually; my dad has been reading the same James Clavell novel for the past fifteen years (to be fair, it is fucking long) and my mum would far rather be doing something useful than reading. She did, though, go through a bit of a phase of reading Mills and Boons (no, I don't want to think about why, thank you for asking) and as I will read shampoo bottles if they sit in front of me for long enough, naturally I got my hands on them.

I don't know if my mum knew I was reading them. I suspect she did - not much gets past her - but she has never stopped me reading anything. A Woman Of Substance was on the top shelf, ostensibly to prevent me from reading the gratuitous rape scenes, but when my mum found me reading it, she merely informed me that I was named after Emma Harte (and was NOT living up to my namesake, alas) and carried on folding the washing. So I can't imagine she was too worried about me reading Mills and Boons.

But maybe she should have been. Not because I was having impure thoughts - not for Mills and Boon, God no. Even at ten, I knew it was utter cheese. Back then I was having more impure thoughts about Aladdin and Gilbert Blythe than I was about Mills and Boon style hunks (hell, what am I saying, I am still having impure thoughts about Aladdin and Gilbert Blythe). No, I don't think reading Mills and Boon novels at ten taught me too much about sex (my cousin's more! magazine had that dubious pleasure) but I think what they did teach me was, to be frank, absolute tosh.

Let me demonstrate (I apologise in advance for the horror that you're about to read):

The silken heat of her drove him to the brink. He managed to stave off his own satisfaction only by focusing every ounce of his thoughts on her. Her needs. Her wants. Ignoring the heady scent of floral fragrance and warm woman, Nathan concentrated on finding just the right touch that would please her, make her forget her own name. He elicited gasps, moans, and sighs, but only when he plucked the sweet centre of her with his finger and thumb, and drew her nipple deeply into his mouth did he find the hot button that made her whole body tense and tighten.

In my *mumblemumble* almost a decade *mumblemumble* of having sex, I have never forgotten my own name. At least, I don't think so. I can't say my own name is really at the forefront of my mind when having sex. I also do not have a "sweet centre" as I am not a humbug (plus if it's in the centre, you need to see a doctor) and if I do, I certainly would NOT want it plucked, thank you very much. But as an impressionable child, I just assumed that this is exactly what sex with Gilbert Blythe would be like. Well, I don't know about you, gentle reader, but there is very little plucking of any sort in my sex life, and I can't help but feel that's how it ought to be.

But,if I'm honest, my ten year old self can't help but be just a leetle bit disappointed.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Week Two: What You Were Reading When You Were Ten

What was I reading when I was ten? As an English graduate, I'm duty bound by a canon of classics, and as a children's literature nerd I'm bound further still. As a science fiction/fantasy fan, there's a whole other set of set-texts I should be name-dropping. Peter Pan. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The Last Unicorn. The Once and Future King. Even a couple of Goosebumps or books from the Point Horror series would suffice.

But, really, mostly what I was reading when I was ten were Babysitter's Club books.

The Babysitter's Club was a long-running series spanning some 131 books, and multiple spin-offs. Initially, it was about four teenaged lesbians - Kristy (the butch), Mary Anne (her bookish lover), Claudia (the art school dyke) and Stacey (the uber-femme) - who ran their own business, capitalising on the irresponsible nature of the parents of Stoneybrook who were too cheap to shell out for a child minder, but didn't mind leaving their children in the charge of a bunch of hormonally charged thirteen year olds.

Later, the core four were joined by Dawn (the hippy), Jesse (the token, erm, dancer) and Mallory (the twat), and a couple of associated babysitters, of whom I was most interested in ferosh Jewish princess Abby, and Mary Anne's merkin, 'boy babysitter' Logan, who didn't go to meetings because all his friends would call him a 'douchebag gaywad' (or the eighties equivalent).

Further to the pre-amble, the series wasn't without it's science fiction elements. The girls spent the entire series - spin-offs included - in a sort of eigth grade time loop, which incorporated multiple seasons, an unholy number of trips abroad (I'm pretty sure these bitches went to DisneyLand twice), people moving to the other side of America and then coming back a couple of weeks later, and an unseemly number of plot-convenient births, marriages and deaths.

I guess what was appealing to me about the books was what was always meant to be appealing to their female pre-teen target market: the books offered me an insight into a world of boyfriends, glamorous outfits (detailed in full, hysterical detail over at What Claudia Wore) and even more glamorous histrionics, a world that - as an overweight gay boy with a less than keen interest in personal hygiene - I was never to be a part of.

My favourite book in the series was Claudia and the Sad Goodbye, because it detailed the aforementioned glamorous outfits (Claudia's penchant for earrings shaped like, like, a dog and a bone, or a telephone and a thirteen year old girl eating chocolate and crying, was totally chic to my ten year old mind), Claudia's constant bitching out of her sister Janine for saying smart stuff and not being a giant fuck up, and, also, the death of one of my favourite characters. Goodbye, Mimi.


Friday, 24 July 2009

Sexy? No No No

"That's one of yours, isn't it?"

This was my mother's comment in relation to an advert on tv for True Blood, the latest tv series about vampires, and...Anna Paquin vaguely trying to convince the world she's a total actress and everything.

It's not, however. It's not one of mine, and unless I hear extremely good things about it to persuade me otherwise, I'll probably have nothing to do with it. And why? Because I've realised I actually quite loathe vampires now.

It's not the mythology; vampires have a broad and interesting range of rules to operate by and do neat things with, story-wise (flying, repelled by religious accessories, super strength, can't come in unless invited, sparkling etc). It's more to do with the fact that when I hear there's a new film or tv show or book about a vampire/vampires, I can pretty confidently bet it'll be about a lone, brooding, misunderstood fello who hates his nature and wants to be like us lucky, beautiful, brave humans. And he'll be "hot".

If vampires are ever going to be interesting again, they need to be Scary first, as opposed to Sexy. When was the last time we had a genuinely Scary, Non Sexy vampire? No other popular monster trope suffers from this, they're not burdened with the Problem of Sexy. Werewolves aren't Sexy, witches - with the exception of Halloween costumes aimed at slags - aren't Sexy. In fact, there's a fun "Who Is The Least Sexy Witch" game to be played with the cast of Charmed, Melissa Joan Hart, and the cast of The Craft(Winner is tied between Holly Marie Combs and Neve Campbell - with those two around such a competition takes on a gymkhana element).

Angel, Edward Cullen, Lestat, my pop culture intake has been officially overloaded with sadsacks with 'technically good' physiques who just need the love of a good woman to rehabilitate them. When oh when will vampires stop being pouting, vacant drips and get back to being genuinely frightening monsters? I don't want to see brooding hunks mumble and whine about their blood lust as a half-baked allegory for sex or whatever, I want Nosferatu, I want Buffy, hell, even Are You Afraid of the Dark did it better:

So there you have it. I will resume my (passing at best) interest in vampires only when they stop being surly boyfriends that unhappy fat girls can dream about.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

They say you are a man of good... taste.

Well, I'm going to get ALL OUT OF ORDER if I post now but having spent the entire day dressed up as a pirate, whizzing to The Isle of Wight on a speedboat and playing rounders in the rain (n.b. not all of my days are this exciting and/or bizarre, alas) I am just about ready to fall asleep on my laptop so I think I should probably go ahead and share my thoughts on this week's topic with you all.

So. Vampires. Vampires. Well.

I'll level with you here, people. I'm not one for vampires. Whilst you were all watching Buffy and drooling over Spike or Angel*, I was thinking "hmm... I quite like Joss Whedon's snappy dialogue. Shame he's wasting it on a vampire story. I wish he'd write something else, like, oh I don't know, maybe a good space western?" and fangirling over Pacey Witter. And it wasn't that it was fantasy - I stuck with Charmed to the bitter (OH SO VERY BITTER) end and loved every minute almost every minute at least a solid third of it. And then there is Twilight. I haven't even read Twilight. And that's not because I'm a literary snob - I am, after all, the girl who rereads the Anne of Green Gables series once a year and has a whole collection of Phillipa Gregory novels lining my shelves. I haven't seen the film, either, and it's definitely not because of any lack of interest in Robert "I look remarkably like a foot and yet am RIDICULOUSLY attractive anyway" Pattinson because he is ~*~dazzling~*~, as they say. No, it is just because I cannot muster any interest for anything to do with vampires. It's like Doctor Who - on paper, it ticks all the "relevant to my interests" boxes. But in practice? It just... washes over me.

What did NOT wash over me, however, was the awful, horrible experience of watching Bram Stoker's Dracula as directed by Francis Ford Coppola. When I was younger, I owned a fabulous children's book called The Great Baked Bean Scheme (no, really, it's great). This book featured a really bad director who was based on Francis Ford Coppola. As I got older, I watched things like The Godfather and American Graffiti and I wondered why he had this reputation of making bad movies. I mean, if you ignore the small matter of Godfather III, this man has made some wonderful pieces of cinema, right**? But then I watched Bram Stoker's Dracula and all became clear. Because dear GOD, that film is awful. Awful. Irredeemably awful in every respect. And here's what hurts the most, kids: Keanu Reeves is irredeemably awful right along with it.

Let me be honest. I watched Bram Stoker's Dracula, just like I have spent countless hours watching other equally shit films, because Keanu Reeves is in it. I have been a Keanu Reeves fan since I was six years old. My cousin and I would watch Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and argue over who we liked the best (Me: Bill, her: Ted. Later on it would be me: Stephen Gately, her: Ronan Keating. SHAME.) at least twice a week. Later we established that our interest was in Keanu Reeves himself (and it was not an innocent interest) and spent many a hormonally frustrated afternoon lying in the dark watching a variety of films in which Keanu Gets His Shirt Off***, including - you've guessed it - Bram Stoker's Dracula.

I have defended Keanu Reeves to the hilt, guys. I have argued that he CAN act, he's NOT dumb, he's very DEDICATED and HARD-WORKING and EVERYONE SAYS NICE THINGS ABOUT WORKING WITH HIM. I have watched Chain Reaction more than once. Hell, I have watched Jonny Mnemonic more than once. But I cannot find a single redeeming feature about his performance in Bram Stoker's Dracula. From the accent**** to the awkward interactions with Winona Ryder (skip to about three minutes in - Winona, incidentally, also cannot act and yet gets a lot less flack and a lot more minor roles in massive sci-fi franchises, dammit), it is hideous. Cringe-worthy. A terrible, horrible nightmare from which I cannot wake up. A bad dream in which I realise that my lovely Keanu - whom I have loved, supported and defended for nearly twenty years***** Actually. Cannot. Act.

My worldview? Shattered.

And so that is why I don't like vampires. Not because they are scary. Not even because I find them dull. But because whenever I see a vampire, hear a vampire, even am simply reminded of vampires - all I can hear is Keanu Reeves saying "Me-nuh!" in that godwaful crime of an accent and the love I have carried with me for twenty years is shattered once more.

And that hurts more than a two-fanged bite from Gary Oldman.

* Yes, that is an OR. You are either a Spike or an Angel fan, and which one you choose says a lot about you.

** Assuming, that is, we let him off for producing Sofia, who in turn produced the FIVE HOUR LONG MUSIC VIDEO that was Lost in Translation. UGH. Direct quote from my brother when we finished watching it: "Well, that's three hours of my life I could have spent doing something useful. Like cleaning out the shower drain. Probably would have been more entertaining, too."

*** This was our main criteria, but Keanu Gets His Bum Out, Keanu Looks Dead Muscly and Keanu Has Some Form Of Homosexual Contact With River Phoenix were also popular recurring themes. Sadly less prevalent in today's cinema landscape.

**** What do you mean, he's not doing an accent in that interview? OH YES HE IS. That is as good as it gets in the movie. Eesh.

***** Holy crap I'm old.

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