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Iron Man Three

That’s the official title. I like it.

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So, after the disappointing second act Iron Man 2 and the glorious team up feature The Avengers, Iron Man Three was always going to be a challenge but it seems to be one that writer/director Shane Black attacks with aplomb. In much the same way that Toy Story 2 is just a meaningless retread of the first part but the third, even though it reuses some familiar themes and concepts, is a vastly superior film, so too is this picture, which sees Tony Stark face personal demons nastier than he could ever find in a whiskey bottle. While I was tentative to warm to yet another Tony-Off-The-Rails story, Black’s deft narrative and feckless, exciting style makes it all feel fresh and, most importantly, makes Tony feel vulnerable.

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Fans’ fears that this film may try to circumvent the tricky issue of integrating the story of the Avengers into Tony’s life were quite unfounded – in fact, the Iron Man’s entire dilemma is forged by his inescapable feeling of fragility and mortality when faced with the mind-boggling events he’s witnessed; other worlds, aliens, gods and monsters. RDJ shines here as man who has seen things, subject to dangerous bouts of anxiety when reminded of “New York” ,secluding himself in his Bat-Cave to tinker away at his armour. Armour as cocoon metaphor only begs for it to be torn away  to strip him to his fundamentals and that’s where are nefarious villains come in.

He literally tells women in Pakistan that they are "Free to go". Thanks, Obama!

He literally tells women in Pakistan that they are “Free to go”. Thanks, Obama!

Sir Benjy Kingsley is actually damned good as the arch-terrorist and Osama stand-in, the Mandarin. The character’s history as a “Yellow Peril” racist caricature actually opens up some interesting avenues for the film’s writers and, in the face of recent events, the film takes some turns that are genuinely cleverer and not as black-and-white as they initially may seem. No spoilers, but the plot’s progression had me grinning. Even so, imaged of Don Cheadle as a Star-Spangled death robot, literally called War Machine, pointing guns at women in burqas in Pakistan are problematic…very problematic. You get the feeling there are smarts at work but they can’t escape the corporate machine, for all their notions.

But I’m getting too political, and this film asks that you don’t as it is A LOT funnier and less dour than both the trailers and I have made out. Even the opening credits will have you in bits. You’ll regularly be grinning from ear-to-ear as RDJ and co seem to recapture some of the off-the-handle wit and charm the original possessed in such abundance. This is Kiss Kiss Bang Bang but with repulsors and jet-boots and it makes the technologically wondrous world of Tony Stark get its mojo back, which after three outings was beginning to flag. Even the much reviled cliche of the special kid the hero befriends is turned on its head in delightful, inventive ways and with straight-faced black humour, pun intended.

Unfortunately, the biggest caveats with this film are leftovers from the last one: robot fatigue and Gwenyth Paltrow. Now it’s true that the entire supporting cast is underwhelming, especially an underused Guy Pierce as new baddie Aldritch Killian, Paltrow has been a consistent source of discord within the entire franchise. She never seems to click with Tony and she often carries of as if she’s in a completely different film. It doesn’t help that Pepper is so two-note and under-written. So, there’s that.

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And the suits. For five minutes it’s a kid’s wet-dream (weird image) to have all these suits and armours and robots but if we’ve learned anything from Transformers it’s that less is more and more is mess. There are some fucking great set-pieces, which unlike the Avengers, have a real, palpable sense of peril to them including the Malibu home destruction and a heart-stopping rescue a thousand miles in the air. But after a few hours, the more CGI and lack of physical danger it all starts to lose its punch and we’re back to watching cartoons fight. The film soars in its Shane Black quips and punchlines, as well as in its emotional journey for Tony, but it has issues with its tired action and weak villains.

The point of the last film was that unmanned robot suits might be a bad idea. This film neatly forgets that because toys.

The point of the last film was that unmanned robot suits might be a bad idea. This film neatly forgets that because toys.

Without spoiling nattin’ I’ll say that this film really brings some closure to the Iron Man franchise and is a fitting send off for the series, though not the character. Unlike 2, Three actually feels like its own animal and not just a glorified trailer for the Avengers. You won’t even notice that Sam Jackson doesn’t even pop his head in to sit around and eat chips with Black Widow like they did in 2. Iron Man Three actually has things for its heroes to do, fortunately. You’ll cringe, you’ll gasp, you’ll titter alot. You won’t really care all that much but that’s always been the appeal. It’s good popcorn and Shane Black should just write the Avengers III or something. That’d be fun lots.

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Oh boy! You stayed for the post-credit sequence! Well, in true Iron Man from if you wait til the end you’ll get a cross-film teaser but this one is more of a Shwarma moment than a Thanos one. One clue:

f6f

Science Bros!

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#Occupy Christopher Nolan

Yeah, I woulda gone with #Occupy Gotham but I’d be super late for the party on that one.

So, my lovely Gurlfrenn just booked us tickets to the pant-shittingly anticipated The Dark Knight Rises and at the BFI IMAX no less. But why is it then, as a life-long Batman fan, that after the four year wait and year-long, ever intensifying marketing campaign I am overcome with what can only be described as blockbuster ennui? I am rarely a victim of hype but I do fall for the occasional, clever hysteria machine (which recently left me twice shy after getting a nasty bite from Ridley Scott) but not so this time. Frankly, the marketing for Christopher Nolan’s latest Bat-sequel has been inconsistent at best – each trailer giving off a different tone and each poster drive featuring wildly divergent styles, one’s left a bit confused and, after Joss Whedon’s delightful four-colour fun-fest Avengers it all looks very…grey.

Batman getting a new high-score in Angry Birds. The closest the gritty Nolanverse will get to depicting Robin.

But, what worries me the most about the whole affair are the Occupy overtones and the series’ ultimately conservative leanings. This isn’t news and neither is it very subtle. Here at the Slate they pretty much outline all the relevant Occupy-esque scenes from the film’s first trailer. Catwoman’s (Anne Hathaway) dialogue is the most damning evidence, as she denounces Bruce’s world of excessive wealth:

There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches. Because when it hits you’re all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.

The rest of us, presumably the 99%. Now, I’m not disparaging that a blockbuster is using contemporary issues as a backdrop or even as an arena of discourse but what’s troubling is associating Occupiers with terrorists, revolutionaries with evil and the police state with order, heroism and honour. Also necessity.

2005’s Batman Begins is by far the superior of the two Nolanverse pictures to date. It combined (and invented) the Gritty reboot, with an air of the gothic – Eerie old institutions, secret Ninja Tibetan hide-outs and weaponized Bats! The more bizarre aspects would be entirely eschewed in a sequel that is over-plotted, clunkily edited and devoid of humour. The closest Begins gets to politics is Wayne’s problematic choice to Leave R’as al Ghoul in the run-away train. As the car speeds towards imminent doom Wayne leaves his old master saying “I’m won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you”  which serves to solidify the vague Libertarian notions that had been bandied around the film thus far. It stuck out as odd, because the Batman I knew (from the Animated Series!) would have undoubtedly tried to save his nemesis with his trusty grappling hook. Batman has an almost Hippocratic oath – he would have had to save him. Even my mum tutted audibly at this scene lamenting the  murky morals at work.

So Batman may be a libertarian who believes the state  is complicit in the corruption and chaos that ravages his city and must work outside the law to enact change. I can buy this, I guess. If Batman were real he would be terrifying and anti-state.

Uncanny

But then there’s The Dark Knight. For the most part, The Dark Knight draws from the U.S’s demented War on Terror, casting the Batman as  George Bush – who goes to perilously dangerous lengths to capture the madman and terrorist, the Joker. Not only does Christian Bale look eerily like him but his Bruce Wayne mimics Dubya in his policy of violence, kidnapping and phone-tapping up to and including extraordinary rendition. Again, I actually embrace using contemporary issues as source material and I love that the Batman doesn’t have to be our hero in every sense – that he can make morally disturbing choices and doesn’t have to be the audience surrogate that heroes usually are. But the film squanders this in its final moments; instead of merely reflecting recent history it decides to come down on one side. Even though Batman has lost his love and has conducted an immoral campaign of spying and surveillance against the people he has sworn to protect he has beaten the Joker and virtually shut down organised crime. To maintain order and peace in Gotham and keep the baddies behind bars (objectively good things) he must lie and say he was responsible for Dent’s murderous rampage. He utters the most tripe, Iraq invasion apologist bullshit line I have ever heard.

Sometimes the truth isn’t good enough. Sometimes people deserve more.”

WTF IS THIS SHIT?!

You don’t even need an arts degree to decode this here, boys and girls. There were no WMDs in Iraq. BUT the ends justified the means. Things are better because of a lie and thus, it was worth it. The above line is probably repeated ad nauseum by the entire Bush administration and Blair every night before they hop into their plush King-size beds. And then from the mouth of babes, Jim Gordon’s blonde, innocent son – “But he didn’t do anything wrong!” in context it’s beyond parody. He had to make the difficult choices and he will be hated for it – nay hunt him for it. Because he can take it. Because he’s not the hero-….bla bla bla bla bla bla.

So Batman’s a neo-liberal, willing to lie, cheat and steal and fuelled (like Dubya) with a zealot like fervour. He compromises his own moral codes in order to “bring peace” because he is “outside” the law – No UN resolutions for him! He’s also responsible for the crime of having a really silly voice.

Interestingly, Rorschach is offered the same choice at the end of Watchmen. But Rorschach is a proper, nut-job libertarian – he’s honest:  “Never compromise. Not even in the face of Armageddon.”

And…uh…that ended well

 I don’t think the Batman of the comic would allow Superman to craft a new Utopia if it meant Supes would have to fry a few skulls with his heat vision to do it. But Nolan’s Bush-man obviously has a different set of ethics.

And now we come to The Dark Knight Rises. The trailer has the “war-hero” cop Gordon being set-up for retirement as it’s now “peace-time”. If we thought the allegory in the previous film was circumstantial then BAM it’s just been confirmed. The follows a slew of images of scruffy-looking peeps ransacking Wayne Manor and mass scruffy uprisings around Gotham. The latest trailer even shows a gang or rising, scruffy Untermensch descending upon an up-market hotel. The lines are clearly drawn – the only question is which side is Batman on.

One is a screencap from Dorkly’s hilarious Batman is the 1% sketch and one is a poster for the upcoming blockbuster. But which is which? Eagle eyed viewers win a free picture of my balls.

And to make matters more interesting the film even wanted to shoot at Wall St. while the Occupy movement was there, the trailers feature “terrorists” shooting up the Gotham stock exchange and now we get these, rather intriguing comments by Chris Nolan on the film’s scale and vision:

“It’s all about historical epics in conception. It’s a war film. It’s a revolutionary epic. It’s looking back to the grand-scale epics of the past, really, and for me that goes as far back as silent films. I’ve been watching a lot of silent films with my kids on Blu-Ray. We’ve shot over a third of the movie on the IMAX format, and that naturally puts you more in the mode of staging very large events for the camera. It’s my attempt to get as close to making a Fritz Lang film as I could. It’s also more in the mould of ‘Doctor Zhivago,’ or ‘A Tale Of Two Cities,’ which is a historical epic with all kinds of great storytelling taking place during the French Revolution.

There’s an attempt to visualise certain things in this film on this large scale that are troubling and genuinely to the idea of an American city. Or, to put it another way: revolutions and the destabilising of society have happened everywhere in the world, so why not here?”

This seems to be a direct allusion to things like the Arab Spring, most recently and his talk of a “revolutionary epic” brings to mind films like The Battle of Algiers, Strike! or I am Cuba. Giving my pinky, lefty, faggy, Communist background I would probably welcome a film depicting a people’s uprising in America to battle their subordination by the wealthy elites and their corporate sponsored congressmen. But given where the story’s come from and the apologist tone of the previous film will Batman be defending a corrupt, totalitarian state from a popular uprising? Is the Batman going to be defending “order” and “stability”…thus defending the likes of Mubarak or Gaddafi ?

The trailers depict armed, violent militias and freed prisoners attempting to “destabilise” society, orchestrated by a shady, esoteric Eastern terrorist group we can assume is  The League Shadows from the first picture. If this is meant to reflect either Occupy or the Arab Spring it is insulting to both as both championed the use of non-violent demonstration and strikes. Any descent into violence occurred at the hands of the violent reaction by the police and armed forces. Also, having an Occupy uprising secretly organised by a shady, Eastern terrorist cell reads something like a Tea-party wet dream. The reason the police and the Tea-party never clash is that the tea-party are so well-armed at their rallies. Surely they would be more likely to attempt an armed coup on their black Socialist president.

Hmmm….from Frank Miller’s “Batman: Year One”. Sounds like that Occupy nonsense.

Batman and Fascist propaganda are no strange bedfellows. Frank Miller, creator of the famed and yes overrated Dark Knight Returns graphic novel, gave the character new-life as a quasi-fascist, anti-state loon and also wrote and drew an anti-muslim propaganda rag entitled Holy Terrorthough DC Comics were wise enough to allow him to actually feature Batman in the book. The writer recently sunk to new lows in an online rant about the Occupy movement which is so uninformed an demented it reads like a Rorschach journal entry. Given that TDK Returns revolves around the Batman coming out of a stretch of retirement, just as the latest film will, it merits mentioning.

Will The Dark Knight Rises really go the whole hog and confuse Occupiers with armed terrorists, terrorists with ninjas, revolutionaries with terrorists, order with peace? Or will Wayne turn around and realise he could have enacted more significant change had he paid more taxes and instead of buying mini-tanks just gave some of his loose change to upgrading the city’s infrastructure like his good ol’ Da did.

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Great Scotts! DC’s Closet Come-out Cop-out

So after weeks of theorising, posturing and conjecture among the comic-book community over which DC stalwart was going to come out of the fictional closet the answer has finally been revealed. James Robinson, author of DC’s new Earth 2 book, has momentously announced that the “major” and “iconic” previously straight character is……Alan Scott!

You know…Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern!

THE Alan Scott!

Of course you fucking don’t.

I only know who he is because of late-night wikipedia binges in my early teens, living in rural Ireland with nary a comic-book shop in sight and the joys of downloading them still a mystery to me so I had to rely on simply reading about them. Reading anything to sate my appetite. Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern, was created during the super-hero Golden Age of the 1940s and whose powers came from a magic Chinese Lantern full of mysterious Oriental energy that he found down a subway, or something.  As the super-heroes’ popularity began to fade during the 50s the character started his first trip into obscurity and was eventually replaced by the Silver-Age reboot; the slick, daring fighter pilot/intergalactic beat-cop Hal Jordan – the Green Lantern that we know and love. That is if audiences even know of Green Lantern. After being replaced Scott’s stories were relegated to the parallel continuity universe of Earth-2, a retirement home of sorts for the super-people of the Golden Age where the characters were actually allowed to age, reproduce and die (sometimes indefinitely) with the Justice Society of America. Though I think this is a neat concept any and all of these events have been wiped from the multiverse canon by numerous Crises, each more permanent and infinite than the next, culminating in Superboy punching the Universe so hard it stopped making sense. I’m not kidding.

Find dead horse. Flog. Rinse. Repeat.

Ok, so DC’s chosen bastion of equal rights is a sort of awkward first-try at a Green Lantern that they’ve kept around for shits and giggles and hasn’t fronted his own comic-book for at least sixty years BUT this is the New 52 right? DC comics latest reboot (after the Flash ran so fast the universe…yeah…I don’t even…!) which sees the characters’ slates cleaned and clocks reset. We see Batman and Superman meet for the first time, again! No one’s wearing silly underpants! Aquaman’s got his own comic! So in this universe anything can happen. Could the newly outed Scott be this universes Green Lantern proper, an upstanding citizen, guardian of the Galaxy and serving member of the Justice League?

LOL NO!

Yep, that’s right. He’s not only an ancient, obscure super-hero but he’s been relegated to a parallel universe once again, Earth-2, nicely tucked away under the radar of anyone who isn’t an avid collector of overpriced comic-books. Let’s revisit DC’s Editor-in-chief Dan DiDido’s comments that the hero would be “major” and “iconic”. The Green Lantern is iconic, I guess – but he isn’t Green Lantern. And I’m really not interested in hearing about whatever amazing adventures he’s had in some parallel universe stories from the 80s and how he became a character in his own right because that’s not important. What’s important is DC’s cynical decision to sneakily use the confusion of their continuities to garner tonnes of media interest whilst not actually having to make a truly controversial change. Making Hal Jordan gay might have been something as he’s the most famous Lantern, or Kyle Raynor because who cares? At least he exists in the mainstream continuity – at least he “exists”. Or they had an opportunity to craft a new character (God forbid) as the Lantern role can be passed on the different people. And by people I mean men. DC has no problem doing it when they need to fill their racial diversity quota, as evidenced by Jon Stuart or the ginger Guy Gardener.

This guy’s allowed in the mainstream…Carrot-top, popped-collar, shit-eating grin and all.

So DC can bathe in the publicity as every news outlet, refreshingly out-of-touch with the brain-pulpingly over-complex history of the Green Lanterns and the DC Mulitverse, reports that Green Lantern is now gay, thinking that Ryan Reynolds may have to readjust his relationship with Blake Lively when Hollywood inevitably farts out a Green Lantern 2 that nobody asked for. And from the outside it looks like DC wins the Equality war with rival Marvel Comics who just recently featured their first gay wedding between Northstar, the first openly gay superhero in American comics, and his boyfriend. Both could be said to be cynical sales moves, designed to cash in on a hot-button issue, garner attention and to move product but Marvel’s is arguably a more natural evolution for their characters and is more consistent given that Northstar is a mutant and X-Man, a group constantly fighting to be equally represented in their universe.

Marvel’s track-record is a wee bit better on the equality front with Northstar (though he was, at one point, a literal fairy) but they also featured major and iconic characters changing sexual orientation in a parallel universe ten years ago with Colossus in Ultimate X-Men. But it wasn’t a publicity stunt, it was just this Peter Rasputin’s sexual orientation sans bells, whistles and press releases. His being gay was secondary to the fact that his skin could turn into steel and he could punch buildings.

They did, however, give him a wee earring but this was like 2002 so it was all very Justin Timberlake back then.

What would have been preferable? Well, at the very least someone who exists in the mainstream continuity and who is a member of the flagship Justice League. To be honest, most of DC’s heroes are pretty gay. Clark Kent’s bumbling, awkward attempts to fit in as “normal” hide is rather fabulous alter-ego; Wonder Woman, raised in a Matriarchal, women-only island, surely must have a few teenage crushes and relationships before her lesbianism was “cured” by meeting her first man, Captain Steve Cheesepants or whatever. Or Batman? Billionaire playboy with a secret nightlife, a dungeon full of bizarre toys, gadgets and rubber suits, with a penchant for collecting young men. Ok, so those were rather easy targets but what of the simmering bromance between the Flash and Hal Jordan? Yes, yes all too obvious. It seems DC’s heroes are too straight and proper to be given any sexual identity whatsoever, hetero or homosexual – it’s like acknowledging your grandparents have (or had) sex. Ew.

Back in my day I ate guys like you for breakfast!

DC already has a gay lead character in the form of the current Batwoman, which is great, but it’s always been easier to introduce lesbian characters with oversized breasts to a community largely made up of men. What they need is not to ham-fist a change but pick a character whose homosexual identity would gel or bolster with their character already. With Alan Scott, they picked him because his son was gay in the other unimportant universe and they must’ve felt guilty deleting one of their few gay heroes and changed Scott to make up for it. After the announcement many fans theorised that the gay character might turn out to be Tim Drake, the third Robin, due to his string of failed relationships. However, I believe this is only due to the fact that Drake’s a pretty boring straight edged character and writers lose interest in his story with regularity. No, the next gay character should be Batman’s son and current Robin, Damian Wayne.

I love this guy.

Damian was introduced in 2006’s Son of the Bat storyline by Grant Morrison, initially to quite a bit of fan-hate. Son of the world’s greatest detective and a leader of a group of eco-warrior terrorist-ninjas Damian was raised as a child prodigy ninja assassin genius and stirred quite a bit of shit in first few appearances. Basically he’s a nasty condescending little shit who’s hiding a wee bruised heart and a desire to be good much like Artemis Fowl, who gets a name check in Damian’s début issue. He’s a joy to read due to his vitriolic distaste for everyone around him and he’s quite camp – think an older, more violent Stewie Griffin, but he’s also completely bad-ass. He’s only 10 years old but he has such a strong identity and character if he were gay there would be no bones about it, no excuses or awkward realisations. If you had a problem with it he’d detach your jaw with a crow bar. He’s great. As he grows into the role of being a hero, a good guy, he can also grow into his sexual identity, because he’s a very rare thing: a new, popular character who has shown the capacity to change.

All-in-all I’d put DC’s latest bid for attention from the mainstream media along with the “Dumbledore is Gay” event in terms of hollow offerings to the LGBT community. Both were last-minute cop-outs designed to appear as progress but are really just there to satisfy the guilty consciences of authors too afraid to take a chance within their main stories and so make concessions after the fact. I’m a breeder and I find this crap offensive in its banality.

Discuss!

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The Haunted Room

We were elated. It was a silly, spontaneous act but we agreed that moving in together made the most sense; the time and money we were wasting getting to and from our respective abodes and the amount spent in eachother’s company was getting into silly territory. This way we could spend time with each other as a by-product of doing all the little daily things we’d be doing anyway.

Well, maybe not all the little things...

The house-hunt was mercifully short as we settled on the second place we’d come to view; a large room in a flat-share with a brand new kingsize bed, lovely wee kitchenette, two work-desks and access to the gorgeous rooftop terrace which looks out onto the cute behinds of Tufnell Park’s houses and flats. The location was great (Tube station less than 5 mins away) the price was sweet and the room had the potential to fulfil our cutesy dreams of being hip, young poverty-stricken urbanites so we giggled a bit, said yes to the hilariously combustible Greek family that rents the flats, and giggled some more, planning to invest in necessities such as wall hangings, fairy-lights and incense.

Some things are just too good to be true…

Oh why didn’t I heed your warnings BBC3’s The Real Hustle!

Soon after we’d dumped our stuff in our new room we bounded down the stairs, eager to acquaint ourselves with the area and perhaps with our new housemates. We bumped into one on the landing below ours, a handsome young chap who was just exiting his room. We pounced on him in unison, shaking hands and declaring our arrival with goodwill and were met with a friendly but oddly tired response. He was just moving out you see, oh that’s a pity we said, trouble with the neighbours he said, oh dear we said, now getting worried, no need to worry he said, the culprit was in Room 7, our room, so he was gone too. Oh that’s a relief, we sighed, yes, he agreed, though with that same weariness, we were safe as he was now behind bars. This strangely didn’t make us feel safer. Oh dear, we said. Yeah, that’s why he and his girlfriend were moving out.

“She can’t come back,”

In hindsight this last line should have stuck with us a little harder but at the time we were too concerned with politely issuing “oh dear”s and “that’s awful”s as we quickly wound up the brief interaction bounding off to other more light-hearted fare.

It was a line that began to haunt us, just a tad.

We tried to keep the idea far from our minds and out of our new room but little left-over pieces of evidence kept drifting into our peripherals. For example, the casual mention of how No.7’s former occupant had smashed the intercom phone by the technician who came to fit us a new one; the empty packets of wooden flooring (even the floor in our room had to be replaced?!) and now even our brand-new, still-in-the-plastic kingsize bed became conspicuous.

We refused to let our wild-running imaginations tarnish the room but as we snuck under the covers on that first night it was impossible to keep those persistent doubts from creeping into the bed with us to the extent that at one point Girlfriend aimed her saucer-like eyes at me and said:

“Will you come to the bathroom with me? I’m scared.”

The next day, our detective work continued. Girlfriend had managed to intercept some mail for Room 7, and using the name of the intended deliveree and this web-zone called “Google”* she ascertained that he was indeed in court (his preliminary hearing had fallen on the same day we had collected our keys!).  The internet knows a scary amount of things.

The recentness of the whole affair increased our sense of unease but what irked us the most was the revelation that our room had not just been the lair of the Accused but also the scene of the crime.

After interactions with some of our new neighbours and after a delightful BBQ on the terrace with the occupants of Room 2 we were finally filled in on some of the details. Adding to his horrendous crime he had also been a drug addict who had refused to pay rent for over 6 months. Now we know why our landlord demanded good references. Good for us but for her, alas, too little too late.

With confirmation we could finally move on and our sense of unease began to give way as the room slowly became our own. Not as many fairy-lights as I would like for the moment but the ghost that haunted us has been exercised to some extent.  Our fridge is packed and cupboard stacked to bursting with caramel wafers (from LIDL. So. Fucking. Good.) and a pattern of daily life is emerging, Girlfriend making me sam-ges in the morning before I jet off to work (some feminist she is).

Finding normality, for us, is relatively easy of course and I only hope for the couple that were below us, for the woman especially, that they too can regain some sense of normality and balance.

*to find out more about this website you can visit it by typing double you, double double you google dot com (all lower case!)

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Fundazing

He was huge. His vast, expansive girth somehow managed to exceed his tremendous height, peeping down at us, as he was, from behind his glazy spectacles with a head that tapered to a point like a cartoon bird. Sliding a layer of sweat from his brow with a clumsy backhand he entrusted the nearest bench with his arse, landing with much huffing and puffing.

“Them stairs…”

This is how I met Daniel, and the rest of the motley Charity fundraising team, as he broke the comfortable ice we’d let crystallise in the waiting room before our induction day officially began. Located in an old factory building in hip, trendy Dalston, there were admittedly many stairs but also, it seemed,  a collection of contrived “characters” who’d turned up for training. This job attracts and rewards the confident and the eccentric. More’s the pity as it wasn’t long before Daniel was telling us yet another “funny” anecdote in his nasal Essex drawl, replete with Sylvester the Cat Thpeech impediment.

“That’ths juth’t hith way, moi mayte, like’th to have a laugh, ooh e’s a funny one. Thith one time…”

He was a writer, by trade. And by trade I mean unemployed. It was actually sublime, really, to start one’s day at 9:30 in a renovated factory, having an enormous, verbally unstoppable man-child regale an awkward gathering of inductees with his own terrible poetry. My own Vogon.

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"The third worst in the Universe!"

During the training another character managed to stand out, by the name of Z. Z was 27 and an Indian salesman through and through and I had taken note of him earlier due to his snappy dress sense, waist-coat and gold watch. He had been let go from a sales company that’d just gone bust and was just using this job to float. Despite his formidable resume, he stood out as man-child #2, constantly whining about undertaking simple tasks, refusing to listen and asking the question “When we are[sic] getting our break?” every ten minutes in the patois of a six year old boy who’s had a very long day.

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"When we are going to get paid?!"

With every new person who came to give us a new skills workshop or pitch training I delighted in seeing the moment they twigged something just wasn’t quite right about these two and having to resort to tactics of control I’d not seen since primary school.

There’s no such thing as stupid answers, just stupid people.

I was the odd one out in the room as being the only male not married or engaged. Andre, a delightfully sane Canuck had just married a girl he’s known for about a year, Z’s set to move to Poland to be with his pregnant, 19-year-old Bride to be (which has never stopped him from gathering as many girls’ phone numbers on the street as he can) and Daniel, well Daniel met his fiancé online, possibly in his Star Trek role-playing group. That man gives a bad name to Star Trek role-playing groups.

The funny thing is, despite their glaring inadequacies as normal, rational human beings and their inability to hold a conversation with someone without wearing the other party’s patience thinner than Bible paper they still manage to get leads out on the street. Z does especially well with his wheeler-dealer, sleazy salesmanship raking in the sign-ups with aplomb. And I still manage to flounder somehow.

Lol.

Perhaps I’m just not heeding the advice of my Team Leader, who’s name I shan’t disclose- suffice it to say he’s named  himself after a geological formation. Imagine, if you will, Simon Pegg’s character from that episode of Black Books; “Yeah, hey, guys just want you to have a good time out there, bounce around, talk to people in the sun,enjoy yourself but you really need to get thirty-five sign-ups today to make up for yesterday’s performance.” He consistently manages to raise you up for a fall in a one-step-forward two-steps-back management style so that your self-esteem flatlines by the end of the day. And he even sounds eerily like Simon Pegg.

“Imagine that in one hand you have the sign ups that you’re collecting and in the other you have all of the charity’s money, and it’s blowing away in the wind. You need to get as many as you can to make up for the blown away money.”

Image

Cheers.

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Long time, no see

Weeeeell, it has been some time since my last post. In that time I lost my house, my job and my laptop charger decided to pooter to a stop. It’s been going pretty frickin’ swell I can tell you. That and my lack of human contact contributing to a wee bit of stress and strain with my main source of human contact. I’ve been quite hard on her and it’s not really fair. BUT I’m moving to foggy old London town and received a part in The Importance of Being Ernest in the Brighton Fringe so praps things will start to look up!

Home? Cake? YES

Now I’m going to share with you yet another strange going on in the Old Stein. Walking toward the bus stop at around half nine in the evening I had to pass through a wide alleyway that connects the Lanes with the Stein. It was already quite dark and when I glimpsed two black clad figures loitering awkwardly by the wall I felt a touch of apprehension. However, as muggers their demographic was all wrong; a man, mid-thirties and an older woman, portly both wearing black wind breakers. Their conversation halted abruptly as I passed, furthering their suspicious nature and the long, awkward silence was suddenly broken by the bleep and crunch of a police walkie-talkie. The pair wore their best poker-faces and made no move to answer it.

So, presumably I’ve been witness to yet another act of terrible police surveillance in the Stein. Maybe they’re onto me. Maybe I’m not as paranoid as I should be! I;d rather think they were criminals who’d pick up tips on theft after watching Drive.

Anyway, I’ve got to go move house again. Toodles.

I think we both need the toilet.

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Web 2.0: Social Empowerment or Post-Fordist Hegemonic Capitalism?

Globalization and the perpetuation of free-market neo-liberal economic values goes hand-in-hand with the emergence of global commercial mass-media systems and as these outlets become concentrated into the control of less than a handful of commercial giants we stand to lose the voices of those untouched by vested interests and preoccupied with the acquisition of wealth and the maintenance of the political status quo. Web 2.0, that is to say, interactive, participant-based online media (Cohen, 6) offers consumers another voice; user-generated content on websites such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as the in-numerous blogs and indie-media are free from corporate bias and censorship and hold the potential to revolutionise the current media systems and thus, democratise them, creating a free flow of ideas and culture. But, capitalism, as we shall see, has a knack for innovative forms of exploitation and Web 2.0 may be the cleverest yet.

In his paper “Policing the Thinkable” the academic and socialist activist Robert W .McChesney discusses the essential lie at the heart of free-market competitive  media industries (and indeed all free-market industries) that, by a combination of veritable price-fixing, political corruption and consolidation of ownership there can be no such thing as true “competition” in the neo-liberal sense. AOL Time Warner, Disney, Bertelsmann, Vivendi Universal, Sony, Viacom and News Corp virtually own every major film studio, satellite and cable television networks, music companies, book publishers and more making it impossible for upstart newcomers to challenge their vice-grip like power and rendering the notion of meritocratic competition moot. It is not enough, anymore, to own the means of production in order to consolidate power, but in the information age, one must own the means of communication.

The Illusion of Choice

Conversely, these companies continually perpetuate the message of choice and their news outlets consistently boast about the authority and objective clarity of their reporting. Take Fox News’ laughable tagline “Fair and Balanced” which is so blatantly in opposition to everything the network embodies that you imagine it must be some kind of distasteful joke. McChesney maintains that professionalism in journalism has been weeded out by big business (102) who have directed a limited focus and imposed their ideology upon the reporting and in the media output in general. “The great strength of the commercial system is its ability to generate commercially marinated light entertainment, which suits perfectly the sort of depoliticised and inegalitarian society as exists in neoliberalism’s spawning ground, the United States.”

A deplorable situation

Only the internet can provide salvation in this corrupt and unbalanced playing field. It has the potential to undermine and subvert the current media giants: a single YouTube video can go viral, social networking tools such as Twitter can aid a revolution and we can even be privy to the secrets of the C.I.A. The truth, as they say, is out there. Or, at least, different accounts of the truth. Web 2.0’s emphasis on user-generated content opens the flow of content and away from preordained market interest, democratising the platform. Users on sites such as YouTube, or its adult mirror, XTube can even make money from their content and the websites offer to facilitate monetary transactions, making their own capital as intermediaries (Mowlabocus, 70) and this serves to further blur the line between consumers and producers (resulting in the amusing portmanteau, prosumer). However, the webs awesome, potentially revolutionary power has not gone unnoticed and unchecked by market forces. “The reason the internet will not set us free is the thoroughly corrupt nature of communication policy making in the United States, and…worldwide.” (McChesney, 103)

Web 2.0 does not and can not operate without considerable market investment and the investors typically stem from the financial elite, the media conglomerates who must are struggling to find new, post-Fordist models of capitalism to reign in the consumerist pandora’s box the free internet has unleashed. Nicole S.Cohen notes how FaceBook is far from the “free” networking tool of leisure it appears to be. Like all new technologies web 2.0 reorganises the production/distribution model rather than revolutionising it in order to extend its control over the workforce and increase capital gains (Cohen, 6) and to this end FaceBook has reorganised the consumers into unpaid producers, marketing their own content back to themselves, selling their personal information to advertisers in the process. This immaterial labour has material worth, and FaceBook has managed to captialise upon social interrelation so that knowledge produced collectively can become private property and profit is made.

Hooper "likes" this

No matter how free the internet is, to innovative neo-liberal capitalism, that freedom is exploitable. As in every other mode of cultural hegemony imposed upon what’s fashionably termed the “99%”, (or  the proletariat *cough* solidarity comrades *cough*) big business has managed to manufacture consent from the masses, making them complicit in their own cultural domination by clicking “I agree” to terms and conditions they never read.

An altogether too obvious example of big business’ vested interests and its corrupt relationship with government policy can be clearly seen in the recent S.O.P.A debacle. The Stop Online Piracy Act which was championed by media conglomerates and the motion-picture and music industry was, by all accounts, poorly thought-out and unwieldy and would have been a dark step toward internet censorship and greater corporate control. Millions of users and organisations came out in protest with some 7000 websites “blacking out” on the 18th of January, 2012 which has resulted in the bill being delayed, at least for now. Online opponents of the bill showed their outrage in a number of novel ways but I think the literary economy and the universality of the meme exemplifies the communal and collective nature of the internet, the same virtues the bill was determined to undermine.

The above “Ancient Aliens” meme plays with our expectations and familiarity with the form. Its subversion of the form, whilst being hilarious, is also brilliantly critical of the bill. The following meme is a rather more obvious affair, again demonstrating the internet’s shared cultural lexicon, its penchant for copywrite infringement and also its general stance on S.O.P.A.

Subtle, it ain't

The bill’s proposal clearly demonstrates the insidious link between media conglomerates and law-makers and their attempts to once again curb and censor the free flow of information but the protests decisive impact and the communal effort that arose from the situation demonstrates the web’s unrestricted and empowering functionality. Perhaps all is not lost.

Bibliography:

McChesney, R.W. (2006) ‘Poilicing The Thinkable’ Hassan, R & Thomas,  J (eds.) The New Media Theory Reader

Cohen, Nicole S. “The Valorization of Surveillance: Towards a Political Economy of Facebook.” Democratic Communiqué 22, No. 1, Spring 2008 1.22 (2008): 5-22.

Mowlabocus, Sharif. “Porn 2.0: Technology, Social Practice and the New Online Porn Industry.” Ed. Feona Attwood. Porn.com: Making Sense of Online Pornography. New York: Peter Lang, 2010. Print.

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