Personal Update – Getting through to creativity -photography

Okay, I followed my bolder instincts (the cautious ones are in a ditch somewhere) and am leaving my job in a week. Just wanted to update any regular readers. If you aren’t regular, but just dropped by for whatever reason, hello! I promise this will not be a long scrawl of sentimental soul retching. No, it’s just a short scrawl of sentimental soul retching.

Well then, here goes: Stress, isolation, poor-health/fatigue, and the fact that admin/analysis is absolutely not my bag makes Joe a very dull boy. I was a tad concerned that the bout of depression I’ve had would take me somewhere I do not wish anyone to ever go themselves; that far too many do.

This country — and many westernized countries — has a horrendous problem with mental health, and if I may be permitted to suggest one responsible factor (among many that far better people can analyse) I would say that the fact that no-one can (yet) see clearly into your head makes understanding someones mental state extremely difficult. Especially because, I say this as a chronic depressive, you don’t want to be seen as unwell. Capacity to do work dwindles, but at the same time fear and paranoia that the capacity might not come back — or people will take it away entirely — is ratcheted up.

As a person with a progressive disability, capacity and ability are sore spots for obvious reasons. The fear of being trapped into a situation where every effort goes into maintaining a diminishing standard of living, as the goals and ambitions I once had are realized by others… no. That is the garbled thinking of a mind looking only for exits. The world does not work like that. Achievement of goals by anyone (okay, anyone you don’t actively dislike, we all have our reasons) is positive, and should be celebrated.

Getting past that fear though… I shudder at the prospect while quickening my step. Leaving an intensely unsatisfying job is one thing, adjusting to the reality of not having a job is quite another. Along with developing my creative writing (which is tonic for the spirit and air to the wallet) I am investing in my photography/videography skills as my main source of income. But oh my, I have no clients! Well, I turn to you. If you need headshot portraits for your business, or want a promo video, or to discuss a creative project that I can help with, or know someone who is looking for someone to make this stuff, I really want to talk to you.

I specifically mention headshots and promo vids because I have done them before, and am comfortable with my level of experience that I will deliver a quality product.Geographically I am focusing on the Wellington region and Palmerston North (home sweet home). So if you want something outside these areas please hold fire until I can get this thing set up. Gotta start somewhere!

I’ve done quite a bit of stuff for free in the past, and I love to do it so it will continue. But, I have to be able to pay rent and the utility bills, so paying projects are the priority. In a week I will be changing my website to include information about the services I can provide, and I’ll be putting together a portfolio over the next month.

What to do, what?

Okay, so I’m a little lost in my own thoughts; I am not completely sure what I have said to people, and what I have merely pondered. So I write it down here both for my own reference and to stop me sliding back and denying this. If you think this is oversharing, I can only say welcome to 2017. It is quite esoteric and personal, so you can stop reading here if that turns you off.

It is becoming futile to try and do what I really love (fiction and non-fiction writing)*, and to develop at all artistically while also holding down my current job. The latter is completely beyond my ability now, I haven’t managed to hold it down properly for months, and I don’t have the energy to keep going. No-one should be in the position of being hopelessly ill-equipped to perform the basic tasks of a job and feel totally trapped by it. That is not what the opportunity to get work was supposed to achieve.

I was so fortunate, and I jumped at the chance to work full-time, knowing that it was unlikely I would be able to do work like that for very much longer. Well, it is now twenty months since I started a twenty-four month contract, and sure enough my capacity has decreased. That is not a complaint by the way, just a statement of fact. I am not as I was. I am sure you aren’t either, though I hope the difference is not so stark in your case.

As an example of how things have progressed, I can’t hear 80% of what people say to me because:

  1. there is either background noise (any noise now) they are speaking too quietly,
  2. they are too far away (more than two metres)
  3. turn their head away mid-sentence
  4. or all of the above.

So I am terrified of my work phone (an infuriating little headset) because it takes to much effort to listen, no blood flow is left to go to my memory!

Also, twenty months of predominant wheelchair use and a not-quite-healed fracture in the upper arm do not bode well for the course of a progressive neurological condition. Things get worser faster! Not that there is no hope of wheeling things back. Exercise and self-care just has to take precedence, for some time it is necessary to devote all available time and energy into it. Yes, that does not exactly fill me with excitement, and no, it isn’t as simple as trotting off to the gym a few times a week after work.

Heavy on my mind is the guilt that accompanies the realisation that there are plenty of people worse off than me. Wonderful people who haven’t had such a treasure-trove of opportunities as I have, and who have been stricken with such serious misfortune that I want to punch** those who claim that people just need to work harder.

I don’t want to feel guilty, and please don’t you feel guilty because of me. Let’s be collectively guilt-free, since none of us actually chose our lot. I didn’t choose to have Friedreich’s Ataxia, neither did you. But hopefully we do get to choose what we do with our time this side of the grave. An opportunity is something voluntary, something you can back out of. Otherwise it is a compulsion.

I am being purposefully non-specific about what my job actually is because it is not fair on my employer if I start detailing it. I care about the people I work for, and I believe in the institution. Anyway, those that know me already know what I do. The point is that I don’t believe in my own place within it. My purpose. This is a cry for understanding, because I am someone who relies very dearly on others for validation. It is distressing to think that I am letting people down. But I need to back out.

I need the freedom to do what I came out of this planet to do and write out the stories in my head. Twenty months of concepts and ideas need to be re-examined and developed (where they are actually good — most of them aren’t and I am not being modest), as well as a back-log of drafts for this website. Interviews with people, attempts at poetry. I have plans to transform this website and launch a patreon page which would allow people to support me by pledging a small amount of money (like $3) on an ongoing basis in return for which those patrons would get access to content etc. It is a way to make creative endeavours actually sustainable long term. I’ll write more about this later.

Full-time work in the public sector is not my dream, and it shouldn’t be a hell. Carefully, and honestly I want to make my real dream actually happen. I just need some time, space, and understanding.

*Despite what some people have assumed, I don’t want to write for the Listener magazine. Or any media outlet for that matter. Not that I think I am better than that, but because when I am at my worst I find solace in fiction/poetry. At my best I can write fiction/poetry. I interview people because I enjoy good conversation. Whether the product of my endeavors is worth examining, well, that is really up to you.

**Punch with words of course…

Faster and more Intense

Carrie Fisher began her last book with a run down of some of the significant events of 1976 — the year the filming of Star Wars began (and never really ended) — and she mentioned that, “as always, a lot of accomplished and famous people died.” Nowadays the same things are going on, “only faster and more intensely.”

That line was almost the only direction George Lucas gave to the original cast, almost, he did also give Carrie the judgement that there was no underwear in space (Jabba’s palace was another matter). These anecdotes and more are being passed about at lightspeed on the Internet with Carrie Fisher’s death causing anguish and tributes from all over the place.

Now her mother, Singing in the Rain star Debbie Reynolds, has died of a stroke. A tragedy compounded, is there something in the air? 2016 is being continuously lamented on Facebook, Twitter, and all the platforms that make up the vast catalogue of connectivity. But it is sadly likely that these miseries will only intensify, and overwhelm the most dedicated obituarist. 

A bitter thought! I reason that with the post-war generation moving to the geriatric zone, and even the most stalwart members of the pre-war generation feeling the terminal tug of time, the daily harvest of notables will continue. In short: more are becoming less much faster. 

So many people have written touchingly about The Princess Leia, and about the other recent dead as well, I’ve wondered if it’s all a bit trite, a tad false, the bite of celebrity culture. This whole bearing of the soul online thing. However, Facebook is collegial, and the fact that people can genuinely feel sorrow and grief at the expiry of someone they only knew of, but not knew properly, is a testament to what is good in people. 

Then of course there is the bad, the hounding of Steve Martin for a ‘sexist’ tribute to Carey on Twitter, comes to my mind (because I only just read about it and have the patience of a caffeinated seagull). This sums up the idiocy of the twitter trolls rather well. Martin wrote: 

“When I was a young man, Carrie Fisher was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. She turned out to be witty and bright as well”

That tweet has since been deleted. Trolls will be trolls even if they don’t quite know it for themselves. They condemned Martin for putting the sex symbol before the actual person. How dare he mention that he found Carrie Fisher an incomparable beauty in the context of him (Steve Martin) being a young man. And his nerve in praising her wit and intelligence afterwards, as if the dimensions of someone’s personality become more apparent as you get to know them. My, my, how awful. 
(If my point in the above paragraph is unclear, please read it again while imagining the sound of every eye in the galaxy rolling about)

I can’t bear my soul any further, and who cares, right? Carrie Fisher is as alive to me today as she ever was, and yet stunningly not at the same time. I’m reading her book The Princess Diarist (based on journals she kept during the 1976 shoot) and it’s very good. Wittily written with no regrets, a final tribute to the franchise she is indelibly part of, that immortalised those hair buns and that metal bikini. Now, as she said herself, she has drowned in moonlight–strangled by her own bra. 

All I want to say right now, instead of tripping over a long, unwieldy tribute to Carrie Fisher, is that she’s an indispensable ingredient to something that continues to dominate the lives of those like me (child-adults who never really grew up and share our clichéd existence with legions online and nobody present). Take away Leia and what are we left with? Just boys with blasters and sabers. Jedi without the force. Add Carrie Fisher and we have Star Wars. Farewell your highness, so sorry about the bra!

Just a fleeting opinion….

I have found it impossible to write anything these last few months because of an avalanche of negativity that has buried me. I am sure it’s not just me and judging by the massive chorus disparaging 2016 in general this is a common devastation.

How do you catch a thought and draw it out into an essay, blog, or column without being thrown by another beloved artist dying? Or the pestilence of the new agent orange (Donald Trump) being authorised to ruin the planet, the death of the last actor in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis (Fidel Castro), the resignation and ascension into political heaven of a Prime Minister of New Zealand.

Opinion writing means throwing together assumptions and using them to analyse some event that has barely just happened. It is a reactive thing, and I believe my own work reveals a corkscrew of changing thoughts and impressions. These fleeting opinions are attempts to place thought into a rational context, to work through ideas which are not always palatable after they have been posted. Several posts have been removed for the reason that I fear I muddled the message, the metaphors don’t match up with the context and the result is poor. Like I made something subterranean when I was really trying to get altitude.

There are so many political bloggers now, and such a spread of trash for the purpose of click bait (see the explosion of fake news disseminated on social media during the US election) that I don’t want to be a part of it anymore. This site uses my own name, which was for principled reasons as well as ego. I wanted to be accountable in the sense that if I tear someone’s guts out in a post, I am at the very least not hiding in anonymity. I thought this stops me from being a troll. It doesn’t. All it does is leave me exposed.

I hope my scribblings don’t get taken too seriously, and that the hurtful ones can be forgotten, or ignored. I am a living thing, not static, a process — a verb. So are you. And the fleetingness of our life’s activity is what makes it worthwhile. Better to flicker for a second than not to light at all.

I’ll pull up now before I get too carried away with metaphors! I just want to thank those of you that read and follow my blog, and to ask your indulgence while I slowly transform it into something better. I love writing about literature, film, television, and pop culture, so we’ll see where that ends up.

For the future I’ll happily talk politics and world affairs in person or via a podcast, but not so much through this blog.


The real Joe Boon

The Cinema of Elections

The oddity of the 2016 election has confused pundits, politicians and the public alike. Blame, insofar as one can blame the present situation with all its complexity on any one group, has been laid at the feet of the media.  I mean not to challenge this generalisation, but rather to examine what the actual effect the ‘media’ has, and then how best to analyse it.

I start with how elections are consumed.  They are experienced via television and internet news and parody programs, and on a grand scale going far beyond the audience that can vote on November 8.  Domestic election news is carried by organisations in many other countries and territories, with reactions that range from giggles of schadenfreude, to genuine concern over the ripple effect of sudden policy shifts from the global hegemon.

I propose that the 2016 election is akin to an extended movie, since the primary method used to experience it is as a spectator.  Therefore, analysis using the tools of cinematic criticism is apt, and for the purposes of this exercise I have chosen to apply the arguments of Laura Mulvey from her celebrated essay Narrative Cinema and Visual Pleasure (1975).  The choice is not arbitrary, as modern feminist film theory was launched by this work, and in the 2016 election a feminist understanding of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is timely.  Especially with the recent release of a recording of Donald Trump bragging of his predatory sexual attitude towards women.

In Freudian sexuality theory, scopophilia (the pleasure of looking) and the inverse pleasure of being looked at is a component instinct of sexuality.  Simply put, pleasure is derived through taking people as objects, subjecting them to a controlling gaze.  Proof of this argument is simple: the proliferation of pornography, QED.  In her essay Mulvey argues that, “At the extreme, it can become fixated into a perversion, producing obsessive voyeurs and Peeping Toms, whose only sexual satisfaction can come from watching, in an active controlling sense, an objectified other.” While I do not propose that Trump’s only means of sexual satisfaction is from watching, he is close to the extreme end of perversion.

For example, he owns beauty pageants, and in this capacity satisfies the urge of the voyeur by going backstage when the contestants are preparing, subjecting them to his gaze which is absolutely controlling. He is the owner, they are the owned.  He said the following to radio shock jock Howard Stern:

“Well, I’ll tell you the funniest is that before a show, I’ll go backstage and everyone’s getting dressed, and everything else, and you know, no men are anywhere, and I’m allowed to go in because I’m the owner of the pageant and therefore I’m inspecting it,” Trump said. “You know, I’m inspecting because I want to make sure that everything is good.”
“You know, the dresses. ‘Is everyone okay?’ You know, they’re standing there with no clothes. ‘Is everybody okay?’ And you see these incredible looking women, and so, I sort of get away with things like that.”

If this is a  movie, or many cinematic variations occurring at the same time, Trump occupies the traditional space of the superior male in the 1970s (more evidence to support reading Mulvey of 1975).  He is the possessor of the infamous male gaze, which he deploys to reduce women to unconscious objects, rather than beings of power in their own right. He does this to all women, even his own daughter Ivanka is not immune, but is referred to voluptuous, a piece of ass (see here), someone Trump would like to date.  This is important because Ivanka is a person with policy ideas, she has pressured her father to advocate for support for mothers with young children. She has power that Trump recognises and ensures is either broken or bridled.

In the narrative structure of film, Mulvey argues that there is an active/passive heterosexual division of labour according to the principles of the ruling ideology. Woman is the image, man himself cannot bear the same burden of sexual objectification. This argument no longer holds true to the extent that it did in 1975, but as Trump is an anachronism, it applies to him.  And of course it does — Trump is objectively unattractive, worthy of the description Norman Mailer had for Paul Johnson in another time: “He looks like an explosion in a pubic hair factory.”

In the diegesis* of this election he is playing the traditional male role controlling the action (through his blunders that are focused on by the media) with Hillary reacting to it. That is an obstacle for Clinton, but it is surmountable.  Importantly, Hillary is not controllable by the male-gaze.  She is an older woman, dresses in suits, and the reductive energy of her opponents in using secondary sexual characteristics like her voice is essentially limited.

According to Freud’s castration anxiety theory, the objectifying gaze both reduces women to sexual objects, as well as reminding the male of the fear of castration. Women do not have penises, and a castrated man does not have the capacity for normal sexual pleasure. He is thus dis-empowered, and when the gaze defines women as lacking a penis, it dis-empowers them.  Now, this is obviously compete crap.  Women have the capacity for tremendous sexual pleasure, as anyone who has experienced or witnessed a female orgasm can attest.  But applying this psychic fear of castration to the potential of the first female US President, Hillary Clinton is not threatening to the patriarchal order in the same way.  She cannot be objectified.

So Trump’s attitude towards women is ineffective in demeaning Clinton.  However, in this time it is very effective at damaging Trump. So we see now the suicidal lurch of his campaign towards the ultimate climax of this movie, Clinton’s triumph and Trump’s concession.

The Trump campaign in this election is like a cinematic tour-de-force from the 1970s in competition with a blockbuster of today. The audience has changed, and nostalgia only gets the old boy so far.  Even a mediocre film like Batman v Superman succeeds at the box office with a big marketing budget. And the Clinton campaign is not lacking funds.

I expect much better criticisms to be written by wordsmiths around the world, and for criticisms of my own attempt here to appear in the comment section, or perhaps in private.  If I have made an error in analysis when it comes to applying the genius of Laura Mulvey, or reducing Freud to a few lines, I expect to be corrected.  With that, dear reader, I am done (for now).


*diegesis is a fancy term for film narrative

Sorry Abe, It might have perished from the Earth

Almost everyone who speaks English would recognise a phrase or two of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. “…that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” He was speaking of the great cause beyond the end of slavery that underpinned the war, the survival of popular government.

That is what is meant (or what should be meant) by cries of freedom, or the cliched call to defend it — usually by supporting some policy to actively subvert it, like the Patriot Act. The curiously effective tactic of imbuing the tools of torture with the appearance of medicine is not what I aim to discuss right now, but the source of this tactic is the universal foe of genuine democracy. That is my focus, so let me explain.

If you ask someone who has studied economics in the last decade about economics they tend to say straight away that people are not rational. They want to make this clear because it used to be the ruling doctrine of economics, but as soon as you break that illusion the system of marketing and advertising, governments putting taxes on certain products, and the tendency for markets to be shocked by current events — it all becomes clear. People need to be coaxed by tits to buy things, they need government to make tobacco 300% more expensive before not buying the poison, and the President of the United States can trip and fall on camera and suddenly the stock market dives.

So economics is not rational, but what else is not? Well, the rationalist actor model still gets notice in the study of international politics despite it being bogus because it ignores the psychology of leaders and governments, and it fails to take into account the players that make-up the policy process (public/civil service, lobbyists, voters, legislators, judiciary). Where else is rationalism non-existent? The answer is before us; beneath a flop of fake hair.

Democracy itself is not rational. People in the media have been wondering aloud why the polls (the actually scientific ones) are not reflecting the outrage over Donald Trump’s scandals. He calls Mexican’s rapists and his poll numbers rise, he calls for women seeking abortion to be punished and his poll numbers rise, he insults the parents of a war veteran and  his poll numbers stay the same, he doesn’t pay tax for eighteen years and his poll numbers stay the same. He’s not winning, as most polls show Clinton with a five to seven point lead, but there is no fallout.

This is in contrast to the fact that according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll 67 percent of Americans think his tax dodging is selfish, and 61 percent think it is unpatriotic. So why isn’t this reflected in his support for president? Surely, if 67 percent of the voting public think poorly of him on the vital issue of the economy, that should translate to a drop in his overall poll numbers. Yet it doesn’t. Someone isn’t playing ball.

A rational understanding of the election process would say that candidates make their policy plans known, the voters decide on the basis of those plans, and the winner implements there policies to the advantage of the voters. A simple transaction. But it isn’t like that, and it either never has been or it hasn’t been for a very long time.

Princeton University published a study in 2014 which sought to answer the question: “Does the US government represent the people?” And the answer is no.  Well, no 70 percent of the time. They found that the least popular policies have the same 30 percent chance of being passed into law as the most popular — that is where 90 percent of Americans are concerned. The wealthy have a different rate of return (well of course). They have a much greater chance of seeing the policies they want enacted, and more importantly, near certainty that the policies they don’t like get defeated. The US is an oligarchy, plain and simple, and it makes no difference if the general public is rational or not.

Well, almost. You see, there is something the masses have which the masters do not. Mass. They are numerous, and when in revolutionary fury they are above the law. We saw it in Bucharest in 1989 when the Ceaușescu regime dissolved before a massive crowd who decided in a moment that their president before them was actually naked and all the Russian sponsored military might couldn’t make any difference. You can see that moment here by the way, it is really something to see.

To return to the point, the voters are not rational, their participation is required to give the oligarchy a veneer of legitimacy. So rational thinking is not required, which sounds deeply cynical and I suppose that it is, but I see a thread of possibility here. What if the forces of democratisation take back the ideas which have been stolen? Freedom, liberty, and pluralism, so that the great push back by the people can begin. It has happened before, the civil rights movement held America to the standard the founding fathers accidentally slipped in to their notes, that all men are created equal. There were hard fought gains, and those gains will not be given up. Now the great mass has the chance to claim back the most important three words in all of American literature: “We the people.”

Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree

Skeleton Tree follows on from the melancholy themes of Push the Sky Away with a slow moving and reflective record, full of grief and reflection.  The death last year of Nick Cave’s son last year surely hung over the making record.

In his last record Nick was marking a point in his life, and it was no coincidence that the movie 20,000 Days on Earth was released at around the same time and featured much of the music.  In that film Nick Cave was the musing writer, the rock-star, the collaborator refulgent with the memories of people from his past.  It was a reflective record, and my favourite track Higgs Boson Blues summed up all of it so well.  It was a slow moving jam, which threw together references from popular culture in a grand milieu.  The death of Martin Luther King Jr is mentioned alongside the genocide of the Native Americans and Miley Cyrus floating in a swimming pool.  The point of the song (I think) is that scientists have found the higgs boson, the elusive God particle that makes the genesis of the universe knowable, and has made the pastiche of human affairs possible.

There is no Higgs Boson Blues equivalent in Skeleton Tree.  Instead Nick Cave has stripped his music to the bone, with just his vocals and some dark tones and percussion behind him for some tracks.  Cave as poet predominates.  Loss, and death, and being left behind. But this does not make for a depressing listening experience.  No, this is probably not the right album to play at a party.  But when the party is over, the guests have left and you sit alone in the corpse of the night.

For me this record gets right what Pink Floyd’s Endless River got wrong.  It is thoughtful, something to meditate on for a while, which is where Endless River went wrong.  It was tonal, with echoes of the Pink Floyd sound, but like an overwrought good-bye.  Frankly, that’s what it was because Pink Floyd is not making another one.  I got to the end of that record waiting for it to begin, to really get underway.  Perhaps the lack of vocals was the culprit, in any case it was a frustrating experience.  I think they forgot the immortal lie that is critical to good music; that a moment can last forever, and that time is not so omnipotent, or perhaps they just didn’t care.

For example, David Bowie is as influential to people of my generation who grew up with our parents records — as he was to my parents.  He was more productive in the last year of his life than he had been for a long time, and in dying just after releasing Blackstar he cheated death somewhat because he was living freshly through spotify, YouTube, Itunes, as well as the traditional LP.  Another example is The Rolling Stones, who remain active after fifty years.  They could have preemptively ‘called it’, knowing that there is only one destination to life, but instead they go on.  Let them pry the guitar out of Kieth’s cold, dead hands.

Nick Cave is singing about loss, but it is loss for him rather than him being lost.  The final track, Skeleton Tree, speaks of a Sunday morning, and the continuing passage of time with the repeated line: “And nothing is for free.”  It ends with Cave singing three times, “And it’s alright now.”  I don’t think I have to explain further.  An outstanding record.


A Note on melancholy music:

Skeleton Tree is unsurprisingly an emotionally draining experience, therefore the ideal pressure valve to relieve all the build up sadness.  I am one of those people that will play something morose when I am feeling down so I descend all the way — because I come up feeling better (and I’m a brooding sort of chap).  Forcing a frown into a smile is basic emotional repression, which keeps one stunted in an emotional sense.  So, allowing the feeling of existential sadness completely flood you can be a good thing.  I find that the waters don’t drown me, they simply drain away slowly leaving me quiet and at peace.  So, give it a shot.

David Brent: Life on the Road

In the first ten minutes I was laughing embarrassingly hard. But I wasn’t embarrassed, because it is impossible to be embarrassed when David Brent is around. His presence is as cringe worthy as ever, but unlike in The Office this David Brent wins the sympathy of the crowd.

It is a simple enough premise, David Brent is a lowly sales rep at a company that sells cleaning products. Still, he carries himself with the same smarmy confidence, and hasn’t given up on his dream of being a rock star. So he has cashed in on several pensions he acquired in the 90s and is taking to the road with a remake of his band “Foregone Conclusion.”

The band members are in their twenties and are just doing the three week job for the money, the job being a series of gigs in the settlements around London. David Brent has a slew of songs he’s written himself, and he introduces each song with a long explanation before the nearly empty bars and clubs. It is profoundly awkward, and the tour exposes Brent to the isolation of bearing both universal dislike and doubt. He begins to doubt himself, and the tragedy of David Brent is quite honestly poignant.

He always tries extremely hard, and the saddest point for me was when he paid the band to sit and have a drink with him, with them on their phones desperate to get away. But his ability to see himself as being more than what everyone else sees is his redeeming quality.

In terms of humour I found the first ten minutes to be the most brilliant comedy there is. The rest of the film doesn’t quite reach that level again, but that is because you start caring for David Brent, and cannot laugh as hard when he chokes on his feet.

I’ve a feeling we won’t be seeing David Brent again, with Ricky Gervais being a sparing writer, who would rather give too little than too much. As Brent would say “You can have too much of a good thing!” And so if this is the final encore for the character I say bravo, and recommend it heartily to all.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower 

Yesterday I had a compulsion to go to Unity Books and buy The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I had seen the movie years ago, and in spite of the poor reaction to it by someone important to me at the time, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I am not sure where the urgency came from, it was just like the compulsion to get Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and read it before sunrise. Or the earlier time I read Lolita. When these forces arrive in my head they must be obeyed. And so at ten to four this morning I finished The Perks of Being a Wallflower. 

My impressions are raw, and I have to trust any skill I have to write this in a coherent manner. As in most books the words are not merely downloaded by the eyes, but recited aloud by an inner narrator. In this case the narrator was Charlie, the central character, who was played by Logan Lerman in the film and it was his voice in my ear from start to end. I guess this means he did a good job in the film, because I never imagined Charlie as anyone else. Truth be told I imagined the characters in the book as exactly the same as their movie counterparts, and have come out of the book even more confident of my impressions of the film.

But what of the guts of the book. I suppose I am waffling on. The structure is simple, and the story is told through a series of chronological letters over the first year of Charlie’s high school life that he writes to someone anonymous who is never revealed. Nothing complex and I am grateful for that. The myriad of thoughts and feelings that cross an adolescent’s consciousness in every moment need a solid anchorage of some sort. I think too that the book is not meant to be read piecemeal. Each letter functions as a piece of something larger, but they are not chapters. Instead the story is broken into four parts, and as far as the flow of it goes I would advise one to read it all in a single sitting (which I did and now can barely lift my arms because I am so tired and read so slow) or in four sittings. Stopping between letters is not ideal because you might miss the contrast between them. How in a single month Charlie can go from desperately lonely, to irate with someone, to suicidally depressed, to extremely happy, to infinite. On that last I refer to the classic scene in the movie where Sam (whom Charlie is in love with) played by Emma Watson stands up on the back of a pickup truck while her step brother drives through a tunnel and Charlie sits in the passenger seat. David Bowie’s Heroes is blasting out of the car speakers and Charlie feels a sense of belonging he’s never felt before. In the book the scene is very similar except that the song isn’t Heroes. I am glad they changed it for the movie for reasons I trust you already know.

The chronicle of Charlie’s year contains moments in common with me, and undoubtedly since we were all in the passage of youth once. Some still yearn for it, some try to forget it, and some barely made it out alive. There were girls at my school like Sam, and there were boys like Patrick, and I (and most people went on to study arts) felt similar to Charlie in the sense that thinking was synonymous with living. That is his challenge with Sam, ultimately she tells him that she doesn’t want to be anyone’s crush because she can’t feel what someone else feels if they lock it away to themselves. Of course he has other challenges as well, but what is vital is that he cannot begin to deal with them until he has dealt with this.

His connection with his English teacher Bill (played by Paul Rudd in the film) is particularly touching, as a new teacher finds and tends to the gifted mind of his pupil. It is not a coercive relationship, nor does Bill attempt to mould Charlie’s mind. Instead he acts as the waterer of seeds that are already there, and the succession of books he gives to Charlie become a structure for him amid emotional turmoil. I hope there are real teachers like this, and that if you found and benefitted from one that it was good. I did not, but a literary awakening can occur at any point in life, it is never too late.

What is rather sad to note is just how much stress and demand the US education system puts on kids. The fact that they must apply for as many universities as possible and have back-up “safety schools” in case they get rejected. I have seen the process of applying close-up and it isn’t pretty. For any American’s reading this I am almost afraid to tell you that I applied for one university at the end of high school and was guaranteed a place because I had passed university entrance requirements that were rather straightforward. No ridiculous amounts of homework (I refused to do most homework on principle), no extra-curricular activities for the sole reason of filling up an admission letter. Why the American system puts so much pressure on people at their most vulnerable time of life is a question I’d like to see answered.

In a quiet sort of way that leads me to the more controversial parts of the book. Controversial because some schools banned the book on the basis that its content might be too mature for adolescents, who shouldn’t know about the horrible damage done to a significant proportion of them, and should not ask awkward questions about sex, and homosexuality, and rape, and other abuse. Better that the kids learn what is taboo and put walls in their minds. Truly the land of the free. Charlie has been abused as a younger boy by a person very close to him. He has repressed this, and the effects of such repression permeate his life and experiences. He overcomes that and recognises the causes and the nature of these things. That the abuser was themselves abused, and their own parents were too. In recognising the cycle and going through the breakdown it causes he ends the cycle. He still loves the (long deceased) abuser, and he loves Sam (who was abused as child too) and he loves Patrick (whom he saved from five jocks Patrick was fighting for calling him a faggot), and he loves his sister who called him a pervert and told him not to tell when her boyfriend hit her.   

All of this echoes like musical notes in our lives. I use the plural on the basis that I am certain there are common struggles and elements in everyone’s lives that are built on in this book. The desire to be seen by someone else, and vindicated. The desire to be happy, and the willingness to be unhappy if it means that someone you love can be happy. I am sorry if my thoughts do not make sense. I decided it would be better to get this out while still in the wake of the story than try something more cerebral when the water settles. I really enjoyed this book and recommend it highly to anyone (especially if you are at high school). If a book is too much I recommend the movie also. Since it was directed by the book’s author Stephen Chbosky it has to be immune from the usual crap people claim about the quality of adaptations, and disagreements over interpretation.

With that I rest.

Ghostbuster thoughts 

Over-thinkers and vacuous shits abound. When I consider the average film critic I imagine a malodorous and disgruntled chap with dark rings around his eyes, a knitted jersey specifically chosen to clash with his tweed jacket and bright orange socks (I live in Wellington after all, it’s hipster-ville), and the superior air of one who cannot make anything useful with his hands, but has a talent for transposing dull thoughts into readable sentences. Critics are the sewer of the film industry, but unlike a good waste disposal system they dump as much fecal matter as they can find into the ocean where it can wash around us simple mortal creatures bathing in the tide.

Not content with prejudging the all-female Ghostbusters before its first teaser, they had to go and dump on it again after it came out. Now, I have not read a single review, because it is one less thing I have to do and am content with being both a foe to critics and a consumer of film who does not consume their scribbling. It is fun to deny them, makes me live longer and I think strengthens my own position in appraising films with a clear mind. I do know that anti-feminist rhetoric has pervaded and in some cases masqueraded in the reviews and opinions of many, and I want to oppose that. I am also rather aghast that actress Leslie Jones was abused on Twitter for her part in the film. She was, arguably, the most important part of the story. The one character from the real world who thus is the most effective stand-in for the audience. None of us understands the pseudo-science and neither does Jones, and she often says what we are thinking. To think that she has faced sustained abuse on social media because of her role is discouraging. I think there is a race element, and that well-meaning white people are taking offence (whether truly or just faking it) at the fact that the black person in the group is the only non-scientific one. I have explained why this is the case and believe that the offended whites have missed the point entirely.

Onto the next point. This is a comedy so the first test should always be whether it made you laugh. The next is how much. Ghostbusters made me laugh. Heartily. More than once. Therefore it has served its advertised purpose as a piece of comedic entertainment. Was it full of nostalgia? Yes, that’s why I bloody well went to it in the first place. I think these pricks who whine about remakes and sequels of old films as being too nostalgic utterly miss the point of the whole enterprise. The Force Awakens was saturated with nostalgia, which is why I lined up with everyone else and saw it again and again. Watching a film that recalls ideal moments of your childhood which have been gilded in memory to a point where your remembrance is greater than the actual moment was at the time, that is a great pleasure. How dare critics complain and try to advocate the deprivation of it! Get out of the castle of my memories! So I loved the intertextuality, the numerous cameos of the original cast and ghosts, and the riff of the old theme tune.

This isn’t the best movie, but who really would want to see the best movie? If I saw the best movie of all time I would be very sad because afterwards I would have to die, or change my whole life to never see another film,. There’s no such thing as the greatest film so the critics constantly looking for it are trapped in a pathetic game they can only lose. It is as if you pay someone to find a needle in a haystack in a world where needles don’t exist.

I haven’t discussed plot, or structure, or the characters other than Leslie Jones, but I don’t think I need to. You can draw your own conclusions about all of it without my involvement. Perhaps the really pernicious thing about film reviewers is the unconscious assumption that people cannot form opinions and conclusions and must be given ones by film majors. That’s bunk, and it conceals the fact that reviewers are unnecessary. Theatre relies on reviewers to get the word out about them and encourage people to see plays etc. Film marketing needs no such help, it is done via social media, cinema advertising, billboards and TV. So dear reviewer, should your opinion be negative (which it possibly is) and unnecessary (which it probably is) I implore you to keep it to yourself. And remember to silence your phone during the movie, honestly in the middle of a screening who you gonna call?

What’s not to like?