Feel The Fear, And Don’t Do It Anyway

Everyone’s scared of something. And that frightens me.

What are you scared of right now? Reading this, on your desktop computer (get with the times granddad), laptop computer (get with the slightly newer times, younger granddad), tablet (yeah fine) or smartphone, what’s the one thing that frightens you? Is it the thought of accidentally liking the five-year-old photos of an ex? Is it the thought of accidentally streaming an entire video over 3G, despite having very limited data remaining? Or is it the simple possibility that a horrifyingly massive snake sneaks up behind you, opens its mouth, and tells you that you’ve wasted your life?

These are mostly legitimate fears, based on familiar situations. But what about phobias; irrational fears that have no basis in reality, save for perhaps a mildly perturbing childhood event, like walking through a supermarket and reaching up to hold your mum’s hand, only to realise you’ve actually grabbed the gloved hand of an off-duty circus clown, still in full make-up and costume. That could quite understandably lead to coulrophobia, fear of clowns, but not for any real reason, like you think a clown will one day replace your mother and take you out of education to teach you to juggle flaming knives on a unicycle. That would obviously be brilliant. No, you’re just scared. If someone came up to me in a supermarket (as far as I’m aware, all phobias begin in supermarkets) and told me that my parents had just drowned in a vat of Marmite, first of all I’d want my parents’ deaths to be broken to me in a different way, but I could quite reasonably develop an aversion to, or even fear of Marmite. It wouldn’t affect my opinion of its taste of course, flying in the face of their marketing campaigns as I would now be in a position to both love and hate Marmite. This could either lead to a lucrative career as their new spokesperson, or dissolve into an indifference of Marmite, forcing them to drop their Love/Hate campaign, and honestly market the product as it is, something that no-one really understands, except for the fact it involves yeast, and is for some reason acceptable. ‘Marmite. Remember, it’s still for sale.’

Some ‘phobias’ of course stem from more practical aversions; agoraphobia, fear of large open spaces, or crowds, is understandable. Obviously there’s nothing inherently dangerous about those things, but there is some logic to them, being around a lot of people whose motivations you don’t know, or in open spaces where danger can come from any direction. It’s basically a fear of the unknown, and a cynicism for human nature, which must surely stem from a wariness of one’s own darkest thoughts and desires. And that is why agoraphobics are evil.

My own fears would have to include spiders, heights (or rather, being aware of a great height, from the same height. Just the concept of something tall is quite inoffensive to me. Walking past skyscrapers or noticing clouds leaves me basically nonplussed) and I also suffer from what I have dubbed claustrophiliaphobia, which is a fear of people who are sexually aroused by enclosed spaces. Additionally, I did have a run in with a rat a few years ago when I entered the kitchen of my university accommodation, and walked in on one nibbling at something on the floor. My first thought was one of embarrassment, as it was well past midnight, and the thought of anyone knowing I was up so late would have been a real blow to my misplaced sense of responsibility and burgeoning adulthood. Luckily, the rat didn’t condemn me, but rather scuttled across the floor, its claws scritching about until it reached a hidden aperture somewhere in the corner of the room. By this point of course, I had shrieked quite audibly, and jumped onto one of the kitchen chairs, inadvertently taking on the role of Tom’s faceless female owner from the Tom and Jerry cartoons, albeit less racistly. Sadly, there was no cat I could call to aide me, but a couple of my housemates did respond to my falsetto wail, and walked in on me cowering on a chair in my pyjamas in a well-lit kitchen at three o’clock in the morning. Naturally I exaggerated the size of the rat to justify my reaction, but to this day I have an irrational fear of feeling emasculated on a lino floor. I’m just glad I didn’t lose my virginity in a bathroom in the eighties. Surrounded by spiders.

Next time on the Bandwagon – If you printed out every blog ever written onto A4 paper, and placed them end to end, then maybe I’d understand why you hadn’t got round to reading mine. Otherwise there’s no excuse.

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How To Be Happy

“Don’t Worry,” begins the famous chorus sung by Bobby McFerrin. “Be Happy,” it continues, no hint of information on how to follow through on this order, instead flying off into a digressive series of ‘oohs’ to distract from the lack of instruction. Instead he simply lists a set of issues people encounter that would be genuine causes for ‘worry’, but insists that worrying will actually ‘make it double’, as though the concept of ‘having no place to lay your head’ is quantifiable and subject to mathematical processes.

How does one achieve happiness then Bobby? Because frankly, the only reason I pay my rent is because I’m worried that if I don’t, I’ll have nowhere to live. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” Cheers Bobby, now I’m homeless. Oh Bobby, by the way, I found a lump while taking a shower, what should I do? “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” yeah you’re right, it’s probably nothing. If I ignore it, it might just go away. Worry and happiness are not mutually exclusive concepts; if they were, rollercoasters would be fucking dull. The whole reason we enjoy thrill-seeking behaviour is because of the risk involved, which causes a release of adrenaline, without having to do anything too dangerous like climb up the side of an angry bear, or parachute into a cannon.

But that’s just fleeting happiness isn’t it? What we’re talking about here is long-term fulfilment, contentment, a feeling that you know your place in the world and have achieved something of note, and that’s not a feeling that comes from watching exciting television or eating chocolate, despite aggressive marketing campaigns to the contrary. And with this more profound level of happiness comes a more elusive route to achieve it, because while almost everyone enjoys sitting down to watch a good movie, I know for a fact that my lifelong goal of becoming a comedian, while not unique, would be downright inconvenient for my imaginary next door neighbour, Paul. If I started suggesting that in order to feel happy, he should start trying to make roomfuls of strangers laugh, he might very well give up fishing, a past-time that I know for a fact (because I made him up) Paul loves very much. And what would his children think of their 53-year-old father, a man with no previous interest in comedy, if he suddenly started trying to make it on the circuit with material about misunderstanding microwave instructions on ready meals? “Pierce film with a knife? The number of DVDs I’ve ruined…”

But then what would make him happy? Does he even care? Is it enough for him to watch EastEnders every night, with its rolling cliff-hangers and no resolution, like a perpetually delayed orgasm that builds into 30 years of addictive agony? Or does he want something more? Maybe Paul always wanted to write short stories about cowboys, or start up his own knitting website. If he’s looking for happiness through a television screen, he’s looking in the wrong place, unless he stumbles upon back-to-back adverts for SquareSpace and a local sale on wool, and that’s rather unlikely. If only because SquareSpace seem to frugally limit their marketing, steering clear of TV, and only choosing to sponsor every single podcast I’ve ever listened to.

Typing ‘How’ into Google yields a list of potential common completed searches, and top of that list is, ‘How to be Happy’, which shows that people don’t know how to achieve their own happiness, but also that many are after a quick-fix solution, hoping that by following an easily-digestible list on the internet, they can make their life complete. I think there’s something to be said for the idea that the baby boomer generation and those that came before, didn’t pursue these wacky goals because the options just didn’t exist to them. Now we fetishise people who work in the hardest-to-crack industries, thinking happiness lies that way, simply because they are the makers of the very entertainment that used to keep us so blissfully ignorant.

What happened to the kids that wanted to be firefighters, scientists and astronauts? Not deterred by the fact that, statistically speaking, no one has ever been an astronaut. I have no idea if this generalisation is true; presumably loads of kids still want to do these jobs, but a whole lot more think that happiness comes from the wrong places, like bullying or ITV2.

I’m not one to talk. Like I said, my ambition is to be in an industry that nurtures self-doubt and owes a lot to TV. So far it’s making me happy, but I know what Paul would say (because I made him up), he’d say, “Once cooked, stand for 1 minute? Fuck that, I’ve just got back from work, I’m sitting down!” (End to rapturous applause. Paul leaves the stage. Curtains.)

Next time on the Bandwagon, I invite twelve greengrocers over to my house for a debate on apostrophes.

 

TV & Other Drugs

The year is 2016. Honestly, check your phone. The Sopranos came out in 1999, The Wire came out in 2002, and if you’re sitting there, reading this, and you still haven’t watched either of them, don’t worry.

It’s okay.

I mean, I’ve had the entire boxset of 24 on DVD for about 6 years for some reason. I’ve only ever watched the first season, partly because it’s difficult to enjoy a show that openly advertises the amount of your life you have to sacrifice in order to watch it. ‘The following takes place between the hours of 2:00pm and 3:00pm, during which time you could easily call your mum, do some washing, go for a short jog, and read the synopsis for this episode on Wikipedia.’

The idea of the boxset is quite daunting, with a lot of pressure for us to watch any remotely acclaimed drama or sitcom.  “Have you watched 72 hours of narrative set in the same place about the same characters with variations of the same storyline continuing until the showrunner, network or viewers got sick of it? What do you mean no?”

The idea of the physical boxset is pretty much non-existent now anyway, with streaming services rarely displaying television shows in any sort of box, usually preferring squares in an abstract space. Even boxes are no longer cool.

And the more people that ask you if you’ve watched a boxset of a show, the less you want to actually watch it, because now it’s just revision for a potential conversation/exam, which you already know the correct answer to, but still have to read the textbook anyway.

“Have you seen The Wire?”

“Yes.”

“It’s good isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Correct. You may go.”

The only way to avoid this situation is to jump on board when the shows first air, risking the possibility of watching hours of an absolute drek pile, just so you don’t have to catch up at a later date, and ride on the coat-tails of more insightful viewers than you, taking snippets of opinion from people with too much free time.

So, to save you that time, here’s some primers for how to respond when confronted with the topic of some acclaimed TV shows:

The Sopranos

DO SAY: “I think that cut to black was to demonstrate the uncertain nature of the gangster lifestyle, the two likely possibilities showing the dichotomy of being both a family man and a criminal.”

DON’T SAY: “They just stole the ending from Inception.”

Breaking Bad –

DO SAY: “Walter White is the perfect anti-hero, his descent into corruption fuelled by his ostensible selflessness just shows us how far we can follow a character into the depths of human evil.”

DON’T SAY: “Of course, if it had been set in England, it would have been one episode long, what with our NHS! Am I right!?”

Arrested Development –

DO SAY: “Mitch Hurwitz subscribes to the comedy archetypes of matriarch, patriarch, carpenter and clown, but the roles are constantly changing, while always staying true to the characters.”

DON’T SAY: “Isn’t that the one where The Fonz plays a lawyer?”

I also blame Netflix for trying to reclaim the word ‘binge’ as a good thing. Bingeing means indulging to excess, not just doing something lovely for a bit until you’ve had enough, it means doing it more than you should, more than is good for you. A bad amount. I don’t think a word associated with eating disorders and alcohol abuse is the best one to use to demonstrate your USP. “Too much telly! More telly than you should really have! Binge on it, consume it until your eyes vomit!”

Remember the days when you’d actually wait a week in between episodes of a TV show, with time to ruminate on the plot points, considering the possibilities of how the story could advance, discuss with your friends? If anything this means serialised television doesn’t need to be as deep or involving, because it doesn’t need to keep you hooked for a whole week of not watching it. For Netflix or Amazon, the next episode is just there, poised beneath your cursor. At least they don’t need to waste five minutes at the start telling you what happened in the previous episode, or waste five minutes at the end, teasing the next episode.

 

Next time on the Bandwagon, if all dogs are male, and all cats are female, then what about snakes?