You Probably Think This Blog is About You

The Greek myth of Narcissus tells of a young man who saw his own reflection in a pool of water, and was so entranced that he fell in love with it. Eventually, realising it was himself he loved, and that he could never have the object of his desire, he committed suicide. I don’t know how long he stared before he realised, but the pool must have been pretty still to not give the game away, unless he thought his lover had a naturally wavy face. I guess the moral is either A – never look at your own reflection or B – if you do, for god’s sake have the wherewithal to recognise it.

You may think you know where I’m going with this. “Oh I get it. You’re saying we’re all Narcissus aren’t you, because we look at ourselves a lot?” Well no that’s not what I was going to say, and please don’t predict the narrative progress of my blog, because mostly there isn’t one. Plus I’m pretty sure no-one’s killed themselves because they’ve fallen in love with their own reflection. And in fact, if Narcissus was born now, he’d either kill himself at a much younger age i.e. the first time his mother took a selfie with him, perhaps mere hours after birth, or he’d get on Instagram, pout for the fans, and the likes and comments rolling in would periodically quell the pain of not having his photos love him back.

Alright yes, I am saying we’re all Narcissus, what a shock.

I think vanity comes in various forms, depending on what we value in ourselves that we wish others would recognise. We tend to think of physical appearance; wanting to be attractive and so putting on makeup, going to the gym, not picking our nose in front of sexy people. Most of us are preoccupied with how we look a lot of the time. I’ve certainly been guilty of it. I’ll fluctuate between periods of trying not to give a shit, allowing myself to leave the house wearing whatever’s comfortable, and not shaving for three weeks (which in my case leaves me with almost-noticeable stubble) and periods of going to the gym four times a week, puffing myself up like a cartoon pigeon, and not shaving for three weeks, but trying to make it look like it’s only been three days. When I think I look good, yes it does make me happier, more secure, but I know it shouldn’t.
We should at least try to recognise when we’re behaving like this though. You’ll often hear people condemning gym-goers to the tune of “people at the gym are always doing X, and they always look like Y” with the detail that only comes from being a gym-frequenter themselves. It’s the adult equivalent of playing heads down thumbs up and telling the teacher when you see someone with their eyes open.

“Thank you for telling me Tim, but the only way you could have known is if you’re a psychic, a hypocrite, or you have transparent eyelids.”

At least have the honesty to admit your own vanity though. Just do what I do and smugly decide that you’re better than everyone else at the gym because the only mirror you pose in front of is the one in your bathroom. You would pose in the mirror in your bedroom, but you don’t have a mirror in your bedroom, because you don’t want people to think you’re vain.

Physical vanity aside, we basically have a desire to feel special in any other way we can. A good example of this is to ask any one of your friends which famous person they share a birthday with. Nine times out of ten they’ll be able to name one or two people, allowing themselves a quick smirk of pride if the person is particularly well-known. Again, I’m not condemning, I do it too, but I really don’t know what conclusions anyone is supposed to draw from the fact I share a birthday with Leonardo DiCaprio. Are you impressed? If you like him, do you now like me? If I concentrate hard enough could I become him? My dad shares his birthday with Freddie Mercury and they both have a moustache. Is that magic?

Social media is great for this sort of thing, attributing information and trivialities to yourself in the hope of being more interesting. Someone posted a link recently to a site that would tell you what movie was number one on the day you were born. Like a zombie who feeds on dopamine instead of brains, I followed the link, and found that the number one movie on my birthday was Child’s Play 2. For some reason I was actually disappointed. As though whatever film was out that day is a reflection on me. Being a younger sibling, am I in some ways a disappointing sequel? Does my life have the veneer of something innocent and playful, while actually hiding something sinister beneath?
No of course not, but if the number one movie had been Goodfellas, released only a couple of months before, I’d probably have a misplaced sense of pride, and some idiotic notion that I played some part in it.

But this is how we try to define ourselves. People like to put themselves in boxes, especially if those boxes are labelled in such a way as to suggest they are outside of other boxes. But I think the only worthwhile pride is the sort you’ve earned from things you’ve done, made or accomplished. It makes little sense to be proud of things that happened by accident, like the country you were born in. I’m not proud to be English. I’m glad I’m English, because it affords me a lot of privileges that people from other countries don’t get, but pride suggests a level of smugness about it. The proudest nation is surely America, where patriotism is not as associated with jingoism and racism as it is here, although from our perspective it still looks mental. But in fairness, I worked tirelessly to convince my parents to birth me in England. I endeavoured to be white, so I could have a much easier life. And I made sure I was born into a middle class family.

I’m so proud.

Next time on the Bandwagon, to mark my twentieth blog entry, I’ll be live blogging along to the aggressive screams outside my bedroom window on Saturday nights. Don’t miss it!

Good Things Come to Those Who Hate

“Don’t hate the player, hate the game,” is a phrase oft-uttered by people struggling to articulate the sentiment that if a system is corrupt, then one must operate within the laws of that system even if that means appearing to act in an undesirable way, until such time that they can break out of the system. Sort of like Neo learning the rules of The Matrix, before breaking them and becoming Jesus. And for the record, actively hating the two Matrix sequels is a waste of hate. They are never going away, and if the ‘game’ is the Hollywood studio system, which throws money at sequels, prequels and remakes left, right and LeftRight 2: The Centre, then the ‘players’ would be the Wachowskis. So don’t blame them, even if the Architect was a tedious character. Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest. I’m a Matrix sequel apologist. Back to hatred.

A few months ago, it became popular on Facebook to allow an app access to your profile, and tell you the most common words used in your status updates, as a representation of the overall message you put out (and probably as a test of people’s levels of trust in a computer programme they’d never heard of, but could give them some easily obtainable information, in exchange for free reign of the most personal online representation of their life). Since I have just the right mix of self-obsession and self-awareness, I gave it a go, but decided not to share the results with anyone, so I could still feel superior to those who had. Once I’d handed over my mother’s maiden name, the app told me one of the most frequent words I used was ‘hate’. Part of the reason the word crops up so much is that comedically it’s easier to say something’s shit than to give it praise. You only have to look at how many stand-up comedy routines, sketches, talk show anecdotes and YouTube vlog rants (or mentions of Gogglebox in these blogs) there are about how something purportedly great is actually shit to see that it’s a popular stance to take on a topic when trying to be funny. It’s much harder to make people laugh by saying how much you love something. It’s easier to make someone laugh by saying how much you hate romantic comedies than it is by saying how much you love period dramas. And people would rather hear you talk about how videogames are a load of old toss, instead of hearing you talk about how Lego is by contrast actually incredibly stimulating and twenty-five is nowhere near too old to be constructing a scale plastic model of the Batmobile.

But why is this? Why is hatred funnier than praise? In my first year of university, one of the first creative writing tasks we were given was to write a poem, about anything. I wrote a poem called ‘Ode to an Iconoclast’, in an attempt to satirise people who try to seem discerning and cool by openly condemning broadly popular parts of pop culture, for example saying they thought The Shawshank Redemption was rubbish. It seems strange to me that criticising something is considered both funny and cool, because in a surface sense, funny people are sometimes seen as cool, but in stand-up comedy, the comedian shouldn’t be seen as cool, he’s the idiot, the buffoon, the opposite of cool. So why isn’t it more popular to say that you think something considered unpopular is actually brilliant? What if I started saying, in all sincerity, why I think that Katie Price’s ‘novels’ are the apotheosis of literature, or why Coldplay are better than Bob Dylan, or that no movie has ever reached the perfect, dizzying heights of X-Men Origins: Wolverine?

Do you see what I’ve done there? Even in speculating on the idea of praising things that are considered shit, I’ve given myself the opportunity to list things that I think are shit, for the purposes of comedy. I’m shameless.

But it would be an interesting thought to, without a layer of irony, use comedy as a delivery system for unpopular positivity towards something. Something harmless of course, I’m not suggesting it would be a good idea to earnestly convince people of the merits of mass shootings through laughter. But perhaps something like, why I think The Matrix sequels aren’t as terrible as everyone thinks.

Furthermore, this very blog entry is a condemnation of how easy it is to use hatred for comedy, thereby taking a stance against it. I’m doing the very thing I set out to dismantle. I have unplugged. There is no spoon.

Before I finish, it would be very unfair of me to reference a rubbish ‘poem’ I wrote at least five years ago, and not let you read it. So here is a poem which, while positioned in satirical contrast to the target of this blog, is sadly not so subtle about it. Here, submitted for your disapproval and ridicule, is ‘Ode to An Iconoclast’:

Like The Beatles do we?

Well I think The Beatles are shit

Their songs all sound like nursery rhymes

How were they such a hit?

I hated The Shawshank Redemption

It’s the worst film I’ve ever seen

My friends say I should go to the cinema more

And that I should own more films than just Mr. Bean

Yes, I have read Catcher in the Rye

It left me feeling bored and bereft

Admittedly, I didn’t quite finish it

But there were only about 80 pages left

I find Shakespeare drab and one-dimensional

I can’t understand a word he said

Wherefore this and bodkin that

It’s impenetrable, superfluous and I’m glad he’s dead

What is all this hype about The Wire?

‘The best program on TV’ it’s been named

‘Top that!’ they say, ‘there’s nothing better!’ they say

‘Three words’ I say, ‘You’ve Been Framed’.

*Holds for applause*

Next time on the Bandwagon – Tony promised me he never touches the stuff, and I believe him. So, it was probably just a dizzy spell.

To Eurgh is Human

When I think of something ‘disgusting’ I specifically think of it as being sort of visceral and vile, involving guts or a slopping sound. When I was at school, if ever a teacher referred to a child’s behaviour as disgusting (never me of course, I was once described as a ‘teacher’s pet’, by a teacher. Really he should have just called me ‘pet’, although I probably would have misunderstood as he was a Geordie), it would always sound odd to me. The idea that an act of mild rebellion such as writing ‘balls’ on the whiteboard, or kicking someone (me) in the shins could be considered disgusting didn’t make sense. Maybe if they’d drawn a picture of some balls, or my splintered shins started spilling guts everywhere, that would have fit in to what I thought of as disgusting, but I suppose it has a broader definition than that. Literally, it means the same as distaste, taste presumably referring to a classroom free of ball-drawings and bruised shins. I don’t know why I’ve dwelt on these two things so much, perhaps their very repetition will become disgusting to you at some stage of this blog, therefore rendering my initial argument moot, and removing all sense and taste from the whole thing. Ah but the lack of taste… (ad infinitum).

Day to day, the one thing I get disgusted by the most would be the abundance of bogies smeared on the inside walls of the toilet cubicles where I work. I understand the impulse to clear one’s nose of detritus, or perform a ‘snototomy’ as I have never said – but when sitting in a room whose USP (unique selling point acronym fans) is an abundance of tissue and a waste disposing chair, the act of displaying one’s nasal nuggets at eye level for the next toilet guest seems vulgar. I literally can’t understand it. I assume there’s some anthropological element to it whereby subconsciously the person feels they’re marking their territory. And considering this is in a toilet, the traditional method of territory marking by urinating would seem frankly unimaginative and predictable, so I should commend them for their creativity. Additionally, it definitely works. The part of the wall with the snot on now belongs unequivocally to the person with whom it shares DNA. In terms of real estate it’s maybe less than desirable, but in terms of claiming land, it works just as well as planting a flag used to.

It’s certainly true that mostly what we find disgusting are things associated with the human body, as in bodily functions or things that move from the inside outwards. Obviously we have a very unwavering sense that things inside the human body should stay there, and if they don’t then there’s something wrong with the person, or there’s something wrong with the stuff coming out. I assume this comes from the idea that we don’t want to catch diseases by coming into contact with other people’s blood and guts, although I can’t think of any common and contagious disease that would cause organs to evacuate the body, and therefore contaminate those with whom it came into contact. But I’m not a doctor. If you are, please tell me about this disease, it sounds brilliant, and a much better premise for a horror film than zombies. I’d call it Things Fall Apart, which you probably think is a really obvious title, but it’s actually a reference to the poem The Second Coming by W.B Yeats, which is sort of apocalyptic, so I’m cleverer than you thought, even though I had to explain why. I’d probably call the main character Tom Yeats as a clever joke/amazing intertextuality.

One of the other things most often considered disgusting, is the very reason that everyone is alive, which is sexy sex. The disgust likely comes from the feeling that you’re intruding on someone’s personal life; if for example they were to tell you about a recent bout of genital to genital merging, maybe you’d feel uncomfortable at having a conversation at the expense of another person’s intimacy. But that’s not to say it’s disgusting. I become uncomfortable at any number of topics of conversation, like when friends try to discuss major sporting events with me, or I have to meet friends of friends who try to discuss major sporting events with me. Or sex.

But it’s not disgusting is it? It’s like… all nice and that. And it’s the primary purpose and cause of all human life, rendering it literally the most important physical act possible, aside from maybe a really well-executed high-five (Note, it is rare for either of these to lead to the other, and if it does, the high-five is usually the result, and not cause, of the sex). I could go into a rant about if people were more open about sex, it would become less of a mystery at a young age, and possibly lead to less uninformed experimentation and teenage pregnancy. But the taboo surrounding sex is half the fun isn’t it? And all these teenage pregnancies affect me very little, the only downside for me is that they seem to keep Jeremy Kyle in mediocre suits and able to cover his sneers with enough make-up to render him legally broadcastable. Other than that, carry on I say. Especially gay folk, they really are doing the lord’s work by enjoying sex without the risk of pregnancies. Homosexuality, the ultimate contraception. Some people are disgusted by the idea of gay people having sex, getting married, or generally existing. I think Mel Gibson best described that position:

“They take it up the ass. [gestures to anus] This is only for taking a shit.”

Poor Mel. By the sounds of that, he’s never realised the joys of farting, or just sitting down. No wonder he’s so grumpy.

Next time on the Bandwagon – I start my countdown of the best members of Simon & Garfunkel, starting with the second best.