Thursday, 16 December 2010

The Crests and the Breaks - The Highs and Lows of a Career in Comedy - by Luke Garratt


Above - (left to right) Graham Chapman, Bernard McKenna, Terry Jones and John Cleese

Bernard McKenna, in person, is imposing. His stature and his demeanor is one of a person who clearly knows many things. This does not mean that he is rude, or boastful. The first thing he does when he sees me sitting in the cafe where we have agreed to meet is offer me a cup of tea. This is not the first time that I have spoken to Bernard before, he has taught me, but it is the first time we have spent any time together in a professional capacity. He seems
keenly aware.

"his beard, as always, bushy. Same as it was in the 1970's"

We sit in the university bar, where he proceeds to leisurely and confidently lean back on his seat, his scarf draped around his neck, his beard, as always, bushy, the same as it was in the 1970s.

Born in Scotland, he grew up in Wales and Southsea before moving back to Scotland. “It played havoc with my accent. I ended up with an English accent, and my parents were very broad Scots.” Fortunately this gave him an ear for accents “I got very good at pulling out an accent when I had to”. This, and seeing Richard Burton on stage, was what gave him “the bug for acting”.

In his teenage years, Bernard went on an exchange trip to France, discovering French wine, French women, and an appetite for adventure. Formal educationwas not his thing, and a 15 year old Bernard would travel to Glasgow every day instead of school on a forged train ticket and go to museums, art galleries, cinemas and libraries, educating himself.

Of course, nowadays the work that Bernard is most known for is with film and television comedy. He got his start on through a stint of deception, saying that he had worked on many previous films and television shows, and with a ballsy move when being asked to edit a script, he instead wrote completely new scenes, and was soon following hot on the heels of writers like John Cleese, Graham Chapman, and Peter Cook, writing and finding sketches for Ronnie Barker, further getting to know the future members of the Monty Python troupe whilst working on the series Doctor in the House.

This relationship with his friends
would result in a few parts in Life of Brian.The Pythons atthe time preferred Bernard to actualactors, who would “overact”.

Above - Bernard McKenna and Eric Idle sharing a laugh on the set of The Life of Brian

However, whilst every career has highs, every career inevitably has lows. This came in the form of a film that would come to be called Yellowbeard.

“I used to hang out with a very well behaved young man named Keith Moon,” Bernard recalls with a hint of irony “and Graham (Chapman) and I were out once with Keith and he said “I want to make a film, and I want you to write it. I’ll give you some development money.”” This was in the early 1970s, and Bernard was given £1000 for an idea, and he moved toLos Angeles. However, this was the early 1970s, which in LA, meant cocaine.

“Graham had stopped drinking, but he had started to use coke quite heavily”. The conversation turns dark as Bernard looks down. “I’d been in LA, got an apartment there, and Isuddenly realized one day that I had been there for 2 or 3 weeks and had coke every day”.

On cocaine - "LA in those days, you would get in cabs and people would say 'Hey man, you want a toot?' "

“This is not good, I thought, so I decided to stop...which is hard to do in LA in those days, because everybody offered it to you. You would get in cabs and people would be saying “You want a toot, man?”

The writing took a long time, with Graham and Bernard falling out, and with the first draft finished, Bernard washed his hands of the writing duties, despite calls from producers asking him to save the project for an “extraordinary amount of money”.

“Eric Idle, John Cleese, James Mason, Cheech and Chong, Martin Feldman, who died during the making of the film...The film had an extraordinary cast, and was extraordinarily bad.”
Despite this description, Bernard seems to speak of his friends and colleagues fondly. He expresses a disdain for Ronnie Barker’s predilection for “bum and tit” jokes, but says he “deeply admires him as a performer”. He may speak of Graham Chapman jetting off to Australia, leaving him alone in LA, but he also talks of their love of writing, and being “chuffed” when Chapman mentioned that the only part of a Ronnie Barker movie he found funny was “a part that I wrote”.

It is clear that Bernard is from a different of show business, and perhaps takes today’s efforts from executives with a pinch of salt;

“This is not an anti-youth statement” he assures me “but a lot of the young producers and directors have less respect for the medium, have less respect for people working in the business. You get fed up with it”

“In the past we tended to be a bit more matey about it all, we’re all in this together, because making a movie is pretty much a team effort...young producers are often incredibly ambitions, and they’ll try and pull on anybody.”

Bernard started teaching at the University of Winchester through his wife, and currently sees his job as a way of “putting something back”.

“Not every student I lecture in scriptwriting is going to be a scriptwriter, but i try to teach them to understand scripts, because if they want to produce, direct, location manage, or even be a cateringmanager, they need to understand where it comes from, how a script functions.”

“There are a few (students) who show promise” He says, smiling at me, “can’t remember if you were one of them.”

Bernard is a proud but humble man. He may tell his stories, often, and with gusto, but he still remains, at heart, the same lad he was in his early life; fascinated with culture, a powerful imagination, and a sense that bigger things are always waiting over the horizon.

Further links:

- Yellowbeard info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086618/
- Bernard McKenna IMDB profile: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0571334/
- Life of Brian info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0079470/
- University of Winchester: www.winchester.ac.uk

Pictures provided, with permission, by Bernard McKenna

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Documentary and Photojournalism Project: A Day in the Life

Photo One

























Traffic lights change on Stanmore lane

Photo Two














Cinema on St. Cross Road

Photo Three













The subject car, left, with a speeding car in the road

Photo Four
























A car speeds past an ancient tree

Photo Five










Land Rover and driver

Photo Six









Traffic jam in the city

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Drinks Under Fire


Sometimes someone will say to you something that you will think is very, very crazy. Sometimes you will say "What the hell?" and that will be that. But sometimes one of these very crazy sayings will pass you by, like a leaf on the wind, and you will be completely enthralled. This process of not noticing craziness usually happens with one person to another, and maybe a subsequent third person. But on a rare occasion, when the planets align and the sun grows a deep black, and the sky blood red that craziness will spread from person to person until around ten people are involved. This is how the sport of paintball was invented.

Today, I had the absolute joy of going paint-balling with my friends. This is not sarcasm. I really enjoyed it. It sounds surprising, and considering that I had paid to go and pretty much get shot for a day, you would be forgiven for thinking that I have had one too many 200mph speeding capsules to the head.

At first glance, paint-balling is a horrible, horrible experience. You are dressed in embarrassing clothes, given uncomfortable masks, awkward and ineffective gas-powered guns, are told that all of this protection will be useless against the blinding pain that will follow after you are hit, and the you just go. You are sent out into a wood to have the shit shot out of you. And its terrifying. I felt fear that I have only felt twice before, and both of those times I was also paint-balling.

It was more the sounds than anything else. Everywhere you go, the short popping blast of a paintball gun can be heard, the sound ricocheting round the forest like a wayward paintball. And then there's the fear when you are pressed against a tree. Part of you is thinking "I'm safe behind this tree" whilst the rational part of your brain knows that the very next thing thats going to happen is you're going to be shot in the dick almost instantly.

I fear for my unborn children, who will no doubt grow up with an intrinsic fear of being shot in their delicate areas.
On the first game, I was stoked. The adrenaline kicked in straight away, meaning I felt like I could do anything. Paintballs would bounce off me. I would be invincible. Then I got shot in the second game. In the thigh. It was right on the inner thigh, in the soft pink flesh. I'm sure if I had been riding horses all my life I would be fine, but I didn't, so I wasn't. After a small while contemplating my mortality and my place in the Earth, I got on with it and vowed to shoot them back. And I did. And it was fantastic.

The joy you get from pulling a trigger and seeing a small orange capsule explode on the chest of a person shooting at you makes you feel awesome. It's like a combination of finding a £20 note in your pocket and perfectly throwing something in a bin, and ten times as satisfying. Then the person you hit does something awful. He rubs the paint off, and carries on, and no doubt shoots your face in the process. The despicable sod, The unmitigated audacity! I bet that sick bastard gets off on seeing your face, a combination of horror and sadness, and he loves it. He can't get enough of it. God you hate him.

Then there's the bastard who shouts surrender when you have your back to him, and then ignores your surrendering and pelts the crap out of you anyway.


They are all assholes.

I was told one thing by my friend James (Whose birthday event it was) before we all left for the paint-balling place in the morning; "The person beside you in a trench or a barricade is your best friend, whether you know him or not." Truer words have never been said, as half of our team, a ramshackle operation of different stag parties, birthdays and other people headed to our final battle. The other team outnumbered us, and we were charged with storming their little fort thing and diffusing a thingy, which seemed like an impossible task considering we strongly suspected they were cheating. Well, less suspected and knew for a certain fact, but anyway.

As we walked toward the start area, we were laughing nervously, joking, having fun, and trusting our well being with complete strangers. It was weird. We ended up winning that last game, more out of an unbridled anger and rage for the other team than anything else, and it was great.

If the person next to you was your best friend, then the person shooting at you, regardless of who he was, was your mortal enemy who had wronged you in some way. He was probably a single father of two letting off some steam, but that doesn't matter. He is wearing red, and he must be destroyed, because blue is way better.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Logical Positivism, The Vienna Circle, and Saucermen



I use roads almost every day, in one way or the other. So does almost everybody else in the world, except for farmers, but even they use so-called "tracks" for driving tractors, corralling cattle, and being generally pretty strange and antisocial. Its a simple and brilliant life, but people live it. Roads define where we go pretty much, define what we see, which would be cool, if the only sights were not just fields and a one off statue of a T-Rex. Seriously. Take the M5 to Bristol. T-Rex.

Back during the 1920's there was a group. Bear with me. There was a group of people who established a way of thinking that influenced almost everything in life, from their views on religion, to politics, economics, and yes, even roads. Logical Positivism came from The Vienna Circle, a group of philosophers that gathered at Vienna University, around Moritz Schlick. It was sort of like the Algonquin Round Table, except in Vienna, and not as vicious in such a horrible, horrible way.

In the same way as any great philosopher, the group, chaired by Schlick had a massive impact on the world, in the same way that Hegel, Marx, Neitzsche and Kant did, with one important rule; that knowledge was defined by experience and proof. Of course, this meant that there was a strong interest in science, empiricism and reason, and skepticism of theology and metaphysics, but by far the biggest staple among logical positivists was verificationism, the theory that the idea that a statement or question only has meaning if there is some way to determine if the statement is true, or what the answer to the question is.

This verification principle was basically a way of splitting every question or statement into three convenient and accessible bite-sized chunks;

1. Is it true?
2. Is it false?
3. Is it verifiable?

Even now, this concept is used by Journalists in a very similar way, the most common being the way of avoiding libel;

"Is it true, and can we prove it?"

This principle can be used in many incidences of proving whether something is true or false, up to, and including things like the Roswell UFO Incident that happened in New Mexico in July of 1947, and even though that turned out to be nothing, nothing at all, it was strange how people believed it. Logical Positivists would be skeptical of something like this, unless there was hard evidence, or they had met a space alien themselves, despite theories that the aliens might be very far away, perhaps even, on other planets. But instead, what was indeed a downed weather balloon, and nothing else, would not have convinced anyone who followed procedures of the Vienna Circle, because it simply cannot be verified.

Logical Positivists also made Religion, and the existence of any Deity seem completely false. How could we prove that there is a God? What is there, right in front of us to show that there is something of a higher power than our own. Sure, there may be evidence, but much of it is subject to disproving, and almost all of it circumstantial. But its not just God that they had a bone to pick with. Even Freud was a target. His Psychology was based around the idea of a subconscious, something inside of our brains that dealt with our innermost emotions and primal instincts, but what use are these theories when there is nothing to prove any of this? There is no tangible evidence, nothing that can be experienced or explained beyond theories, you might as well be trying to prove the existence of Unicorns.

It seemed that the logic was airtight. The Verification Principle would be the standard on which any scientific theories would be either proven or falsified. Except something else turned up. Something dark and sinister. Something, named Karl Popper.

Popper was critical of Verificationism, arguing that the principle itself cannot be verified, instead touting his principle of Falsifiability, which is, instead of proving whether something is right because of evidence supporting it, it proves statements, questions and theories by falsifying evidence to the contrary. An example of this is;

Statement: All toilets are white.

Falsification: If we can find one toilet that is another color, we can conclude that the statement of "all toilets are white" is false, thereby proving that all toilets are at the least, white and one other color, a statement that can be proved by the existence of another color and so on. The original statement can also be construed as racist, but we will not get into that.


Roads are important, in the ways that one cannot think of, but when we look at designs of certain roads, we can see the influence of Logical Positivism. Take Milton Keynes, a place named after John Maynard Keynes, creator of Keynesian Economics. This place has logical roads. Logical roads! Unheard of by most people, but you can be sure that it is incredibly simple to get round to anywhere, unlike a place like Winchester, where the roads were most likely formed around pubs, and how easy it would be to get back home after said pubs. Its not science. Its not Logical. Would you rather live in a world with ease of public transport, or a world with a greater ease of getting smashed every night?

Okay, tricky question, but heres another one. Would you rather live in a world with art, and music, and trees and birds everywhere for no reason, or a place where you don't have a name, because its not logical?

Choose your poison, they're both bittersweet.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

HCJ4 Gonzo Project: More Information Than You Require



I was just passing Stonehenge when I was just about ready to stop driving; in that shady part of the mind where you are just between falling asleep and wide awake, where your eyes could droop at any second resulting in a fiery crash, but you would be completely aware of the terror, and even more aware that you would have no one to blame but yourself. But this was not the only thing contributing to the high chance of death in a horrible, horrible accident. I was traveling in my Seat Arosa, a small roller skate of a car, a hand-me-down that had dodgy back tires and a fault in almost every component in one way or another. It is the sort of car that keeps a person honest, humble, and completely observant of their surroundings, simply because these surroundings might well be the last, so you’d better make the best of it. What I imagined I was driving to was a broken, twisted, rusty and grinding engine of a meeting, stuttering along and jarring like a plane caught in an ash cloud, so hopefully the fear would make it seem better.

I was traveling to meet, talk to and campaign with a man named Niall Warry, pronounced “Neil”, a name that was condemned a member of the public as “pretentious” in a place named Frome. Having never been to Frome, I did not really know what to expect, but considering the location (just in Somerset) I could be sure it was a sleepy country town just big enough for a Mark’s and Spencer’s and just small enough to still have village fetes. I was entirely right. I had been told to meet Mr. Warry in a car park just outside of a budding auction house, and to look for a large green land rover with a box strapped to its roof labeled “Niall Warry: Leave the EU Alliance.” This beast of a car, like most of the things about Niall Warry, was instantly recognizable as garish and unnecessary. I do not know much about advertising, but I’m fairly sure that many members of the public would be unlikely to pick up and run with a political movement plastered onto the side of a wooden box, and held to the roof by ropes and string.

I waited for half an hour in this dreaded car park, waiting in a suit that was too big, in a car that was too small, and hoping that the man I was meeting would not be too racist all the time. After a while I felt a little cheated, and so rang the number that Mr. Warry had given me during out e-mail correspondence, and a woman answered. My first reaction was frightened confusion, and then fear. The person on the other end sounded so unassuming and innocent, and as it turned out, it was Warry’s wife, who told me that she would ring a man named Tim, who was with Warry at the time. I was filled with panic. I had banked on meeting Niall Warry alone, in order to spar head to head with a man who I assumed would be nasty and another person added to the mix would probably make this a lot harder. Warry headed to the car park, and greeted me by shouting “Luke? Luke Garratt?” across the car park. “That’s me.” I answered, and walked towards him, offering my handshake as a way of putting myself under the banner of “Professional Journalist” rather than “Student”. Warry was a tall man. His nose was slightly crooked, and he had a halo of grey hair covering his head, with a sort of tuft at the front, almost akin to a certain type of professional entertainer found in circuses. “My colleague Tim and I are having coffee in a shop down the road. You haven’t been waiting long have you?” He asked, grasping my shoulder as we walked, “No.” I lied.

We got to the cafe where I was introduced to Tim. Tim refused to give his first name as he “Didn’t know what I would use it for” but in terms of his features, Tim was a watery eyed mouse of a man, who seemed to stutter and cower at the fact I was even talking to him, which is a mean feat, because I’m very unimposing. “You want a tea, or a coffee, or a bun?” Warry asked me, gesturing towards the Barista behind the counter. I declined, and sat down beside him, occasionally glancing at Tim, who was sipping a latte with both hands, perched on the edge of a stool like a bird. Warry then decided it was time for me to ask him some questions. I duly agreed.


He had been involved in politics since 1997, and before that, corporate management, and before that, the TA and the Green Jackets. He had left UKIP in February, letting his membership run out. Of UKIP, he seemingly had nothing but bad things to say, calling them ineffective and corrupt, and claiming that the leader of the party seemed to “have it out for him” since he spoke out against him. He had subsequently thought about organizing his own party if it gathered enough political and public steam, publishing and distributing 5000 leaflets advertising change, and a meeting. This massive amount of leaflets led to the attendance of 10/15 people which subsequently led to the formation of the “Leave the EU Alliance”. The emergence of Tim was a completely different story entirely. Tim was a journalist, or so he said. He had been involved in several different business ventures that reflected his different views on life, but right now he was a journalist, currently self publishing the magazine entitled RANT!, a magazine that focused on the “key issues” and “annoying things” in Britain today. “You can find that on the Internet.” He said happily. I could not.

Niall Warry seemed to be an unassuming man. In what I hoped would be a battle of some sort, whittling out the true nature of the man through subtle poking, he denied me at every turn with almost good answers. His stance on immigration was standard, the usual point-system and Australia comparisons. I pressed him with the more controversial things like prostitution, drugs, and gay marriage. He seemed to agree to all of them, with theories on how prostitution should be legalized, regulated and taxed, and the same for drugs, and as for gay marriage is stance was that “Gay people should be able to inflict the same grief as straight people”. But despite the very diplomatic answers he seemed to be giving, there was something not quite right about Warry. He seemed to dodge every question in a very weird way, in a way that he was answering diplomatically for the sake of diplomacy.

The overall impression was that of a sense of delusion. Warry would say he was forced out of UKIP, and then say he left of his own accord. He would say he is “aware of the current political climate” and how he “does not expect many votes” but then would go on to speak about how everybody thinks like him, deep down, and how he shares the views of the nation. How an independent candidate is better because then a supporter doesn’t have to sacrifice their views for the views of the party, how he rates on a diplomatic scale, but then talking about unity and the importance of following movements and influence.

Despite his insistence that he was a “normal bloke”, Warry and Tim did leave me with one gem. Out of the blue, Warry was explaining his thoughts on global warming, and how he did not believe in it. Not just that, but he actively denied it. Now, this would usually be put down to a difference of opinion, but the following things could simply not be ignored. I pressed him on the issues behind global warming, to which he replied “polar bears have never been more numerous,” but it was Tim who had the real gold; when I said “But what about flooding? Even if you don’t believe in it surely scientific predictions are something to worry about? These things have been studied.” Tim chimed in with his comment almost immediately after, as though waiting for the perfect time. “People can just live in houses on hills!” Tim leaned back in his chair, content.

Warry decided that there was no point me campaigning with him, despite our previous agreement; he simply had to get Tim back home. But before he left, he handed me a book, saying that it reflected his views incredibly. The book, entitled Bloodless Revolution: How we can change the world in one day, was a strangely topical diatribe, every part of which seemed to be set up to terrify its readers, scaring them with the fear of a terrible life that WILL DEFINITELY BEFALL YOU SHOULD YOU NOT DO EVERYTHING THE BOOK SAYS.

Fear is a powerful motivator. I was scared to drive a long distance. Because my car is a deathtrap, so I drove faster. Could it be that the reason Niall Warry started his party because he was afraid of not having an outlet? Afraid of people not hearing his voice after years of being a figure of public standing? I could be neither of these things, and it could be both, but one thing is for sure; Tim was definitely terrified throughout the entire thing.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Fear, Loathing, and Drinks With a Friend


Nobody likes being told what to do. I don't like it, and I'm betting that you don't like it, and I would think that the people in authority hate it as well, probably even more in fact, considering they actually tell people what to do. How they must feel when they get told what to do, man I would not like to feel that. Thankfully, I have almost no authority in any part of my life, so I do not feel the combination of unbridled anger and depression that must come from being someone like Gordon Brown. God forbid. The energy and strength it must take for him just to be him is incredible.

This got confusing...

Speaking about confusion, drugs are a mysterious thing. But no one wants to hear about them. Instead, its time to talk about a subject that seems to be almost directly linked to drugs, Gonzo Journalism.

In the 1970's, a man named Hunter S. Thompson, a self proclaimed"Doctor of Journalism" fashioned a type of writing in which the author would involve themselves so much in a piece of work that they would become part of the story. This illustrious style eventually came to be known as "Gonzo Journalism". This seemed to be a style closely resembling, but with many key differences, the New Journalism movement started by Tom Wolfe. This style, popular in the 60's and 70's, was a form of literary technique, in which Journalism and Prose were intertwined into a mesh of sorts, meaning that a writer could give a frank account of an event, with heavy description, mixing the artistic and literary with the heady Journalism. Some examples of this literary/journalism movement are;

  • Truman Capote's In Cold Blood in which a Capote researches a true crime to the point where he is able to write a non-fiction tale about the whole ordeal, in almost complete prose.

  • Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, In which Wolfe experiences LSD, and write about it at length, reflecting on different people, places and things in a different light along the way.

  • Hunter S. Thompson's The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved a sports article in which Thompson is said to have started the first inklings of the Gonzo movement, by being too close to deadline and ripping pages from his notebook to send in as copy.

Gonzo Journalism was different to the "New Journalism" in the sense that it was very much the same, but a little more dangerous. It disregarded clean and polished Journalism techniques and instead opted for everything to be a little grittier, a little more like an Editorial, and full of profanity. The use of drugs, in particular psychedelics, were a common factor in the creation of a piece of writing, and especially the use of LSD.

Now, I have never tried LSD, and I imagine it's just one of those things that you have to experience first hand before describing it, but from descriptions and readings, I have learned that upon ingesting such a substance, your mind begins to distort things, hallucinate things, and your brain begins to alter its perception of things, in the sense that everyday things that we see every day would suddenly take on different meaning and purpose. In other words, your shit's fucked up.

This brings me almost directly to my new favorite book, written by Dr. Thompson himself, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey into the Heart of the American Dream. Thompson wrote this book as a response to a seemingly ridiculous whim; "What would happen if we got completely blasted and rented shiny car and then went to Vegas at 150mph in Acapulco shirts?". He pretty much answers the question, and the prose that follows makes complete sense, whilst making none at all. At its barest, it is a journey of two men who are completely wasted, with hilarious consequences, but dig deeper and what you see is a harsh criticism of America, humanity, and life. One particular part stuck with me as hilarious and harrowing at the same time, in which Raoul Duke, Thompson's alter ego, and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo are in the middle of "an ether binge", are devoid of all bodily function, and are spouting nonsense whilst being acutely aware of all this, are actively encouraged into a casino. It comments on how the American Dream is essentially broken, how by completely cheating at life, showing no regard for humanity, a casino is successful.

Obviously this is only one of many Thompson articles, and I should not jump to conclusions, but there is something about Gonzo Journalism that strikes a chord. Maybe it is the mix of journalism and literature, perhaps it is the appealing thrill of reckless abandon for the sake of journalistic prose. It could be many things, but it all seems pretty awesome.

Nobody likes being told what to do, even people in power. However, the people who write can be those who answer to nobody. What they write is their own. Hunter S. Thompson was a classic example of this, he took no sass from anybody. He had a distaste for authority, so much so that he strived to bring it down. Plus, he owned many, many guns.

This is a man who refused to wait to die.

(The images seen in this blog are all by Ralph Steadman, a British Cartoonist and Caricaturist who worked with Hunter S. Thompson many times)

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Century of the Selfishness


People are generally pretty thoughtful about other people. But in a very more real and distinct way, they are not. Its amazing how far we have got in this world despite utter and unabashed rudeness and hatred of one another. Now I'm not saying this is good or bad, I'm just saying that it's convenient or inconvenient if you consider the context. Say if a man gives me the finger because I'm a terrible driver, thats just rude. He doesn't know the context. He doesn't know what my day has been like to cause me to drive so terribly, or what horrible diseases I'm suffering from. He's just being a dick. But this human condition of looking out for yourself at the behest of others is one that has been utilized by a particular brand of person for years and years. This is the advertising person. A person that, I think, is best epitomized by this picture...

He's the one on the left.

Who knew advertising people were so devious? Well, everyone, but what I certainly didn't know was the lengths they would go to to be devious. For all the disgusting qualities that advertising people need to possess, such as manipulation, evil thoughts, and a general lack of hygiene, there is something no one can deny; Their cunning. In the documentary The Century of the Self, by Mr. Adam Curtis, or at least the section There is a Policeman Inside Our Head, we were shown quite how cunning these people are, noticing patterns and using the powers of psychoanalytical techniques in order to make people buy things more. Like fools. Rich, angry, drunk fools.

So during the 1950s, people were quite easily influenced. They would be listening to Buddy Holly, having a good time, and they would go and see their Davy Crockett movies, content with the advertising of cars with identical wheels. Like chumps. It was easy to make the people of this time buy anything. They would buy toothpaste simply because of a brilliant and jaunty tune and cigarettes with repetition. I mean, come on, with that many uses of the word "cool" who isn't going to buy those? I'm going to buy some right now. These techniques seem to be derived from both Anna Freud, and Edward Bernays, Freud's nephew, who renowned documentarian Adam Curtis calls "the creator of public relations".

In the 60s, people became more rebellious and headstrong. Now the thing to do was to reject the values and the morals that parents put upon you, rejecting that Archie Comics boy howdy attitude or dare I even say...this.

Ugh.

Yes, rebellion was the thing, a lot of it happening on college campuses, with professors filling the youngsters heads full of ideals, causing them to believe that they were all individuals and they all had an opinion that mattered, and that lots and lots of people were doing very bad thing. The natural response to this was to dress strangely and act even stranger, and certain other elements played a big part in this, such as music, and drugs. Thus begun the age of the individual, and the death of the conformist society.

So in a culture that rejected conformity, which was the life blood of many products, how were companies going to keep going to maintain their cash flow? The production companies were only profitable with large sales of the same mass-produced item, so how were they going to sell a thousand cars that were all the same? The answer was, they weren't. Instead they set up focus groups in order to see what the hell is going on with the people, focus groups that were largely unsuccessful, because many of the individualists refused to join in. The solution to the problem was to advertise in a way that did not focus on the product, but on the consumer.

"We must conform to the new non conformists." A memo said, "We must listen to the music of Bobby Dylan." This move provoked a new range of products, one that appealed to the individualistic person, to their creativity and self-expression, tapping into human potential, to "be what you wanted to be."

Its the sort of stuff that was developed by different psychologists, ones that encouraged us to express our emotions rather than suppress them like Freud would have us do, to let out the anger and show everyone who we were, what we were capable of and who we "wanted to be", and with advertisers egging us on, we were buying things that made us seem individual.

No one is individual. Especially not the people trying to be individual. We may be individual in the sense that we all have original thoughts, and ideas, and we all choose when to pee, but on the surface layer everyone is the same. We all shop in the same stores, and wear the same clothes. Look at your clothes. About 10,000 people in the world are wearing exactly what you are wearing. You could carve up a box for a hat and wear a potato sack, but you would still be part of the select group that wears box hats and sacks.

Its the delusion of expressive individuality that the advertising companies tapped in on, and they were just as in control as they were in the 50s. Like I said, devious.

(Century of the Self, a documentary by Adam Curtis, says these things better than I could. This particular post is in reference to There is a Policeman Inside All Our Heads: He Must Be Destroyed segment. Its incredibly good.)

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Its Always Sunny in Orgonon


Last week, I talked about the mind. We laughed, we cried, and we came to eventual conclusion that it had a very tenuous link to a German film about Angels. Nevertheless, I continue on today with the topic of a brilliant and crazy man, Wilhelm Reich. He had the similar theories to many psychologists, and mainly focused the majority of his early work on the work of Freud. However, he developed his own theories, building on what Freud had taught and drawing his own conclusions, and so, instead of a theory about the Id, the Ego and the Super-ego, we have a theory that says if we don't get enough orgasms, we eventually shiver into a wreck of nervous and crotchety uselessness, as well as a substance called Orgone that wafts around EVERYWHERE.
The theory goes that Orgone is all around us, and if you don't have a sufficient amount of orgasms, which releases the substance, that stuff will clog you up something awful, causing all manner of horrible physical and psychological affects, such as unhappiness, anger and the curling of a person physically until they look like Scrooge. Perhaps Scrooge didn't have enough orgasms. That's probably why he let Tiny Tim die. Son of a bitch.

Orgone is sort of like a reverse drug, one that everyone is involuntarily addicted to, and as such, they have to get rid of it with the physical process of orgasms. But why did Wilhelm Reich choose the orgasm? What made him focus on such a thing? Well, Reich considered the orgasm to be the height of human experience, where a person was the most carnal and basic. Reich both agreed and disagreed with the Freudian theory of the Id, the ego, and the super-ego, in the sense that he believed that the human psyche was one built on layers, but disagreed with the order of things. He posed that the three layers;

The Surface Layer

This was the layer under the most conscious control, a layer that involved polite, compassionate responsibility. This is where people would be thoughtful towards their fellow man, and in other words, not screaming and running everywhere. This is the closest thing to the Super-ego.

The Second Layer
This layer is sort of like the Gollum layer. It is cruel, sadistic, uncaring and malicious, and the closest thing to the Id. This is the layer that will spike up if the carnal need for orgasms is not satisfied, and it will be more and more influential to the surface layer.

The Third Layer

The third layer is a different layer entirely, and Reich posited that this was the most human layer, this layer was what everybody has right in the middle, much like a gooey center of human emotion.

Well with all of these in mind it seems that Reich's theory of human emotions were a lot more optimistic than Freud's, which is probably why he was in the mind that if we should all be doing anything all the time, peeing in corners and screaming at each other, whilst experiencing a medley of orgasms. It would be nice, but damn it would be messy.

On top of the orgasm theory, Reich also had some interesting thoughts about mass psychology, a particular example being the fascism. Why did people support the Nazi's back in the day? Wee they targeted the lower/middle class, and people who were used to strong paternal authority. They assumed correctly that these people would have a love of the idea of rebellion, but lacked the drive to do it, and indeed liked the feeling of being controlled and repressed. The Nazi party offered a perfect situation; they strove to tap into, and fulfill this desire to rebel with subservience, offering a chance to rebel against the current government whilst allowing Nazi's to dominate them.

Reich had many supporters to his theory of Orgone energy, such as William S. Burroughs, and J.D. Salinger, both of which supported the use of the ORGONE CHAMBER. This ominous sounding device was designed to concentrate orgone energy in a box, which would allow a human more of their share of orgone energy when they sat in it, resulting in healing properties and an increased Libido, something else that Reich relied heavily on as a source of inspiration and theory.

Reich lived out the rest of his days on his land, which he designated Orgonon (an old farm near Dodge Pond in Maine), where many people would pilgrimage and stay, living his way of life, using the orgone chambers, and the Cloudbusters, convinced that Reich was a genius who had everything figured out. Reich lived with controversy, allogations of mental health disorders, and scandal, as he tried to peddle his Orgone chamber across the country as a way to cure Cancer, to which the authorities had an objection. He suffered an injunction by the F.D.A, was imprisoned and eventually died on November 3rd, 1957.

Was Reich a genius? there are patterns that suggest that his theory regarding the stress and mental health disorders from repression are quite correct, but a substance that breaks the second law of thermodynamics AND cures cancer? It seems too weird to be true. But the mind is a funny thing. I have always believed that people who are a little different in the mind lknow something that healthy people don't, and if the allegations of poor mental health were true, perhaps Reich really did have everything figured out.

One thing is for sure, his life would have been a hell of an experience.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Abstract Mortality...with Peter Faulk

How do we make our decisions? People have been trying to answer the question for many years, dogs years even, and for a part, they have answered it. We make our decisions with a complex mix of weighing options, experience, trial and error and personal responsibility.

However, one little thing always seems to get in the way, a pesky little thing called a conscience. Little bastard that it is, it brings something called morals into the whole process, meaning that there is a distinct difference between the cold, calculating decisions we could make, and the decisions we do make every day, all the time. Thoughts are the gateway to decision, and if there is one thing that everybody does, its over think. Unless you're an idiot. In what must be the most ridiculous segway, here's a blog about the 1987 German film Der Himmel über Berlin, also known as Wings of Desire, directed by Wim Wenders, and written by Peter Handke and Wim Wenders. Bam. Love it.

Angels are a fickle thing to portray in any forms of cinematic representation. Its difficult to show them without them being either omnipotent jackasses or emotionless vegetables that spout philosophical wisdom until they exit stage left. Handke seems to portray a type of angelic figure that is if not the truest, certainly the most interesting. The Angels, named Damiel and Cassiel wander around, listening to the thoughts of the people of Berlin, examining what they think about, their moral discourses and their way of life. The movie brushes over several people, showing their worries and obsessions, such as a heartbroken man, and a pregnant woman, but on top of this, they pay particular attention to certain citizens of Berlin in order to focus in on the different parts of the human condition. They encounter an old man named Homer, who parallels the ancient poet, whilst completely opposing him at the same time (Homer focused on poems of War, whereas this old man is designated a man of peace), a suicidal man, and for some reason, Peter Faulk, as Peter Faulk, who is for some reason a former Angel. No one said it was simple.

One of the Angels, Damiel, falls in love with a fair maiden at a Circus, and longs to be with her. Luckily, Peter Fulk is there to explain that he used to be an Angel himself, and indeed turned into a human, showing that the goal mortality is one that is very much in reach, and Damiel decides to take the plunge. It is in this we see what the Angels have been longing for, and the choice that they must make. In sacrificing their immortality, they are granted the pleasures of humanity; taste, touch, interaction, pain, love and colours. The movie, whilst focusing mostly on how humanity is dry and worrisome, contained within its own winding thoughts, shows the privilege of existence. How truly blessed we are to feel, taste, interact and create. Its harrowing.

The decision that The Angel Damiel made to become human is one that can be looked at as one of stupidity, given that he was once immortal, but it is impossible for us to know what it is like to not feel, to not be able to interact, and so we must realise that we are blessed. We must stop overthinking, and simply enjoy being human.

Otherwise, you might go crazy, and then you and everyone around you is screwed.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

If you build it, they will come...


From last Sunday, I have been incredibly sick. This sickness was passed to me by my housemate, and was passed to him by my other housemate. I believe that they contracted this from another one of our mutual friends, who could only have caught whatever death-spawn this is by slipping in rich, raw sewage from some chemical waste pump. This sickness has caused, among other things (such as a sore throat and an unnatural craving for human meat) a fever which, when combined with sleep, causes me to have horrible horrible visions and nightmares which make me cry out in terror.

The weird thing in these nightmares is that they do not contain anything that would terrify me. Instead, these visions either consist of random events, strange music or sounds, or commands or longings that I would not normally associate. Another thing happened as well, and for this I may have to be a little more descriptive. I see a sheet of black, unnaturally smooth and complete, almost too measured, and at random intervals, this will change into its polar opposite, a thing of black and white, with gradients between the two, its shape changing, almost to natural and jagged measurements that one might see in an eroded canyon.

Scary as hell, right? Jesus, its a miracle I'm not committed. However, This slightly harrowing set of visions created by my tormented fever-filled brain was reminiscent of last week's lecture on existentialism. A little. Enough to make a segway? God I hope so.

As far as I could tell, Existentialism is the term used for a particular way of life, or rather an ideal, a goal. This is to say, one of complete freedom and passion. Existentialism focuses around the theory that existence precedes essence, a term coined by philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, better explained as "A central proposition of existentialism is that existence precedes essence, which means that the actual life of the individual is what constitutes what could be called his or her "essence" instead of there being a predetermined essence that defines what it is to be a human. Thus, the human being - through his consciousness - creates his own values and determines a meaning to his life." WOAH. Heavy. Doc. Anyway...

However, one side effect of this is angst. You see, when you experience everything at a much higher octane, as it were, you suddenly realise that many of the normal things are quite boring, or the theory that "nothing is holding them back" purely because their way of life permits total and absolute freedom. One of the best ways I can describe this is that when a normal person stands on the lip of a cliff, they fear falling off, but when existentialists stand on the same lip, they fear throwing themselves off. In this way, existentialists do not focus on just the "good" passion, but rather everything at a much higher level.

What I find particularly interesting about existentialism is the arts, literature and music it inspires. A few of the particulars are things that I have digested over a long time, and things that I have just been shown.

Jazz

Admittedly, the title for this is vague. We were introduced in the lecture to a Mr. John Coltrane, whose "inward breathing" was not only a brilliant technique, but allowed him to carry a note for as long as he wanted, meaning that he was able to create a truly unique musical experience, a truly free an existential display of passion. Recently I was listening to the music of Ben Webster, and whilst this linked track is more constructed than some of his other, its still an example. As sort of a subsidiary to this Jazz section, I thought I would talk a little about Scat blues singing, and more specifically, the works of Ella Fitzgerald. Ms. Fitzgerald is heralded as the one of the creators of Scat singing, which seems to be one of the most existential musical art forms, given that you can sing absolutely anything, and still have it be a form of music. Its amazing, and it takes a certain sort of strange mind to achieve.

Here's one more musical thing I happen to enjoy, considering the context I thought it might be fun to put it in. Accordion music, whilst lyrically quite planned out, it seems to be so winged all the time that every time its played its the same, but a little bit different. This freedom (I hope) is a little existential. Maybe. Kinda.

Art

Andy Warhol. Isn't it? That's what we all think when someone says "existentialism in art" right? Whether you agree that a picture of Brillo pads, or a man sleeping is truly "art" or just boredom or not is a moot point. These bold statements of lack of definition are somewhat extraordinary in the sense that he was able to captivate so many people with his talented mind.

Literature

Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot is one of the first things to come to mind, and the second thing to come to mind is "What if Godot had arrived?". However, what I did not realise is that one of my favorite authors; Fyodor Dostoyevsky, was one of the precursors/founders of 20th century existentialism. In this way, it is amazing how deep the veins of existentialism lie, how affected my life might have been without the theories set down by existentialism.

Sports

Don't laugh. I recently watched one of my favorite movies, Field of Dreams. Admittedly its no Sleep but its certainly gives a hint into the existential thinking behind sports. In the film, Kevin Costner impulsively builds a baseball field in the middle of his corn crop for no reason. Then, the ghosts of dead baseball players start playing baseball in his field. Yes. In our lecture we were told about the passion behind sports fan-dom. Whilst this movie is just a small window into this, it shows how something they are passionate about can change their lives, using a very existential theory of true freedom.

It seems that my life has been much like a "create your own adventure" book. Its full of twists and turns, affected by different choices. If I hadn't read Dostoyevsky books, what would I have done? I suppose its choices like these, definitions, that make me so far away from the theories behind existentialism that I couldn't possibly wear a black jumper or a beret without being completely ironic. All I really want is a create your own adventure version of Crime and Punishment.

"Do I want Raskilnikov to go back to the village, or to buy a new horse?"

Perhaps this sickness is making me crazy.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Daisy, Daisy, Me donne votre réponse fait...



Today I witnessed the scariest thing I will probably ever see with my human eyes. Something that will probably scare me for the rest of my life. This is the Obelisk, from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. More specifically, the music in the picture, which is terrifying, harrowing, and beautiful all at the same time. Whether this music was intended to be of any particular orchestral concordance with any existing music, or if it was intended to be of a completely singular nature something that could only be answered by Kubrick himself, but I'd prefer to believe the latter, especially considering the circumstances of the message of the movie, which seems to be that all we are right now is a stepping stone. The particular feeling I got from this message was mostly one of a morbid regret, although there was a good deal of irrational fear in there too. This fear harks back to my point about the seeming safety and peace of minds that comes from religion.

If we think about our ancestors, not the apes, or the Homo Erectus but the Greek and Roman empires, or the people in B.C who were learned enough to have civilizations. I'm not very clued up on history. So anyway, you can see why these particular people would take solace in religion rather than trying to comprehend the vast magnitude of the history of the human race.

However, whilst the fear of the music and comprehension of insignificance is still fresh, the movie throws us a curveball in the form of the HAL 9000. The film really shines here by showing us about three different forms of terror at once, and combining them to make you metaphorically shit your pants with fear. I think I'm going to separate these into different examples so that everybody, even the stupidest of Gods creatures.

The First Kind...

The terror of the H.A.L 9000.

Not just as an unstoppable machine thing, but as the complete conglomerate of all human knowledge. The fact that when all human knowledge is combined, the only logical option is the destruction of the human race is a truly horrible thing, but it is especially bad when a creepy robot saying "I cant let you do that Dave" is enough to give you the willies.

The Second Kind...

Mans battle against space.

The movie sets in early on how un-designed for space humans really are, with ridiculous contraptions made for helping us all to survive the vacuum of space, and with every slightest little thing, even walking, being a gigantic problem, but the best representation of this is the spacewalk. This scene shows the two crew members dave is with die horribly by suffocation, which as horrible as it is, when described as a "necessary action" by a machine that contains human logic is even worse.

The very first scene of space travel shows the most poignant image of this, with the stewardess of a commercial space flight struggling to walk without the aid of special velcro shoes. However, it also shows how humans have adapted, perhaps calling back to the very start of the movie with the Homo-Erectus using tools. When the Homo-Erectus discovered it could use the bone to its advantage, or more specifically, to beat the shit out of things, it discovered technology. The technology is all around them in the spacecraft showing how the technology is becoming insignificant, or rather that we as a race have evolved as far as we can.

The Third Kind...

Overcoming humanity.

The third kind of fear ironically also features HAL. The penultimate scene, where our intrepid hero Dave has to destroy the HAL 9000 computer, for fear that it will kill him is more of a commentary on how we must overcome humanity in order to evolve. Coincidentally, Dave evolves after this into the "Star Child", and not the KISS version. Because that would be weird. The scene juxtaposes HAL's attempt at reasoning with the heavy worried breathing of Dave, showing how truly vulnerable Dave is to the cold, calculating logic of HAL. And also space. When HAL is destroyed, he is de-evolved almost exactly. He first becomes defensive, then frightened, the reasons more, claiming he's "better now". After this comes the song, which HAL sings, with an increasingly lower voice, his tone shifting from the cold monotone educated, to the almost grunt-like Charlie Brown teacher voice. This could perhaps be construed as a representation of true de-evolution in the last throes of HAL's life, with the low-tone grunts being sort of like the grunts of the pre-Homo-Sapien life forms at the start of the movie.

I just got chills...