I sound like a troll. You do too

Feeling good about the world? Are you happy, content and fulfilled? Don’t worry – we’ve got the cure. Simply descend into the comments section on literally anything online, and you’ll soon have all faith in humanity sucked out of you. Comment boards kill 99.9% of wellbeing iotas on first contact. Add comment facilities to your life today, and never worry about self-esteem, confidence or serenity again.

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You know how obnoxious the comments section of an article or YouTube video often gets? People tell each other they know bugger all about the subject matter; they tell the author he or she doesn’t understand what they are talking about; they apply negative labels to one another faster than The Flash breaking in a new pad of Post-It notes.

In other words, people are asses online.

But so am I.

Not on the comments section, and not on social media as such. But I realised the other day, when talking to a group of friends in a messenger app, that I sound like a troll. Not one of those racist, misogynist, homophobic trolls; just one of those ones who sounds nasty and superior all the time. Who is incapable of conveying a thought or making a point without condescending.

And so do all my friends.

It’s a closed group we use to communicate and we’re all very aware of each other’s biases, beliefs and political standings. In fact, we’re all strongly aligned on the same spectrums. And that knowledge, I believe, gives us the confidence to speak more harshly about topics than we would to strangers.

We know, for instance, that we can share studies that prove something we’ve always known and caption the link with something like ‘And today’s award for Saying the Blatantly Obvious goes to this moron…

Thinking back on it now, most people I’ve spoken to for long enough will have expressed an opinion with the same level of sharpness. The kind of opinion that gets thrust out there, covered in barbed wire. Sensitivity is as high up its list of priorities as it would have been for the person who invented the morning star.

And I realised then that the issue with the way we talk to each other online isn’t that we say bad things, but that we assume we’re talking to lots of other people who all agree with us.

Think how viciously we tear apart films, books, actors, bands, restaurants, jam, etc, that we don’t like when talking to people we know will, if not agree, certainly not be surprised by our vitriol. Yet were we to meet the people involved in those things in person, we’d likely moderate our views. We’d offer ‘constructive criticism’.

Well, I would, but then again I’m British. We’re so meek if John Wick had been a Brit in the film he wouldn’t have killed several dozen people to get revenge for the death of his dog* he’d have just written an angry letter. A letter that would have started: ‘I’m sorry to bother you, but by golly this just isn’t on’.

*(It sounds a stupid premise, but give it a go: they make it work)

I suppose, sat alone in our homes, we have only our point of view to go by when evaluating a comment we are about to post. I wonder how differently people would comment online if they had to read their response aloud to a group of strangers before posting.

I bet even just knowing they would have to read it out would make them change what they were writing. Even though the whole point of commenting online is that lots of people see your opinions.

There’s a study in there someone. That would be interesting to find out.

Do you think you sound like a troll online? Troll me in the comments section.

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Introducing the Captain Reasonable Vlog

Great news: you can now watch me. I don’t mean all the time, and certainly not from behind some wheelie bins, or through my office window. But you can now have the next best thing to me telling you my thoughts in person, because I’ve started vlogging.

Fireworks Cropped

I’ve been wanting to vlog for a long time now, but something always got in the way. The videos I’ll be producing and uploading will mostly be the kind of material I would have performed as stand-up comedy were there more opportunities where I live to do so.

Instead, I just have to imagine (or, more accurately, hope) that there is laughter. The supportive kind, that is. Not the kind of laugh you do after you see someone fall over on a skateboard.

Meet Captain Reasonable; the World’s Most Affable Superhero

Captain Reasonable is my vlogging alter ego (my dictation software initially thought I’d said ‘flogging’ – that’d be a very different video series). If you’ve read a few of my posts on here, you’re probably already able to understand the inspiration behind him. I spend a lot of time considering how other people will react to what I say and write, which isn’t really my job. People can make up their own minds without me chipping in.

The Captain Reasonable vlog starts with Episode Two. Why? Well, you’ll just have to watch the video below to find out.

Dear Journal

The other type of video I will be regularly posting will be as part of a series entitled Captain Reasonable’s Journal. These are essentially podcasts, or narrated newspaper columns, with added snazzy visuals. I’m putting together lots of footage and effects, so while they will follow the same format, each one will be just as interesting to look at as it is to listen to.

They are only a couple of minutes long each, so do give them a watch. You can find the first one below.

Never Miss a Video: Subscribe Today

If you enjoy these videos, the best thing to do is subscribe to my YouTube channel. This ensures that you never miss my latest upload. They’ll get shared on my other social platforms as well, including Facebook, Twitter, and of course on here. If you haven’t yet done so, subscribing to this blog lets me know that you’re enjoying this and gives me more motivation to keep going.

And don’t forget to comment and let me know what you think of my videos.

How things change – the place that was

Listen to this blog post using the SoundCloud player below, or read with your eyes underneath. Don’t forget to check out my Christmas advent calendar of jokes by liking my Facebook page.

I’ve given up and accepted the fact that I have to think about everything. Nothing just happens anymore. It goes into my head and gets chopped into tiny pieces and comes out again as a thousand questions, like pasta through a spaghetti cutter. It’s kind of annoying on occasions. I suppose the opposite would be to be totally vacant at all times, and that would be far worse.

What prompted my latest period of introspection was the fact a new Sainsbury’s has been built nearby. I like Sainsbury’s. Mostly because they have an apostrophe in their name. It’s the little things that count.

The location of this new store is in a very narrow field between two main roads, a sort of splinter of green land between the town I live in and the roundabout you need to go to in order to access the A roads which start you on the path of escaping Cornwall. Sainsbury’s new location is about 500 yards from a Tesco in one direction, and 500 yards from a Morrisons (no apostrophe, note) in the other. Penzance is only a small town. We now have more supermarkets than things to do.

Of course the locals complained

Penzance – in fact, Cornwall is general – is one of those places that time forgot. Or rather, the Cornish were offered time, didn’t like the change, and decided to stick with measuring the sun, thank-you-very-much. Anything new happens, the locals are up in arms and a committee is formed to protect the local landscape. As happened with Sainsbury’s. It was destroying the local landscape; spoiling the view.

What existed in that spot before Sainsbury’s was a tiny heliport: a large, rusty metal warehouse where the helicopter slept, and a small white shack that served as the departure lounge.

It’s not so much about Sainsbury’s itself, I don’t think. The locals here just don’t like change. When the local college was revamped, they erected a small Wind Turbine for the science students. Residents of one village claim they can hear it spinning, and they live a mile away. I’ve stood right underneath it, and it would be drowned out by a car driving past.

The shifting nature of a place

A couple of weekends ago, we went to explore the new store. As I said, there’s not much to do down here. It was an event. The local road now has a roundabout in the middle so that middle class people who desperately aspire to shop in Waitrose can buy Jamie Oliver products in orange plastic bags. We pulled up into the car park, with its slick, freshly tarmacked surface and its crisp parking bay lines. I stood in the car park then, faced by the glowing juggernaut of the new store (it was night time; the whole thing was quite beautiful, with its flowing roof, stone walls and wood cladding), and remembered that this used to be a field.

A field in which I had never been, but had driven past probably thousands of times in my life. I knew that field. It was green, full of helicopters and rabbits. It didn’t change at all in the decades during which it sailed by the car window.

But now, it is something completely different. The green grass is hard black car park. The rusty old helicopter hutch has been replaced by a gigantic structure, big neon orange signs everywhere. People who would never have set foot in a mere field now flock to buy croissants and wine and balsamic vinegar and Potpourri.

Which is funny, isn’t it? It’s like looking down at your body to find you’ve got donkey legs. Something so consistent, so unchangeable, has been completely transformed. Perhaps it’s grown up, like everything does? Perhaps that’s what the residents in Cornwall are afraid of? That one day they will wake up and everywhere will be carpark and aisles of fridges full of posh yoghurt.

We went inside and explored the new supermarket. It was very nice. I bought the latest Stereophonics album, which is also nice. I’d never have found that in a field with a helicopter.

And in ten years’ time, it will be hard to believe that there was ever a time when Sainsbury’s wasn’t there. I’d love to have some kind of siren go off in my mind at the exact point where it became pedestrian, so I could appreciate the moment it transitioned from something new, and worthy of considering, to something to take for granted. Something as permanent and unchangeable as a thin field with a spluttering old helicopter in it, and a few surely deafened rabbits.

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Do you have to be aggressive to fight for a cause?

Did you know – you can also listen to this post via Soundcloud below. That’s right, with your ears!

A bus drove past me the other day. (Imagine if that was the end of the story). It had a poster on the side of it that read ‘Some people are gay. Get over it.’ I immediately crossed off ‘Find out if some people are gay’ from my to-do list, replacing it with ‘Get over the fact that some people are gay’.

Now, in reality, I don’t have even the slightest problem with gay, lesbian, or bisexual people. I’m not even one of those ‘Well, as long as they don’t do it in public’/‘Try to brainwash me into becoming one of those homosexuals you read about in the papers’ people. It’s great that some people are gay. It’s great that some people are straight.

Compassion

Love is love, whomever you choose to direct it at. What does it say about us as a species that we actively try and stamp out love, because it’s the ‘wrong’ kind of love?

It is, however, rather a strange feeling to share an ideology with a bus. I’ve never met this bus before. We haven’t even exchanged pleasantries. Yet, fundamentally, we both agree that those people who have a problem with gay people really need to find something more productive to do with their time.

However, I’m not entirely certain what this poster was attempting to achieve.

The message is…um?

As a copywriter, I spend a lot of time thinking about the right way to convey the messages I need to get across. You have to have a pretty good understanding of how people will respond to ideas in order to write something that hits the spot.

Presumably ‘Some people are gay. Get over it’ was written by a copywriter. Considering I haven’t yet written anything to go on the side of a bus, they are a better copywriter than I am. But if you look at what the response to those words is, compared to what it is meant to be, you can see the point I am getting at.

Intention verses actuality

Let’s all pretend to be homophobes for the next bit. No, that’s not a group of people who are afraid of sounding the same. We’re all walking down the street together (maybe we’ve just been out to buy biscuits; it’s a fantasy, go nuts). We’re all angry at ‘the gays’. Look at them, loving each other. Feeling compassion. Knowing the warmth that comes from being connected to another human being on a level beyond description. Wearing sparkly shoes. Grrr, they’re everything that’s wrong with this world.

A bus drives past us, informing us first of all that some people are gay. ‘I bloody knew it’, we tell each other, and we adjust our coats (which were made by children in a developing country), step around the homeless person asking for money, and say ‘These people feeling compassion are just plain wrong’.

But there’s more. Next, the sign has the audacity to tell us we should get over this fact. Get over it? As though being gay is something that does no harm? As though a gay wedding doesn’t end with a plot to steal some children, and as though a gay marriage isn’t made official by the ceremonial sodomisation of a vicar?

Annnnd…back to reality

The point is, if you are the kind of person who hates or fears gay people, this rather aggressive poster isn’t going to do anything productive. It’s going to get you angry, or defensive. When, in the history of ever, has a scene like the one below happened?

BIGOT: ‘Racial abuse at those people of a different race!’

BYSTANDER: ‘You’re being very racist.’

BIGOT: ‘Good grief, I am, aren’t I? What appalling behaviour. I shall apologise to those people then go home and mend my ways’.

As far as I can see, the whole point of the sign was to annoy homophobes. Which isn’t going to help. You can’t win someone over if they are angry, and feel backed into a corner. You have to draw people out from their prejudices.

Perhaps we should all love for a cause

Imagine how differently things would have turned out in York if those wonderful people at the mosque had, instead of greeting EDL protestors with tea, biscuits, and football, gone out and beat the crap out of them all? It would have proved, in the eyes of the detractors, that everything the EDL claimed about Muslims was correct.

You can’t bully someone out of their beliefs, for two reasons. One, because it doesn’t work. Two, because you aren’t really enlightening them, or teaching them anything new, you are simply plastering a new set of doctrines over their old ones. They may go through the motions, but are they truly accepting, or is a deeper, more subconscious resentment growing?

Being aggressive with bigots might make us feel better, but it doesn’t do anything productive. Look at feminism. If you go around accusing people of sexism all the time and flinging around the term misogyny, you get labelled as a ‘man hater’ or an ‘angry woman’. It’s by taking the time to explain to people, compassionately and respectfully, why what they are doing or what they believe is wrong, that your messages will get through, rather than being dashed against the barriers they throw up as soon as they feel threatened.

Which is why, while I respect the sentiment behind the poster, and agree with the aim it is trying to achieve, I think it will probably do more harm than good.

If I had a bus to write on, I’d have gone for something like this:

Note: I’ve imposed upon myself a limit of 7 words and no images – the same as the bus-side banner.

Kiss of life from a gay paramedic?

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Bartender refuses to serve pregnant woman wine to keep conscience clean

Here’s an interesting one. I’ve just read a story on the Daily Mail website (believe me, I only went near it because of the story) about a pregnant woman who was refused alcohol in a bar. She wanted to order a 125ml glass of red wine – which, according to the NHS, is a safe amount for a pregnant woman to drink once a week – at which point the bartender, a man in his early twenties, told her he would not serve her, because he didn’t want it on his conscience.

The woman feels angry and humiliated, the bar is now apologising, The Mail is reporting the story. Meanwhile I’m not entirely sure what to think.

Respect a pregnant woman’s right

We all should be the ones in control of our own bodies, unless we start doing something stupid with them, like using a kidney to replace the tennis balls on our broken swing-ball sets. Pregnant women should be in charge of the decisions they make regarding their bodies. When it comes to pregnancy, women are the authority.

So I respect Jane Hampson’s right to choose what she eats and drinks, and what she does, while pregnant. I’d be annoyed if someone in a music shop refused to sell me some drumsticks because my arms sometimes hurt after all the typing I do, and drumming might make that worse. I also understand why she is angry; she feels the bartender made a judgement about her, and assumed she was abusing her body and her baby. Women have to give up a lot when pregnant, so having some man assume he knows more than her is probably more than a little offensive.

On the other hand…

I’ll admit that my first reaction, however, was ‘That’s a nice bartender’. It’s not really about Hampson as a person, but pregnancy as a whole. As a general rule, most of us know not to drink while we’re pregnant (drinking while your partner is pregnant is probably fine, if a little unfair, like nurses playing hopscotch in an amputee ward). We don’t really know how much we could drink while pregnant unless we need to (as a non-drinking ((I hate the word teetotal; it sounds too high and mighty)) man, I think I’m in the clear on this one), and I think the NHS is happy for us to all assume pregnant women shouldn’t drink at all. It’s like how it’s probably OK to hit yourself gently with a brick, but it’s easier to say that all hitting yourself with a brick is bad (for god’s sake, don’t go and hit yourself with a brick).

However, what does this actually boil down to? The core of this issue isn’t about being judgemental, discrimination, or company policy. It’s about a man caring for an unborn child. If Hampson had been abusing alcohol, and the bartender had a role in that, which in turn damaged the baby, he would feel incredibly guilty. It was that scenario he wanted to avoid. Is that such a bad thing?

It’s everyone’s baby

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear; a child is not just the responsibility of their parents. Every child born into this world is the responsibility of each of us. It’s why we don’t (or at least, shouldn’t) continue swearing if a parent with young children is sat within ear shot. It’s why we make it hard for children to access things that might upset them, like violent television programmes and themes they’re not old enough to handle. The rest of us have to wait until later, because otherwise they might see them.

If we see a child doing something dangerous, we intervene. We don’t watch them getting seriously hurt whilst thinking, ‘Well, that child has irresponsible parents’. Wouldn’t we be aghast if we saw a heavily pregnant woman puffing on a cigarette?

So is it really that surprising that the bartender felt some responsibility for this unborn child? He had no reason to. He could have just thought ‘Why should I care?’ I can’t help but see this as an intrinsically good gesture, not a negative one. Strangely, when the company released an apologetic statement, they tried to distance themselves from this particular bartender’s actions, saying ‘’I would like to state that we have no company policy on the serving or not serving of alcohol to pregnant people. Why would we? It’s none of our business’. I find this rather an odd assertion to make as a way of clearing up your public image.

Sympathy where sympathy is due

I do feel sorry for Hampson. She was humiliated in front of a bar full of people. She was treated as though she was an irresponsible mother-to-be, she became the centre of attention, and the others in the bar probably thought she was refused service because she was demonstrably drunk, or causing trouble.

At the end of the day, I can see both points of view. The mother who is doing everything she can to protect her child, and the man who wants to keep his conscience clean. Ultimately, whoever is in the right here, I can’t bring myself to believe that someone overstepping the mark slightly to care about your unborn child is something that any expectant mother should really take offense to.

So who was in the wrong here – Hampson, or the bartender? Is there actually a ‘wrong’? How far should others go to keep a woman’s unborn child safe and healthy? Comment, or let me know on Facebook.

Guest Post by Sonney Stelling: Why I Write

Having read Rewan’s previous blog about why he plays video games, I had decided I would write my own post detailing my reasons for playing. However as the slightly observant of you may have noticed from the title it kind of evolved into something else.

Thinking about why I play games, the main reason I came up with is escapism. Life as a whole is pretty boring. Most days I get up, go to work, work all day, come home, sit around for a few hours before going to bed in preparation for the next day of going to work. This cycle is basically the same for everyone in modern society. But if I spend those few spare hours playing video games, then suddenly instead of simply sitting around waiting for work to start again I am; (just using my last few games I played as examples) either a Spartan warrior trying to get revenge against Olympus or a master thief travelling through time to save his ancestors or a master assassin trying to liberate a country or a soldier saving the universe from an ancient alien race. Obviously these are all things I could never do in real life but in videogame form I can. It is this reason why I never really got the appeal of the Sims series.

I then realized that this escapism also exists when watching movies or reading books, or indeed writing stories. However the interactivity is what makes games and books far more immersive than films. I say books are interactive because when you read I believe you do interact with them, clearly not in the same way that you do with videogames, but when you read, you are using your imagination to bring the words on the page to life. You are using the writer’s words to conjure up a world with your mind, and that is quite an immersive and definitely an interactive experience.

Now writing stories does one other thing for me that reading or playing games cannot do; it is therapeutic. This is a conclusion I came to when I thought about why it is I listen to music (as you can see, this post became quite a long winded thought process). The reason I listen to music itself is mainly because walking in silence is boring, so perhaps a better question is why I listen to the type of music I listen to? I mainly listen to rock music in particular punk.

The reason I started listening to that genre is that in the lyrics I tend to find solace, I relate to the artist as if they are writing songs about my life. This ability to relate to a song is obviously not exclusive to that genre of music, in fact a lot of popular music is highly relatable due to its tendency to lean towards vague lyrics that allow almost anyone to relate to it if they want to. The genre of rock music is something I can relate to a lot, whenever I feel angry or confused about the way the world is being run, I find comfort in the fury of bands such as Rise Against or Funeral for a Friend. Whenever I feel at a low ebb in my life I tend to find hope in the words of Death Cab for Cutie or Brand New or Biffy Clyro. Music is what helps me get through those times; it is a kind of therapy.

Going back to writing, I feel the same way about writing that I do about music (possible explanation for why I cannot write without also listening to music). There is a popular theory that all characters are merely a part of the writer, I guess that stems from the ‘write what you know’ ideology. Well I disagree with that slightly, most main characters I create have personality traits that I do not as a starting point. Like they are me but as a negative, I write about what I am not. I am creating the person I want to be in my head or less simplistically, I am creating somebody that either has or has not got the particular trait I dislike in me or wish I had at the time. From there I tend to create the world they live and the story they most go through, all other characters are thought up after the main story and exist as part of that story.

The process of creating a character and taking them on an adventure (usually in my case in a world totally different to ours) is complete escapism and has the same enjoyment as playing a videogame or reading a book. The process of almost remaking myself (or at least a part of myself) is what makes the writing process something else. Something cathartic and soothing, that’s why I see writing as a form of therapy and I would completely encourage people to try it next time they are feeling not at their best.

Getting slightly personal for a bit, those that know me well enough, will know that I can get pretty down sometimes, and that sometimes I suffer from a form of depression and tend to be both angry and sad at the world around me. I have recently been experiencing this feeling again, although I am not saying the two are totally linked, but it coincides with the longest period of me not writing in a while. Even just writing this piece helps me feel better, so that’s why I write, that’s why I feel writing is therapeutic.

Why a fantasy writer and a drummer are the same thing

Words and numbers. They’re both very different (try paying for your next coffee with alphabet fridge magnets). They have rules and constraints that only apply to them (for instance, can you think of a naughty number? Oh, actually, one, but no one would bother to censor it by putting a * in place of one of the digits…). Image that; ‘swear’numbers. ‘That 47ing bus driver saw me at the stop and just drove right past me. What a 4.’

Anyway, the point is, words and numbers are different (thank you, captain obvious). What’s that got to do with fantasy writing or drumming? Well, music is very mathematical. Some study by wizards or something has shown that people who are good at music often have very strong maths skills. Hence, numbers. Music is all about fractions, after all.

One of the remarkable capabilities of the human brain is to draw meaning from the most insignificant of details. Such as ‘OMG, you’re wearing the same jumper as me! How random is that! You’d think they manufactured them en masse in a factory somewhere and sold them at hundreds of retail outlets across the country or something!’ And it was while jamming to something or another on my trusty Alesis DM5 Pro (I’m not quite sure what makes it a ‘pro’ electronic drum kit) that I made an interesting connection between two of my hobbies.

You see, as the title so rather suggests, whether I’m drumming or writing fantasy, in many ways, nothing changes. Here’s why.

Virtually ignored

Now, obviously with such successful writers as Terry Pratchett, George R. R. Martin, Trudi Canavan (‘What about Stephanie Meyer?’ 9 off…), fantasy clearly isn’t ignored as a genre. Not by the people who buy and read it, anyway. It’s very hard to read a book if you are ignoring it. And there are plenty of drummers out there, makers of drum kits, and bands with drummers, so as musicians they’re not ignored either.

Except that they are. As are fantasy writers. For different reasons, of course, but they are.

Fantasy writers are overlooked in that the idea of fantasy novels for adults is viewed by many as an oxymoron. Fantasy and adults are viewed as two incompatible things, like beef and milkshake, or a triple AAA international credit rating and a Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer. I’ve found several literary agent submission guidelines that include phrases such as ‘We do not represent children’s books, so please do not send us fantasy’. But suggesting fantasy is only for children is like suggesting that arms are only for women.

Drumming is ignored in that nobody really notices a drummer. They make a lot of noise, so you’d think they’d be hard to ignore, but actually, they are easy to overlook. They sit at the back, hidden behind lots of cymbals, whilst guitarists, singers and even bassists jump around a lot in front of them. Paying attention to a drummer is kind of like watching the extras in the background of a scene from television or film.

Looked down upon

Fantasy and drumming both have a lack of standing amongst their peers. Drumming is considered just above the triangle when it comes to musical instruments. I often find it odd that people disregard drums because they involve hitting things (how primitive), yet the piano is arguably the King/Queen of instruments. Look inside a piano next time you see one. It’s full of hammers.

Fantasy is regarded as one of the ‘silly’ genres. Perhaps slightly better than Chick Lit, but only if it’s aimed at kids. Fantasy writers themselves are often the people who are responsible for the genre having such a bad name, because a majority of the books out there are still clichéd Tolkien wannabes. Fantasy, like any story, has the potential to say things that are meaningful. A story can be powerful, deep, philosophical, and ground-breaking no matter whether it’s set in a Victorian brothel, a modern day art gallery, or an elven castle.

Similarly, there are some fantastic drummers out there, who get buried underneath all the typical, so-easy-you-can-play-it-whilst-asleep, beats of music in the charts (see my top 5 drummers). It takes skill, precision and practice to become a great drummer, just like it does any other instrument. Drums play a valuable role in modern music, but guitars are probably more interesting. They’re certainly easier to turn down if you’re worried about waking the neighbours.

What can you do?

Well, I guess that’s just the drummer or fantasy writer’s lot in life. There are only two things you can do:

  1. Accept it
  2. Take what you know and do something special with it

Whether drumming or writing, the people who do it the best are those who take the customs and constraints of the skill and stick to them whilst still creating something unique. Not everything has to be about thinking outside of the box; there’s a lot you can do inside the box, it just requires creative thinking.

Just because other people don’t value what you do doesn’t mean you can’t show them its worth. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to write a jam, or drum a story. Or something.


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Writing as a man feminist; when no means no

I have spent a lot of time on the protagonist of Politics in Blood (which someday will get published and y’all be able to read it). I wanted Fray to be a ‘strong’ female character (check out this post by Danielle Shipley about ‘strong’ female characters, and then follow my quote back to my post which explains why I keep using inverted commas when I write ‘strong’ female characters). I wanted her to be a woman that women could ‘get’, understand and identify with (in as much as you can identify with a master criminal). I wanted her to be a character that women could read and not be embarrassed by.

In order to do that, I spent a lot of time reading feminist blogs and columns. I wanted to know what kind of things made female characters ‘weak’ or stereotypical. Luckily, pretty much everything I found, Fray wasn’t guilty of. Every now and then I’d find something I hadn’t thought of.

Turning points

But actually, there was one moment when I realised something very important. Which is that, just because I’m a man, doesn’t mean I can’t disagree with something feminism asserts.

The example in question was a really simple choice. I was going back over my first chapter and decided that I ought to describe Fray a bit more. In thinking about the clothes she was wearing, I hit upon an interesting conundrum. Trousers or skirt? After I’d decided what I’d be wearing (joke), I returned to Fray’s wardrobe.

I spent a little time on Google looking over results and reading some feminist thoughts on the subject. I found out two things:

  1. Trousers are evil (and so are men).
  2. Skirts are evil (and so are men).

As Danielle Shipley so rightly points out in her latest post, you can’t please everyone. Some people thought women wearing trousers was a sign of male oppression, as wearing trousers is a ‘man thing’ so women wearing trousers are ‘trying to be men’. But the other side of the coin was people arguing that skirts are a sign of male oppression because they’re a garment just for women, etc etc.

Deciding to say no

I realised after a while that I was spending far too much time thinking about it. It’s a stupid issue. Women can wear what they want, as can fictional women. It doesn’t matter; skirts and trousers aren’t evil, or good. They’re just things that people put on, like hats, or a pantomime horse costume. There doesn’t have to be inherent sexist overtones in a piece of material.

It was an important decision to make, because up until that point, I think I’d operated in the same way a lot of men clued up about feminism do, in that they tread very carefully because we’re obviously guilty of everything. Look at us, with our man faces. Oh, the hate that pours off you. What, you have facial hair? You oppressive bastard; I feel so oppressed right now.

But after reading certain pieces of feminism by people who believe that the world would be a better place if all the men were dead, or kept in zoos, and that mothers should kill their children in order to escape gender roles, and that sex with a man is always rape, I realised that feminism, like religion, capitalism and democracy, is great as a concept, but as soon as you give that concept to humans, they don’t half screw it up.

You can’t please everyone

There is no way I’m ever going to write a woman who everyone thinks is a ‘strong’ character. There’ll always be someone who will accuse me of sexism, and of taking breaks in between writing in order to stab women and then laugh about it. One woman’s idea of equality is to be able to choose to look after her children, not be forced to; whereas another’s is that she has a career while her husband is forced to stay at home. There are people who want true equality, and people who just want to flip things around so that women can have thousands of years oppressing men in order to even things up.

I realised some very important things on that day, just from pondering a simple costume choice for my main character.

I realised that feminism, like everything, isn’t one idea (even jam). There are different factions within the belief (as there are in…jam). Some of them want a better world for everyone, and the start of that is equality in the sexes (these, I like to think, are the true feminists ((or jamists – ‘what do we want? Equality for all jams! When do we want it? Whenever there’s toast, please’)), so just hate men and feminism gives them a handy cover to say whatever they want and get away with misandry, and others think men are the cause of all evil in the world and that no woman has ever done a thing wrong.

What happens when you disagree with your beliefs?

It opened up a very large moral conundrum, however. I’d openly acknowledged to myself that it was possible to disagree with feminism, whilst still believing, and wanting to uphold, its main principles. But half the problem in this world is that there are those who disagree with feminism full stop (or period, for you Americans). How do you be a man who supports gender equality, yet still disagrees with certain parts of feminism?

In the same way, I imagine, as gay Catholics do. You look at what you believe, and then you realise which bits have been twisted and distorted by people. I don’t believe in God, but I think religion is a wonderful thing. It gives hope, joy and morality to people all across the world. At its core, every religion teaches tolerance, understanding, charity and acceptance. How people have managed to take those core messages and extract homophobia, racism, sexism and general badassery out of them is another issue entirely. It’s like turning gold into lead. (Or something worse, but I haven’t quite decided which swear words I want to appear on this blog.)

What it’s all about

Feminism, at its core, wants equality for everyone. True feminists (I believe) are as worried about the gender stereotypes and expectations that are placed upon men, as they are all the societal constraints that women have to suffer with. Being a man and believing in feminism is not a case of hating oneself or one’s gender; it’s about wanting to make a better world.

So, while I’ll uphold feminism, and will continue to write about it, and try and do my little part to make this world a better place, I also know that it’s OK to stand up and say, ‘You know, I don’t agree with that’.

That women are abused and treated as second class citizens are massive issues that need to be dealt with. But as to whether they want to wear a skirt or some trousers, well; let’s just say I won’t be picketing any branches of Topshop any time soon.


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The content of this post (including images) and the word Hyperteller are copyright © Rewan Tremethick 2013

Why do I play videogames?

Videogames involve killing imaginary people. Why do I find that enjoyable?

I tend to be quite self-reflexive, and often find myself exploring my views, opinions and motivations. I think it’s a good thing for everyone to do, as it helps us come to terms with who we are as people. Understanding how we work is the first step in accepting the way in which we work; which can’t be a bad thing in a society where so many people are forced to keep who they really are a secret (whether because of their religion, lack of, sexuality, etc) because others can’t accept them.

Because of the recent tragedies in America, and the usual pointless debate that follows regarding the impact of videogames (i.e. that five minutes of Halo is enough to make anyone go out and start killing), I wanted to examine my own views towards the hobby. I didn’t want to just shrug off those arguments and continue gaming, no matter how ridiculous I think they are. The whole debate has raised some interesting questions in me, such as just why do I find killing imaginary people enjoyable?

Survival

I think it’s all down to the fact that, when you look at us objectively, we’re all still animals. As humans we get very uncomfortable with the more animalistic sides of our nature. You can see this in society’s attitude towards sex. Whether it’s a fear of our own sexuality, or someone else’s (homophobia, for example), as humans we struggle with the fact that we are intellectual beings with concepts and philosophies and music and art, yet at the end of the day there are still certain things we do because the ‘base’ parts of our brains still run like animals.

I believe we play videogames for the same reasons we watch films (any films) and read stories (any stories). It’s because, for most of us (i.e. the people privileged enough to count not being able to afford another controller for our PS3 as one of the biggest problems in our life), don’t have to struggle to survive.

Many people are in financially tricky situations, but for those of us with the time to consume media and literature and videogames, our lives are in no immediate danger. If we don’t wash the dishes, a tiger isn’t going to eat our young. If we’re too ill to go to work one day, dinosaurs won’t feed on our flesh. Life is pretty secure, and even if things go wrong, we have doctors and hospitals and medicine and welfare and charities. There is a massive safety net set up to catch the people who, without it yes, may be able to consider their lives to be a struggle to survive.

Life or death by proxy

What stories, films and videogames do is give us that chance to survive. I think the need to fight for our right to be is an important thing that drives a lot of people. Whether it’s a writer seeking validation from the mass market, a child desperate for their parent’s approval and praise, or the sinner who needs their god to forgive them, we all need to justify our existence. And, as with so many other parts and functions of our brain (such as laughter), we have re-tasked them as we have evolved to better fit with the state of our lives and the societies around us. For most of us, there is no need to defend our families with a spear. Most of us go to bed knowing that tomorrow we’ll wake up and there will still be food in the cupboards, that the house will be warm and protect us from the elements, and that we won’t be under siege by hungry panthers.

But we still have that strong need – desire even – to justify our own existence. We need some parts of our brain to operate as though they aren’t sure what will happen in the next minute, or whether we’ll make it through the day alive. Literature, films and television give us the chance to do this by proxy. We become involved in someone else’s struggle to survive, whether that means finding the man/woman of their dreams, or stopping bad guys from blowing up the dolphin sanctuary. We become embroiled in those conflicts because they serve as an outlet for our own need to survive; fight scenes, chase sequences, scenes wrought with romantic tension, or dramatic rows or deaths, all get our pulses races, the adrenaline pounding and our breathing going.

Videogames take this one step further. You’re still involved in someone else’s plight; you are not directly at risk. But this time, their every action is controlled by you. Your skill, your wits, your reactions, are all put to the test, and should you fail, you ‘die’. It’s a cathartic release of our desperate desire to have to fight for what we have. Whether it’s killing aliens or racing cars, videogames give us the chance to have to excel, to beat the competition, and beating the competition used to mean you would be the one who survived. It’s one of the reasons The Hunger Games has been so successful; it’s about a load of people who have to survive.

Romanticising our basic needs

Videogames are no different to many of the other ways in which we serve our survival instincts. We need to eat, but we don’t need to enjoy it. Cookery isn’t about our need to survive, but it is taking that need and embellishing it to make something that the modern human can enjoy. Look at our houses. All they need to do is keep us warm so we don’t die of hypothermia and be solid so that predators can’t get in. But we fill them with ornaments and furniture, we paint the walls, we choose things that appeal to us. We take the basic need to survive and turn it into something enjoyable and agreeable for us, therefore making it something more than that.

That’s what videogames do. They take that desire to succeed, to survive, to beat nature and earn the right to the life we have been given, and make it fun.

If I was to decide that the killing of fictional people was wrong, I would have to stop not only playing videogames, but also reading the kinds of books that I like and watching the kind of films that I like. But I believe that killing a fictional person isn’t to do with death at all; it’s to do with survival. Killing an enemy in a videogame is about that need to win in order to survive.

It’s nothing to do with inflicting harm on another individual (although of course there are games in which this is the point, and I think all gamers do, at some points, get a little aggressive and involved in this), it’s to do with the fact that those pixels were trying to kill us, and we have a strong desire to stay alive. That’s why in games things get more difficult as they go along. They are testing your commitment to staying alive. More difficult games/levels wouldn’t add or detract from the enjoyment of killing virtual people. But more difficult games do make it harder to survive, making you want to fight harder to preserve your virtual life.

Videogames are cathartic. Whether blowing up government troops with a missile launcher in Just Cause 2, or desperately trying to find a way out of a burning building as it collapses around you in Uncharted 3, videogames make you take hold of the moment and use your wits to come out on top. They immerse you into a world in which nothing is certain, in which the comfort of your armchair means nothing, and they test how much you really want to live.

For a species that is desperately trying to subdue the fact that they are animals, videogames serve a vital purpose in letting us be animals in a controlled way.


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The content of this post and the word Hyperteller are copyright © Rewan Tremethick 2013

People Who Drink Lime Juice Are All Assassins (Why I don’t like character sheets)

imageThere are lots of different approaches to writing a novel, I gather. There are those who plan and plan and plan (Iain M. Banks spends more time planning than he does writing), others (like myself) just think ‘Sod it, I’ll see what happens’, and others blow up a factory of alphabetical fridge magnets and then copy down what ever lands on the ground from left to right.

For those who like their planning, you may be aware of character sheets. These are generally questionnaires and you fill them out as your character would. These, in my opinion, are rubbish.

All People Who Drink Lime Juice Are Assassins

We know this not to be true, I’m sure. If I met someone and they told me they drink lime juice, I wouldn’t duck and roll, push over the nearest table and reach for my Uzi. What’s this got to do with character sheets?

I understand that writing down a few details about your character can be a good idea, but the kind of character sheets I’m talking about in this post are the ones that go way further than that. The kind that get you to list your character’s top three favourite foods.

Since when does eating Ham and Pineapple pizza give away loads of character information?  Unless when they order it they say ‘And I don’t want it delivered by a man, because I think they’re all scum because of relationship which ended badly, the emotional scars from which still affect me to this day.’ I’ve been in Domino’s. People don’t order pizza like that.

What’s In Their Pockets?

This was a question we always got asked at university. What’s in your character’s pockets? I dunno – their half-finished autobiography, listing in detail all the reasons they’re looking for a father figure? A map to treasure? Some Nazi gold from their dark, Nazi past?

Again, it seems like the answer will almost always be simply; phone, keys, wallet, occasional sweet-wrapper. ‘But the absence of a sweet wrapper hints at their life changing diabetes’, someone might cry out, but they won’t, because it’s utter rubbish.

And if there is something of importance in their pockets, that is vital to the story, you will already know what it is, because it’s bloody important. ‘Oh my god, he can get out of this situation by using the sweet wrapper! Thank Christ I filled in that character sheet!’

How Do They Grow?

I think it can also negatively affect character development. We learn to know and love characters in novels in the same way as we do people in real life. We learn about them gradually, new facets of their personality uncovering as we grow closer emotionally or, in the case of love, or being stuck on the roof of a sinking car, physically.

So writing your characters from the start knowing everything about them could be dangerous, because you have all this information you know about them that you want to put across, despite it being unnecessary. As I said in 6 Reasons Why You Need Proof Readers (which perhaps should have been titled Six Raisins You Nead Proph Riddlers…), you will always know way more information than the reader.

Knowing all of it in advance might lead you into the dangerous territory of infodump. They don’t need to know what’s in the character’s pockets, unless it’s the severed head of their uncle, for instance.

They Can Work

Of course, I’m sure they work for some people. I even think that the bare essential details might be quite handy if recorded on a character sheet for easy reference. But when you get down to their favourite ice cream, the actual address of their school, what their allergies are, and whether or not they had a pet when they were young, how much is that actually going to add to your story?

Unless, of course, you’re writing the story of an ice-cream van driver, who teaches an afterschool pet-care workshop at his old secondary school, which he moved to because his first school was too close to an almond factory…

Do character sheets work for you? Or are you a sod it and go type of person? Has listing a character’s favourite pizza in advance actually helped you when you’re writing? I’d love your thoughts.

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