Sunday, 29 March 2009

Big news on their way.

Have not been ignoring the blog, fellas. Quite to the contrary. I've been preparing because something is about to happen here. Regular posts are not what I should be thinking about right now, but I'll get back to them soon enough.

Major news on their way. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Rethinking 007 (and again irritating female academics)

Here is a post I've been wanting to write for a while.

Let's talk James Bond. I've never been a fan of the man. He's always been as sappy as a British gay waiter, and he has that bloody side-looking smile seeming to suggest 'I am so much better than you at rolling a yo-yo' which drives me wild (firstly: I do not give a fuck about how well you can play with a yo-yo. Secondly: even if I did, would I actually make competitions out of it and put it in film?).

However, a couple of years ago I walked out of a Casino Royale showing feeling distinctly impressed. Shortly thereafter, I was joining the scholars on the internet discussions (read: negotiating with the retards) to claim that Casino Royale was in fact the best Bond movie ever.

I've said this so often now that I'd like to spend some space to explain why. Often when people defend the claim of 'Best Bond movie ever' (which admittedly is as significant to me as 'best Miss Marple episode ever' considering how much of a fan I am) they do so on account of the great action, increased realism and greater sobriety. I don't subscribe to these notions. 'Quantum of Solace' has pretty much all the same stuff and is still as flat as a pizza (leaving aside pizzas from New York and thereabouts, which are something like the chain of the Himalayas and you could probably use them to take down helicopters). (Also, 'Quantum of Solace' is the goofiest title since 'Moonraker'. That's the kind of expression I'd expect to find in an undergraduate essay trying to copy Derrida).

Look! The turtles are having a bit of Quantum of Solace.

Personally, I think Casino Royale really hits home and becomes memorable because of its depth. Even though on the surface it just looks like an espionage movie, there are some really creamy themes in there which reverberate through the movie and give real meaning to the action.

(This is, in fact, what people who claim to like the movie 'just because of the action' seem not to get. The quality of the action in a movie is directly proportional to the meaning that underlies it. The sophistication of the choreography and the quantity of the punches is really quite secondary. When you look at the first fight between Neo and the agent, it is far more exciting than when they meet again in the sequel because their fight becomes a metaphor for each character's assumption of his identity. Neo is affirming his being Neo (rather than Mr. Anderson) by means of his punches, while Smith is affirming his authority as agent by means of his own, and their conflict encapsulates the wider conflict of humanity versus machines or free will versus determinism that is at the heart of the rest of the film. The emotion that results from this action is called pathos, and it is the measure of quality in all action movies. In the sequel, when there's a million Agent Smith's, the choreography is in fact more elaborate than in the first movie and the fight lasts longer; yet it's as bland as a day-old cheese-grilled sandwich because those punches SAY nothing).

Going back to Casino Royale, then, what is the film actually saying that the other Bond films not only never said, but never even stooped to consider?

Let's start from one of the core differences - the representation of women and Bond's relationship with them. Usual Bond movies tended to have women as one of two kinds: 1.) Shag-dolls whose main role was that of affirming the secret agent's virility (and heterosexuality) by helplessly falling in love with his unsurpassed abilities at fighting and fucking (the two skills which define the guy's masculine identity - to excel at these two things is what makes one a 'man'). 2.) Female alter-egos of Bond, that is to say, female secret agents from other countries, assassins, soldier-operatives, WHATEVA. In this case the films are trying to make a concession to the female sex ('see? Girls can fight too!') but it ends up being a misappropriation anyway - it assumes that girls are not inferior to men because they are capable of mimicking (the) man, not because of qualities inherent to them in their own right.

Casino Royale, by contrast, seems to divide its female characters into flashy, glamorous dolls of the kind we were used to find in the previous James Bond movies (among others), and intelligent, classically beautiful women.

(Admittedly 'classically beautiful' is a bit of an arbitrary statement, since the fact that they are pretty even with toned-down make-up, hairstyle and clothes does not make them 'classical.' I think the prejudice may just result from the fact that I consider the female protagonist in Casino Royale to be as hot as molten lead).


...versus this.

What is interesting is how this dichotomy seems to correspond almost perfectly to the usual dichotomy of good and evil. Flashy dolls are situated on the evil side, and Bond displays a truly striking indifference towards them, while he falls in love (and out of his ego) with the good / intelligent one. One can even read a quasi-feminist message in the fate that is reserved to the first doll, the French woman – she ends up maimed and killed in a situation where she is completely out of control, and previous to that leads a life which she defines as unhappy (a statement which we can trace back to her being a doll). It is a harsh statement to women who think it 'wouldn't be that bad' to be a doll and be seduced by Bond (or a masculine equivalent). If you think that submitting oneself to seduction is a natural role to hold, then just look at where that leads you.

The doll / intelligent woman division is in line with the film’s general tendency to comment (critically) back on itself – see the reference to over-complexified tortures or the alteration of classic lines ('shaken or stirred?' 'Do I look like I give a damn?'). At the heart of this tendency is the foregrounding of gender issues - Vesper has a style which Bond defines as 'androgynous,' and her last compliment to him is that 'even if all that were left of you were your little finger, you would still be more of a man than anyone I have ever met before.' Their constant interplay within each other is foregrounded in terms of gender - she contests and attacks precisely his status / value as a masculine fantasy, the expression of which was the whole point of the other Bond films. Such a contest, or such a critique, invests a new meaning on other features of the film which otherwise seem perfectly in line with the notion of the male fantasy - for instance, Bond's physique, which loses its state as the part we 'take for granted' in a real man, and instead goes to underline the necessity of stepping out of normality in order to achieve one’s aim (or even merely professionalism). It is an expression not of fantasy but of natural truth (especially as it is implicit in the pursuit of our desires and ideals).

It is also a merit of the film that the female protagonist doesn't suffer from an inferiority complex towards Bond: she is “good” (morally and at what she does) in very different ways from him, and the film suggests that her not being a killing machine doesn’t make her in any way inferior to Bond (if anything, more humane at times).

Even as the film foregrounds questions of genre, it closes with a strikingly bleak statement on the possibilities of communication between the two genders. The semi-Utopian, topical happy ending that the film initially lulls us towards seems the resolution of the conflict between James and Vesper - the two have reconciled their differences and are now living happily together ever after. But the revelation that this was a false truth reveals that message as a fiction. The final part of the film has Bond rushing to save his girl - a typical 'knight in shining armour' scenario. But not only does he fail to save her, she does not want to be saved. The film refuses that fiction. This refusal is a direct implication of the statement which is made by that beautiful, poignant final scene - for me the most memorable scene in the whole James Bond filmography: Bond is trying to reach Vesper in an underwater setting, where language is impossible, under the slow movements and diffused illumination of a fairy tale, in a silent scenario where the mutism of the two specific characters becomes a metaphor for the condition of the two sexes - that is to say, both incapable of speaking a single word, for all their desire, their frustration and their resolve. Bond's and Vesper's incapacity to speak to each other is symbolic for the impossibility of communication between the two genders. Ultimately, the old-style knights are not enough to break through the barrier of man and woman, and through the wall of cold water and the iron bars the most that we can hope for is a fleeting, speechless kiss - a kiss which, alas, does not represent dialogue. It is given by Vesper as a disillusioned blessing, as Beethoven's 'it must be so,' as a statement of love despite and beyond the (linguistic) bars which divide the two lovers. It is condonement, but it is not innocence.

When Bond finally breaks through the barrier and reaches through the elevator, Vesper is dead. The fictional feat has been useless, and the (tonally) driest decease by drowning in the history of cinema comes in a form which unsentimentally acknowledges death as the end of dialogue.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Does wine get you laid? Part II

The thing about these student parties is that you don't really know where the hell to go. You're parked in a room until the conversation is exhausted, then you either stand there like some ostrich having lost his bearings thinking of how dumb you must appear by sitting there and staring at the lamp, or you're supposed to move to another room. The second possibility is clearly more enticing, but it comes with the irrepressible interrogative as to what the hell you're doing it for. All you'll find in the next room is other people having other conversations. Some of these people in turn are moving to the room you originated from because they have nothing else to say in the current one, so the whole milieu looks like the traffic between two groups of people crossing each other because they need to exchange positions from a jacuzzi to a sauna.

For my own part, I spent the first hour and a half of my inauguratory student party sunk in a couch next to an African drum or something very much like it. Every single time some guy walked by it, the pillock in question couldn't resist the urge to sit down and start banging his palms on it, because of course we all love listening to drunks pretending that they know how to play the bongos. The party is swiftly warming up and a rather fit girl decides to enter the competition as to who can tear down the house's walls fastest by means of a drum, so I sit there a little longer complimenting her on her skills with the instrument.

When I stand up, I am feeling really very drunkish. It is a rather novel situation for me, so I celebrate it by dancing around with this guy called Ben, a senior student who has already downed a caraff and a half of student wine and is well-headed for whichever dark hole it is where the mind of drunkards goes. The Finnish guy comes down from the stairs and he can think of nothing better to do than to offer me half a glass of Amaretto, which completes my deconstruction for good. Soon I am walking around swinging my glass like an idiot and staining everything within reach. When they take that away from me, I start doing the same thing with a candle, and I end up getting wax on my socks - something which is a source of much bewilderment for me in the pause-without-memory of the next morning. At a certain point someone asks me 'Are you drunk?' and for some reason the question is a source of such hilarity for me that I start laughing like a herd of hyenas and it becomes impossible to stop me.

I am prey to such hysterical fits that I think it apt to get out of that place for at least a minute. I walk out of that room and lean on a door close-by. Unfortunately it turns out to be one of those door-knobs which turn by pressing on them, so when my hand touches it the door swings open and I fall inside rolling. I sit up in a pretty dark room, the coat depository or something along those lines, and notice that my thumb hurts like hell. I seem to have crushed my fingernail by falling on it (though I only really understood this the next day, when I woke up to find it encrusted with blood). Furthermore my leg is really hurting, though the reason for this is completely beyond me.

It appears that I needs help. As if sent by providence, a man appears in the frame of the doorway and looks at me. It turns out that he is a Nigerian student with an incredibly thick accent.

'Awubba bubba,' he tells me.

'What?' I reply.


What the fuck is this guy saying? Other people come along and in the general frame it seems like I'm the one who's so drunk that I cannot even understand common English (go call it that - if that was common English then a braying camel in its death throes is speaking Goethe's German). So to spare myself further embarrassment, I stand up and leave.

Now as far as providence goes, I'm sure we can agree that that was pretty pathetic. I wasn't expecting God to place a sobering elixir in my hand and offer me a nice flask of deodorant, but suppose that Moses had received the same kind of help when he was in the desert: so much for Christianity then. (Not that roaming there in circles for forty years is a symptom of particularly pristine guidance either, of course).

I don't want to go back to the room where I had originally been, so I decide to venture upstairs. I find an empty room and sit there on my own for a few minutes, trying to see if my neurons are going to stop vortexing for fifteen seconds. When I realise they won't, I stand up and open the door to get out again. The surprise! In front of me is standing the hot girl who was playing the drums earlier. 'So this,' I told myself, 'is the bit where student wine gets me laid.'

We had a bit of a chat, though I must have had the communication skills of the Nigerian student I'd met earlier. After a while I told her that I was really drunk and I was acting weird. She asked me what I was doing of weird, and I took that to be an invitation. As I moved in to kiss her, I recall hearing a little voice inside me thanking God, and immediately after that her voice saying 'No.' It was such a shock that I took a few step backwards without taking my eyes off her. This was a bad idea because I was not remembering that I was now on the first floor, so that I my backwards-tread ended up taking me to the stairs. Suddenly, under my heels, I felt the Mariana trench: immediately after that, I am rolling like the boulder in Indiana Jones and I find myself at the bottom in a pile of shoes which had found itself there God knows how.

I do not recall very much of the rest of the night. I do recall standing up, heading for the kitchen (where the wine was), having some more to drink and eventually slouching on the sofa to rest 'for ten seconds.' I woke up the next day with a soapy taste in my mouth and a brief moment of amnesia. My memories then rushed back to my head and I found myself rather bewildered: so I could get drunk after all. I spent the morning helping out my hosts with the clearing up, then I took to the streets outside in an air fresh with winter. So much for student wine getting you laid.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Does wine get you laid? Part I

It is a strange contention that which circulates in the couloirs of the most educated that alcohol gets you laid. No doubt it removes inhibitions, but it degrades your seductive skills so powerfully that you probably couldn't run train with a blow-up doll. Of course, if both you and the lady are profoundly drunk (a recipe for a deeply spiritual experience, that), then something may click because neither of you are sober enough to figure that you're hitting on someone who is in fact pretty crusty, though the sex is unlikely to be very good.

These at least are the arguments I have always found to be the truth in my experience. However it appears that whenever I broach the subject with a fellow Englishman, it's like I've set off a competition and everybody is telling me of how many orgies they've been involved in when downing vodka like a well. I'd like to go back on the subject because it is one which I am pressed to understand. My own experiences with the ladies have not coincided at all with my introitus to alcohol. Part of it may be the fact that I reached both of them quite late - not out of virtue, but because I'd spent half of my waking life in adolescence getting pancaked on weed, which always left me so morose and apathetical I don't think I could have made myself an orange juice, much less hit the streets on double sambucas. Furthermore I seemed to have a pretty high tolerance to booze, so that those rare times when me and my friends did hit the pubs, the two or three shots I was willing to splash cash on would have all the effect on me of some kind of watered-down mug of lemonade. For this reason, I came to England under the confident belief that I could not get drunk.

I come to change that opinion rather quickly once I am in England. Since I share venues and events with other international students, I get to socialise with quite a few of them, and one, a nice dark-skinned girl called Jacqui, invites me to my first international party. Naturally I decide to accept.

I decide to walk it to the party with a Finnish guy I met on the campus square. The guy looks to me like a computer salesman on his first day of work in a foreign country, so I am not walking there with him because I appreciate his company, at least no more than you would that of a goldfish. Rather, it is the fact that I am freaking paranoid at the idea of getting lost. After walking for a few minutes in a pretty pleasant part of Norwich's suburbs, we reach the house. On the door-step, we meet Jacqui. She introduces us to her housemate, Tom, this glossy bloke with enough rasta hair on his head to rebuild the Colosseum with. He is wearing such a dashing pair of glasses that I cannot help but imagine him to have been taken straight out of a Where's Wally book. 'Come in, join us!' he encourages us.

I walk in. Immediately Jacqui places a plastic cup brimming with wine in front of my chest. 'Do you drink?' she asks. 'Oh, sometimes, but I'm immune to alcohol,' I respond.

That was the dumbest thing I ever said. Around me, it's like Babylon 5. I've never seen people from so many nationalities in such a small room. I walk up to a girl with the plastic cup in my hand and open a conversation:

'Hey, you a friend of Jacqui?' As I say that, I take a sip of the wine. Yo what the fuck? This stuff is so dismal that my lips curl upwards and my head spontaneously jerks back while I bring my hand to my mouth. How effing bad is this wine? I'm not a lover of alcohol in the first place, but what kind of a flavour is this? This is like a concentrate of lemon served in a cup of dried monkey shit. They could give it to a hoarde of pigs and it would give them stomach pains of fatal nature.

It goes without saying that my disgusted face is interpreted by the girl to whom I addressed my opening comment as some kind of coded way of walking up and saying, 'Good God, are you so inconceivably ugly by genetic disposition or did you happen to stare into the Vesuvius during the Pompeian eruption?' And obviously she walks away.

Bloody hell. Let's try again. I take another swig of the wine. It tastes like vinegar this time, so I guess we're making some kind of progress.

The 'progress' that I was making later became known within my circle of friends as the Koch curve, an expression taken out of a mathematical model which describes how to draw a line of infinite length within a finite area. How this was related to drinking wine remains to me as great a mystery as Stonehenge. In our case the turn of phrase described the tendency that student wine has of becoming more bearable in a measure proportional to the quantity of it that you drink while never actually reaching a taste which could be defined as 'good.'

'Student wine' is the expression used to describe a category of beverage which over my the course of my education became one of my closest companions, albeit not one of the most welcome at all. It is defined primarily by the fact that you can normally buy three bottles of the stuff for six pounds if you get it on the right day, and the way it sells out with students you'd think they gave free textbooks with it. It is also defined by the fact that it is disgusting. It is probably safe to assume that most students invest a good deal of their finances on these bottles not so much for the pleasure of drinking it (this possibility is so abstracted from my mind it must remain beyond my faculties of writing) but in the hopes that it would somehow get them laid. Frankly I'd have had better chances of getting laid at a Taleban wedding than at one of these student parties. I've never completely understood where the paradigm originated from that if you walk up to a girl as though you could not cross the road by yourself and are about to throw up like you've just had stomach surgery then she'll somehow find you so irresistibly cute that she'll immediately take you upstairs to her bedroom for a forty-eight hour shag-athon.

Even as a fresher, the equation 'drinking wine = increasing charm' strikes me as a strange attractor worthy of Edward Lorenz, but I think that there can be no harm in trying and that there can be no excessive ill coming from this anyway (because 'I'm immune to alcohol,' remember?). So I pick up another drink.

...aaaand I am running out of space. Will continue this tale in part II, in a couple of days' time!

Sunday, 1 March 2009

The Top 5 Worse Sexual Fantasies

I was having this conversation the other day with my room-mate as to which secret sexual fantasies would be most likely to end your career forever on surfacing if you were a public figure (or even if you were just a normal guy). We agreed on a pretty plausible top five, so here’s the list – and those among you who are planning on being celebrities, make sure you follow the guidelines:

5. The Lion King.

This is what you do. You walk up to a store specialised in 1930s memorabilia and you buy three lion-skin carpets which were shot by Stanley or some Austro-Hungarian nobleman of the belle époque. You then take them home and bring over two prostitutes. You have a nice candle-lit dinner during which you drink enough wine to stop considering the possibility inconceivable, and you actually wear one of the lion-skins and get the girls to wear the other two. You put on the tune of Hakuna Matata on the stereo, then get one of the prostitutes to fake-rape the other while you’re still trying to swipe off the sweat which results from grossing it out in one of these two-ton skins. Eventually you intervene and ‘save’ the lioness who is meant to be your mother. Then you sheep-bang her doggy style while she calls you ‘Simba’ and you shout ‘Who’s the King? Who’s the damn King, woman?’ This is a pretty regular Oedipal fantasy except that any attempt at oral sex is going to result in cardiac arrest given that the role play dictates that you’re sticking your dick into a lion’s mouth and you can kiss your flipper farewell if you do that. Also those old lion-skins stink like the devil’s own armpits so you need to buy new ones every time you try this (especially if you stain them), and I think it obvious that they’re not quite as accessible as condoms. Either that, or you find the MI6 of all launderettes and hope to God they don’t cost as much as a new lion skin themselves.

4. The Spear of the Spartan.

You are Ephialtes, a sad and impoverished soldier rejected from the normal legions because you’re so fucking ugly you could be taken for someone whose mama was into shagging crustaceans. Then comes Leonidas, a young and handsome lumberjack (in theory he was a king, but anyone with a beard like that has got to be a lumberjack, right? Right?) and your world is revolutionised – as the king himself puts it, ‘you have a fine thrust, Ephialtes.’ Then you go on to prove to him the truth of his statement by challenging him to a spear-shag-combat or whatever other kind of dick-waving competition you’re most into as long as you do it over his own shield. The real trouble of this fantasy is simply logistics – you’re going to have to buy the mother of all dinner-plates if you’re going to simulate a Spartan shield, and even then you’ve got to be really careful on it because if you bang each other too hard on it you’ll end up breaking it – which symbolically means a loss of ass-virginity, and for anyone who has reached these levels of role-play, that’s just a pitiful LIE.

3. The Democratic Erection.

This one is particularly corrosive if you’re a politician. It has two stages, and since it’s one of those fantasies which involve making videos, it is predictably convoluted to organise and execute. Firstly, you get hold of a video of that speech by Bill Clinton where he says ‘I did not bang that woman’ (or something along those lines) and you memorise it till you can recite it. Then you hire a prostitute to dress up as Monica Lewinski, and you film yourself giving that speech with Monica doing her work under the desk (chances are you’re not going to be able to hold Clinton’s straight face, but hopefully that shouldn’t be a problem for you). Then you close yourself into a wardrobe with another prostitute dressed up like a voting urn (that’s bound to cost you, but she won’t speak about it) and you get her to blow you through the introduction hole, so that you are effectively spunking on the verdict of the votes. All the while it is imperative that you should have taken with you a mini-TV or a PSP or something to play out the video as Bill Clinton being blown by Monica while saying he never did, then you remove the ‘voting urn’ off the girl and hey presto, it turns out she’s dressed like Hillary Clinton! The irony is of course that Clinton was lying to you about Monica, but you don’t really care because you’re too busy getting head – by his wife. The inherent danger of this fantasy is that the video may leak out to someone who should not be seeing it (basically everyone on the entire planet), so you want to destroy the video as soon as. Also, good luck finding a wardrobe large enough to fit you, the prostitute dressed up as a voting urn, a mini-TV and still have space for all the damn antics you’re going to have to undergo. You might want to empty it of any clothes you may have in there (if you’re prone to dressing up like your mother, then put those away before the prostitute arrives in the house). The alternative would be to go in a real voting cabin during a real election, but if you really want to shoot yourself in the face with a rocket launcher that badly, just dress up as a Taliban and run into an airport with a knife screaming ‘Inshallah!’ Not only will they shoot you, they’ll get their dogs to bite off your testicles for you first.

2. The Angry Monkey.

You get hold of a really snazzy sports car. If you’re a celebrity – as this post assumes – then it may well be your own, otherwise (or if you’re unwilling to undergo the upcoming stuff on your own car, which admittedly is a very comprehensible possibility) you can simply hire one. Then you get on the M31 and pick up a prostitute, the more robust the better. This is in fact the most difficult bit to execute because a snazzy sports car stopping by a prostitute arena on the highway – next to the trucks, the Smarts and the tractors – is something bound to attract a lot of attention and give you away. Make sure your car has dark glass. Once you’ve picked up the prostitute, take her to some dark corner in the countryside and get her to take a crap on the sunroof while you pull your seat backwards and stare at the process from beneath, illuminating it with a flashlight. Then you collect the crap in a plastic bag if you can do that without retching and you take the car into the city, where you guide your car at the highest speed you can without driving into a Donut store. You get the prostitute to give you a blowjob while you’re driving, and while she’s doing that you take the plastic bag and fling the shit onto the windshields of any car which has had the misfortune of having been parked nearby. Try thinking of a route which is not Daytona ’94 for this little stunt or you’re bound to crash somewhere. Also try to show at least a little bit of caution. You deserve whatever outing you get if you’re so dumb as to lob your shit onto the windshield of a police-car.

1. Mosley.

The number one fantasy would have got on here even if it weren’t a true story. I recall actually spending the good part of an hour last night in bed trying to imagine a fantasy worse than what this guy did (candidate for the prize was ‘The Charles Dickens’ fantasy, where you get a little boy to drill your ass with a Christmas tree – of reduced size, not necessarily an actual fir-tree – while you shout at him ‘Oliver, twist! Oliver, twist!’). However, nothing beats organising a Nazi orgy where you play the part of a concentration camp prisoner and get whipped by SS hench-ladies in black leather in the breaks between giving you hair and testicle examinations. I mean, you’ve got a lady with black leather gloves searching for lice amid your testicles after skinning your back with whiplashes and that’s the only thing that gets you off? What the hell is wrong with you? Your heritage, maybe – the guy’s father was apparently something of a psycho. Regardless, it’s no wonder that the guy’s career and reputation was finished. I can’t think of any public figure surviving a thing like that, and on this account the fantasy hereby raised to fame as ‘The Mosley’ gains first prize in our special awards!