Friday 28 October 2022

Andor's most quotable line gives away one of our most cherished lies

 'Wouldn't you rather give it all at once, for something real?'

With that line, the latest Disney Plus Star Wars spin-off, Andor, lets the cat out of the bag about one of the little lies we in the West tell the world, and ourselves. 

The lie in question is a lie about suicide bombers. Whenever a suicide attack occurs, we act shocked. We act outraged. We make sure we are seen to shed tears of incomprehension over how people could be brainwashed into throwing their lives away. When one of our pampered celebrities makes the mistake of calling such actions brave, we fulminate against them until their own cowardice reasserts itself and they go along with pack morality. We say as loudly and as emotionally as we can that we don't understand.

But what Andor gives away about us is that we do understand. We understand just fine, actually. We understand the humiliations Empire imposes cannot forever be borne. We understand that even regimes of constant monitoring and surveillance cannot starve the spark of defiance entirely. We understand that when you make the world a prison you had best be prepared for a riot; and even if you are you can't prepare for riots everywhere. We understand that some people are going to get through, and when you make those people absolutely desperate they will act to do as much damage as possible, even at the cost of the life we say we value oh so highly - the life which we know, in truth, we have taken away, little by little. 

'Wouldn't you rather give it all at once to something real?' 

That's something you want to think about when you vote for those who want to make people feel desperate. And you can't really claim you weren't warned now because there's one entire section of a blockbuster franchise which is all about what desperate people do. And the Mouse doesn't greenlight things it doesn't think you don't already understand. 

Friday 21 October 2022

Soldeed Syndrome

 A condition which afflicts most people who have viewed the Doctor Who serial The Horns of Nimon. The condition is characterised by an almost obsessive desire to reference the character of Soldeed, as played by Graham Crowden by, for example, referring to individuals with whom one has beef as 'meddlesome hussies', reacting to even the most minor frustration by exclaiming 'my dreams of conquest!', finding any possible excuse to insert a particular picture of Soldeed into as many of one's blog posts as possible even to the detriment of said posts' coherence, insisting that the Nimon be praised, suggesting Soldeed as a plausible replacement for the outgoing Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland etc etc. 

Sufferers who are old enough to have seen The Horns of Nimon as children when originally broadcast, and who will therefore be most likely to have watched Blue Peter during the crucial Period When It Was Good also display a comorbid obsession with pointing out the presence in this serial of a young Janet Ellis, in one of her earliest TV roles. 

See also: Harrison Chase Syndrome, Ainleyism, Strickson's Malaise, the Hill/Aldred Paradox

Thursday 13 October 2022

See my power!

 On October 8th, I referred to Mark Zuckerberg's beloved shit Second Life clone,  the Metaverse, as a 'shit Matrix full of dickless twerps'. 

Mere days later, he made this announcement

Conclusive proof: the Zucc fears AJ.

Saturday 8 October 2022

A genuine threat to free speech on which the usual suspects are silent

I wasn't planning on doing a bonus second update today, but then I got banned from Facebook for the following comment in a conversation with a friend:

I know, I know, this is yet another example of me complaining about my social media bans but I am not an isolated example of this - if you think I am, explain why more and more people have started using the Orwellian euphemism 'unalive' to get around Facebook's filters. People don't start resorting to solutions that ugly unless things are fucked. The fact is this system of using keywords to trigger moderation is utterly unfit for any purpose other than allowing the social networks to claim they are doing something about the hate speech and abuse that their platforms enable. Never mind that this system doesn't understand the complexity of speech and language use, or the cultural significance of hyperbole in certain kinds of discourse (especially internet discourse). Never mind that it lets people get away with genuine hate speech of the worst kind as long as they're smart enough, cowardly and conniving enough, to refrain from using the trigger words. Never mind that it has blatantly been done in the cheapest, most cack-handed way possible because the internet will always be shit under capitalism - the important thing is that when Mark Zuckerberg next rocks up at some gathering of the global great and good to try and convince us that we all want to live in his shit Matrix full of dickless twerps, he can also say, when a reporter who's probably married to one of his mates tees up a softball question for him about what Facebook is doing to tackle hate speech, that they are doing something. Then he can go off and tell his new best chum Joe Rogan how he loves a sweaty grapple

My super-sophisticated proprietary AI has created this picture of how Mark Zuckerberg sees himself in his mind

I have no doubt that the distribution of these kind of bans is not equal. Bad actors, particularly on the political right, are notorious for abusing regulatory mechanisms to target people who speak out against them - a case in point being the co-ordinated campaign of complaints to the Charity Commission about Mermaids, organised by the usual terverted suspects. Being able to game systems is a smart way to get around the fact that actually most people don't support your fascist policies (see the frankly atrocious acts of jerrymandering Republican State Legislatures engage in to keep their states red for another example). This is even easier to do on social media, and is one reason why these platforms have become a real drag to use  for anyone on the real political left. Which is of course one reason why the same people who normally bleat all day about how pointing out that wealthy British merchants once owned slaves is somehow censorship have been surprisingly silent about this new threat - because those guys are all about censorship when it comes to voices that dissent from their own.

I doubt it's going to stay that way, though. For one thing, as it becomes more known how easy it is to abuse this system, it will start being abused to target people other than just us minorities and the left. It's chillingly simple to see how easily this could be used by school bullies to isolate their victims (presumably the bullying will start with schoolyard mockery of the kid for being on a platform as uncool as Facebook to start with, followed by a gang sign-up to mass-report the poor sod. Maybe Zuckerberg is counting on this to compensate for the exodus from his platform. God knows the Metaverse won't save it.).

And anyway, no matter how many or what type of people wind up getting targeted by this, the fact is it's a crime against language. Against expression. There are plenty of verbal contexts in which people will say things which denotatively look like threats of violence but which connotatively are expressions of affection. Are we all to guard against using these phrases, lest they be picked up by some cybernetic censor? We've already arrived at a situation where the word 'unalive' is a thing - what other ugly newspeak byblows will be birthed through this straitening grip? Where does poetry fit into all this? I sometimes post my poems as Facebook statuses when I'm drafting them: if I'd done that with DWP, the poem I posted here yesterday, I'd probably have been banned a day early. 

And why should we let them do this to us? The thing I keep coming back to is the promises that social media made: that it would give us a fun new way to keep in touch with our existing friends, and to make new ones. And for a while it was what it had promised to be. But it hasn't been for a while really, has it? Now we pay for the 'privilege' of joking around with our mates by being exposed to post after post of adverts and clickbait and self-promotion. And now they're trying to police the figures of speech we use when talking to each other. Removing hate speech is one thing (and it would be really nice if they actually tried doing that sometime), but banning any and all words associated with death? That's the action of a tyrant who is not long for this world. And it isn't just me saying that - as Ryan Broderick points out in the new edition of his newsletter, Garbage Day, in the context of what Twitter will become if Elon Musk succeeds in acquiring it, 'it's worth beginning to dream about what new, better platforms we could use as a "digital public square" after we finally give up on' that social network. 

And if Twitter is on the verge of a mass resignation of everyone except the Musksuckers, what hope is there for Zuckerberg's terminally unhip platform? It won't be sexless Weebles who can't even fist-bump convincingly, that's for sure. And it won't be the platform's worsening digital squeamishness either. In fact, while the former will only stop people signing up to his new venture, the latter could be what kills his former golden goose stone dead. 

Which, of course, I'd never be allowed to say on Facebook.  

Your Brain On Morbius: why Jared Leto should stick to fiddling with his cult

 So I've been doing the October Horror Movie Challenge for the second year in a row, and I figured I should start with a classic I hadn't seen yet, so I watched The Omen. And if you've seen that film, you'll know one of the most dramatically important characters, Father Brennan, is played by Patrick Troughton, aka the Second Doctor. And thus a theme suggested itself, and for the past week I've been watching horror movies featuring performances from actors who have played Doccy Who. Eventually, because you only get up to about sixteen Doctors even if you include non-lineal ones like Peter Cushing (though he's a nice guy to have in your back pocket for a challenge like this), we'll pan out to include some actors who've played Timelords other than the Big D, but that won't be for, oooh, at least another couple of days. In that process I've watched some of the undisputed classics of the horror canon: the aforementioned Omen, the Frank Langella Dracula, Alien (featuring War Doctor John Hurt), 28 Days Later. I also watched a terrible, no good, really bad fake movie about the Borley Rectory haunting which I am going to have to write about for reasons other than the Challenge or the fact Colin Baker is in it (and which may well end up being the piece of writing which finally gets me slotted), but I am not going to write about any of these movies today. 

No, today I am going to write about 2022's internet meme sensation, Morbius. 

Memes. Memes are cool.

The first thing to be said is that this is not going to be a redemptive reading of Morbius. Morbius is a bad film. At times it is an absolutely terrible film: the final fight scene between Jay Leto's Morbs and Matt Smith's Milo, or rather between their digital avatars, consists of both characters hitting each other with the Special Moves from the Injustice games which smash through the scenery so they wind up fighting against a totally different background. Eventually Leto builds up his special meter sufficiently and unleashes his Super Sonar Thunder Combo to take Milo out. This is the dramatic climax the whole film has been building to, and it's risible. Even more so than superhero movie endings often are.

One of the few bright spots in the movie is Matt Smith's performance as Milo, a sort of mirror image of the protagonist who decides that being a vampire is actually fun and sets out to enjoy it, which immediately makes him a more compelling character than Leto's Morb-me-boy, who spends most of his time doing the traditional Reluctant Vampire thing of trying to find ways of consuming blood (or blood-type substances) which don't involve treating the entire human population like pouches of Capri-Sun. It isn't quite as bad as Thor: Love and Thunder, a film which seemed bafflingly unaware of the fact that Christian Bale's Gorr the God Butcher is its actual protagonist, but it's close. In fact, it's worth interrogating just why Matt Smith walks away with this movie stuffed inside his coat while Leto is left flailing about like an Imperial stormtrooper too thick to notice a dude has four legs

I mean, on one level, that's pretty obvious: Matt Smith is a very good actor, and Jared Leto isn't even a good one. But hang on, how can I say Leto is a bad actor (I mean, easily: he has a literal cult, and then there's all the Lookout Mountain stuff, but we mean 'bad actor' in a somewhat different sense)? He's been in loads of films. Well yeah, but he's not in those films because of any redeeming qualities as an actor. He is in those films because of what he is good at, which is being a performer. Specifically, in his case, a rock performer. And, in fact, what makes him such a good performer is the same thing which fatally limits him as an actor: he very obviously wants people to look at him, all the time, to the exclusion of anything else. 

The Vietnamese Morbs poster is pretty tight tho

This is an extremely helpful character trait for a rockstar, because in that field of performance getting everyone to look at you is kind of your job. Sure, sure, yeah, 'it's about the music' mate, but I can't help but notice it's much easier to bring your music to people's attention if you happen to be pretty. The visuals are a massive part of rock. And I will concede that Leto is very good at this: he's easy on the eye (or would be if his own eyes didn't have that, well, smirking Damien quality to them) and he can obviously acquit himself well enough to sell millions of Thirty Seconds to Mars records (though it's worth remarking here that a friend of mine, the poet Genevieve Walsh, tells me she once saw said band at a festival and was far from impressed, and also thought they were called Fifty Mice on the Moon, which for my money is a much better band name). 

The trouble comes when you take that sensibility and try to put it in a supposedly realistic movie. I'm not talking kitchen sink here, obviously: Morbius is a movie where being a vampire is a real thing which gives you super-strength, bat-sonar and the ability to surf wind currents. But it also grounds all of this in the supposedly mundane world of the modern superhero picture, in which supervillain fights make baristas late for their shift at Starbuck's. This isn't a genre like musical theatre, where characters frequently break the fourth wall to address songs to the audience - Hawkeye may have got a big musical number with The Avengers into its story, but that was diegetically a musical the characters in the 'real' world of that story were watching (The Boys does something similar with The Seven's fictionalised movie adventures). The point is that we are supposed to believe in the world of Michael Morbius and Milo as a real world, and one with which they are involved. And the thing about the real world is that actually very few people act as if they want everyone to be watching them all the time. 

Oh yeah, that's why Mick Jagger is better in Performance than any of the other films he's been in. 

And so the thing which makes Leto compelling as a rock performer makes him much less so in a dramatic context, because it prevents him from fully engaging with the world of the story. Matt Smith, however, always seems to be a real part of this film's world. His struggles as a disabled man have a believability which Leto's showy crutchwork just never achieves: you get the sense that it really hurts Milo to be forced to cut himself off from the world so much, to see the good things other people take for granted pass him by. And you root for him when he drinks his friend Michael's serum and starts vamping it up because it's nice to see this guy whose suffering you were so convinced by earlier having a good time. There is a reason that scene of Smith boogying on down as he enjoys his new, stronger vampire body has become a meme, and that's because of the sheer joy of seeing him enjoy it. Contrast this with the first scene in which we see Leto's improved vampire abdominals, when he turns to camera and adopts a blank expression, his torso straight on to the viewer. His new body is there to be admired. Smith's body is something to use and enjoy. 

The effect is that every other character in the film, from Tyrese Gibson and Al Madrigal's wisecracking cops to Adria Arjona's Dr Martine Bancroft to, especially, Jared Harris as Morbs and Milo's mentor, seems to be a person engaged in the world of the story, while Morbius - the protagonist, remember - seems to be directing everything he does, everything he says, and every attitude he strikes at some force outside of the film he wants, desperately, to be loved by. 

There's a scene in which the Morbster tells Bancroft that he cannot bring himself to drink human blood, and will in fact end his existence with the special vampire poison he cooks up (which, remember, he's going to use to murder his best friend) should the artificial blood he invented during the opening credits no longer satisfy his cravings for 'the red'. And you know that if Matt Smith had this scene he would really sell the suffering this should cause. Look, I've been suicidal, and the thing about suicide is that even when you're planning to do it, thinking of committing suicide is an upsetting thing. The body wants to live, and that alone is a source of both frustration and trauma. But feeling suicidal as a disabled person - the times when you feel you are such a burden to others that suicide is something you will have to pursue, in the manner of a climber cutting their line to save their comrades - is pure Hell. Morbius should be crying in this scene, he should be giving away his vampire strength when he punches walls in frustration, he should be distraught and inconsolable. Instead, he simply tells Bancroft the situation matter-of-factly: not because he's numbly resigned to his decision, but because he isn't really talking to her: he's talking to us, reassuring us of his good guy bona fides. In fact, this scene, and one near the start of the movie in which Bancroft berates him for 'dissing the Nobel prize committee', reminded me of nothing so much as Neil Breen, the master of the 'tell, don't show' genre of bad filmmaking. That is not something you usually want your seventy-five million dollar movie to evoke. 

Now that's more like it!

Well okay, smart girl, if Leto is such a bad actor, why has he been in so many movies then? Because Hollywood doesn't really care if movies are any good as long as lots of people come to see them. And Leto's rockstar career means he comes pre-equipped, from a Hollywood point of view, with a bunch of people who will pay to see him. Whether all these people turned out or not (and they might not have, as recent revelations about Leto's behaviour have turned a lot of people off him), they weren't enough to save Morbius from becoming officially the biggest flop of the summer. While the character himself might return (Sony's parallel Spiderverse movies are clearly, after all, working towards an Avengers-style Sinister Six team-up, most likely putting the spectacular foes in conflict with ol' web-head), it seems unlikely that this film will get an actual sequel. There ain't gonna be no rematch. 

Or, at least, there ain't gonna be no Morbius sequel. But retcon Milo's death and give us a movie where Matt Smith farts about for ninety minutes as a lovable vampire rogue? Now that I could go for. 

Friday 7 October 2022


When I
brought the
mallet down
on to the 
Claims Assessor's
I thought of 
Victor Jara

I thought
how nice
that hands
which have
done hurt
for once
are broken

When I
brought the
mallet down
on to the 
Claims Assessor's
I admit
I thought of
Game of Thrones,

said that's
right, I
always break
the wanking
hand to
start with
The other
That I'll just rattle through

When I
brought the
mallet down
on to the
Claims Assessor's 
I thought of
Johnny Cash

I wondered
which records
the Claims Assessor
listened to
when drunk
to convince
that they
were still
a rebel

When I
brought the
mallet down
on to the
Claims Assessor's
I thought of
all the people
they'd turned down

the deaths they'd hastened
the despair they had inflamed
the hateful spirit
they had chosen to collude with

When I
brought the
mallet down
on to the
Claims Assessor's
the Hand of God

reaching for them
out of the blue
(as I came up behind them)
telling them
it could be you

Thursday 6 October 2022

The True Spirit of Christmas


Yes, I know, an article about Christmas in October? Trust me, Halloween content is coming. I've been ill!

I don't normally share articles from the Independent here because their site is such a ballache to deal with, but I'm sharing this one because it points out that 46% of young people ARE WORRIED THEY WON'T BE ABLE TO AFFORD FOOD this winter and the comments are full of smug, self-satisfied Tories who consider themselves not to be materialists while surrounded by a level of luxury which would make most people from the global South weep in sheer disbelief pontificating that 'uwu Christmas isn't about having loads of expensive pressies, it's about enjoying a good Christmas dinner with your famblybee uwu'. THE ARTICLE SAYS NEARLY HALF OF THEM ARE WORRIED THEY WON'T EVEN BE ABLE TO DO THAT, YOU THICK, SELFISH TWATS. 

But that doesn't really matter to you does it? Because what's really important about Christmas is you get to sing all the songs about the Baby Jesus, born in a stable and surrounded by the filth of animals, destined to also die surrounded by filth on a hill where people were slaughtered like animals, a sanitized recreation of which has pride of place in your window this season to let the neighbours know what a Good Christian with Decent Christian Values you are, and you get to watch A Christmas Carol - probably one of the really shit versions of it too, not even Scrooged because you've always found that too left-wing - and feel satisfied that you're a much nicer person than that cold-hearted miser with the suspiciously foreign-sounding name, and then getting your slap-up roast with all the trimmings and looking at your well-fed family sat around the table, safe in your security-gated house and feeling Full of the Spirit of Christmas. That's what's important! Not loads of expensive pressies (though obviously you bought your kids loads of those too, buying your little scrote of a child who bullies the queer kids at their school a Super Blaster Mega Zord is a Love Language).

Boo-boo Ramirez understands Christianity more deeply than Justin Welby. Art by JH Williams III, dialogue by The Original Author

If you really believed in the Spirit of Christmas then in December 2019 you would have voted for the party which had a homelessness strategy that would go into action on DAY ONE. A homelessness strategy which would have got people off the streets over Christmas, which would have ensured they got to spend that oh-so-special day in a warm home, with nice food - nothing as impressive as your set-up obviously, but four walls and a roof and plumbing so they could get clean and maybe a heated-up turkey dinner. But you didn't vote for that did you? Because if you had you worried that you might have had to surrender a slightly higher infinitesimal fraction of your income as tax. And then you might have had to change your TV package to one where you'd be forced to watch Scrooged. You might have had to buy your Christmas din-dins from Sainsbury's instead of Waitrose, or choose between stuffing and cranberry sauce instead of buying both. Or put one less Double Thunder Giga Zord under the tree for your piggy-eyed brat. 

So don't come into the comments on articles like this with worn-out 'seasonal' platitudes about how Christmas is about more than just expensive pressies and conspicuous consumption. Because that's clearly all it's ever been to you.

Wednesday 5 October 2022



I am tired of submitting myself to systems of care which constantly retraumatise me.

 I am tired of sites which facilitate conversation with my friends preventing me from having honest conversations because of 'safety' features which are anything but. 

I am tired of the whole fucking charade, the pretence that any of this is care and not torment.

 I am tired of autocorrect and Grammarly thinking they know better than me what I want to express. 

I am tired of how boring my enemies are.

I am tired of tiptoeing around the sensitivities of those playing the game on the easiest possible setting who have mistaken advantage for puissance. 

I am tired of pretending the reproduction of this society is anything good, or that it is motivated by anything but the most base impulses the disordered creature which laughably calls itself something capable of thinking has proven itself to be capable of.

I am sick of living in Hell and pretending it's anything other. 

I wish to go into the shadows.