Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Simile is Like…

There’s a strange thing I’ve discovered in the last couple of years about myself as a writer:  I can’t do similes or metaphors.

I mean that I can’t come up with new ones.  Something in my brain can’t make those kind of out-of-the box connections between the characteristics of two completely separate things.

…A HUBCAP?  Gee, that’s romantic.

Of course, one of the big no-nos of writing is ‘avoid clichés like the plague’, and if I try to think of one, every 19th-century poet I’ve ever read comes flooding back to me like something that floods things:  ‘eyes like pools’, ‘black as night’, ‘rivers of blood’, ‘white as a sheet’, ‘rosebud lips’, ‘sharp as a tack’, ‘dumb as a post’, ‘he sped out of there like a bullet’, ‘he sat up like he’d been shot’, ‘he came charging in like a freight train’.  A significant chunk of my editing time is spent deleting the poor, tired things that flew in under my radar on the first pass.

I don’t know why I’m this way (apparently I can’t read myself like a book), but I’ve come to accept the fact that my writing will have to be metaphor- and simile-free for the most part.  Hopefully that doesn’t make it as dull as ditchwater.

I did once hear of an author who wrote a whole book without a metaphor or a simile, but I’m blowed if I can remember who it was.  If you know the name, please remind me.

I think one of my favourite similes is ‘sweating like Pavarotti on a treadmill’.  What’s your (clever or funny) favourite?  Tell me in the comments.

Friday, March 21, 2014

FAME! I’m gonna blog forever…or at least until someone discovers my innate talent and gives me lots of money, at which point I’ll pay someone to do it for me

This weekend’s task is to write up a substantial essay for university (so, of course, I’m blogging about it instead).  The subject is how new media (e.g. social networking sites, blogs) has affected the marketing of celebrities and the interaction between celebs and their fans.  Specifically, I’m looking at how Wil Wheaton’s career was revived through his writing (mainly on his blog, WIL WHEATON dot NET).

Things are changing, but in the past, academics have taken the view that everything about a celebrity’s image is manufactured and fake.  Our (the fans) relationships with them are therefore fake, and any emotional connection we may feel is therefore nothing short of pathological.  We’re an inch away from going full John Hinckley Jr. 

If you’ve ever read this blog you’ll have gathered that I don’t completely share that view, but it makes for an interesting discussion.  In fact, yesterday we had a formal debate in class about whether or not celebrities are the ‘ultimate construction of false value’.  Leaving aside my hatred for debates (I enjoy public speaking, but DO NOT make me think on my feet or speak without time for written preparation.  DO NOT.  And get that telephone away from me), it was interesting to see how passionate people became about the subject (and about One Direction).

One question continually asked in the literature about celebrities is, ‘Why we are still fascinated by them if we believe that their images are manufactured?  What’s the appeal?  The answer seems like a no-brainer for me, but not one out of the stack of books I’ve read for this essay mentions it, so maybe I’m wrong.

Leaving aside the question of whether or not they are all ‘manufactured’ (highly unlikely), it seems to me that celebrity culture works the same way as a TV show or a movie franchise.  We pick our favourite character – one who is funny, or who we see something of ourselves in, or who we want to be like – and we follow their story.  We tune in to find out what happens next.  Does the former child star get hooked on drugs and run his car into a tree?  Can he get unhooked and go on to win an Oscar?  Does the squeaky-clean girl decide to do the movie with the nude scenes?  Can America’s sweetheart get the husband and the kids she’s always wanted?  Will the cheater’s new love manage to reform him, or does he prove to be the leopard that can’t change its spots?

Just like our favourite TV characters, we also like to know personal things about them.  Does Kate Moss eat chocolate or does she exist on carrots?  Does Justin Bieber ever wear clothes properly?  How many reps does Chris Hemsworth need to do to get those guns?  Does Jennifer Lawrence trip over every day, or only at awards ceremonies?  We want to go through the Stargate and find out about the planet on the other side.*

The one thing that does get mentioned a lot in the literature is the desire to see celebs as ‘normal’, ‘down-to-earth’ and ‘ordinary underneath’.  We want to think they’re really just like us, because that would mean that we can be like them.  Of course people want to be famous.  We don’t want to be sitting at home alone on a Saturday night or pen-pushing (mouse-pushing?) or grave-digging or burger-flipping or dealing with difficult bosses or trying to help clients when we don’t know what we’re doing or wearing uncomfortable polyester work shirts with name tags on them or writing stupid self-appraisals when our job’s so boring we could do it in our sleep.  We want to be relaxing on a yacht, reading our next script, or pottering around a log cabin overlooking a lake and writing our next best-seller, or eating pizza in Abbey Road Studios with a bunch of fascinating people who are playing on our next album. 

Or…is that just me?  Am I normal?  Maybe if I find out that that highly successful, rich, intelligent celebrity also burns his toast and can't get a date, I’ll know that I’m going to be OK.

*Spoiler: it probably looks like Canada.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Big Gender Theory (a.k.a. My Big Bang Beef)

I love The Big Bang Theory, but I have one beef.

Of the three main female characters (if we ignore Cinnamon Koothrappali and the voice of Mrs Wolowitz Snr.), two are scientists and one is an actress, yet none of them seem to like or know anything about any form of science-fiction or fantasy.  They consistently get Star Wars and Star Trek mixed up, like they're so interchangeable, and despite being roughly the appropriate age for its original TV run, none of them had even seen Buffy.  I find this implausible and just a little insulting, if I'm brutally honest.

I'm not daft.  I realise that this is an important artifice in the show's construction - binary opposites provide tensions and tensions provide both comedy and drama.  It's a big bang-ing together of genders and cultures.  Fanboys against normal girls (although that definition of 'normal' is debatable, perhaps!)  I'm also aware that there have been a couple of fangirl characters on the show, but none of them have stuck around.  It just makes me wonder what is so threatening about fangirls that we can't have them on TV, and have them be intelligent, or at least functioning, adults.  It seems to me that fangirls can only been shown if they're slightly psychopathic or groupies.  Oddly enough, academic work on fan culture frequently highlights the fact that much of it revolves around women, and I don't just mean Twi-hard mums with cheap tattoos of Robert Pattinson on their backs.  Granted, before Big Bang we hadn't had a hit, prime-time show led by geeks at all (no, Urkel doesn't count), so maybe further change will come.

I should also say at this juncture that I'm not really a feminist; just a girl who loves her Star Wars and hates the fact that these kind of misconceptions may mean 'non-fan' women continue to avoid SF and fantasy and therefore miss out on all the fun. 

Having said all this, my favourite episode has got to be the one where the girls try to figure out what is so engrossing about comic books, and end up in a heated argument over who is able to lift Thor's hammer.  

(For the record, out of the [movie] Avengers, only Captain America is worthy.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Kumbaya and Filk With Me

Something we don't often do these days is communal singing.  I've noticed that in recent movies it's either done by spaced-out hippies, African-American churchgoers or drunk and incoherent football fans.  But if you go back a few decades, people often used to sing together in social situations.  I think it's sad that we've become too self-conscious, too isolated, too cynical or too 'sophisticated' for that sort of thing.

I grew up in a church where singing and playing music together was considered really important.  It solidifies communities, encourages people and re-affirms beliefs and ideals.  (Plus, you can always have a laugh about that one exuberant guy up the back who sings particularly loudly and off key.)  Personally, I've found there's nothing that builds friendships as quickly as rehearsing with a band or even singing some songs around a bonfire.  (It’s always Oasis, for some reason.  Followed by Free Fallin’.)

One of the best memories from my gig-going history was a moment at a Kings of Leon concert where the crowd was singing louder than the band.  The elation in the arena was palpable.  I don't think I'll ever forget it.

This week, I read an early essay from one of my favourite theorists, Henry Jenkins.  He was talking about a practice of sci-fi and fantasy fans which I wasn't familiar with.  (Shocking, I know.  Minus 15 geek points.)  It's called filking (i.e. ‘to play filk music’ – a misprint of 'folk' in a title which was appropriated by fans).  It mostly happens at cons.  A bunch of fans get together in a room and sing songs about - well, anything, really, from second breakfasts to the Shat’s toupée.  Presumably there are quite a few love songs to Spock in there, too (Have You Ever Really Loved A Vulcan?)  People are encouraged to bring anything.  It could be a half-finished song that needs suggestions from the crowd for a second verse, or an old favourite that’s been passed around from con to con.  If it’s the latter, people are free to join in and the whole thing becomes a communal sing-along.  Most of the songs use old folk melodies, so if you can’t play an instrument, chances are somebody there that does will know it and can accompany you.  At this point I can hear you saying, ‘These nerds are bonkers.’  You may be right, but what I like about it is the safe environment that’s provided for people to be a part of something and be creative.  I think that’s why Facebook and Twitter have become so important in our lives – we’re missing a sense of community, of being part of something greater that doesn’t involve annual performance reviews and budget spreadsheets and ‘networking’; something that we find exciting, fascinating, emotionally satisfying and freeing.

So, I say, kumbaya and filk with me.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Old Fart on Campus

Going to university after the age of 30 has sent me on a huge learning curve, and not just in relation to academia.  There are days when I feel very old.

I had a naïve understanding that university seminars (especially for a Bachelor of Arts) would be deep and varied discussions with like-minded people or, if not like-minded, then at least like-interested.  I would meet fascinating people who shared my passions and I would talk with them about all those things no-one else ever wanted to talk with me about.  We’d play music and watch movies together. 

Oh, boy, was I wrong.

Not only do I often feel a gazillion years old, sitting with a bunch of people in their late teens (and some who are, I swear, about twelve), but I also feel like a member of an alien species.

I have come to realise over the years that my school was an exceptional one in many ways.  Kids didn’t pull you down if you did well – quite the opposite, most of the time.  We frequently had lively discussions in class (especially with one teacher, who was very easy to sidetrack with questions about aliens).  Talking while a teacher was talking was a no-no, and you would never have gotten away with irritating the people around you by disrespectfully talking through an entire lecture.  Students had at least a basic understanding of what I’ve realised in this country are tricky subjects – spelling and grammar.  We could all, at least, string a grammatically correct sentence together.  Not so with many of my fellow undergraduates.

I realise I sound like a typical member of the older generation lamenting the habits of the younger, but (a) I’m not all that old; and (b) I’m sure there really is something odd going on here.

Where’s the enthusiasm?  At first I thought people were shy to speak up in seminars and workshops, but after a year and half, they still aren’t talking.  Tutors’ questions are, 99% of the time, answered by crickets.  After a fortnight, I got sick of the sound of my own voice answering out of pity.  The thing that strikes me over and over again is that these students don’t seem particularly interested in their subject.  Brits are difficult to get excited at the best of times (unless it’s about soccer – er, pardon me – football or Coronation Street), but this is ridiculous.  Why are you wasting thousands of pounds half-heartedly studying something you’re not very interested in, I ask?  Are other universities’ students the same way?  Is this a cultural difference?  A generational difference?  A class difference?

I got overly excited this week when I noticed a student was wearing a Star Wars t-shirt.  You would think this kind of thing would be common on campus, but I assure you it isn’t – not even among my fellow Media students (this girl was an English student).  It’s rare to even see an unusual haircut or colour.  Perhaps living in London warped my expectations in this regard.  I need to head back to Camden to feel mildly normal.

I love being a student and having a whole library to get lost in, and I’ve made a small group of great friends (people that actually, you know, read), but I confess I am absolutely bewildered by the culture...or lack of it.  

Tell me in the comments below what your school/university experiences were or are.  I’d love to know if I’m alone in this.

Monday, March 3, 2014

It's About Time

It's time to revive The Rant.

Health problems have prevented me from writing for a long time, but I've made a decision, for my own benefit, to write something every day, and some of it will make it up here.  I'm not expecting to be nominated for Blog of the Year, but if you do happen to be reading this, leave me a comment on what you'd like to read about.

You'll get movies, guaranteed, a bit of a pop culture here and there, some short stories and poems, possibly some of what I'm studying (don't worry, I'll leave out the boring Freudian stuff) and, I'm sure, a number of proper Rants.  The aim is to write more frequent, smaller posts, but if you know me at all, one thing I'm never short on is words.

Right now I've got to get back to Leatherface and his chainsaw, ready for a Horror lecture tomorrow (that's the name of the module, not a reflection on my lecturer).  Let's see how many other stupid things this group of twenty-somethings can do before the end of the movie....