Sunday, May 30, 2004

A dreaded sunny day... 

handsome devil
You're "Cemetary Gates" ! You're smarter
than other people, with their trite
romanticized ideas about things. You have a
wicked sense of satire.

Which Smiths Song Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla


I've been reading about Montesquieu this evening, and came across this (an interpretation of M's thought by the author), which I think is quite a beautiful line:

Even the most benevolent despotism is a violation of the human spirit, and can maintain itself only be tending toward extreme and terrible simplicity. ("Philosophy and the state in France", N. Keohane, p. 401)

Basically, this seems to be part of a thought that wherever there is simplicity in government there is despotism, and that all governments naturally tend towards this unless checked by institutional complexity or good fortune. Hence the famous checks and balances.

Holding Back The Jeers 

Another link via Paul - a website dedicated to finding 1000 people more annoying than Mick Hucknall. It's a hard task, but I suppose someone's got to do it. Particularly fun is the page of annoying people who have been redeemed by death.

Keeping the game up 

Chris has descended into putting up porn - which is probably bad for his reputation, but very good for us as punters. There's a splendid tribute to bestiality over at the Virtual Stoa (and I can confirm that these classic pieces do sound just as good when read aloud).

[Via Paul] One man obviously took Gerald of Wales too seriously - he hanged himself after his wife found out he was having an affair with a hen. But what of the hen? Won't someone think of the hen?!

Lastly, there's proof for those who doubted it that there really is something very Freudian about hunting:

Well, as luck would have it, the birds were hot for some good Hen-lovin’ and they were responding quite well to my calling, even though this was but my second year of hunting turkeys and my first time calling

These talents come with time. The Karma Sutra of bestiality doesn't appear to have made it to the shelves yet, though...

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Roll on the abolition... 

Prince William plans a military career... Good. I'd have hated for him to flout my expectations and become a peace activist. Plus, he might get shot.

What's annoying, though, is the way the BBC treats royal coverage as a licence to go into all the sort of stupid celeb-loving detail they're usually too 'high-brow' to cover (leaving it to the tabloids and Heat when it comes to normal celebrities):

Prince William joked with photographers... warning the assembled press: "Mind the cow pats"... He looked every inch the farmer as he posed for pictures in a green flat cap and wax jacket at Home Farm, close to Prince Charles's Highgrove home... [He and Prince Charles] then wandered into the middle of the docile brown and white cows with William letting one lick his hand.


Friday, May 28, 2004


I was in the cinema, watching The Saddest Music In The World, when I gradually became aware that the guy next to me was fidgeting an awful lot in his seat. Looking over, something must have caught my eye, because I suddenly realised that he had my bag on his lap and was busy rooting through it. It being quite dark in there, I checked around the floor first to make sure I wasn't mistaken, before establishing that it was definitely my bag he'd taken. Still thinking it might have been a mistake, and that he might have thought it was his, I leaned over and whispered - 'I think that's mine'. He showed no understanding, nor any inclination to cease looking through it. So, somewhat disturbed now, I leaned over and took the bag from him.

He gave little resistance, but looked a bit put out, as if I'd taken something of his. He then proceeded to ask, in a low but insistent voice, 'Can I have it back please?', repeating this and reaching for the bag, with me all the while insisting, slightly annoyed now, 'it's my bag!', until the man in the row in front turned round and asked us to be quiet. Seeing that I couldn't stop the other man from talking, nor from trying to take my possessions, he then fetched the manager and the two of them finally pulled the guy off me (who had by this time got out of his seat for further pathetic attempts at bag-taking, making me feel like a nasty playground bully holding his lunchbox just out of reach).

The whole thing was completely surreal, since neither I nor he really behaved as if he was in the act of trying to steal from me (if he'd succeeded, he'd only have got away with several theoretical books about property, ironically enough). It was like having a conversation where neither person speaks the same language. And all the while the screen was playing a multi-national heartbreaking extravaganza version of 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot'. I'm sure nothing like this would have happened if it had been Troy...

Thursday, May 27, 2004

"She has the eyes of Caligula, and the lips of Marilyn Monroe" 

As Chris celebrates his third virtual birthday (so young and yet so old), we can take the opportunity to look back at some of those first posts and, skipping quickly over a link to thatcherweb.com, it may be a good time to re-ask the question first asked three years ago:

"Does any good reason remain for voting for New Labour candidates at the forthcoming election?"

UPDATE: Such a comment coming from a party apparatchik, no less... Shocking.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004


I promise I'm not completely obsessed with all things queer. But here's another post on it. A rant actually, which I usually avoid.

I'm so used to surrounding myself with relatively enlightened people, or at least people who know better than to act ignorantly around me, that I've almost ceased to be aware that terms like 'queer', 'dyke' etc. are derogatory to some people.


But when some arsehole walks along, and completely unprovoked says, in a high-pitched 'funny' voice 'Hello dyke!' just after passing me, I remember.

And I'm bloody annoyed.

Long Live The Ephemeral! 

I've been having a visual day. Here are some of the things I've been looking at:

(From the excellent site, Political Graphics).

On the feminism front - Guerrilla Girls: 'Fighting discrimination with facts, humour and fake fur since 1985'

Dyke Action Machine - DAM! Visual reinvention. N.B. k.d.lang is not the only lesbian.

'We defend and destroy people we don't understand': Protest Graphics

Black People Love Us.

And the world's best Christian, Betty Bowers, on the topic of the moment - the sanctity of marriage. Praise the lord!

And what else did I learn today? Boredom is always counter-revolutionary.

Entering the ecosystem 

I'm a Flippery Fish in the Truth Laid Bear Ecosystem.

Yes, I've made it - evolution in a day. But I'm sure it can work in reverse too...

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind 

First off the bat, I enjoyed this film very much, and it's another item for my list of evidence that it's been a very good year for films indeed. Jim Carrey is much better than I expected he would be, though it's perhaps unfortunate for him that, thanks to early films like Ace Ventura, I'll probably say that about every new film of his I see. Though for most actors it's a good idea to do popular stuff then branch out, he's so indelibly marked by those films that, for once, I really think it might have been better not to be famous first.

The film had something of the atmosphere and graininess of late '90s indie flicks like The Ice Storm and Buffalo 66. Being higher budget than those films, it also managed some beautiful landscape shooting. Beyond that, the concept of the film is a good one and it was well-executed. Carrey and Winslet, ex-lovers, decided to get their memories erased and gradually realise they don't want to do so, in the process proving that there's nothing simple about memories and emphasising something of the potential for abuse of such techniques. Importantly, the film's interest didn't hang too heavily on playing about with scene order - unlike 21 Grams, which in A-Z order would probably have been even more dire than it was.

I have some reservations, though. Both Winslet and Carrey are excellent in this, but a lot of the other actors leave something to be desired. The subplot of the film - the external scene of memory erasure and interaction between the people in the Lacuna firm - seems a bit 'tacked on' on general, and the end 'revelation' of that plot lacks interest to the same degree that the subplot itself does. Kirsten Dunst, who was really quite good in The Virgin Suicides, continues to prove herself otherwise endlessly disappointing and irritating. Mark Ruffalo's not much better (though low expectations mean he seems better), and I can honestly say I'd be the first to book a seat and Elijah Wood's public hanging.

Beyond that, the middle section of the film constantly treads a thin line between being good and being very painful to watch, as the action goes back to Carrey's childhood and you can see that the temptation is ever-present for the directors to allow him back into a few of his old wacky faces and gestures. I think it successfully stays on the right side of this line, but others might disagree.

Altogether I found it very decent. Not the best film of the year by any means, but thought-provoking and often quite fun.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Religious enlightenment 

New queer friends = new queer links. So here's Queer Jihad, a site directed against homophobic muslim clerics. Very interesting indeed.

Sunday, May 23, 2004


I, and around 15,000 other fans, spent several hours last night at a Morrissey concert, helping him celebrate his 45th birthday. The concert was excellent, mainly because of the vibes from the audience and, for me, because I was in the front row. 'Morrissey', as a star, an idol in the proper sense (really - there are hundreds of thousands of shrines to Morrissey all over the world; you need only enter any Indie-fan student's room), only survives on fans' adoration. If he had started his career in 1987 he would never have become so famous as he is now - he lacks the charisma onstage these days to create afresh any real audience spirit. But the audience don't need Morrissey as he is now to love him. They just need something which resembles him (if a little less quiffular, a little more Sinatra-slime than before) and makes most of the same gestures. That's enough to send them wild with the memories of what The Smiths were, and perhaps what Morrissey solo was in the early days. His voice can bring it all back if you close your eyes; but he's too old to be what he tries to be.

That said, I really did have a fantastic time, and I count myself among the fans who don't really need much from Morrissey to love him. The new album is very good and the support acts were unusually good too (Damien Dempsey and Franz Ferdinand). Above all, I've spent eight years loving The Smiths and loving Morrissey, so being as close to him as I was last night was a dream come true.

But if anyone asked me why they should get into him for what he is now, I wouldn't quite be sure what to say...

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Speckled Jim! 

In the same vein, Soviet suicide dogs, trained to run under tanks and then explode, sometimes failed to reach the right target, due to having been trained using Soviet tanks.

All of which is generally reminiscent of Blackadder and 'Corporal Punishment'.

Suicide... pigeons? 

Apparently British intelligence has always been on the cutting edge. I can't imagine why the idea of suicide bomber pigeons didn't catch on at the end of WWII. Possibly it has something to do with the best trained ones all being homing pigeons...

Get a life! 

You can tell you've been up too long when... you start composing television songs intended to educate children in the principles and foundations of Hobbes' civil society (as prescribed by Leviathan XXX):

(To the teletubbies theme tune)

'Solitary, nasty, brutish, short (and poore!)
State of nature... state of nature... State. Of. Warre. (eh-oh)'

Believe it or not, the actual programme which would follow is even more disturbing.

The First Ever Virus Hoax 



The "gift" is disguised as a large wooden horse about two stories tall. It tends to show up outside the city gates and appears to be abandoned. DO NOT let it through the gates! It contains hardware that is incompatible with Trojan programming. It will destroy your army, sack your town, and kill your women and children. If you have already received such a gift, DO NOT OPEN IT! Take it back out of the city unopened and set fire to it by the beach.


FROM: hector@studmuffin.com
TO: laocoon@doomgloom.edu
RE: Greeks bearing gifts


I hate to break to you, but this is one of the oldest hoaxes there is. I've seen variants on this warning come through on other listservs; the most famous was the "Pandora's Box" hoax, which is practically as old as the HelleNet. Here are a few tipoffs that this is a hoax:

1) This "Forward this message to everyone you know" crap. If it were really meant as a warning about the Greek army, why tell anyone to post it to the Phonecians, Sumerians, and Cretans?
2) Use of exclamation points. Always a giveaway.
3) It's signed "Apollo." So far as I know, the gods do not have email. In any case, the lack of a real header with a detailed address is always an indication that the message is not genuine.
4) It is not technically possible for a horse to overwrite your entire city. A horse is just an animal, after all.

Next time you get a message like this, just delete it. I appreciate your concern, but once you've been around the block a couple times you'll realize how annoying this kind of stuff is.



And for the more scholarly among you, the Latin version: 'CAVE! CAVE! CAVE!' etc.

Both available here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

"I'd rather be a quack than a ducky..." 

It's the Blackadder Random Quote Generator!

""I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a concrete elephant."

Every good home should have one.

Revisionist Rubbish 

This is disgusting:

"...we all know that Zionism is Fascism and the only "rules" of fighting Fascism are BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. So now let's go over what "by any means necessary means". By any means necessary, means by ANY MEANS necessary...

...Even those who stand solid on other key issues of the day, would have us fight Zionism, free of Human Bombs (even thought "Israeli" is not a civilian or ethnicity but status as Settler Colonialists, but rather cuff our right arm to our left leg and slap the Zionist Enemy effeminately while asking "Am I being too anti-semitic?".
[sic sic sic, to all of it]

He goes on, after a lot of other rubbish bits of nonsense, to write:

You see you can not fight Zionism free of the need to cuff your right arm to you left leg, until you are willing to go head to head with the fact that "Jewish" suffering is largely irrational, illusionary, and most of all THE PRIMARY TACTIC FOR REALLY OPPRESSING AND EXPLOITING OTHERS.

So much for Indymedia being an "outlet for the creation of radical, accurate, and passionate tellings of truth." This writer can't even be accurate in his language, let alone his facts. The whole piece is a vile bit of Holocaust revisionism, which doesn't deserve any sort of airing, let alone publishing on a 'respected' server.

[Via 'The Unspeakable Truth']

Monday, May 17, 2004

Mural Discourse 

There's a debate going on on the walls of Oxford at the moment as to whether the slogan "Love is Subversive" is something noble or simply the product of a nob. You decide.

Also interesting is the series of exclamations along New College walls - '?', '?!', '!!!?' This seems to be a case of 'invent-your-own graffiti'. Just fill it in with the proposition of your choice and you're set.

As to whether or not the gargoyles outside New College look like busty Stalins, we'll have to wait for photographic evidence...

Are you going to San Francisco Boston? 

Happy news from Massachusetts.

I can't find a full picture gallery yet, but there are pictures illustrating articles here and here.

Black as night in the nut hut 

[Via Norm]

Which Beatles song are you?

"You are 'Help'... because you really need help! Go to the NUT HUT!"

Which Stones song are you?

"You are "Paint it Black." One part suffering, one part anger, one part creepy, you are the perfect amalgamation of rock and a spirit that just can't take it anymore. Then, of course, there are those people who think you're all about an acid trip. Whatever; use your imagination. You're clearly good at it."

Toronto Blessing and the noble savage... 

I had an extremely strange evening on Saturday, spent in the company of about four or five hundred born-again Christians in a service which was like nothing I'd ever experienced before. I went along, a typical cynic, because I'd been told that the people they had visiting had healed members of the congregation the night before - of asthma, broken limbs, back problems and the like - and, having a very visible skin disease myself, wanted to prove it was rubbish if they tried to do the same thing again.

The visitors were John and Carol Arnott, founders of the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church in the 1980s, at which many people have supposedly been healed and the phenomenon of 'holy laughter' has found a big place. Since the phenomenon has spread, with visitors to the church returning home and bringing the same things with them, it's come to be known as the 'Toronto Blessing'. Needless to say, the movement has pretty dodgy foundations.

There were some incredibly weird things going on in the meeting. Hysterical laughter would spread across the room and then fade (I felt like laughing at points, but not like that). People would fall on the floor when John touched them and start barking like dogs, or screaming uncontrollably, and by the end at least half of the people there were lying on the floor 'soaking in the holy spirit' after he had blown on them. Carol was 'casting out' demons from one woman as I left - a woman I'd already seen in an hysterical fit on the floor earlier in the night. As well as all this there was 'prophesying', 'speaking in tongues', 'testimonials of healing' and a lot of other stuff which seemed almost normal by comparison. The meeting lasted nearly four hours.

I can only say that I felt it was simply mass hysteria, but it was cynically-induced mass hysteria and it left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. A lot was done to sustain the tension in the room and force people into a group mindset. When the talk began John would force people to stayed zoned in by repeatedly making people turn to their neighbours and pray with them, or shout statements at them such as 'Fire on you!' I'm also pretty sure some people were planted to start off the laughter each time it happened, as it always seemed to begin in the same place. All this kept the tension going for the final 'laying on of hands', which put most of the congregation to the floor.

I had hands lain on me and of course I didn't fall, which prompted John to call to the member of the ministry team behind me 'More spirit on this one! More!'. So then I had two hands pressed around my ears and a man chanting to me that the holy spirit should fill me. But with his hands on my ears I was losing my balance, swaying a fair bit, and determined not to fall. In the end he gave in and said 'you're doing just fine... you've got the spirit in you... you don't need to fall', at which point I broke the spell by turning round and nodding agreement.

But all this, the cynical tactics, the laughter, the screaming and everything else, is annoying me much less in retrospect than what I remember of John's talk. Because the talk was vile in many ways - he would sidetrack simply in order to have a rant about evolution, for instance. But what really got to me was the huge emphasis being placed on emotional and spiritual contact with the holy spirit, and the de-emphasis of rationality. We were told to really 'love' Jesus, to stop questioning things and instead to soak in the holy spirit. Then we were told how fast Christianity was spreading in Asia and Africa, and he returned at several points to the example of Nigeria.

We were told at one point that the people of Africa, and Nigeria in particular, were really open to spiritual teachings, that they accepted these things more easily than we did and we should do the same. Which to me basically interpreted as 'these people are closer to their own weird rituals than you are, so they're more open to ours'. And here's the rub. Because so much of the talk seemed to centre on this sort of assertion and because that assertion is deeply founded in the 'noble savage' racist mentality, fetishising what we were once told to despise. How can an entire movement justify itself in that way?

I haven't been able to stop thinking about the meeting during the past few days. I've always been one for moral grey lines, but I've never felt quite so much that I might acutally be in the presence of evil. How ironic that it should be at a 'Christian' event...

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

For the terminally bored... 

It's 'The Exorcist' in 30 seconds. Re-enacted by bunnies.

Beat that.

Run for your lives! 

There are deadly people around! Today Michael Brooke notes that, having written about him only just this week, the producer Erik Smith has now died. Coincidence? Penguin-lovers everywhere think not! Anyone who's read Kurkov's 'Death & The Penguin' will know that what this 'coincidence' really means is that Michael is unwittingly involved in a mafia plot to knock off important people who might become difficult for the organisation later. Whatever you do, don't let Michael write about you now! It's as good as a death warrant!

N.B. For anyone interested in wacky Ukrainian writing of the sort mentioned above, here's a review of Kurkov's book, easily the best of the three translated into English, though it's sequel, 'Penguin Lost', is pretty decent too.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Church of Fools 

I'm very amused by the idea of an online church. The first two were launched today, and the Church of England has also appointed its first virtual pastor (there must be a blog title in that). In one way it's quite a good idea - it may appeal to people who are housebound, those in countries unsupportive of Christianity and to those who simply think their local vicar's a bastard.

But I think there'll be a big problem to overcome, which is just that it's such an obvious target for jokes - 'CofE goes cyber' headlines, and 'now they won't see if you fall asleep during the sermon' etc. More seriously, maybe one can find communion with others online as much as in real life, but something which increasing levels of depression and isolation in young people suggests is that such contact isn't a very good replacement for physical meeting. Maybe I'm just being reactionary and it's all a wonderful idea, but it does seem a little odd.

Odder still, though, is the Methodist version, which has gone a step further and created online 3D representations of its services. I vote to be the guy in the 666 sports shirt in this picture.

Monday, May 10, 2004

No Beer Queers Unite 

Further to the last post on this, the Queer Theory Discussion Group will be going ahead with its first meeting on Tuesday 18th May, 7.30pm in Lecture Rm A, Magdalen College. Drinks provided.

Discussion text available here (or through me, for those not on networks subscribed to JSTOR). The text may not be the best, but hopefully I won't be in full charge of choosing them in future, so they'll get better.

All welcome (provided, you know, that you're an Oxford university member of some description, or reasonably good at pretending).

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Song Answers 

Since attention spans, particularly mine, are quite short, I'll post the meme answers up now. No one got more than 9, and the person who got that many had a bit of an in really by having had near constant access to my music collection for the past 3.5 years:

1. David Bowie - Sound & Vision
2. Johnny Cash - Sunday Morning Coming Down
3. Joan Baez (Bob Dylan) - Farewell Angelina
4. Manic Street Preachers - Patrick Bateman
5. Bruce Springsteen - Born To Run
6. The Undertones - Teenage Kicks
7. Suede - Breakdown
8. Joni Mitchell - Blue
9. The Doors - When The Music's Over
10. The Clash - What's My Name
11. U2 - Wake Up Dead Man
12. REM - Man On The Moon
13. Joy Division - Isolation
14. The Smiths - I Want The One I Can't Have
15. The Cure - Lullaby
16. Simon & Garfunkel - The Sound Of Silence
17. The Specials - Ghost Town
18. The Violent Femmes - Blister In The Sun
19. Talking Heads - Once In A Lifetime
20. Jimmy Cliff - The Harder They Come

Some of these were very hard, but I'm surprised no one got Simon & Garfunkel. Well done to all who tried.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Queer Theory 

This is very much an Oxford University-based post, so apologies to everyone else.

I'm hoping to set up a Queer Theory discussion group in the university, serving as a focus point for queer study across the university and at all levels (to my knowledge, none such exists at the moment, though there are a number of people at all levels pursuing their own interests in the area independently).

The group would hopefully be interdisciplinary, but the focus would probably be on issues relatively well contained within a broad 'social science' bracket. There's some suggestion it might also work with recent and/or important texts as leaping pads for discussion. However, all details are extremely open for discussion at the moment. I have a lot of ideas myself, but am in no way interested in dictating a format which might prevent interested people from coming forward.

I'm hoping to have an initial meeting with interested parties before the end of 4th week, but I'm aware that with something like this it might take a while for potentially interested people to get involved. So if anyone reading this is interested, or knows anyone who might be interested, please put them/yourself in contact with me via either of the addresses in the sidebar.

Importantly, don't feel put off if you don't self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans etc. Unless members of the group were to decide otherwise, it seems perfectly reasonable for it to be open to all members of the university with a positive interest in the area.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Meme time 

On your current playlist, hit shuffle and pick the first twenty songs on the list (no matter how cheesy or embarrassing), and write down your favourite line of the song. Try to avoid putting the song title in the line. Then have your friends comment and see if they know the songs.

I'm going to bend the rules, because as we've established, I'm a fan of obsolete technology, and have no computer sound system. So here's twenty cryptic lines picked at random:

1. Blue, blue, electric blue, that's the colour of my room
2. I'm wishing Lord that I was stoned
3. The sky is on fire
4. Subtly disturbing like normal behaviour
5. I'll love you with all the madness in my soul
6. I need excitement, oh I need it bad
7. Does he only come in a Volvo?
8. Everybody's saying that hell's the hippest way to go
9. Cancel my subscription to the resurrection
10. What the hell is wrong with me?
11. I'm alone in this world - and a fucked up world it is too.
12. See you in heaven if you make the list.
13. I'm ashamed of the things I've been put through, I'm ashamed of the person I am
14. On the day that your mentality catches up with your biology
15. Spiderman is having me for dinner tonight
16. Silence like a cancer grows.
17. Government leaving the youth on the shelf
18. I'm high as a kite, I just might stop to check you out
19. This is not my beautiful house, this is not my beautiful wife.
20. I'm gonna get my share of what's mine.

The next thing to do is compose a coherent storyline from these...

Macdonalds owns the letter 'M' 

The design studio Plazm has been distributing a free font known as Capitalis Pirata for the last few years, composed entirely of company logos and corporate iconography. Unfortunately, its publicisation in a magazine recently has led to Macdonalds issuing a 'cease and desist' letter, demanding it withdraw the letter 'M' from the alphabet, as its customers might become confused when seeing the 'Golden Arches' elsewhere.


Wednesday, May 05, 2004

The Dreaded Lurgy! 

Being an almost lifelong Goon Show fan (my friends say they can really tell, those who've heard of them), the word 'lurgy' has always had a prominent place in my vocabulary. But I hadn't imagined the word would actually have made it to the big time until tonight. From the OED:

Usu. in phr. the dreaded lurgy [bold in OED too]. A fictitious, highly infectious disease invented (?) and made a byword by the Radio Goons (GOON 4).
For the possibility that the word is not invented, cf. fever-lurgy, dial. var. of FEVER-LURDEN, and E.D.D. s.v. lurgies, lurgy adj. & n.

1954 Radio Times 9 Nov. 20/3 The Goon Show... Poor Arnold Fringe is suddenly stricken with the Dreaded Lurgi... Within a few days Lurgi has claimed nine thousand victims. 1969 I. & P. OPIE Children's Games ii. 75 (heading) The dreaded lurgy. 1971 It 15-29 July 5/3 The youth of Australia have been saved once more from the dreaded lurgy, marijuana. 1974 H. MACINNES Climb to Lost World ix. 149, I was beginning to feel weak and knew that I had caught the dreaded swamp lurgy.

In less common usage, I'd guess from the stares I get when using them, are the phrases: 'He's fallen in the water!', 'What time is it Eccles?' and 'Ying Tong Iddle I Po!'

But I'm sure their time will come...

Monday, May 03, 2004

Anarchic Statehood 

I've discovered a website in which I can fulfil my dreams of world - or at least state - domination: Nation States (TM). And so I've established the People's Republic of Sovereign Blades, which has the following characteristics:

Civil Rights: Excellent Economy: Basket Case Political Freedoms: Excellent

Location: Magdalenia

The People's Republic of Sovereign Blades is a tiny, socially progressive nation, notable for its punitive income tax rates. Its compassionate, intelligent population of 5 million are fiercely patriotic and enjoy great social equality; they tend to view other, more capitalist countries as somewhat immoral and corrupt.

It is difficult to tell where the omnipresent, socially-minded government stops and the rest of society begins, but it devotes most of its attentions to Social Welfare, with areas such as Law & Order and Defence receiving almost no funds by comparison. The average income tax rate is 67%, and even higher for the wealthy. Private enterprise is illegal, but for those in the know there is a slick and highly efficient black market in Door-to-door Insurance Sales.

Crime is totally unknown. Sovereign Blades's national animal is the yorkshire terrier, which frolics freely in the nation's many lush forests, and its currency is the potato.

Now to see how I survive in the world of virtual politics...

Sunday, May 02, 2004

The Simpsons' Family Values 

I pass rather too much of my time reading strange things with the pretext that they relate loosely to my work. So last night my bedtime reading was an award-winning article from Political Theory (XXVII, 6, December '99) on the politics of The Simpsons. Not its narrow partisan politics, which the article argues (and I agree) are pretty even-handed with a slight pro-Democrat bias, but its broader political assumptions and subtle assertions. Cantor pictures a Simpsons in which the religious nuclear family and the civic values of small-town life are asserted even while they're being weekly satirised. The echoes of Plato are perhaps over-emphasised here (except in the episode in which the Mensa group take over Springfield, which I agree is The Republic all over), but the wider analysis is pretty accurate.

In terms of its family values, The Simpsons is really just the leading light among a few shows which stress the extent to which an outwardly dysfunctional family can bond together and work pretty well as a unit whenever challenged from outside. Married With Children, an awful show about a misogynist pig of a shoe salesman, his family and his neighbours, has some episodes in which the family finally gets revenge on the world. For the most part, it really is dreadful, and what it does in this line The Simpsons has always done better. By contrast, Malcolm In The Middle is a very intelligent show which has crossed over from teenage to family viewing, becoming more like The Simpsons in terms of its complexity all the time. And what it lacks in Simpsonian cultural referencing it makes up for in insanity.

A recent example is an episode in which exhausted mother Lois leaves her three middle sons - Reese, Malcolm and Dewey - to care for the new baby while their father goes out to buy nappies. Lois spends almost the entire episode asleep on the floor, having fallen off her bed and being too tired to get up.

The father lacks the change for nappies, so tries to shoplift them, and when caught is forced to do two hours work at minimum wage to pay for them. He ends up leading a workers' revolution against the shop manager, in which they storm his seat of government (the speaker booth from which he makes announcements to the shop) and finally replace the showtunes soundtrack of the shop with the Phil Collins they'd all voted for back when it was democratic.

Malcolm and Reese, meanwhile, desert Dewey to look after the baby when they are invited to a ball by some girls who wanted to find the most repulsive boys possible in order to make their neglectful boyfriends jealous. Dewey, aged about 7, then spends most of the episode trying to get the baby - without either clean nappies (it ends up wrapped in a newspaper) or a dummy (the boys have taken it with them by mistake) - to go to sleep.

He thus begins to tell a story in which he and the baby find a new house through their parents' closet, a mirror image of their own but one in which they can actually have a good life, which their parents have been keeping from them all this time. A telling line was 'so that's why they always go to bed really early' (in a house which already has five children).

A lot of his resentment at the family comes out, particularly when he finds the room with 'the perfect pants' (trousers) - ones which haven't passed down through three sets of brothers, and don't have decaying dead animals in the pockets. But as in most of the episodes the family proves itself after all, when the brothers rush home with the forgotten dummy, the father makes it home with the nappies after his coup, and the mother wakes up to tell them all off for preventing the baby sleeping.

Obviously, this isn't quite The Simpsons, but it takes a lot of its sensibility from the culture The Simpsons has created. Modern sitcoms can everywhere be found reasserting family values through the covering lens of dysfunction. The question, I suppose, is whether this is a Conservative agenda, or simply a reflection of what 'postmodern' viewers from television - counterculture without radicalism, the hip always placed alongside the reassuring.

Either way, The Simpsons has given us a lot in terms of cultural and political material in the past 15 years or so, if only in its strangely insightful two-liners:

(Homer has just revealed that Aliens have taken over the Presidential race)

Voter: I think I'll vote for a third party candidate!
Alien Democrat: Go ahead - throw your vote away!

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Oxford Proud 

The rainbow flag is flying from Oxford Town Hall tonight, which is really pretty special. The town council and gay community have worked together really well to make the town's second gay pride, which was held today, a great success and much better than last year's. As a first attempt last year's event wasn't too bad, but the people involved were trying too hard to make it like London and Brighton prides, when I and a few others on the committee were busy arguing for it to be more of a 'village' community event, given the nature of the Oxford scene (which is small and with no obvious nightlife centre).

This year they've worked on the village model, with a lot more stalls and things to do - tug of war, dog show etc. - and it was really quite fun and well attended, given the awful weather. Hopefully it will get even better next year, on the back of a good reputation. As for my part of it, the Queer Rights group lost money, but did a fair bit in terms of community outreach and generally helping out with stewarding and stuff (I was too lazy for that part). I'll post up a couple of pictures of the event when I can find a host for them.

'Distress will force a man upon strange expedients'... 

The new sex laws for the UK come into force today. From my viewpoint, one great triumph is the removal of men from the sex offences register who'd been having consensual homosexual sex, but with a partner classed as below the age of consent. I'm also very happy about the tightening up of rape definitions, though I still don't think it's going far enough to secure a really good conviction rate. Any measure on this is welcome, though.

Of course, most of the attention is being paid to new crimes and tougher sentences for paedophiles. But as far as I'm aware relatively little notice has been paid to the new crimes involving necrophilia and bestiality. I'd have liked there to be some sort of open debate on these matters, which despite offending notions of 'common decency' are much more morally grey, I think, than any of the others mentioned.

Yet even in my most liberal moments I always find it necessary to say something like 'of course, I'm not into anything like that', which must show some sort of traditionalist in me after all.

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