Saturday, 26 February 2011

Charlie Brooker

When I think of the people I regard as heroes, at least those of whom have a voice that speaks to me, I'd list people like Doug Stanhope, Louis CK, Stewart Lee, Adam Curtis, Charlie Brooker and of course, Kanye West. A group of sneering misanthropes if ever there was. Or so they tell me anyway. I think it's because they all expose the elements of life that we'd all rather not think about too often or even forget. Which is why I like them all, really. Though none more so than Charlie Brooker. It only occurred to me as I was watching his most recent series how much his way of thinking resonates with me and just how long I've been reading and listening to his furious, bile filed rants. Furious and bile filed perhaps, but always spot on.

I probably first read his work back when he was writing for PC Zone, though at that stage I couldn't care less who was writing the articles in magazines. They were about video games, that's all that mattered. It was only when he started writing his Guardian column and nearing the end of his work on the 'TV Go Home' website that I really started paying attention. His writing was thick with barbed insults and he readily demolished anything he set his focus on. It was great. Funny and insightful. He played for laughs and used language so effectively to achieve this, but he also tapped into the anger that any right thinking person has for so much in this world.

I think why I was such a fan is because he focused on a subject close to my heart- TV (with sly references to video games now and again). He treated it with the disdain it deserved, but was also responsible for championing some of the great moments and shows that do crop up from time to time. Through his show, 'Screenwipe', I learnt about things like Deadwood, The Wire and Rome. Shows that I came to love. He cut the wheat from the chaff like no one else.

His most recent show, and one that feels like the culmination of everything he's done so far is 'How TV Ruined Your Life'. It's exactly what it sounds like and breaks down the various ways TV has irreversibly twisted how we perceive life. Focusing on subjects like Aspiration, Fear and, most recently, Love, it's both funny and chillingly accurate but doesn't tell you anything you probably haven't thought yourself. It's just does it in a much more entertaining package.

But enough of my rambling. I don't want this to sound like too much of a love letter, I just wanted an excuse to spread the word a bit and post some links. So I'll not be pleased if I get any 'Why don't you marry him already?' comments. Besides, I'm too late. The lucky bitch.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The Amazing Adventures of....

I've been banging on at a handful of people to read 'The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay' for years now. The book always seemed like a perfect fit to some of my friends and I was always eager to bang on about it to them. But after re-evaluating it recently and reading some more of Michael Chabon's work, I now think that it's a book for more than just some of my friends- it's a book for everyone. The themes and story lines just speak to a far larger audience than the comic shell that holds the whole thing together. So let me whet your whistle and convince you to pick up a copy.

I can't remember how I found the book, particularly. Though once I had, and discovered it was a Pulitzer prize winning novel and also related to the comic industry, I snapped it up, appealing as it did to both the pretentious and geeky aspects of of my personality. The book itself is set in 1939 and is about two cousins, one escaping from Prague coming to live with the other, based in New York. Kavalier and Clay, respectively. The story follows how they influence each others lives and come to form a partnership which ends up creating a widely successful comic character known as 'The Escapist'. It's a fictionalisation, though is loosely based on other key comic creators of the time, such as Stan Lee and Will Eisner, and how they drove the industry and the iconic characters they created. However, this is merely the glue which holds the whole thing together and the book itself tackles all kinds of other subjects that I won't even mention for fear of spoiling it for you.

I hadn't even heard of Chabon when I first read the book, though he quickly became one of my favourite writers. His writing alone makes the book worth reading. He's the sort of author that will write a sentence that just makes you put the book down, grin, and curse the world that you didn't write it. He makes you want to become a writer yourself. His beautiful form of descriptive writing can sometimes threaten to be twee or over-cooked, but never is. It's perfectly judged balancing act and he never fails to put you completely in the time or place he desires. He also sprinkles his books with delicious little morsels of Jewish slang or vocabulary which never fail to raise a smile. I've always found the way Jewish people use the English language (and even the sound of Yiddish) to be weirdly fascinating, especially to an outsider like me, and I love getting a peek into that world, even if it is a fictional one.

You know, I'm not going to write about this any-more for fear of saying too much. Just go and read it. I guarantee you won't regret it. In fact, you'll almost certainly want to thank me. In that case, cash is always welcome. That or a hug.  

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Chinese New Year

It's always nice to be in a country for a holiday that they don't celebrate back home. It's all exciting and new. An experience that my American chums seem to miss out on, being that they tend to celebrate not only their own holidays, but every other bloody countries. Cinco De Mayo, indeed. As for me, I got a taste of Chinese New Year in a Chinese (ish) country. It was fun and as I'm currently staying with my girlfriend and her family, nice and authentic too. Like all great holidays, the focus of Chinese New Year seems to be around food. Though what great things aren't focused around food, eh? My poor, poor body. Other than that, Chinese New Year's eve is much like any other day, apart from what I assume to be the mortar attack that happened at 12 o'clock.

Turns out it was Chinese fire crackers. Which are terrifying. They're hellishly loud. And over the course of the holiday it is open season on those bad boys. Being from 'colourful' N. Ireland your instinct is to jump when you hear loud noises, so my nerves were frazzled. It's mostly the adults who are at it too. They'll throw them at you, the swines! Though the craziest moment was actually after the New Years holidays on my way into work. It turns out most businesses let off a row of firecrackers to announce them opening for business after the new year. Which I only found out about as I weaved my way through the smoke and explosions on my mean machine. A fun way to start my new job. Though in fairness, it was kind of badass. I felt like Jason Statham.

Terrifying or not though, I'm definitely buying some for the next time I go back home. Fingers crossed they aren't counted as explosives.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011


People seem to like to ask me for advice, for some strange reason. It must be this face of mine. It's happened before, certainly, but it seems to more prevalent the older I get. I think the theory is that the older you are the more wisdom you have. Maybe you have a clue about how this whole crazy world works. Sweet, but misguided. However! I've been thinking about something recently which may very well make a good piece of advice. Finally! Let me break it down for y'all.

I enjoyed school for the most part, but couldn't wait until I ventured off into the real world. I could leave behind all of the childish bickering, the gossiping, the idiotic rivalries and most of all, the morons. None of that for me! I was off for a university education and then on to a working life with my peers! Thud. It all came crashing down around my head. I quickly realised that the 'real' world is, if anything, worse. And considerably more childish.

For me though, the most disappointing thing was how little people gave a shit. Again, one of my delusions about the working world had always been that people needed to be professional and hard working to hold down a job. Such an innocent! Half-assery is the way to get by in this life. Don't doubt it for a second. I think that a lot of people go through life in disbelief, not sure how they're getting away with it. It's cause everyone else is doing it! Hard work will do nothing but make you look like a suck up, most of the time, and on other occasions may even get you punished. I remember in one job I lost marks in a performance evaluation due to the fact that we worked overtime to get a project finished. I mean, REALLY, what were we thinking? We should have finished it in normal work hours! That was the beginning of the end of my working days in that place, let me tell you. Though I did end up staying there for 3 more years. Hey, it gave me a chance to get all my CD's ripped.

That's not to say that you shouldn't work hard. Just don't work hard for somebody else. The only person worth breaking your back for is yourself. Which can be within another institution, I'll admit. Just make sure you're doing it for the right reasons and that you'll get recognition for it. I also fully support taking a half-assed job to support some other worthwhile cause, like travel or art.

I think everyone ends up working in a pointless, stupid job for a moronic, petty boss, at least at some stage in their lives. It's one of the terrible realities of life; just don't get trapped. Which happens all too easily. Just keep it simple. Keep you head down and smile politely. Keep it half-assed.