Archive for December, 2009

Why Stephenie Meyer is an irresponsible hack

December 20, 2009

There is something you should know about me before I commence this post:  I am a literary snob, and I am not ashamed of it.  When it comes to literature I have some strong, fairly obnoxious opinions and I’m certainly not immune to considering myself above people.  This article is heavily biased and perhaps even mildly venomous – so don’t complain about it, because I already know, I wrote it that way on purpose, and you were warned.  I don’t apologise, and I am definitely not sorry.

If I were the kind of person who could get away with such witticisms, I would start this article with “You know, the first time I read the word ‘mormon’ in a description of Mrs Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, I wondered for a moment if it was a typo of ‘moron'” – in fact, fuck it, I’ve already started the article with it now.  That may be a cheap shot, but honestly, I think it’s time I set out a clear, rational and definitive explanation of why I hate the Twilight series.  I think all my friends and acquaintances are fairly sick of not being able to mention the word ‘twilight’ around me without subjecting themselves to a ten minute rant full of expletives.

I’ll start by pointing out, probably controversially, that whilst researching this article on the internet, I’ve noticed that those forum posters and article commenters who are speaking up in support of Miss Meyer’s efforts generally seem to have more than a little trouble stringing a coherent sentence together.  They seem to have particular issues with the rules of capitalisation and punctuation, often believing that full stops and the acronym ‘lol’ are freely interchangeable.  The people making a stand against Twilight, on the other hand, usually demonstrate at least a secondary school level of education.

Now, I’m not saying that all smart people hate Twilight (although I may be implying that they should), but I am saying that they don’t tend to admit to it – and if they do admit to it, they at least know better than to try and defend it.

I’m going to admit right now, before you even get the chance to make this accusation, that yes, I do think I can write better than Stephenie Meyer.  I absolutely think that, and I’m fairly sure that every English teacher I’ve ever had would agree – particularly my fifth year teacher Mr Graham who, I am reliably informed, threw a copy of Twilight out of the classroom window when a student asked if she could write her Higher English essay on it.

The first problem I have with the Twilight books is the sheer amount of typos and basic spelling and grammar errors.  All of these are glaringly obvious, and if I can pick them out on a quick flick-through, any editor worth their own weight in shit should have been able to see and correct them in an average morning’s work.  While this particular problem is more attributable to lazy editing, I am going to take a personal shot here and say that I would be ashamed to have submitted something so riddled with errors even as a first draft.  And this is the edited version, so I can only imagine how awful it was to begin with.  How did these things ever make it past the slush pile?  I agree that a good writer may not necessarily have a shelf full of spelling bee trophies, so I might let Meyer off – if it weren’t for, well, absolutely everything else.

Bella Swan is an unlikeable character.  I’m sorry, but she is.  She is sulky, dull, clumsy, boring and contrary.  She might have irresistibly delicious blood, but she certainly has fuck all else going for her –  in fact if I was Edward Cullen (who I will get to in a moment), I would have killed her and been thankful for the decent meal, and done the world a favour straight off the bat.  Now I know  this seems like an indefensible point – “but millions of teenage girls DO like Bella!” you cry – but they don’t.  The reason they ‘like’ her is that they know that they would hypothetically be better for Edward than she is.  She is dispensable, and that’s why her character ‘works’.  If you have the misfortune of actually owning a copy of Twilight, take a quick skim through it.  Bella is barely described at all.  She is deliberately written as a shell into which teenage girls, and for that matter, supposedly-grown women who still think like teenage girls, can insert themselves, in order to play the leading role in the fantasy Stephenie Meyer weaves for them.

What I haven’t figured out is how, despite being entirely composed of poorly fleshed out and thoroughly unlikeable qualities, Bella still seems one of the most obvious ‘Mary Sue’ character I’ve ever come across.  I suspect it’s because, even though she is clearly a boring, irritating, wet-blanket bint, ALL of the other characters are for some reason enthralled by her, apparently seeing through her sullen exterior to some beautiful inner quality.  This would be a little more believable if Bella herself, through her narration or actions, gave us any indication of a spark of inner beauty but, frankly, she doesn’t.  Ever.

On a slightly more practical note, in the first book she nearly faints at the sight of some tiny drops of blood in a biology class.  A couple of books later, however, she is ceaselessly begging to become a vampire – a creature who survives solely by sucking the blood of others.  Excuse me, but… what?  I appreciate that this is a story about supernatural beings but let’s try to maintain some sense of continuity, shall we Stephenie?  Bella also cannot stand the idea of her own engagement and wedding.  (At this point, I start to wonder if Ms Meyer is indeed a woman, let alone whether she is actually married.)  So why does she bother to get engaged and married?  Because these are the only conditions on which Edward will agree to A: fuck her and B: kill her and make her a vampire.

Now, I don’t care if Meyer is using this plot point as a vehicle for some Mormon message about not having sex before marriage.  Fiction has been used to convey religious or moral messages since the beginning of time, and I don’t see a problem with that.  I’ll even go so far as to say that as far as hidden messages go, “don’t feel obliged to fuck everyone you meet” is certainly not the worst message you could give to today’s impressionable teenage girls – but that’s where Stephenie Meyer’s useful suggestions for the modern teenager end.

To explain this point, let’s take a look at some of the basic plot points of the book.  Bella Swan is seventeen.  Edward Cullen – while he may LOOK seventeen – is, due to his vampiric nature, considerably older at one hundred and four.  In America, where the legal age of consent is 18, this could be seen to constitute paedophilia.  In all fairness, I live in t he UK, where the age of consent is 16, which I happen to think is about right.  I wouldn’t consider sex between two seventeen year olds to be wrong in any way.  I would, however, see sex between a seventeen year old and a hundred and four year old as pretty creepy, legal or not – and quite frankly, at the age of only twenty one, I already can’t stand the company of most seventeen year olds.  Edward on the other hand, with his century of worldly experience and wisdom, for some reason wants to spend eternity with one – and by all accounts, not even a particularly pretty or pleasant one.  Sorry, but if he was that gorgeous and stupidly rich, he could – and would – do better.  And don’t give me that ‘soulmate’ shit.  I would consider my fiance Chris to be my soulmate, if forced to use the word – but if he was as lacking in personality as Bella is, I wouldn’t stuck around long enough to even get a glimpse of his ‘soul’.

So now, we move on to Edward.  Dear, perfect, gorgeous, 104-year-old immortal sparkly Edward.  Oh, how I hate him.  Can you give me one genuinely good quality in Edward Cullen?  He doesn’t suck human blood.  You know what, neither do I, but I don’t see an army of 13 year old girls jizzing themselves over me.  (I suppose I’m also female, mortal, and decidedly un-sparkly, but still.)  In fact, you know what else I don’t do?  I don’t sneak into people’s houses at night without their permission and watch them sleep, whilst wondering if they’re dreaming about me.  I don’t follow people around and interfere in their lives.  I don’t fall creepily, desperately in love with sulky teenagers because they smell nice.  Edward, on the other hand, does all of those things, and he is worshipped as some kind of uber-boyfriend.  You know, I feel incredibly sorry for the adolescent boys of the world who have to attempt to match up to this ideal. 

When you get right down to it, what Twilight is teaching young girls is the idolisation of a controlling and mentally abusive man.  The way Edward tempts Bella and then attempts to reject her is nothing short of emotional abuse, and it goes without saying that breaking into someone’s home and watching them sleep crosses several boundaries which normal, decent people wouldn’t even think about crossing.  And there seems to be nobody out there telling these young girls, LOVE IS NOT LIKE THIS!  PLEASE SEEK SOMETHING BETTER FOR YOURSELF! 

It saddens me to see these kind of relationships being idolised.  Yes they are dramatic and drama is too often confused with romance… but they are not healthy.  The kind of love Twilight fanatics are lusting after is nothing more than that – lust.  Do we ever see Edward and Bella chowing down on a takeaway and then snuggling up on the sofa to watch CSI marathons?  Do we ever see them sitting through a chaotic family dinner, both separately longing to go home and play video games?  Do we ever see them doing the grocery shopping on a Sunday?  No.  We see them swinging back and forth towards and away from each other, declaring their love and then fearing for their lives, fighting ancient battles and facing immortality. 

I am not saying that there is no place in the world for fantasy.  I am not saying that we shouldn’t read books about ancient battles and dramatic relationships and tragedy and romance.

What I am saying is that the overwhelming adoration of the Twilight books by young teenagers is worrying because nobody is there to give them the message that although it may be exciting to read, it is not what you should hope for for yourself, and it is not an accurate representation of love.  This may seem petty but I’ve talked to some young girls who have some very strange, and occasionally very disturbing views of relationships – and they have learned them from the Twilight books.  So let them read them, because escapism is escapism.  But also, let them know that real love is not that exciting, but it will make them much, much happier.

Of course, what I am ALSO saying is that Stephenie Meyer is a talentless hack, and all that money should be mine.  But, hey.  Can’t win ’em all.

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Fuck you Cowell, you high-waisted-trouser-wearing twat

December 20, 2009

So Rage Against the Machine have got to Christmas number one with Killing In The Name, a 17-year-old song which perfectly expresses how a huge percentage of the population feel about Simon Cowell and his teenypopper factory.

I have just had a ‘discussion’ about this over dinner with Chris’ family, and the main feeling from his parents was that it amounted to bullying Joe McElderry, and that he deserved to win – they even said “he has worked so hard for this” and I felt there was an implication that he deserved the number one spot.  Now I’m sorry, but show me another artist in the charts who was NOT a reality TV contestant, and who has had it as fucking easy as Joe McElderry.  He turned up, did an audition and Simon Cowell got £ signs in his eyes – after that, what did he have to do?  Learn a few songs written by other people and sing them when he was told to, dressed in clothes that other people chose and paid for!  There are people out there who will never be as famous as Joe McElderry but who are just as talented and who write their own music, have their own message and their own passion and will keep working as long and as hard as they have to in order to accomplish their dream.  He has had everything handed to him on a plate and if he didn’t win Christmas number one, that’s just tough shit – “starving kids in Africa” and all that.  The kid’s still only what, nineteen years old and now totally fucking minted – and if he keeps on Cowell’s good side there’s a lot more where that came from.  He’s having a Merry fucking Christmas either way, ok?

The people who are against the RATM campaign fall into several camps, mainly being the “you’re wrong anyway because Simon Cowell will still get paid royalties from RATM” and “but the charts are based on sales so it obviously is the majority opinion, it’s just not YOUR opinion”.  The point is that the music which is available to choose from is currently a vast ocean of manufactured, insincere, meaningless shit.  The reason better bands aren’t getting to the top of the charts is that better bands aren’t getting a fucking chance against all these manufactured kids who totally break down after a year because they’ve never had to work for anything in their career.  Also, Simon Cowell owns a SUBSIDIARY of Sony, and won’t see a dime from the RATM sales – and incidentally, neither will RATM, who have pledged ALL of the proceeds to the homeless charity Shelter.  I’ve even heard someone say that this “makes [her] sick, because it’s so manipulative” – well, sorry, but they could either say “all right, I’ll have some of this, wayhay!” or they could say “this is unexpected and let’s face it we’re not short on dough, let’s put this to some good use.”  Whether it caused people to buy their single instead of Joe’s is totally immaterial.  And more to the point, they WROTE that song – so they’ve put a lot more effort into their contribution than Joe did – even if it was nearly two decades ago.  Sorry, but if you’re starting your career covering Miley Cyrus songs… well, it’s only going downhill from there.

Even if Cowell gets a big payoff for this, and McElderry goes to number one next month – which let’s face it, is a probability – this campaign achieved what it set out to achieve.  We sent a message to the people in charge and it said “We are the people, and we are not as happy to follow you as you may think.”  Whether it makes a difference or not is beside the point.  You cannot complain about something if you are not willing to make an effort to change it for the better.  Take responsibility for yourselves and your opinions!  Who knows, it might actually do some good!

Raging against the machine

December 18, 2009

So X-Factor judge Louis Walsh has apparently said of the internet campaign to promote Rage Against the Machine to Christmas number one instead of Simon Cowell’s latest disposable pop puppet Joe McElderry, “This has taken the fun out of the race to Christmas number one.”

Now I’m not normally one to care about the popular music charts, but I feel like making a comment here.  I can’t be the only one who has noticed that since X Factor came along, there has been pretty much no such thing as the ‘race’ to Christmas number one – and this Facebook-based campaign has well and truly put the fun back into it.

I think the general media have quite blatantly missed the point of the song selection.  Any band, with any song, could have been chosen to front this protest – but Rage Against the Machine were chosen because we want to rage against the machine that is Simon Cowell and his death-grip on popular music, and we chose a song including the lyrics “fuck you I won’t do what you tell me” because, well, that just sums it up pretty fucking nicely, really.  Fuck you, Simon Cowell – we won’t do what you tell us. 

Of course, the thing about this protest is that clearly, a lot of us will do exactly what Simon Cowell tells us.  This is why Simon Cowell is so fabulously rich and why he has that shit-eating smug grin on his face day in and day out.  The simple fact is that the Christmas number one is whichever record happens to sell the most in the run-up to Christmas – so if it happens to consistently be X-Factor winners sailing into the top spot, surely that is just an accurate portrayal of public opinion?

Well, perhaps that’s not quite true.  Without wishing to apply blanket stereotypes, I suspect the kind of people who buy the X-Factor’s particular brand of teen-oriented sickly sweet pop are probably more likely to go out and actually buy a single than the kind of people who buy music of the Rage Against the Machine ilk, who I think are more likely to borrow, share and copy the album from friends or, God forbid, download it off the internet, perhaps even without having actually paid for it.  Besides that, you can’t deny that the timing of the X-Factor final works out pretty well here, with the winner announced just as the Christmas shopping rush begins… and the X-Factor machine certainly has more than enough money and advertising power to ensure that every granny is buying it for her granddaughter and every DJ is buying it to play their Christmas gigs…

In the face of all this, the achievement of the Rage Against the Machine campaign is actually fairly astonishing.  It proves conclusively that as of right now, there are 253,476 people in the UK who care more about having their voices heard than they do about the output of Simon Cowell’s latest shift at the shit factory.  They outnumber the X-Factor crowd by a staggering 37,000

I think we’ve finally managed to get a message through to the fatcats behind the UK music industry, and it seems to be getting through loud and clear, with Cowell, Walsh and even pop starlet Cheryl Cole mewling pathetically about what a shame it will be for teenage Joe if he misses out on the Christmas number one – something which should not be earmarked for any particular artist ahead of time, especially one who has had such expensive and comprehensive help.  It begs the question, if he wanted it so badly and if he was really that talented, would he really have needed to win the X-Factor?  The answer, of course, is no.  He has had it easy, and we are finally fed up of watching these kids get fame and fortune handed to them on a plate, and then burn out and be forgotten in a year’s time.  We’re not just sitting back and letting corporate-sponsored fresh-faced teens swarm all over our musical culture any more – we’ve chosen an underdog and they are winning, we are winning.

So, fuck you Simon Cowell, and fuck you Louis Walsh, and fuck everyone who thinks the X-Factor is the peak of human talent.

I for one am going to buy the Killing In The Name single on my lunch break today, and if you want to make a stand against the ever-increasing tide of shit which is preventing real, talented musicians from getting their big break, I strongly recommend that you do the same.

Winter survival tips

December 17, 2009

So as I’m sure you’ve all noticed by now, winter is here again (arguably it has been here since around September, but let’s not get picky) and we Southerners have even had some snow in the last few days.
In light of this drastic event, I’d like to share my tips on surviving the winter chill.  Having lived through two particularly harsh winters in the Scottish Highlands, in a caravan with no running water, I happen to consider myself something of an expert on the subject.  Clearly I can’t teach you to build a fully-heated ice hotel (or, let’s be honest, even a basic igloo) but perhaps I can at least offer some guidance on remaining warm in your own home.  It might not sound that difficult, but there are several factors at work here.

The most prominent factor in keeping warm in your own home, is your partner (or whoever else you live with).  For some reason, there is a universal law dictating that everybody you live with, ever, will hold the exact opposite preferences to you on pretty much everything – but most importantly, central heating.

I like to be warm – very warm – at all times.  In the middle of winter, I like to be able to sit on my sofa in shorts and a tank top and still feel like I am on the verge of being too warm.  Chris, on the other hand, will open the windows ‘to let some air in’ no matter what the weather outside.  When I complain, I am told to ‘put a jumper on’, and my protests that I am in my own house and do not wish to wear outdoor clothing generally fall on selectively deaf ears.  Now I like the place to smell fresh as much as he does, but I don’t like said freshness enough to lose all sensation in my extremities in pursuit of it.

I don’t know any other couples who can agree on heating either.  This includes my earliest example of a cohabiting couple – my own parents.  My love of warmth is nothing compared to my mum’s.  She will happily lower herself into a bathful of water so hot that if I were to so much as get splashed with it, I’d rush to casualty to be treated for my burns.  My dad, on the other hand, would happily walk around in the aforementioned unheated caravan, in the middle of winter, wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  I used to think it was funny the way my mum would go out into the hall to turn the heating up, and five minutes later my dad would invent an excuse to go into the hall and sneakily turn it back down.  I certainly don’t think it’s funny now, when I myself am engaged in this endless war.

The current battle in my house (or flat, if we’re being pedantic) is over what should be done with the heating while we’re asleep.  My vote is for leaving it on, and I might concede to lower the setting a little.  Chris’ vote is for turning it off – and opening the bedroom window, to combat the damp on the windowsill.  I daren’t even mention the prospect of turning the electric blanket on, even if I tie it down to my side of the mattress.  But it doesn’t end there – if I take the initiative and wear pyjamas, I am berated for the lack of nudity. 

Luckily for me, Chris works away quite frequently (it is lucky for me only in this sense – clearly I am not thrilled with the arrangement in general) so I get to have my own way with the heating four nights out of seven.  But I appreciate some people are not so lucky.

So in light of all this, and to finally get to the point, here are my winter survival tips – gathered from years of experience:

  • Invest in a good pair of slippers – and don’t be ashamed to wear socks to bed.  If your feet are cold, the rest of your body will feel much colder than it otherwise would.  I’m sure there’s some scientific reason for this, but I won’t pretend I know what it is.
  • Try to reach a compromise with anyone you may happen to share your abode with.  Heating on for an hour, off for an hour?  In fact, a lot of modern boilers can actually be set to turn the heating on and off at preset times – ours can, but we can’t be bothered to dredge through the manual and figure out how to do it, so the endless war wages on. 
  • If you have to leave the house, it’s worth remembering that, although you may not be a five year old being dragged to the local firework display any more, it is still ok to wear tights under your jeans!  I mean who’s going to know, really?  Obviously, make sure you’re wearing a t-shirt long enough that it’s not going to ride up and reveal your secret.  While it’s not the most embarrassing thing you could possibly reveal at the office, it’s not exactly the sexiest either.  Not that you should be revealing sexy things at the office.  Ah, you knew what I meant.
  • Food makes a big difference to how warm you feel.  Make a point of eating hot, stodgy winter comfort foods to warm yourself up from the inside – casserole, lasagne, chilli, pasta bake.  Not exactly diet-friendly, but fuck it – ’tis the season, eat yourself stupid and blame it on Christmas.  Come on, everybody does it.  Just remember to dust off your gym membership card ready for spring.  Hey, this is called ‘winter survival tips’, not ‘how to get slim for Christmas’ – you certainly won’t find anything on that subject here, although I’ll probably have a bitch about internet weight-loss fads at some point.
  • Christmas shopping presents a tricky dilemma.  Most cities nowadays are equally divided between under-one-roof type shopping centres, and High Street areas, meaning you have to brave both ridiculously busy shops with central heating and no air conditioning, and the freezing conditions of the outside world.  Obviously you don’t want to go unprepared, but you also don’t want to lug your coat around for two hours, along with all your bags, while you shop inside.  Now, I have a particularly wonderful solution to this: DON’T EVEN LEAVE YOUR HOUSE.  That’s right, you heard me.  Folks, I don’t know if anyone has ever pointed this out to you, but you can do all your Christmas shopping, every last bit, from the comfort of your own house – if you have a laptop and wireless broadband, you could even do it from your own bed!  (I only discovered internet shopping this November, and clearly I have not gotten over the novelty yet.)  It is brilliant.  You don’t have to deal with Christmas-time traffic, or the fight to park, or the parking cost, or sweaty fat people, or parents with twin prams who for some reason think it is their god-given right to glide ever so slowly down the middle of every aisle with their two screaming brats steamrollering anyone who gets in their way… none of that.  You sit on your arse, click on some buttons, and hey presto – a couple of days later, your stuff is delivered TO YOUR DOOR.  It is magic.  Well, maybe not magic.  But I think it’s pretty neat.

My final tip for winter survival, although it has little to nothing to do with keeping warm, is RELAX – and by ‘relax’, I mean ‘do your Christmas shopping on the internet, in November’.  This may seem unrelated but look at it this way: you don’t have to leave the house, and while your partner is out doing their Christmas shopping in the cold, you’ll have complete control of the central heating.

Bliss.

“I have some questions…”

December 17, 2009

There are four words my long-suffering fiance hates to hear while we are watching television together.  I do try to hold back on actually uttering them until there is a convenient ad break or opening sequence, but bless him, he knows they are coming – and sometimes, of course (particularly during films) I just cannot hold them in.  I am only human after all, and faced with, say, the opening scene of the most recent CSI:Miami season finale, who wouldn’t have a few questions?

(It should be noted here that I am also battling with a severe tendency to ask questions during football games.  A word of advice to any ladies out there whose partners are football fans: if you don’t get it, DON’T SPEAK UP.  They’re not pleased that you’re trying to understand – they’re just pissed off that you’re interrupting.  And if you dare ask “which colour are our team?” well, frankly, you deserve whatever you get.  I have learned this the hard way.  Learn the off-side rule in your free time, however, and they might be impressed.)

This affliction is not just limited to TV, however.  I am constantly baffled and vocal about the many things in the world that perplex me.  Recent examples include:

  • My mum’s doctor’s explanation of the way her little finger goes white and numb in the cold – “It’s basically your finger having a heart attack.”  I HAVE SOME QUESTIONS, firstly: fingers do not have hearts, secondly: I know the first one was not a question, thirdly: I don’t mean to be racist but are you sure you are a real doctor.
  • The aforementioned opening scene of the CSI: Miami season finale – ok so he is poisoned with rat poison, he collapses, they put him in the ambulance.  No questions so far.  Ambulance is pushed onto train tracks, train is at least 15 seconds away… nobody gets out of the ambulance?  Oh ok, the ambulance got hit by the train… and they are all still alive, except for the driver.  So the police officer and the prisoner get out of the back.  The prisoner, who is supposed to be poisoned, manages to steal a gun, shoot the police officer (this is apparently his only injury, despite being hit by a fucking train), and run away.  I HAVE SOME QUESTIONS, firstly: I thought rat poison would fuck you up a bit more than that, secondly: last time I checked, ambulances do not survive full-on collisions with trains, thirdly: either Horatio is a total unemotional prick or that guy is a really, really bad actor.  Don’t get me wrong, I love CSI, but they may as well have an episode where someone jumping over a shark on a jetski is actually a central plot point.  I’d still watch it.