Andrea Zanin

Pop Psychology Column

In 2014/2015 Andrea worked as a columnist for contemporary parenting magazine MOTHERLAND. She wrote a Pop Psychology column featuring philosophical musings and insight into popular culture and the society that drives ‘the beast’.

 

25 June, 2015

American-CrimePop Psychology #34…American Crime

The phone rings. It’s the police. There was a home invasion. Your son is dead – shot, and your daughter-in-law is in a coma – beaten, possibly raped. Silence… It might be a superficial silence, the lull before a storm of antagonism – hurt, hate and horror – but it is a quiet that articulates the devastation of violent crime; when time is condensed into a rage of heart palpitations because, quite simply, there are no words.

To give a voice to the silence would be to condescend the catastrophe that shocked it into being but to probe the psychology behind the reticence and articulate the ensuing wound – it’s something Oscar winning writer John Ridley (12 Years A Slave) does with streetwise sagacity in his new 11-episode TV series, American Crime.

Whilst the title might undermine the universality of criminal activity by exuding an ‘all-American’ context, the show’s multiple viewpoints (think Crash or Traffic) emphasise a story about people – traumatised parents, well-meaning criminals (right?), defiant teens, loyal lovers who moonlight as vindictive meth-heads…the good the bad and the utterly ambiguous.

The bombastic inflection of the show’s purposeful heading pitches a viewer challenge – to watch and invest, in spite of the bias invoked by the title American Crime, which either excludes viewers from culpability (based on their citizenship) or includes them for the same reason. Of course, life is never conclusively black or white; it’s a shade of grimy grey. All the stuff about race, class, gender and the socio-economic Americanisms associated with exorbitant crime statistics is there but the crux of Ridley’s story is this: a man died. His wife was beaten to near-death. Tragedy has no nationality.

Neither does pain. The words that introduce Barb Hanlon (mum of crime victim Matt Skokie) to the American Crime audience are not “boo hoo, my son is dead” or “kill the mofos” but an annoyed-yet-calm “What are the police doing?”. It’s a casual nod by Ridley to whodunnit-crime-TV, which the writer is setting up for a casual revamp… because American Crime isn’t about ‘what the police are doing’ or even who did the deed. It’s about the aftermath of violence, aptly alluded to in the underwhelming landscape of Modesto, California, which strikes the senses with an oppressive stagnation that leaves viewers parched; enclosed by a sense of bleak austerity. Tragedy is a desolate, lonely space and American Crime contemplates an unavoidable alienation wrought by disaster.

Isolation is an arguable by-product of violent crime because no two humans have the same experience, even when they have it together. Gwen Skokie’s parents, allied as husband and wife by virtue of marriage and more recently tragedy, find themselves alone in their emotional angst when they react differently to the sordid state of their daughter’s marriage and the shocking facts surrounding her assault.

Matt’s estranged parents Barb and Russ (whose angst is played superbly by Felicity Huffman and Timothy Hutton) are not even close to being united by a simultaneous feeling of loss. In fact, the second sentence that comes out of Barb’s mouth is “Why did they call you?” – not understanding why she wasn’t numero uno on the who-to-call-when-you-son’s-been-shot-in-the-face list.

We forgive Barb’s misplaced emotion and borderline neurosis because tragedy, although logical in terms of cause and effect (shooting a loaded gun at a person’s head is likely to cause injury) is a chaotic thing, rendering a rational response highly irrational – nonsensical – in the context of violent crime. But Ridley pushes his audience; can we forgive Barb when she turns her son’s death into a race riot, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary? It’s the only thing that makes sense to her; facing the fact that she raised an abusive drug addict is too difficult a truth to swallow. Rather, he’s dead because he’s white – deflection deluxe.

Barb tried her best – her marriage failed, Russ walked out and it was just her and the boys, alone, with no financial or emotional support. Now, one son is dead and the other doesn’t want to know her. Although the crime against Matt Skokie invokes a history of violence and, yes, the shame of a nation, the story shies away from grandiose moral perspective; it’s about a violence more personal – one that originates from even the best of intentions.

Alonzo Gutierrez (Benito Martinez) does his damndest to keep his kids from the gangster lifestyle familiar to many Mexican immigrants, legal or illegal. But his efforts are suffocating and son Tony (Johnny Oritz) thanks his father by ending up a murder suspect. Even with the support of her parents, Gwen Skokie (Kira Pozehl) ends up in an abusive marriage with a string of lovers to compensate.

Aubry Taylor (Caitlin Gerard) and Carter Nix (Elvis Nolasco) are drug addicted miscreants, in spite of a loving father and sister, respectively. The insinuation is that we’re all part of the great ‘American crime’ syndicate – even when we don’t mean to be; even when we try our best… as irritating (let’s be honest) as Barb’s grief-driven delusions are, Ridley compels us to understand. Our best is not always good enough. Is it?

There’s no denying that American Crime makes us think. But does it make us care? Not entirely – is the short answer. It’s brilliantly acted, beautifully shot but doesn’t make room for the more subtle moments that reveal character and cajole viewers into associations of familiarity and relatability. We empathise with the show’s themes but, in a way, we’re glad to see the back of the Barb, Russ – the whole lot of ‘em. It could be a narrative flaw but, inadvertently, isn’t that just the point: when people are bothersome we check out. As if they’re not worth it.

American Crime has been renewed for a second season, which is scheduled to premier in 2016. @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

8 June, 2015

DaredevilPop Psychology #33…Daredevil 

Clinton, Manhattan, once the citadel of poor and working-class Irish Americans, is enveloped in a grim pandemonium that has earned it the name ‘Hell’s Kitchen.’ A cesspool of peril, poverty and gangster activity lurking under the perpetual shadow of high-rise excess and construction-induced dust – mystifying all malefaction.

A place where fire burns, tears fall and teeth gnash, Hell’s Kitchen has turned the Devil’s hot spot into something quite literal – the bricks ‘n’ mortar home of New York City denizens living between 34th and 59th Street. Also the ideal setting for the exaggerated ideology associated with comic book narrative – where ‘bad’ comes in the form of horrendous hellions intent on world domination and ‘good’ comes clothed in lycra.

As obvious as the heightened metaphoric language of comic book literature might be, not even the somewhat stereotypical sensationalism of masked men and big-breasted beauties at war with egomaniacal evil-doers can escape the fact that life is messy; that good and bad aren’t mutually exclusive. One of Marvel’s smartest superhero allegories is Daredevil, who is currently rocking the series circuit with a self-titled feature for Netflix; the first of five comic book adaptations in a series that will star heroes Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and ‘The Defenders’ in forthcoming seasons.

Daredevil (aka Matt Murdock) is the product of a radioactive accident that left him blind but heightened his remaining senses, giving him supernatural sensory perception. He was also the son of a boxer, who taught him some serious ass-kicking skills before being offed by the mob for refusing to throw a fight. Suffice to say, the tortured superhero thing has not escaped Matt Murdock, who is played by Charlie Cox (Boardwalk Empire) with a moody ambiguity that emphasises the imperfections that one might find incongruous in a man whose supernatural tendencies presumably preclude him from human-type fallibility.

Murdock, as Daredevil, lacks the typical superhero extravaganza associated with comic book story-telling: he’s not invisible; he doesn’t fly, morph, transpose, transmute or shoot fire, ice or spider webs; he doesn’t have super strength either. He can hear really well and took some martial arts lessons – pretty much, and he is susceptible to a beating – in Episode 2, nurse Claire (Rosario Dawson) discovers Daredevil bleeding to death in a dumpster. He survives only with her help. Arch villain Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin, says of his masked nemesis;

“That’s what makes you dangerous. It’s not the mask, it’s not the skills; it’s the ideology. A lone man who thinks he can make a difference.”

It’s empowering – the idea that an individual can effect change. It might be acutely utopian (for sceptic’s sake) but the challenge is unavoidably poignant when delivered by a man who cannot see and yet sees more, and does more, than those with more means. But before Daredevil can climb too high on that ever elusive pedestal of superhero awesomeness, Foggy Nelson (played by Eldon Henson), Murdock’s day-job legal partner, offers a general rule, that “guys who wear masks have something to hide and it usually isn’t good.”

Matt Murdock has his own demons to deal with: how pushing a blind pedestrian out of harm’s way rendered him, with cruel comic book irony, sightless; and then losing the dad he so loved (and later he’ll learn that the girl he fell in love with at uni is an assassin for hire and his arch rival)… Hell is relative. Hell is personal. It entraps the mind with a figurative force; the same way that Hell’s Kitchen implicates its inhabitants.

Yet instead of ditching the town that caused his tragedy, Matt Murdock becomes a defence attorney; saving scum by day and doling out retribution by night. But there is an elephant in the room and it’s prodded and poked by the violence meted out by Wilson Fisk (played by the brilliant Vincent D’Onofrio) and his crew of delinquents. The further Fisk pushes Daredevil into the role of rescuer – testing the lengths to which he will go in defence of innocents – the more the hero’s apparent altruism is brought into question. Does Matt Murdock need the salvation of ‘the mask’ more than the people it claims to save? And does this taint his reputability?

Being a superhero is the obvious remedy to Murdock’s misfortune; it gives his blindness purpose. By saving others, Matt Murdock saves himself. Daredevil needs Hell’s Kitchen as much as Hell’s Kitchen needs Daredevil. It’s a complex symbiosis that writer/director Drew Goddard (Alias, Lost) explores, in a tone that renders Daredevil more thriller than fantasy. By humanising his superhero, Goddard makes Daredevil’s plight universal. Everyone’s world is on fire at one time or another. To have someone swoop down and offer a solution to the hurt and hate, the self-destructive despair – who wouldn’t open their arms with gladness? And yet we still have to decide to be saved. Life cast its lot for Matt Murdock but he still had the choice to make; stay or go, fight or flight. More than anything, it’s the choice that makes him a hero. After all, “We all want to live in a world where we can make a difference… There are a lot of us. And we don’t all wear masks these days” (Matthew Murdock, Earth-616). @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

26 May, 2015

The-RoyalsPop Psychology #32…The Royals

Tea with the queen. Imagine… Buckingham Palace, a Royal scone and a spot of Earl Grey, pinkies in the air and some ceremonial chit-chat about corgis. Fun times. Unless, of course, it’s Liz rather than Elizabeth sitting across the doily, in which case ‘tea’ would most likely happen in a cocaine encrusted cocktail bar with conversation gyrating around sex, sluttery and how to kill a king. (Possibly more fun still, if that’s your bag.)

Helena Henstridge (played by home-grown honey Elizabeth Hurley) is England’s campy, vampy Queen consort in reality TV channel E!’s first ever scripted series, The Royals – a monarchical satire that is both appalling and appealing with strange, simultaneous effect.

Show mastermind Mark Schwahn (also the creator of One Tree Hill) imagines a Royal family that has embraced modern living with an enthusiastic hedonism that makes the Osbournes comparatively docile in temperament. The Royals kicks off with the recent (and dubious) death of older brother Robert, also heir to the throne of England, which throws the family into disarray (at least, more than usual).

Adding insult to injury is a threat by King Simon (played by Vincent Regan) to disband the monarchy. Simon calls his once proud and principled family “a pack of zoo animals” whilst acknowledging, “I am the product of a medieval hereditary sweepstake. Here by chance, not by divine right as was once believed”. It’s an astute argument and many will cheer but don’t be fooled into thinking that The Royals is anything more than leftovers; the kind that have been in the fridge for more than a week – we know we should bin the slightly suspicious bolognese but secretly, when no one is looking, we eat it anyway because in spite of the fact that it’s rehashed, we hope that it will taste good. And we’re hungry.

The Royals is like the rotten residue that we consume in spite of our better judgement. Not even the show’s Shakespearean undertone can redeem its overwhelming grossness. Loosely based on Michelle Ray’s teen novel Falling For Hamlet, The Royals adopts the bard’s tried and tested ‘girl-next-door falls for unattainable guy’ script. Ophelia (played by Merritt Patterson), draped in an unassailable array of putrid pastels with hair styled to Middleton perfection, gets her jiggy on with Prince William… ehem, Liam (played by William Moseley from The Narnia Chronicles).

The paparazzi gives them a hard time, so does Queen Helena. But they do have at least one supporter: Princess Eleanor – Liam’s twin (played by Aussie actress Alexandra Park), who would chop her arm off if her mother forbade it. Eleanor (or Lenny) lives on “coke and caviar”, eats men for breakfast and spends a lot of time flashing her illustrious labia at tabloid mongrels – her efforts landing headlines that read the likes of “ROYAL BEAVER”, mentioned by Hurley in Episode 1 with a poker-straight face (Emmy alert!).

Lenny is vile – on purpose; she is the personified perversion of all it means to be Royal. The dignity, decorum, morality and social propriety supposedly synonymous with upper class aristocracy is entirely refuted by the Henstridge family’s licentious lifestyle. Blue blood does not equal congeniality. Neither does money. The Royals cries HYPOCRISY with brutal exclamation, dethroning convention with crass hyperbole. And the show’s shoddy production merely adds to the overall effect. The Royals doesn’t need witty dialogue and original plot-line (good thing, because it doesn’t have any) to snare viewers; Schwahn sells something better – depravity, lots of it.

No matter how high we crank our pedestals there is something that draws us to the debauched failings of our fellow man – the broken relationships and bitter consequences; because they make us feel better about our own problems. Or could it be something more sinister; that dark thing inside of us that incites us to examine the road-side carnage at the scene of an accident or to pick up the newspaper with the headline screaming sensationalism.

Of course, the obvious irony is that Schwahn has centuries of scandal to inspire his royal reprobates. The English monarchy has a penchant for illicit affairs and diabolical divorces (or if you don’t like your wife, just chop her head off), not to mention a duchess with a foot fetish and another with bare breasts (check out The Royals, Episode 6), a son who smokes dope and thinks Nazis are funny, and a prince who dreams of being a tampon. And there’s certainly more where that came from, much to the delight of the general public – and the writers of The Royals.

The scandal that envelops the Royal family, the real one as well as the pretend version, exposes the fallibility of those elevated by noble birth. Ultimately people are people, echelon irrespective. Push us too far and we’ll snap. It happened to Hamlet. The Danish prince, desperate to avenge his father’s death but confined by the constrictions of his birthright, was forced into a duplicitous game that brought into question his mental stability. Although Liam and Lenny don’t have a dead dad (yet), their behaviour is a tad bi-polar. Could The Royals be a very badly executed comment on the repercussions of repression?

The pressures of a predetermined existence are undeniably stifling– whether it’s kingship, marriage or well-meaning parents pinning all their hopes and dreams on their doomed-before-they-know-it children. Shakespeare wrote: “Our wills and fates do so contrary run/ That our devices still are overthrown” (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2) – our desires and our destiny are so much at odds with each other, that things never work out the way we plan. Such is life – prince or pauper. Sometimes all we can do is face the music and make the best of it, in the hope that everything will work out eventually. We can also be entertained as we watch other people do it. @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

11 May, 2015

bloodline-motherlandPop Psychology #31…Bloodline  

Family is messy. Even if your people hail from Pleasantville and go by the name Brady, the debris might be hidden but it’s there, under the rug… waiting for an unassuming foot to trip over its awkward camouflage. The mess will ebb and flow in extremity, depending on who’s in town and whether it’s Christmas, but there will always be something – Lego houses smashed, dollies snatched, clothes unreturned, arguments, affairs, an unpleasant divorce, an unpleasant marriage, an unruly teen, a contested will, the child given up for adoption, the crazy uncle who lives in the attic – grandpa was a mass murderer and, worse, Aunt Mildred a royalist. The thing with family is that a common gene pool is not a prerequisite for getting along.

On the worst days, when insanity and family seem to assimilate into one morose monster, a juggernaut of hate and frustration (just keepin’ it real), it’s not too far-fetched to imagine a Mangrove swamp, a storm, and a man with a limp body draped over his shoulders – the man struggles through the rain and roots until he reaches a pre-placed boat, where he dumps the body, lights a fire and swims away as said boat explodes; evidence obliterated. That man was John Rayburn. But it could have been you.

At least, that’s what the creators of new Netflix series Bloodline would have you believe. The show, by the same team (Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler, and Daniel Zelman) that delivered award winning legal thriller Damages, follows the story of the Rayburn family, a tight-knit clan reuniting at mum and dad’s for a party celebrating the 45thanniversary of the family business – a local hotel situated in the sunset extravaganza of the Florida Keys. The setting is idyllic until Danny Rayburn (played by Aussie acting genius Ben Mendelsohn) arrives and delivers a dose of ominous, perfectly encapsulated in the show’s opening lines:

“Sometimes you know something’s coming. You can feel it in the air, in your gut. A voice in your head is telling you that something’s about to go terribly wrong and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. That’s how I felt when my brother came home.”

Thirty seconds of show-reel and everyone wants to know, ‘what’s the deal with Danny?’ The entire Rayburn family – Robert and Sally (Sam Shepard and Sissy Spacek) and their three other children, local sheriff John (Kyle Chandler), peace-keeping attorney Meg (Linda Cardellini) and hot-head Kevin Rayburn (Norbert Leo Butz) – seem to be in a state of ambiguity at the return of estranged son and brother Danny. As it turns out, they have good reason; Dan-Dan’s a little cray-cray.

Like Glen Close in Fatal Attraction, only without the rabbit, Michael Douglas and the wannabe love stuff… but Machiavellian, yes. As the Rayburn story unravels with noir-esque intonation, Danny serves as a catalyst for buried secrets and dark memories, which are revealed primarily through the voice of John Rayburn. That rug…? It’s been lifted and what’s underneath is crime, cover-up and a stark exposé on human nature.

As the truth is exposed, bit by ugly bit, Bloodline stalks into dangerous territory; pondering just how far family ties will go in the tolerance of reprehensible behaviour. Danny, the enigmatic outcast, is charismatic and even charming, and yet there is something off about him, something not quite right, that keeps binge viewers (the joy of Netflix) white-knuckled all the way through the series.

Every word Danny utters, every move he makes is imbued with a strange nonchalance that is subtly charged with years’ worth of emotional angst. Mendelsohn plays it brilliantly, making even the most mundane of tasks – sipping coffee, smoking a cigarette, preparing a fish for dinner – utterly insidious. Creep-factor aside, the Rayburn family’s back-story wins Danny audience empathy. To a point. Even though Danny is implied to be the product of a corrupted childhood (a fact that should absolve him from his sins somewhat) viewers can’t quite condone the pathological manipulation of one’s family.

Ironically, it’s John Rayburn who wins the viewer loyalty card. John Rayburn; who does something pretty atrocious (use your imagination or, better, watch the show). What’s up with that? Isn’t Danny the victim – of abuse, neglect and criminal cover-up? Whilst the show passes a moral judgement on Danny, by manoeuvring him into a place where his perverse interaction alienates all audience affinity, Bloodline also calls viewers out on an apparently tainted sense of loyalty to John, who wasn’t shaped like his brother, he simply chose (to do a bad thing).

Ultimately, there is no easy answer. Family is messy – remember? The blood we share with our brothers and sisters, mums and dads, unites us in life but blood can also be spilled; it is an equivocal force – like family, like humanity. John Rayburn says, “We’re not bad people, but we did a bad thing.” John was a good person (in all conventional meanings of the word); he tried to fix things with his brother. But what if things can’t be fixed and the stakes are high? Bloodline takes its viewers to that place; where anger, hurt, fear (all corollaries of love) threaten to take over. If we’ve been brought up right, we’ll talk it out and move on, right? The scary thing is; John Rayburn loved his brother – but it wasn’t enough. It just wasn’t. @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

4 May, 2015

groundhog-day-motherlandPop Psychology #30…Groundhog Day

Every year on the same day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania a groundhog emerges from his hidey-hole and with prophetic predilection uses the length of its shadow to foretell the weather. Folklore figures that if Mr ‘Hog finds a dark shade emanating from his furry body as he transpires from his burrow, winter will dig in for another six weeks but if it’s cloudy (and minus ‘shade’) – well, hello spring.

Any excuse for a party, right? Sure. Unless your name is Phil Connors and you’re forced by the God of Fix Your Attitude to experience the joy of Groundhog Day on a time loop; living 2 February 1993 over and over, in which case not even a soothsaying woodchuck-thing can be fabulous. But they made a movie about it anyway; a modern day Fable that is sure to have sent Aesop leaping from the grave in as ecstatic a gesticulation as an ancient Greek zombie can muster. And now, in a magnificent manifestation of déjà vu delight, Groundhog Day is to resurface as a musical 20-plus years after the fact, with music and lyrics by cool-cat Tim Minchin, whose award-winning adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda has been running in the West End since 2011 and on Broadway since 2013.

Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin’s cautionary tale is set to premier at London’s Old Vic theatre in June 2016 before hitting Broadway in March 2017. Exciting times – if only Bill Murray could do Phil Connors again… and again (his awesomeness is unrivalled) but fortunately for the theatre-going public, the impartation of the film’s existentialist reverie is not entirely reliant on Murray-majesty; catchy tunes will do the job just fine. Groundhog Day is, after all, a story about repetition and the intrinsic nature of a musical, choral litany and all, lends itself to the temperament of the tale.

Phil Connors, pontificating on the personal hell that so happens to be Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania times infinity, says:

“It’s the same thing your whole life: ‘Clean up your room. Stand up straight. Pick up your feet. Take it like a man. Be nice to your sister. Don’t mix beer and wine, ever.’ Oh yeah: ‘Don’t drive on the railroad track’.”

It’s a reference to life’s hum-drum, and tepid temper; Phil Connors and his surly demeanour is a poignant reminder. But Phil is called to task, like King Sisyphus of Ephyra (modern day Corinth), who, in Greek mythology, was punished for chronic deceitfulness by being compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, repeating this action forever. Except, Phil is punished for his conceitedness. And he also has a way out. It does, however take an estimated 12,395 days (or 33 years and 350 days), according to Whatculture.com, to figure his shit out. Phil learns to play the piano, ice sculpt and learn French poetry before his disposition is entirely transformed. The metaphor is unavoidable. Phil Connors is a comment on how damn stubborn human beings can be; how we live in seven billion (or whatever) secluded universes, concocted by our insecurities and enveloped by our egos. We are a self-centred lot but we can be fixed, with help. Groundhog Day is an ode to self-improvement, and a reminder of how little time we have to do it.

The film comes packaged in the guise of a romantic comedy, which is not accidental seeing as it is love that cajoles Phil into a more lateral mode of thought. Rita Hanson (played by Andie McDowell) turns out not only to be Phil’s love interest but his muse; the character to which he aspires. She is good and kind and friendly but beside all of the usual ‘nice person’ stuff, Rita has a carpe diem take on life, which makes her an invaluable member of, and contributor to, the world at large. It is Rita who helps Phil realise that he has a choice, unlike the unfortunate King Sisyphus; that although his day is the same he can choose how to live it.

Phil Connor’s moment of illumination proceeds an emotional breakdown that starts with shock and then moves on to anger and hedonism (booze, babes, the whole shebang) then despair, topped off with a suicidal depression oozing black comic genius, whereby poor Phil tries to off himself: with a toaster in the bathtub, by stepping in front of a truck and when that doesn’t work he takes a dive from a clock tower, and finally by driving himself (and Punxsutawney Phil – yes, our protagonist fortuitously shares a name with the Groundhog) off a cliff, into a quarry and a sweet fire-ball of death. After which Phil arrives at the only logical conclusion, “I am a God. I am immortal.”

Once that bubble has been burst (immortal – yes; God – not really), Phil succumbs to his fate by embracing it. Rather than roll out of bed each morning in an automatic daze that sets into motion a chain of familiar events, Phil takes the bull by the horns and starts to engage with his context.

And what would Hollywood be without a happy ending? Phil Connors, previously grumpy weatherman, is rewarded for his existential epiphany with the joy of tomorrow. He also gets the girl. Yet as we guffaw the film for its unyielding optimism and sentimental romanticism, Groundhog Day’s prevailing sense of hope comes as a great relief. If mankind didn’t believe in redemption we’d be screwed because, if truth be told, who doesn’t need an attitude adjustment? @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

27 April, 2015

game-of-thronesPop Psychology #29…Game of Thrones

Murder is nasty. Except when it happens to Joffrey Baratheon. As the boy king clutched desperately at his neck in a futile effort to prevent poison-induced asphyxiation from ripping the life-giving breath from his heaving throat, the anguished cries of his mother pierced the peaceful blue of the Westeros sky whilst everyone else cheered with the exuberance of a collective Woop Woop. Putrid, perverted, petty little Joffrey: deader than dead. The world should have taken on a homier hue – sun brighter, bees louder, flowers sweeter and all the rest of it. But alas, it took only the merest of moments to recognise the inflicted poison as bitterly anticlimactic in the ‘just desserts’ department – surely some medieval-type torture was better suited to the specimen in question? Like impalement. Or maybe a Heretics Fork or a Judas Cradle? There’s also the Tongue Tearer, Saw Torture or the dreaded Rack. Not to mention ‘Hanged, Drawn and Quartered.’ But no, George R.R. Martin, author of A Song of Ice and Fire book series and contributing screen writer to the über popular TV adaptation Game of Thrones, chose poison.

Yet, as unsatisfying as Joffrey’s death was to the spirit of vengeance administered by great writing into the soul of Thrones enthusiasts, there is method to Martin’s madness. Joffrey wouldn’t be Joffrey if he was despicable only in life. His vile villainy transcends his death; it lingers on as both reader and viewer reel at the injustice of death by platitude. And yet a character that has evoked such a visceral response should leave a sour taste in the mouth, otherwise, well, he couldn’t have been all that bad in the first place.

That’s how George R.R. Martin rolls; he is, by nature, an artist who in no way, shape or form panders to audience sensibility. He made us love Ned Stark and then chopped his head off; he also killed off delicious Khal Drogo and his unborn son, pushed Brandon Stark from a ledge disabling his legs in the process, pulverised Oberyn ‘The Viper’s’ head to a pulp in a duel against a child killing rapist called Mountain, and in a move riddled with artistic bravery, he massacred the uterus of Rob Stark’s newly pregnant wife before felling the ‘Northern King’ and his mother in a wedding so red that not even the blood that washed the earth the colour of catastrophe did the horror justice. This from the man who in a recent interview with Empire Online called the Starks his favourite House. Sorry for the rest of the troop (maybe John Snow will get off on a technicality – here’s hoping).

 eorge R.R. Martin invades the world with tragedy after unforgettable tragedy not only because he is loyal to the truth of his characters and the mythology that dictates their existence, but because he is writing about war. And war ain’t pretty. The saga of the Seven Kingdoms might have its roots in the ‘Wars of the Roses’ but be not deceived; the Yorkists and the Lancastrians bore thorns of epic proportion, meting out death and destruction for 30 years until finally Richard III, the last Yorkist king, was defeated at the Battle of Bosworth (1485) by Henry Tudor. The bloodthirsty battles that brought the House of Lancaster to power were devastating but from the emerging Tudor dynasty came Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, often quoted as two of England’s greatest monarchs. The interesting thing about war is that “[It] brings out the best and the worst in people,” as Martin is quoted as saying. Had Henry Tudor and his predecessors not exerted their right to the throne of England with forceful intent, Henry and Elizabeth might never have been… Sure, Anne Boleyn might have kept her head (Katherine Howard, too) but England would arguably be an entirely different place – perhaps better, perhaps worse. Who knows?

And in the same vein, would Daenerys Targaryen have mustered the mettle to fight for her claim to the Iron Throne had she not been through the devastation of an arranged marriage turned passionate love affair, and then the disastrous death of not only her husband but unborn son and heir to the Dothraki people? Motivation doesn’t always come wrapped in pretty paper.

But more poignant than war’s unforgiving ambiguity is why, in a world governed by instant gratification, a story that blatantly defies the need to please and appease nonetheless manages to do exactly that; popular protagonists are slaughtered at every turn in a plot that twists with sadistic glee, and the masses are cultivated rather than culled. It’s an irony. But it’s not implausible. We’re waiting for the pay-off that is going to make the loss of our favourite characters worth it. Good and bad are not mutually exclusive – for one to exist, so must the other. Good is never as good if there is no bad with which to compare it, which is why we yearn for more of Martin’s torturous lore; because with the amount of calamity involved, there must be something mega good coming our way. And word on the street is that season 5 (which aired on 19 April) is due to dish a shock bigger than season 3’s infamous Red Wedding fiasco. So there had damn well better be a super fine monarch set to assume the lordship of Westeros – Daenerys, John Snow, Tyrion, Arya? Anything is possible with George R.R. Martin. And whilst we can’t quite trust that we’ll like what the author is going to do we can be assured that he will up the ante, and the risk (plus a few tears along the way) is totally worth it. Such is the game of thrones. @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

21 April, 2015

the-x-files-motherlandPop Psychology #28…The X-Files

Little green men; flying around in saucers hatching plots to take over the world. They also come in bulbous head and freaky locust eye variant, sometimes with gnashing teeth and semi-transparent appendages sprouting from goo-spewing bodily cavities. Luck dependent. Either way, we laugh, shake our heads with cock-sure disdain and contemplate the fool of a press guy who set the mass hysteria ball rolling by releasing a statement calling the military Air Force surveillance balloon that careened into a ranch near Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947 a ‘flying disc’.  Good one. And then we chastise the US government for covering up the true purpose of said flying disc, which was in actual fact a device to monitor nuclear testing. Such dumbass-ery turned out to be a great big gift to conspiracy theorists the earth over. Roswell charged the brains of UFOlogists and gave the world license to embrace the irrational thinking that dogmatism and its pal logic spent years bullying into submission.

So really, when FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully meandered onto screen in 1993 via The X-Files, the world was ready. Relativism had successfully shoved empiricism into the corner and society, newly liberal in its ability to acknowledge concepts that might seem slightly demented as somebody else’s truth but truth nonetheless, champions Mulder and Scully’s attempts to investigate the X-Files: marginalised, unsolved cases involving paranormal phenomena. Created by producer, director and writer Chris Carter,The X-Files was initially perceived as some weird, cultish show most likely watched by people who owned telescopes to spot alien aircraft rather than marvel at the Milky Way. But by tapping into grandiose thematic elements including mistrust of government and the apparent discord between ‘head and heart’, ‘evidence and intuition’ and ‘science and spirit’, The X-Files turned itself into a pop culture phenomenon.

Pitting the sceptical scientist against the musing mystic, the show entices a philosophical reckoning but more than that, it taps into a core emotion experienced by every person-once-child who ever vaulted into bed with Olympic medal ambition in an effort to avoid the thing that lurks beneath: fear – what else?  It’s what keeps people coming back for more; it’s raw, visceral and life affirming in a torturous kind of way. Before we learn to rationalise it, fear has the power to infiltrate and debilitate; it’s the thing that makes childhood both terrifying and terrific in equal measure. Fear is spontaneous but it is also cultivated. As time progresses, what was once literal morphs into something metaphoric; the monster drooling under the bed becomes the skeleton occupying space in the closet. The stuff that drives our fear as children evolves as we become more adept at elucidating our world. More than the truth about life’s inexplicable paranormal strangeness we begin to fear the truth about ourselves – about who we are, about the choices we’ve made. The Truth Is Out There; we just don’t want anyone to figure it out. When we were five we wanted the monster to stay put and at 35 we beg the skeleton to do the same.

The X-Files translates these adult-like fears through the language of allegory; science fiction and its extraterrestrial denizens. The martians that pervade nine seasons and 202 episodes of FBI scrutiny represent a truth that is deeply insidious. There’s none of this ‘E.T. phone home’ business; Carter’s extraterrestrials are all about world domination, death, destruction, an alien baby or two and – true to genre – a government cover up. Our initial reaction is to hurl justice-infused stones in the face of the establishment’s deceit but if we stop, for a second, and consider how hard we work to cover up the treacherous truth about our own very human inadequacies, we’ll realise that the glass walls enveloping idiomatic house that guards our secrets will shatter in the face of our own duplicity. Mulder and Scully’s quest for truth forces us to confront our innate hypocrisy and the reality seems to be; that for the preservation of our sanity, the truth is better off buried. Mulder learns the ultimate truth (an alien invasion cited for 2012) but in an unavoidable anticlimax realises that he is helpless in the face of it. So, truly, whatis the point in knowing?

Dana Scully once said “…it’s easier to believe the lie. Isn’t it?” Perhaps this is the necessary thing? The good news is that Chris Carter might just tell us! We’re now three years post invasion, the world is still mostly intact (as far as we know) and praise be to Heaven The X Files is to rebound for a six-episode event series, with Carter returning as executive producer and Duchovny and Anderson in their respective roles as Mulder and Scully. But the world is a different place – a badder beast. Government corruption – old news. Science – debatable. Spirituality – suspicious. What challenge will Mulder and Scully present to a society desensitised by the people-propagated trauma that accosts its senses on a moment-to-moment basis? A society that no longer needs to be convinced of extraterrestrial invasion and life on other planets – today’s world is open to probabilities and possibilities of all shapes and sizes. Luckily, The X-Files was never really about government facilities or hanging out in crop circles anyway. Aliens aside, it’s a show about people. And people are always interested in themselves. @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

14 April, 2015

Pop-Psychology-Winne-The-PoohPop Psychology #27… Winnie the Pooh

Almost a century ago Christopher Robin Milne paid a visit to the London Zoo. Inspired by an incarcerated Canadian black bear called Winnie, the little boy appropriated the name for his own favourite teddy, adding ‘the Pooh’ in tribute to a swan called “Pooh” (assumedly an odorous creature) that he met on a family holiday. In 1926 Christopher Robin was rendered into words by his father A.A. Milne, who made a star out of his son’s favourite teddy in Winnie-the-Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner (1928) and in a poem about the bear in the children’s verse book When We Were Very Young (1924), and many more in Now We Are Six (1927). Then our favourite world-dominating Disney superpower bought the rights to Milne’s story in the 1960s, de-hyphenating the bear and beguiling dear Winnie into the minds of the masses with cartoon and commodity. So the story goes…

Kids have been lovin’ on Pooh for almost 90 years. Disney magic aside, it’s a no-brainer; Milne’s anthropomorphic bear re-enacts the reality lived by every child who relies on (in the profound words of one Emily Brown) a ‘cuddly’ to get them through the day – of course they love Pooh. It’s easy to imagine Christopher Robin and his bear – a filthy, snot-infused, saliva-soaked sack of germs – making a mission of Ashdown Forest (aka the Hundred Acre Wood), playing ‘poohsticks’, rescuing Piglet (another member of Mr Christopher’s soft toy posse), discovering the North Pole, writing poems, eating honey and adventuring the way small children and their favourite teddies do.

Like every other cuddly occupying space on this great green earth, the undeniable grossness that comes along with hours of intense cuddling and kissing, bestowed with the purest of love, is the very thing that empowers Winnie the Pooh with the supernatural skills required to keep the young mind of his owner happy and healthy in a world full of crazy. Nestled in the arms of a child, a pathogen perforated pretend pet is capable of extreme alchemy – gentle in sagacity and profound in perspective, a favourite teddy judges not; healing all hurts, cajoling sleep with singular sympathy and calming even the most violent emotional eruption. Psychologists have proven that children intuitively believe their ‘attachment objects’ to possess a unique essence or life force and although children know that their cuddlies are not alive, they believe in them as if they are. Not only that; there is a quality inherent in the essence of a favourite teddy that cannot be reproduced. A duplicate teddy without the dried spittle from two weeks ago’s flu, the mud from that splash-erific puddle in the back garden and yesterday’s super tasty Bolognese sauce, simply put, is devoid of personality – thus minus superpower stature and consequently not fit for purpose.

The greying dreadlocks of a once-gleaming coat of fur, the missing eye, the torn ear and the poignant stink of a favourite teddy are what make it magic. It is Winnie the Pooh’s unassuming imperfections that procreate adoration. The bear is slow-witted (repeatedly referred to as “a bear of very little brain”), only occasionally acknowledged as having a clever idea, naive and hella greedy – in other words, flawed like the rest of us. But he’s also optimistic, occasionally brave, often philosophical and super social, with a cosmopolitan group of friends and the ability to unite group dynamic (want to hire him?). Pooh’s idiosyncrasies inform his character, his charm and his heroism.

Pooh personifies the point that sometimes a child’s imagination is a far stronger healing force than plasters and even parents, which can be a tough pill for mums and dads to swallow; that they aren’t really needed (at least, not all the time). And children, the mini sadists that they are, take great pleasure in rubbing it in – innocently pleading for Pooh and the gang… just one more time, please mum, please!… with apparent disregard for the stories’ subliminal assertion of independence, indoctrinating parents into letting go.  Then just when the stuffed fluff stuff threatens to destroy all parenting ego, Egmont Publishing goes and announces plans to release a Winnie-the-Pooh anthology to mark the 90th anniversary (in 2016) of the A.A. Milne’s original story – just in case the kids need some more material to work with. The anthology, currently untitled, is to be written by four authors, who will be announced closer to publication, and illustrated by Mark Burgess. Perfect. More Pooh. More reminders that favourite teddies are in, mum and dad are out. Luckily A.A. Milne offered an antidote, saying “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”  Parenting in a nutshell. Sometimes it sucks. Perhaps mums and dads also need a cuddly? @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

6 April, 2015

Pop-Psychology-The-Good-WifePop Psychology #26… The Good Wife 

Calling a TV show The Good Wife is tantamount to opening a can and pied pipering a batch of fat, juicy worms into societal consciousness. The notion of ‘good’ has been debated since God moulded Adam from dust and Eve from Adam’s rib; then the Almighty’s dream team screwed it all up by making a feast of that silly old apple, or whatever. And instigating Eve has been paying the price ever since – scouring, scrubbing, satisfying and submitting with the bitterest pangs of penance, giving time ample opportunity to turn the conventional notion of dutiful into a preconception. Indian teacher, philosopher and royal advisor Chanakya (350-275BC) said “A good wife is one who serves her husband in the morning like a mother does, loves him in the day like a sister does and pleases him like a prostitute in the night.” Whatever it takes, right?

Right. But life is neither courteous nor fair and The Good Wife, Robert and Michelle King’s legal/political drama, offers a kind reminder. Good does not always beget good; sometimes ‘good’ begets infidelity. When Alicia Florrick’s State’s Attorney husband invokes a sex scandal by embedding himself in some prostitutes and acquiring a jail sentence in consequence, she doesn’t stab him in his sleep (parenting from a jail cell is a pretty tall order even for the world’s most efficient multitasking mum) or opt for divorce à la Bruce and Demi (that whole we-used-to-be-married-and-now-we’re-remarried-and-spend-holidays-together happy family thing is as weird as it is idealistic outside the world of Celebdom). No. Alicia stands by her man, taking up a job as a litigator after 13 years as a stay-at-home mum to provide for her children while their father plays in the penitentiary.

Currently in its fifth season, The Good Wife is a nod to America’s sex scandal politics and the parallels between Alicia Florrick (played by Julianna Margulies) and the good women who choose to ‘live with it’ – prime example being Hillary Clinton – are glaringly obvious. When Bill and Monica’s relationship was smashed into the public’s face by the fist of the press back in 1998, Hillary stood by her man with unflinching stoicism – even when he lied and was later impeached. She also chose not to discuss the affair years later in her book Hard Choices (2014) – a choice that, ironically, could have been the hardest of all. Hills, a lawyer like Alicia, has said of the scandal: “I’m just grateful that I made the choices I made, to move forward and from that I’ve had an extraordinary set of opportunities and experiences.” The diplomacy is sickening; so nice, neat and decidedly inhuman. The betrayal of trust and marriage in such an underhanded, intimate manner surely involves an exclamation mark in the least.

Not too long ago secret documents known as the ‘Blair papers’, penned by Diane Blair (a close friend and long time confidant to Hillary Clinton), hit the news. This verifiably authentic wad of sensationalism reveals the former first lady’s true reaction to her husband’s affair. As it turns out, she was not so cool with Bill doing the White House intern, reportedly describing herself as “…dumbfounded, heartbroken and outraged… Gulping for air, I started crying and yelling at him.” And isn’t that the reaction that makes sense? Except that the game of politics is a world away from the rules the rest of us play by. The Blair papers quote Diane Blair saying of her pal: “This, she said, is what drives their adversaries totally nut(s), that they don’t bend, do not appear to be suffering” and that “most people in this town have no pain threshold.”

It’s this apparent impassivity, demonstrated by the Clintons, that forms the core of The Good Wife; how suffering is buried and dirty laundry folded neatly and put back in the cupboard in a farce the size of the Pacific. When justice screams out for good wife Alicia to jettison her lying, cheating bastard of a husband Peter Florrick (played by Chris North) straight out of the political arena and her life, she goes all Hillary on the situation. And it’s bloody irritating – for almost three seasons of show there seems to be very little public acknowledgment that Peter Florrick’s treatment of his family is reprehensible. And to make matters worse, philandering Florrick somehow manages to weasel himself and his loose penis into the position of Governor, riding the coattails of ‘Saint Alicia’ – as Eli Gold (played by Alan Cumming), Peter’s campaign strategist and crisis manager, calls Mrs Florrick (Season 6 Episode 4: Oppo Research).

The Good Wife doesn’t offer carnage. It metes out an approach that is somewhat foreign in age that abides by the doctrine of instant gratification; it proposes self-restraint. Five seasons into the series Alicia Florrick has become partner, started her own law firm and, most recently, been named Cook County, Illinois, State’s Attorney. So, what is the lesson here? If we ‘suck it up’, if we’re ‘good’, we’ll prosper. Like Alicia Florrick. Like Hillary Clinton. But what about the woman whose version of good is to boot her man out the door, flip the bird and start over? Has she no hope? What The Good Wife reveals over time is that human nature is not intrinsically altruistic; we are motivated by our own self-interest, whether it’s the need for security, sanity, family, career or even the preservation of our pride. ‘Good’, no matter how one may choose to define it, is neither absolute nor constant – not even ‘Saint Alicia’ is exempt from the inconstancy of supposed self-sacrifice. Linguist and lexicographer John Florio (1553–1625) is known to have said: “A good husband makes a good wife.” He makes a sweet point but really, a smart woman is what makes a good wife – that’s what Alicia would say. @MOTHERLANDMagazine

 

30 March, 2015

Pop-Psychology-Ellen-Ripley-AlienPop Psychology #25… Ellen Ripley (Alien) 

Motherhood is primal. The tiny seed that impregnates itself in a woman’s body – feeding off her nutrients and life blood with parasitic fervour, tearing its way to freedom nine months later – inflicts justifiable disfigurement to body and brain, fertilising a new mother’s mind with an insatiable need to protect the life it has divulged. It’s a need that never falters; it’s neither fickle nor fleeting but is ferocious, which is why when Ellen Ripley commands “Get away from her, you BITCH!” in Aliens (1986), the soul of every observing mother ululates exultantly. The pulsating, slime slobbering Queen xenomorph that was about to make a masochistic meal of seven-year-old Rebecca ‘Newt’ Jordan is meted out a deathly lashing by the film’s heroine, who, bedecked in the protective metal of an exosuit cargo-loader, expels said bitch through the ship airlock into outer space.

A mother’s instinct to protect is a ruthless, intuitive thing that would dive in front of a bullet or offer a kidney without thought. Science knows it as ‘maternal aggression’ – a motherly assault that protects offspring from harm. A mum knows it as the rising fury that threatens to rip the head off any human (or other) threatening the welfare of her child – woe to any playground attendee who unbalances the status quo with ill-mannered running, wayward sand or impatient pushes under the beady eye of all-seeing mum. Perhaps director Ridley Scott did not have this exact scenario in mind when he was figuring out how to scare the world into frenzied hysteria with the art of cinema and some fiendish extraterrestrials in a horror-sci-fi extravaganza of death and destruction, but what he did do was set the world up for the evolution of Ellen Ripley into one bad-ass momma bear.

Something that Sigourney Weaver is sure to adopt and adapt as she readies to reprise her role as Ripley in Alien 5, already written and soon-to-be directed by Neill Blomkamp (District 9Elysium and Chappie). But it all started 36 years ago on a futuristic spaceship, with a crew fretting to escape the pharyngeal jaws of H.R Giger’s (1940-2014) biomechanical monster. Scott’s Alien (1979) introduced Ripley as warrior-heroine; the girl with balls big enough to save the world. Script writer Dan O-Bannon (who co-wrote Alien with Ronald Sushett) fictionalised the sexual imagery implicated in Giger’s genitalia-inspired artwork in an overt and intentional manner, stating “… I’m going to attack [the audience] sexually… I am going to put in every image I can think of to make the men in the audience cross their legs. Homosexual oral rape, birth. The thing lays its eggs down your throat, the whole number.” With pluck and perceptiveness, Ripley escapes most manner of alien-inflicted penetration and violation, and she does it without being overshadowed by Giger’s acid-bleeding monstrosities, earning herself not only an Academy Award nomination for her role in Aliens – but a place in popular culture’s annals of fame.

Ripley’s maternal instincts are shown to be an integral part of who she is as both survivor and protector

What alien-busting Ellen Ripley has done for women is iconic not only in film but in life. By challenging gender roles she gave stereotype an almighty beat-down, scoring a never-ending supply of goals for Team Feminism but she also did more than that; she gave a rip-roaring shout out to motherhood in a way that cinema has not been able to replicate with the same visceral intensity or metaphoric brutality resonated by the Alien films. What Ridley Scott started in 1979 director James Cameron continued in first sequel Aliens. It’s in this film that Ripley’s maternal instincts are shown to be an integral part of who she is as both survivor and protector. In Alien, Ripley’s misplaced maternal instincts (as she hurries off in search of the ship’s resident cat Jonesy) save her from certain death-by-alien and in Aliens cat becomes daughter, in the form of Newt whose family and colony have been wiped out by the film’s nemesis. Ripley risks everything to protect her surrogate daughter, as any mother would, and by the end of the film Newt is calling Ripley “mommy.”

One of the film’s most memorable scenes is a stand-off between Ripley and big-momma-alien, in which Ripley threatens to kill big-momma’s million-strong mass of soggy-egg-offspring with flamethrower awesomeness, and big-momma backs off. The interplay is poignant because there seems to be a level of understanding between Ripley and momma-alien, mother to mother – both mums exercising their maternal aggression. Ripley destroys the nest anyway – being the sensible thing to do – and big-momma, following horror convention by not dying against all logical odds, returns with vengeance, picking on what she knows and understands to be Ripley’s weak point, Newt. Of course, she’s no match for Ripley but the mother-to-mother interaction that somehow binds heroine and fiend introduces an irony into the mythology, whereby the innate ‘foreignness’ derived by the concept ‘alien’ is undermined by the metaphoric similarity suggested by the implied affinity resonating between Ripley and momma-alien.

By the time Alien Resurrection (film number four) rolls on by, the metaphor has become something quite literal, with the debut of an alien/sapien or human/xenomorph, born as a by-product of corrupted cloning experiments conducted by scientists of the United Systems Military. And the theme looks to continue; concept drawings released by Alien 5’s Neill Blomkamp show Ripley distorted into something xenomorphic, insinuating that the impending sequel is ready to step it up a level in its reiteration of the idea that primal instincts draw us closer to, rather than separate us from, the aliens around us; human or other. Not that Ripley has anything more to prove but, hell, there’s no doubt she’ll have more to say and when there’s a world begging to listen, why not?

@MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

23 March, 2015

Pop-Psychology-Wonder-Woman
Pop Psychology #24…Wonder Woman

A lasso of truth, a pair of indestructible bracelets, a projectile moonlighting as a tiara and an invisible aeroplane; worthy albeit ethereal alternatives to the grenades, bazookas, tanks and that little atomic bomb that raped the world of any remaining innocence back in 1945. There were lots of junky things about World War II – Nazis, concentration camps, death, destruction and mayhem…you know – but Wonder Woman, with her fantastical arsenal, wasn’t one of them.

Born out of the horror that enveloped Hitler’s attack on morality, earth’s first ever female super-hero was created as an antithesis to the blood-curdling masculinity that characterised the man’s world it was back then. Champion of justice, love, peace and gender equality, Wonder Woman brought strength and power to a feminine archetype that was all too familiar with dismissal by inconsequentiality. The war reminded the world that women are as capable as men; while guys were off mowing down the enemy, gals were back home keeping shit together – wearing the pants and doing it damn well. Necessity invoked a gentler patriotism, testosterone-free but equally aggressive in its feverous infliction. Wonder Woman was a representation of the unconventional, liberated woman who darkened the door of a post-war world.

Feminist icon – yes; Wonder Woman wears the title with style. And she was intended this way. But as we remember our favourite heroine’s contribution to society this Woman’s History Month of March, we should also remember that as well intended as Wonder Woman was, when intention is let loose in the world, it becomes the property of an evolving society, which makes it subject to ambiguity and, most dangerous of all: interpretation. When famed psychologist William Moulton Marston (inventor of the polygraph) thought up Wonder Woman, he called her “psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, [he believed], rule the world.” Inspired by his experience with polygraphs, which showed him that women were more honest, reliable and could work more efficiently than men, Moulton hoped to create a figure that woman could aspire to. Wonder Woman thus personifies the notions of success and prosperity – she is inspiration on legs; at least, she was meant to be. In an ironic twist of culture, Moulton’s heroine has become something else, something sinister; the ultimate obliterator of feminine impudence. In a new millennium, ‘wonder woman’ is an unattainable proverb; a bitter pressure that is not even mitigated by the heroine’s well-intended beginnings.

In a modern world, this equivocal she-devil, both brilliant and cataclysmic in the severity of her presence, has managed quite successfully to pickle the confidence of women the world over. The ‘anti’ that envelopes Wonder Woman, who was a reaction to the violence of war, is an extreme protest against the atrocities served up by history’s largest armed conflict and whilst her extremities served up hope in 1941 (when Wonder Woman was introduced to the world), more than 70 years later she has become a symbol of dismal impossibility. Wonder Woman (aka Princess Diana of Themyscira), with her Amazonian physique, superior strength, intelligence, generosity and unfailing love is the bane of womankind’s existence – simply put, who can match up? And in fact, we’re doomed before we even start to try; Queen Hippolyte, Wonder Woman’s mother and ruler of Themyscira, tells her child, “Go in peace my daughter. And remember that, in a world of ordinary mortals, you are a Wonder Woman” (The New Original Wonder Woman, 1975). The rest of us are not.

Anyone born not a princess is already excluded – so that’s, like, 99.9 per cent of the population; demoted by social order. And that’s just the start. You – woman of small breast and cellulite thigh, wispy hair, mediocre bicep and slight belly bulge; you’re OUT. So are you, one who has squandered love, spurned peace and looked upon injustice with blatant disregard. And woe to you, dear girl, who has repudiated goodness with harsh words, angry intent or scorn-filled malice. Honestly, we’ve not been left with much hope, and history speaks for itself; Moulton anticipated a modern world ruled by women. And that hasn’t really happened. A couple of leader/prime minister types, some business owners and a girls’ rugby team or two. That’s it. The condition of our existence, our humanness, the flaws in our faces and sins of our souls, prevent us from achieving the heroine’s symbolic perfectionism, which, according to the doctrine of Wonder Woman, is what it takes to lead and prosper; to succeed.

We’ve been sold an impracticability. And now ‘wonder-woman’ is a cuss word – the product of a malicious media and unscrupulous advertising.  But Wonder Woman was intended to empower, not belittle. Somewhere along the way we started taking the metaphor a little too literally. She was Moulton’s ideal; an example of what women could be. Is it wrong to strive for ‘perfection’ and to have examples that show what it can look like? Is it a cop out to say that it puts pressure on us? Don’t we need the pressure? Do we not risk succumbing to mediocrity without it? When Wonder Woman says to us, “Please take my hand. I give it to you as a gesture of friendship and love, and of faith freely given. I give you my hand and welcome you into my dream” (Wonder Woman #167), rather than freak out at the potentiality of our own impending failure, why not accept the challenge – on our own terms?  Wonder Woman, in all her superlative, is a mere figment of our imaginations; that real wonder of being a woman is living to fight another day; another stereotype; another war – feeling, bleeding and breathing. That is awesome. @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

16 March, 2015

Pop-Psychology-The-Sound-Of MusicPop Psychology #23…The Sound of Music

In 1965, Vietnam was a wartime hotspot, South Africa was doing Apartheid, warnings appeared on cigarette packs, skateboards were in, women’s skirts got shorter, men’s hair got longer, the Beatles released four albums and Julie Andrews cantillated about lonely goatherds, rain drops on roses and tea with jam and bread in a film that won five Oscars including Best Picture. Fifty years have gone by and the world is an entirely different, more cynical beast and yet it remembers the story of the family that sung itself to freedom. The story of a postulant turned governess who follows her heart, falls in love and escapes some Nazis has percolated five decades’ worth of brain space, culminating in a semicentennial musical performance by pop provocateur Lady Gaga at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony. There was no meat dress, million-inch heels or pantomime extravaganza hiding backstage; Gaga played it straight – exactly how Julie Andrews would have sung had her singing voice not been ruined by throat surgery eighteen years ago. And the audience, a sucker for a hefty dose of sentiment, went wild.

When the film version of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s musical The Sound of Music was released all those years ago, it was criticised for being a sappy pile of saccharine slush, embellished with a desperate dose of Hollywood romanticism. The original Maria Von Trapp (because both play and film are based on an actual family of singers) wrote a book in which she describes her marriage to George von Trapp, who did not use a whistle and was in fact a charming man and devoted father, as a relationship of convenience. His children, who Maria loved, needed a mother and she needed the security of a family. Their house was also not as big and they didn’t cross any mountains to elude Hitler and his posse but they were singers and they did escape. Johannes von Trapp, the youngest son of George and Maria, calls the Robert Wise’s film affair a “Hollywood version of the Broadway version of the German film version of the book that my mother wrote.”

Hollywood turned Maria’s truth into something else because Hollywood knows what people want. In a world that was (and still is) filled with political turmoil and social disruption, who wants to hear a story about a plain-looking battleaxe-type who loved some children, married their father and went to live in America. Life is harsh and sometimes we need it to be softened by pretty people and grand villas. Sometimes we want to be in a place where suitors woo by song and quaint village sing-alongs are the natural course of things.

Of course when Julie Andrews stood on that mountain top and sang “My heart wants to sing every song it hears”, she had not yet been accosted by the delicious lyrical thrashing of vocalists like Johnny Rotten, Ozzy Osbourne, Kurt Cobain or Corey Taylor – not quite the laughing brooks, sighing chimes or singing larks mentioned in the song – but let’s take her point as she meant it; music, like love, food and fornication saturates the soul. No matter where your cool is at, whatever chord captures your imagination, music is a way in. Marilyn Manson said that “Music is the strongest form of magic” and Julie Andrews in the guise of Fraulein Maria certainly hocus-pocused not only Captain von Trapp (played by a very dashing Christopher Plummer) and his seven children into emotions of ardour but also an earth of people; generations’ worth.

There’s a reason that Rodgers and Hammerstein chose to name their play The Sound of Music and not Children Dressed in Curtains, Blonde Baroness meets Ambitious Educator or Austria Against Anschluss; because although all these things are part and parcel of the von Trapp family adventure, at its core, the story is about music and its ability to express humanity. The Sound of Music is like a really great, really annoying, pop song – not only do you remember every word and every nuance but you remember what you were doing when it was playing because the song is more than about just the song; it’s about context. Whether you love the film or you’d rather saw off your ears and bolt them to the bottom of the Titanic than listen to ‘Do-Re-Mi’ or ‘Edelweiss’, is beside the point. The thing is this: the reason you’d rather fill your ears with sea anemone than the sound of Dame Julie is because you have a story… perhaps your gran made you watch her favourite film only seven million times or your mum had the tape (Google it) and made you sing it on road trips, so your childhood is saturated with antiquated sounds that you’d rather forget. Everyone has a story. And yet if you allow yourself to admit it; you’ll realise that you love the film for the memories it has given you, even if you have spent the last twenty years mocking it with unparalleled impetuosity.

Sometimes our favourite films, the ones that transcend both time and generation, aren’t the ones that rock the screens at Cannes or Sun Dance with their filmic devices and complex characters; sometimes they’re the ones that we like, just because we do; because they remind us of our mums and our grannies. Like an ABBA song or home-made soup or bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens; the things that will cross our minds from time to time as we remember our own stories and are grateful for those who filled them with music. @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

9 March, 2015

Pop-Psychology-Fight-ClubPop Psychology #22…Fight Club

The first rule of fight club is that you don’t talk about fight club. But we’re going to pulverise that rule because there’s a sequel coming out and, well, Tyler Durden’s so worth talking about. For one, he’s hot (at least the Brad Pitt version) – all abs and attitude; who wouldn’t want to reminisce? And then there’s that whole beat-people-to-a-bloody-pulp thing. Sure, it sounds pretty wretched, like the kind of activity sequestered to hoodlums and hooligans flexing their testosterone at a football match, in a mosh pit or outside a pub. But what about poor mum on the school run, whose cheery morning smile is not an invitation to greeting but the physical manifestation of a fantasy involving the decimation by decapitation of ‘perfect Patty’ and her blow-waved hair, Sergio Rossi heels and never-late children. If society’s mild-mannered school mum entertains fantastic visions of violence toward her fellow woman, what about the rest of the populace; the people who don’t have ‘for the good of the children’ to keep ‘em on the straight and narrow?

It’s the small things. They set us off… invoking an evil intent that prowls our thoughts like a ravenous lion. Fight Club (1996), authored by transgressive fiction cognoscenti Chuck Palahniuk, taps into the primal portion of mankind’s psyche – the part that is repressed by conscience but itches to get out; to break free from the societal norms that keep chaos at bay. Sometimes we scratch and what oozes out is a putrid puss – drugs, porn, killing, crime, brutality… it lurks in all of us; disgusting things that we fantasise about and relive with an oxymoronic sense of guilt-ridden glee. Yet Palahniuk offers a solution; an alternate therapy – a club that actions homicidal reprieve but has rules that help keep the animal in check. As well as catharsis, fight club aims to ignite reanimation; a fire in the soul. It is a solution to the claustrophobic restrictions that seem to infringe (with good purpose) on our penchant for destruction; “You aren’t alive anywhere like you’re alive at fight club… There’s hysterical shouting in tongues like at church, and when you wake up Sunday afternoon you feel saved” (Fight Club, 1996). We need an outlet; a point Palahniuk plans to reiterate in the impending Fight Club 2.

Tyler Durden is the perennial reminder that life is not something to be watched but something to be lived

The last we saw of our unnamed narrator (Edward Norton in David Fincher’s 1999 movie adaptation) was a botched suicide, a mental hospital and some loyalist employees swearing allegiance to the legacy of ‘Project Mayhem’ (Durden’s attack against consumerism and corporate America). Skip 10 fictional years and we have our second instalment: a 10-issue graphic novel that sees Mr Anonymous (who calls himself Sebastian) embroiled in a nine-year marriage to chain-smoking, laundry-stealing reprobate Marla Singer. Except this time around it’s all about picket fences; gone are the days of sabotage, abuse, peeing on food, inserting subliminal porn into movies and stealing left-over drained human fat from liposuction clinics to make soap, sold to finance the ingredients for bomb manufacturing. Nope, life is boring. ‘Sebastian’ is oblivious. Marla is bored. Their marriage teeters on the rocky coastline of middle-aged suburban mediocrity. But they do have a son and he likes to create homemade gunpowder to the tune of his parents’ unravelling marriage. And of course Tyler is there. Tyler is always there.

Tyler Durden is the perennial reminder that life is not something to be watched but something to be lived. He’s that voice that camps out at the back of our minds, telling us to carpe diem. He’s also a kidnapper, stealing away Marla and Sebastian’s mini-terrorist in an effort to challenge the insipidity that has become their life. Durden aims to rile a reaction into being by urging his alter-ego to “Rize or Die” (Fight Club 2, 2015). In Fight Club, Durden argues “Maybe self-improvement isn’t the answer, maybe self-destruction is the answer”, that “It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.” Life’s great existential ponderings are never easy material but Durden’s supposition is a tough sell because, really, freedom is an exercise in futility – we can never escape our thoughts and we can never escape our context. Most of us don’t entertain our fantasies; we’re not really going to murder our fellow mum but punch her face in? Sure! And yet even then, there will be someone else, a new mum with patronising posture, to infuriate and enslave. What Durden offers is mitigation, fleeting freedom, but should we settle for this… this deciduous dalliance with satiety? Is there a better option?

Greek philosopher Epictetus (55AD – 135AD) said, “The greater the difficulty the more glory in surmounting it.” Perhaps the answer is improvement after all? It’s the thing that exists in defiance of our natural inclination toward destruction. It’s the thing that our conscience wills but our instinct deplores. The obvious analogy posed by Fight Club is that we are at war with ourselves – Durden the Yin to ‘Sebastian’s Yang; two parts of the same whole, posed as a metaphor for the internal battle that dictates the (relative) quality of our very existence. The novel ponders our capacity to reconcile the dark with the light in a way that enables us to remain true to who we are. Palahniuk’s protagonist is a literary manifestation of this effort and he exists in error, swaying too far either side – mania or mediocrity. Balance is not easy; the irony of a fight club that invokes the beast but also constrains it – it’s a fine line to walk; fall to the right and you’ll plunge into platitude, with pandemonium pacing just a little to the left. But we must take the risk; we must walk the line. Palahniuk warns: “Prove you’re alive. If you don’t claim your humanity you will become a statistic. You have been warned” (Fight Club, 1996). We have been warned. @MOTHERLAND Magazine 

 

2 March, 2015

Pop-Psychology-Better-Call-SaulPop Psychology #21…Better Call Saul

Walter White needed a lawyer. The floor boards, air vents and mattress springs were taking strain under the meth-tainted millions that the science teacher was bringing in under the ruthless eye of alter-ego Heisenberg. A better hiding place was in order and Walt, distracted by oh-just-cancer, wasn’t going to find one without some help. So he hired Saul Goodman – with his orange shirt, strip-mall presence and expert knowledge of the ever-effusive legal loophole. And the rest is history except for a sneaky little spin-off by Breaking Bad mastermind Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould (also a Breaking Bad vet) that dishes the very dirty dirt on exactly what Saul Goodman did to become the type of lawyer that only guilty people hire.

Better Call Saul happens six years before the advent of Walter White, way back when Saul Goodman was Jimmy McGill, a public defender who will do anything it takes to stay out of a court of law including hashing out settlements over a urinal, penis in one hand case notes in another, and who operates a sort-of practice from a dingy boiler room at the back of a beauty parlour. Jimmy tries to entrepreneur his way into better-paying business but is the recipient of what seems to be a Shakespearean dose of fate. With the stars aligned our not-yet-nefarious lawyer’s shenanigans cannot withstand the hand of destiny; no matter how hard Jimmy tries to make good on poor choices, life slowly but surely propels him along a path that ultimately ends in a great deal of plenty – pesos and pain.

After the ‘Walter White affair’, Saul ends up working flour at a bakery in a random mall somewhere – a stark reminder that whilst the ride is wild and money is rife, there is a cost… family, friends, identity, simplicity etcetera. And yet, in spite of an end we know is bitter, we will Jimmy to just take the bad business because we know he’ll be great at it. Saul Goodman: shark, ambulance chaser, shyster, pettifogger and con artist, who shields the dregs of society from their just desserts; an aider and abetter of those who molest the rare but sometimes present peace and platitude of modern living. Why haven’t we kicked him to the kerb?

Better Call Saul, much like Breaking Bad, is a character study tinged with a shade of dark

Is it the intrigue, the melodrama, the genius story-telling that manipulates the gawk on our face? Gilligan is crack at his job. Or could it be Saul’s unashamed assertion of himself on the world? He offers no excuses. He is no hypocrite (just watch his advert). He works hard, gets results and fights for the underdog. In some weird way, could we want to be Saul, maybe just a little? Or at least replicate his chutzpah? So he has tacky taste and never remembers his damn parking sticker but he is smart; he figures out that the Kettlemans (would be clients) have faked their own kidnapping and sticks to his guns even when no one else believes him (Episode 3, Nacho), he also manages to orchestrate himself onto every prime time news segment in Albuquerque under the guise of ‘hero’ (Episode 4, Hero) and he has a way with criminals (a ‘criminal whisperer’ if you will) – managing to talk Tuco into breaking ‘a leg each’ of the scamming skateboarders who insulted his abolita, rather than skinning them like javelinas, gouging their eyes out, cutting out their tongues and inflicting a ‘Columbian necktie’ by slashing their throats and pulling their tongues through the gash to be displayed over their necks as if wearing a very short necktie (Episode 2, Mijo). He has a gift. And really, he makes full use of it once he realises its great potential. Isn’t that admirable – articulating a skill and using it to become rich?

If only life was that simple. It’s not, which is why Better Call Saul, much like Breaking Bad, is a character study tinged with a shade of dark. Sure, Saul is a funny, fun guy who does crazy things and makes harrowing escapes with cockroach-like indomitability but his apparent lack of moral conscience is somewhat disturbing. And yet he plays dodgy with such zeal, it’s hard not to appreciate his efforts. Pitching to the Kettlemans, Saul says:

“I know that HHM is shiny and slick and chock full of lawyers and compared to them I’m a like a kiddy lemonade stand trying to compete with Walmart but here’s the thing; what are you gonna get from me that you’re not gonna get from those other guys? Passion, commitment. Ask yourself this? Who found you? I don’t see Howard Hamlin ruining his $300 Gucci loafers out here. If you’re with me, you’re my number one client; morning, noon and night. You call me, I’m there; I will be singularly devoted to you.” (Episode 4, Hero)

We got it wrong; Saul doesn’t defend the underdog, he is the underdog. Even Better Call Saul, the very thing that has given a supporting star the title of protagonist, is the underdog, pitted against the extreme success of its big brother Breaking Bad. But who doesn’t champion the underdog? There’s something in us that wants the loser-guy to be a winner because if he can do it, so can we. We want to believe, we want to hope, we want to know that in the end s’all good man. That’s why we will make the call. @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

16 February, 2015

Pop-Psychology-GlitterPop Psychology #20…Glitter

Glitter is like a cockroach, or a One Direction song; no matter how hard you try to obliterate it, it never goes away. Not even your brand new super-sonic vacuum cleaner will kill your glitter problem. And forget flame throwers; you’ll torch your house and the smoke will sparkle belligerently right there up in your face. You’ll cry, build a new house and then you’ll cry some more when you realise that there is glitter in the brick work, like a unicorn flew over the world and chose your roof to shit all over.

Just because it glitters, it doesn’t mean it’s gold – Chaucer said it, so did Shakespeare, Tolkien, Aesop, Bob Marley and Kanye West as well as anyone whose life has been invaded by a zillion-trillion teensy-weensy, shiny particles that masquerade as fun but really, are just harbingers of hate – unless, of course, you’re five and don’t have to work a job or clean a house. Fine. Such is life. But we don’t have to be all John the Baptist about it. Why not do the sensible thing and use it (glitter) to inflict pain on others – suffering is a whole lot more bearable when someone else is doing it too.

Now, we wouldn’t want to go all postal on our pals, lambasting glitter on people we actually like; just that girl who downed all the Prosecco at your party but didn’t even bother to bring a present, plus that kid from Year One who stole your lunch back in 1999. If this hate-speech sounds as familiar as it does cathartic, chances are that in your online perusal of the best ways to wreak revenge on crapheads, you’ve stumbled across the vitriolic voice of one Matthew Carpenter, originator and once-owner of website Ship Your Enemies Glitter.

As a weapon, glitter offers the opportunity to hide behind a mask of pretence – leaving it to the sender and his conscience to work out the rest

Yes, that’s right; shipping your enemies glitter, anonymously! Pity you didn’t think of it. Twenty-two-year-old Matthew from the land down under just sold his little idea for a whopping $83,000. No really. Freaking eighty-three thousand US dollars! And get this: the website ran for a meagre four days before its dad decided to ditch it. Poor naïve Matthew, who started the site as a big fat joke, underestimated the extremity of man’s propensity for putrid pettiness; pulling $20,000 in the site’s first four days. Now the poor dude has a backlog of orders. He’s even transmitted a mass plea via the internet: “Hi guys, I’m the founder of this website. Please stop buying this horrible glitter product — I’m sick of dealing with it. Sincerely, Mat.”

But rather glitter than an axe or a chainsaw, right?  You’ll survive its onslaught; you might lose some sanity, maybe some hair, a dog and a couch or two, but you’ll come out OK, all things considered. It’s not going to kill you or anything. Vindictive, malicious and entirely contemptible as a dastardly envelope of glitter might be, it is yet a safe enactment of detestation. Sending it to your enemy is not going to see you bending over behind the bars of a prison cell as your ass is tattooed by the white supremacist who now owns your junk. As a weapon, glitter offers one the opportunity to hide behind a mask of pretence – leaving it to the sender and his conscience to work out the rest. Oh it’s feeble alright but it’s also quick, cheap, easy and satisfying. We are a ludicrous lot but we’re also self-preserving and lateral-thinking, and sometimes the best way simply is the Kesha-way: “When you’re around me, you’re going to get glitter on you.” That’s all.

If you’d like to send some glitter to the people you hate, visit shipyourenemiesglitter.com @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

9 February, 2015

Pop-Psychology-Alice-in-WonderlandPop Psychology #19…Alice in Wonderland

Something curious (a muttering White Rabbit with pink eyes and a pocket watch) plus a magnum of boredom was all it took for Alice to take a leap down the rabbit hole, and she has been traversing the ages ever since; inflicting her philosophy and fashion on 150 years’ worth of society. The world has long-been partial to a little lunchtime lunacy – a mad hatter’s tea (that whole medieval jester thing totally caught on) – but longevity is an entirely different kettle of fish, one that does not come cheap, especially with the mind of the fickle masses as mediator. As it turns out, Alice drives a hard bargain – offering as payment not only the epiphany of a revolutionary new hair embellishment (all hail the almighty Alice-band) but an antidote to the ‘here and now’; an escape; a place that exists as other to current circumstance – a Wonderland.

The thing about the Wonderland that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) breathed into being on a boating trip up the Isis all those years ago, is that it is as deadly as it is delightful. Perforated with hookah-smoking caterpillars, babies that turn into pigs, a cat with a malevolent and persistent grin, a Mad Hatter who talks to time and pretends tea is wine, flamingos used as mallets in game of croquet, a queen with a predilection for decapitation and another who lives backwards and remembers forwards, Wonderland is no stroll in the park; more like a high-speed chase through an inner city street in Johannesburg – you gotta keep your wits and watch your back, also your head. Under the very apt guise of ‘children’s tale’ the dangers that sneak around the story, nabbing disengaged readers with ironic irrationality, are easily overlooked. Before you know it, you’re contemplating life’s greatest puzzle, aptly posed by Alice as “Who in the world am I?”, and wallowing in the excruciation of an existential enigma.

Never once did dear Alice imply that Wonderland would be entirely scrupulous. She merely opened a door and asked us to follow

Nonetheless, it’s not likely Lewis Carroll could ever have envisaged that his unassuming (yeah, right!) heroine would open a Pandora’s Box, overflowing with a disarray of utopian fairylands and maniacal mirages – each one different, deeply personal but never without an essence of neurosis. Carroll’s Cheshire puss tells Alice she must be mad or else she wouldn’t have come here, to Wonderland; a place that is (dangerously) whatever we want it to be. Whether it’s an X-rated musical fantasy (Bud Townsend), a three-volume pornographic graphic novel (Alan Moore), a phantasmagoria of Alice-infused imaginings (Marilyn Manson) or a deserted island with a never ending supply of rum, a house made of candy or a world with no war or perhaps no people (or bugs), Wonderland has become a metaphor for the place that we go to when we want to be somewhere else, no matter how dreamy, dark or dirty.

Never once did dear Alice imply that Wonderland would be entirely scrupulous. She, who personifies the antithesis of an anaesthetised world, merely opened a door (or a can of worms – perspective dependent) and asked us to follow. Our point of abjuration may or may not be ethically inconspicuous – it’s one of the perks of fantasy – but then again, it’s not usually the ‘niceties’ that jolt complacent narcoleptics out of the brain trance imposed by fear or mediocrity; it’s danger, madness and curious things that encourage participation and force people out of a pleasant mental lethargy. Wonderland is not always safe but it is vital. Morpheus knew it:

“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” (The Matrix)

So did Dylan Thomas; “rage rage against the dying of the light” (Do not go gentle into that good night) – death, sure, but is boredom not a metaphoric death of soul? Thomas encourages us to take the pill; the one that chooses life by raging against our desire to withdraw. Neo did it; he took the pill, like Alice, and crawled pretty deep down the hole it conjured. It sure as hell didn’t un-complicate his existence but it certainly thrust a whole bunch of life-affirming energy down his throat – all that death, sex and aggression (Freud is so smiling right now).

And yet, it seems strange that we might look to our fantasies to affirm the state of our very existence when they should offer an alternative to the reality we are trying to circumvent. But how else do we learn to cope with reality if not by processing it through fallacy? The apparent derangement inherent in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland makes palatable an intrinsic ideological warfare that escapes no thinking individual. Carroll’s book is not a comfortable read – there will be no afternoon snooze with a scone and spot of tea. Even Alice admits “It was much pleasanter at home, when one wasn’t always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits.” What Carroll implies by the strange assimilation of hilarity and agony that punctuates Alice’s world is that ‘escape’ is a tool; a mere construct of what we know (life) – it’s not about the fantasy in and of itself; it’s about using Wonderland, the point of avoidance, to infuse reality with life. Make sense? No? Well, we’re all mad here anyway. @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

2 February, 2015

Pop-Psychology-VikingsPop Psychology #18…Vikings

How about a little Viking-style rape and pillage to complement your evening chardonnay and candle-lit boeuf bourguignon? Now-now, don’t look so shocked; you know you wanna – not do it or anything, just watch from a distance. Participate vicariously. And don’t feel bad; your crude craving doesn’t make you sub-human. In fact, revelling in the sordid savagery of Viking uncouthness is a blatant attestation to the vitality of your exceptionally human spirit. It’s just that society has placed a strait jacket on the historical temperament that birthed, oh, just civilisation – but in truth, there is something in our nature, call it ‘the animal’ if you like, that is desperately attracted to the unrestrained barbarism of the savage that belches contempt all over civilised society, axe in one hand, phallus in the other.

The unashamed Viking lust for land, ladies and laud is an emancipated existence that conjures a fire in the heart of all those constrained by the mandate of modern living. That whole ‘rape and pillage’ thing… it’s a metaphor, so really, your shame is redundant; it’s freedom you’re after. And freedom is especially attractive when propagated by the likes of Ragnar hunk-of-burnin’-love Lothbrok; legendary Norse ruler, explorer from the Viking Age and notorious scourge of England and France – what a dude!  This seriously sexy bad-ass has even defeated the snare of time to find himself the hero (or something like that) in the modern retelling of his own saga; Vikings, although masterminded by acclaimed writer/producer Michael Hirst (The Tudors and the Elizabeth films) is propelled by the lore of Lothbrok.

According to legend, Ragnar Lothbrok had three wives (not all at once) and a load of sons, all of whom inflicted some sort of Valhalla-worthy bloody carnage on both man and land; he also claimed to be a descendent of Odin. An unequivocal egomaniac but also intelligent, ambitious, passionate and unknowingly handsome in a work-the-land-rather-than-the-gym kind of way, Travis (oh baby!) Fimmel plays it brilliantly. Think Brad-Pitt-in-Twelve-Monkeys dished with an insane amount of charisma, few words (but all of the ones spoken important) and facial expressions that tell eons of story and volumes of emotion, thus conjuring a man as lethal as he is licentious. An adventurer before a King, it’s a heart-palpitating experience watching Ragnar’s ascent to power, and how the changes that accost him affect the choices he makes. Ragnar Lothbrok is the makings of a great story and it’s Hirst’s expert translation that is set to make the History Channel a force to be reckoned with when it comes to evocative series viewing.

Viking men and women plundered – gold and sex, but most importantly life. They implore us to seize every moment and pulverise the living daylights out of it

But it’s a team effort. Clive Standen as Rollo, Rangar’s brother, redefines the meaning of ‘sibling rivalry’, taking it up a notch or thousand; Gustaf Skarsgård (just when you thought there couldn’t possibly be any more Skarsgårds in the movies) gives an electric performance as warrior, boat-builder Floki, exhibiting much the same character traits as his mischievous deity namesake Loki; and George Blagden as English monk Athelstan, who, as an outsider looking in – terrified, horrified and equally mesmerised by the foreign culture into which he is thrust – looks and speaks on the viewer’s behalf.

But as much as Vikings is a terrific testosterone fest, it boasts some truly fierce females all of whom aim to show that as brutish and brawny as Viking men are reputed to be, they appreciated their women and valued their contribution to society. Viking women were considered individuals in their own right, not merely manly possessions to be treated as property – they were warriors, mothers, lovers and adjudicators, and the point is clearly made when British King Egbert calls the pagan laws enveloping the rights of women superior to ‘civilised’ English law. Ragnar’s first wife Lagertha (Katherine Winnick), also a shield maiden (kick-ass warrior chick), is an absolute revelation in the realm of strong female characters. She battles alongside her husband and exerts a particularly strong sense of moral justice on the men in her life, which ultimately earns her power, position and reputation.

Not only does Hirst, a historian first and foremost, quash preconceived ideas about Viking women but he corrects other of popular culture’s self-propagated Viking delusions. In an effort to demystify the monster, viewers are told that: those cool, horned helmets…made-up; sexing everything that moved…not quite; they weren’t even called Vikings, ‘Northmen’ is the correct term. So they sacrificed a person every nine years and hooked up the occasional orgy but these Northmen farmed, had families, loved their children, honoured their wives; they were religious devotees, artists and engineers. Not bad for a bunch of barbarians.

But don’t worry; the ruthless ravishing that Vikings meted out on life is no fallacy. They were vicious and violent; they did rape and raid and the show is all that and more. Vikings argues the notion of ‘Viking’ as a manner of being not just a people. Viking men and women plundered – gold and sex, yes, but most importantly life; Vikings ravished life. They personify a carpe diem attitude that implores us to seize every moment and pulverise the living daylights out of it. It’s all or nothing and happiness is an afterthought. Hirst’s show dispels myths but it also revels in them, and isn’t that life? We create our own versions anyway. Might as well ransack a few houses and hearts along the way.

Vikings returns with the Season 3 premiere on February 19 @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

26 January, 2015

Pop-Psychology-ClownsPop Psychology #17…Clowns 

Clowns, right? Terrorising towns with grins, games and exuberant exertions of fun and frolic; what was Joseph Grimaldi thinking back in eighteen-hundred-and-something, with that white face and all that slapstick? His persona was doomed from the start. For one, the world has always had something against gingers, and then there’s that whole cavort-around-like-a-crazy-person-wearing-a-supersize-grin-and-a-soccer-ball-for-a-nose thing. It’s weird. Even so, it’s not entirely Grimaldi’s misguided shenanigans that set the world askew. We’ve got to give credit where credit is due; a large chunk of the blame is usurped by nefarious serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who married ‘killer’ and ‘clown’ in a terrifying ceremony officiated by murder and signed by death, destroying the credibility of all innocent by-standing jokesters in the process.

Gacy’s Pogo, the (killer) Clown, paved the way for the likes of Pennywise (It), Jijsaw (Saw) and Twisty (American Horror Story), and with these smiling sinners prowling the tunnels of popular culture’s labyrinthine mind, it’s no surprise that Coulrophobia, or fear of clowns, is not something relegated to the pages of a really lame joke book. A couple of years ago the BBC reported on a study by the University of Sheffield, which revealed that clowns are universally disliked by children (aged 4 to 16), many of whom find them frightening and unknowable. And that’s it isn’t it – the inscrutability of the mask. Not only have clowns become proponents of chaos (thanks, Gacy) but a metaphor for what lurks beneath; the paint, the nose, the laugh… a mere disguise, obscuring the view of something scary, something sinister.

It’s that same old thing that Jane Austen so famously wrote about back in the 1800s – the ‘public’ versus the ‘private’; the face that people present to the world, which is usually only a version of the reality that lies hidden beneath the surface. Austen’s point, that people are often not what they seem, has transcended time (good job, Jane) but with the help of some fine art, over-sized shoes and a wig or two, Mr Darcy and co have undergone a severe symbolic makeover… (drum roll)…enter Krusty the Clown, the long-time host of Bart and Lisa Simpson’s favourite TV show. Expanding on Austen’s satire, Krusty the burnt-out, disillusioned, cigarette addicted, seismically cynical clown is just one modern example of the error of mistaken assumption; that smiles are easily forged.

Of course, in all likelihood, most of the people who have donned the clown façade through the ages (jesters, actors, circus folk) were probably quite nice in real life. But pop culture has banged a very firm nail into the coffin of that probability. So now, children and adults alike cringe at the irreverent playfulness dished by Bozo and the gang. And yet the strange thing about the stuff that skulks in the shadows, waiting to creep into our nightmares and send us shrieking down the passage, is that as much as we fear it, we are also desperate to take a look. There is something alluring about the unfamiliar, which is why the masses will undoubtedly arrive in droves to check out Cary Fukunaga’s It remake (set to start shooting this Spring); because of the dread as much as in spite of it.

The reason that It (1986) writer Stephen King is considered one of literature’s greatest story-tellers (no correspondence may be entered into) is because he reaches into the heart of man and squeezes until the blood not only flows but jettisons:

“He was wearing a baggy silk suit with great big orange buttons. A bright tie, electric-blue, flopped down his front, and on his hands were big white gloves, like the kind Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck always wore… And George saw the clown’s face change. What he saw then was terrible enough to make his worst imaginings of the thing in the cellar look like sweet dreams; what he saw destroyed his sanity in one clawing stroke.” Stephen King, It.

It is not just about some psycho clown that terrorises children; in his novel, King dehumanises the clown entirely, making it devoid of face – an ‘It’. And ‘It’ is the thing, whatever it may be, that wakes you up in the night; that sends chills down your spine; that threatens to destroy your sanity. By challenging the presupposed innocence of what is in effect a child’s game, King urges readers to confront the nature of the demons that drive their own personal fears, whether it’s Ronald MacDonald, Freddy Kreuger or your friend’s pet pug. Pennywise offers an invaluable lesson: that anything is fearsome if looked at in a certain light. @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

16 January, 2015

Pop-Psychology-FacebookPop Psychology #16…Facebook

The devil comes in many forms: Al Pacino, Crème Eggs, a red guy with a pitchfork, Facebook… Satan definitely got us with that last one: “Hey y’all, come on and join this awesome cult group where you get to connect, discover, share and express.” And being the narcissists that we are, it didn’t take much for ol’ Beelzebubba to pitch a platform that allows us to plaster our personality all over the internet. Candy to a baby.

The thing with Narcissus is that his self-love killed him. Exceptionally proud and disdainful of those who loved him, Mr Handsome was lured to a pool by Nemesis (the Greek goddess of divine retribution) and upon seeing his reflection in the water, fell in love with it. Big mistake. Huge. Unable to prise his gaze away from his own glorious face and mortified by the anti-climax of a much diluted first kiss, Narcissus bade farewell to the world and gave his life over to the sanctuary of the watery depths. So, lessons to take note of: 1) karma’s a bitch, 2)never venture too close to deep water if you’re depressed, 3) egocentricity is the making of tragedy. Sadly, the caution preached by the Ancient Greeks never really caught on and if Narcissus is anything to go by, modern man is in for a reckoning.

But perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. So what if Facebook is a shameless exertion of identity on the world? Why not? We all want to be known, remembered, acknowledged. Is this really so bad? Facebook listens to our stories and validates who we are or, more probably, who we want others to think we are – either way, the sympathetic ear for which we yearn comes at a price; if we choose to vocalise our lives on social media are we not then called on not only tolerate but accept all of the bragging, splurging, opinions, incessant over-share, image crafting, cryptic phrasing and attention laundering that goes on (and yes, Candy Crush requests, too)? After all, the 794 people on whom we inflict our status updates are all friends anyway. They like us. We like them. Right?

Most of us are capable of recognising our own ego and the way it chooses to present itself. The question is: what do we do about it?

Except remember that whole thing about the devil convincing us that he isn’t real, and this being his most noteworthy accomplishment (snake? apple? what apple?)? Like: Facebook is not a threat and worshiping at the altar of the selfie you took, edited and posted in one-minute-twenty-three-seconds (your own personal best) is not the makings of death à la Dorian Gray?

According to recent research by Cambridge University, Facebook is more adept at articulating the character of its users than their own families, thanks to some nifty new software that predicts human personality types by analysing the digital footprint left by Facebook ‘likes’. Because it’s much easier to admit who you are when you’re not faced with the scrutiny of a dynamic, thinking mind, isn’t it? Let’s be honest, the mask offered by a cyber-identity is pretty comfortable – it’s easy to state an idea or pose a world view without the interjection of a spontaneous response. It’s convenient. It’s liberating. It’s also bullshit; the kind that smells like ‘cop-out’.

But don’t we already know all of this? Most of us are capable of recognising our own ego and the way it chooses to present itself. The question is: what do we do about it? It’s a conundrum for the Facebook user who is consistently wrenched into the throes of conflict by a quest for integrity and the unavoidable shenanigans of a temperamental ego; what is the ethical response to a self-analytic awareness of narcissistic tendencies? What does one do about the thing that incites such ego mania? The obvious answer is to quit – ditch Facebook and while you’re at it, dig yourself a hole and climb in it because every time you move or speak you are exerting your sense of self onto the world at large. It’s an extremism that is philosophically hypocritical, so we do the next best thing; we try to be rational and reasonable in our interactions with the world and its social media god.

Facebook is given life by the way in which we wield it, how we perceive it and how we react to it. It’s like the vampire that needs to be ‘invited in’ in order to brandish power and exert impact. The challenge is to use Facebook with the honesty afforded by the detachment of perspective; without inviting it in, in other words, and in so doing we will learn to look at our own reflection without fetish in our eye, all the while hoping that Narcissus is the exception, not the rule. @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

12 January, 2015

Pop-Psychology-The-HobbitPop Psychology #15…The Hobbit

It prowls the highstreet and skulks in the Google search bar, realising its victim by the flutter of an anxious heart, the gasp of an asphyxiating chest, the glance of a covetous eye. Plato called it a vice, Ayn Rand a virtue; Oscar Wild thought of it as ‘passion’; Einstein said it rules the world; and by the ethics of ‘Trumpism’ (Sugarism too), ‘motivation’ is a more effective synonym. It is Greed.

The sagas branded it ‘dragon sickness’; a concept originally hinted at in the legend of Beowulf, who invoked himself as categorical hero by defeating man-eating monster Grendel and his maniacal mother on behalf of Danish King Hrothgar. Beowulf goes on to reign for 50 years as King of the Geats in Scandinavia before meeting his death at the tooth of a jealous dragon on a murderous quest for a stolen cup – but not before the hero has inflicted a deathly injury on his scaly assassin. One cup (out of a seriously massive hoard of treasure); that’s all it took to sign off on a fiery massacre. What kind of crazy-ass dragon gets killed over a single cup, especially when there’re about a billion more in reserve? It seems sort of irrational and highly embellished. Yup, that’s dragon sickness: a monster, benevolent and ravenous in its need to possess. And it sounds familiar, right? Like, when you bankrupt your credit card on clothes, cars, wine, dinners, holidays, gadgets, gizmos… stuff… because you just couldn’t help it.

Thorin Oakenshield couldn’t help it either. After leading a posse of seriously pissed off dwarves in a battle to reclaim both their treasure and their home from a dragon-fiend that managed to make a comfy bed out of an insanely huge (sharp and knobbly) heap of very lovely loot, Thorin Oakenshield succumbs to a ‘madness’ identified by Peter Jackson as dragon sickness – something JRR Tolkien insinuated rather than actualised in The Hobbit original. But in light of the writer’s love for Beowulf, which Tolkien not only translated but analysed, and the self-stated influence the text had on his writing, Jackson’s interpretation is not haphazard.

By overstating Tolkien’s original understatement, Jackson highlights the book’s initially astute comment on society’s greedy girth, the effects of which are played out by Thorin Oakenshield who, in The Battle of the Five Armies film, surmises in a final philosophical musing: “Farewell, Master Burglar. Go back to your books, your fireplace. Plant your trees, watch them grow. If more of us valued home above gold, it would be a merrier world.”

Lore and legend, fantasy too, help us deal with the flaws in our own nature by affording us the freedom to consider them within the safe boundaries of a fictional world

Of course, the great irony enveloping Peter Jackson’s three-year rant against materialism is not lost on viewers, who are significantly distracted by the heavy clinking of coins being raked in by Team Hobbit. But before we go hating on über-fan Jackson’s rather extended version of Tolkien’s trifling 300-page book (which got the same treatment as the hefty 1000-plus page the Lord of the Rings trilogy), the director’s impassioned paraphrase draws on an age-old literary tradition of exaggeration, which goes a long way to validating Jackson’s filmic gluttony.

If we take a second to think about the function of myths; as allegories that offer insight into general psychological, cultural or societal truths, then we realise that the anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet responsible for ballsy Beowulf and his epic escapades was on to something big – man and his dark heart. Jackson, inspired by the grandiose myth of Middle Earth, has tapped into this style of storytelling. What better way to confront the human condition than to fictionalise its voracity? Lore and legend, fantasy too, help us deal with the flaws in our own highly fallible nature by affording us the freedom to consider our iniquity within the safe boundaries of a fictional world. And one could easily argue the case for Peter Jackson’s self-reflexive awareness; in The Battle of the Five Armies, Gandalf tells Bilbo that “Dragon sickness is a malady that affects us all.” None are exempt.

The interesting thing about this so-called malady, this greed, is that although the cursed gold spoken of in legend is quite literal in its symbolism (wealth is an attractive proposition for any human being) in Beowulf King Hrothgar warns the mighty hero not to give way to pride, which, as we know, usually comes before a fall. This caution invokes a more figurative metaphor; that the essence of man is easily corrupted by a hunger to satisfy the desires of his heart, motivation irrelevant. The danger is excess. In The Desolation of Smaug, the dragon warns Bilbo of the effects of greed, saying “Watch it destroy him. Watch it corrupt his heart and drive him mad.” And it does; Thorin Oakenshield involves himself in some serious coin counting at the expense of both honour and friendship, in spite of the righteous claim that was at the core of the dwarf’s ambition. Dragon sickness has the inclination to rot any well-intentioned heart to a state of severe discontentment. It is diabolical that way. @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

 

 

5 January, 2015

Pop-Psychology-The-AmericansPop Psychology #14…The Americans

The couple next door with their homemade lasagnes, ready smiles and picture-perfect rose garden; a set-up that smacks of spy, secret agent, terrorist, psycho killer (Desperate Housewives, anyone?). Perhaps more suspicious are the neighbours to your left: a travel-agent mum and dad with a couple of kids. Sometimes they’re sad (you’ve heard and seen), sometimes they’re happy (you’ve heard and seen that, too); they keep some weird hours but all-in-all they seem pretty usual. Place this semblance of normality into suburban Washington D.C., circa 1981, and you’ve got The Americans; an espionage drama, produced by former CIA officer Joe Weisberg (street cred alert!), telling the story of two Soviet KGB officers posing as an American married couple who quietly sabotage government operations and neutralise targets while raising two unsuspecting teens, with an FBI counterintelligence agent as a neighbour (and you thought your life was stressful).

Yes, The Americans is set during the Cold War but don’t let unfamiliar context deter you from a wild ride! To get with the programme here‘s a quick crash course in Cold War semantics by ’80s poster boy Kevin Bacon (dishing the dirt to millennials who missed the decade): “I saw you tweet an article about Russia. You think Russia’s a threat now? Let me tell you about a little thing called the Cold War. They had nukes pointed at us for 20 years. You couldn’t even skateboard to a Blockbuster without getting nuked. My friend Tommy went out to rent a copy of Gremlins and never came back. You know why? Nuked. At least that’s what my parents told me.”

It was a time of paranoia, when the threat of nuclear war was imminent and Communists lurked behind every bush. Sort of like now, only without jihadists doing the lurking. So we can empathise, and relate.

Cold War espionage was a deadly serious game and surveillance was the key to foiling enemy plans; it was all about wigs, fake glasses and fake identities, compasses, street maps, bugging devices the size of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, briefcases with hidden compartments and coded locks, voice recorders, periscopes, signal beacons and long-range microphones. The Americans is like stepping into a time capsule of corduroys, velvets, knits and chenille, and after adjusting to the earthy, autumnal tones and lack of super advanced satellite tracking systems or listening apparatus that moulds to the skin after flying stealth through the air and attaching to a target’s arm or leg, watching ’80s-style espionage unfold from the comfy chair of technological advancement and laissez-faire fashion, it is entertainment deluxe.

The show is dynamic, boasting a labyrinth of intricate story lines (parenting teens amidst a massacre of spy-action, an FBI guy falling for a raunchy Russian double agent and an enemy who changes face as often as the weather) but the show’s real point of awesome is the relationship between protagonists Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) and Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys). The couple are recruited into the KGB at a young age, trained and then sent on commission to America – their marriage is one of necessity and their children, Paige and Henry, are a function of their marriage. In an existence dominated by solitude and professional purpose, there are affairs in abundance and yet amidst those and all of the KGB ordered assignment-sex and an extra-curricular marriage or two (one of Philip’s secret identities is Clark – a sure nod to Superman’s Clark Kent – who is ‘married’ to Martha, a secretary for the FBI’s counter-intelligence department), the couple learn to love each other and, actually, they’re a pretty steamy item.

But killer sex does not preclude Team Jennings from having to navigate the complications of an arranged marriage and work out the same old awkward relationship stuff that punctuates the interactions between ‘regular’ couples. As the show progresses the need to preserve and protect their relationship for the sake of Moscow becomes something that Elizabeth and Philip need to do for their own sake as well as the directive; for the sake of a love that has grown out of a shared life and a mutual understanding.

The international relationships that drive nations and fuel wars, in the hands of The Americans, serve as an allegory for the interpersonal relationships that define the character of nations. As per history, Elizabeth and Philip are ‘the enemy’ but just as the viewer is cajoled into championing their marriage, we also root for them as spies. And to be honest, it’s kind of fabulous to see someone other than America kicking ass. Elizabeth Jennings is a force to be reckoned with; utilitarian and pragmatic to the max, this is one gal who will put you down one time. Philip, equally lethal, is the more demonstrative of the pair, functioning as the emotional glue between Elizabeth and the kids, but he’s a killer; make no mistake. Together, they’re like Captain America, only Russian.

The Americans uses yesteryear to unpick the histrionics that have permeated man’s existence since forever. The show is riddled with moral dilemmas relating not only to the ethics of spy interplay but the kinds of things that relationships and parents are confronted with every single day. The mistrust provoked by the heightened sense of awareness that enveloped ’80s America had the potential to do two things: make people crazy or make people lonely, or both at the same time. And, really, although the enemy might have changed, human nature has not. The show’s greater point is this: people are people no matter where they pledge their allegiance.

The Americans returns with the Season 3 premiere on January 28 @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

29 December, 2014

Pop-Psychology-Miss-WorldPop Psychology #13…Miss World

“I’m not gonna parade around in a swimsuit like some airhead bimbo that goes by the name, what, Gracie Lou Freebush and all she wants is world peace?” Those are the words fictional FBI agent Gracie Hart tells Special Agent Eric Matthews when he breaks the news that she will be going undercover in the Miss United States beauty pageant, in order to prevent a group from bombing the event.

Sandra Bullock’s foul-mouthed, slightly neurotic, tomboyish and as-it-so-happens-quite-pretty gun-wielding investigator from 2000’s Miss Congeniality reminds audiences of all that is wrong with a bunch of leggy gals parading their wares for the benefit of mass adoration, veneration and masturbation: that pageants are a meat market, pure and simple. Or, are they? At the end of the film, Ms Freebush (aka Gracie Hart) says of the competition: “I came here and I realised that these women are smart, terrific people who are just trying to make a difference in the world.” The film undermines its own satire by giving kudos to the current view punted by the Miss World Organisation; not only are ‘delegates’ intelligent and gorgeous, they’re nice too.

Nice – uh… anyone see Drop Dead Gorgeous? But OK, we’ll go with it; the 90s was a crazy time. Intelligent: we’ll take that too. There do seem to be a couple of doctor, lawyer-types hankering for applause. But brains and a good attitude do not preclude delegates from parading around a platform like Lipizzaner horses, heads cocked, feathers flying; body parts scrutinised and poses analysed – personality irrelevant. The subscript: only with beauty does intelligence matter.

It is thus no surprise that 64 years after the first Miss World title was won, feminists continue to lobby against beauty pageants. Protests against the objectification of women have been going on for decades (it’s so old, it’s boring) but perhaps we’re missing the point entirely. Feminism also champions a woman’s right to forge her own destiny, to apply her sexuality with individuality and autonomy. Perhaps a 21st century woman doesn’t want to be a corporate mogul, clad in trousers with no children and a harem of men waiting in line. Perhaps the proverbial modern woman finds fulfilment in playing the Stepford Wife? And perhaps she reserves the right to have her worth adjudicated by a panel of no-name judges?

If she wants to cook, clean and raise her children from home or be rated according to the width of her smile, the size of her breasts and the length of her legs… if the choice is hers (forget the social context that has defined such choice), it’s empowering in and of itself? Right? Has the Miss World pageant ushered in a new generation of delegate who uses ‘elective nudism’ (and its lesser forms – modelling beach wear, for example) to make a difference, rendering futile the moral high ground preached by activists?

The five whole protestors who turned up to demonstrate against Miss World 2014, held in London’s ExCel, made quite a statement; that no one cares. The excuses lodged by the London Feminist Network for lack of appearance are: transport problems, cold and Christmas. If Mary Wollenscraft knew that some bells and tinsel, a slow bus and a paltry five degree weather forecast were the things that kept women from revolting against the world’s most iconic symbol of objectification and patriarchism, not only would she be turning in her grave but it’s safe to say that some of Britain’s present-day suffragettes will be meeting the ghost of Christmas-vengeance this festive season.

And yet, in the same breath, the town council of Chivilcoy in Argentina recently banned beauty queen competitions on the count of being “sexist.” According to the BBC, council members criticised pageants for being dangerous; propagating violence towards women and encouraging obsession with physical beauty and illnesses like bulimia and anorexia. It’s a decision that rages against the effects of superficial beauty. So yes, some people do care; they just don’t live in London.

The Miss World pageant sells itself as a beacon of light and hope, a mantra spewed by the organisation’s latest minion-Queen, Rolene Strauss from South Africa. In a recent interview with Focus on Africa’s Peter Okwoche, who wanted to know what the new Miss World thought about a top Nigerian University offering a reward of $8,000 plus a car to a beauty contest winner and mere $800 plus a laptop to the uni’s top student as congratulations for achievement, Strauss, disappointingly, belched the usual boring jargon. Rather than committing to an actual answer, the beauty queen vomited diplomacy, choosing to euphemise the situation by parroting stuff about visions of unity, giving back, educated women entering beauty pageants and that we should all be equal. Translation: “world peace” (yawn).

The politics that cascades like yards of silk from the mouths of pageant delegates makes it very difficult to buy into any sort of ironic feminism that could purchase redemption for these women, who perpetuate female stereotype without the single bat of a well-lashed eyelid. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if one of these pretty ladies spoke the truth: “Hey, my country has some serious issues and I am using my looks to manipulate the situation because in a world that lauds cosmetic value I’ll make a bigger impact as a beauty queen than as an engineer, academic or marketing director? I also like attention and want to be famous.” Honesty, what a joy! But that’s not what it’s about, is it? @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

22 December, 2014

Pop-Psychology-Sons-of-AnarchyPop Psychology #12…Sons of Anarchy

They enter your house, often uninvited, and perforate the kitchen counter with Marmite-stained knives and used teabags. They tell your children to put on socks (in Summer) and suggest your husband wear a jersey (because after being alive for 30 years he’s still not sure if he’s cold or not). They burn toast every five minutes, tell you how to cook the stew, leave lights on, and use Lurpak cartons as left-over soup containers. The trauma of the Mother-in-Law might happen only twice a year but the tension is acute.

Indeed, they’re a species that oozes horror story from every pore but no matter how evil you think yours is, there is always one MIL who takes the cake and eats about 400 extra. Not least (SPOILER ALERT) Gemma Teller Morro, whose daughter-in-law ended up on the kitchen floor gushing blood, with a carving fork in her head. Tara Knowles Teller’s bloody death at the hands of her enraged Mother-in-Law might seem extreme. But Sons of Anarchy is, after all, a show about gangsters – the rock ‘n’ roll lovin’, porn addicted, tattoo laden outlaw miscreants who wreck violence from the seat of a motorcycle. And violence begets violence, so death by fork? It’s all in a day’s work. But melodrama aside, this beef is universal: mothers and sons… What’s up with that shit?

Freud would blame the “Oedipus complex”, a psychoanalytic stage of development named after the Greek king who unknowingly killed his father and married his mother. So gross. Freud explained disturbances in human thought and behaviour by reducing everything to “fixations” in any (or all) of five articulated psychosexual stages of development. During stage three, the ‘phallic’ stage, a boy competes with his father for his momma’s affection; he becomes jealous and then guilty, and is consequentially plagued with worry over the safety of his penis, which he fears his father will cut off as punishment for his craving – known as “castration anxiety”.

The good news is that sons usually get over their mummy fetish and resolve the complex by learning to identify with their dads, mimicking their masculinity. But this doesn’t always happen and dudes can go through life living under the weight of a weirdo, lust-driven attachment thing that can be pretty darn pathological. The good news is that it makes for great literature.

Shakespeare (seemingly subconsciously) thought so; filling his plays with Freudian innuendo years before Freud ever lived. And so did Kurt Sutter, writer, director and creator Sons of Anarchy, which is Hamlet all over again. Shakespeare’s protagonist never got over his mummy lust, and then his uncle (Claudius) killed his dad and married his mum (Gertrude). Freudian theorists argue that Hamlet is jealous of his conniving uncle, not just because he has usurped his birth right but because he is married to the woman Hamlet loves…like, loves (right?). And so Hamlet is jealous.

Jackson Teller, Hamlet with a reaper cut, also has some serious mummy issues. And what happens when a mummy’s boy gets married? Sutter dishes the dirt. Sons of Anarchy investigates the intricacies of the relationship between Mother-in-Law-from-Hell (Gemma) and her daughter by marriage (Tara), within the extreme context of an outlaw community. Gemma and Tara are characterised as two strong family-oriented women looking to protect their own – and therein lies the problem; the question of ownership. The underlying vitriol that often defines interactions between Mothers-in-Law and their sons’ wives is fuelled by the assumed right to own the man. It’s a territorial thing; ‘My house, my man, my kids… MY way’. But a matriarch is tough to crush, as Tara finds out.

Amidst moments of genuine mother-daughter-type love a war rages and Jackson (son and husband), confounded by the Freudian desire of his poor, confused phallus, lets the battle play out. And then that fork… A wife skewered by a mother’s madness; it unleashes a fury, a poetry of justice, intense in analogy. Jackson, doing the only thing he knows how, offs his momma. He does allow her to stop and smell the flowers though. Then a bullet wielding death paints the scene with blood spatter. A son murdering his mum in cold blood. Gangster retribution. It’s hard-core. But she deserved it, didn’t she?

If we scratch around in that dark place where all the bad thoughts go, if we’re brutally honest with ourselves, there is a part of us that wants our man to put his mum in her place. OK, not with a gun in a rose garden – but the metaphor nonetheless stands poignant in its truth. @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

14 December, 2014

Pop-Psychology-Jurassic-WorldPop Psychology #11…Jurassic World

In 1993, cinema-goers shrieked in horrified glee as dinosaurs chowed down on people like children on popcorn. Jurassic Park was the bomb; a pop-culture phenomenon. Nothing was more awesome. If the population could’ve gone to their local pet store and bought a Brontosaurus, they would’ve. Not even Mrs Doubtfire, Robin Hood: Men In Tights, Snoop Dogg, Nirvana, Alice in Chains or Buckingham Palace opening its doors to the public (big woop!) could rival a guy getting his ass chewed out of a toilet by a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and a kid called Lex being lambasted with Brachiosaurus snot.

There was nothing to compete with the most menacing water ripple in the history of cinema (something… big… is… coming) or Velociraptors that could open doors and stalk kids in a kitchen with a stealth that even Jason Bourne would be at pains to emulate. No other film offered Coke in Jurassic-themed bottles – all the cool kids had ‘em; the ones whose reluctant mums went with them to watch the PG certified film. Some mums didn’t go. Hmph. Some kids had to wait until it came out on VHS (VH-what?). But not even a T-Rex in miniature dulled the hype’s contagion. Jurassic fever was rife. Jurassic World has a lot to live up to.

Yes, that’s right; another Jurassic feature, due out June 2015. Admit it (no one’s looking) – life just got triple awesome. Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World – featuring the likes of Vincent D’Onofrio, Katie McGrath, Jake Johnson, Judy Greer, Bryce Dallas Howard and (fail-safe) mega-stud Chris Pratt – is currently in post-production, but the trailer is out and a frenzy is in formulation. It’s a sure bet that Millennials of a 90s ilk are going to speak about this film, watch this film, love this film and love it some more because it’s not just a cool dino-flick, it’s a throwback to scrunchies and crimped hair, Blur v Oasis, Winona Rider in Reality Bites, Power Rangers, Tomagotchis, combat trousers and Beverly Hills 90210 (The original). But is a hearty dose of nostalgia plus a snaggle-toothed T-Rex enough to pull the new kids on the block?

One of the things that made Spielberg’s Jurassic Park such a huge success was its ground-breaking computer generated imagery (CGI), which introduced audiences to a prehistoric world like never seen before. But the film wasn’t only about killer graphics, not even in the 90s. Michael Crichton, who wrote the book and scripted the first Jurassic film, preaches a cautionary tale that exposes the dangers of biological tinkering; when human knowledge is combined with greed and complacency, and is unchecked by wisdom, ethics or the oversight of a responsible organisation, the results are calamitous.

In the film, John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), the founder and CEO of bioengineering company InGen, creates a Jurassic theme park on (the fictitious) island of Isla Nublar; a cacophony of cloned dinosaurs the star attraction. And, as euphemism would have it, things go wrong; in metaphoric protest against the very unnatural manner of its being, Nature rears its head in an all-out war against the enemy – us. Jurassic Park thus offers an astute commentary on the ethics of cloning. Remember the lunchtime debate? When Dr Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) calls out John Hammond on the moral implications of what he has set out to achieve: “Don’t you see the danger, John, inherent in what you’re doing here? Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet’s ever seen, but you wield it like a kid that’s found his dad’s gun.”

Genetic engineering was topical at the time of the film’s big release. It was in 1993, when dinosaurs once again ruled the world, that two American Scientists managed to successfully clone a human embryo – the first time ever. And man’s desire to play God has not diminished an iota since Spielberg and Crichton used dinosaurs to unpick the ethical implications of gene manipulation. In fact, the more man knows, the more the ‘God-complex’ seems to set in; the core point of Trevorrow’s new film.

In Jurassic World, Isla Nublar is back on the radar, only pimped with a dinosaur theme park that has the benefit of 20-plus years of CGI development. Theatrics aside, after 10 years of operation not even the spectacle of genetically engineered, mass-produce Jaws-sized sharks used to feed ‘the bigger beast’ is able to pull a crowd. Scientists, under pressure to deliver, much like Colin Trevorrow, decide to go big rather than home. So they create a genetically mutated hybrid dinosaur, translated in filmic as Disaster; yet again man’s arrogance lands him in the dark and nasty. Of course the plan backfires; the dinosaurs get out of hand and people get eaten. “Déjà vu”, you say?

True, it’s not an unfamiliar plot but in all honesty it’s not like we couldn’t do with an ego check, and all the better if it comes under the guise of a mighty man-eating Tyrannosaurus Rex or hybrid monster-thing (there’s a lot to be said for an entertainment-spewed moral). One can only assume that the repercussions for the havoc wrecked by our innate arrogance are going to be bigger, ‘badder’ and way crazier this time around. Bring. It. On.

@MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

8 December, 2014

Pop-Psychology-TattoosPop Psychology #10…Tattoos

Samantha Cameron has a tattoo. No really. Not the Samantha Cameron who is dating your neighbour and frequents metal gigs; nor the foul-mouthed Angelina Jolie look-alike (the one from Hackers, maybe Maleficent but NOT Mr & Mrs Smith) who sat next to you in English lit lectures blabbing on about the awesomeness of Lord Byron and anything written by a Brontë sister. Not the wannabe muso from Hackney who busks in Shoreditch to fund her fixed-gear bike and vintage fashion fetish. Not even the knife-wielding gangster girl you met at the bus stop with seven tongue piercings who, in spittle perforated annunciations, bragged about her 100-string kill list looking like she could rip out your eye with a single swipe. This would be comfortable – ink revealed, stereotype substantiated: A tattoo? Good for you! But no, we are not talking about those Samantha Camerons. We’re talking the Samantha Cameron; the Prime Minister of England’s wife.

So there is a strong chance you already knew this. It’s not new news, maybe it’s not even officially news, if you’re going to be persnickety about it. But it is the kind of news that makes you want to weep, and then cover your tattoo-covered arms. (Though obviously you have your’s done years back…)

Not that long ago, it was deviants who got inked; burly bikers, inglorious inmates, scurvy sailors, putrid punks and manky metalheads. It was something reserved for the uncouth, for degenerates. Tattoos said “Fuck You” to the dictates of the moral and ideological conformity imposed by social constructs. Individualists emphasised their resistance to societal norms by branding themselves as ‘other’. The obvious irony of groups united in their effort to emphasise the individual and his or her will over external determinants is a point overlooked by the conventions of cool. Even if the effort is philosophically flawed, cool is a character applied to those who buck the system. Cool people dare to go where others don’t. Cool people have tattoos. But the day that the UK’s first-lady-to-be sat down in a tattoo parlour and allowed a conglomeration of fine steel needles to puncture the skin of her ankle at roughly 150 beats per second (in the shape of a dolphin), cool careened into a vortex of has-been.

These days true anarchists are the religious-type zealots who preach from an old-school moral high ground, imposing absolute standards in a world governed by relativism

And she is not the only symbol of what has been lost. Rihanna, Cheryl Cole, David Beckham, Justin Bieber, Katie Price, Emma Watson, Little Mix, freaking ONE DIRECTION, have collectively commandeered a revolution against exclusivity. Society rebelled against its own average and what the Tahitians called “tatau” (meaning “to mark”) went from being an icon of subculture to a pop culture phenomenon. Consequently, tattoos have fallen under the slash-happy knife of Doctor Trend leaving anarchism floundering for a new weapon. But what is anarchism anyway, in a world in which everything is permissible and acceptable? Alan Moore, in his post-Apocalyptic Dystopia that forms the subject of graphic novel ‘V for Vendetta’ writes: “Authority, when first detecting chaos at its heels, will entertain the vilest schemes to save its orderly facade.”

Forget an individual act of insurgence pitted against the stifling aristocracy of a privileged upbringing (sucks to be rich), that treacherous little dolphin is really a vile plot to suffocate impending chaos with homogeneity of swanky symbols, swallows, and floral fiascos. Oh, it’s a sneaky plot… making anarchism un-cool. These days true anarchists are the religious-type zealots who preach from an old-school moral high ground, imposing absolute standards in a world governed by relativism. And who wants to be associated with this lot? A dog-collar is no tattoo. It would however be wise not count chickens; anything could be a ‘tattoo’ in the hands of Moore’s authority, if they so choose. And we so follow. @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

30 November, 2014

Pop-Psychology-BarbiePop Psychology #9…Barbie 

Poor Barbie. It’s tough being the harbinger of Aryan idealism and in a world that has since figured out that: 1) brunettes also have fun; 2) cone bras are only passable on Madonna circa 1990 (and even then they’re not all that passable); and 3) that Barbie’s 16-inch waist – four inches thinner than her head – only has space for half a liver and two centimetres worth of intestine, making her d.e.a.d in real life.

But Barbie’s a fighter. She’s had her nipples filed and her waist widened; her skin’s been darkened with the advent of multicultural dye and she’s allowed artists to parody the life out of her hard-earned stereotype, in the hope of making a few friends. She’s even tried to get down with the pop culture kids by bad-assing herself up with some tattoos (people hated it), ‘divorcing’ Ken in 2004 (people hated it more) and then posing for Sports Illustrated (the resulting vitriol a metaphoric lynching). It took a while but Barbie finally cottoned on to the fact that changing her appearance was not likely to derail her bombshell image or ingratiate her with anyone over the age of 12, so she thought she’d try something new, like; become a Computer Engineer.

Barbie turned out to be a pretty rubbish Computer Engineer. But she can draw puppies and have pillow fights

That’s right. A Computer Engineer. In 2010 A book called Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer was published by Random House. Finally! Something to end the incessant ranting of those pesky feminists! A chick who can test software, write code and maybe even put up some killer graphics and look hot while doing it: beauty, brains and, by default, personality. But essential to all revolutions is a little perspective; it lessens the disappointment of an implied anti-climax. Why would Barbie succeed now when she’s tried since 1959 and failed quite epically? Clearly, history repeating itself is a reality lost on she of hollow head and PVC-face.

Unsurprisingly, Barbie turned out to be a pretty rubbish Computer Engineer. As in: she can’t code and she crashes computers by inserting virus-infested flash drives into USB ports. But she can draw puppies and have pillow fights – just saying. Luckily Steven and Brian were a call away to save the day, developing Barbie’s pictures into a “real game” and rescuing Skipper’s homework and music from techno-oblivion.

People complained. So Amazon pulled the book. And rightly so but here’s an interesting after-thought: it took four years for the travesty of Barbie-the-crappy-Computer-Engineer to come to light – why? A theory: no one cares! Probably only five people bought the book in the first place and of those five people, Barbie’s lack of spine clearly ain’t no thang. So, who then is keeping the bane of Barbie alive? Marketers – in a weird ‘negative attention is better than no attention’, reverse psychology ploy? Women? Mums? Writers? Who?

According to Mattel, Barbie sales are in decline and not just a bit; a lot!  And we know which Behemoth is to blame for that; it begins with a D and ends with an Elsa and an Anna. Barbie’s a has-been. And anyway, modern society has made a concerted effort to sequester the falsity of Barbie’s plastic dimensions to the pop stars and fashion icons emulated by girls with a fever more fierce than the plasticity of any doll could ever hope to muster. While we were yabbering on about a gal who has been living in a shadow for longer than we bothered to realise, a new doll marched into town. Her name is Celebrity; she bears the proud stamp: “made by you” and she has got it goin’ on. There will always be another Barbie; we had best be sure that we attach our contempt to the right one. @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

27 November, 2014

Pop-Psychology-Paddington-BearPop Psychology #8…Paddington Bear

Children’s tales have hidden morals. They’re subversive in that way. The sneaky little critters lure readers in with imaginings so irresistible that one hundred or more beloved Once Upon a Time’s later the story-ethos has eaten its way into the subconscious and there it resides, influencing thought and action with subtle mastery. Now this is not a bad thing if the imposed idea is a good one. For example: don’t leave the path or talk to strangers and always listen to your momma, is the lesson Charles Perrault preached in 1697. Grimm revamped it in 1812 to say that even if a girl does leave the proverbial path there’ll always be a dashing young huntsman to save the day. In the 1970s Angela Carter empowered the girl by imbuing her with the skill of seduction – and then Roald Dahl tipped a nod to feminism by making Little Red shoot that darned wolf and turn him into a coat. Standing tall against the evolution of culture, the little girl with the red cap, who appeared as early as the fourteenth century in some European countries, has been preaching ‘stranger danger’ for centuries. Not a bad lesson at all. But how does it fly in the year 2014?

The truth? It flies pretty well. The inherent discomposure invoked by the presence of the unfamiliar is something that has not changed since families sat around fires and nonnas told of a little girl with a red cloak who didn’t heed her mother’s advice. And as Time’s beard has grown in stature, the world has become only darker. With paedophiles, serial killers and terrorists apparently lurking around every corner, parents expend an insurmountable amount of energy protecting their young from the peril that permeates contemporary existence, making Red Riding Hood as relevant today as she was 600 years ago. But relevant is not always favourable. There are stories out there, modern stories that challenge the status quo by proposing a caution of a different nature. Michael Bond’s A Bear Called Paddington (1958) is one such tale. The much adored story of a bear that travels all the way from darkest Peru to London’s grand Station as a stowaway in search of a better life throws a rather hefty spanner in all of Little Red’s hard work.

Darkest Peru is a metaphor for any figure other to oneself – the dodgy pierced dude exiting the tube at Camden Town, the dirty man sitting on the floor with his dog outside Sainsbury’s, the immigrant waiting in front of you at the doctor’s

In his memoirs Bond reveals how the image of what has become England’s most familiar furry fellow – sitting on an old leather suitcase, wearing a tag reading “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” – was influenced by his memories of newsreels showing trainloads of child evacuees leaving London during the war, with labels around their necks and their possessions in small suitcases. The allegory is poignant. While war ravaged the world, the kindness of strangers saved the lives of many of the children who were evacuated from bomb-crazed cities to the relative safety of the countryside. Although reminiscent of the effects of man’s great propensity for evil, Paddington is also a reminder of man’s great propensity for good. If the little bear had not made himself vulnerable to the empathy of Mr and Mrs Brown, strangers who opened up their hearts and their home, where would Paddington be now? Certainly not embellished with 70-odd sequel stories plus a blockbuster feature (due out on 28 November), that’s for sure. Bond seems to be cautioning against a mindset that is hardened to the plight of others, which raises an interesting conflict when considering Paddington in light of the media-propagated culture of fear that governs modern society.

The tension is cleverly played out in Bond’s first Paddington book: Mr Brown plays the role of the modern parent, the voice of reason to Mrs Brown’s mother instinct:

“We can’t leave him here all by himself. There’s no knowing what might happen to him. Can’t he come home and stay with us?”

“‘Stay with us’ Mr Brown repeated nervously?”

As well as a reaction to the weirdness of having a talking bear eating peas with the fam’ at the dinner table, Mr Brown’s nervousness is also a sign of the times; society’s general disinclination to be of assistance – whether rooted in fear or the annoyance of being made uncomfortable, the trepidation exists. A value that is being passed down to our children not only by example but by the way we translate literature. Which begs the question; “at what cost?”

Bond’s tale challenges what has become a burgeoning trend toward an insular way of life, something that poses a real threat to the community spirit that pulled England out of the trenches in the twice-aftermath of two of the world’s greatest tragedies. Whilst freedom, a constricted concept, is objectively not what it once was and parents are right to warn their children, a world sans certitude could be the makings of an even greater tragedy. Darkest Peru is a metaphor for any figure other to oneself – the dodgy pierced dude exiting the tube at Camden Town, the dirty man sitting on the floor with his dog outside Sainsbury’s, the immigrant waiting in front of you at the doctor’s, a neighbor who looks like he’s walked straight out of Bedlam circa 1455…Paddington did end up in London after all. Has fear removed the smile from our lips, the courtesy from our voices, the patience and tolerance that should be given as well as received? What are we, as a people, without hope, faith and compassion? Perhaps the caution is this: even in a world ravaged by the sin and corruption of a fallible people, there are certain values that direct a moral compass; values that if not abided have the ability to dehumanise man’s heart, more so than it might already be. So, really, in the name of saving the world from certain wretchedness, a spot of mild-mannered persuasion is acceptable, especially if a cute bear is the one doing the indoctrinating. @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

17 November, 2014

Pop-Psychology-GluePop Psychology #7…Glue

Horror is horror. But it’s also relative. There’s the usual blood-guts-and-gore hyperbole that exudes metaphor and rouses adrenaline by hyping the mind into frenzied overdrive as it reluctantly contemplates the ‘what ifs?’ of brain-munching zombies, teen-slashing psychos, slime-spewing aliens, apocalyptic machine warfare and serial killers – some who eat their victims, others who wear them. And then there’s a horror that’s more mundane; the kind that governs everyday life – root canal, slugs, spiders, public speaking, sharks, thunder, cycling in London… the kind of stuff that has the power to evoke a visceral reaction in even the most rational of person. Jack Thorne, screenwriter, playwright and Bafta winner (the man responsible for popular series including Skins, The Cast-Offs, This Is England ’86 and ’88, The Fades), is an artist who understands that horror, embellishments and all, is rooted in reality; that blood spatter and stormy weather are not the only arrows signposting the way to Disturbia.

Forget demon doll Chucky, horror child of the 80s; there’s a new beast on the block and its name is Glue. Thorne’s latest TV offering has been aptly and yet deceptively marketed as a ‘teen drama’ but be warned! It moonlights, with deviant success, as a ‘parent’s worst nightmare’. Set in the quiet lanes and expansive fields of rural Berkshire, a fictional town called Overton, Gluetotally obliterates the pastoral pleasure typically synonymous with the utopian idealism of country living. The show invites teen-viewers to look on with empathy, revelling in the catharsis offered by Tina, Rob and Overton’s gang of miscreant youth who live out the trauma of eighteen-and-counting in the context of a messy effort to figure out who killed Cal – friend to some, foe to others. But a casual midsummer murder mystery this show is not.

The antics of Thorne’s angst-driven teen posse whittle away at and brutally eradicate the fictive innocence of childhood

While teens watch on with knowing grins their parental units are engaged in a white-knuckle ride that is sure to wear away at the family furniture. The antics of Thorne’s angst-driven teen posse whittle away at and brutally eradicate the fictive innocence of childhood with some seriously hardcore anarchism: taking drugs, selling drugs, stealing cars, cavorting naked in fields, bath-tubs and stables (anywhere and everywhere), playing weird ‘near death’ games like diving into silos filled with wheat grain and getting pulled out on the point of suffocation or lying submerged in bathwater with plastic bags wrapped around heads, most of which transposes onto screen in episode one.

Teendom, in spite of any parent’s best efforts, is an unavoidable rite of passage and also a rude reminder of Life’s great potential to warp character and cajole bad choices. Wordsworth was on to something when he said “the world is too much with us”; there is just no way of stopping its pillage and plunder. What parents want to know is that their children will be OK; that they will survive the peril and come out intact. Glue accentuates these fears by placing a big fat question mark over the ‘intact’ and ‘okay’ bits.

The recoil factor is huge for parents imagining their own adult-ish children copulating in barns, chugging acid, going pyromaniac on police evidence and offering sex for money in ramshackle pubs – the usual binging, bullying and bigotry that makes up teen existence. Apparently. But there is perhaps one consolation; exaggeration for emphasis. Sensationalism is a by-product of not only horror but TV in general, which begs the question; how far has Thorne pushed the pulp? Should mums and dads be wrapping their children in bubble-wrap and hiding them in cupboards until the hormones are dulled and anarchy is remembered as something punks did in the 70s?

It’s easy to spin into a figurative coronary much like the kind induced by the show’s namesake drug, which is likely to induce dizziness, loss of coordination, muscular movement, slurring of speech, mental deterioration, hallucinations and finally drowsiness which can lead on to coma and respiratory failure. At least three of those symptoms are guaranteed to inflict parents partaking in an evening of Glue. In spite of which, forget the bubble wrap (it’s impractical anyway!; as the show progresses it becomes clear that the neuroses experienced by the denizens of Glue’s eight-part series are not merely a ‘kids gone wild’ scenario (praise Holy Moses) but the manifestation of a small town culture that is deeply complex.

As different world views collide they also implode, which is tough to deal with when you’re an adolescent teen-ing your way through all the tension. As it turns out, the show’s greatest triumph is also its most poignant point: people are, by and large, ambiguous. The murderer is also the victim, the victim is also the criminal, the oppressed is also the oppressor and the marginalised is also the persecutor. And this is a great life lesson. Naturally, parents would prefer that their children figure it all out from the safe confines of a loving home but the truth of the matter is that this is a luxury not afforded to every man, and perhaps a friendly (even not-so friendly) reminder isn’t bad. The thing with horror, even the subjective kind, is that it’s difficult to ignore – most likely, you’ll find yourself transfixed with entertainment a convenient repercussion. Glue has that effect, too. @MOTHERLAND Magazine 

 

10 November, 2014

Pop-Psychology-Mary-PoppinsPop Psychology #6…Mary Poppins

Purveyor of the extraordinary, deliverer of medicines and sugar (in small doses – don’t panic), sustainer of sense, flier of kites, friend of penguins and owner of the coolest bag ever imagined… Mary Poppins has once again captured the public imagination, 50 years after Julie Andrews immortalised P.L Travers’ fictional character in the 1964 film adaptation titled after its lead. (I mean, as if she ever left?)

Featuring Cate Blanchett as Time’s favourite nanny and Sam Riley as chimney sweep Bert (originally played by Dick Van Dyke), word of a film at the hands of Movieland’s controversial gothic maestro Tim Burton has since been exposed as a nothing more than a terrific prank. Alas, not even the YouTube teaser, which sucker-punched more than 100,000 viewers, was an iota of real. Assuredly, loads of fans are (misguidedly) thanking mighty Zeus for striking a lightning bolt into the heart of the faux Burton remake but this is beside the point; someone went to a great amount of effort to rehash the Poppins vibe with some pretty bang-on PR, and the world bought it. Social media and even reputable news sources were abuzz with a nostalgic euphoria induced by a desire to believe; that Mary Poppins could and would reappear on the back of the East wind, umbrella in hand, smile in tow.

Just to be clear, we’re talking ‘Movie Mary’; our love of whom undoubtedly has a great deal to do with Julie Andrews’ fabulous face. ‘Book Mary’ is a whole other story; in Travers’ eight-novel series, Poppins is described as “not much to look at”, with squinty eyes and big feet – not quite as enticing Disney’s imagining. By and large, we’re superficial people; beauty goes a long way to securing the admiration and confidence of the masses. And if great hair and a killer face are matched with the ability to belt out a Disney tune… But let’s for a moment forget society’s petty penchant for pretty people; Mary Poppins is relevant, decades later. Fact. Last year’s historical drama biopic Saving Mr. Banks (a movie about the making of Mary Poppins – apparently Travers wasn’t a fan of the creative liberties Disney took with her original, rather stoic, character) further attests to the point. But why?  Why many, many years later is “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” still something we pride ourselves on being able to enunciate, and why can’t we fly kites without sending them souring up to the highest heights on the (so-called) tune of a very mediocre rendition?

Here’s a theory: the more heinous society becomes, the more it looks to counterbalance the bad with good. It’s the natural way. Some people turn to religion. And then there’s Mary Poppins; her sense of responsibility, her spirit of community, her luminescent goodness are all deeply alluring. Her self-stated, iconic perfection is other-worldly, alien, and therein resonates the appeal. Mary Poppins represents something we aspire to but can’t quite grasp. She permeates a kind of love that is fast becoming old-fashioned in a modern society that lauds the doctrine of relativity and cringes at the mere mention of accountability.

Yes, Mary Poppins tells Michael to close his mouth because “we’re not codfish” and authoritatively reminds him not to slouch; she intends not to “make a spectacle” of herself and wonders why Bert complicates “things that are really quite simple” but even if we don’t like to admit it, the world needs rules (in the name of order, sanity and all round pleasantness). And Mary Poppins, unapologetic in her prudishness, gives us some. And we like it. We cling to the boundary-driven love that enveloped the residents of number 17 Cherry Tree Lane, way back in 1910. Her sense of decency makes a difference. She mends behaviour and adjusts perspective – both children’s and adults’. Mary Poppins is not only a symbol of goodness and family values but of hope, too. Through the aptitude and insight that has become synonymous with Mary Poppins, George Banks – workaholic and AWOL father – is redeemed; he learns what is most important in life (family) and undergoes a drastic character change, a revival of spirit. And, honestly, who couldn’t use a little redemption, a little revival, in this life? Poppins makes it happen.

The thing is; when something (anything) is a little too perfect the devil on our shoulder whispers rebellion into our consciousness. Enter Tim Burton and his elusive Poppins pioneering sidekick-with-a-vision. There’s no denying that twisting Mary Poppins’ paradigmatic wholesomeness into something glorious and gloomy is an idea so fabulous that the mind boggles with anticipation. The adaptation could’ve, would’ve, been awesome; the ultimate irony – prissy Poppins burlesqued-up the Burton way. A touch of the macabre. The travesty is just too delectable, even if only in theory. And yet even when a boundary is tested, manoeuvred out of place to see what will happen, it merely reinforces the value of the tried boundary in the first place. If the ethic and essence of Miss Mary Poppins arouses a mutiny, the fact remains; the world needs as much goodness as it can get. @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

3 November, 2014

Pop-Psychology-Breaking-BadPop Psychology #5…Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad. Severe in its exposition of man’s feebleness, blasphemous in its contemplation of ordinariness, and ruthless in its revelation of life’s uncertainty. Vince Gilligan’s epic tale is but one example of a recent TV series that has captivated the attention of the modern masses with relentless, obsessive, borderline-cultish effect. Walter White, the show’s protagonist turned antagonist, exposes the human condition to be something dark and dirty; morally reprehensible in its propensity for vacillation (choose a freaking personality, Walt! Preferably Heisenberg.) But White’s weakness has not held the multitudes at bay, quite the opposite; the plight of this mild-mannered-chemistry-teacher-gone-bad has kept viewers riveted for hours, days, years – time characterised by the temperamental highs and lows of entertainment-induced ecstasy and anticipatory withdrawal. It’s brutal – an awesome kind of brutal.

Other than the obvious relatability factor (we’re all human, breaking our own bad each and every day, right?) and the catharsis of living out our collective alter-ego in a mini-van brewing up crystal meth, kicking butt and making millions, there’s got to be more than just that to fuel the kind of hardcore addiction incited by Gilligan’s brain-baby? Not to discount the essentiality of quality acting, directing, cinematography, music and all that jazz but above all, for a show to be truly formidable, it requires a great script. In this regard TV has changed its approach to the fictional rendering that defines its success.

Many of the best shows on TV today (The Wire, The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy) have adopted ‘novel-style’ scripting as a story format; characters drive the intensity of the show and plot is used to pace episodes but, more importantly, functions as a tool to expand on and develop character. Story arcs are long, and dialogue between characters deeply significant. A further characteristic of this so-called novel-style episode format is that series often have to be reviewed in retrospect. Characters do not flesh out in the space of a single episode; it can take seasons – years of devoted attention. Viewers are required to invest in the long-term. Series as a genre affords the time to delve deep into personality and motivation. And then when a show ends, it’s like a friend dying.

The day that Breaking Bad descended into the abyss of TV dramas past, the ‘five steps’ set in with instantaneous effect: first denial, then, when puffing RVs ceased to lurk around every corner, anger; The Hulk has nothing on the emotional tirade provoked by post-Breaking Bad vulnerability. Bargaining is next and, as it turns out, not even the demons at the crossroad are going to resurrect that which made a smart and timely exit, at which point insatiable tears are quenched by a seriously good sulk as the depression phase takes over.

Finally, acceptance rears its unwelcome but necessary head – usually heralded by the arrival of the blessed box set plus a Walter White action figure complete with a bag of money, blue crystal and an accompanying Jesse Pinkman (ace accomplice-turned-hero) figurine with a tray of toy crystal meth in hand (purchased just before the-best-toy-ever-made was removed from Toys R Us due to some serious and very uneducated petitioning and complaining) to help with the healing. After which the proverbial Breaking Bad fan is pictured… sitting with Walt in one hand, Jesse in the other, wondering whether it’s too soon to delve into the limited edition DVD case, which beckons from prime display position, for a quick binge.

Luckily (or perhaps unluckily?) series fans are never really forced to come to terms with the death of their favourite TV characters because, well, they never die – with the click of a button a technology-induced time warp stunts the mourning process. The question is: is this good for the psyche? Logic suggests that it comes down to that fun-killing pest of a principle, moderation: be moderate, exercise restraint, and avoid extremes or excess. Yawn. On one hand; enjoying stories, bonding with characters and engaging with ideas can be informative as well as purgative, and this is good. But according to the law of common sense: if bingeing is having a negative impact on work, relationships, family, life in general – then cut down. Namesake and inspiration Walt Whitman once wrote:

‘How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.’
(When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer, 1900)

Walter White’s moral decline is not only an illustration of humankind’s corruptive nature, something that in our empathy renders us complicit, it’s a warning against extremism; accountability, responsibility, obligation… all the things that keep society in check, that keep chaos from erupting (in its entirety), are fundamental to the existence and maintenance of a sane world. And that’s story telling at its unequivocal best. @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

27 October, 2014

Pop-Psychology-Ghost-BustersPop Psychology #4…Ghostbusters

Imagine what would’ve happened if Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Emma Stone and Linda Cardellini had come to blows with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man back in 1984? This all-female cast was Bill Murray’s personal choice for a proposed all-female line-up, rumoured to replace Murray and his men in the imminent remake of the original movie. Maybe. What is for certain is that faced with these ladies, the Marshmallow’s big, bad, lumbering mass of galvanised gelatinous-ness would not have stood a chance against McCarthy’s ample attitude; all it’d take is one foul-mouthed slap in the face, sending poor Mr Mallow crying back to his crypt, with Wiig, Stone and Cardellini rubbing wise-cracking salt in the jelly-giant’s wounds just because. Proton packs? Energy streams? Who needs ‘em? No mess, no fuss. Job done. Put a woman in charge and New York City’s a healthier, happier, less gooey hang-out.

Yes, it’s true – women are awesome! But before feminism stakes claim on the proposed gender-bender that is Ghostbusters 3, let it be known that director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) has expressed plans to reboot rather than revamp the much-loved and revered Eighties version. By implication, the purpose of the new flick is to offer a different perspective rather than improve the original. (And the fans go wild.) Yet, while Feig’s film aims to be an entity unique in ambience, it would be naïve to assume that any Ghostbusters ‘sequel’ could be divorced from the gender dynamic prescribed by the first two films.

Lurking beneath the charisma of Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II is a gender stereotype clandestine in conveyance. To précis the innuendo; the dudes save the day as well as the films’ only relevant girl Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver). In the first Ghostbusters, Dana is possessed by demon demigod Zuul, minion of Gozer “The Destructor”, transforming her into a sensual, sexually aggressive femme fatal on a quest to mate with another of Gozer’s minions. Interestingly, it’s only under the influence of extreme evil that Dana is able to express and revel in the belligerent femininity, the assertive sensuality, that was (and still is) being championed by feminists the world over. But, as we’ve all been taught, evil must be exorcised (especially if it invokes any sort female self-assertion) and indeed it is; freed from Zuul’s possession and rescued by Peter Venkman (Murray), Barrett reverts back to her prissy, far less engaging, self. The Dana Barrett of Ghostbusters II fares much the same, with Peter and pals rescuing town and woman yet again. It’s like Grimm 101 – that whole men-kicking-ass-damsel-in-distress thing; women must conform to their culturally-defined role or bad things will happen even in the eighties, apparently.

Although the stereotype is poignant it would be naïve to underestimate the power of nostalgia. Kids who got a load of Ghostbusters back when men permed their hair, women wore side-ponies and fingerless gloves were in fashion, loved the movie (and still do – 30 years later) because of: the coolest jumpsuits ever, Ecto-1, Slimer – “Is it just mist or does it have arms and legs?”, Bill Murray, a killer theme tune, a puffy giant of paranormal proportions… and about 90 other things that render the subconscious effects of the blatant sexism invoked by the film’s narrative utterly redundant. And so what? Who wants to sit in a movie theatre chugging down slush and crunching on popcorn while contemplating the gender evolution as depicted in modern film? Hells no. Love (especially the fanatical kind) hath no reason, especially when Murray/McCarthy are making a concerted effort to deal with the ‘something strange’ in your neighbourhood. If Entertainment Value and Gender Politics were put in a ring, and Ghostbusters was refereeing the match, the former would come out with the championship belt every single time. @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

20 October, 2014

Pop-Psychology-FrozenPop Psychology #3…Frozen

Much like Elizabethan England, the 21st century has its own favourite couples. Shakespeare’s lot had Romeo & Juliet, Othello & Desdemona, Antony & Cleopatra, Titania & Oberon… For us there’s Brangelina, Bennifer, Kimye, Posh & Becks – sadly, none of them have real names (but what’s in a name anyway?). And the associated drama today is as severe as that which took centre stage at the Globe Theatre in 1599-ish. Shakespearean love was no picnic, after all: characters died for love, lied for love, murdered for love, but they also reveled in love’s joy and beauty.

Even fairytale favourites (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel….you know) have endured the cynicism of modern society. With popular culture the master of the masses, Disney now has the monopoly on fairytale love: love at first sight, love’s ‘true kiss’, love’s pure bliss – a whimsical idealism that, one can only imagine, is cultivating a generation of relationship-fools in search of an ill-defined utopia. Yet there is something in the wind, and it smells like change. Possibly something to do with a little film called Frozen, only the highest-grossing animated film ever as well as one of the top highest grossing films of all time. It’s powerful stuff.

A (very) loose adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen (1844), Frozen has turned Disney’s typical relationship stereotype (prince and princess fall in love, enemy intervenes, prince rescues princess, happily ever after blah blah blah) on its head. Elsa, older sister to Anna, future Queen of Arendelle and possessor of some bad-ass icy powers, nearly flat-lines her sis’ in childhood and is responsible for trapping her kingdom in an eternal winter. Yikes! Tired of confinement, even if it is for the sake and safety of others, Elsa lets go – so the song says, in a joyful chorus involving at least 1.7 million children.

Along with Elsa’s new-found freedom comes a heap of consequences – a snow-monster-thing and again a near-dead sister. But love saves the day, only not in the conventional sense – sibling love and self-love are what Frozen is all about. True love’s kiss is the embrace of a sister and a world turning from white to green is the by-product of confidence and sagacity. Elsa’s journey is one of self-discovery. Think: independent woman who, although lonely, is OK with being alone and is sensible about love. Right? It seems almost anomalous. And it is, in a fairytale context. But life, hate to break it to y’all, is no fairytale. As Frozen reminds us. Sure, the princesses are pretty and the castles are colossal (as usual) but the story is different, the characters are dynamic and the point is charismatic – so much so that half the world is locked in and engaged.

So, what does Frozen have to do with Shakespeare? Only this: “A dear happiness to women: they would else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank God and my cold blood, I am of your humour for that: I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.”

Much Ado About Nothing and Frozen: two stories, centuries apart but both acute social commentaries each with a feminine voice tenacious in proportionate measure. Beatrice, the woman who would rather listen to crows than men in love, is one of Shakespeare’s strongest female characters. Known for her intelligence, her voracity, her independence, Beatrice refuses to marry because she has not discovered the perfect, equal partner and because she is unwilling to abjure her liberty and submit to the will of a controlling husband. Shakespeare used characters like Beatrice to question love, to reveal flaws in its chivalry, to expose it as something marred by immorality.

Elsa, like Beatrice, challenges love’s preconceived idealism. Not only is Elsa a single woman, but she is a Queen without a King and she understands the naivety of fairytale love. When Anna, after knowing Prince Hans as long as it takes to sing a Disney duet, accepts his marriage proposal in all of about five seconds, Elsa tells her sister, “You can’t marry a man you just met” and is met with the response “You can when it’s true love.” Elsa challenges her, “And what do you know about true love?” Boom. Shake shake SHAKE the room. And Disney defies its own doctrine.

Both Beatrice and Elsa are women in the throes of figuring out life (good luck!) and all of its complexities, love especially – and even moreespecially; how to love without pain. Beatrice protects her heart with wit and humour, “Men were deceivers ever. One foot in sea and one on shore, to one thing constant never. Then sigh not so but let them go and be you blithe and bonny, converting all your sounds of woe into hey nonny nonny” and Elsa uses ice, the shards a fortress-forming manifestation of her emotional turmoil. The thing is…to love is to suffer, in its broadest conception. Shakespeare knew it. Even Disney has cottoned on. And Elsa and Beatrice learn it.

The feisty Beatrice is ultimately conquered by her love for Benedick, who says “Peace, I will stop your mouth” putting his feisty lover in her place. Beatrice pays a price for love; the sacrifice of submission in exchange for happiness. But Elsa, the epitome of the modern woman, owes a great deal to the feminist revolution – she is rescued not by a man’s embrace but by her blood, her sister, as well as her growing aptitude for self-love and self-assertion.  What Shakespeare contemplated with Beatrice, Elsa has achieved with Disney, which is not only a magnificent irony but a sign of the times. Art is, after all, a reflection of the society that conceives it into being. @MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

11 October, 2014

Pop-Psychology-HomelandPop Psychology #2…Homeland

Any TV show that has the confidence to dish up a protagonist who is as vastly unlikable as Carrie Mathison in Homeland’s season 4 premier deserves some respect the Aretha Franklin way – big, bold, brash and ballsy! Testosterone has tyrannised the entertainment industry for decades, both in front of and behind the cameras, but these days viewers are demanding more. Gone is the time when insipid lady loves and Stepford-style wives were enough to draw crowds.

Along with the right to vote, wear trousers and play rugby came the idea that women don’t need to settle, heralding the birth of the strong, complicated albeit lesser-spotted female character. And then there was Carrie: socially impaired by night but by day an ace, terrorist-ensnaring behavioural analyst; unreliable as a daughter, aunt, friend and lover, a rubbish employee (authority – what’s that?) but the ultimate patriot – her personified irony and consequent depth of character fits the brief.

The thing to remember about feminine prowess, however, is that it’s not always synonymous with likeability. And the truth of the matter is; we prefer it that way. There’s nothing duller than subjecting oneself to the familiarity of an I’m-sleeping-with-the-enemy-and-birthing-his-love-child (ehem!) type of tale. We want badass, manipulative, self-centered, annoying-as-crap Carrie; the Carrie who is flawed; the Carrie who got crazier just when we thought she’d used all the cray-cray up.

No, that’s not it. We root for Carrie because she’s real. The emotions arising from the conflicts she faces are recognisable. It’s a matter of being inclined toward the yin part of the yang, the cloudy part of the ‘the balance’ that is intrinsic to the condition of being human. We’re looking for “the dark half”- as Stephen King so aptly put it. We seek vicarious affirmation of this so-called ‘dark half’, the ‘bad’ part of ourselves, because it is suppressed by the bonos mores of society – the expectations that keep Lord of the Flies from happening on a grand scale – and we need to vent the tension invoked by our duty to keep chaos at bay. Freud called it Catharsis – the rapid release of negative emotions by, say, screaming, hitting a pillow, breaking bottles against a wall or identifying with the trials and tribulations of TV characters – non?

Relatability, in the Carrie Mathison context, does not mean that we have contemplated murder and detested our children (good to know); rather, it’s about those moments…those moments when we’re impatient, petty, arrogant, conceited, narcissistic, sly or insubordinate. Those moments when control is lost and sanity hangs by a fine, desperate thread. Homeland’s pulpy version of life’s darkest minutes reminds us that we’re all navigating the same tumultuous landscape. Through Carrie Mathison, we get to relive the anger, the hurt, the hate, thus purging our emotional angst and in the process we realise that we’re glad we didn’t…whatever that means for you@MOTHERLAND Magazine

 

29 September, 2014

Pop-Psychology-X-FactorPop Psychology #1…X Factor 

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat,
Please to put a penny in Simon Cowell’s hat.

Forget bells, baubles and brandy sauce… the star that guides contemporary Christmas into place is none other than the gaudy grin on Simon Cowell’s face; imposing itself on our screens, infiltrating our minds, berating our brains with its smug sense of supercilious satisfaction, it begs our attention with neither scruples nor shame.

It’s Cowell’s signature cockiness that reminds us to get cracking with the gifts, to make the mince pies and to stock up on the sherry. No matter how hard we try, we cannot circumvent the music mogul’s magnanimous presence. In style similar to the preceding 10 series, X-factor has crept into consciousness with a stealthy quiet atypical to the average beast. Blink for a second and already January has become September and as the leaves swirl and fall in preparation for winter that Cheshire Cat smile manoeuvres a Christmas single into spot with machiavellian mastery.

They say that it was a wise man who followed the star. Perhaps, it was a wise man who wielded the star. And, honestly, who can resist when that star is entertainment?

There’s nothing quite like sitting down, after a hard week’s work – the kids in bed, with a glass (or three) of red and the squealing and squawking of would-be pop stars. Admit it. It’s got something to do with somebody else’s woes making the moment’s mishaps seem fabulously insignificant. So what if your son demolished the neighbor’s prize-winning rose bush so that he could use the thorny stems as part of an army base shield at the bottom of the garden, and now your neighbour not only thinks you’re the world’s most inattentive mother alive but you have to replace the cursed rose bush and who has time to garden these days?

Who cares if you have ten meetings, seven deadlines, your partner’s away and you have to do the school run plus swimming, gymnastics and music all by yourself? Really – who? So, the hairdresser heard “cut it all off” when you actually said “I look terrible with short hair and so I’d just like a trim, thanks” and now you look terrible. What’s the big deal? Loads of people look terrible… and Simon Cowell just told a group of chicks that they sound “like three little kittens who’ve been abandoned.” (Awesome.)

He also told one dude that his performance was “like eating water – You feel nothing afterwards.” Seriously. Other than contemplating the logistics of chewing down on some San Pellegrino (apparently something people are doing these days) laughing at the misfortune of others, true to human nature, is great fun. Cowell’s grin sells catharsis. It costs a bit of soul but it’s worth it. Right? @MOTHERLAND Magazine