The Pop! Vinyl Takeover

The four building blocks of the universe are fire, water, gravel and vinyl.

Dave Barry

Somehow, I doubt Mr. Barry was talking about this type of vinyl. The Funko Pop! Vinyl figures,  an explosive range of models of society’s favourite fictional and non-fictional characters, do, however, seem to be holding up a corner of the world. You can instantly tell if something is ridiculously popular if people begin treasuring them on their shelves as mint-in-box. People are doing that with these Pop! Vinyl figures, as they are doing it with Nintendo Amiibo figures.

 

Collectors of these plastic, bobbly-headed beings span the globe – there is a man in Dubai who has collected over 600 of them, all methodically lined up on his shelf. He has all sorts – common ones, rare ones, big ones, tiny ones.

Pop figures

How many do you recognise? Me, I only care for the blond one over his right shoulder…

There are two main problems with these Pop! Vinyl figures that I can think of. The first problem is their title of a ‘figure.’ Consider the other times you may have heard the word ‘figure’ and the connotations that word brings.

An action figure is the first thing that comes to my head. A five-moving-parts toy that could be chucked from a fifth storey window into an empty bird table and live to tell the tale. A heavy Action Man who you attach a sheet of paper to in your expectation it will act as a parachute. The slender Barbie whose limbs you can break off. The massive-headed Bratz dolls whose feet you could take off. These three examples of figures have 500% more moving parts than the Pop! Vinyl. If you are lucky, the head will bobble a little. That is the Pop! Vinyl figure’s only source of locomotion.

Continuing on, they are rather brittle little things. I personally have two figures, one little keychain of Thor, and a regular-sized figure of Thor. Both these Marvel’s Thors are in rather volatile positions. One crashes against my rucksack constantly, and the other stands overlooking a vertiginous precipice. Should Big Thor fall off, his top-heavy head would smash into the washing machine below… a very embarrassing death for the God of Thunder. At first glance, this, perhaps, does not seem like it would break a figure… but it did. There is now a tasty crack in the top right hand side of Thor’s head.

If anyone asks, I will tell them he got a bit too excited with his hammer.

The small figure has not fared much better. Being attached to a keychain, he has saved himself from the humiliating fall that his bigger clone took, but the Little Thor has demonstrated to me the issues with the paint. Having only had him on my bag for a few months, I realised his horrifying, ash-pit eyes – the main selling point of any Pop! Vinyl figure – had been partially scraped off by the everyday goings on of my rucksack. Little Thor is now blind and, in an effort to maintain the feeling that I did not waste £10 on the little bastard, he now lies safely in a drawer.

Although… in considering my second complaint about these figures, perhaps it is a good thing Little Thor is blind.

This Dubai man who collects the figures, Aaron White, stands with his back to them in the picture. As we should have learned from dealing with other predators, especially pack-hunters like these figures, you should never turn your back.

These little things are hungry. Their eyes confirm their ravenous natures. Their eyes, free from sclera and iris, are fully pupil. Cats’ pupils expand when they are on the hunt, so what can we say about these eyes?

As with any good predator, the figures are intelligent, more so than their prey. Walk around any town, you will find at least five stores where they are sold. Their appealing guises – Harry Potter figures, Marvel figures, Game of Thrones, animes, cartoons – draw in the eye of the fan. And when their black eyes make contact with yours… when they personify themselves to resemble something vaguely humanoid and cute, you fear to leave their presence.

You must buy them. Out comes the wallet and in goes the boxed figure into your bag. Safe and sound, it is now yours! Or so you think… in reality, you are a slave to the figure, it has you exactly where it needs you. You will take it home and eagerly unwrap the thing, removing it from its plastic prison. Little do you know that you have not freed a kind figure that will give you joy, but you have released an unfeeling devil into your house.

Put it on a shelf, and declare that shelf your “Pop! Vinyl shelf” because you will certainly collect more.

Pop1

After all, you couldn’t leave poor little Thor all alone, could you? He needs a friend – a Loki, a Stark, perhaps another Thor from another movie. Besides… the novelty of Thor alone will wear off in ten to fifteen minutes anyway. As soon as you unwrap him, the decline begins and soon the pleasure of Thor’s presence shoots down.

You need another.

And so, the next time you come across an overflowing mound of them, franchise after franchise bunched together, you pick up one, or perhaps two. Bring them home, enjoy them for ten minutes, and set them up beside Thor.

Pop2.png

Dangerous move.

Pop! Vinyl figures are not solitary creatures. They hunt best in packs. One set of black eyes floating quietly in your room is unlikely to affect you. But now you have two pairs, or three. Exponentially, their power grows stronger.

With their eyes of pupil, they will never stop staring at you. Forwards, sideways, it matters not where you go.

Will they attack? Or will they wait until you buy more? After all… three is a collection. You officially collect them now. Plus… well, you can’t have Thor and Loki without Odin can you? And you can’t have Tony without Bruce or Steve, and you simply must get the Iron Man version of Tony, and the other versions of Tony from all the other movies… so many Pop! Vinyls to get, so little time!

And you will keep opening that wallet, spending that money, setting up your vinyls and achieving an addict’s high for a few minutes… and your collection will grow. Just as Mr. White trawled conventions for his rare Big Bang Theory figures, you will become as obsessive.

Within the article, Mr. White reveals the proof of their hypnosis: “But I’m never going to sell them because they all hold a special place for me.” He is completely under their spell, and such a strong spell it will be. He has over 600 of these figures, that is over 1200 eyes staring at him… constantly.

The Funko Pop! Vinyl hunt began when Mr. White picked up his first figure. And the hunt has begun on me, too, with my two Thors. And, if you have any figures, you are also the prey.

The prey for their bottomless hunger. Stuck inside their inanimate plastic shells, their wait is finally over. This is the Pop! Vinyl takeover. It may already be too late. We will all be collecters. We will all submit to their gazes. We will strengthen them and weaken ourselves.

This is the Pop! Vinyl takeover.

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Could it get Worse? – On Poets

Poets utter great and wise things which they do not themselves understand.

Plato

 

Oh, wond’rous Plato, whose Republic is free of those damnable poets! I don’t agree with you always, but in this case you have a head-nod from me. “Great and wise things which they do not themselves understand,” very apt, very apt.

Oh Poets, I am addressing you. When will you learn?

If you asked a hundred people “What is Poetry?” likely most of them would attempt to come up with some unique and classy definition that would demonstrate just how incredibly educated and cultured they are. That’s what everyone does. So I’m not going to attempt to come up with a flower-infused prissy definition, but simply copy from my well-abused Collins English Dictionary. Come on now, you lovely looking leatherbound book, what is the definition of “Poetry?”

poetry poems.

Well… fuck. Poetry is poems. I mean… that’s simple right? Poetry = poems.

ANY QUESTIONS?!

Well, okay then, you smart-arse bookoid, what is the definition of a “poem” please? And no messing this time you hear me?

poem imaginative piece of writing in rhythmic lines.

Ah, much better, there we go. Breaking down this short-and-sweet definition, we can disclose the heart of poetry; its rhythm. I would agree to that. Rhythm is indeed one of the most important aspects of poetry, potentially more important than its rhyme scheme, yes? Poetry – and its cousin Lyrics – is the only place where you are expected to inject a sense of rhythm. Of course, there are exceptions to that, including in lyrical- and poetic-like prose, but in poetry it is the tip-top of Important Things.

I will imagine many, many other people will agree with me.

But what do those many, many other people think about rhyming? The dictionary attests to rhythm, but not to rhyme. Does this mean rhyme is unimportant? Not at all.

As to what people think about it, I have had experience. Imagine it, about 15 people in a room, none of us particularly enthused with poetry, and someone asks about rhyming poetry:

“What do people think about rhyming poetry? Do any of you like it?”
The room, already quiet, becomes static for a few seconds before my hand stirs the air as I raise it.
“It doesn’t have to rhyme, but a lot of poetry is great when it does.”
No one else pipes up after me, I am the only one who believes rhyming poetry is good. No one else. No one.

Isn’t that telling.

I wonder why 14 people didn’t claim to enjoy rhyming poetry? I believe I know why. I think there is a stigma behind rhyming poetry. It’s seen as childish, juvenile, amateur. And for what reason? I still cannot work it out.

Is it because, in primary school, kids were taught to rhyme when they wrote poetry, that rhyme was the most important thing? To rhyme “fairy” with “Mary” and “stamp” with “lamp,” that is what makes a good poem right? Perhaps to a group of stupid 9-year-olds, the majority of whom will not have a great grasp of rhythm, yes.

Still, does this mean that, as adults, poets should shit on the concept of rhyme? Sure, I was following the vox populi for a while, going around with my head tilted back and my nose up because I know that poetry is only concerned with rhythm, but as soon as I was sat in the room and witnessed no one but me defending the honour of rhyming poetry, I became rather angry.

What’s wrong with rhyming! Rhyming is great! Rhyming can pummel a point into you! Rhyme is behind many many songs’ lyrics, behind rap, behind nursery rhymes and slogans! Why must we abandon it so brazenly when the art of poetry is brought up?

I think it’s purely down to a pompous belief that “I know best.” Blahh, poetry doesn’t have to rhyme, look at me, I like fancy blank verse!

You know what you’re doing? All you’re doing is making yourself look underqualified. Do you know how simple it is to write blank verse? I’ll demonstrate using a short paragraph from another of my blog posts. Ahem!

Calloway was so insistent he was “dark,”
That he was into “shit most people wouldn’t dream of,”
But yet here he is,
doing Rome “with clothes on,”
On a “mattress,”
And it’s the “best orgasm to date!”
“Even hotter than when [he] was with [his sub]”!
Vanilla sex,
no pain,
Apart from “her nails” digging into his arse,
in their clothes!

-From Black Ob-shit-ian [A Review]

There we go. I’ve not changed anything except from adding capital letters and commas where there ought to be capital letters and commas. All I’ve done is add line breaks and I’ve got myself a blank-verse poem. Fucking incredible, how long did that take me? Not long at all. That’s all blank-verse is.

I’ll reverse that too, let me take a blank verse poem and make it into a paragraph. I really want to get it into your head how simple blank verse is to write and, therefore, how comparatively tough it is to write rhyming poetry.

Sitting at the train platform, you’ve been there a while, waiting on your two-way route to your mundane and everyday location, just as you do every day. With your mind on other things. Less than looking forward to the nine hours of screen-staring, paper shuffling, staring at the brunette you are too cowardly to ask out for coffee. But today could be the day for it. You take a peek at your watch. Then look towards the clock, unable to believe it’s been only two minutes since you last looked. And yet there are more people crowded around you than you’ve seen so far today.

-From Sitting at the Train Platform by Ema Schopenhauer

Do you get it now? Do you get it now? Word of advice; next time you write a ‘blank verse poem,’ take out the magical line breaks. Without those line breaks, a poem with no rhyme falls flat.

Of course, the example I just chose doesn’t have a great meter, but it’s got some discernible rhythm. Unfortunately, a lot of good writing has the same quality of ‘discernible rhythm’ so that point becomes moot. If you want to be a good poet, a poet who will push himself, try adding a few rhymes. Don’t be afraid of rhymes.

You’re not too good for them.

Morons with Typewriters [A Review]

Good writing is an art. When we look at it, sentence by sentence, we should feel joy. We should feel the thrill of being the person who by reading it makes it mean something.

-Scarlett Thomas, Monkeys with Typewriters (the missing commas are her fault).

Oh boy.

I’d like, first, to list my apprehensions about giving my thoughts on this book. It is not often I have an attack of conscience, but here I am:
1) To Scarlett Thomas – I’m sure you’ve improved in the 5 years after this book has been published. I hope you’re a competent writer now. Also, I don’t doubt you’re a kindhearted person.
2) I, on the other hand, am not a kindhearted person. But I will, to the best of my abilities, try to keep this review honest, because this book concerns me greatly.
Other than this… on with the review. Tally-ho.

MwT

Even this book’s cover is wrong. Look at the monkey’s tail, it’s cut off on the left of the typewriter. Oh, we’re off to a great start.

If you have read this book, or are in the process of reading it, you fit into one of two camps. Either: you picked this book up because you wanted to learn how to write. Or: you go to a specific university in which this book is forced upon you harshly. I’m in the latter category.

I harbour a great amount of animosity towards this… “work”. This is in part because of the reason why I have to read it, but mostly because of its content. Therefore, I will be focusing on the content of this book rather than my own experiences with it, because the content is universal. The experience is mine only.

If you’ve read my recent post On Writers you’ll know what I feel about how-to-write books. However, with most how-to-write books, (I mentioned Stephen King’s On Writing, plus one I picked up called How Not to Write a Novel) I am content to simply ignore them. I will let them vanish from my peripheral vision because they are not offensive, particularly. I disagree with their content, for the most part, but they are not harmful to the aspiring writist.

Monkeys with Typewriters, however, is. It’s harmful. Harmful in that it teaches the wrong things. I am a great believer in the theory that writing cannot be taught. As with any skill, it must be developed over 1000 hours of practice. Only then will someone be confident and competent enough to do it properly.

Let’s just start from the beginning.

Thomas does, admittedly, do some things right. She dumbs down Aristotle and Plato for the people whose only reading experience has been the Mr. Men series, plus rehashes ideas that do inspire some new thought. But that is where the list of good things ends.

My concerns first began when I was reading the chapter “Tragedy and the Complex Plot.” Apparently, Thomas doesn’t know what the word ‘concise’ means, as repetition of her words pops up time and time again. One minute she’ll be explaining how “Sebastian [in Cruel Intentions] really loves Annette,” despite wanting “to sleep with Kathryn,” then, four pages later, saying “Sebastian intends to betray Annette in order to sleep with Kathryn… he finds out he is in love with Annette.” Wow thanks! I didn’t know Sebastian loved Annette, I forgot after page 80! Thanks for reminding me on page 84! Man. Memory like a sieve, am I right?

Don’t tell me what I already know! Good lord, maybe Stephen King was right, maybe we should all aim for minimalism in our work! Urgh, Scarlett Thomas is making me consider Stephen King… I feel a little ill.

“But what harm can repetition do?” Hm, is that the question you’re asking? Look – a book isn’t a fucking song. We don’t have differing verses and one chorus. We have ≈50,000 words to make a story. Don’t waste them saying what you already said.

However, perhaps we should consider confiscating those 50,000 words from Scarlett Thomas, because she clearly doesn’t know what to do with them. In the chapterHow to have Ideas,” she demonstrates the concept of a fiction matrix.

Here, I will pause, because I want to explain what a matrix is. Basically, it’s a chart with a bunch of questions in it that you answer as yourself (as opposed to as a character, or a writer). With this matrix, you are supposed to be able to use it to come up with a plot. It isn’t a bad concept by any means, but I maintain it will only be useful for amateur or inexperienced writers.

Here are some of the headings in Thomas’ suggestion matrix: Character names, 4 locations you know well, Skills/knowledge you have, What do you worry about? and What are your current obsessions?

If we fill in these columns, the only column unlikely to be related to us is the Character names column. All the other columns relate to the writer in some way. This is an issue because there is only so much of your life you can put into a book. As Thomas herself says, “And then the autobiographical material ran out.” Not only this, but if you simply use skills/knowledge that you have, and places that you’ve been, unless you know how to put an aeroplane back together, have experience with shapeshifting, know what the emotional timeline of attempting an assassination is, and have been to places like the Arctic, perhaps the Mariana Trench, or even an alien city, you will be writing something boring.

“I used to be a waitress, and I’ve been to Inverness, Detroit and London.” Wow. Who cares. Who fucking cares. I want to read about something I’ve not experienced before, so don’t talk to me of waitressing, travelling for four hours in a car, or how difficult it is to find the right aisle in an unknown supermarket. I do not care. At all.

The matrix might work if you’re a starting writer. But if you’re experienced enough, never use one. If you have been writing successfully without one until now, don’t use one. It’ll make your story boring.

Speaking of boring stories, let’s return to what I was talking about before I explained matrices: Thomas’ demonstration. She does demonstrate two matrices in her appendix, but the one I remember most is… well. She quotes an extract from her book that contains a matrix.

In theory… no, wait, even in theory this is a stupid idea. “Look at me! I can do a matrix!” is all I hear when I look upon the abomination of the extract. It’s from PopCo, her book about a toyshop or something, which received lukewarm reviews. Essentially, in this extract, her character Alice describes a matrix which is “on the desk in front of [her].” After an image of the abhorrent thing, Thomas then explains the matrix.

Yes. Thomas explains the matrix, not Alice. Technically, Alice is still the one speaking, since the book is in first-person. However, it is painful to read, because, at this point, Alice ceases to exist. Poof. Her character is gone. Instead, Thomas barges in to explain what a matrix is and how to do one, destroying not only her character but any enjoyment or immersion a reader may have had.

How do I know this? Well, she says, “But with this thing called ‘Random Juxtaposition’ (an idea of Edward de Bono’s, of course), well, you can have many good ideas.” Who the fuck is Edward de Bono? I Googled him just now, he’s apparently the father of Lateral thinking. But… does this mean Alice knows who Edward de Bono is? No, it doesn’t. Thomas knows who Edward de Bono is “of course.” Alice doesn’t exist in this paragraph, because Thomas had to explain what her wonderful matrix is!

How can I make this clear to anyone reading this article…

DO NOT DO THIS.

Don’t. I really mean it, do not do this. You have no idea how much this pissed me off. I’m sitting here, reading a book for university (university of all places!) and it’s demonstrating the wrong way to write a book! Never demonstrate you know how to do something in a novel. Never. I did it once, seven years ago, after I’d learned the order brackets go in. I was so pleased with myself I put it into my novel at once! Ohoh, how clever they will think I am. I don’t care if I sacrifice character for my own little chance to show my knowledge!

No.

Stop it. Take it out of the book. Please. I’ll fucking get my scissors and cut this page out if I have to; when I return this book at the end of the year, I don’t want the next poor sap buying it to succumb to this sort of demonstration.

Whenever I’m asked to read a chapter of this book now, I smirk with derision. I try to skim through the chapter so I don’t get lost in the next seminar, but the idea of reading it turns my stomach. I don’t want to read this idiot’s words. She doesn’t know what she’s fucking talking about, at all. The matrix thing was my limit.

I won’t read another page (I will though, for my seminar [but I won’t read it properly {I’ll skim it at most <end me please>}]).

Could it get Worse? – On Writers

Put your vocabulary on the top shelf of your toolbox, and don’t make a conscious effort to improve it.

-Stephen King, On Writing

I quote Stephen King here because I’ve somewhat stolen his title. It’s very similar, at least. Though where my content will differ to King’s how-to-write book is in its truth; King talks in half-baked analogies. I tell things as they are.

I’m going to talk about writers.

Have you ever been in a room with a group of writers talking about writing? I have. I do this weekly, in my Creative Writing seminars for University. Before my university life began, though, I had a rather inflated sense of the worth of my writing. I thought to myself, “I have seven years experience! This course will be a breeze.” I, rather naïvely, thought that I had the far superior hand in that room. My opinion has changed.

I now cherish modesty.

And I don’t mean false modesty. Ask me, “How do you think your writing is?” seven months ago, and I’d have shrugged and said, “I think it’s okay. I’m reasonably experienced.”

Ask me now, I’ll go, “You tell me. You’re the reader.”

However, I’m not here to quote literary critics at you (notably, Foucault and Barthes in relation to the point of the reader); I’m here to talk about writers.

I’ve been in 6 seminars now, for Creative Writing. And something I cannot ignore is how… pompous writers are. Every time a writer talks, he talks with a royal ego. He talks as if we care. I have news for you, mate, we don’t care. I can’t even pretend to be excited at your plotline for your story, not at all. E-mail it to me. Because when you speak to me about it, you get that little half-smile as if you’re embarrassed, but you continue to describe everything in relentless detail.

Do me a favour and keep it to yourself.

Even the phrase, “I’m a writer,” I find annoying. What do you think someone is going to say upon you telling them that? “Oh, really? What do you write? Tell me more! Tell me everything!”

No one will respond like that. It’s because your writing only interests you. I learned that very quickly. I asked myself, “Why is no one reading my Wattpad stories?” and, after being in those 6 seminars, I realised why; no one fucking cares.

It’s so arrogant to just, “be a writer,” I feel. 98% of the population want to write a book, but few of them ever do it. That’s 98% of the population that can say, with a smug grin on their lips, “I’m a writer,” as if we should actually give a shit. I don’t give a shit.

I only care if you’re better than I am.

Actually, let me examine myself. I did so earlier. I’ve definitely said to people, “I’m a writer,” and expected them to care. Occasionally, people do ask me what I write. Perhaps they’re a colleague and they’re bored, so they might as well listen to what I have to say. Perhaps they want to be your friend so they’ll lend you an ear for a minute or two.

What I have discovered, though, is that people stop listening long before the self-titled “writer” realises. When the writer gets onto talking about, “So my first book is about a girl who saves a dragon from a car compactor, and the dragon is actually from another dimension, and it’s kind of sci-fi fantasy,” I can’t listen past the word “first”. I sit there and wish it to be over. It’s sort of like when people talk to you about their dreams. You’re an amateur writer, sit on your skinny arse and shut up.

I sound a little pompous myself, I’m aware. Telling people what they should and shouldn’t do. But it’s what I feel. I examine my own writing and, now that part of my ego has been stripped away simply by university, I can identify my writing as… nothing special. I’m nothing special.

You are also nothing special.

Next time you want to say something “as a writer” just be aware you sound smug to the other person. I’ve said “as a writer.” I said it in Buttons and Anal Potato Prints and I know I’ll say it again. It’s impossible not to if you want to give an opinion as someone who creates prose for fun, for a living, or for a hobby. If you create prose, you’re a writer. But being a writer doesn’t make you special.

No one wants to know your characters, your plots, your worlds. Don’t talk like they do. I guarantee you people are bored.

I want to return to King’s book, just one more time, because I want to make the extra point that how-to-write books are often garbage. King’s is, and the other two I have are. One of them is a required reading for my Creative Writing course (I won’t name it now… I have an article to write on it separately). The other I accumulated about a year ago because the title made me laugh: How Not to Write a Novel (Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark). They are garbage for the same principle that writers are pompous.

Namely, the writers of these books are so pompous that they think others have to learn from their immense knowledge. I warn you; if you read King’s On Writing because you want to learn how to write, you’ll talk like King. And that is not a good thing. As a writer, (so soon!) you want to find your own voice, your own style, your own narratives. Don’t write like King, for God’s sake. Find your own damn voice.

Just don’t assume people want to fucking hear it.

The Americanisms in the Great British Bake Off

With the recent immigration of The Great British Bake Off (GBBO) from the BBC to Channel 4, a change which everyone freaked out about but no one seems to have commented on since the first episode aired in August, I must assume that viewers are largely content with GBBO’s current state.

Of course, I watched the first episode with a heightened awareness of flaws; I didn’t want it to be bad, in fact I wanted to enjoy it, but it is medically impossible for me to be optimistic. Therefore, I was bespectacled with pessimism. I was surprised, honestly, by how… fine it was. Mary Berry’s departure didn’t leave such a gaping hole when Prue Leith was there to fill it. And Prue is fine, she just needs to get herself some non-stomach-churning glasses.

Glasses

Please… don’t wear these on the show, Prue…

Anyway, the hosting duo of Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding is alright as well. I prefer them to Mel and Sue, but that is a personal comedic preference, I believe. The new hosts and judge, I do not have any problems with. They were, and are not, the subject of my scorn. The first show left me rather pleased.

The second episode, however, began to stir in me simple irritations.

To grant some context: I recently suffered a dreadful syndrome called Binge Watching syndrome. It’s not uncommon among millennials these days, especially with Netflix and others supplying episode after episode of automatically-playing fiction. I fell prey to the syndrome too, only my binge was on Kitchen Nightmares USA. After a few episodes, I began noticing the same things in each. At the start of every episode, the enthusiastic narrator says, “Tonight on Kitchen Nightmares,” before reeling off three things (usually bad food, obnoxious workers and “more importantly, a family breakdown”) which Gordon has to work on if he is to “save” the failing restaurant. From that point on, each episode is a template. The exact same music plays at the exact same point in each episode, the same sound effects are used, and the same things are said in each one-on-one interview, which are peppered throughout the show in the same places each time.

For example, there is always a verbal reaction (clearly filmed after the fact) from the restaurant owner cut in just after Gordon introduces himself to the staff. They say things like, “When Gordon Ramsey walked in I felt nervous but also relieved.” – Cut back to the clip of Ramsey shaking hands with people – Cut back to the restaurant owner, “I felt like this was our last chance, and Gordon was the one to save us.”

It’s the same thing every time. Kind of ironic, really, for a chef who pioneers good food done well to be the star in a televisual equivalent to a fast-food chain.

Of course, I wasn’t too upset with noticing this pattern. It’s obvious, and it’s what the Brits expect from American “reality” television these days. Watch Supernanny USA, watch the Dog Whisperer, you’ll notice the same things from show to show.

And, while British programming obviously does fall victim to these templates too, very often and very obviously, no British reality show ramps up tension as far and as much as American television does (I exclude things like the X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent in this, because they are live reality shows). Supernanny is a good example; the original, UK Supernanny is a lot quieter and slow. There are not sound effects, there is not so much tension and hyperbolic emotion in every single piece of music played. However, in Supernanny US, this is the case. You can see the contrast in Kitchen Nightmares UK as well.

So, how does this relate to the Great British Bake Off? If you’ve been watching along, and if you’re equally keen-eyed and keen-eared as me (honestly, you don’t have to be keen-eyed or keen-eared, you just have to possess working eyes and ears) you might know where I’m going with this.

The Great British Bake Off is becoming Americanised. By this, I don’t mean it’s being tainted by American culture and programming style, I simply mean it’s beginning to possess the qualities of American shows. Is this a bad thing? Not particularly, depending on your stance. But, since I am reviewing it, I will treat it as abhorrent! It is my duty, after all. Read my username!

Re-watch an episode of GBBO for me. Re-watch two. Either now or when you’re finished reading. Re-watch episodes of it, re-watch all five if you must, but you will notice how everything is the same. Everything is identical. From the re-re-re-recycled music to the over-used reaction shots from contestants, and from the placement of ad breaks to the formulaic structure of the whole thing, it is hard not to realise that GBBO, now, is becoming nothing more than a muffin-tray that editors drag and drop clips into.

In fact…

Sad music number one

Bake for 58 minutes at the temperature of the Judges’ savage burns.

I did it, just to show how purely formulaic it is. And, to compare to the American shows, there is indeed over-the-top music. The tension is attempting to be disguised because it is played on instruments like xylophones, glockenspiels and violins, but once you notice it, and once you notice the anxiety-building rumbles of the floor toms, you begin realising that the only reason you’re watching is because you’ve been–

We’ve been hypnotised. That’s it!

The formula! The music! The clips! Paul’s eyes! All of them are instruments designed to hypnotise the masses! We must not succumb to this mental shepherding anymore! Pause your television, throw your laptop across the room, drop your phone in the soufflé you’ve been “inspired” to make!

The formula lulls us into a false sense of security so we’re not afraid to tune in next week. The music produces subtle, Pavlovian reactions in our minds (I bet half of you read ‘Pavlovian’ and thought of pavlovas, not of Pavlov). The clips in the same places of raw human emotion from the contestants strive to ensnare our emotions, so we feel how they feel! And lastly, Paul’s eyes…

The stare

Credit: some other poor bastard fallen prey to THE STARE

It’s impossible to look away.

We are all doomed.

This is not Americanism in the Great British Bake Off.

This is hypnosis.

We are all sheep.

We are all doomed.

We will all become contestants one day.

We will all become bakers one day.

We will all become subservient one day.

GBBO will rise.

GBBO will rise.

GBBO will rise.

Unless you’ve added too much baking powder in which case we’ll rise and deflate again.

 

Black Ob-shit-ian [A Review]

“When I beat off later that night, I wanted to know exactly who I was beating off to.”

-Calloway Owens, male fuck-tagonist

Well! Here we are again! As I predicted, even just clicking on the Buttons and Lace link on Facebook means I now get weekly “Fifty Shades fans love this!” or “So dark! So gripping! If you like Fifty, you’ll love this,” shit on my feed. I recently got recommended another series, the Steel Brothers series by Helen Hardt (yes, Steel, exactly the same as Anaesthesia Steel). That, too, had an extract, but I was too uninspired by its description to write about it – just one more ‘sexy smut’ story. But that tripe isn’t what we’re ripping apart today – no no no! What we’re going to take a gagworty glance at today is

I don't want this shit suggested to me. Stop please.

the Black Obsidian series!

That’s its name, Black Obsidian. From the name of the first book of three, it is followed by Black Diamond and then, breaking the stone-chain, Black Promise. Why must these so-called ‘Erotica’ series do this? Why must they cling onto a word or title-construction? Is it because the writer thinks they sound mysterious and intriguing when they do that? I would never think that.

But, let us pass the cover of Black Obsidian and venture into the meat. And that saucy little pun was very much intended, as we are almost immediately thrown into the “meat” area within the first scene.  What do I mean by this? Well, the protagonist’s “cock [becomes] hard” on the third page.

I am three pages in, and already disgusted. It is not because I think becoming aroused is deviant, but because the protagonist – one of the two characters I will be stuck with for the next however-many hours – is abhorrent in my head. Instead of visualising what our thrilling writer Victoria Quinn wants me to visualise, which is a man drinking “scotch” in a “black suit,” instead I see only a Neanderthalic, sex-obsessed beast ogling the female protagonist. And, should you be optimistic enough to hope that this man becomes more of a personality as the book goes on, you are drastically wrong. Overuse of phrases like “absolutely fuckable” and “beat off later” shatter any and all hope, as well as making my stomach churn. This is not a suave and sophisticated male character; this is a libido in a suit.

So, already I despise this Calloway Owens guy. Luckily, our female fuck-tagonist Rome slaps him in the first scene. She slaps him hard. And I mean this both ways. Of course, we knew Owens was already sporting a flagpole, but, upon being slapped by Rome in a hilarious misunderstanding, he relates to the reader that it “was better than any blow-job”. And yet somehow he didn’t humiliate himself all down his trousers. But here, we can see another thread of the story emerging – a sadomasochistic one. A similar thread popped up in another infamous erotica novel… what a startling and uninspiring coincidence.

Or… is it that sadomasochistic? Being slapped to the point of orgasm honestly seems like quite softcore masochism. And perhaps this would be okay. Everyone has a turn-on, after all. However, I find this scene ridiculous, when it is revealed that Owens is a regular at a sadomasochism spot called “Ruin.” Within “Ruin”, doms lead their subs around “on leashes”, and Calloway has one already whom he says is “the best sub he’s ever had”. From here, we can understand that Calloway is indeed the “dark, twisted asshole” he claims to be, if his desires go this deeply into hurting and being hurt. However, because of this, I fail to see how he could possibly be pushed to ecstasy by a random woman slapping him. Just because she has “perky tits” does not mean the palms of her hands hitting your face are going to be better than your “best sub” giving you a blow-job.

Most likely, Quinn knows nothing about sadomasochism. It all seems like a painful fairy tale as Calloway expresses his thoughts about Ruin. And something everyone knows about fairy tales is that they are so far removed from truth that they can be laughable. For example, something that made me roll my eyes in annoyance was Calloway’s explanation that he and his sub had a “monogamous relationship” which was “rare” “in their world”. Is this fact supposed to make Calloway likeable in my eyes? Just because he has the much more common “monogamous” relationship? No. No, this is simply here so Quinn does not alienate readers. And besides – if Calloway wasn’t so focused on monogamy, there would be practically no story.

But then again, would that be such a bad thing? I have a word for this story – boring. Black Obsidian is so incredibly boring. It manages to make swear-words boring. The word “fuck” crops up so much in the book that I begin to hate reading it. But another reason it is so dull is because it takes so long for anything ‘erotic’ to actually occur. So much of the book is filled with manufactured conflict and painfully terrible attempts at creating realistic characters.

For example, one of the conflicts, as I just mentioned, is Calloway’s insistence on monogamy. For a man so willing and eager to “come in his slacks” and “fuck [a random woman] into a mattress” it seems increasingly unnatural that he simply has to dump his submissive in order to get with her. With a man like this, it seems more believable that he’d simply have both, if he could.

But Calloway dumps her in order to get with Rome… who he doesn’t get with for ages. That’s right. Calloway dumps “the best sub he’s ever had” for a woman he doesn’t fuck for the first time until near the end. So what the hell is the rest of this so-called “erotica” novel filled with? He’s trying to find her, he’s meeting with her, he’s giving her “rules” and then complaining about the rules, he’s pressurising her, he’s “lusting after her”… but he doesn’t actually have sex with her for a long, long time.

And, when this act does finally come around, what happens? He fucks her vanilla. Nothing special. Nothing sadomasochistic. So…

What was the point of all of the Ruin stuff?!

Calloway was so insistent he was “dark”, that he was into “shit most people wouldn’t dream of” but yet here he is, doing Rome “with clothes on” on a “mattress” and it’s the “best orgasm to date!” “Even hotter than when [he] was with [his sub]”! Vanilla sex, no pain apart from “her nails” digging into his arse, in their clothes!

What was the point of this? From the first page I thought I would be in for an amateur sadomasochistic fuck-ride, but no. Not only does it take chapters and chapters of slogging to get to anything that could be considered sexy, but when it does get there, the entire fucking thread of the book is abandoned. At this point, I am practically furious reading it. Attempts at sadomasochism are made, but Calloway stops himself from being “the dictator” he says he is. In fact, let’s look at that Facebook quote one more time:

VictoriaQuinnIsACunt

No, he does not. He doesn’t! Her presence stops him from being “the DOM” the first time, which is the “best” time, according to the “dom” himself. Again, how is this book supposed to be taken seriously if the majority of it vanishes? This is vanilla shit, the S&M shit is practically a weak side-salad.

I never thought I’d ever say this, but at least Fifty Shades of Grey kept its sadomasochism at the forefront the whole way through. Grey stayed true to his fetish, expressed he could only orgasm if he was “hurting” someone, and turned Anastasia away because of it. But Calloway? Nope. No, he manages just fine – in fact better – without hurting Rome.

There is so much more I detest about this book, so much that makes my intestines scream with fury as my mouth fails to form words, but that’s for another day. All in all, this erotica book, this apparent “sadomasochism” story, is not at all deserving of that title. The male is hugely dislikeable and his hubris is bigger than his cock. The female is hardly anything but a mirror for Calloway’s sexiness to be bounced off and into the mind of the reader.

But don’t become that – don’t become a reader. Do not give this book your time, unless you need something to dislodge your lunch. Not just because Calloway talks about his dick too much, but because I feel physically sick from anger.

God. I need to hurt someone now.

 

Could it Get Worse? – Mono More Problem

As if these last few months haven’t been hellish enough, what with an orgy of celebrity deaths and one certain businessman being given a country as if it’s a board game, we have to ask… Could it get worse?

Well, as with all questions like that, of course it can. And, if these last few months weren’t bad enough, there’s one issue clouding Facebook like no other and it’s really depressing and bad. It’s nothing to do with the latest animal that’s gone extinct, political scandals or the gripping top keks that have spilled onto one of the front pages of the internet, it’s to do with…

Monopoly.png

Monopoly pieces! My heart cannot take much more of this! What if the dog goes – I always liked the dog – or the top hat? The top hat is literally my favourite item of attire at the moment and I have two myself. But, fortunately, you can vote to save your favourite piece from being wiped out of the game completely! Whew! Thank you Jesus.

The instructions are all presented in a video. How modern and convenient, certainly not in the style of Monopoly, where modernisms and conveniences were replaced with Piccadilly being somewhere people want, and Community Chest cards existing. All you have to do to understand how to save your precious darling piece is to survive through the video as someone with this face is giving you the facts:

This Face.png

Terrifying.

Now, there are, by my count, three ways a person could take this news: 1) “I must rescue my dear Boaty McBoatface from the grips of the wastepaper basket by casting my oh-so-precious vote forth into the running!” 2) “They’re changing the game pieces thereby ruining the sanctity of one of the most successful board games of all time?! Travesty!” or 3) “Seriously though. Who gives a single shit.”

I fall into the third category (though I’m sure my flawless acting above persuaded you otherwise), because I really don’t see this as an issue. I have an old Monopoly set in the games cupboard right here at my house. I won’t be buying another set just to use a hashtag (a fucking hashtag) to pass GO. And anyway, whenever I play a board game, I usually use my own trinkets on the board – a little Lego Dobby figure for example – because I find it really adds a touch of me to the game. So why do people think it’s such an important and momentous occasion that they feel the need to share the article from The Sun about it?

I truly have no idea about that. So, instead of being so negative about it, let’s try to see this in a positive light – let’s dissect the contenders for the new Monopoly!

First, the categories. The very first category is ‘Animals’ which they’ve already clearly screwed up, as the cat apparently isn’t an animal in the eyes of the high-and-mighty board game creators. No, a cat represents ‘Social Media’.

Social Media. In a board game. Is it just me who thinks that those two things are pretty much polar opposites? I can only imagine the winces of shame family members will give each other when they see their #NoFilter daughter moving around a hashtag piece, or a thumbs-up piece.

But what’s this? The computer piece isn’t in ‘Social Media’. It’s in the ‘Inventions’ category. If I had to choose, I’d put the computer in the ‘Social Media’ category.. Yes, the computer is an invention, but if you’re going to be pedantic, you may as well put the very first computer in as a piece, instead of a modern flat monitor to represent it. After all, one of the other pieces is a wooden-strutted wheel, not a tyre. Now also might be the time to complain that I cannot make out what half of the so-categorised ‘Inventions’ are. The picture is the exact size I originally saw, and I have no idea what the first and second contenders are. It could be a camera and a gnome for all I know.

Moving onto another category then, to save from moaning forever about the point of there being pieces unfathomable to the eye, let’s look at the ‘Footwear’ category. And – brilliant! – we can swap a boot for four other boots! What a great use of my precious time on this finite Earth. Though that rollerskate is actually kind of interesting. But, again, I’d classify that as more of an ‘Invention’ than everyday footwear like that trainer. But still, it’s worn by a foot, so I won’t complain.

It seems to me that the ‘Footwear’ category is the category with the most amount of vision. Because one of the categories features things that ‘Float’. Not boats, no. Things that ‘Float‘. That is quite a wide range of things. From sticks to cadavers, lots and lots of things float. But they’ve gone with a rubber duck (actually kind of cute), a surfboard and a Polo mint. Oh, no. Sorry. Not a Polo mint. My mistake. An inner tube. Because I totally want to be squeaking around the board with an inner tube. At least then the Waterworks lot will make a slight bit more sense. Maybe.

Oh I just noticed something. Once again, they’ve gone completely off-track with their categories. There is a separate category for ‘Fashion’. If I had to create these categories, I’d go with ‘Headgear’ myself. I can think of seven different styles of headgear, aside from the classic top hat (bowler, snapback, flat cap, sombrero, earmuffs, arrow-through-head-gag Donald Trump’s hair) but apparently they decided to confuse us mere consumers by separating ‘Fashion’ and ‘Footwear’. Baffling. That M looking thing, what is that? It could be some sort of Monopoly-related belt buckle idea, but I’m just confused at how you’re supposed to play with it. One of the joys of Monopoly was that the pieces were interesting, 3D little models. That one looks like you just have to lie it down and nudge it with your fingernail. That’s not fun.

The same goes for some pieces in the other categories. Playing as the goldfish, for example, you might be able to prop your piece up on the goldfish’s fins. But that pocketwatch looks far from stable. The moped looks a bit haphazard as well, but at least it has a cute little stand.

Speaking of the moped, at least it fits into the ‘Transport’ category (are boats not transport too? Eh, we had that discussion). Unlike that plane. Not because it’s a plane. But because, in the picture, it honestly looks more like a whale. But I’d prefer it was a whale – I like whales. I’d play as a whale. Buy up all the stations and change the name of the Underground to the Underwater. But that’s just me.

This leaves us with just one more category to look at – the ‘Historical’ category. For the most part, I think the pieces in the ‘Historical’ category all look the part. But maybe I’m just missing the Iron that, quote, “was replaced by a cat … In 2013” (From The Sun’s article). But I really think the gramophone or the bathtub could make good pieces. They have the gravitas that things like the hashtag and the Tyrannosaurus Rex just don’t possess.

Yes, as you can see, there’s a T-Rex in the mix. I wanted to avoid mentioning it. A Scottie dog, a famous Monopoly piece, has reason to be in London, where Monopoly is set. The inclusion of the T-Rex just tells me the creators just don’t care about their product anymore. If you’re going to put in a T-Rex, at least put it in ‘Historic’. Save us all the depression.

Ah but, I can’t just complain about all the other pieces without telling you which one I’d play with. It’s a tough choice – in traditional Monopoly I always chose the dog because… it was a dog. I like dogs, Westies are my favourite breed and Scottie dogs are close enough to make me happy. But, which piece would I play with today, out of all the choices I have?

The answer, to me, is simple.

My little Lego Dobby, of course.