The Case Of The Missing Foodstuffs

Posted Sunday, August 30, 2009, 6:21 PM

I don't like food.

Well, that's not strictly true, really I just don't eat properly. But where most people have a great love of eating, going out to dinner and trying some things that are exotic and exciting, or interestingly healthy, or decadently unhealthy, I really don't care about all that. If I didn't have to, I wouldn't eat at all. Except for lollies, probably.

My Mother had a devil of a time getting me to eat anything she made. I just refused to eat most of it. In the end she gave up, and let me eat the stuff I wanted. Which, I must point out, were not treat type foods I was desperate to hold out for; it was things like cheese and bread and eggs and sausages.

Even now I still don't eat vegetables or fruit, and most other things you might have in your own diet. I will eat a narrow selection of meats, and a few starchy kiddie-oriented ready-meals, but even those aren't the ones most people would expect. I don't eat rice or pasta, for example, which most people think of as default staples.

In theory I should be horrendously unhealthy, and to be honest I am surprised I have survived this far as it seems to run counter to general nutritional expectation. But having said that, I am far from unique in my aversion to foods; I have known many people who have similar or even more extreme diets, so perhaps the rules aren't quite as rigid as the experts may claim.

For the most part it's not a big problem to live like this. It becomes a minor issue in some social situations, where a meal is being prepared for me, without my prior input. I generally won't eat whatever it is an average person might cook up, so if I am not expecting it, it can be embarrassing to refuse lovingly prepared food. If I am warned ahead of time, I can sometimes specify what I would like, but usually to save the bother, I will just say no to any food prepared by someone else, and go without until I can get something on my own time. I really feel bad when I do something like that, so I usually try to avoid social or home-based eating situations. It's also why I tend not to invite people over to my place, or offer food and drink when they do come over, because the selection of edibles I have are sad and childish, catered solely towards my own quirky tastes.

When I grew up in the 70s, food was very standard. You wouldn't find much more exciting beyond a sunday roast and potatoes, or meat loaf, and tomato soup. It's the kind of thing that's harder to find, these days, with most people now offered a more cross-cultural, cosmopolitan, healthy, and creative approach to their food choices.

So where does that leave me? Here's my biggest problem - with increased choice, there's decreased interest in those foods from yesterday. And the less they are sought after, the more likely they will disappear completely from the shelves. Those are my foods! I am a sad marginalised entity, and if my favourite foods, the only things I eat, are gone, what will I do to survive? I mean, literally to survive.

I go into a supermarket now and every couple of months a foodstuff or brand I used to get regularly is gone, gone, gone. Never to return. I am a little concerned that my (arguable) choice of eating low-end unhealthy boring food will be my death; and not for health reasons, ironically, but for lack of existence reasons.

Rhythm And Melody

Posted Thursday, August 20, 2009, 3:55 PM

I don't often pay much attention to song lyrics. If they're even intelligible. I assume they are a competently written poetry, telling some lame story or expressing some simple emotion, that matches the feel of the music.

Every so often, though, someone comes along who writes amazing lyrics that really stand out. The first person I remember recognising their skill at this was, perhaps surprisingly, George Michael. For some reason, I could sing many of his solo and Wham songs and through doing so recognise his talent as a lyricist.

However, the opposite can also happen - seriously bad lyrics to what is an otherwise decent song. And the first time I encountered that and it really got me upset was listening to Mike and the Mechanics, with their song "The Living Years" (and then retroactively seeing that their previous hit, "Silent Running", was equally awful).

It's about a man who has had a difficult time with his Father, then after he dies realises too late he has missed out, and regrets their actions.

That's fine, except the lyrics are sophomoric nonsense, trying so desperately hard to sound deep and significant, but only managing to sound like he broke open the thesaurus whenever he got stuck, which appears to be on every third line.


"You can listen as well as you hear"

Repetition via a thesaurus, but it doesn't actually mean what he wanted it to.

"I know that I'm a prisoner
To all my father held so dear
I know that I'm a hostage
To all his hopes and fears"

Repetition via a thesaurus (prisoner = hostage) just to fill in a second line. Also falls back on the tried and true cliché that is inescapable everywhere you turn: "hopes and fears".

"And if you don't give up, and don't give in"

More blatant repetition via a thesaurus.

"I think I caught his spirit
Later that same year
I'm sure I heard his echo
In my baby's new born tears"

Even more repetition via a thesaurus. And then he says "baby's newborn tears" when it ought to be "newborn baby's tears," though in any case the image he's painting of hearing his Father's voice in his baby's crying is patently absurd.

"You say you just don't see it
He says it's perfect sense
You just can't get agreement
In this present tense
We all talk a different language
Talking in defence"

I assume he's trying to express how they don't understand each other, but it's no wonder if he talks bollocks like this at him.

Anyway, I hate this song.

Here's another one with crappy repetitious lyrics, who ran out of ideas after about the third line. "Lemon Tree" by Fool's Garden. But they're Germans, so maybe that's an excuse.

But here's a local Australian band that have put out two hit songs, both with lyrics I particularly dislike. The songs themselves have great melodies, are excellently sung, beautifully played and mixed, but have apparently been written by an angsty teenager with a severely limited vocabulary and imagination.

The band is Eskimo Joe, and the songs are "Black Fingernails, Red Wine" and "Foreign Land"

Here's how the first begins:

"Black fingernails, red wine
I wanna make you, all mine
A lot of people, underground
You wanna get there
You gotta go straight down"

I mean, what the hell is that? Any song that uses "I wanna make you all mine" (using "all" just to make the line scan) or "A lot of people underground" is just not trying.

It goes on:

"The argument over God continues
In this house
All of us stand and point our fingers
At the ground
All of us stand and point our fingers"

Apart from the misheard lyrics that sound like "I can't understand the point of fingers," the real lyrics are just nonsense; Trying to mean something, but failing to actually say a thing. It's teenage poetry of the worst kind.

And their latest release, "Foreign Land," I think is about Australian soldiers going to war. But it's horrendously written.

First stanza:

"Steady my shaky hands
Shut off the world's demands
to get the facts down
Do you understand?"

That's just him describing writing the song. It has nothing to do with the song's main point.

"That this is a foreign land
So try to understand that
Do you understand?
Do you understand?

This is what it feels to love
then l can feel that
This is what it feels to love
then l can feel that
This is what it feels to love
then l can feel that
This is what it feels to love
then l can feel that"

An absurd amount of repetition to fill in a lot of time. And it says virtually nothing.

"Take a little look around
nothing else hits the ground
Touch my hand
up to the air"

Also says nothing; also has extra fallback words added just to make it scan.

"Dying in the foreign land
So do you understand that
Do you understand?
Do you understand?

Even when you're all alone
When it's not your home
I smell the blood of an Australian
Try to understand this if you can
if you can
if you can"

More repetition, more meaningless blather - but with the addition of "Dying in the foreign land" and "blood of an Australian" suddenly it pretends to have some kind of deep heartfelt significance.

Except those are the two sole lines in the entire song that has any connection with anything, other than empty filler to make up the required five minutes.

The songs are sung wonderfully, and the music is catchy as all hell.

But the lyrics suck.

I Don't Like Anime

Posted Sunday, August 16, 2009, 1:12 PM

When I grew up in the 70s, I didn't see any animation from Japan. I know there were some around, like Astro Boy, and Kimba The White Lion, but I don't recall any of it being broadcast in New Zealand. If it was, I overlooked it.

In the 80s it started to appear, but not in the forms most people think of Anime today. There was one about Peter Pan, another called The Yearling based on a book about a kid and his pet fawn, and one I think was falsely named Thunderbirds 2086, barely connected with the real Thunderbirds series. And even then, I looked at this crude animation, staccato frame rate, irritating drawing style, horrible english dubbing, weird inexplicable surrealism, and bizarre pacing, and thought it was inferior and a waste of my time.

I look at Anime and Manga and just can't connect with it. The Japanese sense of storytelling always seems to be either overacted melodrama, a childish (rather than juvenile) sense of humour, or unexplained oddness for the sake of oddness. And it has become so ingrained in their traditions that they don't think it requires development or exposition anymore, as their audiences already accept and "get" it.

It's a cultural divide that leaves me confused. I think I'd have to dedicate myself to sitting through a lot of their stuff before I'd start to get it, but I am not willing to subject myself to the torture of watching what I think of as ugly, unrefined, messy insanity.

When I first saw the lauded Akira, expecting to finally understand what all the fuss was about, I instead was left dazed and mystified on what the hell the ending was about. It started out well, as a dystopian fascist world is fought against by rebellious teens on whizzy motorcycles - but then mad scientists burst into humongous alien giant babies, and the city explodes. The End. I mean, what the holy fuck?

There are always exceptions to the rules, of course. Not all Anime has giant robots, huge explosions, and big doe-eyed spikey haired wide-shouldered smouldering heroes with unfeasibly big swords. But they do all seem to have toothless gasps, sweaty droplets, and long gaps in the conversation left unadjusted, making the pace of dialogue stop-start.

One exception is often argued to be Hayao Miyazaki, who has a more sedate and deeper approach to storytelling. I do enjoy the casual surrealism of Spirited Away, even though it is utterly weird in most places. The gentle quiet moments can be quite beautiful. However, I found Princess Mononoke to be pseudo-eco mysticism at its most maddening, and I gave up on it when I realised I didn't care about any of the characters, due to not understanding one whit of what was going on. It was just a lot of spirits swirling around in an attempt to save their environment, and an unrequited love story. I think.

As the 90s and 2000s passed, more and more Anime is being produced, seemingly catering to specific popular genres. Fantasy, science fiction, and sometimes superhero, ideas are thrown around with wild abandon. Things hardly touched upon in Western entertainment find a place where they are embraced and developed in huge expansive ways - Steampunk, hard SF, surreal dream imagery, alternative history, underwater and deep space travel - if you want to see it, Anime will provide numerous examples of it.

And that's so disappointing, I'd love to watch more genre stuff, but I can't stand watching anime for longer than five minutes before I want to gasp, sweatily, and tear my spiky hair out.

Death: Why Should I Care?

Posted Thursday, August 13, 2009, 9:35 AM

Here's a truth we cannot deny. Everybody dies.

There's not a single person on this planet who will not die, most within fifty years from now, some within 80 years from now, and for a few it will be closer to 100 years or so from now.

But then, some will die in a matter of months, weeks, or even days. Heck, just today there will be approximately 150,000 deaths. (However, there will also be about 200,000 births, just to even things up somewhat)

I may even die today, or tomorrow, or sometime within the next three months. Though statistics say that most people, barring those with predictive illnesses, have a 99.9% chance of living for another year.

Of the 150,000 deaths per day, we might hear about ten or fifteen of them in our local News. Usually all we hear about are the traffic accidents, plane crashes, natural disasters, and murders. And we also hear of when the famous die, however mundane the cause may be.

The rest of the deaths go unremarked upon, and yet we are supposed to care about the deaths that are reported in the News. The articles are written as though we should care, they play on our sympathies with photographs and comments from family members of the deceased, or worse, music montages. But I don't know these people! Why should I care one whit that a stranger died in a perfectly ordinary way, much like thousands of others have done before them?

Fair enough on reporting a spectacular incident, that may have resulted in deaths. The recent plane crash in Papua New Guinea is certainly an event worth reporting on.

But I don't care about the people who died! They are strangers to me! Don't try the sympathy angle, it's not going to work. And it was an accident! It's not like it will make any difference to anybody's travel plans, or that we have any power over preventing it from reoccurring!

Fair enough if it was a terrorist attack, or something like the bushfire deaths that occurred in February, that it should be reported on and analysed, where we ought to be warned. Undoubtedly that is significant News. But the people involved died just like any stranger dies; by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, circumstances having overwhelmed them. Telling me who they are and trying to play on my emotions is not going to help anyone involved in a similar situation in the future.

People die. If I don't have a tangential connection to them, I don't care a jot. Even if they had a very short innings in life, that still isn't enough of an excuse to try to get me to shed a tear.

Stalked In My Dreams

Posted Monday, August 3, 2009, 11:40 PM

Some people have recurring dreams, or worse, recurring nightmares. Usually it's something like arriving at school, but naked, and not having done the homework that's due in five minutes. I've never had that particular dream.

But I have had recurring themes in my dreams. When I used to act on stage, at a poky little Repertory theatre in the middle of nowhere, I would have a nightmare just before the opening night of each play, where I'd be on stage and not be in the right costume, or would have forgotten my lines. It happened so regularly, and always before a run that went flawlessly, that I thought of it as a sort of good luck charm. In fact, once I didn't have the dream, and on opening night I forgot my first line.

Another recurring theme I have is driving.

I don't drive, I've never learned, and it's now so late in my life, I'm afraid to. Negotiating traffic scares the bejesus out of me, and in any case I'm not very good at paying attention to the hundred and one things I'd need to, to be a reasonably competent driver: signage, pedestrians, traffic, lights, radio, thinking, phone, cyclists, crazy unpredictability, weather, and all within very restrictive road rules. Operating a car doesn't bother me, I'm sure I could learn that very quickly, so if it was just me alone on the freeway, I'd be fine. But the thousands of obstacles constantly demanding my attention would send me into such a spin, I'd put others and myself at risk. Frankly it's best I stay away.

Having said that, unlike most people who dream of flying, instead I dream of driving. Usually it's me in control of a vehicle with passengers, taking them to some location and having an adventure on the way, often on the side of a hilltop climb. I usually have no problems with the driving in the dream, and I am even enjoying it. Usually anything bad that happens is caused by my leaving the vehicle and ending up in a crazy situation getting lost in suburbia.

But the scariest nightmares I have are ones with a very specific theme. I am usually alone, and aware that something is out there looking for someone - not specifically for me, but I am the closest likely victim - and I am trapped in a location, while this beast prowls around, just metres away. He can't see me, or sense me, but he is heading straight for where I am hiding.

Creeps me right out.

And the beast in these dreams is almost always a lioness. A big predatory cat stalking around looking for someone to leap on.

Last night I had the thematic dream again, this time in a different context. Instead of being alone, I was with a crowd of people. We were all forced out of our homes due to a natural disaster, and are in a compound bordered by chain-link fencing. And outside the fence is a pride of lions, prowling around, causing trouble.

Even though we were all safe behind the fence, the dream decided to manipulate my emotions into fear, and the limited options of getting out of the compound, in case of immediate death by lion, was forcing us into desperate acts. One of which was killing each other to reduce the impact on limited available resources.

The point is, the thematic repetition of my nightmares fascinates me, especially since there is a new narrative each time it reoccurs.

Dreams are weird.

By the way, I don't have a fear of lions, in a phobic or even genuine sense. But I wouldn't like to wander around anywhere where they're roaming.

To The Extreme

Posted Saturday, August 1, 2009, 12:51 PM

I don't know how common a viewpoint this is, but I have a particular dislike for graphic sex and violence in my entertainment. Except that's not always true, as it all stems from context.

I used to work for an Adult Website, so there was a lot of nudity and sex everywhere I turned. I had no moral or personal problem with this (except in very specific circumstances). To me, pornography has a purpose, and therefore a place, that works in as far as its intent fulfils a need in the marketplace. That is to say, if you want to see sex in explicit detail, for whatever reason, then porn is the place to see it.

However, I don't like to see sex or nudity in a TV show or movie.

This is not because I am prudish, but for a completely opposite reason. If they are trying to make the sex in the movie erotic, then the audience is going to be stimulated. And being stimulated sexually while viewing a drama in a public place like a cinema is neither appropriate nor comfortable. If stimulation is what you crave, do it privately, with material designed exclusively for that reason. Therefore, keep erotic displays of sex out of the movies.

After all, there are very rarely instances of a dramatic storyline where displays of nakedness and sex are necessary. Movie makers can tell the story without it, so why put it in? Imply it, refer to it, suggest it, or even excise it; there are alternatives that don't require its display.

Even worse, there are many times where they have sex displayed on screen, but aren't allowed to show nudity for ratings reasons, ending up with something so half-arsed and limp it's not worth the attempt. Writers, figure it out; just don't bother with your poorly written excuse for gratuitous exploitation.

Violence, on the other hand, I have a different view on. It can be argued, and often is, that violence in movies desensitises you to its impact in real life. I don't know if I agree with that entirely, I think people react to real life violence in exactly the same way they always have, and movies haven't changed that.

Currently, at least.

But we react reasonably to the results of violence, do we still react to the application of it? Is violence still enacted upon one another due to movies, and sports, showing it as a form of entertainment? I don't know, but it is my fear.

The problem I have with violence in movies is the three levels of display.

I grew up on TV and movies that had a very sanitised approach to violence. Either they don't show it at all, and it happens off screen, or they showed the violent acts but with no resulting blood.

For example, a cowboy might shoot some enemy, but there'd be no visible wound or spurt of blood. Or a dramatic house fire would result in only a little soot on the victim's face. Very unrealistic, very safe, while still trying to imply the drama of the situation.

Later, in the 70s and 80s, violence started to get more graphic. Gore and blood were splashing around everywhere. It was ridiculously excessive, and so graphic as to be almost absurd. The acknowledgement of this absurdity helped reduce the impact of this "cartoon violence." The consequences were dismissed, but then the act of committing the violence was portrayed as equally over-the-top.

Arguably it was the wrong direction for entertainment to head in, but I don't have any real problem with its portrayal. It's now widely accepted as harmless, and I think this is probably true. Video games also usually take this approach to their violence, and for that reason I disagree on many people's views that video game violence is at unacceptable levels.

Sometimes the violence in a movie has to be portrayed to be real, so it may show something squeamishly graphic, but the reaction from the characters, and the point of the scene, will be about what that violence means in a genuine real life context. As much as I don't like seeing it myself, I have no issue with it existing in movies. It has a very important point to make, and it is well made when there is a subsequent reflection of reality.

And then Quentin Tarantino came along, and fucked things up for everybody.

I hate Quentin Tarantino. I think he is a repulsive blight on the cinema landscape, and though I do not wish him ill, I know that if he was gone off this earth, I would not mourn him for a single second.

He has introduced and maintained sick, ugly, twisted, and repellent, displays of graphic, realistic, gratuitous violence, in every one of his so-called "iconic" movies, and used it solely for entertainment value.

He is morally repugnant, and should be stopped.

The violence that he portrays ought to have meaning, or real world level consequence, but it does not. It is used to get a laugh.

Fans argue that there is consequence, that we are supposed to dislike the people who are dishing out this violence. But I disagree - they are clearly anti-heroes who are the protagonists we are supposed to be rooting for. They are the main characters, the providers of entertainment in the stories, because there are no sympathetic lead characters in his films, but they are also the perpetrators of the most repellent levels of gratuitous cruelty.

It almost literally makes me sick. I refuse to watch Tarantino's films, so perhaps I'm missing out on some subtleties and growth in his abilities. But I doubt it very much.

Robert Rodriguez, who is something of a protégé of his, is almost as bad.

The problem is, that this level of gratuitous violent display makes me uncomfortable. When it is intended to make me uncomfortable, in a suitable dramatic way, then I reluctantly accept its place in entertainment. But when it is intended to make me laugh or whoop for joy, I am repulsed, and cannot enjoy any other aspect of the film.

I am concerned that the popularity of this kind of violence amongst modern audiences signifies a shift in what is acceptable in not just entertainment, but in real life, and things that used to shock and upset will soon be dismissed as blasé and push the bar of acceptability too high.