Sunday, October 31, 2010

Painting over a Banksy

If Batman and Gary Larson had a baby it would be Banksy. (The logistical issue entailed make this an unlikely proposition) In the night Banksy swoops down and creates brilliant pieces of art and social commentary that make you laugh and think.

Of course his canvas is often public spaces and this means there's no security guards pacing around and grabbing you when you touch or lick the paintings. (They hate that, but if you've never tasted a Picasso you're missing out.) They're not safe and this becomes all too obvious when these masterpieces get painted over.

The destruction of Banksy's art often hits the news like it's some sort of great tragedy but I find it somewhat reassuring. My supposition is this...

The best art is transient.

Like a firework or the flight route described by a Monarch Butterfly. Try to capture that and all you have is ash and death. We humans are so terrified of our own mortality we're desperate to lock things down. To save them. To prevent them from changing. Taxidermy? Photographs? Detective Comics #27 encased in a mylar bag?

But everything falls apart. Everything is ultimately destroyed.

That's what makes it so precious.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pool games and how to die from them.

Long before video games and the Internet, children used to swim in pools. I was no exception. I'd strap on a pair of DTs and launch myself from the roof of the shed into 4 feet of water with nary a thought for my spine and/or skull.

Most kids would play games in their pools but swimming in our pool was always more of a science experiment. We'd run around the pool and create a powerful vortex. We'd experiment with waveforms with such enthusiasm that the pool would always need a refill of at least 20 centimetres. If we'd had access to an elephant you can be assured that we would have known its mass by the time the sun set.

The problem is that this is only an option for half the year. Only lawyers and doctors could afford heated pools. But, as it turns out our doctor was a family friend. My younger sister grew up with his daughters and so occasionally we'd get to fight back against nature and its wretched claws of Winter.
Brrr
I've heard it said that Australia doesn't have a class divide like in other countries. That there's something in our culture that prevents us separating along those lines but I know the truth. There are above-grounders, and there are in-grounders. Those uptight 'toffs' who are too good to suffer from the common man's problem of climbing the side of the pool and balancing their genitals on the dull rim of the pool edge before dropping into the water. THEY THINK THEY'RE BETTER THAN ME?!!

I digress.

So it was that we'd revel in the warmth of that pool. The heating system was quite clever. It was thick, strong bubble wrap that floated on top of the pool. As a child I assumed that the bubbles worked like tiny magnifying glasses, concentrating the sun's rays on the water. It was only considering this article that I realised that this wouldn't work at all because there wouldn't be additional heat. It would just be concentrated into tiny spots.

Turns out it basically works like a blanket, allowing radiant heat in and then preventing it from leaving by convectional means. You can buy huge sheets of the stuff and then cut it to fit the shape of your pool.

My mother, always on the lookout for a deal, snaffled up the offcuts to use on our pool. And so it was that our circular above ground pool became heated by a landscape of giant triangles of plastic. It looked like the Arctic ocean in the summer.

Sans Ice-breakers
There was a lot of horseplay around that pool and there were the occasional accidents. Most of mine tended to involve the last desperate struggles of a drowning bee and an immune system that was far too excited about being let out to play.

But one afternoon my mother decided it would be fun to lift me up and throw me into the pool fully clothed. I'm a pretty decent swimmer and it was only 4 feet of water. What wasn't considered is what would happen if I managed to flip as I hit the water and what if I hit the dead centre of the biggest triangle of bubble wrap?

I hung in the water, completely cocooned, bound up like a house fly in a spider's web. My arms were crushed up against my chest and my attempts to reach the surface and it's precious, precious air supply looked for all the world like a T-Rex doing doggy paddle. I inched upwards towards the light and finally breached into the tiny transparent cavern of air bubbles at the top of my own personal lamination.

I sucked in just enough air to pump out a desperate "elp!" before dropping straight to the bottom of the pool like a stone. I think it was at this point that my mother realised she'd inadvertently tried to murder her son. As my vision got dark I dimmly remember hearing a splash.

I was plucked out of the pool and unwrapped like a Nintendo cartridge on Christmas morning. (ie. with haste and the knowledge that I'd have to be forcefully blown into if I didn't work). I was cold, wet but I'd learned a valuable lesson.

No matter how much someone cares about you, they're probably going to kill you.


Photo: Mariko on beach by Mash Potato - Arctic Intersection by US Geological Survey

Friday, October 15, 2010

Stranger Danger

'Don't talk to strangers'.

From a very young age I knew that there was a broken logic to this. What sort of person constitutes a stranger? I'm supposed to be polite to people and ignoring them seemed distinctly rude. How old was a stranger? Should I not talk to people my age who I didn't know? How would I make friends? Should I not talk to their parents? What about kindly old ladies at the supermarket when I was lost? It all seemed a bit arbitrary and complex.

"What would a stranger do to me if they caught me?" I asked.

"They will cut off your toes" my mother said.

Quite a brilliant white lie if you don't want to have to answer the follow up question to the real answer, 'What's sodomy?'.

I liked my toes. What I needed to do was keep on the lookout for people who seemed the kind of deviant who might like to collect the toes of a six year old. I didn't know who that might be but I knew that I'd recognise them when I saw them.

My subconscious filled in the blanks. Every time I dreamt of being chased, it was by 'The Stranger'. His thick moustache. His padded red jacket. His dark sunglasses topped with a blue Terry Toweling hat. My legs wouldn't move. Alleyways would get more and more narrow. Dead ends would leave me trapped and yet unable to scream.

I would awake, gasping in the darkness, knowing that I'd be unable to get back to sleep without his terrifying moustache taunting me. In the future, I'd turn the light on and read until I could distract myself from the horror but for now I would just play the scene again and again in my head.

I picked up the 'reading' thing pretty early on and quite frankly, I got over it pretty quickly too. There's only so many 'Digger' books that you can read before you start to fantasise about 'Digger the dog' running out into traffic.

"Run Digger, Run!" *screech! Thud!*

It was early on a Thursday morning in 1983 and a roll of brown paper had turned up on our front steps.

"Ah-ha! It's here", my mother exclaimed and handed me the 30cm long package.

Inside were two issues of 'Whizzer and Chips'. A British comic for young children full of slapstick, puns and base humour. Suddenly all those months of mundane practice reading about that blasted dog had paid off. This was something worth reading. This was something I could get behind. This... was funny.
Only 8p. I didn't even know what that was, but still a great deal.
But aside from that, I had something to look forward to. Each Wednesday the newsagent would drive his jeep past the house and lob my beloved subscription into the front yard. Just like a newspaper but for kids.

There was a TV commercial at the time that portrayed a subscriber to the Courier Mail (that rag) as being in his garden when the paper was delivered. With a flying leap he managed to pluck the spinning newspaper out of the air as the delivery guy drove past. This image haunted me and I was entranced by the idea of replicating it with my comic.

I knew the delivery was in the late afternoon on a Wednesday. I staked out my position. I tried to figure out statistically where the most likely location for the drop would be. It was a big yard and there would only be a brief few seconds in which to prepare myself. Not an easy task for someone as easily distracted as myself.

I waited. I watched. I prepared. The growl of a car would focus all my energies. Kingswood, Volvo... And then, JACKPOT! A Jeep. It hurtled round the corner and screamed past. An arm whipped a cylindrical package towards me then paused to readjust a pair of dark sunglasses and a blue Terry Toweling hat.

A comic book dropped forgotten into the plush lawn.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Spitting out the apple

My friend @girlclumsy is constantly goading me for being an apple fanboy and I get the feeling that it's only going to get worse over the next few weeks while she gets used to her latest decision. I'd like to go on record to state that I do not like Apple.

In 2003 my mother decided that she wanted a new computer that could backup all the old home movies onto DVD. I knew just how tricky setting up a PC for video production could be and so I made the suggestion that she get an Apple Mac.

From what I understood this would be the perfect setup. It would work straight out of the box and (more importantly) I had no idea how it worked so she'd have to bail up someone else for help when it inevitably screwed up, and she did.

I remember playing with her mac for the first time. Text was the biggest frustration. That bloody Command/Control key problem. They're switched in their locations on the keyboard. But of course that's a problem with retraining the wetware, not the hardware.

Those first few weeks were frustrating though. I felt like I was trying to drive a sports car through a cow paddock, and in some ways I was. But then something odd happened. Things just worked. I'd plug in some device and it would recognise it immediately. I'd try to set up something tricky only to discover it only took clicking a button. Everything just worked.

I was still tied to my PC though, and it was all set up like I wanted. Then I bought the video game 'Myst Uru'. My computer suited the requirements on the box. There was no reason it should not have worked, but there was so much rampant piracy on the PC that they'd created a system that prevented copies from being made, and this system was fundamentally flawed.

I installed that damned game over 20 times trying to get it to work. One time I managed to get far enough that the character could walk around in a totally black environment before crashing. After a week of clicking and waiting and cursing I'd finally had enough. "F#$@ this for a game of soldiers" I cried, "I'm getting a Mac".

And I did, and it was good. My music listening habits completely changed thanks to a new ipod and I got my hands on Photoshop. I was moving up in the world. I got an apple sticker in the pack so I proudly whacked it on the back of my 1979 Volvo. It was a bit strange that whenever I travelled with the device I effectively doubled the value of the car.

Everything worked straight out of the box. I didn't have to spend hours putting together equipment nor tracking down drivers. I was very happy and I wanted to share my happiness. I also found myself much more angry and vocal whenever I had to deal with Windows XP. "Why the f#$@ would anyone put themselves through this pain?"

I loved the experience of not using Windows. There were so many fewer problems. But that's not the same as loving Apple. I don't want to belong to a cult. That implies that I trust Apple, and I don't trust them as far as I can throw them. Their business practices are controlling and manipulative.

If I were to make a switch I'd have to find a way to export all my music settings and info. I'd have to get Photoshop running again (possibly having to buy another version). When it comes down to it, I'm trapped in a gilded cage.

I like using my Apple computer, but I don't like Apple and I'm not a fanboy, and when it comes down to it, people who define themselves by what computer they prefer to use...

Well that's just really, really lame.

Now if you'll excuse me I've got a sticker to peel off my car.

Monday, October 4, 2010

You punched a girl in the face?

Doesn't it make you angry?

The young girl with a head full of dreams wanders out knowing that this is her big chance to gain all the validation that her daddy never gave her. She sings and the crowd applauds. The judges tell her smiling, "Sorry dear, you just don't have what it takes. It really is very terrible. There are no words for how awful that was."

She mouths "No, please" as the tears rush forward. It's all she's thought about since the first day she saw the audition notice. All the way along she was supported and her dreams seemed closer and closer. Now, at the last hurtle he's cast her aside like a poorly aimed fishing rod.

The bastard. What a horrible prick. He could have at least sugar-coated it. Here, look how horrible he was. I'll load up Youtube and show you.

Doesn't it make you angry?

The matt-orange oompha-loompha from the shores of Jersey. She's all dosed up on alcohol and rage. Mouthing off, making problems. Another patron is fuelled with rum and POW! Clocks her in the face. Whoa! What an arse-hole. Look! Watch the slow-mo version. Isn't it horrible?

Doesn't it make you angry?

That self absorbed nightmare gets everything she wants and she's still not happy. She didn't want a brown pony, She wanted a black pony. Not a Porsche, an Esprit. Yes, this exact model and colour of car but not early. Poor little princess wanted it during her party when all her friends will be around to be jealous.

What a bitch!

I'm so bloody indignant!

And it works. It makes you angry. The bait was set and now you're in the trap. You've been emotionally engaged and they did it all for you. Kyle Sandilands, "Dicko" Dickson, Simon Cowell. They didn't start out like that. They worked hard to adopt that attitude of bile and vitriol. If they were nicer you might hate them less, but you wouldn't get to enjoy the rush of getting indignant.

I am being entertained!
These situations are manipulated to get the most emotionally charged situation they can. The more offensive the characters, the more you can hate them and the more invested you are in their story. They can't stop it. They were specifically chosen for the role and put in a position where all their worst attributes would bubble up.

The camera man will watch a fight break out and think 'Great. This footage is gold'.

The editors will see the girl run offstage trying desperately to put her love back in the box and think 'That's going in.'

The directors will watch the angry douche-bag character tip over a table and think 'That's the perfect point in the narrative arc for this'.

It's their job. They get paid well and they'd have to give that all up to make a stand.

You, on the other hand, only need to press the off button. They make this for you. They torture these people emotionally for you. Like an ancient roman at the colosseum.

The question you need to ask yourself is this. If you were the only person in the audience and you were asked if you'd like to watch someone get bullied for your entertainment, would you say 'yes'?

Because make no buts about it. If you watch these shows you may as well have punched that girl in the face yourself.

...and that's what makes me angry.
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