Confessions Of A Public Schoolboy

It’s time like this, when a general election looms and the likelihood of another Tory government seems all too (but a little less) possible that I think back to my boarding school days. From 13 to 18 I was a boarder at a public (i.e. private) school in Kent. Amongst other things I played a bit of rugby and a lot of fives (a game with padded gloves and a ball that they invented at Eton, another public school), I studied far too much (I was better in the classroom than on the sports pitch, which ultimately counted for very little back then), I wrote a few articles for the school magazine (long before the time of blogs), I got involved in a lot of pillow fights (they were fun), I organised and participated in a naked calendar shoot (that was a highlight) and when it came to our mock general election I voted…Liberal Democrat.

You see, even then, when I was being groomed to become another privately educated dickhead I knew there was something wrong. Most of the teachers, nearly all male, just weren’t very good role models. They were the sort of men who expressed themselves through shouting and anger, who bullied the ‘stupid’ students in their classes and had red-faced tantrums. Some of them  tried to be our ‘mates’ as they vicariously lived their ‘laddish’ dreams through their teenage pupils. Others took their religion very seriously but skipped the whole empathy thing, some were doddery old men who didn’t have a clue while others were aspiring autocrats on a power trip (I think one was also done for possessing child porn and another for assaulting a student). But don’t get me wrong, I also had a load of epic teachers who helped me get to where I am today – admittedly lots of them were weird but weird in a nice, friendly way. Unfortunately, some of the less awesome ones even had loco parentus – they effectively became my legal parents in absence of my actual parents. You might recognise that loco also means mad in Spanish. Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t help but feel that none of these men were the sort of man I wanted to become.

As for myself and the other boys at my school, we were a mixed bunch. We were bullies, racists, homophobes, sexists, classists and a whole raft of other prejudices. We were also friends, partners in crime, mates, pranksters and, sometimes, loving – although love for a public schoolboy is a difficult thing especially as we didn’t get taught emotions and were bullied for having them. Meanwhile, the explicit message of our schooling was that we would become life’s winners. If we could win on the sports pitch, in the classroom and even in the music room (although music was really for losers) then we would win at life. We would grow up to become those winning men who did manly things such as make lots of money, have dysfunctional relationships, despise chavs and, of course, vote Conservative. During my school’s mock election three boys were selected to represent the Tory, Lib Dem and Labour party leaders. There was a bit of campaigning and, naturally, the Tories went down a storm and won most of the votes. I, on the other hand, had a bit of a problem with aspiring to be a posh, entitled tosspot. I remember printing off posters which read “I vote Conservative because Mummy and Daddy do” and sticking them up around my boarding house (a bit like Hogwarts but with Conservatism instead of magic). That was my rather dismal attempt at teenage rebellion, which also manifested as a vote for the Liberal Democrats. I didn’t have the guts to go all the way and vote Labour.

Now, as another general election looms I can imagine lots of the boys who went to my school will be readying themselves to vote Tory again. Lots of boys who, in many ways, are ace people and fun to hang out with but also, like me, were forced to grow up in a bizarre education system that stifled growth and fostered prejudice. Boys who, if they’ve bothered to read this far, will either be feeling angry, patronised, indignant or humourously aloof – the four emotions available to the likes of us. Ultimately though the thing with public school boys is that we’re still boys. Like Peter Pan, we never grew up, except rather than fight the evil pirates we tried to become them. But who knows, as June 8th approaches maybe, just maybe, us boys will finally ‘man up’, ‘grow a pair’ and vote for a party that gives a shit about other people. Or not and we’ll carry on living out our weird Oedipal complexes by voting for a woman who looks a bit like our Mums.

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T2 Trainspotting And Why Men Can Be Idiots

So, T2 Trainspotting is happening. Twenty years after the events of the original movie and that loveable bunch of drug taking Edinburgh-based rogues aren’t faring too well. What ensues is another ride of exceptionally dark comedy, musings on ageing and a wee bit of drug taking on the side. The lads are struggling with the whole growing older thing and are stuck between emptyish lives and nostalgia for a past they only part remember. I shan’t spoil any of the plot but if you loved the first movie then you’ll like this. The soundtrack is also pretty kick-ass. Instead, I want to refer you to a brief clip from the Graham Norton Show in which the team behind T2 were interviewed including director Danny Boyle and lead actor Ewen McGregor.

It’s a fascinating clip especially because it’s about two men who fell out and then took years to forgive one another. As Boyle says “it’s one of the things weirdly the film is about…trying to express emotions.” Of course, what he doesn’t specify is that it’s about men trying to express emotions (most likely cisgendered men and probably heterosexual), indeed, the majority of the film is about men being men (and fucking it up) with the odd women doing a cameo appearance.

As Boyle and McGregor explain they fell out over a “misunderstanding” about the former not casting the latter in the very successful film The Beach. However,  McGregor acknowledges that “it was never about The Beach it was about [their] friendship” but the incident led to years of them not talking to one another. However, as time passed their views changed what with McGregor doing a wonderful speech about another hit film of Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire and Boyle describing feeling a great “shame” about how he handled the situation. And years later there they both were in 1st class on a plane back from Shanghai, the only ones still awake on their luxury beds, and McGregor thought the time had come – the time to get up, say sorry and mend the past. Of course, that’s how it would play out in a movie (because in movies people tend to learn their lessons) but in reality neither of them spoke to one another and there was no heartfelt reunion. And, my god, is this just another example of how men can be so terrible at communicating. I was raised a cisgendered man and there was scant little education in understanding and expressing my emotions and feelings. I didn’t quite fit the mould of typical masculinity but it was still the predominant lifestyle option and, boy, was it lacking.

So, it’s not weird at all that T2 is about men failing to communicate with one another and living pretty sad and often scary lives as a consequence and nor is it a surprise that a similar turn of events happened in the lives of the real people behind the film. Of course, they’re big dog Hollywood millionaires but that doesn’t mean they’re rich in the ability to communicate. So, men, I really think it’s time we learnt our lessons and realised that a greater awareness of our emotions is not a weakness or something to be ashamed of, it is actually empowering because the human being is basically one giant bundle of feelings that occasionally thinks. And sure, there would be less plot devices for movies because men would start getting things right and stop trying to kill each other so often but at least we’d get happier endings in real life, preferably without a twenty year time gap.

X-Men: Apocalypse – Does What It Says On The Tin

Found my seat in the dark, cracked open my gluten-free snacks and prepared myself for two hours of explosive, crass and unsubtle storytelling. Yup, X-Men: Apocalypse, part 3 in the latest outing of the mutant franchise. A few genetic alterations and people are freezing time, firing lightning bolts and flying. I shan’t bore you with the plot as it’s basically X-Men 2 (2003) all over again but rebooted for the current generation of teens. Onto the highs and lows. Spoilers.

Highs: En Sabah Nur (the main baddy). Marvel is not renowned for doing interesting baddies. Asides Loki, The Avengers series has been plagued by an underwhelming line of talking robots, aliens and cardboard cut-out evil human stereotypes. However, the latest X-Men series can boast Kevin Bacon and Tyrion Lannister as some half-decent snarling villains. But when X-Men: Apocalypse begins in ancient Egypt at a huge ceremony for the all-powerful mutant En Sabah Nur you know things are going to be epic. He’s betrayed by some of his worshippers and trapped underground for a couple thousand of years until he’s reawakened in the 80s, and boy, are his motivations simple: power and destruction. He pursues these with ruthlessness and sure, whilst there isn’t much more depth to him, I felt his power was genuinely menacing. Unlike Bacon and Lannister I genuinely thought he might beat the X-Men. Of course, I knew he wouldn’t because I understand how these films work but he put up a damn good fight. Hats off to En Sabah Nur. Although one problem: when it came to dressing his henchmen in cool, new body armour he did have a habit for covering the guys up but keeping the women largely exposed. So nothing like the below…

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BxVcDvFIQAAGXOw.jpg
If superheroes were dressed like superheroines

Low: Character Development. Ok, so the main baddy is just a really powerful psychopath hellbent on world destruction/domination and it doesn’t fare much better for the other characters. Since the last movie Magneto has retired from evil-doing to go live in the woods with his wife and daughter. Yup, as soon as we see those two innocent, female clichés we know they’re going to die. And they do. Cue Magneto’s motivation to turn bad again and join En Sabah Nur. Xavier is still irritatingly smug and morally righteous. Meanwhile, Alexandra Shipp plays Storm (the weather controlling one) and starts life as an Egyptian street orphan living with a gang of thieves getting chased by Egyptian male stereotypes. Yup, non-American cultures don’t come off too well in this movie and just when I thought there was going to be a female Muslim character she rips off her veil to reveal she’s actually Moira MacTaggart, the white, CIA agent. And she’s also the one that accidentally causes En Sabah Nur to wake up. Yup, just like in the last movie we have a woman to blame for all the world’s problems.

High: Quicksilver. Let’s face it, the five minutes of Quicksilver larking about listening to ace music whilst the rest of the world moves in slow motion are some of the highlights of these movies (see below). This one doesn’t disappoint as he rescues all the mutant kids from Xavier’s school as it blows up – serves Xavier right for allowing a highly explosive war plane to be built-in his basement. What I also like about Quicksilver is that because he hasn’t studied at Xavier’s school yet he hasn’t become a self-righteous, entitled doofus. Sure, he’s one of the good guys but he gets the job done without fuss and no pompous speeches. And he lives at home with his Mom and likes playing video games yet is happy to stand up to world-destroying megalomaniacs. He’s also great at saving people rather than killing them. A true hero.

Low: Mass Destruction. Sometimes all it takes is a shadow on a floor to create suspense and other times real drama can come from such seemingly mundane events like a row over breakfast or being late for a meeting. Of course, none of this applies when the word Apocalypse is in your movie title. We have crazed demi-gods building pyramids out of modern-day Egypt, we’ve got Magneto tearing Auschwitz to pieces (I really don’t think unsubtle superhero movies should tread into sensitive terrain like this, mainly because they don’t tread, they stampede) and we’ve got Magneto basically destroying the entire world by ripping up all its metal. The sheer number of people killed in all this would be astronomical. Yet come the end of the film Magneto casually goes home and Storm, who also assisted En Sabah Nur in trashing loads of stuff, just joins Xavier’s school as if she’s not a mass murderer. I know we want to watch cool graphics and special effects but bigger really doesn’t always equal better, especially when the actual amount of damage caused, not to mention the death toll, would take decades to mend. Maybe just a tiny bit of realism please in and amongst the flying and mind control.

So, providing you can turn off your feminism, racial-sensitivity, snobby-Charles-Xavier-hating and general-common-decency filters then you’ll love this. Lots of things blowing up, Quicksilver doing his hypersonic speed thing and even the odd joke. One pack of gluten-free chocolate biscuits later and I was suitably entertained.

The Night Manager: A Slower James Bond

The Night Manager, it’s the new John Le Carré adaptation on BBC1, a typical story of intrigue, spying and nefarious businessmen screwing the rest of the world over. If you’ve ever seen a James Bond film then it’s like that (sorry, spoiler alert) – big baddy selling weapons, objectified women who get killed by baddies and some dull, semi-sociopath spy caught in the middle of it. Except this time M is played by Olivia Coleman and she’s got a northern accent and a baby on the way. Meanwhile, if you’ve ever read one of my blog posts you’ll be able to predict my complaints: it fails the Latif and Bechdel tests so far (I’m on episode 3 and still asking myself why I didn’t stop at 1), there’s plenty of sexualised, female nudity and zilch sexualised male nudity (not even some side penis to compensate for all the side boob we get) and the protagonist has no charisma, genuinely zero, he doesn’t even register on the personality scale. To summarise, this is a boring yet glamorous waste of time. If you really want your fill of slightly-more-intelligent-than-James-Bond spy thriller (but still disappointingly chauvinistic) watch The Constant Gardener.

So, need this blog go on? Well, one thing I do find quite interesting about this series is it’s depiction of rich people. And we’re not just talking millionaires we’re talking the billionaire businessmen who sell arms and pull strings in national governments to get away with it. Yup, it’s the elite of the elite, those at the top of the capitalist military industrial complex. And the one in The Night Manager is called Richard Roper and is played by Hugh Laurie. And, curiously, he’s not very scary. He tells crass jokes, he flops around his villa eating brioche, he quaffs champagne, he does the odd deal, he dances with his much younger girlfriend (who is often to be seen naked unlike Hugh Laurie of course). Meanwhile, his rich friends have drinking problems, are insecure about how they look, cheat on their wives with their French au pairs, have complexes about their masculinity (and penis size no doubt), and genuinely do what insecure, entitled men do. Meanwhile, the wives look on as they try to ignore their husbands dodgy dealings whilst packing off bratty Tamara and Tim to boarding school.

And these so-called elites, the 1%, are the ones we’re encouraged to aspire to be like!? The only difference between these people and any other group of malfunctioning humans (which is most groups) is that when they negotiate over a contract that contract tends to be about weapons that may well be used in a war. When I fall out with my friends it’s usually over a round and the repercussions might be a split pint or two. For the 1% it’s whether British arms will be used to trash the next Middle Eastern country. So The Night Manger, whilst being a well-worn cliché of exotic locales and exoticised women has done me the favour of putting me off my dream to become a billionaire. The rich come across as pretty boring and Hugh Laurie’s attempt at justifying his lifestyle is also quite boring. After having said how great it is to be able to eat brioche whenever he likes and go skiing a lot he then says: “Children grow up thinking the adult world is ordered, rational, fit for purpose. It’s crap. Becoming a man is realising that it’s all rotten. Realising how to celebrate that rottenness, that’s freedom.” I mean, seriously, what a half-hearted attempt at justifying egoistic nihilism. The whole point of nihilism is that you don’t need to justify it, it’s just an excuse to be a complete wanker and not care about anyone else. Sure, Roper fits the bill but is a villa in Mallorca really the best he can do? Personally, I’d prefer some nice friends and not facilitating World War 3.

Love (Is) Actually (For Rich White Men)

I sat down to watch Love Actually last night, one of my favourite Christmas movies – y’know, the one where Hugh Grant plays the bumbly prime minister, Colin Firth plays some bumbly writer, Keira Knightley smiles a lot and a whole host of other famous British actors don’t deviate from their usual type-castings. All wholesome, British fun. At least that’s what I used to think but since then I’ve read Judith Butler and generally become more aware of the gross inequality in this country and the many problems of patriarchy. So, this year, I saw Love Actually a little differently and came to realise that it’s basically about rich, white men getting what they want. Spoilers ensue.

For starters, three of the central relationships are about middle-aged men with power (i.e. with important jobs – Alan Rickman (aka Snape) plays the CEO of a charity, Hugh Grant the PM and Colin Firth a wealthy writer) who attract much younger, women of ‘lower status’ – Snape’s secretary, the PM’s Cockney, ‘salt-of-the-earth’ type maid (played by Martine McCutcheon) and Firth’s Portuguese cleaner. The women go out of their way to attract the men whilst the guys just bumble around getting what they want without even trying. As for woman of power in the film…well, there aren’t m/any. Sure, there are plenty of female secretaries, there’s a put-upon wife (played magnificently by Emma Thompson), there’s a dead wife, there’s a nasty, younger wife who cheats on her husband (boo, we’re not supposed to like her), and a blushing bride (Knightley) but there aren’t many inspiring roles for women in this film. Add to that the often abysmal script that many brilliant female actors are forced to speak – Snape’s secretary tempts him to cheat on his wife with her saying cringe-worthy things about “dark corners” as she spreads her legs. She’s also forced to wear devil horns to the office party as women are literally demonised in this film. At least Emma Thompson gets to speak up for herself at the end after a bit of Oscar-worthy acting to the tunes of Joni Mitchell (see below) but I still feel Snape’s apology isn’t sincere enough.

Then there are the people of colour in the film, or lack of them. We’ve got a black DJ (who’s a joke), a not particularly nice black secretary (who is also forced to serve Grant’s PM), a black best friend (who gets the odd token line and manages to defy the laws of physics by being in two places at once) and a black husband (who plays second fiddle to Keira Knightley and that random, white guy from Teachers who is secretly in love with her, cue that awful scene in which it takes Knightley’s character far too long to figure out the Teachers guy is some weirdo who fantasises about her a little too much). But is any substantial role given to a person of colour…no. As for trans and queer characters – well, Emma Thompson makes a joke about a Barbie doll that looks like a transvestite and a few people are asked if they’re gay but then quickly and vehemently deny it. So zero points on the queer front.

And then there’s Colin Frissell – a young, bumbly white guy who never has much luck with the ladies. Perhaps because he calls women he doesn’t know beautiful and is generally inappropriate in the way he talks with women. We’re supposed to like him and his goofy antics but really his attitudes and behaviour are dire. But then he flies off to America and ends up with not one but three (maybe even four) busty American women who, thanks to the stellar script, are complete idiots. So, if at first you don’t succeed lads, just keep going until women relent. Oh, and there’s that plot line about Bilbo Baggins doing nude scenes with Tracey of Gavin & Tracey fame and naturally we get to see her breasts a lot but do we get to see his penis as a bit of nudity parity…nope. I’ve always wondered what a hobbit penis would look like.

As for the other plot lines, there’s one about a father (Liam Neeson) and son which would have been better if Neeson got to shoot some people; a nice enough bromance between an aging, male rock star and his male manager; and quite a sad office romance between an American woman and some French male model. And after all that what’s the moral of this heartwarming Yuletide story – if you want to live in London and fall in love you basically have to be rich, white and male. Happy Christmas.

My favourite scene…Emma Thompson capturing the MAMMOTH emotional repression and inability to communicate of the upper middle classes perfectly. She thought he was going to get her a necklace but he gave that to the nasty, devil secretary instead. Just watch as she tries to hold back those tears and maintain a stiff upper lip in front of the kids!

The Anatomy Of James Bond (Or Why Bond Votes Conservative)

James Bond, you might have heard of him. They say men want to be him and women want to be with him – apparently. But what’s he really like? Underneath the ski gear, tuxedo and bullet proof vest who is he really? Time for some pop psychology that will lead me to conclude that he probably votes Tory.

First things first, James Bond is an affluent, English, white, straight male. According to the books he spent much of his early life jet setting around Europe with his parents as his father worked for an armaments company (I guess guns run in the family). He briefly went to Eton before being expelled for a dalliance with a maid and then went to Fettes College, a private school in Scotland. He also went to University in Geneva. So Bond’s background was one of privilege and wealth (ring any bells?). These things often make people feel quite entitled, as if they deserve them rather than just having acquired them through the accident of birth. However, a boarding school upbringing comes with other things. Namely, the repression of emotion.

At school Bond will have been bullied for crying and general displays of emotion (save anger and the joy of victory). He’ll have been told that emotions are what women do and the worst thing a man can do is appear like a woman. So classes in misogyny will have been taught alongside classes in the stiff upper lip, nationalism and tying cravats, usually by sexist, posh and snobbish teachers (or men trying desperately to appear posh by association). Thus, a general environment of racism, classism and discrimination will have percolated into Bond’s psychology. Naturally, he’ll grow up to become cold-hearted and sexist, and we see this in his general treatment of women throughout the films/books. They often wind up dead and when they do Bond hardly seems to care. “The b*tch is dead,” says Daniel Craig’s Bond when he discovers that his lover Vesper Lynd has died. Whilst we know he did love her he lives in such a world where confessing that would be tantamount to joining the communists. Add to this ingrained misogyny a big dose of self-loathing.

His posh lifestyle will have forced him to define himself apart from others – he’s not poor, not common, not badly educated, not homosexual etc – so he’ll have had little chance to explore what he actually is or could be because he’s been forced into a specific, chauvinist mould. Fortunately though he’s landed in the one job that lets him live out this warped masculine stereotype because he gets to kill and fight a lot whilst womanising without consequences. And it’s precisely this job that belies his political orientation – I mean he loves a command/control approach to work as he’s very good at taking orders (whilst treating his boss like some sort of warped father/mother figure who affirms his acts of mass violence), he upholds the values of the British establishment even when its complicit in the global corruption it’s alleging to tackle and he kills a lot of people from other countries – I mean, he must be a Tory.

So, underneath it all, who really is James Bond? Well, a mass of insecurities and brutal conditionings. He’s inherited a woeful bunch of concepts with which to make an identity from and the consequences prove alcoholic, violent and unfriendly. For someone to be so out of touch with their emotions, so lacking in sympathy and so callous, well, they can’t really have ever got much love. However, there is more to him than a mish mash of masculine clichés and stereotypes. Occasionally he’ll come out with something quite brilliant like when Daniel Craig put us straight: “But let’s not forget that he’s actually a misogynist. A lot of women are drawn to him chiefly because he embodies a certain kind of danger and never sticks around for too long.” Yup, even Bond is aware of his own conditioning and therein lies hope, hope that he could change to become someone who treats others well, who can challenge his repressive upbringing and tackle the root causes of global problems (such as the British government’s proliferation of the arms trade and dubious foreign policy). Maybe one day Bond might just vote for Labour, or at least the Liberal Democrats.

Yup, Monica Belluci is spot on, Bond is “obviously crazy”.

A One Night Stand With Sam Smith

Now I’m not pretending that Sam Smith has offered me a one-night stand (or ever will) but if he were to…hypothetically speaking…I think I’d actually have to turn down what I’m sure would be a very polite offer. Here’s why.

“Guess it’s true, I’m not good at a one-night stand,” are the lines that start the song and boy are we going to find out why. Next line and he’s already telling us that he needs love because he’s just a man. Ok, I get that, we all need love but if we’re talking about the sort of romantic love we get from a partner, I’m not 100% sure Sam’s going to get that from a random hook-up. I think some serious expectations management is needed here, or just letting go of any expectations at all.

“These nights never seem to go to plan,” so it’s clearly not his first one, “I don’t want you to leave, will you hold my hand?” Uh-oh, maybe that’s why they don’t go to plan, hand holding is kinda what people dating do rather than people who hook up for casual sex. Also, with regards the whole ‘don’t leave’ thing – what if the other person has a job to get to, or they need to pick up some dry cleaning, or they want to go home? Likewise, they might have just come for sex and having got it don’t want to hang around for chats and breakfast. I think Sam needs to at least google ‘one-night stand’ before he tries to have one.

“Oh, won’t you stay with me? ‘Cause you’re all I need.” Wow, it’s been one night Sam, one night! How on earth can you know that this guy is all you need – what if he turns out to be a complete weirdo, what if he has low emotional intelligence, what if he cheats on you? C’mon Sam, be a bit more discerning. “This ain’t love, it’s clear to see but darling, stay with me.” Some pretty loud alarm bells going off now, I mean the words love and darling after one night. Amirite!?

“Why am I so emotional? No, it’s not a good look, gain some self-control.” Actually Sam, I don’t agree. Nothing wrong with being emotional and that’s something guys need to know – being male and expressing feelings is OK, it’s OK. So don’t put yourself down Sam about having emotions, I think it’s the weird clinginess, stalker vibe going on that’s concerning (especially with the whole sitting by the bed, watching the other guy sleeping whilst singing thing!).

“And deep down I know this never works but you can lay with me so it doesn’t hurt.” I think by this point the other guy is going to be hot footing it out the door and ordering the nearest Uber (even though in the video it’s Sam leaving, which slightly contradicts the lyrics and makes it all a bit confusing). So I’m very sorry Sam but this just really isn’t how you do a one-night stand. I think maybe what you’re really looking for is a relationship.