On fantasy

Aug. 25th, 2013 08:13 pm
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 Last night I had a friend over for takeaway, I know her from uni so more a 'thrown together by circumstance' than 'common interests' sort of friend.  I invited her over to watch a movie and, in what I thought was a slightly odd move, she brought dvds with her and later indicated this was because she thought I wouldn't have any films she would enjoy (as it was, she brought Little Miss Sunshine with her which is one of my all time favourite films) but this, it emerged, was because she knew I liked Buffy.  She said she doesn't like anything that's not 'real' because she likes things she can 'imagine [her]self in, imagine it happening' to her.  I tried to explain Buffy is basically hyperreal, it has the supernatural elements as allegories for real life challenges, and I asked if she would watch an episode with me - which she vigorously rejected.  

The more I think about it the weirder it is to me.  Fantastical stuff, hyperreal worlds are where my friends live.  They are very often where I live.  They have provided much needed escape and sanctuary since the moment I could read.  Interstellar Pig was the first sci-fi book I read.  The Chronicles of Narnia were the first alternate-world books I read.  Star Trek was my most beloved tv series - drawing me in right from repeats of the Original Series on Sunday mornings when I was little.  Discworld, His Dark Materials, Buffy, Star Trek: TNG, The Hunger Games, Battlestar Galactica, Philip K Dick, Ray Bradbury, Flight of the Navigator, Back to the Future, the Girl from Tomorrow...the list goes on and on.  

TV, film, and book fiction universally appeals to me when it's about something different and yet the same.  Satire, allegory, utopias, dystopias, futures, alternate worlds and universes.  They mattered and matter to me.  

I want a story I can lose myself in, not slot neatly into.  I want to be transported not consumed.

I feel like the division of 'types of people' can go down this line, those who look to be altered and challenged and dragged to a different place where everything of the everyday is left behind versus those who want 'real', who want stories set in the world they inhabit and there alone.  It's strange to me, the notion of not wanting, or needing an escape and refuge from life which can offer such a rich world you spend your entire youth yearning to wake up in one of those worlds, and most of your adulthood wishing you still believed you might wake up there.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
I was discussing with a friend the other night the implications of the sentence "I love my country". The main gist of the conversation was that we could not recollect ever having heard a British person say that and suggested that, were we to hear such an exclamation, we'd become extremely suspicious of that person: meaning second guessing their intentions, motivations, intelligence....the works. A notable inclusion to the group of Brits who regularly assert their love (or wish to love, after certain conditions are fulfilled) for 'their' country is the BNP. We really felt that the only implication of making the assertion "I love my country" in the UK - or even just in England - is that such nationalism implies an absolute rejection of a multicultural society and an implicit expression of xenophobia. In other words, the expression of national pride eclipses the motivation for that pride.

We went on to discuss how hard we found it to understand why Americans in particular were so comfortable with that phrase and what it meant to Americans that it doesn't mean to us. We did not reach a conclusion but did hypothesise it relates to the relatively recent emergence of the USA as a nation and that it happened in such a way that the citizens understood the notion of being a part of a single entity. Contrastingly, the UK evolved for so many hundred years that the point at which it became a nation [state] is not just hard to pinpoint but also largely irrelevant to the island's inhabitants; they did not need to state an allegiance in order to ensure national development occured in a desirable and sustained manner. In short, such expressions were and are an organic part of the evolution of national identity but in Britain they are a contrived and Americanised expression of an emotion which is not universally felt.

But that's just a tentative hypothesis.

Tonight was the Last Night of the Proms. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say it's a national institution; the Proms themselves embody the idea of classical music for the masses and in so doing, hit the mark and offers a moment of unity pretty much time. Most distinctive about the music included is that it is largely of a patriotic flavour. Like pretty much everything in Britain, this is a tradition that has been observed for....well I'm going to say a million years, I think that's about accurate....you get the idea. To give you (= non Brits) some sense of the immediacy of such music upon Prom goers I bring you this little tiddbit of trivia from tonight's broadcast:

At the first Prom performance of Land of Hope and Glory (or, to give it it's proper name; "Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1") it is reported that the audience "simply rose, and yelled".*

And those people, the ones who rose and yelled, were Victorians (!)

Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia are probably the most popular regular components of The Last Night of the Proms. Both feature rather rousing lyrics, such as my favourite; Rule Britannia/Britannia rules the waves/Britons never ever ever shall be slaves. Britons are rarely offered a non-politicised opportunity to consider their nationality, but a song which lauds the historical achievements of an empire than no longer exists seems to sit quite comfortably with us/them. The music itself is the definition of grand and, like all the best [classical] music, washes over you and completely saturates the senses; coupled with the choral power in the delivery of the lyrics I think it is hard not to be swept up in the spirit of optimism and pride that piece contains.  Perhaps then, we Brits can only express pride in our nation through traditional [archaic?] routes, easily dismissed as 'just a song' if anyone raises an eyebrow as you frantically wave a flag and shout "God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet".

I think that really sums up something quite base about an incredible piece of music and how it can touch people. And I think it also says a lot about how national identity is most easily expressed en masse. I find this particularly interesting because the only time I have been conscious of and indeed pleased to call myself British is when I was out of the country during my 6 month jaunt back in '07. Distance from my country of residence (a passive term if ever there was) was the only point at which I was conscious of all the things which could be considered as making Britain worthy of that modifier 'Great'.  The reasons for this are complex but can be summarised as 1. recognising the stark differences in personal and social liberty available in Britain in comparison to certain countries I visited - a slap in the face to the hysteria of British press who assured us that Britain was a dictatorship/police state/no freedom left etc etc.  2. speaking to citizens of other nations and comparing cultural notes and experiences - or having arguments with them about certain 'inalienable' truths.

I don't think it is a great stretch to suggest that most citizens of the United Kingdom are conscious of** the freedoms they enjoy and the comparatively high standard of living available, in theory, to all.  And I believe it is this...conditional satisfaction (but not adoration) of/with their country which is what Prom goers wish to express in their raucous renditions of the aforementioned songs - rather than the inevitable crushing defeat of their naval enemies, for example.  Perhaps most illustrative of this is that the National Anthem gets nowhere near as raucous a response, nor as much audience participation when the opportunity to sing-along arrives as Land of Hope and Glory or Rule Britannia do. Our national pride is discerning, it is not focused on a figurehead and it is far from absolute.  Which is, this humble blogger wishes to propose, why we are so unwilling to express anything near as unequivocal as 'love' for our nation.

If anyone wishes to answer the question "What does the phrase 'I love my country' mean to you?" I'd be extremely interested to read it.

* One assumes they yelled out their delight, rather than expressions of displeasure.
** although I would not argue they are satisfied with them, nor should we ever be.

askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 So, I was under the impression that all cis-women were wired up in such a way that they woke up from dreams of an erotic nature just before orgasm, however, conversation this evening has revealed that is not always the case, so I put it to you, Dreamwidth and LiveJournal; do you wake up pre or post dream orgasm, and what is your sex and/or gender identity (aka: whatever info you wish - or do not wish - to include here is fine)?

Anonymous posting is, naturally, enabled on both sites, so bombard me with responses, please, I'm fascinated by the concept.

Roar etc.

May. 15th, 2010 09:20 pm
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (November the 8th)
So I've been lucky enough to win paid time here on dreamwidth. Regrettably my laptop is knackered and currently with eBuyer who will almost certainly refuse to fix it under warranty. I'm conscious however that it has been quite some time since I updated so at least a cursory post is in order.

Life has rather run away with me, only in that screwing you over sort of way. An unending stream of job applications has come to precisely, hang on let me just check...yeah, to precisely nothing. My current job (soul destroying retail, thanks for asking!) somehow manages to get worse. The staff I don't complain about my job with/to (a minority) are incompetent beyond belief. Today's simple instruction, by way of example, was "to log out, just press function then clear" What did she do? Function, 1, enter. She was just about to press 1 again when I, through grated teeth, said "no. Clear. Press. Clear." If you can hear my eye twitching you'll have a good idea of where I am aggravation wise.

The government, the education system promised me that if I worked *really* hard, made sacrifices, gave my all then I would be rewarded. The job markets would be filled with jobs in the milk and honey production industries, my bank account would be more bouyant than the very cheapest dingy that has carried it's unlucky, fatherless child far out to sea from some free bar beach resort. But, instead, what do I have to show for a Bachelors and Masters? A massive student loan which I still don't earn enough to start paying back. A soul destroying - and I really do mean every syllable of that phrase - job. Not too mention the remarkable achievement of making myself completely unemployable by doing the Masters at all. A pretty impressive result, I'm sure you'll agree.

In short? BOLLOCKS. Someone give me a job with at least a gesture towards my field of expertise, a field which I believe to be both important for the development of society and the further liberation of all minority groups. Viva la queer theory!

Or something.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
So, in what can only be described as a predictable development, I have been signed off work with 'stress exhaustion'. As I remarked to a friend on Friday, I can and have continued to work whilst this stressed but it does not end well, and why make myself ill over a job I hate?

I've just begun reading Moby Dick and, like Ishmael, when I feel the hopeless melancholy and pervasive paranoia descend my greatest wish is to flee the soulless city for the wild and absolute anonymity of nature. I find myself in my parents house where the question of how I've come to have a week off work remains prominently unasked.

I'm finding some sort of comfort in the silence which envelops this house, only the birds break the silence morning or night. In the void left by city bustle, of course, rests my frantic thoughts. A lifetime of listening to the anxious nonsense which spills forth provides no help in trying, as I am now, to quieten that hysterical rambling.

On Saturday night I attended a family gathering for my Mother's brother's 70th birthday, it's been around 8 years since I have seen that side of the family and once again I was misrecognised as my brother's girlfriend; a peculiar and embarrassing mistake. My Mother's other brother asked me if I still wanted to do a PhD, I told him I was desperate to, he told me he anticipated it's completion so that he could boast about having a Doctor in the family. I smiled. I am the first person on both sides of my not unsubstantial family to go to University, an honour which seems to leave me irrevocably distanced from a family of the terminally unemployable and the lifelong incapacitated. It's odd to regret your success in that sense and harder still to sense the weight of pride which urges me on to gain appropriate employment and fulfil that most loaded of words, my 'potential'.

Which all leaves me firmly where I started, laying in bed at my parents house, reading a book by torch light wondering just how much the protagonist and I have in common. Am I, like Ishmael, fated to go down this disasterous road too blind to change course, too weak in the face of hopeless destiny to break out an original course?
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)

Ever since I can remember, sci-fi has been a staple in my imaginative life.  Whether it be Sunday mornings on the sofa with my eldest brother watching the original series of Star Trek, Tuesday afternoon's after school watching Bucky O'Hare, and later, The Girl from Tomorrow*; or one summer when I got a book called Interstellar Pig out of the library and read it twice in the space of a week, sci-fi has always been there.

While other kids worried about monsters under the bed or bullies in the school yard I quizzed my brothers and my Dad on the likelihood of alien invasion and what a post-nuclear holocaust world would be like (not good.  Actually, my Dad was a policeman and as a result had a place in a nuclear bunker.  He told us he would not take it because he would rather die with us than live in the dystopian nightmare of a post-nuclear world, but I digress...)

I recently bought the Star Trek: The Next Generation movie boxset and have begun a chronological re-watch, it struck me as I watched it just what appeals so much to be about the sci-fi genre.  Primarily, it's about possibility, the possibility of a better civilisation, and of a better way of being human. I think this is particularly appealing to children who, by default, have utopian motivations: what kid hasn't asked "why do we need money, can't we just exchange goods as we need them?" and many sci-fi plots tap directly into this, the most notable example probably being Star Trek. 

Secondly I think the key strength is being able to distance yourself from contemporary society in order to make a critique of it.  This is, in my opinion, most successfully achieved through dystopian futures where the sci-fi element has amplified and taken a contemporary problem to its logical and/or most extreme conclusion.  Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, The Day After Tomorrow all make direct and clear critique through the bleak realisation of the worst parts of our society in a not-so-distant future or through one catastrophic event.  Frequently this type of narrative is related to us through the perspective of one character who is either the only one to recognise their surroundings as a perversion of all that is good and right, or the only one to find out an inherent truth about the world - such as how it came about or how their government has lied to them in order to maintain order through fear.  The one-on-one interaction between reader/viewer and protagonist heightens the sense of horror or disgust at what the world has/could become. Resurfacing from this sort of fiction, for me at least, usually leaves me with a strong sense of isolation from the world as you feel that, through the lens of the fiction, you alone are seeing the world for what it is and the inherent horror of what is to come if things remain unchanged.  Personally, I find the immersive experience of this most compelling and offering the most absolute opportunity for a shift in one's world view.

We've also got sci-fi where Earth/humanity/the world as we know it is largely blameless and passive in its downfall.  We're talking War of the Worlds, Independence Day, and, at a stretch, 2001: A Space Odyssey (HAL destroys the microcosm of humanity on the ship)  Whilst the film does not make an explicit critique of society in itself, there is usually a lot to be taken from the commentary it gives us of political and social concerns of the time.  Most often there is a conclusion which reasserts the superiority of humanity over the cruel, violent 'other'.  It would be unfair to argue that such sci-fi primarily sures up the patriarchal, well established order of contemporary society because such a conclusion doesn't allow for the nuances in such works, what it commonly does is give cause for positive reflection on the contemporary audience's surroundings and mediates larger concerns about threats of international war, disputes and political uncertainty.

Finally there is transformative sci-fi where an individual, group or the whole of humanity is completely altered after an encounter of some sort, think E.T., Back to the Future, Batteries Not Included, Flight of the Navigator.  This takes the notion of possibility I mentioned at the beginning to it's logical conclusion and provides an often temporary or imperfect utopia behind for those connected to the events.  Much like the sub-genre of humanity being passive in it's demise I mention above I think such works reveal more about the socio-political environment in which they were made than reflecting in any broader sense on humanity.  The films I mention above were made in the '80's and I believe speak both of the over-riding confidence in the organisation and potential of society and also the concern which accompanies rapid social and technological change.  More advanced technologies and races contact humanity and whilst there is fear and misapprehension the end result is positive, even if there are difficulties on the road to resolution.

Overall, what sci-fi offers is the opportunity for a damned good adventure, outside of the day-to-day cares of the audience's contemporary world whilst remaining rooted enough in reality and truth that it can provide either a positive reflection on that which an audience wishes to escape or a solution for the ills of mankind.  For me, it provides a sophisticated commentary on what is, what is not and what could be.  It does not flinch from portraying the very worst aspects of humanity - the very thing which so concerned me in my childhood fantasies of how the world would end.  If the only way to be prepared for the unknown is to imagine every possibility then sci-fi provides the perfect forum for that to happen in.  Imagination is unbidden by technology, politics and social reality.  Even the essential human condition can be altered through the genre.  In short, sci-fi matters because it can speak about everything and make commentary - both positive and negative - without having to engage in the minutiae of how we get from here to there and in so doing it can subtly or overtly provide a new way of viewing that which surrounds us.

So yes, I am a sci-fi geek, but it's ok, because it's intellectual.

* As the only kid in my class who watched/enjoyed The Girl from Tomorrow I would play alone at break time the next day, with my hair band pulled down across my forehead, a la the Transducer.  It will come as no surprise to you that I wasn't terribly popular at school.

askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (conor)
Determined. To find the place in the world that rightfully belonged to me. Carve it into my shape.
Believed that love was special and unique but could be found in more than one place.
That love was beautiful because it hurt and was messy and ugly.
Young. Conscious of and reveling in my youth.
Believed in the inherent goodness of people and my ability to see people for who they were.
Fearless... Of the big things. Terrified of the minutae of life.
With a sense of belonging. Alienated at times, but always surrounded and integrated with the world; my friends, my family close by.
Glorious in sleep. Painfully productive and invigorated by insomnia.

I left little pauses, so you could repeat after me.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
A very dear friend just blogged about his response to heteronormativity and the heteronormative male ideal. It was a jolly good post, which you should read. Being just that kind of person I took one comment and blew it out of proportion, because it interested me. Instead of hijacking his blog, I decided to post it here. Apologies if this is a little jumbled, I wrote it in a remarkably short space of time and only had the ideas I express as my fingers were hitting keys, I intend to revisit some of what I've said at a later date.

"Taken on stereotypes alone, I want to veer away from heteronormative male as much as I can; it physically disgusts me."

To say one wishes to avoid a certain, stereotypical way of being implies that there is a clear and well defined 'other'. And if that is lacking, there is at least a clear way of knowing what it is one is distancing oneself from. Whilst heteronormative gender performance and relationship forms are common, and in being common feel easy to deconstruct, there are nuances which can be erased by the broad stroke of a queer agenda.

Common is often synonymous with unthinking. Understandably so when you look at the most vocal proponents of the status quo; the [hated] Daily Mail and it's readers is an example which rushed to the forefront of my mind. One also cannot neglect to mention the culture of the 'lad' and the associated press of lads' mags, the page three girl and football related sponsorship and advertising. In short, we glance at a culture which evolves without moving forward and grows via the insidious ooze of repetition and we feel we know it, absolutely. The moment we see the dragon for what it is, we believe we have seen the route to slaying it; produce a counter-culture founded on the same principles of social interaction and familial structures but subvert each of these on the individual and group level. In short, we try to queer it.

The logic behind this seems sound at first glance: why are heteronormative relationships and gender roles so common? Because the model of heteronormative relationships and gender are baked right into our culture and society, they are numerous, they are supported by every fibre of society. One of the most common, if not the most common narratives in our culture is boy meets girl. Boy meets girl. Not boy meets boy, not girl meets girl, not boy meets girl and they then meet another girl. Not any other permutation.

The effect of this narrative on the individual level is shocking when you pause and look at your own life. At the moments of uncertainty, the moments when you feel like a social retard and cling onto whatever model of social interaction you can find, you will most likely find that model is a heteronormative one. Years and years of repetition mean that heteronormativity is not just common, it just *is*. We do it because....because we do it. Heteronormativity is self legitimating; if we follow those rules things will work out. Recently, when I found myself single and entering intimate relationships with men for the first time in 6 years I reverted to what I knew; there exists, in my head and I'm sure yours, a complex list of dos and donts for interactions with the opposite sex. We may reject them, we may belittle and ridicule them, but we can all identify and perhaps describe some cardinal rules for romantic interaction. They are there, baked right in.

So, the little voice of dissent suggests, reject them! Turn them on their head. Ignore that prudish voice which tells you girls should be girly, shouldn't be assertive, shouldn't....do. But where does that leave us? Rejecting heteronormativity surely only achieves one thing: we aren't being heteronormative. But the relationship to heteronormative remains a dichotomous one: we either do, or we don't. Furthermore, by prescribing that gender roles should be delineated, as the front line of queering culture often does, we run into language which starts boxing people up again - yes there are now more than two boxes, but are the boxes still there? It's hard to fight against a system unless you propose an alternative, it's easy to get people on side when you show them an alternative which is clearly expressed; "don't expect everyone to fit into a girl/boy binary! Let people choose their own gender identity, like bigender, or intersex, or trans, or cis, or fluid!" People can understand that, we're presenting our argument in an contained and quantifiable manner. It seems to be a step in the right direction to say "don't say two genders, say many! And here are some examples" but are we in fact aiming for the middle ground before we've tried to achieve the ideal?

To me, the place we should be going, the place where heteronormativity does not exert influence is comparable to anarchy. To present queer family models as an antidote to heteronormative family models is still to present a model. Whilst making our campaign intelligible to those we are attempting to liberate is important, we need a clearer sense of purpose. Why aim to remove heteronormative models of being only to replace them with more delineated, but still fairly concrete ones?

We need to view heteronormativity as continuous with non-heteronormative behaviours and identities. The binary of queer/heteosexual was established by a heteronormative society, why are we still playing on their terms? Let me elucidate my point of view with an example: my brother is in a heteronormative relationship, but his performance of gender is sometimes very queer. Is he playing at being non-heteronormative or is he non-heteronormative? This seems like a logical question, and one which encourages us to question what it means to be a heteronormative male. But what I propose is we don't question whether someone's behaviour is inherently heteronormative or queer, rather we ask 'why ask?' Am I a heteronormative woman? In some respects; yes, in others; no. A better question is "am I compelled to act in a certain way depending on my surroundings?" And the answer to that is 'sometimes'. In this way we can identify the places where a prescriptive, restrictive force suppresses a natural expression - and there we can target society.

In short, what if we were to fight it, not flying the opposing standards of 'heteronormative' and 'queer' but by proposing absolute freedom of expression and creating narratives about the instinctive and impulsive expression of ways of relating to each other. With a broad stroke we sweep away the dichotomy and create through imaginative desire the new system in which there is only a spectrum. Instead of the deification of the twin pillars of 'heteronormative' and 'queer' we level the ground. We don't distance ourselves from heteronormative as though it were an infectious, terminal condition but we embrace it and engage with it, forcing it to look in the mirror and see that whilst we can choose to live that way, we can choose to live slightly differently to it, or dramatically differently to it. As long as heteronormative ways of being do not continue to hold unchallenged power then there is surely no harm in associating with it, we can resist it's normalising force without needing to demolish every single brick of its edifice.


askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
a sky gone on fire

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