Saturday, 24 January 2015

Better in Small Doses

As a kid I hated movie censorship. Or comic book censorship. Or music censorship. Or novel censorship. The list is quite long.

To some extent I still do hate this suppression of both self expression and the right for people to watch whatever the hell they like.


I DO agree that there should be certain restrictions. The age system we have for both movies and computer games is common sense. It used to be a pile of stagnant wank, or at least the movie side of things did, under the Nazi-esque doctrine of the British Board of Film Classification's boss for many years, James "Hope He Died Slowly" Ferman. Once he retired and later died (hope it was slowly) the BBFC began to adopt a less dictatorial approach to what the Great Unwashed could and couldn't see at the cinema.

To generalise.

U = Dumbo
PG = Star Wars
12A = Spiderman
15 = Gladiator
18 = Saw
18R = Debbie Does Daventry

A woman I've always loathed, both when alive and now she'd passed on, was/ is Mary Whitehouse. A prolific meddler in what she thought should and shouldn't be on the telly, this rancid old bat ruined many a TV show and was an ardent hater of most things that were fun. However one thing she DID do that was a good idea was to bring about what we now call The Watershed.

On TV in the UK, after 9pm is when the various terrestrial stations can get their tits out and show the "adult" stuff that they agree not to show prior to that time. So an uncut airing of Ray Winston's debut movie "Scum" would only be shown after 9pm. Similarly while Doctor who is a kiddy show, its horny, adolescent cousin show, Torchwood could only be shown after The Watershed. This was mainly due to the fact that it had strong sexual content and in the first season season alone, EVERY major character shagged or snogged someone of the same gender

But I digress...

The Watershed was a good idea because it meant that kids couldn't watch violent and/ or sexual content unless they were up past a reasonable hour when they should, in theory, have been in bed. The TV companies had done all they could to ensure that they had acted responsibly. The rest was up to Mummy and Daddy.

When I was about 5 I was sat on the floor waiting for Playschool to come on the TV. This was about. 4.30pm every day and a great show for little ones to watch. Big Ted, Little Ted, Humpty and the other toys. Going through the Square, Arched or Round window for a story. Exciting stuff. afternoon I turned the telly on a little early and caught the last 5 minutes of some BBC1 daytime drama. I had no idea what I was watching and thought it was harmless. The ending upset me badly. A man was in a room and suddenly around three men in big, black top hats with big bushy black beards, came into the room. The man started to cry and began shouting what I thought was the line "I don't wanna be a cowboy!" over and over again. I have no dout this wasn't what he said but at this point, at the age of 5 and waiting for Playschool to come on, I imagined the man had been "naughty" and the other men had come to tell him off and punish him for that, especially has he was crying. They pulled him out of the room and dragged him outside and put him into some weird suit thing where the hood zipped right over his face and head. This was still familiar, because I'd sometimes kicked off about putting my pyjamas on before bed. Then one of the bearded top hats put a rope around the man's neck and another guy pulled a lever. The man was raised about 6 inches of the floor and instantly went limp. The beardy guys looked solemn, and silently walked off. I realised then that what I'd watching wasn't about a man getting told off and being put in a strange pair of pyjamas. They had in fact just killed him.

As I sat there in shocked, disturbed horror, the credits rolled and then a few moments later the music began for Playschool.

Hence The Watershed.

As I grew up and throughout my childhood I was given a barrage of entertainment that made out that violence was just F.U.N.

Comics aimed at little 'uns like Whizzer & Chips or Buster would feature characters such as Scrapper, a young lad who loved getting into fist fights. Also Shiner who couldn't get through one episode of the comic without getting a black eye. And let's not forget The Dandy's strip Bully Beef & Chips where the hulking thug Bully Beef would pick on the smaller character of Chips. I vividly recall one episode where Chips managed to tie up Bully Beef and then said casually "Now. Where did I leave that wire brush?" Next panel had a red-raw BB who had been scrubbed ragged in revenge. Message = Violence is a laugh

Later on I read 2000AD and war comics such as Victor or Battle Action. In these comics the violence was upped considerably. While in 2000AD this was 90% justifiable in context (Judge Dredd only shot guilty people, Strontium Dog showed utter remorse when a little boy was accidentally killed in a crossfire) in the war comics this was taken up to 11. Union Jack Jackson and Darkie's War were nasty and brutal with slit throats, knives in the back (with the requisite hand over the mouth to stifle the screams) and grenades being thrown into machine gun nests.

These comics made out that violence was something that was either fun or necessary. Worryingly they painted a world where violence, or at least justifiable violence, was something that had no moral fallout. No guilt or shame or remorse. It was just something you did and then moved on.

Movies, even for kids, were violent. Star Wars and its sequels, THE biggest influence on my imagination as a child, were full of fighting and death. Only kids movie I ever saw where billions of people get killed in one instant. Indiana Jones shot a guy who was at that moment, only a threat BUT we all laughed at how cool that was.

Later on we had horror movies and some of them had very protracted, graphic scenes of pain, torture and murder. Sleepaway Camp 2 has a scene where a teenage girl is drowned in a pit of human shit. Halloween has a teenage girl strangled with a telephone cord while her naked tits are shown and The Prowler has a college age woman murdered with a pitchfork while taking a shower. Thing I remember most about this was that her big tits bounced around a lot and that she coughed up blood as the killer leaned on the pitchfork. These were things I saw in my teens and the juxtaposition of nubile, young people (and tits) with very gory and painful violence was odd to say the least. I was 14 or 15. My adolescence was in its summer years.

TV shows, even for kids were violent once you got past the Playschool era. The Tomorrow People was creepy and Doctor Who had people dying left right and centre. Behind the sofa TV it most certainly was.

Which brings me to my point.

As an adult I defend the right for anyone over 18 to watch whatever the hell they like within reason. No snuff films. No kiddy porn. No movies that extol or propagate racism, homophobia or misogyny. Beyond that, watch what you like.

Growing up however, there was very little in the way of entertainment that talked about the "nice" side of life. Films like "The Yearling" or "Old Yeller" or even "Gregory's Girl" were considered boring and were few & far between. We had a staple diet of violence at every junction. Aggression in entertainment was seen as a normal form of life. Cops in movies would shoot bad guys without any sense of shame or regret. Not because they should have felt like that BUT because even then it was established IN REAL LIFE that the first, second or even third time you kill someone you will feel bad about it.

The comics, films and TV shows I revelled in as a boy built into me a false sense of expectation about what would happen when something bad happened. I knew it was all fake and to this day I loathe people who state that some other adults"can't tell the difference between real and fake." If you are able to feed and dress yourself then you know the difference. Also movies, music and comics do not "make" anyone go out and do anything to anyone else. You may get creative ideas from watching Friday the 13th but you have to be lacking a piece of the puzzle of your DNA to enact it. Films don't make people commit crimes any more than the Devil or God do. People do bad shit because they want to, not because a latex puppet covered in fake blood "made" them do it.

But I digress again...

As a child the exposure to violent media should have been controlled. Violence is a part of life and everyone has a fascination with death and horror at some point in their life. Be it a Dracula movie or dressing up and begging for candy on Halloween. But I would have liked to have seen a little subliminal messaging that told me just how utterly fab it was to be decent to other people, without the feeling that while being told this, I could be missing out on a really good war movie. I'd have liked to know that not only would good guys be able to throw punches, take a punch without crying (or bruising) and shoot a baddy down without blinking BUT they were responsible with money, could sustain a friendship and weren't selfish.

Exposure to all this type of thing as a kid wasn't healthy. In small doses it would have been fine but like like junk's better in small doses.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The Secret Attraction

Adam was always angry. His life seemed to be taking orders from shit sticks and higher ups who just irritated the hell out of him. He was happy just to work but for some reason they kept giving him the shit things to do. He'd never wanted to go to private school, but his father had enrolled him in a military academy and now he had no choice. Pompous wankers a year or two older than him who thought they knew everything. First time they'd tried to bully him he'd punched one of them so hard that he'd broken the guy's nose. That had been a laugh. Little snot had run off blubbing to the Corporal about it and Adam got punished.

Adam was always getting punished. His life was one long round of cleaning toilets, weeding lawns, picking up leaves in the rain and being a dogsbody for the frustrations of those stuck up bastards who would one day be officers.

He wouldn't have given a toss and had refused to do it at first but they beat him up so badly that he'd been in the medical ward for a week and then put back in punishment. The idea was that if he simply did it, eventually he'd be released and sent back to train. His father didn't want to know and Adam doubted the old twat even cared.

Today Adam was clearing up these odd heavy plastic sacks that were littered over the grounds outside on the lawn. It was freezing cold and wet and Adam was miserable. Jennings had been supervising him until Adam had tipped a load of wet sacks all over his highly polished boots and Jennings had gone off wailing about more punishments and shouting that Adam had to learn his lesson sooner or later.

As Adam picked up one of the sacks he lost his grip and it landed on his boot. He stumbled and fell, landing on his backside on the muddy grass. Cursing he struggled up and with a snarl picked up the sack with both hands and with a heave hurled it at the nearest hedge. He heard a shout of protest and sniggered as a head appeared over the leaves looking about for the culprit. Adam didn't give a shit if he'd been seen. It was one thing after another. He walked to where another sack was lying and saw a red ball lying in the grass near to it, soaking wet in the rain. He shrugged and picked it up, walking to the hedge, thinking that if he offered it back to whoever it belonged to, they wouldn't blame him for the sack flying into their little ball game.

He hefted the ball in his hand, his big green rain coat sleeve making it hard to grip. He pulled the sleeve up slightly and casually walked round the other side of the hedge.

Stood there was a little girl, about 6 or 7 years old. Her hand and arm were covered in blood and she was crying and breathing fast. A man was holding her arm gently and saying "Just calm down, just calm down. It's alright." Adam's eyes widened and he pretended not to see anything. At the girl's feet was a broken glass. She looked terrified and her face was white. There was a lot of blood. Adam swallowed hard and pretended not to notice.

"Anyone lost this ball? Came over the other side?"

No one paid him any attention. Two other adults were looking at the sack that he'd thrown, laying heavy and wet on the floor.

"This anyone's ball?" Adam enquired again. One of the men looked up and his face creased in shock and anger. He nudged the other and whispered, pointing to the sack on the floor.

Adam was scared now. The girl was crying and the man with her had his hands covered in her blood. Adam decided to go. There was nothing he could do here.

"No? OK. Just thought I'd check, nice ball and everything." He walked off while the two men pointed at him and he heard their voices get louder.

Adam walked behind the old building and shrugged off his rain coat and dumped it next to the rubbish bin outside the steps that led to the main foyer. He kept the ball in one hand so he could say he was returning it if stopped for any reason, and moved to the main gate. The local shops were just outside the gate and he could get lost very easily. He tried to walk slowly but he heard voices behind him, shouts and he made it to the gate, not looking behind him.

Across the road was a WH Smith's. He headed for it but in his peripheral vision he could see Jennings and two other trainee officers come out of the smaller gate slightly further down the road and run to stand near the shop. One broke off and ran to block the other side. The man who'd been with the little girl was with them and as Adam tried to walk to the shop entrance the man ran up and stood next to the doorway but then pretended to be simply standing there, not looking at Adam and standing very still. Adam knew he'd been caught, there was nothing he could do now. His anger rose and he threw down the ball and it bounced away into the road. Lunging at the man he locked his fingers around his throat and and as the man turned in shock, trying to prise the fingers away, they both came tumbling to the floor with Adam on top.

"I didn't mean to do it OK?!!" He shouted. "It was an accident, I didn't mean to!!!"

People shouted again and then Adam was grabbed by other hands. Fists rained down on his head. He passed out.


Adam sat in the Shona's office. He'd been here so many times and the woman had talked to him patiently over many months. His prison was one of isolation, boredom and loneliness. He was kept away from the other prisoners, partly for his protection and partly for theirs. First time a snarling man had lunged at him hurling abuse and a crudely made knife, Adam had gone berserk.

Solitary confinement for a long time. Then slowly they tried to bring him back to the real world. He was now allowed out to speak to Shona twice a week and to exercise in the yard. People generally kept away from him, and he liked it that way.

Shona came back into the room. Smiling she adjusted her skirt and sat down. Adam trusted her and talking to her did something to release the boredom. They'd chatted and talked about what had happened and how Adam felt and Adam knew there was no future in this beyond a friendly chat. His moods remained the same and he knew that nothing could help him. He hated most people and most people hated him.

"So Adam, any thoughts on what we talked about last time?"

Adam looked at her. She was pretty for a woman in her thirties, he thought. Nice breasts and a lovely smile. Her clothes were formal, a red wine colour to her blouse and a dark skirt. He grunted.

"Not really, things just go in circles don't they."

"It depends, even a circle has an end."

"What the fuck does that mean?"

"It means you can bring this to a close if you want to Adam." Shona smiled again and it looked fairly real. "This hatred and bitterness inside you is only there because you allow it to be. What happened was a mistake and that is accepted by everyone except you."

"I know it was a fucking mistake" Adam snapped, glaring at her. "No one else seemed to think so, or why'd they put me in here?"

"Deliberate or not, your actions were what led you here Adam."

Adam sighed. "Is there really any fucking point to this? I mean, we talk and you're nice and everything. You really are. But this goes around and around and we end up at the same spot all the time. I'm sorry about what happened, but I can't change time."

Shona looked at her watch. "It's nearly time to end this Adam. Before you go I have something for you."

Adam shifted in his seat. This was a new one.

Shona moved to an old, dark, wooden chest on a table behind Adam and opened it, the hinges creaking. Smiling she turned back to him. "I know it's your birthday so I bought you something."

Adam's curiosity was peaked. He'd even forgotten it was his own birthday, how old now? 18. Christ! Old age was gathering. Shrugging again he stood up and looked in the box. Inside was a home made CD and a large open box of fruit Skittles. Adam looked confused. He reached slowly for the CD.

Shona watched his face and said, "There's a dedication written on the CD Adam. My patients all mean something unique to me. I hope you like that song. It's called Secret Attraction. That's what you are to me."

Adam was confused and then he looked into the box. Skittles were his favourite sweets as a child. Something gave out within him, like a bow string snapping under strain. He gasped and staggered, falling to his knees but managing to stop himself falling down fully by grabbing the edge of the wooden box. Tears welled in his eyes and he couldn't see. The grief reared up inside him and he couldn't see, just the blinding pain as the emotions roared their way to the surface. He turned away and Shona was kneeling next to him. She reached out and he put his head on her chest and cried, sobbing loudly. She put her arms around him and stroked his hair. "It's alright" she soothed. "It's OK."

Adam hugged her tightly.

Finally he spoke again.

"I killed a little girl!" he sobbed. "I killed a little girl."

5 Steps

Really interesting and resonating article by Jordan Gray.