I was listening to the Reservoir Dogs Soundtrack recently, a collection of music that many people who happened to be teenagers in the 90′s happen to own, partially because Reservoir Dogs was the coolest movie ever back in the 90′s and mostly because it’s a really good collection of songs. Anyway, after I’d finished my dive into nostalgia by jumping up and down around the room to Blue Swede’s Hooked On A Feeling, I started to ponder the question of my generation.
What the hell is Harry Nilsson’s song Coconut all about?
It doesn’t mean anything1. There’s no subtle message to the song, no hidden meaning. The simple truth is that both coconuts and limes are things that people eat when they’re feeling a little bit ill. Both bits of food are packed full of stuff that’s good for you (apparently) and the words have nice feel to them. The lyrics are sung in a very specific way and it’s fun to wrap your laughing gear round co-co-nut, preferably whilst shaking your bum and having fun.
That hasn’t stopped people from endlessly deciding that it must mean something. There’s something about humanity’s ability to take a simple song about nothing of real consequence and decide that it must contain the wisdom of the ages. For some of us it’s not enough to simply wiggle our bodies about and have a giggle, everything has to mean something. This makes everything terribly serious, even having fun becomes an academic endeavour.
“It means nothing” is as a valid and important meaning as any other.2 Sometimes simple is good. The world is filled with meaning and context after all, not everything needs layers. If you really need a meaning, try this one on for size; Coconut is a request to shut up and dance. Stop your jaw from flapping and your chin from pondering and have a little jiggle.
1: Okay, we could make a serious argument between Authorial Intent and Critical Response, but honestly if you’re critical response to a silly song about fruit is to turn it into something dark and mysterious then you’ve pretty much left the realms of valid criticism and moved into the mystical land of pulling stuff out of your arse.
2: As a response, it’s almost as important as that great and powerful answer “No one knows”, though the response to that should always be “well let’s find out”, even if the answer turns out to be a cosmic shrug of the shoulders.
I’m not going to talk about the Jonathan Ross/Hugo Awards debacle, or at least not come down on a side and try to analyse it. There’s been plenty of coverage both from the Geek and mainstream media, but long story short: Ross was announced as the host of the latest Hugo awards and then pulled out 8 hours latter after twitter became filled with people objecting.
I ended up catching up on this particular rain of bird-poo1 after all the excitement was over, and one of the things I noticed wasn’t so much the insults, but the preening.
After a certain point, it would have been clear to anyone (especially the target of the attacks) that the LonCon’s choice of Master of Ceremonies was making people unhappy and yet people continued to join in to throw a stone or two; the barrage even continued after Ross stepped down. It had stopped being about the issue and had become about being seen to be involved.
What helped me understand why people kept throwing @ shaped stones after the fact was noticing how many made massively sweeping assumptions people were making so they could personally tie the events to themselves. In most cases this was done quickly with poor research and the most shaky of justifications, such was the rush to be seen as being involved.
Twitter is at least partially about ego; you make pithy statements in order to get people to ‘follow’ you and the more followers you get can equal a sort of approval rating.
It’s addictive, this sort of approval. Whereas web forums have their trolls, Twitter has the power to make even the meekest of person a sort of fast moving, rampantly self-involved creature desperate for the approval of others; a controversy goblin if you will.
Given the number of controversies the genre community has had recently, I’m rather worried that many of us have become addicted to goblinisation. That would be a shame; it’s a great community. Perhaps by looking out for such behaviour in the future, we can all avoid unleashing the little monster inside us and actually debate the issues like the forward thinking people we claim to be.
But then, I am an optimist.
1: There has to be a better phrase than ‘tweet-storm’ for these pointless fights.
They are currently about a dozen novels sitting on my ‘To Be Read’ shelf at the moment. 1. Given that fantasy is ‘in’, roughly two-thirds of those are fantasy novels. Can you guess what it says on the back of all but one of those books?
They all claim that if you like A Game of Thrones or George RR Martin then I’ll love this book. Not only is this boring, it’s also utterly useless as a piece of promotional material. I don’t believe a word of it, think “ho hum” and skip past the blurb. An opportunity wasted all due to a lack of originality. Then I get snarky.
For a start, in what way like A Game of Thrones is it? Does it feature a vast and complex fantasy world with warring family factions? Incestuous characters? Extremely awkward sex scenes? Or am I to assume that the novel series is going to take a long time to get to a conclusion? Also, how like George RR Martin. His body of work is pretty broad – I assume they mean his popular fantasy series but they may be implying it’s a clever anthology series or proto-urban fantasy. His style has evolved over the years, which George RR Martin do they mean?
I get why blurbs are written this way. A Game of Thrones is very popular right now and marketing types want to grab a little bit of that success in order to shift units. The problem is that over using a limited number of names makes a nonsense of the process. They can’t all be identical and I am hoping they aren’t. It also diminishes us all. It insults the famous author by implying that their unique and popular voice is easily mimicked. It insults the creator of the novel by implying that the book is derivative and most of all it insults the reader by assuming that we will only recognise a limited number of names.
Comparing things to other things is a valid way of describing anything, but you have to assume a broad palette. Good blurbs that name check other writers use lots of different names. If a book claims to be reminiscent of four or five different people, I have a better chance of recognising who some of them are, and get a better feel for what the work is like. Using less well known authors also celebrates and promotes the diversity of writing styles out there, and surely getting the word out there is the aim of game?
1: I say shelf, it’s a stack. I tend to keep all the board-games, DVDs, books and other physical objects awaiting critical evaluation in one place in order to keep a track of what’s going on. E-books and the like means that I can’t really tell at a glance how much work I’ve got to do, but it’s a handy rule of thumb. A dozen is a good number, busy without being too busy.
So if you’re a massive Warhammer 40,000 nerd (which you may have noticed that I am) then you won’t have missed the fact that they’ve recently launched models of the Knight Titans. These are meant to nine-metre tall walking robots that do the scouting and skirmish work for much larger giant robotic killing machines.
I am a big fan of this idea, and it got me thinking about Zoids, those robotic skirmishing toys from the 80′s which happened to also have a great comic strip written by none other than Grant Morrison. They too were meant to be dinosaur sized, the smaller ones clearing the way for the bigger ones.
Someone even made a huge model of the big daddy of all Zoids, Zoidzilla. It was on Blue Peter and did the rounds at various fayres and festivals of the time. It roared and looked cool.
So this got me to thinking; maybe someone will make life-sized Imperial Knight? They’ve done Drop-Pods and tanks in the post, how difficult would it be to make a giant killy robot statue? (Probably very, but still).
On today’s show we talked to Stuart Mulrain, who is organising The True Believers Convention.
The plan is to create a regular UK based Comic Convention at the famous Cheltenham Racecourse in early February. If they pull it off, this will make a rather splendid start to the convention season. This will also nicely book-end the Leed’s based Thought Bubble, which happens in November, which feels like way too long to wait.
You can find out more on oktruebelievers.com and they’re currently running a Kickstarter with some interesting rewards.
This month’s issue was unleashed onto the world today. It was a lot of fun for me as I got to interview both the producer and the director of the new Muppet movie (Muppet’s Most Wanted). Both gentlemen where extremely interestingly and more than a little bit inspirational. Lots of fun.
Of course I’m now working full pelt at writing things for the next issue (including my column, Roll for Damage) and I have the song “Hooked on a Feeling” stuck in my head. I may have to be careful not to accidentally add the odd “Oooga Chakka” or two.
More and more these days, it seems every Hollywood movie that comes out immediately hits a wall of criticism for simply existing, often weeks before anyone has actually seen the thing. The movie that’s currently enjoying this sort of attention is Saving Mr Banks, a star studded retelling of the production Mary Poppins, focusing on media mogul Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) and the creator of the Mary Poppins and children’s author, PL Travers (played by Emma Thompson).
Predictably, it’s already drawn criticism that the film doesn’t focus on Traver’s back story enough; she was an interesting person with a rich and full life, and the movie focuses on a narrow band of her experience. Those looking to fling mud also point out that Disney have made a movie about their founder that paints him in a positive light, which is an odd criticism when you consider it; why would a light-hearted feature about the creation of a classic children’s movie overfill it’s plate with the darker side of the human condition? Critics seem keen to dig out their grudges against Hollywood and Disney and particular, and whine at length at about how unfairly the material has been treated.
This approach both confuses and amuses me. Because if I wanted to be educated and informed, I’d pick up several books on the matter, perhaps seek out a few documentaries. Movies like this are meant to entertain first and foremost1. Being critical of this sort of movie whilst failing to acknowledge it’s validity as a source material is to fundamentally miss the point.2. A word to the wise; simply ranting about how a dramatisation isn’t as historical accurate as you want it to be is one of those things people do to appear deep and clever, but typically reveals them to be pedantic, shallow and rather mean instead.
Disney can be relied on to entertain; that’s their job and they’ve gotten better and better at it over the years. If you’re expecting Disney to teach you the real and true history behind some of its classic works, then that’s either naïve or you’re deliberately looking for things to be snarky about.
Let’s be honest, most of us had not even thought about Travers until this film came out. The movie is almost fifty years old, so many of saw the film on telly when we were too small to consider who made the film or what its origins are. It’s a familiar thing that has always been there, so it’s likely that you’ve taken its existence for granted. That fact alone makes Saving Mr Banks something I want to see, I would hazard a guess that those who already knew about Traver’s life are now vastly outnumbered by those who have gone out and educated themselves as a result of this recent exposure.
1: Put it this way, you are as likely to learn real Scottish history from Highlander as you are from Braveheart.
2 : I call this the Daniel Day Lewis effect. To my knowledge, Lewis has never appeared in a movie based on history that didn’t take total liberties with the source material.