Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Of Twitter, Terror and Jane Austen

So it's been a while. Lots has obviously gone on in the interim - for example, the then-unborn recipient-to-be of the yellow bunny card mentioned in the previous post has been safely delivered into the world, and I was able to go and visit her two hours after she got home from the hospital and pass into her possession the card that had caused all the fuss. So you can stop worrying now.

In truth, things of great magnitude have occurred and I will blog about them at some stage, no doubt - but for now I am occupied with more recent happenings.

You see, four days ago I joined Twitter.

It's not like I wasn't aware Twitter existed. At least four different friends/colleagues had recommended I join or demanded to know why I didn't. I had looked once or twice; considered it a couple of times. In the end, the reasons I didn't and the reasons I then did aren't important here - what's important is that I joined and began selecting who to follow, and among them I added one Caroline Criado-Perez, primarily because I had heard of her on the radio that morning. I liked that she had instigated the campaign to get Jane Austen's image onto a UK banknote and thought she'd be an interesting follow.

Reader, I had no idea.

If you missed the general gist, you can catch up here, but it mostly went:
  • Woman campaigns for renowned and well-loved author to appear on banknote
  • Woman utilises Twitter to launch and expand campaign
  • Campaign successful!

Now plenty of commentators better placed and informed than I have written extensively about this and the surrounding issues regarding trolling and so forth, but it did remind me of something I hadn't thought of in a long time.

Back when I was about twenty, I often spent my holidays from university working in a Belfast branch of a well-known high street bookshop. It was largely good, as shop work goes; my colleagues were well-read and fun, and I happily spent my wages like a twenty year old does, on leather jackets, cigarettes and beer. Thus did I breeze happily around the shop floor recommending Donna Tartt to everyone when one day the phone went and I answered it, as my job description dictated I should from time to time.

"[Formally approved standard shop phone greeting and offer of help!]" I chirped eagerly - I can't remember the exact words we used for the phone.

The man on the other end had no such greetings. He launched straight into his message, which was delivered clearly and carefully and was this: "As of today, we will be targeting all Catholics who work in [name of shop]. This is the Red Hand Defenders." He then hung up.

It took the wind out of my sails a little, I'll admit. I think I was still smiling when I hung up and told my older and more experienced co-worker, who looked horrified and called for the manager. People kept asking was I okay. A few people (mainly catholics, actually) made silly jokes about it. I honestly felt like it shouldn't have been a big deal and when the police were called I was equal parts embarrassed and gleeful at the thought of missing some work time. And yet after all this, and while I am no delicate little flower in general... I felt a little shaky. A smidge weird. A tad removed from the world, as though I was functioning normally but behind a layer of clingfilm. Without consultation, the manager told me she was phoning someone to come and get me. I didn't protest.

The police interview was standard - what did he say, were those the exact words, was there any identifying blah blah and so on - but I'll never forget something that was said to me during it, because it was so simple and made so much sense and yet I had never ever thought of it. In response to my vague expression that he hadn't said much/I wasn't upset/this wasn't really a big deal, the policeman shook his head.

"Well, they're terrorists," he said. "They're out to cause terror and that's what they do. There doesn't have to be an act of violence - the threat is enough." So simple, and yet I, growing up in a country famous worldwide for its particularly hardy brand of homegrown terrorism, had never thought of it before.

I certainly thought of it today, and yesterday, and the day before while reading some of the threats coming through to Caroline Criado-Perez, Stella Creasy and others - all women who had taken a stand against what they saw as sexism, misogyny and hate speech. Others can debate the rights and wrongs of freedom of speech, censorship and whether a button on Twitter will do the job - and have been doing so in minute detail. What struck me was the idea that when you post a threat to rape and kill someone, stating a specific time and place (for example 8pm at your house, as one poster "helpfully" detailed), you are intending to cause terror. The person on the receiving end, no matter how hardy, no matter how sensible, no matter how convinced you don't really know their address, will feel that flutter that I, a non-catholic good-in-a-crisis sensible former shop-worker, felt. Their mind's eye will forget the utter ridiculousness of a sectarian organisation thinking that shooting shop assistants will help their political cause, or the utter ridiculousness that someone would kill them for putting Jane Austen on a banknote, and will instead picture the threat, however briefly. They will feel the fear. They will be a victim of terrorists.

I cannot fathom what kind of person imagines it is good, worthwhile or fun to threaten strangers online, any more than I can fathom one who sees the sense in strapping a bomb to one's own body and detonating it in a crowded marketplace in the name of a sincerely held belief. What I do understand is that in one way at least they are two of a kind - causers of terror, infringing on the rights of others. Your right to free speech does not supersede your responsibility to avoid harming other human beings intentionally, whether you harm them through direct actions or by the causing of terror. Perhaps the men who do not cringe at the idea of being thought women-haters might feel differently at the prospect of being called terrorists... though sadly the force of their bile - even after two real-life, not-on-the-internet, actual arrests (to date) - does make me wonder.

And how do we deal with terrorists? I suppose that's a question over which to agonise. But I've seen enough movies to know that we do not negotiate with terrorists. We do not succumb to their demands. We don't "ignore them" and "hope they'll go away". It is the duty of society to show them that their behaviour is unacceptable and wrong and that their terror does not have the desired effect of letting them win. We don't let terrorists win.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Congratulations - it's a Beautiful Bundle of Cultural Assumptions!

March was so action-packed and industrious a time that I had no opportunities to come here and rant about things that really matter, like why daffodils make me angry. I know - it's everyone's loss.

And yes, I had thought about a Thatcher-related rant, but honestly, I have very little to say that hasn't already been dredged up on Facebook. The whole thing has been ridiculous overall: often disappointing and frustrating, sometimes heartening. I have never much liked Russell Brand, for example, but reading his piece on Thatcher has made me start to re-evaluate him, at least as a writer and thinker of some ingenuity.

Anyway, I didn't come here to type about that. What I want to discuss this evening is perhaps less topical, but it's an issue lurking, nonetheless, waiting to jump out and smack you some day soon.

I'm at one of those ages, you see, where my dearest friends have begun to procreate. Personally I am not that interested in very small babies apart from the fact that holding them is pleasant because they are very warm and I chill easily. On the other hand, however, I am VERY interested in my dearest friends and have high hopes for the potential brilliance of their various offspring.

Despite my lack of first-hand parenthood experience, I understand that having a baby is Quite A Big Deal, and Life-Changing, and Stuff Like That. I understand that babies are a long-term investment, so to speak, and that the new arrival will be around for a long time. Their existence will be incorporated into my relationships with my dearest friends and their partners. I want to be able to mark the advent of the baby in the lives of my friends (and to a lesser extent me) in a meaningful way. I want to show respect for my friends' new "creation", and offer them my heartfelt congratulations. I want to show respect for the baby, as a miraculous new life, and as a person in their own right, and as a being that is naturally and nurture-ally a lot like my dearest friends and brings them joy.

And how do I do this? Dunno - how do most people mark such an occasion? Glad you asked.

FACT TIME: Babies come in two flavours, and luckily for the likes of me, card manufacturers the land over have got both options covered. You see, gender entirely determines everything about all humans that have ever existed, and it is important to begin reinforcing annoying gender stereotypes as soon as the baby can scream its first breath.

Yes, yes, I know: I'm a fool to approach a shop full of greeting cards expecting any kind of proper insight or even the most basic employment of decency and common sense over a tidy little sick-pile of emotionally-redundant mawkishness. I am well aware of the use of Hallmark as a byword for the grossest kind of impersonal bollocks masquerading as the feelings of a real person you've met before. But bloody hell - I perused two well-known chain stores, hoping for some kind of let-up from the relentless pink and blue, pink and blue, pink and blue... there was none. Honestly: I couldn't find a single card that I could send to my friends. I'm not even saying 'I couldn't find a card that astutely and wholeheartedly expressed my sentiments as an individual'; I literally mean 'I couldn't find a card that didn't make me actually shrink away from the card racks with horror and embarrassment'.

I'm not even certain why exactly this bothered me so much. It's not like I don't know about how lots of stuff is sexist. It definitely isn't news to me that our society finds the weirdest ways to reinforce gender as a divisive, conformist thing so that by the time we're at an age to question it, we've internalised so many bullshit cultural assumptions that half of us end up believing the 'That's the way it is in nature' arguments put forward by those who are less inclined to challenge it. It isn't as if I haven't seen the resulting problems of these kinds of assumptions going on every day, with widely varying degrees of subtlety, in the young people with whom I work.

But I dunno... there's something so sad about this. Not exactly about the fact that cards give something of a miracle such trite and tawdry treatment - although that's a bit pathetic too. No - I think it's partly the sheer lack of imagination, and partly the depressing way that it shows just how early we're marked off as being this or the other, and all the arrogant assumptions that go along with that. The new baby is not someone we know, admittedly, so we can't exactly acknowledge them as a snappy dresser/good cook/obsessive golfer or whatever - but then the card isn't really for him or her. It's for the parents. If I had carried a whole fucking person, albeit a tiny one, around for months, and fed it, and come to terms with the fact that it would be urinating inside me repeatedly, and thought of names for it and started a savings account for it and gone through hours of labour to deliver it safely into the world, I'd want it to be acknowledged as something more than simply a "potential footballer" or a "potential ballerina". The idea that something so amazing - and the arrival of a new life IS amazing, however underwhelmed one might be by an actual small baby's social skills or conversation - can be reduced to something so pat... yes. That bothers me. IT'S A BOY. IT'S A GIRL. THAT'S ALL.

Some might say it's all relatively harmless, and maybe in the whole huge grand scheme of things they're right, but in my gut I didn't feel that way when I was standing in those shops, and I don't feel that way now.

In the end, I found one card - ONE card - which was pale yellow and had a bunny on it and no references to genitals of either persuasion to be found. It was nothing extraordinary, but finding it felt like a relief. For my other friend and her new baby, a card with a Cary Grant quote about madness in families on the front - much more appropriate and appreciated, and something I could buy without hiding my face at the till, leaving other people to purchase the remainder (willingly or not).

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Outragings and Offenditures

I have to admit that as one who enjoys being a tad self-righteous, there are some aspects of modern life I find perplexing - that is to say, I don't yet have a hard and fast stance for myself on them. I oscillate back and forth between views - a well structured argument can change my mind on it; I find new information; I read something and find myself not sure whether or not I agree. There are a few of these, and I'm sure I'll discuss them in later rants. But there's one in particular I want to talk about now: comedy.

I have a pretty severely disabled sister. Generally speaking, she is like most other sisters on earth: a pain in the ass who is loved very very much and for whom I would do anything. My sister knows who I am, and can call me by name, and fully understands that I can change her DVDs when they end and make her bowls of Rice Krispies on request. She does not know what electrocution is, or how to call for help if needed, nor does she understand the intricacies of household objects that could set her alight or crush her to death. She would be guileless in the grip of a kidnapper, and helpless without her seizure medication. She has no sense of danger, and her grasp of right and wrong is about level with that of a very young toddler or a labrador puppy. She is vulnerable.

Between us, my family has protected her physically, mentally and legally all her life. We have guarded her against anyone who might abuse her or upset her or give her too much chocolate. We have also made legions of jokes at her expense, from the series of photos when she was a baby in which she is placed in numerous household applicances (washing machine, oven, microwave etc) to the tear-inducingly funny impressions we have done of her more 'ticcy' behaviours for each others' amusement. "You're terrible," my mother will gasp through a face that hurts from laughing, and she's right. It is terrible, and to us it's also hilarious, and much needed. You know that old cliché about 'having to laugh' in a trying situation? People who care for disabled children 24/7 can really do with a laugh sometimes.

These jolly japes sprang to mind a while back when my father, who does seem to be getting a bit more right-wing as he gets older, renounced the dry comedy stylings of Frankie Boyle because he made jokes about people with Down's Syndrome. I tried to point out that it was a bit rich that he felt it was fine for various people to joke ceaselessly (and often in ways which are boringly derivative, by the by) about mothers-in-law, immigrants, women and so on, yet disabled kids were off limits because he had one himself. He said it was because disabled kids can't stick up for themselves; I argued that all kinds of other targets of jokes were similarly unable to retort in any meaningful way and added that the kids couldn't care less, and he retorted with something else and so it went on.

I admit I mostly took the opposing council in that instance because I love a good old debate and playing devil's advocate against my father is... well, it's just a ton of fun for me, because I'm warped like that. Because I am still a little conflicted about the idea of respecting there are some topics that are off limits clashing with the idea of anything being fair game. Which is it? Are we duty bound to censor things that may be hurtful, or do we just get over ourselves and admit that everything is ripe for comedy?

I do genuinely find it a conundrum at times. Some days I think of the likes of Sean Lock or Steve Hughes, talking about the nature of 'being offended', and think how stupid it all is, how people are too sensitive, how you do indeed 'have to laugh' at some pretty rotten situations. I think about how hard it is to legislate for what is or isn't funny, and what is or isn't offensive. Who decides? For fairness' sake, I'd imagine it has to be either everyone or no one, and if it was the former, we'd probably have no comedy at all. I think about controversial things I really love - all the works of fellow (much better) ranters like Charlie Brooker or Bill Hicks; South Park and other brainchildren of Trey Parker and Matt Stone; everything Chris Morris ever did, said or thought. Yes, I think to myself. That has to be the answer.

Then I read something like this article here. I remember what I know about implicit acceptance of lazy assumptions, and how humour can be used to hurt and debase people as well as expose and ridicule stupidity. I recall I live in a society where widely circulated mainstream newspapers frequently equate sex with violence towards women in all kinds of fun and interesting ways that make the world just a little more vile for everyone. I remind myself of the importance of empathy, and think about how funny an 'edgy' joke might be to someone who has actually been forcibly pushed over that edge, for example. And so on it goes, round in circles. Which means that I usually have at least partially mixed thoughts about items of offence and outrage brought to my attention by others.

That fact probably makes the subjects of this article all the more special. Because when I saw the piece online today, I didn't have to 'hmm' and 'haw' about decency vs censorship or anything like that. I didn't have to wonder how I felt or whose rights were affected. All I really had to do was think "Wow... exactly what kind of guy would want to go round wearing a t-shirt that said 'KEEP CALM AND RAPE A LOT'? And exactly what kind of person would want to be seen with that guy?"

We could probably tease out a lot of different answers to those questions, but they'd all have one thing in common - none of them would be people with whom I want to share a world.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Gove in U-turn Shocker!

No... really... I'm SO SURPRISED.

Except it would be very, very foolish of us to get complacent now. We haven't won a thing, and he's still there, hatching schemes to 'improve' education.

I was discussing him with a colleague earlier, and she mentioned how she'd recently seen either David Mitchell or Charlie Brooker observe that, while most people with a post of responsibility usually had some kind of expertise or at least experience in that area, Gove's only qualification for running Education seems to be that he 'once went to school'.

It sort of reminded me of something my dad once told me. He said that back in the days when he'd be involved in interviewing people for posts at his work, he always veered towards those who were clever but lazy. That way, he said, you ended up with people who knew what needed doing, were capable of doing it AND would find the easiest, most hassle-free way of getting it done.

I don't think Gove is either clever or lazy in particularly notable measures, but he IS ambitious, and he also seems ill-informed and increasingly desperate to prove himself. He reminds me of someone holding a massive knife out with both hands while whirling in a circle and screaming - he may not know what he's aiming for, but he'll hit something sooner or later.

And fuck it up royally, no doubt. Sit tight, teachers - the hard part definitely isn't over yet.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Fame-us, People

Recently, a colleague sent me a link to this article, partly because I'm his semi-boss-lady and have to keep tabs on his every working moment (or, like, three of his working moments per fortnight), and partly because he knew I'd be interested anyway. And who wouldn't? The internet is mind-blowing. Twenty years ago (yes, I'm old enough to remember back that far) we had four TV channels which didn't even broadcast on 24 hours a day, and if you were a lucky little sod like me your dad had a computer and might let you play Space Invaders or Commander Keen or something on it when he wasn't 'busy' (playing Space Invaders or Commander Keen or, in the case of my dad, flight simulation bomb-a-thon Retaliator).

Nowadays... well you know. It's a big mess of Twitter feeds and abandoned Myspaces and cyberbullying and pirated music downloads and free amateur porn videos streaming live to your phone. And EVERYBODY has it. It's awesome and terrifying and excellent and wrong, all at the same time.

And while I can find many many worthy rant-targets online, I will save them for later because the one I want to talk about is fame, and our access to those we deem 'famous'.

I have four main heroes/role models in my life. One is Batman, who isn't real and so doesn't count for the purposes of this discussion. Out of the remaining three, I have been lucky enough to be 'connected' to two of them via the wonder of the internet. One was the (unsolicited!) retweet of an article I wrote by a man whose work I so admire that it is truly an honour to have been noticed by him in any capacity. The other instance was when I sent a Facebook private message to a person I respect with such fervour that I refer to him mainly in passing conversations as 'The Nearest Thing I Have To A God'.

I didn't want to message him - not at all. A friend and I were embarking on a half-assed mission to internettishly bother a bunch of people about the UK release date of this thing we like, and since he was a primary producer of this thing, the friend suggested I message him. I was all abashed and unsure and I can't remember what eventually made me do it, but I did - and as I fully expected and accepted, he gave no response.

For about ten days, that is. Then I logged into Facebook and there it was - a message from the number one living human-Earthperson I admire.

I won't go into masses of details, but I replied in a jokey 'Well thanks!' kind of way and made a flip comment in my sign-off. To which he replied. And I wrote back again. And so did he. Eventually, not wanting to endure the indignity of him getting bored of and no longer replying to an admiring stranger who was desperately trying not to say anything too fawning, I wrote him a little 'Anyway, thanks for this and I'll let you get back to your work' type thing and he took the out. No resentment here - the man has better things to do than converse with random strangers, and he had been very generous in his time and answers.

Overall, really, the experience was a weird one. A part of me feels really grateful to have been allowed a little time with him (and grateful to the friend who suggested it). A part of me feels weird about it in a near-but-far kind of way that has trouble reconciling the artist and the guy I chatted to. And a part of me feels dissatisfied - not because we aren't still corresponding like the bestest of buddies, but because I'm frustrated with myself for contacting him as A Fan Of His Work. I have this ego, you see - when I admire a person, I feel like I want to meet them on equal ground, or at least something halfway approaching it in the far far distance (like that out-of-the-blue, amazing unsolicited retweet by Other Hero). Not to be A Famous Person As Well, exactly... but to have done something that means I can hold my head up knowing they know I am not just some person there to tell them how great they are.

Because really, what does one say to a 'famous' person?

There are different levels of fame, of course - one person's David Beckham is another person's local weatherman. I have met well-known people about whom I couldn't care less and struggled to say anything at all - not star struck, just struggling to find the balance between beaming 'I loved you in _____!' and standard civility. I have stood drunk in a club and either bored or terrified (maybe both - it was hard to accurately tell from his expression) a well-respected rock musician in my earnest attempt to have a meaningful, pleasant conversation with him. I once served Nick Cave (whose music I really admire) in a shop and accidentally mortified him by good-naturedly mocking something he did in the friendly way I would have treated any other customer. In contrast, I once found myself standing next to a (then) well-known British sitcom actor at a party, brightly told him who he was and then grasped in aching silence for something I could truthfully say I'd liked him in, eventually naming perhaps the tiniest guest-role he had ever played. The way he fake-smiled in acknowledgement and immediately turned away told me he was equally underwhelmed by me.

I embarrassed Nick Cave unintentionally, because I like him and wanted to treat him like anyone else. I underwhelmed the sitcom actor by trying to be pleasant without lying. Someone's fame, or perceived fame, changes their relationship with everyone they meet. It makes it difficult to be friendly and nice and normal. It makes it impossible to accurately, politely and non-scarily express admiration, or lack thereof.

This weirdness is distorted still further by the internet. Instead of meeting someone once, at a signing, and saying standard platitudes or maybe something kooky you worked on for a while to be remembered, you now have a chance to insinuate yourself over time. Private messages - hell, even public messages. Links and things. This thing you wrote. This picture you drew. Some of it will get through, might get a response. Some of it won't. Some of it will be dignified. Some of it will come across as maybe worth calling the police about. It's hard - or at least I find it hard - to equate this array of pally singsonging with any attempt to meaningfully connect with your chosen godlike genius. And still, after all of this, they are not your Friend. They are not your colleague. They do not know you. They probably do not want to know you, no matter how sure you are that the two of you would go together like a horse and cabbage.

I remember that, during the period of time I spent being both a young child and a fan of Inspector Clouseau, my father mentioned he had once seen Peter Sellers in the street. Please understand I grew up in Northern Ireland and we don't really have famous people there (not ones who stick around anyway), so this achievement was even more impressive to me.

"Wow!" I marvelled breathlessly. "What did you say to him?"
"Nothing," shrugged my dad, nonplussed.
I was astonished. "WHAT?! Why?!"
"Because he was just walking down the street being normal, and I didn't want to bother him."

At the time I had no conception of how a person could feel this way on seeing a great, funny, interesting famous person - a person who had been on TV! And in films! And stuff! These days I understand it very well, and on the very rare occasions I find myself able to interact with people whose work I am keen on, now I tend to just slink off without bothering. It's too weird.

Should you never meet your heroes? I dunno - I have no real experience to suggest an answer. I do know that I wouldn't want to meet mine without having something to show for myself above and beyond telling them they're great or trying to prove I'm their biggest fan. I do know that while I enjoyed our messages and I follow his posts, I did not add The Nearest Thing I Have To A God as my Facebook friend, because he isn't my friend and he does not know me. I do know that when I see some of the things other people post on his page, I feel both a little smug-superior and quite frustrated on his behalf, even though I have neither the right nor the status to feel either.

Maybe in a world which contains such wonderments as reality TV 'stars', 'cool' politicans and Jedward, admiring from afar is best.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Stricken not Struck

You may be aware of my views on striking. I am a big believer in people trying their best to do their jobs as well as they can, and I'm a big believer in management protecting and guiding their employees to do their jobs as well as they can. When management falls short of the mark, you cannot solve it by having the people under them work harder; the guys on top have to do their share. If management will not do its share, and will not amend or improve things, then lower level employees have a duty to remind management that they have a job to do, and this may well involve striking.

I have said before that I don't believe striking is lazy or antagonistic - in a unionised workforce there are checks and balances in place to make sure people can't just storm off to the pub at the drop of a hat. Does it inconvenience society? Yes, and it should - it's a reminder that these people are doing jobs that matter and without them doing these jobs, our immediate world would not be a better place. Does it affect productivity? Yes - but not as much as poor management, low morale or a high turnover of staff who cannot stomach inadequate working conditions.

I could well be wrong, but I do believe that our current government has an agenda to attack the teaching profession, of which I am a member. Why? There are many possible reasons, depending on the level of your cynicism and whether or not you are given to belief in conspiracy theories. Judging by the way they similarly go after the NHS, my own best guess is that they want to dismantle and privatise as much of the education system as possible - in short, they're after ways to make money, which would seem a depressingly common ailment in those who wield power.

Striking is tricky as a teacher. You don't want to f**k over the kids, especially those who are taking important exams. You don't want to cause bad feeling among parents by leaving them at a loose end for childcare. You don't want to disrupt the work ethic you try so hard to instil in every class you take. And there's also the fact that, no matter how much we attempt to justify ourselves, people vilify us, waving our 'long holidays' and 'short hours' in our faces. I won't lie - it can be pretty depressing to have such accusations waved at you when you know you have done your damnedest to secure some kind of progress, some kind of success, some kind of future for the children of the people who actively criticse your efforts.

And yet, I can't help but feel sometimes: what kind of teacher am I if I don't show children what it means to have a backbone, to work hard and demand respect for it, and to try to take an active role in political decisions that affect you in a very real way?

I mention all this because today the National Union of Teachers sent back the results of the executive vote on strike action - 20 for, 22 against. There was ambiguity in the vote however - confusion over favoured dates for possible strike action seems to have muddled the results as sent back to us and there is talk of it possibly being recast. The thing I find hard to stomach is the almost literal divide this shows in an institution that is supposed to foster unity.

No one in the union (nor probably in the whole teaching profession) denies things have got worse and seem to be set to get worse still with Gove in charge, and yet it seems many of us are paralysed when it comes to taking action. Are they scared of failing the kids? Of losing a day's pay? Of incurring the wrath of the Daily Mail? I understand the trepidation... but when they vote to not strike, they aren't just saying they can stomach what's happening - they're saying we all can. That we all should put up and shut up. That striking is pointless and we are helpless and we might as well send Gove a card saying 'Please be nice to us' and see what happens.

I'm not afraid of hard work. I'm not afraid of people not agreeing with me. But if we don't stand up for ourselves and demand respect I think we generally deserve, I am afraid we're all done for.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Posi-rant #1: Why Who Framed Roger Rabbit is the Best Film Ever

Some days, I grow weary. Being Right All The Time is a heavy burden for one girl to carry, and some days my ire just fizzles out before I can get to a keyboard and turn it into Rantingness. And so this got me thinking: do rants have to always be negative? Must I spend all my lifeforce in criticism only? Am I doomed to damn others and never be delighted by them?

I say no, and it's my blog, so there.

Therefore, without further ado, welcome to my first ever 'Posi-Rant'™:


(* No, this is not a grammatical error - the film title, though technically a question, contains no question mark as this is considered unlucky in Hollywood...)

1. It has a throroughly awesome setting - film noir era Hollywood mixed with Golden Age animation. Look at the outfits! Look at the characters! Look at Bob Hoskins swilling whiskey at his desk and passing out like a Raymond Chandler reject! Fans of femmes fatales and Philip-Marlowe-style investigators can eat their hearts out, and anyone else (though seriously, who doesn't like film noir? Is it you? What the hell? You are SO missing out...) can revel in seeing their favourite cartoon characters tripping through the age of ACME. Truly there can be no finer era in which to park any set of shenanigans!

2. Let's not forget this film was absolutely groundbreaking at the time - and still looks brilliant even now, nearly twenty five years later. I remember seeing it as a kid and being amazed - it was literally like you were watching some kind of amazing, impossible magic. Animation and live action had been combined before, and really well too (go look at Gene Kelly dancing with Jerry Mouse in 'Anchors Aweigh' from 1944... or with Stewie Griffin from Family Guy if that's more your bag), but this was something else. Combinations of puppetry and motion controlled machines meant they could interact with props in a very organic way, and with some great character design, painstakingly careful animation and a brilliant standard of acting from the humans of the cast, this film looked - and still looks - not flawless, but deeply believable and engaging.

3. Okay, okay, we might as well get it out of the way:

Yes - it's Jessica Rabbit. The woman none of us will ever live up to.

Now, if you were shallow of soul and mean of spirit, you might be tempted to hate Jessica Rabbit. You might be jealous of her frankly terrifying proportions and her sultry singing voice, or you might despise her as a fantasy construct whose overtly sexual nature and clear objectification are Not Good For Feminism.

But look a little further. Jessica Rabbit has depth. She married her husband not for looks or money or, like, being the same species as her, but because he makes her laugh. She knows what's truly important in a partner. She's no fool either - she's aware of the plot before Valiant is, and takes her own steps to protect Roger and help solve the case. She earns her own money and she looks damn good doing it. So good, in fact, that the information superhighway is littered with her image redone in fan art and fancy dress forms. Some woman even spent several thousand dollars in plastic surgery to look like her. See?

So that was money well spent.

Don't hate on Jess R. Remember, as she so memorably put it - she's not bad, she's just drawn that way.

4. And while we're on the subject of Jessica Rabbit, let us not forget Kathleen Turner, who is awesome and provided Mrs Rabbit's huskily-timbred voice uncredited.

5. But Mrs Rabbit was not my favourite of the film's 'Toons' as a child. Nor indeed was her titular husband, who was sympathetic but even to a kid, kind of annoying. No - in my heart it was a toss-up between two others, and though he didn't come first, Baby Herman was definitely my second favourite. Why? Um, duh - he is a baby with the gravelly voice of a chain-smoking gangster. The animation producer loved Baby Herman so much he insisted on animating all his scenes himself. Baby H chomps cigars and bets on horses. He throws tantrums, not because he's a baby, but because he's a goddamn bona fide star. Look at his acting performance in the first few minutes - he has the strength and grace of a prima ballerina as he does his little death trip round that kitchen. No wonder he gets frustrated with Roger's mistakes - Baby Herman is a consummate professional. Who sometimes looks up ladies' skirts.

6. And who, you might ask, could supplant the awesome Baby Herman from the number one spot in my heart? Why, it's this guy:
That's right - Benny the Cab. His thick Brooklyn accent and penchant for slapstick are obviously two things he has in common with Baby Herman, but he's so much more than that. Under his rough edges, Benny's a thoroughly decent rogue of a chap and a handy accomplice who plays a major part in saving Roger and Eddie on more than one occasion. He's wily enough to play crashed (that's playing dead for cars, see) when the others are in danger so he can follow them safely, fast enough to get them away from the Weasel gang and loyal enough to come back when his help is needed.

Want to know what clinches it? When he enters the warehouse at the end, stepping daintily on tip-toe tyres over the poison pools on the floor, he is obviously shocked by the carnage - his non-sweary exclamation is one of my favourite lines in the whole movie.

7. And is this simply a light-hearted children's film? No indeed - it manages to include a critique of evil industry by basing itself around true events: the corrupt political and business interests who conspired to undermine the LA public transport system in the 40s and profiteer from the new freeway and its associated infrastructure like gas stations and garages. That's a history lesson and some social commentary as well as all the entertainment you can eat. You won't find a gritty Chinatown-style corruption underpinning the plot of friggin' Space Jam.

8. You may not notice initially, but you're seeing something unique when you watch Who Framed Roger Rabbit - a coming-together of characters 'owned' by no less than seven different studios. With rights to likenesses so closely guarded, this just does not usually happen... but this time, it did. Main rivals Disney and Warner had some wrangles - their mainstays (respectively Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, and Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck) had to share equal screentime together, for example - and rights to some of the characters wanted for the film (such as Tom and Jerry or Popeye) couldn't be obtained in time. Nevertheless, it really is essentially a great cross-section - and celebration - of known and loved animated characters, all together for the first time on screen. A stupendous homage to the Golden Age of animation.

9. And since Who Framed Roger Rabbit involves the very greatest Greats of animation, let us not forget the behind-the-scenes Greats who actually voiced them for the picture. All the big names are there, including ones you might actually have heard of: Mel Blanc, Lou Hirsch, Nancy 'Voice of Bart Simpson' Cartwright. My favourite, though, is April Winchell (and not just because she does the cuter half of the voice of Baby Herman). That's her in the picture. Just look at her... isn't she awesome? If the picture doesn't convince you, go to her absolutely genius site Regretsy and then try to tell me you wouldn't like to go for a night of ruinous drinking with that woman.

10. Like all great movies for kids (think of The Simpsons, or anything by Pixar), it has something for the adults too. Different levels of humour abound, from the international, intergenerational appeal of Someone Falling Down (in the biz they call it slapstick), to more risqué moments like Jessica Rabbit's 'booby trap' or Eddie Valiant's failure to find a rhyme for 'luck' in his song-and-dance routine - which reminds me...

11. Eddie Valiant's song-and-dance routine is fabulous. He can fairly move for a fat alcoholic - looks like his childhood in the circus definitely paid off.

12. Also awesome? Various expressions on his face throughout, such as this:
The best one, however, is one of which I sadly couldn't find a screen cap. Just take a look at his reaction when he first drives into Toon Town and they all start singing about smiling or whatever. It's brilliant.

13. And from the sublime to the ridiculous to the genuinely terrifying. Do you remember the scene... where the shoe got DIPPED?

I can honestly say it was one of the most horrifying things I had ever seen in a kids' film, and it's still hard to watch. A quick googleskim reveals numerous internet forums recounting tales of childhood trauma related to that scene. I mean, shit - even Bambi's mother gets shot off screen. This was right in your face! Squeaking like a helpless puppy, writhing in Judge Doom's unyielding glove, that blameless, unfortunate little shoe got DISSOLVED RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE. It is a scene of torture the likes of which the Saw franchise can only dream. It is a level of horror to which John Carpenter and Dario Argento have never come close. It is gruesomely harrowing - and right there in the middle of a film for seven year olds! That, in my opinion, RULES.

14. And surely the villain who unflinchingly perpetrates this act of violence must be one of the premier villains in all cinematic history. Corrupt figure of authority? Check. Murderous and mental? Check. Agenda of evil masquerading as justice? Check. Gang of thugs? Almost indestructible? CHAINSAW ARM HE WILL USE TO TRY AND KILL YOU??!! Yes, all of these. He combines two of the ultimate antagonists of the silver screen: the absolute batshit-red-eyed-screaming-psychopath and the chillingly clinical Nazi doctor. If that doesn't scare the shit out of you, you may need to visit a proctologist.

15. But don't be too scraed by old Doom - he does meet his end eventually, and you know a film is good when the demise of the villain contains a Wizard of Oz 'I'm meellllllllting!' tribute.

16. The DUCK-OFF. Otherwise known as this scene:

I mean, quite apart from the fact that they're ducks playing Liszt live in a nightspot, you'd go to that club anyway just to see how many pianos they got through each night.
I would also like it noted that Daffy is clearly the superior pianist and Donald is a jealous bitch who literally plays the piano with his arse. #totallynotbiasedagainstdisney

One more thing: guess what? It's been in the works for aaaaaaaaages with varying degrees of likelihood in the intervening years... but there's a sequel in the works. Excited? I might be...