Monday, February 24, 2003

So Matthew Kelly wasn't a WITCH after all then. Who'd've guessed it? I wonder if the tabloids will print retractions? Of course, this means that the celebrity witch hat is now vacant again... The witch-smellers will be out again with their dunking stools.
James talks about things that have passed you by, and things that you discover before everyone else. Here are some things that have passed me by - or I discovered when it was no long fashionable to like them: Buffy, drugs, all pop music from the 1980s, text messaging, ICQ, 24, The West Wing, The Sopranos, Oz, all clothing trends, tattoos, all music produced after 1995, Judith Butler's theory of performativity, goatee beards, shaved eyebrows and the Gulf War.

Ultimately, I don't think I missed out on too much. Did I?

Saturday, February 22, 2003

A trip to Blackpool today. Finally, the waxworks museum was open, so I eagerly paid my money and was greeted with the following exhibits:


Princess Margaret!

Bill Clinton!

Linda Evans!

The Queen!

Ricky Martin!!!

My favourite sign all day was this one, attached to a hotel:

Friday, February 21, 2003

My fussy, curtain-twitching Friday local newspaper arrived again today - screaming the front page headline "BRUTAL MURDER: WAS IT A HOMOSEXUAL KILLING?" The paper conjectures that a 21 year old soldier killed a 49 year old "bachelor" because the older man had possibly made "homosexual advances" towards him. How can a murder be homosexual? I could see how it could be sexually motivated, but a murder just isn't homosexual (a word which only people still living in the 1950s still use anyway.) If a black man had been involved in the murder, would the headline have been "WAS IT A BLACK KILLING?"

My favourite line in the article was "The murder was the talk of Carnforth this week." And I bet it was the most exciting thing that has ever happened there.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

I am increasingly obsessed with the very silly Footballers Wives, which features an alternative tabloid Britain where the sun always shines, and everyone has shiny hair and lives in Mock Tudor mansions. Fortunately, the programmes has almost no football in it at all - the most we get to see are the nude backsides of the footballers coming out of the showers. The show feeds off our Posh and Becks addiction - the two main characters are almost exactly the same as them. But it's Tanya, the hard-as-nails bitch who has me coming back for more. Perpetually involved in some scrape or wheeze, she manages to get all her own way, even if it means she has to put on the occasional wig to get out of community service, or she has to lock her latest toy-boy in the sauna so her husband won't find him. She's a marvel.

There's also a deliciously repressed homoerotic side to Footballers Wives, as the above locker-room picture shows. These two characters can't keep their hands off each other - last night's episode resulted in a bizarre public pants-pulling down and bottom smacking session. All that, and an intersexed baby. It's a queer theory dissertation waiting to happen.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

It's unpopular to say it, but I am against the Stop the War Protest - or at least the hardline - no war under any circumstances stance. Mr Hussein is just like a playground bully - he's shown that in the past the only thing he understands is the threat of violence. I don't like Mr Bush either - he's a puppet, controlled by the interests of big business, and not bothered about the poor or the environment - but between the two, I have to side with him. I've yet to see the Stop the War people suggest a valid alternative. No, it's all a stupid mess and I wish Charlies Angels or James Bond were real so they could swoop in and sort it all out in 90 minutes of action-packed adventure.

Worse still - and most shameful to admit of all. I find it all too easy to sneer at the lifestyle, fashion sense and general mindset of the hardline Stop the War campaigners. The news has been full of "The Big Red Bus" - a bus full of people who have gone to Iraq to become "human shields" (except most of them haven't, and there were originally three buses but one of them broke down and had to be abandoned in Milan, I don't know what happened to the third one). The people that live on the Big Red Bus, all have that dazed, crazed look that I associate with people who've been brainwashed and are now handing out leaflets on the street about Reverend Moon. And how did I know that one of them would be wearing ugly, striped, multicoloured clothing? Mr Hussein has welcomed them with open arms.

And that march in London ruined £150,000 worth of Hyde Park. Those poor plants didn't have any say in the matter. The soil is all packed solid now so no oxygen will be able to get in there. Why couldn't the marchers have kept off the grass? Don't they care?

This whole thing has been reduced to stupid simplistics - either you are "for" the war, or you are "against" it. Why do people have to choose? Is there no place left for ambiguity? It's like the world turned into a black and white western film while I wasn't looking.

Can anyone really say with complete certainty that they know ALL the facts about this? I certainly don't - and I read the papers and watch the news. I don't know enough, and I certainly don't have the conviction to say I'm for OR against war. I don't know. And I'm not ashamed to admit that. So under these circumstances, I will go along, maybe reluctantly with Tony Blair - who is more likely to be in possession of more of the facts than I am.

Monday, February 17, 2003

Today I was thinking about hairstyles and how they relate to changing society. In the 1940s, hair was restricted and sensible. People had the war to think about, and hair was crushed down under a hat so it needed to be flat. In the 1950s, with the invention of the teenager, hair bounced up in a pompadour in the first of many rebellions. By the 1960s, hair had gone wild- refusing to cut it was a sign of political protest, playing with gender and rejecting the values of the old guard. The 1970s saw an uneasy compromise between conformity and rebellion - hair was still long, but it was shiny, rather than being unkempt. And in the greedy 1980s, hair signified power. It was big, bold and held in place with gel. In the 1990s, with postmodernism making an impact anything went - having it all off, or mixing and matching old and retro styles was the norm. And in the 21st century we have the futuristic fin, or that teased forward "messed up" look - a hairstyle that shrieks the appearance of informality, but in fact, takes a very long time to create.

Word of the day - pram face.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

A weekend to my parent's - mother's 50th birthday which she cheerfully ignored. Going home always makes me go all Peggy Sue Got Married - everything's so dredged in nostalgia that I've got goosebumps by the time I've hung my coat up in the cupboard. Their oven was broken so we went to a nearby fish and chip restaurant for our evening meal - and I realised what a crashing middle-class snob I had become. As Coronation Street blasted out from the room next door, we were ushered into what looked like someone's front room - with the big light on, and an over-friendly old man with thick glasses tried to get me to have the fish (vegetarianism hasn't happened yet in the Blackhall). My parents always forgo the starter - in favour of a huge dessert. This was where the Queen had stopped off for fish and chips during her tour of the northeast in 2001. I wonder if she also had a huge second helping of free chips shovelled onto her plate and was forced to eat the house speciality - banana split. Still, it was very nice.

I spent the rest of the evening reading through my parent's encyclopaedias - one of the many things they bought thinking it would help my education. I guess it did in a way, but it's only now that I realise that they encyclopaedias they'd bought were from an American company. I looked up the entry for "England". It said "The English like to wear warm clothes made of tweed and if they can, they take a break at 4.00 pm to have a cup of tea which is their tea time."

My parents had fished out a couple of old boxes from the loft - every time I visit they do this - a gentle way of getting me to remove all my old crap from their home. I looked through old video tapes - what was I watching in the mid-late 1980s? Five Go Mad in Dorest, Moonlighting the Christmas Special, Channel 4's very worthy programme for homosexuals called Summer's Out, which was before the commercialisation of the gay scene and when gay intellectuals still had some say - it was all opera, history and hand-wringing. Lots of episodes of Prisoner Cell Block H, and that gay drama called The Two of Us - the one that caused conservatives to choke on Daily Mails because it had teenagers kissing in it - as a result the programme was shown at about 1 in the morning, with the happy ending cut from it, lest children watch it and get sucked in by the propaganda. Ah the 1980s - you're gone, and a few pop songs aside, I don't miss you one bit.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

I am shocked by Sky One's showing of Jeremiah (sp?) This "after the plague" series has Luke Perry roaming a lawless America, in search of... what? I saw an episode where he teamed up with fellow BH90210 alumni Jason Priestly. Priestly's character believed he was god and had created his own military state (someone should have put it down to the little-man complex but they didn't). It all ended happily, after several innocent people had been killed. But the content of the show was a million miles away from Beverly Hills 90210. The "f" word - which admittedly now has about as much power as "gosh!" did in 1980, was used in almost every sentence. And in one scene, Jason Priestly rather (too) enthusiastically had sex with his girlfriend... from behind! That's an image that's going to stay in my head for rather longer than it should.

Because I've always had a bit of a soft spot for Mr Priestly and Mr Perry. That Beverly Hills show was on just as I was sexually maturing - so I think I imprinted on them - like a chicken does when it hatches and decides that the first thing it sees is its mother. I sported those trademark long sideburns for various parts of the 1990s, and teased my hair up into that big quiff that the boys used to wear it in. I even went to see Luke Perry in the god-awful Buffy the vampire slayer film - which innoculated me against the future tv series forever. And I was so happy when Jason appeared in the slightly homoerotic Love and Death in Long Island - I'm all for big stars taking chances, taking potentially unpopular roles and more interesting storylines. Now if the next time Perry and Priestly team up, they could be playing a couple of gay hairdressers, trapped in a loveless relationship, I'd be very happy.

word of the day - queefing. I'll let you find out for yourself.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

After my tea-towel confession (see below), Dan sent me this:

Tina! Bring me the axe!

On another topic, I'm addicted to The Sims all over again. This profoundly annoying, stupid, pointless game is taking up time when I should be writing academic papers. The new Playstation 2 version of the game is even MORE anodyne than the PC version. Now it's all about parties, social skills and having nice hair. I created a home full of black drag queens but it all went wrong and their baby ended up being taken away by the social services. I like listening to them chattering away in that generic language - especially when one of them says "Fangita!" Damn the Sims. Damn Playstation 2.

Drove 50 miles to Manchester to see Rosemary's Baby last night. I love everything about that film - the surreal dream sequences, Mia Farrow singing the spooky theme tune, Ruth Gordon's hideous satanist dress sense, Charles Grodin as Dr Hill, The Only Person She Can Trust, the whole working out angrams with scrabble pieces scene, and the bizarre ending. It's also set in the 1960s in New York, which is where I'd like to relocate to - if I had a time machine. The cinema were showing it for one night only, from a really ancient print. As a result there were bits missing and the picture jerked around all the time. The odd thing was that even though looking at the screen was causing motion sickness, nobody else was bothered enough to get up and complain. So I did. Lots of times. Eventually they gave me a refund. It's times like that when I really wish that I did live in America. All the Americans I know are very good at complaining. They would have formed an angry mob and over-run the cinema. Instead, the mousey British audience just sat there and hoped the problem would resolve itself.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

When I was very young I used to listen to my mother having conversations with the other women in the street. My mother was always a bit more aloof than the other women, with her clever children, short-hand and typing qualifications and husband in a full-time job. So she didn't talk to them often, although when she did, she'd get the equivalent of six months of gossip all in one go. These were always wonderful conversations to listen in on. I remember one woman, Gretchen, telling my mother about her latest nervous breakdown. "I'm so depressed," she was saying. (This was the early 1980s when psychiatry hadn't really made a big impact on the northeast of England). "In my current state, if I even drop a teatowel on the floor by accident, it could make me have a nervous breakdown." This was all terribly exciting to me, and even now, when I'm feeling fragile, I eye the tea towel carefully, wondering whether or not I should just hurl it to the ground and get it over with.

Speaking of working-class women, a news story in my local newspaper caught my eye last week and I've been obsessing over it ever since. My local newspaper is just awful. Local newspapers on the whole ARE awful, but this one is the King of fussy, nosy neighbour, tittle-tattle, interfering, reactionary, small-town, small-mindedness schadenfraude. Almost every front page has the word "paedophile" on it. Anyway, last week's front pager told the sorry story of two women from the roughest part of my town (names and addresses were printed). These two women had had a bingo win, but (horrors) had gone on to claim benefits of £1,663.50 afterwards. Clearly, some jealous bitch had alerted the council, and there'd been an investigation. The article described in gloating detail all of the things that they'd bought with their bingo winnings and gave several nuggets of information revealing what their lives had been like before and after the win. I'm going to recite it all word for word because I can't get it out of my head:

"Throughout her life she had scrimped and saved, shopping at Aldi and Kwiksave with a calculator to make sure she had enough money to pay for food. She had a 'substinence level' existence until the win, which she split £28,000 each, as a result of a long-standing agreement they had... But within a few months it went - much of it on paying off debts, gifts to friends and family, clothes for her children and herself, decorating, a TV and DVD, a second hand washer, a freezer, burglar alarm and holidays. Bingo continued after the win however, seven nights a week, with £100 spend nightly on one-armed bandits... The rest was just frittered away. The £28,000 had gone by August last year. She is now in debt to loan companies. She is in the same position she was in January last year before the win. Diabetic and asthmatic, she had listened to bad advice that she need not declare the winnings. The only good thing to have come from it all was that she was now reconciled with her husband after one of the holidays." (I wonder how long he'll stay around?)

Bingo.... scrimped and saved....Aldi...Kwiksave... debts... second hand armed bandits... frittered away... loan companies.... diabetic and asthmatic.... reconciled with husband... I could literally cry when I read that story.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

I am addicted to my new PlayStation 2. Who would have thought that a game called Vice City, where you have to kill people, steal cars and do drug deals could be so beautiful? While the rest of the UK shivers with temperatures in the negative, and gets dark at 5:30pm, I can just block it all out, by driving a sports car along Washington Beach, with an ironic 1980s soundtrack playing loud on the stereo, watching the sun glint off the windows of the skyscrapers and planning my next date with the slutty Mercedes. I'd forgotten how good 1980s music was. I've always complained that I grew up in the worst decade ever, but the Vice City soundtrack is making me rethink that. Or maybe music has actually got worse since then. I wouldn't want to be a teenager now. It's either gangsta rap or reality show pop, binge drinking alcopops or making a bong out of a coke can, and worst of all, games like Vice City are only really affordable if you're an adult with a disposable income.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

"I feel as if someone who's been here has SUFFERED, deep depression. John John John. JOHN! I've got someone called John here. He's trying to agitate me. I can feel a calm customer in John. On this level here, without a doubt, the name John comes in."

Without warning, the perfectly respectable UK Living channel has gone all TRASHY behind my back. It used to be the channel of choice for gay men and their Debbies, but lately something weird's been going on over there. Check out tonight's line-up Crossing Over, Most Haunted, Ghost Stories...Where are those anodyne camp staples: Will & Grace and The Golden Girls? That's what I'd like to know? Instead, UK Living has become obsessed with ghosts and the mediums who love them. And what compelling yet unsettling programmes they are. Most Haunted is my favourite. Hosted by Yvette Fielding, and containing a camp parapsychologist, the "team" investigate paranormal phenonenon, often taking along a Scouse medium called Derek who often goes into a trance, wobbling around, sagging against walls and muttering to himself. Yvette's one of those tv people who I've been following since I was little. She first appeared as the teenage older sister in a children's comedy/drama called SeaView that was set in my favourite tacky place ever (Blackpool). Later, she became a Blue Peter presenter, but it's now, relegated to digital tv that she's coming into her own, making the most of her trademark naivete and nervous energy. Check out her black eyeliner, making her eyes even wider than ever, plus she's wearing leather trousers - a sure sign of someone who takes fashion very seriously. And she's as jumpy as a sack full of rabbits, while running around Britain's Most Haunted Houses - the night vision picking up every squeal, nervous tic and judder that she can give out. It's all very Blair Witch, with the parapsychologist on hand to give temperature readings ("the temperature in this part of the room has fallen by 1 degree!") and use the word "allegedly" a lot.

The truth is the truth

Nothing much actually seems to happen, but there's lots of atmosphere and people telling each other that they feel really scared and weird. At the end, Derek the medium says profound (yet redundant) things like "the truth is the truth!" I love it.

Monday, February 03, 2003

A thought upon watching the severely fucked-up Michael Jackson interview this evening. Money can buy you children, the law, a plastic face and your own zoo. But it can't buy you sanity.

Sunday, February 02, 2003

Stuck in a K-Hole

I've recently seen two films which deal with the gay party circuit in the US in different ways. The word circuit is interesting - describing a never-ending state of repetition - and I think that sums it up pretty well.

Tone - happy happy happy

When Boys Fly is an "MTV-style" documentary which follows a group of real-life people before, after and during The White Party in Florida. Circuit is a film, which follows the fictional lives of a group of people on the party scene in Los Angeles. Both films have similiarities - there's a slutty, jaded old hand, a naive ingenue who gradually starts to get sucked into it all, skanky sex in hotel rooms, drug overdoses, and lots of men who look like Billy dolls. When Boys Fly was more enjoyable for me - maybe because these were real people, it was shorter, and there were lots of moments of unintentional humour. At one point someone says "I just love bonding with these people for a few hours, who I'm never going to see them again." In another bit, mummy's boy Brandon phones his (heavily plastic-enhanced) mother during his first circuit party to tell her all about it. "I've always wanted to be closer to my mom!" he announces. This could only be achieved by him crawling back into her womb. There's also 21-year old hyperactive, hospitalised-twice Tone (a bit like the character played by Guy Pearce in Priscilla Queen of The Desert). Tone has a little problem with drugs and at the end of the film it's announced that 2 years later he had a stroke. My favourite charater is Todd - a dead-eyed 30-something twink-addict who has his own coterie of chickens who he treats appallingly. Todd's one of those married men who came out Too Late and is Making Up For Lost Time. He says he'd like all of his young friends to wear t-shirts saying "Todd's Boys", while he could have one that simply says "Todd". Another character, who's getting on a bit, fails to cop off during the party (now no-one loves a fairy when she's 30) and returns to his hotel room where he paces around in frustration like a caged tiger. The drugs have addled him so much that it takes pot, alcohol, ecstasy, Special K and GHB to give him that special happy feeling now when he goes out. At two points in the film, people describe pretending to be having a good time at the party, even though they're feeling lonely and miserable.

Too Skinny

Circuit is more professionally made, but a bit like a gay Valley of the Dolls. It also relies on plot devices to carry along the story - the evil (heterosexual) nightclub owner who hates everything about the gay scene and is just exploiting everyone for his own profit spends the entire film twirling his moustache, and detracts from exploring the dynamics of the circuit scene. There's also a plucky red-head fag-hag, a male hooker who worries that his jaw implants are starting to sag and self-refentially, a character making a documentary about the circuit scene...

Todd - Married Man to Queen of the Circuit

We don't have a proper "circuit" in the UK to my knowledge, although we're getting there. We do have lots of big gay nightclubs where the same sort of activity goes on. Both films left me feeling depressed. The men all had identical bodies - huge shaved pecs, broad shoulders, tans and tan lines, white smiles, slightly bulging eyes and bland faces. They looked like an army of clones. Had Hitler being gay, this is what he would have envisaged. There were some pale, fat, hairy people but they were very much in the background. In Circuit, the main character - who could model underwear if he wanted to, is turned down by another character because he's too skinny! I go to a gym, and about 1% of the men in there look like the guys on the circuit scene. And they're the ones who are always there, no matter what time you go, you see them. Circuit implies that the only way to get a body like that is to take steroids frequently. And let's face it, if you're already taking a Rainbow Coalition of drugs, then one more isn't going to make that much difference.

Brandon - don't shave it off!

What both films fail to do, is adequately address the reasons for why some people get caught up in the circuit (and some don't). A number of possible explanations are presented - people in search of a community, unhappy people, people who've missed out on a proper adolescence. The implication in both films is that exposure to the circuit will result in you becoming part of it. Even Brandon has changed his attitude by the end, saying that he really needs to get a circle of gay friends and that these people weren't shallow after all. I had high hopes for Brandon - he was the only guy with a hairy chest in a sea of shaved orange bodies. But two years later, he's shaved it all off and in the DVD extras laments that he came across on the film as such a dork. But isn't it better be a dork and different, than cool and like everyone else? The message about being gay is that diversity is good. So why then does being gay mean that in reality, diversity is utterly rejected?

Saturday, February 01, 2003

When I was thirteen I joined a book club, one of those ones advertised in Sunday supplements - buy four books for only 4p (on the proviso that you buy an additional book from them every month for the next 15 years). I don't remember all of the books that I first chose, although one was Stephen King's Skeleton Crew. The other was called My Sweet Audrina by Virginia Andrews (referred to as VC Andrews in other parts of the world). I read it by torchlight, under the bed covers (my parents were strict and always sent me to bed at 10pm on week nights until I left school). And what a fucked-up little book it was. Like Enid Blyton crossed with a lurid sexploitation film. It's far too complicated to summarise here, but it involved the repressed memory of a rape, a woman with no legs, and a sex-scene in a graveyard during a storm. I felt like such an adult reading it. Within a couple of years I had devoured Virginia's other offerings - the entire Flowers in the Attic Series, and the Casteel series. Little did I know that Virginia had actually died, and the regular new best-sellers appearing in the book shop were penned by a ghost writer. But it didn't matter. The books, with their fabulous mixture of incest, plucky teenage ballet dancers, wicked aunts, rags-to-riches and back again plot-lines and camp American gothic melodrama, kept me memorised, and provided a good balance to all of the "proper" literature that I was reading at the time for GCSE English. Written to an incredibly strict formula, these books are predictable, silly and utterly wonderful.

When I was (much) older, I discovered other people, who had also been freaked out by Ms Andrews - and I've always bonded with them very quickly. Once I held a Flowers in The Attic party where we watched the film, and I served everyone doughnuts, sprinkled with extra sugar (a reference to the movie where the flighty mother attempts to kill off her children with poisoned doughnuts). Now, usually on long summer holidays, I'll buy a handful of Virginia's books in an airport shop, devour them on the plane and by the pool, and then guiltily give the lot to charity when I get home. Although somehow I know that there'll always be a next time... Like one of her resourceful heroines, you can repress your memories of Virginia Andrews novels, but you can never really escape them...

I've been having a bit of a Pasolini experience recently, having seen five of his films in the last month. I've got a bit of a thing for Italian film directors (also liking the giallo horror genre and Fellini).

Over at the Internet Movie Databas, the film Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma, is described as the most profane and pornographic film ever made. Other reviewers have commented that it is a complete disgrace", "a test of how sick one can get on film" and "the reason why Pasolini was murdered". The film was banned for many years and now comes packaged in a totally blank white box, as if showing a still from it would be too shocking to contemplate. The film was banned, released and then banned all over again in Australia after "questions were asked" in Parliament. All of this just made me all the more desperate to see it.

True, it is a horrible film. In the plot, 16 physically perfect, innocent teenagers are taken against their will to a country house, where they are systematically humiliated, sexually and violently assaulted by four vile middle-aged men. They are made to eat shit, listen to horrible old women telling stories about child prostitution (told in the narrative style of relating a rather enjoyable picnic), stripped naked and forced to crawl around like dogs, and at one point - almost like in a Butlins holiday camp, are made to participate in a "who has the nicest bottom" competition. However, the winner is to be killed, rather than receiving a round of applause and a gift voucher. Finally, characters who have transgressed a strict set of rules (no heterosexual congress with each other and no practising of religion) are graphically mutilated. It's not pretty.

Apparently Pasolini made the film to say something about facism - his brother died during the fascist occupation of Italy under unpleasant circumstances, and he also apparently wanted to make a comment about globalisation. The bit where a girl is forced to eat shit was inspired by the rubbishy fast-food that he reckoned that teenagers were eating anyway. There's also a queer reading of the film, in that sexuality is viewed as fluid, male characters are sexualised, and the film ends with two male characters dancing together, discussing their girlfriends...

The film was made in the 1970s, and since then, times have changed. While it's still shocking, I don't think it can have the same power as it did almost 30 years ago, and it shows how some taboos have faded. Gay sex and same-sex weddings for example, are viewed as much more acceptable now, than they were then. These images themselves have lost much of their ability to shock. Also, internet users in particular have more jaded palletes these days. Barely a day goes by when I don't get spam from some website, offering to show teenage girls in the sorts of sexual encounters featured in Salò. And random, graphic violence is more widespread in the cinema today. What would Passolini do now if he wanted to remake Salo all over again? To lapse into Carrie Bradshawisms again, are we now unshockable?