Thursday, 29 May 2014


This actually happened a wee while back, but i just wanted to tell y'all that i finally got my name on the wall. The HashtagBeer wall, that is! I 'officially' feel part of it now.

I've been writing for HashtagBeer now since August 2013 and it has been lovely to share one of my greatest passions with the internettal community. Also it has been great to work with Paul, a true visionary in the field. He not only motivates me, but also inspires me.

May HashtagBeer reign always!

Peace and love x

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho

I’m probably not saying anything here that other critics (i use the term loosely in my case) haven’t said elsewhere, but here goes… I’ve wanted to review American Psycho for a while, but for some reason haven’t got round to it – now is the time. It's the story of a businessman and psychopath called Patrick Bateman. I probably read it about three or four years ago and, although it wasn’t always the 'most readable' book, it was always gripping enough and 'true literature' in the sense of the risks it takes, coupled with great technique. I’m not going to go into a full review here, i just want to talk about a couple of things i still think of, even after all this time.
            Number one is the structure of the thing, i.e. the chapters and passages. It seems so blunt, so textbook, to break up plot with the dense, extended descriptions of products and consumables, but also so absolutely natural in context. It makes one feel tense (especially as the more ‘gritty stuff’ kicks in, around the ‘Dry Cleaners’ chapter), as it’s like a closed door against overtly compelling material. We can hear sounds coming from behind it, but it’s not going to open until we read through.
            Of course these chapters serve another vital function, which is the satire of the yuppie culture in the late eighties and early nineties. Such a long reflection on, say, Whitney Houston’s albums, and to an even greater extent the model of hi-fi they are played on, neatly encapsulates the terror of capitalism (as it is today, at least) and the reaction to it. ‘Adverts’ are a way of keeping people fearful, making them feel afraid and ill-equipped in the world. How can ‘citizens’ take control? By spending money! But to spend it you gotta make it etc etc… I don’t want to get too political here, but Bateman seems to represent some sort of microcosm of the world. To me he’s an exaggerated response of insecure masculinity – ‘I have it all, I have the best, I know what I’m talking about, I’m in control’.
The main criticism of these passages is that they’re “boring,” but that’s the point in a way, nor would they work if they were ‘interesting’. They represent the quiet delirium of modern madness where consumerism, seemingly benignly, replaces ‘normal human function’ i.e. love. In terms of narrative it’s like a sweater thread being pulled at, i suppose; the process itself is slow and uninteresting, but it’s what the process eventually reveals that makes it more than worthwhile.
So these chapters both split up the narrative and make the whole novel more cohesive in terms of thematic content. ‘Boring’ just doesn’t add up here.
Second, i just wanted to talk about the much famed ‘gruesome bits’. I felt like a changed person after reading them: a genuine (if mild) post-traumatic discomfort. It lasted weeks. It coloured my thoughts for a while, not necessarily with fear but not necessarily with hatred either. Come to think of it, i’m not sure what i thought. I think mainly there was a kind of emptiness, a more visceral cynicism or something.
But hey, it passed. I was back to the ‘normal functioning’ human being that i am soon enough. Sure i’m weak, but i’ve got to say that you need an iron stomach and a heart of ice to not feel at least a little off-kilter after reading this. I don’t want to put you off, that’s the thing. This is brave literature at its peak, you have to have a deal of commitment to read it that you wouldn’t, say, with Dan Brown…
How the hell am i going to close this? Well i’m glad i read it. From a writer’s perspective it made me more comfortable with taking on whatever’s necessary and treating it more like clay: a material – not something with inherent moral certitudes. As a reader it certainly challenged my idea of ‘readable’. I felt such shifts in ‘comfortability’ with the writing matter that i have never since come close to. But it wasn’t mere sensationalism. Despite it being far from a didactic  narrative, i’ve learnt things. Maybe about how human humanity is, maybe about how human i am. Whatever it is, it's palpable.
Peace and love x

Friday, 9 May 2014

Has Health and Safety Ruined Reality TV?

I’ve been watching this new series on Channel 4, The Island With Bear Grylls, involving x amount of blokes being dropped on y island and left to fend for themselves. They’re from a range of backgrounds, apart from female, and they deigned to include one typical hilariously fuddy-duddy old dude and one cool, upbeat black guy. Speaking of deigning, Bear Grylls appears from time to time, giving us such epiphanic tidbits as ‘when you’re starving you think about food’ et cetera… Anyhoo, you can read a more concise summary on the C4 site, i’m here for other things. Namely, health and safety things.
            In this first episode the guys had to look for shelter and water. The main focus over the forty-seven-and-a-bit minutes (billed as sixty-five) was the water. It’s the thing that’ll kill you quickest in the bodily-deprivation race, after all (apart from air, or Jack Daniel’s). They had a bit of fresh water with them, to lull you into a false sense of security, but guess what? IT STARTED RUNNING OUT AS THEY STARTED DRINKING IT! So naturally, the drama was high.
            Think about it though - how could a programme like this be commissioned in today’s ‘life-loving’ age if there was a genuine chance of death?
            Thankfully the Grylls voiceover told us exactly how many hours’ drinking water was left, helping to ramp up the tension. Other scare devices included a ‘piss-colour scale’, which ranged from tanning salon run-offs to Guinness, going down the spectrum of dehydratory terror. A little bit was made of the effect dehydration has on the brain, but mainly they were interested in the colour of the men’s urine and what would happen if they failed to get a fire to boil and purify their stagnant water. Of course, every attempt at starting a (controlled) fire was accompanied by two or three comments featuring the phrases ‘last chance’, ‘we need to’ and, my personal favourite, ‘fuckin’ ‘ell’.
            I was still not convinced of the impending doom, though. Could these fellas’ issue actually become black as the ace of spades, and could they keel over through lack of orally induced moisture (steady now)? On the point of getting a fire started, which was key to their safe water production, Mr Grylls himself said, “If they fail to get a fire lit today, they will have no choice, they will have to leave the island.” Hmm, that’s a bit of a let-down, they have to leave the island? Is that it? How about one of the men, surely since they’re in mortal peril they’ll have a better soundbite? Well, here’s the ‘green cap-man’, “Getting this fire going is just crucial, and if it doesn’t happen today, then I think we’re really going to start getting into trouble. I am concerned now, I am concerned, erm, I really think we need to pull our finger out.”
            Wow. Edge of the seat stuff.
            The problem is that dehydration is a real slow-motion crisis, devoid of much intensity when filming. The attempts to ramp up the pressure by repeating the threat didn’t work. There’s an attempt at tension, sure. The word ‘survival’, occasionally trotted out, suggests immediate mortal peril, but really there must be a standby team with bottles of water for dehydration scenarios… They’re not gonna let people die for our amusement on reality TV. I mean, this isn’t the seventies anymore, people actually scrutinize telly personalities now.
            Also on the ‘menu’ was a dude emerging from a frolic in the sea with a cut on his foot (apologies for the rhyme there). The drama came from the fact that he may have been attacked by a stonefish, heralded by Grylls as, “the most poisonous fish in the world.” But again, a lot is known about the stonefish (or synaceia verrucosa, don’t you know) and its pathology, so are we fooled? Since October 1st 2013, there have been no reported deaths in all Australia. An antivenom exists and the health and safety team will know exactly where to get their hands on it, if they haven't got a stockpile already. So what.
Once the director had footage of ‘IT man’ hobbling back to camp, blooding dripping (slowly) from his foot, medics would’ve been on to assess him IF they thought he was maybe possibly in any danger. Of course, the footage (no pun intended) of the check-up would not make the final cut because it would interrupt the ‘narrative’ we are being sold. We forget (or not, in my case) that they’re filming basically the whole day, and all these hours (spanning more than a day) need to be cut down to a programme’s length. It’s highly selective, to say the least.
So can we really feel jeopardy anymore? I certainly can’t. Don’t get me wrong, there were times i felt quite involved with these makeshift heroes, and as dehydration threatened them, and tension rose around the sacred fire, i started to feel anxious about the acceleration of their peril. While there are so many cameras and so much evidence of ‘production’ (titles, voiceovers, superimposition etc), you know that you’re in ‘civilization’. There’s no actual danger. The jeopardy is just not there anymore, no matter how often the programme makers insist it is.
            *Sigh* then you’ve got the adverts. But i’m not going to go on about that. I get tons of comments from Blogtastic readers, “Martin, do another rant about the adverts!” But i won’t... Think of all the people that don’t want to hear about how the tension was demolished by frequent breaks. And i know people certainly won’t want to hear about how the extra fifteen minutes you could’ve had without adverts would’ve allowed you to focus on other visceral and emotional elements, rather than simply urine and other more facile tactics, that would’ve conveyed a sense of danger and human struggle much more deeply and efficiently. No one wants that. C4 doesn’t want it, clearly. They’re doing fine on their own.
            Good luck to ‘em. And good luck to you guys - you enjoy your telly.
            Peace and love x