ISIS By Any Other Name…

I’ve found the ongoing pompous debate over what we should call ISIS (or ISIL or Daesh) simultaneously entertaining and exasperating. I instinctively bristle when anybody tries to tell me which words I should – or even can – use. Particularly because said language police are almost invariably pontificating from their posteriors.

This is mostly certainly the case in this debate.

Many Western commentators – including numerous high profile figures who presumably have squads of researchers at their beck and call – are keen we stop using ISIS because, they sagely inform us, Daesh is the correct term. ISIS contains the words ‘Islamic’ and ‘State’, and we don’t want to dignify these people with either designation. Far better Daesh, because Arabs use it on the ground, because it is an insult.

Only it isn’t. It’s simply the Arabic for exactly the same acronym as ISIS, complete with the words Islamic and State. D’oh. In fact, if anything, by insisting on this change I’d argue you’re insulting the Islamic world further by not even bothering to make even basic attempts to understand the Arabic words you’re misappropriating. (For extra pedant points, the second ‘S’ in ISIS refers to Sham, not Syria. Sham is the region containing Syria. Confusing the two is akin to thinking England and Britain are interchangable.)isisflag

More importantly, the ideas behind this posturing are at best flawed. Removing ‘Islamic’ from the acronym won’t stop ISIS being Muslims any more than rebranding a Big Mac as a lettuce sandwich will make it healthy. Similarly Islamic State isn’t a state? Maybe, but by the same lofty definitions applied in this argument – of good governance and respecting the niceties of basic human rights – neither are many of our Muslim, slave-owning allies in the region. And if they aren’t states, why are we selling them so many arms?

Hmmm. I’m reminded of those wearying historical wags who never tire of reminding us that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy nor an empire. Perhaps. But you try describing Renaissance European history without the term. Terminology twists and adapts to suit the subject it describes. You can’t make Islam the religion of peace simply by insisting that anybody who does anything wrong is ergo no longer a Muslim. There’s been way too much blood for that to wash.

So what’s the solution? If we abandon ISIS then has the dog from Downton Abbey died in vain? ISIL seems like a pointless compromise, and sounds like a fabric conditioner. Daesh just seems to underline Western ignorance of the situation in the Middle East, which is what got us into this shit in the first place. How about returning to ISIS’s original moniker?

If we started calling them Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad again it would surely deprive them if the oxygen of publicity, because none of us can fucking pronounce it.

A Countercultural Conversation

My publisher suggested I conduct a brief interview to promote my new book Street Culture: 50 Years of Subculture Style. So I recorded a brief conversation with the actress Natalie Boyd, in which we discuss the ideas behind the book, what I learnt writing it, and what the future might hold for the colourful world of counterculture. With thanks to the wonderful folk at Ink Blot Films for providing the expertise and equipment at such short notice.

Time to Panic…

Satanic Panic website Those with an interest in matters demonic, will be interested in this intriguing book due out later this year. Entitled Satanic Panic: Pop Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s, it features a range of insightful essays and interviews from established authors, and up-and-coming talents, including a contribution from yours truly. For more details on this exciting project from Canadian publisher Spectacular Optical, as well as how you can avail yourselves of a range of Satanic special offers via crowd-funding, check out the book’s Indiegogo page here.

No Laughing Matter…

joker6

I seldom if ever ‘lol’. Of course I do encounter things on the web that make me laugh – it’d be a pretty scary place if you couldn’t laugh at it – but the expression itself feels wrong, so I usually avoid it.

In part due to overuse. A lot of our, shall we say less cerebral friends, lol like it’s a nervous tic, appending each and every comment with a lol. If you paid attention to these, you’d get the impression that the net had canned laughter, which would never do.

I’m also unsure of the effect you’re supposed to have in your head when you encounter a lol. I suspect that those that use them a lot think it’s a wry, winsome smile. For me, however, it reflexively translates as a daft gurgle. This may well reflect more on me than the rest of the world…

But the lol is useful – a necessary evil?

Some have attempted to replace the lol with hahaha. It makes me feel like a character in a Batman comic. I suppose there are worse things. Hehehe turns the whole thread into a Beano strip. Or it could be a cartoon witch.

Don’t get me started in rofl. If you really were… Let me put it like this. It reminds me of a doctor I had many years back. A no-nonsense Northern Irish GP, he told it how it was. He prescribed me with some strong pills, which as one potential side effect had seizures. “So what do I do if I’m having a fit?” I asked. “Oh, I should phone the hospital…”

I guess, like my Irish doctor, we all find our laughs where we can…

The Castle of Indolence Beseiged (an electoral broadcast…)

Indolence The Castle hight of Indolence,
And its false Luxury;
Where for a little Time, alas!
We liv’d right jollity.

O mortal Man, who livest here by Toil,
Do not complain of this thy hard Estate;
That like an Emmet thou must ever moil,
Is a sad Sentence of an ancient Date:

And, certes, there is for it Reason great;
For, though sometimes it makes thee weep and wail,
And curse thy Star, and early drudge and late,
Withouten That would come an heavier Bale,
Loose Life, unruly Passions, and Diseases pale.

‘The Castle of Indolence’
James Thomson
1748

With the election now mere hours away, my thoughts have turned to matters political. It is very difficult to know who to vote for, as each party in turn has committed themselves to policies I find quite impossible to endorse. Yet I feel I should put my cross somewhere, and some time back developed a foolproof process of elimination. Any party that employed my least favourite political cliché was immediately out of the running in my books. The odious cliché I refer to?

“Hard Working fucking Families…”

But what could any reasonable person find objectionable about such a phrase, embodying as it does the moral and economic backbone of our proud nation? Allow me to explain…

Conservative Party Annual Conference, Manchester, Britain - 02 Oct 2013 Taking the first part of the phrase, I have no time for anyone who thinks that hard work is a virtue unto itself. I think I’m pretty well qualified to comment, as I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum. I’ve worked hard on occasion. Typed away until the screen began to blur and the sun crept around the edges of the curtains when a fierce deadline loomed. I’ve also had my share of hard graft in the past, walking home like a wound-down clockwork toy due to exhaustion, falling asleep with a beer in my hand in front of the TV. I’ve also experienced idleness. Doing nothing for the sake of it, or simply because there was nothing much to do.

I’m not a fan of either. Idleness gets dull pretty fast if you have a lively mind. Work too hard and you make mistakes, and ultimately forget why on earth you’re doing what you’re doing. The sensible route is a compromise. Work hard enough to get the job done, but build in period for reflection and to recharge your batteries. The idea that we are just here to work is a pernicious lie. Many people are fulfilled by their jobs, but if you’re not, then it is a means to an end, not some sacred calling.

There are many myths about the nobility of labour perpetuated by those who benefit most from the sweat of others. Working hard is not a selfless act – quite the reverse – it is more often the hallmark of a selfish soul. Perhaps you are working hard because you enjoy it? If so, you scarcely deserve a round of applause. Maybe you hope to earn enough to obtain something? While you may deserve whatever material rewards you achieve, a medal does not come with it. The fact is, the people who earn most from working, are usually those making the world a more miserable place to live.

We should no more laud the hard work of, say, bankers, than we should be praising Jack the Ripper for his tenacity and devotion to his chosen vocation.

Leaving work aside for a second, what of the family? Surely everybody approves of this institution, the very embodiment of affection and selfless devotion. I am blessed to be part of a small, but loving family, and think the world of all of them. Yet I’ve no intention of creating another family of my own at present. Some people charge that those who choose to live child-free are selfish. Once again, I’d suggest that is the very reverse of the true situation, because I put it to you that people seldom, if ever have children for truly altruistic reasons.

There are many motives for starting a family. Perhaps you want to stabilise a fragile relationship? Maybe you like the idealised family life you’ve seen on the TV in adverts and sit-coms? Perhaps you want to rerun your own unhappy childhood, with a happy ending to this one? Perhaps the idea of somebody wholly dependent on you, who’ll love you unconditionally appeals? I suspect the most common motivation is to achieve a kind of immortality, to inflict another version of yourself upon the world.

soylent It could be any one of these, a mixture, or something else entirely. Whichever, almost every instinct to begin a family has a large selfish component. So, my hats off to you for taking on a tough, demanding commitment. But don’t try and pretend you’re doing the world a favour by reproducing. Even with modern contraception, avoiding pregnancy can be more of a challenge than yielding to the biological imperative. In the modern world, just about the only resource not running low is idiots. Creating more isn’t a service to humanity. You’d do more good keeping an allotment.

I don’t hate families, or children, any more than I abhor work. I just reject the absurd ideology that sanctifies them. In place of hard working, how about praising the clever? Or kind? Or even amusing? Virtues far less ambivalent than the blind belief in the moral superiority of hard labour. Similarly, while some of us are in happy families, others aren’t, whether by circumstance or design. But we’re all individuals, who should be equally deserving of the attention and approval of our political masters.

Unless, of course, they’re only really interested in the amount of work we can do to make their obscenely wealthy economic masters even wealthier. And the amount of work our children can do once we’ve dropped from exhaustion. I’m reminded of an old Yorkshire proverb…

‘Ear all, see all, say nowt;
Eyt all, sup all, pay nowt;
And if ivver tha does owt fer nowt –
Allus do it fer thissen.

A Surprise New Addition to the Library…

bookcover This book has been in the works so long I was kind of taken aback when a copy finally landed on my front door mat. But here it is… It’s an attempt to chart the history of counterculture, getting under the skin of every major style cult fromn the teddy boys to cybergoth and beyond. I’ll reveal some more details and share a few reviews (assuming they’re not too unkind) presently. But for now I think I’ll just sit back and recover from the shock that it’s actually here!…

The Dreary New Game of Thrones

A curious notion struck me earlier, spawned by pre-election bickering over inheritance tax here in Britain, and recent political events Stateside…
Throne
With the current incumbent of the White House an African American, and one of the front-runners for the next leader of the most powerful nation on earth a woman, are sexism and racism really the chief barriers to equality these days, at least in the West?

Clorox Might nepotism be the elephant in the room, the real enemy of opportunity, neglected as we become focused on issues of race, gender and sexuality to an absurdly acute degree? I could use the current furore over a tweet from a bleach company which the usual suspects have branded racists, as if a bathroom product PR team would really deliberately advocate white supremacism as a marketing strategy. It’s mindless noise for the sake of it – and I could’ve picked a different stupid non-story from the net pretty much any day of the week – but is this moronic sanctimonious din distracting attention from the real story?

Clintons The female candidate I referred to above is of course Hillary Clinton, making this surely the first time we may have a husband and wife as presidents of the US. Considering America’s population, what in Hell are the odds of that? One of Hillary’s most vocal opponents is rival candidate Jeb Bush. If he wins he’ll be following in the footsteps of his brother and father. Again, remember how many fucking people there are in America, then contemplate some stats. This is nothing new of course – consider the legendary Kennedys – but is it getting worse?

Bullingdon Naturally we are hardly immune here in Blighty. The leadership of the Labour Party was effectively contested between two brothers. Inevitably, in Britain, class rears its ancient head, and another obvious, less hereditary establishment clique is Oxford University’s infamous Bullingdon Club. I don’t want to get judgemental on their riotous behaviour – I’m not here to play the puritan right now – just draw attention to how one tiny club contains so much of the future elite. Our prime minister, chancellor of the exchequer, and Mayor of London (and possible future prime minister) all members of this exclusive set. Again, considering the UK population, what are the odds?

You could argue that cliques are inevitable – that we all naturally employ and trust those we already know -but the extent to which the influential and powerful are all drawn from people who know each other from across the breakfast table seems to be reaching newly incestuous levels.

It isn’t confined to politics of course. Everything from music and acting, to architecture and advertising – every desirable career path – is now suffocating beneath a culture of nepotism. If you ever wonder how so many folk of little evident ability or talent keep cropping up on your screen, in the news, in positions of power, check out who their parents – or at most god parents – are. Way more often than not, you’ll recognise the name.

We sneer loftily at those less developed nations ruled by corrupt dynasties, royalty in name or effect, while our own ‘democracy’ drifts ever further into a sticky web gummed together by blood. People rail against our own royal family as if this were the worst, or even a significant example of unearnt power and privilege, yet the Windsors are surely among the most impotent, least pernicious of the family firms currently carving up our world. I suspect we are approaching an era that will make the dynastic tyrannies of our medieval forebears look egalitarian and meritocratic by comparison…

Another Nasty Episode in Wales…

Part II

[Better late than never as the tired old adage has it. After my site’s long hiatus due to ‘technical difficulties’, I thought I’d finally post the second part of my coverage of last year’s excellent Abertoir festival (part one can be found here). While now more than a little tardy, several of the films previewed there are now seeing general release. Plus, I had such a good time, it’d seem criminal not to scribble down the rest of my fervid thoughts on the matter. So, without further ado, more rum doings in Wales…]

Friday

The weekend kicked off with another of those cross-disciplinary horror events that Abertoir does so well. In this case, film scholars Mark McKenna and Johnny Walker presented an illustrated talk entitled From Video Collecting to Contemporary Cinema, continuing the festival’s focus on the 1980s ‘Video Nasties’ panic. While both gents are academics, they’re also clearly dedicated horror enthusiasts, and the engaging presentation successfully walked the line of taking an oft-condemned field seriously, while never losing sight of the fact that these films were always supposed to be fun. It was still a slightly odd feeling to see all of those films I’d watched through a fug of booze and smoke in my teen years being subjected to serious scholastic scrutiny.

the-pool-poster-dutch Next up, after lunch on Friday, was the UK premier of Dutch chiller The Pool. Two families go on a camping holiday in the woods. But things do not go according to plan, and job issues, family stress and sexual tension conspire to make an idyllic, bucolic setting feeling increasingly oppressive and malign. Meanwhile, something ancient and seductively malevolent lurks beneath the murky surface of the pool they have camped beside. Frequently creepy and, on occasion, nightmarish, The Pool is a darkly refreshing change from the usual, predictable Hollywood product, that will please fans of atmospheric horror cinema that doesn’t pander to Hollywood cliches.

canalreview0003 Continuing the watery theme, Friday’s following feature was The Canal, an Irish film that also felt fresh compared to much of what you might see at your local multiplex. While superficially it sounds like wearyingly familiar fare – a ghost story that uses haunted audiovisual technology to update the scares – The Canal attacks its subject with much more skill and originality than the glut of formulaic ghost movies being pumped out by major studios right now. Seeing the indies do it right like this is a reminder why it’s so rewarding to attend festivals like Abertoir, that screen superior, low profile material you might never otherwise see.

Sabbaton Next up was a one-man play, an adaptation of The Temple, a short story by cult horror author H.P. Lovecraft. I’m somewhat sceptical of experimental theatre, and The Temple isn’t one of Lovecraft’s better stories, but I needn’t have worried. Performed by Michael Sabbaton, an actor who specialises in such productions, it tells the story of a German U-boat captain, the last surviving crew member of a submarine that has lost power and is inexorably sinking into the ocean’s stygian depths, as his sanity steadily dwindles. Hypnotic, effective and tense, and a true treat for Cthulhu mythos devotees, I shall certainly be trying to catch Mr Sabbaton’s next tour.

Friday night concluded with a crowd-pleasing screening of Gremlins followed by an 80s themed disco. We ducked out of the former to get a pint, then concentrated exploring the Abertoir themed beers and cocktails through the disco as, to be honest, strutting our stuff was not my company’s strong suit. And so to bed, in preparation for a full programme on Saturday…

Saturday

Faults Opening Saturday’s programme was Faults, a film that deserves plaudits for tackling a difficult and important, yet not overtly commercial subject, with courage and intelligence. Clearly low budget, the film rests squarely on the performances of the leads, playing a disgraced cult-buster (Leland Orser), and the young girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) he’s been hired to de-programme from the new age cult she’s joined. Both deliver powerhouse performances in a clever film that keeps you guessing till the final scene, while deftly exploring concepts like brainwashing and religion. Faults is, in the best sense of the term, a subtle mind-fuck.

TuskPart II Next up was Tusk, the new film from cult director Kevin Smith. Smith alienated much of his core audience with his previous, oddball, provocative thriller Red State (and accompanying media outbursts) and I doubt Tusk will change that. It’s likely too goofball and quirky for most horror audiences, and too unabashedly dark and macabre for his former fans. But I really liked it. It’s a pitch-black, absurdist comedy about social media and serial murder that pays little heed to modern taste or cinematic convention, featuring Johnny Depp in one of his most unconventional roles, and I howled and gagged throughout in all the right places.

Contaminationposter We went retro next with Contamination (aka Alien Contamination), an Italian Alien rip-off from 1980 that got caught up in the Video Nasties panic. It’s director Luigi Cozzi and star Ian McCulloch were on hand to explain matters in person after the screening, though even they could shed little light on a wildly lurid, irresistibly silly plot about exploding extraterrestrial eggs, drunk astronauts and space cyclopses. It was, of course, sublime fun, and the Q&A afterwards a treat, as McCulloch talked about fighting midgets and Cozzi revealed that the film was only funded as part of a drug smuggling caper.

horrorexpresscover Abertoir always go the extra mile to offer something different, and Saturday concluded with a moonlit ride through the haunted Welsh countryside on a vintage steam train, followed by a screening of the 1972 shocker Horror Express on the station platform. Bringing together the peerless cast of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Telly Savalas, Horror Express explores what happens when a brain-sucking alien encounters two Edwardian British gents on the Trans-Siberian Express. Our train journey was less eventful, but just as wonderful (and similarly chilly) and even though I’ve seen Horror Express numerous times, I shall never forget watching this toothsome slice of Euro-horror in such a perfect setting!

Sunday

Starry_Poster27x40.indd Sunday’s opener Starry Eyes has been enjoying some praise among horror devotees as an underrated gem, but I’m afraid I wasn’t so taken with it. It felt too much like hipster filmmakers making a film about hipster filmmakers trying to make films. The lead is convincing as a highly-strung ambitious actress, but I’ve known enough neurotic narcissists in my time, and didn’t relish spending too much time in her company. I don’t believe a film needs sympathetic characters, but if the characters don’t engage, the plot has to, and the whole ‘Hollywood is wicked’ schtick felt pretty tired here. Starry Eyes isn’t a disaster, but I thought it fell rather short of its building reputation.

Next up was pianist Paul Shallcross, who’s become something of an Abertoir institution with his live soundtracks for silent horror films. Like last year, Paul chose a selection of short films, which works very well, as movies that are sometimes over a century old can challenge modern attention spans. This time he accompanied a quintet of subjects of a more whimsical tone, though the 1927 British short about premature burial, inspired by Rachmaninov’s famous Prelude in C sharp minor, was pleasingly dark. Paul’s compositions really brought the films to life, as did his informative, amusing introductions, making for a splendid programme that comes highly recommended.

ratscast It was now time for another Abertoir institution, in the shape of the Bad Film Club, hosted by comedians Nicko and Joe. Every year the identity of the turkey concerned is kept top secret until the day, with this year seeing the audience subjected to the 1984 stinker Rats: Night of Terror. A disarmingly inept Italian Mad Max rip-off, which tries – and fails – to up the post-apocalyptic ante by introducing sentient rats, Nicko and Joe mercilessly mock the film’s countless shortcomings, while encouraging the audience to join in the fun. It’s a winning formula, that contributes yet more variety to Abertoir’s commendably varied programme of horror themed entertainment.

How do you top something like that? Well, with an evening with Ian McCulloch, fresh from his engaging Contamination Q&A the previous night. Ian was a popular, accomplished actor who happened to stumble into roles in a number of the most notorious banned horror films of the Video Nasty era. Only nominally horror related – you suspected his popularity in the genre somewhat bemused him – Ian’s presentation at Abertoir was akin to an accomplished after-dinner golf club speech, replete with theatrical anecdotes and blue jokes, alongside some eccentric musical interludes. Only at Abertoir could you find yourself in an auditorium full of horror fans, singing a children’s song about dinosaurs, led by the star of Zombie Flesh Eaters on guitar…

Dead-Snow-2 The week’s finale came all too soon, a preview screening of the sequel to the popular 2009 Norwegian Nazi zombie romp Dead Snow. I have to say I felt that the original was a bit too self-aware – nudging the audience in the ribs a little too often – and that Dead Snow: Red vs Dead was worse in that department. It’s received some pretty good notices, but I found the introduction of the nerdy American ‘Zombie Squad’ – evidently introduced to appeal to US fans – nearly ruined the film for me with their grating ‘geek chic’. Happily, every time this infuriating trio made me want to abandon the film, the director fired off another bad taste sight gag – a Nazi tank shelling a woman pushing a pram or suchlike – so I’d give Red vs Dead a mitigated thumbs up.

[This year will be Abertoir's tenth anniversary, and I have little doubt that the crew will pull out all the stops yet again. It's a very special event. Sadly, Afan ab Alun, a regular attendee, died last year. He left money in his will to contribute towards the 2014 event. That's the kind of festival it is, and I wouldn't miss the 2015 Aber for the world. See you there!]

Normal Service Will be Resumed…

do_not_adjust_your_set Apologies for this blog’s lengthy absence, and thanks to those who got in touch personally regarding its mysterious disappearance. I haven’t died, or indeed found the love of Our Lord and Saviour. Rather, a fiendish pincer-movement from my internet service provider and website host conspired to cripple, dismember, and finally dissolve the site. Updating Windows inevitably added to the fun. Happily, thanks to the expertise of my friends at Ave Satanas, we’re up and running again.

I plan on making a few changes to what and how I post on here in future, as well as promoting the site a little, rather than leaving it languishing, as before, in the bowels of the net like the spectre of some unwanted guest. When disaster struck, I still owed the site the second part of my review of Abertoir film fest, plus the conclusion of my piece on the primordial roots of heavy metal. Of course they’re scarcely topical now, but they were hardly topical then, so perhaps I’ll start by searching the cobwebby depths of my archives and open with those. In the mean time, watch this space…