Thursday, February 25, 2010

If you have a spare half hour or so and are feeling emotionally resilient/enjoy scenes of a disturbing nature (Class A drug use, heartbreaking poverty and REALLY BAD tattoos) then I suggest you click on the following link:

-----> A Swansea Love Story.

Obviously all very tragic etc etc but there are a few moments of black humour - my particular favourite being an ex- heroin user taking the documentary film makers for a trip down memory lane to his old haunts in the country.

"Yeah, used to come up here with the boys all the time back in the day," He smiles, misty eyed, reminiscing, basking in the golden glow of times passed. "You know, stealin cars.... settin them on fire... Used to be loads of rabbits! We´d come up ded early in the morning and you´d just see all these little eyes starin at you! ... we´d try to kill em and stuff.."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Walls of Flesh

My rationale, as simply as I can place it, is as such. I am twenty two years old. My own concept of sexuality is something that I am very much still learning to establish – in truth I think that for many people, at least truly healthy people, it is an ongoing process that blossoms with them as individuals, as they grow within the environment in which they live. However I am very aware of the fact that many people would disagree with me on this point, and indeed, many better educated, arguably more well adjusted individuals than myself. It's a debatable issue. This is what I am attempting to bring to the foreground when I bring the matter up in the first place. I don't know the answers but I think these are very VERY important questions.

The way I see it the fact is that sex, as an act, is something that is theoretically (or at least should be) pleasurable to both men and/or women. I am not claiming that it always is - however the key issue here is that, in a hypothetical world, enjoyment of the act of sexual intercourse is not biased towards one gender or the other. Do you agree? You are free not to, however, I feel like if our divergance of opinion stems from this point, there is not a great deal we can do about it. If you think that men (or women) simply just enoy sex more, well... we have bigger fish to fry than the following debate.

And so, we move onto stage two: the fact that, although sex is (should be) an action pleasing to both genders, individual sexual gratification (or masturbation) is an autonmous action of self gratification that does not involve a second party . All fairly mainstream there – certainly nothing too controversial. Now, this is the pointat which our own opinions could stem off in separate directions – personally, I believe that art both imitates and influences life. I think that it exists both concurrently and distinct from individual human existence – it is a result of ourselves insofar as we are products of our society, and at the same time, it shapes our own perception of normality. I don't think there are many teenagers of either gender who can honestly say that their perception of sexual intercourse was not influenced by the way in which the media, or pornography, portrays the sexual act. Find me just such an example and I would imagine they have lived in a vacuum for all previous years of their existence – a boon to sociologists, a curse to anyone hoping to evaluate the nature of a normal life within society. A “normal life” within “society.” The fact is (and you can debate this one, but you may as well debate “up” or “down”) that normality is defined almost entirely by the context in which it is considered – and society itself is as fluid and constantly changing as the language which develops to express it, as connected to its environs as a plant to soil.You could claim that a person would develop sexually exactly the same in an isolated unit as they would within the arms of a safe and “normal” society. I beg to differ. I think (and again, I may be wrong but numerous studies seem to agree with me) that sexuality is akin to personality and develops as a response to the environment in which you live. It's impacted every day, by who you see, who you meet, who you view in posters and adverts, the interactions you see in friends around you and those you watch on television. “Nothing about me is original. I am the combined product of everyone I have ever seen and ever met.” That''s sort of just how things are, at the moment. And sexuality (unless you're fairly unusual) is an aspect of the self. That much makes sense, surely?

So we can view sex as a none gender-biased expression of physical gratification. We can view pornography as a portrayal of this act – in itself, inherently (and I am discussing this not through the lens of society which naturally imbues such things with cultural and gender specific values) non-gender typal, but merely an expression of and stimulus to sexual gratification, by artistic or fantastical means. Finally, we can also say that the form which pornography takes in our society will have significant impact on the development of the sexuality of those exposed to it.

Now, given the previous points, I find it problematic to consider that a portrayal of the sex act, which is in itself an act of a) individual gratification or b) gratification as a result of two individuals enjoying one another in a sexual manner, shhould suddenly be socially accepted as being something inherently capable or intended to gratify people of one gender or the other. Obviously it is difficult to discuss this given the fact that (and again, feel free to disagree at this point because we could have a very fruitful discussion on this matter) the majority of pornographic material created today is created to gratify a predominantly male audience. Because money doesn't talk, it screams, and the pornography industry is fuelled by a male market – because society has deemed it acceptable for males, because it is considered appropriate for males, and becase, in a sad sort of teufelkreuz, the market and the product feed and construct one another. However, I don't see how it can necessarily follow on from this fact that men are mostly the only people capable of getting anything out of pornography. Surely the only logical conclusion to draw from this is that men are likely to get more enjoyment from pornography IN THE STATE PORNOGRAPHY IS IN AT PRESENT. No one at any point (and again feel free to correct me) has made any valid suggestion that women are somehow, inherently, less capable of enjoying pornography than men. If they are not enjoying it then perhaps the issue lies with the fact that pornography is not designed to tickle the average clitoris, rather than the fact that somehow, we're just not wired to enjoy any of the possibilities that the theoretical and artistic portrayal of sexuality may provide?

Surely the more enlightened way of viewing matters would be to admit that yes, porn at the moment (as in 90% of it, as in all the big US companies, as in Vivid entertainment and Wicked Pictures, as in 10 billion dollars a year, as in angry men and ditzy women, pneumatic breasts, smacked out lonely people fucking for a camera) is not very arousing to women. It's probably not all that arousing to many men as well – it is an example of the commodification of a product required by the market. It's like wafer thin ham as a response to the need for meat; it's like sequinnned halter neck tops in response to the need for clothing. It's an example of a basic need (warmth, shelter, food, sex) being taken and shaped in a certain direction by the people whose best interests are served by it taking on such a format.That's what living in a society does. It takes individual needs and throws them back at a person, in a distorted mirror, reflecting them in a way which best represents the needs of people as a whole (das volk, der mensch) because that's simply how we operate. It's not an inherently bad thing, it's just not an inherently good thing either. It has no inherent moral value. Like a reflection, it relies on the image we place before it – and the vessel we choose to bear that reflection. The way we choose to bounce it back. Just because, the market cries out for male oriented porn, and the market says that men want eg Big boobed blonde bitches, why should we therefore use this as evidence that this is what men actually want and that people who don't enjoy this aesthetic probably just don't enjoy porn? Surely it makes more sense to see the current state of pornography as failing. If it can't arouse over half (the half with vaginas) of the population how the hell can it be doing the right thing? Surely it should change to fit us – we shouldn't all sit around quietly bemoaning the fact that we simply just don't seem to really “get”what's being shoved at us, we should be asking why (creating?) our own pornographic material that is sexy and DOES do what we want it to do. It's meant to serve us, we are not meant to serve it!! But for some reason, post third wave feminism bla bla bla lets add as many suffixes to that term as humanly possible, seems to have quietly accepted, even in the case of intelligent, indepdendent, enlightened women, that for no reason at all this particular (very important) space should be conceded.

Perhaps, really, we should just view porn as being akin to any other form of art – a reflection of the society which it portrays, as influential as a face in a mirror – which lets face it, is a very fucking influential thing indeed. I live in hope that we can take that reflection and use it to represent a more free and open world for all people, in which something as beautiful and special and personal as sex can be allowed to develop in it's own way without being judged and harshly shaped to conform to the values of a society oppressed by the web of vast interdependency. But maybe that's just me. But again, I'd rather people didn't write off the concept before it was even considered by saying that “somehow, we're just not capable of enjoying sex in the same way as the opposite gender.” Says who? Say a few debatable scientific studies skewed by the lens of the media that have far more impact on individual beliefs than is right or fair. So we make such sweeping generalisations about women. They don't like to watch sex – it just isn't in their nature. Already we are presuming that female sexuality fits into a specific box, a specific context – that it can only be enjoyed in a certain fashion. And following on from that, who are we to say that if women DO prefer to enjoy sex from a “fantastical” element rather than as a result of actually enjoying the action of it, that for some reason that is a good, natural thing?? Again, nothing in the sex act – simplest, most healthy expression of, a penis and a vagina meeting consensually, nice to meet you, how do you do – is biased towards one party being more predisposed towards (or entitled to) enjoyment than the other. If we start considering that this is the case, or equally, that the neutral portrayal (reflection) of such an act in pornographic material is somehow entitled to lean in one direction or another than we enter very dangerous territory, in which sex is no longer free domain for individuals to expresss themselves and their emotions on their own terms, but rather merely as instruments of environmental factors. I don't know about you but I'd rather keep my sex as mine and whoever I choose to share it with – not just another arm of the machine.

“The Sadeian Woman” (Angela Carter, 1977iissh I think) is a very controversial book amongst the feminist movement. Andrea Dworkin, for example, condemns Carter's use of the sexual language defined by the arch-misogynist, De Sade, reasoning that it is simply impossible to argue for any form of female sexual emancipation via the logic of one who did so much to degrade the feminine subject.. However, Dworkin also considers pornography as being inherently incompatible with positive female sexuality – a belief shared by many feminists and frankly one that I find somewhat disturbing as I do not subscribe to the idea that the depiction of sex, regardless of it's nature, is somehow offensive or derogatory towards women. In my eyes it is only a small step from here to the extremely dangerous assertion that the sexual act itself is somehow one that inescapably involves subjugation of the female. The problem is of course that in considering all pornography as instrumental to the repression of female sexuality, and a dangerous tool of objectification, one is forced to take the stance that it is impossible for women to find pornographic material sexually stimulating – or that those who do are somehow, wrong, cuckolded, tricked. This is a dangerous position to take, akin to dictating to women which of their sexual fantasies can be deemed acceptable – a form of forced control over what is an experience that must be defined by the individual. It scares me that certain branches of the feminist movement would be keen to subscribe to this view – which essentially requires conceding sex to be entirely the domain of masculine misogynism. What an appalling thought! It is true that sex can on occasion be a weapon, a tool of repression, or degradation – but it can also be one of the most beautiful and equal expressions of compassion, intimacy and respect, and to decry it as being capable only of the most base and unegalitarian satisfaction seems to me to be asking us to sacrifice an awful lot.

Nevertheless it cannot be denied that there is a distinct gender imbalance in terms of the nature of the portrayal of sexual activity in pornographic material. Although, theoretically, it can be stimulating to both male and female, pornography as a commodity is primarily marketed towards men. Fantasies played out on screen both construct and pander to socially ingrained ideas of what is acceptable – they are in an almost unique position, as they help to shape what they portray, and are a result of what they influence. Given this fact, it seems to me that it is time we become more actively concerned with the portrayal of such an inherent aspect of the human experience. By engaging with these concepts at an artistic level we can help to shape their nature – and where is there any aspect of life which bears such close scrutiny as the close scrutiny of the act of life itself?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dating tips for single females

A friend posted this recently on facebook. Hilarious, particularly the last picture with angry waiter.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Road (or, my response to one of the bleakest books ever)

The idea of this endurance at the heart of all things – that we have to find our own meaning in life to make it bearable, because otherwise, otherwise if all we are is just survival and all we can do is survive there is no meaning to life. We must define this on our own terms – in The Road, the father finds meaning in his son, and through this meaning he is able to give his son the gift that he is unable to possess himself – the gift of goodness, purity and goodness for its own sake. By passing on beliefs to his son that he does not fully hold himself, he is able to find goodness and possess these qualities by means of their relationship.

We see this meaning throughout the text, or rather, we witness how rare and precious it is – and the horrific results of its absence. We see how, via means of faith, the female character at the conclusion of the story has been able to find a reason, and a means, of endurance – and we see how, deprived of it, other humans have descended to the level of something worse and lower than beast. We see how the values of consumption, greed and self preservation combine to result in cannibalism, of the need to survive untapered by any human compassion, with no reason for goodness. Therefore although the philosophy suggested by the book may be broadly viewed as existential it is in the more positive sense of the word, as we see that the fact that the only meaning of life is to be found in existence itself as a call to find this meaning rather than a rejection of its necessity.

I think it is interesting to consider whether the apocalyptic “society” portrayed by McCarthy as being, rather than an entirely Hobbesian state of nature, rather as an eventuality of the current path American society is taking. If we consider the actions of those individuals who display an absence of any existential meaning as being simply the final product of a society which has encouraged increased secularisation and detachment and alienation in the individual as necessary components of its means of function, then we can clearly see McCarthy´s text as critical of the direction he perceives American society to be headed in. Right wing hysteria surrounding the “death of the family” embodies similar concerns – the fear that, outside the traditional structure of American life, the external decivilising forces will prevail – a fear that can be traced back to the frontier, where close familiaral units were a necessity to combat the constant fear and threat of the unknown close at hand. However the difference is of course that America at present is no longer a land of “Cowboys and Indians” – the threat is no longer external and immediate but vague and intangible, a strange and mystic force that can be caressed by those with power into the shape of fantastic and nightmarish beasts. This fear can take the form of a conflicting ideology or theological belief; it can be other ways of life, other dreams – it can be as big as the world or as small as the homestead, the mythic space whose protection can be justified at any cost. And it is this fear which McCarthy traces to a conclusion, a conclusion almost entirely devoid of hope, and where the American society that so prides itself on individualism and the right to pursue ones dreams results in a world wholly devoid of mutual identification, consumed by a nightmare. “Welcome to the land of comestibles, where the mouth is God.” And so it is in a sense poetic, that a land built on insatiable hunger should eventually come to eat itself alive.

As the reader, we feel the despair of this man and his son. We despair for them, our hope dies as theirs, and it is from this identification that we are able to glean some form of consolation from the text. For of course, it is this very compassion - or rather the potential for this compassion, however small, the potential to identify with another and to feel their pain as our own, in which the ultimate saving grace of the human experience is found. By feeling the pain of the man and his son we too embody the force which enables this small endurance to exist – we feel compassion, and empathy, and sadness at witnessing the pain of another – all these qualities which are ultimately suppressed in a state of decivilisation, in order to survive. We see that these are all necessary in order to raise the quality of human life from mere survival, and that without these, there is little hope. Parallels can be drawn with the purpose faith fulfils for many individuals, and I think this is a parallel McCarthy draws. After all, what is faith if not the ultimate rejection of individualistic need? In Christianity, individuals experience empathy as they accept that Jesus Christ was crucified for the sins of humanity. Without empathy, without the sense that a human life is worthwhile even when it is not their own, what value could this symbolic sacrifice have for anyone?

Is The Road a depressing book? For most of the text, I found it deeply, deeply so. Frankly if the conclusion hadn´t included some suggestion of hope, however small, I think my heart would have broken. It starts out bleak and slowly becomes more and more hopeless as we realise, like the characters, that there is no hope of salvation. There is no hope of direction or purpose – no tomorrow, when tomorrow as a concept has ceased to have meaning, and the linear progressive notion of time as a cumulative sequence of events has been reduced to nothing more than the eternal, cyclical, succession of days in a world with no future. However, this is not an inevitably empty concept, devoid of any potential meaning. McCarthy´s core characters define their existence elsewhere, outside the realms of “long term goals” and the constant striving onwards and upwards that our present human existence considers the only valuable means of growth. They find meaning in each other, or when necessary in God – in the only places they can find, as they need to. There is hurt, there is pain. There is so much sometimes it seems unbearable, and it is never justified and it is never resolved, no deus-ex-machina to make it all go away. What we witness is that even when faced with such despair, there is always hope. That it is necessary to find hope and this can be found in love, and in other people – through compassion and goodness even when one begins to question the merit of such qualities, or even their very meaning outside of the moralising structure of society. Some ethical schools question whether there is such a thing as “natural law” – whether there can be any right or wrong outside of the context of societal norms. I do not think McCarthy´s text is ambiguous in this respect; although we witness a horrific “state of nature” scenario, where there are individuals operating without a moral code as a result of their non-societal status, we also see the boy and his father – the embodiment, even the last bastion of, natural law – they take a non-consequentialist ethical stance and ultimately show that there is merit in goodness simply for the sake of goodness. In fact, in this dystopian world, perhaps this is the only merit it is possible to find.
McCarthy´s closing paragraph acknowledges that there is horror, and horror unimaginable, and yet it does not admit defeat – but suggests that beyond this horror is something deeper, something that will endure. However he does not paint this as rendering the suffering and atrocity of the novel ultimately irrelevant. Things will never be the same. The damage has been done, irrevocably so, to the extent that the only meaning it is possible to find is of the rawest and most primal form.

It reminded me of a passage in Doris Lessing´s “The Golden Notebook” – a scene towards the climax of the novel, where the ethical and existential dilemmas of the main character are addressed in a dream sequence, about the end of the word – she witnesses a nuclear mushroom cloud, “unfolding like white petals”, and is reminded of a conversation she had with her psychiatrist, a “Witch Doctor”, who spoke of endurance – of that need to hold on to that tiny spark when all else fails. That even when all else is ashes and there is only skeletal ruins of everything mankind once held high, so long as there is life there is something that matters. Anna observes baldly that perhaps that isn´t enough. The response of her “witch doctor” is that it has to be.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

When a society is afraid of its poets, it is afraid of itself. A society afraid of itself stands as another definition of hell…. -Lenore Kandel