Monday, August 30, 2010

Natural Disaster Area

It seems a lot of my friends are natural disaster buffs. I've seen them gazing wistfully at tornadoes on news reports, talking sincerely about the tragedy while secretly yearning to one day see something like that with their own eyes.

It may surprise some of my friends to know that, even though I'm only 23 and have spent almost all of my life in the less exciting areas of Australia, I have personally experienced two separate incidents that were officially classified as natural disasters.

The first I don't remember so well, given that I was only two years old at the time. It was the 1989 Newcastle Earthquake and it made headlines internationally. All I can really remember is that I was in a Disney themed cubby house when it happened, but it was enough of a big deal that the last of the repairs were still being done when I was approaching my twenties. I also think it says something about Sydney that it was initially reported simply as a tremor in the Sydney area by their news services. Then of course they discovered that they were just getting the run-off from our quake and that it was bad enough that people actually died. Although in their defense, this was before the days of Twitter, where the world can be kept informed about these things half an hour before they happen.

The other one I remember quite well. It happened when I was at uni. In fact, I had an assignment due that day. This was 2007, year of the Totally Huge Storm. You probably heard about this if you live in Australia or look at weird pictures on the internet. A small cyclone caused massive floods, as well as a friggin huge ship washing up on the beach.

That's the Pasha Bulker. It created an unexpected tourist attraction, photo opportunities and numerous "Would you like to pash a bulker?" jokes.

As I mentioned, I had an assignment due the day this storm hit. And because I'm a good student damnit I went in to submit it in the morning before news of the storm broke. It was raining and I dashed into the hub, soaking wet but pleased with my time management skills. I looked around for the usual assignment submission services, seeing that things looked a bit awry. The following conversation went something like this:

Me: Hi, I just need to submit an assignment?
Staff: You can't, the place is flooding.
Me: But it's due today...
Staff: The entire campus has been evacuated.
Me: ...but it's due today.

Because I have my priorities in order, instead of getting the hell out of dodge I went straight to the Communications building to see if I could find someone to give my assignment to directly. Of course, the campus had been evacuated so the only other person there was the one other journalism student wandering around, repeating the mantra "But it's due today!"

Eventually, we combined forces to slip our assignments under the professor's door, leaving a courteous note explaining the circumstances. Meanwhile:

You'll be happy to know that we were not awarded any late penalties.

-Smackie Onassis

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A (Probably Unnecessarily) Long Entry About Narcissism

I've been thinking a lot about narcissism recently.

I've heard my generation referred to as narcissistic many, many times. And while nothing annoys me more than media commentators deciding that it's perfectly fine to make sweeping negative generalisations about an entire generation of human beings, well, I recently signed up for twitter.

Don't get me wrong, I've been loving it. I like having an outlet to send out short ideas. I may be one of the few people who feels this way, but I like the challenge of culling those thoughts down to the character limit without compromising the spelling or grammar. I really like it, ok? And as for that whole 'Why would anyone want to know what I had for breakfast?' argument that I keep hearing, here's a simple solution: don't tweet about what you had for breakfast. Tweet about things you find interesting, things you actually think other people would want to know. If people took the attitude of Twitter as a way to send out links and information rather than thinking they need to use it to tell everyone the most mundane aspects of their daily life, I think it would have a much better reputation.

But while browsing for people to follow, I've noticed a trend that makes me even more ashamed of being a part of the twitter crowd than I already was. There are hordes and hordes of people on twitter who tweet about nothing but tweeting. Their profiles read like a mash-up of begging, demanding strangers follow them, thanking  them profusely and going on to ignore them completely while harvesting more and more followers.

There is no point to this other than narcissism. There is no reason to follow the messages of a person who only uses those messages to amass followers. And yet, these people have thousands of followers, all just like them. None of them even looking at what any of the rest of them are doing. Just begging and clicking, begging and clicking. They follow people for the sole purpose of being followed back and no-one even pauses long enough to think about what an empty kind of attention-seeking this is.

You hear a lot of people crying foul about the possible effects of social networking on young people. Normally, I think this is a whole lot of bollocks. I think the whole 'shorter attention span' thing is more or less irrelevant when society has created a working environment where people need to be able to concentrate on multiple tasks at once in order to survive. But one thing I can't simply sit down and get over is how the encouragement of narcissistic behaviours will effect the younger teens on the internet.

Everybody needs entertainment, especially kids. Previously, kids would spend their entertainment hours watching tv, playing games, reading, whatever it is that kids do. Either way, their attention was on speculation, on fiction and fantasy. But I would wager good money that if you gave all the kids who have ever gone on to become adults the option of spending their entertainment hours focused on themselves, but in a more entertaining format, they would lap it up. They would see strangers acknowledging their existence and want more, just like these kids who scour the internet begging for followers. Human beings are born wanting to be acknowledged. It's just who we are.

But here's the rub. Studies are coming thick and fast showing that when parents imbue their kids with an inflated sense of self-esteem, those kids have a tendency to spiral into depression when they realise they won't get everything they want in life solely based on how special they are. So, what happens when kids are raised on a diet of narcissism and obsessive self-involvement?

My answer is hipsters. Hipsters happen.

Let me start by saying that by 'hipsters' I don't mean everyone who wears skinny jeans and listens to Broken Social Scene. That would describe most people I know, as well as most people I admire. I'm talking about the true hipsters, the people who are more interested in the fashion of music than the music itself. The people who spend three hours carefully crafting an outfit to make it look like they just threw it on after an art session, the people who make up bands to claim they listen to just so they'll get the 'indie cred' of listening to a band so obscure none of their awful hipster friends have even heard of it. For a better explanation of what I mean than I could ever give, read this excellent article by Christian Lorentzen.

The thing that seems to define this type of person is their narcissism. You can listen to hipster music and wear hipster outfits without being considered a hipster. It's hard to say when a person crosses the line but it seems to centre pretty strongly around their deep-seated infatuation with themselves. A good, strong sense of superiority over anyone who isn't a hipster also seems to be an important element. These are the people who clung to emo culture when they were teenagers and needed a new sub-culture to fit into when that one became mainstream, like a cultural hermit crab constantly outgrowing it's persona and moving to a new one.

I'm sure there are people who would disagree with me when I say that the archetypal hipster is little more than a narcissist in organic lamb's wool clothing. I can't think of any of those people of the top of my head, but I'm sure they exist. I would tell those people that to see this kind of self-involvement in action, all you need to do is go to a gig. My favourite example comes from when I went to see Camera Obscura at the Corner Hotel in Melbourne. This was just after I'd been injured, so it might have been a good idea for me to stay at home. But given that I was seriously injured, had lost my job as a result and had already bought the tickets to a band I'd been listening to since I was a teenager (when I had precious little money to spend on entertainment), I went along anyway.

I was not well that night. My head was a mess of concussion and my body was causing me a lot of pain. I was on the brink of passing out all night, so I decided to just hang near the back where I could sit down if I needed to. Unfortunately, while the crowd surged around me, I felt a particularly strong wave of light-headedness and knew I needed some fresh air. I tried feebly to push past the throng of cardigans, but I was extremely weak. Not only did the people around me not move out of the way to let me past, but when I actually fell to the ground at their feet they didn't even give me a second look. I got out and was fine after a bit of fresh air but I am still furious about it. People have tried to justify this behaviour by suggesting that they thought I was just drunk. I don't see that as any excuse. Even if you are going to make the assumption that a person is drunk, then go ahead to judge them negatively as a result of that assumption, what excuse do you have not to even ask if they're ok?

There is no excuse. The answer is that the people around me were simply too self-involved, too busy waiting to see if any of their friends would show compassion first, too focused on being witnessed to be singing along when they knew the words to even give any attention to the human being literally collapsing at their feet.

I'm not one to bag our generation for narcissism. As I said, you can't judge an entire generation of people based solely on the actions of that generation's biggest attention whores. And it's not like I've done any studies, so I can't say that one thing is caused by another.

But I guess it's something to think about.

-Smackie Onassis

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Dark Side of the Internet: A Guided Tour

First of all, before anyone asks, I have no idea how I found any of these. No idea. I follow a lot of random links and then instantly forget how I got there. Just like in real life.

Regardless of where they came from, I have a nice little collection of these online oddities filed away in a bookmarks folder labelled, simply, 'wut'. These are a few of my favourites.

To set the tone, here is the dude with the World's Biggest Chin
That is so much chin. It's like four separate chins all combined to form one massive chinny appendage on one poor guy's face. I could die happy if I saw him eating in a restaurant and had the opportunity to say to him, 'Sir, you have a bit of chicken on your... chin,' and it is a whole chicken leg. The poor guy is actually trying to raise money for an operation to have it removed by offering the sale of advertising space on the chin. As my housemates pointed out, this is not a very good offer. Imagine: he finds a sponsor and gets their logo tattooed. Investors grin surreptitiously at each other. Then, he wanders across the street to the hospital and has the whole thing lopped off and tossed aside. Not a lot of bang for your advertising buck. Unless, I suppose, you are promoting an expensive new product that would appeal to surgeons.

So we've started off with a few light-hearted laughs at somebody else's torment, let's move onto something that will almost (if not definitely) knock your socks off.

Time Travel Police

If the title alone hasn't convinced you, you should hurry up and read that. It may be pretty much one big run-on sentence, but it is worth it.

The very first thing the author of this site does is declare that what he is about to say is totally not a hoax. Here's a hint: saying 'THIS ISN'T A HOAX I SWEAR I SWEAR!' before you even tell anyone what you're talking about isn't a good way to convince people that you're telling the truth. Before you have even finished that sentence people will be looking at you with shifty eyes, subtly working out where the nearest exits are.

As soon as the author has established that he is totally not foolin' y'all, he goes on to inform us that the UK government has established some kind of Time Travel Safety Net. Now here's the thing: I don't think that happened. I'm sorry to seem skeptical, mysterious anonymous conspiracy theorist, but I think if a major first world government started spending parliamentary time discussing time travel, I feel like I would have heard about it.

He goes on to say:

You are receiving this E-Mail from the Synchronity Time Police (UK Division) it is a general announcement bringing you News of a New Organisation against Time Travel Crime, our Web Site is still under construction and we are aware that we are the VERY FIRST Synchronized Community fighting Time Travel Crime, but how can we do this if Time Travel is not yet possible? we can't actually arrest any Time Criminals because there aren't any yet but we have set up this service because we think that people should do something NOW to prevent Time Travel ending up in the wrong hands and we don't want it to end up like the internet which is very hard to control and police because it is not owned by one single individual,

I had to cut him off mid-sentence because that last sentence was about three paragraphs of rambling about the internet. First of all, can I just say how much I love the things he chooses to capitalise? Synchronicity Time Police makes sense. But Web Site? News of a New Organisation? Those do not need capital letters, sir and/or ma'am. As for the content itself, well, it kinda speaks for itself, doesn't it? I think any comment I could make would do little but take away from this natural wonder. That being said, I totally call first dibs on doing a Time Travel Police song. Keep your greedy mitts off it, the Gregory Brothers.

Let's move on... the GREAT BAMBOOSICAL.

As far as I can gather, this is a movie musical that aspires to teach people about the benefits of bamboo. Sounds kinda dodgy, but dodgier ideas have worked. The first sign that this isn't one of those comes when you see that their tagline appears to be:

 "You'll laugh the beef right off the menu!"

I... I just... thankyou, the internet. Just. Thankyou.

Despite promoting the apparently hilarious side of bamboo knowledge, this is an issue the producers of Bamboosical take totally seriously. They have a list of facts promoting the health benefits of bamboo-based food products. Hell, they even have a picture of Beck eating a burger, captioned with the phrase 'Beck loves it!'. The best thing about this is that you know I'm not making it up because here is the damn link right here.

But what of the music of Bamboosical? They don't appear to have any sample songs, but here is the product description of their CD:

Ridin' Ranger is the mute hero from the film "The Great Bamboosical." He brings the top secret recipe of the Bamboo Burger™ plant-based patty to feuding Bambooyans and Rednecks. This CD includes 6 cosmically cool cuts from the film Soundtrack for only $9.99 (plus S&H). Profits go towards the cost of filming "The Great Bamboosical". Order your CD today and enjoy a rhythmically rocking ride with Ridin' Ranger!
Obviously the message of Bamboosical is a subtle one. Also, the hero is mute? Isn't it a musical? Isn't he supposed to be preaching the gospel of bamboo through song? A mute hero in a musical could actually be a really good idea, but I am willing to wager that the idea has not been brought to it's full potential here. There is a lot more to see on that site (I am particularly disappointed that the link marked simply 'COWS' doesn't appear to be working), but I can't possibly go through it all. Mainly because I want to go have a hot shower and a lie down and being on the computer is preventing me from doing that.

And so, our tour ends here.

-Smackie Onassis

P.S. If you haven't voted on my poll you are officially not my best friend.

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Dark Confession

I have a horrible, shameful confession to make.

I once spoke on the phone while I was in a public restroom cubicle.

Of all the things that modern society finds inappropriate, that one is pretty bad. It often surpasses using mobile phones on public transport in lists of people's technological pet peeves. I have sometimes joined in such conversations, nodding my head in agreement and making sure to point out that I would certainly never speak loudly into a phone on a crowded bus. All the while, I remain conspicuously silent when it comes to the restroom* issue.

I'm not proud of it, ok? I never thought I would be that guy. The person creepily going through their address book every time they lock the stall door. Loudly cracking jokes into the phone in between grunts. Sometimes going the extra distance to call someone just to breathe heavily into the mouthpiece, the sound of defecation barely audible in the background.

It wasn't like that for me. Really. I didn't want to do it. If anything, I fought it.

I was preparing myself for my first interview, for the first feature article I would write as a student of journalism. It was to be a personality profile. I had stretched my memory to think of any interesting connections I could possibly take advantage of. Until, suddenly, I'd stumbled across an old phone number in my address books, a rather strange young man I had befriended at a drama camp years before. I remembered his exuberant, ultra-flamboyant personality, alongside his repeated claims that he was a reincarnated psychic. I also vaguely recalled his attempts at white free-style rapping.

This was the guy. This was the guy that I would interview to set the precedent for my degree.

I called a few times, sending a few texts and leaving messages on his voicemail, at first to no avail. With my deadline looming, I started trying to think of alternatives but there wasn't one as appealing as this one. Then, suddenly, finally, he returned my call. I happened to be on the toilet at the time.

I heard my ringtone go off and saw the name flash up on my little Nokia screen. Instantly, I felt faced with a new height of social dilemma. This could be my only chance to actually get in contact with this guy to arrange an interview. An interview that could possible set the bar for my degree, even perhaps my career. But I was on the toilet. And someone else was in the stall next to me. Do I ignore the call and risk missing the opportunity? Or do I carry out polite society's most heinous atrocity?

I chose the latter. And I got that interview. And for the reward I got, I feel no shame for my repulsive actions. Well, maybe a little bit of shame.

If you're wondering, it turned out that my interview subject had started doing psychic predictions on TV morning shows (which I hadn't seen because I was a uni student with a uni student's definition of what consitutes 'morning'). He even went on to feature in a short lived reality show that faced Australian psychics off against each other to discover who was Australia's Most Psychic Psychic. A kind of blend between Medium and Australian Idol, I suppose, although I remember it being cancelled almost instantly. If you don't believe me, his website is here.

So, friends, yes. I have used a mobile device while seated on a public toilet. Shame me if you must. But before I am shunned from society altogether due to this disgraceful confession, I'd like you to think how you would react in the same situation.

-Smackie Onassis

*I'm never sure how to refer to toilets. Every possible word seems inappropriate in a different way. When I was in highschool, I just embraced the fact that everything was going to be inappropriate and just started to refer to the toilet as the 'Wee-hole' but I'm not sure I can get away with that on the internet.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Reality Tv Has Made Me Question Reality And I Don't Like It

I have a lot of opinions about reality TV. I tend to avoid it as a general rule, not because I don't like it, but because I believe that allowing producers to profit from more cheaply produced reality shows could have dramatic implications for Australia's creative industries. Simply put, if the bosses in an underfunded industry realise that people will volunteer to be exploited on camera for free (or the mere chance of a prize) and that they don't have to go through the added expense of hiring writers, actors etc, they won't hire those people. Which, if it goes on for long enough, means no more jobs for writers and actors in Australian television, and no more original content for viewers of Australian television. Bad.

But recently I've noticed another side effect of those few, unavoidable viewings of shows like Australian Idol, Search for a Supermodel and all those other talent contest type things. In years past when I looked in the mirror and decided that I looked at least passable enough to go the pub, I believed it. When someone told me I had given a good performance, I believed them. But at some point I noticed that  hey... those hideous creatures who audition for the modelling shows think they look good too...

At first, I shrugged off the idea. Those girls were deluded enough to slather on the facepaint and waltz right on to the set of a modelling show. Those bitches be trippin' right down the catwalk of crazy. I'm not going to go out and do anything like that, I don't need to worry myself with this kind of insecurity.

But then I noticed (it was on in the background, yeah?) just how many people on the reality shows live in a reality completely removed from anyone else's. Even the ones who don't seem overtly crazy (but not overtly talented either) have completely inflated ideas of their own abilities.

And then, through the wonders of television, you meet their family and it all makes sense.

If you've ever watched the earlier auditions on any of the 'Idol' shows, which you have because of course you have, you might have noticed that even the most tuneless, tone-deaf, singing suckhole seems to have at least four or five people around them to tell them that they truly are an amazing singer, that they're going to take the world by storm. These people are liars.

Don't get me wrong, they are well-intentioned liars. They've been brought up learning that a white lie is just dandy when it boosts someone's self-esteem, that self-esteem is always to be right at it's highest possible point, and that encouragement is something you are obliged to give someone. Plus, they like seeing the people they care about feel good about themselves. That's understandable. They think they're doing their friend/child/student the biggest of favours in sending them out into the world with confidence.

Of course it all becomes clear when the aspiring performer steps, alone, into the judges' arena and their whole world comes crashing down around them. They now have the word of industry experts that they can't sing to save their life, and the video footage (often screened repeatedly) to prove it. Not only do they have to deal with the fact that they are hopeless in the one area they've always been led to believe they are uniquely talented in, but they also have to deal with the knowledge that the people they care most about in the world lied to them. And that those lies eventually led to them being humiliated on national TV. You can see why so many of them prefer to cling to their delusions.

People seem to have this idea that 'encouragement' equals blind praise. In my amateur theatre days,  nothing annoyed me more than the way praise and compliments were little more than social commodities. One person would get up to demonstrate their performance and the rest would clap and cheer, tell them they were brilliant, with the promise that if they replied enthusiastically enough, they too would receive the same treatment. Everybody likes to be told they're brilliant, none more so than amateur actors. The problem with this system presented itself if you happened to be the type of person who actually wants constructive criticism. How can you improve your performance if no-one will even tell you it wasn't your best yet? Believing that you have nothing to improve means that you don't work on it and, in extreme cases, leads to the kind of delusion you see every season of any given reality show.

So now I'm in a complicated position where I can no longer truly believe that a compliment is genuine. Did that person really like my singing, or do they just want a compliment in return? Do I really look nice, or is that person just telling me what they think I want to hear? Does it really require the risk of national humiliation (or at least smaller scale humiliation) to know if you really are good at something?

Welcome to the world of limitless insecurities, friends. I'm sure you will make yourself at home.

- Smackie Onassis, who assures you she is not fishing for compliments.