Dead Tired

Suicide is painless, apparently. Living with suicidal thoughts, on the other hand, is to live in constant, crippling pain, albeit of the psychological variety.

Image The lack of physical symptoms means that help and support must be sought – it is rarely freely offered. If suicidal tendencies caused a literal black cloud to follow you around, it would be far easier for others to recognise. As it is, you are often suffering alone and in silence. It is quite common for the suicidally depressed individual to shun the company of others, preferring to cut themselves off from social contact. This is not to allow them to sit and brood on their own, but to spare their family and friends the depressing effect of their ‘broken’ personalities.

Social contact is hard, full of pitfalls for the unwary depressive. Small talk is absolutely terrifying: trying to be personable when all you can think of is shutting yourself away and cutting out the pain, or smothering it with pills, creates massive amounts of stress. Even talking to people close to you, who know of your condition, can be incredibly painful. You find yourself trying to reassure them that you’re fine, you’ll be OK, it’s just a bad patch.

Every single day is a bad patch.

You won’t be OK.

You aren’t fine.

Negative thought patterns, constant fear of tomorrow, the absolutely certain knowledge that things will never improve: these are all illogical, irrational, but they are always there and they wear you down. Knowing that the way you feel is irrational doesn’t stop you feeling it. It can make you feel much worse, knowing that you cannot trust what your own brain is telling you makes any decision almost impossible. How can I make an informed decision when I cannot trust the information? How can I do anything knowing that part of me wants to die? How can I trust myself when cutting into my arm with a Stanley knife is the most effective way to make myself feel better?

Image

 

I don’t want to be this person, but I cannot seem to change. I feel the pity and disappointment (real or imagined) from my friends and family and I just want to give up. I want it to stop. 

Or, more accurately, I want out.

Stop the world. I want to get off.

 

Been a while…

Dramatic enough for ya?

Dramatic enough for ya?

 

So, I’ve been away from this blog for quite some time. I went back to work in September after my nervous breakdown and diagnosis with depression, but I found I was unable to cope with the stress of teaching. My depression has been worsening and I find myself rapidly approaching the state I was in just over a year ago. I find my thoughts drifting to suicide again and again. I find the thought of self-harm attractive again. I have been having panic attacks and my fear of crowds has returned with a vengeance. I am petrified of doing anything in case I do it wrong.

I feel like a failure.

Let me be clear; I know it’s the depression talking. I know these thought processes are irrational and self-destructive. I find it so difficult to talk to people about it and I know this is hurting those around me. I cannot control my moods. I swing from depression to euphoria to blind rage at the drop of a hat. As a result, my sister has cut off contact with me and my parents aren’t talking to me (I cried all night after that episode). I wish I could say I blame them, but I know it is entirely my fault. The tablets are barely keeping it under control (or aren’t keeping under enough control) and the thought of looking for a new job while feeling like this terrifies me. My relationship with Lauren eventually failed, but we are still very close friends, which I am eternally grateful for.

depression

I have been developing my artwork and hope to be able to produce pieces on commission, or even land a job as an illustrator/designer, but I suspect that isn’t going to happen (possibly the depression talking again). I have been using the art as a form of therapy, a way of locking out the outside world and living in my own little bubble for a little while. I will upload some of my images on here at some point…

Trying to look objectively at my life is tricky, to say the least. I hate the way my life has turned out, but I have no-one to blame except myself. I realised that I have been drinking too much recently and that has now stopped. I am going to try quitting smoking again, too.

That’s all I can manage to write for now. I’ll hopefully update this again soon.

The only thing we have to fear…

Have you ever been afraid? Of course you have. It’s a natural and normal part of being a human, part of our genetic make-up.

Have you ever been so scared that you feel you cannot function normally? You know, that kind of fear that creates a terrible, churning void in your belly, that travels down your nerves causing trembling in your hands and knees? That pushes cold sweat through your pores and clouds your thoughts, shutting everything down to a basic ‘fight-or-flight’ choice, robbing you of your free will?

“SPIDER!!”

Dial that feeling back a notch and you have the way I feel every single day. Almost everything fills me with crippling fear. If I’m cooking a meal, I get terrified that the various components won’t be ready at the same time. If I walk down the street I am scared that everyone is looking at me, or that I am about to be attacked. Busy shopping centres reduce me to a quivering wreck, desperate to get out, get away.

But the fear is only the beginning. Fear turns to shame. I am ashamed that I should be getting so scared for no reason. It embarrasses me and makes me feel like a failure, unable to cope with everyday tasks. This makes me angry. So, the fear covers a boiling vat of barely controlled rage, ready to explode at the slightest provocation. Presumably this is an extension of the ‘Fight’ part of the ‘Fight-or-Flight’ response, pumping the body full of adrenaline, although I suppose it would also be helpful for ‘Flight’ too. Either way, it sucks.

I force myself to face it, trying to interact with people on a daily basis, to force the feelings of fear and anger away, but it doesn’t work. I lie in bed at night afraid of what will make me afraid tomorrow, afraid of the mistakes I made yesterday, afraid of the fear eating away at me. I fear the future. I fear the past. I even fear the present.

It never used to be like this. I used to have confidence. I used to be able to talk to just about anyone without being afraid that they would hate me (or, at least, not caring that much). I used to be able to go out and enjoy myself. Now I feel like I’m sucking the joy out of any room I walk in to like a massive life drain.

“Hey! Where did all the happy go?”

I know, in the underused rational part of my brain, that this is a symptom of the depression (at least, I hope it is), and I know that things will get better (at least, I hope they will), but it is getting so hard to live with this constant fear. I’m even scared to talk about it – seriously, the idea of people reading these words is making it unbelievably difficult to write them. You have no idea how many drafts and revisions I’ve had to work through. And that’s for a five- or six-hundred word article that a handful of people will ever see.

How do you think I feel about the rest of my life?

Hypegiaphobia

As many of you will be aware, I am engaged to be married to the lovely Lauren, and while I am enthusiastically looking forward to August next year (the date of the wedding), there are a few things I am not so keen on facing. Firstly, will I be able to cope with the responsibilities of being a husband? I hope so, and I will certainly do my best. Secondly, and more worryingly, Lauren is adamant that she wants children and, while I would also like to be a father, I am terrified about the levels of responsibility required for that role. I’ll be honest, when I was living on my own I would happily go a couple of days without eating, just because I’d forget. I would only eat crap, because cooking a proper meal for one person is far more effort than it’s worth. I would go without sleep (partly because I suffer from insomnia and partly because sleeping alone is depressing) for long stretches. I would spend days playing video games because I could. Unlike now, when the opportunity rarely presents itself.

I won’t be able to do any of that when I become a father (except for the sleep part). It isn’t that I want to do any of that, really, it’s just that the option will have been removed from me. I’ve never been very good with being told not to do something. It has always triggered that retarded slice of my brain labelled ‘rebel‘ and I have to force myself not to immediately go and do the thing I’ve been told not to. Stupid, I know, but that’s what my brain does. I blame James Dean and Marlon Brando.

“Hey, Jon! What are you rebelling against?”
“Whaddya got?”

So Lauren wants kids, and I am certainly not going to tell her that I don’t, because I do. Really, I do want children. I am just terrified that I won’t be able to cope with the pressures of fatherhood. I look at those friends of mine who have kids and marvel at the way they manage (and even flourish) in what seems to be a non-stop cavalcade of bizarre conversations, shitty nappies, sleepless nights, stress, fear and pain. Kids cost a fortune as well, and stop you doing the things that you may want to do. It amazes me that anyone would ever have kids by choice.

And yet…

Yes, I still do want kids. And I want Lauren to be the mother of those kids. Ideally, I want a son, and I want to be able to bring him up to be a good person, but I’m terrified of that responsibility. Once you have a child, there is no way of walking away from that. You become a parent and, regardless of anything else that happens, you will always be a parent. The only choice is to be a good parent or a bad one.

I hope I can be a good dad. My dad is someone who I look up to tremendously, a true role model. He and my mum instilled in me a sense of morality that, while difficult to live up to sometimes, is an excellent guide to social existence. I don’t think I can be as good a father as my dad is to me, but I can try to meet his standards. I won’t succeed, but even if I only get halfway there I’ll consider myself a good father.

The fear is still there, but it’s the fear of something that is at least two years away. We aren’t going to be trying for a baby until after we are married, so I have some time to get used to the idea. It doesn’t stop the creeping dread. What if I have another nervous breakdown? What if I simply cannot cope with the demands of parenthood and it triggers a serious depressive reaction? What if the strain is too much for our relationship and Lauren leaves me? What if..? What if..? What if..?

Of course, it might be wonderful. It might be all soft-focus lenses and the smell of babies heads. It might be a nappy commercial from start to finish. But that’s not how my brain works. It obviously homes in on the negative and rolls that around my brain until my stomach is a tight, twisted ball of anxiety and my head is pounding.

And this fear is for something that hasn’t even happened yet! Imagine how I feel about going back to work!

I hate my brain…

Did you miss me?

I’ve not been posting much over the last couple of weeks. This is due to a combination of things. Firstly, I picked up a copy of Sid Meier’s Civilization III for a couple of quid, and that has eaten huge chunks of my life like a greedy cannibal. Secondly, I borrowed the first two series of Castle from a friend and have been enjoying that. And thirdly, and most importantly, my depression has flared up (or down) again.

I’ve been feeling very confused. My mood swings rapidly from manic to depressed, which hasn’t really happened before, and I have no idea how I’ll feel in an hour’s time. This makes it difficult to settle to anything. I have also been feeling very scared and I’m not sure why. I keep panicking and have to force myself to calm down. Crowds are affecting me more than usual as well (I’m not good with crowds at the best of times), causing rapid heart rate, shaking and sweating. I get scared and upset, which in my mind gets converted into anger and I curse and swear. This is obviously unpleasant behaviour for anyone to deal with, and Lauren (my fiance) has to cope with it, which is unfair.

I started smoking again. Only a couple a day, but it still makes me feel disgusted with myself. I’m quitting again as of today, so hopefully I’ll be off them for good this time.

I’m still waiting to get back to work. Occupational Health should be getting in touch with me, but they’re dragging their feet a bit which isn’t helping my nerves. I don’t know if I’ll be able to cope with getting back into the classroom and teaching, but I have to try. At least that way I’ll know for sure. The thought still terrifies me, but I’m not backing down from this challenge. Not yet, anyway.

So, that’s where I am at the moment. Hopefully, there will be more ranting and contentious opinions, mixed with pseudo-intellectual analyses and commentary, for your delight/interest/anger [delete as required] soon.

Thanks for your patience.

Tights and Capes: How Superheroes Changed The World

To admit to liking superhero comics is akin to confessing a hideous social disease. They are the core of the geek’s domain, loved by spotty, greasy man-boys who live in their parent’s basement and masturbate to pictures of Katee Sackhoff and Tricia Helfer (they’ve moved on from Sarah Michelle Gellar). These borderline autistic creatures spend all day on internet chatrooms or World of Warcrack, having no real-world social skills, and live for the day that they can dress up as their favourite superhero and cruise the halls of the local convention looking desperately for a woman who knows the difference between Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner.

If this is true, why are superhero films so popular at the moment? And why have they been a regular feature of cinemas for over a decade? Since Brian Singer’s version of X-Men in 2000, superheroes have been coming out of the closet and dusting off their capes for the big screen. Of course, X-Men wasn’t the first superhero movie. It wasn’t the first good superhero movie. But it was the first, good successful superhero movie since Batman Returns eight years previously. Since Singer’s triumph, superheroes have made over $150 million per film almost every year. Surely geeks don’t have that much disposable income, do they?

Well, no. Of course not. The real reason runs quite deeply into the human psyche. People like superheroes. They always have. From the Norse epics of Beowulf to the spandex-clad super-teams of Joss Whedon’s up-coming Avengers, people can’t get enough of them.

"Who do you think they could get to play you, Nick?"
"Why, Mister Samuel L Jackson, of course. That's not even open to debate, Doctor Pym."

What is it about the superhero that we love? Is it simply the ‘hero’ part? Of course, that is part of it. We like protagonists in stories – that’s what they’re for. We follow their struggles and conflicts, hoping that they will pull through while secretly knowing that they almost certainly will. Superheroes tickle something else in our brains. They tackle problems that normal people just can’t deal with, so the stories can be much wider in scope – literally anything can happen. They are bigger, brighter, better than the rest of us. They climb so much higher, and have so much further to fall. They have powers or skills beyond that which is possible for us normal folk. That’s why they’re super.

Finding the earliest superhero isn’t an easy task. Where do we draw the line? Was Jesus a superhero? He certainly had superhuman powers, tried to help people and had a mysterious origin story.

Probably not...

If we take a superhero to be a work of modern fiction (somewhat arbitrarily), we could point to Spring-Heeled Jack, the folkloric figure that was immortalized in a series of ‘penny dreadfuls’ in the 1860’s. He was a diabolic bogeyman in his original form, jumping out on young ladies and traumatizing them in unspecified (but probably fairly obvious) ways, before escaping by leaping over impossibly tall obstacles. He later became more of a crime-fighter, relying on his disguise and his gadgets to catch or kill criminals. Interestingly, sightings of a figure matching the description of Spring-Heeled Jack are still occurring today, some 175 years after he was first reported. He almost certainly inspired later characters, such as Russell Thorndike’s Reverend Doctor Syn from 1915’s A Tale of the Romney Marsh. Syn was a 18th century Oxford scholar whose wife ran away with his best friend, so he took up piracy and smuggling in order to get revenge on the cuckolding cad. He donned the disguise of the Scarecrow in order to rally other smugglers to him and defeat the Revenue men. Syn was undoubtedly an anti-hero, standing up against the perceived criminality of taxation on imports to areas of Kent and Sussex. Essentially, he was the Han Solo of 1700’s England.

In 1919, another masked vigilante appeared on the scene. Don Diego de la Vega buckled his swash across the pages of America’s All-Story Weekly, penned by Johnston McCulley, and was seen as recently as 2005. He was more popularly known by the Spanish word for ‘fox’: Zorro! Zorro fought against the corruption of the Spanish-controlled state of California with his lightning-quick rapier and his trusty steed, Tornado. He maintained Zorro as a secret identity, posing as the foppish Don Diego to allay suspicion and donning the cape and mask to combat injustice and protect the poor. Zorro became a template for later masked vigilantes such as Batman and V.

The 1930’s witnessed an explosion of superheroes and became known as the Golden Age. Radio serials like The Green Hornet and The Shadow appeared, pulp fiction novels and newspaper serials introduced Mandrake the Magician, The Phantom, Doc Savage: Man of Bronze. But it was comic books that really decided the future of the genre, with a plethora of titles springing up, including Action Comics, Detective Comics, Wonder Comics, Timely Comics and Marvel Comics (among many other, less well-known and shorter lived titles). Many long-standing heroes were born in this period, notably Superman, Batman, Namor the Sub-Mariner, the Blue Beetle and the Sandman.

Superman was the archetype, first appearing in 1938’s Action Comics #1, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Superman has become an icon of American values and culture, embodying “Truth, Justice and the American Way”, and his trademark outfit (Red and blue with underpants over his tights) created an enduring convention that influenced virtually every hero that came later. His origin story tells us that he is an immigrant, the supposed last survivor of the planet Krypton, sent to Earth by his father, Jor-El. His birth name is Kal-El, and his alter-ego, Clark Kent, is a bumbling and mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Planet newspaper, allowing him to keep an eye on breaking news of disasters and other situations that may need the hand of Superman. Superman is ridiculously over-powered, with flight, virtual invulnerability, heat vision, x-ray vision, super breath, super speed and super strength being the core of his powers, gifted him by the yellow sun of Earth. His main weakness is, of course, radioactive lumps of his home planet (Kryptonite), but he also suffers from the human side of his character and his desire to protect the people of his adopted world. He is highly moral, often attempting to persuade others to give up their villainous ways.

Superman’s main rival is the ‘mad scientist’ Lex Luthor. Luthor is bent on world domination but has no super powers. He is, however, incredibly intelligent and a technological genius. He, like his nemesis, has evolved over time, but he is still essentially the same evil and obsessed science geek. The conflict between him and Superman, based on their childhood friendship, is one of Science Vs Superpowers (or could be interpreted as Knowledge Vs Magic). He is easily the most well-known of Superman’s foes and definitely the most recognisable, with his bald head and evil grin.

The Boy Scout

Less than a year after Superman’s debut, Detective Comics #27 introduced a different kind of hero, almost the polar opposite of Superman. Superman drew his power from the sun, but Bob Kane’s hero was far more comfortable in the darkness. The Batman wore black and grey, covered his face and had no super powers, relying on his fearsome intellect and honed physical skills (as well as a range of technological wizardry). He modeled his costume on the bat theme to strike fear into criminals, using psychological warfare to gain the upper hand, and was motivated by revenge for the murder of his parents when he was a small boy. Bruce Wayne, his alter-ego, is a slightly foppish billionaire playboy, similar to Zorro’s de la Vega, but he uses his vast wealth to fund his night-time excursions into the criminal underworld of Gotham City. Batman is deeply flawed in a way that Superman is not, and many commentators (and many of the writers) have explored this aspect of the character. For the first couple of years of the comic, Batman would happily use guns and kill criminals, but this soon changed and Batman became more moralistic.

Batman was the first hero to have a ‘Rogues Gallery’ of iconic, repeating villains. These were, like the Batman himself, larger than life and representative of some intense trauma. The most famous is, of course, the Clown Prince of Crime, the Joker, representing the ‘Trickster’ archetype of Jungian psychology. He is an unrepentant psychopath, gleefully leaving death and chaos in his wake and constantly taunting Batman for being as psychologically damaged as any inmate of Arkham Asylum (Gotham City’s fictional madhouse). Over the years since his introduction, the Joker has killed the second Robin (Jason Todd), paralysed Barbara Gordon (Batgirl and the daughter of Jim Gordon – went on to become Oracle), and murdered several hundred (if not more) residents of Gotham. He has corrupted several of his doctors in Arkham, including his psychiatrist Harleen Quinzel, who became his girlfriend/sidekick Harley Quinn. His relationship with Batman is complicated. On the one hand, he is the Batman’s archenemy, while on the other hand, the pair have more in common with each other than they do with those with whom they side. This idea has been explored by several writers, notably Grant Morrison in Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Batman represents the yin to Superman’s yang, embodying the darkness that is necessary to balance out the light.

Tights are for girls?
Really?

The titles which would eventually amalgamate into DC Comics (Detective Comics, Action Comics, All-Star comics and a host of others) kept churning out characters in the 1940’s, with only a few that would eventually become Marvel Comics characters appearing. DC characters born in this decade include Flash, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Aquaman, Joker, Catwoman, The Atom, Black Canary, Robin the Boy Wonder and Wonder Woman.

Marvel managed Captain America and…um…

Perhaps the most interesting of DC’s output in the 40’s was Wonder Woman. Created by William Moulton Marston, inventor of the polygraph lie detector, Wonder Woman was intended to be a feminist icon, a reaction to the male-dominated superhero world. Although technically not the first female superhero (Sheena, Queen of the Jungle had debuted four years previously), she was the most iconic, able to hold her own in the male hero world. Her role was to “triumph not with fists or firepower, but with love”, according to Marston. Her powers of super strength, speed, agility, stamina and flight were augmented by her use of ‘magical’ devices including her Lasso of Truth (which forced those bound by it to tell the truth) and her indestructible bracelets which she used to deflect bullets. She is an unmatched military tactician, expert martial artist and god-like wisdom and compassion, although she is quite prepared to use lethal force if she deems it necessary, setting her apart from Superman and Batman.

Marston himself was a feminist, often writing about what he believed to be the inequalities of modern gender politics. He clearly loved women, as he lived in a polyamorous relationship with his wife, Elizabeth (also a psychologist and credited with being a co-creator of Wonder Woman), and Olive Byrne. These two women formed the basis of the character. Marston claimed that they represented the type of women that should rule the world, having temperaments far better suited to the role than men. He did not want to create a hero that was simply a masculinised woman, nor a stereotypical comic-book woman, suitable only for romantic or support roles (although Wonder Woman’s first job in the Justice Society of America was as their secretary).

Wonder Woman: Feminist Icon

The 1950’s introduced new versions of familiar heroes, with Hal Jordan taking over as Green Lantern and Barry Allen donning the Flash costume, as well as the introduction of Supergirl, Kal-El’s cousin Kara Zor-El, but it was the 1960’s that saw a true blossoming of the superhero, with DC’s rival, Marvel Comics, really coming into its own. Stan Lee helped created dozens of new heroes in the 60’s, including (but by no means limited to) Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Fantastic Four, Thor, Iron Man, Daredevil, The Silver Surfer and the X-Men. He worked with a range of collaborators, most famously Steve Ditko (who designed Spider-Man) and Jack Kirby (responsible for the looks of The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Hulk and a raft of others), but it was Stan’s creative mind that formed the basis for the heroes. Marvel took the idea of teams of heroes from DC’s Justice Society and ran with it, having a huge number of their characters join teams or partner with other heroes for an issue or two. Marvel’s stories also explored sociological issues in a way that DC didn’t at the time, dealing with racism, bullying, religion, high school, Communism and more. Marvel’s heroes weren’t all muscular and good-looking. The Fantastic Four’s Thing looked like a monster, as did the X-Men’s Beast and Nightcrawler, highlighting prejudice based on appearances. They also focused on ‘real world’ problems faced by their characters, making them easier to relate to than DC’s god-like creations.

Marvel’s rise has continued in the movie world. DC’s Superman had some success with Christopher Reeve in the late 70’s and early 80’s, but the attempted reboot, Superman Returns (2006) was a flop, largely due to the weak plot and gaping plot holes (he almost died from being stabbed with a splinter of kryptonite, but is then able to lift a mountain of the stuff and hurl it into space? Really?), but Man of Steel, written by David S Goyer and Christopher Nolan (the team responsible for DC’s successful Batman franchise, which has its final installment being released later this year), is due out in 2013 so that may change. Marvel, on the other hand, has just produced the third biggest opening day box office in UK cinema history (making £2.5 million, about £1 million behind Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) with its new Joss Whedon-helmed ensemble movie Avengers Assemble. This follows a four year build up in the shape of two Iron Man movies, an Incredible Hulk movie, a Thor movie and a Captain America movie. In that four year period, but unrelated to the Avengers, Marvel have also released Punisher: War Zone, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men First Class, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and two animated Hulk features. They also have the Spider-Man reboot due out later this year and, of course, fifteen or so earlier movies based on their characters. DC have a handful of films based on their Vertigo label, including Constantine, A History of Violence and V for Vendetta, none of which made big box office, and their successful Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale Batman franchise, which did. They also produced the Ryan Reynolds Green Lantern which barely broke even, Watchmen which didn’t do much better, and Jonah Hex, which bombed.

In the ratings war, Marvel are winning. But this has always been Marvel’s tactic: flood the market with hundreds of different titles, designed to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, while DC have usually focused on a smaller groups of titles and explored them in more depth. Except Superman, who is still pretty shallow. DC are certainly more ‘adult’ (whatever that means) than Marvel and have been more comfortable publishing ‘darker’ stories than Marvel. This is a result of the Comics Code Authority and their system of authorising works that submitted to their code of conduct. Both DC and Marvel released titles that were not submitted, DC under its Vertigo banner and Marvel’s Epic Comics, but DC has arguably produced the most famous titles. Vertigo printed titles from Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, Jamie Delano, Mark Millar, Mike Carey and Warren Ellis, to name but a few. Many of these writers have been recognised for their excellent stories, especially Gaiman, Moore and Morrison.

Alan Moore: the most famous beard in comics

So who will win out in the end? Does there have to be a winner? I certainly hope not. With any luck, both of these companies, as well as the many small publishers who put out comic titles, will last for many years to come, thrilling and entertaining us with their spandex-clad muscle-men and partially clad pneumatic women. They are the epic poetry of our generation, our version of gods and monsters. They belong to each and every one of us and we have a responsibility to add to the canon and support these Cassandras for as long as we possibly can. The minds that gave us superheroes have shaped the world, with lie detectors, web-casting restraint guns, bullet-resistant materials and more.

Maybe one day, I’ll own my very own Batmobile…

Brraaiinns! Or How To Survive When The Zombies Arrive

So, let’s say that it has finally happened. The zombie apocalypse that we have all been secretly hoping for has arrived. The ravening hordes are shuffling slowly up your street, intent on feasting on the flesh of the living. What do you do?

PPPPP: Prior Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance

Be prepared, like a good Boy Scout. I’m obviously not suggesting that you have a ‘Zombie Emergency Kit’ stashed in your garage, just plan ahead and make sure you have all the things you might need within easy reach when the inevitable happens. Make sure that the car has at least fifty miles of fuel in the tank and is in reasonable running order. Ensure that your wardrobe contains at least one suit of hard-wearing clothing that covers all areas (leather is good and tough – it’s also wipe clean and sexy as hell). Maintain a good few days worth of tinned food in the cupboard and keep a few clean plastic bottles to fill with drinking water. And a first aid kit is a total necessity, packed with bandages, needles, broad-spectrum antibiotics, painkillers and so on. Water purification kits are also a good idea, in case you get lost out in the wilderness, many miles from Starbucks.

Of course, if you are an American (or a similarly unhinged nationality), you will have relatively easy access to firearms. You should therefore ensure that you are well tooled up in terms of your projectile weapon of choice. May I suggest something in a fully automatic shotgun?

Some people really shouldn't have access to this kind of firepower.

On the other hand, if you live in a country that has slightly more rigorous gun control, the best you’re likely to get is a knackered old double-barrel, and even then only if you happen to live on or near a farm or gun shop (which are few and far between – gun shops that is; there are lots of farms). If you live in the city, you could wait for the armed response units or the military to rock up and get eaten, thus leaving lots of shiny, military-grade weapons and ammo lying around, but then you’ll have to deal with all the zombies enjoying the al fresco soldier buffet.

One thing we can be sure of: melee weapons are a bad idea. If you’re that close, you’re probably already dead, and no amount of stabbing or pummeling is going to make a difference.

Have An Exit Strategy

Ok, you’re all prepared to get the hell out of Dodge. But where are you going? If, like me, you live in a big city, you are surrounded by a couple of million other people, of which a large proportion will be trying to dine on the brains of the remaining few, while those few are trying to also flee the carnage. If we assume a 99% infection rate, that still leaves 78,000 people trying to leave London, 20,000 trying to leave Birmingham. New York? 82,000. Shanghai? 178,000.

That’s a lot of traffic. Panicking traffic.

Beep beep!

You think normal rush hour is bad? Wait until you’ve got zombies stumbling into the flow of traffic, beloved family members zombing out in the back seat of the Zafira and the antics of the kind of people who have been looking forward to a zombie apocalypse just so they could play Mad Max on the ring road.

May I recommend staying at home? At least for a day or two. The zombies are unlikely to target you if you draw no attention to yourself. Lock doors and windows, turn out all lights and make no loud noises. Let the terrified and unprepared draw the danger away. Make sure that there is at least one secure exit to your home, one that will cause difficulties for pursuing zombies; a route across rooftops, or a series of lockable doors (zombies have trouble with doorknobs anyway), just in case the zombies do figure out where you are.

Once the roads have cleared a little, get the hell out of the city and head for a safe place in the country. Which leads us to our next point…

Drive Carefully!

This may be a minor point, but I think it bears close examination. The roads will be filled with abandoned vehicles, discarded rubbish and corpses, both shambling and otherwise. These can be problematic when driving, as I’m sure you remember from your own driving tests. The natural reaction will be to wait until nightfall before making your move. DO NOT DO THIS! At night, you will need to use headlights to avoid the dangers in the road. You will therefore be more obvious than a transvestite at a Klan rally. Drive during the day, you’ll be less noticeable.

And as for running over the zombies, well, check out the windscreen on this car after it hit a pedestrian.

Imagine hitting more than two zombies. The third one’s going to be sat in the car with you.

And then you’re lunch. And talking of cars…

A Decent Set Of Wheels

What are you driving? Something quick? A big V8, maybe the last of the V8s? Probably not a lot of use, considering the state of the roads in the post-apocalyptic world (roads in the pre-apocalyptic world aren’t all that great). One fire will fuck up the tarmac so much that a low-slung muscle car just isn’t going to cut it. You want something with four-wheel drive, something rugged, something easy to fix. Basically, you want one of these:

 

Proper motor!

There’s a reason that the British Army have been using this baby for about sixty years. And that reason is that it’s virtually unbreakable. The bodywork is made of solid hardness and the chassis is constructed from girders and stiff-upper-lippedness. It can be fixed in the field by squaddies with sticks and it can be converted to run on just about anything that will burn. It can also be fitted with riot protection really easily, which means you can actually drive through a bunch of zombies without being eaten. They may be noisy, thus attracting zombies to your location, but they are tough, and can protect you while you make your escape.

Have A Place To Go

There is no point in running if you’re just running away. You need to have somewhere to run to. Somewhere safe, but where is that? What constitutes ‘safe’ in world mostly populated with wandering, hungry corpses? According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, food, water and sleep are right at the bottom, with property and bodily security right above them. So you want a good, solid and well-defended base, right? Somewhere with just one way in, so it’s easy to barricade, right?

Wrong.

One way in is one way out, and if it’s crawling with zombies, you’re not getting out that way. You’re trapped inside. Still, as long as it’s safe, right? Wrong again. You’re surrounded by zombies. Sooner or later, you’re going to need to get out for more food. How long does it take for a zombie to starve to death? Or get bored and wander off, especially if it knows there are tasty people inside? Want to risk it?

Your best bet is to have a number of bolt-holes scattered about the countryside. Look at what you need. Food and water easily accessible, so a river or lake with plenty of life in is a good start (unless the fish are zombies – I don’t recall any literature dealing with undead trout, but keep your eyes open just in case). An independent power supply, such as a petrol driven generator or effective renewable energy sources are essential – how else will you practise zombie slaying on the Xbox? Farms are good, especially if they are built on reasonably open ground, as are nice, large and fertile islands; this gives you multiple escape routes and lots of land for growing food and raising livestock in the long-term. Open ground also allows excellent sight-lines for picking off the odd wandering zombie.

So, you’ve got a place to hide out, without hordes of zombies, with good sight-lines for…

Neca Eos Omnes…

Ok, I mentioned guns earlier. This is the bit that all true zombie fans are really interested in. What’s the point in having a world over-run by zombies if you aren’t going to spray their internal organs all over the place with fully automatic weaponry? So let’s just assume that you have the pick of any firearms that you could possibly want: which ones do you carry?

"We need to get bigger guns. Big fucking guns!"

We need to remember that, despite what video games would have us believe, one man cannot carry that much in the way of guns. A typical handgun weighs a couple of pounds, fully loaded. A submachine gun weighs in at around eight pounds. An assault rifle, twelve. Shotgun, seven. Add in a reasonable amount of ammunition for the guns and you’re talking between three and ten pounds per hundred rounds. A soldier may carry up to ninety pounds into combat, including water, first-aid kits, GPS, radios, a belt of ammo for a squad support weapon and so on. And they are trained to do it.

Go to a mirror and take a long, hard look at yourself. Reckon you could manage it?

Thought not. Realistically, an average person could probably carry a pistol and an assault rifle or auto-shotgun, plus enough ammo to be useful, for any extended period of time. Of course, you can load up the 4X4 with extra weaponry, but each additional gun is a couple of days worth of food or water that you don’t have room for.

While we’re on the subject, how good a shot are you? Do you practise often? And I’m not sure how much Time Crisis counts. The point is, headshots (the traditional method of dispatching the zombie menace) are tricky, especially in a high stress situation. The good news is that you don’t need to kill them. Blowing their legs off would allow you to get away too. Ok, so you’ll be leaving an extremely pissed off zombie lying around with no legs, just waiting for the next poor sap to stumble past, but fuck him! At least you’ll get away. Don’t waste time and ammo on fancy shots. Take out chunks of zombie with some massive tissue damage and simple engineering principles will do the rest. It can’t run after you if its femurs are shattered. Of course, if you’ve got a safe, elevated position and a sniper rifle, then knock yourself out!

Mum! I got an ouchie!

As I mentioned earlier, melee weapons are asking for trouble, but explosives of various types can be useful. Molotov cocktails, if you have a plentiful supply of petrol, will crisp a zombie up nicely, but leave the more tricky ones to the experts. Grenades are fairly simple to use, but hard to get hold of unless you’re in the military, and homemade explosives are just a cheap way to blow your own arms off.

Old school defensive structures are surprisingly useful against zombies, because they don’t have the sense to spot them. Pit traps, log falls, even mechanical bear traps can all be used to keep zombies away from your perimeter.

Who’s With You?

The final part of this article deals with the people around you. How do you decide who you band together with? The obvious answer goes hand in hand with the ‘planning’ suggestion earlier; figure out before the apocalypse who is going to be a useful addition to the team. Mechanical skills, medical skills, survival skills are all useful, and don’t forget someone who can make tinned food not taste like week-old arse. Once you have a good idea where you are going, you can figure out whose skills will be most useful to you. The temptation will be to save family members and other loved ones, but you may not have the luxury of compassion in the zombified world.

Unless they are plump and slow-moving, in which case you might want to take them along in case you need a distraction. Working in groups is a good idea, though. Safety in numbers isn’t just a cliché, it could save lives. Ideally, contact other potential survivor cells before the apocalypse and arrange to meet up at a secret location and form a super-commune, to help repopulate the world.

But remember to invite some members of the opposite sex…

Fear leads to Anger…

I have written before about my dislike of the intolerant, so this article will not come as much of a shock to those of you familiar with my way of expressing myself. To those of you unfamiliar with me, brace yourselves: this could be a bumpy ride.

I am a huge fan of the Star Wars universe (well, excluding The Phantom Menace, anyway) and I am also a believer in LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) rights, so when a bunch of right-wing, religious lunatics like the Florida Family Association attack EA Games for including the option for same-sex relationships in Star Wars: The Old Republic, I find my wrath beginning to surface. The Florida Family Association, a non-profit charity dedicated to “[educating] people on what they can do to defend, protect and promote traditional, biblical values”, wrote an article that accused Bioware, EA Games and Lucas Films of bowing to pressure from “LGBT activists” to include non-heterosexual characters in their games. They claim that “there were no LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) characters in any of the Star Wars movies”.

"I beg your pardon?"

Have they seen the films? C3P0 is about as fabulous as you can get! Anyway, they are suggesting that LGBT pressure groups are forcing EA and their subsidiary companies to include same-sex relationship choices in the game. Jeff Brown, EA’s Vice President of Corporate Communications (which, in fairness, sounds like an Imperial job title), denies that any pressure was placed on them and denounces criticism as “political harassment”. Good for him! The American Decency Association joined the fight, claiming that the inclusion of LGBT options was an “attack on the hearts and minds of children” and accused Bioware of “social engineering”. They also state that the films were “family fare”, which they were – especially if you include incest as “family fare”.

Family Fun?

Quite.

The American Decency Association is also accusing EA/Bioware of “censoring” comments by parents who are opposed to the move, by removing them from the website. However, EA’s Jeff Brown simply said “we don’t tolerate hate speech on our forums”, which rather suggests that the complaints were not worded in an acceptable way. A quick glance at the American Decency Association or the Florida Family Association websites would certainly support this. Both websites refer to LGBT characters as “social agenda characters”, rather than focusing on the simple fact that the player can CHOOSE to play a homosexual character. This is not being forced on anyone, although the Florida Family Association does point out that Bioware will not ” create game rules that would allow regular players to prohibit entry into their games by these social agenda characters.  That would be discrimination (sarcasm.) [sic]” Helpful of them to point out the sarcasm there, we might have missed it otherwise. On the plus side, they won’t force you to play “social agenda” characters either. Because that would also be discrimination. They allow you to choose. Which isn’t.

The ESRB (Entertainment Software Ratings Board) has classified SW:TOR as T for Teen, recommending that only players aged 13 or over have access to it. This is because it may contain elements unsuitable for younger children, such as ” violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language”. Hmm. No mention of steamy, man-on-man action there. Maybe they didn’t notice it. Or maybe they don’t consider homosexual relationships to be something that children need protecting from.

Won't somebody please think of the children?!

Either way, if their children are playing these games, it means that they are bad parents. Simple.

This is, of course, a load of right-wing, extremist nonsense. Children don’t need to be protected from homosexuals, they need to be educated about them. They need to realise that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality so that those who are gay don’t grow up feeling the need to pretend to be someone else, with all the psychological pressure that entails. Groups like the American Decency Association and the Florida Family Association need to have the language that they use exposed for what it is: attempted brainwashing. They knowingly use phrases like “social agenda characters”, or “trying to capture the minds of our children”, or “force this offensive content on a captured audience of hundreds of thousands of children”, or “LGBT…activists”, or “radical homosexual extremists”… I could go on.

In fact, I think I will.

“Electronic Arts would shatter that family quality”, or “harassing the game community”, or “a lot of them expressing anger that their kids will be exposed to this Star Warped way of thinking”, or “propaganda”, or “these LGBT activists are pummeling Florida Family Association” (which does at least conjure up images suggesting the real reason behind their fears!).

"You got a real purdy mouth!"

While these comments are not in themselves openly homophobic, they do use the persuasive techniques and biased language in a blatant attempt to influence their audience. As their audience is largely comprised of (dare I say it) ill- or under-educated, right-wing, knee-jerk fundamentalist Christians, this kind of ‘subtle’ manipulation is often very effective. Political activists of all shades of opinion have been using these techniques for centuries – look at the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, John F Kennedy, Margaret Thatcher, George Bush, Mao Zedong, Che Guevara. It is particularly effective among those who traditionally do not ask questions, such as fundamentalist religious groups (and I’m not deliberately having a go at religion again, just those who abuse their power over those less well-educated, such as politically motivated religious leaders and pressure groups). Of course, the pro-gay side has the right to use such tactics as well, but they face an uphill struggle, as they are going against the ingrained teachings of generations of homophobic morons. The fact is that homosexuality hasn’t been seen as a bad thing for as long as most people think. Plato (424-328BC) wrote about the way that same-sex relationships were a healthy part of any young man’s love life, although he changed his views later in life, possibly as a result of changing societal norms. Roman rulers were almost all bisexual and openly took male lovers and it wasn’t until Emperor Theodosius I (a Christian ruler) that homosexuality was banned. East Asian countries have long accepted homosexuality and transgender as equal to heterosexuality, especially in Thailand (the famous ‘ladyboys’) and Japan, where samurai warriors would often engage openly in same-sex relationships.

Samurai: Well gay.

It is almost always religion that suppresses, criminalizes and persecutes those people who do not conform to their expectations or belief systems. This includes followers of other sects, ideologies or lifestyles. Religious institutions see themselves as the moral and spiritual guides to society, even if (especially if) that society does not want them to be. Homosexuality is illegal in most Muslim countries, and frowned upon by extremist Christian groups in the West. It is these extremists that are attempting to force their narrow view of loving, and sexual, relationships on the general populace once again. I am by no means tarring all Christians with the same brush. It is not my intention to attack any religion for its attitude to homosexuality. I know some Christians who support same-sex marriage. I even know at least one openly gay clergyman. It is the fringe groups, like the Florida Family Association, the American Decency Association, the Westboro Baptist Church, that are trying to force their petty, narrow-minded and bigoted ideologies on the rest of us. They accuse EA and Bioware of giving in to pro-gay pressure groups, a minority that was trying to prevent the First Amendment rights of the anti-gay movements, which obviously ignores the First Amendment rights of the pro-gays. It’s all a bit confusing, isn’t it!

Well, no. It shouldn’t be confusing. It’s a fairly simple situation. Let’s go through it step-by-step.

Step 1: If you are offended by homosexual content in a video game, don’t play the video game.

Step 2: There is no Step 2.

Oh, well, I guess it’s not that confusing after all!

So, if you find yourself complaining about something that isn’t being forced on you, there is a simple solution: Shut the fuck up. The LGBT community has had your bigotry and hate forced on them for years – they have a right to complain. You have noticed that you could choose to have a gay relationship in a video game – you have the right to silence, please exercise it.

 

Bricking it…

Yesterday in the Daily Mail, a woman called Samantha Brick wrote an article bemoaning the cruel hand that fate has dealt her. She suffers from discrimination, the target of an orchestrated and institutionalized hate campaign. That’s right: Samantha Brick is hated by women, “for no other reason than my lovely looks”. That’s right. Samantha Brick has bravely opened the debate on the jealousy that women have for more attractive members of their own gender.

You can read her article here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2124246/Samantha-Brick-downsides-looking-pretty-Why-women-hate-beautiful.html

This woman deserves your pity.

Twitter almost literally exploded. An outpouring of anger, hate and vitriol was aimed at this poor woman all day yesterday, just for having the courage to raise her beautiful, blonde head above the parapet. Some of the hateful rhetoric hurled at her is unforgivable, fueled entirely by base, petty jealousy. These hideous trolls should crawl back underneath their bridges and comb their matted beards. We don’t want to hear from these deformed gorgons, only pretty people should be allowed to voice their opinions.

The lovely Samantha assures us that “I’m not smug and I’m no flirt”, before going on to list occasions where female bosses have singled her out for her attractiveness or the clothes she wears. With male bosses it’s different, of course: “I have flirted to get ahead at work, something I’m sure many women do.”

So…she’s not a flirt, but has flirted to get ahead? I think we’re beginning to close in on the real reason that she has been treated badly. She appears to be a smug, self-centered hypocrite. She is claiming that anyone who doesn’t automatically like her is jealous of her looks. I’m not sure that is the case. In fact, I suspect that if you were to read the articles without seeing the (many) photographs of the “tall, slim, blonde and, so I’m often told…good-looking woman” you would form a distinct impression of her as being really quite objectionable. I’m sure many of us, as much as we would not like to admit it, do judge people on their appearance in the first instance, but I am also sure than many of us are also aware of this, and do our very best to move beyond this snap judgement and base our impressions of people on what they are like, not what they look like. Most of us understand the phrase “beauty is only skin deep”, even if we still like a pretty woman or attractive man. It’s why Hollywood doesn’t have that many ‘normal’ looking people in its films.

Ok, so there are exceptions to every rule.

Samantha Brick laid out her case in the Daily Mail and immediately found herself in the middle of a row, with celebrities and ‘ordinary folk’ alike throwing their hats into the arena. The MailOnline website received a veritable shitstorm of hits and comments (well over 4500 before they disabled the comments section of the web page), earning a nice pot of advertising revenue in the process. They were obviously so pleased with this result that they got Samantha to write a follow-up article, which, at time of writing, had already racked up over 600 comments before the option was again removed. So congratulations, Samantha. Over the last two days you have probably earned the Daily Mail the equivalent of the salaries of half a dozen NHS nurses. You must be very proud.

Her follow-up article can be found here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2124782/Samantha-Brick-says-backlash-bile-yesterdays-Daily-Mail-proves-shes-right.html

If one were feeling harsh, one could ask if a woman who was truly secure in her attractiveness would include thirteen photographs of herself in two articles. Seriously. Thirteen photographs spread across two articles totaling only three thousand words. That’s one photograph of herself every 230 words. That’s a level of narcissism that we mere mortals can only dream of. Way to raise the bar, Samantha.

Her follow-up article addresses the feedback she received on her first article, outlining the trending on Twitter, the responses of “women I know well enough to call friends” on Facebook, the “countless so-called comedians [that] have written unprintable things” about her. The comment printed from her ‘friends’ on Facebook is perhaps the most revealing: “What the hell does Sam think she’s on?” Yes, even her friends think she’s lost the plot. Far be it for me to denigrate someone’s looks (I’m no oil painting myself, believe it or not), but she isn’t actually all that stunning. Good looking, yes, in a slightly-above-average way, although that forced grin of hers does rather put me in mind of dour ex-PM Gordon Brown.

The demented smile of a child killer.
Possibly.

The majority of comments about Brick’s article seemed to focus on this point: why does she think she is so beautiful? Let’s be honest, beauty is a relatively subjective thing – what one person finds attractive isn’t necessarily the same as the next person. I, for one, believe that Cate Blanchett is a stunning woman, but Kim Kardashian* leaves me cold (and flaccid). Many would disagree, and that is their right. And confidence is an extremely attractive quality for anyone, male or female, to possess. But what Brick (and I must stop calling her that – it makes me think of the Fantastic Four’s strongman) is displaying isn’t confidence – it’s arrogance. It is the assumption that people dislike her because “women find nothing more annoying than someone else being the most attractive girl in a room”, pasting herself in the role of “the most attractive girl in the room”. Leaving aside the slightly disturbing connotations of a 41-year-old woman referring to herself as a ‘girl’, she is arrogantly assuming that everyone else is as shallow as her, that every problem she has faced in life – be it from co-workers, bosses, people on the street – is the result of the failings of others, the pure jealousy caused by her natural beauty. She suggests that if Brad Pitt referred to himself as good-looking, everyone would agree, but if Angelina Jolie did the same there would be a similar outcry as she has experienced.

No. Not true. I reckon that if Ms Jolie were to suggest that she was good-looking, most people would call her arrogant for saying so, but wouldn’t bother arguing that point with her because it is so self-evidently true. However, the point remains that Ms Jolie hasn’t said that, presumably because she knows it would be a hideously arrogant thing to say. Do you see my point here, Samantha? The same goes for many other women: Anne Hathaway, Aishwarya Rai, Charlize Theron, Monica Bellucci, Zoe Saldana, Sophie Dahl (before she lost the weight). None of these women have stood up and blamed everyone else’s jealousy for holding them back.

Compare Ms Dahl...

Or Ms Rai...

...with Ms Brick.

But she didn’t stop there. Oh no. The comments that she received after her initial article had one result: “my detractors have simply proved my point”. Wow! Chutzpah much? Yes, indeed. All you people who tried to point out that she was arrogant, or crazy, or misguided, no matter how rational and well formulated your response was, regardless of your level of intelligence or position in life, if you disagreed with her, you were jealous of her unmatched beauty. This really takes some balls. Samantha Brick singled out Lauren Laverne, BBC Radio DJ and presenter of Channel 4’s 10 O’Clock Live, for her Twitter comments about the article, including “Why do people WRITE articles like this? And why am I reading it?” The article suggests that Laverne was Tweeting about it all day, but as I follow her on Twitter, I can categorically say that this wasn’t the case at all. She certainly responded to the Tweets of others on the subject, but she seemed far more interested in the sex lives of the pandas at Edinburgh Zoo than Samantha Brick’s self-obsessed rantings (and who wouldn’t be? Pandas really are cute!)

To wrap up this little rant, I would like to say a few things. Firstly, I don’t care if Samantha Brick believes she is the most beautiful woman in the world. Seriously. Good on her for having that level of self-confidence in such an appearance-conscious age. But don’t assume that everybody shares this view. That’s just arrogance.

Secondly, don’t personally attack her looks if you are going to disagree. She isn’t ugly, let’s be fair. She may not be ‘your type’, but objectively speaking she’s closer to Angelina Jolie than Joseph Merrick. Call her arrogant, call her narcissistic, call her deluded, but don’t bother calling her ugly: you’re damaging your own argument.

Thirdly, I have included the links to the two MailOnline articles out of obligation, but I urge you not to visit them! Don’t give that fascist rag the satisfaction or the money. If you wish to check the quotations I have used, then on your own head be it!

That’s it. I’ll climb down from my soapbox now.

Have a nice day!

*I don’t even know who this person is!

A Rag-Tag Fugitive Fleet: Addendum

Further to my reflections on American TV shows over the last few days, someone pointed out that there is not much of a commentary included. I added a few thoughts to the end of the second post, but clearly that was not enough. So I thought I’d try to expand on that.

What effect did these shows have on me as an individual, and my generation?

This is going to be problematic. I can certainly try to explore the effect that they had on me, but beyond that it will have to be conjecture at best.

Firstly then, what is the nature of a hero? Traditionally, a hero was semi-divine, featuring in the mythology of ancient Greece. They were superhuman in some way, admired for their courage or other noble qualities, and often engaged in a feat of self-sacrifice. This definition has been modernised somewhat, taking into account literary heroes, which are simply (and slightly erroneously) seen as the main protagonist of a work of fiction, someone who is generally associated with positive qualities. Often a modern hero will be an everyman, an ordinary person in an extraordinary situation who rises to the challenge facing them. In the real world, of course, a hero is just someone who is respected for some kind of achievement, often showing bravery by risking their own life, but we aren’t interested in real life here!

John McClane: Not a real-life hero

Heroes are central to our emotional landscapes, meaning that we need heroes (either real or imaginary) in order to give us something to aspire to. They have the touch of perfection, but almost inevitably with enough of a flaw to be attainable by mere mortals. At least, that’s how it seems. Most of us are actually far too real, too normal, too boring, to ever achieve heroic status, however hard we may try. Besides, most of us look ridiculous in spandex. But we have invented heros ever since we started thinking, almost. The ancient Greeks had heroes, the Egyptians, the Scandinavians, the Celts. We have always needed someone with the physical and mental strength to stand up for the little people, to face down the tyrant, to win the day.

An action show, or movie, needs a hero (or possibly an antihero, but more of them in a bit), as well as a foil for them, a villain of some sort. This could be, in the case of some of the TV shows discussed before, a villain of the week, a one-off bad guy who is defeated before the hero moves on. Or it could be a recurring bad guy, or succession of essentially identical bad guys working for one uber-villain. Battlestar Galactica is a perfect example of the latter, with the Cylons repeatedly throwing themselves at the fleet, following the orders of the Imperious Leader, while an example of the former would be Knight Rider, where Michael Knight would drive around looking for desperate people that he could help. The A-Team, of course, would fall somewhere between the two, as they would often be fighting a villain of the week while simultaneously trying to avoid capture by the military police led by Colonel Decker. Heroes need someone to fight who represents the bad in the world. This could be repressive authority, the ‘tyranny of evil men’, corporate greed. It needs to be something that affects ordinary people, people who, for whatever reason, are powerless against it.

This man is Satan's representative on Earth.
Possibly.

80s heroes embraced the anti-authority angle with gusto. The A-Team, The Dukes of Hazzard and Airwolf all feature heroes who work against the accepted face of government in some way, although all are sympathetic characters. Hannibal and co. are wrongly convicted of a crime, the Duke boys are charming rogues guilty of nothing more than a little illicit booze smuggling and Stringfellow Hawke was being blackmailed to work for a distinctly dubious and secretive arm of government. The audience is firmly on the side of the rebel, especially in America, where the rebel is part of their national history. The American nation was born out of rebellion (specifically rebellion against the British – just watch any Mel Gibson film of the last fifteen years), so it is fitting that their heroes should now take on that role. Quite often, various branches of Federal government are used as the villain, be it the CIA, the FBI, local law enforcement or whatever. This shows us that although Americans are fiercely proud of their rebellious beginnings, they do not necessarily trust the systems put in place for the protection of their nation. This was especially odd in the 80s, when America was deep in the Cold War, following a strong anti-communist policy. The idea of heroes going around helping people who were unable to help themselves was a deeply communistic one, totally at odds with the capitalist American dream. And yet these heroes flourished.

Yee-Haw, as I believe the phrase is.

The rebel is iconic, it runs through folklore and history. American history in particular is full of these men – and they are almost exclusively men: Patrick Henry; George Washington; Sam Houston. This carries through into television and film: Han Solo; Jim Stark; Tyler Durden. The 80s were more open to the idea of the rebel in television than earlier decades, partly because of the oppressive political climate, partly because of the decreasing cost of producing television shows combined with larger budgets, which made it easier to churn out action and science-fiction shows with reasonable (if not excellent) production values. Glen Larson and Stephen Cannell, among others, were used to capitalize on this situation with their huge outpouring of shows. But these shows were made by men, starred men and dealt with male relationships. The female roles were generally little more than eye candy, without any depth or importance to the plot, mostly there just to be kissed by the heroes and occasionally get kidnapped. The A-Team in particular was criticised for being sexist, and indeed some of the stars were openly hostile to the idea of including regular female cast members. It’s true that very few action shows from that period had female leads: in the late 70s, Wonder Woman, as portrayed by Lynda Carter, had pranced across the small screen in her satin tights, Lindsay Wagner was playing The Bionic Woman at around the same time, and the classic Charlie’s Angels kept karate kicking for a year or two longer. But as the 80s dawned, these shows disappeared, leaving women to fill the fluff roles, supporting the more traditionally ‘heroic’ men.

Good morning, Angels!

The depiction of violence is another area where these shows stand out. Famously, The A-Team never killed anyone, despite spraying bullets and explosives around like champagne on the winner’s podium. Michael Knight rarely (if ever) fired a gun, but did manage to run half a dozen cars off the road in every 45 minute episode (this may be an exaggeration). Airwolf launched missiles and rockets with wild abandon, Blue Thunder‘s cannon almost never stopped firing and even the Duke boys forced Hazzard County to spend the GDP of a medium-sized South American country on replacement police cars. And yet no-one ever died. No blood was ever spilt. The reason for this was obvious, of course: prime time television couldn’t allow it. The exceptions to this rule were Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, as they were only shooting aliens and robots, which was somehow more acceptable to the censor’s sensibilities. This violence, harmless as it may appear to a generation dulled by Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers, was problematic at the time. Networks worried that even this level of ‘cartoon’ violence would be disliked by parents, although relatively few complaints were received. It has been suggested that the over-the-top violence was the cause of the demise of these shows, as viewers eventually preferred less ‘masculine’ shows, turning instead to more family themed programming.

The 80s action style lived on for a few more years in the cinema, evolving eventually into the antihero movies of Leon and The Boondock Saints, characters who will do whatever it takes to do the right thing, even if that means shooting a whole bunch of people in the face. No A-Team style cartoon violence there, although the motives (help people who cannot help themselves) remain the same. The targets changed too, becoming more focused on organised crime rather than corrupt government or local criminals. Today, of course, we have a range of villains to shoot at. Our post-modern take on the action movie means that we can’t throw a brick into a crowd without hitting someone that we can call a villain: lawyers, capitalists, terrorists, gangers, activists, bent coppers, the list is virtually endless. But the reasons, and the rebellious nature of our heroes, remains. How many cop shows or movies haven’t featured a cop arguing with his or her superiors about the best way to deal with a criminal? How many shootouts don’t involve hundreds of bullets missing their targets? How many car chases don’t involve one of the chasing cars crashing into civilian traffic at an intersection? These shows have helped to shape the collective unconsciousness. We now expect to see these conventions acted out, even if we dismiss them as clichéd, and feel somehow cheated when they are ignored.

Chicks with guns: Sexy. And a little worrying.

The sexism angle is still with us. Strong female characters are more accepted, but still not common, and the argument remains that most of them are simply masculinised, rather than being strong in their own right. Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2: Judgement Day has lost the femininity and innocence of the first film and bulked up, becoming muscular, dressing in baggy, form-hiding combat trousers, and failing to be the mother-figure that young John Connor needs. Milla Jovovich in the Resident Evil series is a combat expert with some superhuman abilities, turning her into nothing more than a robotic killing machine. Some films are more effective, namely Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers, which attempt to show women operating in a masculine society without losing their femininity. Crouching Tiger… presents the character of Yu Shu Lien as submissive to the masculine society but still able to operate as a warrior, maintaining both her masculine role and her feminine one.

But did the 80s shows change us? Did they make us see the world in a certain way? Judging by the recent run of 80s series being rebooted or made into Hollywood movies, I’d venture to suggest that they have made a lasting impression on my generation: The A-Team, The Dukes of Hazzard, Miami Vice, Charlie’s Angels, G.I. Joe, Battlestar Galactica. The rebel-as-hero archetype is still with us, as is the antihero, although both predate the 80s by hundreds of years, it was that decade that saw them truly come into their own. Heroes are not infallible, and we don’t want them to be. Superman is the least interesting of the mainstream superheroes, largely because he is too close to perfection. There is no way for us to relate to him. In the recent reboot of that franchise, the film-makers had to give him both a son (to give his enemies a new way to hurt him) and a literal mountain of Kryptonite! Batman, on the other hand, is really quite damaged and flawed. He is much darker and the audience likes him for it, recognising some of their own flaws behind that mask.

The 80s heroes were more innocent in many ways, hovering on the fringes of criminality without ever venturing in too deep. That would have been too disturbing for the young audience. Somewhere along the line, we lost that innocence. As a result, TV heroes have lost a lot of their power to thrill and excite us.

I think that’s a bad thing. What do you think?