The Lilac Pilgrim – Yet Another Blog

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock or Norway is considered a tiny, insignificant speck where you’re from, you’ll likely have heard of the terrible crimes committed by Anders Behring Breivik in Oslo and Utoya, Norway. For those who haven’t you could click on the link provided. If not, a very extremist right-wing Norwegian man set off a bomb in Oslo and then proceeded to massacre teenagers at an island camp, believing himself to be waging war on some enemy force.

It’s a terrible time for Norway, and of course we must keep them in our thoughts and help out wherever we can. I think this means we also have a duty to understand the news as it comes in and actually read articles. I think it also means that we should respect that country’s justice system and hope that they do what is right.

I don’t think it means what British media seems to think it means.

That’s not to say that I don’t think it’s being covered well by many media outlets. There is a wealth of useful information out there and efforts can easily be made by the individual to educate themselves and understand the issues at hand. Some newspapers and websites? They don’t make it easy for their usual readers, but then, when we’re talking about the Daily Mail and Sky News, are we really surprised?

Take this Sky News article as an example. It details the statements of Geil Lippestad, Breivik’s unfortunate lawyer. Mr Lippestad takes the stance that his client is insane, considering Breivik’s bizarre delusions that he is part of a war on values and tradition, but notes that he is unsure of whether his client will plead insanity. Predictably, the article is rather critical of the insanity defence, and rambles about how most people are not actually insane even if they do plead insanity. Even more predictably, commenters on the article rage about the audacity of the poor lawyer. How dare he do his job?

Yet it’s hard to tell which is worse. The article or the commenters? The commenters are certainly taking the ideas presented within the article much, much further, even suggesting that Breivik be shot or hanged or what-have-you, and claiming him to be undeniably evil and not human. The thing is, however, that the article is really encouraging this thought process by being so strongly anti-Lippestad, apparently misunderstanding the lawyer’s statement. He is the one who has to come up with the defence. He does not agree with his client that he was perfectly justified, so insanity is a perfectly valid choice from Lippestad’s point of view. The article does not bother to note that Breivik has already said that he knew what he was doing, and that his lawyer has admitted to knowing this. They do not care to point out that Breivik is very unlikely to agree to plead insanity.

This sort of journalism breeds misunderstanding and vitriol, and judging by the lack of revision, they seem to be just fine with that. After all, it’s bitter hatred and rage that sells, almost more than sex and scandal. The comments underneath the Sky article demonstrate how well they breed mistrust and anger, and they simply seem to get worse and worse with no sign of stopping.

 

Note – I am going to publish this unfinished article and add to it later. I think it stands well on it’s own, but I plan to look at other sources as well.

I don’t usually like to blog about things which are current – usually because when I’m done typing, it’s all over – but there’s no way I can go through all the comments on this blog post by ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic and speak my mind and correct every little mistake. Just can’t be done.

Basically, the backstory goes thusly: Al wanted to write a parody of Born This Way, despite being adamant that he wouldn’t parody Lady Gaga. Because that sort of parody is freaking obvious. He wrote up a summary of what the song would be about and sent it to her management, who told him that he’d have to write and record the song first, so that Gaga could hear it. Figuring that she’d be pretty familiar with her own damn melody, he wrote the lyrics and sent them off. He was told he’d have to record the song first, which makes no sense, and really doesn’t sound like something Gaga would say, since she must know what it’s like to record a song. Even so, he obliged them and sent them the recording. The management said ‘no’. Al was understandably upset and posted the song to YouTube anyway, bemoaning the fact that he could no longer put it on his album or donate the proceeds to the HRC. Lady Gaga discovered the song (because news travels fast and Al’s Little Monsters – oops, I mean Close, Personal Friends – became rabid) and was reportedly confused. Because she had no idea any of this was happening. She gave Al permission to go ahead with the parody, and everything was happy.

Except this is the internet.

Despite the story having a nice ending and everything being one of those awful misunderstandings that tend to happen to Al (unfortunately), the Close, Personal Friends (or Friends of Al, whichever you prefer) have been calling bullshit on the revelation that Lady Gaga does have a sense of humour.

A quick look through the comments on Al’s follow-up post are enough to make your eyes want to roll away with themselves. If you are inclined to believe Gaga, anyway. There are lots of posts still slamming her for a decision that wasn’t even hers. Let me address each issue separately, so I don’t get carried away by my own frustration.

1 – “I don’t believe she didn’t hear the song!”
Er… why the hell not? It’s not like this is a difficult concept to understand. Imagine being Lady Gaga for a moment. (She’s capable of dressing comfortably; stop cringing in your seat, no meat clothing need be involved) You are touring. You are filming podcasts. You have to rehearse day in, day out. You do not have time in between being told how to safely do what you want on stage and having a sleep after all is done to listen to every proposal there is. Requests are probably pouring in for her to do this duet and that charity event. Fact is, she just does not have the time, and she probably doesn’t have the energy.

If she had heard it, she would have said yes. She has a great sense of humour. A commenter on the blog post gave examples of parodies Gaga herself linked to on Facebook. I do remember her posting the Telephone parody! So it doesn’t make sense that she would refuse Al, of all people!

2 – “Her manager would have known to say yes, since it’s Al!”
No. No he wouldn’t. When music managers think of profitable and worthwhile collaborations, the first person who comes to mind isn’t going to be Al. Even with the obvious success of certain songs once Al’s been through with them, managers know one thing about him only. He creates comedy music. Comedy is not important to those who would rather churn out clones of Gaga or Madonna or the new Britney Spears. That kind of stuff. Comedy music just does not rate with management, even in the face of their continued success.

Furthermore, Al has faced similar problems in the past. Any Al fan worth their CPFoA badge knows about the issue with Atlantic Records and ‘You’re Pitiful’, when James Blunt had okayed the parody, but the record label stopped the whole thing as it was “too early in [Blunt’s] career”. Then later, the label decided there would never be a right time for parody and so Al released You’re Pitiful for free. The only difference with this story is that the manager pretended that Gaga had heard it and was the one saying no. And somehow SHE’s the bad guy!

3 – “She’s lying; the manager’s taking the fall for her stupidity”
Again, no. Gaga doesn’t seem like the sort of person to have no sense of humour, and I’m sure she’s clever enough to realise that a parody by Weird Al would be such a boost for Born This Way. That, and as an artist, I’m sure she’d have heard the lyrics and smiled. Perform This Way is like a jocular fan letter, rather than an outright mockery.

4 – “She’s backtracking because the Al fans are OMGAMAZING and she realises we are a force to be reckoned with!”
AHAHAHA — oh wait, you were serious? Let me laugh harder; AAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Ahem. Couldn’t help that reference, apologies.

No. Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters are many and growing.  Why should it matter to her what the CPFoA say? They are not her fans. They are Al’s fans; of course they are going to take his side. She doesn’t listen when Madonna fans cry “EVIL BITCH PLAGIARIST!”, so why should she crumble when Weird Al’s fans start yelling “EVIL BITCH CRYBABY!”?

To be honest, I suspect most of the anti-Gaga Friends of Al are simply people who didn’t like Gaga in the first place.

Seriously, if you don’t like Lady Gaga, that’s fine. We can’t all like the same stuff. Just stop trying to find little things to pick at – and CPFoA, stop being so caustic. Heel, good creepers. No more rabid nonsense.

As a small child, I adored Sesame Street. The US version was shown, if I recall correctly, on Channel 4 here in the UK, and I was enamoured by the colourful characters and catchy songs. In the primary school I first attended (gone now, thank goodness), the teachers hadn’t any idea where I’d learned the Alphabet Song, but wanted me to sing it to older children who still were unable to grasp the concept of the alphabet. This was, of course, not a good thing to me, a painfully shy child, but I so loved Sesame Street that it never put me off happily chirping the songs I’d learned over and over and over and over and over…

As I grew, Sesame Street became irrelevant to my interests and I moved on, still holding fond memories of the wonderful characters and the music and the hilarious scenarios. I hoped other children got as much out of Sesame Street as I did. It was more than a silly colourful kids’ show. Unlike Barney the Dinosaur, the characters taught us about true compromise (there’s an excellent essay on the differences between Barney and Sesame Street here), about acceptance, about how we are the same, but how we are also different. Unlike Teletubbies, there were segments in Sesame Street that reached out to infants to teach them how to speak properly and learn their letters and numbers. Unlike most of the slop we show to kids every day here in the UK, it was designed for children of nearly all ages to enjoy and learn from. For children who were impoverished and otherwise unable to learn to have another chance at an education. It was silly at times, but it was also educational, and my love of the show as a child stays strongly with me into adulthood.

I didn’t have an enchanted, middle-class childhood like many of my friends did. I lived in a not brilliant area where kids were bullied for being smart. My mother didn’t exactly want to just have the TV babysit me, but she let me watch Sesame Street and she could see how well it affected me. I reckon it’s one of the things that helped me start reading so early.

How wonderful would it be if there were other children who, like me, may not ever have stood a chance of learning properly in their area had a show like Sesame Street to watch which helped them regain that chance? Better yet, what if the UK had Sesame Street?

Sesame Workshop have helped to found, over the years, several different Sesame Street projects around the world. My personal favourite is Takalani Sesame, the South African production. In TshiVenda, one of South Africa’s 11 official languages, Takalani means “be happy”. The production tries (and I hope succeeds) to convey the ideas that Africa is communicating, that people can live in harmony together no matter what they look like or who they are. Kami, a little yellow Muppet with a shock of bright orange hair, was introduced in 2002. She was and is HIV positive, and serves to teach young children in Africa about the disease many of them will grow up affected by in some way or another. Though it didn’t really make much of an impact where I live beyond a BBC report, it seemed that America didn’t like it. Even though it didn’t affect them at all. Weird.

In Russia, Ulitsa Sezam promotes the arts, and encourages children to be creative, rather than held back by what they think a painting should look like. Instead, the children are encouraged to draw and even send in any type of art they like, and they are praised for their creativity through the art gallery segments. Because Russia’s culture is so focused on art, the local version of Sesame Street reflects that.

Local versions aren’t all about promotion and education; Kosovo’s Rruga Sesam (Albanian) and Ulica Sezam (Serbian) aim together to create tolerance and awareness amongst the children  in the recovering conflict areas.  The show encourages both Albanian and Serbian children to look upon one another, not with the learned hatred of their parents, but with understanding. The children learn that they are each different, and that’s not a bad thing. Perhaps in the future, Kosovo will be a more united place, aided in some part by the local Sesame Street, which, from a very early age, is designed to show a wide audience how to learn about one another, including traditions.

So, we know that, across the world, Sesame Workshop are helping different countries to create a specialised TV show for the local children. Even Northern Ireland is in on it with Sesame Tree, which aims to teach small children about all of the diverse groups of people living in Ireland, including sectarian groups and immigrants. This is a spectacularly good idea. For a brief while, maybe two years ago, they did show Sesame Tree over here. At about four in the morning when no child was up to watch it. How is this fair?

An article stated that no channel would want it now. Children are looking for different things, and the hour-long Sesame Street does not fit into schedules anymore. Which is utter rubbish, of course. Children will always be enchanted by the Muppets. I’ve seen very small children cry out “Kermit!” at cute green frogs, tiny toddlers snuggling up to their Elmo toys.

So why do we really not have a Sesame Street of our own? Are we just too lazy? Has British media become sloppy and uncreative? We could call ours Sesame Road, and have a red fox Muppet and a squirrel Muppet as best friends. We could let our children learn that the immigrants coming in are not scary evil folk with funny voices who want to steal our jobs and our houses (again, I’m looking at you, Daily Mail; for shame) but industrious people who can be our friends and our support. We could have children of all types, shapes and sizes and races, lots of accents to represent our wonderful diversity and segments in each show about Scotland, Wales and England. We could have tartan and poppies and beautiful countrysides. We could show children what it’s like coming into the country you want to love and call home, and how it feels when people have to move away (looking at you again, Daily Mail). A Scottish variant could have segments in Scots Gaelic or a Welsh one could have, well, Welsh. There are worlds of possibilities, and with the UK becoming an ever more closed off, uncaring, unwelcoming nation, a Sesame Road or Avenue or Crescent would be such a wonderful thing for the next generation and the next.

But it will probably never happen, much as I would love to see it. Instead, shut up, watch this and do what we tell you as with every other show on TV right now is apparently more important. Even if songs like those the colourful Muppet characters sing have been shown to help people learn, Barney’s “I love you” crap seems to be more urgent for kids to learn than the wonderful ideas put forward by Sesame Workshop around the world.

I can still dream, though.

Play us out, Count von Count.

For this post, I would love to be able to interview Pee-wee Herman. I’d love to interview Paul Reubens, too, but I don’t think their agents would let me, a casual blogger, so much as look at them sideways, never mind talk to them. Not sure how well Pee-wee/Paul would do with an internet chat, either. So guesswork will have to do here.

I’ve noticed something about interviews. I think I understand why some interviewers get different responses from the same interviewees. This is something I’m noticing a lot with those who interview characters as opposed to their actors. Pee-wee Herman is an excellent example of this.

Let’s call the interviewers Interviewer A and Interviewer B. Age isn’t important, other than that each interviewer is definitely an adult. It doesn’t even matter what gender they are or how they identify.

Interviewer A welcomes Pee-wee Herman to their show. A asks how he’s doing and explains why he’s on the show, they discuss Pee-wee’s latest project and what plans he may have for the future. In general, the interview is entertaining, the pair seem to play off each other well, and we may have learned something about the character.

Interviewer B welcomes Pee-wee to their show. B congratulates him on his latest project and starts asking about Paul Reubens. Pee-wee may not know how to answer. The interview lulls and might come out awkward and boring.

I think it’s very obvious where B went wrong. B asked the character, Pee-wee, about the man currently playing him. This might be all well and good if, say, the interviewer asked questions in the vein of “How is Reubens? Do you keep in touch? What’s happening with him? How does he feel about your success?” They never do.

Instead, it’s often more along the lines of “Can I talk to Paul for a second?” That’s a very awkward question to ask someone who is sitting right in front of you, to speak to their alter ego. Especially when, in his Pee-wee suit, Paul Reubens is Pee-wee. He is no longer Paul Reubens at that point. Asking for Paul to randomly awaken during the interview in some sort of bizarre dissociative identity disorder moment is literally asking for awkwardness. So either way, that’s what you’ll get.

Furthermore, that has to be massively frustrating for Reubens. He spent a long time trying to make Pee-wee distant from himself, so much so that people would believe – and did believe, so great is the power of suggestion – that Pee-wee was a completely different and real person. Their personalities are so different that for Reubens to switch back and forth between himself and Pee-wee during an interview (while he has proved that he can do it brilliantly well) would be exceptionally jarring.

Now, the problem with Interviewer B. Interviewer B is one of those who cannot separate the actor from the character, and therefore thinks that an interview with Pee-wee should be immediately interchangeable with an interview with Paul. They shouldn’t. Interviewer B not only makes this fault, but goes on to make the terrible mistake of not being able to play along. Interviewer B knows that Reubens is acting. Interviewer A knows that Reubens is acting. The difference between the two is that A will play along and react to the character as though they are a real person. This is how B should react.

But B is a grown-up. Grown-ups don’t play pretend any more. It’s this kind of interviewer, the serious type who wants to interview the actor and learn about everything behind the character, who gets a very bad interview when they are faced with the task of dealing directly with the stage persona. They forget that the character can still be treated like a person. They will still get a response – and often a very positive one – from that character if they ask the right questions. So why is this so hard for some interviewers to do?

I recall some time ago, when Avenue Q had just arrived in London. The cast appeared on television with their puppets, and therefore remained in character for the interviews. A reporter started asking the actress of Kate Monster a question, prompting the actress as Kate to point to her Muppet face and insist “Excuse me, I’m up here.” The audience laughed, but it set the tone for the rest of the interview – it was awkward and painful to watch and despite the actress’s best efforts to keep the interview comical and light, the ultimate sheepishness of the oh-so-serious reporter made it very hard to enjoy.

I guess what I’m trying to say is… lighten up. People are not going to look down on you for playing along and having some fun. You even get to be a bit creative with your questions. Since many reporters (I’m looking at you, Daily Mail) like to be creative with the end result anyway, I can only see this as being a plus.

When you look at reviews for anything – movies, books, video games and the like – you expect them to be helpful. You want to make a decision whether or not to bother with the subject of the review, and hope to be guided by the reviewer into making a good decision either way. Many reviewers do this pretty well, giving the pros and cons and their reasons for liking or disliking the subject.

Other reviewers? Not exactly.

Unfortunately, a bad reviewing culture is rampant, even worse with the ever spreading reaches of the internet, though that’s not to say that people aren’t allowed to give their opinions. Still, when your review is less of a review and more of an actor-bashing, director-insulting storm of anger, there might be a problem.

Naturally, IMDb is brilliant for these. So today I’m going to showcase a selection of reviews and explain why they are unhelpful or just plain wrong. Yes; again I am reviewing reviews.

Movie: Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure
This movie about the love between a man-child and his bike and the road-trip he has to embark on to retrieve it after it gets stolen received heaps of mixed criticism. Some people felt it was a fun trip through the real word guided by a small child, others felt (secret word of the day, by the way) it was a terrible, poor excuse for a kids’ movie. Being directed by Tim Burton doesn’t save it even watching it after the director’s great success.

I felt it was a really good film, not exactly mindless as such but definitely fun. Naturally I’m going to disagree with negative reviews. However, I tend to disagree with positive reviews as well if they are not helpful in any way whatsoever, so forgive me if I look a bit biased here; many of the rubbish reviews came from those who hated this film.

IMDb user glistonosz did not like the film, and I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt since they’re Polish and I don’t really follow the argument well, but I’m not sure there’s any excuse for this snippet:

“Firstly, I’m not gay, but I have a lot of friends who are. I frankly don’t care who is doin’ what in the bedroom, but the truth is some of my friends are annoying. When I saw first ten minutes of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure I knew that it’s going to be long movie to watch.”

I’m having a hard time trying to figure out what “gay” has to do with Pee-Wee here. Maybe the cultural divide is so great that “behaves like a small child” translates overseas to “gay as a sparkly rainbow-coloured maypole”. Pee-Wee is a little flamboyant on occasion but that’s not really any reason to be uncomfortable. And yes I’m aware that some people in his country of origin tend to equate Pee-Wee with gay culture but this commentary seems awfully insensitive. And I’d bet glistonosz’s gay friends wouldn’t be too happy to see it either.

Moving on to user Amadeusrye’s review. In its entirety:

“This movie is just plain dumb. Tim Burton is my favorite director and most of his other films are excellent. He really needed practice when he did this one, though. There are a handful of funny scenes, but eventually Pee-Wee becomes too irritating to laugh at. My advice would be to skip this one and watch “Beetlejuice”, “Edward Scissorhands”, “Ed Wood”, or “Sleepy Hollow” instead.”

Let’s be honest; there’s nothing wrong with people saying “I didn’t like this movie”. Amadeusrye thought the movie was stupid, and that’s fine. Let’s hope we’re all mature enough to handle differing opinions. However, this review is just plain bad. Okay, the reviewer did not like Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. They thought it was “dumb”. But why? There is no explanation offered, other than that they found the Pee-Wee character to be irritating. That alone wouldn’t make it a terrible movie, surely? Plenty of movies I adore have irritating characters in them; their presence doesn’t destroy everything else. It doesn’t give the reader an idea of what the movie is about, nor does it tell them why the character is irritating. If I hadn’t seen the movie yet, this review wouldn’t guide me towards a decision, because I don’t know why the movie is apparently so “dumb”.

User loufalce’s review is not only unhelpful, however, it’s needlessly offensive. Entitled “Defines ‘Retarded'”, it goes thusly:

“A movie that I would never have watched on my own. I’m taking a history class of contemporary America-the 1970s to the 1990s, and part of the class is a discussion of cultural and entertainment trends of that timeline. My professor recommended this, so I had to go out and rent it. I’ll forgive him for that since I’m such a nice guy, but, that being said, I found this movie-and the Pee Wee character not only to be intelligence insulting and completely brain dead,but absolutely pathetically painful to watch. In a nutshell, Herman is the man-child living in his own fantasy world. When his bike gets stolen, he embarks on a cross country journey to find it- with utterly predictable results. Duh! I really can’t understand why Burton is considered to be a great director. Personally I find his films to be too self-indulgent and I can’t for the life of me understand why they are considered to be “art”. Anyway, if you get your jollies watching a grown man with a rubbery face in a gray suit and a bow-tie uttering inanities that a 6 year old would find to be lame, this movie is for you. Totally retarded in every sense of the word, this movie has absolutely nothing to recommend itself, but, if you do want to get a look of what very bad American film-making from a good era looked like, by all means go for it.I read somewhere that Paul Rubens intends to revive the Pee Wee character. PS this movie was relased some years before the Florida porn theater-masturbation incident that finished Ruben’s career. Nice character, huh?”

There’s so much wrong with it that I scarcely know where to begin. Fine, loufalce didn’t like it. He felt that Pee-Wee was “painful to watch”. Again, however, there’s very little explanation as to why he feels this way. Sure, there’s a word limit on IMDB, but more than enough space to actually talk about the damned movie. He makes an attack on the artistic integrity of Tim Burton without explaining that either. Then he arrogantly belittles the main character and any viewer who liked the movie in one line. He finishes the whole thing off with a startling insistence that Reubens is clearly Pee-Wee. Because when the actor is arrested, it means the character totally did the crime, too. This is the sort of review that is very difficult to take seriously unless you were already determined to hate the movie – and even then the end is far too loosely related to the character to justify hating the movie.

One can only hope that he didn’t include this in the discussion for his class. I’m not sure what “Reubens was arrested; that makes him evil” has to do with culture.

I think I’m done with this one for now; feel free to look around IMDb for the other bad reviews (or the good ones if you prefer). Next time I’ll post bad reviews about The Marvellous Misadventures of Flapjack. I’m sure my handful of occasional readers are so excited for that.

I’ll be honest; when I first started writing about plastic surgery, I was more concerned about men than women. We already know what effects it has on women as women are far more likely to feel pressured into becoming anorexic or blowing thousands of pounds on needless pain and misery. This might be because we hold our ladyfolk to much higher standards than men. That is to say, in general, we do.  

I’m going to sound awfully sexist to both men and women and any other existing gender people as well, for which I apologise in advance.

 Women, as I well know, do often have very high standards for guys and seem to adore chiselled looks and strong jawbones and six-packs when most men in the world… have none of these features. However, thanks to ever changing accepted gender roles, men are going from slick James-Bond-style obsessions to fretting over their weight and whether or not they can bulk it up. On the other end of the spectrum, some men would rather be sticks, because women want effeminate guys who’d break the minute a feather landed on them. Celebrity males, having money, often don’t have this problem. Right? Wrong!

Even men get self-conscious, and some get it botoxed away, or facelifted, or tummy tucked. I know, weird. Again, it’s another problem that seems to be on the rise and we shouldn’t be encouraging it, especially not in the way we keep trying to change our celebrities.

I mentioned Paul Reubens before. I genuinely think he’s very attractive (though whether that comes from his actual looks or the fact that he’s an absolute genius is debatable). After browsing for images (I’m writing about Pee-Wee Herman later; there really is a good reason) and finding the site that insisted he needs a facelift, I wasn’t amused. I tried writing a response that insisted he is beautiful as he is. Moderator deleted my comment. But since the site was for a dodgy clinic, I’m not surprised.

Anyway, the idea behind their post was to suggest that Reubens, in order to make a successful comeback, needed drastic eye or face surgery in order to look younger. I am aware that Reubens himself toyed with the idea. In the end, make up worked just fine.

I’m no expert on plastic surgery, that much is clear, but it doesn’t look like he’s had any to me, so the idea that he needed it in the first place is sort of ridiculous, especially if you consider how messed-up he might look if he did have a facelift. Make-up works wonders on Reubens. it’s difficult to find images of him before he was Pee-Wee Herman, but you might note how startlingly different he looked when he was younger. No, I’m not going to discuss the mugshots. Seriously.

Because I’m aware of how much lower our standards are for male celebrities, it actually shocked me to learn that people thought someone as fair-looking as Reubens (I’m totally biased; I adore him, but I’m sure people agree that in general he’s not ugly) needs surgery in order to be palatable enough to look at. It got me wondering whether standards are rising, or if the culture for perfection has been going on a lot longer than we realise.

Amongst those I found on a Google search for “ugly male celebrities”, well, it was odd. In the list came Alfred Molina, Jamie Foxx, and then a whole bunch of people who are overweight, but not necessarily ugly. I would have mentioned more overweight females in my previous post if I could find any who were listed! Make of that what you will. Oddly enough, in the case of men, the only plastic surgery people seem to think they need is to make them appear younger, rather than to reshape their faces.

Apparently the ugliest male celebrities EVAR.

So is this an unfair double standard?

Since I’m no research assistant or psychologist or anything like that, I’m not embarking on a search for all the answers, but a discussion would be cool. Do we hold men and women to different standards where attractiveness is concerned? Are those who actually care about complete perfection the true majority, or are they simply louder than the rest of us?

Celebrities have enough pressure to get surgery as it is without people all over saying “yeah, she definitely needs nicer eyebrows.” Most of the time, I find that these people don’t. And we tend to hold our female celebrities to an even higher standard than our males. If a female isn’t a statuesque, devastatingly beautiful angel, then there’s often sneering about how homely she is or how plain she looks. This is yet another thing that puzzles me. I’ve heard talk of Maggie Gyllenhaal being physically unattractive – and it was even used in a joke on Family Guy about how awful the Gyllenhaal siblings are. Even the comments in the previous YouTube link claim that Maggie is ugly – one person writes that she “has a hog face”. Let me post a picture of Maggie for you:

This is Maggie Gyllenhaal, for those of you yet unaware. She isn’t the most amazingly gorgeous person in the world, but she doesn’t need to be to act. If our standards reach even higher than “be Maggie-Gyllenhaal-beautiful” then the world is screwed. To me, she doesn’t look much different to the more popular Kirsten Dunst or Zooey Deschanel, and yet people drool over the two latter women and laugh at Maggie’s nose. Her nose! My nose is like a potato and a tomato got kinky and produced my nose. If I was looking for a boyfriend or girlfriend I’d probably have drowned in self-disgust by now. If people like to put ridiculous pressure on pretty women like Gyllenhaal it’s really no wonder that regular women become anorexic or have to take out loans to get surgery so their boobs are a millimetre rounder.

Back to the point I was making, Maggie Gyllenhaal is not the only one people think is less than perfect. Which is terrible, that she’s less than perfect.

If you search for “unattractive famle celebrities” on Google, you might be shocked as to what you’ll find. The second result yields much more shocking names than the first. A website for top ten lists has Beyonce, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Julia Roberts, among others, criticised for having a massive butt, a bad face and having had children, respectively. No mention yet of needing plastic surgery, but after seeing what some people write, is it any wonder why these people do it?

 

Now, I do realise that a lot of guys and girls don’t actually feel this way about celebrities or in fact normal women. Size zero models aren’t as well-liked by the everyday bloke as the kind of people who like to use ’em as coathangers. However, the shrill cries of “YOU MUST BE PERFECT!” drown out the sensible people’s insistence that we think you’re all just fine as you are.

Sure, I do understand that some plastic surgery is just fine. I have nothing against people snipping bits off their nose if it helps them breathe easier at night or removing sagging skin to give them a confidence boost. But when you start talking about reshaping someone’s face in order for them to be easier on the eye, I have to wonder about what passes for normal nowadays. What passes for good-looking to the normal person? I know I don’t. I’m overweight, with a tomato-y nose and perpetually ruddy cheeks. Maybe my opinion counts for nothing now that people know this; after all, I’m probably bitter because I can’t afford lipo or a nose job so no-one will date me! Alternatively, I don’t care about dating because no-one would look at me twice (except to LOL at my large breasts. yes, this happens. Well done, you can recognise breasts). Whatever, think what you like. I’m more worried about the thought that anyone would turn to scalpels, needles, tubes and silicone to make themselves feel confident. Even more so when that person looks perfectly fine just as he or she is. And it’s these loud cries of “OMG BUT THEY WON’T BE PERFECT!” which are not helping.

How does any normal person look at a picture of someone as pretty as, say, Drew Barrymore and think to themselves “Ugh, she’s so ugly. Maybe if her nose was microscopic!”?

”]Another one? I’m going to put forward Susan Boyle. When she walked out onto that stage… well, we know the story. I hate being painted with the ignorant brush. The media is insistent on saying “no-one expected that voice”. I did. You don’t have to be Beyoncé or Lady Gaga or anyone like that to have a wonderful voice. Anywho, despite her having a very powerful, very beautiful voice (perhaps I’ll do a proper post on her later), the media were very quick to suggest that she needed a drastic makeover, and they dubbed her the Hairy Angel. Er, why? She’s seriously no more and no less hairy than any other normal woman.

This is Ms Boyle prettied-up for her album cover, I think. Now, she does look pretty here but there was nothing wrong with her beforehand. She doesn’t fall into the classically gorgeous category and nor does she fall into the modern statuesque goddess one, but she wasn’t really unattractive before. Perhaps overweight, but that doesn’t automatically make someone unattractive.

I know, I’m sorry, I’m sick of hearing it too. But to be honest, I think she looks just fine here, and the music they played her on with for TV was unacceptable. The utter shock on some people’s faces is both satisfying and disgusting. I disagree with the judges, too. i don’t think “everyone” was expecting lols. Most of ’em, probably; audiences like that only go for the lols. But not everyone probably expected it. I bet some of them were hoping for a great performance. And they got one.

Another celebrity I think is rather pretty is Jennifer Saunders. Way back when there was a show, Absolutely Fabulous. Many a fat joke was thrown her way in-show, but this is sort of justified because of the type of show it was. Even so, she most certainly wasn’t fat. Not sure if, in this time, anyone’s actually trying to call her ugly – how insensitive would that be? – but just in case… No. No she is not.

And if you’re not yet convinced by this article, look up your favourite celebrity on Google, add “is ugly” to the end and prepare to weep for humanity.

After doing a search for Paul Reubens on Google Images (good reasons, I assure you), I found a picture that led to a rather dodgy-looking plastic surgery promoting site (apparently affiliated with a suspicious clinic in Prague, but whether this is a real site or not isn’t really related to the post). Clicking on the image took me to an article about Reubens planning to make a comeback and asking its readers if he should have plastic surgery in order to make the Pee-Wee Herman image still palatable. Or something like that. Rather graciously it noted that he was still fairly slim but lamented his aging features. To my dismay, the three comments underneath the article insisted that he definitely needs a little surgery, perhaps around the eyes – the only female suggested a facelift. Personally, I feel that Reubens would look utterly terrifying if he had a facelift. His face hasn’t drooped all that much for it to warrant such drastic surgery!

Anyway, it got me thinking. I know that plastic surgery isn’t really in the spotlight any more and a lot of people have realised just how serious it is. Still, it’s quite unnerving to find articles discussing perfectly fine-looking celebrities (or even regular people) which ever so casually suggest that these people really need scarring, expensive surgery in order to look beautiful. Now, I was very aware of people criticising females, especially those celebrities who the public reckon have aged badly. There are conflicting cries of “She should get rid of those awful crow’s feet!” but also “How dare she have plastic surgery to remove those wrinkles??” I seem to remember the idea of such extreme vanity was limited to female celebrities who were even a day older than twenty-five. It got worse, as these things tend to, when men started getting procedures, though usually by way of hair transplants and eyelifts rather than tummy tucks. facelifts and botox. I couldn’t even begin to describe the reaction to the discovery that yes, some men get botox.

Now, it’s no new thing that people do talk about celebrities. I do it, my friends do it – my friend might want to squee about Orlando Bloom while I fangirl over Patrick Stewart but that’s besides the point. And ever since its sudden availability as elective procedures, people have been gaga over plastic (read: cosmetic) surgery. Even those of us who don’t like it, myself included, tend to talk about it, even if we’re wondering aloud why on earth you would let yourself be prodded, poked and knifed in order to look good. And of course the two subjects go hand in hand like chips and cheese. People will always be looking at the beautful people and thinking “she’s nice, but if she had a bigger rack/thinner frame/pointier face/plumper lips she’d be perfect.” It’s this part I don’t understand though. There’s a few things wrong with the scenario.

First of all, it’s not your body. A celebrity they may be and speculation happens whether they like it or not, but to suggest that someone you admit is already very good-looking needs surgery in order to be perfect for you, you’re not worth hanging around in he first place, not that they’d look at you twice in a crowd anyway.

Secondly, they already look good. Plastic surgery can have a devastating effect if botched or has any other outcome than “everything went better than expected”. Not only can it change that person’s appearance – it can have the opposite effect to what they were going for.

Thirdly, it really goes against the “we’re all beautiful” stand point that celebrities often go for in order to win a crowd. Their main audience can be hopelessly turned away from them if they have plastic surgery, because the notion is associated with vain perfectionists, the sort of people that well-adjusted normal folk can do without.

It rather bewilders me that some people discuss at great lengths how amazing it would be for people they don’t know to get surgery. Don’t get me wrong; it’s all well and good to say “Yikes, that mole that suddenly appeared on Glitzy McCoolperson’s neck needs looking at” since, you know, randomly appearing moles are bad news. It’s a lot less cool to say something along the lines of “I really like the tall, gorgeous Awesome O’Strongman but what is up with that slightly smaller ear on his left side?” Anyone who notices those tiny imperfections and has such a problem with them is clearly unwell.

I am aware, of course, that quite often it’s celebrities who are looking at other celebrities and commenting on how My Bestest Friend is oh so beautiful but she could be even more so! However, I just don’t understand the workings of the mind of an ordinary person who thinks of a celebrity “he’s awesome. he should be more awesome.”

Do we really need to hold them to such a high standard? I dread the day when Johnny Depp’s features finally fall foul of the aging process and people are yelling out for facelifts and tummy tucks. It’s as though celebrities, who are pretty much like the rest of us even with their quirks and riches, are not allowed to age or look normal. They have to be amazing and beautiful and have no imperfections. I wonder if it’s because people aspire to them, and our aspirations cannot be anything less than perfect. Or maybe it’s because people want the line between “us” and “them” to be as wide as it can be. I don’t know; maybe they like a challenge. Or is it because newspapers and glossy mags need constant gossip fodder? Whatever the case, I’ll always find it incredibly unnerving to open a gossip rag and see a column where a journalist is bashing this celeb or that celeb for not having the plastic surgery they need to be perfect.

Especially when I know the very next day they’ll be scoffing at some poor sucker whose surgery didn’t take.

In Glasgow nowadays, it’s common to walk down any street in the city centre and be faced by THE END IN NIGH wonkily splattered onto sandwich boards. You can walk down (or up, if you prefer) any busy street and have abuse hurled at you by people who pay to rent a space in the middle of town for the sole purpose of preaching the same old nonsense. Better yet, each street preacher is almost an exact carbon copy of the last. You can always predict what they’re going to say and what tactics they’re going to use. Now, I could go into detail about the guilt-trips they try to put regular people on so that they get more of those people to listen. I could moan about how annoying it is to be faced with one of these shouting at the top of their lungs about how wrong it is to lie/steal/be gay. I could talk about why they are evil for trying to trick innocent passersby into feeling guilty for being human. Despite all of the above being true, I’m not annoyed about that so much right now. No, I’m more upset at they way they hoard perfectly good spaces from street performers.

I’ve always liked street performers. When I was little I would see them all the time, and not necessarily just confined to the busy city centre. You might, if you were lucky, have seen them in your local park; jugglers, firebreathers, living statues, mimes. Visiting Amsterdam a few years ago, it was so very difficult not to shriek with glee and chase after the mime who was terrorising the locals. Likewise, a couple of years back, I remember grinning widely as I passed by a group of living statues on a break, eating crisps. If I hadn’t been busy I would have waited to watch them all day; they were simply amazing. And of course, you find plenty of such performers in Edinburgh. It’s incredibly frustrating that such art forms are being steadily overtaken by preachers, shouting at people to repent OR ELSE!

Before anyone who happens to live in the city says it, yes, I’m aware of the people and their accordions and the guitarists who wail their own renditions of such classics as Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door and, er, Yellow, and yes I know that there are occasionally good musicians on the street, and that’s nice. And yes, I’ve seen the breakdancers that show up every half a year or so, and the other occasional awesome performers. But there’s the problem; these things are only occasional and are being driven out by protests by PeTA and religious nuts who want to shout at you all day.

If you’re out there, street performers, please come back. Whether for the art or as buskers, people really do appreciate you guys. There are certain types of performance art that are slowly dying off. Bring them back to us! Take to the streets of Glasgow and dazzle us with your mime, your magic, your music. Enough of this guilt-trippy, shouty, religious nonsense.

In retrospect, this sounds like a much better idea for a novel, rather than the circus-themed one I’m doing for this year’s NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. Enjoyed by writers and non-writers all over the world, NaNoWriMo helps to motivate those who are writers to finally finish just one novel, or helps the non-writers to get over their fears of writing in order for them to get that idea that’s been floating around out of their heads. It’s a challenge, it’s a community and it’s, overall, fun. However, as we’ve seen over the years, not everyone is as appreciative of the idea as faithful ‘nanoers’ are. “Oh no!” they cry, “Bad novels will be written by the truckload!” They run in circles and panic as we rejoice in our impressive word counts and congratulate one another on a job well done so far. They don’t want us to write! How awful is that? People being productive for an entire month and meeting new people! The horror!

It sounds awfully melodramatic, doesn’t it? People being terrified that other people might possibly be writing novels. But this does seem to be the opinion of one Laura Miller, ‘senior writer at Salon.com’. Her article, titled Better yet – DON’T write that novel (encouraging, no?) deems the much-celebrated writing marathon “a waste of time and energy”. Already that seems harsh. But she doesn’t stop there, oh no. She goes on to claim that there is “no reason to cheer [aspiring writers] on” and insists that rather than write, we all quit and read some books instead. Hmm. Like her own, I wonder?

As a woman who has been reading and writing since she was very little, I have to wonder what makes someone who is being paid to write actively discourage people from writing? We should all read, sure, I agree. I don’t agree that, for one month of the year, we should be allowed to put aside all our worries and barriers and force ourselves to write. So let’s take a look at this article, shall we?

“For me, the end of October is always slightly tinged with dread — provoked not by Halloween spooks, not even by election season, but by the advent of something called NaNoWriMo.”

Already we can see that this is probably going to be greatly exaggerated, anecdotal, and somewhat melodramatic. But why are you scared, Ms Miller? No-one’s tying you to a chair, holding your eyelids open and making you read their books.

“NaNoWriMo was started back in 1999 as a motivational stunt for a small group of writer friends. It’s since become a nonprofit organization with staff, sponsors, a fundraising gala and, last year, nearly 120,000 contestants. Participants agree to start and complete a novel of 50,000 words or more during the month of November. To “win,” all you have do is meet that goal, however wretched the result. Last year’s NaNoWriMo had 21,683 such winners.”

She doesn’t actually ever say what’s wrong with motivation. She doesn’t also note that NaNoWriMo encourages young people to explore their own creativity through their Young Writers Program. Also, after writing this post I took another look around. Seems she also missed out NaNoWriMo’s partnership with international children’s literacy program Room To Read. She also points out, rather fairly, that it doesn’t matter how good or bad the novel is once it has reached the 50,000 word goal; as long as you’re there, you’ve won. Interestingly, however, she says nothing about the sense of accomplishment one can feel once they’ve reached that goal, or how many of the writers go back to edit their novel, or how a lot of those winners achieved nearly double (if not more) the necessary word count, or even how small a number compared to the amount of participants that 21,683 actually is.

She goes on to talk about what NaNo is, in her own negative terms. Then we get this gem, likely spawned from the site’s FAQ which reassures the perfectionist writer whose nature constantly defeats them that it’s absolutely fine to write crap. For November only. It does actually encourage you to go back and edit if you’re serious about it.

“I am not the first person to point out that “writing a lot of crap” doesn’t sound like a particularly fruitful way to spend an entire month, even if itis November.”

I don’t like the idea of writing a lot of crap within a month or so either, but hey, Twilight got published, and that wasn’t even a NaNo novel.  Me, I write NaNo novels because I would like to actually get through one of my novels. I’ve been reading since I was one and a half and writing since I was maybe four. I’ve finished one novel since, and no, it’s never even been a hard copy, never mind sending it to publishers. I set up obstacles for myself all the time, preventing me from writing. November is one of those months during which I can knock down those obstacles and force myself to write. That’s why most people do it.

“And from rumblings in the Twitterverse, it’s clear that NaNoWriMo winners frequently ignore official advice about the importance of revision; editors and agents are already flinching in anticipation of the slapdash manuscripts they’ll shortly receive.”

If you’re going to use Twitter as a source of information, frankly you don’t deserve your ‘senior writer’ title. And of course people are going to ignore revision. Even those who don’t do NaNo will ignore revision. But the editors tweeting about how horrible there manuscripts are going to be should likely be doing something better with their time than moaning about it on Twitter, and secondly probably don’t have to read them. I wouldn’t be surprised, really, if most of the modern slush-piles were full of unread NaNos from years gone by.

“As someone who doesn’t write novels, but does read rather a lot of them, I share their trepidation.”

Why? Do you get sent the manuscripts, too? As far as I can see, Ms Miller, all you do is read books and tell people how to feel about them.

“The last thing the world needs is more bad books. But even if every one of these 30-day novelists prudently slipped his or her manuscript into a drawer, all the time, energy and resources that go into the enterprise strike me as misplaced.”

You’re absolutely correct. Unfortunately, bad books do slip through the net every now and then – go through the romance section in a library or read Twilight – but if these editors from the previous paragraphs don’t like the NaNos, they won’t publish them. You will never have to read them. Now, some people might point out that I have moaned about things that I did not have to read, but did anyway. The difference here is that I can get access to pretty bad fan fiction while trying to reach good fiction. Ms Miller will likely never have to see these bad NaNo novels – and unless the author posts them on a website and drags her there, she’ll never gain access to them either.

“NaNoWriMo is an event geared entirely toward writers, which means it’s largely unnecessary.”

She claims much later on in the article that writers will keep on writing whether people like it or not, and that’s why this is unnecessary. She sounds like the annoying kind of woman who has never suffered writer’s block or had a cold in her life. The sort of person who has no empathy because they’ve never experienced hardships and they poop rainbows. Now, I’m sure this isn’t the case. I’m sure she’s had what she may call hardships and difficulties before, but the lack of empathy for other writers astounds me.

“It was yet another depressing sign that the cultural spaces once dedicated to the selfless art of reading are being taken over by the narcissistic commerce of writing.”

This is referring to a bookstore that encouraged NaNoers by setting up a space for them. I don;t really care where people write their novels. I write mine at home but I can understand why people do so in bookstores, surrounding themselves with inspiration. However, Ms Miller writes that writing is narcissistic, whereas reading is selfless, almost heroic. I don’t understand how, exactly, it’s such a frightening challenge to read, but then I’m one of those insufferable bitches who can read a novel in a day or so (or less, depending) and move quickly onto the next. And is it just be, or is it somewhat hypocritical for a writer to say that writing is narcissistic? Especially one with her own book. Okay, it may be a non-fiction endeavour, but that doesn’t make it any less of a book.

“Frankly, there are already more than enough novels out there — more than those of us who still read novels could ever get around to poking our noses into, even when it’s our job to do so.”

No-one ever asked you, Ms Miller, to read every book on the planet. That would be impossible. I haven’t read every new book there ever was. I’m willing to bet that you haven’t either. I’m sorry if the idea of new books is frightening to you but they’ll happen with or without NaNo. Even without NaNo, there would still be writers’ communities, competing to finish novels in small amounts of time. For you, it just seems like a lose/lose situation.

“This is not to say that I don’t hope that more novels will be written, particularly by the two dozen-odd authors whose new books I invariably snatch up with a suppressed squeal of excitement.”

Everyone has their favourites, nothing wrong with that. But it does seem awfully narrow-minded to only be excited by a couple dozen authors.

“Yet while there’s no shortage of good novels out there, there is a shortage of readers for these books.”

How exactly? There are lots of writers who also read. Yes, there are some people who take up too much of their own time writing far too much instead of reading but there will always be plenty of readers. No, we are not an endangered species. We are not in need of money from sponsors to keep us alive in zoos and sanctuaries. People don’t crowd around to have a look at the Huxley fan squabbling with the Orwell fan for precious paper.

“Rather than squandering our applause on writers — who, let’s face it, will keep on pounding the keyboards whether we support them or not — why not direct more attention, more pep talks, more nonprofit booster groups, more benefit galas and more huzzahs to readers?”

Yeah! Great idea! Goodness knows we don’t have any festivals or book clubs, right? Or reading challenges, or tv shows about book clubs!

“They are the bedrock on which any literary culture must be built. After all, there’s not much glory in finally writing that novel if it turns out there’s no one left to read it.”

And I can use your logic to point out that, if everyone’s reading, who’ll be left to write for them? People will be reading and going “Oh no, I wish there was a novel about something I just thought of, but sadly, I must read. Whoever will write this novel for me?” See, I can use rubbish logic, too.

“In her victory-lap blog post, Klug writes of discovering new favorite authors she might otherwise never have encountered, and of her sadness on being reminded that “most Americans don’t read ANY books in a given year, or just one or two.” Instead of locking herself up in a room to crank out 50,000 words of crap, she learned new things and “expanded my reading world.” So let me be the first to say it: Melissa and Kalen, you are the heroes.”

That’s fantastic. I cannot stress enough how important it is to expand your horizons. I have learned so much while researching my novels — whoops! I forgot, that doesn’t count for anything in Miller’s world.

Seriously though, yes, reading is great. Reading allows you to take a trip into another person’s world, to learn new things and escape from reality. For me, writing is the same thing. Except it’s in a world that I created and control. I’m not saying everyone should quit reading and write instead. I still read as well as write. But why shouldn’t there be something like NaNoWriMo?

Miller insists that bad novels will be written and we should all be terrified. People should stop writing their NaNo novels, because it’s pointless and no-one’s allowed to have fun ever. Unless you read. And then  write about it somewhere.  Like Ms Miller, for example.

My opinion? I enjoy writing for NaNo. It helps spur me on when I see that gauge fill up the more I write. I like procrastinating with other writers on the forums and helping others in their research. It’s a community, it’s fun, it’s escapism. I’m still not entirely sure why Ms Miller is intimidated by it really, but it smacks of Stop Having Fun Guys. (Only click that link if you have a day or two to spare.) Maybe she should, I don’t know, give it a try? Actually talk to these writers? Stop writing herself? You know, since she wishes everyone would just read more.



    • HoistTheColours: Dear author, I full-heartedly and absolutely agree with your above statements. I just thought I would let you know, since I don't quite understand w
    • richclark: I covered this in my blog too. Found your post on one of Wordpress' random (associated posts). Has Ask really made the impact it needed to from
    • The Lilac Pilgrim: I couldn't go anywhere without someone mentioning it. It was incredibly obvious and yet people were still arguing about it. Absolutely ridiculous.