Irrational Encounters With The Modern World


Averse To Adverts

I despise advertising, and take what steps I can to avoid it. It is not exactly easy.

I think Bill Hicks said it best, or at least most succinctly, when he advocated “if you are in Advertising or Marketing, kill yourself.”


Another notable quote is the speech that Chuck Palahniuk wrote into the mouth of Tyler Durden, in his novel Fight Club:

“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history. No purpose or place. We have no Great War, No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars, but we won’t”

It is increasingly difficult to avoid adverts, and even with the most stringent efforts it is impossible for those with all five senses to fully do so. I take what measures I can, however – I have never owned a set-top box and, since the cessation of the analogue service, no longer have a television signal. The shows I want to see, I either eventually buy them on DVD (there not being any real rush to see a given programme) or download (a lesser-used option as I do not have a broadband connection.) DVDs generally have no adverts, and people who upload things first do the public service of cutting out the ad breaks.

Having had no television signal/box for nine years now, the only thing I have ever really missed was the news. That changed when I realised that modern media journalism had used, as a blueprint, the once-satirical work of Chris Morris. “The Day Today” was so brilliantly accurate that, for the initial minute when seeing it for the first time (back when it was originally broadcast) I half-mistook it for a genuine news show. It seems to have set the bar to which all current affairs programmes now aspire.


There is an added beauty to having no TV signal, aside from it being very easy to avoid the trap of settling down to idly flick endlessly through fifty channels of an evening – the majority of them showing repeats, and funded by sponsors, commercials, and product placement. I remember when people complained when programmes were repeated on terrestrial television within a year of being first shown – the expectation now is that shows will be repeated in an hour. As well as avoiding unending hours of drivel, and cherry-picking the things I want to see – rather than relying on those that happen to be on at a particular moment – if you do not watch TV as it is broadcast then there is no requirement to purchase a licence.

Not only am I avoiding that three-figure annual fee, but I see less adverts telling me how much prettier and sexually active I will be if only I drown myself in this aftershave/eat this sandwich/sell all of my gold/drink this nutrition-free beverage/buy cheaper car insurance. Furthermore, I can easily avoid the tedious monotony of meerkats and opera singers that so infuriate the majority of the people in my Facebook and Twitter feeds.

As far as those mentioned social media sites go, I have installed various ad-blockers that filter out some (though sadly not all) adverts. Commercials do nothing to enhance our lives, instead preying on our fears and insecurities to sell us things we don’t need and can usually ill-afford. I understand that they do offer substantial income for virtually every comedian I ever held any respect for, most of whom undermined their integrity at the prospect of receiving a hefty cheque. To return once more to the insightful Bill Hicks:

“Here’s the deal, folks. You do a commercial – you’re off the artistic roll call, forever. End of story. Okay? You’re another whore at the captialist gang bang and if you do a commercial, there’s a price on your head. Everything you say is suspect and every word that comes out of your mouth is now like a turd falling into my drink.”

I am not, or certainly try not, to come across as smugly superior about avoiding adverts. It is virtually impossible to completely do so – there are always magazines and billboards and newspapers and signs in pub toilets, posters and (negating any argument about how we must conserve energy and save the planet) flat screen displays running twenty-four-seven in certain tube stations and on the streets. I purposely bypass what I can, and endeavour to ignore the rest. Growing up, my Grandma would always mute the ad breaks if we were watching something, to enable conversation. I find myself doing the same, whenever I am visiting friends or family: I am more interested in engaging with the people I care about.

You only have one life, and you should not have it dictated to you what products you should purchase. It should certainly not be the mandate of companies who know nothing about you, whose sole concern is the generation of further profits. If you are so inclined, you do not have to allow yourself to be sunjected to this incessant onslaught. As Banksy wrote, incorporated into the graphic which inspired this post:


It’s Okay To Be Different.

I used to have a mohawk, for about four years. People love mohawks, especially drunk people who want to touch it. Some of them even had the manners to ask first before doing so.

I liked the look when it was properly spiked, but it was a pain in the arse to style and so I mostly kept it pretty flat and just tied it up at the back when it was long enough. This look was half loved and half hated by my friends, but it was surprisingly low-maintenance. There were never any trips to the barber, and the only tricky bit involved learning how to shave the back of my head using a razor and two mirrors. Once you work out which direction to go in even that is fairly straightforward.

It was a major talking point in Glasgow on any night out, and many a ned told me they wished they could get a haircut like it. I never fathomed that, because it wasn’t exactly difficult – you just shave as normal, but go higher up at the sides. I’ve been asked a lot in the six months since getting rid of it if I will “grow it back.” That’s a phrase that puzzles me, because you don’t grow a mohawk back so much as cut it in…

I spiked my hair for work once, and I was going there on the tube. It was a Saturday afternoon, and the tube is a bad place for mohawks. At 6-foot-2, I can barely stand upright in the low-ceilinged carriages as it is, and my hair variously added anything up to eight inches to my height. At the back, it stood out so far from my head that I had to lean forward in the seat, because the curved wall of the carriage prevented me from sitting properly. I used to get some good banter from passers-by though, my favourite being the guy who turned a corner in Govan, saw me, and shouted “Awfurfucksake, big yin, height restriction!”

On the tube this particular day, there was a father and his young daughter – she was four, if that. That’s another thing, by the way, mohawks amuse small children. You can often hear them asking their parents, as you pass, if they can get their hair like that. Anyway, this wee girl saw me and turned to burrow into her dad’s arms. He was down the carriage from me, but I could hear him telling her “Look at that man’s hair. That’s what they call a mohawk. It’s different, isn’t it? It’s okay to be different.”

It’s okay to be different.

More people should tell their children that. We don’t need to conform, so long as we’re living decent enough lives in accordance with the socially-accepted codes of morality. You don’t have to succumb to peer pressure, and for all the flak you’ll take you’ll get at least as much respect for just doing your own thing and for being comfortable with who you are.

I made a short film recently, it went online yesterday (about ten hours ago). It is about a fictional stand-up comedian, and the script includes many of the cliches that I see all the time and which really grate on me. I wanted to highlight the fact that these jokes have been done, these targets are used by too many professionals and we certainly don’t need the entire new wave of open spots (read: beginners and intermediates) all latching onto the same ones. I wanted to end the film with some kind of message, to try and spur creativity, to illustrate that it’s fine to be influenced by your heroes but that doesn’t mean you have to copy them. I’m not saying I manage, but I try to steer away from the jokes and subjects I perceive to be hack.

The obvious choice, for this final statement, was the line that has stuck with me for all these years: it’s okay to be different.

It is.


My short film can be viewed here. If you like it, please share it.



Glasgow Subway Ideas Rarely See Daylight.

I love the Subway, our Clockwork Orange, but they keep making the most incomprehensible changes to it. You can read dozens of the proposed ones here, most of them are contradictory or in the end came to nothing.

Our Subway runs from 6am until 11pm, give or take, except on a Sunday when it opens from 10am until 6pm. This is 2012, and the transport system in the centre of Glasgow is closed before the shops shut on a weekend shopping day. When they announce investment and improvement, the opening hours are never even mentioned for negotiation. They put in anti-terror bollards (to stop cars from driving down the escalators, but if you have a bomb in your backpack you’ll still get through); they planned to put in queue-beating Oyster-style ticketing as used in London, even though nobody has ever seen a queue on the Glasgow Subway, ever. Unless there was a match on at Ibrox, in which case A) who cares, let them queue, and B) Rangers are sinking fast anyway.

They are presently doing up all the stations, covering over the much-loved characteristic brick platforms with sterile white nondescript panelling, but still if you work in town on a Sunday you can’t use the Subway to get to your job if it starts before 10am. They recently said on Twitter that they’ve upgraded their website, as if that’s of any use to anybody living in this city and reliant on public transport that is closed when you need it. I noticed today, too, that they have done away with the bright yellow and orange posters listing the stations, and replaced them with generic, stylised, arty black and white and grey versions, which sit on the wall and blend into the adverts between which they sit – making them really difficult to spot at first glance. This is the kind of backward thinking that makes me hate Glasgow.

Most absurd of all, though, was the trial of late-night opening – when they remained shut. In order for the Subway to trial a night-time service, they closed the stations as normal and subcontracted the First Bus company to make all the same stops by road instead – which took longer, and cost more for a ticket, confusing the utter fuck out of everybody. Same stops, different prices, different method of transport entirely. The scheme flopped, unsurprisingly, and they used that to justify staying closed at night time. They want money and investment, but they’re not prepared to do the obvious thing that would encourage people to use their service: make it useful.

But at least the shiny white stations, with the upmarket ticket machines and silver steel bollards blocking the pavement outside, make it look like it might be functional.