Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

The Tube

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:

banksy-on-advertising

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Unfortunate Turns Of Phrase.

I confused a friend in London once, when I mentioned in conversation that I had “just jumped the tube.” I used it casuallyand offhand as an expression meaning that I jumped ON the tube as a means of getting where I was going, and not – as she interpreted – to mean that I had literally vaulted a turnstile to avoid paying my fare.

Whether the use of the word in this context is unique to Glasgow, or Scotland, I don’t know. I do know that it was in a Glasgow supermarket where I heard it used entirely inappropriately.

It was one of these sizeable (but not out-of-town) supermarkets with its own car park, and the checkouts had low metal barriers that swung across the lanes and were locked when the checkout was not in use. Most of these checkouts had a single lane, but every so often there was a double gate, where two checkouts had their lanes next to each other. It was at one of these double gates that I witnessed the following.

Someone in a wheelchair was waiting for one of the staff to unlock these gates so the aisle would be wide enough for them to leave. The guy unlocked the gates, held them open for the person, and said “Just jump through there.”

It was said without thought or malice, and I don’t think anyone else picked up on it – it’s such a common phrase here – but I noticed it, and it stuck with me.

So aye.

 

 


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.

 

 


The Londoner With A Sense Of Humour.

I go to Camden Town with some regularity, and have done since I was first introduced to the market there in 2001. A crowd of us had gone down on a chartered coach overnight, in order to see a five-band bill headlined by Dimmu Borgir, and – having previously been to London only once, three months earlier and on my own – I followed the crowd. So that was my introduction to Camden.

Since then, Camden has been my main stopping point during any trip down. Since 2005, I have made the trip annually to see my favourite band (Combichrist) play in London, and as often as not it is a venue in that town that they play. I used to crash with friends or family, until I made two discoveries: Euston Station is a fifteen minute walk from the venue, and; the cheapest train of the day leaves there for Glasgow at 5.30am. So now, on the past few trips, I’ve gone to the gig, then to any aftershow party, and then slowly made my way to sit outside the station for a few hours before getting the train back home. It means I don’t have to hassle anyone for crashing space, don’t have the added expense of a hotel or hostel, and don’t need to fork out the best part of a tenner to get a travel card. I never have to research and run for the last tubes anymore either.

Pulling an all-nighter on the streets of London might be risky, and the first time I did it I was in the vicinity far in advance owing to the train I’d elected to get down. I wandered from the station to the market, looking for anywhere that might be open in the small hours – a 24-hour coffee shop or fast food establishment – and was surprised to see none. On the previous trip, I’d sat in a McDonalds all night, next to a different station from which I was departing. In Camden I decided, in true British style, to ask a policeman.

The first one I saw was on the street behind the Electric Ballroom, and as I approached he was hailed from a side street by a very drunk and cheerful native of the city. “Heh!” he cried, in a manner designed to attract the attention of anyone he chose to address, “Here!” The policeman stopped, looking, and by this time I was in earshot – both of us curious as to where this was headed. “What do you get hanging from trees?” the drunk asked, the answer being “Sore arms!” He then told another joke, which I forget, bid the policeman good day, and disappeared off down the street. I never knew until that point that anyone in London was in possession of a sense of humour. Or that there was a polis out there who could take a joke.

I walked up, as intended, and asked if there was anywhere nearby where I could kill the small hours. It still surprises me that there is nowhere in Camden – a vibrant and bustling town all day long – that stays open 24-hours to serve up a combination of grease, coffee, or internet access. The thought of having to walk or get buses miles out of my way to find somewhere didn’t appeal, and I’ve sat in train stations or at bus stops overnight in Glasgow plenty of times through the years when I stayed at home. I asked him what the area was like, and specifically if I was likely to get jumped. He stood, and looked me up and down – all six-foot-two of my mohawk-sporting, broad-shouldered, seventeen-stone. Scottish frame – and said “You’ll be alright.”

It’s little exchanges like that which keep me going to London every year. Well, aside from the band I love and the friends I’ve made.