Top 10: Underrated entities
For reasons I refuse to go into right now, I’ve been watching a lot of ‘Friends’ recently. It comes on TV every day, and there are about 48,000 episodes to choose from. I’ve always liked, actually, tolerated, Friends quite a lot, not because I particularly enjoy the saccharine misadventures of Manhattan’s fakest circle of mates, but because of the rigid jokes per page formula it sticks to. I find it fascinating. Like all good sitcoms, Friends works on a pulse of ‘humour’ with regular little groundswells of laughter that have almost nothing to do with jokes. Every few beats, we get a cue to laugh, and the canned laughter pushes us over the hump and on to the next ascent to the next funny bit.
Now, I dislike the artificiality of canned laughter as much as the next cynic, but I caps lock LOVE the fact that rational humans can be jostled along a narrative by such clonky cues of merriment. We should probably be ashamed/ cringe/ vomit each time some ripple of guffaws punctuates our lovingly crafted gags, but for some reason, we just go along with out. I think that’s marvellous.
I recently very nearly did a post called ‘Top 10: Most powerful words in the English language’, and ‘but’ was going to headline. See, the thing about the word ‘but’ is that it is so unrepentantly violent, and its merciless power should never be overlooked. Iit may sound like hyperbole, but I’m serious. See, when you say something, you assert it, and your listener, to some extent accepts whatever meaning you have offered. To then follow it up with the word ‘but’ is to basically say ‘now ignore everything I’ve just said – I’m about to contradict it and offer an almost exactly opposite position’. It’s volatile – like a little conversational frag grenade that completely decimates what came before. Use with caution.
As a self-certified poetry aficionado, I can safely say that full rhyme is the preserve of the happy thinker. When you get two words that resonate aurally, like I dunno, ‘blue’ and ‘moo’, you automatically have happiness and playfulness. A kind of ‘ahh’ situation that sits nicely in the soul. But, half-rhyme: That’s a different story. Quick definition – half-rhyme: where two words sort of rhyme a bit but don’t really sound alike. Sounds innocuous right? Wrong. In the hands of a skilled poet, half-rhyme can be a devastatingly subtle means of creating unease and unrest in the heart of a reader, sometimes on a subconscious level. Where full rhyme announces its arrival with a wave and bounds through your mind ringing bells of joy, half-rhyme is the serpent beneath, sneaking into your psyche with the stealth of an assassin. A great example is the disturbingly self-conscious Dylan Thomas, who put down the bottle long enough to write ‘Especially When the October Wind’. Have a look at the first two stanzas…
Especially when the October wind
With frosty fingers punishes my hair,
Caught by the crabbing sun I walk on fire
And cast a shadow crab upon the land,
By the sea’s side, hearing the noise of birds,
Hearing the raven cough in winter sticks,
My busy heart who shudders as she talks
Sheds the syllabic blood and drains her words.
Shut, too, in a tower of words, I mark
On the horizon walking like the trees
The wordy shapes of women, and the rows
Of the star-gestured children in the park.
Some let me make you of the vowelled beeches,
Some of the oaken voices, from the roots
Of many a thorny shire tell you notes,
Some let me make you of the water’s speeches.
Doesn’t seem like much? In between the full rhyming quatrains (wind/land, birds/words, mark/park, beeches/ speeches) you get an incredibly sinister half rhyme. Hair/ fire, sticks/ talks, trees/ rows, roots/ notes… and this continues throughout the poem. It’s surreptitious, sly and slightly jarring and just as disturbing as any of the poem’s more obvious imagery and morose language. Chilling, if you ask me.
Just because they don’t talk, can’t dress themselves and shit themselves all day, it doesn’t mean that babies are any more stupid than any other person. They’re just young. I’m fairly certain that humans are born with all the emotional intelligence they will ever have, and their intelligent intelligence/ reasoning/ whatever just has to catch up. Babies know what’s up, and if they could talk, I bet they’d tell us what was what.
It never ceases to amaze me how soul-shakingingly powerful a bit of eye-contact can be. Just meeting the gaze of another human being. It’s something to do with the innate intimacy of meeting someone eye-to-eye, and the direct, unspoken communication this comes with, that makes eye contact one of the single most powerful forms of communication going. It could be a flirtatious smoulder, a knowing sharing of an in-joke, staring someone down in rage or even the wide-eyed invitation of friendship in greeting. Either way, a single look can say it all.
Apologies for getting all serious all of a sudden. I’ve read my way through a fair slice of human history and I simply cannot believe some of the atrocities that we, as a species, have inflicted upon each other across the ages. Considering that there are only a few billion of us on the planet at any given time, it’s unsurprising that we get the odd disagreement and skirmish, but the extent to which we can subjugate eachother is beyond belief. Humanity, for all its development, can be base, and the atrocities of which we are capable of should never be underestimated. To do so is to forget potential for trauma inherent in all societies, usually orchestrated by manic individuals, fascist governments or a combination of the two. The scariest/ saddest truth in all of this is that it can happen anywhere, at any time. It doesn’t seem to take much for us to turn on ourselves and commit acts of violence that can only be described as deplorable. Is it in our nature? Perhaps, but I’d like to think empathy can win out. Time will tell.
Right, time to face facts. You’re a whore to trend. A slave to zeitgeist. A minion of mode. You have no opinion. None of us do. Deal. Ok, I admit I’m being slightly hyperbolic here, but only slightly. As original as we’d like to think we are, we ultimately end up reflecting everyone around us and conforming to whatever context we live in. How else could it be that we all sort of speak the same, wear the same clothes, do the same things at any given time? If we were truly original I might be walking around dressed in, I dunno, Elizabethan robes or the skins of my slaughtered enemies, but instead, I wear suits. We’re almost as powerless to break trend as we are to start it, so largely speaking, we don’t. It’s far easier to be born into the world and copy everyone around us. To ignore the of trend is to ignore the very DNA of society itself and once a trend starts, no matter how ridiculous, you can bet that We as a collective will follow. Distressed denim, ear-lobe plugs, calling your kids ‘Poppy’, eating humous, whatever.
Ironically, the people with the biggest immunity to trend are in fact babies (see above). They don’t care thing one about whatever everyone else is doing and couldn’t give a shit about fitting in, but out of sheer convenience (and defeatism), they grow up into ‘free-thinking’ individuals who pretty much just do the same as everybody else.
Everyone always bangs on about the triple word scores and how many points they can get you especially with an X or a Q blah blah blah, but my Scrabble mind goes beyond this. If you’re careful, and you know what you’re doing, you can pillage an opponent with a shrewd use of the triple LETTER score. Throw a J on there and link it up to a word in the other direction and bosh, you’re suddenly looking at 50 plus points. Anyway, let’s not get into a Scrabble conversation – it’ll just end in me personally challenging you to a match and you never reading my blog again.
When you think about it, we under-estimate and under-rate the power of branding all the time. The modern world, or at least the modern Western world, pivots on consumerism, and consumerism (bear with me – I know nothing about economics) is based on product, right? Wrong. We seek brands that allude to a product and represent it, but don’t actually constitute that product itself. This is important. A brand, once established, is so powerful that it can paper over any cracks in the product itself, metaphorically speaking of course. Look at Nike. Reasonably decent shoes, nothing special, huge reputation for quality, massively overpriced. McDonald’s: disgusting plastic food, massively overpriced, hugely popular on the basis that we recognise the brand. Dyson: big gimmicky plastic unwieldy vacuum cleaners that are somehow synonymous with ingenious design. Father Christmas: creator of Christmas cheer and the maker of all gifts, who doesn’t even actually exist. And so on.
The brand is like shorthand for the product it represents, which is kind of a distorted, dangerous way to look at things. But hey, it’s easier than actually assessing every single product on its own merit…
As remarkable and inventive as it is, I still get the impression, at times, that poetry’s incredible capacity to create subtle meaning out of words, create narrative and constrain languge into beautiful ambiguity sometimes goes less than appreciated. Easily up there among man’s most remarkable achievements.
Because I’m a shameless self-publicist with an irrationally stout sense of self-worth, I have to say that this blog is one of the most underrated criticism journals in existence. I’m sure you agree.