Tuesday 24 April 2012

Flash Fiction: The Girl Who Cried Rose Petals

This was a flash fiction suggested by @armouredviolet, based on this picture she took on the Piccadilly Line.

She couldn't cry for many years and felt a sickening envy for those that could. She stopped crying completely between the ages of eleven  and twenty-three.

At twenty-four, her heart was broken, and for the first time in thirteen years, she cried.

Except she didn’t cry tears.

She cried petals.

Red, thick, rose petals. No pain, other than embarrassment. She tried not to cry in front of others.

On the Piccadilly line that morning, he got down on one knee and asked her to marry him.

For the first time in her life, she didn’t mind crying in public.

Sunday 22 April 2012

Lads Mags - degrading us all.

To say that I hate 'lads mags' like Nuts and Zoo would be an understatement. I would honestly rather see real hardcore pornography on sale in WH Smiths than I would these unpleasant, unfunny, sexist magazines.

It's taken me a while to put my finger exactly on what I feel the difference is, but this article in The Guardian finally helped me do it. It's by a former lads mag editor, Terri White, who has partially realised the damage that magazines like this do.

I have no problems with sex. I rather enjoy it. I even try to be good at it. I don't have any issues at all with the idea that people may get some enjoyment out of watching people have sex, or even just looking at naked people, and that some people may enjoy the idea of people watching them, or even be prepared to do it in return for financial recompense. That's all fine as far as I'm concerned.

For me, one of the most uncomfortable sex icons in the history of cinema is Barbara Windsor. Note that I'm not saying 'bad', but 'uncomfortable'. I'm not talking about her looks, body or voice, or anything like that. It was the attitude that the characters she played tended to put forward. The kind of characters that would respond to somebody pinching her arse or groping her with a 'Oi...cheeky!' and a friendly laugh. I always found something about that kind of thing to be written in such a way that it was somewhat encouraging of that kind of behaviour - because she enjoyed it, because she was up for it, because that kind of thing was all okay really. I love the Carry On films, but I do think their attitudes towards sex were uncomfortable at times.

It's the hint that real women? They love this kind of thing, they do. Women that don't are probably feminists or frigid or something.  And that's the kind of thing that Nuts and ZOO have ended up running with, with their emphasis on 'real women' and 'humour'.

Pornography tends to sell fantasies. Most glamour magazines tend to sell fantasies. Nuts sells attainability, and that's where the problem comes in. When it shows, say, "Karen, 24 receptionist from Wigan" with her tits out, talking about how she loves porn and has tried threesomes, it's not being sold to the reader as how strong and sexual women are or can be. Instead, it's being sold that this is what 'real women' like.

Bear in mind that the culture that these mags engender is the kind of culture where Danny Dyer (a man who desperately aims to be Ray Winstone but actually manages to land squarely on 'Artful Dodger') jokes that a man should 'cut his ex's face, so noone will want her', and that's okay until someone outside of the cocoon of tits and hate actually reads it.

One of the things that Terri White talks about is the idea that the mags didn't use words like 'tits', because that would be degrading. I rather feel that is completely missing the point, especially when there are regularly headlines like "Massive Boobs Special Issue!" plastered across the front of the magazines.

There's another point. The defence is sometimes put out that they're "celebrating women". They're not. If they were, they'd be reflecting a range of shapes of women, rather than the absolute homogeny of slim with massive boobs. This is a genre of magazine that once ran a competition where they encouraged women to win a boobjob by sending pictures of their boobs and then chose who was most in need of a boobjob. Celebration of women right there.

They don't celebrate women. They specifically celebrate women with huge boobs. Well, slim women with huge boobs. Well, slim white women with huge boobs. Because do take the time to try and spot how often any ethnicity other than white women are on the front cover. And no, Nuts and Zoo, 'ginger' doesn't count.

Anna Arrowsmith (AKA Anna Span) wrote a defence of pornography some time ago where she pointed out that porn is somewhat democratic, in that there's a variety of shapes and sizes, because all kinds of people get turned on by all kinds of visuals. And, also, it tends to feature men as well, rather than just constant disembodied breasts. This isn't to say that the porn industry doesn't have huge problems, and huge issues towards women - of course a lot of it does. However, with lads mags, there isn't even an alternative.

That's a big problem with the humour as well. It isn't humour. It's  what is more and more being referred to as 'banter', which is just shit, boring and moronic, and encourages more of it. It also tends to be parrotted by horribly defensive blokes, who spout homophobic, racist, sexist, idiotic guff and defend it with "it's just banter, mate". The magazines don't print outright racist or sexist jokes, but I'd be fascinated to know how many of them they get sent by readers.

The degradation of women in these magazines is awful. It reduces them and their worth to their willingness to get their breasts out (as long as they're big) and whether they enjoy being objectivised. They then act as if this is what real women are like.

The degradation doesn't just stop with women, either. The idea that this is what men like and are like is degrading to men as well. The idea that we're all lads, who can't think of anything better than what Eddie from Bottom would describe as a "wazzo pair of jugs". That we all think that this is what women should look like, and that we're only interested in a weirdly specific kind of woman. It degrades men and women by acting as if we're all stupid.

It's degrading to sex, by pushing a viewpoint that is entirely focusing on a serial-killer-like preoccupation with specific body parts, and women that act a specific way. It degrades sex by ignoring the idea that it should be about more than just big boobs. It ignores variety. It ignores fun and silliness and replaces it with banter.

It assumes stupidity. It assumes sexism. It assumes a base level of ignorance and attitude on behalf of the reader that must instinctively dislike anyone that isn't the same as them.

I can see how pornography can be improved. I think sex is an inherently good thing, and pornography can celebrate that, and the more women that work in the field, the more it tries to aim towards what women like as well, the more the audience can change and the more equal and positive a thing it could become.

Can anyone really see a way that lads mags can improve?

Saturday 21 April 2012

Left - Short Story

I fell asleep on the sofa an hour after my wife went to bed. I woke up in the middle of the night, which is always disconcerting. I stood up, noting an ache in my lower back from the uncomfortable position, and set about turning lights off and joining her in bed. They were already off, which sleepily confused me.

I quietly opened the bedroom door and crept in. One advantage of my mobile phone is that just switching the screen on gives me enough light to see where I'm walking without making enough light to wake her up. It wasn't until I was around to my side of the bed that I felt a sudden cold wave of fear and confusion flow down over my skin like ice water.

Next to my wife was someone lying in the bed, quietly sleeping.  I froze, trying to make sense of what I was looking at, and also thinking how quietly I could retrieve the cricket bat from inside the cupboard. I looked over at my wife, who was sleeping heavily, but breathing obviously. I then looked more closely at the figure's face.

I saw my own face lying on the pillow, eyes closed.

I recoiled, horrified and confused. I couldn't make sense of it. I just stood and watched the two in the bed sleep for a while. When he turned over, I could see that he was wearing the same t-shirt that I was wearing.

I walked carefully around to the other side of the bed again, and shook my wife softly. I didn't understand what was happening, but she was always my first port of call when I was upset, or when I needed to talk. She continued to sleep.

I shook her harder. She didn't wake up. I was scared about waking him up, but eventually, I couldn't bear it any more. I shouted her name, and I shook and slapped her to try and wake her up.


Had he drugged her or something? I went back around to my side of the bed and shook him this time. He didn't respond either. Neither of them did. I eventually screamed, but to absolutely no avail.

Not knowing what else to do, I went and sat on the sofa again. I cried out of frustration and confusion before falling asleep.

I woke to the sound of voices. She was in the kitchen while he was getting dressed, and they were discussing their day. It took me a few moments to recognise my own voice, with the slightly unusual quality of hearing it at a remove.

I raced through to the kitchen, and shouted, but she ignored me again. When he walked into the room, he didn't walk through me, but he may as well have. I was pushed easily out of the way when he brushed against me. It felt like I'd been hit by a car, and when I fell against my wife, it was like being hit hard in the opposite direction. I scrambled out of both their ways but continued talking. They couldn't hear me.

I stood up and watched him stood next to me, talking to her. He was exactly my height, my weight, wearing my clothes, speaking with my voice.

After a while, he went to work. I tried to follow, able to get onto the bus, but I lost my nerve when I got to the train station.

Instead, I trudged back to the house, and sat all day. I wasn't hungry. I didn't need the toilet. Nothing like that.

I could interact with household objects, I found. That first day, I wrote messages, but when my wife got home from work, she either didn't see them or didn't read them. The letter was treated as rubbish. The message written with her lipstick on the mirror was perfunctarily wiped off, without so much as any sense of comprehension.

I couldn't communicate with her in any way. When he came back, and they ate, I just sat and watched. When they sat on the sofa and watched television, I sat on a chair and just watched with them. Sometimes, he said the exact thing I was thinking. Watching quizzes, we would often answer the same questions.

One day, I followed him all the way to work. I wandered around the office while he worked at times, but at other times, something was nagging at me that took a long time for me to fully realise.

He was better at it than I was. He was working hard throughout the day, and seeming less distracted than I sometimes felt.

But then he was better at everything than I was. Not by much, but it was enough for me to notice. Better at exercising, better at working, better at listening and taking note of what my wife said. He was a bit neater than I was. A bit fitter. Better at making love.

Or was I just jealous of him, and looking down at myself?

I don't know, but eventually I got used to it. I became his shadow, more or less. I could spy on anyone, and find out information by myself, but I had nobody to share it with. It was so much less effort to allow him to make the decisions.

Sometimes, I sat around her while she went around her day. It felt like I was spending time with her.

Sometimes, it felt real.

One time, when I was stood in the bathroom behind him while he got ready for work, he looked in the mirror, and his eyes shifted from himself to my reflection behind me. He had never done this before. His eyes locked with mine.

And he smiled.