An eventful and stressful week or two. The stress can be almost entirely put down to a few specific things at work which will come to an end soon enough, and so it doesn’t bother me too much since it’s just a matter of toughing it out for a little while more. You don’t want to hear me complain and I can’t talk about it in any case so that’s the end of that.
Halloween is a big deal in the states, a big fucking deal. We had a Halloween party at work for the residents and it was extremely well received. A number of gruesome looking foods were cooked up by staff and residents alike, including my contribution, a Cat Litter Cake which was a big success and Goblin Snot, which I made with the leftovers from the Cake recipe. One of the residents who suffers from acute depression was particularly amused by it, and we ended up having a long conversation about baseball. It was another link in the chain of happily rewarding moments I have been gradually accumulating.
I went down to Old Town on the final 2 nights of the week-long extravaganza and experienced the most eclectic mix of the good, the bad and the ugly (you’ll see what I mean in a bit!) that I have ever known. The Friday involved the smaller scale of the 2 parades, where many of the locals dress up (or down) in all manner of outfits and then march through the city. As luck would have it I wondered up on a corner in the route, meaning I had an excellent view of the approaching mass of the variously perverse, weird, creative, colourful or downright confusing that was coming my way.
I got many pictures that night, including some real gems (well done little Sony camera!). I will have to censor slightly I think; in the end the reason I stopped taking pictures was because I could no longer stand the shame of taking pictures of so many naked or semi-naked people. More on that later. One highlight that I did not manage to snap was a group of women with penises glued to their heads, dressed up in suits (dickheads, you see), who would drink a toast out of their Romney/Ryan 2012 mugs whenever the cameras were pointed their way. That and a sign saying ‘Rock out with your Conch out’.
The next night was the main parade which was utterly overwhelming, and pretty damn cool. The lighting conditions were very challenging for photos (poor little Sony camera), and so I took way too many videos instead. I’ll put a few of these up but sadly, the parade was so spectacular is sort of has to be seen first-hand in order to grasp its creative and physical magnitude.
Whilst there was no denying it was marvellous entertainment and a huge feat of organisation and ingenuity, I had mixed feelings about the whole event. On one hand I admired the participants for their willingness to let themselves go and enjoy the moment. The peculiarly American way they cast away doubt, fear and social-anxiety is a mystery to me. The result is an energetic and impressive enthusiasm, a sort of ostentatious get up and go without which is the life-blood of Fantasy Fest.
On the other hand I felt there was a significant element of open and virile misogyny the crowd. Worse, there were a number of creepy seeming old men with expensive cameras taking pictures of every exposed bit of flesh they could find. The spectacle of rich American men coming to Fantasy Fest to ogle beautiful women that they clearly could not have seen any other, more organic way, was a tad jarring. And me with my camera feeling very uncomfortable, seeming as I did a member of that same club.
The extent to which both these characteristics are the result of socio-economic conditions is an interesting but unresolved question to me. And maybe I’m just a terrible prude. But why can’t they just stick to pornography, which for all the potentially unethical behaviour in its production is still basically a commercial product and which has the full informed consent of its participants to be viewed as sexual objects? Why muddy the waters by infiltrating a civic event which, notwithstanding its risqué sides, is nowhere close to an explicitly sexual endeavour?
A few days later, I went to a reassuringly boring and uneventful Halloween party of my own, as it happens. I went as Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes in shorts.
For all the occasions when I’m a) too lazy to write a blog post and, b) bored, I have purchased a Netflix subscription. It’s a great investment in my opinion, and the other day I watched Stephen Poliakoff’s Gideon’s Daughter starring Bill Nighy (Gideon) and Emily Blunt (‘s daughter, Natasha). To the film critics, the plot is a not all that unconventional account of 2 grief stricken people who connect over their shared sorrow and fall in love. Well acted, written and directed as it is, that’s still a bit of a boring plot. To me however, the story of Gideon’s relationship with Stella is a shade, or a brushstroke, not the picture itself. The main conflict is between what is a real, genuine human experience and what is cold, manufactured, and emotionally hollow ‘event’.
French Philosopher and Marxist Social Theorist Guy Debord covered this area with his theory of ‘The Society of the Spectacle’. Paraphrasing greatly here (I don’t fully understand his Frenchiness), he argued that modern society had degraded the experience of living by ‘the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing’. The cult of the image and the advance of superficiality had led to social life being replaced with its representation: ‘All that once was directly lived has become mere representation’.
The film is set between 1997 and 2000, and Gideon is London’s most sought after PR man, in the world of New Labour, Princess Diana, the Millennium Dome and Britpop. In other words, he is at the epicentre of the Spectacular Society. Despite his outwardly in control and successful persona, the events of the film, his obsessive love for his daughter, and his burgeoning relationship with a down to earth Londoner, Stella, reveal to Gideon and the viewer that the emperor has no clothes, that what really matters to him are his daughter and Stella, and that the circles he used to swim in are hopelessly shallow, empty to the core. In the words of the narrator, they need to grow up. In the process of making this complicated point, it also happens to be profoundly moving (to me at any rate!).
The film is not a dismissal of celebrity, or mass media, or politicians, or pop culture so much as an outburst of frustration at the arrogant and elitist attitude that many hold in pursuit of being the next big thing. Gideon’s struggle is to avoid becoming the sort of barren and unfulfilled shell of a person that he has made it his career to promote. Love, for Stella and Natasha, is what allows him to break out of his chains so you could say it’s about the power of love, but truthfully that’s a gross simplification, and you should just watch if for yourselves.
In some small way then, this post has a common theme: fantasy and reality, in life and in art.
Ollie goes for a walkabout
On Friday I stumbled upon an Oyster Race. Confused? So was I when I read the sign, but it turns out you bet on which Oyster a trained cook can open up with a knife the fastest. If you win then you get to choose a numbered key which opens doors in 3 cabinets possibly containing prizes up to $500. The best thing about it was the gent rigged up to a microphone who commentated on each 3-5 second race at 100mph as if it were the single most thrilling event in the history of humankind.
After that I went for a stroll on the waterfront where I happened upon the mooring station for all the powerboats that were in town for the international powerboat racing they have in Key West. I have to say that, despite all my reservations, these machines were very, very cool. The contrast between how they sat so low and flat against water and the angular precision with which they cut the water at the bow and also their flamboyant cockpit styling (all dials and levers and leather trim) was cool enough, but what really did it was the noise. On the few occasions where an engine was fired up in my vicinity you could feel the air crackling with the energy of these hell-cats. The engine tones were volatile and inconsistent, leading to a sense of danger and unpredictability that is missing (with good reason) from car engines. One of them, painted a pure coat of jet black, looked like it came from a Batman film (or the original Just Cause video game, for those of you have played it).
During all of this I got all think-y about the merits of travelling alone. The downsides are more obvious and, for a social animal like myself, clearly outweigh the benefits. However, that is not to say that there aren’t any benefits. Being left entirely to one’s own thoughts allows a closer observation of the people and events around you. When you’re also thinking about what to put in your blog (which in cases like this turns into more of a kind of public diary) it sharpens your focus towards actually coming to conclusions about the things you experience, and how you experience them.
Then on the midst of my philosophical musings, my foot started to hurt. It turned out to be a fairly bad case of Cellulitis (ouch!) so I ended up in hospital yesterday. The anti-biotics seem to be doing the trick even though I still have the world’s best comedy limp. All is well. I hope this satisfies your huge appetite for anecdotes about my life. Can you tell I’m tired? Now to upload this monstrosity…