Pinocchio And The Absence of Comeuppance

 

honest_johnDisney has a lot to answer for. It could not be otherwise. The corporation is, after all, one of those behemoth machines that has been engineering what we naively think of as our reality for over eighty years now; you can’t do that without getting some blood on your hands. We have, for example, Disney to thank for conferring an entirely bogus humanity on savage beasts, on unthinking organisms red, like nature itself, in tooth and claw.

I wonder has Disney ever been sued by someone who tried to cuddle a bear, and who couldn’t understand why its response wasn’t as good natured as the ever avuncular Balou from The Jungle Book? I wonder what its response would be: ‘you’re a moron’ seems a little blunt for the company that has made trillions from counterfeit touchy-feeliness.

The industrial scale anthropomorphising of the animal kingdom that Disney has engaged in since the 1930’s has to have had a major effect on human consciousness over the decades. The corporation has organised the animal kingdom along human lines: dogs are cute and loyal, snakes are treacherous. It has helped us forget the truth: that they’re all just animals. Disney has coined GDPs ten times over by telling its consumers that no sentimental impulse, no matter how retarded, can ever be wrong.

I’ve never seen a study, but it seems possible that the global success of Disney has contributed to the upsurge in people identifying themselves as vegetarian or vegan, in the western world at least. It is tempting to wonder if the most famous vegetarian in history, Adolf Hitler, ever saw ‘Snow White’ or ‘Dumbo.’ Alas, that is probably one of those footnotes to history which is forever lost to us.

Of late, when it isn’t reorganizing the Star Wars franchise to generate profits even George Lucas never dreamed of, Disney spends a lot of its time championing female empowerment. Movies like ‘Mulan,’ ‘Beauty And The Beast,’ ‘Tangled’ and the inescapable ‘Frozen’ have lifted the heart of every parent who wants to see their little girl become President of France or a Professor of Nuclear Physics.

The profusion of girl power Disney movies prompted The Onion to quip that the Corporation was probably due a seriously misogynistic flick any year now. I won’t hold my breath. The power of the brand, the continued generation of Imperial sized fortunes, depends on the notion that you can be anything you want to be, so long as you’re kind to furry cartoon animals, are an all round good egg, and decorate your bedroom with the appropriate Disney merchandise.

Postulate a future nightmare in which some messianic lunatic briefly gets control of the company. He causes the Corporation to channel billions into its greatest artistic triumph: a four hour epic which questions the very meaning of human existence itself. The thing is a box office flop. One of the greatest corporations in history, one of those bedrocks which anchors the entire matrix we call reality, comes crashing down. They’d surely assassinate the loony CEO before things got that far.

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Yet it’s intriguing to think that once upon a time, Disney movies were actually very different. Maybe they were reflective of a harsher, less sentimental time, or at least a time which was more open about saying that when you get down to it, some things in life will never be anything other than shit.

Some of the early ones feel as if they were written by the cold hand of a bona fide sociopath. Consider that final scene of the Corporation’s first ever main feature, ‘Snow White,’ where our heroine – having just set eyes upon the handsome prince – duly leaves behind the Seven Dwarves, who have protected and nurtured her, without so much as a backward glance. Even today, I can’t watch it without thinking: ‘what a bitch.’ Even the makers of the very creepy ‘Wizard of Oz’ found it necessary to have Dorothy tell Scarecrow, Tin Man et al that she’d never forget them.

Early Disney is also very curious on the subject of comeuppances, and nowhere is this more evident than in one of the most disturbing movies ever made, ‘Pinocchio.’ Scholars often point out that most children’s fairy tales were incredibly dark entities before they became Disneyfied. That’s largely true, but when ‘Pinocchio’ was made back in the 1930’s, Disney may have existed, but Disneyfication didn’t, at least not yet.

Consider what happens to the bad guys in modern Disney movies. Shan-Yu in Mulan ends up being blasted to smithereens by a rocket, Scar in ‘The Lion King’ meets a suitably nasty fate. Even ‘Beauty And The Beast,’ in one of its few real flaws, artificially inflates the oafish Gaston into a full blown villain, merely to deliver the appropriate, emotionally satisfying comeuppance, and also liberating the Beast.

Warp back sixty years however, and it’s all very different. Yes, Pinocchio does ultimately meet his goal of becoming a real boy (wonder how he got on with that?) but along the way, he meets some seriously nasty people. Indeed, the gallery of villains in ‘Pinocchio’ is creepier than most of the rest of the corporate corpus put together.

Pinocchio comes face to face with child traffickers: Stromboli wants to exploit him in a puppet show and chop him into firewood, the amoral Honest John doesn’t care about cooperating with predators so long as he makes a few bucks, the literally demonic Coachman actively seeks young boys to entrap on Pleasure Island, turning them into donkeys who can be shipped around the world as pack animals.

Pinocchio eventually survives all this, but so do the bad guys. They are the white walkers of today: implacable and apparently untouchable. The only baddie who gets a comeuppance is Monstro the Whale, who is, after all, only doing what monstrous whales have been doing since the dawn of history, i.e. eating stuff. Where’s all the animal sentimentality now?

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The Coachman is presumably free to go on kidnapping other boys and shipping them to Pleasure Island. Honest John will presumably help him, and anyone else who wishes to do kids some ill. Stromboli suffers the annoyance of loss of a money maker, but is otherwise undamaged.

In its undeniable foreboding and darkness, Pinocchio presumably reflects a very different type of society. The Great Depression had just happened, many institutions of society broke down either partially or altogether. As always at these times, it was children who suffered first and most.

It’s also one of the few Disney movies that’s reflective of a more moralistic outlook upon childhood. Little boys will get up to all kinds of nastiness because they are little boys. There are all sorts of dark forces out there who are waiting to take advantage of that nastiness, and those forces are immutable, perhaps because they enjoy demonic protection.

Of course, Pinocchio may also reflect the conditions under which it was created. Was Walt Disney himself a bit like The Coachman, patrolling the dark aisles with a whip as his millions of drones hand painted every single gorgeous frame? Perhaps some of this bled into the movie.

Be that as it may, the darkness at the heart of Pinocchio makes it infinitely more memorable than the saccharine morality of a Frozen or a Tangled. It’s all the more unsettling because we’re not really sure what it’s trying to say. Maybe Walt himself wasn’t sure. Perhaps all the fakery Disney has engaged in since then, all the counterfeiting of emotion, makes Pinocchio all the more disturbing.

But I thought of it again recently, contemplating yet another child protection scandal in my country, Ireland, which will yet again result in failure to identify and punish those responsible, the bulk of their damage having already been done etc. With the world around us screeching itself into meltdown, disparate fogs of war gathering while billions work for less and less to give the hyper-rich more and more, I can’t help wondering if Disney and the rest of us wouldn’t be better employed warning our kids that things might not be so great after all.

Maybe it’s time for a remake. Why not? They’ve remade everything else.

 

 

When Kenny Came Loose in Time, Part 3

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When he showed up six months later, his skin had a weirdly bluish tinge. The jerking had mercifully stopped, but he now had a disconcerting tendency to hum continuously, the same note, over and over.

“Hey, what’s this? You discovered Buddhism or something?”

“Wha?” He looked at me with utter comprehension. I didn’t blame him. Buddhism and Kenny were two concepts not easily put together.

At different intervals over the next year or so, Kenny arrived in the shop (a) bursting into spontaneous song, (b) wearing a red eye patch, (c) speaking a language which sounded like Russian or (d) weeping controllably (not a sight for the weak of stomach, believe me). He told me he’d acquired the ability to puke in seven different colours, and to sleep while walking backwards.

I asked again if he knew what the drugs were for and he said he didn’t, hadn’t asked and the money was fuckin’ great etc.

I began to be pricked by something I assumed was my conscience. It whined that even if Kenny didn’t care about what was happening to him, someone else must. I tried interrogating these impulses.

How did it follow logically that someone ought to be concerned about Kenny? Would he experience the same worry on my behalf? How was this in any way my business? Against all this logic, my conscience simply kept on whining.

UROK’s shares were quadrupling in value, and many of its savvier employees were among the beneficiaries. Swank cars of makes unseen for decades – Mercs, Alfa Romeos, Jaguars – began appearing on Loonford’s bottlenecked streets. My conscience agreed to let me off with a phone call.

I was shunted around six different extensions in the office of the local health authority before I finally reached the Secretary of someone who had something to do with public health. She told me in clipped tones that Doctor X was out of the office for a couple of weeks. She asked me to leave details of my concern, along with my name and address, and she would have him contact me when he got back.

Needless to say, I never heard from them again.

I mentioned Kenny’s case over a few pints with an acquaintance of mine who worked for the Loonford Gazette. She nodded sympathetically and said she’d heard of a few similar instances.

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“So surely it’s worth a story then?”

“Are you nuts? Have you opened the paper lately? We’ve just done twenty different stories on how great for Loonford the UROK Corporation is, about all the extra businesses they’re bringing to town. They’re worth a fortune in advertising. No newspaper’s ever going to mess that up. Also, and don’t say I told you, but I think our owner has shares in the place. After all, how are we to know there’s anything really wrong with the RAPs? I mean, it’s not as if anyone has died yet, is it?”

I didn’t even leave it there. Kenny had taken to wearing green wellies and calling himself grandpa. The local TD being unavoidably detained on one of his prolonged drinking bouts, I went to the next best thing: the Councillor regarded as most likely to take the seat once the old sot finally died of alcohol poisoning.

He sat in his office, his gleaming Merc parked outside (‘start as you mean to continue,’ he’d proudly proclaim), his hands and neck dripping with bling, and listened to me for fully four seconds before exploding.

“Jesus Christ get out o’ here. Are yeh tryin’ to roon yer own town? What the fuck’s the matter with yeh? Jesus, I never took you for one o’ dem troublemakers.”

Oh well, I told my conscience, I genuinely did try.

The argument which the Councillor didn’t have to put to me was this: could it be truthfully said that Kenny was in any way worse off than he would have been without the UROK Corporation? After all, he seemed in pretty good form in spite of all the bizarre stuff that was happening to him.

In the unlikely event that UROK’s discoveries began a new era for mankind, then would not Kenny’s life have had a value out of all proportion to its estimated potential? I shrugged it off and tensed myself for Kenny’s next visits, which happily didn’t arrive for at least a year. Maybe someone had warned him off me, who knew?

When he did come crashing through the door however, things were altogether different. He looked drawn and frightened, great grey blotches now highlighted his hair.

“Kenny, long time no…”

“You gotta close de shop dis afternoon,” he told me without preamble.

“Why? What’s the matter?”

“I’ve no time to explain. You just gotta.”

“But what’s this about?”

“Lookit. I shouldn’t even be tellin’ yeh. I can’t explain. Somethin’s gonna happen, and yev gotta close de shop. Yeh might be killed if yeh don’t.”

I weighed things up. The sight of Kenny this frantic was disconcerting enough on its own. What exactly was he trying to tell me? Had UROK hired some goons to try and do me mischief? It seemed unlikely, but then so did a lot of things.

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I invented some excuse and closed at lunchtime. The cost to the business, in all likelihood, was less than miniscule. By that stage, the mere act of staying open was probably losing us money.

Curious, but feeling more than slightly ridiculous, I borrowed a friend’s flat for the afternoon. It was an upstairs set of rooms which commanded a clear view of the street and the shop.

I positioned myself, unseen I hoped, near the best window and waited, and waited. Had the lunacy of my home town finally pulled me down with it, with Kenny in the unlikely role of singing Loonford siren; or was something indeed about to happen, the long awaited fire or explosion perhaps? Damn. I’d forgotten to check if we were properly insured.

By 4.17 I had gone way past the ridiculous thing and was now seriously pondering the notion of quality time with a psychiatrist. It would have to be somebody far away, I reasoned. The last thing you could do in Loonford was let word leak out that you might be batty. This seems more and more like the weirdest paradox of all, the longer I spend away from the place.

There had to be lists of them somewhere, I speculated, catalogues that let you know what such and such a bod specialised in; but what speciality was I looking for? Was there a cure for Loonford?

I was unable to pursue this line of thought any further, because things had started to happen in the street below.

I suddenly heard three or four very loud bangs, like a group of cars backfiring in symphony. There followed a silence, not like an ordinary silence, more an expectant hiss of shock and dread, as if the very air was recoiling from what had just happened inside it.

The silence was broken by a hail of guttural shouts, curses aimed at nobody, and then I heard fast, heavy steps. A shambling, hooded figure turned the corner into my street, stumbled against a lamp post, then lunged at the door of the shop.

He fumbled with the lock, kicked against the door, then shouted something lurid but essentially incomprehensible, before running off towards the opposite end of the street.

It was only when he had passed that my throat and bladder began undergoing scary synchronised contortions. What I had imagined to be a crowbar in his hand looked, on closer reflection, morbidly like a sawn off shotgun.

This was no pistol that made discreet, James Bond sized holes in valiant shopkeepers, this was something intended to blast off whole chunks of you and embed them firmly in the back wall.

I looked away and thought seriously about fainting. Police sirens began to scream in the street below.

Did I Just Roll My Eyes Out Loud?

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Then there are those moments life serves you up: a wry, aged joker digging you in the ribs. I have spoken of this before: the leering of coincidence that seems just a little too leery. Sometimes the digs can be tedious and painful, you wonder why life finds these things so funny. But at other times, well, it might not exactly be worth staying alive for, but does give you a puzzled kind of smile to carry through the day.

There was my own Leopold Bloom moment a while ago, sitting in a Mall clutching an early and distinctly average coffee, still too early for the bus taking me to an unpleasant appointment over a hundred miles away. My bleary attention couldn’t quite shake itself from a couple of girls sitting a few tables away in the otherwise entirely deserted café.

It was Summer, or so the weather briefly thought. Summer produces a bizarre and almost instantaneous effect on certain of the ladies in the town where I live. The streets become populated by bands of what appear to be frustrated nudists: ample bottoms and capacious breasts are gathered precariously into scant tank tops and denim shorts only one final fray away from utter disintegration.

It’s as if there’s a kind of competition to see who can perform the most jaw dropping defiance of physics. Who can walk longest on that tiny precipice between display and embarrassment? It’s a kind of tightrope walk of blowsy sensuality. You wonder are they worried about stuff popping out in supermarkets, or why they’re bothering with clothing substitutes in the first place?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. It’s just that it can get a little distracting. I wouldn’t want to be driving a bus or operating a chain saw or conducting some very long division.

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Anyway, much as the better part of me wished to avoid contemplating the two, I found myself drifting back again and again, partly because of a question. It was very early in the morning. I’m not the same person at 7.30am as I am by midday, and I’m someone else altogether by the evening. A great many of us are like this, you know. It’s one of the depressing realities of being human.

Even given the prevailing clothes free attitude of certain of the female population towards summer (and understand again that I’m not complaining), it kept striking me that it was awfully early to be quite so scantily clad.

Even in high Summer, it takes a couple of hours for the cold to entirely shake itself out of the day. Wouldn’t these poor young lassies, to paraphrase Great Aunt Agatha, catch their death of the cowld?

Things went on like this for ten or fifteen minutes, the girls chattering away and me trying not to fret about what the cold must be doing to their bare legs and infeasibly long and exposed midriffs, when all of a sudden they got up.

They got up and moved somewhat heavily towards the exit, whence it was impossible not to notice that one of the girls walked, bare-legged, with a pronounced and persistent limp. The dig in the ribs. A leering, lecherous joke from over a century ago, from a dimension undreamt. I wondered if the great man himself was still somewhere, pen and whiskey in hand, guffawing down at me from across the immensity. The notion lightened my step ever so slightly as I made for the bus.

Another day, another shopping mall. As I trundled my way through the daily and ever more wearying consumer orgy, the corporations sucking on the peasantry like sticks of soylent green, I suddenly heard what felt like the sound of six pneumatic drills assaulting the same wall in unison.

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So near and so dreadful was the sound that I was convinced some corporate entity had decided to subject one of its walls to some kind of sonic sandblasting, with scant regard for the eardrums or sensitivities of its victims.

Closer and closer to the sound I came, scanning the horizon for the dreaded prop removers, the infernal machines of capitalist realignment. I looked, then looked again…

The entire cacophony was being manufactured inside the throat of a child seated in the cockpit of a supermarket trolley. I don’t even think the child was particularly upset. He was just, you know, probably enjoying the way the noise he was making echoed back to him off the shocked walls. It encouraged him to try again, and again.

The noise finally began to recede as I slowly moved past, but I hadn’t moved more than a few paces when my eye was caught by something: one of those plates people like to hang in their kitchen or garden, bearing some motto which presumably makes their days a little easier to bear.

“Did I just roll my eyes out loud?” it proclaimed. Did I indeed?

 

When Kenny Came Loose in Time, Part 2

I should clear up some confusion among one or two readers in Ireland. This isn’t actually about Enda Kenny, not so far as I know anyway.

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He showed up at odd intervals over the next several years, and like the drunks and trannies, Kenny’s visits also had their pattern.

One of his sudden, monosyllabic apparitions prefigured anything up to three days of visits, in which there might be anything up to thirty separate meaty pawings of the shop door, hour upon hour of grunty Kenny talk, reeling Kenny silences, interrupted only by a very occasional actual customer.

Always, as another florid 72 hour cycle reached its end, there was the almost teary relief, tangible as a looming orgasm, that it might be anything up to a year before I saw him again.

But once a year had passed, I found myself – not exactly missing him – but vaguely concerned, vaguely hoping he was ok, that whatever constituted his strange, sad story hadn’t fully gobbled him up yet. My concern became far more acute during that whole business about coming loose in time. I should explain, but first I need to sketch a little local history.

Since the dawn of time, apparently, Loonford had languished, if not happily, at least with familiarity, under a perpetual pall of economic gloom. Over the centuries, industries came and withered, leaving behind their individual echoes on the eternal background hiss of resentment.

The few historic natives who’d entertained dreams of transforming their town’s fortunes had ended up, without exception, drunk, dead and disappointed. It was the eight hundred year pattern. It was familiar. It might not seem comforting, but some of Loonford’s ingenious souls managed, I believe, to find a kind of comfort in it.

But then time played a prank on the town. Time decided to rewrite eight hundred years of history in just a couple of months. Time brought the UROK Corporation to Loonford.

The founder of the Corporation had made his first billions selling self-affirmation tapes to insecure Americans. In times of stress or challenged self-worth, the customer simply popped one of the tapes into a machine, kicked back and listened to over an hour of soothing messages about what a great and successful person he or she was.

(“You are feeling goo-ood today, Kenny. The world is out there for you today, Kenny. You might not think it, but it is there for yoo-oou Kenny.” Yes, Kenny listened to the tapes, but only, I think, after he started taking the drugs.)

Prior to the coming of the Corporation, nearly all Loonfordians – myself and Kenny included – would have  regarded the tapes as a ludicrous joke, but Loonford was not then part of the greater American whole. Most great ideas only accrete their greatness through washing up at a particular point in space and time. Stupid or not, the tapes made their maker into a money God, and his grand designs, bizarrely, came to reshape the life of Loonford itself.

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For reasons unclear to me, UROK’s lurch for global domination didn’t end with the tapes. The company began to diversify into pharmaceuticals. Specifically, it was carrying its fight for feelgood into the chemical arena.

UROK boasted that its business literally involved tweaking the tiny chemical glitches in our brains so that no one would ever have to feel unhappy about anything again.

It claimed to be on the verge of launching a whole new fleet of drugs (it didn’t, of course, call them drugs. It called them ‘Reality Augmentation Products,’ ‘RAPs’ for short.), which would eradicate sadness from the human condition.

If it seems profoundly weird that such a product line was tested and manufactured in Loonford, a place devoutly married to its own unhappiness for centuries, then let me refer you to reality and its quirky moods, to time and its two fingered salutes.

Before it could sell the RAPs (all, so it claimed, made from perfectly legal ingredients) UROK needed to be able to test them on people.

What the corporation called a ‘restrictive testing environment’ meant it couldn’t test them back in the States, at least not without incurring billion dollar liabilities. The same problem hindered UROK in almost every other country in Europe or the English speaking world.

They could, I suppose, have gone to some Third World country, but there was the worry that the trial subjects might not yet have acquired the problems the RAPs were supposed to liberate them from. Also, aside from monitoring the physical progress of their subjects, UROK’s researchers needed to hear, in language they could understand, that the RAPs were actually making people feel better.

Loonford spoke English, of a sort anyway. Loonford thought a ‘restrictive testing environment’ was something to do with stopping young pups from cheating in their exams. Loonford, like most of Ireland then and since, faced the prospect of torrents of imminent American cash like some impossible wet dream made flesh.

Emigration, the lot of almost everyone who wasn’t the child of a doctor, lawyer or rich farmer, or who, like me, had a family and business they couldn’t escape, ended overnight. Loonford natives with baroque qualifications began to stream out of the town’s brickwork, taking up positions as drug developers or technicians.

There was something for just about everybody: secretarial jobs, security, cleaning (for drug making, it seems, was a messy business), doling out fries in the company cafeteria. In less than a year, there wasn’t a single family in Loonford that didn’t have at least one member employed, or otherwise dependent upon, the UROK Corporation.

It’s fascinating how quickly something like UROK becomes so essential to a place like Loonford, how easily the collective soul, so to speak, is annexed. Suddenly, grown men and women threatened you with violence if you dared poke fun at the tapes. Anyone rash enough to wonder out loud about the actual merit of what UROK was up to faced calls to move immediately to some other, non-drug dependent town.

Overnight, people bought houses and planned futures dependent on the continued health of the UROK project. How on Earth had Loonford managed before UROK? This might seem like an obvious question, but no one ever asked it.

Natives like Kenny, who possessed no obvious qualification to do anything, in a sense performed the most important function of all. Even the town’s winos suffered a sharp, albeit brief decline in population as the company tested a RAP designed to cure people of alcohol addiction. It doesn’t seem to have worked.

Kenny showed up one day with a batch of the tapes, inquiring if I’d ever tried them out. I replied that I hadn’t.

“You should. Der fookin’ deadly. Give yeh a whole new – whatjacallit? – perspective. Make sense outa whole lotta shit like.”

I hesitated on the brink of asking Kenny what kind of shit he meant exactly. He might, after all, have told me.

“Shur we’ll give it a go, come on.” He located a free deck in the battered ghetto blaster I used to try and nourish my sanity during shop days. I worried that he’d break it. Unctuous phrases began oozing into the mottled air.

“Toldja, fookin’ deadly right?”

“Kenny, are you ok? You look sort of, different.”

And indeed, so odd were the changes that he might as well have been wearing a frock. His hair was the same length it had always been, but had somehow begun to change colour. It was as if, in defiance of over thirty years of stolid practicality, Kenny had started using highlights, except the blonde stuff appeared to be growing up from the roots, so that his shrinking enclave of dark hair was fighting a rearguard action from the top of his thatch. Tufts of blonde beard were sprouting up at odd locations on his face as well.

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Combined with Kenny’s square jaw and head, his now weirdly luminous blue eyes, his piano lifter’s body, the effect made him look like a young Burt Lancaster.

“Have you done something with your hair?” This was hardly a wise question to ask Kenny at the best of times, but then his mood, like his hair, seemed inexplicably sunny.

“Wha? Oh, y’mean have I done somethin’ queer like?”

“Jesus no, I only meant-”

“No, I been testin’ out some stuff for de UROK people. Dey said der’d be side effects like. Hope no one tinks I’ve gone puffter like, but de money’s fookin’ brilliant. It’s fookin’ mental.”

“What’s it supposed to do, this stuff you’re testing?”

“Dunno ’bout dat. Didn’t ask.”

He didn’t ask, so I was happy to let it go as well, until three months later, when he arrived in the shop looking like a student’s first failed attempt at waxwork.

His hair had gone from blonde to dark green, his face to bone white. His lips had also acquired an unnatural red fullness. I kept expecting to see giant clown shoes. Also, distressingly, his arms jerked outward at seemingly random intervals, at one point shattering some glass baubles suspended from the ceiling of the shop.

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“Jesus Kenny. What’s this shit you’re on now? What’s it supposed to do?”

“Dunno, but de money’s fookin’ brilliant like. Dey say I’m a great whatjacallit – a great subject. Serious. I got wasted four or five times last week, but I’ve still got shitloads of dosh.”

Two Plays Shortlisted For Major Festival

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I’m delighted to hear today that two radio plays I wrote and directed have been shortlisted for the 2017 UK international Radio Drama Festival, which is to take place in Herne Bay, Kent from the 20-25th February next.

‘Fairies Only Wear Wings’ and ‘The Prime of Johnny Broody’ were written and directed by me and produced by the excellent and hugely talented Alan Meaney. Alan and I have been putting together high quality radio drama for a while now, and it’s great to get this recognition.

The two plays couldn’t possibly be more different. ‘Fairies Only Wear Wings’ is a two part mystery drama about the unexplained death of a 16 year old girl. The mystery is revisited twenty years later by a documentary maker, with the help of the dead girl’s sister. It’s a play that is partly about the maddening gaps in recorded memory when it comes to finding out the truth of anything that happens in Ireland (the terrible failures and at times downright malice of our State are once again very much in the news at the moment). But it’s also a play about longing and magic and the ultimate unknowability of truth.

‘The Prime of Johnny Broody,’ on the other hand, is very much a comedy, albeit a very dark one. An evil old woman lies on the brink of death, it looks like Johnny, the son she has downtrodden all his life, is finally about to inherit some wealth, but wherever there’s a will, there are relatives, not to mention greedy and lusty neighbours.

‘The Prime of Johnny Broody’ plays with a familiar trope of Irish theatre to deliver some killer lines and darkly hilarious moments. The play is narrated by two ghosts, whose concerns in the afterlife are anything but eternal.

‘Fairies Only Wear Wings’ was originally broadcast on Shannonside Radio. ‘The Prime of Johnny Broody’ was first heard on Midlands Radio. Both productions were funded by the Broadcast Authority of Ireland under the Sound and Vision Scheme.

It’s been quite a journey getting these haunting stories from brain to page to production, in the course of which Alan and I have been very fortunate to work with some very creative, talented and generous people. To Alan and all of them I will always be more grateful than words can express.

You can listen to ‘The Prime of Johnny Broody’ here: http://alanmeaney.ie/portfolio/the-prime-of-johnny-broody/

You can listen to ‘Fairies Only Wear Wings’ here: http://alanmeaney.ie/portfolio/fairies-only-wear-wings/

And don’t forget: my novels ‘The Killing of Sheila Price’ and ‘Ghost In The Sky’ are available on Amazon.

You can find ‘The Killing of Sheila Price’ here:

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And simply type ‘Ghost In The Sky’ into the Amazon search engine.

To Trump Or Not To Trump, That Is The Trump

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If what 99.999% of the world’s traditional media says is true, and Donald Trump is a narcissist, then he must currently be the happiest narcissist in the whole wide world. As one of our greatest narcissists of the past remarked, there’s only one thing that’s worse than being talked about. Trump doesn’t just have everybody talking / shrieking / tearing hair, the guy seems to be conducting a Matrix like Anschluss on the fabric of reality itself.

Remember back when you’d hardly hear about Obama from one end of the year to the next? Why, I’d almost forgotten he existed the day before he went on telly to boast about the death of Osama Bin Laden (and how amazing it was that no mainstream media commented on how, at the very least, a new Rubicon of taste had been crossed. An American President went on telly to crow about the death of an enemy, and no one batted an eyelid. Those who didn’t bat eyelids now yell screaming blue horror at the thought of Trump in a bathrobe. Interesting times.).

Bless him. Obama was a bit like William Pitt The Elder in Blackadder. Throw him the odd celebrity selfie or fist pump and the chance to tell safe little jokes in front of an audience and he didn’t bother anyone until his advisers began to fret that he might not get re-elected (Heavens Barack, is that time already? God how it flew.).

Not so The Donald. Never mind days, barely an hour goes by without some new executive order, tweet or bathrobe moment to cause new outrage among the righteous. Of all things, we’re told, narcissists crave attention the most. It doesn’t really matter if it’s good or bad attention, so long as it’s attention (I may have gleaned this nugget of psychiatric insight from Doctor Phil).

And he really is such a unifying force, you know. Since when have the right thinking cognoscenti ever had something  about which they can spew so much righteous vitriol in unison? Even the tech caliphs of Facebook and Twitter, from their cities above the clouds where the rest of us don’t even show up as specks,  feel the need to join the action, despite the fact that their site traffic never hummed so much before the latest iteration of the The Donald.

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Where will it end? It’s like the whole world has become Homer Simpson in that ancient episode where Moe steals his idea for a cocktail. For days, all Homer can hear is the sound of ‘Moe, Moe, Moe.’ The Donald is reproducing himself like a virus all over the culture. The same headline features his name two or three times.

What’s next? Chart toppers with titles like ‘I Wanna Trump your Trump’ by ‘Trump Machine.’? Reinventions of literature to accommodate the new reality: ‘The Blackbird and the Trump Jar’ by Sylvia Trump? The Star Trump Trilogy? Seven Years a Trump? Lord save us, will the media even turn to Trump-rage instead of sex to sell us things? A scantily clad model gets up from the toilet to tell us how much she hates Trump, then tells us that her new toothpaste helps her to feel better, or at least to forget?

And I’m still seeing the same kind of ridiculous posts I saw months before his election. There was one the other day which proclaimed how some obscure Irish DJ just ‘slayed’ the Donald. The guy must have more lives than Twitter followers. No, I don’t know the name of the DJ. Neither, I suspect, does anyone else. The Donald certainly doesn’t.

Even before the election, most major internet news sites had entire sections devoted to nothing but Trump stories: Trump was mean to a woman, Trump just mocked a new minority, Trump wants war with China, Why Trump is almost certainly a psychopath, why he needs Ritalin etc.

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Since his elevation, the shock and awe has bled from the headline news down to everything else. As well as the marches, there are circles where caring people can gather and cry and be hugged by other caring people. Everybody, it seems, is far too traumatised to talk about anything else. Darth Vader is in the White House. How could it happen?

The endlessly self-renewing fires of hurt are really down to two things. In part, they reflect the shock and outrage of a ‘liberal’ media and political establishment. For ‘liberal,’ by the way, read ‘Conservative,’ in the sense of visceral resistance to change, or any challenge to the official dogma about how society should be organised. As the ever so wise Frank Herbert remarked ages ago, scratch a liberal and you find a closet aristocrat.

It is this which led to Hillary’s famous unguarded remark about ‘deplorables.’ You simply can’t have the poorly coiffed plebs breaking wind in the palaces of the mighty. No matter how Hillary tried to qualify the remark later, the plebs knew exactly what and whom she meant.

Those two bastions of decent liberal opinion, the New York Times and the Washington Post, aren’t even pretending to spend a few polite months on the fence. No way. Their goal is to take The Donald down, end of story. This is something that is worth thinking about.

The other reason for all the outrage is simply this: we have been conditioned over decades and decades to accept that politicians are lying to us. They might be good at fake smiles and fist pumps and kissing babies but really: they’re just around to say non-controversial things while serving the interests of the rich, and getting rich themselves. The careers of politicians like Hillary Clinton even carry the half-conscious assumption that people know she’s lying to them, but are supposed to accept it as all part of the deal. The world they inhabit, insofar as the plebs are concerned, has a great deal to do with knowing your place.

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How outrageous, therefore, what unprecedented arrogance, for The Donald to waddle on to the world stage actually meaning what he says, and then trying to get some of the stuff he said done. This is not how politics is supposed to function. The game has completely changed, hence all the fury among those who want to change it back immediately.

I don’t know if the stream of tweets and executive orders will dry up once, as media psychologists predict with increasing nervousness, Donald gets tired of the Presidency and starts to drift. I accept that some aspects of his personality appear ridiculous, but then, some aspects of any personality appear ridiculous, depending on how you view them.

Somewhere in the Trump matrix there’s an understanding of this, something that voters – vastly more aware than normal politicians like to think – sniffed some time ago. They’re beyond tired of the bullshit. Maybe Trump is bullshit as well, but at least it’s a different kind of bullshit, a bullshit which doesn’t simply recycle the same old lies, the same old contempt for ‘deplorable’ humanity.

Trump may be ridiculous, but so are his opponents. The difference is, as Slavoj Zisek pointed out, that Trump does not wear a mask, whereas his enemies still cling tragically to the belief that people cannot see behind theirs.

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The notion of Hillary ‘we came, we saw, he died’ Clinton as President of America is something which should have terrified anybody with a mind. The media commentators who have been engaged in a public ritual  of grieving since November are ridiculous. Lester Holt is like an untalented and tragically needy oompa loompa. Even if he was a character in ‘Annie Hall,’ Anderson Cooper would come over as a pretentious bore. Van ‘what am ah gonna tell mah children’ Johnson ought to give up political discourse and enter pantomime.

(Loath though I am to give anyone parental advice, Van, it strikes me you could tell your kids that sometimes their guy doesn’t win, that that’s just life. I still remember the first time I saw my football team lose a Cup Final. It was awful, but presumably character forming, and prepared me for the many, many defeats they and I have undergone since.)

The voters began the process of sniffing all this out some time ago. If I was a media oligarch, I might be a little worried that most people now take it as read that anything my multiple orifices tell them isn’t true. For the moment however, oligarchies on both sides of the Atlantic seem determined to keep doing what they do, telling the plebs to keep working twice as hard for half the wages, because they’re just lucky to have a job.

Only once on CNN did I hear one commentator utter a truth: something so devastating that it should have caused every oligarchy in the west to lurch and wobble. The fact that it didn’t tells you everything you need to know about the state of democracy.

That truth was this: many people in the US who voted for Obama four and eight years ago voted for Trump in 2016. It wasn’t that they loved the guy. Love is irrelevant to transaction. It was just that they knew the previous stuff they’d been sold didn’t work out for them, so they decided to try out the different thing, to see if that made stuff any better. Ain’t it funny how we only like democracy or the marketplace when it gives us the result we want?

When Kenny Came Loose In Time, Part 1

Decided to serialize this over the next couple of weeks. If you like, then do please share the joy. Let people know.

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Kenny was the last person anyone could have imagined coming loose in time. Kenny was the last person you could imagine coming loose anywhere. He was always so ridiculously grounded. It was as if a rock had started levitating and performing the entire back catalogue of the Bee Gees. You would have to know him, I guess, for such a ludicrous metaphor to make the most perfect, the most boring sense.

What does Kenny’s story prove? That nothing is as it seems? Or that everything is doomed to eventually become its opposite?

Looking back, I guess, he’d never exactly been normal. Not that I had any idea what normal was, not back at school, where I left a house run by lunatics every morning to join an institution staffed by other, albeit more sullen lunatics.

Looking back, I should have grasped that Kenny’s hyper-normality suggested the most tragic, the most jaw dropping madness of all, but a lot of things passed me by in those days.

Stolid was a word that would have described Kenny in those days: stolid and slightly scary. He was one of those characters who inhabited absolutely his own cone of time and space, a space no one ever felt the need to violate. Even at the age of fourteen (I surmise he was fourteen only because the rest of us were) he had the body of a bricklayer. He was tall, but also wide in a way no teenager had a right to be.

The other amazing thing about Kenny was his hair. As month followed weary month, the rest of us flitted between mops and flops, between tragic dreadlocks and even more tragic adventures with peroxide – almost, as it were, to fill time and space – but my memory swears blind that Kenny’s hair never altered in the slightest degree of shape, length or texture during all the five years I saw him at school. Somebody else might have been beaten up for that, but never Kenny.

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Then there was his face, which was a no go area for the acne that colonised the rest of us, retarding still further any miniscule prospects for sexual progress. Acne kept away from Kenny, but then, so did girls, so did change.

Kenny belonged to that odd race of burly Loonford natives who don by twelve the faces they will wear at forty, at fifty. In a classroom inhabited by changelings in various stages of greasy, leaden voiced chrysalis, Kenny stood out like, well, a forty year old man in a room full of teenagers.

He looked older, or at least more haggard, than most of the teachers too, and naturally, even the most vicious minded pedagogue never went near him.

I have no recollection of Kenny ever opening his mouth at school, though logic tells me he must have done, even if only to yawn. I was much too terrified to ever attempt a conversation with him, and I don’t recall anyone else doing so either.

Time was the only thing in Loonford that seemed on its way somewhere in those days, and even time could catch you out, catch you napping.

School shocked and disturbed us all by ending. We were convicts, incarcerated for sins committed before we were born, cut loose and clueless into a world that seemed weirdly devoid of possibility.

Most of my schoolmates simply joined the disappeared, becoming statistics in one of the sentimentally titled ‘diasporas’ by which Ireland periodically rids herself of her bothersome young. A very few of us saw very tentative dreams dashed by enforced stays in Loonford.

My non-journey brought me to the family shop on the corner of Loonford’s busiest street, where I remained for twenty seven years, though that’s another story.

It gets me down from time to time, that lack of movement, that failure to be footloose. I try to console myself by imagining that I learned things there; sometimes I believe these imaginings to be true.

One of the things I fancy I learned has to do with the physical nature of time itself, of those seemingly disconnected chunks of flotsam that tinkled through the door and shambled around the shop’s stone floor. Years passed, and I thought I could detect patterns.

For example: if a morning was marked by the unannounced arrival of a drunk, muttering of foul breathed possibilities for violence, I knew that drunk would be the first of several that day, each with their finely varied tinctures of dementia. I’d grit my teeth for a day which I knew would end with me longing to be one of them, giving the abuse instead of taking it.

If a puckering transvestite passed through the door before lunch (it might sound bizarre, but yes, Loonford had transvestites in those days. They weren’t very convincing or coordinated, but they were there.), wondering if I could change a fiver, admire his tragic plumage and call him Rachel, I knew sure as shingles that others of his frantically fey brethren would be wafting under the bell later that day, with their clownish rouge and manic lust for attention – maybe they were having a convention.

I might not have laid eyes on a drunk or a tranny for months, but suddenly, there they would be again, in oddly repeating twos and threes, disappearing again for months before starting the cycle all over again. I thought I had divined something in their patterns, something reality would have preferred me not to know, but it’s also possible that I too was simply going mad, building a personalised escape from reality.

Kenny showed up one morning, years after school had played its final nasty trick, its disappearing act. We had, I am certain, never exchanged a single word during that long confinement, but he came into the shop anyway.

Maybe it was the memory of having once awkwardly occupied that same space. Maybe it was just that he had awakened to an odd form of loneliness. People like Kenny don’t, after all, have friends. They don’t seem to have much use for them.

He stood opposite me on the stone floor, size, hair and features entirely unchanged, apart from a vague sense of being worn around the edges, as if (I later decided) his steely eyes were finally showing the haunting of years without sleep.

“Well,” said Kenny to me. It was neither a question nor a statement.

“Hello Kenny,” I said.

“Well,” he repeated, hands on his waist as if this was some sort of challenge. “Urr … what’s this your name is again?”

I told him. I don’t know why he asked me, because he never used it.

He said ‘well’ again and mooched around the shop for a bit. In all the years he was to spend hovering around the stone floor, he never once made a single purchase, though he did occasionally tap me for some cash, so we weren’t entirely beyond transaction.

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Why Writers Don’t Matter Any More

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There’s a sharp little sting in the tail at the end of ‘The Lives of Others,’ that exquisitely crafted drama / thriller about the influence of the Stasi secret police in the old East German communist state, written and directed by the spectacularly named Florian Henckel von Donnersmark.

The movie – and if you haven’t seen it, I warmly encourage you to do so – concerns the havoc wreaked upon the life of a successful East German playwright by the Stasi’s decision to start spying on him. The initial reason for the spying – and there is no excuse any more not to realize that human affairs are ruled by a kind of Murphy’s Law when it comes to corruption (if it’s crap and it can happen, then it will) – is that a lecherous East German Minister wants to start sleeping with the writer’s actress girlfriend.

The plot unfolds with suitably gripping and tragic consequences, and heigh ho, a few years later, the Berlin Wall comes down.

Near the very end of the movie, the writer, Dreymann, is attending a performance of one of his old plays in the newly unified Germany. The action on stage drags up too many memories, and he has to flee the auditorium. Outside, he bumps into none other than Hempf, the corrupt former Minister who ordered all the surveillance in the first place.

Hempf, by the way, seems to be doing just fine. There’s a sort of cockroach like invulnerability about the truly corrupt. They’ll always find a way to mutate and migrate. My own country, Ireland, produces hundreds of the f***ers every week, and just like cockroaches, they are immune to the radiation of outrage, to all that change that isn’t really change.

Dreymann, an infinitely more civilised writer than myself, resists (or possibly doesn’t even experience) the urge to headbutt Hempf and kick him in the nuts, and simply confines himself to the noble observation that ‘to think people like you once ruled a country’ (fancy taking a holiday in Ireland, Georg?).

But it is a tribute to the subtlety of ‘The Lives of Others’ that Hempf is then allowed to deliver perhaps the most painful barb of all. Our little Republic wasn’t all that bad, he tells Dreymann. Back then, people in power placed writers and artists under surveillance because they actually cared about what they thought.

True, people were blacklisted and couldn’t work, but that in itself was almost the ultimate backhanded compliment. Their work was important enough for somebody to get annoyed about. What they thought about mattered, even if the GDR thought it mattered so much that nobody should be allowed to hear it.

Hempf contrasts this with the reality of Germany today, the amorphous ‘West’ – that state of being and mind inside which we all reside, to one extent or another – “nothing to believe in, nothing to write against.”

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Writers write against stuff all the time, but nobody – in power or out – gives a damn. The collapse of the GDR and its associated pseudo-socialist bedfellows meant the death of any notion that this can be a world of ideas. From 1990 on, capitalism could stream fully out of the closet and vouchsafe to its subjects the final truth: the world is about money. Everything is about money. If you have it, then we want it. If you don’t, then let’s hope you believe in a next life, because there isn’t anything for you here.

Anything you’ve ever heard about the progress of mankind, upward mobility and social advancement was just a load of shit we invented to beat the Commies. Yes, there’s plenty of technology, but technology is absolutely secondary to some fat merchant banker’s ability to make money from it.

There are plenty of technologies you’ll never get to hear about it. They abide in the Gulag of unheard ideas until a number cruncher figures out a way to make them profitable.

Yes, the GDR was a nasty dictatorship. Its citizens did their best to avoid having dealings with any organ of the State, though given a choice, many citizens of so called western democracies might adopt the same course.

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But the philosophical nature of the State meant that it cared about ideas, albeit in a primitive, dogmatic, almost superstitious way. It crossed its fingers to ward off the evil of deviation, much as medieval Christians crossed themselves in the presence of possible blasphemy. Even in a primitive way, the State understood that thoughts had power. In our little Republic, Hempf is telling Dreymann, you used to be important, you’re not anymore.

And by the way, it’s utter horse dung to suggest that blacklisting of a sort doesn’t take place all over the West today. There are, perhaps, no official lists of writers that you’re not allowed to read, but there are endless cabals of conformity, conventions written and unwritten whereby the cultural Mafiosi of various countries police and ensure quite a staggering level of compliance with official political, economic and social dogma.

Just look at the number of influential voices who either supported or failed to condemn the invasion of Iraq in 2003 (many of the very same voices are now falling over themselves to condemn every single breath from Donald Trump’s lungs), an event whose sheer folly and illegality continues to bedevil the world today.

Look at how little support there is among the so called intelligentsia for any ideas that might have a dread whiff of ‘leftyness’ about them, such as the creation of a network of state banks to service the small scale needs of ordinary citizens while at the same time curbing some of the naked rapacity of ‘privately owned’ European banks (most of which aren’t even privately owned anymore, but that’s another story).

It means that, in spite of the increase in population and theoretical increase in range and variety of ideas, galleries show an awful lot of art that’s exactly like other art; the vast majority of books published today bear striking similarities to other books that have already been published. The tyranny of dogma has been replaced by the tyranny of money, and the consequent effect on innovation and the generation and nurturing of new ideas, except in a few isolated areas like I.T. and pharmacology, has been utterly stagnating.

Nobody cares. That’s what money would have you believe. It’s not strictly true. People might care if they were allowed to, or if they were offered some sign that the act of caring might make a difference, but money alternately shouts and whispers that it can’t make a difference. In this, it achieves a measure of control beyond anything the Stasi could even have dreamed about.

The Changing Politics Of Pants

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I read somewhere that we have the late lamented British fashion designer Alexander McQueen to thank for the concept of pants that don’t fit properly. Apparently, according to those who claim to know, McQueen kicked off the trend of constantly having to pull up your waistline  with the launch of his infamous ‘bumsters’ sometime in the 1990’s.

Hm. I’m not sure I’d want to be remembered for that. Call me a bluff old prig, but the notion of a giant slab somewhere bearing the words “here lies Jason. He’s the reason your pants don’t fit properly” fails to tickle what I’m always being told is my enormous vanity.

True, as callow and fantastically self-absorbed students, we all dreamed of somehow changing the world, altering the consciousness. I once had a conversation with a teenage would-be Blofeld who was loud and proud about his determination to storm the advertising industry. As far as he was concerned, the whole purpose of life was to get into advertising.

At the time, I was balancing student life with part time journalistic work in a local newspaper, so I had my own, admittedly jaundiced views about the glamour of advertising, but this guy was John the Baptist, if John the Baptist had decided to chuck all the baptizing and go into advertising.

“Think of it: if I can make 100,000 people start using a different toothpaste or aftershave, simply through the power of my words: that’s power, that’s change. What kind of idiot just sits around for thirty years writing novels no one’s ever going to read when the power to do this is out there, waiting for you?”

Ok, maybe he wasn’t quite as rhetorical as I’m making out, but still, it was difficult to argue with his logic. On reflection, it’s a kind of a pity someone like him wasn’t around when Hitler was a student. Imagine if the Fuhrer had channelled his energies into the marketing of pile creams and prophylactics instead of conquest and genocide: what kind of world would we have today?

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Ok, it’d probably be exactly like the one we have now. There’d be a regrettable vogue for strange trousers and moustaches, but is that any different to awful hipster beards and the ubiquitous profusion of builder’s bum?

In the case of pants, Alexander McQueen or his marketing people demonstrated an amazing power. Ok, it might have been power with a pretty silly purpose, but consider: prior to the ‘bumster,’ anyone who regularly flashed his hairy, fleshy hemispheres at work or social gatherings would have been firmly excluded from any society that considered itself remotely polite.

Seriously, years ago, who could ever have imagined that builder’s bum would become a desired commodity, like a Ferrari or aftershave with a picture of a Ferrari on it? Only a short time ago, socially speaking, the regular exposure of massive amounts of pale male or female posterior bits would have been treated as ridiculously aberrant. You might have got sectioned; someone would certainly have had a firm, caring word in your ear.

Now, you can come across it anywhere: in the street, at parties and football matches, down the pub (if the customers aren’t sporting it, the staff certainly are), in board meetings and at funerals. Only a few months ago, while sauntering through a local municipal park, I passed two ladies sitting, having a conversation. Both were sporting the regulation public bum, one in particular was exposing cavernous amounts of gawping flesh.

How could they not have been aware? Didn’t they notice a breeze or something? They didn’t exactly look like one of those delightful feminist groups who protest against Donald Trump et al by taking their clothes off (and more power to all of them!).

More importantly, what was my obligation here? Should I have called their attention to it? Would that have marked me out as a caring citizen or as some sort of mullah of the municipal park? It really is so hard to know these days.

Hours passed with me staring, frozen in indecision like some sort of Barack Obama, before they went off, and I struggled to remember what I’d come into town to do.

To every trend there is resistance, of course. There are those Mark Corrigan types with their silent shriek of ‘not in my name.’ Actually, if you think about it, the mere presence of resistance simply confirms the power of those who are being resisted. What, otherwise, would be the point of giving a poop?

I deliberately buy the oldest fashioned cuts of pants I can find. I don’t care how they make me look, I’ll just never be comfortable with the world seeing my cleavage. I’d fret too much about whether it was suitably clean, and I repeat: how can you not know? Isn’t it freezing down there?

I’ve been unable to prevent one modern cut of jeans from infiltrating my wardrobe, and on those occasions when putting them on becomes unavoidable, the same pattern always ensues. Things aren’t too bad at first. I wonder briefly if I haven’t been terribly unfair to the pants. But within a few hours, things head south, in every sense.

There are concepts in science fiction about semi-sentient furniture that moulds itself to the contours of your body. My pants do the exact opposite. Like the terrifying Weeping Angels in Doctor Who, they wait for me to blink, or for my attention to be elsewhere momentarily, then begin the inexorable slide down my bottom.

For the rest of the day, I’m fighting a losing battle to keep them hitched up. Belts don’t work: the ingenuity of the design finds a way around them as well. The Weeping Angels have only one thought: to kill you when you’re not looking, my pants are similarly monomaniacal, they exist only to expose my cheeks to a presumably adoring world.

As for trying to readjust everything when you’ve been to the toilet, forget it. I’ve thought of burning them as a protest, but they’re denim so I figure I’ll need an awful lot of fuel.

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No. Fame like that is hardly worth the spur. Who wants to have their poor shade cursed by generations of angry pants wearers? Some things, it seems, are worse than dying in obscurity.

Next week: Thongs. What the f***?