My Favourite – Art Films

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Persona

The art house cinema finds its definition, firstly, in how its main imperative is the need to achieve expressive merit… as opposed to entertainment value or commercial gain. That is not say that art films cannot, like high concept Hollywood, provide entertainment sustenance, but this is secondary to the aim of the continuous re-invention of what the cinematic form can be. As a result, the art house film is less easy to define, in some respects, than genre cinemas that have aesthetic and narrative specificities.

So art house cinemas are perhaps best approached in terms of creative history and film movements.  What constitutes an art film movement? Arguably the first art filmmakers were the Russian formalists. A group, mostly known by the works of Sergei Eisenstein, who helped re-invent film form via the utilisation of the ‘edit’. Soviet films like Strike and Battleship Potemkin, cinematic weaponry in service of the Soviets, employed editing techniques designed specifically for audience manipulation (it is worth noting that all forms of cinema have to degrees, employed their editing techniques ever since). Unlike previous cinemas, that imitated theatre techniques simply to ‘tell the story’, these films sliced shots together to ‘build a picture’.

It may seem obvious to us now, because we are so literate in cinematic language, but the early cinemas began by simply training the camera onto the subject or object and rolling the film. The camera was, then, a conduit for the ‘theatre spectator’. Eisenstein and his mates went their own way. They cut up the film reel and glued the shots back together into formed sequences. Instead of just watching the Tsarists forces crushing the proles,  those scenes are spliced into shots of a bull being slaughtered. Two different events, no literal relationship, montaged together, and you have a new meaning. And because this is an incredibly insidiously emotive methodology, you can manipulate your audience into making them feel what you want them to feel. Often, and eventually, so subtly, that the don’t even know it is happening.

Spend any time at all consuming not only films, but advertisements, music videos even party political broadcasts, with this history in mind, and you will realize that Sergei and the Formalists have a lot to answer for.

So on the one hand, art film is about recreating what the form can do (which can then be later assimilated into commercial culture) but it is also about recreating, re-evaluating, how we view the world, people, relationships. Not simply a mode for telling dramatic tales, but for exploring the nature of storytelling itself. Not simply a method for introducing characters, but for investigating what it means to be a character, or human more generally.

David Bordwell suggests that art cinema follows the modernist literature of the 20th century in this respect. Makes sense, like time wise, and stuff. The author creates protagonists that are psychologically complex and stories which may not achieve a simplistic resolution. However unlike the author’s pen, the auteur utilizes the ‘camera pen’.

Influenced by the previous decade’s Italian neorealists, and Hollywood directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, members of the French New Wave, such as Jean Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut, wanted to move away from literary adaptations to realize the cinema as an art form in its own right. Not simply another way of telling old stories or bringing the theatre to the screen.

The New Wave’s work, in films such as Godard’s Breathless – an art house cult classic if there ever was one – and Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, proved influential to the High Modernists of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Auteurs such as Fellini, Antonioni, Pasolini and Bergman created films that can be seen as the paragons of the art cinema. Bergman in particular, with his mode of high seriousness and philosophical inquisition, and Fellini with verbose tales of Italian society, sexuality and hypocrisy, were indeed the grand masters of the art cinema. Like the Hemingways and Scott-Fitzgeralds of literature, they weaved their creative worlds, employing distinctive styles recognizable across a body of work.

Since then, the auteur and the art house have been near inseparable. In the 1980s, this was as broad as Peter Greenaway’s theatre of debauchery and colour in films such as The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover, David Lynch’s surrealism in Blue Velvet, and Kieslowski theology in Dekalog.

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The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover

In 1995, however, a group of Danish filmmakers, established The Vow of Chastity, a new set of rules for a new brand of filmmaking. The Dogme ’95 manifesto’s precepts included sole use of 35mm, on location shooting and handheld camera use,  and, importantly, a lack of film credit for the director. However, although it sought to disavow the auteur as the harbinger of the work, its proponents, particularly Lars von Trier, were nonetheless strongly associated with the manifesto’s creative vision. His first film associated with the movement, The Idiots, based on a group of people who play act idiocy and instigate impulsive orgies, helped forge Trier’s reputation as a cinematic provocateur par excellence.

In the last twenty years, directors like Iranian Akira Kiarostami (with films such as Ten, set entirely within a woman’s car) and Taiwan’s Tsai Ming-Liang (with a film like Vive L’Amour, containing very longs sequences often totally devoid of dialogue) have continue to push the cinematic envelope.

The movements of cinematic art are, however, far from concise. Its influence has proven discursive, as art house cinema’s influence can be distinctly seen in the larger Hollywood productions.  The indomitable Quentin Tarantino named his production company, A Band Apart, after the youthful Godard film of the same name, and Tim Burton’s aesthetic can be clearly traced back to the German expressionism of the 1920s. If you want to see Burton’s roots, watch The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari.

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The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

 

At the risk of over-simplification, then, art house is less a set of distinct visual and narrative specifications than it is the result of creative desire. The desire to constantly re-form and re-create what the medium can be and do. Like many artistic forms, then, the periphery is always one step ahead of the centre; the art films often (but not always) precede in style the more commercial films that are influenced by them. But it’s far from a one-way street. Head back to the New Wave and you’ll see a set of art house directors heavily influenced by Alfred Hitchcock, a filmmaker who displayed with finesse a personal style that long outlasted the commercial considerations of the then film studios.

Five of my Favourites

F.W Murnau Nosferatu (1922)

Often cited as the first vampire film, Nosferatu was, in fact, preceded by several other films now out of print and lost to the cultural consciousness – and almost itself disappeared. F.W Murnau’s German Expressionist classic was almost destroyed when the courts ruled it an unauthorized adaptation of the Stoker novel.With its stark chiaroscuro lighting and oblique, gothic style, Nosferatu embodies the art film’s potential for visual creativity as a representation of psychological realism. In this case, the psychology is the fear of the seductive capabilities of the dreaded other/unknown.

 

Jean luc godard, Breathless (1960)

 

Godard’s most well regarded film by both critics and audiences, Breathless ranks in the British Film Institutes poll of films as the best work by a still living director. Despite its art film status, Breathless utilizes some of the themes and tropes of the Hollywood gangster and film noir genres. Michel Poiccard, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo, is on the run from the Parisian law after shooting a police officer.  Caddish, charming and whimsical, he refuses to leave the country for Italy, until Patricia, American Jean Seberg, leaves with him.The genre narrative is painted in a unique and creative style; Breathless is an example of jump cutting and fourth wall breaking interspersed with long and languorous conversations between the two title players. In this way, the film is a good example of the cross roads between art and entertainment cinema.

 

Ingmar Bergman, Persona (1966)

 

An ideal specimen of an art house picture if there ever was one, Persona is one of the most critically acclaimed of the Swedish directors oeuvre. David Bordwell specifies complex psychology as of major importance in art film and this Ingmar Bergman has it in bucket loads.A nurse and an actress come together in a beach house when the actress, Liv Ullman, relinquishes her power of speech. The nurse, Bibi Andersson, becomes enchanted by the muteness of the actress and, corrupted by the intensity of the circumstance, falling into a desperate desire for a contact that is unrequited. Identities merge whilst surrealist and horror imagery abounds. Persona is, then, as much a tale of the lady vampire, as it is of psychosomatic degradation, borne of the inevitable loneliness of being.

 

Abbas Kiarostami, Ten (2002)

 

Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten is set entirely within a young Iranian woman’s car in the capital Tehran,  and is predicated around a set of ten conversations she – Mania – played by Mania Akbar, has with her passengers. In it, Mania talks with a friend, her sister, an old woman and a street prostitute she gives a lift. The conversations often considering  the role of women in modern Iran. Her young, quite belligerent son also makes several inclusions in the film, and as the only male, it is arguably the case that Kiarostami is making a statement about the petulance and selfish self-aggrandisement of masculine society.

Even if not (and it is for the spectator to decide), a female focused film with a meandering, loose narrative and tightly interiorized setting goes against the American commercial grain, with its preference for exterior, male driven, action heavy and ‘resolvable’ narratives’.

 

Lars von Trier, The Idiots (1998)

 

A controversial remedy to more saccharine or simplistic cinemas, The Idiots is perhaps one of Lars von Trier’s most tendentious pictures. Seemingly splitting the critics down the middle, The Idiots deals in the performance of disability by a group of bohemians.

Trier’s film is both the tracing of its protagonist’s social discomfort and their sense of being on the borderline of society – as it is also a political manifesto arguing against the exclusive nature of Capitalism’s purported ‘meritocracy.’

My Favourite – ‘International’ Cinema

Originally Published in the now defunct Subtitled Online


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Persepolis

International film, or world cinema, is largely a sort of genre category utilized by film distributors and retailers in Britain to designate non-British, Australasian and, more specifically, American produce. The category is loaded with notions of otherness and exoticism, political, racial and sexual complexity and, in many senses, the highbrow. In effect… international cinema holds a firm place in the populist, collective consciousness as inaccessible, designed for the subtle eye of the critical spectator and not for mass consumption, or ‘entertainment’.

In truth, many world cinemas, like Hollywood, have their own brands of majority produce, designed to satiate the audience’s most straight forward leisure needs. Bollywood, in India, is a notable example, for its gargantuan output of romantic musicals and historical epics. China also has a long history of family dramas and, of course, its martial arts Wuxia pictures, and Egypt was termed the ‘Hollywood on the Nile’ for its large yield of tragic, often female centred melodramas. These films are not, in the main, what immediately springs to mind when one considers ‘international cinema’. Often less exported and translated for the English speaking audiences, much of these various national cinemas are created for, and consumed by, the home audience. In this sense, then, no cinema is ‘foreign’ or ‘world’ until it is transported or translated. And that counts for Hollywood, too.

With that in mind, this introduction is mainly concerned with summarizing a diversity of international pictures currently absorbed by the English speaking audience in, most specifically, Britain. What carries a film here from Africa, Asia, the Middle East or the rest of Europe is dependent primarily on the funding capabilities of that particular nation. It will probably come as no surprise that Western European countries such as France and Germany have much greater financial muscle that many African countries, where little or no money for production and distribution is available.  Aligned with that, exhibition at film festivals, such as Cannes and Sundance, is often imperative in getting a film to reach a wider, international audience and thus engage critical notice. However, combined with marketing and distribution costs, entering films into festivals is an expensive business. Finance is one of the primary reasons why most audiences will have seen more Hollywood pictures then French pictures, and even discerning audiences will have seen more French or Chinese than African or Latin American pictures.

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All About My Mother

Western and Northern European cinema is often considered the apotheosis of cinema as ‘art form’ due to the reputation of past masters ranging from Vittorio De Sica, Francois Truffaut, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini and Andrei Tarkovsky, if one wanders as far as Russia. However, long after these cinema deaths, the legacy of the European masters continues with the camp and burlesque melodramas of Pedro Almodovar (All About My Mother, 1999), the often sexually bleak dramas of Lukas Moodysson (Lilya 4 Ever, 2002), the controversial experiments of Lars von Trier (The Idiots, 1998) and the psychological thrillers of Michael Haneke (Funny Games, 1997).

Veer to the Middle East and cinema production seems to be most heavily concentrated, contemporarily, in Iran. In the last two decades, the country has been responsible for a plethora of both male and female cinema authors, dealing often in the socio-political tensions of the age, to critical acclaim. Abbas Kiarostami, in particular, established a strong reputation with acclaimed pictures such as A Taste Of Cherry (1997) and Ten (2002). Aligned with this, a high percentage of female filmmakers’ projects have been exported. Samira Makhamalbaf, for example, has told the stories of Iranian and Afghani women in films like Apple and At Five In The Afternoon (2003). These socio-realist films are also complemented by films like the internationally successful Persepolis (2003) by Marjane Strapi, a darkly comic look at a woman coming of age during the Iranian revolution.

As mentioned, African films have struggled to find finance and, as such, much of its international head rearing has been intermittent. In the Northern country Tunisia, Moufida Tlatli,  achieved a hugely positive critical reception with Silences Of The Palace (2004). The film, about servant women prostituted in a Bey palace, demonstrated the relationship women have with nation, as representatives of nation. Travel further south to Senegal and you will find two of Africa’s most well renowned directors. Djibril Diop Mambety (Touki Bouki, 1973) and Ousmane Sembene (Borom Sarret, 1963) both dealt, in their differing ways, with the social traditions and tensions of Senegal, the hierarchies and sexualities of its people, and the corruptions of government.

Into East Asian and an eclectic diversity of film practice. Park Chan-wook has cultivated an aura of brutal creativity with the martial artistic The Vengeance Trilogy (2002-2005) and the vampiric Thirst (2009). Much less brutal, Thailand’s Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films are slow and idiosyncratic, using themes of nature, sexuality and spirituality, in pictures such as Blissfully Yours (2002) and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010). In Taiwan, Tsai Ming-liang has been lauded for his brave employment of slowness and sparse dialogue in Vive l’Amour (1994) and What Time is It There? (2001).

Some Latin American works, in Mexico in particular, have amassed large, global audiences. Alejandro González Iñárritu gained popularity with, what could be called, ‘gritty’ and complex narratives, in Amores Perros (2000) and 21 Grams (2003). After these films, Babel (2006) completed what has become known as his ‘Death Trilogy’ – a film that incurred Academy Award success and belongs in the pantheon of global narratives, telling its story in Japan, Morocco, Mexico and the USA. Outside of Mexico, Fernando Meirelles drew British attention to the early mortality of the gangsters of the Brazilian favelas in the hugely acclaimed, MTV style film  City Of God (2002).

What is evidenced from this brief compendium is the English speaking audience’s proclivity for International films with political narratives. The inequities between men and women, between rich and poor and, specifically in Tsai Ming-liang’s films, between heterosexual and homosexual, and the anxieties that arise as a result, are common across the films mentioned. However, if one were to watch all these films, what would also be evidenced are the vast differences in the aesthetic and narrative qualities across, and within, nations. There is a heterogeneous miscellany evidenced between East Asian brutality or slowness, Senegalese casual performance, Iranian social realism and Latin American MTV culture creativity.

So, as suggested, International or world cinema is not a coherent category, but exists in terms of its opposition to the national product, in the first sense, and the commercial product, in the second. Once they manage to surpass the financial difficulties, in particularly in the instances of the developing nations, their ability to capture an audience’s attention comes from their artistic, cinematic handling of human difficulties that are both specific to nation, as they are also, transcendental across place and time. The troubles of women in Tehran, recall the upheavals of the Western feminist revolutions, and the poverties of the urban classes of Brazil echo the kitchen sink realism of 1960s British cinemas, and the trials and traumas of the working classes detailed therein.

 

Five of my Favourites

Pedro Almodovar, All About My Mother (1999)

In many ways, the Spanish auteur’s most highly considered film, All About My Mother is often credited with being a goal post in Pedro Almodovar’s creative maturation. The film retains the kitsch camp of his earlier works, but extends itself more fully in to the melodramatic.In a sense the film is not simply all about the mother, but all about the feminine and the performative nature of contemporary women-hood in Spain.

 

Marjane Strapi, Persepolis (2007)

 

A modern animation classic if there ever was one, Marjane Strapi’s adaptation of her own autobiographical graphic novel helped translate the dilemmas and tensions of the Iranian Revolution to the wider audience.Helped along with the vocal talents of legendary French actor Catherine Deneuve and her daughter Chiara Mastroianni, Persepolis looks at the growth of girl torn between her country’s conservative values, and the more liberal values of her parents.

 

Moufida Tlatli, Silences Of The Palace (1994)

 

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Moufida Tlatli’s film, a rare success for the North African country, traverses the decade before and after colonial Tunisia.Young Alia (Hend Sabri) is the daughter of a servant in a Bey palace. Unable to receive any formal education, and watching her mother, Khedija (Amel Hedhili), having to submit to servitude and sexual exploitation, the future for Alia looks bleak. However, in this reflective film, there is an aura of optimism for the emancipation for, not just women, but women as emblems of the Tunisian nation.

 

Tsai Ming-Liang, The Wayward Cloud (2005)

 

Image result for wayward cloudCherry picked out from the Taiwanese director’s oeuvre to demonstrate the true eclecticism of foreign pictures, this tale of love in the pornographic age has the capability to shock (possibly rather, surprise) even the most blasé cinema spectator.Set amidst some outré musical numbers and set pieces, often involving watermelons, Tsai Ming-liang’s exercises his common themes of sexual, romantic and familial repression.

 

Fernando Meirelles, City Of God(2002)

 

A good starting point for anyone unfamiliar with non-Hollywood produce, this Brazilian film from Fernando Meirelles harnesses the visual techniques of the music video – in a similar style to Quentin Tarantino or Guy Ritchie – to tell its tale of corruption and violence in the Brazilian slums.When other young men around him are turning to cocaine dealing and gun toting, Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) has dreams of becoming a photographer to make his escape from poverty and early death.

Fat, And?

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Let me confess. I am a bit of fatster these days. It feels like confessing to being a heroin addict or a dogger or a Trump supporter… but the funny thing is I genuinely don’t actually give much of a shitehorse about it. My anxieties and my feeling the need to ‘confess to fatness’ has a great deal more to do with the importance that other people place on ‘the fact’, rather than my own values or feelings. Like, having to ‘warn’ people about it before I meet them, or make jokes to relax their tensions when I eat a biscuit or watch television in my pajamas, or go swimming without my moo-moo.

Lets make no mistake, women’s cultural anxieties about being Fat relate hugely to our obsession with aggressively manipulating our bodies into suitable eye candy for masculinist voyeurs. Some people pretend it has to do with health, but I shall believe that when such people are as interested in insomnia, stress, work and financial pressures, air toxicity, povertous mental health provisions and the ramifications of abuse… as they are with the contents of women’s draws.

Being a woman makes you – or at least your exterior – public property. Being a fat woman, makes you public property that nobody wants or likes.

No, scratch that, many people love the existence of large women, because we provide a socially acceptable sounding board for other people’s anxieties or insecurities. A worthy object upon which they feel justified in dumping their pathological thirst for passive aggression. People actually  believe that they have the inalienable right to stand around and deliberate on your structural and aesthetic ‘flaws’, as though you were the living, female manifestation of The House That Jack Built.

And even if you have not even ventured an open dialogue about your waist band, and the ‘convo’ has been thrust upon you like a soggy nappy, there is still a pressure to be gracious about people’s ‘concerns’ or criticisms, lest you seem defensive or persnickety. As though your being unhappy with someone’s dissection of your form is some insight in to your own desperate unhappiness with it, rather than your fed-up-ness with being taken to be a problematic speck on other people’s otherwise fruity landscape.

Even people ‘trying to be kind’ fall foul, because they still are participating in a discourse that promotes the idea that women’s bodies are some kind of problem if something ‘beautiful’ or ‘admirable’ cannot be found about them. Such as those people who tell me I have a pretty face or nice coloured eyes or a good ‘rack’.

To these people I say, Stop. It. You are being about as subtle  as a set of novelty underpants… par exemple…

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Or those people who ‘helpfully’ recommend diet books or Fat Clubs. To them, I say, flat no. They don’t work, they make people miserable, they are naughty, naughty  fascistic bollocks by another name. Oh and they usually involve spending money and making someone else rich. If you want to spend your life weighted to the scales in a effort to stay slimmer than is common for a female over the age of 12 to be, that is your look out. Don’t drag me into it. Oh, and while we are at it, don’t recommend holdy in pants, corsets, growing my hair long to compensate or proffer the fallacy that Marilyn Monroe was a dress size 16. She wasn’t, OK? She was one of the most beautiful women to ever grace the screen, with her fine comedic talent, and guess what, being commercially beautiful? it did not make her any less unhappy.

Also, if it is all the same with you, don’t peddle the idea that I was super brave to leave the house or to eat a muffin in public without a sign on my forehead saying ‘yes I am fat, but I am working on it!’. I don’t want to be dis-empowered or treated like shit for being fat, but I also don’t really want a medal for it either.

Do you know what I want? I want it to not be a thing. Or at the least not your thing. But it is right? My body, someone else’s thing. Like Katie Hopkins!

Indeed, when crud cultivators like Katie Hopkins make a big, fat issue out of big, fat people, you know why she does it? Many aspects of the human person — how we judge each other, how we make preferences or create ideals — are very subjective. Intelligence, creativity, decency, morality, even charm and beauty are very ephemeral and shifting. People like Hopkins hate subjectivity, nuance or personal preferences because they are authoritarian in their bent. They like things to be simplistically demarcated, and one of the primary reasons that is so, is because then they know how to ‘win’ at being an elite person. Or, as important, how to ascertain where someone else is placed in the social hierarchy. Who to kiss up to and who to piss down on.

Katie Hopkins may not know how to be (or how to be seen to be) intelligent, creative, decent, moral or even charming and beautiful — but she has worked out quite easily how to be thin. And in being thin – in a culture that prioritizes this as a commodifiable goal in women particularly – she wins.

Compounded… the sexism of men like Trump or MRAs arrives out of their ability to delineate on the worth of women, as it relates to their body size. Their power is in holding jurisdiction over this authoritarian, simplistic and rigid value in women. You can see who probably wins in all this.

So women, often those who are not especially overweight in any case(by medical standards) trundle on to the hamster wheel of weight loss, fornicate with false and extreme remedies to the mythological disease that is ‘them’.

Not caring, despite everything, about what I look like and my scaled ‘fuck-ability’ (who wants to be fucked anyway?) — genuinely not caring — is probably the most radical thing I can do, vis-à-vis my own womanhood. I don’t wish to have myself decided upon by the metrics of those philistine, misogynistic authoritarians, whose love for ripping asunder the bodies of women derives from the political and social power they feel it gives them.

And for those who mean well — but who are utterly rigged in to the zeitgeist of beauty fascism that this promotes (and thus seek to help me out of my corrosive ugliness) — for them I wear an invisible sign. It says ‘just because you’re giving a fuck about Fat, please don’t ask me to’. Because I have other things I prefer to do, and other things I prefer to think about, than the fatness of my own arse. Or anyone else’s for that matter.

Fitting In, Standing Out

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In the UK, we have a television program called Room 101. Taken from Orwell’s 1984, the concept is that people of note make the case for things that they don’t like to be obliterated from society, via the subterranean torture chamber, used in the novel to punishingly confront the socially ‘deviant’ with their greatest fears.

The TV faces, in accordance with the values of ‘offend- confront -or-challenge-no-one’ television, never come out with real, painful, human anxieties. Like Ingrid Thulin’s Ester in Bergman’s The Silence finding the smell of semen rotten, as a result of her fear of impregnation, or the fictional author of Notes from the Underground’s fear of social humiliation (leading him to, in affect, seek out social humiliation) or even Peter Pan’s fear of growing old. They usually put in littering, or gum on bus seats, or the assumed pretentiousness of liking herbal tea (I like herbal tea. Happy to lay my cards on the table). Its a way of ‘not liking things’ via the public gallery of courting popularity.

What goes into Room 101 for me this month?

Indeed, it is a society that functions around persuading people to court popularity, whilst punishing those who draw attention to the craven spinelessness of our structured social interactions, by courting popularity poorly.

In social groups, there are often people who have proffered upon them the status of lowliness or ‘not requiring of respect’. Even whose ‘job’ it is to stomach the domineering, aggrandizing, repetitious, hierarchical, conformist and petty elitisms of other people…a person who anyone can lord it over, attack or deride with more or less safety from resentment or reprisal. Someone who tries to fit in, or do right, and is seen to fail… is one of those people.

OK so we live in a society of ‘kiss ups and piss downs’ and more or less unsubtle hierarchies. The extent to which we ‘succeed’ in terms of popularity and social respect depend on our ability to seamlessly – as opposed to obviously – accord ourselves with the wants, wishes and ideals of people who have already been designated as having high status. In other words, studies show that people who are deemed more popular, generally are more astute to the behaviours and attitudes needed to be so, largely because they value popularity in the first place, not because of some other ineffable aspect of their character.

But the idea that popularity is achieved due to sensitivity to social expectation, does not take into account people who value popularity (or at the least being liked) but try imitate its tenets clumsily (often as a result of social isolation or insecurity), in a way that ultimately draws attention to the attempts, and thus the very artifice of popularity – or social currency – as an ideal. People who – to the hive minded – ‘try’ to be ‘cool’ or ‘overestimate’ their ‘attractiveness’ or tell jokes that ‘flop’.

The contemporary talent show is mandated by this tendency, because people who succeed are purported to be interesting or have the X Factor, but are actually just some forgettable, seamless derivation of previous tropes (women warbling a la Maria Carey, white troused boy bands. I’m probably out of date on the specifics) and people who are there to be mocked in the early stages are those who attempt to imitate these repetitions, albeit poorly.

Of course, someone can hit musical notes or not, but it is also the case that the demonic production decision to put people ‘out there’ with the full intention of having them humiliated, is done purposefully, to give those who invest in social hierarchy and elitism a pressure valve. In order to mock the very pretensions to which they are invested. We laugh at those who ‘try to be cool’ but fail, so that we don’t have to challenge the drive to seek vindication via other’s expectations of what has already been deemed ‘good’, in and of itself.

Of course counter or high culture does this too if with less salient nastiness. We snub those who poorly attempt to emulate the urban economy of a Beat writer, or the language twists of a philosopher, or the hair cut of a punk.

Of course you can probably guess that the term to be floated up from the dregs abouts now, is authenticity. Simon Cowell uses it a lot. Don’t ask how I know that. The person who is considered cool is a maverick, who is seen, or believed, to make things that are new, or create things that are fresh, and as such becomes the locus of our social, cultural and intellectual orientation. We worship at their alters, we – even  strangers – put flowers on their graves.

Everyone wants to be authentic, so our tendency to copycat others or imbibe the zeitgeist – perhaps out of necessity – needs to be screened out of our consciousness. The fact that most of our behaviours, attitudes and values are handed to us and are not a result of our own intuitions or, indeed, because of some essential, transcendental good sense (see, common sense)… needs to be kicked under the carpet. Again, those who attempt to be popular, or even ‘normal’ – but fail – undermine this. They draw attention to the persistence of human interpretation, imitation and replication.

Indeed the contemporary trend setters are more those who successfully combine various facets and textures of other subcultures. They make up their brands out of a  strange bricolage of ideas, thoughts and practices gathered from a multitude of places, which, again, is presumed to be seamless, convergent, cohesive, but is actually often discordant, confused and contradictory. In such an environment, success depends more on an emotive assimilation of different outputs to make up this one ‘brand’. Despite an awareness of the multitude of people and organisations that enable these brands, there is still an attempt  to pursue the idea these cultural creators as intuitive artists, of the modernist variety, rather than successful coordinators of social expectation. If you think about it for more than a minute, it all falls a part. So you don’t. Think about it.

So social currency is on the one hand a process of behaviours, attitudes and appearances that have already been intuited to have value, but the Holy Grail of popularity is to be considered the very source of the value in the first place. However, because we deem such capacity – whether trend setter, game changer, genius – to be of such rarity, most of us settle to be good emulators (whilst maintaining, for psychological comfort, the idea that we are still ultimately ‘unique’) . Or at least as good as we can be. The winners are the ones who emulate and play good at pretending their birthing their own genius, or at least are riding the waves of those who deem it to be so.

The social climber is perhaps, in this genre of those who try and court popularity badly, the most enduring of stereotypes. Hyacinth Bucket (or as she pronounces it Bouquet) from Keeping Up Appearances, is one example of a lower middle class women suffused with pretensions of high social status. Basil Fawlty of the Towers is persistently on the look out for ‘the right class of persons’ to stay at his hotel, and is often, as a result, taken in by what we are to see as charlatans who look the part. Del Boy’s entire personal output is predicated around the hope that “This time next year boy, we all be millionaires.”

In comedy (in the UK at least), these people can be lightly ribbed, but in life, being perceived to implore the vindication of those around us – and to fail – is one of the most devastating of humiliations. As ever, being the person who tells the flat jokes, or organizes the parties that no-one attends, is the thing that many people fear most.

Of course it would be easy for me to admonish those who vie for vindication as driven by narcissism and vanity, but given that we do live in a society that rewards people on the basis of their ability to ‘to fit in’ it seems hopelessly unfair to judge only those who do it least well. To give out platitudes to selfish psychopaths capable of glibly rubbing people up the right way, in order to get what they want, but to dish out mockery to those whose just want to be liked for being liked sake.

The saddest thing, is that because of our fear of being that person, many people opt for social isolation, afraid to make friends, crack jokes, offer insights. And it is ever increasing, with Like culture and Reality TV persistently organizing us into social winners and losers. But like the Capitalist system, in terms of money, the Popularity system is predicated on harsh competition, and it is a game that the vast majority of us, by its very nature, cannot win. By giving those who court popularity successfully their status, or by flattering them with hapless imitation, we are rendering ourselves subordinate.

Follow Your Dreams/Fail at 30

So I read somewhere recently that the trajectory of most people’s occupational lives can be gleaned by the time they are 30. That whatever they are going to be or do (I’m going to play fast and loose on the philosophy of person-hood here) will already be in sight. That if they are to carve out any kind of success along the flanks of an employment grindstone, they will have already gotten out the chisel. If they are to climb the ladder of proverbial prosperity they will have already have sliced their feet into the bottom rungs. Do you need any more bad metaphors? No? Good.

Of course, I have no way of checking the voracity of such a claim. Well, that is not true, I could probably do something like, I dunno, research, but I’m not going to. I’m going to fly out on a bendy extremity and decide to run with it. In any case it sounds feasibly likely to be at least common. If we are to have success in life, the signs will be there before we check in to our fourth decade (indeed, before we are even born).

I am  lazily defining ‘success’ here in two ways, first in the straight forward Capitalist sense. You’re 30 and you have a job that pays OK and that stands a chance of being paid better than OK, one day. Added, you feel fairly comfortable if you tell people what your Day Job is at  beer and crisps or pre-drink-before-gay-club parties. You know, like, you’re in Marketing or Human Resources or Procurement or Recruitment or something along the blurred lines of Chandler Bing. When you tell people of course, they might feel bored for you, indifferent, but at least not embarrassed or sad or awkward. And all things considered, that is something.

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Banksy

In the second sense, you have a job that is actually kinda interesting, that maybe you always wanted to do since you were a bern, and/or has some level of creativity or specificity or social currency. The kinda job that if you tell people about it they’ll actually look kinda pleased for you, or interested or engaged. They may even, vaguely, want to ask you questions about it or try and friendly up to you so they can add you to their Rolodex of ‘good so-and-sos-to know.’

But if you start surfing towards 30 and you still haven’t figured your shit out yet, such social occasions, such questions, become instigators of minor distress. Perhaps you just don’t know – or never have known – what you want?You’ve done a few odd jobs, here and there but nothing really stuck or settled, and none of them were interesting or punched much of the minimum wage in any case. Perhaps you’re still kicking it at the Tiki Post, the after school job you got when you were 17 and have never had the subsequent energy to leave, or luck to have been offered anything better (application after application after application).

Maybe you had high minded aspirations, and tried to be a writer or painter or musician and just never got off the work-for-free circuit, or away from the open mike night at your local sticky floored bar. Perhaps you’ve even been telling people that it is what ‘you do’… only to have been besmirched one too many times by a forensic bastard asking you, “how much money do you actually make doing that?”

Perhaps you got hooked in to someone young and decided you were going to live  some exalted salt of the earth existence together? On a house boat with a cat called Bettina, going from town to town. Or in a Yurt with a small garden comprised of your crop of organic swiss chard and beets and your selection of hand sprung garden ornaments, also available to purchase on eBay.  You know, to make money for those little extras. Like goat cheese or a mandolin.

But then they left you for one of those magnolia be-flatted marketing types and, you think, you probably could never really have afforded it all anyway. However long you squirreled away your  barista pay packet. If indeed it was anything other than a predictable bucolic fantasy. A crust made to hold in the entrails of your loveless, penniless, sexless union. The product of a drunken night you never bothered to end.

Yea I’m that woman. I’ve done those things. I’m the one with the tumbleweed CV, which I am under orders from the good folks at DWP to try and stitch together in to something that looks, sounds and smells like respectability. I’m that woman who has tried to not have an epic tear fit when my lovelyjubblyscrubbly work coach has spittled out, “Well, you’re very difficult Ms ******, because you’re almost 30 and you have no real job experience and you have never really done anything meaningful.”

Yea its tough being nearly 30 and having to field questions such as “What is it that you do?” with, “I don’t do anything.” Worse, “What is it you used to do?” with “I’ve never really done that either. You know. Doing stuff.”

And having one of those University Education things doesn’t help much. It only adds to the sting when someone tells you that joke, “What to you say to a University graduate? I’ll have fries with those chicken nuggets!!”

Oh how we laughed! We… the worst excesses of our under-employed, over-educated generation. We the working class kids who grew up under Blair style faux optimism, who hit the books with vigour, but did not have the connections or confidence or basic money to see it through to the middle class dream. Yes those of us who were 10 when New Labour  came into the ascendancy, will be turning 30 now, and though we got the promised Education, Education, Education  many of us did not get  the Career, Career, Career.

“Well!”, they say, “that is your problem for studying dome namby pamby Minnie Mouse medja/art nonsense!” But is not a society that snubs those who have undertaken cultural  academic exercise – for no profit can be unfurled from their fingers – an impoverished one? Apparently not.

So there we are. Or, at least, there am I. Jobless, aimless and happy to oscillate between cursing the neo-liberal inequalities of the day, and my own rudderless whimsy. The whimsy we shall call having the sheer temerity to want to shake a little aspiration in to my forward motions.   This being the psychological forever destiny of those of us who followed our dreams, and  failed at 30.