October 1st 2010
Let me take some time out of regurgitating the principles of undertaking a mortality experience investigation, and turn to somewhat happier thoughts. You may have noticed a recent hint here that Mum and Dad were about to get a cat, and it has now come to pass, as the picture below demonstrates.
The kitten goes by the (possibly temporary) name of Sherpa, bestowed on her as part of a set (litter?) of kittens called Edmund, Hillary, Sherpa and Tenzing. Simon suggested that it was a good job they didn't get Edmund, since "Edmund is evil", a viewpoint which seems fundamentally to have missed the message of redemption that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was none too subtle in pursuing. Anyhow, Sherpa it is, and apparently she's already been climbing on things, much like her namesake, and knocking things over, possibly less like her namesake. I foresee Mum fighting a long and ultimately unsuccessful battle to keep her off the sitting room table. While I'm very happy that my parents have got a cat to follow in the pawsteps of Whiskers and Bundle, part of me can't help but feel that this is a bit like seeing a new golden generation of England footballers, or watching Friends at the same rate as it was originally shown on TV. It's great when it starts, and indeed it gets better, but inevitably you're setting yourself up to be devastated in about 6-8 years' time. In other news, I'm on my way to becoming an actuary (2011 could be the year...), and while I'm happy to believe that this will be a pretty good achievement when it happens (and one or two people humoured me the other day by agreeing that actuaries are cool), I have never viewed it as particularly exciting. Imagine my surprise, then, when I met a lady the other day who appeared thrilled that I was training to be an actuary. Indeed, not only was she genuinely interested, but she also said "I might have shaken a famous hand, then!" That's when I realised that we might be at cross-purposes. On a good day (not, for example, a revision day) you could convince me that actuarial science is kinda interesting, what with the credit crunch and all, but it's not really ever a route to fame. I'm in the biz, and I think I can only name one actuary whom I haven't met. I was pretty sure what had happened is what so often happens... she thought I'd said I was training to be an actor. I didn't disabuse her, partly because I didn't want to embarrass her (or me), but also because I am keenly aware of the disappointment of finding out that the person whose hand you've just shaken is not, in fact, aspiring to be the next Hugh Grant, but is aspiring to be the next David Wilkie. Exactly. It's the same kind of disappointment people always show when they find out that I'm not an identical twin. Sorry, guys; non-identical is still quite cool. Anyways, this has got me thinking of the only funny actuarial joke I've ever read: The classic dinner party misunderstanding A: What do you do? B: I'm an actor. A: Oh, have you priced any pension schemes I might have heard of?
On this day in 2004... Have I ever mentioned what a great aunt I have? Aunty Mary... she's great. In a completely unconnected piece of information, I learnt that she reads this page.
October 5th 2010
Yesterday it was announced that Zack Snyder (apparently of 300 and Watchmen fame) will direct Superman reboot ‘The Man of Steel’, due in 2012 or thereabouts. Coincidentally, I started re-watching Superman Returns last night (and finished this morning). This previous instalment was well received by film critics, but disappointed studio bosses by ‘only’ making $391m worldwide; hence the reboot rather than the straight sequel that was originally intended.
I think this is rather a shame, since Superman Returns is a very good film, and while it has its flaws (I think that including Superman’s son was perhaps a subplot too far) it has excellent imagery and is cleverer than a lot of comic book hero films. I wrote about the film at some length on 20th January 2007, so I won’t tread on my own toes too much by covering that ground today. Instead, I want to look into comic book heroes in general, and Superman (the character) in particular (the picture below is of George Reeves, who portrayed Superman in the 1950s).
In the last decade or so we’ve seen a great number of comic book heroes brought to the silver screen – as well as Superman Returns, there have been two Batman films, three Spider-man films, four X-Men films, two each of Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Hellboy and The Hulk; Daredevil, Catwoman, Elektra, The Incredibles, Watchmen, and probably more – but there is no denying that Superman is the daddy of them all. He is the archetypal superhero: more than that, he is quite possibly the most iconic fictional character of the 20th century, if not of all time. People who have never heard of Iron Man (and I have to admit that, until a few years ago, the only Iron Man I knew was the one by Ted Hughes) will instantly recognise the blue suit, the big red ‘S’, the underpants-on-the-outside, the cape. It is a shame, as well as a surprise, that in this modern generation with its surfeit of comic book hero films (and from the list I gave above, less than half are any good) Superman hasn’t had the success that Batman and Spider-man rightly have had.
This isn’t for lack of trying. The Wikipedia article on the various failed projects and sometimes crazy ideas for relaunching Kal-El makes for very interesting reading (I think we can all be glad that the plan to have Superman wearing a big black suit, never flying, and fighting a big spider at the film’s climax, was never carried through), but I’m not convinced that his cinematic future is in safe hands. After the defining Christopher Reeve films of 1978 and 1980 (a shot from the latter, shown right, explains why Lynx never had a tie-in with the franchise), Superman led the way in comic book hero films. Now it appears that he is following in the footsteps of others, most particularly Batman, as Warner Bros has apparently decreed that Superman films – along with any others featuring DC characters – will be ‘dark to the extent that the character allows it’. Leaving aside the fact that one of my pet peeves is people describing sequels as ‘darker’, always as a sign of admiration and generally in recognition only of the fact that two thirds of the film was shot in shades of bluey-grey, being ‘dark’ is not what Superman is about.
Superman, whether in the comic books, on TV, or on the big screen, is a simple tale of good vs. evil, with the Man of Steel squarely on the side of good. I know that that annoys some people (a similar dichotomy in the Lord of the Rings has irritated some readers), but for me there is absolutely nothing wrong with it - and Bryan Singer, with Superman Returns, seemed to agree. His film was essentially a joyful celebration of who Superman is, and while it went deeper than that, he didn’t forget that the big ‘S’ and all it stands for should be a symbol that receives a great big non-ironic, non-cynical cheer.
Superman was probably the first superhero (I haven’t really checked that statement), and in many ways he set the standard: super powers, costume, mild-mannered alter ego, love interest, dead parents, strong moral code. While comic book heroes since have deviated from the pattern (neither Batman nor Iron Man have any super powers; Iron Man and the Fantastic Four reveal their identity), some or all of these characteristics are prevalent in every comic book hero I can think of. Some of it is obviously wish-fulfilment: the shy kid in school who is at the mercy of bullies and can’t get the girl wishes that he could; every man is hard-wired to want to protect women (or one woman); pertinently, the father of one of the co-creators was shot and killed a year before Superman was created – “Your father dies in a robbery, and you invent a bulletproof man.” But I think there’s more to it than that.
Superman is essentially a Christ-like figure. He comes from a far away, mysterious place (rendering Superman unique among the big comic book heroes, all of whom are humans who put on the costume of a hero. Superman is a hero who puts on a human costume); he looks just like a man, but is not really one of us; he has incredible powers beyond our imagination; he helps those in need; he has a perfect moral code; he reaches out to humans for a genuine relationship; he loves mankind dearly, despite our weaknesses; he was even sent here by his father. Much was made of this in Superman Returns, as the image below shows, as well as lines like “You wrote that the world doesn’t need a saviour. But every day I hear people crying for one.” That annoyed me when I first saw the film, as I don’t like the idea of Jesus being used as a marketing ploy, but now I believe that it simply recognises the role that superheroes in general, and Superman in particular, play in our culture.
Superman is not Christ, of course, but he’s what a lot of people think Christ is. For people who don’t recognise that walking on water, feeding the five thousand or turning water into wine were the least important things about Jesus, Superman and Christ might as well be one and the same. For people who hold Jesus in high regard because of his moral teaching and refusal to succumb to temptation, Superman and Christ might as well be one and the same. The reason that Jesus is so much greater than the superman of human creation is that, as well as working miracles, and being morally perfect and loving, Jesus took the punishment for what we have done, so that we can have a relationship with the Father. He is so much more than a good man or a sorceror; he is God, and he made the eternally wonderous sacrifice that brings man and God together despite our sin.
So, Superman is not Christ, but he is a great fictional creation, and symbolic of what every man would like to be. He is truly iconic, and I will be disappointed if his legend is adulterated by misguided film-makers trying to be ‘dark’. While it would be unreasonably optimistic to hope that Bryan Singer is brought back on board to continue the good work he started with Superman Returns, I can at least hope that Zack Snyder takes a leaf or two out of his book.
October 13th 2010
I have just returned from watching Back to the Future at the cinema, as it has been re-released "in glorious cinematic digital quality" to mark its 25th anniversary. I may have seem the film many times already - and once on the big(ish) screen at the Warwick Uni Student Cinema - but it was well worth it, as it is such a great film. I can't get enough. Each time I see it, I spot something new (though, admittedly, this may be more because of me being slow than anything else). Whether you've seen it before or not - though especially if you haven't - I recommend that you get down to your local specially-selected cinema, and watch one of the all-time great films. October 16th 2010
Before I get into the meat of today's entry (and very meaty it is, too. Meatier than a meat sandwich with extra bacon) I'd like to correct something I wrote a few days. When I said that Superman was probably the first superhero, I should really have said the first superhero in the comic-book sense: there have, of course, be many superheroes before Superman, of which Heracles is but the mst obvious example. I can't imagine anyone noticed, but it's been bugging me. Having dealt with that, let me move on to the long-awaited (by me, at any rate. I've been waiting for months) list of my 25 favourite albums from 2000-2009. Since I'm a pedant, I should explain a few things about the list: 1. Yes, it's subjective. Not only that, but the list would also probably change if I were to make it next week - though it would be mostly the same, of course. Lists are great, but they are frequently changeable: much like our wonderful Autumnal weather, you might say. Or you might not. 2. I've only included albums I own... if I don't own them, I probably won't know if they're any good, you see. Contrary-wise, if I think an album is going to be good, I will most likely buy it. 3. I decided to include only one album per artist, which might seem a bit arbitrary, but I'm happy to justify it because i) the BBC did it with their Big Read Top 10; and ii) it makes things much easier for me. 4. No compilations, greatest hits, re-issues or re-masters. I own 63 albums that were released in the last decade, of which 17 were discounted due to rule 3 above, so my top 25 were picked from a possible 46. I like numbers. Anyways... rather than simply give you the list - where's fun in that? - I've made a little video. In glorious High Definition, no less, if you want to crank it up to 720p
In case you didn't catch that, the full list is:
1. American Idiot - Green Day (2004)
2. Sam's Town - The Killers (2006)
3. Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends (2008)
4. Absolution - Muse (2003)
5. O - Damien Rice (2002)
6. Long Road Out of Eden - Eagles (2007)
7. Lifesong - Casting Crowns (2005)
8. Hard Candy - Counting Crows (2002)
9. Phil Vassar - Phil Vassar (2000)
10. Something's Goin' On - Cliff Richard (2004)
11. Only By the Night - Kings of Leon (2008)
12. Distorted Lullabies - Ours (2001)
13. Beautiful World - Take That (2006)
14. Back to Bedlam - James Blunt (2005)
15. Hopes and Fears - Keane (2004)
16. The Captain and the Kid - Elton John (2006)
17. Heathen Chemistry - Oasis (2002)
18. Hello Starling - Josh Ritter (2003)
19. By the Way - Red Hot Chili Peppers (2002)
20. Final Straw - Snow Patrol (2003)
21. Heartbreaker - Ryan Adams (2000)
22. American IV: The Man Comes Around - Johnny Cash (2002)
23. Undiscovered - James Morrison (2006)
24. Modern Times - Bob Dylan (2006)
25. The Long Road - Nickelback (2003)
On this day in 2008... Yesterday [...] it was the annual church home group trip to Alton Towers (only the second annual trip, but it's a tradition worth continuing), so I went with Olly, Becky, Jay and Jen to be flung in every direction known to man, and very good fun it was too.
October 19th 2010
I went to see The Social Network on Sunday, a film about the beginnings of Facebook, and the various fall-outs and betrayals therein. It was penned by Aaron Sorkin (of West Wing fame) and starred Jesse Eisenberg (of Zombieland fame. Think Michael Cera, but more versatile. Or, if you don't know who Michael Cera is, think Mark Zuckerberg but more fictional), as well as featuring Andrew "the new Spider-man" Garfield and Justin "y'know, this boy can actually act very well" Timberlake. I recommend it, even though it wasn't quite as good as either the trailer or the ecstatic reviews had suggested it might be. I know a lot of people will avoid it because they think that a film about Facebook would be either boring or irrelevant to them, but I think that misses the point - the film is not really about the website per se (neither Sorkin nor David Fincher, the director, are on Facebook), but about the paradox of a guy with poor social skills getting the whole world talking, and the breakdown of what relationships he had. Most of all, it's about an idea that went from a drunken late-night venture to a multi-billion business in a ridiculously short space of time. It's incredible, really, that Facebook is only about six years old - younger than my online diary - such has its impact been. When I joined Facebook (or, more accurately, when Simon signed me up) it was only available to people with University e-mail addresses, and its exclusivity was one of its attractions. Now, with 500 million people signed up (including Pluggy), it's hardly exclusive any more - most people you meet probably have an account. A lot of people criticse Facebook, but it wouldn't have so many members if it didn't serve a useful purpose. It's never going to be a substitute for meeting up face-to-face, and it has become too stalker-ish over the years, but it allows casual catching up between meet-ups, lets you share photos and videos, means you can discuss interests with people you wouldn't otherwise meet (I'm part of a cryptic crossword setting group, for example) and so on. Anyways, it's not the world's greatest invention, and maybe it will go the same way as Friends Reunited and Geocities, but at the moment it remains an impressive success story and a useful tool. In other news, I don't subscribe to the view that our American cousins don't understand irony - even if I hadn't met my fair share of amusing Americans, I could just point to the Simpsons as a counter-argument - but having been in the same room as Mythbusters quite a lot recently, I can understand where the view came from. If you want a textbook example of what people really mean when they use the phrase 'too American', you could do a lot worse than watch that show.
On this day in 2006... I'd like to recount a little something from the end of a bus journey I took recently: it was a packed bus, and to make things worse, two babies appeared to be auditioning for some sort of TV programme that revolved around screaming loudly on public transport (and, let me tell you, they nailed it).
October 26th 2010
I'm a chap who likes board games. I have to bow, I admit, to the superior appreciation of Richard, and I must also confess that I prefer games which require less brain power than the ones he enjoys most - but it is my avowed belief that there's nothing for good clean family fun like a board game. In the Thomas family this view is more or less shared by some, and more or less tolerated by others, and so it is that we have several board games that get plenty of airings. And, over the years, there are some games which are generally a pretty open fight, and others that have a perennial winner. The most obvious example of this latter group is Trivial Pursuit, since I can't remember the last time Dad didn't win. We have even sometimes resorted to teaming up against him. I had previously clung to the hope that it was because we played with an 80s version of the game, and that youth was telling against Simon and me, but he continued to trounce us all in the millennium edition. Anyways, we played this weekend, and while he inevitably won, it was a very close game, and both Mum and I were sat on the centre space when he triumphed (Simon had less luck with his questions, but I think it was he who ran Dad closest last time). It will be a landmark moment in all of our lives, and not necessarily a pleasant one, when the regime is overturned. Trivial Pursuit is not isolated. I do not wish to brag, but I have positioned myself as the Boggle king, and indeed my family are the only people I can find who provide a decent challenge. Admittedly, I haven't looked far. Anyways, I bring this up partly because Dad won at Scrabble last weekend, which is an occasion worth remembering. All four of us can go into a game of Scrabble expecting to do fairly well, but it has been a while since he has claimed a victory - he does have a son working his way towards a PhD in English, after all. I don't really have a point (except to congratulate my father in a cyber capacity), but if I did have a point, it would probably be that there is pleasure in playing a game even if you know you're not going to win... and, who knows, you might just surprise yourself. In other news, Wolves played in 3D for the first time tonight (er... you know what I mean), but I'm currently watching it, recorded, in 2D. One to tell the grand-kids. One more thing - I'm not sure why the comment box has gone, but it wasn't anything to do with me, and hopefully it will return of its own accord. Maybe it already has.
On this day in 2004... Yesterday was good because of Hot Chocolate evangelism (which technically I started at about midnight, so it was today). This involves a group of CU people offering free hot chocolate to anybody coming out of Top Banana (the main event in the Warwick Uni week), and was very cool.
October 28th 2010 In defence of the rich Robin Hood, we are told, 'stole from the rich and gave to the poor'. Note that he did not steal from the tyrannical, the unjust or the undeserving. He stole, simply, from the rich, and this is symptomatic of the prevailing British attitude towards rich people. A more recent example: last year I read an online newspaper article written by a formerly rich woman who had been conned out of all she had - a typical online comment read "That's karma, baby." To be rich, apparently, is to be sinful. I would not classify myself as rich (and I know that this is subjective: 'rich' is always a bit more than we have), but I do not share a hatred of the rich that is inexplicably widespread, and a foundation for much of the more hyperbolic outcry against bankers and politicians in the last couple of years. I say 'inexplicably', but it is fairly evident that jealousy is often a motivator. I read yesterday (though I'm not sure I believe it) that only 2% of this country have never bought a national lottery ticket - presumably the other 98% have no quarrel with being rich; just with other people being rich. It is not just rich individuals who are viewed with venom. Until recently I worked for a large multi-national company, and have grown exceedingly tired of the attitude that many people have towards big business. As I have said before, a big business is simply made up of lots of small people, and while I would not dream of condoning the practices of some companies, I cannot agree with the common insinuation that success is, in and of itself, a sin. To take a recent example, a friend of mine (and I won't go into details, because he reads this page and I don't think he would appreciate it) told me that someone he knew was a Christian, which was suprising because his job was [x]. This made about as much sense as saying that he was a Christian, but that his favourite colour was red - certainly if this person had done the same job for a smaller company, it would not have been mentioned. It is not more virtuous to work in a small bookshop than in a Waterstones. It would be remiss of me not to mention Jesus saying "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. [...] With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Jesus was not saying that richness is a sin; more that it can be a hindrance. Truth be told, it is impossible for any man to enter the kingdom of heaven without God. Rich people are never going to get much sympathy, and will always be seen as a legitimate target for mockery and abuse. But to look down on them because of their wealth is every bit as discriminatory as looking down on a poor man because of his poverty. Personally, I have no great aspiration to be rich, but I do hope that people do not judge me by what I have in the bank.
On this day in 2005... Today, for the first time in my life, I am going to the circus! Woo-hoo! Not only this, but I'll be the first person in my nuclear family to have gone to the circus, showing what a deprived family I come from - I mean, goodness me, mum's been to Italy more times than I've had hot dinners, and yet she hasn't been to the circus.
what was I listening to?
Actual Miles - Don Henley