Who Watches the Watchmen?

I’m reading a book about conspiracy theories at the moment. It’s not very entertaining (no outrageous assertions that all world leaders are Lizard People from Planet X, sadly) but it is enlightening, especially when it deals with how conspiracy theories take root and become disseminated into popular culture to a point where it becomes very troublesome to tell the fake news from the truth.

Now if that sounds a little familiar, I can only apologise – but I for one do not believe a word that comes out of the White House nor what appears in a Murdoch newspaper. The former, unfortunately, is more of a recent occurrence than the latter, but I long ago recognised that there is an agenda here which involves lying through the skin of their teeth at every available opportunity. If the facts suggest that something is black, they will maintain that it is white and that any suggestion to the contrary is “fake news”. In the case of the press, we are back to questions of journalistic ethics that I briefly looked at after watching Nightcrawler – what lengths will the media go to if they may get a story out of it?

The other side to this story, though, is what checks are there to keep the media from breaking the law – or just offending pretty much every normal person’s moral framework? The Leveson Enquiry spent months (and thousands of pounds) trying to establish a forum where the press could be regulated; but this ended up as entirely voluntary and so watered down as to be completely ineffective. Ultimately, unscrupulous media moguls can behave as they please without sanction, especially if those in power are doing exactly the same. No wonder the conspiracy theorists don’t trust anyone!

It’s incredibly depressing but what can one do? The simple answer, suggested by the book I’m reading, is this: the more variables involved in the conspiracy theory, the more likely it is to be faked. Unless, of course, the White House is involved, in which case believe nothing and trust no one.

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A Fashion For Witches

Apparently, witchcraft is all the rage in the fashion world this winter, if The Guardian is anything to go by (and as it’s my paper of choice, I go by it quite a lot). It seems that a lot of hip young British fashion designers are looking towards the Wise Women of the Woods for fashion inspiration which, I must admit, makes the Goth in me a little over excited. I may yet come back into fashion – and then what will I wear?

Sadly, it’s not all pointy hats and warty noses, although there are stripy tights and winklepicker boots a plenty. No, it’s all natural fibres, muted colours and plenty of layers, a startlingly sensible idea given what the weather at this time of year normally offers. Fingerless gloves in berry colours, plum coloured petticoats under ruby corduroy skirts, poison ivy green jumpers hiding mustard yellow blouses. There is lace, embroidery, flashes of contrasting pattern in shapes which are basic and alarmingly comfortable. The jewellery is silver, moonstone and labradorite, iridescent and mysterious.

Yes, I like this idea a lot. My one gripe, such as it is, is that it seems to be similar to what comes out for this season every year. Perhaps one day someone will do a winter wardrobe in pastel blue and baby pink, or ice cream candy colours, just to brighten the drabness up a bit. Jewel bright shades would even be an improvement, but then I like jewel shades anyway so I hold my hands up to the claim of bias. And I’m delighted to see that spiders webs are an optional extra.

Wonder Woman Wasn’t The First

Lucy Lawless and Sigourney Weaver must be rolling their eyes at the short memories some people have. Ellen Ripley and Xena weren’t that long ago, were they? Mind you, back in the day, we also had Emma Peel and Purdey in the Avengers (talking of which – Black Widow isn’t a slouch either), Cagney and Lacey for the detective show watchers and even The Bionic Woman. Lynda Carter’s original Wonder Woman aired at a similar time – I remember watching it when I was young – and nobody ever declared her the first female action hero.

What’s changed? Why has Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman got everyone in a flutter?

People have double standards, is why. There is a long legacy of women playing action roles – I’ve listed a few already – but because they didn’t wear a bikini when they did it, they don’t count. Xena had a huge lesbian subtext surrounding her partnership with Gabrielle; Ripley was a part originally written for a man; both Emma Peel and Purdey were always fully clothed, as were Black Widow, Cagney and Lacey and the Bionic Woman. Whether Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman counts as an action hero is anybody’s guess. Perhaps the studios simply forgot about her. They don’t fit the heterosexual male ideal of a fit woman who is sexually available and so they’ve been airbrushed aside.

Cruel, but that’s how sexism works. Carrie Fisher always complained that despite making three Star Wars movies where she played a military leader, she will always be remembered for the scene with the gold bikini – and she’s absolutely right. Nobody remembers the fact that she was a General, in charge of an entire Rebel Army, but everyone remembers the gold bikini, because that was the image that was promoted in the publicity. As many studio executives still maintain, tits and ass sell.

When you also account for the fact that the male lead of Sharknado 5 earned more than Gal Gadot for Wonder Woman, you really have to wonder just what has to be done to make studio executives realise that women are more than just the sparkly costume.

The Roman Empire was Ethnically Diverse. Deal With It

Am I the only person on the planet not to be bothered by an ethnically diverse Roman Empire? Apart from Mary Beard, of course, but then she frequently gets into trouble for challenging conventional stereotypes. Unfortunately, the reality is very likely that Cleopatra didn’t look anything like Elizabeth Taylor and it’s doubtful that Mark Antony looked anything like Richard Burton either. That neither interferes with my enjoyment of a fine Hollywood blockbuster nor with my appreciation of the achievements of the Roman Empire.

If one thinks about it, this really shouldn’t be an issue at all. Any empire, whether it be Roman or British, which covers a number of countries and continents cannot expect to be ethnically and culturally homogenous. People who lived in Victorian India brought home a love of curry and cooks experienced in making it; sugar tycoons used West Indian slaves to build their fortunes (another unpalatable truth about the white stuff, but there we are) and frequently brought them to England as servants if they were lucky; merchants came from all over with their goods and often stayed where the markets were good. Result – an ethnically diverse population. So what’s the big deal?

It is simply beyond the realms of possibility to say that the Roman Empire was entirely homogenous. Perhaps the power base may have been – only Roman citizens could hold positions of power and they were very selective about who gained citizenship – but I’m not sure that’s not the issue here. I don’t doubt that many Roman slaves would have been North African, Egyptian or even Nubian; gladiators similarly would have come from diverse backgrounds. Roman patricians would have wanted their creature comforts and their entertainments, so why would they not have brought their slaves and gladiators?

I’m no classicist and I’m the first to admit that, but I really don’t understand why people find it so difficult to accept that the Roman Empire was a big place with a lot of different people who weren’t all alike. It doesn’t change anything. They were still brilliant engineers, won some cracking battles and had a very organised army in a time when organised armies were a rarity. The fact that some may have been black doesn’t really matter.

Goths and Disability

I’ve said before and I will say again (and will keep saying until the message gets through) that Goth is a broad church of all shapes, sizes, colours and creeds – and if it needs saying, abilities. There is no reason why people who are blind, deaf, have a disability or a chronic condition shouldn’t consider themselves Goth. It’s not a fashion statement, after all (and I think I’ve mentioned that a few times as well).

Speaking entirely personally, I’m deaf on one side after extensive ear surgeries and I think I have previously mentioned that I wear glasses. I’ve never felt excluded or unwelcome in the Goth community – quite the contrary. Obviously there are practical considerations to bear in mind, but I think they would apply regardless – if you use a wheelchair and have arranged a meet up, to make sure that the venue is accessible, that kind of thing. Actually, if you are a Goth wheelchair user, I’d love to see if you’ve vamped up your transport in any way!

The point I’m trying to make is that there’s no reason to feel excluded. Why should there be? The whole point about Goth is revelling in the fact that we are not the same as everyone else, and having a disability – or difference of ability, or however you want to phrase it – makes no difference in that regard. If you are blind, deaf, a wheelchair user, have a learning difficulty or a chronic illness of any kind – go for it. Just go for it and have a great time.

Miss Peregrine Follows a Grand Tradition

I’ve just finished reading Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children. It’s a strangely wonderful book but perhaps a little scary for children. It’s one of those books where “young adult” means “only if you’ve sat your GCSEs and not before” as some of the episodes are (a) quite scary and (b) a bit on the gruesome side. Definitely not something to read over breakfast. And yet I was struck by both the similarities and differences to other books of that ilk.

For example, Harry Potter features a young man who has no idea of his special powers and finds himself in a school with other young people – most of whom are fully aware of their background and capabilities – in which he has to survive. It’s just that Jacob Portman is not a wizard and his peculiarity (as it is termed) is rather specific, unlike Emma, who can produce and control fire, or Millard, who is invisible. The fact that Miss Peregrine can turn into a falcon is only eclipsed by Professor McGonagall turning into a cat on a regular basis.

In that respect, it reminds me a little more of Professor Xavier’s School for the Gifted, as the institute where the X-Men are based is known. There, peculiar children who are often in fear of their lives are given a sanctuary where they are fed, housed and protected, much like Miss Peregrine does in the book. And she can control time, as can Professor X (up to a point) and read minds.

And yet, the film that I found myself thinking of most often as I was reading was Paranorman. Jacob, like his grandfather before him, can see hollowgasts, who feed on peculiars, which suggests that they are predominantly invisible to the majority of peculiars. It’s a bit like Norman’s ability to see ghosts – and his calling to protect the community from the vengeful spirits in particular.

It’s not a bad book but I wasn’t especially left wanting more and the jury’s out on whether I’ll read the sequel.

An Interesting Use for Old Photos

One thing I absolutely love about Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children is how the author, Ransom Riggs, has managed to weave some weird and quite wonderful vintage photographs into his story in a way that makes it feel entirely natural – as if the photos were taken to illustrate the book, rather than the book being written to do something with the photos. It does make me wonder what people “back in the day” were thinking when they took photos of the back of someone’s head, or a mocked-up strong man. And as for some of those Christmas Grotto photographs, no wonder the Offspring refused to go in!

I can’t help but think that the late Victorians and early Edwardians were really captivated by what photography could offer and played with a variety of effects, including double exposure and something like an early form of Photoshop. This trend continued as technology improved and colour photography started to gain in popularity. Of course, the modern trend for digital photography does, in a sense, take all the fun out of it – I used to love receiving envelopes from places like Prontaprint and trying to remember what was going on when I took that particular photograph – or even when an envelope came back with someone else’s snaps!

It was worse when the Prontaprint envelopes didn’t come back at all, though. God only knows who’s got the photos from my trip to Malta back in the Nineties.

Yet it never once occurred to me to try and put together a sequence of some of these photographs and try to form a story around them. I might try that one day, when I have time, photographs and half an idea in my head. Riggs has demonstrated that not only is it possible, but you can also create something incredibly creepy indeed.

Antony and Cleopatra isn’t really about them

I’ve found it quite hard to read Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra for no better reason than the film screen in my head kept going to the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton film. Well, it was an epic that spawned a thousand make up looks, so it’s hardly surprising. It’s also a true – and quite well known – story, unlike Coriolanus, which we only really know about through Shakespeare and Plutarch, and not many people have read either or both (apart from me, apparently). I have a feeling that Julius Caesar will suffer from a similar problem, but in that case I’ll have to rid myself of Kenneth Williams exclaiming “infamy” at every available opportunity.

If I’m honest, the most interesting character in the play is Caesar. This is, of course, Caesar Augustus, Julius’ nephew and soon to become the first Emperor of Rome; but first he must rid himself of his co-triumvirs, Lepidus and Antony, which involves quite a bit of skulduggery and reading between the lines. Lepidus is quickly despatched, having become drunk and quite friendly with Cleopatra’s half-brother Ptolomy, who then stupidly goes and declares war on Rome. That there’s treason, that is, says Caesar and has his co-ruler clapped in irons and quickly removed from power. That just leaves that pesky Mark Antony, and he’s in Egypt…

Trying to marry him off to one’s sister doesn’t work, as Antony sends Octavia back with a flea in her ear before returning to his true love, Elizabeth Taylor… sorry, Cleopatra. This leaves Caesar no alternative but to declare war on Egypt and triumph at the Battle of Actium. The rest, as they say, is history.

I have to admit that I dislike the characterisation Shakespeare uses in this play; Cleopatra is histrionic and unreasonable, Antony is moody and dour, Caesar is petulant and conniving. However, it does mean that the casting in the Taylor/Burton/Harrison film is spot on, which might be why I keep thinking about it. The scenes with the title characters are simply not very interesting; I get it that Cleopatra is trying to manipulate Rome, but unlike Tamora from Titus Andronicus, her manipulations seem petty and ineffective. The Battle of Actium is dealt with as an aside – why did the Egyptian fleet flee? It’s not discussed. We know that Antony followed Cleopatra, and consequently was viewed as a coward in Rome – but why did she retreat?

Much as I love Shakespeare – and I do – this is not one of my favourite plays. That’s okay, I’ve got a “comedy” lined up next, and I usually hate those.

So What Is Goth, Then?

Well, my other posts on the subject illustrate just how broad a church Goth can be if it’s allowed to be. I’ve long believed that Goth is much more than a fashion – in fact, the dress code should be (and in my case, often is) entirely optional. It’s a sensibility and if cultivated, can be found pretty much anywhere.

I suppose a little personal history needs to be provided to explain this. I’ve been Goth since about 1982, when I was still at school and going through what my fellow pupils termed “a bit of a weird phase”; fortunately, the school uniform was navy blue or black so I had ample opportunity to tinker. Black tights and not-entirely-regulation shoes were by far the easiest bit. I listened to Bauhaus, The Cure, The (Southern Death/Death) Cult (still my personal faves), The Mission, Sisters of Mercy while reading Dracula and books about Transylvania. Nothing in the (however many) years since then has changed. I still listen to the same bands (and a few newer ones), read the same books (and a few newer ones) and have to be physically restrained from putting my name down for a Transylvanian mansion that I still can’t afford. This phase is not one I’ve grown out of – even if I no longer look the part.

Although the majority of my wardrobe is black, there are other colours – blue, purple, green and red all make an appearance, mainly on the top half. Pink doesn’t appear much, I don’t like it and it doesn’t suit me. More to the point, my bank balance no longer supports the amount of shopping I would need to do to follow the fashion – most of my clothes are from supermarkets these days. Yet nobody who knows me doubts for a second that I’m Goth. Even my daughter understands that mummy is a little bit strange.

To me, this means that Goth is not just a fashion – although that is a useful way of identifying those of a similar mind set – but really is a sensibility; and if that is the case, can it be cultivated? I think it can if one is prepared to open their mind to all eventualities – shadows are everywhere if you know what to look for. If the Dark Side calls you, by all means explore but don’t let it take over.

Just for the record, it’s also important to point out what Goth is NOT. It’s not Satanism. It’s not Witchcraft. It’s not Black Magic (although I do have a box of them at home which I’m still eating). I don’t want to kill people (unless it’s 34 degrees in the shade and I’m trying to fight my way through Victoria Station to catch my train). Admittedly, I do have my own mental health issues to deal with but that is something personal to me and can’t be applied to Goths everywhere – some of them are the sanest people I know. If you want to suggest it’s just a fashion, that’s fine. I would suggest that a fashion is only skimming the surface and Goth has hidden depths that could keep you entertained for the rest of your life.

Summertime Goth

I hate summer. There, I’ve said it. I hate the heat, I hate the sunshine and I just want to sit in a fridge all day; but that’s also because I’m middle aged, overheat at the drop of a sixpence and burn rather than tan, even though I’m naturally dark haired. It’s about the only time I ever say that I’d much rather be pale and interesting and mean it.

The thing I’ve really noticed over the years is the number of people saying “Aren’t you hot in that?” just because I’m wearing black. They seem fixated on the idea that just because it’s black, my outfit will suck all the heat from the atmosphere and turn my body into a molten core. Look, it feels like that anyway, so whatever I’m wearing isn’t going to make a blind spot of difference. Besides which, have you seen the number of Saudi women who wear head to toe black? It isn’t the colour that makes the difference – it’s the fabric and the cut of the outfit that determines whether you melt or not.

For example, velvet is, as far as I’m concerned, a cool weather fabric. Cotton, linen and lace are warm weather fabrics. Silk is the fabric to wear for those “oh my god its thirty degrees in the shade and I’m on fire” days. Looser, less fitted clothes are cooler than tightly strapped in corseted to the hilt outfits. Heels if you must, but I refuse to give up my black sequinned flip flops because they don’t “look Goth”. Listen, sweetie, it’s too bloody hot for that nonsense. They’re comfy, they keep my feet cool and they’re black which are the three things that bother me most.

Thinking about it, Goths could really revitalise a summer trend that has gone out of fashion – the parasol. Designed in the Victorian era to keep the sun off a lady’s skin (as pale skin was considered more attractive because it suggested you didn’t have to work for a living), many Goths still use parasols and I think in weather like this they are an essential accessory. They also double up as a useful prod in the tube station to make sure the Sweaty Betty doesn’t get too near you! The only reason I don’t have one is that I don’t possess an umbrella either, but that’s just reverse vanity on my part.

So, my advice is to enjoy summer as best you can and bring back the parasol. Being Britain, chances are it won’t last.