Is Twitter dead? (And if so, why should we care?)

twitter dead

A little bit over-dramatic wouldn’t you say?

Over the past 48 hours, I’ve heard a lot of nonsense about how “Twitter is dead”, mainly coming from a vast swathe of overdramatic Twitter fans who evidently got too attached to it. Basically, they’re complaining about the fact that Twitter is going to start showing tweets using an algorithmic feed, like the one Facebook uses in its news feed, prompting many to speculate that Twitter become very much indifferent to Facebook. Meanwhile, the company’s CEO, Jack Dorsey insists that they never planned to reorder Twitter timelines at all.

Of course, this is all typical case of mass hysteria. People always react badly when social media sites adopt any form of change. I remember when Facebook introduced its timeline feature, and everyone freaked out for a while until they actually tried it. Speaking of Facebook, the algorithm-based news feed hasn’t killed it. In fact, Facebook seems to be doing just fine with it, and I assume Twitter will do just fine with it too, just that it might suffer the fate of Yahoo Answers, where most of the people who used it left, and now all we’re left with are idiotic trolls.

That aside, the hysteria around Twitter’s so-called death is completely unfounded, especially when you consider that the story came from Buzzfeed, one of the most unreliable news outlets in history (the fact that every news outlet covering the story seems to reference it is a bad sign). The idea of Twitter being dead is exactly the kind of click-baiting Buzfeed always engages in. For me, the really sad part is how so many people fell for the act. At this point, the sanest possible conclusion that the whole story (and the #RIPTwitter trend that inspired it) was merely the result of hysteria fuelled by that one Buzzfeed article, and anyone dumb enough to fall for it.

Even if Twitter really were dead, I doubt that it would be a great loss. Twitter is one of the most pointless websites of all time, but it’s even worse than that. We’re talking about the website that brought hastagging into the public consciousness. People say that Twitter brings people together, but I guarantee that all you’ll find on Twitter is meaningless garbage from people who forget that there are things that we don’t need to know about. On top of that, the site’s 140-character limit makes it nearly impossible to articulate any meaningful discussion on it (hence Twitter’s butchering of the English language).

In the end it’s nothing more than a massive distraction than many millions absorb themselves in, and these people distract themselves by trying to attract a large amount of followers, treating people they don’t know as if they’re collectively a kind of status symbol, bragging about how much more followers they have, and complaining when they lose them. It’s nothing but noise, and the worst part is that because Twitter is so popular, mainstream culture encourages involvement with Twitter, with big brands opening Twitter accounts just to stay hip and promote their brand. It’s out of control, and yet people can’t go without it. What’s so great about a website where the whole world can snoop in on a conversation you have with a few friends? To me, it’s not social networking. In fact, I think the kind of culture Twitter created is destroying the quality of social interaction.

Since I got carried away, I’ll end with the simple answer to the question posed by the title of this post. Twitter isn’t dead, but if it died, I doubt I’d care much. In fact, I’d say good riddance to bad rubbish, but if only Twitter really were dead.

Hollywood, could you please stop making superhero movies?

superhero films

With Deadpool set to become the latest comic book character to get his own blockbuster film, and several other superhero films set to be released over the next three years, one thing is an absolute certainty. Superhero films are here to stay, mainly because they’re still able to bring an ageing Hollywood a veritable cesspool of profits. Suffice it to say, I’ve gotten sick of it.

Every year it seems as though Hollywood can depend on there being at least three superhero films to bring in lots of money, and this has been going on for nearly a decade. They make so many superhero films, it’s as if the whole cinematic landscape of the 2010’s can be whittled down to one superhero film after another, that is if it’s not some crappy comedy or horror film. The sad part of this is that I know there have been some good films over the past five years, but for most of each year, nearly every film (except Star Wars) gets overshadowed by the presence of the next big-budget superhero film.

In this regard, I think the main reason superhero films get so much attention is not so much the characters, but the merchandise that inevitably generate. Producers can count on kids begging their parents to take them to the cinemas to see their favourite heroes predictably defeating a super villain, and then asking them again to get them the latest merchandise with that character’s name on it. It’s classic Hollywood commercialism, and it’s ruining cinema, or at least undermining film as an art form.

To be fair, the worst offender seems to be Marvel, with it’s Cinematic Universe making sure that the superhero craze lasts through the entire decade. They’re dead set on releasing 3-4 films a year, many of them likely to be yet more sequels, and they keep releasing new merchandise to go along side it, and they never try to innovate at all. Every one of their films tries pointlessly to appeal to a mass audience while still pandering to comic book fans (the fact that Stan Lee cameos in every one of them is already a bad sign). Then again, Marvel doesn’t give a damn about creativity. If they did, they wouldn’t make every one of their movies the same thing thrice a year. They’re all repetitive, excessive, ludicrously expensive hype vehicles designed to sell toys (which would pretty much explain why there’s so many of them to begin with). It’s no different to the glut of Saturday morning cartoons of the 80’s and 90’s, which were basically 30-minute toy commercials.

saturday morning cartoons

Imagine that in live-action and for two hours, and you get the picture.

It’s not as though DC’s films are any different, just that DC has been losing credibility for a few years now, and they might just plummet further with the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. With too many characters, an unwelcome recasting for Batman, and an excessive 151-minute length, this film has all the signs of a complete flop, never mind that the film’s only being made to justify the existence of a string of Justice League films, and more merchandise.

Of course, all of this would be less of a problem if the major studios would be more open-minded about making new superheroes who didn’t appear in any comic books before. They’ve made so many superhero films that they must be able to do something new with the genre. It’s too bad that Hollywood studios are completely afraid of trying out new ideas, mainly because in Hollywood, films are a business, rather than an art form. That’s too bad because if the superhero genre has any hope of staying relevant beyond the initial hype, then it desperately needs some new ideas. As long as major studios continue to ignore new ideas, then the genre will continue growing stagnant, and I’m pretty sure we’re not too far from the comic book bubble from bursting spectacularly.

Idealistic art and the abstract

sistine chapel

“The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo (c. 1512)

Last week, I went on a trip to Rome, where I stayed from Monday night to Thursday afternoon, hence why I haven’t been able to write any new posts for over a week. It was quite a trip to say the least. I got to see a vast range of artworks both old and new, and I got to see some of the famous attractions (including the Vatican City), as well as the grungy, graffiti-covered side of Rome, which for some reason proved very interesting because it’s the side that’s always hidden.

I went to a number of venues, including the MAXXI Gallery, the Villa Borghese, the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, and the Vatican Museum. Of course, I had the opportunity to see some of history’s finest artworks, though one thing I took in was the prevalence of art from before the 20th century. In other words, much of the art I saw fell under the category of what I would call “idealistic art” (referring to portraits, landscape paintings, sculptures, religious paintings, mythological paintings, etc.). Even though I thought there was a bit too much idealistic art for my tastes (it did get a little repetitive after a while), I found I could appreciate a great deal of it. After all, how many times would I get to visit the Vatican City and see the giant fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? For all I know, only once in my lifetime.

In spite of that, I found myself more interested in the abstract, avant-garde and symbolic artworks (these were found in the MAXXI Gallery and the National Gallery of Modern Art). I felt those works were more striking because they compelled me to use my imagination, as opposed to the conventions of idealistic art, where every subject is painted as realistically as possible, often leaving little to the imagination. The National Gallery of Modern Art had several works of abstract art, including some from the era of Cubism and Futurism, though the MAXXI Gallery is filled with much more examples of symbolic and abstract contemporary art that make it stand out in a very classical city. A lot of it had a surreal quality, although I also noticed that there was a significantly large exhibition themed around political issues in Istanbul (these included civil rights, urban transformations, and the social conflicts that came with a mass migration to Turkey). However, my favourite from that gallery was the “Geometry and Abstraction” exhibition, where I grew fond of a multi-colour pyramid in front of a series of illustrations featuring it.

DSCF4586

Reminds me a lot of Gary Numan’s “The Pleasure Principle”.

I preferred the more abstract art because through abstraction, the artist creates his or her own reality as opposed to the now dated practice of trying to capture the real world with paint on canvas. With the idealistic art of the pre-modern era, it’s all about presenting an expected ideal of reality, whereas with the more symbolic forms of art (abstract, surrealism, etc.), we see the world from the point of view of the artist. The artist is capable of presenting new worlds on canvas, and as gallery visitors, we are the play the role of the interloper, voyeuristically observing realms of possibilities that many could only dream of.

Of course, that’s essentially the perspective I got while in Rome, with its dizzying variety of fine artworks. I felt it to be a very enriching experience that sharpened my contextual perspective on both the idealistic and symbolic forms of art. In other words, after visiting all those galleries, I’m very confident about what I’m talking about in terms of art, as well as what I might want to do in art. I had the opportunity to compare the idealism of classical art with the raw abstraction found in more modern artworks, after close study, I found abstract art to be my preferred field of art, mainly because it represents a realm of greater creative freedom than idealistic art, which, I felt, required an unhealthy fixation on perfectionism in order to create.

“It’s his autism”

autism

Being autistic is not a thing that can be taken lightly. In fact, throughout my childhood and teenage years, I’ve found that society tends to treat people with autism like they’re six-year-olds principally because we think and behave differently, often completely outside the box. In fact, the very fact that I have autism and think in such a radically different way has lead to a tragically familiar phenomenon. Throughout my childhood, whenever I’ve lashed out, my parents would try and convince me and others that it was all down to my autism, as though I had no free will at all. Whenever they wanted to explain some weird thing about me, they always said “it’s his autism”, and it was fantastic bullshit.

Yes, autism might have something to do with the inner workings of my mind, but it’s not some objective thing that has control of my mind. I always hated that, mainly because they adults of my day had literally no idea how I worked, and most people didn’t even try. In fact, I feel that the whole “it’s his autism” approach actually caused more problems than it was supposed to help. I felt it was robbing me of any sense of individual identity, and today I feel that this must have been happening to other kids in my position. Of course, now and then I would lash out in those days, when I actually had no idea what I was doing a decade ago, but I never attribute that to autism. In fact, today I’m more likely to attribute some of the incidents from my childhood to a generally shakier mental state.

Ten years ago, I must have been whacked out of my gourd (something I attribute to still dealing with a kind of culture shock associated with living in the UK), and the fact that few people understood me didn’t help. I was also surrounded by a prevailing culture which I found odious. It was a time when the news media kept reporting on gang culture, terrorism and global warming, and reality TV was at the zenith of its popularity. The kids of my day were also doing things and acting in ways I did not relate to (sometimes, I’m very much thankful for that), but nobody knew how to handle me. Due to both my autism and my time in America, nobody had seen anyone like (and my twin brother, for the record), but the neurotypicals already had a preconditioned idea of what to think. They thought that autism was a problem, often believing it to be a disease that must be cured or prevented (P.S., if Jenny McCarthy’s reading this she can go straight to bowels of Hell). Worse still, I felt that around the globe, people with autism were made to feel bad about being autistic.

To be fair, my experience with autism sucks now that I’m an adult, but when I was a kid, being grouped into a broader special needs category had plenty of perks. I had lunch earlier, and I left school earlier each day, and I didn’t have to do Welsh or Music (just as well, I’ve heard the school I went to didn’t teach music very well) but that kind of privilege did much to isolate me from my fellow man. No wonder I didn’t figure out how to socialize outside the “special needs” circle until after I left school. Also, for a long time, and I swear this continues to the present day (much to my chagrin), people tended to treat me very gingerly because they didn’t quite know how to handle me unless I actually talked to them, and that often made me feel like a ghost. If any of that had anything to do with autism, it was because of how people acted around me in school, not just because I found it hard to talk to people back then.

My point being is that the whole “it’s his autism” excuse is perhaps one of the worst ways a neurotypical parent can deal with autism. I’ve been through that, as well as the awful consequences as that mentality, and thus I worry about subsequent generations of autistic children whose parents may go through contortions trying to explain away their actions. I can’t deny that my autism has been one of the contributing factors of what makes me different, but as far as I’m concerned, most of why I’m the way I am is because of me always trying to go against the flow, because that’s just who I am, and being a non-conformist thinker has nothing to do with autism by itself. In fact, I’d say that I became the person I am today because I got tired of being defined by autism. I never liked it, and loathe it today, so the next time I hear parents say “yeah it’s his (or her) autism”, I’d go to them and give them a piece of my mind.

Education is not a privilege

education cuts

Over the past five years, we’ve witnessed the Tory government and our Prime Minister David Cameron attacking everything that makes people’s lives easier just to keep their rich friends afloat. The government seems to have a particular hatred for education, as evidenced by a checklist of their past atrocities. They’ve been raising tuition fees, making cuts to post-16 and higher education, making cuts to the Disabled Student Allowance, trying to drop 20th century American novels from the national syllabus, and they’ve even attempted to drop feminism from the A-level politics syllabus (thankfully, this failed). If you thought that our slimy Tory government could sink any lower, then look no further. Their burning hatred of education is extending to student maintenance grants, which they are attempting to scrap without holding any proper debate (probably because they know any real debate wouldn’t end the way they’d like it).

Naturally, the very idea of scrapping student maintenance grants for the poorest students has sparked outrage from students and politicians alike, mainly because only 18 MP’s talked about it, and without any proper debate whatsoever. It is perhaps the single most undemocratic decision our government is making so far, but then, what were we expecting when we nation collectively decided to pardon David Cameron in the last election? We all knew that Cameron was going to screw this country over yet again, and many of us didn’t even want to vote for him, but apparently there was an even greater amount of morons who bought Mr. Cameron’s bullshit at the last minute, and unless something is done, the next generation will pay the price.

I must wonder what our government assumes about us young people. They must assume that higher education is just as much a privilege for us as it must have been for David Cameron and his Eton chums. The reality is that the job market is still horrendously tight. For young people like myself, higher education offers a way of acquiring not just an attractive degree, but also crucial employability skills that are vital for anyone’s professional survival. Hence, for many young people, higher education is not just an attractive prospect, but also a necessity for attaining our various career aspirations. Our parents know this as well, so when they hear about the government’s plans to scrap the maintenance grants for the poorest students, they’ll inevitably worry that this will discourage young people from even considering higher education.

As a Coleg Sir Gar student (who often asks myself what I’m still doing there) hoping to make the big leap to university, I have every reason to worry about this, but what worries me more is that millions of young people could make the same mistake I did when I was 18. I worry that many young people will dismiss higher education purely because of the costs associated with university. If I could go back in time to the year 2012, I’d tell myself not to worry too much about the financial side, because there is help out there for those who need it (providing the government isn’t planning to cut that too).

Thankfully, there is some hope. There’s a petition going around and it already has enough supporters to merit a debate in parliament. The only question is will our voices be heard? Will the petition make impact on overturning an unjust and illogical plan, or will David Cameron’s government attempt to suppress our voice once again? Whatever the outcome, it is important to remember that any attack on higher education risks silencing young voices and crushing young talent, and if we have any hope of rescuing the country from its bleak situation, then the government must consider the importance of young talent, rather than depriving them of what I now accept to be perhaps the best pathway to a career they could hope for.

If you wish to sign the petition, the link is here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/109649

Man of words, man of music

david bowie

Photograph taken by Jimmy King in 2015

Throughout this week, the prevailing topic was the sad death of David Bowie, who died on Sunday following an 18-month battle with liver cancer that he kept hidden from all but those closest to him. According to recent reports, he had later been cremated in New York without a ceremony or anyone present, as per his wishes. The news of his surprise death sent shockwaves throughout the world, with his friends, his legions of fans, and the artists he inspired gathering in mourning, and his hometown of Brixton held a tribute to him on the streets. Because of the circumstances surrounding his death, the album Blackstar (which was released last Friday as what turned out to be his final album) took on a whole new meaning, as Bowie’s carefully planned finale. Several media outlets began writing about his life and lasting legacy, but today, since it’s been a while since I had written about him at all, I think it’s time for me to talk about how he has influenced me over years.

I remember the days when I left school and started college with vivid detail. Back in 2012, the musical climate was quite noxious, perhaps no different to that of today. By the time I finished sixth form, we had so-called artists like Ne-Yo, Avicii, Tinie Tempah, Katy Perry, Coldplay, Justin Bieber, 1Direction, David Guetta, and a dozen pop-punk bands blaring over the radio, and I absolutely hated them all. Hence I retreated into the realms of classic radio (by classic, I would have meant Absolute 80’s, which I used to listen to very frequently), and eventually came across a song the eternally catchy “Let’s Dance”, which I very quickly grew fond of. By then, I only knew David Bowie as the star of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (which has also grown on me over the years). Eventually I began looking into other works by the artist, and eventually came across the 70’s classic “Heroes” (arguably the best song ever made by a recording artist), which lead me to the album of the same, and that was the first album I listened to, in 2013. Hearing the album’s surreal fusion of krautrock, electronic and ambient music opened me to new possibilities, and left me wanting more.

As I got more into his music, I also starting paying close attention to his approach, his philosophy, and the many different personae he had taken on, each taking on a different style for every album, and telling a different kind of story. Throughout my life in college, I looked up to him and still do (though I guess now that would be looking up to the stars). He became perhaps my first role model that wasn’t a cartoon character, and so as could be expected of a teenaged college student, I tried being like him. I even tried to grow my hair to match one his hairstyles (specifically the side-parted hairstyle he displayed in A Reality Tour in 2003), before I eventually decided I wanted my hair to look like Rozz Williams, who was also very much influenced by David Bowie (he even sang like him). I found that the influence of Bowie was practically inescapable, as so many of the best bands wouldn’t have been around without him. Were it not for him, we wouldn’t have had the glam rockers, the new romantics, many of the alternative rock bands, gothic rock, and we certainly wouldn’t have had many of the greatest albums ever made. What else would have the stage persona of Marilyn Manson and Rozz Williams? Even Kiss wouldn’t have been Kiss without David Bowie, given that Kiss were very much influenced by the flamboyant stage persona of the Ziggy Stardust era, and then they went on to influence later hard rock and heavy metal bands. For me, his brought so many far-out ideas to music, fashion, film and art that he not only changed the currency of rock and pop, but also changed the landscape of culture itself.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned from his music was that being different is wonderful thing. All my life I knew I was a weird kid, being an autistic boy who went off on his own tangent in a society that treats that as a bad thing, or more or less an inconvenience. Listening to David Bowie’s music, studying his overall approach, and becoming a fan of his music taught me that being radically different from the crowd is its own reward, and that there are no real boundaries other than what you make for yourself. With that in mind, his death was perhaps the biggest loss in recent history. Almost certainly I would have felt a rather horrible shock when I heard this, hoping that this wasn’t true. For me it was a day of silent mourning, a day of grief, but also a day of reflection. Even Bowie’s death sent a powerful message. He was a man that, despite suffering from cancer, kept on going until the end, while simultaneously he knew the end was coming. In the words of Tony Visconti, “he fought like a lion and kept working like a lion through it all”. It struck me how he not only managed to keep his illness hidden, but also how he didn’t let it keep him from doing what he did best. I also found it quite a humbling and sobering thought that Blackstar turned out to be his final album, and a carefully planned requiem from an artist who foresaw his own death.

For me, that we lost a true icon is not the saddest part of it all. The saddest part is that David Bowie and all the other great artists are slowly dying off, and the music industry is attempting to replace them with the same trashy pop artists I hated years ago. The problem is that these newer radio stars may be somewhat skilled at marketing themselves, but they lack the talent and creative intuition that made the artists of Bowie’s generation great, and that is why they will never replace the greatest of artists, and they certainly cannot replace Bowie. In fact, his death doesn’t represent an end at all, because nobody is forgotten as long as we remember him. For that reason, the memory of David Bowie will be practically immortal, certainly outliving the man himself, as well as all of us on Earth. The fact that we are still talking about him is a testament to the tremendous impact he’s had on his fans. In life, he was the brightest of all stars, and that is how I believe he will be remembered for generations to come.

Why censorship is useless

censorship

We like to pretend that we live in a world where we can express ourselves freely, but every time we think we’re free, there’s always one grim spectre that comes back to haunt us – the spectre of censorship. Of course, we all know what censorship is. It’s the practice of filtering out anything that offends the meaningless values of the establishment, mainly enforced by powerful old men who wish to cloister us from reality, under the delusion that they’re protecting us from what we can’t handle. It’s all complete nonsense, but somehow censorship still exists in this world.

Throughout the past year, censorship has found ways of biting back in a supposedly more liberal age. In America, there is an alarming amount of adults who support the banning of “inappropriate books” in school libraries. Governments around the world are increasingly mounting attempts to pressure individuals and private companies to remove “offensive content”. In entertainment, censorship is still a plague. In India, films can be banned just for having a scene where a character holds a cigarette or a bottle of alcohol. In the UK, an episode of Steven Universe (specifically, “We Need to Talk”), a show notable for its groundbreaking portrayal of same-sex relationships, had a scene showing two of the major female characters kissing censored. In the year 2016, such censorship is appalling and has no place in our society, and yet it still continues unabated, all because the people who run the media are afraid of what they don’t understand.

I strongly believe that we have no need for censorship, and I also firmly believe that censorship is ultimately futile. We’re living in the age of information, where if you can access the Internet, anything you want to know is literally at your fingertips, and with the right tools, any form of censorship could immediately by circumvented. There’s almost nothing that can be hidden, and I think that governments and moral guardians are scared by this fact.

There’s one question I feel we should be asking. Why would any sane human being advocate censorship? Granted, that in itself opens several more questions, including “what would anyone have to gain from enforcing censorship?”, and those are the kind of questions that many who blindly support censorship aren’t interested in answering. To this day, I have not heard of any intelligent arguments in support of censorship (outside those involving parenting), and I doubt that I ever will. For me, censorship is an outdated concept from the days when most of us can’t handle the real world, but those days no longer exist, and in the information age, censorship should have been made obsolete years ago. Unfortunately, there are still people out there who to control what we can see, and what knowledge we can access, and that’s why those people must be stopped.

Ultimately, censorship is completely irrelevant for those with a clear understanding of fantasy and reality, and with a rational mind able to see with eyes that aren’t shrouded with ignorance. Sadly, we live in a world where paternalistic governments treat everyone like children. Such a society cannot thrive for very long, and I feel that those who wish to censor free expression cannot keep sheltering us from new ideas as long as we know that this is happening. However, I can’t help but think that each generation tries to shelter the next from new ideas under the banner of moral guardianship. And as long as that goes, who knows when the cycle of censorship will end.