First published in Time Out Sydney, December 26, 2014
Dear the Internet,
New Years Eve is, let’s not beat around the bush, a nightmare. There’s nothing more grim than enforced fun and NYE is basically a giant public office party: everyone knows they’re meant to be enjoying themselves and dammit, they’re ready to drink until everything gets fun. Except it never gets fun enough.*
And you can also have NYE in your cubicle at work, if you want – it’s just that simple!
Thus the temptation is to stay in and sidestep the whole sorry mess – but you don’t want to miss out on the NYE Experience, surely? So here are some handy tips on how to recreate the excitement of hitting the CBD on new years without leaving your postcode.
*Please note: this doesn’t apply if your office is Time Out, since we have awesome parties. We had our annual picnic at the beach last week and seriously, it was the best day. And don’t even ask about the Bar Awards, since your head will explode with jealousy.
1. Convince yourself that this has to be the most fun night you’ve ever had and that NYE is basically a portent for how the rest of the year is going to pan out. Continually monitor your own level of enjoyment: are you having enough fun? How about now? Or now?
2. Withdraw $380 from the nearest ATM. Throw it in the air. Walk away.
3. Go into your kitchen counter. Stand there for 40 minutes attempting to order a drink. Then get five beers out of the fridge, justifying it by saying you want to skip the ridiculous queue. Realise how inconvenient they are to carry. Drink them all in the space of ten minutes. Repeat until you’ve logged onto your ex’s Facebook.
4. Go to the smallest, hottest room of your house and play godawful music at ear-splitting volume. Periodically complain about how shit the music is.
5. Pretend you’re at the Sydney Harbour fireworks by driving about three kilometres from home, backing your car into the tightest space you can find and walking back home bitching about how there’s nowhere to park in this goddamn town. Then watch the TV simulcast with somebody sitting in front of the screen.
6. Stand outside your house and attempt to hail a cab. After two hours, give up and go back inside for 10 minutes. Repeat.
7. Before going to sleep on the lawn, throw your keys, wallet, phone and at least one of your shoes onto your neighbours’ roof.
Published in Time Out 8 May 2014, art by Robert Polmear
Dear the Internet,
Next week your treasurer Joe Hockey will hand down the Abbott government’s first federal budget, and you can feel the excitement in the air. Will universal health care be destroyed, or merely demolished? Will higher education become the exclusive purview of the super-rich, or will the common-or-garden wealthy still get a look-in? And how generous will the tax concessions to the mining industry be – will they have to make do with free money, or will we finally introduce blood tributes from every Australian family?
One thing that’s certain is that the ABC will be seeing some serious cutbacks, despite that whole no-cuts-to-the-ABC-or-SBS thing that your PM said before the election. To be fair, what he said was deeply ambiguous and opaque:
…so you can see why he’d be annoyed at the way his promise has been misrepresented as being some sort of promise.
In any case, there’s no need to fret about having your national broadcasters taken out behind the bike sheds and given a going over with a tyre iron. We’ve managed to get hold of the ABC board’s top secret post-budget programme line up, and are delighted to see that the broadcasting quality will be deeply efficient.
Enjoy their new Abbott-mandated “commitment to axcellence”!
Social Media Watch
With no budget for newspaper subscriptions, Paul Barry criticises the spelling in his Twitter feed until his phone runs out of battery.
The flagship current affairs program gets a 10% cut, and is now filmed in Kerry O’Brien’s garage. The exposé on the appalling storage of old paint cans and Xmas decorations is already tipped to sweep the Walkleys.
With higher education off the table and pensions only open to those who crack the big seven-zero, it’s important to get children past walking age (of entitlement!) nice and early. Hamble and Big Ted now have casual telemarketing jobs, while Little Ted is a freelance copywriter-slash-barista and Jemima appears on the show for the week per month she’s not rostered on at the Roy Hill iron mine.
Whatever the BBC leave out by the bins
A cavalcade of classic entertainment, lovingly curated by the former housemate of the head of drama, who works near Broadcasting House in London and is happy to check the dumpsters on her way to the bus stop. Just how many series’ of Keeping Up Appearances did they make? Find out after May 13!
With Richard Roxburgh far too expensive, the fifth season now follows the sexy adventures of an actual Bunnings leaf and grass rake. Also filmed in Kerry O’Brien’s garage.
The Test Pattern
This classic ABC favourite makes a long-overdue return to our screens from 7pm to 10am every day of the week. Follow the zany, entirely static adventures on ABC 1, 2, Kids, iView or the new interactive test pattern postcard.
Come for the stress, stay for the not being a hellhole in the middle of a bone-dry mountain range!
However, looking at our wide brown land that’s girt so controversially by sea, it’s notable that those who live in Sydney apparently die six weeks earlier than the national average.
It’s hardly a surprise, of course: life in our biggest and most exciting/stressful city is a rollercoaster of pluses and minuses. To illustrate this, I’ve elucidated the elements that extend and diminish life for Sydney residents, alongside those of our nation’s secondary Sydney: Melbourne.
So which city is better? One thing is clear: they both shit all over Blinman.
Seriously. You ever been to the Flinders Ranges? The town’s a goddamn hellhole.
As you’re no doubt aware, the government is slashing funding to the ABC. You know, just like they promised they’d do the night before the election. It’s not like the soon-to-be Prime Minister himself explicitly denied that the government were going to make any cuts to public broadcas…
…Oh. Sorry, scratch that.
One of the best things about the ABC, as far as the government goes, is that they can’t complain about reductions to their own services because then they wouldn’t look impartial and therefore clearly be deserving of punitive cuts.
Turnbull also explained that commercial networks were all doing it tough these days and that therefore… um, the ABC should also suffer, despite not being a commercial network?
And here’s the thing: it’s a distinction that needs making because the ABC is not just a fancier version of channels 7, 9 and 10 paid for by the public purse. It’s a completely different beast.
Let’s start with the question of what commercial networks are there to do. The answer is very simple: make money from advertising.
And that’s it.
That’s what they exist to do. A network that doesn’t make money is a failing network. There’s nothing wrong with being profit driven business – that’s the entire basis of capitalism, after all. But providing you with entertainment and information is a means to an end: they want you to watch the commercials they sell. That’s the business model.
You’re not the audience: you’re the product.
It’s true of all free services. Want more proof? Lovingly cast your eyes to the left and right hand sides of the page you’re currently looking at. And hey, why not click on them while you’re at it? It all helps.
One of things said by the dumber end of the political spectrum is the ABC should be able to compete with commercial networks if it’s so gosh-darn good.
The problem with that is that it’s specifically forbidden to do so by the aforementioned charter. Specifically, section 2(a)(i): one of the jobs of the ABC is not to duplicate “the broadcasting services provided by the commercial and community sectors of the Australian broadcasting system”.
So it’s not meant to compete with the commercial networks. Fine. But what isthe ABC meant to do?
Glad you asked, possibly imaginary interlocutor:
Here’s section one, in its entirety, laying out what your ABC is all about.
The functions of the Corporation are:
(a) to provide within Australia innovative and comprehensive broadcasting services of a high standard as part of the Australian broadcasting system consisting of national, commercial and community sectors and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, to provide:
(i) broadcasting programs that contribute to a sense of national identity and inform and entertain, and reflect the cultural diversity of, the Australian community; and
(ii) broadcasting programs of an educational nature;
(b) to transmit to countries outside Australia broadcasting programs of news, current affairs, entertainment and cultural enrichment that will:
(i) encourage awareness of Australia and an international understanding of Australian attitudes on world affairs; and
(ii) enable Australian citizens living or travelling outside Australia to obtain information about Australian affairs and Australian attitudes on world affairs; and
(ba) to provide digital media services; and
(c) to encourage and promote the musical, dramatic and other performing arts in Australia.
… so the axing of the Australia Network makes (b) kinda tricky, and since (ba) has been the main thing they’ve been sinking development money into, that’s going to be where a lot of cuts are likely to be made: which makes it harder for them to live up to the terms of their charter, which gives the government another stick with which to beat them.
You can already imagine the conservative argument: heck, if they can’t even do what they’re obliged to do under law, why are we wasting money on it?
Editor update: Inspired by the ’80s campaign “8 Cents a Day” in funding negotiations for the ABC, 8 cents being the estimated cost of the ABC per head of the population per day for the service, we’ve worked out the numbers for the ABC in 2014.
At the moment the ABC is operating on $1.04 billion per year. The current Australian population is approx 23,868,684 (you can watch it tick up on the ABS website), and that averages out to around $45 per year per person, and about 12 cents per person per day. Not bad when you take into account inflation, expansion into internet services, and digital output (leading to more channels on radio and TV), a 4 cent increase ain’t bad at all over 30 years.
Plus, there’s that leaked report from KPMG which proves the ABC is working as efficiently as it possibly can be, and is in fact underfunded.
But there’s another point worth making here, which is that the ABC isn’t just a radio and TV network. It’s a nation builder. That’s the main reason why the government decided to consolidate the country’s metropolitan public radio stations in 1932.
Furthermore, like government itself, the ABC is yours. It’s there for the betterment of you, your family, your community and your country. That’s why you pay (practically nothing from your own pocket) to support it.
We’re a small, geographically disparate country with a tiny population by global standards. One of the few things that unites us across this wide, brown, sea-girt land is Our ABC. That’s what makes it powerful, and – if you’re a government who currently sees electoral value in creating division and fear – that’s what makes it threatening.
Without getting too high-minded about it, there is nothing more important than a free press and an informed electorate for the functioning of democracy. Thomas Jefferson, that American chap who knew a thing or two about democracy, memorably said that representative media is a better curb on tyranny than even representative government:
“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”
Who is more representative of the people of Australia: a media organisation obliged by law to provide timely, accessible services to the nation, or a for-profit conglomerate?
And ultimately that is why the ABC is so important. It’s not beholden to anyone except the people. It’s entire explicit purpose is to be clear, accurate, accessible, and to support our local culture without being concerned if it’s going to get a solid 12 in key demos on Sunday evenings.
We are not merely a nation of customers. We are citizens.
First published in Time Out Sydney 11 Oct 2013. Art by Robert Polmear
Dear The Internet,
I have folders like this EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME
If there’s one thing that we can all agree on in these social media-savvy times, it’s that everyone has the unfettered right to access our private information. And not just commercial entities like Facebook, who want to let us know about about over-40s dating and weight loss secrets, or ASIO who are enthusiastic about informing the US secret service about who you’re emailing. This whimsical curiosity also extends to our potential employers who want to get a better idea of the real you, right down to intrusive questions about your medical history.
Fairfax earlier reported on the application form for Chevron, an energy and mining company who are extremely interested in whether or not their applicants are sufficiently fertile. In fact, they’d like to know if you – or your partner – have had any stillbirths, abortions, or any offspring with birth defects – and with good reason. After all, they expect a certain level of photogeneity when sending out PR shots of company picnics, and there’s a reason there’s no date on the Chevron calendar marked “Bring Your Freakish Monster Spawn to Work Day”.
Now, you might inexplicably feel that maybe the ins and outs of your partner’s reproductive history is not, in fact, any fucking business of your employer, much less your potential employer. And while the company have responded by saying that this section of the application is voluntary, it does make clear that applicants should answer all (underlined) sections of the form to the best of their knowledge – and since this is a job application it’s fair to assume that leaving great swathes of it suspiciously unanswered might affect one’s likelihood of getting the gig.
So, with that in mind, I’ve decided to institute an application process for readers of Word on the P Street, just to make sure that my industrious and often hungover work isn’t being wasted on sub-optimal eyeballs – or, as you are now defined, my platinum word-customers.
Please be aware that I will be selling this information to high-premium advertisers to demonstrate that mine is a healthy, fertile audience they’d be mad not to market to.
NOTE: PLEASE FILL OUT THIS APPLICATION BEFORE READING ANY OF THE ABOVE
Personal details: please answer all of the below both in writing and in a loud, ringing voice right now wherever you are.
MOST ACCURATE PERSONAL INSULT
MOST TERRIFYING RECURRING DREAM
THING YOU LEAST WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOU
HOW WERE YOU MOST HUMILIATED AS A CHILD? (Answer in not less than 500 words)
EMAIL ADDRESS AND PASSWORD
BANK ACCOUNT DETAILS
ANSWER TO YOUR SECURITY QUESTION
ANSWER TO YOUR INSECURITY QUESTION
(Note: if any questions in this section does not directly apply to your gender, please answer on behalf of your partner, housemate, sibling, previous work colleague or fellow commuter)
AGE YOU LOST YOUR VIRGINITY: Front ______ Back ______ Side ______
NUMBER OF SPERM YOU’VE THOUGHTLESSLY SENT TO A POINTLESS DEATH (ROUND TO NEAREST DOZEN)?
HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT SEX RIGHT NOW?
WHAT ARE YOU DOING LATER?
DO YOU KNOW A PLACE?
YOU KNOW THAT IT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL WHEN IT MAKES THAT TEARING NOISE, RIGHT?
HOW MANY OF THE FOLLOWING HAVE YOU SIRED AND/OR GIVEN BIRTH TO:
Normal human baby
Abnormal human baby
Normal non-human baby
Normal human adult
Child the size of an average thumb
Terrifying David Lynch-ian worm-creature
Saviour and/or destroyer of humanity fulfilling an ancient prophesy
A literal watermelon
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN SICK FOR ANY REASON WHATSOEVER?
WHY DON’T YOU TAKE BETTER CARE OF YOURSELF?
ARE YOU WEAK-WILLED, OR DO YOU JUST NOT CARE?
HOW MANY NAKED PICTURES HAVE YOU TAKEN (ROUND TO NEAREST DOZEN, ATTACH TO TEXT MESSAGE)?
WHICH DO YOU CONSIDER YOUR MORE ATTRACTIVE BREAST/TESTICLE, AND WHY? (Answer in not less than 500 words)
PROCESS: You application will be assessed by our team and then monetarised with advertisers, and you will be contacted by us if successful, and by ASIO and/or the CSIRO if necessary.
Originally published at Daily Life, 13 September 2013
Tina Fey & Amy Poehler, yesterday
Comedy. It’s an art form that people have strong feelings about, and there is one subject that comes up with tireless regularity. You see it debated in magazine columns and on chat shows, in comment threads and Twitter wars, and it becomes especially prevalent whenever news comes through about a high-profile gig. Like the Golden Globes, for example: rumour has is that last year’s hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are returning to host again, and the predictable “are men funnier than women?” debates have ignited in turn.
And look, I know comedy is a subjective thing and that it seems kind of sexist to argue that one gender is just naturally better than another at comedy – but let’s face it, the data’s pretty unambiguous. I don’t want to be controversial, but seriously? Men vs women? Look, we all know who wears the comedy trousers here.
Fey and Pohler are good examples, in fact: both are writer-performers known for their starring roles in US sitcoms (Fey as 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon, Poehler as Leslie Knope in Parks & Recreation). Much is made of the fact that both come from distinguished comedy backgrounds – Fey as the former head writer of Saturday Night Live, Poehler as co-founder of the groundbreaking improv and sketch troupe the Upright Citizens Brigade.
It’s even more clear when you look at the tightly-contested world of TV, where writer/actors like Lena Dunham (Girls) , Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project) and Kirsty Fisher & Marieke Hardy (Laid) have brought their own female-centric worldview to the small screen – or, in Hollywood, the likes of Kirstin Wiig, Casey Wilson, June Diane Rapheal and our own Rebel Wilson are creating and starring in their own comedy projects (and don’t even get started on the crop of TV and web series writers like Office staffer Amelie Gillette, or Burning Love creator Erica Oyama.
Stand up comedy’s equally full up: never mind the Margaret Chos or the Katy Griffins, you’ve got the likes of Tig Notaro (who Louis CK has hailed as having given “one of the the greatest standup performances I ever saw” when she walked out on a stage 24 hours after being diagnosed with cancer – the set is on her album Live, which is a verb, not an adjective ), killer Canadian lesbian firebrand DeAnne Smith , or the extraordinary messing-with-form-and-content genius of Maria Bamford. Her line “I never thought of myself as ‘depressed’ so much as ‘paralysed by hope’” is something I want on my gravestone.
Closer to home, Hannah Gadsby and Felicity Ward were getting sell-out audiences in Edinburgh this year, while Kitty Flanagan’s doing theatres on her upcoming run. And there’s no shortage of idiosyncratic Australian performers starting to really hit their stride – arch monologist Lou Sanz , absurdist performance artist Claudia O’Doherty, acerbic singer-songwriter Genevieve Fricker…
And sure, there are also loads of male comics – but seriously, has there ever been a male Joan Rivers? A male French & Saunders? A comic character as perfectly pitched as Ruth Cracknell’s Maggie Beare in Mother & Son? A sitcom as consistently bang-it-out punchline-heavy as The Golden Girls? A more seamless (or successful) transition from stand up to sitcom star to chat show host than Ellen DeGeneres? Hell, what’s the most popular comedy series in this country? A little number called Kath & Kim. What’s a guy got to do in order to break into this total taco fest?
It’s hard to admit, but the facts speak for themselves: there are exceptions, of course, but maybe men just can’t do comedy.
It’s probably because of their hormones or something.
Published in Time Out Sydney on Sept 4 2013. Art by Robert Polmear
When you can no longer be friends with someone on Facebook, but don’t want to be one who cuts ties, there can be a third, wonderful way…
Dear The Internet,
Do you like this person outside Facebook (no/no)?
The English language is the largest of all of the human word-things – partially because of its playful versatility, partially because we just gank words from other languages whenever we fancy it, and partially because of the Oxford English Dictionary’s new policy of getting headlines by officially adding any word that gets used more than twice in The New York Times.
And yet there are still vast tundras of human experience as yet unmapped by intrepid lexicographers, which is why I so often find myself forced into creating my own words. Like an infant trying to build a cathedral by bashing bits of Lego together, I struggle, cry and often end up wetting myself – but dammit, I shall never waver in my passionate commitment to making our rich and supple language be heaps more awesomer.
With that in mind, English Language, I present the following:
UNFIENDING (verb): Passive social media exorcism; the liberating experience of discovering you’ve been unfriended by someone about whom you were feeling ambiguous.
See, we’ve all got people embedded within our social media networks that we would never put up with if we were sitting at a bar.
Maybe they seemed nice enough at work and you realised too late that they’re a conspiracy theorist. Maybe the subject of whether or not they felt vaccinations were a brilliant and effective population health measure or a way of putting curses and ghosts into babies didn’t come up at that perfectly pleasant dinner party. Or maybe it’s someone who can’t get enough of trolling everyone else you know as part of their ongoing public descent into madness
Either way, the crazy content of their brain is now leaking out into your Facebook feed. Perhaps you’ve already gently suggested that they be a bit more circumspect, or perhaps you’ve just blocked them for your own happiness. Even so, it feels weirdly aggressive to actively de-friend them yourself – why, you’re a Hail Fellow Well Met sort who understands how these social niceties work in 2013 – but you’re thinking that maybe theirs was a friend request you should have left quietly unaccepted.
And then a mutual friend will post on their wall and you will discover – to your surprise and genuine, unfettered delight – that even if you wanted to add a comment of your own, you can’t. They’ve unfriended you! You’re free!
That is the act of being unfiended. You did nothing, but now you never have to bother with them again
Even better, you now have TOTAL MORAL SUPERIORITY. They can’t even get all sulky about what a jerk you are, because they’re the one who dropped the bomb. It’s like coming home and discovering your shittiest housemate has moved their stuff out and left a note on the fridge saying they’ve gone back to their mum’s house: any possible inconvenience is outweighed by the sense that this person’s vast, poisonous tangle of problems is now no longer yours. And you didn’t have to lift a finger.
Unfiending. The greatest gift a jerk can give.
And hopefully, they’ve given it ahead of the election…
Remember a few years back when “emo” was a pejorative term?
It was the go-to derogatory adjective (or, less often but infinitely more irritatingly, noun) for a certain type of person that no-one would ever admit to being – vaguely moody, self-absorbed and almost certainly wearing black, unless it was a band in which case it was a term that apparently meant “men with guitars” (seriously, I’ve heard “emo” applied to everything from My Chemical Romance through to Something For Kate).
But emo was like pornography: difficult to describe, but you knew it when you saw it. Also, in that it seemed connected with a whole lot of wank.
No-one’s used “emo” outside of inverted commas in years, but since about 2011 the I-hate-the-young-people term of choice has been “hipster”, and again everyone knows what it means while the definition has remained diffuse enough to apply to anyone you wanted to insult without being pinned down to any particular reason why you wanted to insult them. Hatred of hipsters is matched only by hipster hatred of the term “hipster”, which the Atlantic recently voted as one of the worst words of 2012.
That guy in the hat on a bike? Hipster. Those people sitting in the beer garden of that inner suburban pub? Bunch of hipsters. The music playing in the café yesterday morning? One of those hipster bands, no doubt. Though not actually No Doubt, obviously, since hipsters would be listening to something far more cool – unless they were being ironically retro, of course, which would be such a hipster move.
As a bearded, bespectacled man who owns several checked shirts, principally buys albums on vinyl and lives in a suburb replete with cafés, I tick a number of the 600 or so boxes that qualify one for hipsterdom, and even I avoid the term (I prefer the more poetic appellation “aging indiekid”, myself). But now that it’s become fashionable to hate on the word itself, it’s worth asking: um, what’s actually wrong with hipsters?
See, I get what’s complaint-worthy about, say, Nazis. They do stuff to people in an aggressive and racially-unpleasant way. I think we can all understand why folks would have reservations about Nazis, as a rule, but hipsters?
They’re generally what, inner-city folks of a vaguely artistic bent, generally with a degree or so under their belt and a progressive political outlook, doing such not-especially-aggressive things as riding bikes, launching websites, and playing in noise bands. They’re opening small bars and pottering about in community gardens. Seriously, they’re pretty easy to avoid if they irritate you so much, since they all seem to be fairly busy. After all, that organic ale isn’t going to microbrew itself.
While one of the criticisms of emo kids was that they were too self-absorbed to be political, hipsters get stick for having too much of a political outlook – so much so that the Miranda Devines and Alan Joneses love whaling on them as being latte-sipping inner-city types that are everything that’s wrong with Australia, with their fancy book-learnin’ and community action.
Maybe it’s just another version of our rich cultural cringe and our nation’s weird, inexplicable anti-intellectual streak. Or perhaps it’s something more positive: an indication that previous Australian cultural punching bags like non-whites and non-straights are less valid targets in 2013.
Seriously, if the worst subculture we can come up with as an object of contempt is a bunch of well-educated, environmentally-conscious, socially active and culturally aware twenty- and thirtysomethings with a penchant for quality coffee and retro tattoos, our society’s probably in pretty good shape. I mean heck, some of my best friends are hipsters.
First published in Time Out Sydney on 27 Mar 2013.
Dear readers, our most sacred traditions are under threat by the grubby forces of commerce. These days it seems like barely have the Xmas decorations been taken down when our supermarkets are filled with garish Easter paraphernalia. Anthropomorphic rabbits (or, among our more progressive and/or pro-marsupial retailers, bilbies) and garishly-coloured eggs are on display – as though Easter is nothing more than a heavily commercialised festival of chocolate.
Well, I say we need to take Easter back and get back to the actual reason for the season: marking the northern hemisphere’s vernal equinox with rituals enacting the symbolic murder of a god.
Today’s young people are so concerned with their Twitters and their video games that they don’t even properly celebrate the descent of Attis, consort of the Phrygian fertility goddess Cybele, into the underworld. Today’s defiant young women are happy to listen to their hip-hops and sext to each other’s smartphones, but precious few are out there performing the rituals celebrating the Anglo-Saxon lunar goddess Ēostre by lighting bonfires, clothing themselves in white and marking the incarnation of the goddess by revealing themselves in clefts of rock. And I for one think this is a crying shame.
It’s indicative of a society in decline when noble traditions are cast aside in favour of crude gimcracks and gaudy trifles. Everyone’s prepared to have a barbecue and scramble about looking for chocolate eggs, but are they giving three tradition-proscribed joyful leaps at the moment of sunrise or performing funerary rites for Ishtar, Astarte and/or Isis? Are they incorporating any or all of the many Indo-European traditions marking the worship of the pan-cultural dawn goddess Hausōs and the change of season marked by her heroic rescue from an enslaving dragon, most notably in the example of the Hindu goddess Uṣas in the Rigveda? Like fuck they are.
But it’s not just the young people that are the problem here: even our so-called community leaders are shamefully neglectful of the rich traditions upon which the festival is based. When was the last time you saw a politician – supposedly a representative of the people – passionately gathering flowers of the season to mark Ostara’s mating with the Sun God to produce the Yule child that will mark the winter solstice? This sort of intolerant ignorance is unacceptable in a so-called civilised society, and I say it stops here.
It’s almost as though our increasingly secular lifestyle means that these sorts of holidays are becoming less about observing arcane rituals based around mystical stories about magical figures, and becoming mere excuses to spend precious time with the people we love most. And I for one think this is a huge insult to the collected wisdom and piety of the nameless ancient clerics and seers who originally made these stories up for principally political reasons – and that’s why I, for one, will be assiduously joy-leaping, flower-gathering, cleft-wedging and dragon-thwarting this weekend.
Oh, and I’ll also be buying a couple of cases of beer ahead of Friday. Seriously, closing bottleshops on a long weekend? That makes the least sense of all.
First published in Time Out Sydney on 11 Oct 2013.
Maybe it’s what he wants me to think, but at first blush Tom Hiddleston seems nothing like Loki.
For one thing, he’s just too damn nice: without his lank, black wig, lurid green cloak and golden helmet he’s just an unusually good-looking fellow, in a tidy casual suit and sporting stubble and short, sandy brown hair, welcoming me into a hotel suite overlooking Sydney harbour (“And honestly, what a view – and you get to live with it?”).
For another, Loki would definitely not have missed out on the opportunity to deck star Chris Hemsworth at some point during the filming of Thor: The Dark World, the forthcoming entry in Marvel’s sprawling superhero franchise and sequel to 2011’s Thor.
“The thing is, it wouldn’t be fair anyway because every time he’s hit me, I’ve asked him to. Because I’m insane.”
It’d be payback, though – after all, Tom legendarily got a pasting from Chris during the filming of The Avengers.
“What it was that Chris and I were filming the Thor-Loki fight on Stark Tower and Joss [Whedon, Avengers writer-director] came up after a few takes and said ‘It just doesn’t look like you’re hitting him that hard,’ and Chris said ‘Well, I’m not.’ And I was wearing that big helmet, so I said ‘look, I’m protected, just go for it.’”
And it worked? “Well, it begins with that moment when he piledrives into my chest,” he smiles. “It only took one take after that. Which was good – I don’t think I could have taken more.”
He pauses. “It was so funny, though: he did it and I went down – like, straight down – and Joss called cut and immediately turned to Mitch Dubin, the camera operator, and said ‘Mitch, mate, you saw him, you heard him tell me to do that’ and he was like ‘Oh yeah, I saw, Tom brought it on himself…’” He chuckles to himself. “Good times.”
The filming of The Dark World wasn’t any easier, it seems. “There was one point where Loi takes a hit and I had to fall back on the surface of a volcano – we’ve all been there – and there was no mat and no padding, and I just ran up to the mark and did a sort of Fosbury Flop, like a high jumper, onto the hard, rocky surface of an Icelandic volcano.”
It’s a glamorous business, this acting lark. “Oh, it is! It’s fun, though. I do enjoy it.”
Of course, most of the filming didn’t involve falling onto volcanos – or, indeed, anything at all. In fact, most of the sets and props used in the film exist only inside the design team’s computers, which must provide a challenge for someone who grew up on the rather more physically tangible environment of the British stage.
“Indeed. But when I was in drama school we had this amazing class in mime. The teacher was a very, very playful person. He’d ban notepads from the room – he’s say ‘write down what you want to forget, this is not about taking notes, this is about your imagination’ – and he’d make us do stuff, just like you’d see on Paris pavements. You know, with clowns pretending that it’s raining and then they’re walking down the street and taking their umbrella and shivering. And green screen is really no different: it’s about building the fiction of what you’re responding to in your imagination.
“So there’s this whole scene where Chris, Natalie [Portman] and I are in a spaceship and Thor, Loki and Jane have to get somewhere very urgently, and the set we’re actually in is just this grey shape, absolutely stationary just outside the M25 in London. We are not actually sailing through space between the stars of Asgard…”
Hold on: so this wasn’t filmed on location?
“I hate to break it to you, man: we were not actually up there in the Nine Realms. Is the illusion coming crashing down?”
Give me a minute. This is a shock.
“It feels like The Wizard of Oz, doesn’t it? You’ve just seen behind the curtain.”
Next you’ll be saying The Wizard of Oz wasn’t filmed on location.
“Oh god.” His hand goes to his mouth, his eyes well with false sincerity. “I’m so, so sorry. Do you need a moment?”