A Journal of the Plague Year 2.0 Day 5

9th November 2020

It’s 2pm and I’m still in bed. The vagaries of lockdown life is that I opened the curtain for once and noticed how very grey it all is, and how very yellow the tree outside has become, positively autumnal. A also made us French onion soup ooooh-la-la! Though I didn’t hear when he called it and the bowl ended up cold (crusty sourdough with melted cheese n everything) till 10pm. He’s on another soup drive, ever since a friend advised him to celebrate what and where he is, rather than harking for a sun-dappled Mediterranean lifestyle all the time, that makes him jet to Barcelona or his native Greece to sit al fresco, then pine for more once back here.

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The trick in life is to make the most of what you got. They say there’s no such word in Mandarin as ‘disadvantage’, the closest in meaning being ‘opportunity’.

So now hopefully it’ll all be a celebration of warm fires, snuggly blankets and a good read before Sunday roasts, though all of that is hard to come by tbh. A rarely ventures into the living room, our fireplace is purely decorative (it’s a Sixties tower block fer Chrissakes) and wedged shut with a TV, it is indeed freezing but no day blankets to be found (duvets only) and him being a vegetarian means roast is off the menu. Reading is through a scroll. So instead we have soup, in the kitchen, with a view over the carpark.

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The man was injured after being hit by a car outside the Tesco store on Olive Bank Road, Musselburgh.

I will steadfastly avoid the news that will likely suck me up for 3 hours straight (nasty bug doing the rounds I hear, and someone won an election). Instead will attempt to venture outside to do some foraging later that’ll be the highlight of the day, and my existence. I will study the aisles of canned goods as if I’m front row at Balenciaga, push my trolley like I’m doing the Promenade des Anglais, bleep my purchases like cross-fit on Venice Beach.

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Such is life right now. Checked out the latest big budget animated offering from Dreamworks (and Oscar winning director Glen Keane) on Netflix, Over the Moon, which was meant to go out in the cinemas surely. BEWARE SPOILERS

The moon gazing bunny is awful cute, and that lil glowing pangolin fella too, you wanna squeeze to death right there -he really doesn’t feature enough once she gets off the planet and into the realm of the bright and adorable. For the cartoon is divided into two halves, one very earthbound, sciencey and a little morose, involving family tragedy, growing out of childhood tales, and not-so-wicked stepmoms, with all the psychological fallout attached.

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And the other half is a contrast, that they mostly hid in the trailer. What bursts onto stage are psychedelic otherworlds not just in look and feel, but storyline. From bouncy planets, spaceship frogs, hare wizards, and interstellar music vids to the fact many tropes hark back to our protagonists mind, her thoughts and fears. The little pangolin dude even points it out at some stage though the film never overtly admits it. -Which does make one strongly suspect the little girl’s going through a psychotic break, possibly in a coma from trying to fly a tin can off the surface of the Earth, or the onset of schizophrenia. Or you know, she’s dead and it’s the afterlife.

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The storyline, like Frozen, does seem to randomly zap around like a flourescent bean (to go with the talking mooncakes): saying hello to a semi-villainous Moon goddess living it up as the ultimate influencer, having a Mad Max battle with what suspiciously look like the Angry Birds, a half brother whose raison d’etre is er, running into things (and how that conveys his love of his new sister), and said pangolin banished for a thousand years into the dark for singing a lonesome song (but that’s suddenly alright at the end and they hug). The random streak of light that ribbons about, breaking shit in half is also quite the device whenever needed, though it has no grounding in anything sciencey, folk taley or cultural ever. It just is, and there to exact threat whenever needed, eg mid-chase, or eating up important valuables.

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It’s all based on the legend of Chang’E the Moon Goddess (that now lends her name to China’s exploratory rockets), trapped there with her pet rabbit, yearning over a lost love who’ll one day rescue her. We may have the Man on the Moon in the West, they have the Rabbit on the Moon in the East.

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Unlike the last live action Mulan and its much derided litany of cultural errors written in by a slew of White folk in Disney, Dreamworks didn’t repeat the same mistake, by hiring Chinese writers and producers throughout (as after all, it is a co-production between Netflix and the Chinese arm of Dreamworks, Pearl Studio). Thus there is indeed a semblance of accuracy to the backdrops on home ground -not a wide-brimmed hat or toy factory in sight -and her cutesy traditional watertown is even accurately portrayed as the tourist sight it invariably would be. The family selling pastries to the passersby, the High Speed Rail link being constructed outside, the mix of old and thoroughly modern (and money-making). Even an employ of the hanfu trend in the tourists, which allows them to historicise the surroundings even more.

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Once off terra firma though and pretty much all of that goes out the window, though the sinic shapes, patterns and colours do give a passing nod, and the dresses the Goddess wears were designed by Guo Pei zhooshing up historically accurate clothing into pop princess format. A drag queen’s dream. The ultimate battle, played out as a lurid ping pong tournament is a bit much though, culturally heavy handed and cringingly portrayed as sport of the gods.

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The film ticks off every bracket in the Disney formula to make a bestseller. Yes there is that One Song (maybe two) they will try and plug for years as a money-making belter for every pre-teen ever, like Frozen and Moana. There is that storyline that will try to make you cry, (when you realise who certain characters really are) like Up and Toy Story. There is that picture-perfect utterly unrealistic setting like every animated village ever, and there is that deleriously cute and affable sidekick that steals the show, like Mu-Shu and Sid. -But overall it does pull it off, by dint of all the cultural nods and Easter Eggs. Kids will love it, discerning adults may be a bit confused but warm to it. You will by the end wonder whether hares and rabbits can reproduce together.

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Anyhoo, off to the great outdoors again. It’s been a good five days, it might as well be a moon mission indeed, involving putting whole clothes on and a shave.

I have a strange new diet it seems, manifested through the current body clock. I fall asleep by 1am, from the glow of the laptop (living room’s too cold to stay for more than one film). And I’m never hungry in the mornings, and since finding out that the ‘most important meal of the day’ was made up by the cereal pluggers, I tend to skip it entirely. I will only eat when I’m hungry and if there’s nothing worth munching I just won’t do it (like every fucker’s ever said, what’s the point in filling the hole when you’re not enjoying it).

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But then by 11am, after three hours of scrolling or writing I tend to fall asleep again. Awake again by 2pm and it feels like morning once more – no longer hungry -and I’m still at it till well into afternoon. Till finally I start to feel the rumble, weighed up enough to get wincingly out of bed into Arctic air. Then I stuff my fucking face. Snacks, teatime, then two dinners in series, of whatever I wanna. I’m strangely losing weight, worryingly so. I think it’s a version of the 5:2 where you starve yourself for 20% of the week and gobble the rest, I’m just doing it daily. It’s a mix of that plus the French Lady’s Diet, which is the idea you only eat haute/ nouvelle cuisine of the highest taste and expense, and savour it all so slowly you feel full and can’t afford anymore anyway.

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My entrée at the mo wants to be chocolate brownies but I’m gonna have to go out for, into scudding weather. This new diet I’ll dub the Lazy Fucker Way. -Aware of getting my sensitive cultural idioms right here, Zen is pretty much boredom and cold right?

But you know what? Fuck Diets, that’s what it’s gonna say at the end of my bestselling cookbook and guru guide to living. No one’s got time for that, life too short. And if we have too much on our plates right now, might as well eat it.

The Chinese also have another saying to get through life. Wise man say: hánxiào yǐn pīshuāng -to swallow the bitterness/ arsenic, with a smile.

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 77

Thursday 4th June 2020

I think humans are fundamentally, intrinsically flawed with biases. We project, we create patterns, we try and predict, we assume -inbuilt as an animal survival instinct. A lot of our ‘logic’ stems not from personal experience but media, sometimes imprinted from years ago or as a child, from beauty ideals to childhood divisions to stranger danger, to whatever we deemed worthy of bullying in the schoolyard (notably difference, that invited destruction). All this then backed up as adults with a complicit ‘free’ media, peddling the correlation with crime levels (rather than income), alien customs, “shithole countries”, and continuously pushing the concept of The Other. This applied a lot to the upbringing of older generations than the current Millennial flock.

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In the UK race doesn’t have as long or as imbedded a painful history as the US (or perhaps we just hide it under the rug more *cough* Empire /*cough*), which helps, but it is very much about the longstanding, subtle class war regardless of race. For example Asians earn up to 30% more than White natives on one strata, 15% less on another, Blacks only 8% less overall but dependent on the latest migration, whilst in some strata/ years they earn more -so all in all there’s less of a distinction if you’re trying to base a notion on race. Still a problem – a national scandal when the government report came out in 2018 -but nowhere near the levels abroad.

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In the US for example it’s far more pronounced. Blacks and non-White Latinos average 30-40% less than Whites even after 400 years.

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Thus I feel in the US race more correlates with class over there, in a vicious cycle that’s entrenched -a lot of the racism against Black Americans persay can be construed in a brute way to how UK people perceive the working class, where we have far more of a prejudice problem than Stateside (for example the popularity of the term ‘chav’ -Council Housed And Violent). In short the class war in the UK and the racial war in the US are similar to an extent, but directed at different groups of people. In the UK, one of the few things you’re still allowed to bully and legally be chauvinist to is accent, the strength of which can easily denote one’s class.

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This is not to compare the struggle of Black people in the US as the class struggle here, that would be offensive to both sides and entirely missing the nuances, not to mention obvious differences in history, attitude, scale and victims (for example no one’s still going to shoot a working class man for jogging in their middle income neighbourhood, or have political parties dedicated to kicking out the working poor from the country, with millions voting for them). But it does have certain parallels, notably in how so-called respectable people judge, while claiming themselves neutral, that helps perpetuate the problem.

Going back to our errant human natures, stupified by emotion, everyone knows the 70-20-10% rule. -That 70% of our impression of someone is based on their looks, 20% on the sound of their voice and 10% on what they actually say. Yet I see it time and time again my peers and myself acting upon this prejudice, from my fellow interviewers to the way our staff deal with customers, to the way I process the same request from two people.

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I’ve caught myself being prejudiced this way -one person we picked as outstanding I realised later was because her work was not actually that brilliant, but that her interaction and delivery was always with a winning, slightly posh accent.

A ‘problematic’ working class employee who says “nohh, don’t like it innit” is saying the same thing as the posh, ‘astute’ one politely affirming “I’m sorry, I do not like it. That’s just the way it is for me.” Even though the first reply is actually opening itself to negotiation and the second one isn’t, it sounds worse.

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My workplace, a worldly instutution that shall not be (overtly) named, still has a racial bias on top, I’ve rarely seen elsewhere in the city. In London, non-White ethnic minorities -especially skewed to our youthful age range -should account for 40% at the very least. They are also more liable to have degrees and more liable to be in our scientific fields. However we still have the ‘old guard’ to dispel, and something I’ve had to talk to the top end about as a representative. That the institution neatly scores itself satisfactorily on the diversity spectrum (although positive action was made illegal in the UK -as it’s just another form of discrimination, diversity needs to be measured by law) but on any obvious diversity it falls flat. That the very lowest rungs of the payscales -the cleaners and security guards -are overtly diverse with people of colour forming their large majority, while those customer-facing it’s less than a quarter, albeit slightly better at showing London’s 40% mix. However, once you hit any rung higher it falls to 15% or lower. Higher management is almost blanketly White, with maybe one or two exceptions.

Although we are a staunchly left wing and feelsy organisation, it’s obvious the subconscious bias still applies, and we’re still dealing with the neolithic. It permeates on every level.

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The way our media, even written by left wingers, push through assumptions and cater to audience safety (read: institutionalised bias) helps make it a constant peddler of categorising people, and reinforcing the status quo. Heroes are more successful if they’re male White saviour memes, not dumpy frontline nurses. We get less annoyed or bored, more invested and sympathetic looking at beautiful faces when it’s them doing the talking. We like our preconceptions not to be challenged but set ever further into stone. Iran has to look like how we imagine Iran to look, Black people have to speak ghetto regardless of their class, people outside our own circle of comfort must be different, and thus need to ring it true at all times -preferably on town crier levels of advertisement.

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Some people argue that in an individualistic society we should only be concerned about our own paths regardless of the rest, after laying the white picket fence around the yard in an age of capitalism. That the prejudice suffered by Black people in America is for them to sort out. Sure but then look at the same prejudice in differing angles, let’s randomly say the glass ceiling for women, a full half of the world, who score the same as men in IQ and actually get higher grades, but suffer -at the very best levels ever -still 18% difference in pay, for no good reason. The BBC, so-called champion for equality despite appointing 17 male White Director Generals in a row, was recently exposed when the female stars and presenters colluded to discover they were being paid significantly less than their male counterparts, despite pulling in higher viewerships or sharing the same job.

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Look at the bamboo ceiling (I myself endure); East Asians have the highest average grades, IQ scores and qualifications, which gift them into higher entry levels once in the job market. This has resulted in the highest average pay too, more so than any other strata, and the moniker of a ‘model minority’. So far, so rosy.

However look closer, and East Asians are also the least likely to be promoted into any form of management, less so than Blacks or Latinos, more than doubly less so than Whites. They have to send out 70% more applications to get call back if their name is amended to show they’re East Asian. They are nearing 6% of the US population yet only 0.3% of corporate office populations. And in fields where they are overtly represented, they are still heavily under-represented in management. For example, even if 22% of scientists are East Asian, only 5% are lab directors.

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And all that is just talking about jobs, just one uncontrollable aspect that affects our lives. Look at everything else, the threat assessment every woman has to take when meeting any man, the fact the majority of women have been harassed or assaulted, that one quarter of women in this country will suffer domestic abuse at some stage, and that the same overlapping amount sexual abuse and rape. That up to 97% of rapes here may be ending in no conviction, due to low reportage and one of the few systems that favour the criminal. The fact East Asians don’t just suffer the institutional prejudice but the highest rates of violence upon the person thanks to hate crime. All this goes largely unreported, we look at people and think everything is all right. Ask your female friends in confidence what their experience of sexual harrasment, assault or violence has been, and see how many have had none.

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It’s not that society should be riven with fear, and that everyone is sexist and racist, but that even subconscious bias still damages horrendously on top of that shit, that it disregards individual performance. I agree with the law that positive discrimination is still another form of discrimination, and directly undermines the cause also. But I think the best way forward is educating employers and general populace alike as to what to watch out for in themselves -and not just the one-off training module, but instilling a culture based on psychology.

The riots in the US, and protests in solidarity around the world are a sign a generation is fed up of it, we are not going to stand for it any longer. But to take a knee, a push, a shove, a punch, a strike, a rubber bullet. They say the pen is mightier than the sword, but look at how little we’ve progressed, notably when the quills on both sides of the war are still helping to write the same script  -has it been mightier, after all these years? For too long silence is violence, and the only way to enact change appears is to show it in numbers, in taking to the streets.

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A Journal of the Plague Year Week 6

Sunday 19th April 2020

Frozen has got to be the world’s biggest hatchet job. On first viewing I mistook it for a straight-to-DVD offering, despite the refreshing take of having two female protagonists rather than the usual Disney woman-chasing-man, whose main preoccupation was to instill the universal truth of beautiful=good, ugly=bad. I swear, Disney has a lot to answer for in terms of setting up generation after generation to subconsciously believe that crap, and act out, like WWII.

OK, so one sister has zappy powers (bizarrely it has all to do with that everyday substance in our lives and loves, ice). And it all turns into a big misunderstanding whereby the villain is understandable, and good and evil aren’t so black and white. Plus there’s that nice sideline in the handsome prince (SPOILER ALERT) turning out to be a baddy, and the lovable idiot actually being the love interest. How refreshing, for the world’s most heteronormative, White-washing, nose-pinching, gender misaligning, hierarchy promoting, Nazi courting media power of our age. That’s why the critics loved it, and yes, that belter of a song too one may have heard on every radio in every child’s room in every karaoke at every point in time ever.

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I do think pre-teen kiddies are a little undiscerning, and easy, avid voters. Make the dictators protagonists pretty and singy and they’ll be invested, add some cutesy idiots and toys/ animals with human personality and they’ll be entranced, then committed, then enshrining it to memory – forever yours to their dying day. Even when there are about 17 writers jostling for position, and a storyline by a drunken, trashy committee waiting for pizza.

Frozen was meant to be very loosely based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, one of his most popular and timeless of classics. ‘Loosely based’ in the most generous understanding of the term, insofar as it has snow and a queen in it, like how Jaws must be a retelling of Finding Nemo.

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Well Frozen II doesn’t disappoint. They manage, within the first 20 mins, to fit in (BEWARE SPOILERS):

A new race of people next door, a tribe everyone forgot to mention in the first film

A war

A flashback to parent memories

An enchanted forest

A ‘transformation’ of the lead characters

Giant footprints, giants

A rockfall of gnomes/ baby trolls

A random forest tornado

A game of charades involving a talking snowman, a caribou and a misunderstanding

A mystical, onset-of-schizophrenia voice only Elsa can hear, day and night

The three most annoying notes every conjoined in time or space, akin to a delivery truck backing out or car alarm as sung by Enya -oooh-eee-ohhh (see above)

A vast, 700ft tall interstate dam that is source of geopolitical instability

Floating coloured ice crystals evenly peppering the air (Elsa’s latest psychosis-induced party trick)

The evacuation of the townsfolk in the middle of the night

The blowing out of all light/fire with a sudden pink fizzle

Rippling urban earthquakes

A big mist that blocks out the sky and pushes out newcomers -source of geopolitical instability

A pink forest fire, set by a cute arsonist salamander (like a baby Toothless from How To Train Your Dragon)

A talking fucking little snowman

Oh and three songs squeezed in already.

You can imagine the Disney team sitting in LA, a bit bored, scrolling through IG and porn, then Hank brings the coffee in. Yeah! Let’s introduce an avalanche! Yeah and under it they’ll find pink earth that makes them sleepwalk! Yeah and a cave which lures them into a place of… of… magic earthworm world! Yeah and one of them talks and we can call him Bingo! No Boner, with an Irish accent! Yeah then Elsa can sing her way out, yeah coz one of her notes makes her hand freeze thing go crazy… and man, d’you have Bono’s agent?

I think their CEO of storyline must be a 7 year old girl. Who is really the daughter of a real Disney CEO. She’s called Emmy and must be obeyed.

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Of course, she works a treat. Frozen became the 5th highest grossing film of all time when released in 2013, and the biggest grossing animated feature ever- only to be usurped by Frozen II (and er, the live action Lion King).

Though tbf to Emmy, Andersen’s offering was along the same lines. It did also throw up a set of questionable fictional devices, such as semi-siblings in love, a magic laughing mirror, the devil, trolls, a murderous snow queen, a pandemic of evil mirror crystals, a magical rose garden, talking flowers, a talking crow, a fake prince lookalike, an evil sorceress, a bush that can see the dead, a robber band, a robber girl, a robber girl’s pet doves, a frozen lake called the Mirror of Reason, a winning pair of skates, red shoes, a reindeer called Bae (Disney surely missed a trick on that one), a Finn woman, a Lapp woman, and a spelling bee. Maybe the Frozen series is just a majestic retelling in the spirit of northern European folk fables. As in you start off with some adorable 1 percenters then add whatever happens to be dawdling along in your mind after a heavy bong/ green fairy sesh (might as well throw in breakfast/ Fido’s dinner) as filler before an Abrahamic happy ending.

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Though I still have yet to see a Disney princess as anything other than a catalogue model, or fat -and no, Moana is not.

As with all sequels, not only do they have to contend with the previous cast of characters they now have to introduce new ones. Each time there’s another instalment they try and keep the favourites or forever court fan disapproval, though in the end they’ll be dragging along a Big Brother House, each vying for screentime and a dedicated writer who thought them up to battle for their segment. Just look at Ice Age, once one of the most lucrative sagas and its gaggle of rabidly intrepid explorers, denigrating into a repetitive series of comedy shorts for each of its 25 characters (no, really – 25). Thus the franchise had to end, winding down into vastly confusing storylines borrowing one personality after another on multiple leads. A winning example of profit over art.

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In other news Disney has stopped paying about half its employees -100,000 of them, saving it $500 million a month despite announcing $1.4 billion profit for its shareholders from the last 3 months alone. The new streaming site Disney Plus is also seeing extraordinary growth with the international lockdowns, clocking up 50 million subscribers since launching 5 months ago. Rest assured, Chairman Bob Iger has selflessly given up his paycheck for the duration of the pandemic in the spirit of comradeship, though his $47.5 million from last year ($130,000 per day) might help him cope. Chief exec Bob Chapek has also vowed a full 50% paycut, that’ll limit him to only one new mansion a fortnight.

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So yep, I sat through that for the evening’s entertainment. Such a big part of my life.

This is the shit I have to put up with in lockdown. Rant OVER. Should just let it go.

Took a walk with J, all the way to the river and back via Battersea Park, stopping off at an old church looking like the original template for the ones in New England. It had a graveyard which J was most interested in as it reeks of history. A lot of the gravestones had melted away after a century or two of acid rain; it’s a shame if they’ve ever been recorded, and are now just slabs of rock, to be used as paving.

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A transcript of the above will show that Mary Stringer, born 1751, outlived her husband Edward, who died at only 33. She became his widow for the next 50 years till she died at 82. She also outlived her three sons, John aged 3, Edward aged 5 and Thomas aged 22. Only her daughter Mary Ann survived her.

Another gravestone speaks of possible emigration, rift or perhaps fall in riches. A family tomb bearing only one name, whose ancestors ultimately chose a different plot, if at all they existed:

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These are what we’ll be remembered by one day, if anything. What legacy will remain, perhaps electronic, or lost to ether, given that Facebook or Instagram are unlikely to last the next century if not decade – my gravestone may well turn out to be that arm poking into a TikTok of a cat vomiting. Or maybe we’ll be remembered only in figures, in transactions made and algorithms changed. And some day one of those equations will become alive, a new god, and remember us. My little hand tapping coyly on that keypad, my darling porn History adding to its journey to sentience. Perhaps my heart will go on as one of the billion fuckers to ever watch a Frozen film, and contribute to their $2.35 billion takings. I am that $7.96 back in 2014 and 2020, that bottle of water Bob ordered in Cannes, that so sated his wonderful lips. We can but dream, as ever furnishing the lives of the rich and powerful and ice zapping, that is so much of what our lives amount to. To spread the magic.

My friend once did a gig as a photographer on a Disney ship, where they worked her every day of the year, made her pay for the camera and equipment, and wouldn’t let her off the damn boat or break contract, while playing the oafish hordes of the type of people who go on Disney Cruises. She said it was shit.

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And I’m not even going to mention Walt’s admiration for fascism (note how everyone in say Monsters Inc are just SO happy to work in a vast, inhuman factory that rules their every waking thought and identity). Celebration, the Floridian Disney town whose residents are banished if they get a criminal record, and whose strict rules made them refer to it as Mauschwitz issued an edict that they’d be turfed out if the term was heard.

Of course they then dubbed it Duckau.

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 27

Monday 13th April 2020

I’m sick of Americana. It’s been 3 weeks and all I’ve seen is drove after drone of US telly culture via Netflix and The Internatz. It’s all starting to get too much, the cop shows, gun heists, coffee breaks, nasal drawls, whooping, blondes, chinos, cardigans, plaid. Immaculate lawns, garrulous housing, sass, likable gangsters, car culture, rest stops, trip hop, laptops, likes, stories, handles, vines. Making such a BIG deal about social mixing or not correlating with the racist, classist and sexist realities, obscuring the banality of the everyday, the gutted city centres, the crime, the boredom. How every scene conjured is pure, complicit fuckery. Lies, lies I tell you!

It’s just so fucking gushing about it all.

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Not all cafes and bars are buzzing. Not all classrooms are vapid. Not all of California is sunny. Not all of Xmas is snowing and candle-lit. Not all of Mexico is dusty and orange filtered. Not all of NYC is just SO magical! Where are the drone shots of Queens? The shopping in Wal-Mart? The social and racial segregation indexes now on par with Apartheid-era South Africa? Where are the people who don’t live in 4-5 bed houses (no matter how rich or poor they are)? Where are the sweeping stories of people working in your average smalltown office or restaurant or shop or supermarket or factory? Where, oh where are the legions of working and (lower) middle classes? The fat? Where are the people who don’t wear make-up to bed? They have their stories to tell also -and even if the same ones, whether funny, exciting, romantic or resonant, why is it the upper-middle class resoundingly get the roles?

Talk shows are an embodiment -and the fact news agencies are morphing into them a sign. Every chat show host, presenter, news anchor and primetime guest too cartoonish, every audience too canned, too willing to whoop joyously on each statement that’s ended with a raise in octave, pause, then a look out to the crowd. Ratings, ratings ratings, catering to what we want interminably, back in 2009.

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OK I get there are the many offerings that do represent, a big menu of them. American Beauty, The Wire, Sundance that kinda thing. But they are so very drowned out by everything else.

Endless Tiktok (Chinese I know), Drag Race, IG, Bojack, Cardi B, Lana Del Ray, Mark Wahlberg, Trump, Punk’d, React Channel, Prime, Disney, Pixar, Marvel. I mean I need something more exotic now, something historical. Also, another gripe: US documentaries. On one hand the tabloid idiocy of decorating information by screaming it out and dumbing it down: overdramatic audio, menacing voiceover, too-frequent summarisation (for the ad breaks every 15 mins I’ve heard), Flash graphics (trying to look sciencey), and hammy, sepia-toned dramatisations. Swear to Beelzebub, your left hand could feature in 72 Creatures To Watch The Fuck Out For, as they rotate the same shots of it turning claw shaped and raking at some gravel, or grabbing a cat to the sound of pick squeals.

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On the other hand it’s the yonder extreme: slow, dragged out, formulaic and dry. The foodie documentaries a good example, varying with arthouse and voiceovers, endless conversation and life stories when we just wanna look at the grub, the culture, the recipes, the history. It’s food for fuck’s sake, not Nelson Mandela. We are not interested in the timeless glorification of a food hero that takes up an hour-long biopic, or extended reels of a rich man going shopping. I swear, sometimes I think Americana is so very glorifying and hero-worshipping as it helps with the hierarchy. Just too much formula.

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What is missing is gravitas. Humility. Truth. Reticence. Detail. Please don’t clap. Please don’t call me Sir. Netflix, Apple TV, Quibi, Youtube, do for the love of cake just tone it down a notch or three.

My other option is Arte, our European attempt at global domination via France and Germany (and like Dunkerke, stopping right there). Ah, the fresh air. But then you only have about 20 programmes to choose from, thus forcing you into whatever arthouse/ history/ social science/ particle physics funnel they recently dreamt up from their tiny planning studio. And rapt as you may be with Malian wedding rituals, a biopic on Joan Miro, or Mannerist architecture in 16th Century Portugal it quickly becomes as entertaining as the wallpaper. I watched two entire episodes on a bunch of German God Squadders walking the medieval pilgrimage route over the Pyrenees, towards the Santiago de Compostela shrine. Mesmerised as they crossed whole bridges (someone losing a shoe in the river -heartstopping), calling in on statues, looking at buildings and getting some of the country air. They had a whole fucking season dedicated to them – those same people, that one journey. This is why Europe, denizen of holiday snaps and colonialism is no longer setting the world on fire, even with Eurovision.

Took a good, hard look at my life after that.

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And don’t get me started on the Beeb. Dumbed down as to be squatting over the ranks of what the Mirror or Daily Mail would offer (though we’re not at C5, Sun scoop spectacular quite just yet) if they were given a £20 budget to source writers on the nation’s pulse, via their readership. It is so riven with ham and hack it could be Christmas. Dr Who (sorry), Celebrity Scissorhands, War of the Worlds. And their exposées are just so damn one-sided, so very choreographed by a presenter investigative reporter who’s already charted out the story beforehand, including conclusion. Watch as Tracy investigates slaughterhouses on rumours animals get hurt in there, or Benjamin go to North Korea to check out their journalism schools. Maybe a harsh dressing down on race relations when hanging out at a KKK rally, involving multiple hidden cams and jittery chases.

TV has become a raison d’etre in these times. It is like power, food and air, a social birthright. And goddamit if what we’re getting is Coffee and fucking Kareem it’s time to man the barricades.

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Morning a write off thanks to far too heavy a weeding session in the gardens, had to run to find a bucket, rummaging under the sink and finally settling for (thankyou J, precious metals trader), an antique silver planter in the Japonisme style to vom in. Highlight of my day. Oh and Antiques Roadshow.

Then a bikeride in the sun, on the same trail to Chelsea Bridge and back. Got fatshamed by A laughing at my baby tire when I took my top off (26C), cuddling round my rippling 12 pack. I’ve been nurturing it with soft drinks, biscuits and the odd cake since lockdown, it’s my friend. A buddy messaged to ask if I wanted to take a walk in Crystal Palace Park, forgetting that I’d moved from the area a while back. We decided against after realising it would involve a train trip, which is pretty much illegal and likely swarming with plain clothes police. It would’ve been one awkward meet up anyhoo, 2 metres apart at all times and talking like we’re on stage. Pretty much it, my life in a paragraph.

Quibi is the hip new thing A is currently smitten by, though he (nor anyone) can ever remember its name. The platform specialises in 10 minute bites of programming, from comedies to episodes (that suspiciously add up to the same dozens of hours) to documentary snippets to full on gameshows – all specially condensed for our half second attention spans. They’ve also been edited to be watchable portrait or landscape on your phones.

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It’s perfect for cutting out the pfaff, but it doesn’t bode well that they’re catering to our wants (where recently tv all round the world has been trying out 15-20 minute offerings if you’ve noticed). How will we learn in the future if this becomes a norm? How will we get an appreciation of the smaller, slower things? In a similar vein another platform, Blinkist edits down entire books into 15 minute reads. I’m worried. But also enthralled.

All they need to do now is do something worth watching.

Yesterday

Tomorrow