THE IN-CROWD

Are you a part of the in crowd?

Have you ever been?

It’s likely that at some point in all of our lives, regardless of environment or situation, we’ve found ourselves on the outside looking in. From school to college to work to family to hobbies, there will always be a time when you didn’t know the ‘cool’ joke, or understand the ‘cool’ saying. You may have found yourself overlooked. “We all thought someone else had invited you”, “We didn’t think it would be your thing”, or indeed you could be outright excluded.

Schools are terrifying places and can show a very clear picture of the very worst of human experiences. Cliques and groups are formed by shared interests but also by shared dislikes. And it’s from here the vines of bullying can take root.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been heading off to conventions all over the country with my banner and bag of books, doing my best to tell my tales, and I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority of people attending these events would have received some form of derision for the hobbies and passions they have.

Whenever I admit to my obsession with science fiction and fantasy, of my love for both Star Wars and Star Trek, (gasp!!!) or speak animatedly about dragons and magic, very often I can see the other person kind of glazing over. Then comes the ‘Aren’t you a bit old for that?’ or any other of a hundred responses which question the sanity of me liking what I do. There are not many like me in any of the places I’ve worked and there’s always the sniggering from some at the thought that a man of my age would like such nonsense.

I’m very much outside of The In-Crowd’.

So when I witnessed someone being heckled and berated at a sci-fi con because they not only understood, but also enjoyed, sport, it made me wonder.

Conventions for TV shows, films, books or any genre idea should always be a welcoming place for the diverse fandoms which are out there. When I sat at my table at Em-Con Nottingham over the weekend, there were countless examples of cosplayed characters which I recognised but there were also countless that I didn’t. That didn’t matter. Everyone there knew that this was the place to let their geek flag fly ( including someone with an actual flag from the show Community – E Pluribus Anus).

But having one hobby that you’re passionate about doesn’t preclude you having another.

I’m also a massive rugby fan. I used to play (including getting representative honours for my county so I was pretty good) and I always do my best to find a TV to watch Wales play – which included at a sci-fi convention where I ended up watching with another welsh man, Gareth David Lloyd, from Torchwood.

So I consider the way the populations of these two groups would behave if someone from each was switched around.

I suspect no-one would really care too much but there would be loads of odd looks at the one who was out of place. But it would only take one person to start making comments of a confrontational manner and that individual is quickly on the outside and being made to really feel it.

Now, the examples I’ve given here weren’t driven by malice in any way shape or form. The comment at the person at a convention was in jest and everyone concerned recognised the fact. I myself have never been picked on openly in that way and I happen to think that when push came to shove, the populations of my passion’s fandoms are decent people who just want to talk openly and happily about their loves but there still lurks that darkness of the human condition which wants to point at someone or something which is different from everyone else and to mock or attack it.

Are we all so obsessed with fitting in to our in crowd that we can resort to crushing anything which doesn’t agree with us? Our group mind says X so if you don’t agree then you must be evil or must be mad. If, for so long, you were one of the ones on the outside looking in and you found a place to belong, shouldn’t you then want to be more understanding of what it feels like to be on the other side? Shouldn’t we recognise that opinions counter to our own will never be welcomed into discourse if all we want to do is expel anyone who doesn’t agree?

The melting pot of humanity is a wonderful thing and I enjoy looking at things in a different way than expected. At so many points in life, it’s when we do that that we start to make real strides in a positive direction.

You can see in these pictures that everyone is just having a blast regardless of what they have a particular passion for. I’d certainly advise people to come and join in with all manner of new hobbies.

ARE YOU SITTING COMFORTABLY?

I understand the need for comfort when settling in for some time reading and can see clearly that the importance of comfort for anyone being read a story is equally as vital. I’m sure we can all imagine the sheer delight of a fidgety child while we’re trying to keep them still to listen to what is being said.

But should we always be comfortable when we read a story?

Horror stories are the first port of call and it’s easy to see that they need to be unsettling and scary but is that the only place that we get to unveil the really uncomfortable things?

I’ve come to this consideration thanks to the radio.

Recently, on a very mundane journey home from work, Something Inside So Strong by Labi Siffri started playing. A good song from 1987 which, thanks to the wonders of Wikipedia, I can tell you, peaked at number four in the UK charts. Now that doesn’t really make anyone think anything. Those facts are nothing more than nuggets of information and you can nod your head as you register the facts, and then you’re on with the rest of your day.

But there is a great deal more to the song.

Labi Siffri penned the song after watching a TV documentary on Apartheid in South Africa where white soldiers were seen shooting at black civilians. The lyrics he wrote conveyed a message of steadfast resistance to the horrors of the inequality in South Africa but that resistance would come in a non-violent form of just being more than those looking to grind people down.

The song was an easily accessible route for the world to be exposed to what was happening in another country and for the world to take notice. The song, as with any and all others, formed a plank which a wider understanding was then built upon. People were then able to make their voices heard about a brutalising topic which seems to be very much at odds with the usually relaxed and cheerful lands of the popular music charts. By using a medium not usually associated with such things, a message was passed on.

Now this isn’t the only example of the music industry making comment on social issues. Band Aid being possibly the greatest example but there have been many more examples where a serious topic is used as a focus for a narrative. Sunday Bloody Sunday by U2 was aimed at the Troubles from Northern Ireland, Bruce Springsteen never ducked away from a controversial topic but music wasn’t alone.

Sport had the international boycott of teams playing in South Africa and everyone is familiar with the raised, gloved fist salute of Tommie Smith and John Carlos during the 1968 Olympics.

In each of these examples, an uncomfortable point is made directly within the belly of a situation where it isn’t expected. The viewer / listener will be caught off guard by the subject matter and suddenly they are forced to acknowledge a truth they may not be happy to. After their gloved protest in Mexico, the two US sprinters received death threats and the IOC were more concerned with the potential breach of it’s rules on political statements rather than the racism it was highlighting.

Those kind of statements should be kept away from sport / music / film etc. This isn’t the forum for your political views. After an event  of statement like the above the world is regularly then treated to all kind of talking heads pointing out that someone had gone too far or that sporting events or music shouldn’t be used in this way.

If it happens all of the time, the effect is watered down, everyone knows what’s coming. By making people uncomfortable, by shining a stark light on an issue without any kind of warning, you can shock the reality into the eyes of so very many more people. Yes you’re going to make people angry in some cases and there will be more than a little chance that fingers will get pointed at you as being irresponsible or callous but that is often the best way to cross the lines a great many people refuse to cross on their own.

In the best way imaginable, long live the discomfort.

BOOK FILM

What’s your favourite book?

Has it been made into a film or TV show?

If it has, did you think that the version on the screen did the  book justice?

The reason I ask is I’ve seen a picture doing he rounds on Facebook which depicts a castle as the story, only a very small fraction of which is above the water line. The rest of the once majestic citadel is submerged and therefore, lost from view. The point of the image is that the film of a story is what lies above the water whereas the book includes that which is below as well.

In a book you have so many chances to explore and embellish any and all details that take the authors fancy. You can pour words all over any single point and bring every possible level of understanding you could ever need so the reader takes each and every facet away that the author intended. The film will often miss out on this kind of attention to detail, instead having to rely on the actors and the director to convey all the unsaid stuff that pops up on the page. You end up relying on glances, music and added dialogue to keep up with the narrative.

So the book is always better, right?

Potentially, only if the story that did so well on the page is brought well to the screen rather than just having the faintest link to the source material. When the Dresden Files TV show hit our screens, the Blue Beetle, Harry’s stalwart car which was an ever present in the books, was changed to be a old army style jeep. On the face of it, sacrilege but the reasoning became that they wouldn’t have been able to film the scenes because of limitations of space. They still had a vehicle which they could fit happily into the hole left by the beetle in terms of relevance to the story but which would allow them to do the business.

This just shows we can’t automatically assume that the book can’t be amended or changed without ruining the whole.

When my wife and I discuss books we’ve read, it sometimes happens that we pick up different things which then leads on to a discussion of what we think. Themes and meanings get mulled over and we dissect what we thought. But we do the same thing with film and TV. How do characters react together? What power was coming from certain words? But on the screen we’re treated to different images and our conversations go on anyway. “Was that a deliberately placed explosion? Symbolizing the characters loss of self?””Do you think the colours of costume show that the people are dealing with specific issues?”

I like film and books. They’re both different mediums for getting a story across, explaining what those who made the piece wanted to say. Why shouldn’t they be seen as different and not just assume one is better. I’m sure that should someone want to put my story on the big screen, I wouldn’t just say no for fear of the source material being corrupted.

It all just boils down to connecting with people and getting the story heard.