MadMadMad about Sara Pascoe

This week I was finally able to book tickets to go and see one of my favourite stand up comedians, Sara Pascoe. To help explain how much I’m looking forward to seeing her live as part of her LadsLadsLads tour in November, I’ll be spending four months over the summer backpacking coast to coast across Canada, and still can’t wait.

Although hers will be the fourth live stand-up tour I will have been to after Ross Noble, Jon Richardson, and Jasper Carrott, I figured I’d put down in words why I’m looking forward to Sara Pascoe in particular.

mock the week
(Left to right): male, male, male, male, female, male, male

Firstly, while she herself questions the notion of being labelled a “female comedian”, her gender is still relevant. The comedy circuit may not be unique in being a male dominated field, but with shows such as Mock the Week and Would I Lie To You often featuring a 6 to 1 male/female ratio, it is certainly one with a wider discrepancy than most.

Although Sara is not the only woman to have done so, the act of taking her place amongst the best in an arena which prioritizes men above women even more so than many others, to say nothing of the obstacles and even harassment that her male peers don’t face, shows what she has striven through, and is something that should be recognised (as it should for all women in male dominated industries).

As someone whose geographical location also limits the number of comedians I am able to go and see live, and who considers smashing the patriarchy from the inside as “fighting the good fight”, more than just being able to support a “female comedian” the fact I will be able to redress my own still otherwise skewed ratio is also something which gives this particular show an edge over the others.

In addition to this is the fact that as well as (perhaps in spite of) this, she has also strived to improve working conditions for up and coming comedians, and worked towards forming a union with the aim of helping those lower down the ladder of success for whom not being paid/unable to work through no fault of their own may have much greater consequences. A little known fact, but something which should give her more respect than she may otherwise receive.

As is perhaps unsurprising the content of her stand up routines themselves also played a large part in why I booked tickets for her latest tour. As a stand up comedian she has appeared in several TV shows including three stints on Live at the Apollo, and throughout these her routines have often made jokes that deal with gender, feminism, and ideas surrounding body image.

Her sets brim with satirical ideas that engage people well beyond just laughing at the funnies. Not only does this make her material more memorable, but also elevates it (at least according to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s definition) from entertainment into an art form which challenges people’s worldviews. She may not have been the first to discuss women’s magazines, but her ‘solution’ of having Page 3 adopt a jury duty style nomination system adds to conversations and debates surrounding the objectification of women which continues outside the comedy arena.

Although I have nothing against the observational comedy which sees the likes of Peter Kay making mass audiences laugh merely at everyday situations, to me it is those such as Pascoe who can add intelligence and more substance to their humour, and by doing so make the most of comedy’s potential, of which I am a particular fan.

More than just during her satirical routines however, she has also utilised this intelligence during her appearances on shows such as The Last Leg, and is something which is exemplified by her latest project, The Modern Monkey. A series of half-hour  routines/lectures, it examines how evolutionary psychology explains modern behaviour in terms of what was necessary for our simian ancestors’ survival. It is series such as these which live up to the founding principles of the BBC itself and are produced “to educate, inform and entertain”; in essence, the sole reason for paying a TV licence even though it was made for the radio.

With each episode she examines a different concept (murder, jealousy, territory, and charity) by explaining her obviously thorough research using examples from her own life. Something which continues on from her book, Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body, in which she not only makes hardcore science relatable, but which also includes the kind of searing honesty that makes it her most personal work.

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Cannot recommend highly enough…

More than just being the work of a sole author than a member of a panel, Animal delves into Pascoe’s own experiences of topics covering a wide spectrum of sex and relationships, including evolution (both biological and psychological), body image, and consent. Again, Pascoe is far from the first to have done this, but Animal stands out above the others from the best ever answer to the question ‘What is normal?’ – “a concept formed by averages but it changes with education and tolerance” – to the controversial topic of abortion which she discusses unashamedly via her own pregnancy as a teenager.

Throughout her comedy, regardless of medium, she infuses her work with honesty I can’t help by envy, is knowledgable enough to examine ideas with authority yet modest enough to never be condescending, but above all is passionate in her beliefs that makes her audience not just hear, but really listen to what she has to say. The fact that many of these are opinions and ideas I either already agree with or am fascinated to learn more about is just the cherry on top.

As if it doesn’t need mentioning, this blog post is also just a summary of some of her work, and which doesn’t even touch on her acting career which includes the celebrated Twenty Twelve & W1A and the obscure The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, to her stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

stop making stupid people famous
Words to live by.

In essence, Sara Pascoe represents the polar opposite of (and solution to) that which I most dislike about the current entertainment industry, so-called “reality” TV. As much as we all need entertaining when we relax/veg out, you can still do this while appreciating something that talented creators have crafted and laboured over, rather than an ever-increasing number of clone series idolising those who have achieved next to nothing in terms of earning their right to be famous, and/or talent competitions which exploit contestants solely for their own gain and spit them back out again when they’re no longer profitable.

Throughout her career, whether as a stand up comedian, author, actor, or even playwright, Sara Pascoe proves there are better ways that Essex girls can be than the only one modern entertainment presents us with.

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State of the Geek?

For the past several years, Felicia Day is someone who has become almost synonymous with the term “Geek”. As an actress in LA she has made guest appearances in TV shows from Lie To Me, to House, and is a certified Joss Whedon alumnus having appeared in three of his various series. During this time she has also written, produced, and acted in her own web-series The Guild, and last year founded the internet channel, Geek & Sundry.

Earlier this week she released a youtube video announcing that this would be returning for a second year, and also talks about a subject that is important to her, her audience, and myself.

What is it to be a “Geek”?

If for any reason you can’t/won’t watch the video, I’ve transcribed the important bits for you here:

In the six years I have been doing this, that word has become something else. We’ve been using it so much that it’s kind of lost meaning. Geek has become a cliche. It’s become a label. It’s become something to monetize, to market to, to pigeonhole, to brand, to exploit. It’s become something that describes a person who is defined solely by liking comics, or games, or movies, or TV, and it’s like we’ve become these consumer badgers that will eat anything you can put a zombie or a superhero on, and just like STOP! Just stop. That is not what Geek means to me.

We are more than the hobbies that we do, or the things that we like. We are not mash up t-shirts, don’t get me wrong I love a good mash up t-shirt, but that is just like the superficial stuff. To me, Geek means an outsider, a rebel, a dreamer, a creator, whether it’s our own world or someone else’s. It’s a fighter. It’s a person who dares to love something that isn’t conventional.

The mantra of Geek to me, is “your judgement is not my problem”. You think comics are dumb? Fine. You think I may not be a real gamer? Whatever, that’s your problem.

I think we need to re-own Geek.

In the ten years since her recurring role as a potential in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Felicia Day has gone on to slay numerous outmoded stereotypes and gender roles. In a world where female gamers (especially attractive ones) are thought to be either non-existent or should be looked down upon, she has been a role model of campaigning for Geek acceptance just by getting out there and doing her own thing.

Although I discussed their/our representation in films from Scream to Fanboys for my MA dissertation (albeit using the more academic term of “fans”), like too many others, Geek is a word that I take for granted in order to describe myself, my friends, and the things we enjoy. 

The origins of the word itself, stem from 18th century circuses, referring to the freaks in a sideshow. Whilst it’s safe to say that this is no longer strictly true, its connotations have remained for a long time, and it seems like only recently that its use is becoming less disparaging.

Also throughout these past ten years, more and more aspects of what would previously have been labelled as Geek culture have made it to the mainstream. Perhaps it was my growing up in rural Britain, but back when Felicia was known as Vi, names like Joss Whedon and The Avengers would have had most people I know either scratching their heads, or thinking of 60’s spies. This last summer however, Marvel’s heroes’ and their writer/director’s were the most talked about throughout the entertainment world.

Not that I am begrudging them their popularity, Whedon is an accomplished film-maker who deserves to have his work seen by a wider audience (allowing me to boast that I was a fan before it was cool), it seems to me there is a difference between Geek becoming accepted, and appropriated.

In fact it seems that like Che Guevara before it, Geek culture is now seen by many to be less rebellious and more fashion statement, often referred to as “Geek chic”.

Richard "Ringo" Langly shows his support of The Ramones.
Once the image of an ostracised Geek, “thick lenses in black framed eyeglasses – he wears a Ramones T-shirt” is now seen as fashionable.

More than just an overall fashion it seems that specific icons of Geek fandom, even the punk band The Ramones have also suffered this fate. Likely due to their retro punk image, but also perhaps in part due to their endorsement by conspiracy theorist Richard “Ringo” Langley on the sci-fi/horror series The X Files

Comparable to Day’s Geek mantra, Langly admired lead singer Joey for sticking to his punk principles and the fact that “He never gave in, he never gave up, and he never sold out, right up to his last breath.” (It is also worth noting he voiced his praise in an episode called Jump The Shark.)

In recent years however, and after the death of not just Joey but also two other original band members, Dee Dee and Johnny, t-shirts and bags embellishing their logo have become an increasingly common sight. 

Combining mainstream appeal with a cult fanbase, it is not surprising that crossover TV shows such as The X Files may have been the first port of call for those first wishing to adopt aspects of what used to be a niche appeal.

And this is something that annoys me. On the other side to Felicia’s argument, the main problem I see isn’t what being a Geek is, it’s what being a Geek isn’t.

Although I don’t solely define myself through them, I enjoy films and TV shows, and that’s why I studied them at university, it’s why I collect VHS tapes, and it’s why I edit wikias. Admittedly I don’t shout about those last two from the rooftops, and maybe sometimes I haven’t always stood up for them as much as I should (sorry Felicia), but those are just some of the reasons I use the word Geek to describe myself.

Perhaps almost conversely, I chose the name i, Coomber as a reference to Asimov’s i, Robot, and if you think the shortened use of iCoomber is because I’m an apple fanboy rather than the internet not liking commas and spaces, then, like Day says “that’s your problem”.

But when I see “fashionable” girls walking through the high street with a jumper saying “Geek”, I want to ask them how they feel about the differences between old school and new Battlestar Galactica, before berating them for not even knowing what I’m talking about, let alone not having an answer. Again, as Day says, knowledge of cylons and vipers isn’t a prerequisite to use this term, and I admit there is a certain amount of irony that they will likely consider my prejudice to not be their problem, but do these factors still make them a Geek as well?

I agree with Felicia that it is something we need to re-own, but knowing how to go about it may take more thought than a single youtube message. How do we rebel considering that many of the symbols of our rebelling against the conventional, have themselves become usurped as an adopted convention?

For those of us with genuine interests, not caring about people’s prejudices and not subscribing to corporate labels is one thing, but I believe that these are not the people we need to re-own Geek from. 

I now wear my Soylent Green t-shirt as much for its warning about industrialised processes creating products not for, but from people, as much as because I enjoy the 70’s classic. I do so because I walk past too many others wearing a Ramones t-shirt that have never heard their music, let alone embody a spirit of being a rebel, an outsider, or a fighter, and so I have to ask.

Is that “not my problem” too?

A blog about a book . . about a blog.

What with starting my own blog, and being a big fan of pretty much everything Star Trek, I have recently been checking out Wil Wheaton dot net. Best known in most circles as starring in Stand By Me and Star Trek: The Next Generation , Wil Wheaton is now best known in geeky circles as a blogger and published writer, and also as being a fairly big geek himself. Hence the title of his book ‘Just A Geek‘.

A book which I decided to buy and am really glad I did, as it is one the few books that I have read in one day, and possibly the only one I have read in one go. Based on posts from his blog, the book goes into often very personal detail about many things, most notably his personal battle with what he calls ‘Prove To Everyone That Quitting Star Trek Wasn’t A Mistake’, his need for acceptance and recognition for his own merits, which he often amusingly talks about in the second person.

Chronicling certain events, Wil shares all aspects of his life including his struggles as an actor, the joys of living with his wife and step children, and his mixed reactions to the large impact of Star Trek and its fans. All of which makes for funny, honest and very compelling reading. Certainly the best book I have read recently, and almost possibly the best book I have read in a very long time.

No News Is Good News . . . Apparently

As anyone who lives in Britain, Europe, and possibly even the world will know, today is the hundredth day since Madeline McCann went missing. People will know this of course, because this news will have been shoved in their faces by nearly every newspaper/TV news programme throughout the whole day.

But why?

Before anyone accuses me of being insensitive, I realise that having your child go missing like Madeline has done must be a harrowing experience, and I am not trying to rant about Madeline of her family. What I am going to rant about however, is what has happened since, and the way in which the media have turned a single child’s disappearance into what by now has to be the most extreme case of Missing White Woman Syndrome ever seen. Even David Beckham made an appeal after just eight days after her disappearance. Whilst I’m sure this was done from the kindness of his heart, was I asleep for his appeals about the countless other children who missing?

Surely the number of children who go missing in this country is higher than most of realise, and the number in Europe higher still. So what is so special about Madeline to warrant all the attention??

The Sun newspaper was just one of several who focused on her story, but to their credit also focused on another story featuring a four year old girl. One was about a woman and her boyfriend who have been charged with torturing and murdering her daughter, another about a girl who went missing over three months ago, and which nothing has happened since. And which one got the front page spread???? Yep, Madeline. The other took up only half of page fourteen if anyone is interested.

Somewhile ago, the front page of The Sun (again) stated that some cold hearted fiend had robbed Mr McCann of pictures of his precious daughter. When I read the actual article (I was bored) it turned out that what had actually happened was that someone had just pick pocketed his wallet. Something else that happens everyday and doesn’t warrant front page attention in the slightest.

It wouldn’t be quite so bad if they at least did it in proper English. The front page on The Mirror today explains how ‘Madeline’s Parents Tell Police: Where Is The Proof She Is Dead?’ I expect these journalist types are more qualified than I am, but surely that wasn’t telling, that was asking.

And I know I said I wouldn’t rant about the parents, but as heart breaking as losing a child must be, it has to be noted that they have since been on a European tour, met the pope, and achieved a minor celebrity status. And all because they were too irresponsible/ignorant to let a creche look after their child.

Basically, it all boils down to the fact that no matter what is going in the world, the media will still choose to cover whatever the hell it wants/needs to in order to maximise its own profits and/or send out it’s own ideological propaganda, and then attempt to make it sound important enough to warrant placing so much attention on it. And the truth of the matter is that pictures of a missing girl will sell newspapers.

As long as she is photogenic, white, and comes from a wealthy background that is.