This is a spin-off from an online music journal I kept for a few years, in which I mused about life and the universe while exploring the back catalogue of a band I had never liked until discovering belatedly that they had a serious, dark side. The main themes in this anecdotal piece are dating and general human relationships in the time of Homo colossus – a strange species indeed. I thought this might be a topic of personal interest and considerable entertainment for the doomer community, who are surely overdue for a good laugh.
You can thank Ian from Collapse Diaries for the invite to read this. He was looking for a sequel to the Love Letter to the Doomers. This is more like a prequel, but hey, in this increasingly doomy world, it’s about time the funny bone was tickled. And what could be funnier than Homo colossus? I ask you. I’m sure I am not the only one in the doomer community who feels like an alien visitor undertaking anthropological research.
The first section will contextualise why this piece was originally written, and will include links to relevant parts of the music diary which prompted these musings in the first place.
December 2020 – Curefans Forum
ANOTHER SCENIC DETOUR
Earlier today, Matti kindly dropped a link into another thread discussing Wild Mood Swings which offers a lot of background and context for the album. Bits of that interview made me think and therefore inevitably want to write, and I wasn’t going to do it on that thread because what I’m thinking about is too off-topic for it, and I’m sure that the moderator will appreciate it if the Wild Mood Swings thread doesn’t end up in Timbuktu, with a discussion of the local wildlife. 😇
I’m also not doing it on Exploring The Back Catalogue because I haven’t gotten around to discussing that particular album on it – we had it before I joined this forum, and on that thread, I’m prioritising “new” stuff as it arrives. Currently that’s Wish, and the self-titled is sitting there blinking at me but I won’t listen to that until I’m done with Wish, and Pornography also came in and ditto, but we did listen to One Hundred Years just because we were so curious to hear the studio version of that one (and we both liked it).
However, what I want to write about does link directly back to previous long posts in this thread about This Is A Lie and How Beautiful You Are – songs whose lyrics I’ve debated because they don’t sit right with me. And that, by the way, is why we should debate stuff – to hone our own working hypotheses of life, to think some more as we go, to pick up additional ideas, to try seeing things from other perspectives, to modify or expand our views when necessary, to learn how other people see it, to work out our own boundaries and who we are while respecting other ways of doing things. But also, to critique things that don’t seem to stand up to rational scrutiny, or that seem narrow or ill-considered or one-dimensional – as one does in peer review (when you critique each other’s scientific papers, treatises etc, to improve the overall process of the evolution of general understanding).
(Brett’s sitting here going, “And above all, to emerge the victor!” and I’m miming pouring a bucket of water over his head.😄)
This post is going to start with stories. I’ll just jump right in with some quotes from the interview, beginning with one where Robert Smith was asked about This Is A Lie. (This particular take, by the way, is different to the one from another interview to which I responded in my earlier post on the song in this thread.)
“Yeah, well, that particular song came out of this ongoing discussion in the band about various ways to live. Monogamy and so on. Within the group, there’s a point of view that it’s much more satisfying to have several relationships and within those, give and take what you want and what they want. I represent the other extreme, because I’m with one person.”
The Friend In The Basement
My mind immediately went back 17 years to Sydney, and I had to laugh, recalling an ongoing conversation I was having at the time with my very good friend Stephanie. We’d both decided to come to Sydney to work, and met there by chance, in the basement of her friend’s house (don’t ask, maybe I should write it “friend”…). It’s not often one meets a new friend holed up in a basement. I noticed somebody was living down there – I was on the top floor, renting a bedroom because Sydney is hellishly expensive – and one day went down to have a look, and introduce myself. Stephanie had recently flown in from Germany for an internship, and just had her suitcase, no means of transport etc. I couldn’t understand why she was in the basement with the washing machine and broom cupboard when there was an empty, furnished bedroom upstairs. She said, “I can’t afford the bedroom, I can only afford the basement.” I scratched my head. “But isn’t this your friend?” It seemed odd to me that a person would keep their friend in the basement, but I digress.
Stephanie had to go everywhere on the bus and this was Castle Hill, where the public transport was woeful. Because I’d come from Western Australia, I had my own transport with me and was using it to go hiking every weekend – the Blue Mountains, Barrenjoey Peninsula, walks around Sydney Harbour (much of it on the North Shore is still fringed by strips of wilderness), or further abroad. Since this new housemate was transportless, and spending her weekends holed up in the basement or trying to go places on the woeful buses, I naturally offered that she could come on hiking adventures with me if she wanted to discover Australia a little, now she was here. She happily accepted. It was a win-win – I was new there too, and already going on weekend outings one way or the other. We became very good friends, and eventually decided to be sisters (neither of us had a sister and we’d both always wanted one).
Both of us were single, and occasionally dating. Neither of us were meeting the kind of person we wanted to meet – we both wanted something serious, with someone who would go the distance. We were both in our early 30s and tending to the view that the good ones were already taken. In reality, that was not the case, of course, but it sure felt like it to us at the time. We enjoyed our time with each other far more than we enjoyed spending time with various dates, and at one point I said to her, “If there was a pill to change my sexual orientation I would take it, because then I could potentially date you. You’re just so much nicer than any of the men I’ve met. We get on great, we don’t have arguments about housework but both of us just chip in and it works out fair, we have really interesting conversations, and fun adventures. You’re beautifully presented and hygienic and you never smell bad. You self-educate and you’re not bigoted. You don’t have commitment phobia and you don’t want something on the side.” (Brett, incidentally, also ticks all these boxes, but it wasn’t easy to find one like that with Y-chromosomes, particularly in GenX.)
Stephanie sighed and shared a theory (and now you will see why the interview quote above recalled that for me). “A friend of mine back in Europe said to me once that the things we hope to find in one man can rarely be found in one man, and therefore we should get used to looking for four men: One for intellectual conversations, one for outdoors, one for the bedroom, and one with handyman skills.” 😄 (Brett says, “I’m the bedroom one.” 🤪)
This became a running joke for us – as did making reference to hypothetical pills that change your sexual orientation. We laughed about the old Woody Allen quote that being bisexual doubled your chance of a decent date for a Friday night. We did a lot of thinking about and discussing matters related to human relationships.
The woman who was our landlady (and Stephanie’s “friend”) was a fundamentalist Christian who believed America was ordained by God to set a Christian example to the world (nice example, no? 😵). This was at a time when there were protests in the streets about the lies world leaders were peddling as an excuse to invade Iraq. Stephanie and I went to the peace protest in the Sydney CBD. The ferries going there were crammed with people, many saying to us, “This is the first time I’m doing such a thing, but I just can’t not.” Of course, at home, we were now the Antichrist – and more than that, our landlady seemed to suspect us of homosexuality (which she was hung up about, what with her charming fundamentalism, and we weren’t – and since according to her, we “endorsed” the “homosexual lifestyle choice”, who knew what we got up to when other people weren’t looking 🌩). We’d sit on the basement sofa at night giving each other neck massages after work, and foot massages, and this drew alarmed expressions from her if she happened to come down. (Brett says, “Surely you could have played on her misconception by making monkey noises from the basement in the evening.” …see what I’ve married… 😄) She’d now invited another friend from Germany to stay with her in Castle Hill. We thought he was going to get the upstairs bedroom, and wondered what price he would have to pay. But to everyone’s surprise, including his (as he later told us), she accommodated him in her own bedroom.
Soon there was tension in the house, and he was left on his own by her. (This is around the same time she began to accuse me of shedding hair all over the bathroom. This was curly body hair, which I’ve never knowingly left lying around in bathrooms – you wash those down the drain, and make sure they don’t end up adorning the soap. Stephanie and I were puzzled. There was indeed a lot of curly hair in the bathroom lately, but it was probably mostly her male visitor’s, who had stuff like that all over his chest and arms and legs, and would logically shed it just towelling himself. Men don’t seem to be as self-conscious either about shedding their own body hair about the premises.) He asked if he could get a lift into Manly with us – we were going on a Harbour walk, he just wanted to get away to the beach. I agreed, but did mention during the trip that our landlady was now likely to accuse us of stealing her boyfriend. He told us he wasn’t her boyfriend and was dreadfully embarrassed by how things had played out after his arrival. Apparently she was upset that he was sharing her bed but not having sex with her – “That’s not what I expected when she invited me to stay with her in Sydney!” …it also wasn’t what we had expected from a moralising fire-and-brimstone enthusiast, but there you go. We did know that she was in her mid-30s and desperate for children, and we’ve noticed that people who preach narrow straitjackets around sexuality to others don’t always walk their talk.
Ah, the great tapestry. I’ve no idea what the truth of that was, but I do know that things can be incredibly complicated when it comes to relationships. I’m including this detail to give some idea of the surreal backdrop against which our friendship was forged, which led to all sorts of discussions on life, the universe and everything between us – and particularly, humans and the ways they behaved.
♦ ♥ ♦
The Travelling Circus
Stephanie was a classically beautiful girl – photogenic from all angles, which I’m definitely not, dark glossy long hair, beautiful creamy skin all over (unlike us sun-blighted Aussies – I overheat easily when hiking and therefore had the choice between acquiring sun-damaged arms, or dying early of hyperthermia). She had these lovely green cat-like eyes and this wistful smile, and the way she’d curl into a sofa or move her limbs languidly when relaxed again reminded me of a cat. It’s the sort of thing that makes me go awwww and think about fetching a mug of warm milk and a snuggly blanket.
When we weren’t hiking in our spare time, we went to museums and art galleries and rode the ferries all over Sydney Harbour. I noticed that whenever we were out in public, men in her vicinity were nearly falling over their feet, and frequently made excuses to introduce themselves. I found that rather amusing. I’d read about that kind of thing, but never observed it in person. She did nothing to encourage it and politely fended off the attention. She told me it had always been like this, and wasn’t particularly useful because it attracted the wrong kinds of people, for the wrong reasons.
Once we were in the Museum of Contemporary Arts at Circular Quay in Sydney, on our way out again in the late afternoon. There was a coffee stand in an interior corner near the exit of the building, and Stephanie mentioned she could use a coffee. Then we saw on a sign that it closed half an hour before the museum proper – we were just five minutes late, and the barista was tidying his stand. “Bummer,” she said. I thought about it. “If you want a coffee, go ask him. There’s no point me asking – if I do it will be, Sorry, Madam, we are closed! – but if you ask, 99% he’ll unpack everything and make you a coffee, with complimentary cream on top, and he’ll probably ask for your phone number.”
She considered for a moment. “But that wouldn’t be right.” I agreed with her – it’s not right, strictly speaking, but neither was that she couldn’t go anywhere without men getting in her face. It was like being in a travelling circus, it was uncomfortable, and it was bothersome. Here’s the funny thing – a subset of men think it’s such a wonderful compliment to a woman to go up and make a pass at her. That’s the type we both found odious, and if there were no other types of men we’d both have either taken up voluntary celibacy, or made a serious effort to discover just how fluid sexual orientation really is. Not all of them were like that, of course – some of them might even have been nice, but it really isn’t fun to have to deal with that level of attention every time you’re out in public. And what was she supposed to do about it? Wear a burqa? Well, that would just have singled her out for another type of unpleasant attention. Stay home? Maybe get a mohawk and wear chains through her nose?
“Go on,” I said. “Play the tourist and ask for a coffee. He could choose to say no. But he won’t. We can’t always be tying ourselves in knots about stuff like this.” And off she went, blushing at her own audacity. “I’m sorry, I know I’m five minutes late, but is it still possible to get a coffee?” The barista smiled a 100W smile I could see from across the room, and soon after, Stephanie returned with a big paper cup and a sheepish expression on her face. “Got your coffee, I see,” I teased her. We are a strange species. What can you do? Love your friends. Walk a mile in people’s shoes. Find reasons to laugh.
♦ ♥ ♦
Just Be You
We were talking about these events while walking through coastal woodland high on a sea cliff along the Bibbulmun track near Torbay last night – the UV is so high here in summer that we’re now doing twilight hikes. It occurred to me looking back that I’ve never been plagued with envy. Some people might have had a problem going around with someone so beautiful they were rendered invisible, but I just laughed and observed people. Stephanie was my friend, and I was glad of all the things that made her shine because I loved her, and because those things made the world a better place.
And I think that’s true in a wider sense too – I’ve never been envious when someone is wonderfully creative and does something I can’t do, or when someone is incredibly physically beautiful, or when they do something magnificently intelligent that I couldn’t have. Those kinds of things are light to me, and reasons for celebration (just look at all the wonderful books and music and architecture etc we have because other people developed and used their gifts and yes, there’s a lot of rubbish as well but I’m not talking about that here). When teaching high schoolers, everything intelligent or lovely or creative or funny they said or did filled me with joy, and made me glad to be human, and gave me hope for our species – it’s an antidote to the wider picture of corruption and injustice and destruction, and because these are young people, there’s a sense that they will steer better than the current captains when they get near the rudder.
I think envy comes from two things especially – from not feeling that who you are and what you’re doing in the world is enough, and from seeing everything as a competition for supremacy (as is the cultural brainwash). But if you are broadly happy with your path, and you can see that we’re all part of each other, envy just doesn’t happen.
Maybe it’s comparatively easy for me these days – I recognise that I have gifts, and I give them. (By the way, that’s a nice ethos from Catholic schools where I’ve taught – that we all have gifts, and that we are to develop and use them in service of others. Not all that religions teach is bad. 😎) Also it helps to have a fair few objective strings in my bow, like multiple university qualifications and academic awards, really positive employment references through the years, a professional publication sitting in the National Library of Australia; and a broad skill set that includes things like milking cows, saddle training horses, trimming hooves, managing biodiversity and more sustainable farming/permaculture, designing and owner building our own off-grid eco-house, growing food and flowers, creating habitat, writing articles for magazines, dabbling in strings (for my own entertainment mostly – when you’re learning an instrument, you can literally feel the new neural connections forming, plus it’s great meditation for people who can’t sit still), producing nutritious and delicious meals which are one of the backbones of our good health, climbing Australian mountains (which by European standards are molehills) and being good at off-the-track hiking etc. Of course, it’s a common thing with high achievers to feel like nothing is ever good enough, or enough – but I got past that a while back, and am happy with the contributions I am able to make. All you really need to do is quietly keep plugging away at the things that are important to you.
I’ve never, ever wanted to be anybody else but me; I just wanted to become good at being me, even when that was so hard for me when I was younger that I repeatedly came to the point of wishing I’d never been born. If there had been an “undo” button, there are many times I would have wanted to use it in my late teens and 20s, when life was just too painful and dark. Luckily, I was never attracted to putting an end to my existence now that I was here; just the idea that I could undo having been born, and because that’s not possible, I am still here.
Brett laughed last night when I said, “The other thing people don’t understand when they would so gladly swap existences with someone else is that they’d just be swapping one set of problems for another.” Because there is no getting away from having to confront some really tough things, whoever you are; and if you don’t, you just become an empty shell, like certain outgoing leaders of the so-called “free world” (now that’s a joke 😵) – and that can cause so much damage to others, and the world in general. (Of course, when dying people want to swap with someone not dying, that’s a different matter to the general, “I wish I could swap with X so I could be more beautiful and accomplished and admired and wealthy and famous etc etc.”)
The real challenge is to become good at being you. It’s also a wonderful thing to witness when other people you know are making progress in that direction. There’s too much surface activity and window dressing in our world and not enough underneath and authenticity, so if we can help each other with that, that’s excellent. And it’s a bit like an avalanche – it tends to grow and gather momentum once it gets rolling. The more we do this, the easier it gets, both for ourselves, and for other people around us. ♥
♦ ♥ ♦
Stephanie and I continued to be disappointed with the quality of the available males we were meeting (see footnote*), and in quasi-desperation we joked that if even one of us were to find a good one, we were going to share him, provided he was happy with that arrangement. Stephanie laughed until she was bent double. “If he’s happy with the arrangement! That’s a good one. It’s what most of them fantasise about – multiple women – and not having to hide them from each other is surely a bonus, unless the hiding and lying bit is part of the attraction!”
It was an amusing thought. “He’ll think he’s got it made…but he doesn’t know what he’s in for! Try getting out of your share of the housework when you’re up against a united team of two women. Or leaving the toilet seat up, or not checking for tissues in your pockets when you put dirty clothes in the wash basket. And forget about watching the football – I hope you like interior decorating shows, All Creatures Great And Small, movies about diseases, and period romances!”
When you think about it, a man in an all-around agreed-upon relationship with two women who are friends has far greater opportunities for becoming properly civilised and house-trained. 😇 It’s such a vastly different proposition to a scenario where two women in separate households and not in a sharing agreement are being played off against each other, overtly or covertly, by one guy. All a man learns from that, I think, is entitlement and bad manners.
Jokes aside, the situation did make me think, looking back, about whether an alternative universe exists where I could have ended up in a non-traditional arrangement, and I think the answer is yes. If the right person had come along then I think I could actually have shared him (if he was agreeable 😜) with Stephanie, or a very close female friend like that, without getting jealous or freaking out. I’m not the kind of person who’s inclined towards extra people in the bedroom, and I would have wanted my friend to have privacy too, so it would most likely have been on some kind of equitable roster basis.
Of course, I do think that the more variables you add, the more unstable something potentially becomes, and the biggest risk, in my view, in that sort of scenario, is that somehow or other you end up falling out with your friend somewhere along the line in the process. And I’ve got to say, I think a close friendship is worth more than a sexual time-share, and your friendship may be less at risk if you scale down your expectations of sexual partners and each of you just have separate “bonking buddies” for that particular purpose, while having the intellectual conversations, mutual support, fun outings and adventures, plus a fully functional, equitable household in your platonic friendship(/s). Please note, I’m just speculating and extrapolating here, having not done specific fieldwork in this area. 😇
*To give a prime example, but not quite the worst, I had a date with a Frenchman who, walking along Shelley Beach in Manly, asked me, “What would you do if you were my girlfriend and I hit you?” I replied, “That would be the end of the matter. You’d not see me again – I’ve no intentions of enabling a violent relationship.” He said to me, “That’s not very forgiving, and you don’t understand men. What you need to do when a man hits you is to cry so he can understand he’s hurt you, and make it up to you.” You couldn’t make this stuff up. Here’s a guy who wants to bash women and then have sex with them. Brett says, “Why not ask him, What would you do if you were my boyfriend and I kneed you in the balls?”
Another, this time seemingly nice, guy I dated in Sydney for a while swore blind he’d been celibate for over a year, and was getting regular HIV tests because he was a regular blood donor, when we were discussing contraception options – and a couple of weeks later he mentioned having had sex with a neighbour who’d been locked out by a flatmate a few months earlier, “to comfort her” but “that it didn’t count because she was lesbian” – you tell me…
Stephanie dated a New Zealander at one point and did, for once, have impromptu sex on a date (saying to me, “It’s just been far too long…”). In the morning, she discovered a photo of his current NZ girlfriend in his wallet. She had no intention of being “the other woman” or a bit on the side, but people usually aren’t upfront about stuff like this.
These are just a couple of examples of a long, long list of fishy things experienced by myself and by friends in the sphere of dating and relationships, and they’re not even the worst.
But that’s not how it worked out. Stephanie and I both ended up leaving Sydney to go home again, she to Germany and I to Western Australia. Back home, a couple of years later, I finally, miraculously met an available, highly compatible person in possession of Y-chromosomes. It was very quickly as good a friendship as I had with Stephanie, and it’s now had 14 years to get broader and deeper, as good friendships will, given time and care. I was adamant this time that friendship had to be the foundation for a potential life partnership, and that it wasn’t going to be complicated with sexual involvement before the friendship had time to develop solidly.
That sounds so twee, and so conservative, but for my personal background it was totally the right thing to do. Everyone has a thing called a “sexual script” that’s unconsciously written for them in childhood, which can be modified later as long as you go looking for the source code, successfully locate it, and re-write the bits you personally find objectionable. Because I grew up in a violent, emotionally abusive household, with a controlling, narcissistic father, my sexual script early on in my life caused me to be attracted to controlling, narcissistic men. I don’t mean that I set out consciously looking for people like that – if you’d asked me to write an essay on what I was looking for, I’d have written a description of Brett, pretty much, from my late teens – personality, values, interests – plus he’s on the spectrum of physical traits I personally find particularly attractive (pale skin, dark hair and lots of it, great smile, strong eyebrows, lithe and lean and able to scramble up mountains and cliffs with ease – not that this was all essential or that I couldn’t have learnt to find other traits attractive). But the thing is, it’s not intellect that’s in charge of who you’re sexually and emotionally attracted to, it’s all that subconscious stuff, including the bad code that you got as a kid. You end up having powerful physical and emotional reactions to exactly the wrong sorts of people – all your mating biochemistry set for the wrong parameters – and until you understand why, you’re liable to question your own sanity, and to have a series of bad relationships with people with similar behaviours as your family of origin.
I was still re-writing that code when I met Brett, and there came a point in our relationship where I had to explain that to him – that I’d never previously managed to be sexually and emotionally attracted to a person who had his heart in the right place (but would very much like to give it a chance). I was very much afraid that I wouldn’t be able to break the pattern, and I also felt bad for Brett because he clearly had no issues with being sexually and emotionally attracted to me and here I was with my own heart under a layer of ice. However, he was understanding, patient and, it turns out, very good at melting all the protective ice.
So we had a drawn-out courtship, for contemporary standards, and I actually think, looking back, that this was so much nicer than just catapulting into sex before knowing each other well. So we started out holding hands a lot, which was really lovely, by the way – and weirdly, holding hands with him was very different from holding hands with other people I’d dated, or been involved with previously. It’s at the same time the most innocent thing in the world, and such a sensuous experience that it was better than my best prior experiences of sexual intercourse (which were not all woeful; some of them were technically very good). So you know, should we lose the capacity eventually with advancing decrepitude, we will still be very happy holding hands. 😀
Even now, when I’ve had well over a decade to get used to it, we’ll walk down a beach holding hands and I’ll say to him, “Why, why, why is this always like foreplay for us?” and he grins at me and says, “Everything is foreplay for us.” Which by the way doesn’t mean we’re constantly banging away – but it means that everything is incredibly well integrated, in a way I’d never remotely experienced before.
I remember one evening early in our courtship where we ended up hugging in front of the heater and being unable to let go, and we spent hours lying on the floor until the sides of us facing away from the little heater were freezing (nightfall in an uninsulated house) and we got incredibly sore from being on the floorboards. Still, the idea of letting go and going to our separate beds (he was in the guest quarters downstairs) was unthinkable. At around 2am, I finally said to him, “We need to sleep, we’re both freezing and sore, I really don’t want to stop hugging you. I have a nice comfortable queen-sized bed with a warm quilt which would accommodate both of us, and that would be a far better place to hug each other than this horrible cold hard floor. The problem is, inviting a man to your bed has these certain overtones which I don’t intend with it. I don’t mean the conventional subtext, I just want to keep hugging in a nice, soft, warm place where we can go to sleep.”
This was just fine and dandy with him, and so that’s what we did. ♥ He’s the first man ever who didn’t pressure me for sex as a result of extended (/any) hugging. I can’t tell you how good it felt to be valued as a person, instead of treated as an object, and not to have a man going on about how much he was suffering from having to restrain himself (…this notion has Brett rolling his eyes… told you I’d previously dated a-holes 👺). And also, the hugging was exquisitely lovely. ♥ It was really nice just to be able to enjoy it for its own sake, and not as a prelude to anything; and not to feel that because you’ve done this, you must therefore do that, like some kind of obligation. (Honestly! 😛 Brett is making an indicator needle with his finger, swinging it to the right, and saying, “…but I did know that the probability of really interesting stuff happening was creeping upwards!” 😀)
That particular night has a name in our personal relationship lore: We called it Corduroy Night, because Brett was wearing a soft cream-coloured pair of corduroys all night, and that’s unusual bedwear, but it would have wasted valuable hugging time if he’d gone downstairs to put on his pyjamas, plus at that stage, pyjamas would have been a bit too informal. 😇 We hugged all night, got snatches of sleep, and in the morning, we had breakfast in bed while tangling bare feet and reading – which set a precedent for ever after, because we still don’t eat at a breakfast table unless we have guests or particularly messy food, and we still tangle feet and read things.
I could fill volumes with our early days and our life together since – and I have, in my paper journals. I’m going to look back on this stuff fondly until the day I die. Life is so much nicer when people’s focus is on what they can give to each other, rather than what they can take take take – and when they take pleasure in giving, and not just in taking. And when they actually see and hear each other, and don’t make another person a screen for their projections – because you can’t get to know someone for real if you’re projecting on them. (And by the way, I always thought that last point was one of the themes of Pictures Of You – I never saw it as a breakup song, as quite a few people did – I saw it as “let go of your projections and try seeing the real person” – keeping in mind that songs are often another form of Rorschach test.)
♦ ♥ ♦
We’re back to the same point again that songs, literature etc all help us work out who we are, and who we’re not, and all sorts of other useful stuff.
Let’s get back to another interview quote:
Do you still see people from the old days, like Siouxsie?
“No. She’s probably very nice now, but the shit I was given then for having a girlfriend – fucking hell! She thought that was a very middle class thing to do. Now look at her – comfortably married and living in the south of France. I’m sure she’s a lot nicer person for having discovered that love isn’t a thing that has to be tucked into a corner.”
She gave you crap for being surburban?
Smith shakes his head: “She gave me crap for being in love.”
The Baby And The Bathwater
Ever noticed the tendency to throw out the baby with the bathwater? Someone grows up in a middle-class family, and if they’re that way inclined, may rebel against what they see by going to opposite extremes. Their parents were married? Well, they sure as hell won’t be – they’ll just have flings then dump people. Their parents keep their house deadly clean? Ha – they’ll live in a bomb site when they get a house. Their parents have ceramic dinner plates? They’ll have plastic picnicware, or eat straight from the tin. Etc etc etc. Because they’re their own people.
The funny thing is that you’re then equally defined by the person you’re rebelling against than if you were to slavishly imitate them. It’s giving them a heck of a lot of power, while you think you’re the one taking control. Obviously it can get up those people’s noses, but isn’t it more important to live your own life based on working out your own values, ideals etc, than just to kneejerk react into the opposite direction of someone or something you despise?
So I’ve never really liked rebelling-for-rebelling’s-sake, or music about that. If you’re going to critique, don’t just tear something apart and storm off – actually offer a better way of doing things – think about what should be, not just what shouldn’t. It’s really easy being an armchair critic if you don’t have to get up there and perform yourself. I’ve heard some artists saying that they have no responsibility to fix the system, just to point out it’s broken – and that it’s someone else’s job to fix it. To me that’s such a copout – we’re all human, we’re all in this together, and we all have responsibility for what we do to the world and each other, and what we let other people/”the system” get away with doing.
My parents were married and I didn’t like what I saw in how they conducted that relationship and general interpersonal business in the family – but that didn’t make me swear off marriage or family. There were plenty of better examples around. My parents often bought cheap low-quality junk to save money when ironically they had a lot of it – but I’m not buying the most expensive and prestigious stuff I can afford in response to that because I think that’s idiotic too – we look at quality, longevity, local production or fair trade, environmental standards etc – not fashion or status – and we don’t collect possessions like magpies, either, whether cheap junk which my mother used to come home with by the bagful, or the status items some people like to surround themselves with.
You don’t have to repeat a pattern, nor do you have to confect the opposite – just start with a blank slate and figure out what you want to do. To let someone else’s dysfunction push me in a reactionary way into a different kind of dysfunction, or into opting out of something entirely if there’s better ways to do that, isn’t very smart. Snobbery or inverted snobbery, two sides of the same coin, two wings of the same vulture.
That tendency some people have to adopt the dead opposite of what they grew up with can also be seen in how philosophy has often been conducted. Traditionally Philosopher A would expound a theory, and then Philosopher B would come along and construct a theory that was dead opposite to Philosopher A’s; for example: We have totally free will versus We have no free will at all when both those extreme viewpoints are are actually incorrect – we can exercise some free will, and get better at it as we go, but there’s other things in which we’re constrained, whether temporarily or permanently; and it’s different for different people and situations. Even the language of philosophy reveals this: Thesis versus antithesis – and synthesis, which attempts to reconcile the truths of opposing viewpoints, and present a more complex, and complete, picture.
That’s a broad sweep out to various subjects that connect back to the idea (from the quote) that a person is being ridiculed for having a steady girlfriend – which I find preposterous, obviously. And it’s not just that issue that would be targeted by that kind of subculture/counterculture – you try not drinking alcohol, or very little of it, or “not-doing” anything else that the subculture/counterculture or peer group commonly does. So I actually find many of the subcultures/countercultures that formed in reaction against mainstream culture just as bigoted and prescriptive as mainstream culture, albeit in the opposite direction, or alternative directions – and the reality is that many people in subcultures/countercultures don’t think for themselves either, just as is the case in mainstream culture.
So in the mainstream culture, several decades back, you could get lambasted for not marrying; and in the countercultures you could get lambasted if you did decide to get married. Ditto, taking drugs, not taking drugs. Riding motorbikes, not riding motorbikes. Saying fuck and not saying fuck. Etc etc etc. And it’s all so silly, because none of these groups, mainstream or not, seem to encourage you to truly think for yourself – it all seems to come back to conformity to whatever the rules of the “club” are – to the herd instinct, basically.
Brett and I were both essentially outsiders through middle school and mostly went off and did our own thing, like browse in the library, instead of get involved in group politics. Therefore, neither of us were ever under any pressure to take up smoking (popular in the 80s) or to binge drink or to have flings, all of which seemed to be seen as “initiation rites” in our social environments at the time, and all of which we personally thought were silly things to do. We didn’t get caught up in the crowd like that – we had a handful of good friends each that we’d talk to, but avoided groups and their little games.
I noticed with the younger generations that came after ours, that there seemed to be a bit more freedom for people to be genuine, rather than conform; and the world of friendships in middle school was less dog-eat-dog. As a result, people didn’t have to be quite as “outside” anymore in order to do their own thing, and I think that’s an encouraging development. 😎
I suppose when Siouxsie Sioux gave Robert Smith crap about having a steady girlfriend, she would have thought herself more liberated and sophisticated, and less brainwashed, than the person she was giving crap, but the irony is that her ideas, and those of her ilk, seem to me like just another type of brainwash. Brett likes some of The Banshees’ music, I think he mostly added that to his collection in his 20s, but as a teenager I remember not liking a lot of stuff that I found too cold, and/or too conformist and not independent enough, whether mainstream or from subcultures – and I was therefore not attracted to stuff like The Banshees. It seemed to me that it was the devil or the deep blue sea, with mainstream culture versus many subcultures.
I still liked alternative music much better than mainstream, but that’s because amongst people making alternative music there were also some people who did think seriously and independently, instead of mostly just being reactionary. I liked reading or hearing interviews with them; it was interesting, like their music, and it was educational. It also was such a relief that there were people you could interview in this world who weren’t just going to regurgitate stuff that their particular culture or subculture had programmed them with and who had this great vacuum behind their words.
Siouxsie Sioux appeared to discover later that those early sweeping pronouncements were in error, considering she got married herself. Or who knows, maybe it was a practical experiment to test the running hypothesis that marriage is all middle-class, bourgeois, boring, unenlightened, demeaning, etc etc. Well, a bad marriage can be these things, of course. But it’s like Christmas, really: What I see in consumer culture around me when Christmas approaches makes me want to throw up. I could refuse to hold Christmas altogether, or I could do what we do, which is to do Christmas our own way, focused on people and not materialism, without the technicolour full-sized model Santa outside the front door and the seizure-inducing plethora of aggressively strobing fairy lights all over the house exterior, without the set traditional Christmas lunch and the annoying relatives, etc. (This is NOT a magic formula – other people that have actually thought about it critically may very well have the traditional Christmas lunch, and an enjoyable extended family to gather in, and manage to do the technicolour Christmas in a way that actually fits in with them in a positive way – we’re all different, there is no prescription.)
We still have a tree and all that, but it’s a potted Albany Woollybush that lives in the garden for the rest of the year. We do decorate it, and put gifts under it, but mostly for us the actual Christmas Eve/Christmas Day is a private couple retreat, where we might go for a night walk to look at the sky, eat whatever we want to for dinner – Brett makes an amazing mushroom/smoked ham/celery salad which is always a firm favourite around that time – and we might have stir fry for Christmas lunch, or just salads if it’s hot, and we usually go down to Cosy Corner or Lowlands (remote beaches near our place) for an early walk or a twilight walk. Much of the day will be spent reading books companionably, maybe watching some Dr Who (Brett’s treat, but I’ve come to enjoy it too), just kicking back. Occasionally when Christmas Day is unusually cool, and we’re feeling energetic, we may actually go for a 3-4 hour hike along the coast. So we’re pretty happy with our personalised Christmas.
…that’s from a couple of years back when we still had the aerial in the house because we were too chicken to mount it on the highest part of our gable (even though we’d plastered that gable ourselves 😄); we ended up getting professional assistance, and now it’s up. 😀
I think this is a good place to wrap up this post – and I’d like to wish everyone out there a really good Christmas, however you choose to do it or not do it. ♥ Enjoy your snow, or sleet, or drizzle, or (for those in the Southern Hemisphere) your white-hot heat and skin-blistering, melanoma-inducing UV. 😇 Maybe indoors is a good place to be in both hemispheres on Christmas Day – perhaps in an igloo, or a tent by the sea?
Oh and if you’re looking for a nice Christmas movie, here’s an Australian cult classic we can thoroughly recommend – full version now on YT!