Why You Should Be More Cynical

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Using a Polish gnome for my headline image because, why not, pictures equal more views on the internet. Still, they are delivering news just as I am delivering opinion.

I’ve seen a major problem with the way people read and write about things on the internet. The vast majority of people like to find things they disagree with then share it with a wee pointless comment about how much they disagree. The problem is best illustrated by a gif.

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People walk into these clickbait, anger merchant, think pieces get temporarily infuriated, then go in to walk into another one. They share them, bitch to their friends about how unjust the world is, and the cycle continues. The cycle spreads. The anger cycle.

The cycle starts with demand – people want something to read to keep them occupied for a few minutes. This demand is filled by a small pool of content mill writers, who are essentially some starving artist writers who need the small amount of money they’ll get paid to churn out shit. The easiest money, I’m told, comes from attacking feminists. From a demographic perspective, feminists are primarily women, who tend to be more social creatures than men, hence more connected on social networks, and as the ideology demands societal change feminists are always “on” and ready to fight things. Writers are often paid by click and could probably troll feminists into paying their rent and heating bill for the month. Literally feeding the trolls.

Stop a minute when you read a thing and consider what the author’s intention might be, and then scrap any thoughts that it could have anything to do with their principles and resolve that they probably want money. A friend one time advised me when I was going to write a story to first think “Where are they standing?”. You must also ask this question of every writer and every piece of art that angers you.

As an additional example, consider “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams. The song is fairly catchy, but it seems mostly known for the lyrics. Lyrics which are fairly par for the genre. Instead, it became known, in some circles, as one of the most misogynistic and sexist things to have ever been recorded. The upshot fo all this? It was the topic of countless thinkpieces and comments and parodies. It was pushed frequently by different people. Even sharing a thing negatively is still a share. Why would you want to increase the number of times something you hate exists?

Be more cynical. Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams sat down and devised lyrics that sounded a bit off colour and sexualising. They still weren’t half as explicit as some people. Didn’t you notice they filled their music video with hashtags? It’s blatant advertising, and it pisses me off as much as it makes me laugh that people fell for it. The negative reaction if anything just galvanised support for the song. The various student unions publicly making sure everyone knew they weren’t playing it and making statements instead of, you know, just not playing it, reeks of people trying to look like they’re doing something against the moral outrage. It all built momentum and publicity and assisted the song to becoming the party song of that Summer.

(I preferred “Get Lucky”, myself, so that’s another reason I’ve written about this.)

As it stands, I don’t have a solution for you. None seems to spring immediately to mind. Being prepared to ignore more things could help, but every horror movie and every genocide starts with people ignoring things. In retrospect, it is always easier to identify the causes to the effects, it’s easy to recognise when something should have been done. It’s much much harder to decide something isn’t worth it. All the same, I’d encourage all my activist friends and those who find themselves getting angry to follow this advice:

Be more cynical. Follow the money. Don’t Buy It. Sharing anything means you agree with it and endorse it. Sharing something is an encouragement to the writer and an encouragement to the opinion. A good rule of thumb is to instead look for something saying the opposite and share that instead. If you plant more angry seeds, you’ll get an evil tree. Evil trees bear vicious fruit and vicious fruit bears more angry seeds. That is the cycle, and I implore you to break it.

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Accents – “Where d’you come from?”

Take a minute and think about goulash.

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Goulash is a type of stew they make in Hungary and seemingly every Slavic country. In Hungarian it is written gulyás, from some root word that has to do with cattle-herders as the story goes. Thanks to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, or just close trade links, the recipe and variants became popular around Central and Eastern Europe. As it exists in numerous places, it has numerous spellings, each reflecting a different emphasis and sound.

Why am I talking about goulash? Because this is an example of a word that has travelled and taken on new expression in a different language family. Incidentally, it is also one of the meals I ate when my parents were in town recently and they inspired this post.

My parents’ visit was a lot of fun and it gave flight to my accent again. Though my dad says I haven’t got a very strong accent, and he might be right – Irvine Welsh I ain’t -it was liberating to drop the English language teacher voice. It’s my least favourite part of teaching, having to change such an intimate part of me, my voice, in order to be of most use to people who are not ready for it. Even a light Scottish accent may be a bit much for people at A2 (Pre-int) on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (try saying that while half-cut). But I can speak freely with my family.

i would like to be able to speak the same around my fiancée. She is into it and knows how it flows and sounds already. But I code switch too often and rarely switch back. Normally, in professional environments in Scotland, I would be able to speak “properly” during the working day and switch to my rougher accent in the pub. Here, I can’t go back so easily.

See, I noticed something about the logic of language and I can show you with a self-written joke for students.

Why does the English language have articles (a, an, and the)?

shrugs

It’s because you’re foreign and we hate you

Huge laughs!

Of course, we don’t really hate second language speakers of English, but all the best jokes are surprising.

Anyway, it’s absolutely the case that English grammar is just a messed up way to show who is part of the ‘in’ crowd and who is part of the ‘out’ group. The way we form our sentences in a strict word order, the fact we have 86 prepositions (in, out, on, above, etc.), the irregular verbs, and the weird pronunciation are just some of the problems for the second language speaker.

For these reasons, it is often instantly recognisable if someone is a second language speaker. For a start, people, who have learned other languages in their own country will have pronunciation like their teacher, often a non-native speaker of English. Even if they learned from a native teacher, that will often be only an hour or two a week and most of their conversation practice will be with other non-native speakers. *

What is the effect of recognising somebody is a non-native speaker? It seems to me like it turns foreign people into ‘others’. People get a little defensive and territorial about language because they fear someone else has come to take their goulash. How can a second language speaker escape this? By putting on an accent.

By putting on an accent it looks here like I’m saying to act one. It is far better to develop one, to consciously take pronunciations you like.

For I think I can notice in my own voice and manner where I come from. I’ve got my Scottish vowel sounds, sounds which will never vanish and for that I’m thankful, but I have increasingly anglicised and americafied consonants. My life has had a ton of different people in it and because many of them were from different areas, primarily American, I have had to soften it in places.

It was that or have people repeatedly misunderstand me with varying levels of politeness in their response. It has been a struggle and it goes on as even my softer level still sometimes invites criticism. If a person misunderstands even your first syllable they will often turn off trying to understand the rest of your sentence. It sucks when people make you feel like an imbecile for speaking the language like your forebears, friends and relatives.

For a long time it made me angry when people didn’t even appear to try. But now I realise I more often have to meet them halfway. People aren’t mindreaders and I fancy if you say something in a way they’d never expect it to be said, they’ll abandon any hopes of comprehension.

Still, it was good to see my parents and speak the same language in the same old accent. It’s exhausting having to put on a neater voice and change to fit other people’s understanding.

*I’m pretty certain every language is like this. Between language families the change is greatest. The jump from English to Czech is greater (Germanic to Slavic) than the jump from Ukrainian to Czech (both Slavic). Between these families there is both a difference in words and a difference in how they fit together. Czech can be confusing as all the words seem to change their ending all the time depending on the situation and it isn’t too great a change too from asking for a cigarette to demanding their entire pack with just a small change in tone and word ending.

Happy Haircuts!

A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life – Coco Chanel

How right Coco Chanel is about everything. Except politics, but we’re not doing that today, let’s focus on the hair! As a rule of thumb, I get my hair cut about twice a year. Not too often, but a lot more than I go to the dentist because normally my teeth feel and look okay but my hair turns into a bit of a mess with neglect. Barber shops used to also do teeth and limb amputation  so it feels reasonable. Hair is much more transformative. With a few snips of their scissors the barber can turn you from a badly kept bush into a less badly kept bush. This can be massively important for improving your confidence, as well as the ventilation of heat from the head.

Of that last part I need a lot. My brain works something furious. It also makes me look less big headed while being especially insufferable. I’m in a silly, yet emotionally honest mood, so let’s get cracking!

As a child I used to be a bit scared of haircuts. What was I thinking? There could be nothing less threatening than a far larger person wielding scissors right next to your ears. But as with most childhood things, I got over it. My mum always told me to stay still so the barber didn’t cut me up, and I obeyed with a special respect for the guy with the sharpened steel. I used to get particularly bewildered by the language they spoke. I had no idea what they meant when they said different numbers, nor what they meant when they said verbs such as “thinned” or “layered”. Perhaps I’m just basic but it was pretty trying. It took me 2 or 3 years at university to figure out how to get what I wanted.

Oddly, it was far easier here, in beautiful Prague.

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The sun was shining as I walked down a couple streets to my early morning appointment with the hairdresser. Doing stuff at the beginning of the day makes a lot more sense to me as it frees up the rest of the daylight hours. Time for things like blogging. And coming up with bad puns to trick my fiancée with. I had wondered how I’d communicate with the barber. After all, I’m already pretty mediocre at hair talk and my Czech hair talk must be substantially worse. But here was a stroke of genius from my darling fiancée (I really like that word, I’m not trying to be soppy but ‘fiancée’ has a lovely ring to it) – bring a picture. So armed with a picture of myself at one of the windier parts of Ireland, I did battle with my childhood dislike of hair talk and my immigrant ignorance of Czech.

Before I talk you through the process, it is worth describing the place a little – should you, dear reader, require a man’s haircut in Prague. The barber shop is called ‘Barber Street’. It is in Žižkov on a street called Vlkova, behind Seifertova near that big church. It is the only barber on the street to my knowledge. The inside smells lightly of hair product mingled with water from the spray. The barbers are immaculate, extremely well presented with very tight hair and cool clothes. There is a waiting room with two sofas. They have boxing gloves on the walls, as befits a bastion of manhood like a barbers shop. There’s a small dog running all around the inside of the place, not small like a yorkie or jack rusell, I mean small like a reasonably sized shoe – very cute. It only has four chairs and it seems like they only have two people working at a time so if you’re looking to get something done it’s best to book ahead.

My hair is kind of hard to do. It’s pretty thick. It gets quite curly at the ends when it’s long. My head is covered with scars – from a combination of being hit by a van (details therein), and a couple of extraordinarily stupid things, like diving a little too sharply into the shallow end of a swimming pool. All this taken into account, it’s probably pretty understandable why I’m careful about who I choose to cut my hair. But it needed to happen. My parents are visiting very soon.

My barber, Vlad, got to work with not much talk needed. I showed him the picture, explained that I washed my hair recently, and was be-caped and in the chair quick as a whippet – another dog which is larger than the little one I mentioned above. Cutting down the sides took him about half an hour. As I said earlier, it’s quite thick. I was glad he spent so much time on it as it was clear he was paying close attention to the details. It took about 15 minutes to cut the top down a bit – I prefer it longer on top as it gives me more I can do. 10 minute for finishing touches, dusting the ends with a buzzer and what have you. All in all, a very decent amount of time to spend cutting one person’s hair. Roughly £15 or $20 as long as the exchange rates haven’t gone mental this morning. I tipped a bit as well.

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Enough hair to lose a very small dog in

i have to say I’m very happy with the result. After all, a haircut is how you change this lecherous looking scoundrel:

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Into this closely cut professional:

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That being said, I do love and miss my long locks whenever I get them cut. In the next few months, I’ll have to sit and have a wee think about how I want to look on my wedding day. What ill-advised hairstyle will I pick for my future children to laugh at and my great grandchildren to gaze at in hoary contemplation as they ponder from whence they’ve come? In the end, a haircut is not just a transformation into a new woman or man, but an essential mark of what type of person you want to be seen as or remembered for in that particular moment of time.