Communication Breakdown

“The main point of this self-help DVD is that only you can help you. No need for me then, thanks for the twenty quid.” – Hugh Dennis, Mock the Week

I shouldn’t have to mention how redundant the self-help industry is. Nonetheless, it’s a booming field, patronized by individuals who’re well aware that they have problems, and want to fix them. The problem is, they think the solution is in a book.

Two problems with this!

To start, the vast majority of these books are written by people with no training in any field that qualifies them to give people advice. They’re just average people who thought: “hey, this psychology thing doesn’t look too hard, maybe I can give it a shot!” And as I explained last time, attempting to deal with the serious psychological issues of others when you don’t know what you’re doing can cause some extremely severe adverse effects. And even on the off-chance you get a real psychologist on board, you run into our next problem.

All these books are loaded with quippy statements, and funny stories, that sound profound and inspirational but are absolutely useless for the purposes of self-improvement. And to explain this, let’s take the ur-example: Dr. Phil! Every episode of that glorified self-help seminar ended with someone saying they were a changed person and everything was going to be better forever. Completely glossing over the fact that this shit’s hard! It’s hard to be a better person, you can’t change your habits and attitudes overnight, no matter how many inspirational one-liners you write on Post-it Notes! I mean, I had to become a Buddhist to get over my anger problems; and even years later it’s still something I struggle with on a daily basis! But imagine what would happen if they said that on the show. People would stop watching because that’s the one thing they don’t want to hear. They want the quick fix, they want the simple solution. And if you tell them it doesn’t exist, they’ll just go to someone else. Someone who is more than willing to lie to them in exchange for a book sale.

Yes, I just called Dr. Phil a sell-out. What of it?

So what am I getting at? Basically, the entire self-help industry is a load of bollocks! It certainly makes people feel good, but so does heroin. And oddly enough, it’s just as helpful. But what’s the harm? Well, it’ll certainly make your wallet feel lighter. I think that counts!

And I am so glad the writers of Littlest Pet Shop agree with me. Which brings me to a recent episode of the show, where they take the piss out of the self-help industry! Continue reading

Because You’re Worthless

A little over two weeks ago, Robin Williams killed himself.

Oh, what a bright and cheery way to open this piece.

But he did! It happened, and I honestly can’t ever remember being this broken up over a celebrity’s death. I mean, maybe Michael Jackson; but then I wasn’t sad, I was just surprised. But with Robin Williams, I was seriously broken up over it. And it didn’t take me long to realize why: because he killed himself.

When someone dies of natural causes, or due to some accident or drug overdose, you know you can’t really blame anyone. I mean, I could get angry at Heath Ledger for ruining The Dark Knight Rises by dying of a drug overdose, and I did. But I shouldn’t have because it wasn’t really his fault, it was an accident, and I’m sure he didn’t want to die. A statistical fluke, we’ll call it.

But Williams deliberately ended his own life. He chose to kill himself. So the rest of us don’t just have a sense of loss, but betrayal, and are left to only ask ‘why?’ Why did he chose to leave us? Why did he have to die before making Mrs. Doubtfire 2!? I’m sure the answers were in the note he left his family, which the rest of us will probably never see. And fair enough, we don’t have an explicit right to. But regardless, it was a decision he made. And the rest of us can only wonder why. And we may never, ever, get an answer.

So is that the reason it hit me so hard? I could keep saying that. I could say the gnawing existential questions are what tore me apart. But that would be a lie. A lie used to cover another lie that I’ve told everyone who’s ever asked, including myself. Because the truth I came to shortly after he died was: I know exactly how he felt. You see, in the past, I’ve thought of killing myself. And this is the first time I’ve ever told anyone.

Obviously I never went through it, and I don’t think I ever will. I’ve never even come close; I’ve never made a single action in that direction. It’s just… there were certain dark moments where I thought about it, but quickly decided against it. Which is why I was in denial about it. Oh, it was only for a few seconds, it doesn’t count! But looking back, it probably did. I’ll probably need to talk to someone about this, like a professional councillor, or a psychologist. Someone who would know exactly how to handle this.

I know I won’t talk to a friend who’ll probably have absolutely no experience with this kind of thing. Because if someone is depressed, and on the verge of suicide, a friend may be able to make the commitment and spend the night so they can physically stop the person from taking their own life. And yeah, sure, that’ll work, but it may only be a short-term solution. These people have serious issues they need to deal with, and if a friend tries to fix them, they might just make it worse! They may say things like: “Oh, life’s worth living!” and, “You have friends and family who love you!” and stuff… And that won’t help… at all. And you may be wondering: ‘Why!? Why won’t it help!?’ Well, because they won’t believe you!

The thing is, if someone’s that deep in a pit of depression, it’ll take more than meaningless platitudes to pull them out. “But they’re not meaningless!” you might say. But you’re wrong, they are. Just because you say something, doesn’t make it true, and someone suffering from depression is going to gravitate to the negative, and ignore the positive. They simply won’t believe you! And they may even think your pointless platitudes are condescending and insulting.

The truth is, if you feel inadequate and useless, someone else’s words aren’t going to pull you out of it. Even your own words will fail to pull you out, especially if you don’t believe them. You’re going to have to feel better, and want to feel better, by more than just simple words.

And with all this talk about suicide and depression, we come to the penultimate episode from the latest season of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Where Spike becomes clinically depressed during the Equestria Games. And I know exactly how he feels, I hate sports too. Continue reading

With Great Power

“I’ve been quoted as saying that ‘the cruellest thing you can do to an artist is tell them their work is perfect when it isn’t.’ It’s a policy that has gotten me thrown out of a lot of finger painting classes.” – Yahtzee Croshaw, Zero Punctuation; Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days

One of the biggest annoyances of being a writer who delves primarily in fanfiction, is that people have a tendency to blow smoke up my ass.

‘Oh, this story is so fantastic, I can’t wait to see what happens!’ They say in reference to my most boring work.

But on the flip side, when people have legitimate criticisms, it’s too easy to dismiss them and say they don’t get it. Or even worse, take personal offence.

One must remember that they are not their work. If someone criticizes your work, they’re not criticizing you, only what you created. But people so easily forget that. I, myself, only noticed recently that the early chapters of My Little Destiny were too over-padded. A lot of things could’ve been glossed over, compressed, or cut completely; but when people told me this, I got annoyed. Oh these peasants, not understanding the artistic narrative I’m trying to develop. Ba-ha-ha…

But they were right, and I should’ve been grateful, but I wasn’t; instead, I was dickish, and suggested they wanted Michael Bay to write the story. But this was my story, my baby, and I worked so hard on it! And that’s the problem: In my mind, I couldn’t separate myself from my work.

So it should come as no surprise that so many people treat artists like Precious Moments figurines; delicately and carefully out of fear they’ll break them, or by smashing them on the floor out of sheer disgust.

But the truth is, you shouldn’t hide the truth from them. If someone’s work is terrible, they deserve to know, because it’s the only way they can get better. You should try to nitpick, and search for errors and problems. And you should never, ever, use the word ‘perfect.’

Yes, I’m talking to you, Spike! You little suck up! For you see, it’s time, once again, to talk about My Little Pony. Continue reading

Trading Ponies

Trade is the bedrock upon which all civilization is built. It is essentially the practice of exchanging goods and services one has, for goods and services one needs.

This is necessary because no one is an expert at everything. Generally, people are really good at one or two things, moderately good at a few other things, and crap at everything else. So, without trade those who were good at growing corn, wouldn’t have much to eat other than corn, and their farming equipment would likely be made of leaves and twigs, unless they just happen to be good at smithing as well.

Oh, sure, they could also start farming cows for their meat, but they’d probably be terrible at it. Half the livestock would die, and the other half would want to. So instead, the corn farmer would just go to the local butcher, who might be getting sick of eating beef every single day, and exchange a bushel of corn for a nice, juicy steak.

These days we use money, but in principle it’s the same thing. We exchange what we have for currency, which we then exchange for what we need. Currency makes the whole process simpler and easier. Buying stuff doesn’t have to happen at the same time as selling stuff, and the value of an object can be fine-tuned to a much more precise degree.

Of course, there was a time when currency had a lot of value because it was something with a lot of value: gold! We used gold and silver as currency because these precious medals had an inherent value to us, primarily because of their rarity and the fact that you couldn’t just make more of it. Eventually, we started using paper that was backed by gold. Banknotes that represented a set amount of gold stored at a particular bank. This eventually evolved into something called ‘fiat money,’ which only has value because the government says it does. And this has worked pretty darn well for us over the past four decades. We’ve all been using fiat money without issue.

Well… most of us have. Apologies to all those living in Zimbabwe but I wouldn’t have blamed those troubles on your currency, but on your shit President.

Of course, this is something most people already know; or at least, those who’ve taken macroeconomics know. But the point is, currency works. And without it, we wouldn’t have a society.

Which is why I’m a bit perplexed at a recent episode of My Little Pony. It’s the episode where everypony abandons the Equestrian Bit (EQB), and goes back to a traditional bartering system of economics.

What is the nation coming to? Continue reading

Evolving Integrity

I’m certain I’m not alone when I say, I want to be a better person. But that’s not easy. There are certain faults I have, that I know I have, that I just can’t seem to get past. One being a lack of self-motivation to write these reviews.

But how do you know what is a fault, and what is a virtue? My favourite example of this being: ‘faith.’ A lot of people think ‘faith’ is a virtue, and I could not disagree more. To believe in something when there’s no evidence for it, and even when there’s evidence to contradict it, is in no way a good thing. In fact, it might even be a sign of insanity.

To give you an example, let’s say a friend of yours swears that he did not brutally murder his girlfriend with a chef’s knife. He’s your friend, you trust him, and so you believe him. I can understand that. Now, lets say he swears this as he’s holding a chef’s knife, dripping with fresh blood, and standing over his girlfriend’s mangled corpse. If you still believe him at that stage, you need psychiatric care.

So I guess it’s good in moderation. Trust a friend, sure… until he proves you can’t.

But are there any absolute virtues? Traits that are always good, in all cases?

Tenacity’s a good one; the desire to never give up. It’s what got me through high school, and my first attempt at college. And most of the major advancements our society has gone through was only possible because of people who refused to give up when things got tough. The suffragettes, the civil rights movement, NASA…

But on the other side of the coin, you have those people who are trying to build perpetual motion machines. People who think that if they work hard, and keep at it, they can defy the fundamental laws of the universe. I imagine if they ever do succeed, it’ll just cause a system error and our entire universe would blink out and be replaced by a blue screen with white text on it.

What about honesty? Well, sometimes you have to lie. Take all those people in Nazi Germany who sheltered Jewish families during the holocaust. Honesty there would’ve gotten innocent people killed.

So, these traits are good in moderation. But too much of them can cause insanity, or just being downright evil. But there is one virtue which I think is absolute. One you can never have too much of: Integrity.

Integrity is basically being honest to yourself. Having a solid moral code you live up to, don’t compromise on, and don’t back down from. Of course, being completely immovable on basic issues isn’t good. But that’s not integrity, that’s just being stubborn. Take gay marriage for instance. Let’s say a politician who was against gay marriage suddenly 180s because he met a gay couple who seemed really nice, and were very much in love, and it made him realize that these people have as much a right to get married as the next couple. That displays a profound amount of honesty and integrity. On the flip side, if he changes his mind because a gay advocacy group promised him a million in campaign dollars, that would do the opposite.

So yes, integrity is most certainly a virtue. And such a virtue seemed to be the theme of a recent episode of Littlest Pet Shop. Continue reading

Love in a Dumbwaiter

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big fan of romantic plotlines. Mainly because I think avoiding the issue is just ridiculous. On My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, only one main character ever expressed even a modicum of interest in a member of the opposite sex. The other five appear to actively avoid romance for no discernible reason. Well, that is with the possible exceptions of Twilight, who fell in love with a block of wood from a parallel dimension. But she didn’t really express an active interest in Flash Sentry, just a passive one. She just stood back, took a few shy glances, and blushed. And now that I think about it, that kind of characterization is bordering on old-fashioned sexism. Expecting the woman to stand back and wait for love to happen to her. What the hell, writers!?

But nonetheless, with the exception of Rarity’s one romance episode, they seem to actively avoid it. And this is part of the reason I like to presume the other five were spayed at some stage.

But that being said, romance is something that needs to be handled delicately, and not shoehorned in for the sake of fan service. And to me, the prime example of this has to be the TV show, Jonathan Creek. It’s a comedy/mystery series about a magician’s creative consultant who moonlights as an amateur detective solving seemingly impossible cases. Most of which are of the ‘locked-room’ variety. For the first few seasons he worked with his friend, Maddie, who also got him started in this business to begin with. Now, in the first few episodes of this show, there was no indication of any romantic tension between these two. In fact, just the opposite. They appeared more like reluctant colleagues. Then, in the final episode of season one, one character says, ‘oh yeah, they want to bang each other.’ And from that point forward, we get this shoehorned romantic subplot that never goes anywhere since they’re more likely to annoy each other before they can put it in. Typically, this is known as a ‘will they/won’t they’ plot. Except in this case, I wish they didn’t… ever. But they did, and a few episodes later, after she left the series, Jonathan mentions that it was a mistake. And I can’t tell if that was Jonathan Creek (the character) talking, or the series’ writer saying, ‘yeah, that was a bad idea, I don’t know why I did that!’

Then they introduced a new character named Carla, who also had a bit of romantic tension with Jonathan. But if you ask me, in that case, it worked. Primarily because they actually had a bit of chemistry. You could actually believe that they were a couple. Sadly, between her first and second appearances, she ended up dumping Jonathan, and getting married to a professional tool. So that wasn’t actually a ‘will they/won’t they’ plot. It was a ‘they did, and it’s over now, but they still have the hots for each other’ plot. And it actually worked!

I guess what I’m saying is, whether the characters actually ‘hook up’ doesn’t matter. What matters is: Do the characters and actors actually have any real chemistry. Can you believe them when they say they’re in love? And even more importantly, does their relationship develop in a believable way?

In the past, Littlest Pet Shop handled this pretty well… sometimes… For instance, Pepper’s relationship with the Captain worked because we saw their relationship develop. There was a bit of old ‘love at first sight’ bollocks, but as the episode progressed, they started to talk, and flirt, and by the end, we can believably presume several little hybrid pups are in their future.

Then there was the time Zoe fell for a mime. She had nothing to base it on, and eventually realized that, so left him in the dust. Again, believable; and because of that, one of the better romance plot threads on this show.

It’s certainly gold in contrast to the time Blythe crashed into some skateboarding ponce and instantly found herself smitten before he got a chance to say anything.

Yes, Josh Sharp. A block of wood with no personality. But perhaps, as time went on, this relationship could develop into one that makes a bit of sense. We could get either some indication that Blythe’s feelings are based on something more substantial; or we could see Blythe come to her senses, and decide to abandon this silly and superficial crush.

But I don’t think either is going to happen. Especially since Josh’s most recent appearance only confirmed everything I just said. He just stands around, says ‘hi,’ as Blythe gushes.

They can’t even try to develop these characters? Continue reading

Malicious in Vogue

One of the many things that differentiates Littlest Pet Shop from My Little Pony, is the setting.

One may think that’s a superficial distinction, but it’s not. The world of Equestria is a land of magic, unicorns, and fairy tale castles; where everyone is nice to each other, and nothing ever goes wrong.

In contrast, Littlest Pet Shop takes place in (for the most part) the real world. Downtown City is located on a contemporary Earth, with modern digital technology and no magic (for the most part). It’s also a world where, to put it bluntly, shit happens. Things aren’t perfect, and bad things do happen. Yes, it never happens on-screen, because this is a saccharine kids show. But given the fact that this is ersatz-New York, I get the feeling that something very terrible did happen in that town about thirteen years ago.

Basically, the difference in setting gives us a difference in tone. Even if it’s just an implied tone. And this is even portrayed on-screen in the attitudes of some of the characters.

In Equestria, everyone is nice. In the real world, most people are dicks; And this has been portrayed on Littlest Pet Shop quite extensively. There’ve been con-artists, violent bullies, thieves, complete tools, plagiarizers, and serpentile delinquents on this show. Then there’s the recurring jackass we have in the form of the Biskit Twins, who constantly make life miserable for our hero. And while Equestria does have it’s share of bad apples, I can name them on one hand. They’re not really a large cohort.

And because of all this, I believe Littlest Pet Shop has cemented it’s role as the show where people suck. And I’m not sure if this is a good thing. Oh sure, it’s more realistic, and certainly kids need to learn that not everything is sunshine and rainbows; but I don’t think it’s a good idea to make children completely jaded and cynical either. Which could probably happen because of this. Especially with regards to a recent episode, where the designated prick didn’t appear to be a prick… at first. Continue reading

An Alien Confusion

I would love to meet an alien. Who wouldn’t?

To start, I think it would be nice to finally know that we’re not alone in the universe; It’d make existence seem less lonely. We’d be exposed to a brand new culture, one we couldn’t have even fathomed before, and we’d gain new ideas about biology and evolution. We’d have new motivation to explore the stars ourselves, and they could answer the mysteries of the universe we still haven’t solved. Like how to travel faster than light, what dark matter is, and why American Idol is still on the air.

I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be excited to meet an alien. Well, racists probably wouldn’t be too happy. They have a problem with members of the same species who just happen to have higher melanin content. Imagine how they would react to a six-armed tentacle beast, even if it just wanted to be your friend and help you cure cancer.

But for the most part, I think we’d be happy to meet alien life. Even if we never met; Even if we just knew they existed because they sent us a radio message. I think that alone would change everything, and maybe make us appreciate our own existence even more.

So all that being said, you’ll understand where I’m coming from when I say, if you think you’ve been abducted by aliens, you’re wrong.

Believe me, I wish you weren’t! Because that would prove aliens existed. But if you have no evidence, your claim has no weight. So here’s what I suggest: Next time you get taken to the flying saucer, when the aliens are looking the other way, reach over and grab something off the desk. Anything! Because no matter what it is, it’ll be a miracle of technology to us on Earth.

The same goes with sightings of flying saucers, and the various alien conspiracies that have cropped up over the years. Show me the proof, and I’ll believe you. Primarily because I want to believe you. But if you can’t prove it, I won’t.

I’m not saying you’re lying. But it’s pretty easy to confuse one thing for another. To see something in the sky you don’t immediately recognize, and assume it’s something unusual. But that doesn’t mean it is.

And that’s an important thing to remember: Just because something seems paranormal, doesn’t mean it is. And that message was sent quite clearly during a recent episode of Littlest Pet Shop… which I totally saw coming. Continue reading