The Year 2016: A Villain or a Victim?

The year 2016 will likely be one that shall be noted in the annals of history as a black year. A blip in the progress bar of human evolution. A soggy, tear drenched scroll of irredeemable squalor. Its ink is rancid and its words are harrowing. How dare such a sequentially organised period of time have deigned to exist and play out as it did. The sheer gall of it! From divisive political upheavals and fear fuelled media outbursts to seemingly not a day passing by where a beloved personality or pioneer hadn’t passed away, this particular year seems to have ‘what the bloody hell just happened?’ written all over it.

Damn you 2016 to the possibly fictional agony of hell you numerical bastard for potentially jeopardising the financial security of my homeland post Brexit. Curse you pitiful prick for bringing to my attention hundreds of posts relating to the ignorant outcries of those whose time is too precious to consider checking the facts before negatively reacting to the deceits of certain organisations’ political agendas. And how dare you rob us of the talents and sheer brilliance of the likes of David Bowie, Ronnie Corbett, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder, Muhammad Ali and far too many others you absolute swine!

For countless reasons 2016 has garnered the dreadful title as one of the worst years in living memory and possibly all of existence depending on who you talk to or what you read. Yet, the odd thing is this – it is not 2016’s fault. None of it. It just happened to be there when all of these terrible things occurred and has become just as much of a victim as those who have suffered through the events that had transpired this year past. It lies meekly upon a bed of sorrow and regret, haunted and beaten, a decrepit, weary old man whose final days were spent surrounded by the baying mobs begging for it to go away and simply die like it was a horrific monster.

We as a global community have decided that even though we are very much aware of who the true culprits are (at least in regards to many of the events from that year) that purely by association we have also attributed the evils of those 366 days to the year that was the 16th to follow of this 21st century. Some bad stuff happened during that year and so by our own perceptions the year itself was also bad.

Side Note – As I unintentionally misspelled the word culprit written above, I realised that I had in fact spelled out culptit. Culp-tit! I don’t know about you but it has a nice ring to it when spoken out loud. I may use that instead in the future. Anyway….

From what I have gathered regarding how this period of our history is looked upon, we have done what has happened so many times before. We have created a grotesque mask that is the pure representation of all of our hatred and placed it upon the visage of a year that many couldn’t wait to see the back of in the same way one would differentiate a pantomime scoundrel from the rest of the cast by having him dress in the appropriate garb for the role. The 16th calendar year of this millennium became a banner to scorn, a poster to vandalise, an effigy to burn within the pyres of our minds. If last year was a glass jar that had the sole purpose of containing within it all of our collective malice, contempt and utter condemnation then it would have broken into a thousand pieces well before its end.

Many will look back to 2016 and shall likely, for many reasons personal and societal, grit their teeth and maybe shudder a little in remembrance. Time after time I would venture into the world of social media or read/watch segments of news and it seemed that everyday passed where something dreadful had occurred to someone or someplace as if the God of Fuck You had a personal checklist and wasn’t happy until he had done something dreadful by each night’s passing. It is part of our modern lives. Technology and its relentless advancement has allowed us to be connected in such a way that we are able to learn of the woes of individuals and groups both close to us and far away, the famous and the obscure, and after inevitably accepting one way or another whatever tragedy has occurred, we will then begin to utilise one of humanities most useful inventions. Definition. We each of us will choose how something we have experienced will affect us, either in the moment or after much contemplation, and then choose a category that best defines the event based on how we perceive that it should be defined and then we react accordingly. As a result of the events that transpired in 2016, many will choose to define it as an abomination. A bloated mass of grief, rage and utter discontentment.

But personally, I pity old man 2016 and sigh as I think of him alone and shivering in his bed as his life ebbed to the echoes of the people championing the dawn of his younger brother, 2017. In reality, as a pure figment of categorisation he could no more help nor harm us than our very own shadows. Yet 2016 has managed to cast a long and very dark shadow of its own simply for existing and I ask you – is that fair? Is it fair to blame the witness, the innocent passer-by for what happened to each and every one of us last year? Or shall we continue to construct for ourselves a tomb of stones carved from sour memories around that shadow and its owner thus maligning this poor old man as if he were a villain in a horror movie?

Many great things also happened during this time. Just off the top of my head is the fact that Leicester City FC won the Premiership that year to be crowned the Champions of England far ahead of their closest rivals, the perceived ‘Titans of Football’ that fell short below them in the league table. It was pretty bloody fantastic when you think about it. But for this and many other good moments that transpired, we should in equal measure offer no thanks or gratitude just because they happened when they did to the year in which they occurred. Have you ever heard someone say ‘so and so year was a brilliant time for insert person’s name here’ and then go on to list why it is remembered so fondly? The year itself played no actual part in the memory and therefore deserves no praise yet it often garners the title of ‘brilliant year’ just because that was when that specific event happened.

I suppose I just don’t understand why we are unable to separate a figment within our minds based on something of our own species creation (the calendar year) from the realities and truths related to positive or negative events that happened during a particular time. It is not as if I haven’t done it myself in the past. I also have a tendency to attribute my personal feelings to how I remember a certain period of my past and have likely cursed or praised such a time for simply unfolding as it did.

A year is simply a marker that we use to help us navigate the time periods of our lives and our global civilisation. Nothing more. It is we in our ceaseless attempts to categorise our lives who give greater meaning to all-encompassing concepts such as indicators relating to the passage of time. Would you blame the year 1939 for unleashing a world at war upon us? 1346 for the beginning of the Black Death? 1096 for the start of the Crusades? 2004 for the emergence of the X-Factor? I didn’t think so…. well maybe the last one.

Should we really be wasting our energies despising the year itself, which is basically an incorporeal entity of our own making, instead of the real reasons the year was considered to be such a miserable one in the first place? Should we actually be spending any time despising anything at all when it could be considered more positive to any person’s mental wellbeing to focus on the good things that have happened during the 12 months of the past year, absent feelings toward the year itself?

I would be interested to know what your thoughts are on the matter. Was 2016 truly the culptit (haha, I told you!) many folks consider it to be?

Forged From Reverie.

The Beard is Feared? Weird!

Have you ever stopped to consider what an age we live in when it comes to the ability to change and customise our appearance, how we look, and how as a result we are perceived by others? The options are seemingly limitless when you think about choices in clothing and attire, tattoo possibilities, surgery implemented bodily enhancements, the ability to reconstruct facial features and the almost endless combinations of jewellery, make up and accessories. But when you really think hard about it, the ideals for what is considered to be acceptable according to societal standards in our modern age when it comes to the appearances of men and women today are surprisingly limited.

I could go on and on about the constant battle between perception and acceptability and how each of us have differing opinions on the matter though general consensus tends to play a big part from time to time in what we come to refer to as trends. The specific area I am going to hone in on for this topic is that of a man’s facial hair – also known more commonly when fully developed as the face hugging, follicle monster that is the beard.

As a man fully flourished with copious amounts of facial fancy, I have been growing the hair on my face for many years now and thus I can confidently write about something that I have and have had a great deal of knowledge and experience with. I’ve been bearded up for quite a while now and generally get by without too much fuss coming my way regarding any state of intent toward it, positive or negative.

Sometimes I may receive the odd comment from those from the older generations along the lines of ‘When are you shaving that off then?’ Other times I get an envy fuelled compliment asking how I managed to achieve such abundance indicating that there are in fact some men amongst us who struggle to achieve the levels of growth that we as fabulous fuzz connoisseurs take for granted. I bow my beard to you good sir and I wish you luck in your pilgrimage in search of a suitable chin chiselled sasquatch.

In my honest opinion, to have a face full of hair, no matter the quantity, is a man’s natural state. When you take away the centuries of grooming habits we have all developed over time and take us into a dimension where vanity does not exist amongst our people, those men will undoubtedly all have beards or facial hair to some degree. And yet it is still, and has been for many decades now, considered the norm to shave all of it completely off until we regress to how we looked as children. A similar argument could be made for societies overbearing expectations toward women in that they are generally pressured to feel unusual and alienated unless they remove all of the hair from their arm pits and legs and I can partially understand this demanding and inherently unnecessary so called ‘requirement’ of a modern women to fit to these standards of the perception of what we consider suitable. They should not have to do that to suit anyone unless they actually desire to do so and neither should we as men.

In my younger days I was taught that a man should be prim and proper by shaving every day to look their best. Fucking why? Why should I have to alter how I look for anyone else?

The main difference between the above requirements of our female counterparts and us men is that these areas they choose to deplete of body hair can be hidden beneath clothing whereas my face tends to be front and centre most parts of every day. Unless it is night, chilly, snuggle blanket time but this is understandable. You can sod those scarves right off as well! Shaving the same area every day for anyone can severely irritate the skin and leave you all red and blotchy in your search for this perception of appropriate. Do you feel good about your itchy skin Mr Shavey Shaverson? Do you like scratching your neck every few minutes to relieve your irritation?

And don’t get me started on all of the infuriatingly bullshit information that having a beard comes with. No, beards are not itchy or dirty or secret habitats for small creatures! If yours does happen to be so then you are doing something very wrong my fellow hair hilted brother in beard-dom. In fact there are more benefits it seems to have one than to go without, but I’ll let you find that out for yourselves. I’m not your Wiki-beardia!

As I write this today, societies view of the mighty beard has relaxed somewhat. A trend has emerged in recent years where it has become acceptable to many who once considered them to be bestial spawn bastards of a facial abomination from a long lost primal era. The beard is here, so to speak. But as far as I am concerned it has always been here, it never left. Like a furry, fuzz ninja!

Overall, the perception of the beard is still a significant problem however when you consider the big picture. As fashionable as it may be considered to some, the facts still point to an inherent prejudice to us bearded folk. Go ahead and look up images relating to men of business, politics, education, leadership and so forth and you will start to see a familiar theme. Nine times out of ten they will be user friendly, clean shaven, suit and tie wearing, cut and copy iterations of what is considered to be ‘appropriate’ and ‘acceptable’ in these important areas of society. This prejudice also exists, and has existed, for women for a long time in many forms and as you can plainly see by walking into any store and asking to see the manager, if he is male then the chances are that he will be exactly as I have described above. So this prejudice is most certainly applicable to my gender as well.

Why do we force ourselves to fit into a mould of someone else’s creation just so that we can achieve something in our lives? I’m not saying that there aren’t beard replete, T-shirt wearing menfolk in positions of influence and power but there certainly doesn’t seem to be many of them. So am I to think that if I were to focus my attentions on trying to acquire one of these positions that I must suit up and beard down to do so? It is a shame to think that this may be the case.

Why the bloody hell should Santa Claus be the only one allowed to wield a beard of meticulous might and facial pride?

Maybe I am just looking too deeply into a subject that probably doesn’t cross the minds of many but if we take the core argument and generalise it to a broader spectrum of issues then the dispute still stands. Why should our appearance matter at all unless our chosen profession (actors for example) demands that it be altered?

I have always been comfortable with how I look and my bountiful beard is a big part of that. My beard beams and furiously bulges with the power of ten thousand hairs and nothing and no one can convince me that it should die at the behest of a razor blade unless I deem it to be so. You could call it my unspoken greeting of gruff diligence! As I mentioned previously a face full of hair is the natural state of any man old enough, and fortunate enough to have not succumbed to an ailment that prevents such growth, to be in a position to do so. Why be ashamed of it?

I shall not judge your smooth, prickly faces when the fad dies down and a million chins re-enter the world to gaze upon the light of the sun once more. All I ask is that you leave your beard-ceptions by the wayside and realise that not all men want to look like children.

Do yourselves a favour, go out into the world and find yourself a man with a beard. Then go up and have a good long stare at that bastion of elegance, style and grace – no, not the bloke himself, the actual beard. Gaze at the gallantry of his manly face sculpture and weep in awe. Unless it’s smelly due to negligence in which case just walk away and try again.

If you are still unsure about any of this then I have two simple words for you that will prove my point to a complete and absolute level of undoubted certainty – Brian Blessed!

All hail the beard!

Forged From Reverie.

When Horror Doesn’t Horrify Anymore

Horror is a genre that encompasses a large variety of source materials and mediums of entertainment with its most primary goal to attempt to scare the absolute poop out of you. All hail Cthulu!

Whilst not necessarily the most popular genre out there I would bet that most, if not all of you, have had some sort of experience that has caused your eyes to widen, your mind to race, your skin to crawl and for you to suddenly doubt everyone and everything around you just in case there is mischief afoot! All of a sudden that lamp in the corner of your room is an unknowable, potentially maniacal threat that has moved just an inch to the left for some devious purpose, or has it?

MWA HA hahaha! (My incredibly meagre attempt to convey the clichéd laugh of supreme evil and mortifying discomfort that is now a classic genre staple)

I have had many an enjoyable, aka – freaky as all buggery, experience with horror in my lifetime but recently I have come to a rather disappointing conclusion. It just doesn’t do it for me anymore. I seem to have become impervious to the ‘fear’ that is necessary to some degree to have a true appreciation for some of horrors greatest works. Whether reading about it, watching it, listening to a piece of music that is intended to create a mood of foreboding suspense or becoming involved in an actual physically encompassing ‘experience’ that’s supposed to get you all skittish and jittery as you walk around being surrounded by the machinations of a constructed environment with the Scarefest mazes at Alton Towers being a prime example. It just doesn’t scare or freak like a scary, freaky thing should for the most part and I’ll get to that exception to the ‘most’ shortly.

Whilst other children of my age were watching Disney movies and playing outside I grew up watching films like Poltergeist, It (brilliant performance from Tim Curry) and The Exorcist as well as playing games no child was technically allowed to go near such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill. That startling scene in the original Ghostbusters movie when the librarian spectre brings the terror to the party is one of my earliest memories and a pretty good one at that. The most intriguing aspect of the Patrick Swayze film Ghost for me was the groaning, grasping black shadow entities that dragged evil souls damned to hell down into the depths with them. I can still hear them now and the fear that I experienced as a child when I saw this was brilliant.

Partaking of these horrifying experiences were never the defining aspect of my childhood but simply a few in a larger tapestry that would come to define how I developed. I have always gravitated toward the unusual, the supernatural and the darker side of things. Instead of pop music I would listen to Slipknot, Disturbed and Cradle of Filth. I enjoyed watching films like The Crow, Beetlejuice, Dracula and End of Days and TV shows such as Lexx and Angel. I never have any issues with real life experiences the way others do either. Dark forests, graveyards and midnight walks have always fascinated me and have you ever bet someone that they wouldn’t be able to spend a night in a supposed haunted house or any other likewise intimidating task predisposed to dark and strange potential occurrences? Well you would lose that bet with me.

Another aspect of what I am referring to that truly pisses me off is also the dilution and mass consumerism of an idea for the sole benefit of turning profit for a corporate entity. What I mean by this is that film series’ like Saw and Paranormal Activity actually had some great ideas and a solid premise when they were unleashed upon the world. And then they were noticed, lauded for their contributions, gained a fan base and then dragged through sequel after sequel after sequel and brought to the brink of capitalist oversaturation to the point where people have become sick of the sight of them, and not in the way that they are supposed to make you sick. You know with the gore, the viscera and the goopy entrails of something that used to resemble a person and whatnot. These two are just a couple of examples of this occurring throughout the entertainment industry but I hope you understand my point. There is such a thing as too much.

I suppose the fact that I have a logical mind that consistently reaffirms to me that none of it is real probably doesn’t help either. Bugger my inability to concede my senses to the prospect of a terrifyingly good time.

So perhaps, with all of this taken into consideration, I have become gradually immune to the effects of horror as I have matured over the years (I am only 30 by the way) as well as irked by the overabundance of nonsense attempts to make money by exploiting people’s desire for a good scare. And so maybe I need something more, a lot more.

With this in mind it is a surprising and slightly disappointing revelation that I cannot get that surge of adrenaline like my 10 year old self could. That is with the exception of one particular medium of entertainment however. One that is often misunderstood, needlessly maligned and unnecessarily accused of being in a state of perpetual immaturity which are all points made by those who fear the popularity of a burgeoning form of entertainment that they refuse to acknowledge or try to comprehend in any objective way. I am talking about gaming.

I would wager that some of you reading this have already scoffed a disapproving scoff at the very prospect of considering becoming engrossed in such a pursuit. Well I am here to tell you from my own personal experiences that gaming within the genre of horror is literally the only thing that can scare me like I used to be all those years ago. In a game world you are not simply reading it or watching it, you are actually a part of it. You are in control of a character that can have a tangible and lasting effect on the events of a story and that story is in equal measures attempting to have an effect on you. If someone perishes in a book or a film there is bugger all you can do about it besides yelling profanities at the screen or pages. In a game you can actually do something about it, unless a particular death is scripted of course then you are still a spectator. But you can be damned assured that whatever monstrosity just murdered your new comrade is now coming for you and the game will ask you a very simple question. What are you going to do about it?

If you do not believe that a game can be a truly terrifying experience then I urge you to go and watch the evidence right now. Go and watch a video of someone playing Outlast, Amnesia, Slender or Project Zero (Fatal Frame if you are from the United States of that name is better than the one we got for it) whilst simultaneously recording themselves. They are dropping an obscene amount of sweat, tears and faecal matter into their clothing and for a very good reason. They have become engrossed, absorbed and fully ingratiated into the experience because they are a part of it rather than just a spectator.

I can attest to the fear inducing adrenaline surges of games such as Dead Space, Condemned: Criminal Origins and the previously mentioned Outlast. My beard hair would stand on end making combing it quite the chore. It is only through gaming that I can achieve the immersion and the imagination of becoming encapsulated by an experience designed to test my very nerves to my core and I would recommend that you do so to. I believe that no other medium can portray the atmosphere, the mood, the tension or the absorbing potential of a truly captivating game. If the opportunity arises the please, have at it. I am not at all saying that I will never feel this way about any other book, film or the like ever again but this prospect does appear to becoming increasingly unlikely, unfortunately.

Are there any horror experiences, gaming or otherwise, that have left you pining for the comfort of a teddy bear and a snuggly blanket to hide under? If so, please let me know.

Forged From Reverie.