I never really thought of summer as a claustrophobic phenomenon. In the UK (ah, “in the UK”, one of those phrases I’ve been using so often that it’s no wonder people refer to their ancestral homelands as “the old country”), summer is a few balmy days, a lot of gloomy ones, and maybe a heatwave or two where everyone goes to the park. Here, the heat is oppressive when the sun is at its highest, and you find yourself retreating indoors to the comfort of air conditioning.
I’m a couple of weeks into the new job. Already, the rhythms of it are becoming second nature. It’s funny how easily we assimilate actions that don’t come naturally. The more I start jobs - and this will be my fourth - the more I don’t feel quite as nervous on my first day, because I know that everyone’s making it up as they go along when they first start.
I don’t know how long I’ll be working there. Probably at least a few months. The future looks uncertain, but by entering employment I’m keeping myself busy, staving off the cabin fever that can come from sitting in the same room. I am, by my nature, a fairly solitary person - but I still need regular shots of diverse interaction to keep myself sane. Working - even if it is working hard - helps with all of that. My legs are becoming stronger. I am ignoring the heat, and starting to break the walls.
The trailer for Nightcrawler. I have not been this excited about a film for a while. Gyllenhaal looks terrifying.
I watched Four Lions again tonight. It’s the first time I’d seen it in around four years - the film itself dates back to 2010 - and while I still think it’s an excellent film, my relationship to it now feels a little more complex.
Four Lions is a comedy about four Muslim men who plan to blow themselves up during the London marathon while dressed as fun-runners. It was released five years after the 7/7 London Underground bombings. There was some controversy at the time of the film’s release, but it was mostly overshadowed by praise - Four Lions is riotously funny, and carefully toes the line between presenting the protagonists as humans and recognising that most of the men involved are pretty bone-headed.
It doesn’t feel as funny anymore, though, and I think there are a few reasons for that. The first, and most obvious, just comes from the fact that some jokes are best when you hear them for the first time. Four Lions often plays out like a series of sketches, and the sad truth of a lot of sketch comedy is that it loses its colour after you witness it for the first time.
There’s something else, though, and I think it comes from living in the USA for the last six months.
There is an attitude in this country that I’ve found myself slipping into as of late. The best way to describe it is as a violent push back against the sort of views you find in cable news and the people who watch it. While those people are content to slap a reductive, pathologising description on people so they can become objects of curiosity as soon as possible, the opposite view to take is to humanise everything in sight. You find yourself wanting to get in the heads of the worst kinds of people.
It comes from a mistrust of the things you’re told, I think - here, more than anywhere, there are so many people I’ve encountered who keep the proud American tradition of being misinformed alive, but people like that often have the unintended effect of inspiring fellow Americans to do better. In doing so, the people they inspire often gain a better grasp of the world around them, but more often than not it can be at the expense of finding things funny. There’s often no room for nuance. You can understand, but you can’t really examine at arm’s length.
(Yes, that’s a pre-Sherlock Benedict Cumberbatch.)
And that’s where the trouble is, I think. You watch a film like Four Lions with this sort of attitude, and it suddenly seems a lot sadder. It’s harder to keep the attitude that makes someone want to martyr themselves at a decent critical distance, for fear that you might dehumanise them. You’re scared that, in your head, they’ll go from being Muslim individuals to “the Muslims”, whatever that means.
There are branches of comedy that rely on this sort of closeness to execute well, but I don’t think Four Lions is really it. It’s the sort of film that needs the right tension between a little dehumanisation and the understanding that the colossally stupid men in the film are just humans, muddling through their own path in life. It walks a tightrope between sympathy and scorn, and as long as you stay on it’s a hell of a ride. Watching this time around, I would fall off from time to time. It’s still a masterful film, and I still laughed, but I came out of it feeling a little hollower.
Overcast is a new podcast app from the guy who made Instapaper. It’s really rather good.
Okay, but here’s the thing: I have to wonder if I don’t sometimes nourish the same ugly impulses that this guy nakedly displays when he adds his two-bit commentary to something I wrote. I was initially upset when I saw his asinine, idiotic remarks (which effectively boil down to “ugh, go and read a book; I read books, you see, so I’m better than you”), but that insecurity dissipated when I learned that he was religious.
And I’m not sure it should. It’s an awkward one, because there isn’t one religious argument that could ever convince me (and I’d believe in my own insanity long before I ascribed visions or so-called miracles to a god), and that brings with it a kind of impulse to at least mentally condescend, even if I don’t verbalise it. But that dissipation of distress presumably came from a sense of intellectual superiority, and while I certainly like being happy, I also want to be happy for the right reasons (like the superior feeling gleaned from learning that he’s reductive and inaccurate about feminism, or seems to really favour condescension as a conversational tactic).
I guess what I’m saying is that I’m at a point where even the worst kinds of people make me want to do better - not because any so-called advice they peddle is in any way illuminating, but because any verbal interaction with another human being, no matter how awful, can be an opportunity for growth if you really deconstruct it.
Don’t you love it when people reblog your personal essays with the sole intention of belittling you? Don’t you love when people make assumptions about your intelligence, and your reading, and your life experiences, just because you talk about one book you read when you were sixteen? Don’t you love imagining the look on someone’s face as they call the President (who I would be the first to malign) the “pedantico-in-chief”? Don’t you love the sight of a burning car freewheeling off the edge of the Dover cliffs?