Review: The Ground We Won (NZ, 2015)

The first essential New Zealand documentary of the decade.

The Ground We Won is a gorgeous black and white cinema verite film which follows a rural rugby club, Reporoa, over the course of a year. The focus is purely on the men, their culture and relationships. It is an intimate window into the nation of a sort which has been lacking and needed for a long time.

The short version is you need to see this. It will spur many and complex responses.

(I am actually going to assume you will see this when it goes on general release in a week or so, so I’m not going to give much in the way of plot or narrative description, more comment on a cultural level.)

I grew up with rugby. I played for 12 seasons starting as a kid. My father coached club rugby, so I spent a bit of time around clubrooms and changing sheds as a kid, too. Though I drifted away from rugby and its culture as an adult, so much of the world of this film is deeply familiar.

Here’s the thing. Masculine camaraderie, working in a team, being part of a pack, is kind of awesome. (It is the reason the army appeals and would be great if it wasn’t about dehumanising and breaking you down so that you will follow orders without question and kill.) And watching this, I realise I miss it. There is something raw and honest about the physicality and putting your body on the line, and I haven’t encountered that in any other sport or physical endeavour in quite the same way.

What I don’t miss is the retarded drunken in your face side of things. (One in a while, maybe šŸ˜‰ ). And the film goes there, stark, uncomfortable and without judgement. Part of its magic is the access, warts and all, as the team goes on the road and gets hammered. They seem totally unabashed and unashamed of their behaviour. There is something beautiful in seeing our culture so clearly. And done right, it is all good fun. But there is a slippery slope with drinking. I guess it comes down to the culture of the specific group – the quality of the “elders” and those who dominate the group.

One thing the film highlights is the difference between grassroots rugby and mainstream (townie) rugby culture. At grassroots level it brings the community together, and links rural communities. The aftermatch clubrooms culture is classic NZ. The haka never made more sense than as the guys from over the hill coming to play you at rugby and doing their haka in the clubroom afterwards.

For those unfamiliar with this sort of culture, it will be a shock and a revelation. The beauty of the film is in presenting something so familiar artistically, thereby rendering it through new eyes. Seeing NZ in a timeless black and white, grounding the men in their work as farmers, the mists in the valley… it brings home the extent to which this has been the backbone of our culture for most of our existence as a rural agricultural nation, and captures it as it may be fading out. (A club like Reporoa previously would have fielded maybe six rugby teams; now it has one.)

One conclusion is we are probably better off with rugby than without it – perhaps a surprise to the liberal minded folks who disdain the game. But without rugby as a focus at the grassroots level, with its culture of play hard but fair, where would all that energy otherwise end up being channelled?

I think I will have more to add at some point. Meanwhile, here is the trailer.

 

podcast recommendation: Tim Ferriss Show

 

I listen to a lot of podcasts while I walk. Over the past year, easily the best podcast has been the Tim Ferriss Show.

I’ve been tracking Ferriss for a while. I think he is the reason I have been swinging a kettlebell for the past few years. His Four Hour Workweek has some brilliant stuff in it for rearranging your life and starting a business that gives great freedomĀ  – and while the overall model has produced surprisingly few copycat success stories, the individual components (particularly the chapters on Definition and Elimination) are worth the price. Similarly, the Four Hour Body is a fascinating compendium of extreme hacks to achieve specific bodily outcomes, with some great practical material, particularly the slow-carb diet, and various of the lifting regimes. The Four Hour Chef is a weird one – a book about accelerated learning disguised as a cookbook – and I don’t rate it anywhere near as much as the first two.

And here is the thing. No matter how awesome you are, there is a limit to what you can master. I read the 4HWW as being everything he knew up until then. The 4HB is everything he learned in the next few years of radical physical experimentation.

The genius in the podcast is he has access to really remarkable figures, and can explore what they have mastered. For this reason I think the podcast is so far the most valuable resource he has created. Through it we get access to some really diverse and remarkable high achieving mentalities. He’s not the greatest interviewer, but he has a point of view, and knows how to mine for information and deconstruct in the areas that interest him. But what makes it is the range and quality of the interview subjects, ranging from household names and uber influencers (eg: Schwarzenegger, Tony Robbins, Peter Thiel, Peter Diamandis, etc) to people you won’t have heard of but are amazing (Josh Waitzkin, Marc Goodman, etc) I haven’t listened to all of the episodes, but a fair bunch, and they have all been worthwhile.

So yeah. Definitely worth checking out.

john key’s hair pulling fetish

Wait, so it turns out the Prime Minister of NZ has just been outed as having a serial obsession with pulling young girl’s hair?

And that despite constant abuses of power during his tenure, a total lack of giving a damn about regular people, and eagerly selling us out via the TPPA etc, this is the thing that has struck a nerve with people?

on web pop-ups

Dear every website ever

If when I visit your site via an inbound link you make a popup appear that asks me to sign up to your site on social media or email or anything before I have been able to read more than a paragraph of the article I have linked in to read, I will a) not do it, and b) never come to your site again unless some other random link brings me there.

Yours

The internet

internet addiction (filters part 4)

Two months into the internet restriction protocol, here is a report.

The short version? It is great, a clear and definite improvement.

I have more time, more focus, and am getting more done. Of course, I have made other changes in my life which help with that, but this is definitely a factor, and a big one.

I am noticing old habits creep back a little – I check email more than I need to, that is for sure, though I do not touch my busiest account. Unsure if it is confidence that the habit is broken, or that it is just habit reasserting itself, and that I need to formally rededicate myself to the protocol. Writing this post is part of figuring that out.

Some longer rambling observations:

There is something weirdly addictive about the sense of power and control that comes with the internet, and using a computer in general.

For example, clearing my email inbox after a week away. I make decisions, little decisions, reading some, deleting others. Moving things around. Controlling the little world of my desktop. Arranging files. It as as if I am doing something real. And I am, in a little way. Organising information so it is where it needs to be for what I want to do next is an adjunct of organising my physical space to be the way it needs to be. Useful to the extent that it is necessary – creating a functional environment – but negative when it becomes obsessive or redundant – as with OCD cleaning.

On the days I access the internet, I want to check again, an hour after I just checked. Even though most of what was there for the last week was not essential. There is something addictive. Research indicates that irregular reinforcement schedules – never knowing when you are going to get another hit of whatever you are addicted to – is the most addictive timing, and email is that par excellence.

Once a week re-exposure to the flood of trivial information Facebook provides is addictive in its own way. It is easy. It never ends, the page will scroll down forever. Not quite a sugar hit. Not quite food. More conscious than breathing. Popcorn? Moreish even when you don’t want or need more. Even when it is rarely any better than it is, rarely rates more than a vague “Oh?” It turns out I have missed a couple of incidents in my wider community, but nothing it feels catastrophic to have missed; and surely some announcements of insight or life redirection have slipped by unnoticed.

(The one cheat I allow myself with Facebook is to occasionally log in just to send someone a message if it is the only way to get hold of them, but not look at anything else. I think directly communicating with people, and the ability to do that, is such a powerful thing it is odd to limit the ability to act on it when it is a conscious choice; the difference is in not checking obsessively for a reply, or just in case. There are many avenues of communication, and perhaps a thirty second phone call is the answer to many prolonged email waits.)

So I need to shore up the habits and restate the boundaries. It is about using the internet more consciously, and I feel like I have managed that. It is a powerful resource and tool, the trick is to corral it to just that; the danger is it can be an endless drift of youtube clips and pointless linkbait lists and sort of vaguely interesting articles, a gossip magazine collectively edited by your friends.

The biggest challenge in a way is finding something else to do. It is almost embarrassing. The internet is such an easy default. It is our generations television. Instead of just sitting down mindlessly with the remote and starting to flick, we sit down mindlessly in front of the internet and start to click.

I have watched more media – am I just replacing internet with TV downloaded from the internet? Certainly, discovering live streaming of the cricket world cup sucked some time. I am reading less at the moment since I am writing, so that is out as a distraction.

So yeah. Interesting and useful so far, will be an ongoing process of tweaking the protocol and observing the feedback.

CWC 2015, NZ v SA semi final

That was legitimately one of the most intense and amazing games of cricket I have ever seen. Truly epic.

(Unrelated rambling: I have watched quite a bit of the CWC so far, after discovering it streaming online. The weirdest part is getting British ads, the overwhelming majority of which are for online gambling. Like, seriously.)

 

 

Review: 50 Shades of Grey (2015)

What? No one blinked an eye when I watched The Room.

So anyway. Here is the latest instalment in a series in which I get smashed and watch fascinatingly terrible mainstream movies and write long reviews (see: Sucker Punch, Transformers 2).

50 Shades is an interesting cultural phenomenon.Ā (How does Twilight fan-fiction end up being directed by a Turner prize winner and go on to make half a billion dollars already? This is a question of culture, not film.) In fact, most of what this review will be about is probably culture, rather than the movie, the specifics of which I barely recall. (The smashed methodology is about taking on impressions and hunting deeper truths, not details. :) )

So. 50 Shades. I read the first paragraph of the first book a few years back and found it atrociously written. After finding out it began life as Twilight fan-fiction, I then ignored the whole thing, and had only a vague sense of BDSM about it as it became a phenomenon.

So. The movie. I found a lot of it funny, in the funny-because-it’s-bad way, in the you’re-shitting-me-that’s-how-you’re-playing-this? way, in the oh-my-god-this-dialogue way. That was maybe for the first hour. It also felt like it went on quite a long time.

The film is competently made and shot well. The content is the weak link. Characters, dialogue, story; all lacking. Very little happens. But this is at heart a fantasy (sexual rather than otherwordly.) As such it is about mood, and the accumulation of small details to make it whole.

So what is this movie? It is a journey into the female subconscious, lit up on the big screen for all to see. Of course, we’ve seen the male subconscious at the movies for a while now. How long has 007 been a thing? And action movies. We get that dudes want to be the coolest most bad-ass mofo in whatever the context is, get the girl, kill the baddies, and save the planet. It is stark, infantile and embarrassing, but we have gotten used to it. We barely blink. It’s just the story we tell. (At a baser level, through mainstream pornography, we get a raw and ugly sense of male sexual fantasy.)

So what is most notable here is the entry into mainstream culture of this feminine subconscious. A different flavour of desire.

Why this cultural moment? Here I wonder about the power of demographics; the realisation that women are a substantial audience, and content tailored to them will sell just as well. Our cultural production houses were framed in a one TV per household era. When the man of the house lost control of the TV remote, he lost control of the household’s attention. Now everyone has a computer of their own, and there are more channels of content than anyone can track. Combine this with a few extra billion people and the result is fracturing appeals. There is lots of money to be made in what were once unviable untargetable niches. And half the population is more than niche.

These changes are still underway; they have been underway for the past 25 years or so in media. They have been accelerating in the internet age as more and more voices and experiences can be heard, because more can speak through the democratisation of access to the means of being heard online.

This is one of the first times the female subconscious has come out to party so lustily. So it is raw. And clumsy. And embarrassing.

Baby steps.

So what happens? Girl meets guy. They have Sex. OMG.

Who is this guy? A billionaire. We don’t know why, or how, or what he does. He has a building with his name on it, is very busy and occasionally talks intently into the telephone. He has aspects of class, education and refinement. He dresses well. We are told he is hot. He has crazy wealth and therefore power, and is a total control freak. And, most importantly, he is completely obsessed with this girl he just met, and their relationship is the most important thing in the world of the movie.

Who is this girl? An insecure virginal English lit student. She seems nice. She is the role to be stepped into, so we don’t want too much character intruding.

The lack of characterisation throughout reveals we are dealing with archetypes.

The lack of characterisation succeeds better here than in Twilight. I suspect because 50 Shades is purer fantasy, and somehow less absurd. A surprising sentence to write. (No sparkly vampires FTW!) There is so little context around Anastasia and Grey, whereas Twilight comes burdened with families and school and teenagery and vampires and stupidity. 50 Shades is more naked in every sense. They can just get on with the fucking.

Yes, their relationship as portrayed is pretty fucked. But how can they have a relationship? Neither of them are people, or characters. They are nothing but their roles.

My reading of the film was coloured by watching Beauty and the Beast at the French Film Festival earlier in the day. In essence, they seem the same film, the same archetypes.

The Beast is all powerful (physically, through his bestial nature, and practically, through magic) and controlling, yet cultured and refined (once a noble prince) and desirable, and tragic and messed up in some undefined way (which is the healing he seeks through Belle’s love).

Belle has only her innocence, purity and love; this disarms and redresses the power imbalance as they clash and negotiate. Her power over him grows as his need for her grows, and through love they emerge as equals.

This is a story form we have been telling for a long time. (Beauty and the Beast is a traditional story, going back hundreds of years at least.) And there is wisdom in stories, particularly the ones we tell and retell.

Does the 50 Shades series ultimately follow this arc? Is Grey ultimately healed through the relationship with Anastasia? I haven’t read them, but doubtless someone has.

When you peel away the (gasp) dominant/submissive sex angle, and the kinda fucked relationship they have, is there anything new here that we haven’t known archetypally?

So as a phenomenon this really says more about our cultural moment now, about our need to deal with sex, and the forces it unleashes in us, better, and talk about what we want like a grown up species. The funniest (and possibly most important) scene is the lengthy contract negotiation for consent for various sexual acts.

To that end it is a good thing that this is out there in the mainstream. Because porn. Because rape. Because too often guys and gals can’t talk to each other without being drunk.

That’s about all I have to say, I think.

(One tangent: watching this also makes me aware of how ghettoised we are by our demographics. We buy what is aimed at us, made for us, tailored to our predetermined tastes. We tune out the rest without even considering it. We are well trained. This applies to our consumption of media and stories. Sadly, it distorts us. What the heck is going on elsewhere? How do we know we won’t like something unless we try it? What parts of the conversation are we missing because we don’t even recognise they exist?)

After 50 Shades, we tried watching Enthiran, which turned out to be another fascinating lens to consider 50 Shades through. Enthiran is a Bollywood movie about a robot covered in human flesh a la Terminator, except instead of being a killing machine from the future, he is just the most awesome guy ever now. Another conception of the relationship between the total masculine and the feminine, filtered through another cultural lens. We only got an hour in to this, so not much to add.

 

Short review: Dudes. Get real drunk and see this movie. Treat it like a bad comedy. The female subconscious is giving you some hints about what it wants here. And it’s about much more than the sex.

 

 

reading second half of 2014

Reading slowed dramatically in the second half of last year, or at least my enthusiasm for blogging about it did.

Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm – Stephen Harrod Buhner

Took over a month on this. Easily one of the most extraordinary books I have ever read. Top ten recommendation, all time. Was published in 2014. Buy it now. Will attempt a proper review soon.

Batman: Odyssey – Neal Adams

If you are a comics person, go find this and read it right now. Don’t find anything out about it. Just trust that it is the most bugfuck and deranged piece of Batman ever. There are no words. Astounding. (If you aren’t a comics person, read Sandman or Watchmen or something instead, and become a comics person.)

If you know you won’t read this, read this extremely entertaining summary of the first few issues here.

…here is the best quote from a Neal Adams interview about Odyssey:

Q: Can you give us an overview of the plot?
Adams: I cannot give you an overview of the plot.

The Arabian Nightmare – Robert Irwin

Pretty unclassifiable novel by a historian of Arabian storytelling modes, and obviously influenced by them. Dreamlike and bizarre, labyrinthine and dusky, deeply deeply weird. Fun but eventually perhaps does not combine its wonderful parts into something more.

Fasting – Stephen Harrod Buhner

Book about the physical, psychological and spiritual components and effects of fasting for longer durations. Lucid and concise.

Supergods – Grant Morrison (skim)

Skimmed this. Interestingish history and philosophy of modern era comics, but not what I was looking for.

Jesus’ Son – Denis Johnson

Really good, deceptively simple book of short stories, mostly dealing with down and outs and addicts of various stripes. Would definitely re read. There is something going on here.

The Search for a Moral Compass – Kenan MalikĀ  (skim)

Quite an epic undertaking, attempting to look at more or less the development of moral attitudes of the whole world over time. Inevitably does some disservice to particular viewpoints, as no one can have a good enough grip on all of them to comment authoritatively. Still would be worth returning to.

Reality is Broken – Jane McGonigal (skim)

Interesting enough musing on the relation between games and reality.

Zero to One – Peter Thiel

Billionaire founder of Paypal and Palantine, friends with many other billionaire tech founders, gives his take on how to found a successful tech company. Vital reading if that is your interest. Pretty fascinating for its iconoclastic take on capitalism in general, if you are an economics minded person.

Behold the Man – Michael Moorcock

Messed up dude with a bit of a Christ complex gets in a time machine and goes back to the time of Christ and kind of ends up becoming Christ except worse.

Life’s Missing Instruction Manual – Joe Vitale (skim)

Compendium of insights gathered across an interesting guy’s life. Actually seemed pretty decent.

Money: Master The Game – Tony Robbins

Possibly completely essentially; Robbins first book in 20 years. Robbins has amazing access to many of the most successful investors in history, and models their methods and teaches them to you. Incredible resource. Need to get back to it and finish it.

The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes

Won the Booker Prize a few years ago. Really well done short novel mostly about ageing and how our perspective and memory changes.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things – Patrick Rothfuss

Novella. Peculiar, light, and ethereal, much like its only character. Rothfuss explores the reality of a minor but fascinating character from his epic novel series, and comes up with this totally weird, autistic yet hauntingly close to how we all work, thing. Not quite sure what anyone unfamiliar with the series would make of it, but would be very curious to find out. I think it is interesting enough to stand on its own.

Edge of Dark Water – Joe R Lansdale

Sort of like a dark nightmare Huckleberry Finn. After the death of a friend, dustbowl-era american south kids in the wops make a break for their future down the river, pursued by hideous family, corruption and evil. A great voice and realisation of character and setting. Occasionally nasty but never unbearably so.

 

internet restriction protocol (or Filters: Part Three)

 

Time and attention are two of the most precious resources we have, and the always on internet is one of the worst things for draining and disrupting those resources. (This is something I have been thinking about for a few years now.)Ā  Most of the great thinkers, innovators and so on of the past had one thing in common – their ability to focus on what they were doing for hours at a time. This type of thinking is crucial to certain types of breakthrough and productive work. (I have a faint terror that the current generation will never even develop this capacity for extended focus.)

So I am embarking upon an internet restriction protocol. This is based on the observations I made a few years ago when I went and lived at the beach without internet, television or phone, and came to town only once a week at which point I checked email etc, and my dissatisfaction with my current experience of online mediated reality.

The protocol is essentially this: I am going to stop checking my email and social media accounts except for one day a week – Fridays. (I will likely check my business email address more regularly.) Within the protocol I am allowed to use the internet consciously, as a tool, in recognition of how embedded it is in life. (eg) internet banking, buying stuff, research, Skypeing. But then get offline once I am done using it as a tool.

The key is to avoid general browsing and mindless clicking on things that leads to more clicking. I like the idea of checking my /mutants list on Twitter once a week for an hour as my information gathering phase.

The goal is to be offline as much as possible; to shift that fundamental practice, to realign my sense ratios, and re-engage more consciously with the world. After spending a week lying under trees at Kiwiburn, I realised again that I don’t miss most of the online world. I acknowledge it is somehow important, but hypothesise that this importance can be successfully and accurately valued within the confines of one day a week.

I suspect that one day a week is enough to stay informed/connected in terms of email and social media. If anything really important happens I assume someone will call or txt.

I do plan to spend some of the time freed up hanging out with people in meatspace, pursuing a better quality of connection.

I anticipate getting more done in general, writing more in particular, and being happier overall.

I may blog from time to time about the results of this experiment in attention and filtering. I invite anyone else who feels inclined to join in the experiment.

Einstein on the prison of the senses

 

‘A human being is part of a whole, called by us ā€œuniverseā€, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.’

– Albert Einstein.

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