Some things in life serve only to induce rage. No matter how small these annoyances may be, they are never insignificant. 'Rant List' is the chronicle of one self-loathing narcissist's seemingly unending pettiness.

Monday, 30 June 2014

104. Clickbait

^ I bet you I will believe it, you absolute turd-burglars.

A man wrote on his blog and you won’t believe what happened next...  

Nothing. Absolutely nothing, because every clickbait article is either ineffectual, a misleading lie or both. Here’s a novel idea, purveyors of poorly thought out online journalism: how about instead of luring people in to clicking your article under false pretence, why not actually write something that somebody might want to read? I mean, if people read this tripe, there’s an audience for anything.

Oh, I know, you need those clicks to survive in this cold and cruel digital environment. They provide ad-based revenue streams and help optimise your position in search engines yada yada yada no one cares etc. But if people visit your website after a misleading clickbait title, only to immediately click off your site after realising what you’ve just done, they’re probably unlikely to come back and read your stuff again. Your short-term gain of one click sacrifices a long-term potential of ongoing loyalty clicks from users who return frequently because they think you might actually have something to offer them.

Outside of the worlds of Marketing™, Search™, Advertising™ and Communications™, no one gives a solitary toss about clicks. Why? Because they’re cocking meaningless. It’s a fundamental mistake of webmasters* that this is how the success of their domain should be measured. How have we got to a stage in digital world where the number of hits a site gets is more important than whether or not anyone ever actually reads it? It’s not even like most outlets are making articles that are particularly hard to read anymore – everything on the internet basically takes the easily digestible Buzzfeed model, splitting things to consumable numbered morsels so that users can cheerily snack on content during those three minute mental sparks where their attention span still exists (as touched on in No. 103).

Nothing shows how little value you have for your own written words if you have to use clickbait to get people to read your work. You may as well pack up and go home already, you gitlord.

*do people even use the term ‘webmaster’ anymore, or is it one of those remnants of the late ‘90s internet lexicon that are no longer in vogue like ‘cyber cafĂ©’ and 'Keanu Reeves' career'?

103. The overabundance of content on the internet and how it has destroyed my attention span.

^ I really wish I didn't relate to this as strongly as I do.

       Right now, I am currently trying to focus and write a blog post. It's not going well. I write Rant List purely out of choice, as some misguided attempt at having a hobby. It is of my own volition and it is something I very actively want to do and, indeed, do more of (something about assembling a body of evidence for the case of me being a whiny git is oddly compelling). And yet, in the space it has taken to write these first couple of lines, all I can think about is opening up new tabs on my browser and seeing what else is happening online. I have already checked social media notifications on my phone. I am using my laptop in my living room, watching Metallica’s Glastonbury set on iPlayer as I type away (as a result, don’t be surprised if I occasionally add in a Hetfieldism – yeah-yeaaaaah). I run out of steam and lose the ability to concentrate about every 30 seconds, either tweeting inane thoughts in to the digital ether or seeing if anything interesting has popped up on Reddit (it hasn’t, obviously – just some angry American teens ranting about how they were discriminated against for being privileged white males who don’t believe in God). I am sporadically coming back to this post. 

On the one hand, this could be considered an example of how modern people are so wonderfully predisposed to multitasking that it’s essentially a second nature to us now. But that would be wrong. Multi-tasking has become a crutch, an excuse for inattention. I am no longer to solely focus my effort on one thing at a time and really give it the due care and craft that it really deserves. Instead, I half-arse everything, reluctantly forcing productivity out of my strained brain in 30 second chunks in-between Youtube videos and segments of Cracked articles. The other day, I struggled to read a comic book without doing something else every few pages. A comic book. It was about 20 pages long and most of it was pretty pictures, for crying out loud. 

The issue is modern consumer technology is entirely founded on distraction. In some ways, this has always been the case. Or, at least, it was for me - about a decade ago, I could think of few things more fun than whittling away a couple of hours trawling the internet for in-depth information on music or video games and patiently reading every last word. But the difference then was that I could focus; I didn’t click away mid-paragraph, I read what I wanted to read. It was a distraction, but it wasn’t marred by a sea of other, more bite-sized distractions constantly baying for my attention to me like sick e-sirens. Distraction wasn’t deeply ingrained in to the way we consume media - there was no Buzzfeed, there were no listicles, there were no smartphones with Sonic CD on them, there wasn’t Vine or Instagram, there weren’t any other easily digestible pieces of content proliferating every fabric of my being and it was relatively easy to separate the digital world from my own sense of physicality. Now, however, it’s as if the once liberating feeling of all the information in the world basically being at our fingertips has shifted in to a crushing oppression of too much data for one person to ever skim through, let alone understand. Even something like opening up Netflix and deciding what I want to watch is now an utter chore, with the result being that I collapse in to a quivering wreck, lying on the living room floor in a foetal position, unable to decide between binge-watching Archer or re-watching Black Books. 

The internet has destroyed me. Modern technology has destroyed me. And I’d wager it’s destroyed a lot of you. Why else would you be here, reading this in between scanning your Facebook timeline? You, like me, now simply exist to kill time; to find distraction so you don’t have to focus on anything real or meaningful for more than three minutes at a time. Because that’s all we can handle, as the internet gradually melts our brains in to soft, squidgy brain putty. 

But dude, check out this video I found about dogs and socks. 

Tl;dr – I haven’t read a book since 2003. 
Tl;dr2 – internet.

Monday, 19 May 2014

102. Resurrecting musicians as holograms for live performances

^ In light of his Billboard performance, Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' video seems oddly prophetic.

       Look, I get it. There are so many musicians out there who I admire and love and would have fought tooth and nail for the opportunity to see live. From the likes of George Harrison to Peter Steele, it pains me a little that I’ll never get to see those charismatic musicians do their thing in the flesh. But I’ve made my peace with it, as have countless other music fans. Music at its best is the expression of an individual or a group and it seems a little wrong for that creativity to be reproduced without them. Unfortunately, death is part of the process of life. 

Disturbingly, a trend over the last few years has seen the dead perform live; not necromanced from their graves with rotted flesh and evil intent a la a Stephen King novel (I still have nightmares about reading 'Pet Sematary'), but rather poorly formed as digital zombies where the only element of decay is that of musical integrity. It started with Tupac, who grotesquely appeared like a rejected character model from a low budget video game, and it’s now happened with Michael Jackson, looking more artificially shiny than ever.

Of course, it’s most likely a ploy to tie in with the deceased King of Pop’s upcoming Xscape. But posthumous releases are one thing – I can understand releasing and even completing unfinished recordings, so that a musician lives on in some recorded form (even if it is sometimes done with all the grace and tact of a hippo attempting ballet). Bringing people back as holograms for a live show though? Do you know what that says to me? That says people are expendable and replaceable; that their creative contributions to the world, their performances, their personality and any sense of personal autonomy and agency are secondary to the whims of the entertainment industry and making a cheap buck; that once you die, your image, your very being and your persona can be whittled down to a video projection and rolled out on stage like some kind of twisted parlour performance; that you’ll live on as nothing more than an artificial visual, with the memory of you shaped by nothing but the decisions of faceless businesses.

Where does this kind of thing stop though? Alice Cooper, probably one of the all-time greatest rock acts in my eyes (...ears?), tours the world frequently and, at the ripe old age of 65, is showing no signs of stopping. His shows are amongst the most entertaining things I’ve ever experienced. Yes, of course I pine to have seen the original AC band in their ‘70s prime, but it’s still amazing to witness the man who came through it all and is still absolutely smashing it. And yet, a few years ago, a hologram performance of the original Alice Cooper group was put on at Battersea Power Station. Of course, original guitarist Glen Buxton has long passed away, but every other person in that group was still alive. Sure, a reunion wasn’t really on the cards, but there was something utterly macabre about the virtually created spectres of their youth putting on a live performance. Crucially, half the point of the classic Alice Cooper show was the unruly atmosphere and animosity of performance; the scathing interaction between the villainous band and the audience. That would be utterly lost by having the show delivered by glorified projections. Replicating anyone’s performance, dead or alive, completely destroys the live element. Nothing is down to chance, everything is predetermined and fixed. And without that, what’s the point?

It's beyond simply dwelling on the past – it’s fetishising it for profit and, moreover in the case of the deceased, it’s theft of identities once held by corporeal beings. You can’t simply make a hologram of someone and call that 'live' - the performance always lies in the individual, it varies depending on external factors on the night and, more than anything, it’s a representation of that human being at that very moment. It’s not video footage and CG trickery slapped together for an awards show.

Death is not something I'm too frightened by. But one thing that does grip me with terror is the idea of someone misrepresenting me or speaking on my behalf when I'm unable to do so myself. And if I, someone who runs relatively little risk of anyone misrepresenting them in the public eye following their death, am irked by that, I can't imagine how dead musicians would feel if they knew that one day their corpses will be reanimated by a collective of digital-savvy Frankensteins, all in the interest of trying to find a way to fill the gaps between ad breaks.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

101. People only experiencing things through the lens of a camera on their phone

^ This is legitimately a picture I took and put on Instagram yesterday. It took more than one attempt to get the shot I wanted. Don't worry, I hate myself too.
      I have an awful memory. It is so appalling that I will often find myself walking in to rooms fuelled by nothing but my own sense of purpose, only to immediately forget exactly why I had gone in to that room immediately upon entrance (spoiler: it was usually for biscuits). Dates, events, conversations and the location of my keys frequently disappear from the poorly filed annals of my derelict mind, leaving only the confused husk of a man in their wake. And so, it is because of this massive mental failing that I totally understand the need to document many of the events of your life with mementos and reminders - in my case, this comes in the form of a never ending barrage of post-it notes everywhere around my desk with slightly vague warnings like "THE OVEN IS ON" or "THIS SATURDAY: SORT LIFE OUT" scrawled on them in faded biro. However, lots of well-adjusted people are more privy to taking photos. Now, admittedly, I'm not a big photographer myself, but I’m not really against people taking a couple of photos to document their life. That’s fine.

Of course, what would this blog be if I didn’t have something to talk about that I was against. Increasingly (and this is something I partially put down to the advent of mobile phones with too many extra trinkets), there is a very defined attitude that the only way people can justify everything they do in life is if they ensure they experience it down the lens of some kind of camera. Be it social events, gigs, clubs, museums or whatever, they go far beyond taking photos as a keepsake – they are not content to experience things for what they are, they have to meticulously detail every aspect of them so that they have something to show for that time spent experiencing. Forget being able to tell other people what they did, they want to bore you with a wealth of poorly shot photos to prove exactly what they were up to. Moreover, they usually do it for Likes and retweets.

Gigs are particularly bad for this, as every concert becomes awash with a crowd of slack-jowled nimrods holding up rectangles of artificial light, attempting to document the band on stage; often, to the detriment of other people in the crowd who can’t see for all the tacky amateur photographers attempting to get their perfect shot. Seriously: it’s a gig, the lighting is inconsistent at best and everyone is thrashing around, do you really think you’re going to get that winning picture of the band on your ill-equipped mobile? But perhaps it’s not people to blame. Rather, it’s this weird mind-set that we have all become deeply entrenched in over the last decade, which is exacerbated by the increasingly fleeting way we communicate with each other on social media - the idea that if you can’t show the photo of an event to people who you probably don’t talk to online, you weren’t there.

Of course, I can’t pretend to be above this. I recently signed up to Instagram because I needed some other way for people to lavish me with internet attention to help circumvent my overwhelming sense of crippling loneliness. But what I found pretty quickly was that I was looking at and experiencing nice things, only to think “that’d make a great Instagram post” – I’d stop actually enjoying the moment I was experiencing in an attempt to document it for virtual validation later on. What was worst was when I found myself thinking “Oh, I should find something to photograph for Instagram!”, as if taking a photo and sharing it online was some kind of deep-seated desire I needed to fulfill. It was in that moment, dear reader, that I realised I have become everything I hated.

I guess I’m just trying to say that it’d be good if we could find a way to stop taking photos as an over the top attempt at creating documents for social media approval. It’d be even better if we could all just find a way to experience the moment first hand, because as soon as you whip out that camera phone, you’re just pulling yourself away from that moment – you’re not the experiencer, you're just an observer. Good things are pretty rare, so why have a camera-phone act as a barrier between them and you? 

100. The arbitrary celebration of numbers

^ Actually, if someone wanted to give me a fancy pin badge for writing this silly blog, I'd begrudgingly accept it.  

         This is the 100th post on Rant List. Most people would see that as some kind of landmark because, deep down, we’re slaves to the celebrating the metric system in an attempt to feel some sense of achievement and self-worth (e.g. "I ate 400 burritos, I must be some kind of champion"). So, in an attempt to circumvent making a big deal out of an utterly pointless amount of utterly pointless entries to an utterly pointless blog, what follows is a dispassionate list of things that have happened to me over the List’s life span.

I have written these inane diatribes over a period of 4 years. In that time, I have bought approximately 187 albums, devoured around 4380 meals, lost 100s of hairs, gained 1000s more hairs in the wrong places, gone through 6 pairs of shoes, drank 8,456,203 cups of coffee, aged 10 years, mercilessly destroyed 15 pairs of socks with wanton abandon, gained 1 degree, attained 1 subsequent job, sent 7 gazillion emails at said job, shrunk 3 jumpers in the wash, had the washing machine rip apart and murder 2 pieces of favourite clothing, lived with 12 different flatmates, had 2 relationships, eaten 9 corn dogs, regretted all 5,492,193 decisions I’ve made, played through 3 Final Fantasy games, had 3 phones die on me, drank 1000s of beers, wasted 4 years of my life, seen The Wildhearts live 6 times, genuinely enjoyed my life 13 times, and, of course, written 100 articles on a blog narcissistically dedicated to my own petty dissatisfaction. Oh god.

P.S. Yes, I did decide to rename the blog ‘Rant List’. Yes, it does make more sense and I probably should have done it years ago. Yes, yes, yes.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

99. People not letting songs reach their natural conclusion

^ All my personal possessions have faces and speak to me, don't yours?

          Picture the scene: it’s a social event (ugh, I know, but just go with it). It’s based indoors, you’re surrounded by people who probably aren’t awful, the drinks are flowing and there’s music cranking in the background. By all accounts, the recipe for a tolerable evening. To top it off, the music is free game – it’s just someone’s iPod hooked up to speakers, so you can all choose whatever you want to listen to (although, apparently this doesn’t mean Carcass as apparently that’s not socially acceptable pfffft). And then a cardinal sin is committed. Someone changes the song midway through another song. And it happens again. And again. And again. Not a single song is heard in full for the next two hours.

I’m probably an unfairly judgemental man when it comes to music – if it hasn’t got at least an extended guitar or saxophone solo, I’m out (here’s a number with both!). But you know the one thing more annoying than listening to songs you’re not hugely fond of? Listening to the first thirty seconds of a song you’re not fond of, only for it to be unceremoniously interrupted by another thirty second snippet of a song you’re not fond of it. It’s like a smorgasbord of audial torture – every time you get acclimatised to whatever you’re being subjected to, you are immediately affronted with something new and equally painful. You let your guard down a tiny bit after a few moments of Rihanna’s vapid, autotuned mess of a voice before you are assaulted with the fresh new hell of Kanye West*. I’m all for democratising the music choices at a party, but at least let songs come to their natural conclusion. It’s not like you have long to wait – they’re usually only about three minutes long (unless some sneaky legend has popped on ‘Supper’s Ready’ by Genesis, but I find that very unlikely). At the very least, have the common courtesy to at least attempt an awful fade out so we're eased in to the next dose of suffering.

If I wanted to exclusively listen to the first half-minute of a bunch of terrible songs, I’d just click the preview samples on Amazon’s webpage for ‘Now That’s What I Call Music 4 MILLION’. The next time I go to a party where this happens, I’m just going to play the beginning of ‘The Final Countdown’ repeatedly until everyone gradually goes insane. I’ll start with Europe’s recorded version, then all the live versions I can find, before finally going through every cover I know (and trust me, I know some weird cover versions). People will rue the day they changed a song midway. Or they'll at least rue the day they met me, which they potentially already do.

Well, alright, ‘regret’ if not outright ‘rue’. Oh.

I’m so alone.

*On a serious note, everyone. ‘Bound 2’? Really? This is music now? A spoilt brat with an incomprehensible ego complex badly splicing together completely different songs, punctuating them with a woman saying “uh-huh, honey” and then talking over the top? It sounds like a toddler got in to the editing room and pressed random tracks from Kanye’s spoken autobiography (because, let us not forget, this is a man who doesn't believe in books), some soul music and a porn soundtrack for four minutes, hoping for the best. Then again, if it was Kanye creating it, that’s basically what happened.

98. The fact that Sega’s ‘Shenmue’ series will probably never receive a proper conclusion

^ This was a lot funnier in my head, I promise. But then most things are.

Hi kids. Consider this line a public service announcement. If you have absolutely no interest in gaming, this rant is going to be about as enjoyable as spending New Year’s Eve with Piers Morgan.

          ‘Shenmue’ and its sequel (the enigmatically titled ‘Shenmue II’) are two genre defining action / role-playing games that arguably have yet to be matched in terms of their scope and ambition. Forget GTA III – Shenmue invented the open sandbox feature for gaming and did it to such a ridiculously high standard that it only now just feels that other developers seem to be catching up to it.

Starting like an ill-thought out kung-fu flick, the games chronicled the story of a young man, Ryo Hazuki, witnessing the death of his father at the hands of a swankily dressed villain named Lan Di. For a game released in 1999, the level of realism in your adventure was unparalleled and the game’s incredibly non-linear progression was liberating. You were presented with a litany of bizarre, but oddly deep characters fleshing out the plot (which made up for the relative one-dimensional nature of Ryo himself, a quiet chap who just said "I see” a lot whilst searching for sailors). It was one of the most engrossing game experiences of all time.

And then it happened. January 31st 2001 – the day the Dreamcast / my childhood died. Sega announced they were pulling out of the hardware game and their latest console would be discontinued in the coming months. Shenmue II was in development at this time and, initially, only got European and Japanese releases. But the Shenmue saga had always been envisioned as a long, sprawling tale that would span several large and extensive chapters. The original game had only been the first of these chapters, and II began by skipping an arguably unimportant chapter and cutting down a couple of the subsequent ones to advance the plot in the series’ increasingly unclear future. Despite the edits, Shenmue II was as grand as its predecessor - the entirety of the time spent in Kowloon in the game being one of the greatest sections of modern media I’ve experienced. The perfect swansong for a criminally misunderstood console, the game ended on a note of intrigue, almost as if to ensure Sega still had a real epic of a series on its hands as it moved in to software-only development.

But since then, it’s been tough for Shenmue fans. Sega have fluctuated wildly as both a business and a quality creative company. Times are dark. Sonic the Hedgehog has to sell his property rights out to any title he can, latching on to the success of others so that Sega execs are still able to put dinner on the table (I’m looking at you, 'Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games'). Shenmue fans all own Xboxes or Playstations now, hell maybe even Wii Us. But, over the years, there have been small bouts of activity post-Shenmue II. A couple of projects were even announced, the most infamous of these being Shenmue Online – an MMORPG that died before it even got started. There was even talk of releasing the remaining story as a graphic novel. Still, nothing's actually happened. At this point, it’s obvious we’ll never get a fully-fledged sequel, thanks to the abject failure of the console that bore Shenmue also rending it a financial disaster.

But I need to know. Does Ryo ever catch up to Lan Di after he escapes on the helicopter? Does he ever avenge his father’s death? What was all that weird stuff about the cherry blossom tree when you reach that remote village in China at the end of Shenmue II? It keeps me awake at night. I’ve never felt such contempt for a game villain like I do Lan Di. And, although as wooden an actor as a 2x4, I’ve never felt such empathy for a protagonist like Ryo (you can take your Cloud Strife and naff off). This is a man who watched his father get murdered in their own dojo for reasons that have yet to be made clear. His first reaction is to unwaveringly travel across Asia to uncover the mystery behind Lan Di and his murderous motives. Ryo still needs answers and god damn it people, so do I.

97. Career politicians

^ Making the above low-budget image took far longer than it should have. Essentially, the joke is that the only thing George Osborne is qualified in is being a nasty piece of work. Deep, I know.

          There is something fundamentally skewed about employing people to run a country when they have no real, tangible experience of what it’s like to be a contributing member of society. It’s no wonder there is such a huge disconnect between the powers-that-be and the average person. Politicians nowadays have had relatively little experience of the real world, let alone enough to justify them decreeing how those living the reality should deal with it. Politicians in Britain tend to be awful products of a rather sheltered upbringing that is only self-perpetuated as they reach adulthood.

Sure, many of them come from a private education background, but that’s not the real issue (although it is of course often a significant contributor). Where things really become an issue is in higher education, where politicians-to-be get involved in the farcical world of student politics; an area brimming with people who either seek popularity, crave power or hold some idealistic view that they can bring a real difference to the student body through the use of nothing but their own inflated ego. When the only genuinely politically minded members of a student-led political body are a small handful of people who uphold idealised and dated views of the extreme left or right, all you are left with is far more casual people decrying apathy and voting only for friends or drunken acquaintances. This is sort of forgivable in the student world – it’s essentially a bubble that attempts to prepare you for real life after you leave, so it makes sense that its attempts at politics are a bit ludicrous. The expectation is that after you leave education, you’ll finally be forced to deal with the hardships and concerns of the real world, as opposed to the skewed and sheltered pseudo-realities you’ve dealt with up until that point.

This is where the trouble begins though. What if after leaving university and taking part in student politics, you immediately embark on a career in politics? You don’t attempt anything different and rather go straight from being some kind of highly paid sabbatical officer in to some kind of plight for governmental power. You miss out on that all important “life experience” that could help give you some perspective of the kind of things most people go through in their everyday life.

Instead, you damn yourself to a future of making baseless assertions about what the general public experience, solely on the basis that your position of working in politics means you know what’s best for them. How does that work? How can you expect to have anything valid to say about a lifestyle that you have barely had to acknowledge, let alone live through? The only thing you’ve ever been concerned with is making a name for yourself in politics. You don’t care about society, people and their concerns or the country – you care about making a name for yourself. And because you’ve cared so much about making a name for yourself, you’ve somehow been allowed to push through to the top of the political ladder, never having had to step outside of your strange “political” bubble. And before you know it, you’re a prime minister who makes assumptions about what will be for the betterment of the UK without ever having contributed anything to better the UK yourself. You’ve probably never been genuinely affected by unemployment, low paying jobs, benefits, food allowances, council housing, racial or sexual discrimination, the internet or a plethora of other social issues that you now have supreme power over. Like hell you’ll have anyone’s best interest at heart other than your own career-driven selfishness – if you did, you wouldn’t dive head first in to politics. You’d actually try to do something worthwhile with your life first.