Archive for the ‘dissing the visuworld’ category

Most obese people glad they’re not obese, survey finds

April 11, 2013

A study of British attitudes has found that over 90% of obese people are happy with not being obese. The study, conducted exclusively among people who fit the medical definition of “obese”, found that the majority of those surveyed were delighted not to be obese and somewhat afraid of ever becoming obese.

Rhys Jones, 6’ 3” and 18st 3lb, explains: “Yes, I know the CBI thingy says I’m technically obese. But that’s ignoring the fact that I play rugby, so most of this weight is actually muscle. Also, that MFI thing doesn’t work properly for tall people. Basically, I’m really lucky to have a large frame, and I keep myself fit. I can’t imagine being obese and not being able to walk down the road any more.”

The Attitudes to Obesity research, conducted by a middle-ranking university desperate to be featured in the Metro, also revealed negative attitudes to obesity and a strong sense that personal responsibility is key.

Sarah Taylor, 5’ 4” and 13st 10lb, gave a common view when she said: “I eat healthy food. I did the Race for Life last year. And I don’t see why all these obese people can’t just get off their lazy arses and lose some weight. If I can do it, why can’t they?”

When challenged about their own weight, 95% of those surveyed gave an explanation as to why they should not be categorised as obese, despite possessing a body mass index of 30 or more. The most popular reasons included “muscle”, “tallness” and “definitely not looking like those fat fuckers they show on the news”.

Respondents also tended to feel that action must be taken to halt the obesity epidemic. Heather McTavish, 5’ 7” and 15st, said: “Make them go to the gym before they can get their benefits – that’s a great idea. I go swimming when I can, and I reckon it makes me more energetic as well as stopping me getting obese. I’ve never claimed a penny in public money and I don’t see why I should pay for these obese people to be lifted out of their houses with a crane.”

The Attitudes to Obesity researchers believe that their findings have policy implications. Project leader Adey Pose said: “Here we have people demonstrating negative, punitive attitudes towards a group to which they themselves belong. There’s huge potential here to use misleading visuals as a tool for ‘othering’ and generally harness fat hatred as a distraction from less important issues such as cycling provision, nutrition and the ongoing privatisation of the health service.

“You might find it depressing that the people surveyed were so willing to throw their own kind to the wolves. But that’s fatties for you. They’re nothing like the rest of us.”

Pretty letters

April 10, 2013

Chinese “poem” was an advert for a strip club:

This is what happens when you decide that Chinese text can be used as cover art and focus exclusively on how pretty it looks rather than what it means. This is what happens when you treat another culture’s language as decoration.

The deeper irony is that the advert itself was for a strip club. Strip clubs are all about the visuals too.

Thinking about pictures

April 4, 2013

I used to have a Facebook account, like most of the population of the Western world. I deleted it partly because I didn’t like the linking up of my different identities. Maybe I compartmentalise my life more than is healthy, but I hated getting friend requests from people who were at school with me. To me, they don’t belong in the same “box” as my current friends. I can’t be the same person to all these people, and I don’t want to try.

I also absolutely sodding hated being tagged in photos. This was often because I usually didn’t consent to the picture being taken, let alone made public, in the first place. But also, I hated the linking of these photographs to my public identity. The days of “who’s that lady in the background, Dad?” are nearly over. Now it seems normal to link an image of a person to that person’s online identity. Sometimes that’s still a fake/pseudonymous identity, but Google and Facebook are working hard to stamp out the fun we used to have playing with online personas. The behemoths of online networking feed off real people, real lives.

The rules have changed in my lifetime. As a kid, I knew that a photo would just go in an album, maybe be passed around friends, and that was it. (That’s if the photo-taker could be bothered to get it developed in the first place.) But now it seems that the rule is: you get your picture taken, you have to be prepared for it to be made public and linked to your online identity.

I don’t own a digital camera, so I take photos with my phone. It’s easy for me to attach photos to an email or upload them to Flickr directly from my phone. But getting photos from my phone directly to my computer? Really hard. I have a connection cable and some software, but the whole set-up is buggy and frequently doesn’t work. It’s ten times easier to email the photos to myself. So the tech is pushing me towards putting photos “out there”, one way or another. I’d love to know if the tech is creating the “public as default” culture or if it’s the other way round.

With Facebook, I felt a line had been crossed when people started scanning in non-digital photos, publishing them and tagging me. I don’t know why, but I felt as if photos taken in the pre-digital days should be protected from this kind of treatment. Perhaps because the people in them couldn’t possibly have consented to a practice that wasn’t even invented then?

Anyway, I got tired of un-tagging myself and I deleted my Facebook account. And I sort of thought that was it, until a few weeks ago.

I’ve got a Flickr account. I use my real name in my profile, because I figured I have control over the photos that appear in my stream. So it was a shock to find out, while fiddling with the settings trying to find something else, that Flickr has a “tag people” function just like Facebook’s. Turns out I’ve been tagged in over 80 photos over the years without my knowledge. I realised eventually that it’s quite hard to find them by searching for my name, but my first reaction was “AAARGGGGHHH!” and then “FFFFFFUUUUUU”.

Is this how the world is now? Consenting to a photo means that that photo ends up in the public domain, part of the pile of public evidence about you? If so, it’s a pity that not-consenting to a photo is considered socially even less acceptable than it used to be. How can this not have a chilling effect on the way we behave? How can you let your guard down at a party if the photos are going to come back and bite you in the (bare) arse? Suddenly the teenage obsession with looking as good as possible at all times makes total sense. How can you smile and relax in holiday photos if you know they’re going on the internet later?

Is this really how it has to be? Is there no way of opting out without becoming a recluse?

My terrifying vision of the future is neatly encapsulated in Google Glass: photos and recordings taken without your knowledge or consent, with the potential to link them to your online and offline identity.

It’s harder to fight this kind of scary privacy invasion if you live in a culture that’s obsessed with putting photos online. A few months ago I went on holiday with some people I didn’t really know very well. And what staggered me was the importance these people gave to their photographs. In the evenings I tried to make fun stuff happen, but I couldn’t prise the others away from their laptops until they’d published and collated the day’s photos online. My attitude is: “You took some photos today, and that’s nice, but holiday time is for fun stuff, so let’s have a drink and hang out.” Their attitude seemed to be: “My day doesn’t have meaning until I’ve put the photos somewhere public. I am happy to ignore the people around me until that task is complete.”

I don’t want to be a control freak about my public image, like Elizabeth I. I just want potential employers to judge me on how I look when I turn up for the interview, not on how I looked at last year’s Hallowe’en party.

Maybe it’s greedy to want a life where I’m the life and soul of the party, the one who lets it all hang out on the beach, the one who rants about politics… and the perfect professional who never crosses a line. But that privilege is something we all used to have. And visual culture, photograph-obsessed culture, took it away from us.

Travelling shite

March 22, 2013

Tupperwolf points out that being rich enables you to travel light. If she had my, er, “talent” for carrying on talking after the point is thoroughly made, she might have added that being rich enables you to travel at all.

The article she’s rebutting, Living with Less. A Lot Less, inadvertently supplies a perfect example of my point: the person who thinks that abandoning possessions and increasing travel is an enlightened-person choice rather than just a wealthy-person choice. The person who thinks that reducing possessions and increasing travel somehow means living a lighter life.

It’s true that if you travel a lot, you’re probably physically slim and you probably don’t have much in the way of visible possessions. But that’s just yet more evidence that we should stop using visuals to assess what impact someone’s life is having. Because if you travel a lot by plane, you’ll have an enormous carbon footprint, no matter what else you do. You might care about the environment and take steps to mitigate your impact – by “minimizing trips, combining trips and purchasing carbon offsets” – but you’re still doing a dangerous level of damage to the earth’s climate.

That’s why people who travel don’t like actually working out their carbon emissions. They’ll avoid using any of the many free calculators available. Because if you saw the figures in black and white, you might have to face up to the damage you’re doing. Aviation is the huge farting elephant in the room.

I think most of us know a person-who-travels. When you meet them, you can often mistake them for a normal person who just happens to be returning from, or about to go on, the trip of a lifetime. Only later, after several more trips-of-a-lifetime, does it dawn on you that travelling is what they do. If they’re back in this country, it’s probably because they’re trying to scrape some money together to go travelling again. You have to get out of the mindset of wondering when they’ll be “back for good”, which is hard.

People-who-travel often have a lot of stuff in storage, providing a convenient metaphor for the metaphorical hidden baggage they drag around like Marley’s chains. What I mean is that the behaviour of people-who-travel has a cost for others, for the people left behind.

I could give countless examples: the parents who worry when you don’t say you’ve arrived safe, siblings who take on your share of family-duty stuff, friends who look unprofessional because they recommended you for the job you said you wanted and then you turned it down to go travelling.

You turn up at Terminal 4 with nothing but a tote bag, sure, but the ghostly shapes behind you are your mum’s attic full of your stuff, your friend who subbed you lunch all week because you spent all your money on plane tickets, the tenants handing over cash to you because you bought a house then decided not to live in it. (That’s not forgetting the 300,000 people who die every year because people like you think a rich person’s right to convenient travel is more important than a poor person’s right to life.)

And let’s add some more unexamined privilege to the baggage allowance: the privilege of flying frequently in a world where most people have never boarded a plane, the privilege of being commitment-free enough to make the trip, too much other privilege to go into here.

Some people-who-travel are so unaware of their privilege that they even write self-congratulatory blog posts about how boring the people they left at home are, how sedentary we are, how we simply can’t understand the life-changing experience they’ve had.

And yes, maybe we have been boringly working for a living. Maybe it’s tedious being able to contact us when you want to, because we haven’t dropped our mobile phone off the back of a rickshaw.

We’re that awful brother who was around for Mum’s birthday and organised a present from both of you. We’re those boring friends who have kids and provide them with a stable home environment. We’re those predictable relatives who can put you up for the night because we’re renting a a flat with a spare room instead of sleeping in someone else’s spare room to save money to go travelling.

We’re that boss who started a company from scratch and inexplicably stayed around to watch it grow into a thriving business. Why didn’t she just sell everything, make everybody redundant and fuck off to Sri Lanka?

And we simply can’t understand that life-changing experience you had, the one where you got on a plane with a bunch of other rich white people and flew somewhere and stayed there for a bit and then flew somewhere else and got a funny tummy.

Sorry. We can’t understand it because we weren’t there, man. I guess you win. Oh, off again so soon?

There’s none so blind

March 13, 2013

Are you a middle-aged or elderly woman? Do you need glasses to read, or perhaps to see properly in general?

Don’t wear them. They make you look old. They are literally the only thing making you look old. Take them off immediately. When you remove your glasses, all the other signs of age melt away from you, and you immediately gain the appearance of a lithe 25-year-old. You will look girlish and care-free as you complain about parking charges or ask your son-in-law to fix your computer.

When someone hands you a letter, or a recipe, or a map, or a copy of the TV listings, the look of incomprehension and mild panic on your face makes you look – impossible as it may seem – even younger. As you scrabble through your handbag or search the house for the glasses you need to read, you take on the appearance of a dewy-skinned 21-year-old.

Of course, when you finally find the glasses, you will have to actually put them on. But that’s OK, because everybody knows you don’t really wear them. So your forcefield of youthfulness remains intact. To add a note of eagerness and youthful energy to the general aura, why not try licking your finger before finally getting to grips with the piece of paper?

Then, finally, you can begin to read. And now you appear even more youthful: you’ve taken several minutes and put in a lot of effort to read a few sentences. Congratulations! I’ve measured your educational level using these factors and concluded that you can’t be any more than five years old.

How to precipitate a change in someone’s looks

November 7, 2012

Most people have some aspect of their appearance that they wouldn’t have chosen if it had been up to them. It might be a gap in the teeth, a mole, some extra weight. How you deal with it depends on you. Some people remain obsessed with the flaw, or perceived flaw, to the point where they feel unhappy every time they look in the mirror. Getting rid of it is the only solution they can see to this unhappiness.

Other people make their peace with these flaws. No, they wouldn’t have chosen it, but it’s just a bald patch/a wonky tooth/a few freckles. They can live with it. It’s fine.

Want to know how to make those people join the ranks of the obsessed and unhappy? Tell them that the flaw is “part of who [they] are” and an important part of their identity as it appears to you.

“That mole? It’s just you. It’s just part of who you are.”
“You wouldn’t be you without your sticky-out teeth. Don’t get them fixed!”
“You just look weird without your glasses. Not like you at all.”

People who say this kind of thing think they’re being reassuring. The general message is “It would be boring if everybody was the same! That physical flaw you’re worried about – it’s just part of life’s rich tapestry, and it helps to make you unique!” But what the other person hears is: “As far as I’m concerned, that flaw defines you.

I’m happy to have a pot belly if I’m the guy who loves coffee, knows about classic cars, makes hilarious jokes and – oh yeah, he does have a pot belly, now you come to mention it. But to hear that I am the guy with a pot belly and the pot belly “is just part of who you are” – that’s enough to send me running to the nearest Pilates class. In fact, somebody recently told me that my current hairstyle “is what I think of as you” and that was enough to get me looking critically at the hairstyle, realising how boring it is and booking a haircut.

Yes, some people revel in the differences that make them unique. But just because Ken Dodd insures his buck teeth or Christina Hendricks “celebrates her curves” on the Daily Mail’s creepy sidebar, that doesn’t mean the average person feels like that. If you really want to reassure someone you care about, tell the other person that their physical quirk is too far down the list of interesting things about them to be worth mentioning.

Confucius he talk crap sometimes

April 27, 2012

Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand.

When I first read this, I thought it was brave of the writer to admit to being an idiot. Subsequently I realised this is a well-known saying, supposedly a Chinese proverb. Now I realise that people who write this are still idiots, just in a slightly different way.

I’m not a visual learner. I’m not a spatial or “kinetic” learner. I don’t like the stupidity and smugness inherent in the assumption that any non-visual, non-active learning “doesn’t work”. It works just fine for me, most of the time.

Many of my lessons at school involved a few minutes of actual teaching, followed by an interminable “activity” designed to “reinforce the learning”. I struggled in those lessons. The bit where the teacher was telling us stuff was fine. The other bits were not.

Ah, I hear you say. That’s because you were just sitting back and letting the teacher’s words wash over you, then when it came to the “active learning” bit, you struggled because you hadn’t truly grasped the subject matter of the lesson. Well, maybe. But that doesn’t explain why I struggled in French lessons despite already being able to speak French. I think I struggled because a lot of lazy teachers would rather dump a poorly explained, confusing, pointless activity on their pupils than actually teach, and I am someone who doesn’t get on well with poorly explained, confusing, pointless activities.

I get why you’ll never learn to drive if you don’t get to sit in the driver’s seat. I get why certain activities really do require you to put your body in a certain space and actually do something before you can learn. What I do not accept is the lazy assumption that all learning has to work this way. Especially when the “involvement” is a substitute for genuine learning. Especially when the rhetoric about “active learning” is a cloak for the teacher putting their feet up while the learners flounder.

So stop quoting that sodding proverb. It just proves you’re unoriginal as well as a slow learner. I have no idea why you’d want the world to be sure of that.