NEW BOOK: THE LOOKOUT

LOOKOUT COVER 6

My new novel, a ghost story entitled The Lookout, is now available in both paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.

1945. Michael Hamilton, a young soldier wounded during the Second World War, goes to The Lookout, a house on the Norfolk coast owned by his Grandfather, in order to recuperate. He shares the house with Anna and her son, Peter, distant cousins who are living there after their house was bombed a few years earlier. But all is not as it seems at The Lookout or in the nearby village. Recent tragedies involving the village’s children has everyone on edge, and Michael inadvertently finds himself at the centre of the mystery. He sets about looking for answers at the same time as unexpectedly finding himself attracted to Peter.

203 pages.

Advertisements

Glee: What Might Have Been

choir

*Contains season six spoilers*

Quite how Glee managed to limp through its mostly-awful fourth and fifth seasons is anybody’s guess.  There were times when it seemed that the whole thing would just grind to a halt and no-one would be bothered to even turn up to write, direct and act in it, let alone watch it.  And yet, since the death knell has been sounded, and the sixth and final season has started, this most erratic and frustrating of series has finally found its feet once again.  At its very best, Glee does not just entertain but it can also move its audience and send out a message like virtually no other programme.

I actually came to Glee in the first place about four years ago because a couple of my students were writing an essay on it, and I needed to see a few episodes.  Even back then, in its first and second seasons, the writing was erratic – brilliant one week, bloody awful the following week.  And yet one thing shone through despite the bland writing, forgotten narrative threads, bizarre characterisations, and awful song choices:  Glee had heart.  There were times when it became a little preachy to say the least, but at least it was preaching acceptance.  But the erratic quality of the programme saw viewing figures fall (understandably), and the third season could easily have been the last.

But still it carried on, trying to dig itself out of the hole it had dug for itself, trying every trick in the book to win back viewers or, at the very least, keep the ones it still had.  The idea to have what were essentially two parallel narratives running through the fourth and fifth seasons was interesting, but doomed to fail.  Glee got more and more silly and irrelevant.  It had been forgotten that the show was at its best when it was also at its simplest, but still there were moments when Glee’s best qualities shone through despite everything.

Now the show is at the midway point of its sixth and final series of just thirteen episodes and, somehow, it has returned to very near its best.  Surreal humour that makes sense to no-one is mixed up with genuinely moving storylines and songs that are actually there for a reason.  There are no fireworks as Glee comes to an end – no big attempt to win back viewers, but just an eagerness to let this once-loved show close out with some dignity.  But this simple aim has resulted in some wonderful moments – and as a forty-one year old man, I really shouldn’t be saying that given that the target audience is probably about fifteen.

Dot-Marie Jones has been nominated three times for a Prime-time Emmy for her performances in the show and, given her performance in recent episodes that have centred around Coach Beiste’s decision to live life as a man, it’s highly likely that a further nomination will be forthcoming.  Excusing the fact that his decision was made and surgery taken place all in a matter of four weeks, this storyline has resulted in one of Glee’s best episodes in years, entitled Transitioning. It’s a simple episode, in which a number of storylines get moved forward, but Jones’s performance as her character returns to work for the first time as a man is remarkable.  It’s been mentioned in various places over the last few weeks that the transgender community gets forgotten or ignored when it comes to LGBT representation and politics, thus making this current narrative arc particularly welcome.

OK, I admit it, just like a Hallmark afternoon movie starring Lindsey Wagner, the climax in which transgender former student Unique sings a message of acceptance to the rather lost Coach Beiste, backed with a 300-strong transgender choir, is obviously intended to pull at the heartstrings and get the audience either crying like a baby or puking as a result of saccharine overload.  And yet it’s done so well (and is so out of the blue) that even the most-hardened watchers would struggle not to be moved by the whole thing.  Yes, it’s manipulating the viewer without apology, and, yes, it’s unadulterated feel-good TV – but that’s not always a bad thing.  And yes, I cried like a baby.

Glee has tackled numerous issues over its six-season run – some were done remarkably well and in depth, while others were handled so appallingly that the writers should be ashamed (most notably when Ryder admitted that he was molested as a child).  And, yes, there are “issues” that have, for some reason, been avoided.  In a series aimed at teenagers, why did the producers seemingly go out of their way to avoid storylines relating to drugs or mental health?  But the one thing it has consistently done, and done well, is ask for acceptance of the LGBT community, and this sixth season is no exception to that – quite the opposite in fact.  And, as a gay man myself, I understand the importance of that message going out to a core audience of the age that is just starting to understand who they are and  their purpose in life.

This final season of Glee has felt more like a beginning than an ending, and no doubt the show’s constant viewers will be watching it thinking of what could have been had the programme had been of this standard over the previous three seasons.  But there is a time and a place for everything, and the series has run its course.  In 2009, when it started, it was fresh, vibrant, funny and different.  Now it’s viewed by most as tired and cliched.  But I for one, even as a grumpy middle-aged man, am pleased that Glee has been allowed these thirteen episodes to get its arse in gear and finish with its head held high and to demonstrate just what it achieved over the last six years rather than where it failed.

Un jour d’été (One Day in Summer) (2006)

44

I first saw this made-for-TV film about five years ago, and I confess that I was rather mesmerised by it.  Having seen it again just yesterday, I have to say that I still find it a remarkably  fine effort – despite the various reviews of it elsewhere.

The plot is simple.  Almost non-existent.  There are two teenaged friends.  One of them dies after being hit on the head by a goalpost.  The other one struggles to cope.  That’s basically it.  There are various subplots about the family of the dead boy and whether or not the goal post was in some way defective, but these subplots are as inconsequential as the main narrative.

In many respects this is a film that came at the tail end of a cycle of similar french movies about confused teenagers:  Presque Rien, Les Roseaux Sauvages, A Toute Vitesse, Le Dernier Jour.  And perhaps this is why the film has caused some reviewers to scratch their heads a little.  These films all feature homosexual teens as their lead characters or, at least, teens who are sexually confused and that confusion is the driving force behind the narrative.   That isn’t the case here.  Sure, it appears that Sébastien may have feelings for boys, but that’s never made explicit.  It’s hinted at, but nothing more.  Apparently, though, the film was shown at LGBT film festivals in the UK (and was picked up by a DVD distributor specialising in LGBT-themed films) and that has caused more confusion within audiences than within the central character himself.  I can understand that to a certain degree, but this is where the term “queer” really comes into its own.  It may not be a gay-themed film, but it’s certain a queer film.

Anyone who wants to watch this because they think it has gay content will, indeed, be disappointed.  But that’s a shame, for Un jour d’été has so much to offer.  It is, essentially, an elegy – a cinematic study of mourning and loss, and the effect grief can have on family and friends beyond the obvious.  After the funeral, things slowly get back to normal – but, somehow, they are never quite the way they used to be.   This is something rarely portrayed in film, a medium where mourning and grief is so often portrayed as lasting a few days and then everything’s hunkydory.  Un jour d’été portrays quite the opposite of  this in a quiet, plaintive, unassuming way that is both mesmerising and moving without being overly morbid.

Strangely, Baptiste Bertin, who plays the lead in the film has done little movie work since.  This is a shame, for he puts in a stunning performance here as the confused, bemused, sometimes troubled teenager at the heart of the “story.”  His performance alone is worth looking around for a second-hand copy of the DVD (not as easy as it sounds).

In the end, the film has come into criticism in the past because it refuses to be pigeon-holed.  That the boy at the centre of the film is sexually confused and yet that isn’t what he obsesses over day and night seems very hard for some people to understand.  Had the “gay” angle been developed more, it would probably have been received better outside France but, at the same time, it would have lost much of its appeal and much of its power.  The film is as unassuming as its title, but well worth taking the time to watch.

Ebay’s “inappropriate” behaviour

ebaylogo

 

Update:  After 90 minutes of live chat, three emails and five phone calls, eBay have changed their rules on the use of “gay” and “lesbian” in shop categories, which is a positive move.  That it took a month’s worth of effort to get the result is less positive.  Live chat was embarrassingly poor, emails received were often cut and pasted from standard paragraphs, and four times on the phone I was promised a response via email within 24 hours which didn’t happen.  This surely isn’t good enough customer service for a company that has just increased some of its fees by 250%.

The original blog post appears below:

 

It appears to me that Ebay has a problematic relationship with the gay community. At the end of last year, stories appeared in the media and social media of certain products being withdrawn from sale after being labelled as being of “gay interest” – this included a T-shirt of a reindeer wearing a rainbow flag, no less. While Ebay did apologise and admitted its mistake once the story went public, one has to wonder whether there is something more sinister at work here than an automated system going a little haywire. After all, why are the words “gay interest” in the system at all as possibly being related to possibly offensive or banned items?

I have come across a similar issue this week. With Ebay raising their insertion fees by 250% on some items, opening a “shop” seemed the cheapest way forward (although the amount of inclusive listings in hiring a shop has been halved too). When entering the categories I wanted for my shop, I worked through innocuous names with no problems.

DVD: World Cinema

DVD: Silent Cinema

However, when I tried to enter that highly offensive term “DVD: Gay Cinema,” I got a notice flash up on the screen telling me that the word “gay” was “inappropriate.” Needless to say, the system doesn’t like “lesbian cinema” either – but “straight cinema” is just fine. “Gay interest cinema” is also a no-go, although “gay-themed cinema” is fine, but presumably only because the hyphen means the word “gay” doesn’t get detected.

My issue here was not that I had to use a hyphen, but the labelling of the term “gay” as “inappropriate.” Inappropriate to who? And why? Was Ebay somehow linking the word “gay” with sex and pornography? That would be wrong, of course, but it would at least give an explanation. But that couldn’t be right either because, as I tried out different category titles, I found out that “adult DVDs” caused no problems for Ebay at all, and wasn’t deemed inappropriate.

And so it was that, on Sunday afternoon, I headed to Ebay live chat to find out what was going on. In my ninety minute chat, I spoke to four representatives. None of them could help me. Three of them suggested ways around the problem, but none seemed to understand that getting around the issue wasn’t the problem – my problem was that the word “gay” was tagged as “inappropriate.” One of the reps told me that the system had problems with “that kind of word,” although I’m not quite sure what kind of word that might be. The final lady I spoke to apologised for her “incontinence” (no joke), and I told her I was glad it wasn’t a face to face conversation. After I left the conversation, I received a long message from this lady telling me why pornographic items were not allowed on Ebay (which had nothing to do with our conversation).

I then decided that the way forward would be to send Ebay an email.   This also caused problems. They have no public email address. I went back to live chat, and they told me I would have to send my complaint by post to Dublin. I told them that an online business really shouldn’t be forcing its customers to send complaints by snail mail to another country. No, I was assured, there was no email address. Bearing this in mind, I then told them that I would, instead, write an open letter of complaint on my blog and tweet it to all my followers. I asked if Ebay had an email address now. Yes, they did, as it happens. Funny that.

So, I sent my email to Ebay and, in less than 24 hours, I got my response. However, it was rather problematic. Part of it reads as follows:

“I understand this matter is frustrating for you as you have being restricted for using the word ‘gay’ in your shop category title. Please understand this word is not inappropriate to use, however we have to factor in the whole eBay community. eBay’s community is a diverse, international group of users with varied backgrounds and beliefs, and it’s easy to image how home items listed on eBay might be offensive to at least some of our users somewhere in the world. …The word gay in not considered inappropriate as mentioned above this may not be offensive in your eyes or mine; however, we need to consider eBay as a whole.”

No matter how much Ebay tries to sweeten this, the facts remain the same – there is discrimination going on here, and the company are clearly worried that, for some reason, some people might have trouble with the word “gay.” That Ebay are seemingly intent on bowing to the whims of the homophobic only makes the matter ten times worse than it already is. When the gay/LGBT DVD genre was deleted from Ebay UK last year, I assumed it was simply part of their reorganisation. However, I’m now beginning to wonder if there wasn’t a darker reason behind that too.

When I started this little investigation 48 hours ago, I honestly thought that Ebay had deemed the word “gay” as inappropriate for shop categories fifteen years ago when attitudes were, by and large, less tolerant, and never put it right due to an oversight. However, my reply from the company via email states quite clearly that it is “inappropriate” because some people, somewhere in the world, might find it offensive.

Bearing that in mind, I say to Ebay that the LGBT community is likely to find that offensive in itself. If the system hadn’t been updated as times changed, then I would say “fine,” but put it right now you are aware. That clearly isn’t what happened here, and there is a clear statement from the company that they are keen to deem a word describing a lifestyle as “inappropriate” in order to not lose the custom of the homophobic few.