Fantastic Conspiracy Theories

No doubt you knew that the moon landing was faked.

And that the Roswell alien landing was covered up.

And that the CIA killed JFK.

And that the lottery is rigged

But did you also know that a race of beings called “Agarthians” live deep below us in the centre of the Earth? Apparently, they were first discovered in 1947 after an expedition to the North Pole by Admiral Byrd. (Sounds like 1947 was a big year between this and Roswell!). Byrd was in the U.S. Navy when he made two flights into the hollow earth, which has only two openings – one at the North pole and one at the South pole. The U.S. Navy, of course, are keeping all this information Top Secret.

And you know what else? Shapeshifting reptilian aliens are really running the planet and controlling everything. – the government, the media you name it. David Icke should know – he used to be a reporter for the BBC! Okay, he was a sports reporter, but who cares…He knows the truth about the “Reptilians” (or “Reptoids”, or “Reptiloids” or “Draconians”…guess they’re still struggling the naming process), an alien race which colonised Earth long ago which includes everyone from George W. Bush to the British Royal family. (And you thought “V” was just a television series!)

“The scariest and most powerful thing about conspiracy theories is they can’t be disproven, because any evidence that contradicts a conspiracy theory can be immediately dismissed as a plant of the conspiracy itself, created and disseminated specifically to disprove it. That’s what’s so clever about Fantastic Fest selection “The Conspiracy“. writes Matt Singer of Criticwrire (in a piece called “Fantastic Fest Review” 26th September, 2012).

The Conspiracy is a faux documentary which uses found footage and was written and directed by Christopher MacBride.

The film follows two doc filmmakers who decide their subject will be a man who’s made a name for himself by yelling protests in the streets of Toronto. This man explains that we’re all sheep (think real life Matrix), and slaves to a government attempting to become one powerful entity. The tales that are spun come directly out of conspiracy forums and are essential in integrating a level of believability to this intriguing mockumentary. When the old man goes missing, the filmmakers piece together his office full of newspaper clippings – which leads them down the rabbit hole of “truth.”

… what makes The Conspiracy so compelling is that it’s based on real conspiracy theories. Everything that’s suggested in the film is something I’ve known or read about, which makes the mockumentary that much more believable and even more thrilling.
according to Mr Disgusting at the Bloody Disgusting.com (“Chilling ‘The Conspiracy’ Brings Found Footage Thrills!” 23rd September, 2012)

Some people simply do not like the discomfort that a conspiracy theory creates. But for others, conspiracy theories are intriguing. They like to explore all of the possibilities that a conspiracy theory presents, in the same way that they like to explore puzzles or mystery novels. Sometimes a conspiracy theory is ridiculous and learning about it is a form of entertainment. Or you may find that the theory is credible and it makes you think. It’s interesting to consider the theory, weigh the evidence and come up with a conclusion“. Marshall Brain, “How Conspiracy Theories Work“. (How Stuff Works.com)

Personally, I struggle to believe that the world is being run by shapeshifting reptiles… but maybe that’s because their minion helpers – the microscopic carnivorous slug aliens – have hijacked my brain and I can no longer even trust my very own thought processes! Because they control them…telling me what to write at this very moment!!

Whatever. They’ve managed to be a bit more productive at this whole blogging thing than I have recently. Maybe I should leave them to it.

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The Teddy Bears’ Picnic

Well, two weeks after My Homework ate my blog… I still haven’t written another one. So, I was sort of faced with three choices this week :

1) Do nothing
2) Write another poem about why I have no blog this week (and slowly start turning it into a blog of poems about not blogging)
3) Post what I have been working on, which is a puppet show for the Teddy Bears’ Picnic my daughter’s school is having on Sunday. (I had to write the ten minute script for them, make the puppets and props and rehearse everybody – hence no blog).

So I’ve chosen option 3 and posted the script for an enthralling tale entitled “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic” below. (Well, with any luck it might be enthralling for 3-7 year olds. I guess I’ll find out on Sunday…)

‘THE TEDDY BEARS PICNIC’
by Michelle Mead

ROLES:

DAISY (PUPPET)
DOLLY (PUPPET)
CHARLIE (PUPPET)
CHIP (PUPPET)
TIGER (PUPPET)
NARRATOR (VOICE/PERSON)

PROPS :

PICNIC BASKET
PICNIC RUG
BALL
4 CUPCAKES
FLOWERS

DAISY, DOLLY, CHARLIE and CHIP appear onstage with a PICNIC BASKET.

NARRATOR
Once upon a time four little teddy bears decided to go on a picnic together. Their names were Daisy…

DAISY
Hi!

NARRATOR
Dolly…

DOLLY
Hello!

NARRATOR
Charlie…

CHARLIE
Nice to meet you!

NARRATOR
And Chip.

Chip says nothing.

NARRATOR
Say “hello”, Chip.

CHIP
No.

NARRATOR
Why not? Don’t you to be polite?

CHIP
Not really.

NARRATOR
Well, that’s not very nice.

CHIP
I don’t care.

NARRATOR
Hmmm. (SIGHS) Well, let’s just get on with the story.

DOLLY, DAISY and CHARLIE carry the picnic basket a little way across the stage while Chip walks in a daydream behind them.

NARRATOR
They took a great big picnic basket full of food with them to the park. It was so full of food that they all needed to help carry it.

DOLLY
Did you hear that, Chip? We all needed to help carry the basket.

Chip hums to himself, looking around at the sky instead, pretending he does not hear.

DOLLY
Chip, we know you heard.

CHIP
No, I didn’t.

CHARLIE
You have to help us carry the basket.

CHIP
But I don’t want to.

CHARLIE
Well, it’s not fair if you don’t.

CHIP
I don’t care.

CHARLIE, DAISY and DOLLY
Hmmpff!

DAISY, DOLLY and CHARLIE walk off a little further across the stage with the PICNIC BASKET. CHIP follows.

DAISY, DOLLY and CHARLIE put down the PICNIC BASKET and lay out a PICNIC RUG.

NARRATOR
They found a lovely spot for their picnic, then put down a blanket and the basket, and started to set things up.

While DAISY, DOLLY and CHARLIE busily set up the picnic, CHIP kicks a ball back and forth across the stage without helping.

NARRATOR
They all pitched in to help.

Chip continues to kick the ball around, not helping.

NARRATOR
Didn’t they, Chip?

CHIP
Sure.

CHIP kicks his ball through the middle of the picnic setup.

CHARLIE, DAISY and DOLLY
Chip!

CHARLIE picks up the BALL.

CHARLIE
I’m holding onto this now, Chip.

CHIP
I don’t care.

DAISY, DOLLY and CHARLIE all shake their heads. CHARLIE put the BALL away (offstage).

NARRATOR
The four of them decided to go and pick some flowers to put in the centre of their picnic rug.

CHIP
What?! I didn’t decide that!

NARRATOR
Well, that’s what they did anyway.

CHIP
No, it isn’t.

NARRATOR
Yes, it is.

CHIP
I’m not doing that. It’s dumb.

NARRATOR
You know this is getting very tiresome, Chip.

CHIP
I don’t care.

NARRATOR
Well… the co-operative members of the cast went off to pick flowers.

DAISY, DOLLY and CHARLIE exit side stage.

CHIP sits down on the PICNIC RUG and starts looking through the basket of food.

CHIP
(TO AUDIENCE)
Hey, look what I just found!

He holds up a CUPCAKE (PROP).

CHIP
We have cupcakes! My favourite! Do you think I should eat one now?

CHIP waits for a response from the audience.

CHIP
Well, I’m going to!

CHIP devours the CUPCAKE Cookie Monster style.

CHIP
Yum! That was so good I think I need to have another one!

CHIP devours yet another CUPCAKE.

CHIP
Yum, yum! And another one!

NARRATOR
I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Chip. The others will be very upset if you eat all the cupcakes.

CHIP
I don’t care.

CHIP eats the last two CUPCAKES at once.

DAISY, DOLLY, and CHARLIE return from side stage with FLOWERS.

DAISY
What are you doing, Chip?!

DOLLY
Oh, my goodness! You’ve eaten all the cupcakes!!

CHIP
(LOOKING AROUND)
Woops!

CHARLIE
That wasn’t nice, Chip!

CHIP
It was, you know, Charlie. They were the loveliest cupcakes!

CHARLIE
Well, it isn’t fair that you ate them all!

DAISY
Yeah, Chip. Stop doing naughty things! You’re ruining our picnic.

CHIP
I don’t care. I’m bored with this picnic anyway.

DOLLY
(SHOCKED)
Chip!

CHIP
I think I’d have more fun on my own. I’ll go into the forest to play by myself.

CHIP starts to head to towards his side stage exit.

NARRATOR
But you can’t do that, Chip!

CHIP
(STOPPING)
Why not?

NARRATOR
Because… a big bad tiger lives in the forest. Remember? I wouldn’t go in there by yourself, if I were you.

CHIP
A big bad tiger in the forest? There is not.

NARRATOR
Yes, there is. He’s mean and terrifying. And you just shouldn’t go in there. You should stay here, so we can all get on with the story we’re supposed to tell.

CHIP
I don’t believe you. I’m going anyway.

NARRATOR
Well, I think you’ll end up being very sorry about that.

CHIP
I don’t care.

DAISY, DOLLY and CHARLIE shake their heads as CHIP heads off stage.

NARRATOR
(ANNOYED)
So, Chip went off into the forest, I guess. And apparently the script just went out the window. (CALLING AFTER CHIP) I wonder if Big Ted from Playschool is this difficult to work with?

CHIP
(OFFSTAGE)
I don’t care.

NARRATOR
Goodness me!

DAISY, DOLLY and CHARLIE and all the other picnic props disappear from the stage.

CHIP returns to centre stage from one side.

CHIP
Hey! Isn’t this great? I’ve got the whole forest to myself now. I can run…

CHIP ‘runs’ back and forth across the stage.

CHIP
…and jump…

CHIP ‘jumps’ up and down.

CHIP
… and SHOUT! We know there’s not really any tiger out here, don’t we?

The TIGER starts to sneak up on CHIP (hopefully prompting a reaction from the kids. Or a PLANTED adult in the audience might help prompt one).

CHIP
What? What’s wrong?

CHIP waits for an audience response to his question, with the TIGER still sneaking up and preparing to pounce.

CHIP
The tiger?! Where?

As soon as CHIP looks around for the TIGER, the TIGER ducks down (BELOW STAGE) and hides.

CHIP
(TURNING BACK TO THE AUDIENCE)
What tiger? There’s no tiger. You’re seeing things.

The TIGER starts to sneak up on CHIP again (hopefully) prompting an audience reaction to let CHIP know about the TIGER again.

CHIP
Really? There is a tiger?!

The TIGER is almost right beside CHIP when CHIP finally looks around the stage, and narrowly misses seeing the TIGER, who ducks below stage.

CHIP turns back to the audience.

CHIP
Are you trying to trick me? Because I don’t see any tiger.

The TIGER starts to creep up on CHIP once more, prompting more appeals to CHIP to look out for him from the audience.

CHIP
No, I’m not going to look this time. You can’t fool me again.

The TIGER is getting closer and bearing down on CHIP, almost right beside him.

CHIP
Okay! This is the very last time I look.

CHIP briefly glances at the TIGER beside him and then back the audience, before he suddenly jolts in realisation, and turns back towards back towards the TIGER shaking.

TIGER
GRRRrrrrrr!!

CHIP
Aaarrrgh!

CHIP ‘runs’ across the stage and off sidestage with the TIGER chasing behind him (and also following offstage).

CHIP ‘runs’ back onstage (from the same side of stage he just exited) and across to the opposite side, with the TIGER still chasing along behind. They both run off sidestage.

CHIP and the TIGER make one more pass across the stage (entering from the side they just exited and running off side stage on the opposite side).

CHIP ‘runs’ back on from side stage and the TIGER ‘runs’ on stage towards him from the opposite side of the stage. They bump into each other in the middle of the stage.

CHIP
Aaarrrgh!

TIGER
GRRrrrr!!

CHIP
Please, don’t hurt me, Mr Tiger!

TIGER
I’m not going to hurt you.

CHIP
Phew! What a relief.

TIGER
I’m just going to eat you.

CHIP
No! No, you can’t eat me!

TIGER
I most certainly can. I’m a tiger and you’re in my forest. I can do whatever I like. And besides it’s lunchtime.

CHIP
(WAILS)
But that’s not fair!

TIGER
Fair?! I don’t care. Now stand still so I can take a nice juicy bite out of you.

CHIP
Noooooooo!

CHARLIE
(FROM OFFSTAGE)
Wait just a minute, Mr Tiger.

DAISY, DOLLY and CHARLIE come onstage from one side carrying the PICNIC BASKET.

DAISY
If you’re hungry we have a lovely picnic basket of food you might prefer.

TIGER
Hmmm. What have you got in there?

The TIGER looks inside the PICNIC BASKET.

TIGER
Let’s see… Some cheese and ham and tomato rolls, and grapes and popcorn and (GASPS) chocolate cake! My favourite! I have to admit that sounds a whole lot yummier than raw teddy bear. I’ll have this instead.

The TIGER carries the PICNIC BASKET off side stage.

NARRATOR
And so Daisy, Dolly and Charlie saved their friend Chip from the tiger. And Chip said thank you to them. Didn’t you, Chip?

CHIP
Yes, I really did – do. Thank you! Thank you so much for saving me. I’m very grateful to you all.

NARRATOR
And, so…

CHIP
And I’m so sorry for being naughty and unfair before. And for ruining the picnic.

NARRATOR
So, the…

CHIP
So the thing I’ve decided to do, is to make us all some more food for another picnic tomorrow. (BOWING HIS HEAD, ASHAMED) If you would all like to come along, that is.

DAISY
I’d love to.

DOLLY
Me, too.

CHARLIE
We’ll all come along, Chip. What a nice idea.

NARRATOR
And that…was the end of the story. And a very nice ending to the story it is, too, Chip.

CHIP
Thanks, but I’m sorry I messed up the script for you.

NARRATOR
That’s okay, Chip. Just this once, I suppose I don’t care.

THE END

Life’s Too Short (and unreality TV)

I’ve recently fallen in love with Warwick Davis. Well, in love with watching his fantastic television series “Life’s Too Short” anyway.

Life’s Too Short” is a BBC mockumentary series following the life of Warwick Davis, “a showbiz dwarf”, who is trying to revive his Hollywood career, while going through divorce and trying to make enough money to pay off a gargantuan tax bill (courtesy of his friend and chronically inept accountant Eric, who Warwick can’t bring himself to fire and actually appoints as his divorce solicitor because he can’t afford to hire anybody else).

The series was created and written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant from an idea by Warwick Davis, and Davis plays a fictionalised version of himself (described by writer Ricky Gervais as a “conniving, back-biting little Napoleon”. Think David Brent as a dwarf with slightly more charisma, played by an actor with a great gift for physical comedy).

The real life Warwick Davis has actually been married for over twenty years and has two children. (Wife Samantha and children Annabel and Harrison are also dwarves). He runs a talent agency for small people both onscreen and in real life (though I highly suspect that the real life Warwick Davis is far more successful at it than his onscreen doppelgänger).

When Davis was working with Gervais and Merchant on “Extras” (in an episode where he co-starred with Daniel Radcliffe) he told them a number stories about living as a man who is 3ft6″ tall (for example, having people touch him for luck as if he were a leprechaun). This was the catalyst for the show’s creation.

There are also a number of amusing appearances by other film stars and celebrities who play fictionalised versions of themselves which seem to poke fun at popular public perceptions of them.

Johnny Depp‘s (very amusing) attempt to retaliate against Ricky Gervais for his “mean spirited” jokes about Depp and other movie stars when Gervais was hosting the 2011 Golden Globes. (In reality, the Hollywood community were so completely offended that Ricky Gervais ended up hosting the Golden Globes the following year as well).

A very serious Liam Neeson wants to try his hand at comedy. (In reality Neeson said in the short film “The Making of Life’s Too Short” that he worried he would not be able to keep a straight face while doing this scene).

There is something fascinating about actors (supposedly) playing themselves.

Perhaps because it prompts the very natural question “How much of the real human being are we seeing in the character being portrayed?”

In truth, though, that’s probably a question we could ask about almost any performance.

In a scene from an episode of “Extras”, Kate Winslet casually reveals her cynical motive for acting in a film about the holocaust – she thinks she’ll get an Oscar out of it. (Ironically, a couple of years later Winslet actually won her first Oscar playing a former Nazi and Auschwitz guard in “The Reader“).

In a promo for the TV series “Episodes“, Matt Le Blanc is (understandably) bemused at having to audition to play the part of …himself.

In the film “Being John Malkovich“, puppeteer Craig Schwartz (Played by John Cusack) finds a portal that leads into John Malkovich‘s mind. In this scene John Malkovich has a torturous experience after going through his own portal… (Unfortunately, there is a stupid advertisement at the front to of this clip. Sorry.)

In the film JCVD, a 2008 Belgian crime comedy-drama Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a semi fictionalized version of himself – a down and out action star whose family and career are crumbling around him as he is caught in the middle of a post office heist in his hometown of Brussels, Belgium. In this moment from the film Van Damme, lifted above the set, performs a monologue directly to the audience (breaking the fourth wall). It is a surprisingly emotional (if somewhat cryptic) speech about his career, his multiple marriages, and his drug abuse. Is it a rare glimpse of the man behind the action star, lowering his guard and opening up? Or is Van Damme actually a far more gifted actor than his body of action films seem to reveal?

I’m Still Here” is a 2010 mockumentary film directed by Casey Affleck, and written by Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix, following the life of Phoenix, from the (purported) announcement of his retirement from acting, through his transition into a career as a hip hop artist. The fact that the events of the film had been deliberately staged was not revealed until after the film had been released (though it was suspected to be a mockumentary by some beforehand) and throughout the filming period Phoenix remained in character for public appearances, giving many the impression that he was genuinely pursuing a new career.

A promo for “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” one of the popular examples from the modern day myriad of reality TV shows. Mike Fleiss, the creator and executive producer of reality TV show “The Bachelor,” recently claimed that “70 to 80 percent” of reality TV shows are fake. “They’re loosely scripted. Things are planted. Things are salted into the environment so things seem more shocking.” he recently asserted at the Banff World Media festival. But Fleiss also claimed that viewers are “not requiring a pure delivery of non-fiction content…They know it’s somewhat fake, but they’re OK with it.” Does that mean we embrace the idea that “reality” TV stars are acting or playing themselves on some level, too?

Reality TV show “Survivor” has now been running for 25 seasons, and this is actually the intro for season 25 which features the return of many of the most popular and successful former Survivor contestants (or “Favourites”). It is also typical of the Survivor intro template – which seems to deliberately frame the contestants as (heroic, iconic) story characters.

When is the punchline too brutal?

Years ago I was doing a comedy workshop in an acting class at the City Lit in London.

There were a few revelations (for me) during the class, all about the nature of comedy itself.

Firstly, that comedy is rooted in fear.

We laugh because on some level we’re afraid and we want to relieve ourselves from the terror.

That makes perfect sense. Many things in life can be scary and painful. Laughing at things can sometimes be a coping skill, providing us with a psychological and emotional release and helping us to bond or, at least, to diffuse the tension.

Comedy is usually also about things common to all human beings (for example):-

Sex
Death
Eating
Toileting (passing gas, urine and faeces)
Loss of status
Sleeping

That is to say it’s about things we can feasibly all experience as human beings, so even if it isn’t directly part of our own life experience we can probably still sympathise or project ourselves into the situation on some level.

But here’s the part that made the impact on me (and, in retrospect, I don’t know why it came as such a surprise):-

Comedy is essentially about cruelty.
And comedy must involve a victim.

Our ancient gods of harvest and prosperity demanded human sacrifice and even our modern comedy demands no less.

An audience will not laugh if there is not a victim in the scenario.

You can make yourself the victim, or the victim can be absent (for example, a dead body), but there must be a victim.

What’s more, good comedy actually requires multiple victims. For a scene to keep being funny the victim needs to keep changing as, after a while, it ceases to be funny if the same person is always the one being victimised.

This is why we call the culmination of each joke a “punchline” – it is the final delivery of a psychological or emotional blow of some kind.

BUT if all comedy is essentially rooted in cruelty and victimisation, where is the line between comedy and bullying?

How cruel is too cruel?

Is there anybody it is unacceptable to victimise?

This segment on Australian television programme “The Chasers War on Everything” caused outrage when it aired as it was deemed to be making fun of terminally ill children

And where is the line when comedy crosses over from being “a bit wrong” to completely offensive?

When does comedy cease to be a powerful release from our fears and become a glib, insensitive dance over the seriousness of an issue?

Adam Sandler’s film “That’s My Boy” is about an eighth-grade boy (later played as an adult by Adam Sandler) seduced by his attractive adult teacher, who becomes impregnated with his child. This is actually a case of child abuse/pedophilia but the film probably benefits from the prevalent societal myth that if a grown woman has sex with a young boy he is “lucky”, not abused, and he simply doesn’t suffer any psychological and emotional damage as a consequence. Would a “comedy” about a thirteen year old girl seduced by an adult male teacher even make it into production?

Are there some topics we simply should not let ourselves laugh off/’off the hook” from psychologically and emotionally?

Does comedy need to involve a degree of justice?

Does the right to make jokes about certain things need to be earned on some level through experience of them?

Ava Vidal – the reason this clip has an offensive language warning is because Ava repeats a hateful racist message sent to her on her website as part of a story she relates.

Will Marfori was born with cerebral palsy and entertains his audience with his perspective on living with a disability.

Does comedy need to have an underlying element of truth? And to undermine untruths that pose for truth?

A Parody of Onslaught, a short film that is part of the Dove Self-Esteem Campaign. It hones in on the hypocrisy of parent company Unilever which on one hand runs the Dove Campaign and on the other hand runs deliberately sexist advertisements and campaigns for men’s deodorant Axe/Lynx.

When is it simply unacceptable for a punchline to come at a victim’s expense?