War of the Words

 

I am still on my Quixotic quest for recognition within the literary world. To define recognition, I mean to the point where someone might actually read something that I’ve written.

I had a conversation with someone recently where I optimistically yet glibly observed that you get out of something exactly what you put into it.

This goes a long way to describing exactly why I am getting absolutely nowhere in regard to writing but am getting positively everywhere in regard to weight gain.

So in my sloth I have signed up for Story Wars.

‘What is this Story Wars thing that you speak of?’ I hear you ask. Well, I heard you ask until my medication kicked in and the voices subsided.

Story Wars is a collaborative writing platform and an entertaining one at that.

It is not to be confused with a literal literary war. I have not signed up to lob books at the enemy from a well-stocked library trench, which is probably in breach of the Geneva convention. There is, to be fair, a compelling element of friendly rivalry and one-upmanship.

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It works on a similar concept to a traditional Storytelling game, where one participant begins the story and then passes the tale telling torch to the next person in line.

I used to play a version of this with one of my friends. This would involve frantically typing on a typewriter – yes, a typewriter, and then obscure all but the last line.

he would then follow on from the last line. In most cases the results would be quite surreal and fragmented, but that was essentially our intent; to take a story in a direction that it would never naturally go if it was meticulously planned or tackled as a solo pursuit.

Story Wars is the online equivalent of this.

‘How does it work?’ I hear you ask. I am now considering doubling my dosage, the mysterious voices have returned. I will indulge them just this once.

It works on the premise that someone writes the first chapter of the story.

Once submitted, the story becomes open to the other users, who can then submit the next chapter.

These are submitted initially as drafts – once this round has finished it moves to the voting round.

During the voting round the users can vote on their favourite draft chapter – whichever draft gets the most votes will become the next chapter.

And so on.

Any stories written within the Story Wars platform are covered by the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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To summarise, I have only just begun the journey of using Story Wars, but from what I’ve seen over the last couple of days, it is a fantastically constructive way to collaborate with other writers.

It can be used as a tool to hone and develop your skills, as a way to network with other writers in the community and most of all, to express yourself and have a little fun along the way.

On the ZX Spectrum

 

Now that the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega is on the market, and a cornucopia of gen-Xer adults are in a nostalgic zeitgeist inspired frenzy to buy it for ‘their kids’, my mind has turned to reminiscing about the halcyon days of the ZX Spectrum.

Unleashed on the general public in April 1982 by Sinclair Research Ltd, a company founded by the wacky professorial looking Sir Clive Sinclair, the ZX Spectrum quickly became an 8-bit diminutive magical black box that held pride of place in most UK households. It’s unassuming rubber keyed facade opened a portal to an improbable universe of wonder, delight and amazement.

Post the ZX81, with it’s monochromatic output and 1k of memory (unless you bought the space age hyper-brick of a RAM pack and upgraded to 16k), the ZX Spectrum boasted an impossibly vast memory threshold of 48k, which made it a veritable leviathan by comparison. And, it was in colour!

In the early 80’s it was not unheard of for the whole family to gather ritualistically around the Spectrum in their lounge, holding hands and chanting along with the squealing chaotic tape loading noise until a chunky pixilated character manifested itself on the couch.

Prior to 1982 home computing consisted of drawing crude buttons in black Biro on a shoe-box, and making beeping noises while waving a torch randomly at your television screen.

In fact, pre the home computing revolution, the average Scottish family would sit by flickering candlelight brusquely slamming dominoes onto a rough-hewn table while bagpipe music looped infinitely.

The ZX Spectrum gave everyone, including the sardonic domino wielding Scots, the impression that they could rain weapons of mass destruction on an innocent planet a la War Games. Thankfully, it did not provide the ability.

 

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Clive Sinclair was knighted in 1983 for his contributions to the British Home Computer Industry, and for turning approximately 75% of the nation into socially acceptable nerds. His invention helped to temporarily place the rescuing of Miner Willy from his 20 level surreal subterranean Hell atop Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – just above the inherent basic human need for a SodaStream.

In hindsight, I’m sure it was a surprise to everyone that the Queen didn’t attempt to retract the knighthood when, in 1985, she witnessed Sir Clive whizzing around on a Sinclair C5 like an environmentally friendly but ergonomically challenged Davros.

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But that was then, and this is the dystopian nightmarish now – with our convenient single push, quick fix, sideswipe you into a cloud-based trash eviscerator culture.

So instead of wearing black bin bags and fighting for supremacy over a radioactive barren wasteland, as was often portrayed as a futuristic foretelling of anything beyond the year 1989, we live in a future of polished glass dodecahedrons and virtual consumerism – a future where Starbucks can beam iced frappe soylent green mochaccinos directly into our prefrontal cortexes using a telepathic app on their highly intuitive Samsung smart mugs.

I think we take for granted how easy it is to obtain stuff and things in modern society. Stuff and things like games.

In the bygone days of the Spectrum ‘downloading’ a game comprised of the following:

 

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Pyjamarama, 1984.

Waking up on a Saturday morning with the slow dawning realisation that it’s pocket money day.

Feverishly leaping out of bed with the intent of pestering whichever parent you could find, until they grudgingly threw money in your general direction to shut you up.

This was followed by the shuddering sudden awareness that it’s 5 o clock in the morning and dark, also that the shops probably aren’t open yet; and that your parents were a tad grumpy because your youthful exuberance hijacked them from slumber, pleasant dreams of not having children, or early morning sex.

The nefarious egg shaped plot to buy a game had been laid in your brain the previous weekend. The very notion a byproduct of hideous consciousness devouring worms; sustained by advertising and hearsay, once hatched – free to wriggle around your skull until their appetite is appeased.

 

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Skool Daze, 1984.

On occasion, the insidious worms may have been thwarted midweek by a group of disgruntled, gum chewing, sneering peers at school. Or, by an eavesdropped conversation in the playground where someone waxes rhapsodically about the latest Spectrum opus and it’s incredible graphics and mildly seditious nature – and it might even have swearing in it!

 

Your mind bouncing like a balloon in a wind tunnel with the infinite possibilities of new worlds to be unlocked, new dungeons to explore, new platforms to repeatedly plunge to your death from, you quickly brush your teeth and hastily throw on some clothes.

Breakfast consists of whatever you can hunter-gather, assuming that you were hunting cake or gathering biscuits.

You completely avoid the ubiquitous fruitcake as it contains the word ‘fruit’ and has the potential to be healthy. You hold a firm belief that cake is without a doubt a substantial and nutritious start to the day, after all, cake contains icing, additives and vitamins. Furthermore, you are convinced that a report on Tomorrows World told you that vitamins, additives and icing are the building blocks of life itself. You can’t argue with scientific fact, even if it’s completely fabricated.

 

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Trashman, 1984.

Your fast having been well and truly broken, in all senses, you sprint wildly to catch the bus to the city, making sure to avoid all of the cars on the dangerously busy and garishly coloured Montague Road of course.

You sit panting, due to your exceptional confectionary based diet, grasping the money tightly in your sweaty fist and smile smugly, barely containing your sheer joy.

When you arrive at the city the smell of fresh jam doughnuts wafts delightfully on the wind.

Mmmm, jam doughnuts.

No! Focus! You can’t spend a penny. This money is accounted for, predetermined, earmarked – it serves a higher purpose.

You navigate the familiar streets speedily, fleeing all culinary urges, reminding yourself that have a quest; a goal that transcends the glory of delicious freshly made doughnuts.

 

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John Menzies, Dundee, 1982.

And then you see it. On the corner. It’s doors inviting you, enticing you to enter – the building seems to grin like the Cheshire Cat on amphetamines.

You race inside, heart pounding with excitement, and up the stairs to the 3rd floor and your intended destination: the computer department.

Browsing through shelves upon shelves of cassettes, you pick up one rectangular plastic casing after another, turning them over and reading the background story, turning them back and letting your imagination run rampant on the cover artwork.

A lot of this ritual is redundant as you made your choice during the past week; still, there is always a place for the last minute impulse buy.

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Eventually, the decision-making process reaches it’s inevitable zenith, and you settle on the game that you want. Holding it aloft like a talisman, or a beacon of eternal hope, you transport it to the counter to pay.

You present your prize ceremoniously to the guy behind the counter. He is invariably a spotty teen with greasy hair and surly manner. His black trousered and white shirted frame denoting his stature and authority in the shop. He plucks the cassette from your eager hand and casually looks at it. His facial expression gives away his opinion on your purchase.

A little sly smirk and you know that you’ve made a decent choice; a frown or sneer indicates that you’ve possibly just chucked your hard earned cash down the closest drain to be rended asunder by pocket money eating rats.

His judgement is important to you – well, he works in the game department, he is obviously some sort of computing genius and knows everything there is to know about computers. He may even be some type of grubby teenage cynical cyborg with a head full of tangled wires and microchips.

Transaction completed you rush to catch the bus back home. There is no time for browsing, meandering or dilly-dallying – this thing that you’ve bought is currently burning a sizeable hole in the bag – and if you don’t play it immediately, the entire world might well melt.

When you get home you take the cassette from its case and stick it into your tape recorder with wide-eyed reverence. You press play and then prepare to wait. The banshee wail of the spectrum tape loading noise begins.

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You leave the room and make a cup of tea, return: the game is still loading.

You pick up a book and begin reading, every now and again your eyes dart to the screen – but it is still loading.

You leave your room, go to the toilet, wash your hands, go back to the kitchen and make yourself a sandwich, wash your cup, eat the sandwich, brush your teeth and then return to your room.

Still loading.

 

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The Hobbit, 1982.

 

You go outside with Gandalf and Thorin Oakenshield – who is ranting incessantly about gold, make your way to the Lonely Mountain, kill Smaug the dragon, lug the treasure halfway across Middle Earth avoiding murderous Orcs, return to your Hobbit hole, and guess what –

It crashed!

 

 

You turn the tape over and rewind to the beginning of the other side and try again.

On the 7th attempt, just before your parents insist that you should be in your bed as it’s now well after midnight, your game eventually loads.

Bathed in the brightly technicolour neon glow you sit and play.

The strange thing is that you’ve held this feeling of elation and exhilaration for the entirety of the day – nothing has deterred you, your determination and persistence have been nothing short of miraculous- and your patience and perseverance medal worthy. And even if the game isn’t so great, you convince yourself that it’s ok because of the sheer bloodymindedness you displayed by getting to this point.

And now – well you press a button and wait for a minute or so – and if you don’t like what you see, you can uninstall it immediately.

Where, I ask you, is the fun in that?

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Journey’s End, 1985.

 

Bored and Boarding

This was written yesterday essentially, but I didn’t have time to tidy it up or post it.

 

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I am currently sitting at the Gold Coast airport, surveying with no shortage of intrigue, the plethora of interesting characters that lurk around airports in the early morning light.

By interesting characters, I mean the interesting characters that aren’t me.

This is all purely observational, and not an assassination of the individuals, in saying that, I will be assassinating them quite viciously.

The guy sitting in front of me is staring at his Mac.

First off, I’m not a Mac user, but I know that just staring at them for extended periods of time is not technically a constructive use for them.

I’m sure many Apple users would disagree and tell me that the pleasing aesthetics, and simple ergonomic design, lends itself very well to staring at them for prolonged time frames. And, I’m sure I’d agree that gazing at the casing is preferable to actually using one.

Mac guy, we’ll call him Max, is going through a perpetual cycle of looking vacant, sticking his hand over his mouth, and occasionally arching his eyebrows, then looking a bit lost. I am not, however, seeing much activity on the typing front from Max.

His hands do stray to the keyboard every now and again, I’m imagining that they are hovering with uncertainty – like a seagull over a quarter pounder. The seagull knows on a fundamental level that the quarter pounder is food, but it knows that there’s something not quite right, and anyway, seagulls have standards – goddammit.

Meanwhile, Max is back to cycling through his pre-programmed array of facial expressions.

Max, I’ve concluded, may be blogging or trying to write an article on airport entertainment; of which there is precious little.

The only entertainment I’ve encountered so far is how cranky the airport security guard got at me for holding my Chai Latte while trying to go through the departure gate. Perhaps he’d had a bad Chai Latte experience: his spouse maybe came to a bitter end at the hands of a poisoned or dark, enchanted, Chai Latte.

He was very thorough in making sure that I hadn’t filled my pants with weapons-grade plutonium. I don’t keep radioactive material in my pants, I keep it in my shoes, like any civilised person.

Much to my amusement, he waved his security wand over my offensive beverage; presumably to check for tiny soggy bombs, or to illustrate his general disapproval of transporting a hot drink past the departure gate.

There’s also a weird needle nosed character that looks like Mr Bean.

Thus far he hasn’t done anything hilarious like, for instance; spilled coffee on his lap, or proposed marriage to a dustbin because he lost his glasses. More’s the pity. He just looks a little meek at the moment. I will keep my eyes peeled for him going to the bathroom mid-flight, opening the wrong door, and comically being sucked out into the troposphere.

Breakfast on the flight consists of:

Pear and raspberry bread containing 21g of sugar.

Peach and mango yoghurt, in innocently unassuming plain white packaging, which has lord knows how much sugar. It’s probably a lot if they are too afraid to display that information.

And, a 23g toasted muesli bar, which has 7.1g of sugar.

With my current sugar reduced / free diet, if I consume all of those, I won’t need the plane to fly to Sydney.

I have very grudgingly eaten the pear and raspberry bread as I am starving. I hate to say it but a croissant and Nutella would have been healthier.

Every now and again I glance up at the screen.

Some celebrity chef or other is cooking in the snow. He has rather conveniently set up his table and utensils at the edge of what looks like a Norwegian forest. It must be part of the ‘cooking in insanely dramatic yet stunning locations that aren’t a traditional kitchen setting with snow-clad conifers absolutely everywhere’ series.

Beyond entertainment value, I fail to see the practicality of this.

Most people would be trying to survive the sub-zero conditions, or avoiding being viciously chewed by wolves if they were in that situation.

I don’t believe that anyone’s first survival instinct would be: construct a rustic table hewn from discarded lumber, somehow find some pots, pans, spoons and spatulas and beginning cooking a very elaborate meal.

All of the aforementioned items may be available if the last celebrity chef, and filming crew, were mauled by a ravenous bear with a penchant for pan seared salmon, tiny asparagus and potato dauphinoise.

I may be wrong. That may be what everyone would do instead of finding shelter, warmth, fresh water and a food source.

I think I’d better stop glancing at the screen, and writing as I’m now extremely certain that the full impact of the 12g of sugar has kicked in.

I’m off for a run up the aisles.

 

3 Quotes in 3 Days : Day the First

Before anything else, I’d like to thank amusing2write for nominating me to do the 3 quotes in 3 days challenge, and for giving this new blogger some greatly appreciated blogging love.

If you haven’t already I suggest a visit to amusing2write‘s place. I hear she’s just put the kettle on and arranged the chocolate digestives attractively on a splendid china plate.

This, to some extent, is dragging me kicking and screaming out of my safe weekday hiding place; my blogging panic room – if you will.

My current writing routine revolves around attempting to post something blogworthy by Friday afternoon.

If blogworthy isn’t possible, probable or achievable; then some partially realized, half-baked, caffeine-soaked hysteria scribbled with a shaky hand, onto spectral paper, written in invisible ink, should suffice.

I’m going to restrain myself from waxing too lyrically about the late, great, Kurt Vonnegut. Instead, I will just say that as an author Kurt Vonnegut has inspired me greatly, and will continue to amaze, educate and enlighten generations of readers to come.

This is a complete understatement in regards to how much I feel Kurt Vonnegut has influenced the literary world, and the impact his work has had.

So, I will stop talking, shelve my opinions, and let this quote speak for itself:

 

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“Everything is nothing, with a twist.” -Kurt Vonnegut

 

My nominations for the 3 quotes in 3 days challenge – Day 1 are:

The Caffeinated Writer  – Caffeine fiend, and one of my first readers and followers.

Parlor of Horror – That haunted cinema that your friends dare you to spend the night in.

Writerish Ramblings – Journey into the written word.

Games

 

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It’s Friday again, and I’m realising that deadlines are not my strong point at the moment.

I don’t have a vast amount to write about blog-wise I’m afraid. I have barely reached the end of the working week with my sanity intact and have drawn a massive blank, so much so that my mind has been duly whitewashed.

I will say, in my defence, that I have been actively making a list of writing competitions due in February – in the vain hope that my non-existent skills at reaching a deadline improve in the next couple of weeks, at least enough to warrant being dragged into actual existence (as opposed to virtual existence – which is where our bank account resides).

I have also been putting pen to paper, well, fingers to mobile device – which is almost the same thing, without the pleasing aesthetic of scrawling and doodling around on a notepad.

From a creative writing perspective, I did get one of my Drabbles accepted and published by The Drabble this week – which was exceptionally exciting.

I have written a few over the last couple of weeks, which I have predominantly posted to Drablr.

I believe that I have extolled the virtues of this site on one of my earlier posts: Drabbles and Babbles, but since then I have found the community of quality writers on Drablr to be warm, talented and supportive in equal measure.

So, after sharing that with you all – I will post another of my 100 word Drabbles – this one has thus far received the most votes and comments.

It is – as my blog title suggests – called Games.

 

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Games

His face was constantly buried in his phone; eyes transfixed, fingers frantically pressing.

For the first few weeks she’d feigned interest – that’s what people do.

As time passed, she began to resent how little notice he took of her. She could walk into the room naked, asking an opinion about her new dress, and he’d just reply dismissively, ‘nice…’

On a rainy Wednesday, she finally gave up.

Enraged, exasperated and exhausted: sentence over; punctuated with a door slam.

He put down the phone and looked at where she had been.

It had been difficult, but he’d won the game.

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In the Planetarium

I normally don’t post this early in the week.

It’s a common occurrence that I gather my jumbled thoughts, and then scramble those thoughts into some type of baffling composite; a non-linear word omelette, which I unleash in all it’s irrational, made-from-stuff-I-found-at-the-back-of-my-mental-fridge glory on a Friday.

Today, however, I have had one of my Drabbles (100 word short stories) published on The Drabble blog – so am extremely excited.

Well, getting some of my fiction published or noticed was the primary intention of becoming a blogger, that and attempting to become a freelance writer.

So, thank you The Drabble for choosing my work, it makes all the difference and inspires me to keep writing and submitting.

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By Alex Munro

They flowed nebulously into the foyer, buffeted by the rain.

Stairs stretched out ahead, beckoning.  Early – they sat in silence; gaze refusing to meet, eyes slid off of each other like snowflakes hitting a radiator.

Ushered in, they took their seats. The show began.

Stars stretched out in infinite grace; breathtaking and beautiful. The music swelled, mercurial and purposeful. Wonders swirled, a visceral balletic crescendo. The audience, except the couple, applauded.

Rising from their chairs; tenuous and vague, twin wisps of smoke.  Conciliatory, hands clasped; momentarily tightening, then falling loose.

The space that she left could never be filled.

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The Anti-Social Paradox

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It’s always meme, meme, meme…

The decline of society, that’s what I want to discuss today.

Ok, that’s slightly dramatic. Perhaps not society as such, maybe just my immediate surroundings. And maybe not decline, but a steady persistent crumbling. And maybe not discuss so much as posture and pontificate wildly.

I’m acutely aware that I’m about to sound old, crotchety, reactionary and unfair. It’s also likely that most of my arguments will have more holes in them than a colander factory. I am a parent after all, and being exceptionally opinionated comes with the territory, as does being continually told that I’m wrong. Never the generational twain shall meet.

So first I’m going to briefly touch on the decline of the English language, or communication.

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Every time I browse social media, I am faced with some pre-populated sentiment haphazardly thrown into the public intermincer. A ground down fragment of homespun philosophy which has been ritually deconstructed into an insubstantial bastardised cyber burger. Fit for consumption, but lacking any real nutritional value.

People appear to be becoming more reliant on memes sporting pseudo-intellectual inspirational verse, inane catch phrases or buzz word morsels. Typically these are emblazoned over stunning sunsets, beautiful beach scenes or celebrities faces.

These are used uniformly in a bid to define the senders quirky personality and stamp their individuality, en masse. Incidentally, this must alarm the novelty t-shirt companies, as that’s been their gig for years.

No one can just write ‘I hate Mondays’ in their comment box and press send. That’s just way too much effort. We have become too lazy to write or express ourselves, now we’re content to trawl our newsfeeds in a frantic search to find a picture of a pissed off cat that’s just fallen head first into a toilet – overlayed with the message, I hate Mondays.

This might be overstating the obvious but, we all hate fucking Mondays, and we’ve all fallen into toilets.

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Disliking a weekday will never be an extension of who you are, or be a defining personality trait – it’s just a fact of life.

Imagine you actually believed that hating Mondays was the primary part of your psychological makeup, and it was your main criteria for dating – seeking likeminded person to share life with. Must hate Mondays. Anything else goes.

Mondays have been the skull festooned, blood-soaked, soul-sucking portal to the working week since the introduction of the Gregorian calendar. Get used to them. Mondays are here to stay until someone invents, and detonates, the uber-destructive Mondaybomb.

Just do what everyone else does as a coping mechanism; sit and scowl at everyone that passes your desk, toy menacingly with a letter opener and plot planet-wide genocide, or specifically targeted chaos.

At least up until lunchtime. A good sandwich experience can persuade you that everything isn’t quite so bad; and that Frank probably doesn’t need to be pushed down an open liftshaft, screaming in terror as he plummets.

I fear, in the not too distant future, we will all be communicating in farts, whistles and grunts.

We are destined to voluntarily evolve into mindless sharedrones; spewing out memes and animated gifs in an attempt to convey a message or sentiment that has long been forgotten.

After all: idle hands are social media’s bread and butter.

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…With You, You, YouTube

That brings me quite neatly to the whole YouTube phenomenon.

YouTube and its ease of access appeal is not a new concept, not by any stretch of the imagination. I have, of late, been witnessing, and attempting to understand, the disturbing trend and mystical allure of famous YouTubers and Tube Heroes.

On a daily basis, our children will dedicate a sizeable chunk of their day to watching other children, or ultra-enthusiastic teens, playing games and providing running commentary, opening blind bags, egging each other on in outlandish challenges, or producing jump cut visual fan fiction.

That might not sound strange, but this sub voyeuristic format has taken preference over budgeted, meticulously written, syndicated specifically designed entertainment.

Don’t get me wrong, my indie-screw-the-establishment nature is drawn like a moth towards the idealistic freeform candle of allowing uninhibited creativity expression to challenge the entire entertainment industry.

However, there is something sinister and a little speculative fiction about kids flopped on a couch watching other kids play – it’s like me watching some guy type numbers into a spreadsheet and sigh for 8 hours a day.

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I think the strangest trend is that we are now seeing action figures appear in pop culture gaming shops depicting famous YouTubers (Tube Heroes) who have risen to some baffling level of popularity and cult celebrity.

I dispute their claims to heroism. In medieval times a true hero was someone that could slay a dragon or stand up to a tyrannical king, in fact, to be more accurate, a true hero was someone that could challenge the mortality rate and  stay alive beyond the age of 30.

I’m going to lay even money that none of these so-called tube heroes would be able to slay a real dragon – not even close. They do however possess the ability to live to 60 and beyond due to advances in the field of medicine over the last few centuries.

Of course, silliness aside, their fame isn’t the issue.

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My main bone of contention is the companies that are adapting and evolving; finding ways to make money out of amateur documentary makers and the heroic Youtubers that can stick slugs up their nose. There’s a new insidious breed of rampant consumerism in town that is using children to advertise to other children.

My prediction is, that soon, we’ll see action figures of famous kids that open blind bags sitting on toy shop shelves beside the brand of blind bags that they open – all in some hideous snake eating its own tail, exploitative greedy advertiser eating shit paradox.

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Naturally I wonder how it all started, and where it will end.

Does the future hold being sneered at by our derisive despondent children, who can’t be bothered to get out of their hoverbeds?

And we’ll complain, as we often do – even though we bought the hoverbed. Well, they were touted as the pinnacle of human invention and ingenuity, and every home should have one. So how could we not?

Ironically, we are fuelling the hypocrisy by buying our little cherubs the latest devices – and then posting smarmy asides on social media bemoaning the fact that our kids aren’t outside whitewashing a neighbours fence, running away with hobos, and portraying a Huck Finn ideal.

The irony is that we’d be enraged if they did, as we’ve just spent $1,000,000.00 on their new hoverbed – so why aren’t they using it?

And anyway, being sullen, unhealthy, introverted and aspiring to be a Tube Hero is the new playing with worms in the dirt, learning valuable life lessons and enhancing your social skills through emotionally rewarding interaction, right?

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