Some thoughts on the first series of The Orville

This isn’t an Enterprise either!

When I was young there were two sci-fi shows I grew up watching. One of them was Doctor Who when re-runs of the older serials were shown; my first Doctor was Jon Pertwee, so I was rather fond during Peter Capaldi’s run when his clothing echoed Pertwee’s. The second was Star Trek: The Next Generation. Young me really liked TNG because the ship looked cool and the main guy was British and the ship looked really cool. It was an impressionable time.

Star Trek has since gone through numerous iterations both on TV and big screen with me having varying degrees of interest between them. When Discovery was announced and with the rumoured plan, to have the show be an anthology with each series having a different crew, ship and time era, I was incredibly excited. The Trek universe is rife of possibility, in much the same way any SF universe is, but this one was familiar and already had my interest. Then the delays happened and the show was cemented into the format we then got. I’ve already jotted down some thoughts on that though.

At some point a funny thing happened. Mr. Family Dad, Seth MacFarlane, said he was making a live-action sci-fi show. Okay. Then he said it was going to be a bit like Star Trek. Errm. What? Of course when you see MacFarlane’s credentials, as someone who had a cameo on ‘Enterprise’ and clearly grew up fond of Trek and specifically TNG, it’s easy to see how this could have happened. I was apprehensive of course because ignoring what I think of him, Family Guy and American Dad (the only shows of his I’ve seen) are not exactly close to anything Star Trek-y.

Gosh Joel, you’re about to start the fourth paragraph and the only mention of the show is in the title. What gives? I know this is a bit odd, but it’s all necessary.

“These are the voyages of the starship Orville”

Then the trailer was released and. Huh. Errm. Huh.

The fact is grown-up me still likes TNG, now much more so than when I was younger because over time I started to understand what was going on. It wasn’t just a cool ship; it was an interesting collection of various characters that had their own nuances placed in stories that could be adventurous, serious, philosophical, comedic and everything else. TNG also boasts talking. A lot of talking. Some of the best talking in any show I’ve watched. It’s not without its flaws, sure, but at its best it was really quite excellent.

The Orville is basically TNG. That’s the gist of it.

I’m not a big fan of nostalgia. For as much as I do look back, I like to look ahead to the future. I’m sure TNG played a big part in forming that perspective. Memories and experiences are of course important, but I don’t believe we should be governed by them. Pandering to it I find quite sad. My memories of the old won’t go anywhere. Give me something new. After an attack of nostalgia, I’m only going to remember the thing I’m being reminded of, not what is trying to pander to me because it’s not offering anything other than a memory of something else.

With that in mind The Orville sits in a dangerous place. Whilst Discovery tries to go for new, but set in an old universe it isn’t entirely sure it wants to be part of, The Orville tries to go for new, but set in a thinly veiled copy of a universe it desperately wants to be part of. I don’t want to get too much into comparing the two because they are different shows that go for different tone and form, but I will say that the optimism and idealism I thought I’d get from a show prefixed with Star Trek I got from one that wasn’t fortunate to be part of that body of work.

Captain of the Orville, Ed Mercer

I’ve seen a few descriptions of The Orville that I find amusing and maybe fairly accurate: “Seth MacFarlane’s vanity project” and “The most expensive fanfiction on TV” stand out in particular. It’s one thing that MacFarlane produces it, but he’s also The Captain. The universe the show occupies is Star Trek’s, but with enough changes so it’s not. The United Federation of Planets? Nope, you mean The Union. Warp engines? I think you’ll find it’s the Quantum Drive.

Really everything about the show could be described as “Like Trek/TNG, but”. Again, I don’t see any value in getting into all the counterparts and their necessary differences, but if you know your stock Star Trek bridge crew, nothing of the cast comes as a surprise, but then it does. It’s essentially impossible to talk about the show’s identity without naturally wanting to talk about Trek, which is why I started this off without even bringing up The Orville.

What becomes interesting then are those differences and surprises. I mean duh, that seems obvious with any story, but I do think The Orville puts itself into scenarios that Trek/TNG tackled and then tries to do something a touch more daring. Primarily, some endings aren’t perfect. It’s a critique of the all-important optimism that Trek seldom approaches. So sure, it’s not a perfect ending, but it’s still hopeful and because of this it feels more real. I might even say that The Orville has some good talking.

Definitely not sitting on a plot point.

Of course how those scenarios occur is the show’s biggest sin. There are stories that seem almost ripped verbatim from Trek/TNG. Not for nothing did I say “Oh, it’s the shuttle crash episode” when the time was right. If there’s effort put into the talking aspect, it’s not really there with the set-up. Frustratingly it’s as if the writers wanted you to know precisely what they were riffing on so that you would understand the importance of what it was they were shaking upside-down. When the show dared to have a fuller original idea it really shone and at least put some space between it and its clear inspiration.

It doesn’t stop at the stories either. A lot of people who produced Trek prior were involved and it’s blindingly obvious. The camera movement as we’re introduced to the Orville is so similar to how the Enterprise-D is introduced in TNG’s opening that I wouldn’t be surprised if it was intentionally identical. Even the fly-by shots share similar angles. If you were to close your eyes you would think the score was from TNG. Is nothing sacred?!

So here’s the kicker. I really enjoy The Orville. I think the characters stand on their own as not being good enough to be on the universe’s equivalent of the Enterprise, with various flaws and attitudes that would need to be ironed over repeatedly before they could rise to that point. At the same time there’s a clear camaraderie that the crew of the whole ship, not just the bridge, share and excel in. These are people that joke and eat with each other, that can get on other’s nerves or confide in. Hell, one of them is a gelatinous blob that is almost care-free, a romancer and a great engineer.

Okay, which one of you will be the non-human who discovers what humanity truly means?

There’s a healthy injection of humour befitting our not-good-enough crew too. Like all comedy some of it works, some of it doesn’t. I find most of the jokes go by quickly enough that those not quite up to standard don’t drag anything down, so whilst the trailer I’ll link below might have the show as an out-and-out comedy, it absolutely plays second fiddle to the drama and adventure. There’s a tad overreliance on references to 90’s culture onwards in what is perhaps a misguided homage to Trek’s referencing contemporary things, however I think most of them hit in that way that makes you feel a little bad that you’re definitely laughing.

So nostalgia then; The Orville walks an exceedingly tight rope between that and originality. I definitely found myself being comfortable whilst watching it, as if I was familiar with everything going on almost before it happened, but before I could get too comfortable it did enough to snap me back to see what it was offering. I don’t think it does enough of that either. When the second series comes round, as much as I like and might even defend it, it really has to go out there with boldness and try something entirely new. It can’t persist surfing on what’s come before and changing some details because that will unquestionably wear thin.

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Some thoughts on the first series of Star Trek Discovery

Wait, you’re not an Enterprise!

Discovery is a very curious show to talk about. Its serialised format makes it quite difficult to discuss specific issues without giving away important plot and character details and to really get into what about the show works or doesn’t, you have to do that to some degree. I could leave it here, simply stating that I enjoyed it however finding it deeply flawed. That to me feels a shallow point to make; what does enjoyment say about the quality of it and does what I find to be flawed speak of personal issues or those more to do with the show itself?

There have been a number of arguments made about the fact that Discovery “isn’t real Trek”. To me, Star Trek is a universe attached to a set of morals demonstrated by various races and characters. Primarily, it’s a universe that focuses on optimistic idealism for the future, but not to dismiss the problems and threats that come with this. Without these we would be denied the Borg, one of the most threatening races in all of science fiction who reflect a society that has no morals. Or what about the Cardassians, a society reliant on fascism but still cherishes its culture and history? That’s to say nothing of the classic Klingons, whose warrior tendencies highlight the need for talk.

Starfleet finally has a fleet with more than a few ships in it

Do I think Discovery is ‘real Trek’? Going to have to go with a classic “yes…but”. Discovery lives in this universe, but I don’t think it quite carries the message. We find our contemporary politics dedicated to fear of this or that, looking backwards rather than forwards. Discovery has all of this technology that we’ve seen before (and even some that we haven’t which given the time-line, well, whatever, production values have changed in fifty years) and talks a lot of the talk we’ve heard before, however it never took the leap to challenge any of what it said. It says it’s about optimism in a time of strife, but what it shows us is that reciprocating violence or the threat thereof is the key.

I’m not going to sit here and make an argument saying that during a war you want the ‘goodies’ to never fire a shot or that Star Trek has to be constantly optimistic, that’s a futile gesture and one that doesn’t reflect a need to constantly re-evaluate itself to survive. Ultimately a Trek show shouldn’t be rated on what a widely subjective ideal says it should be. Instead, a lot of what Discovery does wrong it does so as a television show and whilst it definitely does get things right, I can’t help shake the feeling that a lot of that feels by accident.

So, what makes the basic tenets of a show? You want a good stable of interesting characters, a cohesive plot that is easy to follow yet still capable of catching you off-guard and a mixing of the two that help each other move forward in a timely fashion.

Michael Burnham, Chief Protagonist Officer

Before the first episode came out, we were told there was going to be a focus on one character rather than the traditional grand ensemble, with episodes highlighting one or two that Trek usually had. By the end of the series, it felt like they were dramatically trying to course correct which given the characteristics of the lead makes perfect sense, but also brings up the question of why they even went that direction in the first place. When your protagonist, Michael Burnham, is given a reason to suppress their emotions in universe you maybe want a larger cast to highlight the differences this can manifest in.

I can’t imagine how hard it would be to act with that direction, so I’ll just quickly chime in here and say the acting is, across the board, excellent, with a few notable stand-outs. Still, you can only do so much with certain characters and scripts. A lot of the stand-out characters get side-lined or eventually derailed with interesting plots or positions prevented from happening or unravelled hilariously so. “Oooh, moral ambiguity, cool. This is something Trek has done before, but never really shined a spot-light on and, wait, oh, no, they’re just legit full evil. Okay then.” “Ah, an exploration of situations not often explored in TV. Way to go Discovery for depicti-oh, wait, it’s not that at all. Forget I said that.”

Pssst, I think one of them might be an alien

The problem with having an almost emotionless lead is that their story gets subdued by everyone else, not aided by pretty much all of the cast bleeding charisma. To recap then, our lead is written as plodding, some of the other main characters get diminished and I haven’t even mentioned the secondary and recurring cast, primarily the ship’s bridge crew, who I can barely name a fraction of. Not to mention I know almost nothing about them. Oh, also, everyone is super dour with exception of one, maybe two characters. By the end of the series in the cast that remained the strongest arc went to a character who was definitely given air-time, but felt like they slipped through the cracks of everyone else’s plots and had strong development.

Looking at the plot and, well, I thought on the whole it was pretty tame. As I’ve mentioned in passing, the series is established around a war and what-ho, it’s with the Klingons. Gasp! What could be a nuanced discussion of the contemporary developed world’s societies is brushed to the side because we don’t want any of that, thank you very much. Admittedly, it was nice early on to see a lot of time spent from the perspective of the Klingons, to hear their side and boy, did we hear what they had to say. Some brazen and arguably unneeded make-up changes to the Klingons from their iconic design and an adherence to Klingon-only scenes being spoken in a stilted, passionless Klingon language, led to those sequences feeling long and tedious. Funniest thing is, felt like the Klingons did more speaking than the philosophical Federation.

I feel like there is a definite irony in these Klingons chanting “Remain Klingon”, yet have been significantly altered visually removing them of their previous identity.

Anyhow, war wages on and you’d barely be able to tell because we’re seldom shown how the war is going, merely told it as if it’s supposed to be important this many episodes in. This would have been a perfect way to highlight what was being fought for, the ideals of this era of Star Trek, but nope, we get a little bit of it inconsistently and then a bit more at the series end where it’s too little too late. Numerous character arcs are tied into this war, but they are either predictable from miles off or are never developed in a way that feels natural or entertaining. A mid-series excursion gives some relief, but brings with it the demolition of one of the leads in such a depressing manner that I wished it hadn’t happened.

A Trek show dealing with war isn’t at all new. Whilst it’s been done well, it can always be done better. Discovery, in this regard, lacked any sense of ambition to do so. Sure, it had twists that might shock and amaze if you didn’t see them coming, but the twists felt more like twists for the sake of it rather than interesting plot. If you asked me what the show was about, I don’t think I could do so easily. Is it about being true to yourself? Not really? Is it about talking it out with your enemies? Ha, no. Is it about what we shouldn’t let ourselves become, as a society? Maybe, but not with specific focus.

I don’t think it’s to seek out new life and new civilisations either

Still, I did say that I was entertained, so what on earth did the show do well? Like I said, even if I think many characters met unfortunate conclusions, some rose to be incredibly likeable. One amongst the cast was an eternal optimistic, a beacon in the night. Another was a stubborn scientist who didn’t like the situation they found themselves in. One thrust into a position of command that they were not comfortable unsure they were even suited to it, but organically found their way. Even the less enjoyable characters were still performed with care and purpose.

The production values were absurdly good, providing a grand sense of scope and movement. I do think there was a bit too much time spent on-board ships, especially for a show prefixed with “Star Trek”, but they felt they were used and operational. Costumes and sets are lavish too, shown off with camera work that mostly is well shot. If this weren’t the case the show might have been a write-off for me, but it’s hard to deny how immersed you can be in a world when it at least looks the part. All of this given the time to do so with some generally pretty good pacing.

Imposing, yet dainty. Sorry, but no points for working out this is the baddie’s ship.

It’s hard when even the positive things about the show I feel compelled to deduct a point from for various reasons. I don’t think it at all helped that what I found to be the worst episode of the series was the last one, riddled as it was with what I’d have thought would have been enough glaring stupidity for someone to stop it from taking form in the way that it did, but guess not. Topping it off, its final scene a reminder of the shadow Discovery stands in and demonstrably doesn’t want to move out of.

Look, I made it to the end of the series and could largely say I enjoyed watching it, even if it wasn’t the best thing on TV during its run. That’s got to count for something. Not just that, I want to watch the second series. I want to see the show’s potential unleashed, but I’m concerned that the show doesn’t. This feels distinctly clear with the opening theme; bookended by familiar notes its middle is an orchestral sweep that fills the time, but not your memory. It inspires nothing. I’ve gone this whole piece without making a pun on the show’s title, but really, Discovery needs to find out what it wants to be and embrace that, otherwise I think the show will plod on accepting it will never be better than it currently is. That would be a shame and critically, defies the message of the universe that things can and should be better.

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Short: The Dancing Fire

My family gathered around the fire fighting against the breeze chill
Howling in the Autumn months we watched the flame stood still
Embers of the blaze licked our faces with heat
Stepping closer now my heart and flame met with a beat
I looked around the family our eyes locked in a trance
The flames kept on rising in its fledgling dance

My father lost himself to the red light
It tugged and twisted to him in this cool night
But mere seconds passed before I heard a groan
He was on the floor writhing, his heart had flown

My mother moved with the wriggling flicker not knowing why
Making her think of times to come, those gone and won’t come by
She stepped and reached out to it as a dancer to their partner
Kept on walking the blaze embraced her without falter

I looked around what remained her eyes locked in a trance
The flames kept on rising in its gruesome dance

My sister occupied her mind with fear
She fell back and the flames singed her tears
Bringing her back into the fold of its burning life
Shrieked one moment then no more of strife

My body was locked from movement running
In my head of thoughts that were not coming
I knew the dancing flame would scorch me next
But it sat smiling at my eyes, my fear perplexed

I looked around and nothing remained except a flames’ eyes locked in a trance
The flames were dying now it had no more to dance

I realised what it had done,
A reaction to what we had begun,
My father lay still motionless,
My mother unrecognisable into crisp,
My sister scared to her death
and me alone but with my breath

The fire had chosen us to see its wrath
That I was last was surely its torturing path
Myself alone I tried to scream
It’ll come for you next Hallowe’en.

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Unfiction – Depression And Anxiety Sucks

The amount of times I’ve started, sometimes even finished and then promptly deleted this is something I’ve lost count of. Despite most of the year in regular therapy and getting so much better at talking about this, I couldn’t share this. Will I even put this up? Pfft.

A little over two years ago now I went to my GP and said “So I think I might have depression?” whilst out of breath because I ran round there as I was running late, giving what I can only imagine was the impression of someone so terrified of talking about it that they were trying to catch their breath, but truthfully by that point I had finally resolved to go and see the doctor about whatever ‘it’ was. The only thing I hadn’t done was tell the truth to my parents. Going to see the GP then was just a check-up because I hadn’t had one in ages and that made sense to me. Of course they knew it was a lie but they went with it, I must have had my reasons.

I talk with the doctor a bit and then he says he doesn’t think it’s depression, although I was noted for having seen a doctor about it several years prior, but that actually it’s anxiety, as he then lists out the symptoms. Oh, I realise, this does sound right. Huh. Well okay then, working out what it is is probably going to be pretty helpful. Would I go for a five-week session of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) at a hospital that wasn’t entirely convenient? Sure, I wanted to try anything. I was resolved, remember? It needed to happen.

The CBT didn’t help. Not really. The counsellor I saw was pleasant and understanding and was able to highlight numerous damaging tendencies I have, but then I could’ve told you how my perfectionist trait was so warped aiming high was not good enough, especially as the bar was constantly moving further and further upwards quicker than I could keep up. She did try though, on the final session, to get me to confront a particular issue and I just froze. No words came out my mouth. I shook my head weakly, recoiled from any sense of action because why would I do that when I’m a worthless piece of garbage and why on earth should anyone believe what I write down for this thing when I don’t believe it myself?

As she put it to me, the course of CBT I was on was really for people with “surface level” issues or those who had been on a longer and more involved course due to having much worse issues (read: suicidal) and were having something of a check-up. Being neither, she promised to push to try and keep me on for something as part of the NHS, but I was not able to, although she did point me to MIND where I have been attending therapy since. I do not blame her or the NHS for that, the funding needs to be there, but that’s another story.

Before I started weekly therapy I had periodic sessions. During the second the therapist said “And how do you feel about your depression?” I knew beforehand that the two were linked, albeit varying from person to person, but I could do nothing to argue with her because she was right, it wasn’t just anxiety, it was depression. You know, the double whammy of fun!

Between the two, the depression makes me think I’m not worthy of happiness, in turn making me miserable, which has the knock-on effect of amplifying the anxiety that I won’t be happy because I’m not doing anything to make me so. And I’m pretty lucky in that regard because my depression tends more often to hit harder in waves rather than be constant so there is some respite. Of course the anxiety is a constant problem so no solace there.

This has impacted every facet of my life. I volunteer so that I can feel like I’m doing something productive, “knowing” that I am incapable of accomplishing anything else. I find it hard to let people get emotionally close, be it friends or family, because the idea that someone should care when I “know” that there’s nothing worth caring about seems abstract and that even if I did have the opportunity I still wouldn’t say anything. I indulge in subtle self-destructive tendencies because success is more terrifying than failure with there being so much more to lose, not for myself because obviously I am of little worth, but for other people it may impact. And so on.

The fact I can say this though is critical to resolving it. The first instance of depression I had was when I was 19. I went to the GP after one specific incident that was otherwise totally out of character, I raised concerns about depression without really knowing anything about it, but nothing came of it. I didn’t go back to talk about it. I then made a pretty big decision that to this day I don’t consider a bad or good move, just one I now understood why it was made because that’s all my mind could do to think of as helping. I spent months unhappy, not having any real idea of what to do. I ‘fixed’ it several months later, tricking myself into happiness and thinking that would be enough.

It’s amazing how many alarm bells you’re willing to overlook simply because you don’t know how to address a problem you’re not sure even exists. I went at least a year, if not two, as I finished my degree, suffering from a renewed bout of depression that I had no real way to address. All I could think of was this weird thing that I couldn’t spell out that was doing something and it was all very washy and therefore, why look into it? I waited so many years before raising even the concern with a doctor. I look back at this time with a depression-amplified regret of having been wasted.

I have in my head this simple image explaining acknowledgement of mental health issues. One panel would have someone on crutches and a wrapped up leg. Someone else would go “Oh my god, are you okay?!” and the person would respond “Broke my leg. Suuuuuuuucks.” Second panel would have person A ask person B if they were alright. B would say “Yeah, fine, you?” with a smile on their face whilst a thought bubble said “No, I think I’m shit and feel alone and I have no idea what to do.” But they’ve already said they’re fine, so that’s that. Besides, they were just being nice by asking, no need to trouble them.

I have gotten better about talking about this with some people, but remain cold with others about it. We don’t know everything that goes on in the heads of the people we care about, but what we can do is try to be considerate and there for them, regardless their issue because that time you ask if they’re alright, that might be the time they finally fight against what their brain is telling them, willing them to do and speak out and reach for help.

In a recent therapy session I commented that I was so used to relying on my brain to get through various situations, dodge and avoid others and generally be useful, but for almost nine years it has twisted logic in a way I didn’t want. I can’t rely on what I thought was my greatest tool and it is terrifying. But I don’t want that to be the case anymore. I’m bored of losing a battle to something I should be able to control. It is a long, long process with set-backs and overriding sadness and hopelessness, but I realised that. I also realised that feeling like I deserve happiness is okay. I need to get there, but it’s a solid aim to have.

Welcome to the trenches in my mind. Gonna be here a long time.

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Short: You’ll Love’em

Harry lifted his fork, took the bite and then chewed incredibly slowly. The longer he spent eating, he thought, the less time he would need to spend actually trying to make conversation with Rose. She wasn’t unpleasant, but they clearly weren’t a match. He knew that, she knew that, the waiter knew that. As he swallowed he thought up a fun anecdote, lifted his head and smiled briefly. Rose took notice, opened her eyes widely in anticipation and swept her hair from her face to make it look like she was paying full attention. Harry lowered his jaw, but as he was about to start speaking he realised she just wouldn’t appreciate it, not even a chance of ironic laughter. As the short eternity of his jaw just hanging open continued, he made his fork dive back onto his plate, fiddled around with it hoping to grab something, brought the fork back up and closed his lips around it.

Had she any energy Rose would’ve sighed in frustration, but it just didn’t seem worth it. It wasn’t that he wasn’t nice and all and Izzy wasn’t lying when she said he was hot, but it was an empty kind of hot. The kind of hot you’d get going to your grandparents bungalow. The kind of hot you think you must escape from basically as soon as possible. So Rose just sat there smiling. Two different dating apps, but she agrees to a blind date from mutual friends. Never again! Did they know her that badly? Oh, wait, what if she really was actually that boring? Come to think of it, it’s not like she had that much interest online based on how infrequently her phone buzzed. God, she was the boring one of the group. That was it. It was the only thing that made sense. Realising that her face might be displaying this potential revelation, she smiled broadly hoping for the agony to come to an end.

Man, why’s she smiling so much now? Is she okay? Maybe she’s ill. Ah, if she’s ill she’ll have to go home. Then I can go home too. I mean, the dessert here looks alright, but do I really want to be sitting here alone? Should I order it anyhow? What is the etiquette on that? All these thoughts raced through Harry’s mind in a second. He was now more interested on enduring the suffering if it could ensure a knickerbocker glory. Did he really want it though? The name’s great, but is it actually that enjoyable? He glanced over at Rose who had now finished her meal and was sipping gingerly the remnants of her white wine. White wine with a chicken meal…was that right? I always thought it should be red. Is this why it’s going wrong? Hell, it’s been so long since my last date that maybe it’s changed since then. Do I no longer know the wine rules?

Rose’s internal face displayed confusion, possibly even concern, without realising that she was still maintaining the façade on her actual face. Was he okay? He was looking very thoughtful all of a sudden. Should something be said? What if it’s nothing? What if he’s a bit, y’know, brain dead? Is that it, has he had an aneurysm? Oh god, what’s wrong with me that I’m hoping he has an aneurysm so that I can get out of this. Am I hoping for that? I mean, I appear to have gotten over thinking it was an awful thing to think pretty quickly. See, this is why I don’t go on dates because I’m often wishing that all the men have brain problems. I’m weird. I’m a broken person. I need help! Help me, Harry! Say something, tell me you’re okay!

Harry was lost in thought, no longer finishing off his plate, taking several moments to realise Rose was looking very intently at him. More than before, even. Had he dropped something? He slowly lowered his head and looked down his shirt, but it was clean. Well ironed too. Ha, good job, me. Way to show those creases who’s boss. Granted, it did take me ten minutes to iron one shirt, but it was definitely a quality ironing. Oh, wait, why is there a drop of water the…oh. Oh no. He raised his right hand and brushed its side against his lower lip, wiping away some dribble. Sure, nothing was going to happen with Rose, but he wanted to leave with some damn dignity. Ah, any sense of a smile on her has gone. Well, drool will do it. Well done Harry, you’ve done it again!

He did, didn’t he? He just drooled. My eyes aren’t deceiving me. That actually happened. Oh my god. Do I literally attract cave men? Is it my hair? Rose pat down her hair to see if there was anything wrong with it, but it was as she wanted it to be. My face? She brushed the palm of her hand over her face, making sure everything that should be on it indeed was. Urgh. Well, fine. Screw this diet. I’m having some cake because I might as well write off just about everything from this evening. Come on waiter, come here. Notice my pain. See me suffering. I am a grown woman on a terrible date sitting opposite said date who has just drooled onto his shirt. I need cake. No, I deserve cake. I require it. Get the hell over here.

As the waiter approached empty handed, Rose pondered momentarily if she had latent telepathy, but swiftly removed the thought owing to the fact that neither of them had touched their plates for a few minutes now, so of course the waiter would come over. Harry was preparing to shove his plate in the air, waiting for it to be removed from the table, much like himself. For a minute the two of them became totally engaged in the waiter, responding that they very much enjoyed the meal and similarly, they wanted to look at the dessert menu. It was a moment after that that they both realised they’d just committed themselves to staying even longer with each other.

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Unfiction: Porn as a silent weapon

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We’re mostly conditioned to avoid discussing sex. Even sex education at school, where you’re supposed to be given a full and proper understanding about sex, is questionably delivered and taken in and then that’s it, you’re on your own (insert masturbation joke here). Sure it might come up in conversation every so often, but it’s not something you aim your conversation towards. This is despite the fact that not only do the birds do it and, I’m reliably informed, the bees do it too, but humans do it quite a lot. All the statistics are there, it proves that yes, humans do good at good doing. And then there’s porn.

Porn is a substantial business that has been really quite important in the expansion of the internet. Quality video streaming has been required and that know-how trickles down, whilst recently virtual reality headsets have benefited from the experience VR porn supposedly provides. Porn doesn’t get this big without being consumed, but as an extension of sex it too isn’t talked about. Until it is, but not really.

Within the last few years, the UK government banned certain types of pornography that was allowed to be produced in the UK and somehow managing to be misogynistic in some of the types too, proving once and for all that the government is pretty good at screwing people. (Incidentally, this also happened to be the forms must searched for by Brits.) It’d be all too easy to overlook this as a case of “Ew, porn, avoid discussion at all costs!” but quite a few things that are banned tend to force people to go to greater odds to get said things; low-level recreational drugs springs to mind, but even if we put aside this aspect, there’s something quite insidious here.

See the thing is, the ultimate question here, is who’ll stand up for spanking? The answer is simple: no-one. We don’t talk about sex and porn, so why on earth would we speak out openly in defiance of the government of all things about it? You’d be seen as foolish, but more than that as someone bad and shameful. This is a little ridiculous though because even if we don’t talk about it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen! So no-one stands up for it and like that, forms of pornography are banned. Simple stuff, no-one openly cares because oh god you’re talking about it and this is incredibly awkward make it stop. But hey, these types of porn weren’t banned from being viewed so it’s not a tragic loss…until we get to this week.

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The upcoming plans are that some forms of pornography can only be accessed by age verification (which totally won’t be completely useless) and that some forms can be out-right banned from access if they’re deemed ‘harmful’ because children might see this and why the hell are children given unsupervised access allowing them to access porn in the first place? But that’s another discussion. So this new law could potentially have websites banned from access in the UK because of hosting certain sexual material. The thing is, the BBFC are given the task of deciding what’s appropriate or not for these matters and who are they to decide what consenting adults do, both in the production of and consumption of porn? Emphasis on consenting adults here as it goes to reason that anything else isn’t legal anyhow.

One of the problems above this here isn’t that a group are being charged to decide this it’s how it will be implemented, but that many websites don’t just contain singular material; it’s not for nothing that Vine partly became what it was/will continue to be because of porn, but look on it now and there’s an incredibly wide variety of material. The question then becomes, do you ban Vine? It’s not all porn, but it is on there. How would you be able to differentiate that material? How much and of what type of porn has to be on a website before the whole thing is prohibited from being accessed? Naturally that becomes significantly unfair when a relatively small part of a website or web service makes the whole thing prohibited, especially if the reason you are looking or using it isn’t for the porn.

These are all quite reasonable questions, but that doesn’t even address the half of it. Why only these forms of pornography being restricted? What’s so specific about them above everything else? What about the people with desires/fetishes that harms no-one who are unable to access content for no reason other than it has been decided that what they consume makes them indecent, undignified or gross? How else are you supposed to interpret that? You’re being declared as those things, but it’s sex and porn, so you just don’t talk about or argue it…you just go looking for it elsewhere, but you already looked at it so you’re probably on a list of people who are into Other sex acts.

It all starts to sound a bit conspiracy theory territory, but nothing I’ve written here is false and critically it’s actually happening right now. Like that, porn has become a way to divide people. Sure, this ridiculous restriction won’t really work, “So what’s the problem really then, Joel? I mean if people can get around it, what’s the big deal?” Well I still think it’s a pretty big deal anyhow if for nothing else it shows government intention and can be extended in the future to include more “questionable” materials, but when you start partnering it up with the ‘Snooper’s Charter’, which is terrifying all by itself, it gets into some seriously dark territory; not only is it decided that his material is supposedly wrong, but it’s also been recorded who has viewed it and various agencies can access this information…

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Hopefully it doesn’t need to be said, but nothing good has ever come from a government being able to divide and highlight parts of the citizens it represents, with information to back it up, saying that “These people are wrong” simply because it has been decided that they are. The threat of this is, again, conspiratorial in tone, but we already know agencies were gathering this information, it was simply illegal before and even then they were not simply pushing the boundary, but leaping past it too. Now you have the scenario where this stuff is legal and if nature is consistent, they’ll be pushing this new boundary too, but even if they didn’t that’s a considerable capability to obtain so much data on private activity and let’s be super clear here, not using the internet when it has become so ingrained in society, culture and just about everything else is a completely idiotic consideration as a means of avoiding this.

These are simple measures of an authority wanting to maintain power and said authority, but even if you accept that with a deft touch these wouldn’t be completely terrible and merely only tragically bad, the foundation has been laid for where this stuff can get really insidious, where it goes beyond pornography. Hey, what of a simple suggestion and anything to do with [pick a religion here] is prohibited? It might seem like it’s really easy to pull out examples that seem simultaneously stark and ridiculous because of the implication, but it’s there. It’s right there. When you make The Other different only because you say so and then imply that they’re Other for things that have been deemed indecent, undignified and gross, nothing good can possibly come from that and history is keen to show us this time and time again.

So how does this change? How can these things be reversed? Well, a change of government would do that or at least any opposition to these things would be welcome, but in lieu of that my sincere hope is that since these have such vivid breaches of privacy, the EU courts would get involved and…oh. Dammit. And like that, porn becomes a battleground for political censorship where one side fields artillery and the other side hasn’t even turned up to fight because no-one wanted to take lead and say “I want to watch spanking!” So it’s not really about porn, it’s about what porn is about.

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Short: Broke(n) Hero

One prompt, from one person, once a week. Here’s last week’s efforts.

“The world’s greatest superhero is too broke to afford a costume. As a result, no one takes them seriously.”

With the remote in one hand and a nearly empty glass of scotch in the other, he was a bit confused as to where the daily despair came from. Usually it was the scotch (neat) but the news report and vox pop with clueless people going “Well, he does good, but he doesn’t look good, does he?” and “I dunno maaaan, he kinda looks like a fool but where would we be without him?” or “Hey, if you need help with your look, hit me up? I can be your fashion side kick, yeah!” weren’t exactly doing much for his self-esteem. It’s not like they weren’t grateful, but that just seemed to make it worse. So there he sat, in stunned silence as the TV kept on blaring at him, but all he could do was let it wash over him. He wasn’t even disappointed at this point, it was hardly news to him.

What can you do when you can do anything, though? Keep yourself quiet, was his answer. John Garner, strongest, quickest, most resilient person on the planet, best thought of himself as a humble member of society doing what he could. The problem really started when he discovered his capabilities. For a little while it was the best thing that could ever happen to him and those he could help, relieving him from the doldrums of office life; sure, it wasn’t the best paying job, but he could do that, save the city from destruction and be back in time for dinner without so much as a fuss. It began to take a toll on him though. These herculean acts started putting attention on him, attention he didn’t want. The office might have been a meaningless, sombre affair, but it was his meaningless, sombre affair that he could go back to after casually stopping an evil scientist here or a super-powered wrong-doer there. The stress of it all caught up, so he had to quit one and weighing up which was the better thing to be doing, it seemed like an obvious choice.

As he finished his fourth glass of scotch for the evening, a simple task given the fact alcohol had no impact on him, he reached behind for the bottle only to put his hand on his mask it sat on. The blue plastic had been broken and scarred several times over and fabric was well and truly coming undone. He hadn’t used it for years, instead resorting to the mask of looking like an Average Joe. An unkempt beard, clean but messy hair, a narrow nose, soft eyebrows and brown eyes kept him from looking too distinctive. Besides, when you can run as fast as John could, it could be pretty hard to get a good look in to pass judgement. Except he wasn’t always moving at full speed, so shabby chinos and a short-sleeved white shirt that was missing its top button were what first introduced an assailant to a swift end.

When he first started out, with his government funded costume protecting who he was, he cared so much about what he could do he consequently tried equally as hard. As he felt the control of his life slip away from him though, his attention being pulled every which way, he started to care less. Of course even when he didn’t terribly care, he still sought out to try as much as he could because it was all the meaning he had left for himself. After so many incidents, his suit got worn out and he just didn’t care enough to wear it. His life had been consumed by this role that he no longer felt he was anybody except for being a hero. He stopped repairing the costume after a certain point, but this lack of ‘formal’ presentation caught wrong-doers off-guard and they were easily stopped. They didn’t take John seriously so he just stopped trying too, but instead of eventually being caught out at some point, he still effortlessly took down his opponents.

Besides the government cheques he got monthly, a ‘hero wage’, every time he met with a representative they offered to pay for a new costumed suit, but he declined just saying he’d sort it out in his own time, something that was never argued because who would argue with someone that powerful? By the time in the month he would maybe think about getting a new one sorted out, his wallet was empty. He’d even down-sized into a small flat not wanting to burden the tax payers with a high upkeep, but between buying an otherwise excessive amount of alcohol and meals for one, he didn’t have enough to go out and get costume materials and with that any interest he had in doing anything about the suit disappeared near instantly for another month.

Looking at the time he turned the TV off and slinked away to bed, lazily pulling back the covers and kicking off his shoes before getting comfortable within the covers. For a brief moment a glimmer of hope and aspiration overcame his thinking, but went back into the recesses of his mind as quickly as they had appeared.

The bad guys laughed at him when he apprehended them, the public thought he was a fortunate joke and he just didn’t have the willpower left to argue with either. Maybe they’d treat me seriously if I acted against the public, he’d think every so often, but his heart was just pure enough that no matter how low he felt, he’d never switch sides. That’s how things would remain then. Some people would try and rise up to try and prove they could best him and fail, the public would outpour thanks and appreciation and rely on John for what his abilities allowed him to do and he would swoop in and save the day with no effort required. He would often dream of being back in the doldrums.

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