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One thing I’m loving about HD – seeing all the lines in actor’s faces. For something dark and tension driven like Killing Them Softly, it really adds to the effect. Of course, there’s also something wryly satisfactory in seeing the flaws in actors and actresses famed for their beauty (in this case, Brad Pitt). It’s humanising…

Killing Them Softly is all too human. A darkly comedic depiction of low-level gangland life in urban America: tense, depressing, bleak, funny but certainly not in a heart-warming way. An ill-considered heist goes, of course, awry, and we follow Pitt’s character, Jackie Cogan, as he tracks down the luckless culprits in an intense, choppy narrative, littered with noisome, faded mob figures. The backdrop is one of urban decay and deprivation; it rains a lot and the sky is always grey in that heavy, smothering, hope-draining way. It is unrecognisable as New Orleans. At least, for those of us who don’t know that city, who would associate it with Mardi Gras, jazz, and vibrant Cajun culture.

The narrative is accompanied by a commentary of the growing economic doomfulness of 2008, and the run-up to Obama’s election win, unashamedly drawing parallel between the intrigue, scape-goating and scalping of the mafia world, and the politics of economics.

The slick, quirky, pragmatic Cogan in ‘Killing Them Softly’ [image:guardian.co.uk]

All of the characters are morally flawed, none appealing. Even Cogan in his dark, sharply dressed, chain-smoking manner, is something short of charismatic. The nearest to a likeable character is Russell, the incompetent, filthy, smack-injecting Australian with a constant sheen of grimy drug-sweat slicking his face, who makes up one half of the inept heist duo.  At least he has a sense of humour. There are no heroes in this story, no glory in this gangland perdition. This film seems FAR from Hollywood.

This is the second Hollywood movie I’ve seen recently that depicts such an American urban dystopia. Killer Joe, although certainly a different style of story and film, communicated the same themes. People on the fringes – desperate, moneyless, under-educated – whom the State and the ‘American Dream’ have overlooked, but who are still consumed by the Dream – if only they can get money, then they’ll have it all: they can do anything and be anyone and be part of it all; be real Americans.

McConaughey as the fantastically creepy ‘Killer Joe’ [image:whysoblu.com]

I use the term ‘Hollywood’ as both these films are made by directors and contain actors established in that scene (can you get any more Hollywood than Brad Pitt and Matthew McConaughey?). I don’t know enough about the US film industry and haven’t watched nearly enough films to comment knowledgeably, but I get the feeling that this marks some shift away from traditional Hollywood fare? Films depicting economic deprivation, underclass, and hopeless violence have doubtless always existed, but were they ever let into the mainstream? There have always been films about the mob, about gang life, criminality, ‘the ghetto’ or ‘white trash’, but in Hollywood there’s ALWAYS a hero (even an anti-hero), always an element of glory, or eleventh-hour morality…

Killing Them Softly and Killer Joe are in keen juxtaposition to the overwhelming mass of contemporary Hollywood excretion, which continues to be a sickening mulch of re-makes, sequels, prequels, overblown CGI farce and unoriginal brain-rot. But, following on from HBO’s ground-breaking Bush-era drama, The Wire, I wonder if between the lines of the black comedy, the self-deprecation (not attributes associated with Hollywood or with America), and Brad’s beautiful face, there is a signal of change…

Acknowledgement of the failed Dream.

I left Facebook last week.

It was something I’d been mulling over for a long time. I realised long ago that the thing was a total time succubus, and with my inclinations for procrastination it was quite a hindrance to productivity. But I’m a sentimental devil, and I couldn’t bring myself to part with my hard-earned friends, many in far places, with whom this was my sole connection. I also hoped that I could show some strength of will and be more disciplined about the time I spent gawping at it…

Alas, the gawping continued. And other, more pressing things began to niggle at me. The insidious advertising: sometimes blatantly there in the newsfeed, completely uninvited; but more often through ‘sponsored links’, things that friends ‘like’ showing up. (Note, the first thing on the drop-down menu at the top right-hand corner, before account or privacy settings, is ‘advertise’).

This was only an aspect of a newsfeed that was becoming ever more disinteresting, or rage-inducing, due to a growing accumulation of meaningless ‘friends’, some of whom were turning out to be racists, fascists, or just total blockheads (no Tories though, thank goodness). Even if they weren’t themselves posting racist/fascist/blockhead material, posts that they ‘liked’ would appear: “Dear British Goverment, i think our country z shite becuz u hav let in all the forein immigrint scum n they hav takin all tha houses and tha jobz and the money n they r the reason that i am a fat twat with no grammar or other skillz.”, “Dear Tayside Police, why were yooz out pure catchin me speedin when i seen on the news their wiz old ladies bein mugged n that?”…

Get your ignoramus beliefs and piss poor grammar out of my eyes.

Nonsense like that contributed to a growing unease about the way that Facebook leads you to accumulate people. I have no interest whatsoever in sharing my life with fascists, et al, and yet here they were, in my face every day. Not to mention countless posts about children I’ve never met, dogs whose existence I care nothing for, what people eat for all meals of the day, what time they go to bed, what time they get up, whether they took a shit that morning, what car they have, what phone they have, what fecking handbag they desire, when they’re drunk/hungover/high/bleeding/vomming/dying – oh wait, they’re not dying, just hungover, bleeding and vomming. (And I can’t deny having made such posts myself). But an irritating etiquette has emerged whereby you’re obliged to be ‘friends’ with co-workers, ex-classmates, ex-lovers, wives of distant cousins, friends of parents – a whole array of people you would never normally have communicated details of your personal life to. And people never move into the past… That’s a bit creepy…

A friend of a friend used an analogy I liked – normally in life you have a jar, and there’s a little hole in the bottom of that jar, and as people become less important to you they get smaller and shuffle down and eventually fall out the bottom of your jar. But with Facebook – there’s no hole in the jar! People just collect and collect until you’re drowning in amongst them.

I’m also, I think, augmenting the ‘grumpy old Scotswoman’ aspect of my personality. Conversely to communicating with people you wouldn’t normally communicate with, you also end up not communicating with the people you would want to communicate with. Increasingly, people can’t be bothered to call, or to write an email, or (proper old school, I know) to send anything in the post. ‘Liking’ a friend’s new profile picture has become all that’s needed to let people know you’re thinking of them, and that’s rubbish. I took the time a couple of weeks ago to write some proper emails, and it was wonderful. Wastebook-based communication, in contrast, is SO superficial, and vacuous, and narcissistic. Well, I unsubscribe from the enforced Facebook ephemera!

Just this week, reading about status anxiety in ‘The Spirit Level’ has confirmed to me that I’ve made the right decision. Worry about social status is something that has become a huge burden to people in economically rich countries, and Pusbook* totally exasperates this, plays and even depends upon it.  Whether you are willing to admit it or not, anyone that uses it regularly gets drawn into waiting for friends to like or comment on their posts. For some people, especially teenagers now, their social status truly lives and dies by the sword of Pusbook. So, I thought, why add to all the other anxieties already assaulting me in this post-modern century? Since deleting only days ago, I’ve felt a notable decline in anxiety, like I’ve been unburdened from a pernicious responsibility. I feel almost emancipated!

There are things I will miss. It is undeniably useful for organising events and keeping up with developments in my spheres of interest. I had a variety of pages I followed for aesthetic or literary fixes (Magnum Photos, Rumi, Beware of Images, for example), and for quality or leftfield news (Al Jazeera English, BBC World Service, Jezebel). I will miss having a network of knowledge and advice at my fingertips. And I will miss spying on people who I perhaps haven’t spoken to in a long time but like to check in on. Equally, perhaps, there are people who liked to spy on me from time to time and will miss me too…

But deleting my Facebook will be a pretty good indication of which friends are important to me: they are the ones that already have my email or phone number, or I have theirs. They are the ones that, when I posted that I would be leaving, got in touch. They are the ones that I made sure to let know, because I want to keep them… As for the others, it’s once more up to serendipity to bring us back together…

*Local slang name, from the Scots vulgar vernacular for ‘face’.

I am so relieved to see the back of this year. It felt for a time like it would never come. This has been straight up one of the most difficult years of my life, if not thee most. Not the worst, mind, but the most difficult. Financially, emotionally, physically. Mostly emotionally.

We moved into the House of Doom right at the beginning of the year – that certainly got us off on the wrong footing. Senile barking dogs, mosquito infestations, unbearable breezeless heat, builders with man-sized speakers belting Jesus-themed country and western, the Loudest Van in the World that roared up the hill every a.m., the loopy man-obsessed drug-addicted Quebecois drama queens next door, insomnia, scheming sociopathic flatmates, inadvertently becoming the ‘party house’, the falling apart of friendships and relationships…

All that before we even got to the shooting incident, the ruination of my ankle (still quite ruined), further disintegration of House of Doom-based relationships, dwindling funds, and a whole swilling island full of crazed and broken souls, some of them my dear, dear friends and indeed an inadvertent boyfriend who I did my best to look after.

A broken heart (the most acutely painful to date), a deportation, the death of my grandmother, a sorry retreat to my sorry hometown, another half-broken heart, the death of a once-vivacious aunt, a forced return to retail (oh woe!), a royal fucking-over from Canadian Immigration, and yet another bit of heartache later, I thought 2011 had finally spat all it could at me. Until this week. A final twist of the knife had to be had…

It’s not just me though. This year has been a motherfucker for numerous friends. And people seem to have been dying off all over the place, almost as if they are getting out while they can; they sense the change coming… The world is revolving – revolution in the Arab world, the killing of Gaddafi, Bin Laden,  the death of Kim Jong Il; the continued economic decay of the United States and the European Union; the rebirth of powerful public dissent in the West as well – both civilised (the Occupy movement, especially in the States), and feral (the UK riots – see my earlier article); not to mention an onslaught of destructive climatic events – earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding…

It would be nice to think that this was just a blip, but I have the foreboding feeling that in 2012 it’s about to intensify… I don’t believe that the world is going to end on 21st December 2012, or that the aliens are going to come, and I certainly hope that the planets aren’t going to align and cause a freak gravitational event whereby we will all float up off the earth and explode (as Dado, my old boss, is expecting to happen)… I’m not prone to airy-fairy notions but I do think there may be something in this Mayan shit. Not that we are facing the End of Days, but an End of Days. Things are afoot. Things feel different. Change be a-coming…

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In terms of the world order we’re about due a change, and if that makes our lives in the West more difficult, so be it. We reap what we sow. Hopefully our new condition will jolt our society out of its stupor (I like to think the signs are already showing).

On a personal level, I did say that though 2011 has been exceptionally difficult, it has been far from the worst year of my life. So many lessons learned and new things experienced and things figured out and falling into place and FUN had and god damn me for being sentimental but so many good good friends and, for the first time in my life, I have found myself looking to the future with something that is not fear.

Hello 2012…