Puberty wins again

Puberty strikes again. Another resounding victory for nature. In one of the more tragic news stories to have ‘broken’ recently – ahem – Justin Bieber’s voice has broken; an event so catastrophic it has forced him to abort his singing activities to see if he can come out of the ordeal with a cute enough voice for teeny-boppers to pay 79p for each of his tracks. My sister, to whom Justin Bieber is as familiar, on first name terms at least, to Jesus, found it all highly amusing.

Pictures of the angel-faced Bieber adorn her bedroom wall, yet she laughed with a faint maliciousness when telling me a Facebook group called “Justin Bieber brings all the girls to the yard, they’re like ‘Can you even get hard?’” has registered hundreds of thousands of fans.

Yet I walked in on her watching a Justin Bieber video once and she jumped up with a startle, immediately switching the channel and rubbing her cheeks to remove the faint red glow of pre-pubescent lust that resided upon her cheeks. What are kids like these days? One minute they adore their heartthrob with all the passion they can muster, tacking his poster to any surface they can find and learning the words to every song he has ever belted out. The next they question his sexual performance on the most prominent social media website in the world, which, even though I’m not remotely a fan of the pop starlet, seems a bit harsh.

Imagine being just sixteen years old, having already accrued enough money to live the rest of your life on exotic beaches as cocktails wing their way towards your deckchair at the click of your fingers. You know that any girl, at the drop of a hat, would drop whichever chav they were dating like a shot just to touch your fringe.

Your pop star career is going well. Well known acts such as Usher and Sean Kingston are queuing up to perform duets with you and get in on the action. You score a run of hits that make you an international star. Then one day you wake up in the middle of the night, walk downstairs to get a glass of juice, see a reflection of yourself in the shiny metallic fridge door and notice little hairs underneath your nose.

After failing to shave properly a couple of times (who doesn’t?) you ask your Mum to go and buy some aftershave, but in doing so you suddenly notice your voice has dropped two octaves and that every so often it rumbles, cracks or squeaks.

You’ve grown so accustomed to the shameless high life, yet now you can’t be seen in public. Or at least this is what Bieber’s mentors have made happen by cancelling his gigs. He was threatening to take over the pop world, but he may emerge in two or three years sounding like he spent the entire time in a damp airing cupboard smoking foot-long Cuban cigars.

I wouldn’t want to be in the recording studio on the day Justin is put through his paces once more, after the extremes of his voice are ironed out. Either he’ll have developed a soulful croon, composing hits like there’s no tomorrow or he will be painstakingly trying to reach a top C, with as much success as Robbie Williams suddenly deciding that the world is ready to hear him rap, when the reality couldn’t be any more different.

One gossip blog, Hot Momma, put it straight:  “Since YouTube made him a teenage sensation in 2007, Justin Bieber has had a transcendent career.  But that may now be in decline”. Once again, this seems a bit harsh. He’s still not old enough to legally drink alcohol or buy cigarettes, yet gossip websites say his career could be in terminal decline despite the fact it has barely begun.

There was once a time when we let our child stars dazzle in the spotlight for their allotted fifteen minutes, before they burned out spectacularly, leading a destitute life of destruction, addiction and crippling ego problems. We make Macaulay Culkin the highest-paid child actor for his starring role in movies like Home Alone; yet stand by bemused as he estranges his parents, marries a girl he just met at 18 and spirals downwards in a daze of marijuana and prescription pills.

Now we witness the natural course of humanity flooding through a moderately talented singing teenager and say his career is over and that he might as well enrol as an apprentice for a plumbing firm, so at least he has a trade when the record label tear up his contract. That’s what is called progress.

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Unconvinced by Kant

By a quirk of fate, I chose to study Philosophy as an elective to supplement my English Language degree course at Sussex University. The idea of electives is to broaden the pallet of learning for each student, allowing them to study subjects which may not be found in their major choice.

It is supposed to show prospective employers that a student can learn a variety of subjects instead of being pigeon-holed into just one. To prove just how seriously I took this ingenious idea, when scything through the brochures for each course, I chose the elective which required the least amount of coursework and, you know, effort. As you do.

And so it was that I turned up for my first philosophy seminar with a preconception in my head that was difficult to shift. Philosophers, to my mind at least, should be bearded chin-strokers wearing low-slung v-neck t-shirts who have never gone near a beach and enjoy quoting Saki as if he’s a drinking buddy. Tragically, my stereotypical view was almost spot on.

For the course I had to splash out £25 on a book which made Homer’s Iliad look like a children’s library copy of Spot the Dog. It was written in size 8 font and ran to nearly 800 pages, full of condensed, impenetrable waffle. Lugging the enormous volume to and fro from Uni in my rucksack meant my back was going out more than I was.

In my seminar group, we had a discussion loosely based around a philosophical debate every week, the first on vegetarianism. A girl on the opposite side of the room argued so ferociously in favour of veganism that her eyes were popping out of her head like in cartoons when a dog sees a massive steak.

When I suggested that most people eat meat guiltily, knowing full well that animals must suffer for our food but munching happily away on our Happy Meal nonetheless, the look I received in return made me worry that she would dig up my grandmother and send her fingers through the post, a la the Animal Liberation Front.

It was all utter nonsense. One smart arse geek, who always sauntered in fashionably late, took every opportunity to show off his intellectual mettle, regularly quoting obscure philosophers in the hope that our tutor would raise his eyebrows. For the keen philosophers in the room – there were a couple of people who actually studied philosophy, instead of choosing it for its dossiness – there was always enough shit to talk about to enable the rest of us to wander in clouds of reverie, occasionally nodding our head to pretend we understood. If a particularly good point was made, I might venture a mumble.

Philosophy to me was like banging my head against a brick wall, only I had to recognise that the brick wall is merely a conceit constructed by the mind and may not exist at all. If I bang my head against a brick wall during a lecture on utilitarianism and nobody hears, do my sobs still exist?

After spending ten weeks studying philosophy, I learnt two things. One, the extremely attractive six foot tall volleyball player who sat next to me definitely didn’t fancy me (although I’ll leave out the details of why I know this). And two, the humorous quotations about philosophy are the most interesting aspect of the discipline. My personal favourite is “A philosopher is a blind man in a dark room at midnight looking for a black cat that isn’t there. A theologian is identical in every respect, except for the fact he finds the cat.”

There seemed to be an air of pointlessness to the heated discussions we were having. For example, a fifty minute lecture was based on the following problem; if a ship, over the course of decades, is gradually replaced wooden plank for wooden plank, does it remain the same ship after every original wooden plank is removed? My response (“yes, next question”) was not in the deliberately complex spirit of things.

Philosophy is about questioning yourself, questioning others, questioning whether the art of questioning actually leads you to restrict your own thoughts. Writing my end-of-course essay was like preparing a meal alongside TV chefs who have everything pre-cooked whilst I had nothing but the ingredients Delia said I’d need in the TV Guide and no Sky+ to pause her mid-recipe.

I had heard the arguments in favour and against Kant’s system of ethics, but all I want to do when I hear about Kant is substitute the ‘a’ for a ‘u’ and get a cheap laugh. You see where we have problems.

This is epic fail!

According to the shiny literature handed to me alongside my newly purchased 16-25 railcard, it gives me some “epic savings” on train tickets, one of the latest examples of using inappropriate words to boost a product’s credentials. The word ‘epic’ should be used only on special occasions, like a tailored suit or the special crockery reserved especially for Christmas to make extended family more worried about smashing precious chinaware than making light-hearted conversation with relatives no-one has seen in months.

Epicness denotes something above and beyond the normal realms of human endeavour. The last time I checked, a 1/3 discount on Off-Peak return tickets (with numerous exceptions) and selected discounts with Octopus Travel, Orange mobile and an Italian restaurant chain don’t qualify as ‘epic’.

Truly epic rail discounts would include a gratis first class upgrade, a free bar stocked from head to foot with miniature bottles of vodka and an oriental massage in the driver’s cabin (happy endings cost extra). Telling me that a return to Brighton now costs £5.70 instead of £8.60 is hardly likely to give me the same sensation as watching the Millennium fireworks display, a genuinely epic event that was almost worth the tens of millions of pounds it cost to usher in the new millennium.

This linguistic anomaly has become more pronounced, as it seems anything can be announced ‘epic’ whether it be a mediocre band’s performance at a mid-ranking music festival or a film which last three hours (no matter how good the actual film is).

The word has become a slang term used by surly teenagers looking to laugh at the misfortunes of others, usually found in the recently coined phrase ‘epic fail’, which describes a minor cock-up like someone falling over on their bike, meaning that if You’ve Been Framed do another series it will have to be called ‘Epic Fail’. People who say the wrong thing in public have their utterances branded ‘epic fails’. Kids who have their clothes bought in Primark are described ‘epic fails’ by their peers. Photographs of friends looking stupid are plastered over Facebook with the same words etched upon them.

Yet things aren’t quite that simple. Some people post mishaps involving themselves – perhaps a disastrous personal anecdote – and use the term ‘epic fail’ to actually mean an ‘epic win’ because having the guts to tell everyone about the so-called failure therefore makes it funnier and more socially acceptable, thus turning a poor situation into a winning one. The kids using this term are likely to be chunky, pasty, teenaged idiots desperately trying to fit in. And why do they need to fit it? Probably because they are chunky, pasty, teenaged idiots.

For example, here is a small story of mine, a little yarn of embarrassment from my own ever-expanding vault of regret.

When I was going out with a girl from my school (the only girl I went out with from my school actually) she invited me on a date to go horse-riding, as she owned a couple of fillies; an idea which she thought was marvellous and I thought was nothing short of terrifying. “Can’t we be frigid virgins at the cinema instead?” I hesitantly asked.

Alongside her huge horse, which looked gruff and imposing but was hilariously called something like ‘Sparkle’, we walked down to the field for a quick gallop. After she plodded serenely around the field with Sparkle for a full ten minutes, looking completely at ease, it was my turn. I climbed on top of a park bench to sit astride the beast, as it was about ten feet tall, only to miscalculate the distance between the horse and the bench and fall to the muddy floor with a heavy thunk, my limbs spread at odd angles to make me look like one of those workmen on road signs. EPIC FAIL!

But I’m still not convinced that the overuse of the word ‘epic’ is a good thing. The Scary Movie franchise even stole the word for their spoof film ‘Epic Movie’, written by “two of the six Scary Movie writers”. And as with all spoof movies since the excellent ‘Scary Movie’, the result is far enough away from ‘epic’ to be considered an EPIC FAIL!

Certain words should be reserved for things which are genuinely and undeniably amazing. In this category, alongside ‘epic’, I would file ‘fan-fucking-tastic’ and ‘astounding’; words that should only be used with a specific license from some kind of recognised language society, preferably headed by me.