Pirate Therapy

Pirate flagLaurence arrived a few minutes late for his regular Thursday morning session, but his therapist usually ran late, so he wasn’t worried.

From behind the door of his therapist’s office, he heard a blood-curdling scream, and then a thump. A door opened somewhere, and Laurence heard a strange sound, almost as though something heavy was being dragged. He heard grunts, scraping, and the rhythmical percussion of something booming on the floor. Laurence looked around, and realized the secretary was not there. He also realized he was standing, tense.

The door to his therapist’s office creaked opened, and he heard a rough voice shout: “Ahoy Larry! Be ye out there laddie?”

“Uh. Yes.”

“Come in, matey.”

Laurence walked unsteadily to the door and opened the door fully.

A pirate sat in his therapist’s chair. He had wild, unkempt hair held in by a greasy red bandanna, and a full dread-locked beard that looked like it was made out of black steel wool. He was wearing a stained white silk shirt, a sash of what was probably once a lovely dark green silk and pantaloons. He had one black boot, and he was missing a leg, which was replaced by a wooden peg that was carved into the shape of …

Laurence looked away.

“Arr matey, don’t ye like me leg?”

“Uh, it’s very creative,” Laurence said. “Um. Um, where is Dr. Glick?”

“She’s in-dee-sposed,” the pirate said. “She’s asked me to take care of her sessions today. Now, repeat after me: Arrrr!”

“Ar?”

“No, like ye mean it. Take a deep breath. No, don’t sit down. Ye won’t be sitting down this morning Larry, ye’ll be workin’! Now, say it: arrrr!!!”

“Arr.”

“Avast!” the pirate stood, the obscenely rounded end of his peg leg booming on the floor. A cutlass lay on Dr. Glick’s desk, and he picked it up. “I want to hear a real pirate yawlp before ye leave, ye bilge rat!”

Larry suddenly understood what that dragging sound had been. He looked around wildly for a weapon to defend himself; he picked up a pillow from the couch. Perhaps it would work as a shield.

“Would ye like a blankie too Larry? I won’t be caring if ye need to carry around a stuffed bear, as long as I hear ye. Now take a deep breath, and say it: arrrr!” The pirate’s voice was incredibly loud.

Laurence dropped the pillow and held his ears. He started shaking.

The pirate took a step closer and pointed the cutlass tip at Laurence’s throat; he lowered his voice and said menacingly: “I’ve slit the throats of better men than ye, Larry me boyo. Now say it, smartly lad, smartly!”

“Arr!” Larry managed, terror driving his voice several octaves higher.

“Grand! Grand!” the pirate enthused. “Now, let’s pretend you’ve got a pair, and say it again.”

“Arrr!” Larry shouted.

“Again!”

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“Arrr!”

“Again! Louder!”

“Arrr!” Larry screamed.

“Arrr!” the pirate joined in.

“Arrr!”

“Arrr!”

“Arrrrr……..” Their joint shouting tailed off, and Laurence realized that the pirate was grinning at him.

“So how do ye feel matey?”

Laurence wanted to say he felt good, but he know that wasn’t the right answer, so he just muttered: “arrrrr.”

The End

Alltop be wanting yer attention too, the scallywags. The title story in my collection, Pirate Therapy and Other Cures.

The Mash-Up Mentality

Pride and Prejudice and ZombiesWith derivative art invading our cultural spaces like never before, is this the start of a new artistic movement or the death of originality?

In 1951, the science-fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon said 90 per cent of everything is crap. Since then, the percentage hasn’t changed, but the volume sure has.

Digital culture serves up more derivative, unoriginal, and – let’s face it – bad art than we ever got in the old analog world. But why?

Sixty years have passed, and we’re still primates. That means we are hard-wired for acceptance and belonging to the group. Of course, being original and outstanding is hard to pull off if you’re going to run with the crowd. Call it the Thag Principle. And we don’t really outgrow it once we leave high school, where conformity is a survival issue. It gets subsumed and expressed in other ways, such as “liking” things on Facebook.

In one sense, our need for conformity runs so deep that we are not even aware of it. One of the things I loved about George Carlin was how well he could shake out our delusions of originality. He said, “People who say they don’t care what people think are usually desperate to have people think they don’t care what people think.”

So even if we spend most of our time trading links to the latest Hitler “Downfall” video or chuckling at the latest version of the “Sad Keanu” meme, it is culture. It’s derivative culture, but evidence of a kind of originality. The kind that advertising giant Leo Burnett said “made for good ads: the secret of all effective originality in advertising is not the creation of new and tricky words and pictures, but one of putting familiar words and pictures into new relationships.”

Sense and Sensibility and Sea MonstersThe mash-up mentality has invaded all of our cultural spaces too, even the literary. When I read about Seth Grahame-Smith’s book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I had two reactions. The first was, “Well, that’s derivative.” The second was, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Since then, we’ve had Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter, and I’m sure we’ll see Canadian knockoffs soon:John A. Macdonald’s Time Machine (filled with lots of Morlock fighting), and Anne of Green Gables Meets the Aliens (hey, why should the horror genre get all the fun?).

So is this the start of a new artistic movement, or the death of originality? Many will argue art has always had imitation, reinvention, and even plagiarism at its heart. Hell, T.S. Eliot said, “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” Real originality evokes many emotions when it’s first encountered, and love is rarely one of them. Usually, it’s outrage and anger. New things scare us – the Thag part of us, which likes the predictable and reassuring. How else can you explain the proliferation ofCSI spinoffs on television?

A mash-up culture is the perfect combination of those things – something that has the frisson of newness, but is, at its heart, familiar.

Digital media has opened up the means of production so that anyone can do it. Instead of leaving them in a desk drawer, now all those frustrated novelists can publish their novels themselves. And they do. And yes, a lot of it isn’t very good. But then again, look at the stuff produced by so-called professionals. A lot of that isn’t very good either.

If you accept Sturgeon’s assertion, then 10 per cent of everything is not crap. Does that make it original? Or good?

Not necessarily. The American philosopher Eric Hoffer once wrote, “When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate one another.” (Back to our primitive brains.) So, much of the culture we create is not original. This essay is a fine example (assuming you’ll allow that it makes the 10-per-cent cut ). I’ve quoted a science-fiction writer, a philosopher, a comedian, and a poet, and referenced numerous cultural products to make my argument.

Our only hope is the raw numbers. There are so many more people creating culture now that even if most of it is garbage, there will still be more worthwhile stuff made than at any time in history.

Of course, we may never know about it, because, hey, Thag likes his LOLCATS.

Hey, Alltop enjoys a good meme! Originally published on The Mark, February, 2011.

Taxonomy of things

Taxonomy of Things by lunchbreath
Taxonomy of Things, a photo by lunchbreath on Flickr.

This is extremely helpful, but the taxonomy is not complete. I believe it should also include the following, which can be slotted in existing branches:

  • thingamabob
  • thingamajig
  • junk
  • junk ‘n stuff
  • scraps
  • detritus

And of course, another whole branch:

  • Thing (Adams Family)
  • The Thing (Marvel)
  • The Thing (SF blob)
  • Thing 1
  • Thing 2

I’m sure I’m missing more… you know where the comments are. (Look down.)

Alltop thinks the word “classification” is a little more accurate than taxonomy too. Originally published, March 2012.