Accept No Irritation

May 2, 2009
(Bitter, lesbiany T-shirts available at

Last week we talked about Henrie Stride and – let’s be honest – I wasn’t very complimentary. In fact, I was downright irksome.

You may remember that Ms Stride is convinced that people are only interested in “pretty” and “upbeat”, so how did my low-level sniping affect the popularity of The Outland Institute? We had a massive spike of readers and Wednesday the 29th had the most visitors the Institute has ever seen. Why? Because misery loves company. Everytime I write something that drips of bile – like this review of BBC’s Survivors – the numbers shoot right up.

I think the truth is that “contented” is not the same as “interesting”. As our old friend Leo Tolstoy once said, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. He’s a laugh-riot, isn’t he? You should see the thing he wrote for Adam Sandler.

I had been pondering on what this all meant when I found myself at a party, trying to talk to someone I hadn’t met before. The conversation was stilted, so in desperation I said, “Tell me five petty things that annoy you“. And let me tell you – it’s an ice-breaker. Soon we were all getting along like a house on fire. A funhouse on fire. Full of clowns. A funhouse full of burning clowns.

When it comes to misanthropy, of course, no-one beats the British. The BBC have an excellent television show called Room 101, which is like Enough Rope for the terminally depressed. A celebrity guest comes on to discuss the things they hate, hoping the host will remove them from existence (which is to send them to Room 101, in a strange conceptual mangling of George Orwell’s 1984). Starting life as a radio show in 1992, it moved to TV in 1994 and has even seen a Dutch spin-off (presumably as a form of revenge for Big Brother). And that’s without mentioning the “Grumpy” franchise, which started with Grumpy Old Men (2003), then led to Grumpy Old Women (2004), Grumpy Old Holidays (2006) and will presumably soon include Celebrity So You Think I Love The Make Me A Grumpy Old Supermodel, Get Me Out Of Here House (2010).


And I find I like Will Self more knowing that he hates airport architecture. Knowing Meera Syal dislikes Austria is strangely comforting. And seeing that Michael Grade still feels the need to openly despise Doctor Who – nearly 20 years after he cancelled it – says more about him than the program in question. I find these petty dislikes give me a much better view of the person – they feel more intimate, somehow, and less filtered than hearing them talk about their love of fine wines, or charity work. (Remember how on Perfect Match everyone used to like “travelling, raging and meeting people”?).

So do the things we hate define us better than the things we like? I sent an email out to a number of the Institute’s Friends and Leavers Of Comment, to gauge their opinion, and to ask them to list five minor things that annoy them. I swear I have NEVER seen emails come back so fast. It would seem people love to talk about things that irritate – but does it give you an insight into their character?

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7 Popular Motifs of Cheap Science Fiction

August 26, 2008

Since last week’s article about the glory of cheap science fiction, the switchboard at The Outland Institute has been running hot. Poor Glynnis has been swamped with calls, all saying much the same thing – “I’m all ready to make some cheap science fiction – I’ve got a camera, some actors and a clever script that uses Martian terraforming as a metaphor for the war in Iraq – but I don’t know what special effects to use”. They usually go on to say that their film’s budget is three fifty cent stamps, and that Glynnis has a lovely telephone manner (it’s true, she does).

So as a follow-up to last week, let’s look at some of the common elements you can find in cheap science-fiction. You can even try these out at home! Read the rest of this entry »

Disappearing Pets: 11 Pop-Culture Animals You Just Don’t See Anymore

August 19, 2008

Some dogs are for life, and some are just for Christmas Specials. The Outland Institute looks at eleven fictional “animal companions” that found themselves flushed down the toilet of life…

Kitty Fanastico (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, 2000)

If you’re a lesbian couple who live in a university and you have magic powers, you’ll be wanting a cat. And so it was that in Buffy’s fourth season Willow and Tara found themselves the proud owner of Miss Kitty Fantastico. She appears in three episodes, and even gets some fantastic slow-motion work dedicated to her, but by season five she’s vanished. No explanation is given until the penultimate episode of season seven, when Buffy‘s sister Dawn gets the slightly clumsy line, “I don’t leave crossbows around all willy-nilly. Not since that time with Miss Kitty Fantastico.” Kitty still lives on though – in collectable action figure form (see above).

Queequeg (The X Files, 1995)

What do you do with a Pomeranian who’s eaten her owner? If you’re Special Agent Dana Scully you take her home with you – she may be a man-eater but she’s still cute, and if anyone needs some cheering up it’s Dana. Her dad’s died, her sister’s died, she lives in Vancouver but thinks it’s Washington… Arriving in the fourth episode of season 3, Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, Queequeg promptly vanishes for most of the season, making one brief appearance before episode 22, when Scully inexplicably decides to bring her along on their latest case – chasing a giant alligator. Queequeg is never seen again.

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“Extraordinary How Potent Cheap Science Fiction Is…”

August 18, 2008
Recently I was asked by the delightful Louise Angrilli to write something for Ethel The Ardvark, the official publication of the Melbourne Science Fiction Club. I promised to write an article about the importance of exploding collars in science fiction, but I got stuck when trying to find anything to actually say about the subject. So I wrote in praise of cheap science fiction instead.

For some reason, I’ve never trusted big budget science fiction.

Universes torn apart by CGI explosions, vast armies of robots battling across infinitive voids – it leaves me cold. But a fabric backdrop painted silver and lit by an ex-disco oil projector? I’m there. I was raised on a diet of ’70s BBC television, in which ancient Rome and the far future had a tendency to look much the same – like a large television studio, in fact. Shot on harshly lit videotape, everything was exposed – special effects were simple and often done live-to-tape, with only basic chromakey or model footage for those “wow” moments. All the film-makers could truly rely on was the acting and the writing – the very essence of storytelling. They couldn’t hide behind mere spectacle.

As a young audience member, I had no problem with that. I knew that every time an “army” of Daleks stormed somewhere, we’d only see three of them at a time. I was happy to take those as symbolic Daleks and not literal Daleks. (The Jon Pertwee Doctor Who story Day Of The Daleks features a large country house being “surrounded” by three Daleks. It always reminds me of the old Soviet joke – “Why do policemen travel in threes?” “One who can read, one who can write, and one to keep an eye on the two dangerous intellectuals”).

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John’s MIFF blog – Johnny Racist

July 24, 2008

I was looking at the Melbourne International Film Festival program online and I saw this photo from Michael Kang’s gangland thriller West 32nd. It’s different from the one in the physical program, more dramatic I think.

My first thought was, “Wow, that woman looks exactly like Grace Park from Battlestar Galactica.”

My second thought was, “You racist pig! All Asian women look the same, do they? An actor in a Korean/New York crime drama must be the same person as the one in a Canadian-shot science fiction series because there’s obviously only one female Asian actor in the whole world. Surely if it was Grace Park her name would appear somewhere in the blurb, or in the information in the footer? Hang your head in shame, Johnny Racist!”

Then I read on IMDB that Grace Park is in West 32nd.

So what have we learned?

1. White middle-class guilt can be extremely potent, and

2. MIFF obviously isn’t expecting much of a Korean arthouse/Battlestar Galactica crossover audience.

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