Lawless Lovers

 

Lawless Love Image

Mickey and Mallory Knox, Natural Born Killers. Played by Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis.

 

Watching the classic controversial movie, Natural Born Killers, I was struck by the guilty feeling one gets from liking the cold-hearted murderers, Mickey and Mallory. Woody Harrelson plays Mickey for laughs – the film was intended as a satire, on media fixation with pointless violence – but he is just too damn manly and rugged; the viewer cannot simply write off his performance as a comic turn, he is an attractive anti-hero.

Meanwhile Juliette Lewis plays Juliette Lewis very well indeed, meaning the beguiling beauty that can famously do ugly, yet somehow never stops being sexy. Oh to be ugly-sexy, we would all love to manage that, and the first part is so easy…

Consequently, there is no denying the misgivings critics had about this movie. There are scenes where the viewer is onside with a pair of adorable psychopaths – who are killing for kicks. It’s just their visceral way, a testament to their love for each other, everyone needs a hobby…

It works purely because Mickey and Mallory are in love. If they would just stop killing (mostly) innocent people and have another narrative, then we could happily relax into the mood of their wondrous feelings. As it stands, the film is uneasy. A rotten cop, a tabloid scumbag and a few other nasty victims help muddy the feelings.

It wouldn’t have worked if Mickey and Mallory’s way of sticking two fingers up to the world was shoplifting. And nobody would have crossed the road to watch Natural Born Litterbugs. The ultimate buzz of murder is needed to make the viewer uneasy.

Harrelson and Lewis score because we do live in an unfriendly world. Sadly, people do not regard strangers with much interest, let alone concern.  Unfortunately the film-maker Oliver Stone deploys sledgehammer subtlety and dreary piety when drawing attention to this sadness. And thus the viewer doesn’t much care. Our instinct and knowledge tells us that this murdering malarkey is wrong. Stone just tells us he is very pleased with himself.

Nonetheless that movie – which has remained zeitgeisty and controversial for two decades now – touches on two big facets of modern life. And both are familiar to any counsellor.  People’s disregard for each other, as strangers, is on the upswing, and it chills people when they sense this. In other words we know it’s wrong even though we feel it too (though hopefully never as much Mickey and Mallory…)

Five years ago, a ground-breaking study was published and eulogised in Scientific American; “The research, led by Sara H. Konrath of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor… found that college students’ self-reported empathy has declined since 1980, with an especially steep drop in the past 10 years. To make matters worse, during this same period students’ self-reported narcissism has reached new heights, according to research by Jean M. Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University.”

We’re getting meaner, seriously mean… such that we can watch fictions about fellow humans being murdered quite realistically and very cruelly – and we only find it mildly traumatic, merely ‘controversial’. The Classical Greeks would baulk at us…

This is a matter of love, and in the modern world we think of love between a couple as the most important form of love, and sometimes the only form of love worth a mention. The Greeks called that love ‘Eros’ but they had six words for love. Another love they exalted was ‘Agape’ which meant the love of all people, whether they were close companions or complete strangers.

Agape was translated into Latin as caritas, and hence we have “charity”; which the Christians extolled as the most important form of love. Indeed, all the big religions emphasized a similar idea and thrived on it, but at some indeterminate time we just lost interest in that sort of vague, selfless love. CS Lewis mourned its demise as long ago as 1960 in his seminal book of essays, The Four Loves.

Meanwhile modern charity, like Mallory and Mickey’s murders, is often little more than a self-congratulatory media show – not a bad thing, but not quite unseen compassion either…

However, Mallory and Mickey have that other Greek love – that God – on their side; Eros. The Greeks feared, revered and desired Eros, just as we do. They understood that Eros – erotic passion and romantic love – is beyond the control of humans. It has power over them and it is lawless. This is beautiful and true – what are humankind’s trite laws, our written rules of negotiation contrived to help sustain our not-very-special society, when compared to the eternal power of love?

We tend to fail when we wrestle with Eros. We know this too well and have a litany of failed relationships to prove it. We make a mess of sexual and romantic love; trying to catch it devours modern lives. And the consequent sadness and frustration fills counselling rooms across the civilised world.

We desire and need Eros. It is a natural, unavoidable obsession most people feel in their bones. However, it has contributed to the alarming state of affairs whereby we can now watch a movie like Natural Born Killers and feel merely uneasy. So innocents get killed and the world is ugly, as we thought. But, hey, the murderers are in love, so it’s not all bad…

The Ancient Greeks would sneer at our clumsy and often disrespectful and selfish dealings with Eros. And they would despair at our lack of Agape.  But this is where we are at…

And don’t get me started on Bonnie and Clyde… The ultimate lawless lovers paying homage to Eros; while riding roughshod over the rest of not-very-interesting humanity… Faye Dunaway is adorable and the death of this callous adventuress is downright upsetting. That has got to be wrong. But, let’s face it, with Agape lying low these days what woman wouldn’t want to be Faye Dunaway having a ball in a bleak world with Warren Beatty worshipping you…

 

 

 

 

Star turn…

Star Turn Image

Heady Lamar

My work as creative counsellor recently drew the attention of a couple of national newspapers, magazines and BBC radio, which was nice and flattering. In my mid-thirties I am just old enough to feel a smidgeon of awe around the dying dinosaurs of pre-digital media.

The youth of today would think I’m weird, because I got a little apprehensive: LMFAO etc… Nowadays, on Facebook we are all visible brands, even if we are mostly just marketing ourselves to people who know us. It’s fun and most of us know not to take it too seriously. Similarly, everyone who pines for a molecule of fame can at least upload an effort to Youtube, and be accessible to the entire world via an electronic screen. Of course they should do so with a knowing sense of irony; because that big world out there will mostly ignore them. However, I recall that fast fading age wherein appearing in the media was wow! Gosh, it meant you were sort of famous…

Perhaps that is why I got slightly nervous, which was silly of me… The newspaper journalists were respectful and interested in creative counselling. They grasped that modern life is all earnest hurley-burley, concerning stuff that’s generally more ‘urgent’ than actually important. And they completely agreed that adults don’t play enough. Thus they saw the point of my work and even embraced the life-enhancing potential of play; meaning play which is not just passive entertainment or getting drunk – the two main leisure pursuits of Twenty-first Century adults. Job done and thank you to those thoughtful, decent ‘hacks’.

The difference between them and the radio journalists was striking. I suspect it is the eternal difference between frivolous, fast-flying chat and the contemplative power of the written word. This latter makes journalists pause and think – it opens them up, they like that and they feel good when they pen a well-researched, thoughtfully distilled feature about a subject they previously knew zip about. The live tension and unrefined fun of radio does not always have this depth…

First and foremost, I discovered radio is all about staying on your toes, filling airtime and trading in clever sound-bites, regardless of their superficiality. The intimacy of the live voices lends weight to proceedings but in truth I got a strong sense that everyone is winging it on the airwaves… I know I was…

When put on the spot, I wanted to talk about the link between creativity and spiritual well-being, the specialness of the space of play, which is fundamental to our existence and which we ignore at our peril, and so on and so forth. But I didn’t want to sound like a sober-sided bore who didn’t even understand the rules of the radio game in which she was partaking.

Consequently, I alternated between managing to give good radio, meaning snappy sound-bites which may or may not stand up to scrutiny, and humming and hawing – which is a sort of hate-crime on radio. Listening to the interviews afterwards, I found it hilarious how casual, everyday humming and hawing – which I don’t normally do much; I’m fairly fluid and like talking – sounds remarkably ditsy on radio. So I go from sounding quite relaxed and professional with an interesting angle on life, to sounding like a schoolgirl grappling with a proposition from Schopenhauer…

The Scottish journalist/presenter Kaye Adams was great and helped me. She has one of those hard-edged no-nonsense Scottish voices which sounds like she would cheerfully take your head clean off but is nonetheless very warm. It’s a voice you cannot help trusting. She knew nothing much about counselling or ideas around play – in contrast to the print journalists who had the time to research. But she is a smart, open woman; she inquired sharply and was also receptive.

She had me on her show with Geoff Beattie, Professor of Psychology at Edge Hill University, though possibly best known in the media as the on-screen psychologist in Big Brother – a role which clearly just amuses him. He was receptive too, and encouraging. I enjoyed it and hopefully the item helped people to ponder the lack of play in their lives; and perhaps even think a little about the rejuvenating miracle of creativity.

This is in stark contrast to my interview with Martin Kelner on BBC Radio Leeds. It was playful in the sense that he saw me as an amateur who had foolishly stepped into the ring with him, a professional heavyweight… Apparently he is well-known for his appearances on a sports show called Fighting Talk, and I suspect he was born for that role… That gruff voice was created to scrap… and trash people like me.

From the opening bell, he seethed with scorn and impatience about the idea of adults playing. I was wrong-footed, outwitted and south-pawed to hell and back. I could only come back at him with feeble punches which didn’t hit home and just drew more crushing blows from him – how dare I still be standing!… The masochist in me couldn’t help giggling in embarrassment when I listened to the show afterwards. Again it was undeniably good radio, even if but there were shades of the Roman Arena in there, with me as the hapless meat…

My dabbling in old school media left me with two unfashionable thoughts. Firstly, traditional media, which everyone curses – even the people who work in it – is not that bad. People now go in fear of a twitter storm about an ill-advised remark they may – or may not – have made, which can be taken out of context, granted grotesque significance and apparently merit their crucifixion. The old media is more measured; a brute might maul you and a thoughtful woman might nurture you – yip, that’s familiar enough, I can live with that…

Secondly, most of the time, fear of the media is possibly a bigger problem than the media. People take it too seriously. We see representations of ourselves in the media, nothing more, not really our actual selves. It is playful, even if some people play dirty.

The creative thread can be put in a historical context, if we consider the art of early civilisations whereby humans were not represented in their daily form at all, but only in highly idealised versions. The pattern over the centuries has been to get closer to the reality; from magnificently muscular men on Greek vases via flattering portraits to warts-and-all versions and on into deeply revealing images of ourselves. But it is still not quite us, not our flesh and bones in reality.

It is a creative version, which is slightly uncontrolled and playful, with a life of its own – as art has. But you can glimpse elements of yourself in there somewhere, perhaps distorted, perhaps exaggerated, but that’s fine and that’s what we should realistically expect.

To put it this way: It would be difficult to utter the above two paragraphs on a live radio discussion lasting mere minutes; then, frivolity is fine and pseudo-profundity is the order of the day. Kelner would knock you out flat if you dared to muse playfully. But that’s not bad, it’s his schtick, and it’s fun. Only the overly serious take the media overly seriously…

 

 

Shoes: Pleasure and Pain. Indeed…

PeterPan

Pauline Chase as Peter Pan c. 1910

 

Walking round the recent V&A exhibition Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, I was struck by the way women can be hypnotised by footwear. For some it is obsessional, a life-long fetish… I know, I’m one of them…

Kenneth Cole had my number when he remarked, “The average woman falls in love seven times a year. Only six are with shoes.”

However, such affectionate mockery only shows that straight men just don’t get it. The magic of shoes eludes them. They believe footwear should be practical or smart. Oh, how dreary… how do we manage to love them? …

The comedy writer, Allan Sherman, was more mocking than Cole, but also more revealing: “You want to fall in love with a shoe, go ahead. A shoe can’t love you back, but, on the other hand, a shoe can’t hurt you too deeply either. And there are so many nice-looking shoes.”

Sherman reveals that the uninitiated often regard a love of shoes as some sort of displacement activity. It isn’t.  It is very real and wonderful in itself.

Admittedly it is a man, Christian Louboutin, who sums it up best for me. “There is an element of seduction in shoes that doesn’t exist for men. A woman can be sexy, charming, witty or shy with her shoes… A shoe is not only a design, but it’s a part of your body language, the way you walk. The way you’re going to move is quite dictated by your shoes…”

Louboutin gets it, but Louboutin is gay, of course… He pinpoints the sex appeal; “A naked woman in heels is a beautiful thing. A naked man in shoes looks like a fool.” It really is a girl thing…

One of the first exhibits you see in the V&A is, arguably, the most famous pair of shoes in British cultural history, leaving aside Puss’s boots and such like; the ballet slippers worn by Vicky Page in the classic film The Red Shoes. It’s hard to think of shoes being invested with more dramatic and powerful symbolism than Vicky’s ballet pumps. These are possibly the piece de resistance of the exhibition. They are certainly among the most inspiring and thought-provoking shoes in the world…

And, by God, they are red… blood red, passionate red, dazzlingly red… You don’t need to be acquainted with Goethe’s Theory of Colour to see that these shoes are sexual, sexy, dangerous and irresistible.

The weird and striking thing is they would look like an exhibit even if they weren’t in an exhibition. Wherever they were, they would be gorgeous, alluring and separate from daily reality – beauty has that otherworldly way of shearing itself off from its surroundings. By contrast, normal ballet shoes, in all their stained pastel insipidity, call to mind smelly feet, broken arches and classes your parents dragged you to weeping.

In the spellbinding movie, tragedy is anticipated from the first frame. It comes to pass, as the viewer fears, by way of the natural passions of an innocent. It’s an uncomfortable film which you cannot take your eyes off.

The climax comes when Vicky, the aspiring ballet dancer (a wonderful everywoman played with perfect pathos by Moira Shearer) is cornered by the inscrutable, chilling, charming, impresario Lermontov. He is Mephistopheles. And he is enraged when Vicky falls in love yet still loves to dance;  “A dancer who relies upon the doubtful comforts of human love will never be a great dancer — never.”

It’s not sexual jealousy. Lermontov is too dark for mere matters of the flesh. He doesn’t want her love. He wants her soul. And he makes her choose between the love of her life and dancing… which is the other love of her life.

Distressed, torn and helpless, she regrets her choice yet is unable to make a choice… so Vicky kills herself – while wearing the enthralling Red Shoes, of course. You don’t merely watch the film, you enter its fable (and consequently you don’t think ‘Hey Vicky, all you have to do is join another ballet company!”). Her demise stirs no judgement, only sadness and love. You can’t blame a girl for being seduced by those shoes…

The movie is based upon a short story by Hans Christian Anderson who, as a boy, had witnessed an ugly incident between his father and a rich woman who ordered a pair of shoes for her daughter. Anderson’s father slaved over the shoes but the woman rejected them. The father, a proud man, was so incensed he cut them up in front of her, spoiling the silk the woman had supplied and the leather he had contributed. Pride and vanity, the stuff of destruction… Like Lermontov. ‘Best not get involved’ was the message Anderson took.

In the story he wrote many years later, Karen is a vain young girl who puts on red shoes which she then cannot take off. And soon the shoes start dancing and cannot be stopped… Exhausted and demented, Karen eventually has her feet cut off, prays to God and dies soon after. She ascends to heaven in a state of rapture, redeemed by her return to God. She relinquished the red shoes at the enormous price of her feet and Earthly hopes; thus she found peace and God. Even by Anderson’s terrifying standards of moral rectitude, it’s a bit of a downer…

The shoes symbolise sex of course – they start dancing when a mysterious soldier flirts with Karen at a party, and she responds. Next thing, excited Karen is waltzing through brambles and scarring herself, jigging inappropriately everywhere she goes, gyrating herself silly and sadly unable to attend the funeral of her adoptive mother. She’s metaphorically bed-hopping all over Denmark, it would seem…

It’s not a harsh tale, just cautionary. However, only a man would assume (protectively, kindly) that she won’t get away with enjoying her wild sexuality. Insofar as it is true, it should be read more as a comment on Anderson’s dour society, than a problem for Karen. So she is a bit vain. So she revels in attention. So she is a bit of strumpet. So what?… You really can’t blame a girl for being seduced by those shoes… or more specifically, what they symbolise; sex and adventure…

The short story actually features quite literally in the movie, wherein a ballet of the story is staged. And the two sort of vaguely fuse in Kate Bush’s spooky song and rather shambolic video of the same name. The great Kate does her innocent little girlie thing – wide-eyed in a Gothic world – dancing herself into eternity with trance-like innocence. Again, it’s sexy and sympathetic. However, it possibly took a woman to portray a girl not perishing after being seduced by the red shoes i.e. frantic sexuality…

Sometimes it’s easier for men to think of women as little flowers who can never recover from being crushed… it’s quite sweet of them, and well-meaning. But perhaps a tad sentimental. We relish ‘our shoes’ and all the discomfort they inflict up on us. That’s the womanly way… The V&A’s title – Shoes: Pleasure and Pain – celebrates it perfectly.

By contrast, Cinderella with her precious shoes may work as a role model for little girls. She is certainly virtuous in the face of drudgery and maltreatment; working hard until the one – and only – arrives. Good for her. But no full-on modern woman wants delicate Cinders’ dismal life in a month of Sundays… years of domestic slavery and then one date. Oh whoopee…

Most of the exhibition testified to another subtlety about shoes which men miss; that opportunity for immediate self-expression. It’s not just the opportunity to say “I’m stylish” or “I’m sexy”’ or “I’m feeling quiet” or “I’m serious” though there are shoes on display which say such things in wonderfully nuanced ways. However, the exhibition also catches that unique and glorious self-expression which shoes offer, meaning the opportunity to wear wild shoes; the opportunity to say, “Look at me, I’m a bit mad! See the shoes? Right off the wall! And yes, I really do love them!”

Perhaps this is because feet are at maximum distance from the face where all sorts of communication must be made and monitored. As Miuccia Prada put it; “Craziness in a shoe is great – you can have much more freedom, you can exaggerate and it doesn’t feel stupid. But to have too much craziness near your face; that would just feel weird.”

Further, shoes are binding pieces of tough clothing. As such they will stir more sensation than any garment. All clothes are soft compared to the brutality of good shoes.  Physically, spiritually, sensually, they touch us more. So if they can make us feel great, why be surprised? … Even when you know things aren’t going your way, you can still get an emotional and physical lift from adorable shoes. As Rihanna reflected; “Nicki Minaj has a better booty; but I have better shoes.”

Welcome to Creativity Unmasked

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Creativity Unmasked is the understanding that; artistic expression acts as a creative pathway to the unconscious, and exploration of relationships between symbolic objects can be achieved with the use of art materials. And light is cast on inner processes with further inquiry and curiosity, providing the opportunity to connect thoughts, feelings and experiences for better self-awareness – the starting point for change.