Rocky Horror at 40 or Why we all need a little Frank in our lives

A version of this article was first published in SIN – NUI Galway’s Student Newspaper 

I first saw The Rocky Horror Show, watching the movie with my dad at the tender age of 15. As you might imagine, a musical starring a cannibalistic, polyamorous, bisexual, transvestite scientist can make for some awkward father-son viewing. An awkwardness only exacerbated by said son’s (then unacknowledged) less-than-hetero sexuality.

Jump forward to last month, however, and my father and I are rocking out to the 40th anniversary production of Rocky Horror at the Millennium Forum, Derry. Around us, a crowd of otherwise ordinary people, many in costume, are belting out lyrics like “I’m just a sweet Transvestite / from Transsexual / Transylvania!” or “I’ll oil you up and rub you down … You need a friendly hand and I need action”.

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                                           “Hey there” 

We’re just one of hundreds of crowds doing that in cinemas and theatres across the world. At 40 years old, Rocky Horror is still going strong- the movie has the longest-running theatrical release in film history- it’s being shown right now, somewhere.

So, what makes so many tax-paying, sober-minded adults want to dress up in leather and sequins and sing about hot alien-on-guy action? I can’t answer definitively but there was a moment near the end of the play that threw me for a loop. You see, I’d expected the dancing, the singing, the flouncing, the innuendo, the outrageousness and the sheer camp of the show. I expected to have a great time.

I never expected to cry.

But as Frank-N-Furter (played by the stupendous Oliver Thornton) looked out at the audience and sang the opening lines of  the song “Don’t dream it, be it”, the show clicked and what had seemed random, humorous and irreverent was suddenly touching, political and life-or-death serious. Funny songs became hymns to queerness; the show a single firework of fabulous in an night-time of heteronormativity. I got it.

And just like that, it was all ripped away. Like Blanche’s paper lantern in A Streetcar Named Desire, the beautiful, fragile space the play eked out was collapsed, leaving behind a cold, harshly-lit void.

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                    “I don’t think I ever seen you in the light!”

It was devastating. And I cried. Though Frank’s downfall, like Oscar Wilde’s, is one of his own making, it is no less affecting for that. You realise some lives are like lightning rods, how quickly an unwillingness to compromise oneself can call down the brute forces of hate, ignorance and fear.

I won’t tell you how the play ends but, even though the cast returned for three upbeat rock-n-roll encores, we all knew what had really happened. In a very real way, Rocky Horror is a microcosm of queer history. Whether in 1930s Berlin or Russia today, the frail spaces we carve out for difference, beauty and love are all too easily overwhelmed when fear and ignorance combine with power.

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                                 Gay Pride marchers attacked by police in Russia

It’s this space the play creates that draws so many people to Rocky Horror. It’s why the play and movie continues to be shown/performed almost every day. People come- in costume or out- to sing and dance and be a part of Frank-N-Furter’s world for just a little time. And though we know it has to come to an end, we also know that when we leave the theatre, we’ll leave a little more human and a little more fabulous.

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Long live Rocky Horror! 

Here’s to the next 40 years.

Wordotter on Raidió na Life

I hope to have a full length blog post up soon but, til then, wanted to let you know you can catch me on Fada is Fairsing on Raidió na Life at 7:30pm tomorrow, discussing this blog and, in particular, last week’s post on Irish Language learning.

All i nGaeilg! 

You can listen online at the link below.

‘Til then, here’s an interesting video by Coláiste Lurgan who, if you don’t already know, make fantastic versions of pop songs and other videos in Irish.

Tá súil agam go mbeidh post fhada shuas agam go luath ach, go dtí sin, tá mé ag iarraidh rá go mbeidh mé ar Fada is Fairsing ar Raidió na Life amáireach ag a 7:30i.n., ag labhairt fá dtaobh den bhlag seo agus, go háirithe, mó phost deireanach fá foghlaimiocht an Ghaeilg.

Í uilig in Irish! 

Beidh tú ábalta é a chloisteáil ag an nasc ar bun an phost.

Go dtí sin, seo é físeán suimiúil le Coláiste Lurgan, grúpa a dheanainn clúdaigh popcheol iontach agus físeáin eile trí Ghaeilg.

LINK / NASC:

http://raidionalife.ie/fada-is-fairsing/?lang=en

Click the button to listen live / Gliogáil ar an cnaipe le héisteacht beo:

Irish Language Purism or Why Browsing Language Forums Makes Me Want To Strangle People.

“There is nothing in this life so nice and so Gaelic as truly true Gaelic Gaels who speak in true Gaelic Gaelic about the truly Gaelic language.”

– Ó An Beal Bocht / The Poor Mouth le Flann O’Brien.

If I could reach through this computer and throttle every person who uses the term “authentic Irish” I would.

Have you ever encountered phrases like “unnatural non-Gaeltacht Irish”, or “mere Ulsterised / Connachtised / Munsterised versions of Standard Irish” or the infuriating “real Irish”? Having visited some Irish language learning forums this week, I have – a lot – and I am now angry. Angry, not just at the arrogance, self-aggrandisement and rudeness of the people who use these terms, but angry because they will kill the Irish language.

And they will never understand that.

Note that the people I’m talking about- the people who talk this way- are consistently not from the Gaeltachtaí. – Go príomha mar tá muintir na Gaeltachtaí ró-gnóthach lena shaolta fá choinne an chac seo* – They’re a breed of learners who have raised “native speakers” to the status of demigods and labour in the living martyrdom of trying, while solemnly sighing that it’s impossible, to imitate exactly the phonology and lexis of one specific hamlet in the arse-end of Coirce Duibhne or Gaoth Dobhair or An Mám.

One wonders how they bring themselves to speak aloud for fear of corrupting the language’s purity.

God, Peig, you're not even from Great Blasket

“Sorry, Peig, you’re not actually from Great Blasket”. PS- I love that this picture exists

Nevertheless, this linguistic masochism would be fine were it not for the tendency of these self-appointed acolytes to lurk on internet forums and pounce on advice-seeking beginners. They’ll quickly shoot down any and every approach suggested before explaining that, if you can’t move to Ros Muc for twenty years, the only approach is to learn- here they shudder- a mix of standardised Irish and whatever dialect the learner has expressed an interest in. Then, they tell you, you will have to unlearn most of it, if and when you are competent enough to distinguish the “real” Irish from the “fake”, if you actually want to speak with people.

Not true, by the way. But if that doesn’t make you want to run out and invest months, years, money in the language then I don’t know what will.

I wish I were making this up. And I’m not talking about a few isolated cases, such attitudes are endemic on popular Irish language learning sites. Daltaí Na Gaeilge being a particularly egregious example.

I’m not attacking dialectical Irish. I grew up and live in the Donegal Gaeltacht and I love Gaeilg Uladh. I’m also developing a fondness for Gaeilge Chois Fharraige, among other variants, even if I do speak in that dreaded blend of dialects which repulses so many forum-lurkers.

Nor am I saying, as I was accused of when I broached a related subject on one such site, that anything goes and we should abandon the phonology and, indeed, the saibhreas of Gaeltacht dialects.

But I do object, as strenuously as I can, to the idea that there is an insuperable barrier between the Irish of the Gaeltachts and that learned by second-language speakers. That one must pick a side in a linguistic civil war between caighdeán and Gaeltacht. That non-Gaeltacht Irish is not legitimate. That’s a hell of a lot of baggage to dump on Irish speakers, native or otherwise, and on a language which already comes with more than its share of hang-ups. Why would you get involved? 

Why wouldn’t you just stick with English instead?

We've already made some inroads

We’ve already made some inroads

Every assertion of a “pure”, “authentic”, or “real” Irish is a nail in the coffin of Gaeilg/Gaeilge/Gaelainn**. I contend that the clue is in the names. There are many variants of Irish. As many, I believe, as there are speakers of Irish. And my issue is not that there is no “pure” or “authentic” way of speaking the language- that claim has been obsolete in contemporary linguistics since before I could speak. My issue is that the more energy Irish-speakers expend arguing about “legitimate” Irish, the more people will be turned off the idea of learning, much less speaking, Irish.

It takes willpower and enthusiasm to commit oneself to learning a minority language, particularly when it has so often been so poorly taught. Anyone who cares about the future of the language should embrace and rejoice in all use of it in everyday life, not disparage and attempt to delegitimise the efforts of learners.

David Crystal, in Revitalizing the Celtic Languages, puts the point so well that it is worth quoting- and reading, I promise- at length:

“There are people who are losing their command of the small language… for whatever reason. And there are those who have never got to the top of the continua, for whatever reason. Both tend to be condemned by purists, who thereby generate in the less strong-minded of these people that inferiority complex, which further harms their motivation to continue with the language.

Purists, accordingly – and I don’t care how often I repeat it – are a small languages’ worst enemy. It is sad to have to say it, because such people do believe they have their language’s best interests at heart; but they are nonetheless wrong.

By contrast, as I have said, I take the view that a small language needs every friend it can get, and that someone who shows even the slightest interest in encountering a small language is a friend, and should be welcomed and included within the community, even if their levels are 1% all over, as it were. All the population need to be involved.”

On TG4, yesterday, I watched a documentary called Ag Bogadh go hInis Meáin***. That rock in the grey Atlantic is about as far from the “Galltacht” as it is possible to be and the programme showed a flourishing and strikingly happy Gaeltacht community going about their lives.

This is actually Inis Oirr but the point stands

While this is actually Inis Oirr, Inis Meáin IS in the picture, I promise. Ain’t it pretty?

The headmaster of the primary school was from Dublin and spoke a broad urban Irish with strong vowels and hard k-sounds. A Canadian stockbroker spoke his halting Irish with an Asian-Canadian twang. The couple from Kilkenny spoke their best school Irish and the elderly farmer who opened and closed the show spoke the thickest Conamara Irish I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. They were all of them, delightfully, getting on with their lives frí Ghaeilg.

What more could you want?

_________________________________________________________________________

*Mainly because the people of the Gaeltachtaí are too busy with their lives for this shite.

**Irish (Ulster) / Irish (Connacht) /Irish (Munster).

***Moving to Inishmaan.                                                                        

Further reading:

An interesting post on this topic by journalist Ciarán Dunbar can be found here: http://ciarandunbar.blogspot.ie/2013/08/want-to-learn-irish-word-in-your-ear-if.html.
Revitalizing the Celtic Languages and other articles by David Crystal can be found here: http://www.davidcrystal.com/books-and-articles/language-death-_-diversity.
Alternatively, an (extensive) argument from the other end of the spectrum, in favour of studying pre-Standardised Irish only, can be found here: http://corkirish.wordpress.com/quality-language/.

I’m back, baby

It’s been over a year since I’ve had the time to write for this blog. A lot’s happened since my last post. I’ve directed two plays and finished my final year of college, ThereisBear! have performed their fourth production and my career goals have shifted from medieval studies at Oxford to English language teaching in Korea.

We’ve got stuff to talk about.

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The above sentence does not actually make sense. But it is glorious.

The long and dusty path, thus far!

Our intrepid leader at Thereisbear! Theatre has started a blog about the company. It’s well worth a look and it conveniently explains what I’ve been doing for so long instead of updating here.

Check it out at The long and dusty path, thus far!. And watch out for yours truly too!

Thereisbear! coming to a theatre near you. 

Fantasy and Globalisation

Or, one man’s quest for the least compelling title ever.

Fantasy has arrived. It’s gone mainstream.

It’s made a remarkable transition in the past decade. When I began reading fantasy as a young teenager, the genre was unpopular; strange and marginal. It certainly wasn’t cool. The young adult section of my local (read, an hour’s bumpy bus ride away) library was dominated by realism. Shelves packed with gritty dramas. Runaways, drug and alcohol abuse, bullies and broken homes. Characters that moved to new places- new schools- who, through adversity, discovered the transcendent power of friendship were much in evidence. The stories were always set in a recognisable, realistic Earth, often situated in specific geographies.

Yes, there were fantasy books aimed at my demographic. But in the rainy world of Letterkenny Library, that small selection was recognisably other. Alternate. They were not the standard and were offered, it seemed, only to fulfil the library’s holistic mission statement. The same applied in Letterkenny’s two bookstores, though at least there, fantasy books were grouped by genre, rather than recommended reading age, so that I stumbled across several inappropriately educational and, no doubt, formative scenes as a kid.

                                  Hello!

How different it is now though. The fantasy sections in libraries and bookstores are huge, walk-in areas stretching multiple floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Fantasy is everywhere too. Since the popular and financial successes of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy and the Harry Potter books and movies, fantasy has exploded onto the world stage and established itself on the public consciousness in the way that science fiction, its chrome-plated cousin, managed in the late seventies and eighties.

Fantasy stories, old and new, have become part of popular literary discourse in a way that they have never managed in the history of the genre. Older ‘classics’ of the genre such as A Game of Thrones, Wizards’ First Rule (adapted as Legend of the Seeker), His Dark Materials and Where the Wild Things Are, brought to the public’s attention through screen adaptations, are enjoying their newfound life in the sunshine, while new movies and series such as Twilight, Eragon, Snow White and the Huntsman and, I will argue, The Hunger Games, enter the mainstream directly, skipping the apprenticeship older series once served in obscurity.

My inclusion of The Hunger Games in the above list might cause consternation. It raises a question of definition. According to the Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature, ‘the major theorists in the field […] all agree that fantasy is about the construction of the impossible, whereas science fiction may be about the unlikely, but is grounded in the scientifically possible’. Most ‘theorists in the field’, then, would agree that The Hunger Games, set in an Orwellian, explicitly American future, is science fiction. However, the incredibly developed technology, ‘indistinguishable from magic’ as the overused quote has it, the epic sweep of the narrative, the familiar themes of friendship, loyalty and hope in the face of impossible odds, not to mention distinctly un-futuristic motifs such as Katniss’ bow, the hunter in the woods, the blood and the rose and so forth, highlight The Hunger Games’ tonal relationship with fantasy. The movie’s marketing reinforces this notion: it was aimed at Twilight fans, not Trekkies.

      This is what they aim at Trekkies

The themes I mention in from The Hunger Games are not so different to those I encountered in the young adult section of the library all those years ago. Protagonists find themselves not fitting in, encountering new places and people, discovering the power of friendship and battling to overcome impossible odds.

Of course with parameters that bland, almost any book could fit the template.

But the question remains why fantasy has always appealed to me where these books rarely do. I always slightly disliked familiar settings and the more I actually knew about the place they were set, the more I actively hated them. Books set in contemporary Ireland were the worst. There was so often a soullessness about them and the characters seemed constrained, dull and unexciting to boot. Ironically, I never really believed realistic settings.

And there, I think, lies fantasy’s appeal. The genre’s roots are in fairy-tales, legends and medieval adventure-stories. They abound with the supernatural: ghosts and monsters, witches and fairies; things we are raised with from childhood. Fantasy goes for the gut, for the archetypal, and so can bypass intellectual objections or preconceived notions. It can bring us back to when we knew there were things that went bump in the night. The worst fantasy never fills in these archetypes. It deals in stereotype, mistaking form for content. But the best fantasy makes them at once specific and universal; recognisable but with a power to shock that comes directly from their familiarity.

And, to come to my point, it has gone global. The prominence of Twilight, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Game of Thrones in meme culture alone is a testament to the genre’s presence in people’s minds. This ubiquity is a new development, one unprecedented in the history of the genre. Not only is fantasy popular all across the globe, but the same fantasy is popular. Thanks to Peter Jackson’s movies, the same Middle-Earth has been experienced by millions of people. Most of you reading this have seen Diagon Alley and Hogwarts in your mind’s eye and on screen. The globalisation of fantasy has created shared imaginative worlds.

When you read Catcher in the Rye, you are experiencing Salinger’s New York, yes. But to it you bring all sorts of cultural hang-ups and personal notions of what New York is, was or may be. If you’ve read, say, The Great Gatsby or seen Friends or a movie set in the city, it’s going to influence your reconstruction of Holden Caulfield’s world. Salinger’s New York is a heterogeneous morass of images and notions that will exist differently and independently in the mind of each person reading Catcher because each of those people already believes they know what a New York is.

Not so Winterfell, I argue, or Minas Tirith, or Ankh-Morpork. We approach these locations with no prior experience, in the knowledge that they do not actually exist. We do not equate them to any real-world locale and so do not bring specific biases to bear in our experience of the worlds. To us, Middle-Earth or Westeros exists outside of our reality, on some plane between our minds and those of Tolkien or George R. R. Martin, not as an actual location in our world.

These worlds are imaginative spaces that are now shared by millions of people and accessed every day. Such a thing has never before existed in the history of literature. The fantastic mode, that step towards the impossible, the magical, is a liberating form. It creates fresh platforms on which to investigate and interrogate ideas while simultaneously drawing on the most primal narratives and forms we know. Its ability to create new worlds and unite millions of people in an imaginative space outside of the constraints of reality makes it an exciting, active cultural force.

Fantasy has arrived and I think it’s here to stay.

On Bastards and Bastardy

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m applying for a master’s in English at the end of the year in England. These programmes are pretty expensive. I’m looking at Oxford, which costs c. £6000 for tuition, plus a £2000 college fee and a recommended budget of £13,000 for living expenses for a year. About £21,000 in total. Expensive, but pretty standard for Britain. We can’t all be Sweden, I suppose.

These hockey players are very excited about free education

A lot of grants and funding opportunities in Britain are only available to UK or Commonwealth students. Even the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) awards will only cover fees for EU students. That’s a £13,000 difference depending on where you’re from. So, I decided to look into British citizenship. My father, uncle and aunts are all Scottish after all. But that’s where I ran into a snag. If your mother is British, then you’re automatically a British citizen. If, however, you’re claiming British citizenship through your father and you were born after a certain year, British law goes by the law of your mother’s country. And in my case, that’s the gloriously forward-thinking, socially emancipated, progressive Republic of Ireland.

and Ireland’s lovely

It was perfectly possible, I learned, to claim citizenship from one’s father. I, however, am not eligible because, under Irish law, I am illegitimate. That’s right. In this, the twenty-first century, in a first-world, EU member-state, I am deprived of rights other citizens enjoy because I, like Jon Snow here, am a bastard.

I know that feel, bro

I was born before my parents married, and they have since separated. That fact, over which, I remind you, I had no control, means a difference of £13,000 if I am lucky enough to win funding. It means I am limited in the types of funding I can seek and it makes it all the more likely that I’ll have to go into debt to pay for my education. All because my parents got a little frisky a little early.

Eire herself facepalms

I’m amazed that my bastardy (a really fun word, incidentally) is having such a quantifiable effect on my life. I know the constitution was composed in 1933 but I assumed that 80-odd years of statehood would have curbed De Valera’s more excessive church-appeasing pseudo-medieval sycophancy.

lol, nope

So there’s not really much I can do. I’m in good company, though. The bastard as a historical and literary figure is an old archetype. They range from the aforementioned Jon Snow of A Song of Ice and Fire to Edmund in King Lear. William the Conqueror was William the Bastard before he got motivated and Confucius, Da Vinci and Thomas Paine all seemed to get by despite their less than immaculate conceptions. It’s telling though, that the most recent figure on lists of ‘bastards what done good for themselves’ is Eva Perón, who died in 1952. It really doesn’t seem to figure in recent history and barring a sudden time jump to 1259, it wasn’t something I ever thought I’d have to worry about.

1259 was not a good year for bastards

The ‘bastard speech’ in King Lear reads a little differently now. ‘Wherefore should I Stand in the plague of custom, and permit The curiosity of nations to deprive me, For that I am some twelve or fourteen moon-shines Lag of a brother? Why bastard? wherefore base?’ The question stands.

What, in sooth, is up with this shit?

Now Gods, stand up for bastards. Someone’s going to have to.