Thursday, March 15, 2012

My racist, parochial tastes

I've made no secret of my general dislike of English people I meet abroad, due to a number of bad experiences. For the record, this has been less of an issue since I left Thailand last April, and since then I've just developed an aversion to Caucasian people in general, which is much less racist.

Obviously I've met plenty of really good ones too, but in general I've noticed I feel much more comfortable walking around foreign streets and seeing only locals, always being a bit disappointed when another white guy comes around the corner or gets on the subway. Maybe I just like feeling special? Or feel that standing out for my race is preferable to standing out for other reasons, like being a weedy, speccy Harry Potter lookalike (I was here first, damn you!) Or maybe I just like being left alone, and feel I'm less likely to be involved in a random conversation with a stranger if we don't speak each other's languages (if anything, the reverse is true). Whatever the reason, it's clearly a bit insane.

But for all this rejection of my home country and my championing of interracial relations (partly to redress the embarrassing, ignorant racism of my school years - but also because Korean girls are extremely pretty), my tastes are surprisingly and hypocritically Anglophile.

That's not to say I'm always up-to-date and on board with the latest British trends (I'm certainly not - how dare you!), but sometimes it might seem like I'm not even opening my mind to embrace art and media from other cultures. That's not entirely true - it's just that most people I meet seem to enjoy the type of Western rubbish I'm already aware of and trying to escape from, or equivalents from their own countries that seem to be basically the same in a different language. Kids today.


Iron Maiden: Good, old-fashioned British silliness

I don't normally talk about trivial/enjoyable things like music, film and TV, partly because it can make things pretty divisive pretty quickly and also because some of my tastes are really rubbish. After going through a typically American pop punk/nu metal phase in my teens, my University-era tastes became established with cornerstones of British heavy metal like Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath, before my premature ageing really manifested itself in the experimental summer of 2005 and I discovered the self-indulgent prog rock of largely British bands like Pink Floyd and King Crimson.

After leaving University and the last vestiges of its metal community behind, my tastes continued developing independently down increasingly obscure routes, particularly the emergence of my love for neofolk from the (British) likes of Death in June and Sol Invictus. My current My Music folder picks and chooses from all these stages of life, but even as horrific Norwegian black metal artists are periodically re-downloaded and re-deleted, it's these British bastions of dubious music taste that remain firm fixtures, along with a few bands you might even have heard of, like The Cure and The Who. Bust mostly bands you haven't heard of and never will, because I'm interesting/pointless like that.

I can't put it down as a coincidence that the majority of things I listen to are British, as many of them deliberately evoke Old England, or at least an idealised or malformed Satanist version of it. Am I yearning for an Old England that I never experienced and probably never even existed?


Monty Python: Good, old-fashioned British silliness

I don't watch a lot of films (about 300% less per day than most people who spend their lives in hostels, it seems - how many times do you really need to watch Anchorman? Was there some nuance you missed the last time?), but on the rare occasion that there's a film I read about and am interested in illegally pilfering, it's usually a British one.

My intel is usually about five years behind when it comes to things like this anyway, so over the last couple of years I've enjoyed such red-hot fresh-from-the-movie-theatre treats as Children of Men (2006, British), This Is England (2006, British) and Witchfinder General (1968, British). Oh, I liked Submarine (British) and Four Lions (British) too, which I bothered with due to the familiar British comedy talent involved. I can't think of any American films I've made the effort to see in recent history, let alone ones from Asia and other places.

The obsessive compulsive part of me (the part that writes blogs like this one) would love to create a load of top five lists of my favourite films, TV shows and everything else, but these can be pretty restrictive as they're often based partly on nostalgia and might not give more recent things a chance. The top five film list that immediately springs to mind has probably been fixed since about 2007, and includes Monty Python and the Holy Grail (British), The Wicker Man (British), 2001: A Space Odyssey (mostly British), Eraserhead (not British) and let's throw a Back to the Future in there too (also not British). Three out of five British films, out of all the films ever made? This is like my grandparents with food (we'll cover food in a bit).


Peep Show: Surprisingly modern British silliness.
I know, I was surprised I'd heard of anything post-1997 too

My preference for comedy and science fiction was established pretty early on - probably by the first time I saw the science fiction comedy Red Dwarf (British) when I was about nine, which remained my favourite show until some time relatively recently when I realised it's not actually all that great, but it's too late to shake the obsessive fandom now. I fell in and out of love with Star Trek (not British) a few times, which was eventually all but buried when I became enamoured with the superior Farscape (also not British) and later Battlestar Galactica (also not British), though now those things are over the only sci-fi I really watch is Doctor Who (British), which can be a lot of fun.

As for British comedy, it's either really not as good as it used to be, or my tastes were really a lot more accepting when I was a stupid teenager. Looking back, I'd say it's a combination of the two - I recognised the good stuff like The League of Gentlemen, Lee and Herring and Chris Morris/Armando Iannucci stuff, but I also tolerated a lot of shitcoms. American comedy was clearly the winner in the 2000s, with excellent stuff like Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arrested Development and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia before it got rubbish, but in the last year the only TV comedy shows I've been truly excited about were the return of Peep Show (also not as good as it used to be - British) and Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle (British).

To bundle the stand-up comedians and comedy podcasts I like in with this lot, those are all British too.


Paradise Lost: A very old book from 1667. That's more like it!

I still 'read' most of my books in audiobook form, which is great for keeping me company on hikes and for letting me miss crucial plot details when I frequently zone out. I read more books last year than I can remember, and as these were all transient book swaps, library books or long-deleted mp3 files I have no record to look back on (I don't keep spreadsheets of everything, sorry if that spoils your impression of me a little).

Some of the better ones that stood out from last year were Alan Partridge's I, Partridge (British), Stewart Lee's How I Escaped My Certain Fate (British), Dan Simmons' Drood (apparently not British, but it's entirely set there), Carl Sagan's Broca's Brain (also not British) and Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys (British even if he pretends not to be these days).

Favourite books of all time? I haven't read these for a while, but it would probably be things like John Milton's Paradise Lost (British), Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (British) and Alan Moore's From Hell (British). Jesus Christ! (Not British - not white either, you fools).


Craving an unpleasant meat and cheese pie in South Korea?
Have no fear, Jesters is here!

Finally, we're emerging from the murky waters of colonialism and embracing other cultures - or are we? When I lived in Scotland, my meals were pretty much always based around pasta (not British) or rice (not British either). I really don't eat as much pasta these days. I really do eat more rice these days.

British food isn't something most people miss from back home, at least that's the impression I get from the almost complete absence of British restaurants on international high streets. The ones I do find feel more like novelty projects than anything, like ex-pats are ashamed to be craving batter.

No food really reminds me of Britain, there are only meals that remind me of specific times in my life, such as low quality hotdog + baked beans + blue Calypso drink (school dinners aged 7 to 11), Marks & Spencer prawn mayonnaise sandwich + Skittles + Sonic the Comic (British - Saturday afternoons at Nana and Grandad's house, age 7 to 11) and lentils (those few months in 2007 when I was unemployed, my overdraft was nearly maxed out and I had constant diarrhoea for some mysterious reason).


Ha ha, good one!

Actually, the only items of clothing I've been genuinely excited to buy in the last few years were a couple of second-hand duffel coats from eBay, which were far too pointlessly bulky to bother hauling around South East Asia. When I occasionally see a Korean wearing one, I feel like high-fiving them - like we're in some kind of global duffel coat appreciation network or something. Maybe this is how women feel about shoes?

I'll probably end up living in some country around the Arctic Circle so I can justify wearing these all year and being Jonathan Creek (British) or Paddington Bear (wasn't he Peruvian or something? But he was British).


It's not weird, because I was a kid at the time too, so it's fine.
Actually, it's still probably weird

The Best Girl Ever was/is English (she's not dead or anything, I merely killed our relationship and my chances of true happiness), and even though I definitely have a preference for the look of East Asian girls, this is a bit of a cheat in my taste-racism, because really the ideal of short, slim, deathly pale, dark haired girls was established earlier in life, through a limited pre-adolescence crush on Wednesday Addams (not really Christina Ricci, it was more Wednesday Addams specifically - though maybe I just wanted to marry her so I could live in that house).

Girls from East Asia are just more likely than Western girls to have these physical characteristics that I've always found most appealing, but when it comes to their personalities and interests there can be huge divergence between the likes of Chinese, Korean and Japanese girls - though that's material for a different blog post! Based on my careful anthropological research, Korean girls can be very interesting, funny and the easiest to get along with.

The Best Girl Ever (British) definitely fulfilled the visual criteria, as well as being extremely interesting and great. She was a bit morbid too, come to think of it - so she gets another star. A Korean girl I was close to before being disappointed actually looked completely identical to The Best Girl Ever from the back, which made me realise this. Hang on, reading that sentence back, it comes across a lot different than I intended - I meant when we were walking around and stuff, not what you were thinking.

He's not racist, he's just stuck in his ways

Whew, thank god (British) for these bullshit platitudes to get me off the hook. It's obviously true and well documented that there are distinctive British styles across the arts - from self-deprecating British humour to our propensity for extremely bloody bleak dramas - so it's entirely possible that there is some over-arching Britishness spanning the entertainment genres that I'm just generally 'into.' I guess I was just a little disappointed to take stock of my favourite things and see how much this little island dominates them almost completely - at the same time, I felt irritatingly smug that there wasn't a great deal of Hollywood or America in there, just to smite the mainstream. What a dick!

I'm not averse to watching foreign films and listening to music from other cultures, but as I don't expose myself to much new stuff at all these days (due to time constraints, being out of the loop and complacency with what I've got), I don't have too many opportunities. If I'm not interested in downloading a Hollywood blockbuster even when it looks promising, why would I take a chance on a Korean or Japanese film that I'm less clear about, just because I want to increase my cultural credentials?

As I inherently despise the majority of contemporary popular music in my own country by default, I don't feel much incentive to check out K-Pop or something that's probably equally as bad. It's also pretty difficult to track down more obscure and niche foreign music if it doesn't already fall into Western-influenced genres like rock. I've downloaded some folk music from Asian countries, but since part of the appeal of my weird, old man British folk revival passion is the lyrical pictures these bad singers paint of bygone days, foreign language folk is just some people singing badly and unintelligibly over pleasant, mysterious instruments. And even I don't want to listen to that.

So the next time you hear me quietly tutting behind my copy of Sonic the Comic as an American ex-pat steps inside McDonalds, kick me in the stomach and glass me in the face for my hypocrisy. Then as the life drains from my body, I can at least be proud to have been assaulted by a true British hooligan. I'm not making any friends here, am I?


  1. Speaking of Harry Potter lookalikes: James was in London once and these Japanese girls ran up to him shouting "Harry Potter! Harry Potter!" he told him that no, actually he's not Harry Potter and they said "we take picture with you anyway and tell everyone you're Harry Potter"

    1. I think that craze has finished now - the films are over, right? My friend Tonks used to promise me that Japanese girls would go crazy about me for that reason, but when I got to Japan no one seemed to notice. You mean I have to rely on my personality and stuff? Goddammit.

      No one in Korea seems to have noticed the Harry Potter thing either, which might be another reason I like it here. I've had a couple of comparisons to Colin Firth and Orlando Bloom, despite those two looking nothing alike and being in different age demographics.

      Someone said I looked like I was from Turkey, I've also been asked if I'm part-Asian. Yesterday, a Korean guy tried to convince me I was both Russian and Canadian, even after I explained I wasn't. When I didn't shave for a while, a few French people automatically spoke French to me, because apparently that makes me look like one.

      This is all much more interesting to me than the tedious Harry Potter thing.

    2. I totally see the Colin Firth thing. Like, if Colin Firth was the star of Harry Potter.

  2. Red Dwarf will always be great to me, no matter what the grown up reality.

    1. Lynsey, I tried to comment about your ace map yesterday and today, but Wordpress won't let me any more :(

      Your picture reminds me of the play mats I had for my toy cars, except loads more intriguing. What are they keeping the barn/building in the bottom-left? Is it right that I get a slightly sinister feeling from the whole thing, or does that just say something about my morbid mind? Please keep up the procrastination.

  3. Can't believe I left Total Recall off the top films list.