I didn’t get fatter; the world got easier

I was born in 1974. I remember having to walk to the television to change channels. Thankfully, someone invented the remote control. It served to protect the carpet from unnecessary wear. People shouldn’t scuff flooring with trivial jaunts to the TV screen. Come to think of it, I remember three channels, before Channel 4 was launched. Those were dark days. Grim days, some might say. Long before Channel 5 brought us the awfulness of low IQ TV planning. This is the UK, by the way. If you’re not from here, you’re lucky, you may have missed our entertainment drought. It was brutal. Now we have channels for everything. We went from not enough to ‘please, no more.’

And that’s just TV automation—the remote control. I knew cars before power-steering was a commonplace thing. Nowadays, you can waste rubber by turning the wheel in a stationary car. Glides like a pony on ice; namely, without friction but at great cost to the tyre. Picture the pony, poor sod. A bad thing. But in the old days, before servo-assisted wizardry was implemented, good luck trying to turn the wheel in a stationary car. That was a work out. Even in motion, a manually yanked steering wheel was a wrestle. No gentle fingers on the rim, one hand on a thermos, the other steering with an effete pinkie. No, it was as though taming a malevolent python on speed. A thick, PVC-encased wheel (leather, if you were rich) that was determined to end your life. A car without power-steering was hell, at least, that ‘s how I recall it to be.

Before the internet, there was a period known as the dark ages. This was when truth was found in books. A time in life when to learn something new, you had to walk to a place they called a library, and speak with a strange creature known as the librarian. Usually half-woman, half-ghost, these ethereal beasts would stamp the sign of the book-demon into the jacket and send you on your way. Often, they would say, ‘Bring it back in two weeks, or your soul is mine.’ At least, I think they said that. Point being, if I needed to know how to plumb a cistern, my phone couldn’t help. Because back then… there were no phones. Well, they had phones, just not proper ones as we have today. Old phones were designed by the ancestors of exercise manufacturers. Digit Gyms, they were. Bleak memories: trying not to break a finger as you toiled and spun a wheel around a dial. It took about a thousand turns to contact anyone. Plus, the phone weighed as much as an encyclopaedia. Tough, manual work just to phone a friend. Just to say, you could fix their loo.

Right now, I’m using a mechanical keyboard, crumbs and dust littered under the caps. I remember using an actual mechanical typewriter. Only briefly mind, before I bought a word-processor for Uni work. Those old devices required TLC and patience. The keys themselves were more akin to lever-gyms. One mighty push was required to launch a letter embossed on a small iron block into a wall of paper. It was a satisfying sound, a pleasant sensation. But again, just as everything else back then, it took more effort than what is required from us today.

And that is the point of this random carnival of 80’s memorabilia. Let’s take the television remote as an example. To change channels required you to stand up from your chair, or sofa, or perhaps even roll out of bed. To stand from sitting is basically a squat. That right there is what annoying gym folks call exercise. Yup, exercise, a bad word to some. One half-rep of one bodyweight squat. Whoop! Now you pace one step or two, maybe five if you’re wealthy and have a large house. But then, if you’re rich, you might ask the butler to change channels. Imagine, a biomechanical human remote control. A sort of cybernetic stone age. I digress. So, you’ve dragged your ass to the TV, pressed the buttons. Now what? You reverse that motion. That means a controlled descent onto the cushion where your bum-print is still visible. That’s what we gym commandants call the ‘eccentric’ phase of the squat. Pre-remote (or sans butler), channel surfing required one squat. Change channels 10 times a day, 365 days a year—count it—that’s 3650 squats. Think about it. That’s over 70 sets of 50 squats. Make that a 3-set portion per day and that’s 23 squat sessions per year. You see where this is going?

But that’s nothing. Walking is the big game-changer. In the nineties, I walked to work. 30 mins there, 30 back. One hour. Five days per week. In calorie terms, that’s 250 kcal/day. Add a 48-week year, and we’ve got 60,000 kcals/year. Or 16 pounds of fat. Now, imagine driving to work. No more walkies for Mr Fit. Time is precious, so we decide to sit on our bums for twenty more minutes and drive instead. In one year, you’ll pile on one stone of weight, all things considered. And that’s just the walk to and from work. Cars are ubiquitous these days, it’s normal to own one. And when you do, you drive it—everywhere. Why else own one tonne of shiny steel? Personally, I view the car as a mini-karaoke bar on wheels, without the booze, of course… officer.

What am I saying? Clearly, the correlation is between driving and getting fat. It’s called a spare tyre for a reason. The diminished reliance on walking is fundamentally linked to our downfall in the battle against weight gain. Those gym fiends (yes fiends, as in monsters, not friends) will tell you to train your way to a better shape. But it’s not true. Why? Because what you’ll do is drive to the gym, return home, and sit on your backside, making the erroneous assumption 45 mins of gym twice a week will work. Nope. It doesn’t. I’ve seen it so many times.

We used to be slaves to a domain of manual effort. But technology came along and saved us. Emancipated from the hellish shackles of ‘a smidgeon of effort’, we embraced the late 20th century ideal of ‘everything at your fingertips’. If I think back, I recall accompanying my mother to do the grocery/food shop. She had one of those weird, ’granny’ bags—a tartan-esque suitcase on wheels. But that was replaced, eventually, by the mini-karaoke bar on wheels, and now, in the days of automated Armageddon, you can arrange for unseen hands in a warehouse to pack your weekly shop and even get someone to deliver it to your doorstep in a diesel belching van. Wait—you have the gall to complain your plums are bruised? Really?

The reduction of manual labour, the reliance on automation, the lure of convenience: all of these things have conspired to make life too easy. We’re told by slick marketing to over-consume (I know I do). But in reality, food doesn’t make you fat; energy imbalance does. And in a world of zero effort, where I don’t even have to touch my phone to get it to answer me, our odds aren’t great in the war against apathy. There is, of course, an easy answer. Get up, go for a walk. Lots of walks. Forrest Gump your life away. Give it a shot, just as soon as you’ve ordered your pizza through Alexa.

Weight Loss for Cynics

This post is longer than normal. And more serious, while still being cynical. Be warned, humour drought ahead.

There are two types of people in the world: Healthy cynics, and everyone else. To be cynical isn’t a bad thing. It’s a suspicion radar, a ‘ping’ that tells you to check something out. But you have to be careful. Cynicism works on a scale of human stupidity. Gullibility lies at one end; extreme paranoia at the other. I’m centre-right, only trusting what I can investigate, or what is clear common sense. Of note, Flat-earthers don’t belong on this scale. That’s another trip altogether, beyond paranoia and conspiracy. We’re not going there. But for reference, this is the family bubble:

Gullibubbles on the left, Cynispheres on the right.

The weight-loss industry relies on an individual’s gullibility. It doesn’t work well on cynics. Cynics tend to question things, read the instructions and discover the nonsense in the PR blurb. To illustrate, there is an incredible piece of marketing magic, universally used by slimming and diet products. It is this one single line (and to be fair, it is genius):

This product will only aid weight-loss as part of a calorie-controlled diet

What that actually means is:

This will only work if you change everything else as well

It wouldn’t work in car safety:

Keeps your family safe from accidents—as long as you don’t crash

Or for arms dealers:

This armoured vest will keep you safe—as long as nobody shoots you

Be a cynic. Read the labels. There’s also another word that is heavily involved in the marketing of any weight-loss or health supplement. One tiny word: May. As in:

This product may help you…  <and really, once they have said, ‘may’, you can insert any bunch of crap right here>

I mean, we can add the two monolithic quantifiers together and you’ll see how ridiculous the concept is:

This product may aid weight-loss if you are on a calorie-controlled diet

Well, pass me that burger Sherlock, hold the poop.

The industry relies on maintaining some semblance of mystery about weight-loss. It absolutely tries to bamboozle you with science. Except, as someone who studied Sports Science at University, and has spent 25 years in the fitness biz, I can tell you this: it’s all crap. What follows is known by everyone. My ageing Chinchilla understands it. My coffee cup knows it. It’s such a basic premise, the industry needs to polish it to make it sexy. But it’s not. It’s dull. And it’s a fact:

Consume fewer calories; expend more energy, and weight loss will follow

There are caveats to that statement but the basis is valid. So, if you had a stable but hefty weight issue, (i.e. not gaining pounds) all you need to do is obey the above rule. If you were getting heavier, you may need to cut even more calories, or do more activity, but the fact remains.

Instead of giving you the truth, the industry relies on pseudo-science. Pseudo-science is a special branch of science in the same way that astrology sounds like astronomy. In other words, it’s not science at all. PR companies will use terms they have often coined themselves, or they’ll float actual science but wrap it up in a shell of shiny nonsense. They need to do this because it makes it sound more legitimate. I mean, if you look at the logic of it all (or lack thereof), what the weight-loss industry is trying to do is sell you their calories, when all you need to do is cut down. Weight-loss should save you money, not cost more!

But that’s where the cynicism works, or more, it doesn’t for them. They need a gullible audience. And they can use special tactics to make you a little more susceptible to their marketing ploy. This is the sinister side of things, where you are socially manipulated to loathe yourself for having a spare tyre. Well, it used to work that way. Nowadays, social media fills that role. A whole host of awful people will gladly prance about to make you feel inferior. Shiny, plastic, vacuous personalities exist to make you question your own body image. It’s a trade-off for the ages: what was once done by weight-loss pros is now performed by social media bandits, all of them after your cash. And once you stare at that small phone screen and see buns of steel and glorious abs, you might cry a little into your chocolate fudge lasagne. So, you promise to be a better person and lose some weight. You turn to the industry, and it welcomes you with open arms. Nutrition companies will sell you expensive Bam-Bam Nuggets, filled with protein and despair. Online Personal Trainers will take your cash and give you a diet & exercise plan that they’ll say is personalised to you. Hint—if an online PT doesn’t communicate personally with email – there’s nothing personal about it. Regardless, nobody will tell you the truth. None of them care to educate you. Because they know that when you learn how to lose weight, their industry is finished.

So, how do you lose weight? Well, for only 50 bucks… Kidding! I’ll lay it out right now, right here. Professional advice without any sugar-coating or a plastic wrapper. This is weight-loss for a 21st century cynic. And, of course, none of it’s easy.

  1. Stop snacking. You’re a human being, not a cow—you don’t need to graze.
  2. Learn to appreciate hunger. Constant eating is bad for our bodies. Fasting is good.
  3. Become a Fibre fan. Eat more plant-based foods that require some effort. That’s why we have molars—to grind food into a more digestible pulp. Fibre also works wonders inside of you.
  4. Eat slowly, take your time. Your body has got a terrible ‘tank full’ gauge. If you shovel food, you’ll fail. You’ll feel fuller, if you eat slower. Drink water with a meal to amplify the boredom.
  5. Cut down on:
    • Sugar. Look at the food label. If a product has more than 10g of sugars per 100g, put it down. Sugar is nasty. Tastes awesome. It’s the crack-cocaine of the food world. You should feel guilty for splurging on the white stuff. Cut it out. Every time you eat sugar, a Unicorn dies.
    • Fat. If it sizzles and drips, it’s fat (or possibly plastic, and you should NOT eat that). Full of calories. When you eat fat, a cute Amazonian species goes ‘pooft!’. Actually, if you eat Brazilian beef (most animal fats come in meat form), you’re probably displacing animals and indigenous people.
    • Dairy. Cheese is basically just fat and protein. If you want to be weaned off it, think of it as though a cow pooped a solid block of milk. Milk Poo. The white dung.
    • Booze. My personal failing. I like beer. But booze is liquid food. Not very nutritious food. But, if you want very unhealthy advice, which if you follow, you’re a fool, and you can’t sue me—if you know you’re going to have some cans, reduce your calories elsewhere.

These are just a few things that will help. You need to work on all of them to succeed. Doing one or two should have an impact but follow them all and your chances are far greater. In fact, technically, if you do all of the above in good faith—I guarantee you’ll succeed. If you don’t, you’re not being honest with yourself.

There are a few more radical things you can do. I’ll call them the Nuclear Options. These are big red reset buttons that will require substantial life changes (and further guidance).

The Exercise Tactic. Eat what you want but exercise as if your life depended on it. Because it will. One hour of hard graft for your average Joe will expend about 750 calories (very rough guide). That will get trashed by a single Big-Mac meal. Or one-and-a-half choc-chip muffins.  You want to eat Snickers all week? Then run a marathon every day. (See what I did there?).

Calorie Arithmetic. Tedious, but methodical. Count your calorie intake—all of it! You’re liable to fail, because you’ll not remember ‘that small wafer’. Even though you ate fifteen of them. You need to count everything. But there are Apps that can help you. For average Joe, consume <1800 kcals/day. For average Jane, drop to 1500 kcal/day. AND, be active.

Learn to Cook. Seriously, it’s a manual task, so you’ll burn calories while you prep your own dinner. You’ll also find the goodness in raw ingredients and learn that plastic packaging doesn’t grow in the ground. Who’d have thought it? Potatoes aren’t cuboids. And Bechamel isn’t in Lord of the Rings.

Become Vegan. It’s very difficult to be a true vegan and be fat. Or have friends. Kidding!!! But seriously, as drastic as this is, it’ll work, but it needs serious commitment to succeed. Veganism is more than a dietary choice for many. Kudos to them for that.

Now, of course, I never said it was easy. That’s why you’re probably already looking at some weight-loss chocolate bars. Hey, guess what—it won’t work. Fads don’t work. If all you can do is remember the simple equation, you’ll have a head start. And you can save your hard-earned cash. Remember:

Consume fewer calories; expend more energy.

Prove the cynic in me wrong.

Combat and Hollywood: Part Two

Guns don’t kill people, scriptwriters do…

But only when it suits the narrative. I suppose, to preface a light-hearted post, I should start with an unequivocal statement: The purpose of a gun is to kill. Whether or not it is used to do so, does not matter. A gun, like the atom bomb, is a weapon with a purpose. Said purpose: cessation of life. Let’s not quibble. I had an online discussion with someone (an American) who said guns were deterrents. They’re not. Deterrents, in the classical sense, don’t work. Nukes work. But only because (a) they’re wielded by governments who understand the consequences, and (b) they’re a tad more murderous than a 9mm Glock. And consider this: if a terrorist organisation ever gets its tiny creepy hands on a nuke, the deterrent argument will become moot. Just watch, or don’t. I will win the debate, right before I’m welded to my PVC chair. Enough depression, let’s get on with the fun stuff. But first, a beautiful unicorn to make you feel better…   

If this doesn’t reset your happy trigger, nothing will.

But guns do kill people, you say. I know so because I’ve seen it on TV, or that film with the guy that shoots folks till they’re dead. Well, I reply, go back and watch that show. Now, I freely admit I am not the first person to make an issue out of this, and I won’t be the last. But I want to tackle it with the derision and ridicule it deserves. Though, I need a copyright-free example to do it. Time to create a hero. World, meet Lexi Bamharder; a cop whose attitude is as bad as her taste in men. You know the stereotype. She’s mysteriously attracted to high-strung men on the verge of divorce. They’re always going to leave their wives, they’ve promised. But Lexi always gets stung. It’s driven her to drinking neat bourbon at a bar with no other patrons apart from the old guy, we’ll call him… Old Guy. And it’s a weird set-up. She never pays, Old Guy’s always there, and the bartender has a shotgun and a heart of gold. How the place turns a profit, only methanol Jesus knows.

That Old Guy. Every bar needs one. (The Wedding Singer, 1998, New Line Cinema)

But Lexi knows. It’s run by crooks and the bar guy’s let slip they have his family. Oh noes! Again. Lucky for us, Detective Bamharder knows where to go. She finishes her bourbon (her fifth) and jumps in her car. Normally we could dissect the inherent sexism of what car she drives, however, that’s not important. Lexi’s just downed five bourbons and she’s ignition deep in engine rumble. Someone call a cop. No, wait, she is a frickin’ cop. The hero of the story. What the hell? Hollywood blows, really. Anyway, back on track, unlike Lexi, who’d be sucking dashboard in a ditch in real life.

Lexi evades every cop in a city of ten million people, her erratic driving never having once gotten her pulled over. Did I mention—she’s white? We could change that and the film would end here. That’s another story, one I’m not qualified, or brave enough, to write. But cut to the…erm chase. She’s pulled over at the Casino. The lieutenant of the Mascarpone crime family is inside: Toblerone Sureshot. Yup, he’s deadly with a hand-cannon. His favoured weapon is the Desert Eagle. Just like his name, it’s slightly triangular. He’s also not a moron. His hired guns are notorious. Earlier on you’ve seen them shoot a top lawyer in a drive by. One shot, straight through the temple. At twenty yards. But things are about to change. The scriptwriters haven’t got a clue how to make this work. In a panic they revert to type. Guns no longer kill people, stupidity does…

Her car is now clearly parked in the Casino grounds. Somehow Lexi makes it to an unguarded fire escape. Climbing inside, she pulls out her piece. Definitely not a revolver—that’s a man cannon. Bamharder owns a svelte automatic. It smells of peaches and cream. Probably. Inching down the corridor, she confronts her first two villains. They open fire, just pistols for now. Take note, Lexi’s in a corridor. That’s a geometric space with a field of view as wide as a cow. Not, notably, the proverbial barn door. Bad guys 1 & 2 fire off several rounds each. Fortune smiles on Lexi as the FX guys have already popped exploding caps into enough woodwork to carpet a forest. Besides, she’s skilled in leaning slightly into a closed door. I mean, we can see her, Hollywood insisted she has a large bust. She’s totally visible. But those bullets just don’t work. Lexi’s turn; Bam! Bam! She always ‘bams’ harder.

Doors. Incredibly good at mesmerising bullets. (The Way of the Gun, 2000, Artisan Entertainment)

Next up, the casino floor. No more pistols. SMG’s abound. Possibly some machine pistols. Maybe a rifle or two. There are a dozen guys. All hired because they presumably have experience in killing people. But today’s not their day. As bullets drop like shiny metal rain, Lexi moves from bandit to bandit. For sure, one round will hit the jackpot and you can giggle as the cash pours out. It’s actually a metaphor for Hollywood. Shoot enough crap and one day it’ll make money. To hell with art. On the balcony she’s getting flanked. One goon leans over, stops, gives Lexi enough time to look, puff her glossy (non-alcoholic) hair from her face and squeeze off two rounds. Rather than obey physics and crumple in a heap, where he could have waited for medical assistance, he takes great pains to vault over the railing. A four-foot railing. A six-foot man. How does that work? Even when I’m not being shot by a drunken cop, I know which side of a railing to fall on. Seriously, where’s he going? What’s out of camera view? A pool of morphine? Maybe he saw Willy Wonka’s last golden ticket.

One by one the goons fall. Lexi takes cover behind the machines, an upturned roulette table, a plastic cactus, and a clear window. Nothing hits. Not even a fleck of shrapnel. Now of course, in some films and shows they do take a hit. But is it ever serious? No. They never get popped in the eye, ear, or face, and damned if any major blood vessels get hit. Always somewhere medics call ‘sexy superficial’. Where scars look cool.

It’s nearing the end of the gunfight, Lexi ascends the stairs, her outfit pristine. Now, of note, if this was a fistfight between two women, clothes would be gone. But gunfights have their own rules, and those rules are: they’re more effective than dry-cleaning at keeping denims fresh. Because Lexi still looks hot in those jeans. Me, I’d have wet myself by now. Powering to the final door, she goes in, where Toblerone Sureshot awaits. He could shoot her as she comes in. But Sureshot doesn’t kill like that. Except he does, he’s a cold-blooded executioner that never misses. Oh dear. Today’s going to be a first. Cue obligatory speeches about morality, where we’re forced to side with a drink-driving murderer who didn’t read the Miranda Rights to a single soul. Whatever, we forget why Lexi came here, assume the family is safe in a freezer truck, eating their way through frozen falafel. In that room though, where Lexi faces Toblerone, you know what happens. The outcome was inevitable the minute she downed her bourbon. Inebriated, hard-drinking, tough cops kill. Everyone. Farewell, Sureshot, today your luck ran out, today, you were created by a scriptwriter.

Why six-packs are evil

I have nothing against being healthy. In fact, I recommend it. Being healthy will be beneficial when the world crashes and we have to chase each other for food. Apocalypse is coming and hunting tins of juicy pears will reward those with greater endurance. And people with can-openers. Ironically, when that catastrophe occurs, six-packs will be the new trend. A factor of necessity. Being lean follows disaster. The collapse of gluttonous food eco-systems will reduce our daily intake of calories. Our constant movements to avoid zombies and hunt in the next wild supermarket will expend a lot of energy. Yes, if you want a six-pack, you’ll enjoy Armageddon. It’s practically impossible to exist on hunting and foraging and be overweight. Modern consumerism and automation have given us ample time to forget what a six-pack is. A six-pack is as natural as a sunrise. But we’ve smothered it in clouds of donuts, sugar, fats and plain old excess. The coming of the new zombie dawn will cure you.

I’ll get the boring physiology out of the way first. The abdominal wall (Abdominus Rectus) is banded and sectioned in basic appearance. We all have a six-pack. It’s just hidden. Flesh and bodyfat hide the physical structure. Any horror film where flesh is stripped from the body will gladly oblige your interest. Or this picture:

Beneath the skin, we’re all the same.

So, why is it evil? Well, it’s not. That’s just a dramatic title. But the pursuit of a six-pack is a path I’d not advocate. The principles are sound and extremely easy to understand. And, in fairness, it’s almost impossible not to get one, if you actually do the work. But that’s the catch. The effort and sacrifice required to achieve that narcissistic dream is phenomenal. The problem is that our bodies want to store fat. Just enough to keep as a reserve. And the level of body-fat required to reveal a six-pack is somewhere between very low and ‘hey, Barney, this guy’s dead’.

Someone went too far

There is a select group who may exhibit such torturously miniscule levels of fat—athletes. Specifically, athletes whose events/sports require a ludicrous performance to weight ratio. It’s unlikely you’ll ever see a sixteen stone high jumper (unless they’re twelve feet tall). Similarly, a sprinter needs explosive power to leave the blocks and gravity will gladly prove it loves a tubby load.

Why is it then, that in media, we gravitate to award plaudits to those with six-packs? And not the team who’s about to create a Coronavirus vaccine? Why are we obsessed with that level of body dysmorphia? Well, one guess. Marketing. Hollywood isn’t so bad these days in terms of throwing glistening bodies in your face. Unless, of course you watch some Michael Bay films. But really, it’s all down to a manufactured fascination, thrown onto our screens by serial frauds and those who wish to capitalise on your awful physical condition. For example, the report: Global Weight Management Market Report 2019: Industry Trends, Share, Size, Growth, Opportunity and Forecasts, 2011-2018 & 2019-2024, suggests the global worth of the weight management industry will be worth almost $270 billion by 2024. In comparison, analysts at Zion Market Research expect the global fast-food market share to exceed $690 billion in 2022. To put it in plain potatoes: for every $5 we spend on take-out we don’t need, we spend another $2 trying to perform damage limitation. Pure sadism.

Probably 1,000+ calories. Farewell my sweet six-pack

And that’s why six-packs are evil. You are the innocent victim in a war soon to be worth almost one trillion dollars. One side wants you to eat more (bad for six-packs), and the other side also wants you to eat more (of their awful low-calorie products). Stuck in the middle is exercise (globally worth about $75 billion). Now, admittedly, these are just numbers, but the market weight behind them mean you’re exposed to heinous amounts of misinformation and sugar-coating of the truths.

So, what is the truth? If you want a six-pack, prepare to lose friends because all you’ll do is talk about your new exercise routines and your diet of dang-dang berries and hummingbird milk. You’ll also start following several braindead Instagram ‘personalities’ (I choked just typing that). Chad Flexpec* and Anna Bolic* will grace your mobile screens with so much saturated flesh lunacy you’ll wish you could only see in black and white. But you’ll stick to your guns and cry into your Nepalese Goat wheat cereal as your last friend Ubers off to the pub. You’ll look in the mirror and think some phantom’s haunting your bathroom—but it’s you, because your face has collapsed. Everybody says you look great but you wonder why they’re always grimacing. Only your mum will tell you the truth. You look awful, she’ll say. And she’s right. But still, you soldier on, through bad moods and cravings. And you’ll get there. When all your real friends are out having fun, and your mother’s trying to have you institutionalised, you’ll see it. The six-pack. The product of vanity; the bottom of the barrel. But where do you go from here? You know where. To find your friends, apologise, and start being a good human being again.

* Once again, these people are figments, created for comedy effect. If they’re real, they shouldn’t be. And I’m sorry.

Combat and Hollywood: Part One

One at a time please (the enigma of group combat)

True, there are rare occasions where carnage ensues in a grand melee. But there is an unspoken rule of film etiquette that all ‘barnies’ are settled with decorum and civility. In essence, this is an extension of Lazy Writing.

Picture the scene. No, don’t bother. Pictures misrepresent the emotional and tumultuous aspect of a brawler’s mind. As Atticus Finch said, you’ve got to wear someone’s shoes to get a feeling for who they are. So, step into the shoes of the antagonist, one of twelve. They’ve encircled the hero. Let’s call him (or her, or them) Jackson Hammerstrike, the meanest PI in Sewer City. Jackson’s a legend. All the crime bosses know of their antics. (Strangely, none had thought to assassinate them with a sniper rifle, or a car bomb, or poison). Anyway, Jackson’s the centre dot of a clockface and every hour mark is a leering psycho waiting to rip out some guts. You know the ensemble. There’s the big bald guy, built like a Bentley, IQ of an Oxo cube. There’s almost definitely a token oriental. There shouldn’t be. That guy from Kyoto should be a maniac on Nintendo, not knives. Give us a break Hollywood. There’s maybe a chick. One of two moulds. Horrifically stereotyped; manly and butch, or super-sexy and oozing duvet appeal. And you know at some point hers and Jackson’s eyes will meet in a pointless moment of ‘will they, won’t they?’ – NO! They won’t. He’s going to kill her; Jackson’s a problem drinker and unadulterated mass-murderer. But it’s fine, It’s Hollywood.

John Wick gets a free ride; don’t diss Keanu – They killed his dog, man! (John Wick, Summit Entertainment, 2014)

I’ll fast forward. It’s necessary to point out the absolute nonsense of the scene. In the next five minutes of (admittedly comical) fight choreography, someone will throw something at the hero. Hell, it might stick. A hefty pole will be wielded. Again, it will likely make a comedy ‘boing’ sound as it hits Jackson. But Jackson won’t stay down. Ding, ding, round two. Point is, none of these actions will happen until an obscene amount of fist-waving and foot-flailing has taken place. You know the sounds. Go get a steak from the freezer. Defrost it, half way. Start punching it. That’s a good noise right there. That’s knuckles humping face meat. Of course, you won’t hear Jackson scream as the metacarpals shatter under the relentless grind of baddie beating.

Ouchies (courtesy Handandwristinstitute.com)

Now, all these seasoned serial killers and professional hard-guys know the score. Jackson’s tough as a squirrel’s nuts. So, they’ve got their guy surrounded. All they need to do is advance, close the space, and BLAM! Jackson’s heroics end under a barrage of nastiness not seen since Westlife covered Manilow’s Mandy. So, they win, right? No, they don’t. Why? Because Hollywood dictates one simple mantra: Bad guys queue.        

Squirrel Nuts. Don’t be offended. Nature is beautiful, or not.

And so follows a scene of predictable, meat-slapping nonsense. Strangely, it will also mimic the abstract progression of a PC game. You know, the weakest fighter attacks first. Their mode of attack is universal: an overhand slice with a kitchen knife or a tyre iron. Jackson either catches the weapon and knocks opponent #1 out, or, sidesteps and sends them into a convenient pile of clattering objects. The scenario will dictate whether it’s an improbable display of canned beans, or a pile of scrap metal. Either way, it will be noisy.  And silly. You need some comedy to lighten up death.

We can give Hollywood plaudits for one thing. Whether Jackson is a man or a woman, their top will be ripped off. Cue rippling abs and either (A) well-defined pecs, usually clean shaven, or (B) a sports-bra Jackson bought at fifteen, now positively oozing flesh. Let’s face it, you wouldn’t date either of these narcissistic maniacs. You would? Weirdo.

Bet your bottom dollar, this shirt’s coming off. (The Transporter, Canal+, 2002)

Cue the final battle. It is Donkey Kong. This guy is the same, or a bigger version of Bentley-Oxo (let’s call them BO). Jackson throws a punch. BO grins. I imagine it’s because after so much punching, Jackson’s hand is a jelly mould of pain. Any bone they once had has turned to dust, floating in a puffy fist-sack of blood and apathy. BO grabs Jackson and throws them across the room. Choose your target: another pile of cans, or more scrap metal. Our hero recovers (do they have to?) and thus begins the five-minute boss-battle. That guy from Kyoto would kick ass here. This is console heaven, a Tekken-esque fight of supreme silliness. Toward the end, both combatants are weary. To bring in science, this is probably a lactic acid build up. After five minutes of fighting, a heart-pounding activity, the system can’t keep up with demand. Lactic builds up, limbs feel heavy. There’s no respite. Adrenaline won’t work, it’s already been spent. Only rest can solve this dilemma. Rest and carbs. But Jackson doesn’t need science. He’s a figment of some nerdy dream. He starts to slug faster and faster. Hitting BO enough times in the face to make pumpkin soup. But it’s not enough to knock him out. This is end of level bad guy. Hollywood requires stupidity. Searching for the options: a chain, a spike embedded in the ground (who risk assessed this room?), a hook on a wall—Jackson finds his mark. There’s an open electrical box that’s clearly failed its annual safety inspection. With a leaping, flying roundhouse, Jackson shows Atticus Finch what shoes are for. His size tens plough into BO’s braindead face, sending him into a lightshow that goes on long enough to imply the fuses are redundant and the place had no RCB’s installed.  

Jackson wins. Quips something cool. Hollywood rubs its hands. The main casualty (apart from your brain) is the owner of the place where the fight happened. Several dead bodies and enough health and safety breaches to bring down Jupiter. Yeah. Maybe I’ll write a real-life version of that fight. That’d be cool… and short. Chop chop, Jackson—times up.

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Bun-Buster 3000

You don’t know how it happens. But it does. Like tapping your foot to music you profess to hate. The number on the screen is rising; 55, 56, 57…. It’s bad. You’ve passed by drama, sport, even the news. If you were 16, you’d be looking for channels higher up. But behold, it arrives before your very eyes; television’s answer to psychological euthanasia. It’s QVC. Or any derivative of the theme.

Most people realise their error, flick away, or switch to Netflix, Amazon, etc. Some might seek counselling for venturing too far from 5 USA +1 (a channel so grainy you think you’ve developed cataracts).  But if you stay, you’ll see so many treats. Over decades I’ve seen too much. I really think I’ve seen the Bun-Buster 3000.

Like the Thighmaster, the Bullworker, the Spankhammer (okay, I made that one up); the Bun-Buster 3000 is an enigma. Not a toy, and in my view, inconsistent with the term ‘exercise’; nonetheless, it is paraded as a miracle worker.

On screen is a well-toned model. She, or he, is awesome. I mean, they have to look great, they use the Bun-Buster 3000, don’t they? I rarely see these things, usually I’m ambushed by them during adverts while I watch Columbo.

No sir, I never used the Bun-Buster 3000. But my wife did. (Columbo, Universal Television)

So, we watch Tina Tautbuns and Johnny Pecs* toying with the Bun-Buster 3000. What you see is the convergence of misdirection, hope, and sales. Tina and Johnny grin and grimace in ways no normal human can. They emit irritating sound-bites from their flapping mouths. Titanium white teeth reflect every studio light; it’s mesmerising. It’s pure fantasy. They’re selling you a lie.

But you know it. Don’t you? Tina’s surgically augmented and Johnny can name more steroids than you can mammals. And even if they’re natural, they don’t train with Bun-Buster 3000. They train for hours in air-conditioned gyms or expensive home-studios. Besides, the BB-3000 is nothing more than a squat assist device (a seatless office chair you stick your ass on). It can’t do abs, pecs, biceps. It’s no more effective at burning calories than standing up from any chair. In fact, it’s spring-loaded; it’s easier than using a chair. But the show flashes images of every angle of butt. You get 10 or 15 minutes of hypnotic gyrations, Tina and Johnny hi-fiving like morons. They make it look as though they’re having a good time. You could too. NOOOOOO! Wake up. I’ve worked in gyms for quarter of a century. I’ve lifted weights for over three decades. Exercise doesn’t make you smile. I wouldn’t even say it’s fun. Sport is fun. Being outdoors is fun. But these guys are in a studio, armour clad in Lycra while bouncing on a spring-loaded pillar to the tune of third-rate porn music.

Just as your senses are returning, the host pulls out the killer-weapon. The graphic. Don’t look! Before I can throw my beer at the screen, the host talks to a sponsored physician. Now they’re pointing at a 3-D animation of the gluteus maximus (what Gladiator called his twins of steel).

“See how the Bun-Buster 3000 works the gluteals?” Doc says.

“Wow,” replies the host, clearly tripping on acid. “The red zones, is that where the magic happens?”

“Sure is,” Doc says. “We can see the awesome impact the Bun-Buster is having on Tina’s Glutes.”

It’s clearly not Tina’s ass. Or Johnny’s. But they sell it as if it’s real. Rather than what it is: a cartoon sales pitch to make you think there’s science involved. But there isn’t any science, not as they explain it. The Bun-Buster 3000 is going to sit in your cupboard. If it survives that long. Truth out; I had a Bullworker. It worked, insofar as it was a metal tube with a spring inside. But it wasn’t fun, ergonomic, or helpful. The first real thing that worked was a set of dumbbells my father brought home. Then, I got a weights bench. Then, I got strong. But it didn’t happen with the Bun-Buster 3000.

The Bullworker. You can sense his fear; an accident is imminent.

I don’t want to leave you deflated. You want something to aid your fitness journey. I can help. For free. A ‘product’ you don’t even need to pack away after use. It takes up no space. And, it’s everywhere. Is it magic? No, it’s gravity. All you need is the ground. Squats, press-ups, sit-ups, planks, the list is long. You don’t need gimmicks; you need you, a planet, and a little motivation. Go get ’em tiger, I’ve got to get back to Columbo.

* For the purpose of clarity, Tina Tautbuns and Johnny Pecs are fabrications. No similarity to any persons is intended. But if they were your names, you ought to change them.

Lazy Writing

Picture the scene; a square-jawed detective, invulnerable to deception, ambush, and classy looks from killer-dames. Let’s call him ‘Anvil’. Anvil Hardweather. His criminal informant (a sterling hooker with a heart of gold and a child living with her grandmother) has given him a tip. The psycho that killed his previous partner (an old-timer 3-days from his pension) is loose. And she knows where he is. Anvil arrives at the apartment block. He’s definitely not called for back-up, and he’s probably told his new partner (a fresh-faced rookie) he’s checking his laundry. But he’s not. He exits his American muscle-car, and the camera pans in on his mobile. Damn, he left it on the passenger seat under a box of cookies he bought from a charity shop. Oh noes!

Anvil peels off some boards, making no noise, and steps inside the block. Room by room he scopes the scene, the barrel of his non-regulation revolver scanning the place as though it’s an extension of his sixth sense. Corridors, stairwells, dark-spaces; all are swept aside with impunity. The camera is back at the car. The gentle glow of the half-concealed phone is lighting up the cookie box. It’s his rookie partner, calling to warn him it’s a trap. Then we see the room. It’s empty through the doorway view. There’s probably a chair with a tape-recorder, or a fishing rod (did I say Anvil’s dead partner was going to retire to Maui and sport fish?). Anvil approaches the door and steps into the room. The door is open at an angle that would comfortably conceal a saboteur, or a psycho-killer. But we know Anvil; he’ll make sure he’s safe… oh wait, no. Detective Hardweather becomes another statistic of formulaic detective guff. He strolls past the door, doesn’t check behind it, and bam…lights out.

This is lazy-writing. And you should never forgive it. But if you cast a critical eye on what you watch or read; you’ll notice it’s everywhere. Superhero films are, without a doubt, the worst culprits. Marvel has amassed an obscene amount of cash from its Avenger’s campaign but it’s riddled with plot-holes bigger than Galactus’s ass.

Galactus, super-villain with big ass (Marvel Comics)

The horror genre depends on your gullibility to make ends meet. I mean, by now, why has nobody invented the flash-knife—a handy tool for exploring sounds that come from a basement the soon-to-be-victim has never cleaned (so many cobwebs). Maybe it’s just spiders? Best leave them alone. Sci-fi requires us to go with the flow and I think we all know that in Star Trek, if they need to use the transporter in an emergency, there’s definitely going to be weird radiation interference (frankly, such technology would not get past Starfleet’s equivalent of the FAA).

Untested and murderously random Tranporter technology. (Star Trek, TNG, Viacom-CBS)

But the winner for pure contrivance is the thriller genre, into which Anvil Hardweather falls. Thrillers sell themselves on the premise of clever plots and twists. They want to be treated as the Einstein of fictional media. We can forgive comics and horrors their sins but thrillers? No. Ask more of the writers; don’t let them sell you down the river with tired formulaic nonsense. Keep an eye out for Anvil. And if you see him, switch off, or close the book.

Conan’s Wheel of Pain

Untitled

(Conan the Barbarian, 20th Century Fox, 1982)

A good place to start. Arnold Schwarzenegger is an enigma. A focussed mind and an exceptional physique provided the eighties and nineties with the iconic build of Europe’s greatest export. Moving from the shadows of competitive body-building and, in time, into the spotlight of Hollywood, Arnold was (and arguably still is) the only body-builder to conquer the silver-screen. While Lou Ferrigno was on par with Arnold, he didn’t quite have the same impact.

The Wheel of Pain (from Conan the Barbarian) was a torturous device of constant manual labour. Pushed and pulled for hours upon hours, this is about the only thing I have ever seen in movies to explain a physiological response as gratuitous as Conan’s sublimely-honed build. But is it accurate?

No, of course it’s not. Conan was a slave child and the calorific effort of moving a mini-forest worth of lumber would be phenomenal. I can’t recall the movie that well but I’m pretty sure there was scant reference to adequate nutrition, let alone the vast quantities of carbs and protein (and other
things) that would be required to facilitate the build of Arnold’s Conan. But that’s Hollywood. It exists to present the audience with heroes and heroines of unobtainable perfection; be it the impossible musculature of Conan, or the sleek lines of every female superhero. And for the record, there is no logical reason for the dimorphism displayed between genders. 

And that’s a problem right there. Muscle size. No matter what the load is, whether it’s tossing a car or punching chunks out of a concrete pillar, the strength required would be equal. So, in those films where women lift the same as men, technically, the female would require the same physical attributes as the man. In other words, why are super-strength heroines always dainty little slips? It’s all about image and marketing, which in itself is about gender discrimination and inequality. Which is a shame because it would be cool to see more male heroes that look ‘normal’ (and to be fair, in the post Arnold era, strong heroes don’t need to be massive – unless your name is Dwayne). But when it does come to muscle-men, logic dictates that the same requirement should fall on the shoulders of super-strong females. But that doesn’t fit the Hollywood narrative of what a ‘woman’ should look like. If Marvel ever gets real about making a female Hulk movie (I know she’s called She-Hulk, which is woefully derivative), I hope they CGI the crap out of it and make her as big as a house with really hairy legs. But hey, that’s not going to sell…

If we want to travel further down the rabbit-hole of unnatural selection, there is another problem with obscenely athletic physiques. Food. All too often, our heroes are out and about for 25 Hollywood hours of every day. They rarely sleep, they never poop, and for certain, they don’t eat a balanced diet. Muscles don’t grow out of thin air and hope. They are real physical components derived from adequate training stimuli and created from excess calorie consumption. Carbs and protein are fundamental to fuel our body and repair cellular damage. After that, with enough hormonal stimulus, a body will slowly lay down more muscle-fibre in response to exercise-specific stress. And man, is that process slow. There is a shortcut, namely steroids and growth hormone, but for the sake of litigation, I’m not going to discuss that in this post. Yet the point stands – our heroes appear to be the fitness equivalent of cold-fusion; unlimited power with little input. But there’s the rub; would you watch a film where the awesomely handsome hero stops whatever he’s doing to crack out his 400g tub of pasta and chow down on a tin of dry tuna every two hours? And have you ever had the displeasure of smelling the buttcheek-breeze of someone on a high-protein diet? It’s just not pleasant.

So, if we consider that your average, over-sized chemically enhanced body-builder trains for 2-3 hours and can consume 5000-8000 calories (or more) each day, you can see how Hollywood has it so wrong. But why? Well, movies aren’t meant to be real. At least, not the ones with heroes whose muscles take up more space than the end credits. With mutants and comic-fantasy, Hollywood doesn’t need to obey any laws of natural physiology. And in fairness, many of us love the sheer escapism of watching something so absurd as a man-mountain warrior emerge from a hard-labour camp with one piece of prehistoric fitness kit. As I say, it’s fitness Jim, but not as we know it.