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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-11-05 22:18
Yep, I'm Talking About It
Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk

I will start this review off by suggesting that there is so much in this book that it deserves an entire blog post to itself, however I don't want to actually write one now because I would like to watch the film again. Unfortunately I just don't have enough time this weekend to simply put a couple of hours aside to watch the movie so that I can write a blog post to coincide with this review (not that I need to have a blog post to coincide with the review, but I would like those of you who like this review to at least have an opportunity to read the extended post). As such, I will post this review now, and when I get around to watching the film again (for the umpteenth time mind you – I love the film) I will repost this review with a link to the blog (minus this paragraph because by that time it will be obsolete). By the way, don't let the lack of a post on Flight Club prevent you from reading some of the <a href=”http://www.sarkology.net>posts on my blog</a>.


When considering this book I have to be honest and say that I actually preferred the movie. In fact when I first saw this book sitting on my friend's bookshelf I immediately thought that it was one of those really bad novelisations that you tend to come across every so often. However, as I was writing a review on a completely unrelated book (the name of which I can’t remember), and made mention of the fact that I believed that Fight Club was simply a novelisation of the film somebody politely corrected me and pointed out that the book came first. Well, since that was the case I decided that actually reading the book might actually be worth while.


First of all the book the grabbed my attention right from the beginning to the point that I found it really hard to put down. However, I also found that the film was much more crisp and polished than the book. In fact there were parts of the book that actually came out a lot better in the film than they did in the book (though there were also aspects of the book that were much better than the film). Normally this is not the case because it is really difficult, if not impossible, to turn what is in effect a classic book into a classic movie – the media are completely different and there things that can be done on the silver screen that would be impossible to translate onto the page and vice versa. However, occasionally, very occasionally, there comes a film that actually trumps the book, and I believe that Fight Club is one of those rare occurrences.


That does not necessarily mean that the book was bad – by no means – it is just that I found that the film was much better. Sure, there were aspects that the book handled much better, however I simply could not read the book without picturing Brad Pitt everytime Tyler Durden was mentioned, Helena Bonham Carter whenever Marla Singer was mentioned, and Edward Norton whenever the narrator was the central character, which was pretty much all of the time. Mind you, having two different actors playing the roles of the narrator (we actually never know his name) and Tyler Durden in the film does throw us a bit, but for those of us who have seen the film, and know the truth about the identity of the narrator, it sort of doesn't come as a shock when it is revealed (I would have put up a spoiler alert, but if you are reading this review then I assume that you have seen the film and know what I am talking about – if you don't, then you either haven't seen the film, or haven't worked it out yet, or both).


Anyway, Fight Club is your classic anti-materalist extistentialist novel (if there is such a thing). In fact it is still as relevant today as it was back when it was released. The world of Fight Club is dark and pointless, which very much defines the 90s. It is interesting that the nineties represented the final victory over the evil empire and what was in effect the end of history – tyranny had been defeated, capitalism reigned supreme, and everybody could look forward to peace, prosperity, and endless happiness – except that didn't happen. In fact the complete opposite happened – my memory of the nineties was that of the goth, and later the emo – of bands like Portishead and Radiohead, who were dreary and depressing – it was not that we had won, it was that in defeating the evil empire we had lost our way and our purpose. In a sense all that was left was the basic anxioms of capitalism – the accumulation of wealth, yet the accumulation of wealth in and of itself has no meaning, no purpose, and no soul. In a way we had defeated the commies, but in another way we had lost our soul.


Fight Club is not just a question of materialism but also a question of identity. In many ways we define ourselves by our job, by our car, by our house – in effect by our possessions. I guess this is why the scene in which the narrator mugs a convenience store clerk to force him to quit his job and pursue his dream is so important. It is also the reason why in the film they target is the credit corporations – it is debt that is actually holding us back. I see this around me everyday – people are prevented from reaching their true potential and from truly sucking the marrow out of life because they have bought the lie of the American dream. In the end they have gone to collage, got a degree (and a debt with that degree), got a job, married, had children, and taken on more debt to put a roof over their head. Ten years down the track they are stuck in a dead-end job with no hope and no purpose and the only incentive that they have is the fact that they get paid every fortnight. In fact it is that pay check that prevents them from realising their true potential.


However Fight Club endeavours to make us realise that the ordinary people are in fact the people that hold all of the power. Sure, the managers might say that those of us that do the ordinary jobs are the ones who make the company turn over and be the success that it is – those of us who sit in the trenches and cop the brunt of all of the crap that is thrown at us – however we return home to our appartment tired, in debt, trapped with no way out. Mind you the advertising industry doesn't help because they paint this picture of the perfect life that we buy into, but we can only afford this lifestyle by going into debt, which we do only to discover that we are now trapped in this endless existence from which we cannot escape.


There is actually a lot more to Fight Club than what I can really explore in such a short time, though I know that I am not the only one who writes incredibly long reviews exploring every aspect of a novel. However, since I have set up my blog I feel that I don't need to do that any more as I can do that elsewhere. However I still can’t resist exploring the themes expounded in the novel - in Flight Club the main idea is how we have become slaves to the machine and the novel seeks to open our eyes to the reality of this machine so that we might break away from it. However, in reality we won't, and Palahnuik realises this – we are sheep – pretty much all of the characters in the book are sheep. Sure, they are enslaved in their day to day existence, but Tyler Durden doesn't free them from that existence, he only becomes what is in effect another messiah for them to follow. Capitalism has let them down and he offers them another way out, and they follow him like sheep.


I guess that is the reason why the book didn't actually end the same way the film did and that is because in the end one of the things that the book is criticising is organised religion. The book (and the film) begins with the narrator and Marla cruising the support groups, which are in effect mini-religions, and finishing by creating a new religion through the fight clubs. What the book is suggesting is two things – even though they are sheep, the sheep in fact are incredibly powerful and can reach a point where the sheep actually take control of the religion – in a way the religion takes a life of its own and is moulded and developed by the sheep. The other thing – don't talk about fight club – is genius. If you keep something secret then people actually want to know it. In fact the interest lies in the mystery not in the answer – by not talking about Fight Club makes people so much more interested in Flight Club, to the point that it grows so big and powerful that it takes on a life of its own. In the end the Narrator, even though he is Tyler Durden, has lost control over it – Fight Club has become a monster with its own will, conscience, and identity. In considering this, it is interesting to note that Jesus Christ did refer to his followers as sheep – did he have an insight into human nature?


There is one final thing I wish to touch upon before I go and that is the idea of masculinity, which is evident in both the book and the film. In a way it is one of those very uncomfortable truths and that is that men are basically defined by their John Thomases, and it is interesting that at the beginning of the book you find the narrator in a support group of men who suffer from testicular cancer. However, fast forward through to the end and we discover that the members of the Fight Clubs will deal with people who are seeking to shut them down by threatening to castrate them. Interesting considering that only men can be castrated, however in many cases it is the men who are very much in control. In fact the whole idea of the fight club is that men are seeking to re-estabilish their primal and brutish nature in a world in which they are effectively being castrated. Fight Club is not a story about collapsing civilisation, it is a story about returning us to our brutish past and that the trappings of civilisation only exist as a thin veneer over this brutish reality. In a way one of the main reasons that the fight clubs become so successful, and literally run out of control is because there is that underlying desire to cast of civilastion and return to that primal instinct that is always wanting to well up from inside of us and completely engulf us.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1798346392
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review 2016-01-31 09:14
The Rise of the Corporatocracy
No Logo: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs - Naomi Klein

As I mentioned under The Shock Doctrine, this book is about the internal problems with the American Empire as opposed to the external concerns to the rest of the world. In a sense it is the idea that our culture is being destroyed by a culture of consumerism and that idea of profits before people is the main motivator of the modern corporatocracy. We do need to put this book in context though, being written at the end of the 90s, just after the anti-globalisation protests in Seattle, an event referred to by many as the Battle of Seattle. I guess the events really brought to the forefront how the American Government was willing to go to war with its own people to protect the interests of the corporatocracy. However, remember that between 1989 and 2001 there was no real external threat to the United States, and as such there was no way of distracting the population to an external threat, so another means of distracting them was required. The concept of the brand is not new, however it is during this period that we begin to see a rise against the corporatocracy which resulted in a rejection of the militaristic foreign policy of the early 21st Century.


I am going to be honest though, there is nothing different now than there was during the rest of US history, though I will point to the writings of Howard Zinn to direct you to the discrimination and oppression that has been a mainstay of American, and in fact world, history. Things have changed though, and one of the major things was the rise of the middle class. The appearance of the middle class did bring about massive changes in modern society, and one had resulted in the French Revolution. However, industrialisation also brought about the rise of the working class. With the appearance of the working class, the middle class was allowed to develop whereas the working class were then oppressed. However, with the rise of communism, and the fear of a world wide revolution, the working class was appealed to, and universal healthcare (at least in the British Empire) as well as minimum wages and benefits, were introduced. The problem with this was that hiring labour became much more expensive.


Now I seem to have diverged a bit, though in many cases I tend to like to try to put a few things in context. Now, I do very much agree with Klein's assessment here, however I do feel that there are a few misleading ideas, such as the idea of cheap labour in poorer countries. Now, don't get me wrong, I am opposed to the mistreatment of any human being, and am opposed to unsafe and discriminatory work practices. This was something that was thrown out of the western world over 100 years ago, however it has simply moved to the developing world. Low wages are not necessarily the problem though, since if you do travel to these places you will discover that the low prices of goods there more than makes up for the low wages. For instance, it costs around $100 a night to stay in a hotel in Melbourne, while it costs $30 a night in Hong Kong, and in Bangkok I found a hotel for $14 (though my friend's comment was that it was probably a pretty shitty hotel). However, low wages are still a problem, but what makes things worse is cost cutting as a means to increase profits. If, for instance, the manufacturer cuts costs so that the worker is working long hours, has no breaks, is not allowed to go to the toilet, and the workplace is so unsafe that accidents regularly happen, then that is not good. However, the price of the shoes, or the shirt, in Australia does not change, despite the factory in Australia closing down and the one in Asia opening up. This is not a means to make the goods cheaper, but a means to increase the profits of the corporation, and in turn the shareholders. No only are the workers being exploited, but so are the consumers in Australia.


One thing she talks about is the concept of space. Basically space is being taken over by the corporatocracy. Once one would go shopping on the main street and spend some time in the town park. That is no longer the case: main street has closed down and much of the activity has moved to the shopping centre. There is a big difference between the town centre and the shopping centre and that is that the town centre is a public space while the shopping centre is not. What that means is that the owner of the shopping centre has complete control over what goes on there, thus creating an ordered and sheltered place where people can go and spend money and not be disturbed. However I have noted that at times The Body Shop have plastered their shop with anti-corporate logos, even in the middle of a Westfield Shopping Centre.


The further idea of no space is that all of our space is being taken up with advertising, and that the main thought forms of today is the brand logo. However branding once again in not new. Christianity has been using the brand logo for centuries, and in many was it has brought about the development of the brand as a means of advertising. The brand has also been used in the past to mark possession, such as slaves or cattle. However, you could say that the modern brand also marks possession. We see the swoosh on a shirt or my shoes and we know that they are Nikes. Nothing more needs to be said, but then I raise the question of whether those of us who wear the brand are in fact possessions of the company. I would say not, however to me it is a means of cheap advertising, though the cheapest form of advertising is always word of mouth. Personally, I must admit, I like Coopers Pale Ale, and as such I will wear a T-shirt with the brand on it (though I should also point out that the T-shirt was given to me as a gift). I guess, if the brand was a brand that I didn't like, then I wouldn't be wearing it (unless of course I was paid to do so, then I wouldn't have a problem, unless of course it was something that I was violently opposed to).


Some have suggested that the modern corporatocracy is launching a war against the middle class. To be honest I am going to dispute that namely because the corporatocracy needs the middle class, and even a cash flushed working class, to survive. Things have changed dramatically since this book was published, as the corporatocracy attempted to increase profits by increasing availability of credit. However, the more people got into debt, the less of an ability they have to pay it back, and when they cannot pay it back the debt must be written off. Come 2008, the entire economy reaches the brink of collapse, and the banks have not yet recovered. The economy survived, barely, and some still say it is on life support. However, many of the masters of the economy have fallen from grace, but this was not through the actions of demonstrators and protesters, but through their own greed. In the end it is much like a Shakespearian tragedy.


As mentioned, the corporatocracy need the people to survive, to create and grow their profits, but they have effectively reached critical mass. All of the jobs that filled the pockets of American workers have gone overseas, and as such these workers have been left without anything. Further, their savings accounts have also been drained and their credit has been maxed out, therefore they no longer have any money left to partake in the consumer society. Sure, the staples such as Walmart and McDonalds can survive because everybody needs food, but the others can't. Instead, with no money left to suck out of the working class, they need to look elsewhere for support, and unfortunately that does not exist in the developing world. The workers there are still underpaid and cannot afford the luxuries of the west. Therefore, in the end, the corporatocracy is its own worst enemy, and its endless pursuit of power and profits is going to be its own undoing.


Though I still love the free market capitalist who hated short sellers. I know this has nothing to do with this book, but I have to mention it. It is typical of the hippocracy of the extreme capitalist. They love the free market right up to the point that the market spins around and smacks them in the face, then they will jump in with regulations in an attempt to protect their profits. All I can say is if you want a free market, then you have to accept all of the free market, both good and bad. Personally, I see nothing wrong with short sellers, and in fact I actually quite like them because they piss off the capitalist to no end.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/323594123
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review 2015-11-28 07:38
The Story of Consumer Debt
Maxed Out - James Scurlock

Maxed out is a story of cheap credit and how the banking system has enslaved a middle class who cannot afford to pay it back. The author journeys across the United States speaking to people who have fallen into the debt trap and exposes how the banks do not necessarily make money from interest but rather from the fees (particularly overdraft fees). In fact the banks make more money lending money than by having it paid back simply because they either package up the debt into securities which they then sell to investors, or they sell the debt to debt collection agencies which then use many tricks to get the money back. What this book demonstrates is that the banks want you to be in debt, and want you to be addicted to debt because they make more money from minimum payments than they do by having the debt paid back. Even then, the money that they lend out is not necessarily theirs anyway - it is yours, if you have enough money to save in the first place.


There are a number of issues that should be explored in this particular commentary, and I felt that a simple paragraph really just brushes over the issues in this book (and accompanying documentary, or is it the other way around). To me there are two types of debt, investment debt and consumer debt. In a way investment debt, while risky, is better than consumer debt because the debt is used to leverage one's ability to generate an income stream. This can be an overdraft with a bank that a business can draw upon to pay its outgoings, particularly when one has a slow period, or it can be a margin loan, which is used to purchase securities, whether in the form of shares, bonds, or managed funds. While this form of debt is risky, if used right it can raise one's ability to generate an income. However, this documentary is not about investment debts (or leverage) but consumer debt.


Now, as far as I am concerned, consumer debt is bad, very bad. The idea is to buy now and pay later. In one sense it can create an ability to purchase a house (though in my mind this is more an investment debt) or a car without the need to save up the money. It may be necessary to have a car sooner rather than later, particularly if the car is needed for work. However, people use consumer debt to live a lifestyle that they simply cannot afford. New television, couch, holidays. In a sense it gives one the ability to live like a king for a day, and the consequences can be kicked down the road to deal with another day. However there is a catch: once the money is spent, and the object consumed, there is still a hangover - the debt and the interest payments that accompanies it. Moreso, once one tastes that high life through debt, one wants more, and more, and more. As such it becomes a drug, and a very seductive and addictive drug at that.


Remembering that this book deals with debt in America, in some ways it can be applied to other countries as well. We here in Australia are protected by a consumer credit code that restricts the ability of lenders to ensare people into debt slavery, however it does happen. A friend at work suddenly decided she wanted to take her family on an overseas holiday, but did not want to save, so she and her husband borrowed the money, saying that they will worry about the consequences later. However, from experience (not through debt as I am debt free – with the exception of the student loan, but unlike America, that debt is held by the government and you pay it back in the same way you pay tax, that is it is automatically deducted from your pay once you hit a certain threshold), the thrill and exhilaration of an overseas holiday is so addictive that you simply cannot come back and resume your normal life – you want to go back again, and again, and again. While I may justify my desire by ditching the word holiday and replacing it with 'research excursion' in reality I have become addicted to the thrill and simply want to justify my desire to re-experience that thrill.


I guess one of the most shocking things that I discovered from this book is how the credit card companies prey upon young university students. The first thing they see when they arrive at the campus are the multitude of stalls where companies are flogging off credit cards. Remember, they do not actually want us to pay the debt back, but rather continue to gouge us with interest payments and fees and charges. The banks are not concerned either because they have already packaged the loan up as a security and onsold it so that they get all of their money back, and then these loans are merged and packaged up, with bad loans being tied together with good loans, and onsold as AAA securities. In the end these securities end up forming parts of our superfunds so that these companies are screwing us around both ways. Not only are they diverting our income streams to repaying interest, but they are also taking our savings and replacing them with worthless IOUs. To further protect them, they insure the loans so that if the person does go bankrupt, and they lose their capital, they call on the insurer, who then pays up. The belief was that the insurer would never have to pay up, however this all unravelled in 2008.


This book, though, was written prior to 2008 so the consequences of this debt binge had not come to light. However this corporate debt binge, which almost collapsed the world economy, was dealt with through government bailouts. Yet there was never any bailout for the millions of people reduced to debt slavery. George Bush, at the insistence of the credit card companies, even changed the bankruptcy laws so that the debtees could not even hide behind that either. One might suggest that these people are responsible for their own position, but when we consider that innocent people are caught by the actions of others cannot be ignored. There is no healthcare in America, nor is their any government funded tuition. As such if you get sick you have to borrow money, and if you want to go to college you have to borrow money. I borrowed money from the government for my tuition, and the government has said that I can play it back once I reach a certain income level. This is not the case in the United States. Once you borrow the money for university, interest begins to accrue, and it may be at least four years before you begin your first proper job, and you are already saddled with a huge debt, and this is before the wedding, the house, and the kids.


At the beginning we are told of a story of a man who has had to declare bankruptcy, but was it his fault? Not necessarily, namely because his wife had incurred huge debt, dumped it onto him, and then ran off debt free. Stories like this make me glad that I am not married. It also makes me raise the question of debt early on in a relationship, but once again, like many other things in life, relationships bring risk, and it is how we respond to risk and how we tackle it that can determine the course of our life. However, the otherside is that consumer debt is not risk, or if it is, it is much higher than other forms of ris, because the risk is that you will not be able to pay it back, and even if you can, in the end the money you pay in interest, and even in principle, is dead money because your consumable is not generating an income and the interest payments are simply paid so that you can live as a king for a day and then deal with the hangover later. Unfortunately, the hangover will always be there, and in many cases, it will never go away.


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/187679918
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review 2015-06-09 17:42
Bringing a whole new meaning to the term 'connected'
Feed - M.T. Anderson

Think A Clockwork Orange meets I, Robot and you're on the right track to grasping the concept of Feed. If you've ever read or watched A Clockwork Orange, you'll remember the made up language/slang called Nadsat which was so complicated that a glossary was included at the back off the book. Feed isn't quite that difficult but it does take a meg long time to get used to (that was a little example there). As veteran readers of the blog will know, I am fascinated (or you could say horrified) by the theory that technology will one day destroy humanity as we know it now. One could even argue that it's already well under way. What M.T. Anderson has done is look at how corporations and the media have shaped our culture and what might happen if we surrender fully to it. This is a worst case scenario (at least I hope it is) of what happens when we cease asking questions and nourishing our natural curiosity. What if we were all tapped into the media and each other in such a way that we soon became mere vessels for corporations to exploit? Would life find a way? Find out by reading Feed and letting your imagination run wild.

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2013-11-18 05:26
The old is sometimes the best
Old Hat New Hat (Bright and Early Books) - Stan Berenstain,Jan Berenstain,Stan Berenstain,Jan Berenstain

This is an attack against the crass consumerism of our age and how the good, faithful, and familiar are at times better than the wonderful new item that is blasted by advertising logos that are constantly splattered across our vision. The story is about how a young bear, wearing his favourite hat, is wondering through the city and sees a beautiful new hat in the window of a hat store and decides that he wants to get rid of his old tatty hat in favour of something fancy and new.



However, as our little bear begins to explore the cornucopia of hats that make up this hat store, he discovers that each and every hat that is shown to him is just too gaudy, too colourful, or simply too silly (though at no point in the book do we discover that a hat is too expensive, or whether the young bear actually has the money to purchase a new hat, or has to whip out his visa or mastercard and pay for it on credit).


After going through all of the hats that are available in this hat store the young bear suddenly spies a hat that he finds to be perfect. Much to the disgust and disappointment of the store owner, the perfect hat is the faithful old tatty hat that he walked in with, and we can even see the anger and disgust on the store owner's face as the little bear models himself in front of the mirror and then walks out of the store the proud owner of his old hat (for which he did not have to pay a cent).


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/768392935
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