Tricks of the mind

TV. I spend a lot of time giving out about it. That soul-eating suckbox sitting in the corner, dominating all your senses. Slowly eating your life. Hours where you could be making, creating, living, loving. Or even depleting the long list of depressing chores, to live a more clutter-free life. Not just ridding the pile of unironed clothes but the cobwebs in your head. A night on the sofa, wasted life-hours, ending with a fat gut, laden with guilt, like the soiled sock hidden under the bed of a teenage boy.

Woah. I’d just intended to post that I read Derren Brown’s book recently and I’m looking foward to his Trick or Treat show again tonight and all that bile just spilled out. What I’d intended to say is that while I do loath the tellybox at times and would love to see it in the bin, I do love good TV, rarity that it is. I’ve a few heroes I love to watch on the box; David Attenborough, Roy Mears, Richard Dawkins, Armandi Ianucci, Charlie Brooker, Stephen Fry. And I love a good film, or a good quiz (not to be confused with a gameshow).

I just hate when we end up sitting in front of the stupid thing watching crap as if its some kind of domestically social event. And I hate that late night plastic soap plaguing the screens; neither serious nor funny. Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty, Plastic Polly, Fucking Funty. They’re all the same shallow numbeties. And I despise the kind of TV programming designed to reel you in and suck on your very soul, either for the rest of the night (Top 100s) or the rest of your robotic life week after week (soaps). And Fridays are the worst, just when you’re too tired to do anything else, they lay on the thickest excrement from the bottom of the barrel.

Woah. Let’s try again. Derren Brown’s Trick or Treat is on tonight. I like Derren Brown and I find his work intriguing. He could so easily be dismissed as an annoying magician, and he often is. But he doesn’t do magic. Psychological tricks, amazing memory feats, and general head fucking but no magic. And he’ll be the first to admit, nay shout from the rooftops, that anyone who claims to read your mind or predict the future is nothing but a shyster.

I read his book, Tricks of the Mind recently and it’s highly entertaining. Actually it starts off a little bit puerile, with the kind of bad jokes and puns, that people new to writing haven’t learned to resist yet. Like people dabbling with electronic music using too much reverb, or budding design enthusiasts using too much drop-shadow. Resist! But the silly puns are gone by the end, as are the silly tricks, from the start of the book. There are fascinating insights into lie detection, cold reading, hypnosis, NLP and memory. Not that showing you the tricks of his trade makes it easy, or possible, to do likewise. Could you fly a plane after reading the manual? The second half of the book is a scathing attack on all forms of mumbo jumbo, from fortune tellers and psychics to healers and religion, which puts him into hero ranks for me.

I’m suddenly reminded of an otherwise clever young guy who constantly regurgitates a line that I reckon some lecturer told him and he thought it was clever. He reckons that Irish Atheist are just rebelling against the Irish Church and it doesn’t reach any further than that, which is the biggest load of cock I’ve ever heard repeated. Like most Atheists, I despise all forms of superstition: fortune tellers, mind readers, lucky black cats, unlucky magpies, psychics, mediums, the number 13, prayer, heaven, hell, god, afterlife, auras, amber beads, luck, souls, ghosts. It’s all the same mumbo jumbo to me. Catholic or Muslim, Jew or Gentile.

Woah. Let’s try again. Derren Brown’s Trick or Treat is on tonight. It’s an entertaining little show. Last week was a ‘Treat’, a guy was shown how to add facts from hundreds of books to his short-term memory and kicked ass in one of the biggest pub quizzes in the UK. In tonight’s episode, a girl picks the ‘Trick’ card and has to wrestle with her conscience over the torture of a cat. I’m guessing that it’s Brown’s version of that famous obedience to authority experiment carried out by psychologist Stanley Milgram.

Trick or Treat

10.00pm. Channel 4.

Then turn it off and play some scrabble, or bake a cake, or see what fun you can have with some facepaint and a sleeping child. Or… maybe… just watch Peep show on straight after Derren Brown. Then if you’ve had a few cans, Balls of Steel might seem like a good idea. And then before you know it, it’s 2AM and you’re woken by the stale beer spilling onto your lap in a cloud of self-loathing on another wasted night.

  • Reply zee

    May 10, 2008, 12:32 am

    Such a great post John. I think the problem with you being such an eloquent and clever blogger is that it makes it very difficult for me to leave any insightful comment!

    I watched the show tonight on your recommendation and enjoyed the crap out if it. I love how I can always spot the devices Derren Brown is using on these shows, but I’m sure if I was in the situation myself I wouldn’t be so astute. That book sounds like it would make for interesting reading.

    PS: Could you believe that with the kitten!! OMG, as they say.

  • Reply John Braine

    May 10, 2008, 6:13 pm

    Woah. I don’t get many comments but that makes up for them all. Thanks a lot Zee. Sometimes I can’t really tell whether I’m writing utter nonsense or not.

    Yeah I’d say it’s a very different experience being in his company, and being on the receiving end. All looks so easy from this side of the screen.


  • Reply Sharon

    May 13, 2008, 8:09 am

    Zee’s right John, great post!

    I’ve got the same TV heroes as you, except for Ray Mears, I haven’t watched him. But those others, they are what the British should be proud of.

    I only recently got interested in Derren Brown, since his appearance in Dawkin’s “Enemies of Reason” TV show. He’s a cool skeptic dude!

    I do like TV but you do have to be careful not to get sucked in by the dross, just ’cause it’s on. BBC 4 have a great series out now about medieval life. I love watching Doctor Who every week with the children and I like Heroes (though the black-eyes woman story line is so dull.)

    I’m really enjoying the new online TV options like the BBCi player and 4oD letting me watch just what I want.

  • Reply John Braine

    May 13, 2008, 11:40 pm

    Thanks Sharon! I was gutted to miss “Enemy of Reason”. Think I’ll try and pick it up on DVD.

    Here are some two Ray Mear’s tasters:

    Aboriginal Britian
    Africa Safari
    . I must check out the medieval life thing.

  • Reply Sharon

    May 14, 2008, 11:13 am

    It’s available on google video.
    Part 1 and Part 2.

  • Reply B

    May 15, 2008, 8:36 pm

    Thanks for the google video links, I only have 7 television stations and anything bigger than .flv video files kill my download limit so it’s perfect.

  • Reply fatmammycat

    May 26, 2008, 1:38 pm

    We could nearly be kinfolk!

  • Reply John Braine

    May 26, 2008, 1:57 pm

    Welcome to my humble abode sister!

  • Reply morgor

    May 27, 2008, 10:36 pm

    I love arguing religion with people as I would like to be able to convince people to just stop believing in shit.

    Problem is the only time I get a chance to do this is down the pub and usually this argument comes on late in the night and by then my rational arguments are quite limited.(and slurred)

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