The strangest, most chilling comment I’ve ever seen on the internet

March 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’m just going to post this comment without any additional info up front. Read it, and then I’ll reveal where I found it.

I want to post a warning about crime and hospitals in Hong Kong. I have been to Hong Kong many times with no problems, but on a recent visit I was hit hard on my head, robbed, and I stayed in a hospital in Hong Kong for one month in August. My bag, money belt, ID, passport, shorts, phone cards, clothes, toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, socks, shampoo, shirt, photos, coins, deodorant, bank book, US $400, ATM card, brush, three notebooks, and wallet were all stolen. I was hit so hard that the right side of my head was broken in six places and the doctors removed part of my right side of my skull and a blood clot. They said my brain was bruised, but not damaged. In about six months I need to have a plate put in my head to protect my brain. I am lucky that I wasn’t killed, paralyzed, or put in coma. I don’t remember what happened, but only remember waking up in the hospital. I couldn’t speak after the injury or remember words but now I am much better. I still drool a little and am dizzy if I get I up too fast. I should get better, though.

Staying in the Hong Kong hospitals was terrible because I am healthy and I haven’t spent a lot of time in hospitals. I also don’t understand the Hong Kong system, either. They tied my arms and legs to the bed for some reason, injected me with liquid for weeks, didn’t give food or water for six days, didn’t allow me to shower, wash my face, brush my teeth, exercise, told me go to the bathroom in my bed for three weeks, and didn’t allow me to make phone calls or use the Internet. I had communication problems with some workers because I don’t speak Cantonese. The nurses and doctors told me I could leave in a few days or in a week, but they were usually wrong. Almost everyday for three weeks I was given oatmeal to eat three times a day although I hate it. I finally refused to eat it and they gave me better food like rice and chicken. The hospital also didn’t seem very well supplied due a seeming shortage of sleeping pills and painkillers. The hospital was public, very crowded, and had many very old sick men who snored loudly and seemed near death. I saw things I never saw before and didn’t sleep well because of the noise and was often interrupted for blood pressure checks and exams. The doctors and nurses said I caught pneumonia and slept a lot the first week, but I don’t remember that. Buildings in Hong Kong use too much air conditioning, too. I was quite bored because they were only TV shows in Cantonese to watch that I couldn’t understand. After three weeks, I transferred to a rehabilitation hospital. I had no clothes, money, identification, soap, passport, friends, or family in Hong Kong. Some nice people from church groups visited me later and brought things I needed like fruit and toothpaste and my consulate brought me English
books, helped me find my passport, contacted my family in America, and told them how to send money to me.

I admit some of my big problems were my fault because I went to Hong Kong to get a new Chinese visa at a visa agency and didn’t pay first because I didn’t think I would lose my money, I also took my bank book to Hong Kong although it doesn’t work there, and I don’t remember being attacked since I may have fallen asleep outside on a bench at night
because I didn’t want to pay for hotel. I also didn’t have a Hong Kong ID card since I am not a resident and didn’t have medical insurance because I am healthy and never thought something like this would happen to me. I thought Hong Kong was safe.

The doctors wanted me to stay longer in the hospital, but I felt better, wanted to return home, and couldn’t afford the hospital stay. The hospital said it cost HKD 3000 per day to stay and I was there for a month. If I was a Hong Kong resident, the fee is only HKD 100 per day. The hospital wanted their money, but since I don’t have it, they can’t get it. I don’t know how I can repay them. I also may need to pay for replacement plate surgery in six months.

I hope my misfortune will convince people to be aware about crime and bad hospitals in Hong Kong, be careful with their valuables and passports while traveling, and be sure to have medical travel insurance. I personally wouldn’t recommend anyone visit Hong Kong. It was truly a nightmare.

Ok, so clearly we should all avoid ending up in a Hong Kong hospital, I guess. I’ve read travelling horror stories like this plenty of times, usually in the Guardian magazine when they do features on Gap Yah nightmares. So, in context.

Where was the above comment posted?


Yes. It’s an article about Spielberg being passed over for Best Director in 1975. This is important because my first reaction was that there had to be some sort of context for the comment. Maybe not in the article itself or the other two comments, but the hosting website in general? Maybe it attracts nutters?

Well, no. The website in question is not one I’m familiar with but appears to be a cultural roundup blog with a particular penchant for the cinema. It doesn’t have a very active community, and the comments which are made are invariably relevant a particular post.

My second thought was – must be spam. But then I re-read the comment. It’s very carefully composed, obviously by a native English speaker. It doesn’t make any special or unusual demands, like visiting websites or signing petitions, or giving money, etc etc. It just tells, very carefully, a strange and haunting story about a horrible experience in another country.

So… why? Why post it there? If we assume this was written beforehand to spread awareness, it must have been posted here deliberately out of context on the assumption there would be high traffic and thus a solid chance of it being read by large numbers of people. Except… I’ve never heard of that website. It’s no Huffington Post, or even YouTube (which as we know is the place for sensible people to get heard). I only visited it because I was referred there by a creative director I follow on twitter. And he only has a few thousand followers, so he’s not going to make anything go viral on his own.

Which means I’m left with the disturbing thought that the comment’s author is out there in the world somewhere, recovering from a severe head injury (which nevertheless hasn’t affected their ability to write articulate prose), and posting their story anywhere they can in the vague hope people will read it and learn about his or her experience.

Or… it could be a fabricated story. But really, why on earth would anyone fabricate such a thing? What possible satisfaction could they gain from doing so and then posting it at random on minor cultural websites?

The thing is, there’s one explanation I keep coming back to which I find the most disturbing of all, precisely because it’s so believable. It comes down to this: sad people just want someone to listen to them.

Nowadays we hear a lot of garbage about how technology is driving us apart, we don’t meet face-to-face as much, yada yada, and I’m not buying it. What I do buy is that, in the past, lonely misfits had no obvious recourse available to them vis-a-vis getting someone to notice them. So they got lots of cats to keep them company, or became a kleptomaniac, or murdered someone famous, or committed suicide, or did whatever desperate thing made them feel that maybe, just maybe, they WERE alive after all and they COULD have a place in the world.

Today we all have the internet. And, for lonely people, the internet is a tragic and dangerous illusion. It’s a big, loud, chaotic party where you can always find someone to ‘talk’ to and no-one can stop you from getting involved. An open house party, if you like, but one you can go to without having to have social skills or underwear. The illusion, though, is that it’s self-contained.

Yes, you can live your life, or large parts of it, online. But your life is still what it is, even if you have a thousand facebook friends or a million twitter followers. You need a real life to underpin it. Otherwise it’s just… empty. Pictures of food you can’t eat. Digitised sculptures. Plastic sex. Anonymous racism.

Ultimately what chills me about this comment is that I detect a yawning chasm of sadness behind it. A need to reach people who seem to be close by but who vanish as soon as you touch the screen in front of you. A person who I’ll never meet but who desperately wants to meet me, to meet anyone who feels what he feels and could tell him they feel it too. He or she has written this careful account but and then realised they don’t have the tools, offline or online, to reach anyone with it. So they’ve done the only thing they could think of.

Scream into cyberspace.

And I want to tell them: “You are loved” – but I can’t. Not in a way they’d understand. The only person who could, if they read his writing, would be this guy:

We all have our little solipsistic delusions, ghastly intuitions of utter singularity: that we are the only one in the house who ever fills the ice-cube tray, who unloads the clean dishwasher, who occasionally pees in the shower, whose eyelid twitches on first dates; that only we take casualness terribly seriously; that only we fashion supplication into courtesy; that only we hear the whiny pathos in a dog’s yawn, the timeless sigh in the opening of the hermetically-sealed jar, the splattered laugh in the frying egg, the minor-D lament in the vacuum’s scream; that only we feel the panic at sunset the rookie kindergartner feels at his mother’s retreat. That only we love the only-we. That only we need the only-we. Solipsism binds us together, J.D. knows. That we feel lonely in a crowd; stop not to dwell on what’s brought the crowd into being. That we are, always, faces in a crowd

from ‘Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way’ (1989), by David Foster Wallace


Generation FUCK YOU

November 7, 2011 § 1 Comment

Dear Tony Blair/David Cameron,

I was born with nothing.

Then I went to school, where I worked pretty hard for 12 years and did pretty well.

So I went to university. Again I worked pretty hard and did pretty well.

After 3 years I left education for good.

Or so I thought. After an abortive graduate job I went back to education for one year.

I left education for good for a second time in July of this year.

During my non-consecutive 20 years of study I’ve been:

a paper boy
a shop assistant
a trolley boy
a customer services assistant
a telephone fundraiser
a care assistant
a kindergarten assistant
a tutor
a bar steward
a waiter
a warehouse assistant
an unskilled roadworker
an exam marker
a journalist

and none of those jobs were even slightly enjoyable or fulfilling.

The good news currently is that I’m on the path to a career that IS both of those things.


a) my personal debt currently stands at around £45,000

b) I work around 52 hrs/week and get paid £180/week, which works out at around 30p/hour – £5.78 less per hour than the national minimum wage

Funnily enough, I’m relatively fortunate in both of the above points, since

a) my student loan was calculated under the old system, so I owe tens of thousands of pounds less than those who’ve gone to university since

b) I’m lucky enough to be on a competitive paid work placement, unlike my contemporaries in other competitive industries such as the museums sector, where lengthy unpaid internships are the norm

Anyway, I just wanted to ask:

What did I do wrong?

Yours sincerely,

Joe Hunter

Welcome to the Age of Acceptable Misandry

October 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

I was flicking through the Evening Standard last night on my way home from work when this article caught my eye, mostly because of its pun-tastic headline:

Now I know the argument being put forward in the above article isn’t exactly clear, but I think we can extrapolate a hypothesis.

1. Adele is very successful, and a woman.

2. Most other world famous and successful solo pop singers are also women.

3. Matt Cardle has a shit, pissy voice.

4. Girls tend to outperform boys at GCSE level.

5. Poor male performance in the pop charts and in GCSE exams is connected.

6. This indicates that men are no longer ‘necessary’.

Of course, I’m assuming that this ‘argument’ was intended by its author to be taken with a pinch of salt. At least I hope it was. And of course, it’s a shitty little article in a shitty paper and therefore matters little. Even so, it really got under my skin – not because of its own odiousness, but because of what it says about modern gender discourse.

Let’s start with the basics. Yes, there are some stellar female solo pop singers out there. In fact most would agree the solo pop singer bracket is female-dominated, with one major exception (Justin Bieber?). There are, however, other musical brackets to consider.

Hip-hop, for one. That’s a pretty major musical bracket, eh? And when it comes to the hip-hop elite you notice something: they’re male. Dr Dre, Jay-Z, Eminem, and 50 Cent are not only stratospherically famous performers but also hideously predatory and wealthy businessmen with interests outside of music.

Another less obvious point worth making is that when you look into the success of the women named in the article you notice something slightly alarming (from a ‘girl power’ point of view): the Hand of the Male. Lady Gaga’s ‘creative director’? The person responsible for those attention-grabbing outfits and all that camp music video malarkey? It’s this bloke. Beyonce, hailed as an example of strong modern femininity, sings songs about ‘putting a ring on it’ – i.e. taking possession through marriage – and her breakthrough Destiny’s Child track ‘Independent Women’ hailed “the honeys who makin’ money” as if earning an income was equivalent to making a feminist stance, rather than a practical and expected necessity. Oh, and Adele? She’s working on her 3rd album and claims it will take longer than the others because she now, finally, has full creative control. Her manager? This bloke. Who needs men? Beyonce, Gaga, and Adele do, apparently.

So on one hand we have hugely rich and famous male rappers (Jay-Z et al) who have full creative control and a range of business interests, and on the other hand we have rich and famous female singers (Beyonce et al) who are, for want of a better phrase, ‘propped up’ by men.

That much should be clear to anyone, and to an extent I’m shooting fish in a barrel here. The important point, though, is that no one would consider championing Jay-99problemsbutabitchaintone-Z in the Evening Standard as an example of why we don’t ‘need’ women.

It seems to me that towards the end of the 20th century it became fashionable to imply in public arenas that men were inferior to women. Rather than die away, this phenomenon has now entered the fabric of our social discourse to the extent that a throwaway misandrist article like the one above doesn’t even raise an eyebrow in most people. I would suggest that this is a damaging thing for both genders.

For men because I imagine it’s pretty shit to grow up in a society that finds it funny to suggest that the reason you’re projected poor GCSE results is because your gender is a bit shit.

And for women because this aggressive hangover from ‘girl power’ is not helpful in the slightest. Firstly, it leads to blind idolisation of successful women no matter how they became successful (Jordan, Jade Goody, Beyonce, etc), thus obscuring inequality at every level of society. Secondly, and most importantly, it lends a ‘men vs women’ illusion to every sphere, making it far too easy for otherwise sensible women to blame ‘men’ whenever they are thwarted or dissatisfied.

More importantly… it just really pisses me off.

Two monologues

January 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

At college the other day we did a couple of writing exercises.

The first was to write a monologue from the perspective of a pebble lying on a beach, and the second was to write a monologue in which a secret is revealed.

After we’d done the first, Tony casually mentioned that asking people to write from the point of view of an inanimate object is a common technique in psychoanalysis, as the transference gives people subconscious ‘permission’ to reveal their underlying state of mind.

Now I’m worried I might be suffering from some kind of megalomania…


The Pebble

I look like all the rest, don’t I?

I’m round, like them. Smaller than some, perhaps, but not the smallest. Other pebbles on this beach are prettier, maybe. I’m surprised you noticed me at all.

But there’s a lot you don’t know about me.

You see, I’ve been lying on this beach for over a hundred years. And before that, I was on another beach down the coast. Before that, another. And so on, and so on. Every time the waves came in and the current tugged at me, I moved. And every time I moved I rubbed against other pebbles, other rocks. And every time that happened I got a little bit smaller – a chip here, a grain there. Worn smoother and smoother, and smaller and smaller, by the waves.

So you see, I was a lot bigger once. Very big, actually.

I was a meteorite.

Millions and millions of years ago I fell out of space and killed every living creature on Earth.

You definitely would’ve noticed me then.


The Secret

I’ve got something to tell you.

You know that yoghurt you were saving? The expensive, rich, full-fat, creamy Greek yoghurt with the pink Post-It note on it that said ‘Mine!’ with an exclamation mark and a little heart over the ‘i’?

I was the one who ate it.

I suppose you’re expecting me to apologise, aren’t you? To look ashamed and guilty, and to say I’m sorry. Well I’m not going to, because I’m not sorry.

It was fucking delicious. God I enjoyed it. I can see why you were saving it now. What a treat!

But if I’m honest, I didn’t eat it because I was hungry, or because I thought it looked good.

No, I just wanted to piss you off. It was that note.

Anyone who dot their ‘i’s’ with little hearts deserves everything they get.

The Adman versus the Artist

October 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

I’ve got a feeling that the practice of carrying out group ‘crits’ of work is standard practice on Art and Design courses, but for me it’s a new experience, so here are my thoughts.

For one thing, it seems to make more sense as a process with advertising than with, say, fine art for the simple reason that although both deal with creative ideas, advertising is more honest about those ideas.

The little I know about art (and it is a little) tells me that artists are in the business of making simple ideas look very complicated. Probably most of the time they’re making very vague ideas look even more vague than they already are.

Perhaps the key lies in the execution of those ideas – in the making of a beautiful object – and I’m missing the point entirely, but I stand by the assertion that advertising beats art hands down on the ideas front. And it’s in a group crit that this is proven.

There is nowhere to hide when 12 other people are looking at your work and evaluating it. If they don’t understand or like it, you simply cannot argue. An artist, however, would. This work is highly personal, they might say; or better still: if you don’t understand it it’s your fault, your failing. The problem with the artist’s approach to outside opinion, though, is that it forms an impenetrable shield against all external evaluation. If non-comprehension is taken as confirmation that a work is vital and interesting we can all consider ourselves creative geniuses, because it’s the easiest thing in the world to create something no-one understands.

It’s far harder to create something intelligent and simple. Something that includes people rather than excluding them. This is what group crits teach you: that communicating with people is hard. Very hard. When somebody doesn’t understand you the natural reaction is to be angry with them, to see it as their fault. It’s not, though. If you are the one trying to communicate something, and the other person is genuinely listening, it’s your fault if they don’t understand.

At university I became accustomed to treating my ideas like precious trinkets, little ornaments never to be shown the daylight. My process when writing an essay was always read for a long time, then scratch around for an afternoon in a quiet room trying to write something that wasn’t manifestly lifted from someone else’s writing. Often this was a futile and frustrating exercise and I learnt to content myself with the thought that somewhere in my mind lay deep, rich seams of untapped wealth that I would someday harvest, astounding everybody.

Sadly I now believe this to be a largely flawed supposition, for the simple reason that if I am never able to tap this untapped wealth it isn’t really wealth at all, is it? It’s like having a bank account containing large amounts of money, but you’ve forgotten which bank it’s with. And you never had the pin number in the first place.

Group crits are helping me to understand that ideas, as soon as they are formed, need to leave the dark cerebral space in which they are precious trinkets and face the cold hard light of day. This light may show them to be cheap rubbish, and you may not love them anymore. But if those golden shafts fall upon your ideas and show them to be as beautiful as you’d hoped, the pleasure you gain from them thereafter will always be the greater because you took the risk of exposing them.

Back to School

September 5, 2010 § Leave a comment

I feel like I’ve gone back in time four years, or possibly 19. First day of the Watford course tomorrow, and I’ve come over all nostalgic about first days I have known before.

That’s me, on the right, 19 years ago on the morning of my first day at primary school. Don’t I look happy?

Of course like anyone else I wasn’t particularly happy at school. But at the point at which this photo was taken the only way was up, as far as I was concerned. School represented possibility unbounded.

My parents took the photo because the day represented a right of passage. And with any rite of passage, there’s no way back once it’s passed. A new life has begun.

Four years ago I underwent another rite of passage.

I don’t have a photo from my first day at university, but this was taken two weeks into my first term. It was my 20th birthday (I’m second from left), and inevitably I was celebrating it with people I hardly knew, feeling pretty awkward.

The difference is profound. Before my first day of school; happily optimistic. Beginning of university; filled with uncertainty.

University, the greatest experience of my life so far, filled me with uncertainty. Why? Where was the optimism of the four year old?

As adults, we understand this about rites of passage: you only get one go, so make it count.

The four year old on his first day of school doesn’t know this. To him school is just pure potential. The thought that he might balls it up never enters his mind.

Now I’m going back to school, and I’m going to do my best to act like a four year old.

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