The Poetics of Empire

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The Poetics of Empire (Lewton Bus)

Pop quiz: In your typical James Bond movie, who is the protagonist?
Seems like a strange, obvious question, right? It’s obviously Bond. He’s the hero. He’s played by the top-billed actor. The franchise is basically named after him. So, clearly, Bond is the protagonist. Right?
Put a pin in that…

Bond, Thanos, Palpatine, Thespis

Pop quiz: In your typical James Bond movie, who is the protagonist?

Seems like a strange, obvious question, right? It’s obviously Bond. He’s the hero. He’s played by the top-billed actor. The franchise is basically named after him. So, clearly, Bond is the protagonist. Right?

Put a pin in that, and we’ll come back to it.

Now, here’s a similar question: In the new Avengers: Infinity War, who is the protagonist?

This article mirrors almost-exactly the conversation that Ruth and I had coming out of the cimena after seeing Infinity War the other week.


On Tuesday last week, Ruth and I went to Etiquette, an unusual (and at least a little experimental) theatrical experience at the Oxford Playhouse. I say “theatrical experience”, because while there were certainly elements to the evening that could be considered to be reminiscent of more-conventional theatre, it was far more like not going to see a play than it was like doing so.

Dan arrives, sits down, and puts his headphones on.

The event takes place in a café. And I mean that literally… I’m not just setting the scene; although many of the scenes also take place in a café. This is actually a cafe, with a handful of other participants, sat in pairs at their respective tables, and a majority of people who are just everyday folks out for a drink or a sandwich.

We were shown to our table and invited to sit. On the table were a collection of objects – glasses of water, a pipette, stage blood, two plastic figurines (one man, one woman), a ball of white tack, some chalk, a book, some notepaper, some blank cards… and a pair of MP3 players with headphones. We were instructed to put on the headphones. Simultaneously, the MP3 players were started.

Ruth begins to receive her instructions.

From there on, we followed the instructions given over the earpieces. My role was that of an older man, a self-described philosopher. Ruth played a prostitute, which lead to at least a little embarrassment on her part when she was required to say, “I am a prostitute,” in a crowded café. It’s easy to feel acutely self-conscious when you’re relaying what you’re told in a pair of headphones out loud. You know that feeling that you get when you realise that you’re singing along to the music you’re listening to, in public? It’s a little bit like that, but instead of music, you’re spouting out-of-context nonsense.

The inner ‘stage’ – the table between us – on which a second, inner, story is told, through the medium of miniatures and chalk.

It’s not just dialogue, though; it’s also stage direction, motivation, and prompts to inspire emotion. Some of the story is told in a very abstract way: early on, Ruth’s and my characters had agreed to meet in a house on a hill, near a tree. Ruth laid her hand out on the table, on which she had, under previous instruction, drawn a square and a dot on the heel of her palm. I was told to examine the shape of the “landscape” of her hand, and try drip water from my pipette, from as high as I could reach, onto it. Simultaneously, her character – already in the house (the square) – was told that it had begun to rain, and she heard the sound of a storm beginning through her headphones.

Throughout the course of the event, we each took on a variety of roles: as characters in our own play, as directors of a “play” performed on our table using the props we had to hand, as the audience to both of the above, and even as parts of the scenery.

The story itself… was okay. It felt like it was lacking something. It wasn’t bad, and it certainly took advantage of the space and technology it required, but it was perhaps trying to say a little bit too much in a little bit too short a time. But the medium? That whole “scripted, but you don’t get to read ahead”, headphones-acting? That’s kind-of cool and exciting. I’ve got the urge to try to write something similar myself (perhaps for a cast of five or six). Although first, I’ve got a murder mystery to finish writing!

Update, 5 November 2019: the Playhouse’s link has gone down, but information about the piece is available at the producers’ website.

× × ×

Leslie Nielsen was admitted to hospital earlier this month

You: To Hospital? What is it?

Me: It’s a big building with patients, but that’s not important right now.

Sad to say, he died yesterday. The world has lost a fantastic actor and comedian.

Just a short post, here: the wedding this weekend was amazing, but I’ll be writing about that at a later point, once I’ve caught up on all the work and email I’ve neglected over the last week or so.

Addiction; a monologue

This declaration was posted to one of my first websites, on 1 November 1997. It was republished here on 22 March 2021.

(lights up on a computer nerd, with no dress sense and even less common sense. Perhaps with jam-jar glasses and spiky hair. He’s sat in front of a blank computer terminal.)


They say I’ve got nobody to blame but myself. Except possibly those bastards at British Telecom. And their lawyers, for that matter. Okay, so I might not have used the phone line that much, but it’s hard, you see? I’m a net addict, and they’ve given me my sentence. They’ve sentenced me to “not having a phone line” for a period of “until you can pay your past bills”.

At least we ended up making the settlement out of court. At least BT’s bastards put that small print line on their contract that says “this does not affect your statutory rights”. Yeh – no problem… All I have to do now is make the several hundred pounds necessary to pay off my past bills, and they might just give me my phone line back.


It’s not my fault that I’m an Internet addict. I bet those bastards at BT are in with the Internet Service Provider people. I bet they’re just ecstatic about people like me. I bet the bastards just love to invite me to one of their “meetings” where they watch you squirm uncomfortably in your chair and tentatively fondle the few remaining coins in the bottom of your meaningless wallet.

I’ve tried to get over it. I’ve sat and re-read my old e-Mails time and time again, but it’s not the same. I’ve got people trying to get through, and I’ll never know.

I wonder if I can claim for loss of earnings? Nah – I never make any money nowadays anyway…


So here I am, suffering the symptoms of my deprivation. The other Internet addicts say it’s like heroin in an addicts veins; the pulse of surfing down a telephone line. But it’s not. Heroin addicts can get over it. For me, it’s like castration. I’ll never get my life back.

There’s nothing better than to come in on an evening, log on, and wave to the world. Hit a chat-channel and surf the web. You get some real jerks on there – net newbies – sometimes, but you’ve just gotta know where to shop and you’re part of the gang. It doesn’t matter who’s there, what they’re like or whether you’ll never meet them again. They’re your friends, and you’re part of the gang.


I didn’t waste my phone time. No way. I used all those clever programs that your mates give you on CD’s. I use the latest software. I get every ounce of power out of my already bulging-to-explosion point PC. Admittedly, I spend the money I save in this way on, well, more net-time, but at least it shows that I can economise. Kind of…

So here I am. No phone line; no friends. I’m a net-nobody. I’m disconnected. I’m powered down. I’m dead.

Life’s a bitch, innit?