The Train Journey That Made Me Stock Check

I just finished a conference at Cambridge on childhood and nation where I gave a presentation on the disengagement faced by third generation citizens in Singapore and their corresponding Singapore cinema. On the way back to Manchester , I sat opposite a 67-year-old man. He had a shoulder-length ponytail and is half-Austrian half-British. He called himself a communist and a hippie. And a Yorkshireman. Throughout the train journey, he and I had a conversation. Well, more him talking to me, and more me being part of situation because I was sat right opposite him (according to him, that was destiny but not fate).

I didn’t understand a lot of what he said. He talked in riddles and was also undoubtedly very drunk. In that hour on the train, he cycled through three cans of lager, and burped non-stop. He told me about how he was a computing teacher for 31 years at various junior and high schools. He told me about how he worked as a pharmaceutical researcher in Salford University for about five years. He told me about how he’s best friends with the deans of Oxbridge. He told me he used to be a soldier in the British Army for ten years.

He told me that he fought both great wars. He told me he had a warm home, a lot of money (because as a communist you need to work the capitalist system), and had no internet nor TV at home. He told he he used to work for an organisation that hacked the CIA. He told me he used to go to Egypt to distribute salt and paper. He told me all women only exist to cheat the men off their money. He told me to never trust the information fed to us by the Man. He told me he never told a lie in his life.

Which itself is a paradoxical statement. He couldn’t have fought both wars and still be only 67. And be a hippie. And a communist. And work in all these various occupations. He just doesn’t have enough life to have done so much.

More importantly, he told me to never trust the media. He said it emphatically. And he explained how he used to watch the newsreels before a film when he went to the cinema during his younger days. Those fuccccccccckkkking propies – he said – never trust those things they show you in the cinema. He slammed his can of very expensive M&S lager down, went on a huge detour about how awful the beer was, and then went back to the subject of cinema.

Apparently he hates the cinema. But he goes because that’s how you can get into the panties of girls. Apparently he doesn’t even really care about what the movies show. Apparently. All he thinks of is the sex in the cinema. Not the sex on screen (not like Cinema Paradiso or Amarcord) but the sex that could possibly happen after the show.

All the while I practised my very good oral interview techniques – I just let him talked.

He never stopped though. But he never went back to talk about the cinema, nor engage in me trying to steer him back to the topic of cinema.

It got me thinking (I understand this is an extremely long-winded way to get thinking, but considering I haven’t written anything for quite a while now, I’ll write doubly more) about what the cinema means to people. When the blog first started, I wrote about the need to explore issues of representation and accountability. I’m still very much interested in these issues on representation and presentation in the filmic texts. Increasingly, however, my research interests have moved more towards the extra-diegetic, towards the discourses and conversations that surround cinema, and towards issues of cultural memory. How has cinema affected audience’s lives? What do audiences remember when they visit the cinema? Why do some stars have more cultural significance than others even though they are less prolific? Why did people go to the cinema? Why do people go to the cinema? Why are people so terribly excited about the filmic adaptation of Dad’s Army when TV to film sitcom adaptations are usually disastrous.

These kinds of research rely heavily on empirical research, and require a lot of patient human interaction. Yet these kinds of research, I think, are also the most unreliable ones. Memory fails you, especially after a long time (this is significant because I am working on areas around the aged [however you might define it] now). Also, people lie. People who say that they’ve never told a lie lie. It’s up to the researcher to decipher/decide what is relevant or not. It’s challenging.

I also have a problem with the over reliance of empirical data in areas surrounding gerontology, where theory gets – more often than not – thrown out of the window completely. But I can never abandon theory. I love theory. Sometimes I love theory a bit too much it gets too abstract in my head (and it painfully bogs my writing down, because I don’t want to write like Judith Butler or Homi Bhabha). It’s a constant struggle that I deal with: realising that theory is not universal, and attempting to universalise theory. In my PhD thesis, though, I would still love to incorporate a significant portion of theory back into the empiricism of gerontology, to show that interdisciplinary projects can formulate theories too.

But these are just thoughts for now. Thoughts that a random (most probably [definitely] drunk) man got me thinking. Big lofty ideas that a bright-eyed first year student yearn for – to change the world, no least. But I would definitely like to address these issues further; maybe as a blog post, maybe a presentation, or maybe writing a book chapter/journal article.

Watch out for this space, for another long meander, for another much needed stock check, where I say a lot and nothing at the same time.

(Image from Cinema Paradiso – the quality of the picture isn’t great, but I think it represents my point about cultural memory perfectly.)

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