We all like to be chameleons these days, changing our colours based on the situation, the audience, the social medial network.
It feels kind of old fashioned to nail your colours to the mast and have a single set of values.
And with a growing trend towards a secular society many of us don’t have institutions drilling us in codes, creeds or commandments. Retargeted advertising on the internet is probably the closest that many of us get to a repeated, daily message – Nike Air Pegasus, now 30% off.
But there is value in articulating what we stand for.
It gives us something noble to aspire to.
It gives us a benchmark to review our actions against.
It gives us a guiding light when we’ve lost our way.
We constantly transgress our own values, because we’re not giving our values enough time out in the sun to grow and become strong. Without air and light, they remain atrophied waifs who can only whisper to us from the dark.
If we want to rely on our values to help guide our way, then we have to grow them with intention and attention. We need to think about what is important to us and take the time to remind and reinforce what we believe.
It doesn’t mean putting them on a t-shirt – this isn’t a necessarily public act – but it does mean being able to articulate them at least to ourselves.
What would we stand for?
What would we fight for?
What would we die for?
Values can be the batteries that power our whole selves, but only if we’ve taken the time to find them, dust them off and plug them in.
Before I start this story, let me just say, for the record, that I don’t like pædophiles. I don’t like what they do, I don’t like their politics and I certainly don’t like the music they listen to. I also don’t like the way that society will bend and twist and warp in bizarre and expensive ways in order to stop pædophiles from doing what they do.
Australian Communications Minister Stephen Conroy is in the middle of trying to firewall all of Australia’s internet access so that pædos can’t look at kiddie porn. What a massive waste of money, time and effort. It’s a ridiculous idea since any tech-savvy nonce will be able to get around it, and lots of non-pædo websites will be “accidentally” added to the list so that Australians can’t visit them.
Let’s hope that Conroy never looks intently at the stars. If he does, he might realise that if you squint, from a certain angle, the constellation of Orion looks like a naked ten-year-old boy winking at you seductively. Once that cat’s out of the bag, he’ll probably order the government to turn off the night sky. We wouldn’t want all the nocturnal pædos to get astronomical hard-ons now would we?
So with that in mind, let me tell you a story about value and pædophiles.
Last week I sat bolt-upright in bed at five in the morning having just thought of a joke that I thought I might be able to put in my new show. Since ideas for jokes can strike at any time, I always keep have a notepad with me, so that I can at least get the core idea down before it gets replaced by a more mundane thought, like how much I like porridge. I turned on the light, picked up my notepad and scrawled the word PÆDOPHILES across the page in attention-grabbing block capitals before flipping the leaf over and jotting down the crux of the joke on the back. Just so you know, the joke was about pædophiles, I don’t just scribble non-sequiturs on one side of the page and jokes on the other. At the time I thought “this is a cracking gag”, and so I was very happy with myself as I settled down to sleep until a more reasonable hour.
I woke up a few hours later and smiled when I saw the notepad as I was looking forward to fleshing out the joke later in the day. A new joke is a wonderful thing. It’s not only fun for an audience to hear, but it’s also very rewarding to create something out of nothing; especially if that something is very funny.
In order to remind myself to make time to write the joke, I tore the pædo page out of the book and jammed it into the back pocket of my jeans so I would see it while running my morning errands and think about it before I got back to doing the actual writing. My fiancee works during the day, which leaves me to look after the house admin and keep our daughter Florence alive while she’s at work. In preparation for running the errands, I put Florence in her baby-sling and strapped her to my chest like a paternal suicide bomber’s explosive vest, then I picked up all the bills, shopping lists and letters, stuffed them into my pockets and made my way down to the post office.
The post office was rammed with people as per usual. Instead of dealing with the problem of postal queues, which have been longer than Ron Jeremy since time immemorial, the government seems to be constantly expanding the portfolio of services the post office offers, seemingly in order to keep the queue outrageously long. It won’t be long before you’re unable to see a doctor until you’ve taken yourself down the post office, stood in a line for six hours and had the teller examine the suspect lump in your balls to determine if you really need a doctor or if you could just made do with a first class stamp and a passport application.
While waiting in the queue, which seemed to stretch from London to Hades and back via Cornwall, Florence woke up and started to fidget and scream which did wonders for the temperament queue of eighty people that have already been waiting for a teller since some time in the mid-seventies. By the time we got to the front, Florence was howling like a harpy and the rest of the crowd were at boiling point, not angry with Florence, but furious with me for not having the skills to keep her happy or quiet. As I rounded the last bollard of the maze they make us line up in, I reached into my back pocket for the gas bill I had to pay, but it caught on another piece of paper, and as I pulled the bill out of my pocket, the page torn out of my notepad fell to the floor and landed, PÆDOPHILES side up, in plain sight of everyone who was waiting for a teller.
Now in any normal circumstance I’d swoop down and pick up the paper before anyone was any the wiser, but because Florence was strapped to my chest like a portable air-raid siren, as I bent down, her leg was pinched between the the sling and my chest which caused her to belt out a howl of pain like nails down a blackboard, but a blackboard attached to angry cats that are simultaneously fucking and fighting. As Florence screamed, everyone’s attention was drawn to the paper, and not just what’s on it, but also the fact that I was desperately trying to reach it. Had it been any other piece of paper, I would have happily left it there, but it was covered in the only copy of the notes that I’d written for the joke, and if I’d have left it there, I would have lost those jokes forever.
Now my attachment to this paper might seem bizarre, but jokes put bread on comedians’ tables and when the jokes are old and stale, so is the bread. That piece of paper contained the essence of what may become a ten minute routine which, if included in a solo show or club set, could be worth thousands of pounds. A thousand-pound-note is always worth reaching for, even if it has Gary Glitter on the front and Pete Townsend on the back.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t reach the paper and had to ask the woman behind me in the line to help me pick up the paper. Now regardless of the what you may think about comedians, jokes or children, you have to admit, that you’d never like to be in a crowded post office, full of angry people with a child strapped to you chest having the following conversation:
“Excuse me, could you please pick up that piece of paper for me, I can’t quite reach it… No, not that one, the one with the writing on it. No, the other one with the writing on it.”
– CUE DRAMATIC SILENCE FROM EVERYONE IN THE POST OFFICE –
“…No, it’s one that says pædophiles!”
Heads turned, people coughed, the piano player stopped (how long had he been there?).
The woman that picked it up didn’t give it back to me straight away. She looked at the paper, looked at me, looked at Florence (still screaming) and tutted loud enough for everyone to hear. It was a tut of condemnation. One that said “you’re everything that’s wrong with the world and I hope you burn… cute baby.” Only then did she reluctantly handed me the offensive scrap, pinching it between thumb and forefinger as though it might give her AIDS.
I should have just let the paper go, my determination to get it back was written across my face and that’s what was freaking people out. The problem wasn’t so much that the paper said ‘pædophiles’ but that I so obviously attributed value to something which, to most people, was completely devoid of any worth.
If we were to chart the value of the piece of paper from its beginnings, we’d see that as a tree it held a lot of value, both in an environment and aesthetic sense. As soon as the tree was pulped (fig 1.), its value dropped as it’s of very little use to anyone in that state. As soon as it’s made into blank paper, it regains some value, maybe one penny if sold as an individual sheet, not a lot, but it has value because of it’s potential. A blank piece of paper can become anything: A paper plane, a canvas for a great work of art, the foundation of a poem, letter or story. Perhaps someone will use it to sketch a design that brings cheap clean energy to the world, or the chemical formula for a possible cancer cure. Or maybe someone just will wake up at five in the morning, and in black bold letters, emblazon it with the word PÆDOPHILES!
At this point, something very curious happens to its value. To me, the paper soars in value as it contains the formula for a joke which is potentially worth thousands of pounds. The value comes from that fact that until I flesh the joke out, it really only exists on the paper, there’s no room for it in my brain yet, what with my fondness for rolled oats. If I lose the paper, I lose the joke and all the potential earnings with it. To anyone else however, scrawling the word PÆDOPHILES across anything – paper, glass, even actual pædophiles – will rarely add to its value. If anything, it will decrease the value as most people tend not to avoid objects with objectionable words written on them. This is why you will rarely see a business man’s suit embroidered with the word CUNT.
As soon as the joke is written out however, the paper drops in value back to zero as it transforms from a sheaf of comedy gold, to something which, if left around the house, will just piss off my fiancee and confuse her parents.
THE VALUE OF PAPER
At this point, the piece of paper is destined to be of little value to anyone until it can be recycled and perhaps turned into something less likely to make a post office full of people scowl in self-righteous judgement. The only other hope for the paper in its current form is that the pædophile joke becomes so popular that it makes me incredibly famous, in which case, the original scrap of paper with the joke that catalysed my rise to stardom will probably skyrocket in value. The best possible outcome would be if the paper were auctioned at Southerby’s and bought by the lady who hated me in the post office but I’ll be the first to admit that won’t happen, mainly because I don’t think that she was the kind of woman to laugh at a pædophile joke. Not even a really good one.
Either way, it’s a moot point now since I lost the note later that afternoon and with it, all hope of reconstructing the pædophile joke. As a result, the paper will remain inherently worthless until it’s binned, burnt or buried by the sands of time, whichever comes first. However, while I no longer have a pædo joke, I do have meta-narrative about the note itself which, if popular enough, could in fact restore some value to the scrap of paper.
“What is that tiny shred?”
“It’s the fabled pædo-paper.”
“From the legend?”
“The very same.”
Even if the paper itself is never found, it’s now been immortalised in story and will live on in our hearts and minds forever, far surpassing any expectations that we could have had for it as a scrap of paper covered in crass jokes. It’s now the hub of a story about the metaphysical nature of value, which is far loftier than a mere gag about nonces. Perhaps I should be happy that the note has transcended its physical boundaries and become something greater, something immortal, a symbol for all other hastily written notes; but I can’t deny that there is a part of me that longs to have the scrap back in my hands. Not because I value the physical over the intangible, or that only appreciate material things… It’s just… it was a really funny pædo joke.