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"Choose Facebook": How Trainspotting 2's updated speech falls flat

The references to social media in the the latest trailer for T2 have none of the impact of the original Trainspotting speech.

Choose life. Choose Vine. Choose hashtags. Choose Facebook Live. Choose Bitcoin. Choose memes. Choose the gig economy. Choose the dog face Snapchat filter.

This isn’t quite how Irvine Welsh updated the iconic Trainspotting speech for the trailer of its long-awaited sequel, T2, but it’s close. “Choose life. Choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and hope that someone, somewhere cares,” opens Renton, paving the way for a speech that name drops zero-hour contracts, revenge porn, and slut-shaming.

And I get it. When a bunch of writers sat around to contemplate how to update a 20-year-old speech for the modern age, these are the topics that would naturally come up. And it might have worked if, you know, they weren’t making a film about 45-year-old ex-junkies with a penchant for crime.

That’s not to say, of course, that 45-year-olds ex-junkies don’t use social media. It’s just that it all feels slightly inauthentic. Sick Boy, Renton, and Spud would probably have Facebook – in 2016, it’s almost illegal not to have Facebook – but would they really snap their avocado toast for the Insta Likes? “Aha!” you say. “That’s the point. They’re mocking people who do!” But that’s where it all falls flat. The original speech worked because Renton was taking aim at people older than him, with their new washing machines and electric tin-openers, but now he has become every other baby-boomer on the planet, convinced that a teenager taking a selfie is one of the seven signs of the impending apocalypse.

Despite this, the trailer is undeniably good. It’s hard not to be excited about seeing familiar faces back on the big screen, and it’s clear that the plot won’t consist of watching Sick Boy try to level up on Candy Crush Jelly Saga. But if the characters aren’t sat around using social media, why talk about it in the speech? 

Take the reference to revenge porn. Anyone who’s read Welsh’s Trainspotting sequel, Porno, will be happy that this at least hints towards a similar plot. But people who share pornographic photos of their ex-lovers don’t do it after sitting down and saying, “Ah, yes. Time for a spot of revenge porn.” They just do it. Revenge porn is a helpful title for headlines, but in this speech it sounds heavy-handed. As a plot, revenge porn is fine. As a soundbite in a speech, it jars.

Then there’s the line: “You’re an addict so be addicted; just be addicted to something else.” Hopefully this is hinting towards the bags of pills and Sick Boy’s cannabis farm that we see in the trailer, but lord help us all if Renton is talking about iPhones. Black Mirror did it first, and again-and-again, and saying Social Media Is Bad is a cheap, basic way to reflect on society.

The first speech, for example, hit home because of the specifics. Low cholesterol, dental insurance, fixed-interest mortgage repayments – these are all scathing, intricate digs at our lives. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – that’s like saying, “Choose talking to people” and “Choose taking photos.” It isn’t scathing. It’s superficial. 

This could, of course, just be a problem with the trailer. The entire movie might be a masterpiece like the first, and this criticism might become redundant. To figure that out, there's only one thing to do. Choose to see the film. 

(And then tweet about it). 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Prime Images
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The Sad Part Was: this story collection puts the real Bangkok on display

Thai author Prabda Yoon descends into the voices and minds of a small cast of characters.

In Bangkok’s budding literary scene, Prabda Yoon sits at the centre. Born in 1973, he’s the scion of a well-known family (his father Suthichai Sae-Yoon is the co-founder of the Nation newspaper) and is known in Thailand as not only an enfant terrible of letters but as an illustrator, screen-writer and director (his first film, Motel Mist, was shown at European festivals in 2016).

His reputation rests mainly on a collection of short stories published in 2000 entitled in Thai Kwam Na Ja Pen, roughly translated as Probability, and it is from this early collection that most of the stories now collected in The Sad Part Was are derived. Translated with cool elegance by Mui Poopoksakul, they are among the first modern Thai stories to be published in the UK.

As Poopoksakul points out in her afterword, she and Yoon are the products of similar backgrounds and epochs: upper-middle class children of Bangkok who came to consciousness in the late Eighties and Nineties. Often foreign-educated, fluent in English and conversant in global pop culture and media – Yoon did a stint at Parsons in New York after prep school at the Cambridge School of Weston – this new generation of Thai writers and artists were born into a society changing so fast that they had to virtually invent a new language to transcribe it.

In The Sad Part Was, the result is stories that one could glibly label as “post-modern” but which, in reality, perfectly match the qualities of the megacity where they are set. Bangkok is infamously mired in lurid contradiction, but it’s also a city of subtle and distorted moods that journalism and film have hitherto mostly failed to capture. The whimsical and playful surfaces of these stories have to be read against the high-octane anxieties and surreal dislocations of what was, until recently, one of the fastest-growing cities in the world.

Yoon uses the short form of the ten-page story to descend into the voices and minds of a small cast of characters: a schoolgirl and a beautiful female teacher who form a platonic lesbian infatuation while riding a daily bus in “Miss Space”; a couple making love during a thunderstorm whose activities are interrupted by the dismantling of two giant letters, which fall onto their roof in “Something in the Air”; a young man who meets a mysterious older man in Lumpini Park called Ei Ploang, who forces him to consider the intertwined nature of good and evil. In “Snow for Mother”, a mother waits for her little boy to grow up so that she can take him to Alaska to experience the real snow, which he never knew as a little boy in the tropics.

In “The Sharp Sleeper”, a man named Natee obsesses over losing his shirt buttons and is led into a strange reverie on the nature of dreams and the competing qualities of red and yellow pyjama shirts (Thailand’s political culture is riven by two parties popularly known as Red and Yellow Shirts). The commentary slips into effortless sarcasm:

Natee has proudly worn the red pyjama shirt several times since then, and his dream personality hasn’t altered at all. On the contrary, the shirt has encouraged him to become a man of conviction in his waking life. As to what those convictions were supposed to be, Natee wasn’t quite sure. But it was safe to say that a night shirt so principled wouldn’t drop a button so easily.

Since these stories were written, Bangkok’s political schizophrenia has lost its former air of apathy and innocence, but Yoon’s tone is quietly prescient about the eruption of violent irrationality a few years later. It’s a reminder how precious the subtlety of fiction is when set against the shrill certitudes of activism and reportage.

My favorite story here is “Something in the Air”. Its dialogues are written with hilariously archaic, bureaucratic formality, while delving into the disorientation of sexual and romantic hopes in the present century. After the couple’s love-making is interrupted, the young man suggests insolently to the woman that they resume in the open air, exposed to the furious elements. She agrees. They then notice that a dead body is lying on the roof nearby, crushed by the giant letters.

While waiting for the police to arrive, the woman sits quietly and describes her future, a happily married future in which her current lover will play no part whatsoever. He listens in melancholy astonishment until the couple are called to give their testimonies about the dead man. The officers then suspect that the couple themselves have done something scandalous – and so, stung by shame, the woman considers breaking off the relationship and setting in motion her own prophesy.

The Sad Part Was is unique in the contemporary literature of Bangkok – it doesn’t feature bar girls, white men, gangsters or scenes redolent of The Hangover Part II. Instead it reveals, sotto voce, the Thai voices that are swept up in their own city’s wild confusion and energy, and it does so obliquely, by a technique of partial revelation always susceptible to tenderness.

Lawrence Osborne is a British novelist living in Bangkok. His next book, “Beautiful Animals”, will be published by Hogarth in August

The Sad Part Was
Prabda Yoon
Tilted Axis Press, 192pp, £8.99

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder