The Human Zoo - Mr Bell Tower Times
We had a chat with one of our favourite contributors to the Internet, The Bell Tower Times.
Mr Bell Tower Times
Interests: Perth, its wonderful inhabitants
Description: A hero to the people, pointing a satirical microscope firmly on the wonderfully diverse microcosm that is Perth, along with the internet at large
We’re a funny bunch us West Australians. Being all alone over here on the other side of the country, sometimes it feels like we’ll forever just be that state funded on mining (slowly suffocating under the weight of Gina Rineheart), with nice beaches (that have lots of sharks), a couple of footy teams (that are actually doing pretty well at the moment) and Tame Impala (likewise). It’s often said we don’t have the “rich cultural history” of Melbourne or the bright city lights of Sydney, and we can’t add ‘vegas’ to our capitol city name just yet.
What our isolation has done though, is create a microcosm that is uniquely our's. A rich mish-mash of people, places and stereotypes that make up our cultural fabric, and handled in the right manner, make for an excellent laugh. Enter The Bell Tower Times.
What started out as a “bit more of a satirical news type style, like The Onion”, has developed into a perfectly-written, often biting and always hilarious dissection of the Western Australia people, written by one man. A man whose name I unfortunately could not tell you. Not even after a 20-minute chat on the birth of The Bell Tower Times, his days as a bored lawyer pining for something more challenging, and the malevolent beast that social media and Facebook commenting has become.
Click these pictures to go through to the full description ^
The first, and most obvious question (after the respectfully denied, ‘shall I just refer to you as the Bell Tower Times or can I get your name?’): When or what was the moment you realised it was time to turn the lens on ourselves? “There was a moment that it all clicked, I was at a friend’s wedding and there was this big fat guy making a pig of himself. You wouldn’t believe it. Like the horderves plates would come over and he’d take big handfuls, yell at the servers to come over and tend to him, and he was being such a gluttonous pig that he actually made this poor old woman cry. She was distraught with it.
“And I was just sitting there pissing myself laughing. And that was the first Human Zoo: ‘Belmont man makes acquaintance cry at wedding’ or something like that. And then I thought instead of just focusing on news and events why not focus on actual people? There’s many more stories to be told with individuals than just news. So that’s pretty much how the Human Zoo got started, and I started doing it regularly and loved it.”
What I can tell you about Mr Bell Tower Times (BTT here-in) is that he sounds like you and me. A laid-back sounding guy, albeit with a deep love affair for the human condition and examining all the nuances of people at their best, and their worst. As mentioned above he used to be a lawyer, he splits time between Melbourne and Perth working on a stand-up career, and he’s a pretty great writer. And like any great writer, research is key, and those witty tear-downs aren’t just written in the spur of the moment: “I guess the first thing people probably don’t realise is how much work goes into each post. It may just seem like five paragraphs typed up on Facebook, but that’s really not the case. Research is important, I find things like Instagram and Facebook very helpful. You can go on community pages and see photos and get a feel for it.”
It’s not all done in front of a computer screen either, you’ve gotta get out there, get amongst the subjects to really document their behaviour. “When I can – and obviously not every character lends itself to this style – but for instance for my Midland post I actually went up to Midland. And I’ll get my little pen and pad out and have a little four-pack of Woodstock and sit on a bench and take it all in. It sounds like a weird thing to do – you get a Saturday off and I’m up in fucking Midland drinking on a park bench. But for me it gives me a sense of what Midland is about, and that’s how I start piecing it together. Because if it’s not accurate it'll get called out straight away. Accuracy has become the first priority.”
Anyone who spends longer than five minutes on social media will know that it can be a pretty horrible place sometimes. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… It’s given the wider community at large a platform to voice an opinion with little regard for repercussions or the affect it may have on other people (We've touched on it before HERE). It can be and often is a spiteful, hate-filled place filled with online bullying that's unfortunately become the norm, not the exception. So how is BTT any different? It’s something he’s keenly aware of, and what separates his modus operandi from the usual vitriol we’re subjected to.
“It’s a tough line. And that’s why the majority of what I write targets those anti-social personality traits. And I’ve done a lot of bashing on those narcissistic, selfie-stick type people, or bogans that are just racist. But I try and focus on those personality traits that lend themselves to ridicule. But then I’ll do one on just… it’s not poor cunt behavior it’s just obnoxious, like the Facebook Mother. But she’s not in the same league as a reclaim Australia bigot or something like that…
“I try and make it well-rounded, but there’s some things I just won’t do. Like teenage mums, homeless people… To me that’s probably the line. Anyone else, have a laugh at yourself, it’s not meant maliciously, and I think most people get that.”
And it’s those same vicious commenters that often find themselves in the BTT’s scopes. “I see a lot of that on Newscorp, like Perthnow comment threads. You get behind a keyboard and suddenly the idea of a logical debate goes out the window. And you’re just swearing at people calling them every name under the sun… In general on social media it shocks me how badly people can talk to each other.”
BTT also takes the time to try and learn about these people, to get some idea of what’s going on behind the scenes. “People see those comments on the internet. And then they think what the fuck is this guy’s deal? And then you go read the profile of the guy and you start piecing it together and you realise he’s obviously got some issues – insecurity, anger, whatever it is. It takes a bit of steam out of these morons – if you actually start seeing them as flawed people, rather than just someone with an opinion.”
So what is about Perth that makes us so unique, and why don’t we see this kind of thing in other states? “People make comments like you should do Melbourne, or there’s places in Queensland that deserve this roasting. I think there really is something about Perth. We’re the newest state, and everyone will jump on anything Perth-related furiously... People just want to see their culture represented because we just hear about the eastern states so much. I do think Perth is pretty keen to develop and see their culture represented.”
And while he’s not concerned with running out of personalities to tackle, Mr BTT is keen to develop The Bell Tower Times into something more than just a bunch of easily shareable Facebook updates. “I’ve got a few ideas. I’ve teamed up with a Freo artist Shakey Jake Butler. And we’re in the short-term wanting to put a book together – my writings and his art. And make it a really nice coffee table book. That’s my first goal to take it beyond Facebook. And then later down the track, if I can adapt a Human Zoo live show. I’m not sure how it’d work yet, maybe stand-up, maybe actors, I’m not too sure yet. I’m just always looking for new ways to express my thoughts on Perth and the whole Human Zoo concept. And I like being on stage and I like performing, that’d be a nice place to be one day. But gotta get there gradually.”
It also means he’ll have to reveal his identity at some stage. A notion he’s reasonably comfortable with: “It’s a funny one. I don’t really wanna stay anonymous for the sake of it… But then just because it built some mystery up, and people liked the idea that it was mysterious/anonymous, so I thought fuck it I’ll keep it that way, and if I’m gonna come out basically it’d have to be for a good reason. For me that’s when I take it to the next level. I’m not gonna get up on stage with a mask or something. I will be revealed to the public one day. I’m not ashamed of what I write I’m just having fun with it for now.”
And it is all fun and games until his identity is revealed, when he might have to work on removing the target on his head from certain groups who in the past have copped his particularly well-deserved scorn. “It’s a strange one. Then the focus will shift to what I’m writing to me a bit more. But I think it’s pretty exciting. From what I gather from the people who comment and talk to me, I probably would be well received…
“There’s a few people out for me, especially the Reclaim Australia Mob, they’re not happy with me giving them shit. But fuck ‘em the racist pricks.”
Until then, we whole-heartedly recommend you follow The Bell Tower Times on FACEBOOK, because as he runs out of the purely-Perth types, his gaze is being cast wider and wider, and giving us a broader spectrum of folks to laugh at. Because if you can’t laugh at yourself, what can you laugh at?