Harvey Weinstein and the feminist man

The accusatory glare of mainstream media this week has almost entirely been reserved for Harvey Weinstein. Sexual harassment allegations against him are still on the rise, with more and more women coming out of the woodwork to share their own experiences. Among other things, the revelations about Weinstein have struck a particular chord because of the image of him that has,  until now, been maintained in the media.

So much of Weinstein’s public image allied him with feminism, making his alleged misconduct all the more hard to swallow. He took a picture with Hillary Clinton at the 100th Anniversary Gala of Planned Parenthood, funded a Gender Studies professorship in Gloria Steinem’s name, attended the Women’s March and produced a documentary on Sexual Assault. It all seems to incongruous with what he has now been accused of doing. It’s important to remember that all this does not make him a feminist- it makes him a predator who can speak the language of feminism, and who has realised, as Elle magazine put it, “the evolutionary importance of camouflage”.

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Like so many men before him, Weinstein adopted a feminist facade, but never questioned or reacted against the structures that allowed him to thrive as a rich, white man. Feminism, or at least allusions to it, were simply tools to maintain his dominance. When stories like this come out, it points to a larger problem with male feminist allies- it creates the feeling that Weinstein, and men like him, are just laughing at us. They are aligning themselves with us in spaces dominated by women, where they can say “look at me, I’m a good man, I’m a feminist”, before returning to their male peers and engaging in the kind of “locker room talk” alluded to by Donald Trump in defense of his “grab her by the pussy” remarks. They are putting on a mask and using feminism as an accessory- a hat to take on and off depending on the company. To actually help the feminist movement, to actually make a real change, men need to start talking about it in male dominated spaces.  

So many young men, good young men, don’t realise the damage they do when they talk about girls in such a way. “I grabbed her by the pussy” sounds shocking when it comes from the mouth of a President, but I dare say it doesn’t sound completely at odds with the talk I’ve heard going on between sports teams, at the back of a bus, or on social media. Don’t tell me you’re a feminist and then engage in the kind of behaviour that perpetuates the same culture that has allowed Harvey Weinstein to stay in his position of power for so long, actually change the way you behave. Change the way you speak about girls, change the way you approach them. The language you use with your peers preserves certain ideals about the way women should be, and therefore the way they deserve to be treated. The fact that you as an individual might never commit a sexual crime doesn’t forgive this.

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Are we looking at a larger problem though, involving older, powerful white men? Probably. Power dynamics are a huge part it. Weinstein is not alone in these allegations, we see it in the media time and time again that another ‘good man’, famed for various successes and adored by reams of fans, has taken advantage of his position and acted like a pig. Is it even shocking anymore? The problem is more than just sexual assault, which would have been enough, but a balance of power that inhibits the potential to resist. There is no denial that we still exist within a culture, perpetuated by the likes of Weinstein’s defenders (who are not limited to influential men by any means, and actually include the likes of Donna Karan, Lindsay Lohan and feminist attorney Linda Bloom), where women face adversity every day.
Firing Weinstein was not a feminist triumph, but a necessary act of damage control, and it is not the end of sexual misconduct in Hollywood. Who know’s how many other men abuse their power every day and are yet to be called out on it. To some extent, we now rely on the bravery of women to come out and share their experiences. More so, I think we rely on men to stop making excuses for each other and start wanting better for their female peers.

 

 

 

Look What You Made ME Do

Ever since the release of Taylor Swift’s new single Look What You Made Me Do and it’s accompanying video, she has been EVERYWHERE. To call the reviews mixed would be something of an understatement, but overall it seems to have added fuel to the ‘we hate Taylor Swift’ fire and it’s a bit unfair really. The internet has been awash with people branding her petty and crazy and accusing her of, as they have over and over again, ‘playing the victim’. “Calm down, Taylor” seems to be the overwhelming sentiment- a particular tweet that stood out suggested that Taylor should try meditating- but aren’t we past telling women to calm down? Songwriting is a form of catharsis for most artists- Beyonce wrote about her husband’s infidelities and Jay Z recently addressed them in his own work and no one was calling them petty for airing their dirty laundry.

Whatever you want to say about Taylor, she is the undisputed queen of reclaiming the narrative and twisting it to suit her. She did it with Blank Space, assuming the role that the media had written for her of a deranged, obsessive, vengeful serial dater, one that she denounced as sexist and unfair, and she has done it again here. The final scene shows all the ‘old Taylors’ lined up, dressed in exact recreations of outfits and hairstyles Taylor had worn at iconic moments in her career. They snipe at each other with jabs taken right out of the tabloids “stop playing the victim” and “you’re so fake”. The Taylor that was interrupted by Kanye holds her Moonperson and asks to be “excluded from this narrative”, directly quoting a statement Taylor made last year about the Kimye feud, before all the other Taylors tell her to shut up. It’s all very meta and all very clever, once again playing right into the fictionalised persona the media have created for her. Maybe Look What You Made Me Do pushes the line between genius and petty but the satire is undeniably addictive.

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Even if we put the song aside for a second, which to be honest I straight up think is a tune, Taylor’s return to the spotlight has earned her a storm of criticism I find hard to swallow. Just weeks ago she was being sued for $3 million in damages by a radio DJ who groped her during a meet and greet, and the support was frankly lackluster.

She won the case, and acknowledged her privileged position, recognising that she was immensely lucky to be able to shoulder the cost of court expenses, asking only $1 from her accuser and pledging to donate to organisations that help survivors of sexual assault to defend themselves. Her counter-suit clearly wasn’t for money, rather a statement that girls can and should stand up for themselves in any situation. Whatever Taylor’s reputation might be, however much anyone might accuse her of selling an exclusive, white brand of feminism, how can the rest of us call ourselves feminists if we left her out to dry? Whatever Taylor’s faults, she has promoted one basic feminist principle above all else- the importance of girls supporting girls. Celebrities who who are happy to embrace the word ‘feminist’ as part of their image (admittedly something Taylor can also be guilty of) were all too quiet during Taylor’s case. You don’t get to criticise Taylor for not marching in the Women’s March or not explicitly opposing Donald Trump and then stay silent yourself.

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Taylor Swift spoke so bravely and gracefully about the actions of her accuser, standing in solidarity with every other girl who has been made to feel small by an unwanted and uncomfortable advance, no matter how extreme. Of course, it’s barely been 3 weeks and people are once again armed with their pitchforks and torches to go as far as branding her a white-nationalist and a Trump supporter. What??????????????

understand it is easier for Taylor Swift, as a white,  heterosexual, beautiful woman, than it might be for the likes of Kanye West. Perhaps him interrupting her speech all those many moons (pun intended) ago was a well-meaning protest against the unjust tradition of black artists being overlooked at such awards shows. It is, by all means, vital for someone to do this- to stand up against systemic racism in any industry- but that doesn’t mean Taylor Swift should bear the brunt of the blame. Just because we wish Taylor Swift would engage more deeply with politics and be a stronger advocate for feminism it does not mean we drag her down.

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So, like everyone else, Taylor Swift has flaws. The tides of opinion seem to swing in and out of her favour every few months, with the internet hopping on whichever bandwagon seems to be in fashion. It has become something of a trend to either hate or love Taylor Swift at any given time and it’s distinctly unfair and anti-feminist. In any case, Look What You Made Me Do has shattered records, brought Taylor a storm of media attention, dominated twitter threads and celebrity news outlets and completely stole the show at the VMAs yesterday. I don’t think she’s all that worried.

 

A Year at York

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As our little flat starts to empty, becoming quieter and less messy one person at a time, it’s finally starting to feel like first year is coming to an end. You can’t possibly appreciate how fast it goes until you’re in the position yourself and it’s nearly time to graduate from the year that ‘doesn’t count’, and start actually doing some serious work. First year has been one of the weirdest and best years of my life so far, with everything from geese attacks to summer balls to singing and dancing to the occasional TC.

Living so far away from my family, nearly 7,000 miles as it happens, had it’s ups and downs. My organisation abilities tend to come and go, and being in a different hemisphere to those who usually pick up the slack was a bit of a test. Sometimes my room honestly feels like a black hole- things get sucked into the mess and literally never return and there’s no mum around to magically locate them, or to spoon feed me in trying to fix any trouble. And obviously there are times when you get homesick. Mix the super fun hormones that come with being a teenage girl with a nice bit of uni drama and those 7,000 miles between you and your family seem like a lot more. Having said that, I’ve definitely cried a lot more over Grey’s Anatomy this year than I have over anything else, and luckily my mums serial FaceTiming has left little room to feel properly far away.

England itself, York especially, has been the most amazing setting for uni life, even if the weather is slightly more hit and miss than it is at home. If I thought Autumn Term was cold, the first few weeks of January were something else. I wore tights underneath my jeans and gloves to play touch. I truly forgot what it was like to be able to use my phone outside, and made full use of my radiator to heat up all my clothes before I put anything on. And although I complained like the classic third culture kid who’d not experienced a January colder than 30 degrees in 11 years, I absolutely loved it. Yes, I forgot what my

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own legs looked like, but the 8am walk around campus on ONE day that it ‘properly’ snowed pretty much made up for it. All the bundling up in layer upon layer was, of course, made worth it for the whisper of spring towards the end of last term. I can’t possibly talk about spring without slipping deep into cliche (sorry)- daffodils sprung up on hillsides apparently over night and shocks of white snowbells suddenly lined my walk to the lecture hall. You can only imagine the excitement.

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Another well spent 3 quid in the Kuda photobooth

A LOT of alcohol happened this year. I’ve learnt that I should stay away from K Cider (thankfully not from personal experience but something I think is a general rule for human beings as a race), that I shouldn’t drink beer after vodka (unfortunately, vodka me apparently LOVES a Corona), that clubbing sober is not that fun but pretty do-able, and that I can’t balance Lowther trebles on my head (..yet). Obviously, going out doesn’t have to be a part of your uni experience but I mean, if you haven’t unclogged your flatmates sick from the kitchen sink or helped a friend button up her leotard after she’s had too many jaeger-bombs to find the clips, give it a go! In my experience, said jaeger-bombs also lead the way to usually pretty funny inter-flat gossip that provides the entertainment around any actual academia that takes place. (That’s right- we did come to Uni to study!)

Being in a flat with so many boys (apparently there are 14 of them but it usually feels like a lot more) has been an experience. I mean, they pee on the seat and use your tweezers to pick out their athletes foot but they really are the best. If nothing else, I feel like I literally could survive living with ANYONE now, after a year of coming back to a bedroom covered in cups of water (and grosser things), coffee blocked sinks and hidden cans of Innocent drinks in my pillows and clothes. Even if you don’t live with 60 billion boys, if you’re about to start uni I would definitely lower your expectations for cleanliness in general. Our kitchen is absolutely diabolical and I’ve not seen much higher standards elsewhere. I think N Block (my humble abode this year) sinks pretty far below average though, especially considering the two fat rats that made a home outside our block last term.

Somehow between the rats and the vodka I also managed to get a bit of a sing-song in, because it wouldn’t be my life otherwise. Joining Central Hall Musical Society has been one of the best things I’ve done at Uni, and the three shows I’ve done with them have been completely hilarious, challenging and amazing amazing amazing experiences. We open our summer show next week and the buzz is starting to come to a crescendo. With that in mind, come and see Singin’ In The Rain next week, Thursday to Saturday and see me get spun upside down a few times (something I never thought I’d be able to do when we started).

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AND WE ONLY WENT AND STARTED A TOUCH TEAM! While sports (playing them, at least) have never really been my thing, a fact mostly owed to my complete hand-eye coordination deficiency, I always loved playing touch rugby in Singapore. While my flatmates needed some pretty incessant convincing that it is, in fact, a real sport, I managed to entice (with the promise of chocolate) enough girls to make up the numbers for a team. A day after our formation, we entered into the qualifying tournament for the Varsity against Durham, with only myself having played before. 5 weeks later, after a lot of dropped balls and freezing cold rainy training sessions, we made it up to Durham to compete in the Varsity, where a 5-0 loss felt like the biggest and most impressive achievement we could have come away with. The girls were and are absolute heroes and I hope we get to watch the sport grow over the next few years. Big shoutouts to the equally heroic boys who gracefully fulfilled their roles as managers and waterboys.

All in all, this year has been completely beyond what I expected it to be. I got stupidly lucky with my flatmates and managed to find some amazing friends elsewhere as well. The saga continues next year with my house of 9 people- which promises even more fun and crazy stories that probably won’t get retold around the family dinner table. Lot’s of love York x

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The Thirteen Reasons Why Problem

Having just finished watching Thirteen Reasons Why, (I know, it’s taken me long enough) I thought it was about time I joined the debate. Hannah’s story is basically an allegory for the reasons a person might have to end their life, bringing to a point small things that to an outside eye might seem insignificant. In terms of reception, the show seems to have facilitated the emergence of two very clear sides, it’s messages proving to be fiercely divisive. In some cases, people have noticed a pretty chasmic gap between intent and affect, while in others people are feeling immense gratitude towards the shows creators for contributing to an important conversation.

For one thing, suicide aside, this show has taken representation seriously, avoiding the popular TV narrative of ‘the token minority’- chuck in a stereotypically flamboyant homosexual, a few ethnic minorities wearing their ethnicity like a ‘we’re inclusive’ badge, and call it progressive. LGBTQ+ characters in this show are portrayed without any song and dance being made about their sexuality- Tony is inconspicuously but proudly gay, and Courtney’s gay dad’s are just her parents. Race and sexuality is not a last minute garnish to force a direction of characterisation that just doesn’t make sense, but are part of these characters at their essence while not being their defining feature. This goes for the depiction of teen life as well- these teenagers are three dimensional, multi-faceted characters, not easy archetypes that fit into the boxes previous television writers might have confined them to.

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The overarching message of the show is that we need to be more aware of our influence on other people- we need to be kinder to others. Are we really so far gone as a society that we need a TV show to tell us to be nicer to people? Both the content of the show and it’s reception have presented a pretty bleak view of humanity, but it’s important for popular media to provoke a degree of self-realisation in it’s consumers. Thirteen Reasons Why encourages viewers to acknowledge the uncomfortable reality that they are not perfect, and that they have the potential to do real damage to someone- a truth that there is no harm in remembering.

Another positive would be the shows commentary on teenage misogyny- highlighting the normalised high school behaviour and exploring it’s effects and nuances. Things that are initially dismissed as ‘no big deal’ in the show, just as they would be in real life, are then shown to have lasting power over a person, again, just as they do in real life. It starts to take seriously what popular culture never does, the inner workings and feelings of sexualised teenage girls. If one 17 year old boy watches this show and thinks twice before sending a girls shirtless picture to a mate, or stops before judging a girl on the basis of her promiscuity, then the show has succeeded on some level.

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Whilst the condemnation of this everyday sexism is great, the shows version of feminism is half hearted. I mean, surely we are past the “I’m not like other girls” feminist directive? Apparently not.  Hannah is repeatedly distanced from more conventionally accepted definitions of femininity, even angry at Jessica for becoming a cheerleader, suggesting that this might have been the source of their problems. Clay can’t even take Cheri, a cheerleader (god forbid), for hot chocolate without getting sneered at by Sky. Even the exposé on slut shaming starts positive until you realise that we feel bad for Hannah because she didn’t actually do any of the things she is being shamed for- she actually is innocent, so the rumours are unjust. What if she actually had done the things Justin suggests? Would that have made it any less unfair? In a more serious turn, it’s uncomfortable that Jessica’s rape is only revealed to her in terms of Hannah’s suicide. They are raped by the same man, yet Hannah is able to take agency and expose it on her terms, presenting what happened to Jessica as just another reason she killed herself- having not been able to prevent it, or tell her friend. Because Jessica is sexually active, even promiscuous, does it give her any less of a right to ownership over her own trauma?

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Suicide is scarily presented as a kind of resolution, as a means to an end, as a necessary sacrifice for the greater good- a harmful rhetoric that is simply untrue.  Hannah does not get resolution for her suffering, the audience does. I think it all lies in Clays response to “You can’t love someone back to life.” – “You can try.” It’s upsettingly simplistic- you definitely can’t love someone back to life. Suicide is permanent, and this cold reality is often forgotten with Hannah’s continuous presence in the show. In the fictional universe Thirteen Reasons Why has created, Hannah can live on and achieve some kind of resolution through her tapes, when in reality, her story would have been much more final.

The idea of blame, a fragile concept anyway, is also weirdly approached-Tony tells Clay he killed Hannah baker and Clay says “I cost a girl her life because I was afraid to love her.” Hannah says in her tape to Clay that when he kissed her she saw the potential for her life to be happy again, feeding into a pretty warped narrative that romantic love and companionship is something to depend on. Clays entire tape, and perhaps even the the tapes as a whole, perpetuates the idea that people are the reasons for a persons mental illness. Yes, everyone needs a support system, but I can’t buy into the fact that by being her boyfriend Clay could have saved Hannah’s life. It makes mental illness too one dimensional and fickle, and completely incompatible with real life issues of mental health, not to mention feeds into the idea that a girl can’t be single and happy.

The directness is something a lot of people have had a problem with. I’m all for artistic integrity and it undoubtedly takes artistic courage to portray things as awful as rape and suicide with such a heartbreaking degree of transparency, but viewers have called the necessity of the explicit representation into question.  Is it helpful for viewers to see such horrors with their own eyes? In some ways, no, it’s verging on gratuitous. But in other ways, it does exactly what the fictional character of Hannah Baker wanted- it makes the struggle of those who have been through the same thing seem even more real, and more accessible to those of us lucky enough to have never felt that way.

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So yes, the show has divided opinion, but division is important- it highlights the significance of the conversation and what it means to people. We always talk about the redemptive potential of art, and that’s what you’ve got to consider watching this show. Despite the fact that it has clearly caused upset, and is by no means faultless, it has added necessary fuel to an important conversation about the relationship between teenage depression, high school dynamics and suicide. If the show gets people talking about this kind of stuff, surely it is a victory for mental health, shedding light on the taboo and the uncomfortable. It is so hard to watch- perhaps that’s a good thing and perhaps it’s too much, but it’s definitely got people talking, and I can’t see how that is a bad thing.

You’ve Been Gilmored: The Lorelai Gilmore Complex

In the months following the addition of Gilmore Girls to the Netflix catalogue, as well as their explosive four-part comeback series, the many many facets of one of the most fiercely loyal fanbases have come out of the woodwork, and thousands have joined the force. I could not love Gilmore Girls more- it is a safe haven of a TV show amidst a generation that is obsessed with massive silver screen drama. In a climate of film and television where people can’t get enough of crime and guns and murder, Gilmore Girls offers a warmth and familiarity that simply cannot be found elsewhere.

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The two Lorelai Gilmore’s- Rory and her mother- are two of the most deeply loveable characters in television history. Their relationship is enviable and adorable, and they are, it would seem, essentially kind and good. One of the wonderful things about Gilmore Girls is it explores the nuances of life and of people, never accepting that a person might be just one thing. It offers, for the most part, a refreshing female perspective- one that isn’t solely centred around male love interests, but based on truthful experience.

There are, however (and the new series made this even more obvious) a few things about them that really, truly, suck. The Lorelai Gilmore Complex – if you will- is the embodied paradox between the funny, cutesie, caring side of the Lorelai’s and the times where they’re downright selfish and annoying. They choose the wrong guys, treat the right ones wrongly and self-indulge to the point where it’s almost medically worrying. So, in the spirit of finally finishing one of my favourite ever TV shows, I’m going to write about everything that annoyed me about it and it’s two main characters.

The bad boy that wasn’t

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Ever since Jess moved to Stars Hollow people have been picking teams, Team Dean, Team Jess, Team Logan and maybe even a few people were Team Paul for a while (we’ll come back to that later),

Perhaps it is because Jess is one of the most interesting characters on the show- flashing the audience with a surprising new dimension every time we think we have him figured out. He’s the bad boy that wasn’t, and literally all signs point to him being the perfect guy for Rory but somehow the resolution is never met (despite a pretty unsubtle, longing gaze through a window in A Year in The Life). I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling a parental swelling of pride in watching Jess soar above everyone’s expectations of htumblr_naip0nhIPT1qboiilo2_250im, writing a book and setting up his own business, simultaneously acting as the perfect foil to Rory- the perfect child who grew up to fall ever so slightly short of her potential. AND, he’s the ONLY one who has the guts to tell Rory she is being dumb when she quits Yale and starts doing all that ridiculous and un-Rory Grandma stuff.

Lazy, entitled, pretty-boy get’s everything he wants

If you haven’t met a tall, handsome blondie who charms his way into and out of impossible situations, you will. Logan is the guy every parent wants their daughter to stay away from- he resists against his billionaire family, playing the part of an independent and unwilling heir, yet basks in, and takes for granted, every opportunity his name bestows upon him. The Huntzberger name guarantees him his seat at the prestigious Yale Daily News, which is always empty until Rory shows up and he finally sees something in it for him.345f1c20-e6fe-0132-cefb-0e01949ad350

He cheats on Rory with all of his sisters bridesmaids and a bouquet of flowers, some borderline-harassment level persistence and manipulation disguised as charm earn her back in like a day. He is remembered for his grand romantic, Life and Death Brigade-esque, gestures, which somehow forgive his day-to-day less than impressive behaviour. He ends up in the job he says he never wanted, but revels in, earning a ton of cash and making poor choices before taking out his disappointment in said poor choices out on Rory. Oh, and then in A Year in The Life him and Rory engage in the WORST affair in TV history.

The Paul (“Paul who?”) thing

For some bizarre reason, everyone in Rory’s life seems perfectly happy with the fact that she has a doting boyfriend who she barely remembers exists. Rory’s affair with Logan was presented to us as funny and cute, and the mysterious boyfriend Paul was consistently an afterthought. She strings along poor, forgettable Paul, willingly keeps things going with Logan and then feels oh-so wronged when Logan decides that actually, he is going to marry his fiance. If season 1 Rory could see this she’d be weeping.

The family thing

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Some of the best moments on the show are the rare and fleeting glimpses of potential familial harmony, where Amy freaking Sherman-Palladino lures us into believing that Lorelai just might be able to work out her issues with her parents. Instead, Lorelai takes the crown for the Queen of overreactions and self righteousness, apparently never having mentally progressed from the 16 year old runaway she once was. There is no doubt that she inherits this stubbornness from her parents, who can undoubtedly be awful as well, but you can’t help but sympathise with the couple who reach out to their daughter in the only ways they know how, yet remain iced out.

The Paris thing

The Paris-Rory dynamic is an interesting one, growing from a mean competition to an almost sisterly bond. Somehow, though, Rory always comes across as Paris’ better- she gets into Harvard and Paris doesn’t, Tristan likes her and not Paris, and she is generally the more loved of the pair.images But Paris is so great! Aside from the fact that she is a funny character, she is also unapologetically ambitious, dedicated beyond words, and unafraid of anything that might stand in her way. Surely this can’t a bad thing? Would Paris quit school and steal a yacht if someone told her she didn’t have what it takes a-la Rory? No, she’d probably use that set-back to propel her further, instead of taking almost a whole season of infuriatingly selfish episodes to sort herself out.

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Anyway, a thousand words later and I still have more to say, which probably says more about how good this TV show is than bad. At the end of the day, the characters aren’t perfect, and for the most part, that it what makes them all the easier to love.

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The Kardashian Phenomenon and THAT Pepsi Commercial

Love them or hate them, it’s near impossible to get through even a day without at least a murmur of Kardashian. The family is a population in and of itself, expanding almost as quickly as their business prospects. So when Kendall Jenner is part of a misguided commercial that failed in it’s effort to incite revolutionary potential in the purchase of Pepsi, anger among the public is magnified just as everything about her life is. Pepsi’s audacious move to appropriate symbols of resistance movements, all with a Kardashian (no less) as the face of their campaign, unsurprisingly sparked discomfort.

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The underlying feeling of the commercial begins positively. Jenner is initially a part of a photoshoot where she is clearly not herself- a blonde wig serving as a not so subtle metaphor for this- when a smile from a stranger convinces her to join the movement that passes her. Sliding off the wig with trademark grace, and wiping of lipstick with the back of her hand transforms her into a more human character, bringing her into focus as part of the masses. Here, I understand what Pepsi were trying to do- they’re telling you that everyone is on a level playing field in situations like the one they present, encouraging an inclusive approach to protest. It is reminiscent of the recent Women’s March, where celebrities walked side by side, presenting an impressive united front. Not so bad, really.

The cringe-worthy climax comes when Jenner approaches riot police, dissolving all previous echoes of camaraderie and humility, with a can of Pepsi, and a magic resolution is reached. The gesture is an overt reference to the iconic photograph of Ieshia Evans in Baton Rouge taken during a Black Lives Matter protest, turning a tense and life threatening stand off in the name of a growing tally of murdered African Americans into a picture-perfect scene of cheers and laughter, a marketing departments desperate ploy to latch on to what it evidently views as a trend to  be exploited.3500 (1).jpg Not what the original protesters had in mind, I’m sure.

The anger towards the commercial comes from a place of true struggle. People are finding it difficult to relate to the trivialisation of the expression of that struggle, and fair enough. Kendall Jenner is an easy target for that anger, having kept herself completely separate from movements such as ‘Black Lives Matter’ in the past, raising questions as to why she now choses to get involved in a way that lacks any real political message or potential to add to the cause (or any cause for that matter- the protest in the ad is decidedly devoid of specific purpose).

It is not the first time that a member of the family has come under fire for aligning themselves in the same vein as those living a much harder life. Earlier this year Kim Kardashian was slated for making poverty and strife into a contrived aesthetic for her Instagram profile, a weird and uncomfortable shift from her previously lavish feed. Is it fair or normal for her to make a seemingly dirty, tired, impoverished image into something to be desired, a cool fashion trend to follow, a new ‘grungy’ existence?  It seems similar to the experience of Kendall Jenner in this ad- misguided and a bit tacky, but definitely not malicious. kimkardashian

So where does the blame lie? You would think that, surely, having dealt with such a high profile group of people for so long, the team surrounding Kendall would have spotted the issue immediately. Perhaps it is a mark of their privilege that they didn’t; after all, it is somewhat easy for people to join a fight as “ally’s”, without really knowing anything of the suffering that underlies it all.

The phenomenon that is the Kardashian family is closely tied to publicity- with their TV show they’ve made a name for themselves by forfeiting privacy. Social media has been intrinsic to their success, as another platform to expose themselves and their business ventures. It is social media as well that is at the heart of this poor marketing decision- social media, that has been overwhelmed with beautiful footage on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat of peaceful protests and pretty girls wearing trendy outfits and has subsequently nurtured the view that the protests themselves are trendy. Post a snap of a cheeky anti-Trump quip, jump on the bandwagon and your own social standing is boosted by a few Instagram likes? While on the one hand it’s wonderful for people to share the experience of standing up for their beliefs, perhaps the message at the heart of these protests is getting lost, the Pepsi ad- case in point.

Ultimately, to place blame would be arbitrary, and only perpetuate a circle of anger that probably will do no good in the long run. Kendall Jenner is a 21 year old girl who has grown up in extraordinary circumstances and it would be cruel to expect her not to make the odd mistake. Pepsi’s repeal of the commercial serves either as recognition of, and apology for, their frankly offensive faux-pas, or  simply a hurried retraction of an embarrassing slip up to save face. Either way, it seems that the message was received.

Dear Evan Hansen

Somewhat surprisingly, given my inability to stay away from Broadway, it wasn’t until this weekend that I first gave the Dear Evan Hansen cast recording a proper listen, ever since which I’ve been walking around with my headphones playing nothing else and my jaw dragging along the floor. It’s taken a while to get my head around an eloquent expression of my feelings about this musical, as when I’ve tried to talk about it I’ve struggled to come up with anything better than excited profanity. The music and lyrics of Dear Evan Hansen are a beautiful fusion of contemporary musical theatre writing with more traditional compositions, ensuring they become instant classics, and the story is new and exciting but with timeless emotion.

Imbued with anxieties, the eponymous character writes letters to himself as a form of catharsis, and when one accidentally falls into the possession of a suicidal classmate, Evan is catapulted into the social spotlight. An accidental and uncomfortable lie, fuelled by modern viral phenomena, means that Evan unwittingly capitalises off of his classmates tragedy, and what follows is an exploration of a grief that manifests itself in many different ways.

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The songs reveal a version of Evan that exists apart from his anxiety- the audience is allowed into his private internal workings that betray a thoughtful and funny individual behind the bumbling awkwardness he outwardly projects, the lyrics searching for unspoken feelings beyond what such a pathological loner might be able to express. While Evan, delicately portrayed by Ben Platt, speaks in neurotic stutters, he sings in strong and eloquent phrases, absorbing the audience into what he might be underneath all of his quirks.

‘Waving Through a Window’ is the earworm metaphor for Evan’s life on the other side of the proverbial glass to the real world, shut out by his own anxieties. ‘Requiem’ is the heart wrenching expression of a grieving family, some of whom are suffering a disillusionment with what, and who, they are actually grieving- an uncommon but candid examination of how to remember a person that wasn’t easy to love whilst they were living. “Only Us” is one of the most triumphant love songs on Broadway today, making a move away from traditional expressions of grand love, where love transcends and supersedes all other human emotion, and instead brings to life a simple and honest story of nervous, starry-eyed first love.My favourite song by far, however, is “If I Could Tell Her”. As someone who finds it near impossible to express his feelings, Evan is liberated by pretence. By pretending that he is relaying the feelings of someone else, Evan finally tells his hopeless crush how he feels about her smile, her dancing, and how she “draws stars on the cuffs of her jeans”.

And I don’t even knowgiphy where to start with Ben Platt. My only real experience with him was his goofy portrayal of Benji in the Pitch Perfect films, and while his few lines of singing in the movie were very good, it does nothing to prepare anyone for his incredible talent in Dear Evan Hansen. In any real life situation, his voice would be impossible to disregard, and is completely out of tune with the introverted and lonely character, but somehow Platt manages to fuse a vulnerability with the strength in his voice- an audible illustration of Evan’s contesting personality traits. Platt sings beautifully through the ugliest of emotions and tears, and brings to life a character so much more complex than the archetypal nerdy kid you might be used to seeing on the silver screen.

A flood of Tony nominations are predictable and deserved, particularly for Platt. This is not a show with the stereotypical (although just as amazing) sparkling garnishes that adorn the stages of Broadway. It is a refreshing and original portrayal of an uncomfortable, real scenario that is completely hilarious, heartbreaking and wonderful. My excitement for this musical and apparent inability to say anything negative in it’s direction is not just a sign of me being easily pleased. While Dear Evan Hansen might not be as revolutionary for Broadway as the likes of Hamilton, it certainly fits in with a new wave of contemporary theatre, whilst simultaneously soaring above and beyond previous attempts at new musicals. Dear Evan Hansen does for mental illness what Fun Home did for the LGBTQ+ community, tackling serious issues with degrees of humour and sensitivity. It is another welcome reminder as to why musical theatre just cannot be beaten.

Women’s March: a good day to be a girl

 

Yesterday was the first time in my memory that I have seen such a universal demonstration of support for one cause. Ignited by the succession of Donald Trump as the President of the United States, men and women of all generations, races, classes and sexualities stood together in protest of anything that might threaten their rights, Trump being the poster-boy of those threats. Feminism was the driving force behind the march, but links were made to issues such as immigration and the environment, addressed through the medium of songs, chants, signs and jokes by hundreds of thousands of people in Washington DC and across the world. It was a colourful, loud, exciting explosion of passionate people and it was amazing to see.

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I write this from a ridiculously privileged position, and am lucky enough that although I am nervous about what Trump could do, I am not genuinely scared for my wellbeing. The feeling of being afraid in my own country is utterly foreign to me. Despite being a girl, I have rarely felt at a disadvantage to my male peers. My parents didn’t just give my sister and I equal opportunities as my brother, but pushed us to take them, and my male friends and family have never treated me differently because of my being female. It’s a privilege that a lot of girls don’t have. It is so deeply sad that there are people in America who are honestly frightened for themselves under Trumps presidency, be it because of the colour of their skin, their gender or their sexuality, and it’s quite incredible that so many people came out in support of those who don’t feel safe under their new president.

But the march wasn’t JUST about Donald Trump. It was about men and women alike taking a stand for women’s rights in general, as was stated by the organisers of the march. It is not centred around the popular ‘not my president’ rhetoric but is more directed at the idea of equality and the importance of respecting equal rights, and thus is far greater than just a parade of anti-Trump negativity. It was about freedom in general and giving women and girls the power to be whoever and whatever they want to be. Nevertheless, it was painfully clear that more people showed up in DC for this cause than for Trump’s inauguration the day before, which speaks volumes in itself.

But was it just a “mass hissy fit” as Piers Morgan claimed it to be? Not in the slightest. This is not just “rabid feminists” on a rampage, but free speech at it’s best. It’s not over the top or dramatic to demand respect and stand up for what you believe in. In fact, if Piers Morgan, a savvy and influential personality cannot respect why these protests are necessary, then the need for them is ever greater. The “hissy fit” description itself appears redundant anyway, as although there are plenty of reasons to be angry, most of the pictures you will see from the marches are lit up by the smiles of the masses. People were happy to be there because it is exciting and empowering to feel part of something that matters. They were peaceful and passionate and loud, and although hatred for Donald Trump constituted at least a part of the protest, it was overwhelmingly about spreading love and positivity.

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History is largely told as a chronicle of great people doing great things, but for most of the women marching this was not a big moment- after all, it was just one short day out of a whole lifetime. The Women’s Marches that took place yesterday will make the history books not because they will change the world, but because they have shown the rest of the world, particularly the Trump administration, that people will not sit quietly, and it’s humbling to watch. So, it’s a good day to be a girl.

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New Year, Same Me

A lot of the talk surrounding the New Year seems to centre around resolution and hopes for the future, but, when I think about going into 2017, I am drawn inevitably back to how last year began for me- waking up in between my parents, in my dress from the night before, covered in mud and dry tears (real classy). 2016 and I got off to a rocky start- both metaphorically and literally, as it turns out, seeing that I spent it in the mountains (ha ha), but somehow it set the tone for an unbelievable year.

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Jan 1st, 2016

The last night of 2015, for me, began with a glass of champagne in my left hand while my right linked with my mum’s for us to shoot tequila. We were skiing in France with some of the most fun family friends we know, and our big party seemed intent on drinking Club Med dry of red wine and vodka cokes, and being the worst and loudest dancers within the whole of Europe- properly ringing in the New Year is serious business and not for the faint of heart. Perhaps inevitably, everyone was having a fantastic evening- so fantastic that I was only mildly embarrassed when my dad started teaching everyone the beyond cringey moves he and his friends used to “get girls” at Uni. Having not long been 18 (and being a lifetime member of the swot club that prevented me from going near a club until I was actually of age), excited doesn’t begin to cover how I felt leaving the hotel after the 2016 fireworks to head to a club.

So, when a French man in a, far too tight, Ralph polo waved a smashed iPhone in my face, it didn’t for a second cross my mind that it might have belonged to me. Of course, it did belong to me. I shouldn’t have been surprised, seeing that I am both a serial phone-smasher and general klutz, but still I felt my heart drop like a stone at the thought of having to tell my parents (on the dawn of a New Year, no less) that I’d once again done one of those “but Dad, I didn’t mean to!” things that constituted a reputation in my family I have never quite been able to shake. Strike 1, 2016. However, I was excited enough about the New Year and the cringey but brilliant music in the French club to not care too much about my smithereen-ed screen. Until, that is, when 2016 threw me another curveball after I’d said goodnight to my friends back at the hotel.

I am my mothers daughter, which means I CRY. At happy movies, at sad books, at particularly emotional songs and, as it would happen, when I am locked out of my room, still feeling the effects of the aforementioned tequila, at 4am in Val D’Isere. The inherent hopelessness I seem to possess stretches from breaking phones to picking up the wrong keys, apparently. Standing outside my door, fumbling with a key that was not even close to fitting in the lock, I realised quite quickly that I’d managed to take a key to my parents room (who had retired from the celebrations hours before) rather than to my own. Strike 2, 2016. And so came the waterworks. I really can only imagine how pathetic I looked, sat in that (sort of grimy) corridor with my red dress and muddy converse, mulling over my doom. I was sure I’d be in new depths of trouble should I use my parents key and wake them from their prosecco induced dreams, but as it would seem, I had little choice in the matter if I didn’t want to spend the night curled up on the, questionably maroon, Club Med carpets.

Strike 3 was the simultaneous high and low point of the evening, which was when I kicked off my converse (effectively leaving them for dead at this point, the mud and snow had claimed them as an innocent victim) and climbed into bed in between my stirring parents. If you looked past my, probably too short, red dress and mascara I may as well have been 5 years old again as they sleepily wiped away my tears and offered some mumbly words of comfort. In any case, that is how I ended up waking up for my New Years Day ski school with glitter stains across my cheeks, a smashed phone in my hand, very muddy legs (which remain unexplained) and some pretty confused parents.

True to it’s humble beginnings, 2016 followed in a year of my hopelessness (we won’t bring up the amount of missed trains, it’s still hard for my Dad to hear about), some serious cold weather (the snowy, sunny cold of the French Alps doesn’t quite compare to the drizzly chill of York though) and definitely a fair few tears. Without a doubt though, I would say that 2016 has been one of the best years of my life, despite even the fact that One Direction broke up (still hanging on for a reunion). From the moment I graduated, it has been a whirlwind of the most consecutive great times I have ever experienced, and I can only hope that will continue into 2017, although I intend to drink slightly less Coke and watch slightly less TV.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and that 2017 is a great year for you all. Thank you for reading.

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Pre-disaster, NYE 2015