The Fallacy of Banning Children From Museums and Theatres

2 Apr Government shutdown image courtesy of Reddit
Government shutdown image courtesy of Reddit

Government shutdown image courtesy of Reddit

It’s as we’ve feared; Other People’s Children are just terrible. Look at them, misbehaving in museums and being disruptive in theatres instead of silently appreciating the best of the UK’s culture like us uptight adults. We are in danger of being wiped out by a cuddly wave of prepubescent anarchy, there’s agony in the aisles, there’s cursing in the cinema and there’s panic in the stalls! Clearly, the only solution is to send them to theatre etiquette lessons! Let’s put age restrictions on all the museums and galleries! Then we’ll send them to bed without any dinner! That’ll teach the little uncultured sods.

Before the powers that be actually do decide to BAN ALL CHILDREN FROM EVERYTHING we need to lead by example and start by dealing with the adults that continually disrupt performances, screenings, exhibitions and annoy fellow patrons with shoddy, selfish behaviour, because the arts should be for all; not for just for a select and privileged few.

If children are merely small people with no sense of decorum, then surely adults are merely overstretched toddlers that can’t plead ignorance for their actions. They not only should know better, they do know better, yet, some of them continue to flout the rules. So then, if the problem also applies to adults, then why aren’t we calling for them to be given etiquette lessons, or muting rules that would see them banned from all cultural institutions? Because they have something that children don’t: money.

More cash means more spending, which means more investment and more profit, so museums, theatres, cinemas and other cultural attractions can stay open and accessible to all.

The thing about kids is that they are in actual fact, the world’s best critics. They’re brutally honest, easily bored and they’re not afraid of telling you so. We’ve all sat near an excitable child in a theatre or a cinema who excitedly chattered along to what they were watching, acting as an unofficial narrator to the piece, usually to their parents’ utter embarrassment and whispered pleas of “Will you be quiet?!”

This is what children do. They test boundaries so they want to know what they can get away with. If they discover that they can get away with doing something, then they’ll continue doing it until someone puts them right. Children don’t know that it’s not proper to climb a piece of modern art worth millions. They see something that looks like it can be climbed, and unless someone stops them they will attempt to climb it. The parent or guardian’s role is to teach their child about boundaries and how to behave properly in public, because funnily enough, kids aren’t born with any idea of boundaries or ‘proper behaviour’. This isn’t an easy task, but that’s because parenthood is hard.

No matter what happens, children will always be awful to someone, somewhere in some way. But banning children outright from all theatres, cinemas, museums, galleries and the like goes against every reason they were created. These cultural institutions should be accessible and open to all, not just to the elite.

The arts are the legacy that we can leave the next generation of enquiring minds and passionate creators. That includes the youngest people in our society and also the overstretched toddlers that act like them.

PR Post Mortem: Brew What Your Mama Gave Ya!

21 Mar
Image by The Smithsonian Institute, used under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by the Smithsonian Institution, used under a Creative Commons Licence

Nothing brings the Bad PRs out of the woodwork like a national celebration, and in the UK, the next big day of celebration is Mother’s Day, which takes place on Sunday, the 30th of March, unlike Mother’s Day in the US, which is in May.

The following PR appeared in my inbox late last week, and it was so bad that I felt I had no other option but to share it. As usual, I have stripped out any identifying information about the client, because it’s not their fault that their PR/media person has written and submitted such a poor PR. [UPDATE: After publishing this piece on Friday, a few people quite rightly argued that this PR could have been influenced by pressure from the client, which is true. I was more than a bit unfair in my original throw away comment about the PR/media person, and I perpetuated a misconception about PR companies. Sorry folks, I'll be more open-minded next time.]

However, in some ways, I really hope somebody from this company can eventually appreciate that this PR is about as useful as a chocolate teapot to everyone involved.

Anyway, terrible, terrible puns aside, here is the worst PR I’ve received so far this year.

Are you going to give her an “old bag” on Mother’s Day? Or are you going to make her a nice cup of [REDACTED'S] tea? [What? Old bag? Her? Are you calling my mother an old bag?]

At last, an alternative to the messy tea bag ~ [REDACTED]~ [Hold up, did you use two tildes (~) there? That makes no sense, as a tilde means 'similar to' or approximately. You need to use a hyphen (-).] the new way to drink a richly flavoured and fragrant cup of Organic [Why the capital O?], Fair Trade [Fair trade, unless you're talking about The Fairtrade Foundation, in which case it's two words] tea. [Also, I've never had a problem with tea bags, they suit me just fine.]

You remove the [REDACTED] from its water and it does not drip ~ NO MESS. [NO NEED FOR CAPS LOCK, OR A TILDE]

It’s made from triple laminate food grade foil that goes in your recycling bin after use ~ NO WASTE. [I'll be honest,  you've lost me, I don't care.]

Unlike a tea bag it does not require squeezing nor wringing to extract the flavour ~ NO BURNT FINGERS. [Has anyone ever burnt their fingers on a teabag? You can use a spoon to remove the tea bag, you know. Have you been making tea with your hands all this time?]

Also, the [REDACTED] innovative design lets you use it to stir the tea ~ NO NEED FOR A TEASPOON. [But if you had a teaspoon in the first place, then you'd wouldn't need REDACTED.  JUST BUY MORE TEASPOONS, PEOPLE.]

To make a cup of [REDACTED], you simply remove the [REDACTED] from its paper envelope, put it in a cup, add boiling water and gently stir the [REDACTED PRODUCT NAME] for a few minutes. Let it stand for a minute to further infuse, then use the [REDACTED PRODUCT NAME] to stir in your sugar and milk (if required when making english breakfast tea) [You mean English breakfast tea]. It will now be fully infused, so remove the [REDACTED PRODUCT NAME] and tap it once on the edge of the cup to discharge any excess water, then pop it in your waste recycling bin.

Each [REDACTED PRODUCT NAME] is packed at point of origin using premium grade, organic tea leaves, harvested, selected and processed in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) [Sri Lanka hasn't been known as Ceylon since 1972. It's called the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. What next, will you refer to Iran as Persia?] Fair Trade estates.

Eleven different blends are available, so there is a blend of tea to suit all tea lovers! [Praise be to tea.]

black teas: ~ english breakfast, earl grey and apple cinnamon [English breakfast tea. It has a capital E. While we're at it, there should be a capital B at the start of this sentence.]

red teas: ~ jasmine lotus, strawberry and vanilla peach [Capital letter at the start of a sentence, please.]

green teas: ~ ginger, lemon grass and peppermint [Capital letter.]

herbal infusions: ~ fruit “goji” berry (caffeine free) and herbs n’ honey (caffeine free) [Oh, I give up.]

To obtain a 15% discount, use discount code MOTHER at [REDACTED]. [Nope]

Or click on this link: [Link removed, sucker]

[REDACTED PRODUCT NAME] can be found at several tea and coffee shops and are also being served at hotels, spas, restaurants, hair salons and beauticians. 32 piece packs of [REDACTED] and 3 sizes of Mahogany boxes (an office/ bar box, a restaurant/hotel box and a boardroom/hospitality box) full of assorted flavours, can be purchased from selected retail outlets or on-line, [Online is one word. ONE WORD.] from [REDACTED].

Thank you for taking the time to read this and please do not hesitate to contact me for more info or samples. [Nope. Oh, you've subscribed me to your email subscription service! I have just unsubscribed.]

Infuse your Passion! [I'll infuse your head, mate.]

PR Numpty. [Yes, they did put a full stop after their own name, bless.]

What They Did Right:

  • Nothing, absolutely nothing

What They Did Wrong:

  • This is not a press release, as it doesn’t contain any news, the tone is highly promotional
  • If you just want to promote something, and have your words published verbatim, then don’t write a press release, BUY AN ADD.
  • Poor angle – “Mother’s Day? Oh, mums like tea, let’s push our client’s tea product. Hooray!”
  • No introduction or hello
  • Fairtrade/Fair Trade
  • English breakfast tea
  • On-line is not a word
  • SUDDENLY, TILDES, EVERYWHERE
  • Let’s be honest, this is a really boring email
  • General errors – no capital letter at the start of a sentence, etc
  • Referring to Sri Lanka as Ceylon – I think this was to use up words and try to look clever
  • Adding me to their mailing list
  • Emailing me in the first place

We Need to Celebrate Bossy, Not Ban It

17 Mar Image by Patrick Denker, used under a Creative Commons Licence
Image by Patrick Denker, used under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by Patrick Denker, used under a Creative Commons Licence

I’ve never been called ‘bossy’; I’ve been referred to as ‘ambitious’, ‘opinionated’ and, my least favourite word of all, ‘feisty’, but never ‘bossy’. This is probably because when I was a child, my sister, who is six years older than me, decided that she would do what all good big sisters do; boss her younger sibling around.

In my childhood mind, the word ‘bossy’, was the only weapon I could use against her, and I called her it often, because by pointing out her only flaw, I knew I could defend myself. I used the word as an insult, because I was tired of being told what to do.

However, in my adult mind, the new Ban Bossy campaign, AKA #BanBossy, created by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Condoleezza Rice, the former Secretary of State, and the woman who needs no introduction, but I’ve given her one anyway, Beyoncé, which seeks to ban the word ‘bossy’, makes the word, and its connotations that little bit more insulting.

Of course, Victoria Coren Mitchell has summed up the main problem with the campaign in her latest column, and I agree, that by attempting to ban the word bossy, they are doing one of the bossiest things that a group of powerful women can do; controlling language in order to control people, thus playing up to stereotype of the bossy ambitious woman.

However, the spirit of the Ban Bossy campaign is excellent; it recognises that a lot of young girls feel that they cannot be seen to be assertive, or show ambition for fear of being labelled bossy, which is something that we need to challenge and ultimately, change. Yet, no matter how well-intentioned the campaign is, the thought of banning words makes me feel uneasy. There are words that have different connotations for men and women, such as ‘assertive’, ‘bossy’ and ‘bold’, but policing language is the first step on the slippery slope of censorship, which we must fight, or we will lose our right to speak freely.

Sure, we can ban some things, such as adverts for being misleading, or in the recent case of Paddy Power’s highly inappropriate Oscar Pistorious advert, because it was insensitive and attempted to profit from the murder of Reeva Steenkamp. But words? Should we ban words?

Words, like clothes, haircuts and celebrities fall in and out of fashion. In 2013, the Oxford English Dictionary added words like ‘twerk’ and ‘selfie’ to its respected pages, while this year, ‘cunting’, ‘cunted’ ‘cunty’ and ‘cuntish’ – also known as The Four Cunts – finally found their place in the pages of the dictionary, and there was much rejoicing. Well, I was pretty cunting happy about it.

In fact, cunt has a very special place in the Scottish vernacular; it has many uses, and can be used in a variety of situations. For example, if someone refers to someone else as “A good cunt”, this translates to “I believe this person to be a good person” or similar. However, if, during an argument, one party calls the other, “A FUCKING CUNT!”, then that means: “I don’t like you”. At the same time, cunted is used as another word for drunk or high, as in “I was absolutely cunted last night”, and if someone says you were acting “like a right cunt”, then they’re not best pleased with you, and you had better apologise quickly.

This is not a blog about cunts, or the many uses of the word, but my point is that language isn’t fixed; it constantly evolves to reflect changes in our society and views. For example, ‘slut’ was once used to describe a woman who kept a dirty house, whereas now, it means, as one of my former writers once so bizarrely put it, “a woman who engages in excessive female fornications”.

Meanwhile, the word ‘hack’, once a derogatory term for writers who produced poorly written and sensational stories, has been gleefully adopted by British journalists. Many now describe themselves as ‘hacks’ or ‘hackettes’, in that true British journalism spirit that we have perfected over years of stoic self-deprecation while our industry circles the drain. It’s not the word itself that holds the power, but how it is used that creates the meaning.

So, if journalists can proudly adopt ‘hack’ as a title, while Scots can use ‘cunt’ so eloquently, then why can’t women embrace ‘bossy’? I’m with bell hooks on this issue, who has created the #BossyAndProud campaign and believes that instead of banning and fearing being called bossy, women and girls need to celebrate it. The trick to defeating the negative power of bossy is to stop treating it as a dirty, shameful word. Therefore, by embracing, not banning, the word ‘bossy’, you take away its negative connotations, which will make it a much more positive and powerful label for young women.

Be your own boss. Be bossy and proud.

A Cynical Critic Analyses The Oscars

3 Mar Image by Alan Light, used under a Creative Commons Licence
Image by Alan Light, used under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by Alan Light, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

I have a confession to make: I didn’t stay up late to watch The Academy Awards last night.

I wanted to, I really did, and in my defence, I usually manage to watch part of the awards during the early hours. Although the only ceremony I’ve ever watched in full was the 1998 Academy Awards, also known as The Year Titanic Won Everything. It was a Sunday evening, and I was still at school, but I managed to get the TV in my room and watch it with the volume turned almost all the way down, and I got away with it. That is, until this confession.

So, while most of my contemporaries reported live from the ceremony, or watched online while playing some kind of Oscars Drinking Game, I was happily snoozing, and like much of the rest of the world, I woke up and read the results, alongside a plethora of tearful acceptance speeches, Oscar selfies and red carpet interviews.

It might sound like I’m dismissive of the Academy Awards, but I’m not, I think recognising the world’s film industry is a wonderful thing and is something that we need to champion. But over time, the hype surrounding the awards has become less about the films nominated and more about the celebrities in attendance and the outfits they wear for the ceremony.

I used to love watching televised award ceremonies; I loved the glitz and the glamour and seeing talented people be rewarded for all their hard work and dedication. To those in the industry, that little gold statuette is the ultimate stamp of approval, it is acceptance and celebration of their work. To the outsider, the mere mention of an Oscar lends authority to a film, and adding the words ‘Nominated for an Academy Award’ on the DVD cover of a nominated film can make the difference between a quick sale or a long stay in the Bargain Bucket.

After all my years of illicit night-time Oscars viewing, I’ve come to the conclusion that the actual awards ceremony is pretty boring; it follows the same formulaic structure; there’s amusing and usually inoffensive host, (last year there was an offensive host, and he didn’t go down very well) bad jokes, gold envelopes, aggressive clutching and waving of the statuettes, and then a big party afterwards. Preferably the Vanity Fair party, but you know, any party will do. The Oscars are so damn reliable, Hell, even the speeches are predictable nowadays.

The evening isn’t an honest glimpse inside the inner workings of the mysterious Hollywood machine – after all, we know very little about the 6,000 voting members of The Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Science who decide the winners – because the event itself is nothing more than an exercise in PR, fashion and inane interviews. The Oscars has become extremely safe television for an extremely wary industry.

And herein lies the problem; while The Oscars has witnessed various, and very nasty smear campaigns against nominated films and individuals over the years. For example, in the run up to this year’s ceremony, Stephen Frears’ Philomena, which was nominated for the Best Picture Award, was slammed as being “anti-Catholic propaganda”, while historical allegations of child sexual abuse against Woody Allen were brought out into the open once more after his latest film, Blue Jasmine, started winning accolades at the start of the awards season.

And yet, while the standard of the films nominated are always excellent, the awards themselves suffer from what the journalist Boyd Tonkin has called “…the Hollywood pattern of belated  bravery”, that is that Hollywood, despite all the razzle dazzle, is at least 20 years behind in representing major scandals and failures of society. For example, Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club chronicles the AIDS epidemic and homophobia of the 80s, which killed thousands of people in America alone, yet the film was only made last year, 20 years after Tom Hanks’ Oscar-winning turn as an AIDS sufferer in Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia, because no one was willing to back the project.

Meanwhile, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, which took home the coveted Best Picture Award and a much-deserved Best Supporting Actress statuette for Lupita Nyong’o, received a markedly different response to Gordon Parks’ 1984 adaptation of Solomon Northup’s journey from free man to slave, which failed miserably, as seemingly, America just wasn’t ready for a real tale of human suffering from the 1850s.

It wasn’t always like this, The Oscars used to be great television; in 1974, a streaker attempted to upstage David Niven, while in 1973, Marlon Brando refused to appear in person to collect his Best Actor Award for his role as Vito Corleone in The Godfather, and chose to send civil rights activist Sacheen Littlefeather in his place to draw attention to the plight of Native Americans across the country who had been let down by the government. Littlefeather used her time on stage to criticise Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans, while in 2003, Michael Moore’s acceptance speech for the Best Documentary Award for his film, Bowling for Columbine was cut off by music and a chorus of boos when he condemned the Bush Administration and the war in Iraq. 

If The Oscars is about celebrating every aspect of filmmaking, then it can’t shy away from the more political and less PR-friendly side of the industry. So, if films reflect the world around us, why, in the 21st century, are we still struggling to commit mankind’s more difficult side to celluloid? The Oscars needs to be about passion, truth and freedom of artistic expression, something which The Academy, and the industry at large, must consider for next year.

PR Post Mortem: A Mysterious Academy Award Prediction

28 Feb
Academy Awards Image by Doug Kline, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by Doug Kline, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Rubbish PRs seem to be a bit like buses; none for ages, and then three utter beauties come along at once. Some plucky agencies must have read my last PR Post Mortem post, where I admitted to missing their terrible PRs, and suddenly, I’ve had them in abundance in the last week.

With it officially being ‘Awards Season’ I received the following PR earlier this week. As always, I’ve removed all mention of the client and the PR company, in order to protect the innocent, and my second PR Post Mortem post this year, is all about predicting the winner of the Best Picture award at the 2014 Academy Awards, which will be broadcast on the 2nd of March. But, will they be proven right?

Hello there, [My name isn't "There", my name is Amy]

I thought you’d be interested [Oh, did you?] in this analysis from [REDACTED] that looks at the web surfing habits of people who have the same characteristics as the mysterious Oscar [You mean the Academy Awards, surely?] voters to determine who they are most likely to vote for:

4 Non-Contenders – Captain Phillips, Her, Philomena, Nebraska

2 Near-Misses – The Wolf of Wall Street, Dallas Buyers Club

3 Challengers – American Hustle, Gravity, 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave to win Best Film Oscar [It's called the Academy Award for Best Picture]

London, 26 February 2014 - The Oscars [Ahem, The Academy Awards] are voted for by a group of around 5,800 people that the Los Angeles Times discovered are much less diverse than the average film-going public [SHOCK HORROR!] – they’re older (86% are over 50), [OLDER?!] white (94%) [Oh God, no!] and male (77%) [Not surprising].

Based on its own data, [REDACTED] knows that this select group tend to have a love of sports cars, [Oh really?] high-end clothing [Is that so?] and exotic travel destinations [Wait, how are you getting this data?]. Thus, [REDACTED] can predict which film this group are likely to vote for based on the interests – analysed through web surfing habits – of thousands of people with these same demographics and interests, aka ‘lookalikes’. [Oh, I see. Actually, I don't see. How did you get hold of these "web surfing habits"?]

Four Non-Contenders
There are nine films up for Best Picture but, based on lookalike modelling, [Say, what?] Captain Phillips, Her, Philomena, and Nebraska, have almost no chance of winning [Harsh]. Fans of Captain Phillips, for example, have high regard for films like Warm Bodies (a romantic zombie comedy) [Yes, I know what Warm Bodies is] and The Last Stand (a Schwarzenegger action film with Johnny Knoxville) [Yes, I know that Schwarzenegger makes action movies. Have you seen Commando? Now THAT is an action movie]. The fan base of Her are far too into science fiction [There's no such thing as being 'far too into Science Fiction'] and technology themes than would be acceptable for the average Oscar voter – nearly 20 times more likely. [Riiiiight. So, what you're saying is the average "Oscar Voter" is a bit stupid? Yes?]

While differing tastes among Oscar [Academy Awards, dammit] voters counts these films out, social status puts paid to the other two. Philomena fans are the least affluent of the nominees, being 2.8 times more likely to earn less than £30,000 a year. [Yes, but, how do you know this?] Nebraska is the true art house favourite, with a young urban audience that is decidedly aspirational – in fact, roughly half spend considerably more than they earn. [But how do you know?]

Two Near-Misses
Although serious contenders The Wolf of Wall Street (too selfish) [Bankers, amirite?] and Dallas Buyers Club (too unselfish) [Or compassionate?] won’t win either.

Fans of The Wolf of Wall Street play to a stereotype distasteful to the typical Oscar [Academy Awards] voter. They are very wealthy – 9.6 times more likely to earn more than £150,000 a year, 6.8 times more likely to be investment bankers, and 4.6 times more likely to buy an imported Italian suit [Where are you getting these facts?]. They also have a high interest in celebrities like Heidi Klum (10.7 times), Megan Fox (8.4 times), and Britney Spears (8.3 times). [LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE]

At the other extreme, Dallas Buyers Club fans are a more caring type, one not really in sync with the stereotypes of Hollywood. They are the most likely to be expecting a child (11 times), to be dog owners (8.3 times), to be vegetarian (7.3 times) and to be primary school teachers (6.5 times). [So, Hollywood is full of childless cat owners who eat meat and don't work in education? It must be Hell on Earth!]

The Three Challengers
The three remaining challengers – American Hustle, Gravity, and 12 Years a Slave – enjoy broad appeal, with none of the baggage of the other films. [I don't know, 12 Years a Slave is a pretty heavy film, man]

A simplistic demographic approach would suggest a narrow win by American Hustle over 12 Years a Slave. As viewers get older or wealthier, they increasingly prefer these films – in complete contrast to Gravity – but Caucasians are most likely to be fans of American Hustle. [Those damn Caucasians. Did you ask any other demographic, like, you know, people of colour?]

However, people living in Los Angles [Uh, you mean Los Angeles?]– and in other major US cities – are more likely to be fans of 12 Years a Slave. American Hustle fans tend to be found in the next tier [The next tier? Like a cake?] of cities such as Philadelphia, Denver and Phoenix.

So what comes out on top when considering all the demographic, social and interests: socially well-established older white men living in Los Angeles [Yay! You spelt it right!] who (broadly speaking) have a love of sports cars, high-end clothing and exotic travel destinations? [Sounds like a Republican's wet dream, if you ask me]

Taking all the factors into account shows that 12 Years a Slave will narrowly beat American Hustle to Best Picture. [Care to stand by that prediction, Mystic Meg?]

[There was a rather bland graph here. I'm not sharing it because it's boring]

Unsubscribe [Oh, you bloody bastards!]

What They Did Right

  • PR was timely and about a subject that’s relevant to a cultural blog
  • They revealed, that yes, Hollywood is controlled by rich white men, just as we all thought

What They Did Wrong

  • Not using my name, my name isn’t “There”.
  • They didn’t use my name, yet they seem to think I’d be interested in their PR.
  • THE EVENT IS CALLED THE ACADEMY AWARDS.
  • IT’S CALLED THE ACADEMY AWARD FOR BEST PICTURE – if you’re going to send out a PR about how good your data is, then you need to get some basic facts right.
  • Mysterious, mysterious data – what is this data? How did they get it?
  • I have no idea how they know some people’s “web surfing habits”.
  • Why should I write about data this mysterious?
  • Assuming I don’t know the plots and stars of Warm Bodies and The Last Stand.
  • Spelling error “Los Angles” – a pretty significant mistake.
  • It’s a VERY long PR.
  • It actually gets quite boring, and it could have been very interesting at some point.
  • Bland graph.
  • Signing me up to a third-party mailing list without my knowledge or permission means an instant unsubcribe request.

Egon, But Not Forgotten

24 Feb
"That's a Big Twinkie" Harold Ramis as Dr Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters (1984)

“That’s a Big Twinkie” Harold Ramis as Dr Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters (1984)

Harold Ramis, who was best known for his role as Dr Egon Spengler, one-quarter of the Ghostbusters, and avid collector of “spores, moulds and fungus” died today aged just 69. But should he have died at 89, or 109, he would still have been too young, and his death would still have come too soon.

He leaves behind a substantial and inspirational body of work as a writer, director and actor, such as Animal House (1978) Caddyshack (1980), Stripes (1981) and National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983). However, it was Groundhog Day (1993), where he directed Bill Murray as a self-absorbed TV weatherman that made the biggest impact on a new generation of actors, comedians, film lovers and everyone in between.

For many, Ramis became synonymous with great American comedy, thanks to his one liners and his ability to subvert the traditional ‘straight man’ role easily, making the serious character more comic, accessible and likeable. In fact, what made Egon funny, and indeed, what made a lot of Ramis’ films very funny, was his ability to take the power from the ‘funny guy’ on-screen with such simplicity.

Before he became a comedy performer, director and screenwriter, Ramis began his working life as a substitute teacher, he also worked in a mental institution before moving into journalism, working as a freelancer for the Chicago Daily News and as the Joke Editor and reviewer for Playboy‘s Party Jokes section. He then moved into radio and television, working with Murray, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi on National Lampoon’s Radio Hour, and the legendary Second City comedy troupe.

While Bill Murray’s mostly ad-libbed performance as the unorthodox parapsychologist, Dr Peter Venkman, is still a highlight of both Ghostbusters (1984) and Ghostbusters II (1989), it’s Ramis’ more subtle asides, such as the infamous “Do.” “Ray.” “Egon!” one-liner, complete with that self-effacing smile as the Ghostbusters warm up their proton packs that lingers long after the credits have stopped rolling.

In a world dominated with a media obsessed by celebrity and notoriety, Ramis managed that which many modern public figures struggle to do; create great, lasting work with grace and humility, inspiring countless young people along the way. He built a good reputation, gaining the love and respect of his colleagues, including Murray, although the pair were estranged for years after the release of Groundhog Day, but reconciled before Ramis’ death.

In recent years he continued writing, directing and acting, appearing in comedies such as Knocked Up (2007) Year One (2009), and directed the films, Analyze This (1999), the sequel, Analyze That (2002) The Ice Harvest (2005) and a handful of episodes of the US version of The Office (2006 – 2010).

It’s a strange thing, when a celebrity that has influenced us dies. We mourn because we feel that their death means that we have lost a part of ourselves, a precious piece of our lives that cannot be replaced. We mourn because their death reminds us that this person was only human after all, and therefore, we ourselves, are only human, with an unknown amount of time left on the planet.

His work was original, simple, silly, but always brilliant, and an appearance from him in a film made everything better. His brief cameo in the comedy Baby Boom (1987), made me watch until the end in the hope he would reappear. He didn’t.

Ramis brought such joy to my childhood, and I feel much poorer knowing that his new work won’t be a part of my adulthood.

Thanks for everything, Harold Ramis.

L-R Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis in Ghostbusters (1984)

Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis in Ghostbusters (1984)

PR Post Mortem: Valentine’s Day Spoiler Alert Edition

13 Feb
Image by ButterflySha, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by ButterflySha, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

There are some things that I don’t miss from my years as an editor;  the responsibility, not having the time to write, and having to deal with the time wasters that would contact me for any number of pointless reasons.

However, recently I realised that I did miss something about being an editor: the many bad PRs I used to receive. I still get them from time to time, and I’ve had a few weak ones recently, but the main problem with these PRs is that they are poorly targeted; after all, why would you contact an arts journalist about a financial news story?

But finally, I have one. I finally have a PR that can be featured on the PR Post Mortem. I’ve removed as much as I can about the product, because it’s not the company’s fault that their PR company didn’t use the best approach. So without further disruption, here is the first PR Post Mortem of 2014, and it’s all about Valentine’s Day, baby.

Dear Amy, [Yo, yo!]

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, [REDACTED] has released the first ever [REDACTED] of Truman Capote’s classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s [The name of a film or a TV Show goes in italic typeface, not bold. It's funny, because I've actually never seen Breakfast at Tiffany's], narrated by the inimitable Michael C. Hall, best known for his award-winning roles in hit US dramas Dexter [Italic?] and Six Feet Under [Ou est italic?]. I wondered whether you would be interested in featuring this exclusive [REDACTED] in your Valentine’s Day coverage. [What is Valentine's Day coverage? Why would I cover Valentine's Day?]

Hall, who has won two Screen Actors Guild Awards and a Golden Globe Award for his on screen [It's on-screen] appearances, gives an exceptional performance in this one-off special narration, far-removed [ahem, it's far removed] from the gritty roles he is best known for. [Yes, I know who he is, thanks]

Telling the story of Capote’s most beloved heroine, Holly Golightly, Hall’s dulcet tones [Why did you make these words bold?] and honeyed vocal abilities [And this? This doesn't even make sense] are enough to make any modern Golightly swoon. But as this unrequited love story unfolds, it is Hall’s absorbing storytelling ability [Again with the bold letters, do you think I can't read?] and gift for expressing each characters emotional vulnerability, that are guaranteed to weaken knees across the nation. [Oh really? I'm Scottish, love, we never go weak at the knees]

Available to download from today, the [Product] is a unique Valentine’s gift idea [Please stop making some words bold, it's really quite insulting] for a sweetheart or even a curmudgeon [CENSORED DUE TO UNFORGIVABLE SPOILER ALERT, SEE BELOW].

[I decided to take out the final sentence of the above paragraph because the PR gave away the ending of Breakfast at Tiffany's. Now, I know it's a classic film, and millions of people have seen it, and millions of people have read the book, or both, but I haven't. I've never seen or read Breakfast at Tiffany's. While this PR Numpty was not to know that, I'm genuinely irritated that they've revealed THE ENDING TO THE FILM. Would a critic give away the ending? No, so why would a PR? I've removed this sentence because I won't have the film ruined for anyone else. Thanks, PR Numpty.]

This celebrity [IT NEVER ENDS!] offering is one of many exclusives produced and published by Audible. Other famous on-screen lotharios [URGH] who have lent their voices to [REDACTED] include Elijah Wood, Benedict Cumberbatch, Johnny Depp, Damian Lewis, Colin Firth, Matt Dillon, and Samuel L. Jackson. [I really don't care.]

[Wait, Cumberbatch, you say?]

If you would like to feature [GAH! Tell me more about Cumberbatch!] this exclusive [REDACTED PRODUCT NAME] of Breakfast at Tiffany’s [Would it kill you to use italic typeface for the title of a film?] in your Valentine’s coverage [There is no such thing as Valentine's coverage on The Taylor Trash], would like to receive a free version for review [NOPE, NOPE NOPE], or to find out more about reviewing [REDACTED'S] latest releases, please do not hesitate to get in touch. [Oh, I'm not hesitating, I won't be in touch. Ever. YOU RUINED THE ENDING OF BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S FOR ME.]

Many thanks,

PR Numpty

What They Did Right

  • They addressed me by my first name and spelt it correctly
  • Thankfully, they didn’t try to link this story to the recent death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Truman Capote in the 2005 film, Capote. Some PRs would.
  • They mentioned Cumberbatch

What They Did Wrong

  • They pitched me an irrelevant product,
  • “Valentine’s Day Coverage”, my arse
  • Any Mention of Valentine’s Day in general
  • So many unnecessary, patronising and just plain stupid words in bold typeface
  • Not using the italic typeface for film and TV show titles
  • GIVING AWAY THE ENDING TO A FILM THAT I’VE NOT SEEN
  • Not enough Cumberbatch

PR Post Mortem Recommendations

  • Less bold
  • More italic
  • Only the worst type of person gives away the ending to a film
  • Never email me about Valentine’s Day again
  • Cumberbatch, please

Trash Gets Shortlisted For a UK Blog Award!

7 Feb
THAT UK Blog Awards Shortlist Announcement

THAT UK Blog Awards Shortlist Announcement

I’ve never been one for self-promotion; I find it awkward, and I tend to assume that people aren’t really that interested in what I have to say.

However, in the spirit of raising my profile and facing my fears, last year I decided to nominate The Taylor Trash for the UK Blog Awards 2014, which are designed to cater for all types of blogging in the UK, rather than focusing on a select discipline, such as fashion or lifestyle or parenting. So, after writing a guest blog for their website, I entered the awards, after all, I had nothing to lose.

Once my nomination was official, I had to put aside my fears and ask people to vote for me. I asked them on Facebook, Twitter and, as some eagle-eyed readers may have noticed, by using a badge on this blog, knowing that, after voting closed on the 26th of January, there was little I could do until the shortlist announcement at midnight on the 3rd of February.

When the day of the shortlist announcement arrived, I expected nothing more than a with: “Thanks, but no thanks, Trash” or, an apologetic, “Unfortunately, due to the high volume of applicants…” email. However, after midnight, I got an email informing me that, despite all my doubts, The Taylor Trash had been shortlisted in the Individual/Freelance Arts and Culture category in the UK Blog Awards.

After I picked myself off the floor, and more or less inhaled a cup of tea to calm myself down, I learned that my blog would now be appraised by the judging panel, with the winners due to be announced at the official awards ceremony in Central London on Friday, the 25th of April.

I’ve bought my ticket to the awards ceremony, so, all I can do until the night of the awards is work on my blog, book my accommodation for the big day, and thank everyone who voted for me over the past few weeks.

So, to everyone who voted for me, thank you, so much, you’ve made a tired, jaded arts hack very happy! I’ll be tweeting from the awards, I’ll do a write-up of the evening, and I’m really looking forward to meeting all my fellow nominees – see you in April!

Look, a badge and everything!

Look, a badge and everything!

Seven Terrible Things People Have Asked Me About Arts Journalism

3 Feb
Image by cranky messiah, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by cranky messiah, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

“Ah, ha! You’re unemployed then?”

What I Said Then:

“No, I have a job, and I do this in my free time to build up my portfolio.”

What I Say Now:

“No, this is my job.”

“So, you go to a show and write about whether it’s good or not. Is that what you do?”

What I Said Then:

“Well, actually there’s a lot more to it than that..”

What I Say Now:

“Yes. Jealous, much?”

Yes, but, if you’re an arts critic, why don’t you review actual ART?”

What I Said Then:

“Well, I wasn’t trained to review visual art.”

What I Say Now:

“The phrase ‘The Arts’ is an umbrella term for many creative industries, however, I’m not particularly interested in visual art, so I don’t write about it.”

“How do you make any money?”

What I Said Then:

“Well, it is possible, and there is money to be made from arts criticism, I’m sure.”

What I Say Now:

“I have other jobs.”

“What are you really going to do with your life?”

What I Said Then:

“…..”

What I Say Now:

“Spend the rest of it avoiding you.”

“Are you going to move to London?”

What I Said Then:

“London? LONDON? London is big and scary! No way!”

What I Say Now:

“That is something I will have to consider in the future.”

“What will you do when your editor asks you to write a positive review of something, regardless of how you feel about it?”

What I Said Then:

“What are you talking about? That doesn’t happen.”

What I Say Now:

“I would refuse. That isn’t who I am.”

Sexual Harassment is Not a Fact of Life

22 Jan
Image by Duncan C, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by duncan, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

When I was 18, I used to go to a nightclub in the city centre. I’d go there with my friends at the weekend because the drinks were stupidly cheap, the music was cheesy, and it was seen as a decent venue. The club was in the basement, and to get in you had to negotiate a very steep staircase. Every weekend, without fail, there would be a group of teenage boys lurking at the foot of the staircase, and every time a woman came down the steps, the boys would reach out and grab her backside as she walked past.

Every time me and my friends felt one of those anonymous, cowardly and unwanted hands grab at our bodies, we felt we had no choice but to accept it. We’d try to laugh it off, as shouting at them did nothing, and the bouncers were not interested in listening to us. Passing the crowd of boys at the bottom of the nightclub staircase was like a right of passage; you had to get past them in order to enter their lair, and their wandering hands were the toll for daring to climb down into their territory. We believed that we had to endure them if we wanted to go to that club. And so, endure it we did.

My experiences with sexual harassment didn’t start and end at the bottom of that staircase, instead they have grown from the actions of that gang of boys, to regular street harassment, to the man in the book shop on holiday who grabbed my breast then pressed himself against my backside as he went slid too close past me in a narrow corridor. He later tried to follow me back to my hotel. To the woman in a bar who kept trying to kiss me, despite me repeatedly pushing her away, to the man on a night out who introduced himself, shook my hand, refused to let go and told me he wanted to fuck me. I’ve experienced sexual harassment in many forms, and no matter how I experienced it, my reaction was always the same: head down, walk away, say nothing.

Whether it’s an unwanted comment, an x-rated private message, or a pair of wandering hands, sexual harassment is a betrayal, and an insidious abuse of power. An unsolicited hand on the thigh is as unwelcome as an unwanted hand on the breast, an uninvited statement is no less invasive than an unexpected and lewd instant message; they are all symptoms of the same, wider issue of sexual harassment.

In the wake of Lord Rennard’s expulsion from the Liberal Democrats amid of allegations of sexual harassment from a number of women within the party, senseless statements from his supporters, the lack of appropriate response from Nick Clegg, and Rennard’s refusal to apologise to the women involved, we must continue to spread the message that sexual harassment in any form is unacceptable, and unlike those women who were targeted by the boys at the bottom of the nightclub staircase all those years ago, we don’t have to endure it.

Michael White’s insistence that there are more pressing issues for women than “a clammy hand on the knee”, and Chris Davies’ MEP’s clumsy comparison of Rennard’s alleged behaviour to the horrific crimes of Jimmy Savile, by using words like ‘hysteria’, ‘nonsense’ and ‘out of proportion’, all their poor metaphors do is dismiss the seriousness and consequences of sexual harassment by portraying those outraged by it as people with the wrong priorities.

White and Davies may believe that they are being helpful, and that their opinion will sway public opinion, but when they dismiss this behaviour they send out the message that sexual harassment is acceptable; that it’s just one of those things in life that we must endure. Calm down, dear, don’t worry your pretty little head about this. It’s actually not that important if you really think about it. Worse things have happened. A “creepy” old man putting his hands on you without your consent isn’t a problem. Get over it.

Analogies like the ones that White and Davies spouted are overly simplistic, unsympathetic and seek to minimise the behaviour of the harasser. Most people would agree that sexual harassment has no place in modern society in 2014, but it still exists. We know that a woman can’t legally be discriminated against in the workplace in terms of pay, or if they choose to have a child, yet, tribunals handle hundreds of cases of sexual discrimination every year.

Sexual harassment is wrong, no matter who reports it or who commits it. Defending the indefensible should not be an option, and attempting to silence the whistle-blowers through inappropriate metaphor and cries for a “sense of proportion” sends victims the message that this kind of behaviour is acceptable, and that it will never change.

We cannot go through life fearing the boys who lurk at the bottom of the nightclub staircase; we have the power to target their behaviour and stop it happening. Sexual harassment does not have to be a fact of life.

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