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The 26 Best Things About Being an Arts Journalist Today

18 May
Image by Esther Vargas, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by Esther Vargas, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

1. Seeing/hearing the latest work from some of your favourite artists.

2. Discovering artists you might never have heard of through your work.

3. Meeting like-minded people, including fantastic writers and editors.

4. Creating lasting relationships with PR people, press officers and venues.

5. Being given the opportunity to meet some of the world’s best and most respected artists.

6. Having the freedom to research, write and pitch pieces daily.

7. Being able to combine your love of writing with your passion for the arts.

8. Receiving exclusive news of season launches, new ventures and coveted arts programmes before the general public.

9. Having the opportunity to experience new work.

10. Creating lasting memories of work you love (or hate).

11. Having people ask you for recommendations, because they respect your opinion.

12. Meeting talented artists who genuinely love what they do.

13. Having the chance to recognise talented artists who genuinely love what they do.

14. Seeing the world through the experiences and work of different artists and performers.

15. The pride of seeing your review quoted on a poster/DVD cover/social media/online

16. Writing about the arts, just for the love of writing about the arts.

17. The feeling of being completely absorbed in another, artificial world created by artists.

18. Being able to escape the pressures of everyday life for a few blissful hours in a cinema/theatre/venue.

19. Creating a lasting record of some of the best (and worst) work from some of the world’s best (and worst) artists.

20. Being able to champion the work that you truly love.

21. Dictating how you get to spend your time and what performances you review, because your time is precious.

22. The thrill of reading about a new project from a great artist and counting down the days until you can go to see it.

23. Planning your cultural calendar around some of the world’s best festivals, events, seasons and projects.

24. Free interval drinks (my favourite is orange juice, yes, really).

25. Press launches that serve coffee. Praise be to coffee.

26. Being thanked for writing a review/interview, or just being thanked for what you do.

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The 25 Worst Things About Being an Arts Journalist Today

12 May
Image by Thomas Leuthard, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by Thomas Leuthard, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

1. Knowing that you could not exist without the arts, but the arts could exist without you on some level.

2. The realisation that you are only ever as good as our last piece, and that last article you wrote wasn’t so great.

3. Finding out what you will only ever be as good as another arts journalist’s last piece, and they really fucked up on that one.

4. The assumption that your words have killed dreams/careers/films/plays/bands stone dead.

5. The constant fear that your words have, in fact, ended the career of a promising director/actor/playwright/writer/musician.

6. The never-ending misunderstandings about what it is that you actually write about, because the umbrella term ‘the arts’ means different things to different people.

For example, if you were to mention that you’re an arts journalist in public, the chances are that somebody in the vicinity will demand your opinion on their latest painting or exhibition, which leads to an awkward conversation where you have to explain that you don’t actually review ‘visual art’, or whatever it is that they do, and that if they’d let you finish your bloody sentence then this awkward conversation would never have happened.

(Obviously, being polite, you will never say the last part of that sentence out loud, but you’ll be screaming it inside your head. Repeatedly. With lots of swear words.)

7. Knowing that you can’t always review the things that you want to, due to time, money and editorial pressure. This will sometimes lead to only the big films/plays/bands getting written about, which is neither right nor fair.

8. Downright cynicism. About everything. Ever.

9. Genuine hunger for the arts being replaced by genuine hunger for food, because you don’t have any money left after paying your bills, thanks to your meagre earnings.

10. The comments on our reviews/previews/articles. The horror. The horror.

11. Juggling your arts journalism work with another job. Sometimes two other jobs.

12. Exhaustion from having 2 or more jobs.

13. Frustration from having far too many jobs and not enough time to dedicate to arts journalism.

14. Knowing, that by not being able to spend enough time on your arts journalism work, that you are disappointing people, including yourself.

15. That nagging sensation that what you do isn’t actually journalism at all and is probably more like PR. An inkling that isn’t helped by this famous quote from George Orwell.

16. The realisation that you will never be able to write as well as George Orwell, and that he probably wouldn’t have liked you very much, anyway.

17. Finding out that a potential writing opportunity is unpaid, but will be great for your portfolio/exposure/experience, according to the editor, who gets paid to get people to work for free.

18. Knowing that your bank will not actually take payment in the form of exposure in lieu of actual cash, even though you assured them that said exposure could lead to paid work “…in the future”.

19. Seeing that other, inexperienced writers will take that unpaid work, thus enabling those companies that can and should pay their workers get away with not paying them.

20. Repeatedly and mysteriously dropping off press distribution lists, which means that you have to sign up to the same press distribution list every few months.

21. Missing exclusives and other important news because you are no longer on said press distribution list for some reason.

22. Being added to distribution lists that you most certainly didn’t sign up to, because someone got hold of your email address.

23. Receiving a badly written, poorly researched and completely unsuitable PR from a PR company, and knowing that the person that wrote it makes at least twice your yearly salary.

24. Your publication running out of budget.

25. Your publication running out of space, because they have to sell more ads now.

I Spent Record Store Day in a Queue and it Wasn’t So Bad

21 Apr
Vinyl Record image by Dennis Brekke, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Vinyl Record image by Dennis Brekke, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

I’m standing in a queue in the heart of the Grassmarket in Edinburgh, surrounded by music fans, waiting for the Avalanche Records stall to start trading at 11am. We’ve formed an orderly queue, some have bags from another local record store, others have handwritten lists of all the records they want to buy.

The man behind me chain smoked while he chatted to his son about the history of vinyl; they’d already been to a handful of record shops that day, and they really wanted a copy of the Nirvana record. Somewhere behind them, I heard the faint cry of some teenage girls; they were after something by One Direction. Ahead of me, passing tourists stopped and stared at our motley queue, or hovered worryingly close to the closed entrance to the marquee.

It was 10:30am and this was just the beginning of Record Store Day 2014.

Now in its seventh year, Record Store Day aims to celebrate local and independent record shops by releasing limited edition and exclusive new releases by some of the world’s most influential artists, but only on vinyl. This year, participating shops sold an eclectic range of albums by a diverse and celebrated collection of artists, including Nirvana, David Bowie, Grace Jones, Dinosaur Jr, Dead Kennedys and um, One Direction.

But there was only one album that I wanted this year: Gill Scott-Heron’s posthumous release, Nothing New. Comprised of stripped-down versions and new recordings of some of his most well-known songs and poems, it was a must-have for Scott-Heron fans. His work had a profound impact on me. I had to have this album. No, I needed to have this album.

Back in the queue, I spotted a man wearing a long black coat and sunglasses standing in front of the man ahead of me. I didn’t recall seeing him when I had joined the queue nearly half an hour before. My mind raced with possible explanations; the most obvious of which was that this bastard must have skipped the queue somehow. In true British style, I give him as many dirty looks as I could while his back was turned. That’ll teach the Blatant Queue Skipping bastard. Somewhere behind me, the One Direction fans were getting restless, one complained of sore feet, another complained about having to wait at all.

It was 10:55am, and I still had no idea if I’d get the record I wanted.

One of the reasons that Record Store Day works is the limited nature of it. This year, around 600 different albums were made available, but the number of albums by individual artists varied, and not every singly participating shop would get every single Record Store Day release. Avalanche Records had already confirmed some of the titles they would be selling the night before, but Nothing New wasn’t named in their list, so I had to risk it.

I knew that there were three other participating shops within walking distance of the Grassmarket, with a fourth a short bus journey away, so I knew that if Avalanche didn’t have it, there were four other shops that just might. Besides, at that point, I’d been in the queue for half an hour, and I wasn’t giving up yet.

Eventually the doors opened, the queue eased forward a few feet, and then stopped. Nobody moved for another ten minutes, which didn’t please the One Direction fans somewhere behind me; who decided to send one of their number into the tent to ask about their much-wanted record. She emerged quickly saying there was “None left”. They moaned and groaned as they shambled away, as one of them muttered “It’s just not FAIR!” Their dreams were shattered. Good.

I edged ever closer to the door, as the men in front of me, including the Blatant Queue Skipping Bastard anxiously milled around, shifting their weight awkwardly from foot to foot. They blocked my view of the door without realising. A woman left the tent and asked her companion why people are queueing, oblivious to the many signs proclaiming that it was RECORD STORE DAY.

It was nearly 11:25. The two men ahead of the Blatant Queue Skipping Bastard chat to the guy behind the stall. They chat for a little too long, and everyone else started to grow restless.

Suddenly, they left. Blatant Queue Skipping Bastard followed soon after, because they didn’t have his record. I smiled at the taste of  sweet, beautiful justice. The man ahead of me is then sent on his way with a brief shake of the stall owner’s head. I was at the front of the queue, oh the joy! The power!

“Hello”, I said. “Do you have Nothing New by Gil Scott-Heron?”

He thought for a minute, and then wordlessly turned and began searching through a large stack of records behind him. He leafed through them quickly, going back and forth, starting at the beginning, getting to the middle and then starting at the beginning again. I didn’t know what the record looked like, but I looked for a familiar colour, or design to point out to him. Nothing.

It was 11:32am. He was still searching. On the other side of the stall, I was growing increasingly anxious. Would they have it?

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he pulled a plain record from the stack, turned, smiled and handed it to me.

“Sorry about that, I was looking out for the name Gil Scott-Heron.” He said and pointed at the quite small font crediting Scott-Heron.

I thanked him profusely and paid. I walked, no, I strutted past the queue that seemed to have swelled and grown in number over the last hour. I walked past people who craned their necks to see what I’d managed to get. I smiled.

It was 11:45am and life was good.

The Fallacy of Banning Children From Museums and Theatres

2 Apr
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.

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

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, 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.

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)

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.

KNUT

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