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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)

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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.

Dear Abigail Fisher

25 Jun

Abigail Fisher

Dear Abigail,

I read about your rejected application to the University of Texas and your subsequent lawsuit challenging the university’s decision, which you, a 23-year-old white woman, believed was due to the university’s policy of affirmative action.

Let me start by saying I’m sorry you didn’t get into your dream university; rejection sucks, and it can feel unfair. As a 27-year-old white woman, I’m not going to patronise you by saying that you have your whole life ahead of you and that this rejection will soon feel like nothing more than a tiny bump in the road that is your life journey. I’m too close to your age to tell you this, and I haven’t clocked in anywhere near enough time to be that dismissive of your life experience so far.

But I can tell you this; sometimes, in life, we don’t always get our way.

Sure, you might have it all planned out, you might have written a list of goals that you want to achieve by the time you’re 30, but if something is not going to happen, it’s not going to happen. You can’t force your dream university to take you on as a student, because there is a lot of evidence to prove that your application wasn’t rejected because of the colour of your skin.

When we fail, we have to get back up, dust ourselves off and keep moving. I know it hurts to realise that a long-time dream you had won’t come to fruition, but just because you want something, doesn’t mean that you’re entitled to it. Sometimes you put your heart and soul into something and it doesn’t work. Sometimes you don’t quite work hard enough, and expect the glory to appear overnight, which it doesn’t.

The fear of failure is something that has swept our society; as modern people we are terrified of doing something wrong, of taking a risk, of not getting what we want, or of changing our minds and creating new goals. The important thing to remember is that everyone around you, including the most successful people in the public eye, will have failed at something, be it a work endeavour, a relationship, an investment, an exam, an essay or another seemingly important task.

Walt Disney was fired by an editor, he formed and liquidated several companies before he found success with his animation. Bill Gates ‘ first business failed miserably. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Stephen King had his seminal horror masterpiece, Carrie, rejected 30 times by various publishers, before it was eventually accepted. The late Iain (M) Banks’ The Wasp Factory was rejected 6 times before it was published in 1984, and he has since been named as one of the 50 Greatest British writers since 1945.

My point is, Abigail, that failure is inevitable at certain times in our lives, we can’t avoid it, but it represents a massive opportunity for personal growth and change. I’m not denying that it’s a difficult process, but anything worth doing usually is. Let me tell you a few secrets; I’m a theatre critic and I failed Higher Drama when I was 16; I had missed a lot of school that year because of illness, and I got pneumonia 2 weeks before my exams. When I resat the course the following year I got a B.

When I first applied for university, I didn’t get an interview for the course I really wanted to do, I just logged into my UCAS account one day to find that my application had been rejected, no reason was given, all I got was a computer screen with the words ‘application unsuccessful’ staring back at me. I was crushed. However, 5 months later, I managed to get onto that very same course through clearing.

I stayed up all night drinking vodka when I got the mark for my university dissertation, which was a painful 52%. This mark dragged my overall grade down from a First Class degree, to a 2.1. I was very unhappy about it at the time, but that 2.1 hasn’t held me back at all, in fact, I haven’t seen my degree certificate since I graduated four years ago, I think it’s somewhere in my parents’ house.

I know that you went on to successfully apply to and graduate from Louisiana State University, and for that I congratulate you. However, I must ask you, what you thought you might gain from your lawsuit? Ask yourself, have you really experienced discrimination because of your race?

Obviously, as we live in different parts of the world, and are unlikely to ever meet, I must admit, I don’t know you, so I can’t get a good idea of your reasoning, or the reasoning of those around you, but I do hope that in time, you will realise that this lawsuit was unwise, and you will be able to fully move on with your life.

Yours sincerely,

Trash

(No kisses yet, we barely know each other)

Surviving Life After Graduation

21 May
Trash on Taylor Street, SF

Trash on Taylor Street, SF


It’s here, graduation, it’s what you’ve been working towards for a number of years and it’s finally time for you to step outside and view the world, not as a poor student, but as a poor graduate. May I be one of the first to say, congratulations, and don’t worry, it gets so much better.

Right now, you might be thinking about hiring your graduation gown and getting your sweaty hands on the piece of paper that is your degree, but this will not automatically change your view of the world. Don’t get me wrong, your graduation will be great fun, it should give you some great memories, but it’s what happens after your graduation that really matters, and here’s some advice to get you through the weeks, months, even years after this.

Don’t Compare Your Life to Anyone Else’s

This is the rule that I simply cannot stress enough; your life is your life, so quit comparing it to everyone else’s. When I graduated in 2009, which was a very tough year to graduate – especially with a drama degree – I felt like so many of my classmates were walking into great jobs. One person more or less walked into their dream job and had numerous other opportunities thrown at them, yet I was still working at my not-quite-minimum-wage-job in the fast food industry.

In short, I was barely out of my graduation robes and I already felt like a failure; I was intimidated by other people’s progress and envious of their success. When one former classmate moved to London, I was stunned, I couldn’t imagine leaving Edinburgh, let alone Scotland. But the path you go down isn’t the same path that your friends will tiptoe along, and no path is set, you can always change your direction, and you can always, always go back.

It’s OK to Not Have a Plan

You might be one of those people who has a plan, a plan that will not be changed, a plan that they have no intention of changing in any way shape or form. This is fine, but this is not the way that a lot of people work. You don’t always need a plan, you don’t always need something that you set stone; you need that spark, that flash of inspiration, the revelation that comes to you when you’re doing the washing up, the epiphany that emerges as you’re about to fall asleep. Whatever it is, write it down, don’t forget it, and see how you can make this new dream a reality.

Have Something Else To Do

By this, I mean have a hobby. If you’re trying to become a professional writer; write, read, but also have something to do on the days where you just can’t face sitting in front of the computer for another long and unproductive afternoon.

Get out the house; see family, see friends, go to the cinema, the museum, go for a long walk to nowhere and sit and gaze at the sunset. Cook, clean, learn to play a musical instrument, volunteer, head to the gym and work with the Iron, run with no destination in mind, do something that helps you remove yourself from your work so that it remains your goal, your dream, not an instrument of torture. Creating something, working towards your future and being artistic shouldn’t mean that you have to over work yourself; know when to give yourself a break, and know when you are burning out.

You Are Not Your Degree

If I had a penny for every time that I mentioned that I have a drama degree, and every time someone has asked me if I was an actor because of my degree, I would have a fair few pennies. Yet, I would still not be a rich woman. I work with a team of very, very talented people in my day job. One has a PhD, some have degrees in art, others have degrees in history, some are in really good local bands, yet, we work in online marketing, which, we’ll admit, was not part of our plan, but it’s where we are for now. Your degree doesn’t control you, it doesn’t bind you to a certain industry or job, and remember that it can only hold you back if you let it hold you back. Your degree is a small part of your life; that doesn’t mean that it is your life, and it doesn’t mean that it will be part of your future.

Never, Ever Let Anyone Make You Doubt Yourself

One of the biggest mistakes I ever made in the years after graduating was listening to the wrong people. At that time, there were people in my life that liked to remind me of my limitations, and in doing so, held me back.

For example, during a conversation with a former friend last year, I mooted the idea of moving away from Edinburgh, possibly Scotland, maybe even the UK, to find work, to travel, or just to start anew. This former friend then reminded me that I own a flat, that I was very lucky to own property, and that there were so many other people out there that wanted to get their feet on the property ladder, which wasn’t fair. I can’t remember what it was that they said exactly, but their argument was that because I owned property and because other people didn’t/couldn’t, then I should never, ever think about travelling, ever. I was made to feel guilty and selfish for committing the terrible crime of Expressing a Desire to Travel Whilst Owning a House at the Same Time.

There are many reasons why this way of thinking is completely wrong, but when I thought about the conversation later, I realised that this person was talking about themselves, “I don’t think you should travel”, “I want to buy a house, how can you be so selfish when you have something that I want?” Don’t get into this way of thinking, anything is possible, even if you own property, have a small family, or a well-paid job. Don’t let anyone tell you not to follow your dreams, don’t let others have too much say in your life, this is your time, be your own person, create your own adventure.

The Scaredy Cat’s Guide to Blogging

9 May
Photo by owenwbrown, used under a Creative Commons License

Photo by owenwbrown, used under a Creative Commons License

My Ultimate List of Fears [UPDATED]:

1. Heights

2. Bigger Heights

3. Flying Through Turbulence

4. Blogging

It took me three years longer than it should have to start blogging.

Let me explain; when I was at university, and training in arts journalism, the internet was still seen by many in the journalism industry as less of a standalone publisher, but more of a support to traditional printed journalism. By the time I graduated, it was becoming clear to many in the industry that online journalism had taken on a new dimension, and was seriously threatening traditional print journalism.

Back in those heady days of higher education, graduation and working in a job with no prospects and a weekly pay packet that paid just-above-minimum-wage-but-not-quite-enough-to-live-on, a lot of people I knew started to say things like, “You should have a blog. People like blogs.” I understood their reasoning; blogs would make my work more visible, a blog would give me an online presence, where I could write and hone my craft, and it might even get me noticed by some big time publisher/editor who’d send me an email starting with “Hey Kid, I like your style, here’s a writing job and a comfortable wage.” As if.

But for all the benefits of blogging; networking, work, the unreachable goals, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. The thought of blogging led to questions, big, horrifying questions that I couldn’t answer. Every time I thought about blogging, a little voice in my head would raise all sorts of questions. What would I blog about? What if nobody read my blog? Which platform should I use? How would I design it? What will I say? What if everyone thinks I’m an idiot when they read my blog posts? What if I am an idiot? What if I’m a terrible, terrible writer?

These questions went on and on, terrifying me, putting me off blogging, and so, the little voice would fall silent, until I started thinking about blogging again. After all, who was I? I was a theatre critic, just another underpaid and undervalued arts journalist. Why would anybody take me seriously? Why would anybody want to read what I have to say? Why should I bother blogging when I can’t get regular and paid writing work anyway? Sometimes, I would be brave, I would make vague commitments to creating a blog, like the time I registered a domain that I ignored until it expired. I set up various Tumblr accounts and even a lonely Posterous account that I promptly forgot about. Then, last year, I decided the fear was holding me back; it was time to have a blog, at least to showcase my work, and use in job applications.

I set up my blog in April, but didn’t write my first post for a month. I was so overwhelmed in the beginning; I didn’t know what to say, and that little voice kept telling me I had no place blogging was sometimes unbearably loud. After that, I used my blog to republish my reviews from other websites. It wasn’t an impressive blog, so I fannied around with free WordPress themes to make it look better, and added new widgets, categories and tabs. But, I still felt like my blog wasn’t working, it didn’t inspire me and I knew I wanted to write about more than theatre. So, I did. I wrote about the government, I wrote about abortion, I wrote about libel, I wrote about pseudonyms, I discussed disappointment, I lamented the lack of money in journalism and rejection in the industry. As I wrote, I grew more confident and that little voice that liked to tell me that I had no right to publish my work online grew weaker.

It’s been just over a year since I started this blog, while it has been difficult at times, and I’ll admit that the little voice of doubt hasn’t gone completely, I’m glad I started blogging, I only wish I’d started earlier. I wish I’d known that blogging doesn’t have to be so scary, I wish I’d known that the only way to be comfortable blogging is to blog regularly.

If you’re thinking about blogging; don’t think about it, do it. The more you blog, the more you will find your voice, your angle and an audience. Listen to feedback – if you get it – but don’t be afraid to share your opinion, to keep writing, researching and finding stories that you want to write about. Your blog is your space, where you can express yourself freely, and conquer your little negative voice. My blog definitely helped me get over my fear of blogging, next up; I will conquer my fear of flying through turbulence. Maybe.

Critics and the Theatre Industry

2 Mar
Photo by Horia Varlan, shared under a Creative Commons licence

Photo by Horia Varlan, shared under a Creative Commons licence

The thing about being a theatre critic, or a critic of any art form, is that you can often feel like you’re standing in front of a locked door,  trying to find a way to get in. For example, you may give a show a very positive review only to have your work ignored by the PR team, who choose reviews from a bigger publication over yours. When you write for a smaller, or less established publication, you are the smallest fish in the biggest pond, a pond that only becomes more vast when thoughtless PRs make comments like: “Oh, glad you’re all here, but just to let you know we were really hoping for FAMOUS SUCCESSFUL CRITIC to come along.” And yes, this did happen to a friend of mine as they stood in the foyer of a theatre, with other local critics waiting to review a show.

Sometimes you’re popular; the phone never stops ringing, the emails never stop dropping into your inbox, and these emails are quickly joined by follow-up emails, checking that you received the first email. Sometimes your website crashes because of the sheer number of people trying to get on it to read reviews and get your email address to tell you about another show that you have to review. Other times, friends you haven’t seen or heard from for a while will leap out of the ether, inviting you to review their new show, saying, ” We must catch up, it’s been too long!” only for your enthusiastic response to go unnoticed; calls are missed, texts are forgotten, and back into the ether they go. You have no idea how much we critics suffer, I mean, really.

I’m being dramatic here, but the truth is, that being a critic can be a lonely existence sometimes; spending long nights in front of the computer, trying to write your seventh review of the day, is necessary, it’s what we signed up for when we took the first step on the broken cobbled road that leads to becoming a critic. But that doesn’t mean that these nights are easy, or enjoyable, and sometimes they can be pretty isolating – have you ever stayed up so late that nobody else seems to be on Twitter? It’s very odd.

While I can’t speak for other critics, I put everything I have at that moment into my reviews, but even then, I have off days. I’ve had days where summing up a simple synopsis takes too long, and days when my writing is so poor, and so utterly unreadable that I’m begging my editor for a late pass so I can attempt to completely rewrite the piece. I’ve had weeks when the prospect of writing another review fills me with dread, when writer’s block has had me staring at a blank word document wondering what the Hell I am doing and why on earth I keep doing this to myself.

I’ve had days when comments on my work have made me glad I chose this path, and days when a simple error on a review, or an omitted piece of information has The Reader completely doubting me, my work and my reasons for reviewing. As a reviewer you get used to the angry commenter’s cry of, “Oh, what do you know, you’re just a failed and bitter director/actor/producer/playwright.” Although, from experience, I’ve found the commenters that are the most vicious and the most personal in their insults of a critic are usually connected to the show that I’ve reviewed – whether they are directly involved with the show in some way, or they are related to someone in the production.

That is not to say critics are infallible, because no one is. It’s impossible to never make mistakes. Errors can range from spelling and grammatical errors, to factual howlers and even, wait for it, a lack of writing talent. Every critic has a different style; you get the A.A. Gills of the world who seem to delight taking cruel swipes at those in the spotlight (remember what he said about Professor Mary Beard?) There are others who specialise in schmoozing; the ‘Star Fuckers’, who slither up to actors and directors to tell them facetiously how wonderful they are, and how much they enjoyed their work, before desperately attempting to become part of their entourage. One of my biggest pet peeves is the critic who just wants to see shows for free, because for these critics, their writing is just an afterthought – these are the critics that give the rest of us a bad name. The ones that don’t fact check, make sweeping statements, offend the director and the actors with their poor words, the ones that arrive late to shows, the ones that are rude to press officers, PRs and FOH staff. I have no time for these people, and frankly, neither should anyone in the industry, this is not the way to move criticism forward.

So, this morning, I read, with interest, Jethro Compton’s Angry Young Man blog post, in which he argued passionately that the relationship between the media and the theatre industry must change, and I whole-heartedly agree. Although I believe that when Mr Compton refers to ‘Edinburgh’ in the post he means the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and not just the city itself, and that being an unprofessional writer doesn’t automatically mean that you are a bad writer. I could be defined as not being professional, simply because I don’t get a regular income from my writing, something which my bank account likes to remind me. Yet, I would say that my writing style is more professional than amateur.

The theatre industry critics need each other in order to survive, and as a new generation of theatre makers and arts journalists are swelling the ranks on either side, we must come to a mutual understanding of our intertwined industries. Criticism, for me, comes out of my respect and love of the arts; I don’t want to see anyone fail, I simply want to see them creating pieces that they, and by extension, I, can be proud of.

I am an Angry Young Woman, and critics and theatre practitioners both work in industries where our errors, failures and other issues are played out in public, so let’s break down the barriers and smash open the locked doors that sit between us and let’s get the theatre industry and the press working together, so that we can all start yelling, and yelling together about the ongoing issues that affect the media and the arts.

Journalists, Watch Your Language

19 Jan

Rosie DiManno

As ledes go, Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno’s “She lost a womb but gained a penis” is pretty awful; it’s sensationalist, unclear, and laughably insensitive. However, the next sentence, “The Former was being removed surgically – full hysterectomy – while the latter was being shoved into her slack mouth” reveals just how inappropriate the lede is for the story.

Yet as horrible as these sentences are, the story itself is much, much worse: an anesthesiologist, Dr George Doodnaught, is currently standing trial accused of sexually assaulting 20 female patients whilst they were unconscious during surgery in Toronto’s North York General Hospital. The crimes that Dr Doodnaught has been accused of are abhorrent, shocking and inexcusable; oral rape, forcible touching of the breasts and ‘French kissing’ one patient while she was having hip replacement surgery.

Clearly, the story is one of a trusted medical professional abusing their position in order to exploit vulnerable female patients for his own sexual fulfilment, and the failure of North York General Hospital to protect its patients by investigating previous complaints against Dr Doodnaught. However, DiManno’s clumsy wording, which included describing one anonymous witness, known as D.D. as an “…attractive married mom” – are her looks, marital status and children relevant to the case? – Switch the reader’s anger from Dr Doodnaught to DiManno herself, crushing the real horror of the story and creating a different, and much more vitriolic kind of outrage.

Whether DiManno intended to sound ‘edgy’, or dramatic, or she was simply having an ‘off day’ remains to be seen. However, this isn’t her first questionable lede: in a piece published earlier this month on the disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, DiManno gleefully cried: “Give Lance Armstrong this much: The guy’s got, um, ball.”  Jokes about Armstrong’s anatomy and integrity aside, journalists, whether they’re writing a column or a news story, have a responsibility to write objectively, and in the case of writing about sexual assault with care and compassion.

However, as recent articles, such as THAT Julie Burchill article, and the furore surrounding Suzanne Moore have revealed, words have power, they can be simultaneously uplifting, informative, destructive and damaging. Burchill’s dismissal of transsexuals as ‘trannies’ amongst other hateful words and Moore’s angry tweets on transsexuals and feminism serve only to make people angry, and further feel alienated. Whereas DiManno’s over simplified description of oral rape as “…gaining a penis” minimises one woman’s horrific tale of sexual assault. After all, would you ever say to a rape victim, “Hey, don’t worry about it, remember, you weren’t horribly violated, you gained a penis”? No, you wouldn’t, because that’s not what rape is.

Words carry so much weight, they influence and teach the reader. So when DiManno describes oral rape in the way she has, when Burchill dismisses transsexuals as “chicks in dicks clothing”, when a 12-year-old gang rape victim in Texas is described by a defence attorney as a “spider”, “who lured the boys into her web” and when the gang rape of two 12-year-old girls in Reading is described by a “park orgy” and the victims as “schoolgirl Lolitas” then we have a serious problem. Not just in journalism, but also in society in general.

Words move worlds, they have the power to enlighten, destroy and corrupt, and it’s time to face the reality that what we say and write can move people in all the wrong ways.

Feminism Needs The Transgender Community

13 Jan

Julie Burchill

The problem with being a celebrated feminist writer, is that many people will analyse everything that you say, even seemingly meaningless throwaway analogies. The journalist Suzanne Moore, found this out to her peril recently, when during an otherwise excellent piece about the power of female anger in The New Statesman, Moore made a comment about women aiming for the body of a “Brazilian transsexual”. Many people disagreed with this statement, and Moore was questioned about it on Twitter by a number of people, and verbally abused by others.

Although Twitter is never the best place to have an argument, or attempt to question another person at length about a serious subject as the 140 character limit is too damn short, Moore’s defensive and evasive tweets on the matter, and her subsequent follow-up piece in The Guardian, I Don’t Care If You Were Born a Woman Or Became One did little in some people’s eyes to make up for the hurt caused, and so, Moore decided to leave Twitter. Not to be outdone, the journalist Julie Burchill wrote a response in The Guardian’s sister paper, The Observer, and then the proverbial shit really hit the proverbial fan.

Titled, Transsexuals Should Cut It Out, Burchill’s impassioned defence of her “brilliant writer” friend Moore, reads less like a well-balanced and well-argued analysis of the situation, and more like a threat: “You really won’t like us [me] when we’re [I’m] angry.” But puerile threats aside – I’m sure trans people have much more to worry about than Burchill’s promise to get angry – what should transsexuals cut out, exactly? Standing up for themselves? Correcting hateful and incorrect language? ‘Bullying’ her mates? Undoubtedly, some people went too far in their abuse of Moore, and were probably not going to be satisfied with any of responses, but they had every right to challenge her. However, once what should be an impassioned debate becomes difficult and abusive, then all sides are at fault. If Burchill, believes that the transgender community is wrong because a few of its members have bullied her friends, then Burchill’s article, makes her, by her very own definition, a bully.

If Moore’s initial piece was problematic in its wording regarding trans people, then Burchill’s article is simply abusive. It uses a number of hateful and upsetting terms, most noticeably  “shemales”, “shims” and “dicks in chicks’ clothing”, which should not have been published in any newspaper. Her insistence that the trans people not only want to be treated as women, but receive special privileges above those of “natural-born women” is both worrying and inaccurate. Burchill’s article reveals a woeful ignorance, if not hatred, of trans people, and it is ignorance that causes fear, paranoia, anger and leads to the abuse of, and violence against, trans people.

But there is a bigger issue at play here, and that is that women, and therefore feminism itself, are exclusive terms, and that only certain people can identify as women and feminists. If you really, truly identify as a woman, whether you were born in a female body or not, then you should live as one, freely and without judgement from anyone, let alone other women.

If you identify as a women, then you’ll probably identify as a feminist, because you want women to do and feel better, and if you believe that women deserve better, then you are a feminist. Whether you’re cisgender or transgender, you are welcome here, and you are very much-needed in feminism. It’s time for trans people to stop being used as an easy target for abuse and ‘jokes’, it’s time for us to come together, to get angry, and to use that anger to grow our movement, to increase our followers and bring us all one step closer to equality.

I am a woman, I am a feminist, and you are welcome here.

The ‘This is Not a Best of List’ Film List of 2012

3 Jan

Films of 2012

I have a confession to make. Actually, I have two confessions to make. First of all, I hate these ‘Best of 2012’ lists that have been popping up everywhere since mid November. I find, for me, that they get very tiresome very quickly; especially if they are published before the end of the year; Christmas isn’t the only thing that happens in December, lest we forget.

My second confession is about the films themselves. The truth is, when I sat down to write this list, I realised that while I had seen lots of films in 2012, they were either new, and as yet, unreleased films shown at festivals, or they were one-off screenings of classic films that I hadn’t seen before, so they weren’t exactly ‘new releases’.

So after much thought, here is my ‘not a list, don’t call it a list’ of my three favourite films of last year.

The Shining (1980)

Ok, I know that Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation Stephen King’s most famous novel, The Shining, isn’t a brand new piece of cinema, but the release of the extended US cut of the film in the UK in November brought a new dimension to Kubrick’s cult horror. While the US cut, which features an extra 24 minutes of footage, which were omitted from the European release, wasn’t Kubrick’s favourite version of the film, this cut brings something else to the familiar plot. Initially ignored and misunderstood upon its release for its ‘Art House’ style, and also due to Kubrick’s many changes to King’s story – which King didn’t approve of – The Shining has now become a right of passage for almost every film fanatic.

Featuring Jack Nicholson’s infamous turn as the out-of-luck writer with a dark past, this film showcases both Nicholson’s performance and Kubrick’s ability to create real, lasting tension and unease. In part, King’s tale of a haunted hotel and the evil of the spirits contained within, The Shining is also a piece that explores a family at breaking point, and analyses the effects of isolation whilst delving into the more extreme aspects of mental illness. Intriguing, masterful and still chilling more than 30 years after its original release, the extended version of the film is an unforgettable piece of late 20th century horror cinema.

You can read my review of the film on TVBomb.

Prometheus (2012)

Ridley Scott’s long-awaited addition to his Alien franchise, Prometheus was released to great fanfare in June, and quickly split the critics and the viewing public. Featuring an all-star cast, the film was initially marketed as a prequel to Scott’s highly influential 1979 sci-fi horror, however, Prometheus, while featuring terrifying creatures like ones featured in the original film, was designed to be a companion film, and not a prequel.

Although the film came under some harsh criticism for its somewhat unexpected back story, and a few other plot points – Guy Pearce’s make up, anyone? – Prometheus is, at its heart, a film that’s less about sci-fi and more about horror. Exploring Alien‘s existing themes of body horror, gender, and perhaps, most importantly, of violence, rape and unwanted pregnancy, Prometheus is concerned with humanity, and our fears. It taps into our most basic terrors; the fear that we are not alone, that our bodies are not our own, and that we are powerless and important when compared to the vastness of the universe.

Best viewed as a companion film to Alien, rather than a direct relation, the thing to remember about Prometheus is that while it can’t emulate the shock  created by or be the game changer that Alien was, it doesn’t have to, it’s concerned with deeper things.

You can read my review of the film on TVBomb.

Killer Joe (2012)

When I saw Killer Joe at the 2012 Edinburgh International Film Festival, I couldn’t speak properly for a few minutes. I hate writing in clichés, but William Friedkin’s film adaptation of Tracy Letts’ 1993 play of the same name does everything film is meant to do. It entertains, it unnerves, it terrifies, it shocks and, most importantly, it gets into your head and stays there. A tale of a dysfunctional family hiring a contract killer that they can’t afford – the ‘Killer Joe’ of the title, expertly realised by Matthew McConaughey – to kill their mother for her life insurance takes the viewer on a number of twists and turns throughout. But the real power of the film lies in its overarching theme of exploitation, and of course, the film’s final scenes, which culminate in an explosion of violence so unexpected and so frightening, that they really has to be seen to be believed.

A true return to form after Friedkin’s last few films, Killer Joe was not only one of the highlights of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, but also one of the strongest new releases of the year. For me, this tale of contract killings, exploitation, selfishness and greed is perfectly realised and completely and utterly disturbing. A must see.

You can read my review of the film here.

Why Does the Government Hate Women?

6 Oct

In the same week that the Minister for Women, Maria Miller announced that she would back a reduction in the abortion limit from 24 to 20 weeks, the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt has announced that he backs the reduction of the limit further, to just 12 weeks.

Miller’s support of lowering the abortion limit from the current 24 weeks to 20 weeks, is not a decision backed by medical science, or the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which announced in 2009 that it had found no medical evidence to justify such a cut. Similarly, Hunt’s support for a 12 week limit on abortions, though a decision he says he came to “after studying the evidence”, although he hasn’t yet cited the evidence for this decision. He has also denied that his faith has been one of the driving forces for his decision.

But just as Miller’s support for a 20 week limit has been met with derision, so has Hunt’s desire to cut the limit to 12 weeks, a decision slammed by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, who have criticised Hunt’s stance on abortion. Speaking to The Times their spokesperson Kate Guthrie said:

“The politicisation of women’s health is absolutely shocking. Politicians talk about putting patients at the centre, which is quite right.

How is the woman at the centre of her healthcare with something like this?

If everybody had to have abortions by 12 weeks, my worry would be that women would be rushed into making decisions: ‘I have to have an abortion now or I can’t have one.’

That’s an absolute shocker. You will absolutely create mental health problems if you start dragooning women into making decisions before they have to.”

Abortion is a sensitive issue; it is a difficult issue for some people, but above all else, it is an issue that should concern the women who are experiencing a surprise pregnancy. Women deserve the right to have autonomy over their own bodies, we are entitled to make the decision to end or continue a pregnancy if that is what we want to do. The decision to have an abortion is a difficult one, and is influenced by many factors, not least by the existing time limits.

Let me be frank, Miller and Hunt’s desire to lower the abortion limit will not mean fewer abortions will be carried out. It will mean that women that rely on the NHS will be forced to make a decision with very little time to spare, while women with money will be able to afford to access an abortion in other countries with a higher time limit. Those women without the means to pay for their own abortion, or ability to travel to another country to have one will be left with fewer options and a lot of desperation and worry. Desperation will cause women who want to end their pregnancy to turn to unlicensed backstreet abortion which led to hundreds, if not thousands of women contracting serious illnesses, becoming infertile or dying from their injuries. The amount of women who became ill or died following an illegal abortion before 1967 cannot be verified, but it is estimated that 47,000 women have died because of unsafe abortion. Is this what we want for women in the UK?

Unwanted pregnancy rates need to be targeted by the government, but not by reducing the abortion time limit. Improving access to contraception would help deal with the issue. This has been proven time and time again by studies, with the most recent one, carried out by Washington University in St Louis, concluding that better access to contraception means fewer abortions. In addition, improving pre-natal testing for genetic abnormalities, would help make parents more aware of any issues with a pregnancy well in advance of the 24 week mark. As would working to stop end any delays that some women considering abortion may face.

So, Miller, you’re Minister for Women, start acting like you’re on our side; stop describing yourself as “a very modern feminist” and trust women to make the right decisions about our own bodies and futures. As for Hunt, the Health Secretary should recognise that lowering the abortion limit will not mean fewer abortions, it will mean fewer documented abortions and more women putting their lives at risk in order to end a pregnancy that they either cannot or will not continue with due to choice, or the health of the foetus. Late abortion is accounts for a very small percentage of abortions in the UK, less than 2% of the 200,000 abortions carried out in England and Wales in 2011, were late-term abortions.

If Hunt and Miller were really interested in stopping unwanted pregnancies, they would start by looking at access to contraceptives and improving sex education, not by punishing women who have an unexpected or non-viable pregnancy. This is the latest step in the Conservative’s war on women, and we must fight to make sure that all women have access to safe and legal abortion – should they need or want one.

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