1989

I’m not going to eulogise over how good Taylor Swift’s latest album is, because there’s already plenty of those out there. But I will take a second to note how, unlike any pop album I can think of, it actually hit home.

I’m a firm believer that the best music not only has a catchy melody or a great riff (or whatever gets your particular juices flowing) but can grab a hold of what you feel, where your life is at that very moment. The very best music can make you take stock of all that, and that’s what 1989 manages.

It’s rare that an album will so perfectly capture where you are as a person right at the time that you listen to it. There’s obviously an element of chance involved, but it’s still fleeting. We’ve had albums from Pianos Become the Teeth and Have Mercy in the last month – both bands that I love – and neither of them have struck a chord with me as sharply as Swift’s latest.

It’s interesting that the album is called 1989, probably no coincidence that a record written by a 24-year-old feels so familiar thematically. The potential mistakes you may have made and may be making, the missteps and regrets that we’re all accidentally accumulating as we stumble through our early 20’s with essentially no fucking clue where we’re going. 1989 sounds to me 90% a celebration of these things; 10% reflection on what may be going right or wrong.

It’s this candour and vulnerability, wrapped up in brilliant, 80’s-drenched pop songs, that has caught me a bit off guard with this album, and also why I’d recommend it wholeheartedly – even to those who can’t think of anything worse than sitting through it.

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Gone Girl

Probably contains accidental spoilers.

Well, that was messed up.

If there’s any film that is likely to convince to sack my socia life in and just live in a hole somewhere, I’ve just seen it. Rosamund Pike is chilling as the wife to Ben Affleck’s accused husband, and I haven’t been that confused as to how to feel about a group of characters in a long time.

One thing did annoy me about Gone Girl, though. As far as a comment on a post-recession marriage goes, I never felt like Gillian Flynn (I’m assuming that the film is close enough to the novel that this criticim can be levelled at its author) really knew which side of the fence she’s stood on. The twists and turns in plot are interesting and keep the movie entertaining for its entire two-and-a-half hour running length, but they felt a little confused themselves.

Maybe that was the point. All I know is that I wish I had a lock on my door.

Learning lessons

Over the course of the past few months I’ve been exploring the idea of sexism in the music industry and feminist movements for equality fighting against it.

I’m still yet to focus on a straight theme or angle for my article (I think you could write on the subject forever, such are the issues and the array of viewpoints within it) but I have been genuinely surprised by the prevalence of something I naively thought was all but non-existent.

None of the women I have spoken to have been lucky enough to never experience sexism; none think that we are anywhere near where we need to be – where we ought to be – in terms of gender equality in our entertainment industry.

I, like I assume many others, saw the vast amounts of women appearing on televisions and radios everywhere and assumed that this was a problem to be moaned about by a minority. I am happy to admit I was wrong, but unhappy that I have to do so.

As I shape my article over the next few weeks I intend to maintain a blog about my doing so – primarily to shape my thought processes, but also to see if a route I am taking is coherent and honest. I do not want to produce a finished work that is short-sighted and disagreeable a matter of weeks after I’v written it.

14.02.12

Now I can sit through as many soppy status updates and Instagram photos of flowers and chocolates as the next person, fan of Valentine’s day or not.

Is this really necessary?

Is this really necessary?

I just feel if we really must have a day celebrating how fantastic relationships are, why don’t we have a day highlighting the darker side of all things couple-y? All the saccharine wonder of the 14th is unbearable if it’s just another day.

I’ve not seen any photos today captioned “another £75 bouquet of roses, standard day in our amazing relationship”. If Valentine’s gives couples an excuse to concentrate on the good, then I’m all for it.

But I propose we have a day, let’s say November 25th (cause it’ll be sufficiently dark and cold by then), where we focus on all the shit bits. They exist!

Every November 25th we’ll all sit around and lament our free time (best celebrated in groups of people you don’t like). We’ll reflect on all the post-break-up awkwardness and point-scoring that can only be prevented by marriage.

We’ll remember all those parties we couldn’t go to because they’d be there. We’ll read all our blog entries from years ago when we were vulnerable and online.

We’ll revisit all the probably-perfect-decent people who’ve we’ve pathetically irrationally hated because they liked one of our ex’s statuses about a cool band (that might just be me though).

Any why do we do all these things? To remind ourselves that they’re all pretty much inevitable if we balk at the m word.

My point is, it isn’t all sweetness and light, and Valentine’s Day makes me feel like everyone’s pretending that it is. Which is fine in itself, but why can’t we temper it? We can call it ‘Evening-Out Day’ or ‘Truth Day’.

It would just make all this over-romanticised sickly bullshit easier to swallow.

HT(F)ML

Coding is hard. Really hard.

I know there are millions upon millions of you who are able to design a website from the bottom up in a matter of minutes. You’ve all constructed the new Youtube before I’ve buttered my toast, I know.

But for someone who is as close as it comes to computer illiterate, staring at a Mac screen littered with little <p>’s and <h1>’s and <ul>’s is as close as it comes to intellectual torture – especially when they don’t make any sense or do what I want them to do.

Image

JUST LOOK AT IT.

I will become murderous if I can’t make the <div> tags work soon. Seriously, the little bastards just will not go where I want them.

I want to be able to look back on this in six weeks and be all ‘what the hell was I moaning about!?’ Preferably from a website that I’ve just built.

The Old Bailey

Last Thursday, we domestic journalism students were fortunate enough to be taken to the Old Bailey, for a brief introductory tour and a chance to sit in on current trials.

Whilst the trials we attended can’t really be discussed on here, due to their ongoing nature, we were quite unfortunate when it came to really seeing any real court work. By real, I mean cross-examining of witnesses, barristers pitting their wits against each other.

Instead, we saw one trial adjourned for the entire day, another break for lunch just as we got there, and the very beginnings of a third trial (the details of which had appeared on the BBC News home page by the time I got home.

So, aside from the trials themselves, what really impressed me was the building. Constructed in 1907, the Old Bailey reeks of an England past, where grandeur and authority walked hand in hand, today’s austerity far enough in the future that it basically isn’t even a thing yet.

It’s an impressive sight to behold, stuffy corridors hidden beneath elaborate, ornate entrance foyers – basically, it is exactly what I had hoped the great bastion of the English law would be.

Furthermore, the code of conduct expected in such a place is also impressive. In an age where it seems you can never be farther than a few yards or seconds from the latest form of technology, it was refreshing that mobile phones couldn’t be taken inside the building at all, much less cameras or laptops.

Authoritative figures in England often take some criticism for being behind the times or antiquated (I’m looking at you, FA), but I was pleased to see that at least when it comes to applying and upholding the law, we are reliably old-fashioned.

Are all Yanks fat?

A typical English perception of our American cousins is that they’re all morbidly obese, Rascal-bound fast-food junkies, constantly courting diabetes as they cart themselves to their next massive portion of heart disease. Ignoring the fact that Britain is rapidly following suit, it gives us great joy on this side of the Atlantic to poke fun at our fat friends.

A University exercise today saw us compile a list of international stereotypes. According to the Westminster Journalism PGs, the Chinese are studious, incredibly gifted at math yet afraid to raise their voices against an oppressive Communist Government; Brits are posh (except the chavs), chain-smoking, tea-swilling Queenophiles with dreadful teeth; Indians do nothing but eat curry and walk around barefoot; Serbia is full of war-mongering, big-breasted pop stars and is always cold; and Americans? Americans are fat (and apparently ill-educated racists, but that’s for another day).

All of which of course smacks of at least mild racism, at least until you consider how widely-held the majority of these views are. More often than not, stereotypes do not come from nowhere – there is some form of truth buried beneath the xenophobia. But is there any validity in the idea that Americans are typically overweight?

Not in my experience. Statistics would suggest that there is some truth behind the stereotype. A cursory glance at Wikipedia statistics indicates that America has the highest prevalence of overweight adults in the English-speaking world. In 2009-10, the obesity rate for men was 32.2%. On top of seemingly damning statistics like these, every report of airline seats having to be widened or people not allowed on fairground rides due to their weight does nothing but add fuel to the obesity fire. But I am yet to encounter this obesity epidemic, and I’ve met plenty of Americans over the course of my University career.

In one news room in Westminster University sit three American MA students. Statistically, one of them should be obese. This is not the case. Rather, in my own experiences meeting Americans, the complete opposite has better reflected the truth.

Real Americans, not being fat

Obesity statistics are calculated according to a person’s BMI, which may have its uses as a figure, but can often be misleading. A person who is technically obese may not be what we would consider obese at all – at least not on a social level. Stats which try to convince us that 32% of adult American males are obese encourage the belief that this means 32% of adult American males are the aforementioned plane-seat-widening examples. This simply is not true. The British stereotype of the fat American in fact appears to refer to a very small minority of people, statistically masquerading as the majority.

I’ve been to America, also. For every over-sized portion there is an American who is keen to get down the gym. In fact, more often than not, it is us Brits who are reluctant to exercise. As far as I can see the problem is blown out of all proportion in the media, sensational stories of the exceptionally overweight masking the true nature of the majority of US citizens.

Further to this, Americans I have met have been amongst the friendliest, most amiable people I’ve encountered. Their well-fabled loud behaviour (a character trait they will all readily admit to) is more often charming than it is obnoxious. They’re keen to try new things, experience new places and always seeking out the next adventure.

When considering the stereotypical American from an English viewpoint, perhaps it is worth considering the cause of the often disparaging generalisations. We enjoy thinking them fat, obnoxious – our louder and stupider Transatlantic counterparts. But therein lies the root of our views: it is always easier to mock your friends.

If anything, our gentle mockery of all things American displays the closeness of our bond.