Why I’m Finally Sick of the EU Referendum

The first time I heard someone say that they were already sick of the EU Referendum was over five weeks ago in a column that they wrote for the student paper. Only days before the election, I can officially say that I have reached this point.

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Now, I made up my mind a few weeks ago which way I will vote. If, between now and Thursday I hear a radical new argument which drastically changes my perspective, I am open to being swayed. But the likelihood of that happening is slim; not only because we only have a few days left, but because the range of arguments on either side of the debate is not expanding, but being whittled down to the most rudimentary, simplistic and desperate attempt to convince people. It is poor political and journalistic form all-round.

As time runs out before people put pen to paper in the ballot box, both Vote Leave and Stronger In have resorted to bringing the tackiest of political tactics on to the streets of Britain: stereotyping and belittling their opposition.

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While this is a near-inevitable part of politics which has occasionally enabled people to build entire careers off of creating a verbal caricature of their opponent in the Houses of Parliament, it’s a dangerous, irresponsible and divisive tactic in the lives of citizens – as if we needed more of those.

Between the tabloid press cherry-picking the angriest looking student or most indie-looking multimillionaire to front their depiction of Remain campaigners, places like the Guardian have resorted to stereotyping and humiliating the working class in their recent videos, featuring your average pot-bellied taxi driver spewing nonsense about immigration.

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Quite pointedly, I saw this particular video only minutes after reading an article on the Independent’s website calling both campaigns out on this exact problem. The writer criticised the Remain campaign for purposefully distancing itself from the British working class. But due to scare tactics by both Remain and Leave, this is not just an issue within the campaign, but an issue between British people.

Don’t be tricked into thinking that a ‘certain type’ of person is going to vote a ‘certain way’. For every Dave the Van Man who “wants his country back”, there is a keyboard warrior who will vote Remain on the 23rd of June based on their Facebook feed alone. Oh, and perhaps the promise that EasyJet won’t up their prices for their upcoming ‘cultural tour’ of Amsterdam.

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This post is not about which way I’m going to be voting, so I’m not going to say. But what I do want is to remind people that whittling down your opposition to an embarrassing caricature is only a useful tactic if your plan is to distract others from the crux of the issue: regardless of who wins, we’re looking at big changes.

 

POP CULTURE: How to read the feminist cultural explosion

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Over the past twelve months, feminism has undoubtedly joined the ranks of 3D movies and the Big Bang of social media as one of the motifs of the 21st century so far. Less than two years ago, the most famous women in the world were discouraged from uttering the dreaded F-word in interviews for fear of alienating a portion of their fanbase, particularly the male portion. After all, had the ultra-sexed up Katy Perry of 2010 declared herself a women’s rights activist, the image associated with that label would’ve been markedly uglier and less marketable.

In mid-2015, the women topping Maxim’s Hot 100 are the same women leading the charge for a potential fourth wave of feminism (or perhaps feminism 3.5) in this decade. Calling this a feminist victory is an overstatement if I ever saw one, but there is one undeniable conclusion to this phenomenon: feminism is suddenly sexy.

However, as we have all learnt from decades of cultural exploitation in the entertainment industry, sex does indeed sell and women’s rights has become a profitable market. While our moment in the spotlight is nothing to condemn, the art of marketing a famous face can often come at the price of authenticity. We need to make sure we are still in control of how feminism is being portrayed on the main stage. So how can you tell the difference between the degradation and belittlement of the feminist movement for financial gain and a real Rosie (the Riveter, of course)?

  • Who run the world?

While the stars are the ones who get awarded the public credit for the finished product, creating a public image is a process involving dozens of people with varying levels of control. Often, the person portrayed as being in charge is the one who has had the least say. Therefore, if the portrayal of the feminist celebrity is created by a team of predominantly men, does she lose her impact?

While I realise it is social media suicide to call in to question the authority of feminism’s current queen bee, Beyonce’s relationship with feminism is one worth looking at. Having been largely responsible for rendering the debate on gender equality relevant again in pop culture, she has cemented her status as the most powerful woman in the music industry. Behind the scenes, however, it can be argued that she fails to practice what she preaches. Working in an industry where only a reported 4% of Music Producers Guild members are female and the pay gap between men and women is wider than average (a 2010 Guardian article reported that 47% of women in the music industry earn less than £10,000 compared with 35% of men), her album credits often feature only one female credit in either song writing or producing – herself. Even her female empowerment hit “Run the World (Girls)” was written, recorded and mixed by a team of men.

Does Beyonce have a responsibility as a self-proclaimed feminist activist towards the women in her industry? And does the overwhelming male involvement in creating her image of female strength raise a question of control? Of course, Beyonce is not the only woman guilty of inconsistencies in her feminist image and alongside the likes of Emma Watson and Taylor Swift, she has used their fame and influence to propel the gender equality struggle in to the spotlight.

  • Who is it aimed at?

This is where the near-infamous concept of the ‘male gaze’ gets introduced. Though incessantly discussed when studying our popular media, it never gets old in a culture that is constantly breaking the boundaries of hyper-sexualisation when we thought that there was no more that could be done.

An article in VICE Media’s ‘Noisey’ magazine at the conclusion of 2014 suggested that the two big buzzwords of the year were ‘feminism’ and ‘booty’. In the same year that Jennifer Lopez released her music video for ‘I Luh Ya Papi’, a decidedly feminist parody on the sexual objectification of women in music videos, she released ‘Booty’, her aptly-named collaboration with Iggy Azalea.

The latter video features images of the two girls totally lathered in oil writhing their bottoms together as Lopez sings “You wanna touch her”. Some would call the video a proud statement of J.Lo and Iggy’s right to be sexual and proud of their bodies. However, the expression of sexuality in this video does not appear to be an affirmation of ownership by the pair, but rather a performance for the benefit of the heterosexual, male perspective.

The idea of ‘owning your sexuality’ and being openly proud of your body is a perfectly valid pursuit often used as a scapegoat by the PR teams of female celebrities seeking to benefit from both the popularity of feminism and the continually relevant objectification required to sell their product. On occasion, a female entertainer is capable of declaring authority over her sexuality and it can be quite a powerful moment in dismantling the disturbing underlying tones of sexual exploitation that taint our popular media. But it is important to recognise the distinction between ownership and objectification.

Assuming that feminism doesn’t fade in to distant memory as another old pop culture fad of the mid 2010s, the increasing cultural relevance of the movement inevitably exposes it to exploitation by marketing and PR teams which threaten the integrity of a movement designed to protect the fundamental rights of women. As consumers, it is vital we stay in control.

Why sharing pictures of the Garissa University College is NOT helping!

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One week ago today, gunmen stormed Garissa University College in Kenya and massacred 147 students. There are people reading this who will not have heard this happened, as it has been severely under-reported in mainstream Western media. What you may have seen, however, is the shocking photographs being shared across social media of the bloodshed, some of which feature the uncensored bodies of the victims.

The lack of media coverage troublingly echoes an incident earlier in the year in which 2,000 villagers were reportedly slain in Baga, Nigeria by terror group Boko Haram, who have since pledged allegiance to Islamic State. Despite the scale of the bloodshed, the massacre was overshadowed by the killings at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris, which had occured just days earlier.

Few would dispute that our mainstream media routinely ignores tragedies that happen in countries whose culture appears different to ours. The widespread although short-lived coverage of the execution of Jordanian pilot Moaz Kasasbeh at the hands of Islamic State militants in February came as a surprise to many as a rare exception to the rule, as the deaths of previous non-white hostages such as Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto the previous month had gone virtually unnoticed.

Western media has been quite rightly accused of judging the deaths of people from other cultures as being of less importance. This is even evident in the mainstream restraint to accurately cover the deaths of Americans Mike Brown and Eric Garner in 2014, instead refraining from comment to avoid controversy. At this time, social media lead the international charge for awareness and justice for two black men who fell victim to police brutality.

Once again, Twitter and Facebook are rallying for the popular European and American media to take notice of the 147 Kenyan lives lost on the 2nd of April. The issue is, in my view, the method to this very worthy cause.

While social media is a fantastic vehicule for independent, uncensored comment and gives regular people a recognisable voice in a world now dominated by the World Wide Web, a criticism of it that isn’t raised often enough is the reduction of information. A platform created for international conversation has taken the dialogue out of discussion and left us with effortless shock value. The pictures currently being shared are intended to force people to take note of the horrors that have taken place, but aren’t exactly condusive to the spread of information that is desired here as they condense the information in to a misguided ‘tribute’ to the victims rather than educating people on the massacre.

Moreover, the people sharing these pictures may unwittingly be partaking in the exact same crimes they chastise mass media for: the disrespect of non-white, non-First World lives. Returning to the subject of the beheadings committed by Islamic State militants, the videos of the European and American victims were rarely shared on social media platforms, due to the generally accepted belief that it wasn’t appropriate to commemorate someone through their murder. Instead, the victims of the Kenyan massacre have been accidentally objectified by well-meaning individuals on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr by their deaths.

The counter-argument to this belief is that consumers of mass media should be forced to confront and therefore deal with the reality of what is happening in countries that is not their own. But this should not be done by devaluing the lives of the deceased or by reducing the tragedy to bitesized, shock value photographs. Unfortunately, although information in this form is easily consumeable, it rarely encourages discussion or opinions to form. As useful as social media can be in providing ‘the voice of the people’, for lack of a better term, this single picture only serves to feed the cultural obsession with death, violence and shock value, removing the humane or intellectual element from commemoration or appropriate media coverage.

Charlie Hebdo and Muslim oppression in France.

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Recently, a moving demonstration of millions of French, all uniting for the freedom of speech, lit up our television screens. Perhaps the most striking image was dozens of flags from around the world adorning the monument of the Place de la République, displaying only one message: the Marianne is every shade of French, and we are all Charlie.

World leaders united at the forefront of the march locking arms and leading their cause forward, including the coming together of the Israeli and Palestinian heads of state in a touching and mildly paradoxical stance against violence.

One French leader who wasn’t present at the march was Marine Le Pen, the head of the National Front, who was reportedly not invited. Peppered with a history of islamophobia and fascism, the last thing Paris needed was more division.

Nevertheless, it is near impossible to deny the scale of anti-Muslim acts that have taken place since the initial attack. Within 24 hours, police were dealing with a spike in racially or religiously motivated attacks against Muslims.

The National Front, were gaining Facebook likes by the second. In Le Pen’s statement posted on their YouTube channel, she calls for France to not bend to those trying to “paralyse them with fear and force them to submit to terrorism,” a turn of phrase I find ironic to say the least.

This support for discriminatory ideals validates antagonising the non-white French population.

An unspoken civil war has been created between the nativists and the equally French population of black or Muslim heritage.

In the violence of its supporters and desire to displace a French community defined only through their religious beliefs, the National Front and its evidently violent supporters have self-indentified as a terrorist party. The most terrifying thing about their terrorism, however, is that a quarter of the population of France are validating their viewpoint.

This is why the National Front were not invited to Sunday’s marches. The last thing an anti-terrorism march needs is a terrorist leader dressed in an expensive suit.