Content Note : Mentions rape/child exploitation.
Anyone who has an English Lit degree will be familiar with Barthes 1967 essay, the Death of the Author. It’s a foundational text arguing for the removal of the intentions and biographical detail of the author from any work of art.
The death of Bowie – twitter outpourings of grief, my own reaction, and some uncomfortable truths about his life reminded me of this essay. It reminded me of this struggle . When it comes to our pop heroes we do tend to connect biographical details, but generally only when they are convenient to the particular narrative we wish construct.
Because Bowie, well he committed child rape. I have to admit, this wasn’t a fact I knew till today, but now I do. The fact that he made brilliant music doesn’t change this uncomfortable truth.
It’s quite easy to point facts like this out when you have no emotional connection to the art of the perpetrator.
It becomes much more difficult when a persons art and music has played a role within your own life story. A brief glance through twitter today shows how much Bowie’s music, style and even his presentation of gender and sexuality have meant to people. There is a real personal level to the grief people seem to be feeling at the death of this particular author.
I get that. Velvet Goldmine remains one of my favourite films, and this version of Life on Mars made me cry this morning. Skinny queer men who play with gender norms and have high cheekbones, well they tend to be my favourite kind of men.
David Bowie committed rape.
This is a reminder that violence against women can still be committed by people we like, people we admire, people who make great art. As a society we really struggle with this, as individuals we struggle with this. It is one of the hardest aspects of violence (particularly gender based violence) that we wrestle with.
Part of Barthes Death of the Author is the argument that art is experienced subjectively. The value of a work lies in what we bring to it. There is a great value to what we bring to Bowie ourselves. I am enjoying hearing what people brought to Bowie today through twitter and radio 6. Particularly what his work has meant to outsiders. Hearing what Bowie meant for queer young people in particular is wonderful.
But in the 1970s he used his power, his position and social tolerance of violence against women to do something unacceptable.
I am perhaps contradicting Barthes by bringing this up – but this biographical detail is important for my own subjective appreciation of his art. I think it’s important to remember that great men can do shit things, people we love can do things that we hate. Life is complicated.
Confronting this is vital, and I think it’s possible to do this whilst still listening to Spiders from Mars. Or at least I hope so.
I am reminded of Heavenly Nobodies a great song by 90s indie shoe-gazers Lush. The lyrics might be somewhat simplistic, but nonetheless apt.
RIP Bowie, but more so – let’s bury a culture which permits child exploitation in the name of rock’n roll.
I have kind of always wanted to do the loony dook (a hogmanay tradition, invented as joke/hangover cure in 1986 ). Being compos mentis enough to get my body to the water on the 1st of January is usually not something I am able to do. Scots have two bank holidays at new year for a reason…
This year however, at eleven am my enthusiastic American accomplice Clare texted a reminder of my former commitment to getting into the sea : ‘Liz, if you just turn up you will be a rock-star’.
The idea that merely walking two miles to Portobello, and running into icy cold water would make me a rock-star, was more than enough to rouse me from my slumber.
I pulled on a base layer Jedi outfit (seemed like a good idea at the time) and walked to the water, somewhat worse for wear from the previous night’s celebrations. There were an alarming number of people up and out jogging, a reminder that not everyone stays out still the early hours partying on new year’s eve..
On the beach at Portobello there were a good couple of hundred people ready to take a refreshing dip.
Exactly the right blend of invigorating, and ridiculous the loony dook was a great way to start the year.
Perhaps it was the emotional state one finds oneself in when hungover, the promise of the a new year or just the sharp shock of the freezing temperature : but running into the sea made me feel completely alive and ready for whatever 2016 wants to throw at me.
Sea you beside the seaside in seventeen?
Photos by Anna Moffatt photography.
‘The Glasgow Effect’ is the latest bit of middle class posturing to provoke mass online hostility. The title refers to a’ year long ‘action research’ project / durational performance, for which artist Ellie Harrison will not travel outside Greater Glasgow for a whole year (except in the event of the ill-heath / death of close relative or friend).. ‘
Now, I don’t think this sounds like a great project, or even a good project – or indeed much of a ‘project’, from what has been outlined so far. To me it sounds patronising, boring and self indulgent (but I am open to being proven wrong about this, as the work progresses).
Much of the critique surrounding ‘The Glasgow Effect’ has been not so much about it’s artistic merit, but the fact that it is a waste of £15,000.
There is a justifiable anger about the economics at play, given that many people work hard in menial jobs for far less money than the grant Harrison is reported to have received.
Finding out, on the last day before the end of the New Year bank holiday, that an artist is getting paid more than you are to ‘not leave Glasgow’, is more than enough to get the blood boiling, and the fingers angrily tapping away.
And rightly so as one commenter outlines in the Facebook event;
‘I haven’t left Glasgow in nearly 4 years living on benefits and raising a child at the same time can do that to you. There have even been times i couldn’t even afford the bus to travel to the next town.’
As you might expect, many have suggested that she does not deserve to be paid £15,000 for this project.
I think Ellie Harrison does deserve £15,000 to explore her artistic process, I think I do too. As do you – as does this guy who draws queer superheroes, and his mum, and your mum, and her mum.
For me the Glasgow Effect project (and indeed the real life poverty after which it is named) make a convincing argument for a universal basic income, an ‘unconditional, nonwithdrawable income paid to every individual as a right of citizenship’ (more information here).
If we could ensure that all of us had our needs met, then all artists everywhere (not just the ones who are good at writing funding bids) would be have the chance to ‘increase [their] sense of belonging’. If we had real options regarding work, and what we did with our leisure time then we would really find out, ‘what could become possible, if we invest our ideas, time and energy in the cities where we live’.
If we all had decent homes, and could feed ourselves, and our children as a matter of course, then the artistic process would be open to all of us.
That, in my view, would really be worth funding.
Living in Edinburgh (and indeed Scotland more generally) gives you a ridiculous amount of access to culture. In 2015 I was lucky enough to experience at least my fair share.
Here are some highlights!
I was listening to Radio 6 music one day, and I got excited. I heard a song I’d never heard before, and it was fantastic. I thought to myself, ‘Could it be? Do I finally like some new music again? Am I still, young, and…. relevant?’
Then I found out what it was and I thought, FFS…
The song was Johnny Delusional, from match made in heaven Franz Ferdinand and Sparks. It turns out that, the best music is music from my early 20s, mixed with music that came out before I was born.
The album really is fantastic though, camp, funny, catchy. Lots of killer, very little filler.
I don’t wish to be repetitive, but FFS were probably the best live act I saw this year too.
I saw them on a Monday, slightly under the weather after work, in the staid Edinburgh festival theatre, but they still blew me away.
2015 was the year the turner prize came to Glasgow. I went to see it, it was alright? I liked it more than I thought I would – but hands down the best art I saw this year was at the Govanhill Baths as part of the Sonica Festival. There were two installations, both of which used the nature of the space perfectly.
The New Alps by Robbie Thomson, ‘a kinetic installation of mechanical sculptures that imagines a disorienting futuristic landscape populated by robotic inhabitants’ did exactly what it said on the tin, and more. It really did feel like walking around a dystopian future.
Order and After by Indonesian artist Jompet Kuswidananto was incredibly powerful. Red flags rising and falling, in a steam filled room; simple, poignant and completely immersive.
I don’t go to the theatre all that much – but do you know what? I should. It is basically as cheap as the cinema now, and the actors are right there in front of you.
I saw Mrs Barbour’s Daughters and Tipping the Velvet in 2015; I left both productions humming a tune, with a smile on my face.
Best BOXSET BINGE
2015 was the year I finally got around to watching Borgen, 2016 might be the year I decide to watch it again in order to impose it’s brilliance on others.
I love so much about Borgen, but possibly my favourite aspect of the show is that women characters are so strategic, intelligent and flawed. Rarely are women allowed the space in culture to be both brilliant and broken.
2015 was a good year for comedy on Channel 4. The final series of Peep Show aired, and it wasn’t terrible! In-fact, I thought it was one of their better series; if only for the ‘Jeremy is actually bisexual’ storyline. Like many people, I gave Peep Show a complete re-watch in 2015, it’s an interesting way of tracking attitudes to sexuality in culture. When the first few seasons aired back in the early 00s, there were still a few LOL GAY type jokes, over the course of the series they completely disappear and are replaced with a much more right on understanding of the way sexuality works, which is neat!
The other surprisingly great show from channel 4 in 2015 was Catastrophe. I think Sharon Horgan is one of the best comedic writers of her generation, and Catastrophe goes some way toward proving it. At turns affectionate, funny, slightly ridiculous but also very real Catastrophe is well worth a watch.
I didn’t get to the cinema nearly enough in 2015; but Mark Kermode goes to the cinema all the time for a job, and this year, for the first time, I agree with him on what the best film was.
I watched Inside Out hungover and cried all the way through. It’s not perfect, but for a mainstream family film it gets pretty close. The central message about the necessity of sadness was dealt with in ways which were at turns funny, profoundly moving and utterly relatable.
The gender politics are also mostly excellent.
I don’t read nearly enough, but in 2015 two books that I read, and would recommend are:
Postcapitalism by Paul Mason.
A fascinating look at how the internet era is making traditional capitalism increasingly difficult to sustain. Not always an easy read, but well worth persevering with.
A Spool of Blue Thread by Ann Tyler
I was off work sick, and read this in a day, an enjoyable family epic which made me think ‘I ought to read more fiction’.
Gosh, it’s been ages hasn’t it? I wrote a blog in February about how much I love a tv programme and nothing since.
Maybe that’s about to change?
In an attempt to write more, I have decided to just write more, and not worry too much about whether or not it’s interesting, and just enjoy the writing process.
So begins a round up of 2015: Gonna go with a personal one, a political one and a cultural one. Starting with the naval gazing.
This time last year I wrote a list of things that I wanted to do in 2015. I don’t like new years resolutions, but I do like making plans and ticking fun things off lists.
This is the list…
Visit my pal John in Berlin : Yup! Did that one. Had a great time catching up and being impressed by John’s German skills.
Do a 5k : Did this in January. There are no photos but I did get a smart vest which makes me feel super sporty.
Do a 10k: Did this in May with my amazing pal Steff. Without them I would have definitely felt like giving up. Steff is the most motivational person I have ever ran with!
Do a 15mile + Cycle : Did this first in July with my friend Adam who was a surprisingly patient cycling buddy. We cycled to Tyninghame via a castle and a few pubs. It was tiring, but! gave me the confidence to do loads of cycling up north later on in the year… so thanks Adam!
Have an overnight outdoorsy adventure with friends : Yes, in July – see above! I used a £10 tent and it poured it down….
Have a dry month: I did not do this… On a couple of occasions I did about 3 weeks… which is more than a month total right?
Have a social media free month: Who am I kidding? this is actually impossible.
Birthday meat festival!: When I became pescetarian I decided that I would let myself eat meat on my birthday… it was less satisfying than I expected.
Go out dancing : Despite the SNP’s best efforts to stop Scotland dancing, I actually went out dancing loads in 2015. Highlights included Backstreet’s Back at Indietracks, and the Lightning seeds at Little League, and Wannabe at TYCI.
Do at least 12 mindfulness sessions… I think I did about 6? I quite like mindfulness though so, I might roll this one over.
Visit London/Glasgow/North of England Friends : I did all of these things! suffice to say, they will roll over into the next year.
Learn how to look after bike, and attach mudguard: Sort of? I did a bike maintenance course and clean my bike more often, I have not got around to attaching a mudguard…
Make dinner for people : Check!
Swim outdoors : Failed at this, but given that my plans for 2016 include the Loony Dook, it should be rectified soon.
Have a beach party near my house: I haven’t done this either! Rolls over.
Visit home 3+ times : I think I visited Castleford 4 or 5 times in 2015.
Grow something: Didn’t do this, on reflection – why do I want to do this? Is it because I am buying in to some nonsense notion of wholesome domesticity that in reality, I am not really interested in?
Bake a good loaf of bread: See above.
Finish watching Twin Peaks : I went to a Twin Peaks Halloween night, but I still haven’t finished the second season. It gets so boring in the middle though…
Do NANOWRIMO : Who am I kidding, I am clearly never going to do this.
Do stand up with new stuff: Failed at this, I am still not sure if this is something I actually want to do any more.
Write 3+ blog posts: I didn’t do that on here, but I have written a few for the ZT blog, so yes!
Get on friendly chat terms with my new upstairs neighbour: I achieved this, infact I went to her 30th do and we are now pals. She has moved though, so this task also rolls over.
Get fitted for proper running shoes: Nope! but I am giving up buying stuff from sports direct so maybe this year.
Watch all of Mark Kermode’s top 10 of 2014: Mostly yes! There were a couple of films I was unable to source.
Things I have learned from these experiences.
After seven series, the hour long finale of Parks and Recreation will air tonight in the states. This is I’m sure, not going to be the only blog post written about it, but I can’t help myself. It’s just such a great show, even when it’s not.
I have tried, and largely failed, to convince everyone I know that they should watch it. That they should persevere through, (and perhaps even skip) the awkward first season because series three and four of Parks and Recreation is some of the best TV comedy ever made. Even if other shows are funnier, more incisive, or well observed – Parks is my favourite and struck a chord with me in a way pop culture rarely does now that I am an adult.
Now that it is coming to an end, it seems fitting to enthuse about it one last time.
So here is why Parks and Recreation is so great, and why you should watch it. Right Now – and then we can all go get pancakes and talk about how it makes us feel.
Parks and Recreation is great because of Leslie Knope. Her character is at once aspirational and realistic. I imagine a large proportion of women who watch Parks and Recreation relate to Leslie’s character, I certainly do. In a world where it feels like every bit of pop culture is entirely focused on men, and where female characters are ropey at best, it’s rare to see someone on screen and think, yup, that’s me. I do those things! I am annoying but thoughtful, and opinionated and ambitious and I interfere in my friends lives, I was an overachieving kid, I even sort of invented the Galentines day breakfast back in 2007 (though it didn’t involve any cushions with pictures of Stalin on, sadly). Leslie is both brilliant and flawed, and her path to success is strewn with failures. For Leslie types everywhere watching parks is a glorious relief; it’s someone saying to you – it’s ok, you’re ok, it’s going to be ok.
The ensemble cast is fantastic and each character rises above the realm of shallow caricature. Chris Pratt is brilliant as Andy Dwyer;his performance as the loveable buffoon is note perfect. Nick Offerman’s Ron Swanson again, spot on and a welcome note of dry humour. Despite being ostensibly the ‘straight’ characters Ben and Anne are both well rounded, full people. Emo intern April Ludgate at first seems as though she might be a one trick, tiny horse – but over the course of the show she does develop and grow. The fact that the characters (including others I haven’t mentioned) are so well drawn means that you genuinely care about what happens to them.
Honestly, sometimes I forget that Pawnee isn’t a real place, and it makes me a little bit sad.
Parks and Rec is great because it’s so feminist. There are a number of blog posts about how wonderfully feminist Parks is, rather than repeat them, I will just direct you there. Without wishing to give anything away, one of the best aspects of Parks and Recreation season seven is that if anything, the feminism becomes more explicitly front and centre.
Parks and Recreation is great because it’s positive, and its feel good attitude is infectious. The world we live in can be a rubbish place. Inequality is escalating, climate change is happening, poverty and instability are real and impact upon our daily lives, and the lives of those we care about.The world of Parks and Recreation is both a better version of, and an escape from that reality. It offers a vision of small town America which is at times, brutally honest, but nonetheless optimistic. It’s a world where people are basically good, and those who work hard and are persistent get things done. Pawnee is a place where people band together to make change happen. As a campaigner, watching parks and recreation is a break from unrelenting horror of austerity, and a reminder that if we get together and work hard, we too can change the world.
So goodbye parks and recreation, it’s been great. Even though season one was weak, and the show probably peaked four series in, you have nonethless managed to make me cry on multiple occasions.Thank-you for giving this sentimental opinionated do-gooder a super awesome place to hide from the world, and the motivation to dive back in.