YouTube’s ‘Pointless’ stars: A Discussion.

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This week I’ve found my twitter feed being spammed by hateful tweets directed towards Sunday Times columnist Katie Glass. I don’t follow any of these people, she’s been retweeting them. Here are a few of the most venomous:

Intrigued by such vitriolic messages I caught up on Katie’s article in question, ‘Totally Pointless’, where Glass invites us to meet the British YouTube clique who have captured the hearts (or maybe just the attention spans) of today’s internet-overloaded youth. Without wishing to make this a trend I’ve decided to write another blog in response to an article of Glass’s… it’s not my fault that I continually agree with/am inspired by her ideas.

Glass does kind of ‘lay into’ the group comprising of Alfie Deyes, Zoe Sugg (AKA Zoella), Joe Sugg (Zoe’s brother) & Co so I can see why their fans would be upset. But they’re upset because she’s called them pointless and a little boring… so they’re upset because she’s right. As Katie points out in her opening paragraph, “If you haven’t heard of Alfie Deyes, then you are old. Simple.”(1)

At the tender age of 21 I didn’t think I could yet be deemed ‘old’, but in the age of the internet I suppose anyone who once had a MySpace account is considered a fossil. I’m actually surprised that so many teenagers apparently read The Sunday Times Magazine at this point. In spite of this enlightenment, it’s not that I’m not a YouTube fan. I keep up to date with several channels who I suppose are a little more grown-up but out of the nine profiled tweens in Glass’ article I was aware of only one YouTuber’s existence: the permanently congenial Zoella. And not for good reason.

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Here she is being delightfully agreeable and, as ever, encouraging her fans to do the same…

Zoella is an interesting dichotomy who has come under both positive and negative criticism for her affect on (and control of?) her teenage girl audience. She supposedly empowers young women, a term which I think is both lost on and loosely used by many. To empower is to catalyse someone or something with the tools of self-confidence, to make someone stronger and able to control the direction of their life and life choices. Empowerment shouldn’t rely on a winter skincare do’s and don’ts or how to attain the perfect fishtail braid… Chloe Hamilton’s article for The Independent last week drew my attention on this point in particular so without wishing to regurgitate her sentiments here’s an extract:

“At the 2014 Teen Choice awards, where she was named the Choice Web Star: Fashion/Beauty, she told a reporter that if she could give her teenage followers one piece of advice, it would be to fret less about their appearance. “When you’re younger you worry about so many things that you don’t need to worry about like image, appearance,” she coos to the camera, without an ounce of irony in her singsong voice, as though unaware that she’s forged an entire career by prattling on to young girls about how to look good.”(2)

Basically, Zoella is fresh-faced deception at your fingertips. If your fingertips are 15 years old and impressionable.

As for the rest of the article I find it hard for fans to be so angry at Glass for outing these online personalities as pointless when Alfie Deyes’ main YouTube channel is entitled ‘PointlessBlog’, where his most watched video is ‘Ariana Grande does my makeup’ and is presumably as pointless as the channel’s name suggests. With little or no intellectual matter at play it is entirely worrying that so many susceptible teenagers (because the subscribers are well into the millions) are depending on these channels for….for what?

The close of Glass’ article sees her searching for a reason behind the popularity of these characters. It’s comfort, she says. I agree with this point. “I was lying in bed when I finally got it. Watching a video of Alfie, wandering around the shops, buying T-shirts and trainers, then going home to show Zoe. Mundane, yes, but also strangely comforting.”(3) Tweets like this one definitely substantiate her claim:

So is the sole purpose of the 2014 YouTube star to provide saccharine, no-pressure, one-way company for the lonely and confused youth of today? To combat boredom just as new Lego or Furbies did 5 years ago, before all-the-children-ever had iPads?

She continues: “But perhaps it’s because they are so beige, or vanilla, that so many young people can relate to them.”(4) She’s right. This lot are straight-up sanitised vanilla milkshake: you’d rather chocolate or strawberry but it’ll hit the spot, kind of, if that’s the only choice.

That’s where I’m chiming in. They’re not the only choice. For more thought-provoking YouTube surfing I advise checking out these other popular channels:

The Vlogbrothers are John and Hank Green, (John being most well-known as the author of The Fault in Our Stars and his brother Hank being, well, Hank). They originally set up their channel as a way of communicating with eachother in a personal way so as not to lose touch as they lived so far apart. ‘Nerdfighters’ as their fandom have become known were hooked by their personal, informed and funny videos and the channel has gone on to become not only entertaining and inclusive but also successful in fundraising and charity work internationally. DFTBA (google it).

Charlieissocoollike is Charlie McDonnell, a cute British Doctor Who fan whose somewhat patriotic love of Tea saw him rise to viral internet fame. He is a filmmaker and funny guy who uses his popularity to deservedly promote his hard work on short films as well as discuss anything from making his own Tea to his expert handling of Sex and Consent, an issue which has blighted the YouTube community of late (RE: Sam Pepper, Alex Day and others, an issue which will need to be tackled in its own blog post).

Nathan Z, or TheThirdPew, is another YouTuber whose maturity and sensitivity are comforting to watch/listen to, whilst also being animated and amusing at the same time. His most popular video saw him chastising Vine star Nash Grier for his inane and overtly sexist video regarding what he ‘looks for’ in a girl, watch Pew’s video here.

It’s refreshing to see channels like the ones above tackling real issues and doing their best, unasked, to package these topics into an easily accessible and understandable medium for young and vulnerable viewers, when so many other YouTube stars use their online presence to smear Nutella over their faces or eat cat food (see Alfie Deyes’ channel if that’s what you’re into…). I’m not saying these kinds of videos don’t have a place on the internet, I suppose I’m saying they’re about as valuable as Nyan Cat circa 2011.

Alternatively you could always go outside for a walk or perhaps talk to a friend or family member…but who needs real human connections anymore when you have the light of your laptop/tablet/iPhone screen to keep you warm at night as you slowly petrify in its vacant, iridescent glow.

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(1) – Glass, K. 2014. ‘Totally Pointless’, The Sunday Times Magazine, 26 October, p. 23.

(2) – Hamilton, C. 2014. ‘Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella’, The Independent Online, 21 October. Link here. [Accessed: 28/10/14].

(3) – Glass, K. 2014. ‘Totally Pointless’, The Sunday Times Magazine, 26 October, p. 29

(4) – Ibid.

Zoella picture link here.

E card meme link here.

Together in Paris: Cafe Culture, Kir Royales and Male Lingerie

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Yesterday I read Katie Glass’ article in The Sunday Times Magazine, ‘The meek may inherit the Earth, but not New York – and it’s all the better for it’, a love letter on how “New York is a city that specialises in making ridiculous dreams come true” (1). She made me knuckle down and write all of the thoughts I had about my own affinity for Paris, the apparent city of Love.

My first trip to Paris made me nervous. I felt as though I should make the sort of effort I’d make for a third date with somebody I like. I got my brows and nails done and sort of mapped out my clothes, shaving my legs in the anticipation of getting to third base… But when I arrived I realised Paris would’ve taken me as I was, leg stubble and all.

Paris befit me even if I didn’t befit it. I was there in September of this year for four days, goose-gogging what was definitelypossibly supposed to be a romantic trip for my parents. Perhaps they wanted me there, perhaps they felt sorry to leave me, either way I was in Paris so I didn’t mind. In Paris you could be depressed and brooding and it was more glamourous than annoying. You could blend despair and beauty and call it productive, sexy even. I liked it. I drank Kir Royale until my head hurt and ate crusty bread until it didn’t. I scribbled furiously in my notebook, inspired by some ethereal notion of creativity and zeal intrinsic to the city’s character. And it did have a character.

Paris gave the illusion of being a person. It was a place where romance lived on every corner, in every shop window, atop every building. Where mystery and excitement were apparent in the everyday. Where couples unashamedly kissed and voyeurs like me likewise watched. Where everybody seemed to be either sitting or reading, or both. Looking or kissing, or both. Drinking, smoking and eating or just being. In all of these things lay a languid fruitfulness. A dynamism to the relaxed. Creativity in the unhurried.

Here four things stood out to me.

1 – Lingerie for men.

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This struck me as something that us Brits would laugh at with a sort of ‘only in France’ ethos in mind. But for me male lingerie captured a different national mindset: why should women be the only ones who get to slip into something uncomfortable for the benefit of a partner, or themselves.

2 – Couples with matching haircuts. I must have seen a few dozen couples with the same hairstyle, (all but the crown shaved away with the rest tied up in a bun). Again this was a gender neutralising and unifying thing for me.

3 – Café culture. Never before have I seen so many cafes, with the chairs faced outwards to the street: inviting, communal, open. A different cultural mindset to the anti-social, reserved privacy of home.

4 – Love padlocks.

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To my knowledge this isn’t just a Paris thing but, all the same, something struck me about the thousands of tiny locks containing thousands of bigger promises (some kept, some likely not) sealed publicly and forever in this city of Paris, with the adage, ‘of love’. Public, shared and collective.

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Paris felt inclusive. I butchered their beautiful language with my harsh English tongue, but whoever I spoke to seemed to admire that more than if I’d just spoken lazily in my mother tongue. I was jealous of the groups of friends or couples laying with half-drunk bottles of red wine watching the stars and waiting for the lights of the Eiffel Tower to sparkle on the hour. I wanted that to be my run of the mill Saturday night. I wanted to be in Paris and I wanted some of Paris to be in me.

I ended up losing my camera on the last day of my trip, in the Louvre, which was probably fitting as some of my memories of Paris did stay behind in the city (as well as some dodgy selfies, so I’m expecting a J-Law leaked nudes situation to reveal itself any day now). As a result I’ve had to think a lot harder to piece together my memories from the trip without relying on images to paint them for me. You remember things a little more ‘real’ this way anyway. Or maybe a little more rose-tinted.

My verdict on Paris is that it should be renamed the city of romance, rather than love. Love is too coupley, too exclusive. Paris exudes pure collective romance: glamorous, vibrant, unifying.

Oh, and the French Onion Soup is the most wonderful soupy, oniony, cheesey, bready thing you’ll ever taste.

IMG_5865(French Onion Soup at the famous Au Pied de Cochon, Paris).

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(1) – Glass, K. 2014. ‘The meek may inherit the Earth, but not New York – and it’s all the better for it’, The Sunday Times Magazine, 12 October, p. 5.

All pictures taken with my iPhone.

The Equalizer FILM review: Denzel Washington’s squeaky-clean vigilante

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Denzel Washington stars as the (not-so)-reluctant ‘anti-hero’ of The Equalizer. Robert McCall, a retired black ops agent who has faked his own death in order to pursue a ‘normal life’ following the passing of his wife, wouldn’t you guess it, struggles to adhere to this George Bailey savings-and-loan existence – Washington’s Frank Capra-esque interactions with adoring co-workers are cringeworthy at the very least. As he obsessively stop-watches the mundanity of his new life it’s no time before McCall dives headfirst into swathes of Russian mobsters, bar fights and explosions in this ultra-violent remake of a 1985 TV series of the same name.

Much in the ilk of De Niro’s Taxi Driver (1976) McCall seeks out the company of a (pre)adolescent and troubled prostitute, Teri (played by Chloë Grace Moretz of Kick Ass (2010) and Carrie (2013)) to rescue her from the abuse of a violent gang of Russian pimps as well as relieving himself of his self-imposed retirement.

McCall steps into the pimps’ restaurant and executes them in a partially slo-mo fight sequence, which for some will elicit a Déjà vu of Book of Eli, and where the weapons are almost exclusively pieces of bar equipment. The effects are actually pretty good and the violence isn’t overly gratuitous…at this point in the movie. The brutal execution is investigated by scary, tattooed Teddy, played by the not-Kevin-Spacey lookalike Marton Csokas (pictured below), who has been sent over from Russia to exact vengeance. Of course.

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After a bit of a ‘whodunit’ for good measure, the film ultimately ends in a tumult of splinters and nails as the stand-off between Robert and Teddy takes place in the hardware store where Robert works. In this bloated fight sequence it wouldn’t be surprising to find that the  filmmakers had a bet on how many pieces of DIY equipment could be used to brutally mutilate and torture the ‘bad guys’. After all, a movie where a shot glass, a corkscrew and a nail gun are all used to end Russians is bound to be a sure fire box office hit in the US (and it already is after its first week).

Ultimately, contrary to its level of violence, the film is disappointingly sanitized as Washington represents the perfect vigilante hero: no mania, only morality.

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Where Travis Bickle’s mentally unstable Vietnam war-vet-come-taxi-driver misguidedly wanted to clean the streets of decadence, Washington’s McCall is the outright good-guy-with-a-gun (or without one) equalizing the amorality of the caricatured bad guys.

Although Csokas’ performance is chilling and will leave you excited to see him in his next role, Washington’s squeaky-clean hero in The Equalizer further cements him as the favourite uncle of action movies: more fun than your own parents but ultimately going to get you to eat your greens.

There is no internal struggle for the audience. We aren’t left agreeing with his actions but questioning his motive. McCall is not the troubled anti-hero at all, he’s just a regular good guy police officer without the badge. For this reason the film lacks the depth of the likes of Training Day (2001) The Equalizer director Antoine Fuqua’s and Denzel’s last successful collaboration. When your heroes are spoon-fed to you all you’re left with is the husk of an action movie, where a challenging thriller could have resided.

 

Images are not my own.

Header image URL here.

Marton Csokas image URL here.

De Niro as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver image URL here.

Why can’t I go topless? Facebook, @BareReality and the censorship of female bodies

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(Header Image Copyright to Laura Dodsworth)

Today this tweet caught my attention:

The attached article explains how the artist Laura Dodsworth has been banned from Facebook for posting links to her kickstarter for her artwork. Dodsworth’s work was deemed inappropriate (pornographic even) because her project contains images of 100 women’s bare chests. The header image of this post is the supposedly offending and X-rated article…*rolls eyes*

The @BareReality project aims to explore how women feel about their breasts by it’s subjects “bravely sharing un-airbrushed photographs of their breasts alongside personal stories about their breasts and their lives” (1).

It is a legitimate piece of art, art which Facebook purports to allow. Outraged, I tweeted back, “once again we’re only censoring female chests, I’d rather see no boobs than exclusively manboobs.”

Shortly after, and much to my horror after using an unsophisticated term like ‘manboobs’, the artist herself replied to me:

This is not the first time that social media sites have discriminated against women’s bodies. I’m talking about the SCANDALOUS pictures of Rihanna at the CFDA awards this year wearing a sheer dress which made her nipples visible (apparently in support of the #FreeTheNipple campaign).

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Instagram banned these pictures and disabled Rihanna’s account temporarily for posting them. Yet male nipples are totally fine on the app…

Not only were her pictures removed but Rihanna, being the flirty so-and-so we all know and love, was blasted by many who believed that her ‘stunt’ (because wearing clothes is worthy of this term) was an attempt to gain attention for herself rather than the campaign. Excuse me but firstly; Rihanna really doesn’t need to get her nips out for attention: she can’t chug a Starbucks without the whole world knowing/tweeting about it. And secondly, Rihanna’s nips shouldn’t garner any more attention than David Cameron’s anyway. (Maybe just a little more, because they’re probably a lot nicer).

Rihanna’s not the only one. In 1999 after scoring the winning penalty in the Women’s World Cup final US footballer Brandi Chastain she ripped off her shirt in a memorable and controversial goal celebration. (She is pictured below wearing a sports bra by the way). But her goal celebration was nevertheless ‘controversial’ because she’s female.

These are just high profile examples. If I or any of my female friends posted topless pictures on Facebook you can almost guarantee that they’d be reported and removed from the site within a matter of hours. But that group pic of ‘the lads‘ topless in Kavos is fine, that can stay put.

Obviously my initial response that, “I’d rather see no boobs than exclusively manboobs” was hastily written. But when it comes to the level of acceptable nudity of male and female bodies, we need equality. And if it’s all or nothing, I’d rather go with all than total censorship.

Why should women be constrained by the fact that the naked female body has long been seen as the more potent of the gender binary? It’s really only the mystique of the hidden female nipple that maintains this potency.

Facebook now allow pictures of women who’ve undergone mastectomies as well as images of breastfeeding after receiving heavy criticism from users. So why the cover up on the bog-standard, non-lactating nips? Personally I think I’d keep my nipples to myself, but I’d like to live in a world where I could go topless if I wanted to and not just on a beach in Spain where nobody knows (or judges) me.

Come on Facebook. Stop hiding our lovely nipples just because they may or may not eventually feed babies one day.

Click here to learn more about Dodsworth’s powerful project.

Click here to read more on Scout Willis and the #FreeTheNipple campaign.

Follow me on twitter for regular updates @KateMenear

(1) Quote from Bare Reality Kickstarter page: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/barereality/bare-reality-100-women-and-their-breasts

Header image URL here and Copyright to Laura Dodsworth.

Rihanna image URL here.