Category Archives: Culture

Turn Off The Blue Light – a liberal campaign in a conservative country

Since the 2011 elections in Ireland, law reform on the issue of prostitution became an issue with some support from opposition parties who were likely to become (and later did become) the new Government. Since then, the issue has received as much attention as any social issue would at a time when a country’s economic woes are far more of a concern to the majority of the population.

Last year, a campaign called Turn Off the Red Light was run with a view to ending sex trafficking in Ireland by making it illegal. The campaign is run by over thirty civic organisations and has been supported by a group of well-known Irish men including the singer Christy Moore. It focuses heavily on the need to protect women working in the sex industry from potential abuse.

In rebuttal to this, a counter-attack called Turn Off The Blue Light has been launched by sex workers and supporters in favour of liberalising the laws on prostitution (and general sex work) in Ireland. They accuse the TORL campaign of wanting to impose a moral agenda on the subject.

The advertisement images put forward by both sides are thought-provoking.

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Filed under Ad Campaigns, Culture, Current Affairs, Ireland, Women

Myths About Crime In Black America – Debunked

Just as the after-effects from the arrest of George Zimmerman for the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida began to die down, America has once again been hit with an uncomfortable reminder of the delicate state of its relationship with its dark-skinned communities.


On Sunday morning, a policeman in Oakland chased 18 year-old high school senior Alan Blueford and shot him three times (also managing to shoot himself in the foot once) as Blueford ran away from him. Blueford died as a result of his injuries. Blueford and two friends were standing outside waiting for some young lady friends to come and pick them up. According to Oakland police, two of their officers “believed one of them were carrying a hidden gun.” How they managed to deduce this from looks alone was not clarified, nor was it explained why this might be an issue in a country which thinks that carrying killing machines is a fundamental civil right.

Police say the young men ran. In light of what happened next, nobody could blame them. An officer followed Blueford for two block before recklessly firing at him. This is, by the way, against the law on a federal level in the US: in Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985), the Supreme Court specifically outlawed police shooting at fleeing suspects without probable cause. Nonetheless, the officer has been given a free holiday (“paid administrative leave”) for his troubles.

It is clear that Blueford was in possession of a gun at the time. Police claim he pointed it at them. However, it’s not clear when he might have had time to do this if he ran away from them immediately. The weapon found by his body was never fired.

Police detained his innocent friends for 6 hours and ignored protocol by neglecting to contact Blueford’s parents informing them of the death of their son, even though they had identified him. Instead, one of Blueford’s friends had to call them after he was released.

A summary execution such as this one shows just why a black American might have trouble trusting any police force. All of the officers involved were white. Their identities are being kept secret.

This case, along with Trayvon Martin’s killing, indicates the extent to which racial profiling has a detrimental effect on American citizens’ abilities to live harmoniously with one another. It also shows that the problem is not about to go away and illustrates just how disenfranchised black and coloured communities are within the States and how unfairly they are treated by the media, by law enforcement agencies and (as a result) by society in general.

This would not be as important an issue if so many white Americans weren’t convinced that racial discrimination is a thing of the past now that they have appointed a black president.

As Shani Hilton writes:

In the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death, we’ve seen a lot of discussion of the larger societal issues that play into how and when people are perceived as criminals. There were hoodies, there were marches, and there were frank talks from parent to child about how to minimize the danger of being a young person of color. On the other side, there were justifications of George Zimmerman’s actions: a smear campaign against Martin’s character, and plenty of writers explaining that statistically, blacks are simply more dangerous to be around.

That framing ignores the realities behind the numbers.

Below is an infographic explaining how five popular presumptions regarding the relationship between race and crime are, in fact, not only false but very false.

It is relevant because, much though Europeans like to think of themselves as better, more equal and more liberal than America, our racial situation is only slightly less horrendous.


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Filed under Africa, America, Culture, Current Affairs

Unicorns & Town

British film director Sir Ridley Scott launched a global film making contest for aspiring directors. It’s titled “Tell It Your Way”. There were over 600 entries.

The film could be no longer than three minutes, contain only 6 lines of narrative & be a compelling story. The winner was “Porcelain Unicorn” from American director Keegan Wilcox.

It’s a story of the lifetimes of two people who are totally opposite, yet, very much the same – all told in less than 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, back in Ireland, presumably in an effort to boost the local economy, a website called DublinTown has been launched. An initiative between Dublin City Business Improvement District and local small business owners, the site highlights all that ‘Town’ has to offer both to locals and to tourists. It’s beautifully laid out and the video for the launch has been doing the rounds on social networking sites. It does make me miss the Dublin between the canals.


April 30, 2012 · 11:57 am

The latest beauty secret!


Last October, I blogged these photos of famous women whose photographs had been altered using the Adobe graphics editing software Photoshop.

Here, a bunch of laugh merchants go to town on the way the program is often used and abused:

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Filed under Art, Culture, Current Affairs, Laughs, Photography, The internet

As advertising campaigns go…

This one, for Dutch underwear brand Hema, does not at first appear to be all that controversial.

It simply promises the wearer that the new Hema push-up bra will augment breast size by two categories, no matter how small the wearer’s breasts are.

And then there are a couple of very conservative pictures of the model…

…whose name is Andrej Pejic, was voted in FHM’s list of World’s 100 Sexiest Women – and is a man.

Didn’t see that one coming did you?


Filed under Ad Campaigns, Clothes, Culture, Europe

Cultural moments that remind me of my father

Today is the 42nd anniversary of the end of Woodstock, the great 3-day rock extravaganza, regarded by many to be a pivotal ‘moment’ in the history of modern music. Co-incidentally, today I was walking home listening to one of my favourite songs, which was performed for the first time at Woodstock.

A cover of the original Beatles tune, Joe Cocker’s rendition of I’ll Get By (With A Little Help From My Friends) was always the first and last song to be played in the car with my father when we used to drive up and down, to and from, my boarding school when I was young.

It’s probably one of the best live performances of any song ever done.

I was actually speaking to my father earlier on today, mostly about ‘real life’ in London. I was moaning about the godawful cruelty of a 9-6 working day and he began explaining to me the fact that, while it takes some getting used to, eventually it becomes incredibly easy. So easy, in fact, that you forget it was ever difficult in the first place. He sounded a little bit like Michael Gambon in one of my favourite scenes from any movie.

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Filed under Culture, Film, Music

Happy Bloomsday

Every year on this day, celebrations are held in Dublin and across the world to commemorate the life of James Joyce, and re-enact the events in his book Ulysses, which covers one day (the 16th of June) in the life of Leopold Bloom, as he travels through Dublin in 1904. Joyce chose this day for his book because it was the day he and his future wife Nora Barnacle went on their first ‘date’, walking to Ringsend together.

And just in time for the big day, a man in Dublin claims to have solved a riddle in the book: “Good riddle would be crossing Dublin without passing a pub”. More here.

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Filed under Books, Culture, Ireland

First arrests made in France under the ‘Burka Ban’

Earlier today, a Muslim woman named Kenza Drider attended an unauthorised protest in front of Notre Dame de Paris cathedral wearing a niqab. She was promptly arrested along with another woman for taking part in an unauthorised protest and refusing to disperse.

These are the first arrests made in connection to France’s new ban on face coverings under the Bill Prohibiting Facial Dissimulation in Public Places, which came into effect today.  Under the law, women found wearing either the burka or the niqab in public will be subject to a €150 fine. The bill was controversial from the get-go, when it was first debate in early 2010.  The law has been condemned internationally, especially by the Muslim community – one French businessman has publicly urged Muslim women to commit acts of ‘civil disobedience’, saying that he will sell his €2 million house to pay the fines.

President Sarkozy says the veils are an affront to the values of equality and secularism and that they imprison women.  Critics of the ban say it is proof of the levels of xenophobia and racism which France has reached and that the ban is a breach of a person’s fundamental humans rights to practice whatever religion they choose. Those against also claim that the French law is based on a general fear and lack of understanding of Islam.

These dissidents seem blissfully ignorant of French culture. Their moronic over-simplification of the situation to portray the French as nothing other than a bunch of mean racists is telling.

The French Republic was founded on the idea of ‘laïcité‘, the concept of a secular society, denoting the absence of religious involvement in government affairs as well as absence of government involvement in religious affairs. This deep belief in separation of church and state is one which French people are especially proud of. Far from persecuting any particular religion, the 1905 law famously states: “The Republic neither recognises, nor salaries, nor subsidises any religion.” The law also states: “No one may be disturbed on account of his opinions, even religious ones, as long as the manifestation of such opinions does not interfere with the established Law and Order.”

As I was educated in a French lycée, the above was part of my primary education. French children are taught the value of secularism early on and tend not to forget the lesson. As far as most French are concerned, the key to social cohesion is the elimination of religion from all aspects of life but the most private. This is why religious symbols were banned in schools across France in 2004.

One would be forgiven, reading the hysterical coverage by many media outlets outside of France, for thinking that the French government ignorantly swept in and decided out of the blue to make life difficult for a tiny fraction of the French population (only 1,300 women in France are thought to wear the burka). Not so. French, and indeed Western, culture does not have any place for what it sees as the imposition of male will over the female on grounds of religion. Critics may say that the state should try to be more understanding of the Islamic culture – why should it? Religion is not the business of the French state. Other religions don’t receive special attention and neither will this one.

Dalil Boubakeur, the grand mufti of the Paris Mosque, the largest and most influential in France, testified to parliament during the bill’s preparation. He commented that the niqab was not prescribed in Islam, that in the French and contemporary context its spread was associated with radicalisation and criminal behaviour, and that its wearing was inconsistent with France’s concept of the secular state.

Other European nations have tip-toed uncomfortably around this issue for fear of (God forbid) offending someone. France, on the other hand, has met the problem at every opportunity with a consistent line of thought and reasoning: that for every religious problem the nation has had over the past three centuries, secularism has been the answer and it’s not going to change now.

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Filed under Clothes, Culture, Current Affairs, Protests, Religion

Agony & Ecstasy: A Year with the English National Ballet

The arts in the United Kingdom are due to suffer heavily from cuts set out by the Tory government’s Spending Review. Between 2011 and 2015, £100 million is to be taken out of the English Arts Council’s funding, a fact made all the more difficult to bear because the majority of the cuts are to be implemented in the first two years.

The BBC is currently running a four-part series called Agony & Ecstasy: A Year with the English National Ballet (readers in the UK can view the first episode here). The series follows one year within the English National Ballet, one of Britain’s three foremost ballet companies and one of the most prestigious touring ballet companies in Europe. Running perpendicular to the individual personal stories of each of the show’s characters is the company’s major production of Swan Lake.

We meet several characters in the first series, including one of the ENB’s principal dancers, Czech prima ballerina Daria Klimentová (above), a 38 year-old dancer reaching the end of her career. Daria is drafted in to the part of Odette for the rehearsal, with the newcomer Vadin. Vadin Muntagirov (also pictured above), one of the newest and youngest members of the company, has just arrived, age 20, from the world-famous Perm School in Minsk to take up the lead male role in the production – practically unheard of for a dancer of his experience.

Concurrently, above the pressure cooker of injuries, lack of punctuality, high-strung emotions and a desire for absolute perfection lurks the truly terrifying spectre of Derek Deane OBE, the Artistic Director and choreographer who will stop at nothing to beat the dancers into shape in time for opening night.

All the while, the company meets endlessly to discuss how it will find the money to stay above board and brace itself for one of the greatest financial hits it has ever taken.

As if this weren’t trouble enough, the international star Polina Semionova (above), due to play the part of the Swan on opening night, is having trouble getting a visa and the clock is ticking. 

The Hollywood film Black Swan has brought the obsessively perfectionist world of commercial ballet to thee screens and, briefly, to the forefront of our conciousness. In my opinion, the film has nothing on the reality, which is more shocking, more painful and more psychologically challenging than anything you would believe.

The world of ballet is fighting a losing battle to stay relevant in a time when few appreciate the beauty of its trade anymore. The dilemma of whether to stick to its guns and produce the same high calibre productions that it always has or to cut losses, take a risk and modernise is dominant. In the meantime, all I could think as I watched young men and women literally tear themselves apart for their art was that I’m going the next time I’m in London.


The Georgian National Ballet practices:

The Royal Danish Ballet apprentice dancer Oscar Nilsson (aged 16) for Hedi Slimane:

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The hilarity of being Irish

The above facebook status tickled me rather a lot. Being Irish in the United Kingdom is a daily lesson is how to be treated like a cartoon leprechaun (my lecturer once greeted me with a cheerful ‘top o’ the morning to ya!’). Irish culture in general though, is a subject laced with opportunity for piss-taking – illustrated by one of my earlier posts.

Dara O’Briain (my favourite Irish comedian) tackles this superbly when dealing with the spiky issues of the Troubles and the still-apparent, though very mild, divides between the southern Irish Catholic and Protestant communities. I particularly enjoy his treatment of the subject of ‘mixed marriages’ between Catholics and Protestants, since I am the product of one myself. The differences are so minute, yet they can tend to be made a rather big deal of in Ireland. Enjoy!


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