Category Archives: Pop Culture

Miss Representation – vive la différence?

Had you ever heard of the documentary Miss Representation? I hadn’t. And yet, it seems to encapsulate in one fell swoop almost all of the social concerns I have for the next century. The American documentary, premiered in 2011 at the Sundance Film Festival, explores how (American) mainstream media contribute to the under-representation of women in influential positions by circulating limited and often disparaging portrayals of females. For a prime (and frankly, shocking) example, pay close attention to the video below around the 2.45 mark.

Although the film is indeed very America-centric, this is still relevant to us across the Atlantic, given how much of the pop culture media we consume is American. Some of the statistics are quite stunning – America is actually regressing in its journey towards gender equality. This comes as less of a surprise once we consider such TV programmes as ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians‘, ‘Gossip Girl‘ and the late ‘The Hills‘. America is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an anomaly – there are only two countries with 50% or more women in parliament – Andorra and Rwanda. After that, the numbers fall dramatically.

Although we studied it at university, I have yet to see such a compelling distress signal regarding the deeply harmful effects that the misogynistic portrayal of women in the media might have on society as this film. Western nations love to pat themselves on the back for treating women equally, quick to compare themselves favourably against such backward nations as Iran where women are subjugated by the rules of Sharia law. However, the case against the Western (or at least, the American) media is strong and as the movie points out, it is only growing stronger,

It is my wont to swiftly draw comparisons between America and Europe. On Sunday the 15th of January, French journalist Anne-Sophie Lapix welcomed the far-right leader of the Front Nationale party Marine Le Pen onto her Sunday night current affairs show Dimanche +. In the space of about ten minutes, Lapix, probably as well-known for her looks than her journalism up to that point, calmly and efficiently destroyed Le Pen’s economic policies in a battle of the titans that is now all over the French press. If for no other reason, and even though the entire conversation is in French, it is worth a watch just for the pure spectacle – the meaning of what they are saying can probably be inferred simply through their body language.

What I found interesting about the segment was the way in which these women were being portrayed. Sophisticated, intelligent, and calm – they seemed to embody the exact opposite of the stereotypes referred to in ‘Miss Representation‘ of women as hysterical bimbos probably suffering from PMS. The more disappointing facet to this is the fact that France isn’t even a bastion of gender equality (although progress is slowly being made). I can’t even grin smugly and say ‘at least somebody’s doing it right – vive la différence!’.

How are we ever expected to achieve the dream of universal equality when we so readily ignore this derogatory treatment of women in a media we consume so voraciously? What does it say about our progress or indeed even our desire for progress? As the older brother of an eighteen year-old girl, the statistics and the evidence are hardly comforting. I don’t know what she wants to do with her life, I’m sure she doesn’t either, not just yet. No doubt her plans are ambitious. Looking at the trailer for this movie really makes me wonder what I’m supposed to say to her, other than ‘well, do your best’.


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Filed under America, Current Affairs, Documentaries, Europe, Politics, Pop Culture, Women

Jason McElwain

Having a bad day? This will cheer you up.

Lovely, eh?

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Filed under Pop Culture, Television

Oriana Fallaci: the Godmother of Italian journalism

About two years ago, I read Kate Adie’s fascinating autobiography The Kindness of Strangers, in which she describes how she got involved in the BBC and her fascinating experiences as a foreign correspondent reporting from Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Tiananmen Square, Iraq and Sierra Leone. In many ways, Adie embodies the essence of stereotypical Britishness: calm under adverse circumstances and focused on getting the job done without fuss. This strong personality made her universally respected in her field.

I did not know, until discussing radical Islam with my Italian flatmate and another friend of mine, also Italian, that Italy has its very own answer to Kate Adie. In fact, the woman in question, Oriana Fallaci, was a generation older than Adie and, unlike Adie, actually participated in fighting during World War II.

Fallaci was born to Socialist parents in 1929 and was a partisan fighter during the war. Reflecting on this period later, Fallaci said: “…I have always looked on disobedience toward the oppressive as the only way to use the miracle of having been born.”

While still in her teens, Fallaci became a journalist writing for an Italian paper. In 1967, she began her career as a war correspondent, working in Vietnam, India, Pakistan, the Middle East and in South America. Glamorous, tough and beautiful, Fallaci quickly gained notoriety for her coverage of various high-profile conflicts across the globe. In Mexico, whilst covering the Tlatelolco Massacre preceding the 1968 Olympics (held in Mexico City), Fallaci was shot three times, dragged down stairs by her hair and left for dead by Mexican forces.  In a profile of Fallaci, The New Yorker described her former support of the student activists as having “devolved into a dislike of Mexicans”:

The demonstrations by immigrants in the United States these past few months “disgust” her, especially when protesters displayed the Mexican flag. “I don’t love the Mexicans,” Fallaci said, invoking her nasty treatment at the hands of Mexican police in 1968. “If you hold a gun and say, ‘Choose who is worse between the Muslims and the Mexicans,’ I have a moment of hesitation. Then I choose the Muslims, because they have broken my balls.”

Fallaci became famous for her aggressive and provocative style of interviewing which baited the subjects into answering question very badly. In a 1972 interview with Henry Kissinger, he agreed that the Vietnam War was “a useless war” and afterwards, Kissinger described the exchange as “the single most disastrous conversation I have ever had with any member of the press.”

Fallaci retired in the 1980s, moved to New York and lectured in various universities including Chicago, Harvard, Yale and Columbia. However, after the 9/11 attacks she came out of retirement and published what is by far her most famous work: The Rage And The Pride. In the book, she heavily criticised Islamic extremism and Islam in general, warning that Europe was too tolerant of Muslims, writing “sons of Allah breed like rats”. The Rage And The Pride and the two other books that followed to form a trilogy were all bestsellers in Italy and across Europe, selling in excess of 1.5 million copies. You can read The Rage And The Pride here

Fellaci was a life-long smoker and died of lung cancer in 2006.

This compilation of interviews with Charlie Rose is a terrific glimpse of a woman whose writings and opinions caused as many to hate her as to love her (skip to 9:15) . In Italy she is a folk hero of sorts. It’s easy to see why. I just wish I’d heard of her before now.

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Filed under Europe, Politics, Pop Culture

Fleet Foxes and the contents of Janis Joplin’s handbag

Fleet Foxes are  an indie/folk band from Seattle of whom I’d never heard til this morning. They describe their own music as “baroque harmonic pop jams”, which must be THE most pretentious way possible of saying “we sound a bit like a new age Simon and Garfunkel”. Their eponymous debut album was released in 2008 to critical acclaim, with the band being lauded for their lyrics and use of harmonies to staggering effect.

This song, Helplessness Blues is from their forthcoming second album of the same name, which is due to be released on the 3rd of May. The song speaks of disillusionment which, no doubt, many Americans of my generation are becoming more and more familiar with. It’s a beautiful song.

In other news, I stumbled across this list earlier today, to be found in the 1972 book Piece Of My Heart by David Dalton. It describes in detail the contents of Janis Joplin’s hand bag.

Now where in the hell did I put that lighter…? Probably left it in that bar. I’m real sloppy. Lose more damn things in bars. Left a wallet with a grand in it in a bar last week. Just can’t seem to hang onto anything, man. In desperation Janis dumps her bag onto the floor of the limo. Its contents are truly awesome. Janis has a baglady’s compulsion to carry her whole life with her. There are: two movie stubs, a pack of cigarettes, an antique cigarette holder, several motel and hotel room keys, a box of Kleenex, a compact and various make up cases (in addition to a bunch of eyebrow pencils held together with a rubber band), an address book, dozens of bits of paper, business cards, match box covers with phone numbers written in near-legible barroom scrawls, guitar picks, a bottle of Southern Comfort (empty), a hip flask, an opened package of complementary macadamia nuts from American Airlines, cassettes of Johnny Cash and Otis Redding, gum, sunglasses, credit cards, aspirin, assorted pens and writing pad, a corkscrew, an alarm clock, a copy of Time, and two hefty books-Nancy Milford’s biography of Zelda Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel.

It’s probably a sign of the times that, while reading this, rather than being lost in the magic of this intimate glimpse into the private world of one of the greatest rock goddesses of all time, all I could think was “she could really have done with an iPhone…”.

(and finally)

This photo made me laugh:

(Thank you Hogan, Kiberd and Mouse)

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Filed under Music, Photography, Pop Culture, Technology

Julian Assange: The Man Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest

Julian Assange has been described as a spy, a sexual predator, a genius and a hero. His website wikiLeaks, a mirror website of which can be viewed here, has published hundreds of thousands  of political secrets, presumably with the purpose of “Keeping governments open”, as its tag line asserts. Examples of this include the ClimateGate e-mails from the University of East Anglia and lists of extra-judicial killings and disappearances in Kenya (which earned the organisation an award from Amnesty International) among many, many others.

The website is designed so that nothing which has been put up can be taken down. WikiLeaks is maintained on over twenty servers globally and over hundreds of domain names. Expenses are paid for by donations

WikiLeaks most recent release, the third of a series of ‘mega-leaks’ of classified U.S. documents in 2010, of over 250,000 American diplomatic cables has caused the greatest controversy to date. It comes at the same time as warrants for Assange’s arrest, first in Sweden and now across Europe via Interpol, for questioning in relation to a case of sexual assault in Sweden. This Daily Mail article shows that there is scant public evidence to support the victims’ claims. What’s more, it is widely believed that the allegations are part of a smear campaign aimed at discrediting Assange before he or his organisation do more damage.

This profile of the man in the New Yorker reveals many interesting details about his life. He is a known hacker, had a troubled childhood and is quite clearly very clever, if not a genius. As well as this, it is claimed that Assange has problems handling relationships, trouble with authority and a strong desire to fight for justice or at least, to uncover the truth.

Surely, I can’t be the only one to have noticed the similarities between this cyber (anti-)hero and the heroine of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, Lisbeth Salander? She too was the victim of a massive smear campaign and spent much of her time on the run or in hiding from a vast organisation of political and criminal overlords willing to manipulate the truth and lie in order to keep their interests safe. Perhaps I’m glamourising the situation, but the resemblance is undeniably uncanny…

I imagine Larsson would have been a big fan of Assange.

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Filed under Books, Current Affairs, Pop Culture

TED Prize-winner “JR”

JR is the name of an as-yet unidentified French street artist who was recently awarded the coveted TED Prize, having started out in the banlieues of Paris. His work has appeared all over the world in the form of large black and white photographic images fly-posted in surprising public locations much in the same way as graffiti art appropriates built environments. JR’s work “often challenges widely held preconceptions and the reductive images propagated by advertising and the media.”

“The TED Prize is awarded annually to an exceptional individual who receives $100,000 and, much more important, ‘One Wish to Change the World.’ Designed to leverage the TED community’s exceptional array of talent and resources, the Prize leads to collaborative initiatives with far-reaching impact”.

Here’s a five-minute introduction to the man behind the art, as presented by TED:

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Filed under Art, Photography, Pop Culture, TED

Annie Leibovitz and the new airport terminal

This was going to be a post about the new airport terminal in Dublin and the irony that it will serve so many emigrants away from Ireland but frankly, I’ve just realised how. Incredibly. Boring. That story is.

So instead, I thought I’d share some photos by my favourite portrait photographer of all time.

Annie Leibovitz began her career at Rolling Stone magazine and quickly became noticed for her talent. Since then she has worked for many different fashion magazines, often shooting celebrities in a style that is beautiful and instantly recognisable. She photographed John Lennon and Yoko Ono on the day that he was shot, the Queen on the occasion of her state visit to the United States and every celebrity and fashion model you could think of. Her photographs are colourful and draw the spectator in like a magnet. I could look at her work for hours and hours.

If I could choose anybody to take photographs of me or my family, I would choose Leibovitz.

The last one, perhaps Leibovitz most famous image, caused quite a bit of a stir when it was first released as the cover photograph of Vanity Fair magazine, especially for the fact that there should have been a third actress in the shot who backed out of the plan at the last moment.

Have a picture-perfect day, readers!

(Oh, and here’s that airport terminal – it’s a beautiful ad)


Filed under Current Affairs, Film, Ireland, Photography, Pop Culture, Travel