I Didn’t Know What To Write About So I Wrote About Not Knowing What To Write About

DISCLAIMER: I know this is shit. 

For the past few months, I’ve had a bad case of writer’s block. I didn’t post anything for over seven months. But I had been writing – I had about twenty posts piled in my drafts. Most of them are still there. The essay that I posted recently on The Truman Show had been in my drafts since about May. The writer’s block wasn’t so much a lack of ideas, but a lack of an ability to execute them. Almost daily, I would log onto WordPress to edit what I’d already written or to write something new, but I was never happy enough with anything that I’d written. None of it seemed good enough to be published. And then I remembered a piece of advice that I received in a creative writing class a few years ago: let go of the idea that everything you write has to be good. Most of what you write is going to be dog shit. But that’s OK. It helps to think of writing as a process of trial and error. You may sit down for eight consecutive hours and produce 6,000 words, and of those 6,000 words you may only use a paragraph. That’s OK too. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I’ve always wanted to write a novel. Hopefully someday I will. I have no idea what I would write a novel about, though. I’m only nineteen, maybe I need more life experience before I write a novel. Until then, I’m forcing myself into the habit of writing every day. I’m not waiting for that light bulb above my head anymore. I’ve reached acceptance of the fact that most of what I write is going to be shit. Who cares if it’s shit? Nobody’s going to read it anyway. And even if they do, so what? It’s subjective. They might love it. And if they say it’s shit, I’ll just say it’s because it’s subjective or that they didn’t understand it properly (even though they’re right, it probably is shit). Today, I didn’t know what to write. So I thought fuck it, I’ll write about writing. And here we are. I know this is shit. I hope no one reading this thinks I think it’s good. Maybe I’ll put a disclaimer in, just in case.

So, the moral of this post is don’t be afraid of your writing being shit. Do you think that Shakespeare just sat down and shat out Romeo and Juliet in one go? Well, probably, it’s Shakespeare. But you’re not. So you’re gonna have to write a lot of shit, and then eventually you’ll find a little nugget of gold. Like finding a needle in a haystack.

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Why I Dropped Out of University

via Daily Prompt: Degree

This post isn’t going to be about film or television, as you probably gathered by the title, but when I saw this daily prompt I felt compelled to write about my experience at university. Dropping out of university was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make, but it was the right one, and I hope that my experience will be of value to anyone who’s struggling with that same decision.

For the sake of context, I am from Cardiff and last year I went to the University of Exeter to study English Literature. Anyone who knows me will tell you how much I love my home city, and how proud I am to be a Cardiffian. However, I thought I would venture across the English border when I went to university in an attempt to broaden my horizons. This was my first mistake. As the old cliche goes, you can take the girl out of Wales, but you can’t take Wales out of the girl. Exeter is of course a very prestigious university and I worked incredibly hard to get there, which is still one of my proudest achievements to date even if it didn’t work out. I stayed at Exeter for two full terms, and decided to drop out when I was at home for the Easter break.

Homesickness was something that I struggled with pretty much from day one at university. Of course, it’s a completely normal thing to experience and it’s something that almost every student goes through at some point or another. But in my case, it didn’t seem to get any easier. If anything, the more time I spent there, the worse it became. When I went home for a weekend or for reading week, I found myself feeling relieved. In Cardiff, I felt content and comfortable. In Exeter, I felt lonely and isolated. When I was at home for the Christmas break, I remember some of the friends I’d made at university tweeting about how much they hated being at home and that they couldn’t wait to go back. I didn’t relate to this at all. On the contrary, I was absolutely dreading going back. It was around this time that I started asking myself, how bad does it have to be for it to stop being normal?

Anxiety had been something I’d struggled with for a long time, but before I went to university I felt like I had it under control. Unfortunately, this didn’t last. My mental health slowly deteriorated the more time I spent there. Some mornings, especially after a night out, I would wake up so anxious that my entire body would be shaking but I’d feel as if I couldn’t move. It had gotten to a point where my default emotion was anxious. It felt like there was no escape. I felt as if I’d been robbed of this amazing university experience that everyone said I’d be having. It turns out university isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, one in four students suffer from a mental health problem. There’s something about university culture that can make you feel unbearably detached and isolated, even though there are thousands of other students around. This was certainly true in my case.

There is a certain stereotype attached to Exeter University. If you’re unaware, the stereotype is that Exeter is full of privately educated, Oxbridge rejects who are probably from a quaint village in Surrey and are called Hugo or Isabella. In my experience, this stereotype is definitely accurate in at least 40% of the student population. It’s not that I have anything against people called Hugo from Surrey, it’s just that it isn’t me. It was a bit of a culture shock in fact. I felt self-conscious about speaking in my seminars because I felt like I spoke so differently to everyone else. I used to think was posh – but then I met some actual posh people and had the shock of my life. Now, obviously I’m not saying I dropped out of university because I don’t like posh people. I have nothing against posh people. What I am saying is that the difference in background made me feel like a fish out of water, and given that I was already feeling isolated this certainly didn’t help. It was difficult for me to relate to many of the people around me because I felt as though I was from a different world.

When I tell people that I dropped out of university, the first thing they usually ask is: “So, was it the course?” And the simple answer is no, not really. The course was fine. I didn’t hate it. There were aspects that I didn’t like and there were aspects that I enjoyed. The main issue was that I didn’t care about it. Attending lectures and seminars, reading and analysing books and poems, writing essays, all just seemed so unimportant to me. It’s not that I had more important things to be doing either. I just wanted to stay in bed. Essentially, I lacked energy and inspiration. I felt incredibly guilty because I was aware of what an incredible opportunity I’d been given, that many people across the world would do anything to have, and I was wasting it. It then occurred to me that I was also wasting an awful lot of time and money on something that ultimately my heart wasn’t in. As soon as I realised I didn’t have to be there – that I actually had a choice – it was an overwhelming feeling of relief. And that feeling of relief was the push that I needed to walk away from something that was making me miserable.

University is an amazing opportunity and it can open so many doors, but I would highly encourage you to take a year off before you decide to go. I certainly wasn’t ready for it, and I don’t think most eighteen-year-olds are. Since I dropped out, I’ve spent the last few months working full time as a receptionist and it’s been an invaluable experience. It has enabled me to learn some really useful practical skills that education neglect to provide. My communication and interpersonal skills have developed, I’m much more mature and I have a more practical approach to things than I did before. I’ve decided to give university another go next year, in Cardiff, and the time that I’ve spent in full time employment will help me get the most out of my degree just as much as my time at school did.

Hollywood Hypocrisy: Why has Woody Allen been Overlooked?

Why has Woody Allen been excluded from the condemnation against powerful men in film abusing young women?

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Recently, there have been a flood of allegations against various powerful and influential figures in the film industry of inappropriate sexual behaviour of varying degrees. Some of the most notable include Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Louis C.K. Hopefully, these men will at best go to prison, and at worst never work in the entertainment industry again. It’s about time that these men faced the consequences of their despicable actions; it’s about time that the system was changed to favour abuse victims rather than abusers; and it’s about time sexual abuse survivors are able to speak up about what happened to them without fear or shame. But why hasn’t Woody Allen been caught up in the recent storm of allegations against sexual abusers?

The allegations against Woody Allen are no secret. Dylan Farrow, his adopted daughter, has been making the same accusation against him for well over twenty years. She recently wrote an impassioned article for the L.A. Times about these accusations, and the media’s willingness to ignore them. She draws attention to the hypocrisy of Hollywood stars who condemn Weinstein’s behaviour, but turn a blind eye to her well-publicised accusations against Allen and continue to work with him. I can’t see any rationality behind condemning Weinstein but commending Allen. Sexual abusers should be given the same treatment across the board, regardless of how powerful and successful they may be. If the media can take down someone as powerful as Weinstein, then why not Woody Allen?

One of the most common arguments in defence of Woody Allen is that there is no real evidence to prove what happened, and that if the allegations were true then the legal system would have prosecuted him. In fact, in 1993, the Connecticut state attorney decided not to peruse the trial despite having enough cause to prosecute, in order to spare Dylan the trauma. Although there are no witnesses to the actual assault, many witnesses, including Dylan’s brother, a french tutor, and several babysitters have described Allen’s inappropriate behaviour towards Dylan, and their stories support Dylan’s recollection of what happened. There is a concerning amount of misleading information around what actually happened, and the above article states the known facts so it’s definitely worth reading.

It is also worth nothing that he had an affair with his then step-daughter, now his wife, Soon-Yi Previn. She was only twenty-years-old when Mia Farrow, her adopted mother and Allen’s then-partner, discovered her nude photos in his possession. Although this doesn’t prove that he is guilty of sexual abuse, it certainly indicates an abnormal liking towards younger women, especially ones that he has acted as a father figure to. In many people’s opinions, Allen’s behaviour is in line with that of a child molester. Although his relationship with Previn is in no way illegal, most people would agree that it’s taboo and creepy. It demonstrates that he is attracted to women who are several years his junior, and doesn’t seem to be concerned by the fact that he was a father figure to her for many years.

Unfortunately, the likelihood of Allen being prosecuted for his crimes seems doubtful. He has gotten away with it for over twenty years, and a jury would likely decide that he is innocent beyond a reasonable doubt. However, the court of public opinion doesn’t need a reasonable doubt. The media and the film industry have the ability to ensure he is publicly condemned, like Weinstein. Prominent Hollywood figures have the power to refuse to work with him. And you have the power not to watch his films, not to endorse his career. I have never watched a Woody Allen film in my life, and I never will; no matter how good they are. I would urge you to do the same.

 

 

The Truman Show: A Marxist Analysis

*Spoilers Ahead – Don’t Read if you haven’t seen The Truman Show!

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Louis Althusser referred to the “Ideological State Apparatus” in 1968, arguing that “Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence”. Thirty years later, The Truman Show was released: a film by Peter Weir about Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), a man who, unbeknownst to him, has every moment of his life broadcast on a carefully constructed reality TV show. The film can be interpreted as an allegory for Althusser’s conception of the Ideological State Apparatus. The creator of The Truman Show (the fictional reality show, not the film), Christof (Ed Harris) tells the host of a Truman-themed chat show: “we accept the reality of the world with which we are presented.” Truman has never known anything outside of the Island of Seahaven, thus he accepts it as his reality. It can be interpreted as a commentary on many controversial subjects such as religion, reality television, or even social media and the digital age. However, this essay will focus on its commentary on consumer capitalism in Western society.

The first third of the film shows us Truman’s perception of the world. To begin with, he is completely ignorant to the reality of the world around him and accepts it at face value, despite the suspicious events that take place. The film opens with a light falling right in front of Truman from the sky-high celling of an enormous TV studio, which is labelled “SIRIUS (9 CANIS MAJOR)”, referring to the largest star in the sky. As Truman drives to work, it is explained on the radio that an aircraft broke down above Seahaven, shedding some of its parts. This is the first example of the media being used to promote the ideology that prevents Truman from accessing the true conditions of his existence. Despite seeing the world from Truman’s naïve point of view in this section of the film, he is often seen through the lens of a camera. An eye shape often encapsulates shots of Truman, usually through a fisheye lens, constantly reminding us that his reality is being surveyed and broadcast to a global audience and creating an invasive, suffocating atmosphere. We see shots of Truman through the radio in his car, alluding to Cold War paranoia of government surveillance. Or, for a 21st century viewer, it alludes to corporate surveillance; with GoogleFacebook, and various other websites selling our data to companies who use it to sell us their goods and services.

In addition to alluding to government and corporate surveillance, the film also reflects the absurd materialism of consumer capitalism, primarily through the relentless product placement, the source of which is often Truman’s wife, Meryl/Hannah (Laura Linney). To begin with, it seems almost natural. Truman responds to her advertisement of a product called ‘Chef’s Pal’ with a genuine “wow, that’s amazing!” However, in the middle third of the film when Truman begins to discover the truth and his perception of the world around him shifts, it becomes more contrived. For example, when Meryl starts talking about hot chocolate during their argument he asks her in frustrated confusion: “What the hell are you talking about? Who are you talking to?” It draws attention to the absurd materialistic ideology of American and Western society.

 

In the same principle that the best liars always stay close to the truth, the false ideology that Truman is presented with stays close to the reality of the world outside. Althusser argued: “while [ideologies are] admitting that they do not correspond to reality, i.e. that they constitute an illusion, we admit that they do make an allusion to reality, and that they need only to be interpreted to discover the reality of the world behind their imaginary representation of the world.” In the final third of the film, Truman escapes the illusion of his world and discovers the truth beneath it. The film reveals the script being whispered into the characters’ ears; the almost omnipotent creator and his film crew overlooking the show; and the faithful viewers watching Truman’s every move. Somehow, once this is known, the dialogue that was accepted before seems insincere and contrived. Marlon’s (Noah Emmerich) words of friendship suddenly sound meaningless once they are heard being whispered in his ear by the show’s creator before he speaks them. This demonstrates Althusser’s idea that reality need only to be interpreted slightly differently in order to access its truth.

To prevent Truman from accessing the true conditions of his reality, the creators of the show ensure that the ideology in Seahaven is inescapable. It is present in the media, education, on posters all over the island, and through the words of everyone around Truman. Every time Truman comes close to discovering the truth, all of the ideological tools around him function to maintain the illusion of his reality. As a child, he tells his teacher that he wants to be an explorer, to which she responds: “You’re too late! There’s really nothing left to explore.” When Truman attempts to book flights to Fiji, the travel agents is full of fear-mongering posters which further promote this ideology. Again, this feeds into the Marxist allegory of the film. It represents the propaganda used by the Bourgeoisie to maintain the societal hierarchy which benefits them by preventing the working class from accessing the truth. Christof and the creators of the show represent the Bourgeoisie while Truman represents the proletariat: they use ideology to ensure Truman stays convinced by their elaborate façade of reality, thus keeping their multi-million dollar corporation alive. The survival of the show is entirely dependant on Truman, as is the survival of the Bourgeoisie on the working class. They stand to benefit from the ignorance of the proletariat.

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Interestingly, the symbols that are typically associated with freedom and liberation represent the opposite in this film. Truman’s false world is characterised by idealist imagery such as blue skies and sunshine. It is an idealised version of the typical middle-class American lifestyle. When he discovers the true conditions of his existence, he continues to be surrounded by sunshine and blue skies. Conversely, the outside world is represented by a narrow black doorway, characterised by darkness and mystery. This suggests a cynical message: that perhaps the reason our true conditions of existence are kept from us and hidden by false ideology is that the false reality is easier to accept than the harshness of the truth. Christof, the creator, says that “Truman prefers his cell.” Perhaps we all do.

13 Reasons Why Review: Why Its Depiction of Suicide Does More Harm Than Good

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SPOILERS AHEAD

13 Reasons Why is a Netflix original series adapted from a novel of the same title by Jay Asher that depicts the life of a seventeen-year-old high school student named Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) who has committed suicide. She left thirteen tapes, each addressed to a different one of her peers explaining their actions that contributed to her wanting to take her own life. Although the show has good intentions and the premise is a worthy one, there are some issues I had with it: some from a filmmaking point of view and others with its portrayal of suicide and mental illness.

From a filmmaking point of view, the show is brim full of cheesy high-school movie clichés that are unrealistic and unnecessary, especially in a show dealing with such a serious, real life issue. Some of the characters’ words and actions are so ridiculous and unrealistic they border on comical, like when Jessica (Alisha Boe) slaps Hannah in the middle of a café full of people and not a single person around them so much as bats an eyelid. The dialogue is often contrived and unnatural, for example when Alex (Miles Heizer), Jessica, and Hannah all hold hands and proclaim “FML for ever”. Although admittedly, the teeth-clenching cringe decreases after around episode seven, the first half of the series is difficult to watch at times. Of course, the second half is difficult to watch for very different reasons (which I’ll explain later). The show also has some seemingly pointless subplots which lead to nothing. For example, the subplot in which we see Tyler (Devin Druid) purchase a gun, and later his hidden collection of weapons, leads to apparently nothing. Although there’s always the possibility this will be explained in a second series, it adds nothing to the narrative of the first, apart from maybe giving fans an opportunity to theorise.

The way the show portrays suicide is misleading. While some of the things that happen to Hannah, like being raped and stalked, would understandably drive somebody who was already struggling to committing suicide, mental illness isn’t always an accumulative process. Depression can affect absolutely anyone, regardless of their personal circumstances. However, not once in the entire series does anyone utter the words “depression” or “mental illness” or any terminology of that sort. The overarching message of the series seems to be: “be nice to people or they might commit suicide”. Kindness is of course a noble message to endorse, but to suggest it could prevent someone from taking their own life is unhelpful and frankly untrue. It oversimplifies suicide by unfairly blaming Hannah’s peers (some of whom seem fairly innocent) for her choice to take her own life, thus ignoring the medical reality of mental illness. It’s often unrealistic in its depiction of depression and how it’s percieved, e.g. when Hannah tells her school councillor that she’s been sexually assaulted and that she feels she can no longer cope with life; he basically hands her a box of tissues and tells her to get over it. He does not even acknowledge depression as an illness or suggest the possibility of therapy or medication, which is what any professional would do.

 

Furthermore, the overly graphic depictions of sexual assault and suicide do more harm than good. Although I can understand the intention of shocking the viewer by revealing the true horror of suicide, studies have shown that graphic depictions of suicide have the exact opposite effect and that they can cause individuals who are already feeling suicidal to tip over the edge. It certainly doesn’t glamorise or romanticise suicide or rape in any way, but the scenes in which they occur are far too long and far too explicit. The particularly painful way in which Hannah chooses to take her own life (slitting her wrists) suggests an underlying mental health problem which would not have been cured by kindness. Mental illness is exactly that: an illness. It is a chemical imbalance in the brain which can be treated, and it may have existed in Hannah’s mind regardless of the way she was treated. The show almost suggests that Hannah committed suicide as an act of revenge, wanting to make those who hurt her suffer by blaming them for her death. This is not only a cruel act of narcissism which even leads to one individual on the tapes committing suicide as well, but it is also a negative and inaccurate representation of people struggling with mental illness and suicidal thoughts, who already feel misunderstood and stigmatised.

 

Although 13 Reasons Why has succeeded in opening a dialogue about important issues such as sexual assault and suicide, the inaccuracy in the depictions will lead to more stigma and misunderstanding; while the explicit nature of certain scenes are too difficult to watch and may cause people who are already struggling to relapse.

T2 Trainspotting: A Sequel Done Right

*Spoiler free for T2 Trainspotting, but if you haven’t seen the original (you seriously need to watch it), this may contain spoilers for that.

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When this long-awaited sequel was first announced, I, like many people, was filled with scepticism. Not least of all because sequels, especially ones done years after the original film, are often failures. The mistake most sequels make is trying to recreate the original film, however T2 Trainspotting doesn’t do this. Danny Boyle’s 1996 film Trainspotting is more than just a good film. It’s an iconic, era-defining cult classic that had a profound influence on British society. It was arguably a catalyst to the so-called “War On Drugs”, to the extent that the heroin-users of the late 1980s and 1990s are often referred to as “The Trainspotting Generation”. Danny Boyle himself even called it “Scotland’s Star Wars”. So, you could say it was a bit of a tough act to follow. Boyle and his crew knew that this would be impossible to recreate, especially twenty years later. What T2 Trainspotting does instead of just rerunning its predecessor is it gives a very honest, raw depiction of the aftermath of reckless youth.

 

Youth was an issue that the sequel was always going to face. Part of the appeal of Trainspotting is that it captures a stage in one’s life when time means nothing and you think you’re invincible. The characters of Trainspotting are free to lie around shooting heroin all day without thinking or caring about the consequences. It’s impossible to recreate that youthful apathy twenty years later, and this film doesn’t try to. If anything, it uses the twenty-year gap between the films to its advantage. Unlike the original, it is very aware of time. It’s full of nostalgia, and it’s used to create a subtle but poignant statement about ageing and manhood. It reveals the consequences that those fresh-faced young men didn’t think of twenty years ago, when they were flying on heroin. It manages to stay true to its predecessor and its loveable antiheros without trying to recreate it. All the characters are exactly where you’d expect them to be: Renton (Ewan McGregor) has been running away from his past for the last twenty years; Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) is carrying out dodgy scams and snorting coke whenever he can; Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is in prison, and Spud (Ewen Bremner), despite getting his act together for a bit, is back on heroin. Its narrative is unlike most contemporary films: there is no clear motive or mission, no problem to solve, no happily-ever-after. It’s basically just a bunch of ex-heroin addicts having a reunion, and trying to find meaning in their miserable lives. It’s cynical without being depressing. It captures the disappointment of adulthood and modern life, but it maintains the witty, dark humour that made the original so entertaining.

 

The film’s use of editing is creative and stunning to watch, and is used to create a strong self-awareness. There are constant references to the original film, and there are several scenes where footage from the original film overlaps with the sequel. It recreates several shots from the original film, and it wouldn’t be Trainspotting without the unforgettable “Choose Life” monologue, but adapted for the modern world and beautifully delivered by Ewan McGregor.  There are even flashbacks to when the characters were younger than they were in the original film, e.g. it shows Renton and Sick Boy buying their first heroin. This provides even more insight into the lives of the characters, and implicitly forces us to draw comparisons of youth and adulthood that we may not have otherwise. The cinematography is also used to draw attention to the differences between the two films, and the two eras. The cinematography in the original is often very surreal; for example, the chilling scene in which Renton overdoses and sinks into the floor, or the revolting ‘Worst Toilet In Scotland’ scene (here’s a fun piece of trivia: the “shit” used in that scene was actually chocolate mousse and it smelled delicious). However, the cinematography in the sequel, although surreal at times, uses this method a lot less, reflecting the reality of life when you’re not high on heroin 24/7.

 

Of course, I couldn’t talk about anything Trainspotting related without discussing the soundtrack. T2 Trainspotting also has a brilliant soundtrack, but it was never going to be as iconic as the original soundtrack, with songs such as ‘Lust for Life’ by Iggy Pop and ‘Born Slippy’ by Underworld which can’t be listened to without being associated with Trainspotting. These songs are featured in the sequel, adding to the nostalgic effect of the film, as well as a few modern additions such as Wolf Alice and Fat White Family. The soundtrack is often emotive and succeeds in furthering the action of the film.

 

It’s difficult to say whether the sequel is better, worse, or as good as the original film, as it’s impossible to view it in isolation since it’s so self-aware and constantly forcing its audience to draw comparisons with the original. It certainly won’t have the same cultural legacy as Trainspotting, but it does it more than justice and is just as harrowing and entertaining, so I would highly recommend giving it a watch.

Here’s the T2 Trainspotting Trailer, which you should definitely watch if you haven’t already seen it.

And here’s the soundtrack.