Monday, 27 October 2014

Taylor Swift -1989 [Album Review]

Taylor Swift's fifth studio album '1989' is an unapologetic liberation of self and personal truth, and she's going to make you dance to it.

On the surface, 1989 seems unlike anything Taylor Swift has done before. You won't hear a single banjo or acoustic guitar on this album, instead she hands over 80's pop synths and commands a type of bedroom dancing only seen in Disney movies, even when the story she's telling is worthy of tears. But her decision to cannonball into the depths of the pop world was not met without criticism; just as soon as Swift announced that this would be the first album to depart from her country-crossover sound, she was accused of abandoning her roots in favour of something more mainstream. But Swift isn't some washed up musician trying to be relevant again, she's a 24 year old with enough power to make an 8 second clip of pure static shoot to number 1 on iTunes. She's an artist and, yes, a person too, and in both respects she is evolving.

In many ways, 1989 is Swift's emancipation from what the world thinks of her. Perhaps this is why she dedicated the entire film clip to 'Shake It Off', the albums first single, to dancing around in exactly the way that causes people to mock her relentlessly after award shows. In a similar vein, the track 'Blank Space' sees Swift taking her media-appointed 'man-eater' identity and wearing it with satirical pride; at the bridge, she playfully tells us that 'darling I'm a nightmare dressed like a daydream', before sighing 'got a long list of ex-lovers / they'll tell you I'm insane' in the chorus. She is well aware of the fictions the world has been telling about her, she just doesn't seem to care anymore. 

Nor does she seem to put much substance in the idea that her penchant for singing about love is a bad thing. 'Wildest Dreams', arguably one of the most distinctive sounds on the record, has an old-Hollywood vibe similar to that of Lana Del Rey. Its dark intensity tells the tale of a love that Swift knew was destined to fail from the start, yet it still breaks into a bittersweet hopefulness every time the chorus hits. 'I Know Places', on the other hand, describes Swift's attempt to save a growing romance from the media's game of hunter-and-prey. It's restless and urgent, and reveals just as much about her view of celebrity culture as it does about the man she's running from it with.

Then there's the anthemic 'Bad Blood', a song widely believed to be about Swift's hot and cold encounters with Katy Perry. Scalding verses tell the story of a friendship turned sour but ultimately pares back to deliver a chanting chorus. This is one that serial Facebook over-sharers will be quoting every time they have a falling out with a friend, I'm calling it now.

For the most part, Swift strays from the typical pop sound that often fences in her industry counterparts. 'How You Get The Girl' and 'Welcome To New York' may be the closest she comes to jumping that fence, but despite this they remain relatable and catchy as hell. 'This Love', perhaps the most ballad-like song on the album, is the least catchy with Swift's echoey voice often quite jarring and is lyrically less advanced than one might expect, but the emotion behind her soft crooning still threatens to pull you in.

Perhaps the most special moment on the album though is 'Clean', a simple, almost ethereal track that takes you through the experience of getting over a great love. Swift's ability to tell deeply moving stories without compromising the integrity of her lyrics is something of a trademark for her. She is known for her detail; the recounting of dates and colours and exact words that people said to her put in winding journeys of songs. 'Clean', while just as lyrically sophisticated, embraces simplicity instead. With just a beat behind her voice, she sings 'gone was any trace of you / I think I am finally clean.' And with that, she is able to convey the liberation behind finally being able let go and shedding your skin to start anew. 

At its core, 1989 remains true to what fans have come to expect from Taylor Swift; a from-the-heart soundtrack providing insight to the past two years of her life. With a plethora of rave reviews and the possibility that it could be the best-selling album of the year, so far Swift has re-emerged in much the same way that any artist with longevity does; as something different to what she used to be, and yet exactly the same where it matters most.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Sexual Violence in Pop Culture: What Are You Laughing At?

*Trigger warning: This post discusses sexual assault and violation in some depth*

One of the most rapidly growing spaces for influential media is YouTube. You know, that place where 100 hours of video is uploaded every minute and over 6 billion hours of content is consumed each month? For those of us who use the website primarily to watch viral videos or film clips, that may seem like a hell of a lot of time spent laughing at harmless videos of babies or Barack Obama singing popular songs. But with studies showing that YouTube currently reaches the American 18-34 demographic better than many TV networks, it would be foolish to argue that it doesn’t have a profound influence on its users. And like any other powerful medium, this influence isn’t always a good one.

Last week, popular YouTuber and attempted comedian Sam Pepper uploaded a video of himself ‘pranking’ women on the street by pinching their bums. The video sparked immediate outrage from many of Pepper’s 2 million subscribers, thousands of other users and many of his fellow YouTube personalities, who all condemned the way that he sexually harassed and exploited the women in the video in an effort to be humorous. Pepper then uploaded two more videos; one similar to the first, where his female friend was seen pinching men’s bums instead. The third instalment, titled ‘THE REVEAL’, saw Pepper claiming that he created the first two videos as a ‘social experiment’, in which he attempted to observe the public’s reaction to women being sexually harassed in comparison to when the same thing happened to men. Claiming that the first video was scripted and staged and featured women who knew exactly what was happening, he said his actions were an attempt to raise awareness for the social stigma that surrounds male victims of violence and abuse. Which may have been mildly believable if it weren’t for Pepper’s previous tendency to upload videos of himself harassing women on the street. Handcuffing himself to women and refusing to release them until they kiss him, restraining women using a lasso and pressuring unsuspecting women into making out with him are all included in Pepper’s harassment-disguised-as-comedy arsenal.

Just a few Tweets condemning Pepper's actions from people in the YouTube community. 

Unfortunately, he is not the only YouTuber who glorifies street harassment in his videos; he is merely the latest to cause widespread controversy. It must be noted here that although this post is going to focus on sexual violation specific mostly to street harassment, it has been alleged that certain YouTuber's [Sam Pepper included] have sexually abused several women [not on camera, this time] and this is another deeply concerning aspect of the YouTube community. However, I think it would be more appropriate to dedicate an entire discussion solely on this issue in the future.

Lex Croucher: Abuse on YouTube.

Laci Green, a sex education YouTuber and one of the first to publicly acknowledge Pepper’s inappropriate behaviour in an open letter and allegations of sexual assault in a more extensive followup video, identified multiple other popular YouTube channels that create the same kind of exploitative videos in the name of ‘comedy.’ What makes this phenomenon so frightening is that, for the most part, people do in fact find these videos funny and inoffensive. They have thousands of ‘likes’, millions of subscribers and tens of millions of views between them.

But street harassment is a serious issue that deeply impacts victim’s lives and has severe personal and social repercussions. It’s not a ‘joke’ or a ‘prank’, nor can it be justified with the all too common excuses of 'boys will be boys' or 'it's a compliment'; it’s not only a reality that many are faced with every day, it’s a problem that often shapes victims’ realities too. A study by organisation ‘Stop Street Harassment’ showed that 65% of women in the United States said they had experienced street harassment. In comparison, 25% of men reported they had experienced it at some stage in their lives as well, the vast majority of which claimed it was motivated by homophobia or transphobia. Of these women, 47% said they felt the need to constantly assess their surroundings as a result of street harassment, and 31% deliberately chose not to go somewhere alone out of fear of being targeted. We’re talking about a hell of a lot of women who are navigating their lives around people who make public spaces frightening and uncomfortable for them. And yet we still continue to not only condone this behaviour, but also trivialise its seriousness in our everyday discourse.

Even more concerning is a 2008 study showing that the occurrence of street harassment positively influences women objectifying themselves. Objectification has been proven to cause increased rates of depression, anxiety and eating disorders as it reinforces the belief that a woman’s worth is predominately tied up in her sexuality and ability to satisfy a man. This idea is already pervasive and evident throughout our society, particularly and especially in the media. So why is sexual harassment and abuse so easily passed off as ‘comedy’ when it clearly has such horrible consequences for its victims? Or, more importantly, why does something as prominent as gendered violence happen at all?

What do you know, power and objectification seem to be the big motivators here. ‘Stop Street Harassment’ reported that those who are most likely to be sexually harassed are people who identify as homosexual or transgendered, racial minorities, those with a low income and women. Each of these groups of people experience oppression in some way or another, and the existence of street harassment is just another way in which the more privileged groups in our society exert their usually unquestioned power over those considered “less valuable.” It must be noted that a women's experience of oppression is dependent on many different aspects, such as race, religion, income, disability, sexual preference or identity to name a few. It does not just apply to western, white females. 

Males are socialised to believe that putting someone else down or asserting their dominance defines and proves their masculinity, and harassment is a prime example of such an attitude. Despite the [very tired] “but gender inequality doesn’t exist!” argument one is usually met with when discussing the issue, the world we live in still very much asserts this power that straight, white males have above any other group of people. That is why the gendered pay gap in Australia in 2013 stood at 17.3%. It’s also why men unequivocally hold the majority of jobs in most employment fields. It’s why women in Australia are represented in only 3% of chair positions, 3.5% of CEO positions and 9.2% of director positions despite being on average more or better educated than men. And this is why men are overwhelmingly reported to be responsible for the harassment of both women AND men. 70% of females and 48% of males said a lone man has harassed them and 38% of women and 25% of men have been harassed by a group of men, compared to 20% of men who reported being harassed by a lone woman. Furthermore, most men claimed that this was a rare occurrence only happening once or twice in their lifetime, compared to the regular and sometimes daily harassment that women and other minorities experience.

Not only this, but most if not all facets of popular media teach their audience that women are sexual beings that fundamentally belong to the male gaze. TV shows, film, music, magazines- all of these prominent and extremely influential aspects of our society give men and boys permission to violate, harass and disrespect women because the underlying message is that they exist for the male gaze. And this is the epitome of sexism and gender inequality; reducing women to a man’s plaything, a one-dimensional, second-class citizen that is fundamentally worth less than their male counterpart.

One of the most current and horrifying examples of this attitude in popular media is the hacking of over 100 popular female celebrities iCloud accounts, which revealed hundreds of the victims' intimate photos. Unsurprisingly, the event became news and attracted worldwide attention, but not for the reasons it should have. Facebook, Reddit and 4chan pages were created for the purpose of praising the hacker and news entertainment websites were flooded with traffic by people trying to access the photos. Mainstream discourse for the most part said nothing about the abhorrent sexual violation that this hacker committed when he chose to steal and post photographs of these women. Public opinion centred very much on slut shaming and victim blaming, asking why these women would take the photos in the first place and making offensive remarks about their lack of ‘morals’ or ‘integrity.’ Not enough mainstream attention was paid to the fact that none of these women consented to having their private photos released, nor did they consent to hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of men staring at their naked body purely for their own enjoyment. This was and continues to be a sexually motivated attack against non-consensual women, making it an example of sexual violation.

Laci Green: 'She Asked For It' [Sex+]

Meanwhile, barely any attention was paid to the fact that these women are highly accomplished in the entertainment industry. Among them are Oscar and Emmy award winners, critically acclaimed actresses, record-breaking musicians, and world-renowned models. Of all the people who viewed and enjoyed the explicit photos of Jennifer Lawrence, I’d be interested and no doubt appalled to see the percentage that also know she is an Academy Award winning actress. But even without any of these successes, even if these women happened to not be celebrities and were instead everyday people, the issue would still remain the same; these women were without a doubt reduced to a means for sexual gratification, another example of how women’s bodies are popularly perceived to be belonging not only to men, but also to the public. This is an example of how our media and our society as a whole places more value on what a woman can offer sexually than it does on her accomplishments, her talents or her personality in general.

What we need is for this behaviour to be called out. We need to unapologetically condemn those who disrespect or commit acts of sexual violation in our society and remove them from positions of influence by not actively supporting them. This means not watching YouTuber's who try and pass off harassment as comedy and not seeking out photos that were obtained illegally and without consent from the victims. Because this is the type of behaviour that reinforces the idea that it is okay to treat women without respect or consideration for their personal space and freedoms.

And if there is one thing that cannot be stressed enough, it is that gender inequality in its entirety is a men's issue. It is something that men have a responsibility to act on and change because it is men who oppress women. If you feel the need to make a suggestive or sexually motivated comment to a woman, ask yourself why you feel entitled to do so. If you witness sexism in any aspect of your reality, call it out as the injustice it is. When you enjoy something that unequally uses women as props or tools as a means for entertainment, ask yourself what you're laughing at. Because the existence of gender inequality isn’t an argument, it is a fact, and it's certainly not funny. It's debilitating and oppressive, and I urge you to stop taking the side of the oppressor.

If you have experienced or struggled with sexual assault of any kind in the past, present or in the future, these resources will be able to provide you with help:

Sexual Assault Crisis Hotline: 1800 806 292 [Free call from Victoria, Australia]

White Ribbon: 1800 737 732 [Australia wide]

List of international sexual assault resources:


This is only one small corner of an unfathomably pervasive part of our society. Gender inequality is something that is present in all cultures all around the world and inclusive of all women. A crucial point to remember is that the experiences of sexism and sexually motivated crimes changes from the personal situation of women; intersectionality- the idea that women experience oppression in differing forms and intensities- cannot be ignored. Women of colour, disabled women, women with differing religious views, sexual preferences and identities and incomes are all effected by gender inequality in different and incredibly significant ways. This post focused heavily on sexual harassment and the influence of the media as a general facilitator of gendered violence due to recent events but does not is any way signify that this is the only or most important area of gender inequality or feminism. Gender equality is a fight for all women across the whole world that experience oppression daily and in differing ways and intensities.

I also chose not to focus on the allegations of rape and sexual assault that have surfaced in the YouTube community as I feel that is something that needs its own separate discussion at another time.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

A Day in Oxford.

Last week Jess and I jumped on a bus headed for the renowned university town of Oxford. As it turns out, we weren't prepared for how overwhelmingly beautiful this place was, nor were we prepared for how underwhelmingly average we felt in comparison to all the Oxford students who were finishing exams that were probably harder than anything I'll ever do in my life.

Oxford seems to be completely made up of old, intricately detailed, gorgeous buildings. Where as many other cities I've seen usually have some sort of a modern edge to them, Oxford, for the most part, has completely preserved the atsmosphere of its time. Our tour guide actually mentioned that the town is an incredibly popular set for period films, as its cobblestone streets and well-mainted buildings make it very easy to accurately depict this point in history. 

The university actually provided the inspiration for certain aspects of rye Harry Potter films. Walking around the streets and inside the buildings, any fan would be reminded of Hogwarts' winding corridors or classrooms. Although we just missed out on seeing the place where Harry Potter was supposedly filmed (we were 3 minutes late, to be exact. Still slightly bitter on that one) we stumbled upon another wizarding world treasure. The dining hall in one of the Oxford buildings was the model for the Great Hall in Harry Potter. Although they didn't actually film here, the hall was so similar to the one in the movies that Jess and I actually recognised it before being told that it was used by the set designers as inspiration. 

Something that we were told on our tour and which I found quite funny was that several times during the building of the campus, construction was forced to stop because they ran out of money. Walking in and around that campus now- one which belongs to the oldest surviving English speaking university in the world- it's surreal to think that such a significant and highly-regarded place was once hindered by something as common as money.

I can't even begin to imagine how much of a fairy tale life would seem to those who study at Oxford. I was just constantly in awe every time I turned a corner that day and found myself desperately wishing that I was smart enough to get into one of the best universities in the world. Unfortunately, out of roughly 20.000 students, only 300 of them are Australian and I'm guessing none of them chose to stop studying maths in year 10 like I did. But, hey, at least now I have a cool Oxford jumper to wear during the uni semester whilst I'm watching YouTube videos and not studying.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Camden Markets / shameless touristy things.

On Sunday morning I headed to the Camden Market with Claire, a fellow solo Australian traveller I met on my flight, for what would inevitably become a day of wandering around that side of London. 

As soon as I exited the tube at Camden Town I realised why tourists were so drawn to this place- it’s absolutely crazy and completely different to the prim and proper London most people imagine. It definitely gives off a bit more of a rough-around-the-edges vibe and from what I’ve been told is more of an alternative area of London. The atmosphere was just vibrant, especially in the food section which offered meals from practically every country or culture you could imagine. I paid a few pounds for some really delicious bliss balls (you would have loved them, Ally) and got a plate of Peruvian rice and potatoes. Choosing what sort of dish to eat at the Camden Markets is a burden I wouldn’t place on any man.

I mean, just look at those donuts. I saw those after I had eaten and promptly vowed to return at some point on my trip to try one (update: I returned again today and they weren't there. Somebody hold me)

After we were done looking through the jewelry/clothes/knick-knacky part of the market we decided to head towards Primrose Hill, where we had heard you could get a great view of the city. 

So then, obviously, we walked for 20 minutes in the wrong direction before enlisting the help of a friendly couple passing by who told us basically to go back to where we started. It was at this point though that Claire and I agreed that it’s not really a burden to be lost in a city as fascinating and beautiful as London is. 

I just loved this street because it seemed so typically English, like you would see in the movies.

When we finally made it to Primrose Hill though, we knew that the good 40 minutes of walking was entirely worth it. The view was spectacular, the park was beautiful to walk through and there was an ice cream van stationed right outside. Honestly, London, you do things right.

As we walked through the park we noticed that right next door was Regents Park, where Queen Mary’s Gardens were and decided to take a look. Basically the most beautiful landscaping I’ve ever seen in my life and grass so green that it would put my dad’s backyard to shame. And, might I add, not one piece of rubbish in sight. The optimist in me would like to think that people are respectful enough to throw away their rubbish after they eat, but most of me just thinks everyone is terrified of what the Royal Family would do if you soiled their garden. At one point I accidentally walked on a piece of grass I wasn't meant to be walking on and I thought police officers were going to jump out of the perfectly trimmed bushes and send me back to Australia.

After Claire and I did a bit of shopping on Oxford Street, we said goodbye and I went home to make myself somewhat presentable before meeting Katie, who flew in that afternoon. After getting some dinner we went on the London Eye, which was spectacular. I had heard mixed reviews about how worth while it actually was but I really enjoyed looking out over London’s incredibly diverse city of buildings that varied greatly in terms of age, architecture and historical importance. We were lucky enough to be on the last ride of the night, which meant that the sun was setting just as we were at the top and made for an absolutely beautiful view. On our way to catch the tube home we got a few snaps next to Big Ben and then called it a night.

In conclusion, London is beautiful and if you can manage to get on the final spin of the Eye (at 9pm) when/if you're here, I'd recommend it.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Hello Brighton.

The morning after I arrived in London I jumped on a train to the seaside town of Brighton with a few new friends. As we're all from Australia (albeit opposite ends, which sometimes makes it seem like we're from different countries anyway) the hour long train ride flew by as we joked and shared stories that probably annoyed and lowered our fellow passengers opinions of Australian tourists. 

The weather was perfect and we strolled down to the beachfront to find that the locals had let loose- a scorching hot temperature of 24 degrees seemed to be more than enough reason for them to get in their swimsuit and jump in the water. Those Brits, so thankful for the mid-twenties weather we take for granted back home.

Walking along the boardwalk was insane. The only thing that outnumbered the shops, stalls and food vendors was the amount of people trying to weave their way through the crowds. And it's easy to see why so many tourists flock to Brighton- it's gorgeous and has an incredibly fun and creative atmosphere. There were a lot of people selling really lovely handmade items (like the post cards below, which were £4 each and made me laugh all the way to a generic corner store to buy a 30p post card to send home instead. Sorry mum and dad- I love you but not £4 for a rectangle piece of cardboard worth)

Eventually we made our way onto the famous Brighton Pier, where we promptly bought an overpriced ice cream and strolled around singing to the One Direction songs that were being played (I knew there was a reason why I loved this place so much) Although we didn't go on any rides or play any games, it was nice to just stroll up and down the Pier in the sun, people-watch and take it all in. It could be said that this part of Brighton- arguably the most famous part- is a tad tacky with all its stores selling cheap and yet overpriced items to wide-eyed tourists, but I think that just added to my love for the place. It has a carnival vibe to it in that it was quite loud and obnoxious and yet incredibly fun at the same time.

Then Jess saved me from drowning.

After we were done on the beachfront we walked back into town in search for The Lanes- interweaving little passageways filled mainly with jewellery stores, cute little cafes and small stores selling creative little knick knacks. Being the brilliant tourist I am, I didnt take any good photos of these lanes.

We then slowly moved our way through the rest of the town, and I say 'slowly' because there is just so much to see in the streets of this city. Practically every time we'd turn a corner there would be another street full of eclectic shops and random little markets that cluttered the street. You had your regular clothing vendors, your Bob Marley themed shop, your man doing nothing but holding a Herron he had apparently found the day before and decided to bring to work with him, your tarot card readers, your three story adult store which would probably even make Samantha from Sex and the City blush. This is perhaps the best way to convey what Brighton is like- it's an eclectic mix of everything you could think of, all working together to make an incredibly interesting and fun experience. 

We spent a full day in this town and left feeling as though we had barely scratched the surface of what it had to offer. If you're ever in London and have the time, I would definitely recommend making your way down to Brighton for a day of wandering through the streets and debating whether or not you should pay £2.50 for an ice-cream with a flake in it (granted, they are about 10 times better than McDonald's 50 cent cones).

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Fear and Opportunity.

Over the past couple of years it's become apparent to me that if you open yourself up to embrace new things, you will create opportunities for yourself that once seemed implausible. My 24 hour solo journey from Melbourne to London completely reaffirmed this and reminded me of how important it is to take these opportunities and roll wIth them.

When I was initially faced with the option of either spending a week alone in a foreign city or changing my flights to be with my friends, a lot of me wished that I had a legitimate reason to go with the latter. But I didn't have a legitimate reason other than fear, and while fear is a legitimate emotion, it's not something that should hinder you from embracing opportunities.

There were so many things I was afraid of; missing one of my connecting flights, having my luggage misplaced, losing my passport, not being able to figure out how to get from the airport to my apartment. But then I was reminded of how kind and comforting perfect strangers can be. Before I had even gone through security at Melbourne, I met a well-traveled lady who was on the same flights as I and who was happy to answer all of my annoyingly detailed and often entirely unnecessary questions. When I got to my seat for the first two flights, I found that I was next to the kindest woman who was happy to chat away with me for the following 13 hours and who collected my between meal-snacks for me when I was sleeping and the air hostess tried to skip over me (in all my uncultured and untraveled-ness I didn't realise that they wouldn't wake you up for food. I just thought everyone would want to be woken up for food). On the last leg of the flight and upon hearing that I was by myself for a week, the London-native woman next to me gave me her phone number in case I needed anything. And finally, an hour before we landed in London and just as it began to dawn on me how completely alone I was in the city below me, a girl from two rows in front told me she had overheard that I was traveling alone like she was and we promptly agreed to navigate the Heathrow airport tube together and meet up the following week.

Reading all of these things probably doesn't convey how relieving and important it was to me at the time. More than that, a lot of people reading this are probably thinking "uh, why is traveling alone such a big deal? This girl is a freak", but it was a big deal to me and it's something I never would have thought I'd have the courage to do. But alas, I am in London and I just had the greatest first day abroad in the seaside town of Brighton with some wonderful new friends (post on that to come later).

To conclude this very long and probably very boring post, I will say this; I think there is good and bad fear. The bad one is obviously when we are in legitimate danger and our body/brain is like "dude, I don't think this is a good idea." The good one however, is the fear of the unknown and the different, and that's the one you need to look out for because so often it can disguise itself as bad fear and stop you from living and growing. Do the things that scare you, you'll be better for it in the long run.

(P.S I promise that all my travel posts won't be this philosophical, it's just that I think I've beaten jet lag and now I feel like I can solve every and any problem in the universe.)