Sunday, 1 April 2018

Guess Who's Back?

Just in time for Easter! Here's my take on the 25 best films about Jesus: I thought it might be a bit of a weird one for Den of Geek but they're always game for something a bit quirky.Speaking of which, here's a shot from the surreal Der Jesus (1986). Enjoy!


Saturday, 23 December 2017

Thrillers: Why are the Only Good Women Characters a Bit Murdery?

I read A LOT. Much of this is down to the blessing (or curse) of being able to read pretty fast. It's awesome when you have to read a book for your homework (or the adult equivalent, book club) and have only a couple of hours to get through it, but it also means that getting hold of enough books to keep you entertained can be expensive. I still remember the bitterness of spending my pocket money on a new Sweet Valley Twins book when I was about twelve, and as I closed the last page forty minutes later, I thought "Well, that didn't last long." Now, for reasons of money and storage, I'm all about the library  not just for paperbacks but also ebooks and audiobooks.


            C.S. Lewis, my spirit animal

I've only recently discovered audiobooks, which are life-changing. They make mindless tasks like long journeys, washing up, and sanding and painting walls (don't ask) an opportunity to catch up with a good story. But being a fan of trashy thrillers, I've noticed an annoying trend: the only women worth reading about have psychopathic tendencies.

The funniest of these was my vote for Den of Geek's book of the year (which you can read here): C.J.Skuse's Sweetpea: it made me snort with laughter AND have nightmares. (It was genuinely a bit disturbing,) It was so refreshing to read about a woman who took action, had opinions (strong ones) and thought outside the box. I've slowly realised that all the female characters I've enjoyed this year have been rather ferocious, in stark contrast to the standard "heroine in peril" female protagonists of today's thrillers.

Publishing works in cycles. First we had the glut of vampires in the wake of Twilight, True Blood and The Vampire Diaries. Then The Hunger Games' Katniss spawned a ton of teenage girls who could shoulder the burden of leading a dystopian revolution. The latest craze is a genre that I like to call "Ooh, am I mad?". 

These novels follow a standardised formula: our heroine (who may or may not be alcoholic) will normally have experienced something harrowing. Perhaps a break-up (The Girl on the Train), a break-in (The Woman in Cabin Number 10), a rape (Someone is Watching, Tell Me No Lies), being a war correspondent (My Sister's Bones), or having a heart transplant (The Gift). The traumatic event will result in lots of nightmares / childhood flashbacks  / general confusion; the upshot is that she spends a lot of time absent-mindedly stepping in front of cars and needing to be held back by the burly arms of a potential love interest, losing time to the lure of pills or alcohol, not being sure what is real and what is imagined, and generally acting like a neurotic Victorian heroine, transposed into a 21st century situation but still tending to faint, simper and hallucinate herself into the clutches of an enemy.


It's exhausting work

Since "gaslight" became a verb, we've been aware of the power of a story about a woman who thinks she might be losing it. But I'd like to point out to writers that it's more fun when we know she isn't and watch her try to put together the pieces. If we too are thrown every two minutes by scenes in which she falls over a lot (or wonders if perhaps she did murder that person after all and she just can't remember), it rapidly becomes trite and boring. Also, while it may be a comment on society that woman are so often ignored or dismissed as crazy and hysterical, i'm not sure how helpful it is to constantly portray women as, well, crazy and hysterical.

Prepare yourself for an attack of the vapours as I bitch about some of the books I've read recently which have made me want to puke (in the manner of a female character who has just glimpsed an alarming newspaper headline / menacing stranger / obscene text message).

And..... SWOON.

Nuala Ellwood's My Sister's Bones featured an experienced journalist who doesn't know how to convince anyone that she really is seeing a little boy in the supposedly uninhabited next-door garden. Gosh, if only war correspondents knew how to work cameras! Another character has to ask somebody if she was responsible for someone's death – she doesn't have amnesia or anything, she just doesn't trust her own memories. No particular reason why, she's just a girl, innit?

In Louise Jensen's The Gift: the gripping psychological thriller everyone is talking about (yes, this really was the official subtitle... you've got to admire their chutzpah) Jenna receives a new heart in a transplant and is intrigued about her donor's background and what exactly led to her death. (That just sounded so much more intriguing than this book actually is). Jenna dumps her boyfriend because she hates his sympathy (totally happens in real life all the time) and then proceeds to have random hallucinations, such as the taxi she's in crashing. It's not a portent of any kind, just the author trying to jazz up the scariness factor with stuff unrelated to the story. Likewise the flashbacks to her donor's life story are dull, because nobody reading a thriller is interested in hearing a child's view of the beach. 

Although cellular memory is a pretty well-known theory, nobody in the novel is familar with the idea that Jenna's new heart could carry her donor's memories. Anyway, she spends the entire book keeling over for various reasons, but decides not to tell the police of the danger she's in because there's a chance they might not believe her. (A plea to all writers: come on. You need to come up with more convincing reasons for your characters to make bafflingly dopey decisions.)

I got tired of Jenna's repetitive quivering and the "thumpthumpthump" of her heart, while other readers found alternative sources of annoyance. My favourite Amazon review queries: "I didn't understand the constant referencing to Ed Sheeran. Was the author involved in some kind of dare?"

Hands up if you could happily go for the rest of your life without
 ever hearing an Ed Sheeran song again. Oh, you too Ed?  

As a writer, reading flawed books as well as great ones is an illuminating exercise. It's taken me this long to realise a fundamental truth: bad writers start with a big climactic ending in mind, and they don't care how implausible the story has to be to get there. Just like many horror movies, these thrillers suffer from the "sympathy versus stupidity" ratio which dictates that the heroine does enough inexplicably dumb things you will sooner or later come to the conclusion that they deserve everything they get.

Behind Closed Doors (B.A. Paris) is supposed to make you think that perhaps the seemingly happy couples you know could be hiding a secret life of abuse. However, it actually makes the point that you COULDN'T live a life like the one depicted without it looking really bloody odd. Grace's horrible husband keeps her prisoner in her own home, but they keep up the appearance of being totes normal.... obviously, it's never explained what happens when they're at one of their fancy dinner parties and she leaves to go to the toilet... does he go with her and wait outside the door? Because that would be a bit of a giveaway that he couldn't risk her leaving so much as a lipstick S.O.S. on the bathroom mirror. 

Grace doesn't take any of the ample opportunities for escape, because that would be too logical. Instead she waits until ....... SPOILER ALERT..... she has no choice but to kill her dastardly husband. Big payoff, but the journey to get there was so ridiculous it ruined the book for me.

Likeswise, Lisa Hall's Tell Me No Lies has a protagonist with a troubled past, just trying to make a fresh start with her husband and child. Steph finds all the neighbours extraordinarily friendly – with the tagline "Don't. Trust. Anybody." I wouldn't expect anything less. But seriously, if you made a new friend who lived across the road and was forever "popping in" and asking you for your computer password, and soon afterwards your only other friend dropped you  because of the abusive emails you never sent, wouldn't you think something was up? Steph ignores every sign that new BFF Lila is the person behind the threatening messages and break-ins at her house, even when it's signaled to the reader with neon red flags. 

Why is she so thick? Because anyone with any intelligence would avoid acting like a crazy erratic person, and that would ruin the climax ....... SPOILER ALERT..... of Steph being carted off to a padded cell. That's right, rather than installing a CCTV camera at the first sign of suspicious activity around her house, she carries on telling people all her most paranoid ramblings, with no proof, until everyone is convinced she is psychotic. The really stupid thing is that her other friendly neighbour knows the truth about Lila so presumably that big climactic ending of Steph being taken away by the men in white coats would actually have been resolved about five minutes after the events of the last page.

Women: Being hysterical since... always! 

Perhaps it's an encouraging sign that today's heroines mostly have to be a bit  drunk and dishevelled in order to not be believed; in older stories just being female was in itself a reason for nobody to take you seriously. (Although having the slightest mental health issue in the past, even post-natal depression, apparently marks you as a nutter forever, no matter which century you were born in.) 



Several of the "Ooh, am I mad?" novels do enjoy some retro inspiration: The Woman in Cabin 10, set on a tiny, ultra-luxurious cruise ship, has a distinct The Lady Vanishes vibe. The improbably named heroine, Lo, is all of a fluster in the claustrophobic setting and it only gets worse when she thinks she might have overheard a murder. I love Ruth Ware's writing and this was a suspenseful, exciting story, but I couldn't help feeling exasperated with Lo's inability to convince people she wasn't just a nutty alcoholic. I know, I know, that's what makes the story work. But seriously, pull yourself together, woman!!

There's a Rear Window-style plot in Someone is Watching (Joy Fielding) as rape survivor Bailey is reluctant to ever leave her apartment again. (Apparently rape also means you forget how to drive a car and will be crashing into walls in no time.) Although .... SPOILER ALERT.... even when Bailey figures out that those suspicious activities in a neighbouring apartment have all been a show to make her look  crazy when she reports them to the police, she STILL DOES. Why are these women always so stupid? 

Is it because acting like a competent human being
would bring the story to an end way too fast?
                                                              
One more: The Lie, by C.L.Taylor. I actually loved this book: it was deliciously creepy and suspenseful, exploring the  murkiness of female friendships in your twenties.  When a  girls' holiday ends in disaster at a sinister spiritual retreat, Emma wishes to leave the past behind, even changing her name. But somebody knows exactly who she is and what happened five years ago, and they're coming after her. 

It's a great readbut I couldn't help agreeing with this Amazon reviewer: "What is so irritating is that it is filled with a group of friends who find even the most innocuous happenings distressing enough to either rush from rooms before they faint, or to vomit. Anything out of the ordinary sends them into frantic fainting fits or evacuations of their lunch. I gave up when the main character got a facebook message that predictably made her sick, only a few pages earlier someone had whispered in her ear causing her to rush from the room yet again to vomit in an empty margarine tub. Other times they are falling over spraining ankles, legs, knees, etc. It is like reading a famous five novel who are all accident prone, ready to swoon at the slightest thing, and suffering from gastric flu." 

She probably saw a particularly cute puppy on instagram 
                               
So what can we read as an antidote to all these feeble women who vomit at the merest provocation and need someone to hold them up while they're crossing the road? There is a tradition of hard-boiled dames in literature ranging from Becky Sharp to, er, Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca. (What are you saying, anyone called Becky must be a bitch? I see you, Beyoncé!) Any broad in a Raymond Chandler novel, not to mention modern-day leading ladies such as Lisbeth Salander and Sookie Stackhouse have all had their ruthless moments. Here are some more of my recently read favourites featuring women who range from a bit feisty to actively disturbed / evil. I find it interesting that so many of these anti-heroines are written by men, while it's women who are portraying their fellow females as pearl-clutching waifs who couldn't bash a man over the head with a shovel if their life depended on it.

Peter Swanson's debut novel The Girl with a Clock for a Heart effortlessly falls into that old-school Philip Marlowe mould, but to me it felt a tad unfinished. He really hit his stride with The Kind worth Killing, a tale of a murderous web of deceit –  it begins with Ted, who gets talking to a woman called Lily in an airport lounge, confiding in her about his cheating wife and his wild, improbable wish that he could just kill her. It all gets a bit Strangers on a Train but much, much twistier, with a calculating anti-heroine you can't help rooting for.

What's more, the back story we learn bit by bit is just as interesting as the present-day action – so many writers seem to think it's essential to throw in lots of flashbacks to the characters' past, but its mostly just boring filler. Here, absolutely nothing is wasted. 


The Boy in the Woods (Carter Wilson) has a shockingly violent intro which is introduced as clever framing device, as novelist Tommy Devereaux uses a haunting experience from his youth as the plot of his latest blockbuster. Imagine his surprise when the psychopathic woman in question sends him a note: "You didn't even change my name." From that moment on, his safe existence is threatened by her irresistibly page-turning cat-and-mouse game.

I was drawn to A Head Full of Ghosts (Paul Tremblay) because it had a blurb from Stephen King saying it had scared him. For most of the book you would be forgiven for thinking that Stephen King was a bit of a wuss, although there are some creepy moments as the story unfolds; it's a slow burn with twists for DAYS.


Stephen King: Quite wimpy, really.
Set in the not-too-distant past, teenage Marjorie appears to be demonically possessed, and we see much of the action through the eyes of her younger sister, Merry. This is juxtaposed with a present-day blogger recapping the reality show the family took part in, documenting Marjorie's descent into either schizophrenia... or something more supernatural. It throws in a healthy dose of feminism, pointing out that the religious figures involved in the exorcism believe in Marjorie's "possession" mostly because they don't think a teenage girl would be smart enough to do the research necessary to fake it convincingly. 

As a side note, I must point out that audiobook narrators are the most underrated of actors; what a cool job to get to play EVERY part. Here Joy Osmanski portrays 8-year-olds, demons, smartmouth bloggers etc with ease.


You know how sometimes when you're reading a book you think "Oh it would be cool if X or Y happened"? In this book, there is nothing you could add or take away to improve it. It's complex and clever, leaving you wondering how much of Marjorie's issues were due to an illness and how much a spiritual ailment. The ending is just about the most chilling and memorable as anything I have read.


Sharp and dark in equal measures, The Luckiest Girl Alive (Jessica Knoll) rather daringly features a heroine who is not a very nice person. Other characters don't trust her, and as the story unfolds, we're not sure that we can either. She's kind of a grown-up mean girl, but as we learn more about her not-terribly-happy school days there are hints that something terrible happened. When all is finally revealed, will we find she was an innocent victim, or was she responsible for the catastrophes that still reverberate in her life today?

                                   

At first glance, Sometimes I Lie (Alice Feeny) might seem like your standard "helpless woman, doesn't understand what's going on, might be a bit cuckoo" thriller, but the punchy blurb gives us hope:
  
My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me: 
1. I’m in a coma.
2. My husband doesn’t love me anymore.
3. Sometimes I lie.


It's that last line that raises the story above the standard trashy thriller; immobilised in a hospital bed, Amber can hear the conversations around her as she recalls the events of the last few days before the accident that put her there. Why did her husband keep going to visit her sister? Why does the guy she knew at uni keep popping up to ask her out? And has someone got it in for her at work? As we unravel the myriad mysteries of Amber's story, can we believe she is who she says she is? 

I hope more writers get the message that women can do more than just black out every time they're faced with danger, because it's so much more fun to read when they do. But I lthink we can all appreciate this quote from https://lithub.com/10-female-killers-in-fiction/: "American culture as a whole is still much more obsessed with the idea of the beautiful dead girl than it is with the beautiful deadly girl."

Yup.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Taylor Swift, Racism, and Authentic Anger



Call me a snake, would you? Taylor gives us all a lesson in PR turnarounds

When Taylor Swift emerged as a twirly-haired "country" singer I wasn’t a fan. She was a bit reedy-voiced and bland for me, and I was a country music purist at the time, so if it wasn't slide guitar in a barn, I wasn't interested. I liked her a bit more when she switched to catchy pop choruses, but in a suitably self-loathing, post-ironic kind of way, obviously.

Then a few years ago  I was idly reading gossip sites about the bad blood (geddit) between Swifty, Katy Perry and John Mayer, and was inspired to check out Dear John, the song she had written about him. Opening with sly, Mayer-esque guitar notes, it was poignant, relatable; it told a story. Then I listened to Paper Doll (Mayer's attempt at revenge) and I felt embarrassed for him, because it was rubbish. Although he was meant to be the respected musician and Taylor the teeny bopper, her lyric-writing skills were effortlessly superior.

From that moment on, I knew she was a master of songwriting, but it wasn’t until her big comeback video that I noticed she’s also a bloody genius at PR. For those of you who are way too cool to know about this, her good-girl image was shattered last year when she was apparently exposed as a liar. Kanye West wrote offensive lyrics about her, she made a big fuss about it, but was later revealed to have OK'd at least some of it. Kanye's wifey Kim Kardashian called Taylor a snake, Katy Perry and Calvin Harris rubbed their hands in glee, and Swift crawled away in disgrace. UNTIL NOW.

My favourite shot... WHO has a Grammy? Who is it? No, not Katy....

Katy Perry HAD seemed quite daring for letting it be known that Swish Swish was about Taylor, even though the song was lyrically her usual checklist of well-worn cliches, and has a video so boring it demanded only one curiosity viewing. The line "Funny my name keeps comin' outcho mouth" was also ironic, as Taylor has never actually named Katy Perry as her nemesis  she just upstaged Perry's album launch by suddenly reinstating her Spotify back catalogue, in a move so petty it's a delight to watch. ("My OLD songs can get more attention that your new ones. Swish swish that, bitch.") Not to mention the fact that she has blown Katy's youtube views out of the water and smashed several records in the process. 




Despite the glorious bitchiness of Taylor reclaiming the "snake" label as a sign of slippery strength, mercilessly taking the piss out of both Kim and Katy Perry with her reference to those edited karmic “receipts” and spawning some rather fascinating fan theories about her multiple personas and what they all mean, the #LWYMMD video is of course in line for heavy criticism. Firstly, that it's a "colossal bummer".  Because when Taylor sings “The world moves on, another day, another drama drama, But not for me, not for me—all I think about is karma" it's assumed that she's being 100% serious. According to Slate: "While others forgive, forget, and move on to more fulfilling relationships, Swift is consumed by resentment, unable to see past those who’ve wronged her until they suffer." 

Um, you're not getting it, are you? I've no doubt that Taylor was royally pissed off that Kimye etc ruined her reputation (more on that later) but the vengeful snakewoman is a character. For those who didn't get this, she spells it out at the end of the video with a line-up of all the past personas that she has played or been portrayed as by the media. The real Taylor is probably NOT that obsessed with her rivals. (Let's be realistic, she has more important things to think about, what with pumpkin spice latte season just around the corner.) The trouble is, Taylor has a sense of humour, and her critics don't.



Also, for all Katy Perry's breezy playground insistence that "she started it" and "it's so CRAZY" ,from these pictures I'm going to guess that there was a LEETLE bit of hostility brewing in Camp Perry long before the rest of the world (including Taylor) knew about it. 


The second criticism is that by titling her song "look what you made me do", Taylor is aligning herself with perpetrators of domestic violence. Oh come on, music journos. You can do better than that.

But why does Swifty attract so much criticism? Cast your mind back to August 2013; when she released her video for Shake it Off, the retribution was immediate. Coming not long after the internet pointed and laughed at her awkward dance moves, she obviously thought it would be a cute and self-deprecating joke to show that she can't dance in ANY style, whether it's ballet, street dance or cheerleading. However, attempting to twerk (and crawling through the dancers' legs with a gaze of awe at their jjggling bottoms) was considered racially insensitive, and nobody was shy about telling her so. 

However, in the same month, One Direction released their video for Steal My Girl. It featured Sumo wrestlers (at one point having a tin of yellow paint thrown at them (?!) and Maasai tribesmen. One of the singers (I'm sorry, I only know the names of the hot ones) dressed up in costume and joined them in their tribal dance. Were there screams of "Racist?" at this? Um, no, there was barely a peep. The one article I found which even vaguely criticised the "problematic" scenes decided that on the whole it was OK, because One Direction have done some charity work in Africa. 

So why the disparate reactions? It seems that "One Direction are racist" is not a narrative we've adopted, while "Taylor Swift is racist" pops up regularly. Next was her Wildest Dreams video, which drew criticism for being shot in Africa but not featuring any black people. (Which is weird because other artists, such as Snow Patrol and Lily Allen) also shot videos there, didn't show any black people, and nobody gave a crap.)

The video is centred on a film set of yesteryear, but there are some black guys playing off-duty actors in the background, which suggests there was a conscious decision to AVOID accusations of racism. But despite this, and the fact that 90% of the video is Taylor snogging Clint Eastwood's son against a back drop of lightning, giraffes, and lions, it was still universally slammed.  


                   

Race is a hot topic in the music industry; Queen of the world Beyoncé lost out on many of the Grammys she was nominated for when she released Lemonade (generally considered the pinnacle of human achievement thus far). She did win Best Urban Contemporary Album, a category "coded black" according to music scholar John Vilanova.

She literally bent over backwards and still didn't get all the prizes she deserved.

But although the Grammy President insisted the awards were non-racist and "peer-voted", you have to wonder why any sane person would have voted for Adele's one-note shoutiness over Beyonce's nuanced story of heartbreak and forgiveness. (I'm still baffled by Adele's popularity in general she sounds all right on some songs, but I suspect she will go the way of the Dido.... if anyone remembers her?)

Bey took her experience of infidelity and turned it into the album of her career; as well as the variety of musical styles from gospel and country to punk-tinged rock, the songs run through the emotional cycle from sadness to rage to eventual acceptance. Following in the footsteps of many artists before her, Beyonce created a lasting body of work out of her pain, because that’s better than just wallowing in it. Meanwhile, Adele is STILL indulging in melancholy navel-gazing and warbling about lost love. (Is anything more likely to make you want to drill your head open than a distant ex calling up to "go over everything"?) As we know she’s now married with a baby, the fiction of these lyrics feel fraudulent  and when you've lost your authenticity, you've lost everything. 




Maybe that's why Taylor's comeback has been so satisfying to watch; while she obviously relishes playing with the media's perception of her, celebrities are still real people with real weaknesses. Taylor was caught out because she wanted to distance herself from the vulgarity of the Kardashian / West clan, but she underestimated Kim's sneakiness. However, Swifty has taken that public humiliation and turned her weakness into strength: when she says "Maybe I got mine, but you'll all get yours" you know that, no matter how much she enjoys playing the media, there's genuine anger being channeled in the most constructive possible way. 

2016 was humiliating for her; not only was she forced to climb down from her stance on Kanye’s lyrics, but he then depicted her naked body in his Famous video, alongside similar waxworks of Bill Cosby, Donald Trump and Chris Brown; possibly not her favourite people. After her recent court victory in a sexual assault case (that symbolic dollar note featuring in the LWYMMD video) she has managed to (yet again) find a way to turn the bad points of her life into the biggest comeback in recent history. Taylor didn't start the public feuds with Katy, Kim et al, but she sure knows how to finish them.

Taylor Swift is dead. Long live Taylor Swift. 

Saturday, 8 April 2017

This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

I'm a terrible, terrible person. How do I know this? I watched this Pepsi advert, and I quite liked it.

I mean, it's nicely shot, it has a cool song and it tells a story about breaking from the shackles of your everyday life, being inspired by the people around you and making bold moves to surprise the opposition. What's not to like?

Oh, a lot. The internet response was so emphatic in its disgust that Pepsi pulled the advert less than 24 hours after its release (although obvs we can all still see it because the internet is forever).

What are the complaints? The Independent puts it succinctly: "The commercial is being criticised by people who have interpreted it as a co-opt of the resistance movement whilst featuring a privileged, white, famous young model using a drink sold by a massive conglomerate to create peace between activists and law enforcement."

Ravishly is even harsher: "Kendall Jenner managed to land an advertisement for Pepsi which so clearly appropriated the #BlackLivesMatter movement, in addition to glossing over the bigotry Muslims are facing in America, while happily playing the role of the white savior — in a Pepsi advertisement. All of this while never once publicly standing up for marginalized people of color in any real way."

Rather than being full of angry people fighting for their rights, this protest consists of smiley models whose signs say things like "Join the conversation". Does it mimic #BlackLivesMatter? In the last few years we've seen a wide variety of protests (climate change, wars, Brexit, Trump etc) and the commercial stays carefully vague about the nature of its demonstration. However, it's the climactic ending which really invites comparison with a real-life event: the eerie elegance of this shot (taken by Jonathan Bachman at a Louisiana protest) made it instantly iconic.


Kendall Jenner approaching stern-looking cops in order to offer one a drink seemed to mirror the fearless approach of of Ieshia Evans, the lady in this picture. (For the record, Ms Evans was arrested and spent the night in jail. There were no high-fives, no cheering and no cans of Pepsi involved.) It must be especially annoying to be a black hero when your portrayal in the media turns white  just ask Sargent Jason Thomas, an African American Marine who rescued firefighters from 9/11 wreckage, but was played by a white actor in Oliver Stone's World Trade Center

Pepsi must have thought they were ticking all the youth-market boxes when they scoured Instagram for celebrities and came up with Kendall Jenner. But would the reaction have been different had a black celebrity fronted the campaign? I suspect the online jeering would have been even more lively at the idea of a black person being able to get this close to a cop without being arrested or, indeed, shot. The internet poked fun at the concept of Pepsi being a magical elixir to promote peace, with Martin Luther King's daughter Bernice tweeting sarcastically "If only Daddy would have known about the power of ."


There were also objections to the Muslim photographer character; Good announcing "There’s actually something more offensive in Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi ad than Kendall Jenner" and the Huffington Post pointing out that "A headscarf is not a prop." Apparently a token Muslim woman wearing a headscarf is now the go-to character to sell soda while suggesting diversity and general right-on-ness. 

Tokenism is annoying, but it's the first step to normalising. A couple of decades ago a headscarf would not have been a prop, because nobody wearing one would have featured on a Pepsi advert in America. 

And this is why I can't really get behind all the angst around this advert. It falls short of the mark it's trying to hit, sure. But does it really deserve to be considered "the worst commercial of all time"? Or do we just LURVE getting to feel superior to a stupid ad executive somewhere and tweet insulting things about one of the Kardashian clan?  

It's not the first time we have collectively licked our lips at the thought of tearing apart one of the internet's least favourite family. Last year Kylie Jenner brought the wrath of the internet down upon herself when she claimed that she had "started wigs" and now everybody was wearing them because of her talent for trendsetting. The reaction couldn't have been more vitriolic if she'd announced that said wigs were made out of fluffy puppies she'd skinned herself. 

As always when it comes to the Kardashian sisters, accusations of appropriation were never far away. Kylie was not aware of stars like Lil Kim and Nicki MInaj wearing the kind of novelty wigs she favoured, nor the fact that black women everywhere have been wearing hairpieces for ever. "So shut up, you stupid cow," was the gist of the backlash.

But Kylie Jenner was eighteen at the time. Eighteen! Imagine if you'd had a camera crew and a bunch of journalists following you around and recording every stupid thing you'd said at that age. (If you reached your teens after the dawn of Facebook, you may actually have an idea of what this is like.) Yet rather than chuckling indulgently, grown adults considered it their sacred duty to bring her down a peg or two, in brutal fashion. 

I'm not sure how I feel about the current zeitgeist of being instantly, viciously critical about everything. On the plus side, it lets companies know immediately when they've stepped out of line. In addition to the latest Pepsi debacle, for instance, when adverts appeared on the tube asking if people (well, women) were "beach body ready" the response left no room for confusion: 


The advertising campaign was dropped from London transport: mission accomplished. (Except the company boasted that the extra publicity had tripled their sales...) 

It seems that these days, the slightest offence gets you banned for life. University students are now commonly mocked for being "snowflakes" who can't tolerate points of view which are different to their own. (Which sort of defeats the object of going into higher education, but never mind.) Where does respect for other people's feelings turn into censorship? Germaine Greer was banned from a university lecture when she said that transgender women can't be women. Mean and insensitive to people who have suffered mentally for years before having a life-changing operation? Perhaps. But I do take her point, that a transgender female can't understand what it's like to be raised as a girl, any more than I would understand what it's like to have grown up as a black person, if I woke up tomorrow with different skin colour.

Political correctness can be translated as "respect for other people" (amusing when headlines use this substitution). Some people make a fuss about "snowflakes" needing "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings", although the same people have no problem with having a "spoiler warning." So basically, we hold the plot line of Star Wars sacred, but when it comes to warning people you're about to talk about "brutal gang rape" for instance, and they just need to toughen up. 

But are we taking "being offended" to ridiculous levels? 


How many of the internet commentators who claim to be disgusted by the Pepsi advert actually know what they're angry about? And how many are just jumping on the bandwagon because other people told them they SHOULD be angry? 

As I said, I have mixed feelings about the spirit of criticism currently running rampant. If it lets people / ad executives know that their genuinely offensive opinions don't jive with the rest of civilised society, that's got to be a good thing. But if it's just a bunch of prickly people jumping on bandwagons and claiming they're really offended (because other people have told them they should be), is it not just a game of one-upmanship? It feels like a trend of competitive offended-ness, where the person who can find something offensive about the most innocuous statement wins at being superior and right-on.

Jumping up and down at random thoughtless comments from celebrities (who aren't celebrities for reasons of their brain power) means we risk losing impact when it comes to stuff that really matters. Speaking of which: one thing I've noticed is that while people of colour now have plasters that match their skin tone in the US, they're still all the same shade of (white) "flesh" here in the UK. Looking for a birthday card for a kid who ISN'T blonde and blue-eyed? Good luck finding any designs with pictures of children who look anything like them. 
I tell a lie: They're occasionally brunette

These might sound like little things  and they certainly haven't achieved the outrage of one commercial featuring Kendall Jenner   but I'd suggest they actually have a far more negative effect on children who wonder why they're not considered normal enough to be represented anywhere

And back to advertising: I wonder what kind of reception this ad would receive in 2017?