Support for victims of trafficking should surely be void of titillation!

It is a good thing that The Sun wants to “Stop Slavery in the UK”, but we need to make sure rape is reported respectfully!

Human trafficking and sexual exploitation is a huge national and global issue. You would think therefore that anybody who wants to highlight this and support campaigns that address it would be a benefit to the cause.  Not necessarily so.

Now I understand that The Sun is of the red top tradition of over-sensationalised front page headlines, but there are some that really make you take note. One of this week’s front pages read, “I was a sex slave in Fred West’s old house”. What proceeded on pages 4-5 under the headline “Sex gang forced me to have sex with 5 men at a time” were details of the horrific ordeal suffered by a 24-year-old woman called Nikola. At age 18 Nikola was conned and convinced to travel to the UK from the Czech Republic by a gang intent to exploit her. Following the promise of a better life, Nikola found herself trafficked and trapped and in a horrific situation. Four members of the gang were later jailed, and The Sun was revealing ‘her’ story.

Seeing as though this story is about human trafficking and sexual exploitation, you would seriously hope that any reports would steer clear of anything so crass as titillation and would never dream of tagging a movie promotion onto it, wouldn’t you?

Well before you delve into the story, or even the stories placement within the paper, you need only to look at the headlines. Both “I was a sex slave at Fred West’s old house” on the front page and “Slave gang forced me to have sex with 5 men at a time” headlining the article, are written in the personal pronoun, indicating that the victim herself said those words. The report that follows never supports this, and indeed, even if that were the case, responsibility should be taken to respectfully report such a delicate issue. Which brings us on to the second point: Words! Yes, more words!

Now we are told repeatedly (so it must be true) that sex sells. It certainly seems to be the case with The Sun as without it it’s content is dubious – though many devout readers have informed me that the sports section is very good!!! Pah! So, if sex sells does that mean it is ok for anyone to use it carte blanche to sell newspapers, even when it isn’t sex, even when it’s actually rape? See Nikola was not a “sex slave” she was a trafficking & rape victim. She was not “forced to have sex with 5 men at a time”, she was raped by 5 men at a time! The use of the word sex does not reflect her ordeal. This irresponsible and inaccurate use of words only serves to support the concept of “blurred lines” between consensual sex and rape, which is actuality do not exist! In this instance, things really are cut and dry! It is either consensual, or it is rape!

Repeatedly using the word “sex”, presumably to grab attention, is extremely dangerous and surely undermines The Sun’s attempts to promote the issue for a positive outcome. As does the story’s placement within the newspaper. Sandwiched between the headline on the front page, and the story on pages 4-5 was “Sabine, 21, from London” and an advertisement for the 2014 Page 3 calendar! These images are in stark contrast to the small image of Nikola – wearing jeans, a full-length coat and a hood ­ that accompanied the report. They were not a million miles away, however, from the image that took up most of the page; of a woman wearing fishnet stockings, a short skirt and high-heels; seemingly posed by a model.

Imagine if you can, Rape Crisis launch a campaign to address the issue of trafficking and as you read about it on their website, you casually scroll past an image of a topless woman, placed there because “it’s a British Institution”. Can you conceive that whilst reading about Unicef’s work to support victims of trafficking, you have to click past “Dawn from Swansea” whose main interests are “sport and politics”. No! The idea is ludicrous, and to all but those wearing “The Sun has done this for years so it’s ok” goggles, so too is the sun’s placement of this story around Page 3.

Despite supposedly raising awareness of such a serious issue, the way The Sun has chosen to report it had understandably riled a number of women’s groups. An End Violence Against Women (EVAW) spokeswoman said: “This kind of sensationalised reporting causes real harm by minimising and eroticising sexual violence against women. The fact is that stories of abuse which are placed next to soft porn on the next page are designed to titillate. It is deeply discriminatory and underlines the need for Page 3 to go and for more responsible reporting of abuse.”

Mirroring this, Jo Costello, spokeswoman for Ending Victimisation and Blame (EVN) said “Use of the term ‘sex slave’ is dehumanising to women and incredibly damaging to women who have experienced sexual violence.” Furthermore, “Conflating rape with sex, as in this case, shows a clear misunderstanding of sexual violence and shows the depths The Sun newspaper will go to in order to sensationalise sexual violence.”

As a campaigner for No More Page 3, I am more than aware of the multitude of issues that surround Page 3. I was pleased that the No More Page 3 blog and twitter feed also highlighted the problems surrounding such irresponsible reporting and further emphasis that “Rape is rape, it is not sex!”

In response to all the issues raised here, a spokesperson from The Sun said: “We respect the rights of free expression for campaigners to make whatever points they choose. However, we must not lose sight of the original story here. It was a well-researched report by a (female) campaigning journalist, seeking to expose the horror of sexual slavery in modern Britain… and highlighting the terrible plight of some women in order that action could be taken. This is an example of journalism clearly in the public interest. The fact that No More Page 3 – due to the zealotry of its dislike for The Sun – should offer criticism rather than support says more about its moral and intellectual values than it does about ours.”

Neither the inappropriate language, the placement, nor in fact any of the issues raised by the different women’s groups were addressed by The Sun. Though it provided them with a useful platform from which to attack No More Page 3.

Both this story about Nikola, and a feature later in the week about Theresa May’s backing of the campaign, casually mention that all this is happening the same week that “The movie 12 Years A Slave opens in the cinemas”. You have to work hard to convince yourself that this is all to “Stop slavery in the UK” and nothing to do with some form of movie sponsorship! And you have to work hard to convince yourself that The Sun’s response is all about continuing to raise awareness for the cause, and not about continuing to show bare breasts in a national newspaper and to titillate it’s readers at any cost, without opposition.

Responding to The Sun’s feedback No More Page 3 posted on their blog “We acknowledge The Sun’s place in British society, but would simply like to see you represent women, and report stories of violence against them, with respect.” Also that “We applaud you for your current campaign highlighting the issues of slavery and violence against women.” While it is good that The Sun are highlighting the issue, I, for one, would rather they chose to report rape respectfully.

Today I listened to The Final Mapping of New Constellations, released by Lil Crackd Rabbit

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Another image from Noise Above Noise at The Penthouse. Debbie Sharp (pictured here) is a conceptual artist based in Manchester. Her performances are always very atmospheric and her sound work really beautiful, in quite an unsettling way. I enjoyed trying to capture the energy of the performance here in the image.

 

 

 

 

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Evolved and imaginatively devolving – We have to be careful the facts do not hide the truth!

A few weeks back research, scans and studies were ‘reveal’ing  a hell of a lot of  ‘neurosexism’. But why are scientists and click-happy media reporters so keen to spend their time evolving socially devolved theories?

Male and female brains wired differently, scans reveal”. A stunning headline followed by a tag line of such overt blandness it is as if Upworthy has taken a master class in gender paraphrasing! Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania were aghast when – SHOCK HORROR – scans of a sample of 949 brains “supported old stereotypes”. Obviously they were not in the slightest bit shocked.

This was what they expected and findings supported their ‘theories’. For a fact, “Overall, the results suggest that male brains are structured to facilitate connectivity between perception and coordinated action, whereas female brains are designed to facilitate communication between analytical and intuitive processing modes.” The word ‘suggest’ is not the same as the word ‘prove’. And the word prove does not apply to the entire global population, but a mere 949 brains (aged 8–22 y, 428 males and 521 females). And so the word fact is in itself irrelevant.

Regini Verma, one of the researchers said “I was surprised that it matched a lot of the stereotypes that we think we have in our heads. If I wanted to go to a chef or a hairstylist, they are mainly men.” Where as in my experience cooks and salon assistants are mainly female, but this is PURELY biological; completely not sociological. Women just love to stand at the side-lines, all warm and fuzzy with a Ready-brek-glow of sociability chunnering to the fellas “Ah man, I can see how much your ability to map read is making you crave that promotion, go for it poppet, I’d rather spend my time empathising with people.” Equally men, who find their family ties such a drag, cannot wait to drink beer, play darts and act laddish!

I am nowhere near evangelical enough to ignore facts just because they do not support my opinion (I am atheist after all) however I am ordinary enough to refer to a quote that does support my opinion “There’s a difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth”. Thank you Maya Angelou! Here lies the issue for me. Not the findings but the interpretation of the findings, and the stereotypical narrow-mindedness that reporters whitewash over the whole thing.

We can all agree that 949 brains do not nearly represent the grand and sliding scale of gender variation that exists within the accumulative brain of humanity. And as highlighted by Mo Costandi, studies of different parts of the brain have revealed widely varying results depending on whether you are a heterosexual or homosexual male or female male, female-to-male transsexual or a male-to-female transsexual. I wonder what the difference was in the 949?
When I did the BBC brain sex survey my results matched that of an average male. Also my map reading ability (a typically mail skill according to these Pennsylvanian findings) and obsession could rival that of any Wainwright enthusiast. Yet, and here’s the messy part, I am also very in tune with other people’s emotions! Christ on a bike, which gender am I???

I do not say this as a means of demonstrating how typically ‘ungirly’ I am – as if being typically girly is a thing to be ashamed of – but rather to showhow there is no such thing as typically anything! And I don’t need an online survey, or a full-on scientific report to tell me that! I only need to look about me.

All we are discussing here is neurosexism. A fantastic phrase coined by Doctor Cordelia Fine in her book “Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference”. Now there’s an actually useful tag line. It perfectly presents how dangerously missing the point the headline summaries we are spoon-fed are. Our obsession with so-called ‘facts’ is prioritised above absolutely every other determining factor.

Even if such results were completely definitive and representative of the whole of humanity, they do not reflect anything permanent. “We now know, however, that brain structure and function change in response to experience, so any observed differences between the brains of men and women could also be due to differences in upbringing and socialization,” says science writer and molecular and developmental neurobiologist Mo Costandi.

Which brings me onto another fantastic we-can-resort-to-stereotypes-because-science-says-so headline: “Sexy adverts turn women off, research shows”. This stunning survey opposes the adage that “sex sells”, and I am all for debunking that myth, but it does so by re-enforcing further evolution-says-so theories.

Researchers at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota investigated the differing responses of men and women upon seeing sexual imagery in advertising. Women generally show spontaneous negative responses, while men less so. This PROVES “The use of sexual imagery is inimical to women’s vested interest in sex being portrayed as infrequent, special, and rare.”

I can fully empathise with that (remember I’m good at empathy). When I see a completely irrelevantly semi-nude and highly sexualized female used to sell a watch, I do feel uncomfortable. It deeply unsettles the sanctity of sex which is a special act that should be reserved for a couple of life changing occasions; namely losing your virginity on a mountain top with your first love, and a few deep-and-meaningful shags that result in babies.

It could be that but it really isn’t. When I see such sexualized images of women I am reminded of the embarrassment felt upon seeing porn magazines in the barber shop my dad would nip into when we were shopping; of the mortification of walking past a group of lads stood by a newsstand of red tops featuring up-skirt shots, knowing full well they were staring at my newly developed breasts; of being asked into a mans car, which had child seats in the back, when I was only 16 and he, about 40; at being at parties where boys were openly bragging about what they’d done to who, and girls being certain that they had to do something with someone and of my second full-time job, where the manager asked me at a full-group meeting, if I would have sex with him.

Fortunately, I do not have those joyous flash-backs every time I see such imagery. I am however reminded by an instantaneous neurological response – a functions that has probably resulted from experience – of how the constant presence of sexualized female, never male, imagery is certainly connected to the many instances of sexism and misogyny I have experienced throughout my life; on a daily basis. And how that is connected to the way societies and systems try very hard to keep women in their so-called place, unequal to men, less worthy of satisfaction, let alone, success.

In this fantastic video Jean Kilbourne perfectly sums up just how much media advertising contributes towards this issue. Rather than some deep-rooted evolutionary instinct that makes women repel against images of sexualized women, I think it more likely that, as she explains it is the objectification of women that bothers us, and the knock on-dehumanising effects, this has.

However, should women openly voice their unhappiness at the situation, we can now dismiss that, we know women are more “emotionally involved”. While men need not even try to speak out; this fits well with their “co-ordinated actions”, they cannot possible have an issue! (please note strong sense of sarcasm here) See if you add scientific opinion to the already innocuous canon of media’s treatment of gender, you’ve a dangerous concoction of actual truth being very much shrouded with fact.

Today I listened to A.R.C. Soundtrack, released by Lil Crackd Rabbit

 
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This image is from Noise Above Noise at The Penthouse Manchester. Rosanne Robertson‘s performances are always uncomfortably intense, and ultimately fantastic. You never go away empty headed, but inspired, enraged, provoked. I love it.

 

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Hope, humour and the human endeavor!

With a band name like Public Service Broadcasting and an album titled ‘Inform – Educate – Entertain’, it seems communication is essential to J. Wildgoose Esq and Wrigglesworth, the duo who make up Public Service Broadcasting. Yet considering this, they are a band of very few words. Never having yet laid a vocal onto any of their tracks, they rely entirely on the use of sound bytes and audio clips. Far from being official, corporate and soulless, Public Service Broadcasting’s treatment of every topic at hand is so considerate and well balanced, that the outcome is extremely human and emotive.

Their debut single ROYGBIV was released in March 2012. Beginning by listing the colours of the rainbow, it is an uplifting and acoustically bright track that collates sound bytes praising the invention of colour television. Above straight drums and picky banjo rhythms, lines like “colour to excite the mind” and “the brilliant pulsating miracle that gives substance to shadow” all spoken in traditional television English, sonically express a progressive story of mankind and its technological advances. It is a beautiful historical incite alongside something you can happily swagger too.

“While it may now seem like a coherent and understandable concept realised, it actually took a while for the whole package to materialise,” explains J. Wildgoose Esq, the man responsible for the string instrumentation. “The initial spark was almost certainly hearing an ‘Archive Hour’ on Radio 4 presented by Tom Robinson (who would go on to be the first person to play our music on his Introducing show, ironically enough!). From there it was quite a quick idea  – “Wouldn’t it be great to have an album where each song was inspired by a different public information film?” To which I thought the immediate answer was “dear god, no – that sounds like the most pretentious thing ever”. But I went ahead and did it anyway – and it only took about 4 years.”

 

“Wouldn’t it be great to have an album where each song was inspired by a different public information film?” To which I thought the immediate answer was “dear god, no – that sounds like the most pretentious thing ever”

 

The PSB press release claims they hope to “teach the lessons of the past through music of the future.” As Wildgoose says:

“I find the contrast between old and new quite revealing. It reveals new things about the old material, but also about our own times… I hope!” By distancing themselves personally, PSB have ensured there is no middleman telling you how to feel and think about whatever is being explored. And they explore a lot.

ROYGBIV was followed two months later by the release of ‘The War Room’ EP. A seeming antithesis to their debut it opens with ‘If War Should Come’ and the clear and melancholy message “make no mistake, this country is at war”. This five track EP sees an expansion into a more texturally layered soundscape. ‘If War Should Come’ reveals a hint of propeller, possibly the echoes of gunshots, dreary monotonous strings and the definite declaration that “no-one in this country of ours wants war”, yet we all know war is exactly what they got; an unsettling atmosphere about a disturbing subject. However, like the cover art itself, and the attempted destruction of the human spirit, things are never wholly bad.

‘Dig For Victory’ begins with “have you joined the ranks of this great new army? Young men are doing it, young women, children, old men; they know that food is just as important a weapon of war as guns”. The slower pace, bass deep and chiming guitar strokes are soothingly steady; atmosphere intensifies with a constancy that is entirely comforting. ‘Dig For Victory’ is full of hope; despite the horror it is facing.

 

 ‘Dig For Victory’ is full of hope; despite the horror it is facing

 

The samples selected by PSB, the instrumental treatment and exploration of the theme taps perfectly into our collective nostalgia and our fear of progress. Like sitting on a giant rocking horse of history, you are constantly swayed between feelings of fear and elation. What is it about the use of these samples that they find so inspiring?

“There are almost too many aspects to list, really,” explains Wildgoose, “but having the weight of history, and authority, behind you just adds something that I could never personally bring to the music myself. And that authority can either be genuinely spellbinding, as I find it with ‘Everest’ (“two very small men, cutting steps in the roof of the world’), or unintentionally hilarious (my favourite quote from ‘Signal 30’ is the exchange about not drinking and driving – cue the question ‘not even beer?’ and answer: ‘not even water’).”

 

Like sitting on a giant rocking horse of history, you are constantly swayed between feelings of fear and elation

 

While the samples can set the tone, it is PSB themselves who select the samples and arrange the music to evoke brilliant emotive responses in the listener.

“Above all I suppose it’s the nostalgia that gets to me – the little girl carried into the air raid shelter in ‘London Can Take It’, the footage at the end of ‘Everest’… Just that these things were worth filming, or saying, or doing, for whatever reason, and this is what’s been left behind by these people who are now gone. I can’t quite put it as eloquently as I’d like to. I suppose that’s what the music aims to do.”

In a generation obsessed with YouTubing its life by means of preservation, this sentiment has particular poignancy.

Working up to the release of their album, their single and EP releases demonstrate a sense of theme and sentiment so strong, you sense that these must be issues that matter greatly to them.

 

In a generation obsessed with YouTubing its life by means of preservation, this sentiment has particular poignancy

 

“Some of it is quite by chance – ‘Everest’ only came about after I was watching ‘South’, the Shackleton film, and seeing it as a related film suggestion. But I suppose after ‘The War Room’ I was looking for something more triumphal, and uplifting, universal, to lift the gloom of having my head in World War II for so long, so maybe it wasn’t all that accidental. And other times – as with ‘Signal 30’, or ‘ROYGBIV’ – I wanted to write something that fit thematically with a topic (driving education, the invention of colour TV), so actively went looking for suitable clips.”

This play-off of energy and seriousness of content is very apparent. ‘ROYGBIV’ and ‘The War Room’ as well as ‘Everest’ and ‘Signal 30’ are created from completely different energies. The ratio between information, education and entertainment is what makes their music so real, accessible and enjoyable.

“I definitely take the entertainment side of things more seriously than the informative side, I have to say! Live music should be fun, and should be for the benefit of the people listening, not the people playing. It took me a while to get that equation balanced the right way round, mind! And if any little nuggets of information, or any emotional response, or thought-provoking business comes out of that too, then you’re probably lucky enough to be onto something!”

 

The ratio between information, education and entertainment is what makes their music so real, accessible and enjoyable

 

Equally the ratio between sound byte and instrumental space is something PSB spend a lot of time focusing on. The consequence of such consideration is the creation of something that allows the listener’s imagination conceptual freedom.

“I normally put far too many in and then whittle them down – either playing them to the good lady (who gets enraged by too many clips) or our managers, who say less is more – and then go back and really strip out anything unnecessary or unintelligible. With instrumental music you have the great benefit of people bringing their own emotional response to the music, rather than having one stamped on it by a singer. So you need to leave enough in the song to make it speak about its subject matter, and make it relevant, while also leaving enough room for people to bring their own feelings to it.”

Balancing the light and dark of sonics, content and even manner and tone, is something both Wildgoose and Wrigglesworth are comfortable with.

“We were in the Scouts together and Wrigglesworth was a natural – he tied the fastest woggle I’ve ever seen. I looked up to him in many ways, as a man, and as a leader. He’s also great in a survival situation. So when it came time to look at getting someone else on board, there was only one choice as far as I was concerned. (NB – this may, or may not, be true.)”

Such humour is not at odds with the content, but rather it is instrumental in its success. Alongside hope, it is that element of the human spirit that is continuously revealed through the band’s music and that enables easy communication of big historical issues.

 

 Humour is not at odds with the content, but rather it is instrumental in its success

“It may seem trite to say so, but communicating with other people is one of the most worthwhile and vital things you can do with your time,” says Wildgoose, “especially if you’re of a creative bent, you want to communicate your ideas, your views, your feelings, to the world. Quite often the world doesn’t particularly care to listen, of course, but finding the right vehicle to deliver it is key and I suppose the layers and irony inherent in what we do and how we deliver it appeals to me.”

Although they utilise the formal and instructive, they have intentionally aimed to make it universally accessible.

Although they utilise the formal and instructive, they have intentionally aimed to make it universally accessible

 

“I find it maddening listening to, or reading, academic and obtuse language – the kind that almost deliberately obscures the meaning of what the author is trying to say, as if communicating their intelligence is more important than actually imparting something useful. Will Self always gets me shouting at the telly with his ‘epiphenomenal imbroglio’ nonsense. You want people to understand what you’re saying, what you’re trying to communicate. It’s exactly the same with music. I have no interest in writing obscure or unlistenable but ‘clever’ music. I want it to reach as many people as it can, anyway, is what I’m trying to say I suppose!”

This is why seismic human shifts are easily understandable whilst being uplifting and wonderful to dance to.

“There is no meaning to music unless it has an audience. I think one of the saddest – and truest – lines in a song ever written is in Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘The Sound Of Silence’: ‘People writing songs that voices never share’. Music without an audience is like sound in a vacuum. It doesn’t exist, or it may as well not do, at any rate.”

 

This is why seismic human shifts are easily understandable whilst being uplifting and wonderful to dance to

 

As Public Service Broadcasting demonstrate, vocals are not necessary especially when employing sound bytes and samples. Although this in itself is nothing new in music, because PSB use it as a method to artistically discover more about the topic or theme in hand, it does at times – especially in terms of poetics – seem to cross into the spectrums of sound art in many respects.

“I think it does cross over a bit, yes, but because it’s quite unashamedly poppy in some respects – at least with regard to having a strong melody, and us clearly not taking ourselves too seriously – I think that audience probably feels a bit turned off by us.”

While some listeners may struggle to combine such polar elements, the band themselves are more than comfortable with it.

“Boomkat gave us a very sniffy review, for example, and I was very much expecting that. Yet I absolutely take the material seriously, particularly the war footage, but perhaps people don’t see the divide between us as an entertaining entity and our very honest affection for the materials we use. We probably don’t seem like the real deal to that audience, anyway. I’d disagree on that front, obviously, but I can understand it.”

Their succession of fully-rounded and beautiful releases clearly shows the affection they have for both the materiel and importantly the subject matter. Setting their sights next on the summit of ‘Everest’ their next EP was created from a considerate selection of clips from the 1953 documentary ‘The Conquest of Everest’ and made into a truly beautiful and uplifting study of human endeavor. Opening with “Once their was a mountain called Peak 15, nothing was known about it, but in 1852 the surveyors discovered it was the highest in the world, and they names it Everest” the track immediately becomes something you want to run a marathon to. A steady strong pulsing 4-beat is paired with straight ringing guitar lines, which sees each bar build and build as the climbers in your mind go higher. Almost exactly half way through the track production expands as the struggle does conceptually. “At such heights when you’re lacking oxygen, you may think you’re normal but you’re not, you’re moving in a dream, a dream that deludes and debilitates” echoes into a sonic dreamscape reflecting a struggle that could be applicable to anything you are facing. The entire four minutes is threaded by a delightfully optimistic riff that calls through guitars and pianos, and is eventually answered by a beautiful brass section that is the epitome of winning. The final sentiment of “Why should a man climb Everest? Because it is there!” feels like the reason for life itself.

 

The final sentiment of “Why should a man climb Everest? Because it is there!” feels like the reason for life itself

 

Like any historian, philosopher and musician, there is no end, conceptually, of what Public Service Broadcasting can explore. Their album ‘Inform – Educate – Entertain’ released this spring brings the best of their EP and single releases together and expands on what they can do as a band.

“It still needed to feel like a whole piece though, not too scatty or devoid of any real glue to keep it together. It’s kind of a snapshot, as well as a bit of a mission statement. Some people might feel it lacks the focus of ‘The War Room’ but I think it has a different role to fulfill – a kind of sample of all the different sides to our music. Hopefully we’ve succeeded in getting that across!”

Fifty listens in, according to iTunes, and I would vouch that they have certainly succeeded. With a fantastic tour lined up there is much to look forward to from the band.

“We try to keep it as live as possible – we rework stuff, but more importantly we keep back a little intensity from the records to bring out live. When you see a live act whose music you love, you want it to be bigger, louder, harder – at least I do! – while still retaining enough softer edges so that it doesn’t get relentless. I think the humour in what we do helps there as well.” And while the themes they explore are limitless, so too are their ambitions. “I’d love to do a show in a few years’ time where everything is performed live – including the voices, so having loads of musicians and also a few voice actors on stage. I think that’d be great fun. Maybe the Barbican will have us in a few years, ha!”

In the meantime, allow Public Service Broadcasting to inform, educate and entertain you. The experience can range from unsettling to euphoric and at times a bit daft. Ultimately, it is this bringing together of humour and hope, that allows them to treat the human condition, its struggles, fears and endeavors, with such consideration, while all the time being truly beautiful to listen to.

Public Service Broadcasting are currently on tour, dates and information can be found here.

 

This article first appeared here.

Today i’m listening to: Public Service Broadcasting

 

 

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Another image from the recent equals exhibition I co-curated depicting Rosanne Robertson’s installation. Left after her live performance the entire room was transformed into the embodiment of the ‘Sublime Fuss’. Rosanne is a really inspiring artist, I absolutely love her work and working alongside her here was a fantastically developmental process. You can find more information about her here. 

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This homogenised pornified sexuality is far from liberating, and pop is taking it mainstream!

Far from pushing boundaries, what the recent spate of pop videos show are women well and truly towing the line.

Miley Cyrus! I thought I’d get the name out there straight away so you can be done with rolling your eyes. Far, far greater than the sum of her twerking parts, Cyrus has fast become the poster girl for an ongoing debate about pornified pop; raising more interest than the actually naked women in the hideous Robin Thicke video ever did!

Following Sinead O’Connor and Amanda Palmer, Annie Lennox is the most recent “celeb with experience” to add to the debate. Listening to Lennox on 5 live on monday night she made it clear that having pushed a fair few herself she is  “All for boundary pushing” – although going a bit androgynous is small fry compared to swinging naked on a wrecking ball. Or is it?

What Lennox seemed most concerned about is how these videos cross the borders into porn, which she doesn’t think is appropriate for their young fanbase. Porn bothers a lot of people and is one of the focus points of the Campaign for Better Sex Education run by Yas Necati. It’s not covered in schools, yet is available for everyone to watch online. So when Lennox calls for pop videos to be rated like films are, what exactly would be the point? Void of any possibility of content control, what is important is to contextualize porn and the pop that peddles it, and help young people to understand and deal with the pressures it presents.

What is important is to contextualize porn and the pop that peddles it, and help young people to understand and deal with the pressures it presents

I remember the release of Madonna’s ‘Erotica’ single when I was pre-teen in 1992. I seem to recall the video being showcased late at night (probably on Channel 4) and for obvious reasons then, never went mainstream. Now of course, I, and anyone with access to the internet, can watch it on youtube without any warnings or restrictions. Age ratings and parental controls cannot touch young people’s access to the net, if the desire is there.

Back in ’92, knowing I shouldn’t, I watched the preview of ‘Erotica’ via a faked bedtime and my brother’s telly upstairs. Watching it back now, what is really interesting is how far removed from porn it is. Sexy and stylish the video explores gender roles, S&M, powerplay and religion in a song that is actually all about sex. It looks nothing like mainstream porn, as we all clearly know that to look, and is more like a film noir shot in slow motion in the KitKatClub, Berlin. It got Madonna banned from the Vatican and certainly ticked the boxes of boundry pushing pop!

Sexy and stylish the video explores gender roles, S&M, powerplay and religion in a song that is actually all about sex

The ‘Erotica‘ video is entirely appropriate. Not that this is key. It’s not ‘appropriate’ for me to douse myself in glitter each weekend but I do it anyway. I am all for people doing what they want to (so long as everyone consents).

Beyond Cyrus is Rihanna’s newest video release. ‘Pour It Up’ is so extreme it’s like a parody of porned pop. As a lovely feminist friend on facebook asked “What next, will Rihanna smear her fanny on the camera?” While everyone is focusing on Cyrus this stunning example of XXX brainwashing is slipping under the radar; which raises interesting questions in itself. Why are we more concerned about the Hannah Montana star than the Barbadian singer who has, more than once, been on the receiving end of extreme domestic violence yet seemingly advocates the gangster/hoe lifestyle that perpetuates female subjectivity?

Why are we more concerned about the Hannah Montana star than the Barbadian singer who has, more than once, been on the receiving end of extreme domestic violence

I do not advocate censorship in creative terms but I am all for raising awareness of the damaging effects of the pornified sexuality seen in these videos; sexuality based entirely on male dominance and female subjugation. While porn has branded sexuality, selling it back to women in the guise of empowerment, the reality of it is far from sexy, and is it fast becoming mainstream! When Lennox was working her masculinity back in the ‘80s she was genuinely stepping outside of the box – not simply writhing neatly within it. But no boundries are being pushed in the Cyrus/Rihanna videos; a million twerks away from deviance, what we see is women towing the line.

A million twerks away from deviance, what we see is women towing the line

But then why is that surprising? From a very early age women are shown their place when they pass up-skirt shots on newsstands and ‘girl-on-girl lads mags covers in supermarkets. We know exactly what it means to be acceptably attractive and therefore what it means to be acceptable. Now a favourite response of the anti-feminist league to attacks on anything from page 3 to porn is to shame a woman into silence by slinging “prude” and “stiff” at the debate. If they are not throwing the “it’s her choice how dare you comment” line, one camp slut shames, the other tries to put fear into women with the threat of being seen as sexually unattractive, if she happens to not be ‘up for it’.

And this is the paradox of pornified female sexuality and the reason why it’s maintreaming bothers me. Such homogenized sexuality is nothing to do with outward expression, and everything to do with inward approval, acceptance and validation. It is entirely about the male gaze and not female desire ­– for who knows what might happen if females start to desire? We might desire equal pay, we might desire equal representation, we might desire a world where the stereotypical, pornified parody of femininity isn’t billboarded over our entire lives telling us constantly what is and is not acceptable.

It is entirely about the male gaze and not female desire

As Laurie Penny pointed out in monday’s Comment Is Free “The times when I’ve been strongest and most daring, the times when I’ve been proudest of my own achievements – that’s when I’ve been called a difficult bitch.” I’m all for the boundary breaking, I’m all for the difficult bitch and I’m all for a world where women can imagine for themselves what sexuality looks and feels like.

 

A shorter version of this article appeared on Independent Voices

Today i’m listening to John Maus (still) :O)

IMG_9318Another actually relevant image for the piece (this is becoming a useful habit) and another couple of pieces by the fantastic and very to the point artist Sarah Maple who I was lucky enough to work with for the equals exhibition I co-curated recently. It included a whole range of current feminist artists, and was fantastic to develop. (I REALLY want this mirror in my house :O)

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How can the battle of the sexes ever resolve while the battle for real sex education is raging

The education secretary continues to overlook the campaign for better sex education. Yet how can the battle of the sexes ever resolve while the battle for real sex education is raging, and everything from pop to porn fills in the gaps?

Porn, Porn Porn, Porn, Porn! It’s not covered in sex education yet it is absolutely everywhere. Does the mere mention of the word make your brain – if it were hooked up to a neurologists scanner – light up like Blackpool illuminations on acid? I’m guessing it doesn’t.

Even repeated five times it is extremely unlikely. The word alone doesn’t even prompt the flicker of a fading fairy light’s worth of activity in most people’s brains. Subject as we are to sexualized images on a daily basis, it is not surprising we are becoming desensitised to things that not only were once seen as shocking, but were actually completely unknown!

And you don’t even have to access porn to begin the process. As a recent spate of releases show, the pop video is porn’s knicker-wearing twin sister! While open letters ping pong around the Miley Cyrus hashtag, Rihanna’s most recent video ‘Pour It Up’ simply slips through the net of normality. Afterall she was never a Disney princess – though she does have s a clothing range in River Island!

Void of vaginas and penetration, the simulation of everything is no longer utilised as a shock tactic, but is absolutely standard; for women at least. For despite how ‘empowering’ and ‘liberating’ it is to express you sexuality by licking sledge hammers, pole dancing, or shaking your ass with the extremity of someone attached to a pneumatic drill, we are yet to see many men partaking.

 

For despite how ‘empowering’ and ‘liberating’ it is to express you sexuality by licking sledge hammers, pole dancing, or shaking your ass with the extremity of someone attached to a pneumatic drill, we are yet to see many men partaking

 

And this why I dressed up as a monkey! Alongside Yas Necati, and campaigner Jody Appleton, as the ‘three wise Michael’s’, we demonstrate outside the entrance of the Conservative Party conference in Manchester last week. Lead by the Telegraph Wonder Women, the Campaign For Better Sex Education is urging David Cameron to bring sex and relationships education into the 21st century, yet his education secretary Michael Gove, does not want to listen. Positively against reform Gove has responded that “the right thing to do is to trust teachers”. Yet with sex and relationship guidelines that were last updated in 2000, what exactly does he expect teachers to be able to do.

With an education system that is this far away from actual real twenty-first century sex, the battle of the sexes doesn’t stand a chance. While this battle exists in the disparity of representation in pop videos, it exists everywhere! See them as a clear social barometer for sexist bullshit.

 

While this battle exists in the disparity of representation in pop videos, it exists everywhere! See them as a clear social barometer for sexist bullshit

 

Yet I’m particularly fond of artists expanding their sound and expressing themselves through image and video, and am far from adverse to sexual liberation (I am a Prince fanatic, need I say more). But what I see in the Cyrus and Rihanna videos, is not sexual expression, but some sort of validation. It’s like by conforming to the porned notion of sexuality, they are validating themselves as sexually attractive people – therefore validating themselves as people, full stop, for all that matters as women.

 

By conforming to the porned notion of sexuality, they are validating themselves as sexually attractive people – therefore validating themselves as people, full stop, for all that matters as women

 

Their voices are not the most important thing, the songs are vehicles through which to demonstrate their willingness to do as much as is necessary to be the most acceptably, sexually attractive. The responses to this falls into two camps. First there is incessant slut-shaming. An over-focus on the poster girls of the issue as opposed to the system they represent. It’s like criminalising a meth addict instead of dealing with Heisenberg. The second is the “It’s her choice, she can do what she likes, therefore it’s all ok” line of debate! Which sees the mainstream Stockholm Syndrome of female sexuality wrapped in the guise of sexual liberation.

And I am far from prudish. As the disturbing reality of ‘Porn On The Brain’ is showing, most young people know all that there is to know about porn content and terminology, discussing terms I genuinely had never heard of at that age, or in fact before watching the programme. And if you, or any kids nearby, fancy finding out more you only need head to 4oD, ignore the warning and click accept. Then you can ogle at the type of images that were the extent of my teenage access to porn, and hear presenter and ex-Loaded editor Martin Daubney detail much, much worse.

Part of another campaign, channel 4’s Campaign For Real Sex, ‘Porn On The Brain’ explores the dark side of something that is accessible to most kids with a smart phone. In fact you only need to know someone who has online access and you’re entering into a world of, as Daubney puts it, “Male dominance and female humiliation.” This domination/humiliation pattern is key; from rapey t-shirts sold on Amazon and worn around campus, to the 1 in 4 women subject to domestic violence in their lifetime. Yet our brains are not hard wired to this. Such disparity is shaped, not by real sex education in schools, but by a money-shot mindset that has gradually been allowed to drip in.

The personal role Daubney has played in such a consensus seems lost on him. Being a supporter of No More Page 3 from day one – page 3 being an early contributor towards this drip drip of casual misogyny ­– it still surprises me how many people do not see the direct link between tits in papers, ‘lads mags’ in supermarkets, completely demeaning pop videos and extreme, seriously-scary-shit online porn!

 

It still surprises me how many people do not see the direct link between tits in papers, ‘lads mags’ in supermarkets, completely demeaning pop videos and extreme, seriously-scary-shit online porn!

 

Yet neither pop videos nor porn, as with most other subjects that actually relate to the sex we have, are part of sex education taught in schools.

Guest tweeting for The Women’s Room recently, I asked their online twitter community “What do you think should be discussed in sex education in school”. Immediately issues such as porn, sexuality, consent, pressure/shame and even, Gove forbid it, enjoyment, were raised as being key to basic sex education. The importance for these to be taught in a none cissexist or heternormative way was apparent and a strong need to explore these things collectively, not gender separate, in order to openly and healthily understand each other as people.

 

Issues such as porn, sexuality, consent, pressure/shame and even, Gove forbid it, enjoyment, were raised as being key to basic sex education

 

Really interesting points were raised such as “students should be taught that consent isn’t the absence of no, but the presence of yes”, and “Pressure/shame, girls shamed when they do have sex, boys shamed when they don’t” highlight the need to discuss a lot more than the biology of sex. This would not only require reforms in what is taught, but substantial training of teachers who are required to teach it. And while Michael Gove would rather not see, hear or speak of the issue, the three wise monkeys outside the conference discovered a different feeling amongst most Tories we spoke to.

Rather than strong opposition, many agreed with the demonstration and voiced openly their distain for Gove. Others however did not agree with us; “I completely agree with Michael Gove on this I’m afraid” was one of the more cut-and-dry responses, another more vague said “I agree with SOME sex education, up to a point, and from a VERY suitable age”.

It is possible by such an ‘appropriate’ age many young people will have seen: “a women lying in a public park, there’s a man in a gimp mask, he’s fisting her, there’s another man, he’s pissing all over her face”, as was described by Daubney, in the first ‘Porn On The Brain’ episode; something he had reached within a few clicks of the online porn world. They will have needed to know the meaning of consent and will know more than most the real sense of pressure and shame that is their experience of sex. Unlike 4oD, online porn rarely comes with a warning & accept process, neither do most kids in school who happen to have it on their phone in class. And seeing as though you only need to know someone with online access, all the parental controls in the world can do is struggle to keep up.

This is a tweaked (not twerked) version of an earlier post, and a less sweary more version can be found on the Telegraph

 

Today i’m listening to John Maus

 

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For once an image that actually relates to my post. This is an AMAZING piece by artist Sarah Maple who I was lucky enough to work with on the recent equals exhibition I co-curated. This piece was exhibited alongside some of her paint and photography pieces. Sarah’s work is absolutely spot on, exploring feminism in an accessible and very funny way I thoroughly encourage you to check out here work. 

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Sartorial brass!

Now we all want style on the cheap. If you don’t, and you’re happy to spend top-buck then go for it. I’d rather always save my pennies for cocktail plotting and city hopping! When I talk cheap, I am not meaning sweatshop exploitation for the sake of keeping up to date with fashion. Nope, never! I’m not fussed about fashion, I’m concerned with style.

To me fashion is easy. To nail fashion you simply buy the best you can afford as it arrives in Primark, Topshop, Selfridges or Harvey Nics, depending on how silly you are with money and how ok you are with capitalist hangovers. Damn it I like to look good, and see my outward appearance as an extension of my inward amazingness (yes man I AM amazing, just look at how many bangles I’m wearing). My inward amazingness has nothing to do with fashion, because that is always dictated by someone else.

 To nail fashion you simply buy the best you can afford as it arrives in Primark, Topshop, Selfridges or Harvey Nics, depending on how silly you are with money and how ok you are with capitalist hangovers

Don’t get me wrong I’m not daft enough to think I am totally unaffected by current trends, of course I am; and if current trends are damned snazzy then I’m all for it. But for me, my style is all about visualising whatever is going on inside (I’m talking esoteric, metaphysical inside, not physical biological inside, that would just be grim). We are visual beings. All the things I do cannot be portrayed in a spilt second. For that reason, my outfit is like a shortcut to me.

I know this will sound hideously vain to a lot of people. After all why is it important that people know who you are? Why can’t clothes simply be a practical way of keeping the rain off your back and the sores off your feet? They can. But if that’s your relationship with clothes you’re probably not going to be reading an article about style. I’m writing an article about style because to me, clothes can be so much more than that! They’re a daily creative opportunity; a porthole into what I’m thinking and feeling, and into what is exciting me about life!

Clothes offer a daily creative opportunity; a porthole into what I’m thinking and feeling, and into what is exciting me about life!

SO, back to being cheap. My favorite clothes buying methods are charity shopping and ebay. When I was about 13, in return for a big weekly house clean, my parents started giving me increased spends from which I had to buy my own clothes. I LOVED this! I could buy what I wanted and quickly learnt that the best way to get as much as possible for as little as possible and still have money left over for goodies, was to go chazzer! And so my chazzer shop chic was born and curating a style out of what was available became a mental norm on which I thrived!

And so my chazzer shop chic was born and curating a style out of what was available became a mental norm on which I thrived!

First of all it went like this: “There is one thing in Cancer Research that both fits me and is pretty cool, how can I make that work?” The results were inventive and unusual, sometimes cool, sometimes bag lady, always different! Once this became the norm, and I grew accustomed to being the person who ALWAYS wore something a bit dodgy  – “Is that an old ladies dress” –  and that smelt a bit musty – “Uurgh is that second hand?” – I quickly found myself liberated from style expectations, and free to experiment.

Once in charge of my own pockets, I could not get my head around the idea of buying one River Island jumper – which would be a variant of the same jumper in every other High Street shop – when I could get a whole outfit from Barnardo’s, that nobody else had! Yes the fact that this was probably because nobody else wanted it was not wasted on me. However, soon enough, and with enough experimentation, chazzer shop chic became my signature style. A guilt and debt free path of exploration; if you buy something that doesn’t quite work, donate it back, you’re giving money to charity after all! Getting dressed was like playing dress up when I was little. Remember that? A box of cast-offs with which to make yourself look like Madonna? And even though you knew Madonna never wore bright orange paisley, if you hung it off your shoulder, and added a few rips, you felt great regardless!

And even though you knew Madonna never wore bright orange paisley, if you hung it off your shoulder, and added a few rips, you felt great regardless!

Nowadays, if I want to recreate a look, or better still, create a look, I will get into the zone and either head to the charity shops, or in the evening, trot along to ebay! Now getting into the zone means tapping in to a vibe. That specific vibe that gets you all excitable. Inspiration can come from anywhere, and when it’s found, tap into it big style and see what you find.

It could be anything, for example, I am currently obsessed with Peaky Blinders on BBC2. I love the fellas suits, the caps and the matriarchs smoky, heavy set make-up. So to develop my hybrid androgynous blinder (I shouldn’t use that term really, it’s a bit grim) I start with a shirt. I’ve a ton of shirts of all different shapes, but if you haven’t they are easy to get, one of the easiest and most reliable charity shops staples in the menswear department. Next up is pants! For this I’d prob try menswear too. Men’s trousers are cut in the right style, but not suited necessarily to female figures. So change the look a bit. Wear them low, or pull them in tight with a belt and allow the bagginess. I’d accessorise this blinder look with a ton of blingage, but then I ALWAYS do. For the hair, if it’s already short then cool, angle it over and give yourself a heavy fringe. If it’s long, go for a low side bun and imitate a short angled ‘do by sweeping some shorter hair around your face. I always have to backcomb this. It is my way.

If nothing current or cultural is inspiring me, sartorial inspiration is guaranteed from a heavy listen of Bjork, Prince or Bowie! My adage of life is WWBD: What Would Bjork Do? Asking this is a pretty safe method of ensuring I will not follow the safe path! Comfort zones: Pah!! An iTunes repeat or a YouTube session will send me into the zone of awesomeness. I do not necessarily want to emanate their style, but to release mine, and channel it through things that inspire me. It’s like someone stoking themselves up for a big old fight only what is unleashed is full-on amazingness!!

My adage of life is WWBD: What Would Bjork Do? Asking this is a pretty safe method of ensuring I will not follow the safe path! Comfort zones: Pah!!

Now I’m sure amazingness can be found in the high-street, if you know how to look and don’t mind the environmental dilemmas, but cheap is what I am, and confortable with developing world abuse I am not. I fully support Fair Trade buying wherever possible, but on a budget I struggle with it, so second hand for me is a more conscience-calming alternative. Plus, with everybody’s cast-offs, you are certain to look distinctive. Where there’s second hand muck, there’s sure to be sartorial brass!

Today i’m listening to: Bjork, ‘Homogenic’.
Today i’m watching: Peaky Blinders & Bjork interviews on YouTube.

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My other good half at the Jeremy Deller exhibition at the Venice Biennale during the summer. Because i’ve been writing elsewhere and not uploading here for AGES< my pics that are always nothing to do with the article, are also very out of time! But still, nice pic.

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While Michael Gove would rather not see, hear or speak about sex education, young people are getting theirs online!

It seems everybody is wanting real sex! So ahead of the Education Secretary’s party conference speech, myself and two other campaigners dressed as the ‘three wise Michaels’ to campaign for better sex education. 

Porn, Porn Porn, Porn, Porn! It’s not mentioned in sex education yet it is absolutely everywhere. Does the mere mention of the word make your brain – if it were hooked up to a neurologists scanner – light up like Blackpool illuminations on acid? I’m guessing it doesn’t.

Even repeated five times it is extremely unlikely. The word alone doesn’t even prompt the flicker of a fading fairy light’s worth of activity in most people’s brains. Subject as we are to sexualized images on a daily basis, it is not surprising that our brains are becoming desensitised to things that not only were once seen as shocking, but were actually completely unknown!

 

Our brains are becoming desensitised to things that not only were once seen as shocking, but were actually completely unknown!

 

And I am far from prudish. As last night’s ‘Porn On The Brain’ proved, most young people know all that there is to know about porn content and terminology, discussing terms I genuinely had never heard of at that age, or in fact before watching the programme. And if you, or any kids nearby, fancy finding out more you only need head to 4oD, ignore the warning and click accept. Then you can ogle at the type of images that were the extent of my teenage access to porn, and hear presenter and ex-Loaded editor Martin Daubney detail much, much worse.

Part of Chanel 4’s ‘Campaign For Real Sex’, ‘Porn On The Brain’ explores the dark side of something that is accessible to most kids with a smart phone. In fact you only need to know someone who has online access and you’re entering into a world of, as Daubney puts it, “Male dominance and female humiliation.” Having decided to look into the matter now that he has a son, it seems the millions of daughters who have been affected by his casual normalization of sexualized female images are of secondary importance.

The personal role he has played in such a consensus it seems is lost on him. Being a supporter of  No More Page 3 from day one – page 3 being an early contributor towards the drip drip of casual misogyny ­– it still surprises me how many people do not see the direct link between tits in papers, ‘lads mags’ in supermarkets, and extreme, seriously-scary-shit online porn!

 

It still surprises me how many people do not see the direct link between tits in papers, ‘lads mags’ in supermarkets, and extreme, seriously-scary-shit online porn!

 

Yet porn, as with most other subjects that actually relate to the sex we have, is not a part of sex education taught in schools. This is why another campaign, lead by the Telegraph Wonder Women, is trying for better sex education in schools. The online campaign, fronted by 17-year-old student Yas Necati, is urging David Cameron to bring sex and relationships education into the 21st century, yet his education secretary Michael Gove, does not want to listen.

And this is why on Tuesday I dressed up as a monkey, alongside Yas Necati, and campaigner Jody Appleton, to demonstrate outside the entrance of the Conservative Party conference in Manchester. Gove is positively against sex education reform and responded that “the right thing to do is to trust teachers”. Yet with a sex and relationship guidelines that were last updated in 2000, what exactly does he expect teachers to be able to do.

Guest tweeting for The Women’s Room last Friday morning, I asked their online twitter community “What do you think should be discussed in sex education in school”. Immediately issues such as porn, sexuality, consent, pressure/shame and even, Gove forbid it, enjoyment, were raised as being key to basic sex education. The importance for these to be taught in a none cissexist or heternormative way was apparent and a strong need to explore these things collectively, not gender separate, in order to openly and healthily understand each other as people.

 

Issues such as porn, sexuality, consent, pressure/shame and even, Gove forbid it, enjoyment, were raised as being key to basic sex education

 

Really interesting points were raised such as “students should be taught that consent isn’t the absence of no, but the presence of yes”, and “Pressure/shame, girls shamed when they do have sex, boys shamed when they don’t” highlight the need to discuss a lot more than the biology of sex. This would not only require reforms in what is taught, but substantial training of teachers who are required to teach it. And while Michael Gove would rather not see, hear or speak of the issue, the three wise monkeys outside the conference today discovered a different feeling amongst most Tories we spoke to.

Rather than strong opposition, many agreed with the demonstration and voiced openly their distain for Gove. Others however did not agree with us; “I completely agree with Michael Gove on this I’m afraid” was one of the more cut-and-dry responses, another more vague said “I agree with SOME sex education, up to a point, and from a VERY suitable age”.

It is possible by such an ‘appropriate’ age many young people will have seen: “a women lying in a public park, there’s a man in a gimp mask, he’s fisting her, there’s another man, he’s pissing all over her face”, as was described by Daubney, in the first ‘Porn On The Brain’ episode; something he had reached within a few clicks of the online porn world. They will have needed to know the meaning of consent and will know more than most the real sense of pressure and shame that is their experience of sex. Unlike 4oD, online porn rarely comes with a warning & accept process, neither do most kids in school who happen to have it on their phone in class. And seeing as though you only need to know someone with online access, all the parental controls in the world can do is struggle to keep up.

 

Today i’m listening to: Elbow (because I got tickets for their Manchester show this morning) :O)

IMG_0007small

 As always my picture upload has nothing to do with the article. This is an image from Terike Haapoja who exhibited in the Nordic Pavilion in this year’s Beinnale in Venice. I was lucky enough to visit in summer & adored this entire show.

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