Shortlist vs. Stylist – Are men and women really so different?

The weekly freebie magazines Shortlist and Stylist have consistently bothered me. I used to read Shortlist before its sister mag – Stylist launched in 2009. All of a sudden, both became unbearably sexist. A frustrating fact, because on the surface they are perfectly contructed and include some very thoughtful areas of comment, which is sadly destroyed by reading many of the views expressed.

What used to be a general consumer mag, with some stylish design and snappy editorial in Shortlist – became a complete MAN STUFF mag. Before all men stop reading and accuse me of being an angry feminist (I am, but if you’re annoyed by that, chances are, you’ve missed the point when it comes to feminism… see end).  I make this point because I’m sure most men appreciate a colour range outside of black, steely grey and navy blue.  Some might even be offended that Shortlist presumes that you all FUCKING LOVE CARS and GADGETS and the FAST AND THE FURIOUS – and of course you all enjoy hearing about inane waffler Danny Wallace’s life because he, and I quote, “is a man”.

I hope that for most men – this resonates as sexism and insults your intelligence. I hope more sincerely that it does this, as opposed to inducing insecurities about not being as much of a MAN as Danny Wallace or the Hugo Boss Boy. Personally, if it came to it, despite being a heterosexual gal, I think I’d rather ‘do’ a woman than Wallace, and so we may share an opinion here lads – maybe we could read the same weekly freebie?

But no, Stylist ponced its way onto our street corners, posing as an Observer Insert but falling short in the very same way that the revamped Shortlist did.

I swept through the magazine this month and was pleasantly surprised in some ways.  It was better than I remembered in those early days, before I began to refuse to pick it up.  I like some of the content – I wear make-up and would like to know how to create that smoky eye look, and I like a bit of fashion, and a few stories from around the world… nice. And I just LOVE endless pages of bags and shoes, and Sex and the City, and I REALLY want to read an unbalanced argument about working vs staying at home as a mother. It’s so great, because I’m not a mother and I work (like most people, reading the stylist on the way to work).  Most importantly, if I did have a child, I would not be in the luxurious position to be able to choose to stay at home. But these women are great.

There’s a “Staying in” and “Going Out” page, which offer a few random mentions of recommended reading or watching, very likely to be stuff that’s been sent into the publicist’s lap. In terms of a cultural review, not so much. In fact not actually reviews at all – patronising recommends verging on advertorial. There IS a four page interview with Emma Stone though. She’s in the film adaptation of “The Help” this month – a book that we’ve surely all read and loved since Richard & Judy made it an instant bestseller.  Haven’t we?

Then my attention turns to: Tanya Gold: OutSpoken. She is a woman, but at least unlike Wallace, feels not the need to say it. I’m glad that that in her photograph she looks smug, smug as they come. She stands proudly, a tad larger in size than we’re used to seing in the glossys.  Therefore she is clearly a real woman. She begins her full page spread on “Why Wealth Doesn’t Make you Happy”. Despite the promise, she does little to construct an argument. Gold declares that she has moved out of “the kitchen with four poster bed in Hampstead”.  She fails to realise that the vast majority people who are reading this are NOT from London.  Therefore she might well have said La La Land – which oddly enough gives some insight into Hampstead. A kitchen with four poster would almost certainly be unaffordable to the vast majority, a very upper class and unattainable dream.

She goes on to point her fortunate finger towards other excessively rich people. Her gripe? Well, it mostly seems to be that they drive 4x4s and beep their horns. This is SO far removed from the validity of her initial question, I found myself considering whether it occurred to Tanya Gold, what one of her readers who has picked up a free magazine might wonder, as they are possibly struggling to pay rent, childcare and heck, even eat. I’m sure that even a sniff at Gold’s affluence would improve their quality of life, and you know what – there is a chance that their living quality and happiness might well be improved. This magazine’s endorsement of this woman’s narrow viewpoint, is in itself an insult. I found myself disgusted. How very awful that she has to endure these other rich people in her new desirable area, which she neglects to mention by name, interestingly.

To be fair to Stylist, its remit does state that its market is the affluent woman, however I’m not sure that the sort of affluence that they are imagining, is in anyway realistic to the people who actually ride the tube or the bus and pick up a FREE magazine.  Its obvious that Stylist and Shortlist are not the only editorial teams that are guilty of these issues, they are simply unfortunate examples of some of the ideals of consumer mags, that promote a world so separate for men and women.

Recently it’s become increasingly apparent to me, how much confusion, anger, embarrassment and complete misunderstanding of feminism and feminist agenda there really is. If you agree with many or even some of the above points, you’re a feminist. If you like to bake, arrange flowers and wear skirts and make-up and are straight… you can be one – it is not a contradiction. Most importantly, if you are a man – guess what? You can be a feminist too! We can all live in this world where people just believe that it’s ok for us to share opinions and live a balanced life. And the term ‘feminist’ isn’t associated exclusively with raging bra burning ceremonies and hatred of men. These things do us a disservice. We could maybe do with a new word for it, but we could all do with being aware of it.

The ‘glossy’ magazines so often portray a world where gender is utterly stereotyped – where men will champion other men and women will be the first to knock another woman off her pedastal.  This contradicts my view of society, but maybe I’m naive, and this is just an uncomfortable truth.  Please feel free to disagree.

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Belfast? Yes! Art? Mmm…

I discovered in November that my next placement is in Factual Television in Belfast – primarily on a show called Artspace. First feelings were of excitement.  Then nervousness – do I know enough about art? Since finding out, I have thought increasingly about art.   It had been a while since I had been to a gallery or exhibition.

So by recommendation of some article I read somewhere in passing, I scurried along to a Marks & Stencils (Soho, London) street art exhibition. It felt rather odd having to queue to see street art.  Most people were there because they had heard that a Banksy was in there.  If I’m honest, so was I.  What I was far more impressed with, once inside, was the set-up of the gallery to confuse and obstruct the attendees.  It was easy to see only the pictures on the walls, but when you took a step back, or your path was dusted with cardboard, it became clear that everything and nothing of the contents was part of an ‘exhibition’. A fire hydrant making subtle reference to student protesters, park-toilet graffiti on walls, make-your-own contribution postcards, it was less of an exhibition and more as though you’d stumbled across a secret club… That is, until you overheard somebody talking about how powerful it all is.  SHUT UP!  It’s a secret club – stop talking about it being important.

Now before this all becomes a little predictable – I’m not going to ask existential questions such as “What is art?”   But someone that I have lots of respect for said to me recently that they “don’t really get art” and therefore didn’t like it – simple as that.

This revelation shocked and saddened me, but the more I thought about it – the more I realised that “The Arts” can be a pretty intimidating and confusing area – so much so that I reckon that a lot of people would class ‘Art’ as not really made for them, but for pretentious people who have little or nothing to worry about in life.

For me, “Art” is a little more general – be it a painting, sculpture, a piece of music, film, photography.  I just love when someone can create something that has not been made before – for me, that alone earns my admiration.  My oldest  and most dear appreciation of the arts is the humble novel.  Call me pretentious, call me romantic – i’ve always wanted an old fashioned library with ladders that I can hang off and whizz across my filled and probably dusty bookshelves –   Since I was a child I’ve been very careful with books, and taken care to notice everything on each page.  I think I’m not a very fast reader because of this.  Films such as Bedknobs & Broomsticks, Candleshoe, Beauty and the Beast… my childhood is littered with memories of the library scenes in which I always liked to fantasise about being a part of.

I remember reading some press coverage in Glasgow about ‘Lowalands Away’ by Susan Philipsz.  I long to have made the trip to underneath the River Clyde bridges and listen to what is now the first sound installation winner of the Turner Prize, in what I imagine to be its most powerful setting.  Even reading descriptions of her work, for me, brings up images of The Shellys and Lord Byron floating on an oarless boat in a vast, dark lake.  For all I know, Philipsz would be disgusted in my interpretation, having not even listened for myself (something which I must do).   But that’s the beauty of art.  How is a recording of a shanty, a piece of art? You can’t even see it?  One man’s masterpiece is another’s junk, and so it should be.  I generally dislike the expression ‘pearls before swine’.   Not because of the sentiment itself (or the rather wonderful grunting image that pops into my head) but the context in which it’s often used.  Art should divide opinion, and I love the fact that a lot of people don’t ‘get’  that light installation or the messy bed, or the tiny speck in a vast white canvas.  Me included, but just because I don’t ‘get’ it, doesn’t mean I can’t like it.

A Man Can't Fly, Leek Road. Stoke-on-Trent

The question is – can we can ever really ‘get’ it?  Or do we just think or pretend or hope that we do.  A statue in my home town of Stoke has always confused me since I was a child.  “A Man Can’t Fly”  Every time we would drive past, I would ask my parents – what does it mean?  -it’s silly!  -it’s pointless! we’d cry and we would suggest all the things that would have better represented the potteries, such as a giant teacup or a potter’s wheel.  More recently, in an attempt from yet another flailing “potbank” to stay afloat and attract attention – Churchill China erected a giant teapot on the top of their factory shop.  HURRAH! To many this might seem vulgar or silly, I happen to agree but love it anyway.  I’ve talked at length about both, and surely that’s the point?

I was rather good at art at school but didn’t pursue it academically… I thought it not important or useful enough.  I don’t regret not having a GCSE in Art, but that naive sentiment couldn’t be further from how I now feel.  I think that if you fancy creating something, have a bash – the hardest thing is showing someone else, but heck, you don’t even have to do that.  It feels quite nice just to do something a bit different.  I speak only from very limited experience, but I’ve come to realise that production is absolutely that – creating something original, and I LOVE IT.

Coll Hamilton

If you’d like some inspiration – my wonderfully talented artist-friend Coll Hamilton is worth a peek, whose work is so strikingly original and powerful, that I am at once jealous and in awe of him.  To my utter delight, Coll is getting busier and busier by the week… take a look at his website and snap one up / get a commission in, before he’s huge and unaffordable!  Computer images do not even begin to do his work true justice so do keep an eye out for his next exhibition.

I’ve never questioned the title of this blog, as the more that I learn, the more lucky I feel.  Whether I become any good at it or not, I am proud to be learning and trying to make programmes.  I might even learn a bit more about art in the process.  Hopefully someone will enjoy my efforts.  Speaking of which, if you have a look in the TV listings today (Monday 3rd January), you can watch a Disney Pixar Documentary that I’ve had a part in making, (or look it up on BBC iplayer until mid-Jan).

The Touch of a Hand

This week I have been paid good money to watch Disney Pixar films.  Yes, lucky spud indeed.

When Pixar’s visionary founder John Lasseter created the wonderfully childlike film short Luxo Jr, we saw what should be a mundane and inanimate object take on a human quality.  In illustrating such an ordinary activity of rolling a ball, in such an extraordinary way, it begs the question – had this been a computer generated child playing with a ball, would we have cared as much… would it have been so simple and yet powerful in what it promised?  I think not.

Technically, my second entry to this post should have been chronological of my perilous journey of becoming a producer… but my current documentary project has blown me away to distraction.  I will warn you of how stomach churningly sentimental this article is now, so that you can decide whether or not to continue.

I watched the superbly, beautiful WALL-E again, in fine detail this week.  For me, although each film has its own unique charm, with WALL-E, Pixar returned to what made them so special: convincingly investing human spirit into, this time not a desk-lamp, but a rusty old waste disposal machine.  I say convincingly, but this sells the film too short.  WALL-E’s heartbreaking honesty, breadth of feeling, unwavering charm, unintentional humour, but most poignantly his chronic desire for affection – is astonishingly real.

WALL-E is a robot. BUT, not one of us were entirely convinced when Woody screams “YOU ARE A TOY!” to Buzz… (Toy Story) because they are more than toys, more than bugs, more than monsters or robots – any given movement can stir feeling within each of us – even the steeliest of eye-rolling old folk (UP).

Pixar’s success as a company is a fairytale – precisely the genre that they have reinvented – the stories recognisable but without the cliches or unnecessary frills.  In Pixar terms the frills are replaced by the attention to detail, not in the fairy castle, but in the translucency of a blade of grass (Bug’s Life), the burst of a balloon (UP), the sly sideways glance of an oversized eyeball (Monsters Inc).  Presenting the real, in a breathtaking fashion.

We live in an age where it is often more difficult to avoid content of a sexual nature than it is to find it.  WALL-E’s sole (or soul) purpose in the film is to simply hold EVE’s hand… nothing more, but for him this is everything.

In a somewhat unpredictable comparison, in the episode “The Suitcase” from the recent series of Mad Men –  the powerful, even perfect protagonist, Don Draper is heartbroken by a bereavement, but it took the solid, dependable hand squeeze of an unlikely friend to reduce me to tears.

No script, just the touch of a hand.

Rarely does film or tv take this risk.  Sex sells they say, which undoubtebly it does – ad man Don Draper would agree with me for sure. But often the smallest of gestures can resonate more deeply.

Pixar’s dedication to creating believable and authentic films, regardless of how removed from humanity they are, serves to remind us that at the heart of any good story, or indeed life, is not the happy-ever-after ideal, it’s laughter, forgetting yourself, sincerity of feeling, and our friendships.

Cue vomit.

Here goes

Until March 2010, I had no particular plans to make any major changes in my life… completing my second to last year of my degree – I was living in, and loving Glasgow absolutely, and feeling more settled than I ever had.

But as I write, from my new flat in london, only now am I starting to realise how much has happened and changed in the last seven months.  So while I’m at it, I thought I’d start to write about it all… publicly.  A thought that excites and simultaneously terrifies me.

One bored afternoon, in happy content March, there it was. An email via a student radio newsfeed.  Nestled in a one-lined segment, was “One weekend left to apply”.

Having spent the last nine years of my life working weekends in a bookshop, the likelihood of me even applying to my dream job was pretty slim , the sort of thing I’d consider generously but in the end forget and regret it.  But, I saw it.  Amidst the coma-like distraction that is ‘the internet’, I was awoken and something made me feel strongly about applying.  I wasn’t going to get it… but why not have a bash?

The Job – a stupendous opportunity to train and work in programme making for the BBC

The Candidate – a raw talent, a storyteller… ok so it was more than this, but this is what I took from it.

My Confession – The thought of being judged by my ideas and originality genuinely scared the shit out of me.

Anyone who knows me, will know that I like to write, but has never read my writing.

My writing has always been something for me, and for me alone to read. Before you jump in, I know – I fear rejection.  I honestly think it’s more than this though, and it has something to do with me being precious about something that is mine, and quite frankly, noone else’s.  My writing up until this point has been personal and important to me.  I write when I’m venomously angry, when I’m crippled with sadness, when I’m elated – all extremes, so how can anyone else even begin to feel the same way about it?  Even if the writing is dull, it’s mine.

My relationship with my writing is similar that of many of us as children and our favourite (and fairly bog-standard) teddy.

You don’t want anyone else to play with it because, noone else understands just how bloody great it is… to let someone else play with it, would induce all sorts of reservations. Would they appreciate/be comforted by/enjoy the teddy in the same way that you do? Or would it just be tossed aside, or never picked up in the first place?  Or, worst of all, will some good willed chump come along and shove it in the wash because it’s a bit dirty?   Dear God, we all know that the clean version is the same soft toy, but it’s different somehow and there’s no way it will ever be the same after a spin cycle.

Put simply, my writing = said teddy.  If I open my writing to be read and criticised, I feel like there’s a danger that it won’t be the same and will resemble the spin cycled bear… Again, I am by NO means claiming that my writing is great, or even good – it’s just mine.

Interestingly the first time I opened up, and had to write down my ever conflicting ideas into a programme pitch, with the intent purpose of impressing someone, the feedback was good.  So good in fact, that it actually worked! I was invited to several rounds of recruitment, (terrified at each stage I might add) and I am now trained and in full swing of production.  Knowing that they were looking for storytellers, I feel rather humbled by this vindication of my creativity, moreso than every other part of the process.

Weird how things turns out.

Therefore I thought it about time to write something every now and again. I would like to say that my job title is “Storyteller” but alas, not so.  I’ll be working as a researcher and assistant producer across various programmes in tv and radio over the next eighteen months. Pretty new, very exciting.

For the most part, the people reading this will actually know me, and this is less irritating than yet another group email, trying to keep in touch.  This is an introduction post, please stay tuned for humiliating moment number one.