Viewing Culture Projects Consciously: Museums and Soft Power in the U.A.E.

Viewing Culture Projects Consciously: Museums and Soft Power in the U.A.E.

Viewing Culture Projects Consciously: Museums and Soft Power in the U.A.E.

A photo of the Irish landscape, with trees and a waterfall in the foreground, and Castletown manor in the background.

Image: Louvre Abu Dhabi, Yuriyseleznev

This past Christmas break, for the first time in almost 18 months, I journeyed back to the city where I spent most of my childhood: Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). Having lived there from the ages of 8 to 18, my experience of the city as an expatriate mostly consisted of going to and from my international school, attending weekend excursions to shopping malls, and eating shawarma routinely on Monday evenings.

 

Yet whilst I experienced these formative years in a country that, to me, was known for its Guinness World Records, multicultural food, and sweltering summers, the U.A.E. was working behind the scenes in igniting a newfound legacy of culture projects.

 

Ranging from pop-up museums to entire neighbourhoods deemed ‘culture districts’, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and other prominent cities in the Gulf have experienced the establishment of varied institutions, all built with the primary aim of introducing arts and culture into the hubris of the Gulf. Yet what is the origin of this new cultural explosion in this area of the world? And how does understanding the foundationally oil-based economy of Gulf countries help bring some clarity to the picture of culture project development?

 

This piece explores the notion of soft power, defined as power exerted without the use of coercion or force through assortment of means, whether it be providing aid to other countries, advocating for an ideology, or promoting one’s own culture or the culture of others – a concept which is increasingly being used as a means of advancement of national interests on a global scale from a cooperative angle.

By discussing soft power as something purchasable, and applying it to the status quo of culture projects in the U.A.E, I hope to shed some light on the importance of knowing the origins of any cultural venture before looking simply at its artistic surface.

 

The United Arab Emirates’ year of birth isn’t too far from that of my parents and that of many other university students’ parents: at 52 years of age, the country has sprung itself into the forefront of the global economy within mere decades. Its history as a small, community-based, pearl diving and date-growing desert land, suitable primarily as a port intermediary between Europe and Central Asia, soon came to a halt in 1966 when oil was first struck in Dubai. This spread an ‘exploratory spirit’ across the rest of the soon-to-be nation, with the seven Emirates coming together in the name of a newly prosperous, natural-gas centric resource hub to sign a federation announcing the creation of the U.A.E. on December 2nd, 1971.

 

This nation soon found itself rapidly developing, building up two multinational economic centre points of cities in the Middle East and serving as a place of career development and residence  for people from all over the world. Part of this development has also been focused on boosting a cultural rapport for the country, and the U.A.E. in particular has done so with gusto.

Although the U.A.E. has a host of beautiful museums dedicated to preserving its vibrant cultural heritage existent before the nation’s establishment, its most renowned museum establishment, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, was established in 2017 in partnership with the Louvre Paris, not as a reflection of local Emirati art but instead as a diplomatic strategy between the United Arab Emirates and France to enforce soft power. The Louvre is the most prominent of many projects, created and to be created, built to promote soft power in the U.A.E.

 

While some museums such as the Louvre or the up-and-coming Abu Dhabi branch of the Guggenheim demonstrate an allegiance to and the celebration of European culture and artwork, boosting an already prominent legacy of soft power in countries such as France and publicly demonstrating the U.A.E.’s claim to many of the world’s culturally relevant works of art, other museums such as the Zayed National Museum look inwards, proudly celebrating the founder of the nation, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, as well as earlier pre-nation history. These projects, alongside dozens of others, mark what has now become a movement of institutions being built to share cultural legacies in both international and local contexts.

A photo of someone reading a newspaper inside a cosy cafe. Their face is obscured by the newspaper and their legs are crossed.

Image: Louvre Abu Dhabi, Yuriyseleznev

Recounting the history of the U.A.E.’s culture projects is no hard feat. But what does this mean for the country itself, and what do its generous investments into cultural projects say about its goals beyond a seemingly benign interest in promoting its own culture, and that of others? The U.A.E. ‘s recent birth tells us that it has lots to prove.

From establishing itself on the international stage as an economic actor, to ensuring that its traditions, vastly different to that of many other economic powers, remains intact, it wants to be on the minds of many. These culture projects say that it is a hub for conversation and that it can serve as a boosting platform for other countries. The country is becoming economically well connected, forging diplomatic relations with assorted regions, boosting its internal internationality both in tourism and residency, and learning to celebrate its own history, and the ability of the nation to establish these projects is able to deliver this message loud and clear. 

 

Although these projects have a fascinating scope and purpose, discussing their fallbacks is of the utmost importance. The cultivation of a variety of these projects have been accompanied by reports of human rights violations, which discuss the status quo of construction workers on projects working under brutal conditions including unbearable heat, cramped living conditions, and minimal wages.

The U.A.E.’s relationship with censorship is also complex, with LGBTQ+ groups and many minority communities’ voices being left out of any conversation in the cultural context. These limitations allow us to question the justness of blindly supporting culture institutions in Gulf countries.

 

This culture project movement is no small feat, and I’ll be the first to say that a couple of laps around the Louvre Abu Dhabi over my holidays rendered me just as impressed as ever. Yet in the process of considering the merits of any of these culture projects, whether it be the internationally-focused Louvre, the to-be-localised Zayed National Museum, or anything in between, it is crucial to keep a critical eye on the motivations behind, and means used to create, these establishments. Only with an understanding of the complete process of these projects’ creation can we have a fully-formed picture of this soft power burst in the U.A.E. and in nations beyond.

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Finding dignity in food poverty

Finding dignity in food poverty

Finding dignity in food poverty

A photo of the Irish landscape, with trees and a waterfall in the foreground, and Castletown manor in the background.

Image: SolStock.

Food poverty is recognised by the Government of Ireland as the inability to have an adequate and nutritious diet due to issues of affordability or accessibility. As part of their Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020-2025, the Government has committed to reducing the number of those living in constant poverty to 2% or lower by next year, 2025. This effort is in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In 2015 the UN outlined 17 SDGs as part of their 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Second on the list behind ‘zero poverty’ sits the objective to achieve ‘zero hunger’. The goal is to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agricultural practices in all UN member states. 

At present there are no official food insecurity and inequality indicators in Ireland. 

However answers to the annual Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) run by the Central Statistics Office use the following questions to gain an insight into the condition in Ireland. Agreeing with one or more of these statements is an indication of being in or at risk of food insecurity: 

  • Unable to afford a meal with meat, or vegetarian equivalent, every second day

  • Unable to afford a weekly roast dinner (or vegetarian equivalent)

  • Missing one substantial meal in the last fortnight due to lack of money

13.1% of people were at risk of poverty in 2021, up 1.5% on the previous year according to recent findings.  In relation to food, 1.4% of the roughly 12,000 sampled were at risk of food deprivation, equivalent to over 70,000 people when referring to the total population. In a report entitled Constructing a Food Poverty Indicator for Ireland using the Survey on Income and Living Conditions from 2012, Carney and Maître proposed adding a fourth category:

  • Inability to have family or friends for a meal or drink once a month

 

In the face of deprivation this may seem frivolous but serves to represent the social aspect of food. Sharing meals is often culturally important and fosters connection among family and friends. 

The lack of robust and specific data pertaining to food poverty continues to pose a disservice and disadvantage to the people of Ireland who remain unrepresented in their hardship to acquire adequate quantities and food of quality for themselves and their families. The SILC was not created to specifically measure food poverty and therefore is an inadequate metric on which to base our understanding of the situation in Ireland today.

A photo of someone reading a newspaper inside a cosy cafe. Their face is obscured by the newspaper and their legs are crossed.

Image: Kuarmungadd, Getty Images Pro.

The sample cohort is chosen through a rigorous statistical structure, however, it is only applicable to those in traditional living situations – owner occupied and rental homes. This excludes members of the Travelling Community, asylum seekers living in direct provision and the homeless. This could mean that the figures provided by the SILC are somewhat lower than the real number of people facing food poverty in the country today.

How does one navigate food poverty? 

 

 

In accordance with the Roadmap, there are a number of ongoing Government incentives to reduce the impact of food poverty such as: free lunch schemes in schools, a school milk programme, promotion of nutritional education via schools and libraries, and funding to Meals on Wheels programmes around the country among many others. 

Food banks are also in operation around the country and serve as a main source of for the assistance of the physical acquisition of food. The Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin is often highlighted as a main source of food assistance during the winter period. It recently saw over 3,000 people queuing for food vouchers over the Christmas period. Crosscare, a registered charity, is the largest supplier of stock for food banks in Ireland providing food to the St. Vincent de Paul, Focus Ireland and the Simon Community as well as having its own distribution centres. 

In Ireland the most common type of food help is provided via pre-made food parcels containing the necessities and staples. While this model is endlessly helpful and life saving, often the element of choice is eliminated. Due to funding and organisational structures pre-made food parcels are advantageous and easier to co-ordinate especially on a larger scale. The move of the Capuchin Day Centre to give out Supervalu vouchers this year instead of pre-made hampers grants service users the agency to buy what they want and need most. This element of choice is integral to the provision of dignity as the families are given ownership over their food habits.

There is benefit in change and innovation which is not confined to technology but can expand to how we view and address social issues. The Mid-West Simon Community is currently in the process of creating a Social Grocery store in Limerick, the first of its kind in the country and will hopefully spur other such enterprises. It will offer a traditional ‘shop-style’ shopping experience to service users with groceries sold at a heavily discounted price. The initiative is set to open this year in 2024, however, little information is available regarding its current progress.

‘Shop-style’ food banks are in operation in other parts of the world. In Golden, BC, Canada the access to their food bank is not means tested, as many support services are in Ireland but based on personal interpretation of need. Depending on their family size the service users are given limits on what they can take, this is mainly for dairy products, meat, eggs and some vegetables depending on abundance. Some categories are unlimited. The shop stocks a range of fresh vegetables from their community garden, fresh milk and dairy products donated by the two local supermarkets, as well as hygiene products, baby food and animal food. The food bank is supported partly by funding from Food Banks Canada, a government run organisation. This support allows them to buy in bulk staples such as porridge, pasta and tinned tomatoes.

The freedom of choice that is available to the service users is immense and noteworthy, meaning clients are able to deliberate, choose what they want to eat and give no mind to price. The food is of a high quality and offers vegetarian and vegan alternatives too. Parents come in with their children, allowing for the familiar experience of food shopping as a family. The food bank also offers a lending library for kitchen gadgets like food mixers or canning equipment – free of charge. 

The potential for this sort of enterprise in Ireland is abundant especially in our rural towns where community gardens could be utilised. With sufficient governmental assistance and support to secure a premises, a model such as this could be possible in Ireland. The possibility to restore choice and the social aspect of food shopping will not go unnoticed. The supermarket or local shop is a place of meeting and connection; for some it’s a reason to leave the house. A Social Grocery such as the one proposed in Limerick could help to remove the stigma associated with food poverty and restore dignity and agency among those facing food insecurity. 

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The unregulated nature of student digs

The unregulated nature of student digs

The unregulated nature of student digs

A photo of an empty bedroom, viewed from behind the door frame. There are books piled on the floor, a laptop, and a pillow.

Image: SolStock, Getty Images

Digs are becoming an increasingly common form of housing for people in Dublin, with homeowners encouraged to rent out their spare rooms and students becoming more desperate for shelter of any kind. However, this is a completely unregulated and unsupervised form of accommodation, because of this renters have no protections under legislation. 

 

As digs become more popular due to extortionate Dublin rents, the cracks in the system are beginning to show. Students coming to Dublin are expecting to live their college dream of wild parties every night and new friends and romances every week. Instead, they’re faced with living with a middle aged couple who expect 8:30pm to be quiet time and set ‘curfews’ for this grown adult they’re renting to. 

 

On top of this, there’s a distinct lack of security felt by those in this type of accommodation, being constantly on edge that those they’re living with may get notions of renovations and kick them out accordingly. There’s no recourse for those that experience this, due to the unregulated nature of this scheme. If homeowners suddenly decide to build that home gym they’ve dreamed of, or that the renter using the kitchen at 8:45pm is simply too much for them to handle, they can essentially evict renters without a second thought. 

 

On top of all this, there is a group that is fully locked out of even accessing this accommodation – international students. The nature of digs being a five day a week arrangement effectively shoves out those who come to Dublin to study or work from abroad. Therefore they are faced with either the option of leaving or renting a shared room with a tiny toilet for about €800 a month.

 

The concept of people renting out rooms in their houses was introduced to take pressure off the housing market and provide another form of accommodation. The Rent-a-Room Relief scheme allows homeowners to make up to €14,000 a year tax free to encourage this.

A photo of a wooden table with a hard-back book that says "Landlord-Tenant Law" on the cover. There is a judge's gavel and a key with a house-shaped key ring on it.

Image: Designer491, Getty Images.

However, despite being an increasingly popular form of living for single renters in Dublin it is specifically excluded from the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) which provides obligations and protections for both tenants and landlords. Because of this, those paying rent for this type of accommodation aren’t tenants, but licensees.

According to the leading writer on this, barrister Patricia Sheehy Skeffington, the most important difference between the two is the lack of exclusive occupation of the premises for licensees. For all those lucky enough to not study Property Law, this means that licensees are only given permission to enter and use the premises, whereas tenants have an actual interest in the property and therefore have a right to exclusive occupation, free from the landlord. 

 

The lack of security in digs becomes all the more apparent when renters are only classified as those who have permission to use the premises rather than a contractual right. According to the UCDSU Report on digs, 71% of students surveyed didn’t know the legal difference between these terms, showing the information gap present even to those who are living in digs. 

 

Because people living in digs are excluded from the RTA, renters have no access to the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) who hear disputes between landlords and tenants for issues like wrongful eviction. Those renting the room out also have none of the legal obligations of a landlord, such as allowing exclusive occupation of a premises or giving fair and proper notice of eviction. As a result, those in digs are clearly much less secure than tenants in their accommodation. 

 

Stories collected by the UCDSU when surveying students in digs illustrates this perfectly. These range from the funny anecdotes of fussy homeowners to downright disturbing treatment of students in these homes. One student reported there was specific shower and kitchen use time, along with a ‘pseudo curfew,’ in the evening. This was a 20 year old man living with two strangers who effectively treated him as the least favourite child, he reported feeling more like a burden than a rent payer. Many share the feeling of being infantilised by these homeowners, not like the grown college students or young professionals they are. It’s hard not to feel that you’re twelve years old again when curfews become a factor in your life of wild parties and playdates.

 

As previously mentioned, digs is commonly a five day a week arrangement. However, due to the lack of regulation in this area, homeowners are fully entitled to charge for full weeks at market rates when renters simply aren’t welcome for the full week, and they are definitely not living in a typical shared living arrangement as seen in the housing market. Digs were specifically encouraged because they were separate to the market and saved students from the horrors of the market. However, now it is typical for homeowners to charge €800 per month, when a month really means three weeks. At those prices there really isn’t any incentive for students to go to digs, where they would be sharing with faux mammies and daddies for five days a week when they could get sole occupation of a room in shared living with people who won’t time their showers (probably). Digs is becoming the villain it was designed to defeat. It’s not offering students a safety net from inaccessible housing, it’s becoming inaccessible for those who need to stay weekends and who can’t afford such prices for only three weeks of living.

 

The international students and young professionals are the obvious group for whom digs is simply an impossible option. It’s not exactly feasible to fly home for the weekend when your home might be on a different continent. In third-level education institutes in Ireland, international students are thrown into the lottery for on campus accommodation, just like the rest of us. If they don’t get a spot it’s from the frying pan into the fire, and they are faced with navigating a foreign and expensive housing system. Being locked out of digs denies international students a second chance for accommodation that Irish students are granted, regardless of how questionable that chance is.

 

Without regulation, homeowners are fully entitled to their decision to exclude a large majority of domestic and international students from their room offer. It’s clear that in order to actually provide a viable alternative to the private rental sector, digs need to have some sort of legislative backing to weed out those who simply want a tax free side income from those who will actually provide fair and viable housing.

 

In January 2023, Minister for Housing Darragh O’ Brien ruled out regulations being introduced for digs, claiming it would frighten homeowners away from considering it and therefore reduce the supply. How much clearer could he have shown that this scheme is brilliant for a quick buck without any real responsibility? The stance taken by the government regarding digs is that some accommodation is better than none. This is not good enough. 

 

If someone was outside my door timing my showers and giving me a curfew as a grown adult, I would gladly brave the horrors of the private rental sector. Regulations don’t necessarily mean a plethora of obligations. The bare minimum would be a requirement for fair rents, fair evictions, some weekend availability and maybe even something akin to the RTB to hear complaints. The Rent a Room Relief is definitely beneficiary as it encourages homeowners to open their homes, and I commend those who do. But those who do it and are then shocked at the consequences of a student’s existence, such as eating, showering and not magically disappearing when needed are the reasons why digs aren’t a secure and viable option for students. The ‘luck of the draw’ theme of digs isn’t good enough, students are suffering from it, both domestic and international. 

 

As students we famously don’t require much; a loaf of bread and a box of tea bags will sustain us for weeks on end. However, the bare minimum when it comes to where we live is no longer suitable. In order to support our studies, our mental health, and dare I say our college experience, we need to live where we feel secure, comfortable and confident in our ability to pay the rent. I believe this can be described as one step above the bare minimum. 

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Has activism changed the standard of truth in journalism?

Has activism changed the standard of truth in journalism?

Has activism changed the standard of truth in journalism?

A photo of a young female protester shouting with her hand raised in a fist. She is being interviewed by a man with a microphone, and a news camera is facing her. There are other protesters with signs behind her.

Image: Vesnaandjic, Getty Images Signature

The standard of truth in journalism has traditionally been “objectivity.” Objectivity can be defined in several manners – “freedom of bias” is one definition by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary that encompasses the heart of the word. To be objective is to be direct, fair, and impartial. 

 

Print journalism, primarily news and other fact-based reporting, has generally relied on the standard of objectivity to garner its audience’s trust and deliver effective reporting. Though it was a gradual development, many scholars point to the 20th century as the inception of objectivity as the standard of truth in journalism. Rising global political tensions and a shift in the world view of journalism as a profession resulted in a new “wave” of journalism

 

Although many opposed objectivity as the new default standard, newsrooms, primarily in the Western World, viewed neutrality as a mechanism to reach wider audiences and prevent the profession’s failure amid newspaper closures. Those in opposition of objectivity argued that “it privileged the perspectives of the powerful and caused journalists to withhold their knowledge from reader.” 

 

Along with objectivity unfolded a set of norms and ethics in the 20th century that have stipulated the breadth of journalistic coverage for generations. These norms and ethics –  developed in an era where newspapers were one of the only sources of information –  have since dictated what constitutes “good” journalism. They largely mirror the guiding principle of impartiality, both inside and outside the newsroom, so as to not influence readers. But these professional codes originated in a world far different from today – a world where technology and human rights were just being born. 

 

In an age ruled by digital media, the expectations of society are bound to change. Journalists today remain a primary source of information for most, but social media has fundamentally altered the way people consume news

 

Platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and X (formally known as Twitter) are responsible for the world’s unprecedented interconnectedness. Therefore, they also facilitate the spread of information, whether accurate or not. 

 

In recent years, there has been an upward trend of digital activism. Following American investigative journalist Ronan Farrow’s exposure of the deep-rooted culture of sexual violence in Hollywood in 2017, the #MeToo movement fundamentally altered how internet users interact with digital media. 

 

Shortly after in 2020, George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police prompted a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Floyd’s death sparked the inception of a new era in social media where activism is currency for respect. 

 

Activism has long been a facet of society, holding the institutions of power accountable and striving to promote positive progress. The intersection of journalists and activism has generally been frowned upon since the birth of objectivity as the ethical code. In this new era, expectations have changed. And, perhaps simultaneously, journalists are simply more willing to embrace overlap. 

 

Following the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, matters of diversity, discrimination, and rights protection have increasingly been challenged. Discussions on social media have immense influence, and arguably dictate the political trajectory of a nation. These online discussions and movements further act as a metric of accountability for those perceived as having committed wrongdoing or even for their silence on a matter of global significance. 

A photo of a phone set up on a tripod on a purple background. It's next to a camera on a tripod.

Image: Media Whale Stock

The vast changes prompted by activism, social media, and the diversification of newsrooms have altered how journalists view objectivity and truth. 

An article by The Washington Post reports that more and more those in the journalism industry argue that “the concept of journalistic objectivity is a distortion of reality.” The difficulty arises in determining where the line is drawn without undermining journalistic integrity. What differentiates activism from mere opinion when reporting? 

 

The problem in tackling this dilemma lies in balancing the realities of modern society on the one hand and the duty of journalists to democratic society on the other.

 

Supporters of activism in journalism deem that “pursuing objectivity can lead to false balance or misleading ‘both-sidesism’ in covering stories about race, the treatment of women, LGBTQ+ rights, income inequality, climate change and many other subjects.” Both-sidesism refers to the media practise of giving credit to the other side of an action or idea for the sake of fairness when that side’s argument is unmerited. In other words, reporting on matters of human rights lends itself to the need to demonstrate support for the ill-treated in one’s work rather than giving both sides of the conflict an equal platform to be heard. 

 

Joseph Kahn, executive editor of the New York Times, stated, “When the evidence is there, we should be clear and direct with our audience that we don’t think there are multiple sides to this question.” To make unequal things appear equal for the sake of objectivity would be a failure to the readers and democracy. 

 

Opposers of this growing trend argue that independent journalism calls for plainly stating facts regardless of the outcome. It is not the role of the journalist to interject their personal bias and influence the reader. Journalism exists for the reader to access information and develop their own opinions based on objective truth. 

 

Impartiality is crucial to the integrity of journalism. However, the concept of objectivity is blurred by the inundation of facts and “truth” on social media. Rapid advances in technology have meant that the framework of journalism has had to mould itself to the demands of its digital-age audience, playing catch-up with the technology.

 

It is unrealistic to expect the tenets of journalism to remain stagnant in an ever-changing world – it is natural for things to change over time. The beliefs, values, and needs of society are far different from when the strict standard of objectivity was adopted. Therefore, an evolution of journalism is warranted. 

 

Whether or not such an evolution will allow for activism as common practice in news reporting is unclear. 

 

What is clear is the impact that activism has already had in raising questions about the efficacy and ethics of the current standard of truth in journalism. The mere fact that a growing number of professionals in the industry are making room for activism in their work points to an interesting future. A new standard of truth has already begun to permeate journalism.

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Nurturing mental health abroad: my journey of self-care and resilience

Nurturing mental health abroad: my journey of self-care and resilience

Nurturing mental health abroad: my journey of self-care and resilience

A photo of a hand holding up a round piece of paper with a smiley face on it. There are 5 other round pieces of paper with faces drawn on them surrounding. Blue background.

Image: Rimmabondarenko

Two years ago, I embarked on a life-changing adventure, leaving my loved ones and the vibrant landscapes of my home country, Tanzania, behind to pursue a master’s degree in Ireland. Fuelled by my steadfast passion for advocacy on the rights of indigenous people and other pressing global issues such as climate change, equality, and inclusion, I embraced this journey with the highest enthusiasm. Little did I know that pursuing these noble causes would also lead me toward self-discovery, resilience, and a renewed commitment to nurturing my mental health. 

 

With its attractive landscapes and welcoming culture, Ireland, Europe, has been a rewarding yet challenging destination. The country has made significant steps in addressing mental health issues, but beneath the surface, there remains an urgent need for continued awareness and support on this issue. That is why I am asking you the right question: how are we doing? Most of us will say we are fine, but are we really? Well, only we know the depth and shallowness of how fine we are, many of us have recently recognised the importance of mental self-care, and trust me, our aim is to leave no crumbs on this mental wellness issue.

 

The Mental Health Landscape in Ireland

 

The distance from home, the academic rigour, and the cultural adjustment took their toll on my mental well-being, and I am not alone. According to the Health Service Executive (HSE), one in every four people in Ireland will encounter a mental health issue during their lifetime. Young people like myself bear a heavier burden, experiencing higher rates of mental disorders than their peers in some countries. Depression is a widespread condition that affects hundreds of thousands of individuals at any given time, casting a shadow over lives.

 

Ireland has also faced a higher death rate for suicide among young people compared to other nations, although this rate has been decreasing in recent years. These statistics underscore the critical importance of addressing mental health openly and comprehensively. The falling suicide rates among young people are a glimmer of hope. However, my journey has shown me that advocacy for mental health is not just about statistics; it’s about the stories, the individuals, and the collective strength that arises from shared experiences.

 

The Start of My Journey

 

Arriving in Ireland, I encountered the excitement of a new academic chapter and the challenges of being an international student in a foreign land. The weight of academic expectations, the fear of isolation, and the distance from home added to my mental cluster.

However, I knew that advocacy for global issues began with self-awareness and self-care. This realisation prompted me to embark on a personal journey toward better mental wellbeing.

 

Recognizing the need for help was a pivotal moment. The University of Galway has a well-established support system of counselling and wellbeing services, where I could find a compassionate counsellor to guide light in my journey. Subsequently, Ireland has mental health support and services system in place for those in need, and one can also call a free line to access the service. The question is whether every individual needing the service receives sufficient and relatable mental health services promptly. We all can agree that our problems are not the same. Some people, for example, suffer from mental distress because of their past traumas, so every case needs to be handled with care. 

 

Even though these services have been made available, some find it difficult to utilise them because they are ashamed of their situation or not ready to open up about their problems yet. Many of us also find ourselves in a case where we aren’t sure whether we will get the same treatment because of existing stereotypes surrounding migrants in Ireland; for example, one of the unfortunate stereotypes is that people think/say ‘migrants are putting pressure on their schools and the health service’

 

Therefore, I want to explore more about my mental health and wellbeing because I want to live a happy and fulfilling life. As a first step for me, I like reaching out to my close friends, bearing in mind that vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness.

 

I also think young people should be at the forefront of monitoring and managing their mental health situations, taking into account three significant things: feeding, moving, and resting their bodies. I have been doing this, and it has been working magic for me.

 

Embracing Self-Care | Feed, Move and Rest Your Body Well

 

Self-care is self-explanatory, and it is often discussed but rarely prioritised. Over the past two years, self-care has subsequently become my beacon of hope. Professionally, I am a human rights enthusiast with a burning desire for communications and advocacy. However, I first need to advocate for self-care to communicate and advocate effectively for/with others. To me, embracing self-care means paying significant attention to nourishing my body and mind. I came to the realisation that I should prioritise nutrition, physical activity, and rest through a process of self-reflection and observation. 

 

It all began when I noticed that I was constantly feeling drained, both mentally and physically. I found myself lacking energy and experiencing mood swings. It was during a particularly exhausting week that I decided to take a step back and assess what was contributing to my overall well-being. I noticed that my diet primarily consisted of mainly carbohydrates and processed snacks. I felt the immediate impact of this unhealthy eating on my energy levels. It became clear that my body needed proper nourishment to function at its best.

 

Additionally, I recognised the significance of physical activity when I remembered how I used to feel energised after a good workout. I had gradually let exercise slip out of my routine, and it was taking a toll on my physical and mental health. It was evident that regular exercise was crucial to boost my energy, reduce stress, and enhance my overall well-being. Lastly, the importance of rest became apparent as I reflected on my sleep patterns. I was frequently sacrificing sleep to do some extra work and it was affecting my ability to concentrate and manage stress effectively. The value of restful sleep and resting in general is important for cognitive function and emotional stability became undeniable. 

A photo of a person running. They're in all black running gear with a black hat. There is a grey wall in the background.

Image: Garrison Gao, Pexels

I have also embarked on a consistent journey of running, jogging, and walking daily. I can testify that physical activity is not just about fitness. It’s a powerful tool for reducing stress, anxiety, and mental clutter

Even though I still have a long way to go on this beautiful journey of self-care and resilience, I can confidently say daily physical activities have transformed my life completely. I feel mentally stronger, more alive and present and present now more than ever. As we all know, it’s straightforward to be consumed with our life hustles, and it’s easy to forget about ourselves sometimes, so personally, I choose to intentionally rest. Mindfulness has become very important to me. I explored mindfulness practices, for example, embracing moments of stillness and reflection. I do this in the morning or evening. Mindfulness has significantly allowed me to manage stress and anxiety, fostering mental clarity and emotional resilience.

 

A Journey of Growth and Resilience

 

Somehow, I am tempted to apply the concept of ‘product life circle’, which I learned at the University of Dar es Salaam while pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in public relations and advertising. This concept entails that a product’s life is like a circle of human life, which undergoes introduction, growth, maturity and decline. Today, I navigate my day-to-day life in Ireland with a renewed perspective, and just like a new product in the market, my journey has shown me that mental health awareness is like an introduction, and the pursuit of growth and resilience has followed. I am now looking forward to firmly experiencing the maturity stage regarding my mental health. By feeding, moving and resting my body well, I will definitely reach a stage where my mental health is unbeatable. I would encourage everyone to do the same because mental health has become a universal concern, transcending borders and backgrounds. I am writing this to encourage everyone to embrace this shared journey of hope, resilience, and collective strength.

My experiences have taught me that advocacy for mental health begins with conversations, breaking the silence, and fostering an environment of compassion. As I continue to pursue my career in the development sector here in Ireland, I carry with me the knowledge that my mental health journey has shaped my personal and professional growth. This article should also be a reminder that self-care is a crucial part of the journey, and seeking help is an act of courage, not weakness. Together, we can create a world where silence is replaced by understanding, stigma is replaced by compassion, and isolation is replaced by community. Remember, our shared journey is one of hope, resilience, and the unwavering belief that we can create a world where mental health is a priority and every individual can thrive.

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Tubridy and RTÉ: A Financial Affair

Tubridy and RTÉ: A Financial Affair

Tubridy and RTÉ: A Financial Affair

A photo of Ryan Tubridy, a white man in a black suit, white shirt and green tie. He looks a bit upset. The background is various Euro bank notes.

Background Image: JIR Moronta

Raidió Teilifís Éireann, more colloquially known as RTÉ, has recently been the subject of an ongoing public scandal surrounding staff pensions. More specifically, a series of undisclosed payments to former leading presenter Ryan Tubridy over a period of five years. 

 

Background

 

In late June 2023, reports surfaced revealing that the Irish public broadcaster has not been entirely truthful in their release of staff annual salaries. According to The Journal, secret payments were made to Tubridy over the course of 2017 to 2022 totaling around €345,000. It is common practice for RTÉ to release the annual salaries of its staff; however, it does so with a delay of two years. For example, when disclosing salaries in 2023, the amount actually reflects that of staff earnings in 2021. 

 

Crucially, even without these additional secret payments, Tubridy was well-known for being the highest-earning presenter at RTÉ. This means that the broadcaster has quietly been paying their highest-earning presenter hundreds of thousands of euros more than what they were disclosing to not only the public but also their own staff. 

 

When the news regarding these secret payments broke in June, RTÉ and Tubridy quickly found themselves the subjects of international headlines. Due to the high-profile nature and societal impact of this scandal, RTÉ appeared before the Oireachtas shortly after in July where more jarring revelations were made following an investigation into their dealings. It was found that RTÉ used barter accounts in order to facilitate the payments to Tubridy. In short, barter accounts are a manner in which companies can ‘trade goods and services for other goods and services’ and ‘accounts for barter transactions are often operated by brokerages that charge fees’

 

This is significant because in the case of RTÉ, their usual use of barter accounts is for commercial advertising purposes, not for staff payment. Even further, being that barter transactions technically cost more due to the fees charged by brokerages, RTÉ actually spent more money on the secret payments to Tubridy than he received. This means there was further undisclosed expenditure on the part of the national broadcaster. 

 

 

Interestingly, the existence of these secret payments was only revealed months after it was announced Tubridy would be stepping down as host of the Late Late Show. After his announcement, it was reported that ‘internal auditors examining RTÉ’s accounts for 2022 discovered an issue around what the broadcaster has described as “transparency of certain payments”’. But again, this discovery by the auditors was made in March 2023, whereas the information only became publicly available in late June 2023.

 

 

Ramifications of this scandal

 

The secret payments were kept under tight wraps within the RTÉ Board until June. Employees and staff of the broadcaster were kept in the dark and discovered the existence of these dealings at the same time as the public. 

 

Immediately following the first announcements of the payments, RTÉ staff along with the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) called for an investigation into the broadcaster’s financial dealings as well as for the Board to make themselves available for questioning. NUJ members at RTÉ also organised a protest calling for financial transparency from the broadcaster. Many RTÉ staff members have gone on the record to state their ‘betrayal’ and ‘disappointment,’ calling the broadcaster ‘disgraceful’ and ‘distasteful’. 

 

On the political front, as previously stated, RTÉ appeared before the Oireachtas as part of a hearing regarding their lack of financial transparency. Many politicians have made comments and posed questions to the broadcaster outside of the hearing. Notably, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced at an EU Leaders Summit in Brussels that ‘I don’t think we can rule out the fact that it’s not just a case of irregular payments – and that some of these payments may have been on the wrong side of the law’. Tánaiste Micheál Martin also made comments criticising RTÉ for ‘breach of trust’

 

There has been public uproar over the existence of these secret payments. In the early stages of the investigation, much of the public was left confused by what actually transpired and what this meant in regards to the RTÉ’s responsibility. After the Oireachtas hearing and further revelations since, the broadcaster has seen a significant drop in TV licence purchases by the general public. As of September 2023, the TV licence drop continues to be a prominent effect of the scandal. Much of the public is hesitant to support RTÉ through obtaining TV licences as the lack of transparency reflects poorly on their credibility.

The logo for The Late Late Show (a blue and green gradient circle with the title in the centre) and the logo for The Ryan Tubridy Show (a black and white photo of Ryan Tubridy in a white square, with the text on top). The logos are side by side on a dark purple background.

Logos: RTÉ

In response to the scandal and the subsequent backlash, RTÉ decided to cut all ties with Tubridy and permanently remove him from the network in mid-August. This decision prompted further headlines questioning the move; removing Tubridy appears to be RTÉ’s attempt at distancing themselves from the payee, but it has only caused more controversy.

Integrity and reputation

 

All of this has left the public wondering what the future holds for RTÉ. How, if at all, will they rebuild their reputation? It has now been over three months since the news first broke regarding these secret payments, and more details are still being released in regards to what exactly transpired between RTÉ and Tubridy. Over the coming months RTÉ will certainly make significant changes and efforts in order to regain public trust and remove themselves from the political spotlight. Whether or not they succeed is up to their staffs’ support and the public’s opinion. 

 

A large hurdle for RTÉ will likely be regaining their journalistic integrity and reputation on the international stage. In making global headlines for these secret payments, news sources like the BBC and CNN, amongst others, have reported on the matter. 

 

Taking this all into account, it begs the question of how this event will impact journalists and journalism in general across the globe. Will probes be made into the financial reports of other major news organisations? Will journalists begin to demand more pay transparency and fairness? 

 

The gap of pay between hosts like Tubridy versus others in the newsroom is vast. Hosts like Tubridy are paid as though they are high-profile in order to keep them within the organisation. Other hosts and reporters with similar job functions are not paid nearly the same merely because their social status is not the same. Similar situations have happened recently with the SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America (WGA) strikes in the United States where actors and writers across the country went on strike demanding fair compensation for their work, noting significant pay discrepancies. 

 

This RTÉ scandal opens the door for a variety of discussions related to fairness within the field of journalism and what may lie within the financial dealings of other news organisations around the world. 

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The Rising Threat of News Deserts

The Rising Threat of News Deserts

The Rising Threat of News Deserts

A photo of someone reading a newspaper inside a cosy cafe. Their face is obscured by the newspaper and their legs are crossed.

Image: Ron Lach, Pexels

News deserts, a phenomena that have primarily been studied in the USA, are defined as, “a community, either rural or urban, where residents have very limited access to the sort of credible or comprehensive news and information that feed democracy at a grassroots level.”

Since 2005, more than a quarter of US newspapers have disappeared, as well as half of all local journalists and newspaper readers. Most research done on news deserts in the US has been based on data collected by the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Their research is documented on the website www.usnewsdeserts.com, recording swiftly vanishing local news outlets and linking their disappearance to fallout in the wake of the 2008 global economic crisis, as well as as a consequence of the transition to digital.

 

Though the EU doesn’t have the same wealth of literature regarding news deserts as the US, the issue is being looked into more and more amongst the 27 member states, with a preliminary report, ‘News deserts in Europe: assessing risks for local and community media in the 27 EU member states’, published in July anticipating a wider study that will be published in January 2024. The context for local news naturally changes when considering the differences between the US and EU, and the definition used accordingly changes. The EU defines news deserts as,

 

“geographic or administrative areas, or social communities, where it is difficult or impossible to access sufficient, reliable, diverse and independent local, regional and community media and information.

 

The cause of news deserts is linked to a variety of factors. The fall of print media and advertising revenue that sustained this traditional model of journalism has meant many local papers have become unprofitable. This can lead to their becoming understaffed, meaning the papers are unable to provide sufficient coverage of news to the citizens of their area. Unprofitability can also lead to the paper’s closure, leaving entire areas without a source of information on their local area.

 

There is also the issue of the digital revolution, which, despite being broadly positive and leading to increased readership and accessibility of information, has also brought with it a host of issues for local papers. Advertising revenue, which once accounted for the majority of profit, has drastically reduced, with tech companies now receiving the bulk of it. 

 

News outlets can also find themselves competing for attention online with algorithms, which in turn can have an effect on their tactics for generating web traffic. Many journalists have criticised this approach, saying that a local news model based solely on clicks leads to an inflated interest in stories that are of little to no importance to the areas in question, and fail to inform readers about the issues directly affecting their lives. 

 

Media barons of the 21st century are also contributing to the news desert crisis in the US. In 2016 in the USA, six of the largest ten newspaper chains were owned and operated by private equity firms or other investment entities. Acquisition of papers by these groups tend to be profit driven, rather than on interest in the communities in which the papers are basedan antithesis to the principles guiding local coverage. Often the acquisitions lead to the laying-off of staff and consolidation of operations in remote areas in an attempt to cut costs. This leaves papers not only with insufficient coverage of local areas, but entirely removed from the area in which it is based. 

 

Reach plc (formerly Trinity Mirror), a British newspaper, magazine, and digital publisher, drew controversy for its treatment of local titles when it purchased Local World in 2015, gaining 83 print publications. Award-winning journalist Gareth Davies, who had previously worked for the Croydon Advertiser before Trinity Mirror revamped the paper’s approach to journalism, criticised its model for its threat to local journalism.

 

“The trivialisation of news means reporters are asked to turn almost everything into a list, as if no reader could possibly understand what they’re being told unless there’s a number in front of it,” he wrote in a blog post shortly after leaving the paper, expressing his concerns that the new model was focusing solely on whether stories would receive “1,000 clicks.”

 

He also wrote about how, when the paper’s office had previously been moved to half an hour away from Croydon, people were required to work ten miles away from the area they were supposed to be covering, and that the number of people visiting the new office plummeted, leaving local people less engaged with their paper. All of these factors can contribute to the creation of news deserts, leaving residents without access to relevant, insightful journalism that covers important local issues and events.

 

The threat to local communities of losing their newspapers can also be seen as a threat to the transparency of local politics and, indeed, democracy.

When communities don’t have access to quality local journalism, they lose more than just a paperthey lose the knowledge that local politics are being followed and scrutinised, the chance to engage with local businesses who are advertising in these papers, coverage of local events and organisations that are important to them, and an outlet for a sense of community.

 

Historically, local and community papers have been hugely important in terms of social inclusion and minority representation, as well as documenting the rise and fall of specific social movements. They have operated as a means of drawing the attention of larger, national papers to important issues in remote areas, where events wouldn’t necessarily be noticed on a national scale. Local journalism is necessary for holding politicians and civic institutions accountable, and for citizens to actively participate in politics.

 

In Ireland, fortunately, none of the 32 counties are without a local news source. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be wary about the possibility of news deserts forming. According to Local Ireland, a group representing 32 regional titles across Ireland, 17 local newspapers have stopped publishing in Ireland since 2008, the most recent being the closure of the Fingal Independent by Mediahius in 2022. Local papers in Ireland are facing a variety of pressures, including the difficulties associated with the transition to digital. The PwC Entertainment & Media Outlook 2022-2026 forecasts newspaper revenues to fall 5.28% per annum by 2026, with print circulation numbers expected to drop 7.41% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) and associated revenue decreasing from €222.53 million in 2021 to €151.45 million in 2026. Print advertising is expected to fall at a rate of 11.9% CAGR. 

 

While digital circulation and digital newspaper advertising are expected to increase in the same period, these are alarming figures for an industry which, despite increasing readership figures due to the digital revolution, still gets the vast majority of its income from its printing operations.

 

I contacted Bob Hughes, executive director of Local Ireland, to ask him about government initiatives that could be taken to support local newspapers in Ireland. He told me that Local Ireland were very happy with the budget last October, particularly the reduction of VAT on newspapers from 9% to 0% (which came into effect in January 2023), and that it is necessary to have government support on implementing the recommendations of the report of the Future of Media Commission. These recommendations include establishing a Local Democracy Reporting Scheme, a Courts Reporting Scheme, supports for digital transformation and a comprehensive review of the provision of Irish language services, as well as increased focus on education and training to support those entering a career in media. 

 

Mr Hughes also highlighted the need to reform defamation laws in Ireland, which have been cited for years by various media outlets as ‘draconian’ and a constraint on the freedom of the press.

“There’s an imbalance being created by the current legislation,” Mr Hughes said. “Local papers are by nature smaller organisations so defamation suits can have a devastating effect on their income.”

 

An overdue (to the tune of eight years) review of the Defamation Act 2009 was published in 2022 and recommended providing clearer protection for ‘responsible’ public interest journalism, such as introducing anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) mechanisms and an end to juries in defamation cases, amongst other proposals. These recommendations were welcomed not only by Irish media, but by organisations such as Reporters Without Borders, who have previously expressed concern about the laws in their annual World Press Freedom Index. Another issue highlighted by RWB was that of media ownership in Ireland, which has historically been concentrated to the point of concern for press freedom. Following the sales of Denis O’Brien’s shares in Independent News & Media (2019) to Mediahius and Communicorp (2021) to Bauer Media Audio, however, has led to increased competition and diversity in the Media Landscape. 

 

Even taking these issues into account, Ireland traditionally ranks highly in the World Press Freedom Index, coming second globally in 2023, after Denmark. The Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2023 shows that trust in news in Ireland is generally high, and in local newspapers particularly high. 68% of those surveyed trust their local newspaper, a figure surpassed only by trust in local radio, RTÉ news and the Irish Times. More striking is that local newspapers inspired the least distrust of all brands in the survey, with only 10% of those surveyed saying they did not trust their local newspaper. Mr Hughes remarked, “Trust is key to the continuing demand and survival of newspapers. Without trust, you don’t have a basis for a news organisation.”

 

On Feb 1st 2023, the project Local Media for Democracy (LM4D) was launched by the European Federation of Journalists, alongside other partners, funded by the European Commission. The project will develop over 18 months and its objective is to “revive the local media landscape with measures to build resilience, independence, and sustainability by improving their capacity in innovation, business strategies, and audience engagement.” According to the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom (CMPF) website, this involves a “comprehensive research and mapping of news deserts in the 27 EU Member States,” carried out by the CMPF, alongside a Media Funding Scheme that will provide financial and technical support for local, regional and community news media, with a focus on those in news deserts.

 

Applications for the LM4D grant programme are currently open, and Irish newspapers have already benefited from it. Dublin Inquirer, a reader-supported, independent, local newspaper covering Dublin city received an LM4D grant this year. The newspaper recently began coverage of Fingal after the Fingal Independent shut down in October 2022. 

 

While there is no clear, immediate solution to news deserts, research and investigation into their existence in the EU will likely help our understanding of their causes, and offer clues to the continued survival of struggling local newspapers. And though it is unlikely that there will be a full return to the print model of the past, it is necessary for a healthy democracy and informed, engaged communities that local journalism is not lost to an increasingly barren media landscape.  

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The Pressures of a Female Comic

The Pressures of a Female Comic

The Pressures of a Female Comic

Mrs. Maisel looks toward the camera in a crowd of men dressed in grey
Deepthi Suresh

13th of July 2022

A few summers ago, I came across a gem of a show, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, a Prime video series set in the 1950s that revolves around a privileged New York woman who suddenly finds herself single when her husband leaves her for his secretary. As I excitedly allowed myself to fall into the 1950s stand-up scene in New York through the show, I knew I had hit a jackpot of clever wit. It was a journey of a woman coming of age into the smokey comedy clubs, trying to speak her voice when all hell broke loose in her life. This was a perfect combination of entertainment, clever writing, phenomenal performances by the cast, and a story that inspired me. However, as I began my research for this article on female stand-up comics, I was bombarded with articles pointing toward the seemingly common topic, “ Why are female comics not funny?” At first, it seemed odd. I wondered whether there was any truth to it. In my personal experience, I have mostly tuned into male comics’ specials on streaming sites. But why was that?

The 1950s was a time when comedians had begun to transition into observational humour, which is still in vogue today. The lead actress of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, Rachel Brosnahan, strikes an important note wherein she says, “History is generally told by men about men. To have a period piece being told by a woman about an extraordinary woman is exciting.“ That is exactly what the makers of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel set out to do. The woman at the centre of the show, Miriam Maisel, on the night of her breakup with her husband, ends up at a comedy club that she used to frequent with her husband to support him. He was an uninspired aspiring comic, and Miriam, being the devoted wife she is,would take notes and help him with his performance. Her rant about how her life turned out on that fateful night sets the stage for her accidental birth as a stand-up comic. She then embarks upon her new reality of juggling two jobs – professional stand-up comedy and single parenthood. Her first comedy routine ends up with her being dragged by the police for flashing the crowd while drunk and furious at the way her life has turned upside down. However, as time passes by, one can’t help but notice and revel in the charm with which she delivers jabs at unruly audience members or the police. She gets arrested not once but a few times throughout the series. It screams out a sure sense of self-assuredness that you normally don’t find in a female (comic) lead of a television series set in the 1950s.

It is interesting to note that Maisel’s character might have been heavily inspired by a Jewish female comic and singer, Belle Barth. Interestingly enough, Lenny Bruce’s character (a phenomenally played by Luke Kirby) acts as a mentor of some sorts to Maisel while in reality Bruce used to open for Barth early in his career.  Barth had been arrested and charged for lewdness in 1953 and was eventually banned from radio and television. But this didn’t stop Barth from achieving commercial success. Similarly, Miriam struggles to find her footholding in the field. She refuses to follow a set and expected style of comedy meant for female comics of the time. She refuses to apologise for her lived experiences and instead churns out spectacular recipes of relatable comedy with it. In the show it is clear that a woman faces bias in terms of finding space in the bill or male managers complaining about their material drawing in more women than men. But she cleverly convinces them that women can be a spending audience too. This is portrayed delightfully well in season 4.

An open minded audience would always be receptive to hear new stories. The question is are they getting a chance to hear stories of female comics or are they choosing to ignore different perspectives overall?

 

Although Mrs Maisel takes place in the 1950s, the show cleverly depicts alternatives to perfection, keeping in mind that women were still encouraged and pressured to strive for the latter then just like now. In Miriam’s case, her pathological need to be perfect is displayed when she keeps tabs on her slim figure by taking measurements every single day, and secretly removes her makeup after her husband sleeps just to put it back on before he wakes up. Perfectionism takes centre stage in Miriam’s life as she constantly walks on a tightrope of the expectations of her femininity while being a single mom as she ventures into the male-dominated field of comedy. She mines for her material through expectations that women are familiar with even today! Having faced setbacks and life experiences throughout the course of her journey to be a comic, she realises one important factor that sets her apart when she tells her manager, “You know what is great about me. It’s when I am me!” For Mrs Maisel to thrive, she had to let go of the never-ending quest for perfection. Her perfect life had to blow up in her face. This gave birth to her authentic self, a voice that tore upon the typical female caricatures that were quite in fashion among the rare female comics who had made a mark with self-deprecating humour.

Maisel learned to embrace the unpolished realities that she encounters in her daily life. She began to make choices that may have been unprecedented within her family. She was afraid of letting go at times but bravely managed to hold her ground even when the going got extremely tough. The most uncomfortable truths sometimes make the best material for comedy. Why? Because you and I are able to relate to it! For example, it is evident with Mrs Maisel’s entry into comedy where she ends up insulting her family sometimes in her act. She insults her Jewishness at times. She even insults the, ‘dumb secretary’ that her husband leaves her for. But would a male comic have to think twice before he spins out jokes about insulting people, family, or a community? 

Stand-up comedy has a tradition of breaking norms, morals, and political conventions. The question that arises in my mind is whether women are scrutinised a bit more than their male counterparts. Comedian Kim Wayans however, observes that with men, “the audience is eager and ready and then he has to prove that he is not funny and then they back off, but with a woman, you have to come out and win them over.” However, in a study by Alice Sheppard regarding social change and audience response to female comedians, she was able to find that there has been a considerable change in contemporary evaluations of women comedians, whose ratings now equal those of male comics. The pressure that a female comic faces in the field may have reduced due to increased awareness of gender problems and inequality in society. An open minded audience would always be receptive to hear new stories. The question is are they getting a chance to hear stories of female comics or are they choosing to ignore different perspectives overall? I would say it should be our duty as the audience to encourage and watch female comics’ specials on streaming sites and create a demand for their humour!

Funny is just funny. Gender must not be an obstacle.

Sumukhi Suresh, Prashanthi Singh, and Urooj Ashfaq, distinct voices in the Indian comedy scene, share their experiences as comics in an interview with Cinema Express. When asked whether questions about women in comedy get tiring after a while, Ashfaq and Singh are of the opinion that pressure to not fail publicly is harder on women than men. Suresh also expresses her displeasure with the usage of the tag, “female comedy,“ which has become a genre of comedy. Meanwhile, Singh understands that with her profession, she gets a chance to be vocal and be the voice for other women, and that is why she believes that questions about female comedy will continue to be asked. In my conversation with Ellen Corby, an Irish comic from Dublin, when asked about safety issues that female comics may have to face, she said, ”If the act is not necessarily in a city or if it is somewhere more in the country. It is funny that you mentioned it because I hadn’t realised it but in the last two gigs that I have been on, I haven’t drank and I have driven home myself. I usually know people on the line up and I don’t feel like I am on my own. It is something as women, we do automatically, we factor these things in constantly. It shouldn’t have to be. It is like second nature for us.” Eurydice Dixon was an Australian comedian and an actress who performed regularly at comedy venues in Melbourne, Victoria. She was found murdered at Melbourne’s Princes Park on June 13th, 2018 on her way back home from a gig. Comedy gigs usually take place at night, and the lack of affordable transportation puts women in an unpredictable dangerous environment.

In an interview for the Belmont theater district, Chicago’s largest theater district, when asked what was the best thing about being a woman in comedy, Jeanie Doogan, a stand up comedian who has set herself apart with her quick observations, says that she gets to amplify women’s experiences and parenthood through comedy. For Correy Bell and Sarah Perry, comics from Chicago, it was the freedom to speak their mind, that was the best thing about being a woman in comedy. But there is unfortunately a negative connotation to female voices in comedy. Common criticism is that female comics only talk about period, cramps, sex, etc.

Ellen Corby however, has an interesting take on this wherein she says, “You get the stereotypes about if you are a woman, you only talk about ‘women things’. I still get those kinds of comments even now but thankfully they aren’t that common or at least people aren’t saying it directly to me … but because I am a sex-ed teacher … people go like are you going to talk about vagina? I kinda lean into that a little bit but at the same time, men talk about dating, sex, and their penises all the time. I don’t even mind that humour. It is something that everyone can relate to or understand. I think it is a human nature thing and I don’t think it has anything to do with gender.” She says there are also a number of female comics who are incorporating various styles in their performances and that women have always pushed the envelope. In Ireland, according to Corby, there seems to be much more awareness with regard to sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour. It is heartening to know that most promoters want to be more inclusive and include people from all genders. She says, “It has become particularly undesirable to have an act that is all just the same kind of looking males. It is much more attractive to people… I think now to see a bit of a variety there.” It seems like Ireland is the place for female comics to perform and grow together.

Today, more female comics are at the top of their field than ever before and they continue to make original and pioneering contributions to the genre. Ali Wong’s 2016 special, Baby Cobra, made headlines as the first comedy special filmed while pregnant. Wong described the challenges of fertility treatment, miscarriages, pregnancy, and childbirth while 8 months pregnant. Tig Notaro, in her 2015 special Boyish Girl Interrupted, performed shirtless in the final 20 minutes of her act, putting her mastectomy scars on full display. Funny is just funny. Gender must not be an obstacle. As Corby rightly points out, it’s just human nature. There are plenty of laughs and more to go around. Female comics have displayed an immense range of creativity and courage by using their lived experiences of being women in their acts. Future comics, regardless of gender, must use this rich universe of stories as an inspiration. These stories were told by fearless women who have successfully paved the way to enrich the fine art of story-telling in stand-up comedy!

 

Featured Image by Amazon Prime Video

This article was supported by: Engagement Coordinator Aislin

 

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Ruled Over While Tilling the Soil: Trans Life, Palestine, and the Texture of Exile

Ruled Over While Tilling the Soil: Trans Life, Palestine, and the Texture of Exile

Ruled Over While Tilling the Soil: Trans Life, Palestine, and the Texture of Exile

A cloudy day above number of buildings' walls ripped apart with building materials scattered on the ground
Penelope Norman
Penelope Norman
1st of July 2022

 

I was walking down Nassau Street one night in early December and I couldn’t stop thinking about Sunnyvale, a trans-majority community centre in north Stoneybatter, which had just been evicted. After the fight, everyone who called the industrial lot home got together to help build it back – climbing over makeshift barricades and crawling through murky halls littered with broken possessions. We picked up nail-sized shards of glass smashed on the concrete ground and took apart walls ripped out of abandoned buildings and caravans after hours of assault by heavies’ invading sledgehammers. We don’t like to talk about it much, though the day and every moment since tends to weigh on us and emerge one way or another. Every humiliation and injury by the gardaí, every community space slated to become a hotel, every time we look at one another and get blocked behind some wall that keeps us from talking about what happened, it’s like we’re living through the eviction all over again, digging ourselves deeper away from the surface.

I reflected on all of this while turning onto Fitzwilliam Street Lower to a house someone I knew had rented for the weekend on Airbnb. It was supposed to be a Haunukkah party with a few friends I’d met in our college’s Jewish society. The host and her family, who had flown all the way from Texas, were Ashkenazi Jews who had all been through all of their life cycle events and education at an average synagogue. Most of us in the college society had a much different experience. Either we had just completed our conversion, or our families had been Jewish for ages and either ignored the fact or hid it from us. My family in particular had gone completely underground (one might say stealth.) After struggling for years to pull anything from my mother and grandmother’s sealed mouths, I learned we were Sephardim and had concealed our Jewish roots for over a century. In other words, everybody in the group was Jewish, just in different, equally complicated ways. The society was and remains an important space for us to meet others and untangle our identities together. The only other relevant fact for what follows is that I had just gotten a new tattoo which was visible under the sleeve of my dress. It said, in Yiddish, ‘באפריי פאלעסטינע [Free Palestine].’

In 2007, the Israeli state decided to launch a marketing campaign to change how the rest of the world viewed its government. The campaign was called Brand Israel and it aimed to promote Israel as a bastion of rights for gay and lesbian people, encouraging LGB tourism to cities like Tel Aviv. At that same time, violence and hatred against Queer minorities was still present in the city, with a mass shooting in 2009 injuring seventeen members of the community. This was specifically part of an effort of what Palestinian activists have identified as ‘pinkwashing’, ‘how the Israeli state and its supporters use the language of gay and trans rights to direct international attention away from the oppression of Palestinians.’ One of the major rhetorical effects of pinkwashing Israeli apartheid has been a new resurgence of Orientalist language which defines Palestine and other regions in the Middle East as inherently repressive in their attitudes towards gender and sexuality (Said, 205). It also defines the Occident, Israel, as welcoming and open minded towards Queerness in comparison (the most important writer on the topic of Orientalism, Edward Said, was Palestinian.)

This ties into a common myth identified by philosopher Gayatri Spivak as ‘white men are saving brown women from brown men’, which sticks itself in our minds by structuring how we talk about international gender issues, limiting the ways resistance or acknowledgement of colonial structures can be discussed (Spivak, 92). To put it more simply, by leaning into gendered, colonial rhetoric which argues the ‘West’ saves the gendered minority of the ‘East’ from its own ‘inherent’ patriarchy, Israel has painted itself as a kind of widely recognisable saviour, giving it power in the eyes of people familiar with that rhetoric regardless of what they actually do. The most obvious problem with this is that it talks about Israel’s settler colonialism as a kind of protection or salvation, making it seem like the mass exodus comprising the experience of the Nakba (meaning ‘The Catastrophe’, a term referring to the ongoing expulsion of Palestinians from Palestine since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War) was a kind of gift.

One of the most famous retellings of the creation of humankind, as detailed by what Christians call the Book of Genesis, is the epic poem Paradise Lost by John Milton. Milton was a Calvinist and an ally of Oliver Cromwell who wrote during the English Civil War. His poem tells the story of Man’s fall due to the schemes and manipulations of Satan, who had just been cast into Hell after turning against his Creator. In the epic, Adam and Eve are depicted as the ultimate example of binary genders in a heterosexual union. When they are first referred to by name in the poem, they are described as, ‘Adam first of men […] first of women Eve.’ In a conversation with Adam in the first half of the text, Eve says,

 “O thou for whom
And from whom I was form’d flesh of thy flesh,
And without whom am to no end, my Guide
And Head, what thou hast said is just and right,”

 

She is written to play a passive role by submitting to her husband, testifying to his rationality and morality. When it comes time for them to Fall, Eve is seduced by Satan’s speech as a snake,

 

“his words replete with guile

Into her heart too easie entrance won:

Fixt on the Fruit she gaz’d, which to behold

Might tempt alone, and in her ears the sound

Yet rung of his perswasive words, impregn’d

With Reason, to her seeming, and with Truth.”

 

Adam on the other hand gets to ruminate on his decision to join her in turning against their Creator, completing the epic’s ongoing conversation about the nature of the Divine and Free Will. He was given the time to make a choice. In other words, Paradise Lost tells the story of the first Man’s foolish, gullible wife and her original sin which resulted from her inability to use critical thinking to avoid trusting a sketchy talking snake.

In Bereshit 1:27-28, from what the Christians call Genesis, the first human was created. To quote in translation,

 

“And יהוה created humankind in the divine image,
creating it in the image of יהוה —
creating them male and female.
יהוה blessed them and יהוה said to them”

In other words, the first human (Adam in Hebrew has connections to both ‘human’ and ‘soil’, referring to how this first Human was created from the material of the earth) was neither male nor female, but contained both aspects within them in a unique combination. When their partner was created,

 

“יהוה took one of [his/their] sides, and closed up the flesh at that site. And יהוה fashioned the side that had been taken from the Human into a woman, bringing her to [him/them].”

 

This gets trickier when we remember that the Sex/gender system which tries to divide bodies and social roles into two polarised categories didn’t really become a thing until much later in the historical record. In other words, in Hebrew translation and Jewish tradition, the creation of Adam and Chava wasn’t the formation of the original cishet nuclear family, but the formation of self and other, the making of difference among all people. This interpretation has been told and retold for generations, treasured by Queer Jews and passed onto their chosen descendants. Notably, conversations about this section of Torah and its implications for Jewish life and practice began to gain newfound attention by rabbis in the sixteenth century after the perils of the Reconquista and Inquisition forced Jews out of Portugal and Spain, a population who would become known as Sephardim and eventually lead, albeit after centuries, to me. The most relevant themes which come up from this story specifically focus on the creations of further differences, between a home made for us and a wilderness we are expelled into or living as part of a shared community and dying in the fossils and shackles of violence from the past.

A recent UN publication not only stated that the situation in Palestine was apartheid, and it also described the occupied territories as an, ‘open-air prison.’ To cross between regions, people must undergo invasive searches and checkpoint procedures, conditions of which vary based on assigned nationality. To navigate these checkpoints, people are required to have a series of corresponding identity cards, permits, and other documents; these borders have been recognised as an explicitly gendered space, a ‘social geography of horror,’ where permissions for crossing are granted on a sexist basis (they’re usually only granted to women for exceptional medical or religious purposes) and the facilitation of crossing is founded on strict compliance with embodied gender norms as enforced by Israeli soldiers’ rifles and gazes. The creation of strict gender norms in the carceral structure of the prison or occupied colony is not unique to Israel; Angela Davis in her book Are Prisons Obsolete? details how, ‘the deeply gendered character of punishment both reflects and further entrenches the gendered structure of the larger society.’ (Davis, 61) Along similar lines, Dean Spade argues how,

 

“For trans people, administrative gender classification and the problems it creates for those who are difficult to classify or are misclassified is a major vector of violence and diminished life chances and life spans […] The aim of creating increased security for the nation hangs on the assumption of a national subject that deserves and requires that protection: a subject for whom these identity classification and verification categories are uncontroversial. (Spade, 77-85)”

In other words, the creation of a security state or prison system relies on the enforcement of an ideal person, a person who is defined by the social systems constituting race and gender in that state. For Palestine, the carceral subject under Israeli occupation is the Palestinian who will soon be eliminated by the settler colonial state. Cruelty is the goal; they are not meant to survive. For trans subjects in particular, the systems of policing, surveillance, and apartheid are made even more dangerous by an increased risk from the normal dangers of not fitting into a stable, identity-based system. Israel and its allies don’t care if they discriminate against trans Palestinians because, in their eyes, they are just particularly targetable Palestinians who shouldn’t be in Israel in the first place. Pinkwashing is not only a dishonest marketing strategy, but also a hypocritical alibi for genocide.

At the party, I decided to help my hosts make latkes, fried potato cakes traditionally served during the holiday. A number of friends I expected would be there had sent their apologies, so for a while the only people around to chat with were all standing with me in a circle binding shavings together and browning them in oil. We made jokes back and forth about which toppings are more Jewish, applesauce or sour cream. I learned all of the men in the family had joined the military in America and were quite proud of this fact. In my head, I could see my dad with his eyes locked on me gripping the honorary sword he received for his work on the border in Korea, keeping it safe like the tokens his dad had taken from Okinawa in the forties. My uncle had flown south to Peru at seventeen and died in a plane crash, and at the same age a version of me went east and quickly transitioned; to him, we both went in the wrong directions. Their father wore a t-shirt with the names and numbers of the people he had served with. I was cutting myself with a grater, spilling blood in the onions, while the rest of them moved and chatted together like a frictionless machine.

I was aware of the fact that I was different from the people around me, what I couldn’t admit was how much I wanted what they had. I needed to feel like I could be in a space without fear of hurting everybody else or being hurt myself. The sister suddenly saw my tattoo and asked with excitement what it meant. I knew I couldn’t tell the truth; I couldn’t lose another home. I tried to shrug it off saying, ‘it’s from an old protest chant.’ They pressed on, wanting to know word for word what I had decided to mark on my body. I lied. ‘It means, “There is no Planet B.”’ It seemed to work; I can’t be sure whether or not they bought it, but they were satisfied either way. I felt caged in and alone, after all that had happened there was no one around the room I could turn to for recognition. They went on to joke about the minor differences between Texas and Dublin. I stepped out into the hallway and tried to feel my feet on the ground.

 

 

Featured Image: ‘Sunnyvale Lost’ by Penelope Norman

This article was supported by: Engagement Coordinator Aislin

 

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(Re)Visiting Miss Potter

(Re)Visiting Miss Potter

(Re)Visiting Miss Potter
Woman carrying a butterfly net with a bouquet in it
Parisa Zangeneh initials
31st of January 2022

Today, I visited with Miss Potter, the Miss Potter of Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, and Jemima Puddleduck fame. This visit took place over the internet, via the medium of the 2006, film, a film entitled “Miss Potter” starring Renee Zellweger of Bridget Jones fame. This visit was a bit unexpected and came about because I needed some inspiration to work on my thesis, and stories about female writers struggling and prevailing always serve as a source of inspiration for me. Thinking back to the impeccable Winona Ryder version of Little Women, and the more recent 2019 adaptation, these stories have mirrored the lived experiences of those who created them: Louisa May Alcott and Miss Beatrix Potter herself. 

 

Miss Potter is not about a fictionalized depiction of the struggles of a heroine, as was the case of Little Women, but it portrays the story of an actual living being, Miss Potter herself. The stories in both focus on the lives of educated, imaginative, talented, and ambitious young women who do not neatly conform to the gender expectations imposed on their sex. The film makes a point of portraying Miss Potter as somewhat different, unusual even, from other women and girls over the different stages of her life. She went from an imaginative young girl with great literary and artistic talent to a young woman who had few social contacts, possibly due to an overbearing mother and overly watchful (unusually present) minder. As a young woman, she envisions that the characters are her friends. As an adult, her behavior does not fit into the social constructs of the day, which is reflected in the slights and comments she receives at various junctures, such as when she visits publishers, hoping to convince them to publish her book.

 

Miss Potter also automatically conjured memories of the 1994 and 2019 versions of Little Women, in which the main character, Jo March, visits a publisher and is treated less than she is worth and with great condescension due to being a female. These moments in film make my blood boil when I think of comments and constrains women and girls have faced throughout history and still face every second of every day. The publishers also treat Jo March and Miss Potter with dripping misogyny due to their status as unmarried women. 

 

Today, women are not forced, or encouraged, to marry as a means of securing a stable, comfortable material existence, as they are allowed to enter the workforce and to participate in public life. But there are clear social remnants of these expectations that plague many of our behaviors and perceptions of unmarried women, even those who choose to remain single or childless, such as unmarried working women being afforded less respect and fewer social and professional opportunities than married women. I reflect on this with dismay.

 

The great value is revisiting old friends like Miss Potter lies is part is reminding us how we have evolved in the way we regard women, and how far we have to go.

 

 

​Featured photo by Cottonbro on Pexels.

 

This article was supported by: Arts and Culture Editor Deepthi and Engagement Coordinator Aislin

 

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How the viral song ‘Enjoy Enjaami’ captured the untold stories of landless Tamil farmers

How the viral song ‘Enjoy Enjaami’ captured the untold stories of landless Tamil farmers

How the viral song ‘Enjoy Enjaami’ captured the untold stories of landless Tamil farmers

Characters from the music video for 'Enjoy Enjaami'
Deepthi Suresh

Deepthi Suresh

13th September 2021

 

As I listen to the first few seconds of the new viral song, ‘Enjoy Enjaami (Enjoy, My God) that took the internet by surprise, it reminds me of Africa. It hints at the red earth. It hints at the exploited, toiling away under the sun on lands that will never be owned by them. But this is no African rap. The similarities are by design and choice only because this story has been experienced for years and years by the poor all over the world during the colonial era. The initial tempo sets the stage, and you are immediately drawn into the music. You wonder, is this an Indian song? What language am I hearing? Why did it garner over 80 million views on YouTube, sung by Australian-Sri Lankan singer Dhee and Indian Tamil rapper Arivu in less than a month since its release? The song from the state of Tamil Nadu in the very south of the Indian subcontinent was an instant hit and inspired hundreds of covers, song reactions and personal dance videos.

 

The world-class visuals depicted in the song masterfully captures the story of Arivu’s grandmother. Rap has always been the musical voice of the oppressed, poor, and disenfranchised. This song strikes the right chord with its listeners from its very first beat. It tells you the story of colonial India, which used to be a market for cheap labour. As history goes, thousands of poor Tamils migrated to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in the 19th century to work in the tea, coffee, and rubber plantations. With time, the virgin forests of Ceylon made way for the city roads and development, and it was the sweat and blood of the Tamil migrants that made all of it possible. However, as the migrant workers became expendable, they were forcibly sent back to India with no prospect of finding jobs there either. Once there, they took up different trades like masonry and painting. Rapper Arivu’s grandmother Valliammal is from the lineage of these workers.

 

 

‘Enjoy Enjaami’ celebrates the lives of common ancestors. Rapper Arivu finds his inspiration from Dr B.R.Ambedkar who is considered the chief architect of the constitution of India, also one of the greatest philosophers, civil rights activists and statesmen of the 20th century. Arivu pays tribute to the nonviolent resistance of ‘Mahad Satyagraha’ in March 1927, spearheaded by Ambedkar to assert the rights of the Mahar community to access public water. Ambedkar questioned why the ‘untouchables’ were prohibited from drinking water from a lake, where birds and beasts were allowed to drink. The lyrics – “The lakes and ponds belong to the dogs, foxes and cats too’’ echoes the demands that Dr Ambedkar had fought for.

 

As you listen to the song, it takes the listener through the journey of human civilisation and questions the role of an individual in space and time. One is posed with the question of self-importance and superior assumptions of their own identities while in reality share a common heritage with every being that played a role (ancestors including) in the journey of the human civilisation as beautifully explained in the following lyrics.

 

“ The land guarded by my ancestors
The devotee that dances
The earth rotates around
And the rooster crows
Its excretions fertilised the forests
That turned into our country
Then our home too”

 

Although the word imagery is lost in translation, the sentiment, emotion, and oppression of our ancestors are not lost in the tune itself. ‘Enjoy Enjaami’ is the history of life itself and how the oppressed survived.

 

 

Featured photo by Tom Thain

 

 

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Why does Hollywood still think body shaming is hilarious?

Why does Hollywood still think body shaming is hilarious?

Why does Hollywood still think body shaming is hilarious?

crowded cinema theatre
Ciara Phelan

13th August 2021

 

Although Hollywood is known as the forefront of creative media, and the home of the best and the brightest creatives, Hollywood film and television continuously fall victim to cheap gags and stereotyping. In this day and age, we are bombarded with stereotypes and tropes such as the funny fat friend, the sassy Black woman, the nerdy Asian, all of which are tasteless and unnecessary. The list is endless. One of these recurring themes in modern media is the use of body shaming as a comedic device. Women are commonly victims to this endless criticism, although men are not excluded from it, and it is seriously damaging the way we view our own bodies, and compare ourselves to those around us. Unfortunately, this cycle does not seem to have an end in sight, as these anti-fat messages are still being instilled in children, teenagers, and young adults to this day. 

 

An almost iconic problematic movie is Shallow Hal (2001). Shallow Hal is troublesome on a multitude of levels, but the worst and most central aspect of the story is Hal’s hatred of fat women. He is hypnotised to only see inner beauty, thus seeing larger girls as slim and gorgeous. Why has beauty become synonymised with slimness? To rub salt in the wound, the gorgeous Gwyneth Paltrow is cast as the love interest, and is seen in a fat suit for segments of the movie. The use of fat suits is less of an attempt to be relatable and inclusive to all sizes, and more to advertise the actor’s thinness and to literally objectify fatness. Paltrow even said in an interview that she found her experience in the fat suit “so sad, so disturbing” because nobody would look her in the eye. The loss of thin privilege is an intensely dehumanising experience for those who are used to being conventionally attractive. It’s an equally humiliating experience for those watching the film, seeing their body shapes being peeled off so effortlessly by the thin actor underneath and their lives being parodied by people who do not understand.  

 

Another favourite Hollywood trope is a storyline involving a larger woman suffering a life-threatening head injury, and is then so confused and disoriented that she sees herself as appealing – how unbelievable! In the film, Isn’t It Romantic (2019), Rebel Wilson plays a character who wakes up inside a romantic comedy after she hits her head. Only after the accident, does she notice attractive men making grand romantic gestures in order to gain her attention. Is it really so far-fetched that attractive men, such as characters played by Liam Hemsworth, find women with a physique like Rebel Wilson attractive? Similarly, in the film I Feel Pretty (2018), Amy Schumer plays a character who falls off a spin bike, and wakes up with a newfound sense of self-esteem and confidence. In each film, the entire comedic aspect of the story is the fact that the “fat ugly girl” either believes she is attractive, or believes that men see her as attractive after she hits her head. Hollywood somehow still finds it hilarious to think that a larger woman could be seen as attractive, could have an ounce of self-worth, or could be the star in her own romantic story.  

 

For generations, people of all shapes and sizes were ingrained with fears of becoming fat and the social consequences of it.”

The current ‘ideal’ female figure is made up of a set of unattainable contradictions – ultra-slim but not too bony, curvaceous but not too broad, wide hips but a small waist, strong but still dainty and graceful. We are unknowingly surrounded by anti-fat messages such as these, and the damaging effects of this reach far beyond women who are heavier-than-average and it instead harms all those who view it. For generations, people of all shapes and sizes were ingrained with fears of becoming fat and the social consequences of it. Studies show that 40 per cent of primary-school-age girls are dissatisfied with their body size, with children as young as three years-old demonstrating an investment in the thin ideal, and five- and six-year-old children reporting a desire to be thinner and to diet. 

 

Body image issues are not exclusively a woman’s issue. Studies have shown that a surprisingly high proportion of men are dissatisfied with, or are preoccupied with worries regarding their appearance. A study in the US found that the percentage of men dissatisfied with their overall appearance is now at 43 per cent, almost tripling in the past 25 years and that now nearly as many men as women are unhappy with how they look. Men are forced into silence regarding their worries out of fear of being seen as weak. In recent years, a number of celebrities have spoken out about their struggles with eating disorders: ex-Doctor Who star Christopher Eccleston, Dennis Quaid, Billy Bob Thornton, and Zayn Malik have all spoken about their battles with anorexia; Russell Brand, John Prescott, and Elton John have also spoken about bulimia. 

 

Male bodily dysmorphia manifests in a way that is totally different to women – while women are told to slim down, men are told to tone and bulk up. This has been heightened by the “superhero effect,” and the intense training that goes into portraying a superhero on-screen. Stars like Hugh Jackman, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth and Chris Pratt have all been seen to shed pounds and transform into the ideal male body type. Research has shown that 90 per cent of teenage boys who go to the gym do so to “bulk up.” Men, although equally insecure about their bodies as women are, are more likely to suffer from ridicule regarding both their bodies and their feelings regarding their image. Although the body positivity movement has benefitted women in the sense that society calls out and cancels those who insult women for their size, men do not enjoy the same benefits and continue to be mocked and taunted for not looking like those we see in television and movies. 

 

Men are also severely affected by these cheap laughs. In Avengers: Endgame (2019), as Thor battles with his own inner demons and his fear of failure manifesting in the demise of his home, he (like many others) reached for alcohol and high-calorie snacks as a means of comfort. Marvel could have taken this as an opportunity to shine a light on mental health, trauma, and substance abuse but instead Thor is illustrated as a non-stop fat joke. He is introduced in the movie with his shirt off, showing his prominent beer belly, in an attempt to parody Chris Hemsworth’s usual captivating shirtless scenes. This further perpetuates the idea that fat people have “let themselves go,” or are “lazy,” or whatever other nasty stereotype, and totally belittles the body positivity movement. “Fat Thor” seemed to be the butt of every unnecessary joke or comment throughout the movie, and this alienated members of Marvel’s loyal fanbase.

 

Whether conscious or unconscious, there is an inherent bias within our society that benefits those who are slim and villainises those who are larger. It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that we have grown to become more accepting, with Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson being two highly-paid and highly-respected actresses in Hollywood, but we must not ignore those moments within pop culture that reinforce the damaging stereotypes about larger bodies. We must demand better storytelling, and reprimand those within the industry who think that they can continually profit from cheap gags with no repercussions. We must protect those who are hurting because of this humiliation, and let future generations live the lives that we dreamed of where they are freed from this harmful gaze.  

 

 

 

Featured photo by Krists Luhaers

This article was supported by: STAND Arts & Culture Editor Deepthi + Programme Assistant Alex