This weekend saw the Student Publication Association National Conference and Awards – #SPANC17 – and it was great fun to meet some other creative types (and I managed to nab millions of publications from various universities, which will make for some inspirational reading)…
I was very proud to have been nominated for Best Interview for my Josh Widdicombe piece, and even happier to be awarded Highly Commended for Best Design! Obviously Ben and I have had a lot of fun redesigning the paper this year, and it’s an extra pleasure to be recognised for our work.
Over the summer, I’ve been working on a very exciting project…
PearShaped is a student music magazine at the University of Exeter, and although they publish primarily on an online platform, they also have a print annual. This year, I was approached to design it myself (the society President had been impressed by my design work for Exeposé).
I was given a very generous brief: they were simply looking for a black/white/green theme, and my stylish, minimalist preferences were clearly expected.
For about a month, I worked incredibly long hours putting together this 60-page Freshers’ Week annual. Aside from setting up an exciting, original design – based loosely on the previous year’s edition – I also really wanted to make use of the opportunity by setting up pages which can only ever be seen in a magazine form. For me, this meant the opportunity to have a full-page image, with the text placed neatly over it.
I established an ‘edgy’ angular title text box for each page in PearShaped’s (lovely) signature green, and sometimes with a black header – labelling it as a ‘Feature’ or an ‘Introducing’ piece, for example. And I also set up some funky pull quotes: each one featuring its own mini green symbol relating to the article or quote.
Anyway, here’s a selection of some of my favourite double-page spreads…
Despite the considerable – and often knackering – task, I completed it ahead of schedule, and I’m incredibly proud of the finished design: from front, to back…
Wow. The week after this piece was posted online was, to put it mildly, an interesting one. Thousands of views, dozens of comments, and a hell of a lot of criticism. Luckily, I received fantastic support from family, friends and fellow writers just before the backlash hit, so I was ultimately able to laugh it off and share the more vivid/explicit comments with them. I wouldn’t say these comments from Hitchens’ fans class as ‘trolling’ particularly, but the experience certainly gave me a great insight into the dark side of the internet.
It all started on Friday the 13th (of November) — which probably should have been a clue that this interview wouldn’t go as hoped. Contrary to some of the comments I later received, I was truly interested to hear from Mr Hitchens, and I wanted to write a piece focusing entirely on his fascinating viewpoints: we even had a few overlapping opinions, which I hoped to discuss. I’d seen his wonderful interview with Owen Jones, and fully expected that we could replicate that friendly, engaging conversation:
Unfortunately, I instead received half an hour of difficult answers and, at times, surprising rudeness. The only explanation I have is that Hitchens presumed from the outset that I was a left-wing student journalist preparing to insult him whatever he said, and so he decided to put up a defensive wall. The post on his blog certainly suggests he changed his responses pre-emptively, and ironically it was this which created the lack of material, and also which made the experience so painful: both reasons for the final interview focusing largely on the conversation itself.
There are a few parts of the interview which, in hindsight, we should have removed in the editing stages: for example, there was a furore around the sentence in which I said I’d “agreed to a phone call” with Hitchens; this simply referred to my agreement with the (brilliant) Features editors at Exeposé, and wasn’t at all an arrogant ‘agreement’ to talk to Hitchens, but ultimately I should have re-worded it.
I was amazed by some of the other responses, however. Quite a few chose to attack me personally — or even my short, friendly introduction after the article, in which I exaggerate my perfectionist tendencies for comic effect.
A lot of people were critical of my comparison between Hitchens and Katie Hopkins, but I’d stand behind that decision. My personal opinion is that both of these writers make controversial statements purely to get media attention, and often resort to hate-fuelled or cruel language. Hitchens is a clever man — I said as much in the interview — but ultimately I think they’re very similar.
To conclude, I’m glad I wrote what I did, and I hope Hitchens will be more open in future. Alternatively, he could just refuse to take interviews. As his blog post noted, it’s very nice of him to support student journalists, but not if he’s going to be difficult simply for the sake of it.
Today, instead of writing something, I’m just offering up some food-for-thought about the horrors of media-savvy politics. I’d advise you try to ignore the content, and focus instead on the presentation (although admittedly it might be hard to ignore the delicious irony of Ed saying we should “put aside the rhetoric”).
Here’s a transcript of George’s speech, with those hilarious duplicated phrases colour-coded:
This is what I presume his soundbite script looked like:
[This review contains a few spoilers, but (as I come to explain) it was all so predictable it hardly matters]
I’m back in Sheffield, my first year of university is at an end, and I’m online, arranging a catch-up with my old school friends. The cheeky Nandos goes without saying. But what afterwards?
‘How about a film?’ someone asks. Mad Max immediately flashes into my mind – the smell of rubber flows into my nostrils, and the scorching heat of the desert sun scalds my back – but I don’t get to my computer in time to put forward my proposition before the treacherous words appear on screen – ‘Jurassic World?’ – soon followed by a whole host of approvals and agreements. I sigh…
With box office takings as massive as, well, an oversized dinosaur, I presumed Jurassic World was going to be awe-inspiring, inspirational, and thrilling, all at the same time. I don’t think I’ve actually seen Jurassic Park (for some unknown reason, presumably because my brother had liked it), so I had no idea what to expect – other than the dinosaurs. I hadn’t even realised there were two other films. But by the end of the film, I had an incredible clash of emotions. On the one hand, there was an undeniable, overwhelming disappointment. But on the other? I couldn’t stop laughing.
Jurassic World was the most cringeworthy film I’ve ever seen. Each line seemed more predictable than the last, even down to inconsequential scenes – like the moment Owen pointlessly decides to tell Claire to “stay in the car”, forcing her to get out of the vehicle immediately. The plot was just the same – that classic bad-guy-releases-monster-good-guy-saves-the-day story we all know and… love? The entire film felt as if a nervous golden retriever had been put on a giant Hollywood conveyor belt, pumped through the machine, and come out the other end a pristine, pampered poodle called Fido: presumably a male hero with a female love interest, which ends in a marriage – happily ever after. In other words, fat characters die after a short, humorous chase, the evil villain (who thinks velociraptors can be tamed) is killed by a velociraptor, and the male and female lead characters get together at the end – in a sickening silhouetted moment.
Then there was the product placement. In fairness, this mostly added to the amusement, as my friend and I couldn’t help but laugh when another brand jumped aboard. Mercedes, for example, comes off very well from the film, with extended scenes focusing completely on the beautiful cars as they speed through the jungle – visually reminiscent of every car advert ever. Perhaps surprisingly, all vehicles on the island are made by Mercedes: except presumably the ones which were destroyed, but of course you don’t see their logos. The Samsung Innovation Center was also a highlight, as were the Beats headphones in the opening scene. Other brands included Starbucks, Coca Cola, Verizon Wireless, Jurassic Park (no, seriously) – oh, and did I mention Mercedes?
I suppose I should speak about the actual plot too. It was definitely acceptable, but I personally found there were far too many similar-looking dinosaurs, which became very confusing. The clichés were painful of course, and so were the coincidences, especially the moment when the big, deadly dinosaur accidentally stops next to the aquatic enclosure where a bigger, deadlier dinosaur lives. Cue destruction. And the number of times a protagonist was easily within striking range of a carnivore and yet escaped unscathed was infuriating.
However, it wasn’t all awful. The visual effects were impressive, and of course this is arguably the most important feature of a Jurassic film. The dinosaurs are mostly believable, especially the small velociraptors which were up-close-and-personal and yet still impressively animalistic. Scientifically, however, I’m not so sure. A BBC article by Chi Chi Izundu points out that there have been huge leaps in the world of palaeontology recently – above all the discovery that dinosaurs would have had some feathers – but this was completely ignored by the producers.
Chris Pratt – one of my favourite new actors, and clearly a lively and humorous personality – was an impressive hero, but felt slightly tamed-down and held-back in his role as expert zookeeper Owen. Meanwhile, Bryce Dallas Howard gave a solid performance as park manager Claire, although why she didn’t swap her high heels for some sturdy trainers before sprinting across the entire island I will never know. From an acting point of view, however, I suppose this only makes her work even more impressive.
In conclusion, GO AND WATCH JURASSIC WORLD. Not because it’s a beautiful film, not because the plot’s any good, but because – quite simply – I was laughing out loud throughout. This is entertainment: pure, unadulterated, unashamed Hollywood, and you can hardly blame it for that.
To avoid divisive discussions about the individual parties, I have decided to move on from the usual disputes about policy and personality. Instead, I want to talk about the importance of the media in politics. After all, while watching the political propaganda on camera, we tend to forget the massive advertising campaigns which trail doggedly behind the party leaders on their national tours. And I’m not just talking about the sea of leaflets they leave behind: this is a modern election, and that means social media is the priority.
Social media demands three things: soundbites, viral videos and cock-ups. Gordon Brown’s 2010 microphone catastrophe will forever remain a prime example of what politicians should avoid at all costs, but so far everyone’s done quite well. The closest we’ve been to a mistake was probably David Cameron’s picture with an uninterested little girl, but it will all blow over soon (despite some amusing captions on Twitter):
Basically, every single party has held it together, so far. That said, the Lib Dems recently released what seems like a desperate attempt to make a viral video, following on from the 2012 viral autotune apology “I’m Sorry”, which made fun of party leader Nick Clegg. They have now tried to produce their own dodgy mash-up of their conference speech, to the tune of Uptown Funk. With 72% negative ratings so far, I’m glad to see this has failed. They need to realise that the secret to a viral video is to have no intention for it to go viral.
Of course, the leaders’ debate was far more important than these individual videos. Seven million viewers is an impressive number, but that still leaves a substantial majority of the population who didn’t watch; therefore, the actual brunt of the work was probably done backstage in the ITV ‘spin room’ — a vast cavern of manipulative rhetoric — with each spin doctor claiming their own politician won the debate. It seemed as if everyone had decided who they wanted to win in advance, viewers included, and even the front pages the next day were somewhat predictable, with newspapers either applauding their favourite candidate or criticising the others. The news became a compilation of the best soundbites, from a debate that seemed (to my ears) void of anything else.
The Sun was the most fascinating example of the battle between politics and print. Miliband has previously admitted his unpopularity with Rupert Murdoch, although I think it’s safe to say their front page “oops! I just lost my election” is wishful thinking from their point of view, this early in the campaign.
Like it or not, Ed definitely came across better in the debate than I was expecting (ignoring that constant staring at the camera – what on earth was that about?!) But he was completely missing from Labour’s new advert, released the week before. It instead features a soft-spoken monologue from Martin Freeman and a dramatic voiceover from David Tennant: two popular actors who I personally think are brilliant.
This made me uneasy. Personally, I think it’s quite sneaky to use celebrities in an attempt to improve your campaign, but of course it’s an undeniably successful tactic in this day and age, and the real criticism should lie with any fools who choose to vote purely on this basis. But if the politicians can’t communicate their promises themselves, surely we should be questioning their ability to govern at all?
Looking more closely at the Labour YouTube channel, I realised it’s a powerful mix of anti-Conservative videos and pro-Labour messages. Perhaps reflecting their focus on the younger vote, they have a stronger representation online, and these videos are highly persuasive in tone:
Love it or loathe it, social media campaigning is here to stay, and at the end of the day you’ll probably hear the messages you want to hear. But for me, it’s all too scripted, too plastic. After watching one interview with Buzzfeed for Cameron, then another with Absolute Radio for Miliband, I feel like I’m only hearing one voice: I’m a human being, vote for me.
Unlike the entirety of the country, I’ve restrained myself from passing judgement on Jeremy Clarkson, until now. Everyone has had an opinion on his ‘fracas’, and (even worse) they’ve all decided to share it with the rest of us. But the story is still going strong, and I’m just about fed up with it.
For the record, I think Jeremy Clarkson is a reasonably good presenter: he’s funny, boisterous, and clearly has a talent for motoring journalism. David Cameron acknowledged this talent, and was subsequently criticised, as if he had just advocated punching colleagues as an appropriate technique for communication (obviously the Conservative manifesto has not yet been released, so I won’t presume to know Cameron’s opinions on the subject). Anyway, I think Top Gear’s been running stagnant for a while now, but it’s still enjoyable enough.
Furthermore, I reckon Clarkson has been quite unlucky over the past decade, with a Wikipedia ‘controversy’ column which is three times longer than this piece and an array of misreported incidents which have spread like wildfire.
The most infuriating example of this occurred in 2011, when he was said that striking public sector workers should be shot dead “in front of their families”. As the media latched onto this, I was slowly driven insane, because I — unlike half those who reported on it — actually took the time to watch the clip in question. Clarkson had actually been commending the strikes for reducing traffic in London, and then said that because “this is the BBC” he had to offer a balanced viewpoint, thus concluding with an exaggerated, darkly-comic joke. Distasteful, perhaps, but certainly not malicious.
2014 was also a tough year for Clarkson. Someone trawled through archives of binned Top Gear footage until they found a clip in which he sang “eeny, meeny, minie, moe” (I have no idea how I’m meant to spell that phrase), and accidentally mumbled something which potentially sounded like the n-word. Once again, I found myself defending Clarkson, especially following his apology message which showed a broken and exhausted man asking forgiveness for an (inaudible) outtake.
Let’s be clear: I’m not defending everything Clarkson does — some of it is definitely unacceptable — but I also sympathise with him in the face of media-led witch hunts. Certainly the recent growth of comments on the ‘fracas’ shows he’s a popular topic, especially in our clickbait generation of inaccurate headlines and unsubstantiated reporting.
Apart from the media, however, I have another problem with this event. The ‘Bring Back Clarkson’ petition now has over one million signatures (at the time of writing), from supporters who don’t even know the specifics of the case. Over the last few weeks, we have only heard tiny rumours which are drip-fed through the media, and yet more and more people are signing it. The details have now been released, but it had surpassed that mark well before anyone knew the truth, and that angered me. If the same group were called to jury service, surely they wouldn’t support the suspect purely based on his or her courtroom wisecracks?
These same supporters might argue that they are supporting Clarkson purely in his position as a great entertainer. Why have a petition, though? Surely the figures — 350 million views per week worldwide — speak for themselves? Interestingly, a BBC executive apparently compared Clarkson to Jimmy Savile, and although that’s an incredible smear as far as I’m concerned, I’d like to reverse that comparison by pointing out that Savile too was a great entertainer, but a petition to celebrate his life would, I’d hope, be wholly inappropriate. He should be judged on what he did, and not the capacity in which he did it. This idea is perfectly demonstrated by Chris York’s Huffington Post article ‘Man loses job after punching colleague in face’, which perfectly distills the story down to its basics:
I’d like to finish with the story behind the story: the BBC. With its licence fee up for scrutiny in 2016, Broadcasting House is petrified of putting a foot out of place on its tightrope walk to potential oblivion. As Victoria Coren Mitchell explains, a hungry tabloid press (undoubtedly jealous of BBC subsidies) has been waiting to criticise Director General Tony Hall for any outcome of the Clarkson story. Having given him about twenty ‘final chances’ in the past few years, they’ve finally decided to cut him loose. It’s a shame, but I like to think Top Gear will be reinvigorated by the shake-up. If nothing else, rumours suggest Boris Johnson could be a potential replacement, and that sounds brilliant in every way. After all, why have three jobs when you can have four?