The importance of ‘Brand Me’ in the Creative Arts

The importance of ‘Brand Me’ in the Creative Arts

“So tell us; what’ve you been up to recently?”

As an actor, if you’re lucky, this question might form part of an audition process. If you’re lucky, you might get this brief opportunity to prove that you are proactive, hardworking, adventurous, well-connected, thoughtful, optimistic, intuitive and any other irresistible traits that you can try to seamlessly squeeze into a 30 second response. You might be gifted this small chance to find common ground with the audition panel increase your chances of them giving you their undivided attention for the next five or ten minutes. If you’re lucky.

If lady luck is playing hard to get, though, the more likely scenario is that you tell them your name and then the curtain is up on your monologue or screen test or spontaneous interpretive dance in which you are to imagine yourself as a soup spoon in a whirlpool (advertising castings can get pretty freaky). This then means that you have a very small window of opportunity through which to peddle your product – yourself – to the discerning panel. It’s a terrifying notion; to be your own product and to offer yourself up, vulnerable and unshielded, to a group of strangers who are there to pass judgement on your very presence in the room.

For the unprepared, it can feel disheartening and perhaps even offensive. But for many others it’s a challenge to relish. When a mere five minutes in a room will make the difference between getting paid to do what you love and going back to your rent-paying job, you’ve got to bring your A-game to every last millisecond. You’ve got to do everything in your power to ensure that your five minutes are the same five minutes that they end up revisiting in their minds after a four-hundred-and-twenty-minute-long day of sitting on that panel. It’s a challenge I like the sound of, a lot.

At drama school, aspiring actors will often be given full classes on how to navigate the audition room and to maximise the potential of Brand Me (has a more diva-ish phrase ever been coined?) It’s a process that is broken down into its most basic elements; from the way you enter the room, to the way you close the door behind you, to how to smile and when to smile, to where exactly to stand, to where precisely to put your eyeline, and on and on. It’s a detailed science, studied with the intention of making you the master of self-promotion. Sure, there’s no amount of formula or practice than can ever really trump raw charisma, but if Pythagoras’ theorem can be taught and learnt, why not try the same with unabashed self-assurance?

A salesperson will be told to build a genuine confidence in their product for the sales pitch to be a breeze. The same applies to the audition process for the actor; a healthy dose of confidence takes the effort and awkwardness out of self-promotion so that the main focus can become the work itself. And really, that’s the goal – not to be selling yourself at all, but to be selling the material. But the harsh reality of the industry is that you won’t get a chance to do the latter without first achieving the former.

Aside from the time spent in the audition room, the task of pitching Brand Me can very easily become a full-time occupation. In a day and age where sharing platforms are so readily available, the pressure to network can become overwhelming because the opportunity to network is always at your fingertips. Twitter in particular seems to have become something of an actor’s hub. If you haven’t summed up your latest audition experience or theatre trip in 140 characters or less, did it ever really happen? It’s important to take a step back every now and then – to let your career play out without feeling the need to validate your every move via live updates to the twittersphere and to feel safe in the knowledge that a day spent offline does not equate to a day of missed opportunities.

One of the hardest things about being your own product is having to have absolute conviction of your niche and your selling points. An actor needs to know exactly what their casting bracket is and to be able to talk about it freely and confidently. It’s no secret that self-awareness isn’t exactly the human race’s forte, so to build this level of objectivity about oneself can feel like an uphill struggle and is, I believe, the main reasons why an actor must have thick skin. After all, a rejection based on what you’ve truly and objectively decided is the best, most accurate version of yourself is a rejection that is bound to sting. The best way to overcome this, as with most things, is learning not dwell. Whatever the context, you do everything in your power to prepare and perform accordingly in the moment, putting the best version of yourself on the table, and then you walk away and let the powers that be do their thing.

Really, it’s no wonder that actors can get a bad rep for being egotistical little so-and-sos when so much of their time must be spent thinking about… well… themselves. But with a healthy dose of humility, objectivity and humour, the notion of Brand Me can be achieved without the onset of Brand Diva.

Reality or RealiTV?

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Made in Chelsea; Real Housewives of Cheshire; The Only Way is Essex; Great British Bake Off; The Apprentice; Strictly Come Dancing; X Factor.

Throw in a few pizzas and bowls of pesto pasta and there you have a week in the life of a twenty-one year old.

We pile into our student lounge sporting various combinations of tracksuits, pyjamas and onesies and settle down for an hour of becoming a little too emotionally invested in the lives of others. We all cheered on Ollie Locke as he put JP in his place on the Henley river bank. We all giggled like school-girls when Selasi piped that icing. We all screamed in outrage when Sharon Osborne decimated the Over 25 category at Judge’s houses. Reality TV continues to be an ever growing phenomenon. But why?

It was not all that long ago that I was spending my weekends at the beach. I was staying out until highly unsociable hours of the morning. I was going to cool clubs with fancy cocktails and swimming pools in the back. I would sit in a room full of girls and spend hours gossiping about people we knew. Living our own dramas. It was not that long ago when a night in front of the TV would have been a welcomed blessing after the never ending birthdays, socials, special events and catch-ups. Now, almost every night of the week I stare enviously at a screen and watch people getting paid to do those things.

I wonder out loud who Nicole Scherzinger is dating, rather than focusing on my own, slightly lacklustre dating scene. I have reached that unfortunate stage in life when reality TV has become my personal reality.

We all know that in recent years there have been many questions raised about how healthy social media is. I know I can’t be the only one whose parents have banned phones at the dinner table. Kate Bush once requested that her fans refrain from filming her show because if people wanted to watch it through the screen of the person in front of them, then they would have stayed home to watch it on TV. We are rapidly breeding a culture of people who struggle to enjoy anything until they share it with the world.

When I was a child, popularity was determined by your Top Trump skills in the playground. Today, ‘likes’ are the new symbol of status. Smart devices and social media have opened up a whole new sphere of connectivity, and not everyone is happy about it. I would argue, however, that we cannot reasonably throw our arms up in exasperation at this and not reality TV. How is it fair to ask someone to look up from their phone and stop talking to their friends in order to spend some quality time with you watching the lives of complete strangers unfold? At least through social media we are, for the most part, keeping in touch with people we know. I once had a friend use my snapchat to check up on her ex. I have known relationships to start through an Instagram. FaceTime is a revolutionary concept that enables me to regularly see friends and family who live on the other side of the world – people that I would otherwise only see every few years. Whilst we may not quite be able to call living through a screen ‘reality’, in my opinion it is certainly more deserving of the title than say Joey Essex or Amy Childs.

My solution? TV dramas! More often than not they give us far greater role models: Aspire to be as witty as Chandler Bing, as successful as Dr Grey, find a love like Marshall and Lily’s. But most importantly, know that they are all fiction and that the best life to live is your own.

‘Act-thletes’: Fantasy and Reality in WWE

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Why do people invest so much time and money into things that aren’t real? How do companies sustain themselves on products with little to no practical use? Here, journalist and lifelong WWE fan Rohan Banerjee explores the blurred lines between fantasy and reality when it comes to professional wrestling…

 Do you like wrestling?  That this question tends to evoke thoughts of soap opera-like storylines alongside spandex-clad men points to WWE’s pervasive presence in society.  That people would sooner understand wrestling to mean chair shots and cheesy catch-phrases rather than Olympic grappling is a sign of exactly how entrenched the company is in popular culture.

It’s one of those questions that doesn’t really draw an awful lot of non-committal answers.  Like Twilight or Marmite, it’s a love-hate stand-off and very rarely do you get someone who thinks: “It’s ok, I guess.”

The critics believe that WWE’s styling as “sports entertainment” is self-defeating because it concedes that match results are pre-determined and therefore can’t be admired for any athletic merit.  Furthermore, they are unenthused by the storylines because those are again scripted.

WWE’s detractors are so dumbfounded by the company’s ability to sustain a global audience and multi-million dollar franchise that they feel the need to remind people “It’s fake” at any opportunity.  I wonder if the same cynics are so vocal at the cinema?

See, it’s ok not to like something if it’s not to your personal taste and there are many rods with which to strike WWE’s back – try sexism or political incorrectness – but don’t let yourself down by resorting to dogmatism.

Understanding why WWE does have millions of fans shouldn’t be difficult.  As with any long-running television series, there are plenty of people of who do buy into the storylines and find them compelling.  Granted, some, like Undertaker’s resurrection, are stupid; but can the same not be said about a year-long wait to reveal that pre-pubescent Bobby Beale murdered his big sister in Eastenders?

The argument about a lack of athleticism doesn’t hold much water either, because pre-determined or not, wrestlers still have to be in peak physical condition to put on the spectacle of a match; and even if the context isn’t, the risks of their performances are real.  It is this fascination with and commitment to the show that drives a huge portion of WWE’s appeal.

Different people have different indulgences that they use to escape or enhance reality.  Wrestling fans are so inclined for those exact reasons.  The face-heel dynamic is as engaging as any good versus evil dichotomy in a film and the idea of admiring a particularly talented performer needn’t be considered alien.

From a marketing perspective, the urge to imitate art, and theoretically that’s what wrestling is, is one that WWE has capitalised on.  Fans will have their own reasons for choosing their favourite wrestler – be it his or her move-set, skills on the microphone or dress-sense.  In the same way that Jenifer Aniston’s haircut became a staple feature of the 1990s, so did a host of stock lines from WWE’s ‘Attitude Era.’  Just wondering what The Rock is cooking raises a smile.

Ultimately, WWE presents a platform for fantasy, just like Star Wars, Harry Potter, Pokémon Go or Lord of the Rings.  It retains imperfections, of course, as well as a plethora of plot-holes but against the pressures of modern life, who is anyone to dismiss what someone else finds fun in their free time?

The growth of India’s newspaper industry

men reading paperIn a global climate of declining newspaper sales, India’s news publications appear to be holding fast.

India has a growing and constantly changing newspaper market, with daily circulation up from 150 million in 2002 rising to 264 million in 2014; it is expected to continue to rise in the coming years. However, the newspaper industry in India hasn’t always enjoyed increasing readership. India’s newspaper industry has faced restrictions because of state censorship, a lack of investment and the challenge of language were all barriers faced by the industry.

The years between 1991 and 2006 belonged to the television and Internet in India and this changed the habits of the nation, seeing the country’s population hungry for more media choices.

The rapid expansion of the Internet was accompanied by a newspaper revolution. Growth in technology and the importing of new printing equipment meant that it was becoming commercially viable for newspapers to be printed in a variety of regional languages rather than predominantly either in Hindi or English.

The availability of newspapers in different languages has meant that India’s newspaper market appeals to millions of non-English speakers. It is predicted that by 2017, the revenues for non-English papers will overtake that of English newspapers for the first time ever.

Increasing literacy rates across India has driven the localisation of newspapers, made possible by the changes in printing technology. The increasing literacy rates in rural areas of India has seen the investment in newspapers grow, and often, the greatest increase in circulation of newspapers has been in areas with increasing literacy rather than increasing economic power. By reading a newspaper people, who had been previously denied, have been given an opportunity to be involved in civic and political participation.  Kerala is one such example.  Throughout the twentieth century, this was an area with some of the highest literacy rates in India. There was also a strong sense of political involvement amongst the people, and the newspaper readership per 1000 was well above the national average for India, yet the average income for Kerala was below the Indian national average. This shows that rather than newspapers being a sign of the elite, they are now seen as a mass medium, and a way for Indian citizens participating in national affairs.

Underwriting the localisation of India’s newspapers is media advertising, which has grown alongside newspaper circulations. The growth of media advertising meant that Indian newspapers began to receive investment, and this made the decentralisation of news possible. Indian media consumers were first targeted by incentives via television in the early 1990’s, but this soon spread to print media, when it was discovered how lucrative incentives and gifts for readers could be. Incentives are often offered in order to increase circulation.  The Dainik Bhaskar, one of the most popular newspapers in India, spent 15 million rupees to tempt newspaper subscribers with a plastic chair in Chhattisgarh.

Perhaps the biggest reason why newspapers across India have continued to increase their circulation is due to the political engagement that they allow.

For people who were previously marginalised, or unable to contribute to political debates, newspapers have provided an opportunity to engage with politics at both a regional and national level. This suggests that as the population of India continues to become more upwardly mobile, the growth of newspapers will continue, with the only question remaining: how long can this growth be sustained?