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.

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‘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?

Birmingham: Jazz at the Spotted Dog

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Being England’s second city it shouldn’t come as a shock that Birmingham has a historic, vibrant and diverse Jazz scene. A subculture bolstered by the students of Birmingham Conservatoire’s top-class Jazz department – which itself regularly puts on live performances. The scene is probably best showcased by the Mostly Jazz, Funk & Soul Festival held in Moseley Park and the citywide Birmingham Jazz & Blues Festival. Both of which typically book a few big names and international artists alongside wide variety of local lesser-known artists.

But if you really want to get to know the scene, see the city’s musicians in their element and cutting loose, then my suggestion would be to hunt out one of Birmingham’s more informal and free-form nights. There are three such notable events that widely revolve around an ethos of improv and jamming: Fizzel, held weekly at the Lamp Tavern, Bain/Pulsgrove held every Monday at Yorks Bakery and the Tuesday Jazz nights at The Spotted Dog. The latter being the one I most recently frequented having assurance from a friend that the band playing – Zhenya Strigalev’s Never Group – were really quite good.

The Spotted Dog, perhaps unsurprisingly for a pub hosting a weekly experimental Jazz night, is located in what has become Birmingham’s most brazenly hipster district, official known as Digbeth. However, upon entry one is greeted with the décor and atmosphere of classic, if not antiquated, British pub. It is only by wandering out into smoking area that will realize that the pub conforms to Digbeth’s penchant for off-key trendiness. The drinking house’s outdoor decorations include: a gaggle of partially dressed and dilapidated manikins, two oversized lady’s dressers, a large smoking penguin and a bookshelf. On the night in question I got a chance to briefly peruse the shelf only to find it was mainly filled with old business studies textbooks, with one notable exception being a paperback entitled The Art of Zen & Sex, which I gave a quick flick through before I heard that the band was starting to play.

Once the band started performing in the corner of the room it became clear that my friend’s reassurance had not been misplaced. The Saxophonist who I assume was Zhenya took a peculiar stance; his instrument perched delicately between his lips as he stared up to the ceiling as if pleading to be possessed by some unholy jazz demon. The music aptly became wilder and more discordant as the set progressed, only held in by the Never Group’s unquestionable technical skill.

The night continued with me happily bopping along to some unexpectedly energetic and at times even ferocious Jazz. The pub began to fill up until there was quite a crowd and I noticed that many of clientele were carrying instruments of their own. It soon transpired that they were all planning to get involved in the night’s open jam session following the live performance. This was when the night really took off as a collective of shaggy yet jovial music-students bounced off and strained to excite one another, engendering an electrifying sense of anarchic fun. They certainly made me want in. I had once played the trumpet for a time, but last I checked my instrument was out-of-tune and I had been reliably informed that the tuning slider was irreparably rusted shut. Then again this was an experimental night; perhaps one of these Jazz aficionados could figure out something useful for me to do with my old, rusty, out-of-tune trumpet, though I doubted it.

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Later that week I went to see a band called Weave play as part of the Town Hall Symphony Hall’s Jazzlines live performance and education programme. The crowd, who on average were at least a generation or two older than the one in The Spotted Dog, were sat stilly and attentively in an arc around the band as they produced a far more refined and summery version of Jazz than the one I’d heard a few nights before. If I’m completely honest I found it a tad innocuous and I wasn’t quite getting along with Weave’s double trumpet no sax setup. To the side there was a stall trying to recruit people to the Royal Marine’s Band Service, which I perhaps considered with some cynicism.

I realized the Jazz-scene in Birmingham is not homogenous, it caters to a variety of sorts, not all of it will suit everyone, but that in large part is what makes it worth exploring. For myself I definitely feel that, the poor book selection notwithstanding, I will be returning for another invigorating night at The Spotted Dog.

Guest blogger: Stewart Yarlett

LINE: Japan’s communications app

_63596900_japan7Arguably, one the most popular apps used in Japan is LINE. This app became available in June 2011 and by January 2013, boasted 1 billion users in the world.

Although LINE is available in other countries, the popularity in Japan is quite exceptional. It is said that 40% of Japan’s population uses this app daily when only 69% of the population owns a smartphone.

So what is LINE?

LINE is a communication/calling app. It became popular as it doesn’t use the a phone line or provider. LINE uses the internet (either mobile data or WiFi) to call/text with each other. This allows people to communicate for free, as long as they have the internet. Not only is this app popular with teens, it is also seeing a surge in use amongst people in their 40s and 50s.

Another feature of the app allows people to share instantly and also create group chats, which reportedly has appealed to businesses aiding employee communications.

After the success of the main app, others have branched out under the “LINE” brand. These include news, games, weather, picture/video editing, and a camera app.

By creating apps that are targeted for different kinds of people, LINE has become an essential upload for Japan.

“… and How Do you Feel About That?” Argentina’s in Therapy. But It’s Okay with It.

tango-935221_1280Nicknamed the Paris of South America, Buenos Aires provides an abundance of culturally rich and unique experiences. The infamous Tango dancing in the streets, the exquisitely cooked steaks in exclusive and quirky restaurants, the multitude of late night salsa clubs and the art of drinking Mate (pronounced ‘matt-ay’; a caffeine-rich infused drink) whilst basking in the glorious sunshine aside one of the city’s popular lakeside parks.

However, it is the Argentine people themselves who are most intriguing, with the enormous presence of psychoanalysis and use of therapists among its inhabitants.

There are over 60,000 psychotherapists working in Buenos Aires alone. It is so popular in fact, that the neighbourhood of Palermo is nicknamed ‘Villa Freud’.

Buenos Aires is the psychoanalytical capital of the world with twice the number of therapists per head than New York. Chatting with a local ‘porteño’, the name given to those Argentines living in the port city of Buenos Aires, he explained that most of his friends had gone or go to therapy, “I have been for seven years, my mother for fifteen and my father for twenty years”.

Interestingly, the word ‘porteño’ dates back to the first half of the 20th century. Entitled the ‘Golden Age’, the country looked set to become a leading global economic power as millions of Europeans immigrated to start a new life there. It is believed that Argentines therefore felt they did not have strong roots in the local traditions and it is still ‘a country in constant search of its identity’.

Writer, actor and psychotherapist, Eduardo Pavlosky believes that Argentina is a country traumatised by a history of violent conflict, economic crisis and an uncertain future. In this regard, he suggests “In times of crisis like that, it’s very easy to go from one extreme to another. From black to white and from white to black. That’s what personality disorders are about.”

Psychoanalysis is said to be intertwined heavily with the idiosyncrasies of the Tango. The dance in its present form was developed around the mid to late 19th century in Buenos Aires with psychoanalysis beginning in Vienna at the same time. Both are born of European Romanticism, in a time of asking ‘Why?’. Why is this happening to me?’. A time heavily entrenched in melancholia.

Despite its sullen beginnings, psychoanalysis is now an integral part of Argentine society. It is so well-respected in fact that Bueno Aires has the radio station La Colifata (which literally means looney), written and produced by patients of a mental hospital. The documentary, ‘Argentina In Therapy’ explores this further, as one patient highlights, “It connects the institution with the community. It’s a way of communicating”.

Psychoanalyst Gabriel Rolon believes that the proliferation of therapists is good news. In contrast to other countries, Argentina gives as much space to emotional health as it does to physical. He explains that a history of war, corruption and persecution have made Argentines great “listeners interested in the pain of others, because we also need people to be interested in our pain”.

Intrigued by the open approach to mental health and sitting in one of the glorious parks drinking Mate, a friend summarised her reason for using therapy: “Talking about your problems can be an amazing experience, to talk and to listen is an art, it helps you understand your experiences more clearly, it helps emotional wounds to heal”.

Hannah Dean: Cultural Writer

Temperatures Rising in Rio

It is the morning of the 18th of April 2016 and less than ten hours ago, the Lower House of the Brazilian Congress approved the impeachment motion against current president Dilma Rousseff from the Workers Party (PT). Yes, Brazil is also 109 days away from hosting the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro; however, given the current political turmoil, the record-breaking unemployment numbers and the ongoing health threat of the Zika virus outbreak, it is easy to understand why most Brazilians are not focused on the Olympics.

Less than two weeks ago, Ms. Rousseff was speaking at the grand opening of the Aquatics Centre built for the games and made almost no reference to the Olympics itself. She actually used her speech to allude to the current political crisis and to express her intention to fight to defend herself. The content of her speech demonstrated the true purpose of the event, which had little to do with Rio, 2016. In order to better understand the real motivation for Brazil’s bid to host the global games, as well as to assess the range of potential benefits and disadvantages for the nation, we need to go back in time once again.

The year is 2009 and the governing Workers Party (PT) led by Ms. Rousseff’s predecessor, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva (commonly known as Lula) made a passionate and enthusiastic pitch to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) claiming that Brazil was “a progressive, democratic country”. At this point in time, Brazil was riding high on the commodities wave and attracting significant foreign investment, leading respected publications such as The Economist to claim that Brazil was “Taking Off”. Such a positive and widespread economic narrative surrounding the country was enough to convince the IOC to give Brazil the chance to be the first-ever South American Olympic host.

It is important to note, however, that the real motivation behind the PT’s bid to host the Olympics (and the 2014 World Cup for that matter) was not to bring “entertainment to the distressed Brazilian population and put Brazil at the center of the international stage”  – as the highly charismatic leader Mr. da Silva had claimed. As was apparent in the aftermath of the 2014 World Cup, the Brazilian population did not reap any of the benefits that the event was supposed to yield: not only were the tickets heavily overpriced, and therefore inaccessible to the average Brazilian, but many of the stadiums built were locked away once the event was finished.

Fast-forward to 2016 and Brazil faces an unparalleled economic recession and political instability. The root cause is one of the biggest corruption scandals ever registered: reportedly an intricate money laundering scheme involving the PT, Petrobrás (Brazil’s government-owned oil company) and several major construction companies. The latter were not only responsible for building the majority of the stadiums for the World Cup but are also building many facilities for the Olympic Games. Unsurprisingly, many PT politicians have been charged with benefiting from overpaid constructions, refurbishments and other bribes to make the constructions viable.

What is happening in Rio now is strikingly similar to what happened in the country a mere 2 years ago: constructions for the games are running overdue, are over budget and built with dubious quality. To top it off, the city is facing an outbreak of the Zika virus – a direct consequence of the governmental cuts on the money devoted to Healthcare. This has prompted some delegations to boycott the games.

Even the subway expansion, which could prove advantageous to the city’s population has been postponed following the mayor’s decision to divert funds to the construction of velodromes and other Olympic facilities. It is possible that the 2016 Olympic Games may yield some positive indirect benefits to Rio and to Brazil as a whole – through new facilities for sports or other infrastructural improvements. Unfortunately for the PT, Ms. Rousseff might not be around to claim any of the credit.

Moscow’s Anti-Cafés: Where Time is Money

image russianSince their conception by Russian writer Ivan Mitin, anti-cafés have been spreading from Moscow to all over Russia, and now Europe. Mitin’s chain ‘Ziferblat’, established in 2011, reached London in 2013 and Manchester just last year. The main concept of the anti-café is that the customer pays for time spent in the space rather than for food or drink. More to the point, however, the anti-café aims to encourage socialising and communication, thus providing a cosy, comfortable atmosphere for people to make new friends and spend time with old ones.

An anti-café will usually offer hot and cold beverages, cakes, free Wi-Fi and board games, with some even hosting Xbox or PlayStation consoles at no extra cost. The customer is also at liberty to bring their own provisions and use the kitchen to cook – though they should expect to share!

The process is simple: you go in and register, take a clock and your time starts. The going rate is typically only around 2-3 roubles per minute (the equivalent of 2-3 pence at the moment). Therefore, two hours amounts to what you’d typically pay for a coffee in Starbucks.

Unsurprisingly, these cafés have really taken off with students who are looking for a space to hang out and have a drink or snack within a sustainable budget. Stepping into ‘Zelyonaya Dver‘ (Green Door) in Moscow, paints a typical picture of anti-café life: ping pong tables in the garden, students singing with guitars on the sofas, and others sipping tea and playing Jenga.  It is a common occurence for people to strike up conversations with strangers and make new acquaintances – a sight rarely seen in a standard Western café.

Indeed, a key part of their popularity is that anti-cafes provide a removed space with an informal atmosphere where social norms and rules are relaxed.  In a city like London where interaction between strangers is rare, this might be just what is needed to escape the nonstop rush. As Mitin himself outlined, the concept of a ‘free space’ is key; the customer is autonomous and able to create his own world within the café setting.

The past five years have not only allowed the concept of anti-cafés to spread, but also to develop into some quirky approaches to the idea. Perhaps one of the most weird and wonderful is ‘Kotiki i Lyudi’ (Cats and People) near Tsvetnoi Bulvar metro station. Claiming to make Moscow ‘warmer and fluffier’, this is the perfect place for cat lovers to enjoy pastries and tea whilst playing with the 14 house cats, and of course only paying for time (kotocafe.ru).

So if you’re travelling to Moscow any time soon, and looking for a place to study, eat or just take some time out on a budget, why not pop into an anti-café, where time really is money.

Image: The Calvert Journal