On Gatsby and the loss of its’ greatness

I finally have seen it. After all this time waiting in anticipation, and also a lot of angst that I wasn’t going to like this film, or even enjoy it. I watched Gatsby. Yes, I was right I didn’t like it.

I enjoyed the film, I really did, but I didn’t like it. I decided before I went into the screening that I would try to appreciate it as a film and not compare it to the novel. This was a good decision but it was so hard; having the day before sat an exam on the book. The film was a good film, there were stunning visuals and the props and wardrobe clearly had a never-ending budget because the glamour and the wealth was extravagantly done. The houses were big and the champagne glasses were fuller and I think it really created the atmosphere well. The cars were fast and shiny, freshly made to help belong in the new fast and free world that the new American culture was supposed to offer.

The Great Gatsby and Gatsby

The Great Gatsby and Gatsby

There was also some really impressive acting I thought on behalf of the minor role, particularly George and Myrtle Wilson. George captured that hope of a social climber at the beginning and then the despair and rage that accompanied the death of his wife. Myrtle, although I have to say I really cannot stand her as a character, nor Daisy for that fact, but I thought she was acted well. She was a wannabe wag. Social climber who tried to act the leisure class lifestyle that she wanted. I really did like the juxtaposition of the introductions of both Daisy and Myrtle. They happened one after the other, Daisy elegantly lounging amongst blowing white drapes and Myrtle walking down the stairs with big red hair and lipstick, kissing her sister on the cheek with as much effort as could be. She was as far from the leisure class life as could be, which I liked. Not in a sadistic way, but purely because it was in-keeping with the book.

But some characters really felt so fake and unbelievable that I couldn’t warm to them. Gatsby. I don’t even know where I can begin. The overuse of his catchphrase “Old Sport” in the first few moments he was on-screen bugged me. Yes he says it a lot in the novel. But that was just ridiculous. His accent was also very confusing, it seemed like a mixture of English and American, was he trying for the sophisticated education that he supposedly had in Oxford, whilst also showing his Americanism? I don’t know. I really don’t know how they could possibly think that he would sound good talking like that. What annoyed me most was the Gatsby/DiCaprio hero-worship. There were times when it was difficult to differentiate between the actor and the man he was acting. The moment we are first introduced to Gatsby, he spins around, smile painted across his face, cocktail in hand and fireworks exploding in the background. This would have been a great unveiling of the elusive Mr Gatsby, the man who was possibly second cousin to Kaiser Wilhelm, a Prince, a murderer if it had been done right. Swift and brief and it wouldn’t have been too cheesy. It would have probably even told the audience that this is a great man. But instead we had to wait for the music to crescendo and the fireworks to fade, Nick to get a grip of his grin and DiCaprio to lower his class. It felt like an eternity.

Old sport, why of course fireworks are absolutely necessary. Of course they are.

Old sport, why of course fireworks are absolutely necessary. Of course they are.

Nick. Nick Carraway. A failed author who tried to make in the stock business. A man who throughout the novel is not only the narrator to the story, but is also perhaps the one and only decent and real character among the lot: and they send him to a mental institution. This not only horrified but truly saddened me. He was the one figure that I just about liked in the book, and he was turned into a depressive alcoholic, who in order to make himself better, writes down his story; which, you’ve guessed it, becomes The Great Gatsby. The writing out of your story is overused in film in my opinion too, generic and easy way to have a narrator voice-over events as they unfold. I know that in the novel Nick is effectively the author of the events, but he does so from the comfort of his own home, in order to preserve Gatsby’s memory and set the truth straight. Not in the selfish way the film does it.

Sex sells. I know that. I understand that this film has been made for a modern audience and with a modern twist on it, but it felt a bit out of place. The party lifestyle was overdone I felt. The scene at the beginning when Nick is drugged by Myrtle’s sister and then ends in the destruction of pillows, the removal of clothes and the music getting louder just felt unnatural and entirely staged. There is a lack of sex in the book, which has often been criticised by academics as down to Nick’s romantic narrative voice and his aesthetic censorship of the gender politics and the social differences. That doesn’t mean that sex wouldn’t have happened between the characters, I just felt that it was made too prevalent in the film. Too much attention was focused on it. I was a huge fan of the soundtrack as can be seen in my previous post I wrote in the run up to Gatsby’s release and I did like its’ use in the film. But sometimes it just felt too modern.

Sex sells.

Sex sells, perhaps I am just a prude. 

Perhaps The Great Gatsby is just one of those novels that cannot be transferred to screen well. The novel has so many layers to it that it is both dark and light simultaneously, this film focussed mainly on the dark aspects I felt, which is perhaps why it was unlike the novel and why I found it hard to like it. I really wanted to like it and I really tried, but there were just so many things that I couldn’t see through that made it hard for me to do so.

On surviving revision with creepy children and the world of Disney

Finishing exam season is just one of the best feelings. I now have so much free time on my hands, not that I was ridiculously rushed of me feet before; but now I am even less busy. Which means I can stop neglecting the blog and all the other activities I used to do for fun. I can read…FOR FUN!

This post doesn’t really have a known destination, it is more of a waffle/ramble of my ponderings. I did see a great article on the metro during the week that I wanted to bring to light on here however. It was the 10 creepiest things that children have said.

Creepy children

While I was in my darkest hour of revision this really brightened up my day. There really are some shockers on here though, ranging from a 7 year old giving dating advice, to a 3 year old threatening to throw her new baby brother in the fire. Images of the Omen and Sixth Sense are interspersed with the quotes the public sent in, just to add that extra touch of creepy.

I would also like to share this youtube video that really saved my sanity. I had never really thought about what would have happened realistically to the Disney characters after the films were over, and if, of course they were real. Being a huge Disney fan all my life, and probably for the rest of my life (I have won many Disney quizzes, my knowledge of the songs is pretty unmatched I would like to point out!) it just hadn’t occurred to me that anything bad could happen in their utopia’s.

Not only are the lyrics nothing short of pure genius, the harmonies are pretty spot on too, the choice of Disney princesses were perfect. Belle being accused of bestiality, Aladdin captured by the CIA as a terrorist. This song only gets better the more you listen, not to mention the catchy lyrics, just like the Disney songs themselves.

"I'd like her better if she'd lose at cards"

“I’d like her better if she’d lose at cards”

While I am on the topic of favourite childhood films that have stayed with us till now, although not DIsney, The Swan Princess will forever be important. The songs are amazing, although a typical love story that doesn’t particularly bend any social conventions, or is new or original in any other respect, it is one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways I can think of spending an hour and a half – as long as people around me can put up with my singing…otherwise I will be made to watch it on my own. Although I am corrupting my youngest brother, he too now loves the film which proves it is not just for the females.

My review of the Gatsby film will be out very soon now that I will finally have the time to go and watch it!

Discrimination prevents universal freedom of expression

“I am gay.” May be easy for some people to say, hard for others. The looming threat of discrimination can make it difficult for people to be true to themselves. The anxiety caused by living in a society that directly opposes your own beliefs and being can make life horrific for millions of people.

This is not just exclusive to the LGBT community, but it is a worldwide crisis. Discrimination has prevented freedom of expression from being accessible to many. Not just across the world but within different social groups in countries and communities discrimination is present, preventing everyone to their universal right. Poverty, unequal/lack of political representation, basic education, religion, sexual orientation. The people who most need the power of free expression are the ones who are prevented from using it. They need to make their voices heard. Not just because by making their circumstances public they may receive support, but because everyone deserves the most basic of human rights. In a rich country or a poor country, Western or Eastern, black or white, gay or straight. Universality means exactly that. Universal. Everyone.

Furthermore, freedom of expression isn’t just about letting people know about any discrimination you have experienced, but it is about that person’s personal development. Knowledge is power. Access to information helps communities to grow and prosper, creates better economic prospects, equal representation in politics, ultimately to a decrease in discrimination. Without freedom there can only be limited development, and the goal for all communities, cities, countries, the world, is growth. But with discrimination there cannot be freedom.

In Arundhati Roy’s book The God of Small Things the character Velutha is discriminated because he classified by the caste system in India as an untouchable. Outside of the four Varna’s, he is at the very bottom of society. This is only because of the family he was born into. As a person, he is the God of small things. Working as a gardener, handy-man, babysitter. His relationship with a higher caste woman ends with his death and her abandonment. How is this fair?

Yes I have used a fictional example, but that is only because using a real life example is too upsetting, more so than Velutha’s story. The worst (and simultaneously the best) part of the book, is its realism. It is so heavily rooted within Hindu and Indian culture that despite the country’s growing economic status, there is still this discrimination at the very heart of it and this class of people are absent from those benefits. Tradition is hard to replace. In this example, the laws are based in religion, which is then hard to alter because religion is such an important factor for millions of people across the world. This is the problem. This needs resolving before anything can be done in the way of ensuring everyone has the right to free expression.

While people are still being discriminated in their homes it will be almost impossible for the laws on expression to be changed. But this should not be disheartening, because you can also do many great things from inside your home, maybe even write a post on your blog.

On reading and rereading for revision

When I sit down to read, I want to do just that. Read. Enjoy the peace and quiet that I have earned after working on that essay all day long, because I honestly didn’t leave it to the last minute…again…honest. Find a comfy chair, make a cuppa and perhaps if I am feeling particularly indulgent, maybe even a chocolate digestive or two.

But reading a novel with the purpose of taking notes is a completely different experience. Your mind is full of questions the whole time, why has the author made character a say this to character b? Is it significant that the author is writing about a culture that they are not part of? Do they have the authority to write about it? Who decides where the authoritarian line is drawn? and before you know it, your mind has gone down a completely different path to the one that the book was hoping for it to go down, and chances are that all of those thoughts occurred to you in the space of a couple of seconds and are just fleeting ones. Never leaving you enough time to write them down on the side of the book, or if you disagree with marking books then the sheet of paper that you have next to you.

For english, you read the novel. You then read the academic criticisms (occasionally there are some praises thrown into the mix, just to spice things up a bit). You then should ideally, or if you have the attention or inclination, reread the original text so that the you can apply the critiques to the work and make more sense of it. But what happens in reality, you wait till you have an exam or an essay on that subject and then do the rereading, and miraculously everything (or perhaps I am being overly optimistic with my revision schedule and hopes for reading everything in time) makes sense.

a handy pocket-sized notebook could work...

a handy pocket-sized notebook could work…

The other problem that I find about reading and taking notes is that where does everything go? If I am making extended notes because I am reading an academic journal, I can put it on my kindle and curl up on the sofa, but where does the pad go? I can read it through Adobe on my laptop and have the notepad in front, but then I run the risk of finding more interesting activities available online. Then you have the really bad time when it is actually a book that you enjoy. You don’t want to spend two-to-three times longer reading the novel/play/poem/graphic narrative and making notes because you want to find out what will happen to the characters next. Moreover, you don’t physically have the time or motivation to read that slowly every week because the reading list is just so large that it isn’t possible.

I know that these may sound like petty things. But for anyone in a similar situation to me I really could do with some suggestions. So far sticking with saving the note taking to the reread and only academic works is pretty good. But I still feel that there would be a better way of doing it.

I guess I still have another two years to try to perfect it!

‘Terrorism’ and the Woolwich Attack

Yesterday (22/05/13) a British soldier was hit by a car and then brutally and aggressively murdered by the people who had run him over with what looks like a meat cleaver in Woolwich, London. The men who killed him asked people to film the incident and did not make any attempt to run, but simply bided their time before the police and back-up could arrive. On the film, the man is heard to say “Allahu Akbar” which instantly led the case to be considered and publicised as a terrorist attack.

Woolwich attack, suspect on street

Now, I am not going to pretend that I am an expert on politics or religion, or foreign policy or that I even have a detailed understanding of the relationship that Islamic countries have with the West. But I was horrified that people jumped to the conclusion that this death was a terrorist attack. The man on the video said that God is Great. The video also shows him saying:

“We swear by Almighty Allah, we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone. The only reasons we killed this man is because Muslims are dying daily. This British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. We apologize that woman had to see this today, but in our lands our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government. They don’t care about you.”

But how can you define terrorism?  The brutal decapitation of a civilian in Woolwich by a couple of men or the brutal killing of civilians in an Islamic country by the West? It just seems to me that “Terrorist Attack” is thrown around a lot, and almost acts as a propaganda weapon. The means to which the West think that all Muslims are plotting to destroy the West and what it stands for.

Bollocks.

Granted there have been horrific and devastating events around the world caused by terrorism, the UK, the IRA nationalists, the US, in the name of democracy, communism, fascism. They are all the same. Terrorism seems to be an umbrella term for most kinds of violence, which has in more recent years transformed to represent just the ones caused by Muslims. An article published on the Guardian asked the same question about defining terrorism and suggested that one answer could be “any act of violence designed to achieve political change.” If people are still insistent on using the term terrorism then it should be broadened out to include the West, because what the EDL did to the Mosques in Woolwich in response to the attack is surely terrorism too? Surely the government should also think about increasing security around Mosques and not just the Barracks if disgusting reactionary events like this continue? The Islamic community have said that they have nothing to do with this incident and that they hope it won’t detriment their livelihood in Britain.

EDL

What I found even worse was the reaction that it provoked across the country. Nick Griffin would have been proud with some of the responses the death caused. Facebook statuses claiming that it was all because the country has let too many immigrants in and that they should be sent ‘back to where they came from’ if they can’t learn how to ‘belong’ in our country. Honestly, if you go around posting statuses like that then you clearly don’t belong in this country because last time I checked it was pretty cosmopolitan. The recent census data shows how the demographics of London have changed recently and is only one example of many.

Sadly I can’t think of a way to make this end well. I think the future seems to look relatively bleak in terms of race, religion and terror. Although, it was reassuring that the majority of the facebook statuses and tweets that I read yesterday were of a similar opinion to me. That people who jump to conclusions about people because of their race are simply nothing more than racists. It is clear that the two men were sick. Why does terrorism even have to be thrown into the bag?

Feminism and The Yellow Wallpaper

Women. Females. Men. Males. What really is the difference between them. Gender and sex, another two words that seem to be pretty interchangeable in our society, and yet they both mean completely different things. But that one word, that word that has so much negativity attached to it, needs to be corrected.

Feminism.

A status was posted onto facebook about Angelina Jolie’s recent operation: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Brad Pitt today after the news about Angelina Jolie”. I like to hope that this was just an inconsiderate and poorly worded post and that the painfully obvious sexist undertone was a mistake. Sadly, I doubt it. The double mastectomy was to decrease her risk in getting breast cancer. If anyone was able to prevent a potentially painful, horrific, upsetting and stressful event, they would. This post also follows on from the lecture by Jackson Katz I wrote a couple of weeks ago. What is the problem is that sexism is embedded so deeply within our society, due to years of patriarchy that it almost acts incognito. Often going unrecognised and with an invisibility cloak.

Feminism is not bad. It is not a movement of bra-burning, hairy misandristic’s who would do anything to see men pay for what they have made women suffer over the years. No. Simply no. Ok, that is a fairly exaggerated statement, and I am sure that most men understand that feminists just want equality. But what also seems apparent is that there are a lot of women who are unaware of what feminists want. That is the problem. A woman who is not a feminist is like saying they are happy to be second best. When in fact there is no best, because there is no competition. Or at least there should not be.

In Charlotte Gilman Perkins’ short story The Yellow Wallpaper the protagonist, narrator (possibly called Jane, although it is not explicitly stated, so for all intents and purposes she is not given a name), is locked in the attic of her house as a treatment for her hysteria, which turns out to be nothing more than post-natal depression. She is prevented from writing because it tires her out too much, and so her only pleasure is taken away in order to help her recover. Her husband John is also her physician. He has prevented her from using her imagination as he fears that it will only cause her condition to deteriorate, but it does so because she is not allowed to use it, and so does it in secrecy. The story is written in the form of her diary entries and so skips around a bit, is rushed in places when she can hear her husband approaching.

To the kitchen.

To the kitchen.

To me, this novella is a criticism of the patriarchal society and the way it is organised. Jane, or the narrator, or just another Victorian woman notices a woman trapped in the yellow wallpaper that covers her room. It isn’t until she makes the connection between herself and the wallpaper woman that she realises that all women are trapped within their marriages and the societal conventions. That women have to creep around, avoid breaking the social rules, lurk in the corner. In order for the narrator to realise this, she has sadly lost herself. She no longer is just imagining these dark things, but is actually experiencing them, in some form of breakdown. She cannot return to the life she had before with her husband, she has noticed the cracks, the invisibility cloak has been removed.

Charlotte Gilman Perkins was a utopian feminist. Writing over 100 years ago she had her sights set high for the work that women could achieve. Granted there have been many improvements in most cultures around the world. But in no society has sexism been abolished, nowhere has sexual equality. Cultures have adapted to the reforms that feminists have pursued and forced into the public eye, but they are still very much controlled by men, for men.

Like the narrator in the novel, she was blind to the truth and then once it was discovered it completely altered the way she saw life. This is what we need. We all need the cloak to be revealed for us. Men and women together. Then we can deal with the changes together.

 

Gendering in our society: Violence and Silence

I am honestly nearly finished reading the book. Some reason I just haven’t been able to find the time just to sit down and read for hours – I blame exams and revision for this. Whenever I begin reading All Change Please or my recent choice Birdsong, I feel immensely guilty and stop after 20 minutes or so because I should be re-reading Gatsby or Eliot in preparation for exam season.

But yet again in another attempt to procrastinate (and if I am brutally honest, I am pretty sure I should be classified as a professional procrastinator. I mean, the amount of stuff I am able to get done whilst not doing the stuff I should get done is impressive. I mean I watched all of Seasons one and two of Game of Thrones in anticipation of Season three in 3 days. I know, I understand your jealousy…) and prolong judgement day, I found myself on TED Talks earlier.

I came across Jackson Katz and his Violence and Silence talk. It focussed on the culture of our society where violence is such a prominent issue and yet gender violence prevention is still almost a taboo. He argued that gender violence is lexically viewed as a feminine one. Men seem rarely to get involved, they are women’s issues that from time to time receive help from a few good men. And that this needs to be changed – it is a male problem. Gender is not synonymous to women.

Now I understand that not all violent relationships are the fault of the male. In fact depending on the nature of the relationship, men may not even be present at all. But Katz’s talk focuses on the attitude of society and the attitude men take. And this really got me thinking about our society, not just from a feminist stand-point, but in general. Patriarchy is still such a dominant force that if you look closely enough, it appears in the most unlikely places. In the lecture, Katz gives an example of the nature of sentence structures and how in relation to domestic violence there is a tendency to focus on why the victim became the victim, rather than why the person who did it, did it. (Starts around 4 minutes) This completely altered my attitude towards literature. The active and the passive role that words play in sentences had never really been drawn to my attention before, other than in French grammar lessons.

Fun Home: A family tragicomic

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

But also, if you think about it on a much larger scale, the sheer number of books, poems, plays, text, fiction and non tend to be patriarchal. It is almost like it is inherent in out being. The way we construct out views on Gender and the roles that specific genders play. The relationship between gender and sex. Is there even a difference? Do people recognise how important it is to differentiate between the two and that they are not just synonymous? A really interesting piece of literature that touches upon this is Fun Home  by Alison Bechdel, which I will review soon. By writing in the format of a graphic novel and not a traditional, archetypal novel she even does something to undermine the conventions of authority.

I also saw this status not long after watching this talk and although funny, and I can laugh about the casual sexism, there is still something prevalent within our society that makes it acceptable for such a statement to be classified as humour and not abuse:

BBQ RULES:

We are about to enter the BBQ season. Therefore it is important to refresh your memory on the etiquette of this sublime outdoor cooking activity . When a man volunteers to do the BBQ the following chain of events are put into motion:

(1) The woman buys the food.

(2) The woman makes the salad, prepares the vegetables, and makes dessert.

(3) The woman prepares the meat for cooking, places it on a tray along with the necessary cooking utensils and sauces, and takes it to the man who is lounging beside the grill – beer in hand.

(4) The woman remains outside the compulsory three meter exclusion zone where the exuberance of testosterone and other manly bonding activities can take place without the interference of the woman.

Here comes the important part:
(5) THE MAN PLACES THE MEAT ON THE GRILL.

(6) The woman goes inside to organise the plates and cutlery.

(7) The woman comes out to tell the man that the meat is looking great. He thanks her and asks if she will bring another beer while he flips the meat

Important again:
(8) THE MAN TAKES THE MEAT OFF THE GRILL AND HANDS IT TO THE WOMAN.

(9) The woman prepares the plates, salad, bread, utensils, napkins, sauces, and brings them to the table.

(10) After eating, the woman clears the table and does the dishes

And most important of all:
(11) Everyone PRAISES the MAN and THANKS HIM for his cooking efforts.

(12) The man asks the woman how she enjoyed ‘ her night off ‘, and, upon seeing her annoyed reaction, concludes that there’s just no pleasing some women.

 

So whilst feeling bad about finding the humour funny after being inspired to such a degree I decided to write about it, I couldn’t help but think back to the video. I am sure that it will linger with any of you that watch it for quite sometime because I honestly cannot recommend it enough.

To see the entire video click here.

 

Books, bookcases and deadlines.

I love reading. Always have and always will. There is just something so eternal in reading, you will never run out of things to read. Your library will forever expand, and if you are like me, expand way too quickly for you to facilitate where to store all of those books. I hate to leave books in piles on the floor, they deserve to be shelved or at least stacked on something to avoid being kicked or abused, but sometimes that is just the only option.

A couple of years ago I asked for a bookcase for Christmas. A strange present for a 16 year old girl to some, but it was by far the best investment I ever made. It managed to accommodate all of my books nicely…well it did until I discovered a little secondhand bookshop with all books for £1 and before I knew it…I was back to stacking on the floor.

English Degree...history books seem to be a bit more dusty.

English Degree…history books seem to be a bit more dusty.

But the other real problem that I find with reading, is that because there are so many books I can’t decide which one to read. Or worse than that, I just read them all at the same time. This indecisiveness once led to me reading 7 books simultaneously, in fact I think I still haven’t finished one of them.

You find a nice juicy book. You read for a few hours and get hooked and before you know it chapter 7 has already flown by. But then you find another book, one that you have been searching for and you want to read that one too. Yet you know that the original is at the peak of its excitement and yet the lure of this untainted and unexplored territory is what you really want. You must know whether that new book is as good as you think it is, or how it stands compared to the one you should be reading right now.

And then just as you are resolving your dilemma and you decide that you will finish the one you are reading and then move on, you remember that you have to finish that reading for class. That reading for your essay due in next week. That journal article that has nothing interesting in it, except perhaps for a few quirky gimmicks that make you remember you love history because of the simple stupidity of some people. The book that you have to read and review to keep your blog up to date. Reading to a deadline is the kryptonite to reading, it takes away all the joy that people find in that discovery process. Fair enough you may have got hooked and read the book in a night regardless of the seminar you have on it at 11am tomorrow. But it is the inability for you to decide which book you want to prioritise which is sad.

If I could have it my way, reading in summertime would be year round. But I guess taking a degree in English and History comes with the guarantee of changing people’s love of reading. Hopefully though, it won’t be for long…