The return of Star Wars: an evil empire in Jedi clothing?

Yesterday

Next month ensure the eagerly awaited arrival of The Force Awakens. A good moment to examine the franchises timeless mass appeal

A long time ago, when everyone was taking day trips to a galaxy far, far away, I decided to stay put on our drab little planet. For months I ignored the blis of the individuals who returned home babbling about the marvels they had witnessed. Eventually my resistance weakened: late in the summer of 1977, I decided to see Star Wars after all. By that stage it wasnt easy. Cultists were attaining multiple return visits, and tickets were scarce. But I managed to buy one for a late-night session in a London cinema, where the mood of contagious excitement erupted every few minutes into whoops and cheers. I was merely there, I sternly told myself, out of culture curiosity. Two hours later I stumbled back into the empty streets, my head reeling as I hummed the fanfare by John Williams a marching through space scored for blaring trumpets and thunderous drums that introduced a wild, unstoppable ride, a rollercoaster of giddy delights. Star Wars “ve earned it” terse, bold title: here was a cosmic carnival, a flaring light show that was violent but mercifully harmless.

I sampled other worlds, peopled by animals belonging to no known species, and I watched a blue planet like our own blow up in a re-enactment of the big bang. I also had a preview of our cybernetic future. People were redefined as digital wraiths, whose data could be loaded on to a disc and disgorged from a machine as flickery holograms. Upsetting traditional hierarchies, two metal servants the burnish, prissy butler C-3PO and his squat companion R2-D2, apparently a dustbin with a brain bossily managed the affairs of their accident-prone masters. I liked this pair so much that I even bought a poster of them, which I pinned up in my college rooms in Oxford, discreetly out of sight of the student to whom I was teaching English literature.

My enthusiasm faded soon enough, and I binned the poster. I wasnt seduced to see the sequels, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi , when they appeared early in the 1980 s; by the time the writer and director George Lucas added The Phantom Menace and two more prequels to the series between 1999 and 2006, I had made up my intellect that only adolescents preoccupied by gadgetry went to the cinema, so I left them to it. From then on, my attitude resembled that of Natalie Portman, who remembers shrugging indifferently when she was offered a role in the first prequel: I was like, Star what?

Portman, however, overcame her disdain and accepted the job, and I gradually caught up on DVD with the five episodes Id missed. Now, with the series due to resume when The Force Awakens is released next month, Im obliged to admit that Star Wars is inescapable. The New York Times critic Manohla Dargis recently called it a cradle-to-grave amusement experience, which is literally true. Soon after their emergence from the womb, toddlers can be togged out in romper suits that announce I am a Jedi, or fitted with bibs on which Yoda, resembling a wizened green embryo, deploys his usual back-to-front syntax to demand Feed me you must.

At the other end of life, a Texan cancer patient called Daniel Fleetwood, who in September was given two months to live, campaigned online to be given an early viewing of The Force Awakens , pleading that he was unlikely to survive until its opening date; the movies director, JJ Abrams, granted his wish early in November, and Fleetwood died shortly afterwards. Han Solos Millennium Falcon can whizz through wormholes to emerge in galaxies on the far side of the universe: I hope that the movie eases Fleetwoods journey to his final destination, wherever it may be.

Appearing in instalments throughout the decades, Star Wars has aged with us, and as proof of its longevity the three principal actors from the first cinema goofy, toothy Mark Hamill, sassy Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford with his sly sideways grin will return in wrinklier, more grizzled form in The Force Awakens . The series also narrates the history of the times we have lived through: not only abstruse science fiction, it is political journalism in coded form.

Over the course of the six cinemas( not in chronological order ), a libertarian republic transforms itself into a predatory global empire, much as the United States has done during the last half century. Wed like to avoid imperial entanglements, tells Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi: he is repeating a point first made by George Washington, who in his presidential farewell advised the new country to remain isolated. America kept to itself until 1945, but during the cold war it began to behave like a global bully. In 1983 Ronald Reagan deflected attention from members of the military conceit and commercial rapacity by calling the USSR an evil empire, a phrase borrowed from the synopsis of past events in the early stages of Star Wars . Reagans plan for an aerial shield of rocket deployment platforms had similar origins: it was nicknamed Star Wars because it would supposedly transform nuclear combat into a pyrotechnical blitz to be played out far above us.

When the USSR fell apart, the focus changed. The Star Wars prequels especially Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith , made after 9/11 advise about the curtailment of autonomies in fortified, permanently embattled America. Democracy cant be bothered to put up a fight: Ewan McGregor, playing Obi-Wan Kenobi when young, statements that the senators are merely interested in serving the interests of those who money their campaigns a comment that glances at Washington DC , not the far-flung planet of Coruscant. The sepulchral monarch, who, as personified by Ian McDiarmid, has skin like desiccated parchment and teeth that are lichen-crusted gravestones, virtually quotes George W Bush and Donald Rumsfeld when he explains that security and continuing stability are his regimes imperatives. As for The Phantom Menace , the title might serve as a caption for the vial of imaginary anthrax hold back by Colin Powell at the United Nation in 2003 during his speech to rally support for the invasion of Iraq. Star Wars begins by proclaiming Princess Leias determination to restore freedom to the galaxy, though its never clear just what all those twinkling starrings need to be freed from and when we do get a clue, the explanation is dismayingly banal. For citizens of the galactic republic as for those in favour of the Republican party, the sticking point is the iniquity of taxation. Turmoil resumes in The Phantom Menace because trade routes to outlying star systems are being taxed by the greedy trade federation. A pact has to be signed by the commerce guild and the corporate alliance, which are supported by the banking clan( whose representative is a corpse with a clerical collar) and the techno union( which sends a metal leviathan to the negotiations ). Until Lucasfilms sale to Disneyin 2012, Star Wars was distributed by 20 th Century Fox, so its seducing to cast Rupert Murdoch as the baleful megalomaniac monarch, keen to widen his piratical brand of capitalism into all markets. Although the Jedi master played by Samuel L Jackson insists that We are peacekeepers , not soldiers, he unsheathes his lightsaber to keep the airwaves open for the dissemination of American entertainment.

The idea of the Force, central to the fuzzy theology of Star Wars , is disturbingly equivocal. The Jedi think of it as spiritual energy, but the word also entails power, which is colder and more brutal. Star Wars catches both Americas light and dark sides, its naive optimism and its crass, domineering pursuing of earning. Whether we think it good or evil, all of us have been colonised by this empire of images.

Now that CGI effects have become so ingeniously deceptive, its odd to remember the astonishment that Star Wars provoked in 1977. We may be more sophisticated today, but what remains eye-opening about the first three films in the series is the variety of custom-made environments through which they range arid Tatooine, gaseous Bespin with its city in the clouds, or jungly Endor and the virtual zoo of so-called lifeforms they place on display.

As inseparable as Laurel and Hardy R2-D 2 with C-3PO in the original 1977 movie. Photograph: Alamy

Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia are featureless archetypes: a surfer dude, a cowboy, and a generic female who promptly strips to a tacky gold bikini. The true characters are ogres and mutants, like the jazz quartet of praying mantises we glimpse at Mos Eisleys cantina, the four-eyed Annoo-dats, the feathery four-armed Besalisks, and such gruesomely idiosyncratic freaks as the toad-faced lecher Jabba the Hutt, Watto the junk-dealing bluebottle, and the reptilian changeling Zam Wesell, who is a slinky girl on the outside and a lizard for the purposes of the scalp. In this cosmos, humankind is an endangered species.

Which Stars Wars animal are you? asks one of the epics marketing websites. Its a question that many people seem to address to themselves. Nominating their religion in the 2001 census, nearly 400,000 UK citizens claimed to be Jedis. Some were joking, but not all: the church of Jediism has 200,000 adherents around the world, and in 2009 when one of its founders was asked to leave a supermarket in Wales because his cloak and hood seemed sinister to other shoppers, he claimed to be a victim of religious intolerance. These days, admission to the chivalric order is easier than it was for Luke, who had to undergo a course of martial and mental educate before his induction: all it takes is a credit card. Tesco sells kids Jedi robes made of polyester, ideal for parties and feign play, which can be accessorised with lightsaber that are stubby battery-operated torches.

Other alternatives are available for those with less monastic savors. In an episode of Friends , Ross badgered Rachel to have sex with him while garmented or rather undressed in Leias tawdry bikini( which was recently auctioned off to a Star Wars fetishist for $96,000 ). On festive occasions gay humen have been known to armour themselves as imperial stormtroopers, exchanging black leather for white thermoplastic polymer. In a parodic Spanish cinema called Love Wars , two of these clones canoodle in a hideout on the Death Star, though their glassy vizors induce snogging awkward.

Watch the trailer for the original 1977 film.

Last month a shaggy, hulking Chewbacca was arrested in Ukraine while campaigning for a candidate in a local government elections; he was fined a minimal sum for some petty misdemeanour, but claimed he couldnt pay because his bank didnt have a branch on earth. Also in Ukraine, a bronze statue of Lenin in the grounds of an Odessa factory was lately given a makeover as Darth Vader, with a uniform specially sculpted from a titanium alloy. Unlike Lenin, the demonic lord performs a public service, which guarantees him a dedicated following: his samurai helmet conceals a free Wi-Fi hot spot. In Sweden late last month, another Darth Vader set about on a less benevolent mission. A young man with racist grudges donned a black mask before stabbing to death a student and a educator at a local school. Before the two attacks he told them I am your father, as if Darth Vader were unveiling the secret of their shameful origins to Luke and Leia.

Oddly enough, the above figures in Star Wars that seem closest to human habits and concerns are not beasts at all, but contraptions. At the start of the first movie, we are introduced to this remote galaxy by the droid C-3PO and the astromech R2-D2, partners as mismatched yet as inseparable as Laurel and Hardy or the Two Ronnies. They may be machines with product labels , not names, but they are touchingly represented C-3PO by his angular gait, his prissy concern for protocol, his showy linguistic virtuosity, and his queasy dread of flying, R2-D2 by his geeky introversion and his autistic vocal repertory of beeps and burps. Between them they point to the forking route of post-human evolution. With luck, we might develop into effortlessly superior, gold-plated intellectuals like C-3PO, who is expert at over six million forms of communication: Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, promises we will be better off when we have the benefit of an artificial brain. Or will we turn out to be unsocialised nerds, clever with instruction manuals but inarticulate? R2-D2 is likely closer to the truth: he resembles the anonymous teens umbilically linked to computer terminals in their solitary bedrooms, tubby in shape because they eat only junk food who have adopted Star Wars as their all-knowing bible.

Mistaken for a divinity by the teddy bears called Ewoks, C-3PO bleats in embarrassment that his coding does not allow it him to impersonate a deity. Nevertheless he sniffs at beings made of mere flesh and blood, and when Luke is lost in a blizzard on an arctic planet he statements Hes quite clever, you know for a human. In a humbler moment, C-3PO salutes Anakin Skywalker, who first screwed his bits and pieces together, as the maker: this is his personal version of the creator who in Genesis moulds mankind out of red clay and breathes a spirit into him. On several occasions C-3PO is dismantled, and one of the most apprehending scenes in the series comes in The Empire Strikes Back when Chewbacca variously described as a fuzzball, a mophead and a stroll carpet mutely contemplates the droids severed head, puzzles over how it fits together with his discarded extremities, and painstakingly reassembles him.

Here is an encounter between ape and angel, at the beginning and end of the our long, halting evolutionary marching. Its a little like Hamlet brooding over the skull of Yorick: human is, as Hamlet tells, a piece of work, and it might be wise to see ourselves as engines not organisms, kept going by circuitry rather than nerves and arteries. When Darth Vader chops off Lukes hand, it is soon replaced by a prosthetic manage clad in artificial skin. Thanks to biomedical technology, all of us are undergoing a redesign, and Star Wars inspires us to think about whether that means we have outgrown humanity. Revenge of the Sith concludes by balancing the bodily past against the mechanical future. PadmA( c ), played by Natalie Portman, dedicates birth to the twins parent by Anakin, who will grow up to be Luke and Leia. Fussed over by a robotic midwife in a glitter obstetric ward, she still has to deliver the infants in the customary, agonising way, and she dies in doing so. Simultaneously, as two separate climaxes are intercut, we watch Anakin being hacked to pieces by Obi-Wan, then charred by a volcanic river that singes his corpse. But a squad of Frankensteinian doctors metallise the segments of his corpse and install a wheezing respirator in his chest. With the remains of his carbonised head encased in a sleek black helmet, he rises again as Darth Vader.

Nature fails in one case, science performs a diabolical miracle in the other. Having struggled out of the swamp where the gastropod slugs slurp and gnaw on the planet of Dagobah, we are no longer animals; our next metamorphosis may demonstrate what Obi-Wan means when he says that Darth Vader is more machine than man.

Genetic replication brings its own terrors. Armies of faceless, mindless clone troopers, modified to attain them both automatically obedient and ruthless, maraud through the later films. Obi-Wan worries that droids might have the capacity to strategy and strategise, and muses that If they could think, thered be none of us here, would there? Star Wars forums online have made this into a talking point, and many commentators answer Obi-Wans topic by calling him stupid, conservative and condescending. Droids, the messages in one forum assert, are sentient, intelligent, and should not be rebuff; someone else been shown that C-3PO, for all his effete fussing, might be James Camerons Terminator in disguise, poised to eliminate the inferior race of biologicals. After all, the software innovator Elon Musk advised in a recent tweet that We need to be super careful about AI potentially more dangerous than nukes. Who is to say, as Yoda puts it, for once not jumbling the syntax, what the future holds?

Technical progress is alarming: hence the emotional appeal of regression. Now is the time to return to childhood, sighed the critic Pauline Kael, who, when she saw Star Wars in 1977 described the cinema as the equivalent of taking a pack of kids to the circus.

Feed me, you must: Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back. Photograph: Cine Text/ Sportsphoto Ltd ./ Allstar

Kael had a point about the endearing but exhausting childishness of Star Wars . The other movies of its period were grim parables of psychological deviancy, social malaise and political paranoia, set in Americas hellish, festering cities Scorseses Taxi Driver , Robert Altmans Nashville , Alan J Pakulas The Parallax View , Francis Ford Coppolas The Conversation . Lucas had previously attained American Graffiti , a pastoral idyll about teens amusing themselves in a small Californian town; it ends with a fearful preview of the grown-up future one character will be killed in a automobile accident, another will go missing in Vietnam, a third will suffer the fate worse than demise by migrating to Canada. Star Wars dodgings such outcomes by reverting to infancy and regaling immature audiences with what Kael called its comic-book hedonism. Lucas came to resent such patronising accounts of his run, and favor the acclaim of interpreters like the pop mythographer Joseph Campbell, who thought that Star Wars satisfied the human need for spiritual escapade and identified its characters as Jungian archetypes: Lucass namesake Luke is the young hero on a journey towards maturity, Obi-Wan is the elderly mentor who arms him for the fray, and Darth Vader represents modern atheism, a black void whose appearance connotes, in Campbells words, that the world is run by economics and politics, which have nothing to do with the spiritual life. Flattered by such puffery, Lucas offered to redeem a secular century. It came to me, he said, that there really was no modern use of myth, which suggests that he had missed out on Eliots The Waste Land , Joyces Ulysses and Stravinskys Oedipus Rex ; he declared that his intent in Star Wars was to set standards and to fill an aching emptiness by telling us about our values, as the sacred narrations of religion are applied to do.

Hence the allegorical aspiration of the prequels, in which Anakin is hailed as a savior, the chosen one as Obi-Wan calls him in a pious whispering. The messiah may have walked on water, but the nine-year-old Anakin gives notice of his divine descent by winning a demolition derby in a turbo-driven podracer that he has cobbled together from spare parts. When the adult Anakin resignations to the dark side of the Force, Hayden Christensen tries to make his torment manifest by furrowing his eyebrows, but his posthumous transformation into Darth Vader is entrusted to surgical technicians. Lucas changes Christ into Satan by rewiring and reprogramming the manikin who acts out the idea.

At first, the languages Lucas invented for his new worlds were a kind of burbling baby talk. Hence his Wookiees and Ewoks, or the gloriously nonsensical names of characters like Grand Moff Tarkin and Wedge Antilles. In the prequels, the neologisms turn ponderous. When he situates the droid foundries in Attack of the Clones on a red, craggy planet called Geonosis, Lucas attempts a metaphysical pun: compres Genesis, gnosis and geology, the made-up term chokes on its own indigestible etymologies. For Revenge of the Sith , in which the titular dynasty consolidates its power, he strains to make up a word that would exude the sulphurous essence of evil. A monosyllable that begins with a hiss but ends with a lisp hardly has the desired rumble of spite; if you unscramble the anagram, Sith voices better as shit. Beelzebub and Mephistopheles remain unchallenged as names for our eternal adversary.

Lucas may have blathered about quests and initiatic trials, but he knew that Star Wars was actually an excuse for sons to exert their motorised playthings. The series increasingly concentrates on chases, races and aeronautical dogfights in which spacecraft are vaporized by pilots with well-oiled trigger fingers, as if the films were rehearsals for the video games spun off from them. In The Empire Strikes Back, Han Solo voluntarily navigates his route through an asteroid field, dodging dust while C-3PO, in a tizz as usual, calculates that his chances of survival are 3,720 to 1. Return of the Jedi stages a version of the Ben-Hur chariot race in a wood of sequoias; in The Phantom Menace, Anakin steers his way to victory in a futuristic F1 tournament, zooming through desert crevasses and passageways of boulder as his competitors crash and burn around him, and in Attack of the Clones he wont bestir himself to rescue Obi-Wan until he discovers a vehicle with a proper cockpit and the right speed capabilities. What matters in Star Wars is velocity , not profundity. According to Wall Street calculates, the Star Wars franchise, boosted by video games and licensed merchandise, is now worth upwards of $30 bn( APS1 9.7 bn ). Amazon has a million and a half items tagged to the series for sale, while almost 900,000 are listed on eBay. Industrial Light and Magic, the name Lucas dedicated to the special effects company he founded in 1975, sums up his lucrative wizardry: the sunlight is emitted by diodes, the magic is a computerised simulacrum, and industrialisation mass-markets that visual voodoo and converts it into cash.

Watch the trailer for Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith.

Film writer David Thomson, who pays a barbed tribute to Lucass great talent for making money, describes Star Wars as the beginning of one of the great American movie empires. More than imperial, Star Wars is cosmological: it has distended to fill up what Lucasfilm calls an expanded universe. Out in hyperspace, room has been seen for an infinitude of supplementary tales. The television series Star Wars Rebels extends across 370 centuries rather than the measly two generations covered by the cinemas. A calendar has been invented for those uncharted aeons, which starts 13 m years before the first film and conscientiously fills in the blanks as if recording actual events; a Babel of spurious speeches, each with its own squiggly alphabet, has been devised for beings like the Ithorians( who have two mouths) and the Twileks( who speak by signalling with the tips-off of their tails ). Such mad elaboration induces the Bibles six days of creation sound like a lazy afternoon.

A new company put in by Disney police this Expanded Universe content, correcting errant subplots and ensuring that fan fiction does not trespass on the main narrative. Lucas himself checks the consistency of new storylines by consulting the Star Wars Encyclopedia , but he sometimes has difficulty regulating what happens on a plurality of ever more remote planets: in such an expansive world, even God observes it hard to be omniscient. In outlying galaxies, wars frequently break out between over-zealous innovators and fans who protect an orthodox version of events. There was predictable outrage when Chewbacca was killed off in a tangential fiction. Chuck Wendig has recently published another such spinoff, which contains a homosexual soldier called Sinjir Rath Velus; when readers objected that the sex dissenter was not children-friendly, Wendig answered back by re-enacting the battle in the first movie, lunging insults like the warheads Luke fires from his X-wing fighter. Youre not the Rebel Alliance, youre not the good guys, he ranted. Youre the fucking Empire, man. Youre the shitty, oppressive, totalitarian Empire. The expanded cosmo here contracts to the size of a padded cell.

I find your absence of faith disturbing, snarls Darth Vader when an imperial policeman accuses him of sorcery. What disturbs me is our excess of faith, a credulity that venerates Star Wars as a gospel, a testament, a map of the heavens. In Attack of the Clones , Anakin and PadmA( c) pause while smooching to discuss the self-sufficiency of the realm they inhabit. Anything is possible, says Anakin: he is rephrasing Lucas, who once remarked that It wasnt until we created digital cinema that I could allow my imagination to run wild. We live in a real world, PadmA( c) replies, come back to it. She has evidently forgotten that her body consists of pixels not molecules, and that the exotic scenery behind her was sketched by computers and overlaid on a green screen. Thats the paradox and the quandary of Star Wars : those who live inside the fantasy, whether theyre actors or fans, prefer their shared hallucination to the unelastic, downtrodden world of fact. With less than four weeks to go, The Force Awakens is awaited as expectantly as if it were the second coming. But the promised awakening began last September, when on Force Friday a shiny array of new merchandise apparel, Lego cruisers, cuddly toys, and an app-enabled droid shaped like a football ball went on sale in Disney stores. It remains to be seen whether the new movie will take us on an astral excursion or send us on a shopping trip. We pine for the consolation of religion, but in its absence allow ourselves to be bamboozled by technology and browbeaten by consumerism. Star Wars is irresistible because it caters to every aspect of our moral frailty.

The Force Awakens opens in UK cinemas on 17 December

Read more: www.theguardian.com

The week in radio: In the Dark

10 days ago

The murder in the latest new Serial podcast was lately solved, but the case is no less gripping or sad

I dont like to mention the S word any more when it comes to podcasts S entailing Serial ( series 1) as weve all moved on now, havent we? Were happy living in our post-S world. Its interesting to note its influence, though. The clever, ruminative tone of presenter Sarah Koenig operates through many US podcasts, though perhaps it always did. More obviously, there has been an upsurge in true crime narratives, both reveals like Criminal , which looks at a different case each week, and podcasts that unpick old or cold lawsuits( Untold , LBCs What Happened to Vishal ? ), to varying success. Nothing has quite captured listeners imaginations in the same way, however. The closest has been the Tv equivalent Stimulating a Murderer . But now we have In the Dark . This is a podcast about an unsolved US murder case that took place in the late 1980 s, painstakingly pieced together today by a female investigative reporter Its different to Serial in many ways, of course. For a start, it focuses on a child abduction. On 22 October 1989, in Minnesota, an 11 -year-old boy, Jacob Wetterling, was taken by a man, in front of other children, and never seen again. Thats the setup. But the punchline is different, too. After 27 years of mystery, only a week before the In the Dark podcast was due to launch, the case was solved. On 6 September this year, Danny Heinrich formally confessed to Jacobs abduction, sexual assault and slaying, having already led police to where the childs body was buried.

So , no whodunnit element to In the Dark . No long Reddit deliberations about motive or phone calls or timelines. Yet this does not detract from the podcast. Actually, it enhances it, because it changes the indicates emphasis. As Madeleine Baran, the reporter-presenter says: why wasnt this case solved earlier? What went wrong? But when she asks about this, she maintains getting the same answer: Theres nothing we could have done differently.

Right from the start, Baran picks away at this idea. If a crime takes 27 years to solve and the murderer had been interviewed previously, then surely something should have been done differently. This is not a successful investigation, she tells; its a failure.

Be warned: I detected parts of In the Dark almost impossible to listen to. Not because of its violence, but because of the innocence of the children and adults affected in the case. Jacob was strolling home from a video store with two friends when he was taken and we hear, back then, his brother talking about what happened when Heinrich stopped them. We hear his parents, interviewed recently by Baran, trying to recall exactly what happened, bickering over details. Gradually, as the podcast continues, we begin to understand the vast fallout of Jacobs disappearance, the lives it turned inside out and wrecked, how it altered the local community, changed US laws.

Watch the trailer for In the Dark .

There is much to consider; much that seems like a strange throw-forward to today. Trivial stuff, such as how the circumstances of Jacobs abduction are eerily close to that of Will in the Netflix TV drama Stranger Things . More serious: the useless, understandable community spirit that leads to a three-mile-long human chain children bussed in from other schools to show how much the locals care about Jacobs disappearance. It reminds you of candles held at vigils, of solidarity with terrorism victims after they have died. The local community belief that all individuals official is doing everything they can we need to believe that the police are infallible, that no stone is unturned, that brilliant detectives are presented with a crucial piece of information and construct the leaping to the truth. But such notions come from fiction. This is reality, and realitys messy, casual cruelty can induce you weep.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

I’m Not Shocked By The Negativity I Receive About My Interracial Relationship

10 days ago

Patience is a virtue that is suggested to everyone. But if you are in an interracial relationship in 2016, patience is a necessary skill. A sense of humor will take you a long way too, but you won’t make it out the front doorway without patience.

I consider myself a biracial woman, although, based on societal stipulations, I am classified as a black female. I would categorize myself the same if my mind worked solely on a binary scale. I date an Irish-Indian-Scottish man who is, you guessed it, a white man.

Why is this important? I’m not really sure. I’m still trying to figure it out.

Being a black woman has always been my truth, and something I espouse proudly. I love everything about my heritage, culture, skin and hair. #BlackGirlMagic, if you will.

By identifying as a black woman, I often get placed into stereotypes that contradict my personality, beliefs or perspectives. This is never more present to me than when I am out with my boyfriend and get gazed at like a unicorn on a busy street corner.

Here are some facts about us 😛 TAGEND

Our lifestyles aren’t different. We grew up with similar surroundings, experiences and upbringings.Our values aren’t different, seeing as we both believes in and strive for the same qualities in life and as humans.Our respective religions, political views and overall life outlooks are remarkably similar.

But our scalp tones are vastly different shades, thus inviting a slew of ignorant the issues and premises to be placed on our relationship that normally wouldn’t be there.

At first, I believed it to be a Southern habit because living in the deep south can be hard for anyone deemed “different.” Then it started happens in our travellings out of state at the hands ofpeople who have never stepped a foot over the Mason Dixon line.

It has always baffled me as to why people am worried about the lives of others, when that person literally does nothing to influence your own life.

It’s the amount of attention that stimulates you want to shrieking, “HI. HELLO. I Assure YOU.” But, that’s not very polite, is it?

Oftentimes, it gets to a phase where you merely wishes to carry around a bunch of cards stating things via “Love Actually, ” with answers like, “No, neither of us are having problem identifying with our respective cultures.”

Actually, we haven’t “was talkin about a” kids yet but I’m sure they will identify as “human.”

No, his mommy actually loves and adores me . Yes, we both speak proper English and are natural-born citizens of the US . No, I don’t feel like I’ve betrayed my race by dating him. But thank you for having caring .

According to this report by Pew Research Center, 12 percent of newlyweds in 2013 married someone of a different race. And beyond that, 6.3 percent of all weddings in 2013 were interracial.

That’s a lot of people who are living, breathing and loving person of a different race. So why is it such a spectacle?

I’ve never understood why find an interracial couple walking down the street can elicit the same reactions as find a giraffe graze peacefully in your suburban yard like it’s not supposed to be there, but you still can’t pull your eyes and judgements away from it.

At periods, I chalk it up to my insecurities as to why this person maintains looking at us across the restaurant, or why that man is shaking his head seemingly in our direction.

But other times more specifically, when a black human asks me the issues to, How are you able support black humen/ black lives when you date a white man? I think to myself, “What the actual fucking? ”

That question is completely ridiculous and I normally refuse to answer it, but for the sake of such articles, here’s what I will say.

There is absolutely no correlation between those two things. I hate the double standard presented to women of colouring when they date outside of their race, and it’s about hour it was halted.

Also, according to this same report from the Pew Research Center, black humen are much more likely than girls to marry person of a different race. Merely 12 percent of black females married outside of their race in 2013, as opposed to the nearly full one-quarter of black men who married outside of theirs.

I’ve always been shocked by the amount of attention America pays to the color of someone’s skin, and sadly, I have been subjected to it for the better part of my life.

From the dreaded What are you? to the never-ending, Well, you’re not like normal black people” it’s rare I get away with not being questioned about my race.

But the question of interracial dating is something that never ceases to astound me. It can come from literally anyone, even your more level-headed and liberal friend.

If we continue to objectify people by their race, we’ll never get rid of the systemic racism that flows through our society.

To give in to the hatred of the world is to let people’s ignorance win. It’s devoting people the power to influence and change Their own lives when they play no pivotal role in it.

There’s not a person alive who should allow this negativity to dictate theirlives, yet sadly, there are quite a bit who do.

An Elite Daily writer wrote about her experience with interracial dating, and the personal insecurities that grew from her negative experience with it. That violated my heart, because love is love.

I’ll even hashtag it so it means a bit more. #LoveIsLove.

We shout this from the rooftops, but barely present it to one another. It’s about hour we walk the walk because I, for one, am getting sick of this shit.

Read more:

Joyce Carol Oates:’ People believe I write quickly, but I actually don’t’

11 days ago

The volumes interview: The prolific author on the unreality of romance, the fickle memory of Americans and how tweeting has got her into trouble

When Joyce Carol Oates, the 77 -year-old author of well over 100 volumes, told the New Yorker last year that she thought of herself as transparent, before adding Im not sure I genuinely have a personality, the admission felt scandalous. We live in a day when the concept of personhood has been enshrined, in the monetising parlance of late capitalism, as my own personal brand. To posit its non-existence is a kind of taboo. Especially if you happen to be someone often was regarded as Americas foremost woman of letters.

Oates, a five-time Pulitzer finalist, might be very intensely interested in a portrait of America, but clearly she has no truck with the ego-vaunting, personality driven paradigm of contemporary celebrity. She appears more to belong to some other, long-passed era, with a pronounced gothic streak colouring much of her fiction, which tends to be peopled by powerful men and introverted women who often experience sex shame. In the afterword to her 1994 collecting Haunted: Narratives of the Grotesque , she seems to find a human truth within horror: We should sense immediately, in the presence of the grotesque, that it is both real and unreal simultaneously, as states of mind are real enough feelings, moods, shifting obsessions, beliefs though immeasurable. The subjectivity that is the essence of the human is also the mystery that divides us irrevocably from one another.

At her home in rural New Jersey she serves mugs of herbal tea and when her bengal kitten, Cleopatra, settles against my leg, Oates tells: I see you have quite a conquest there. She presumes youre here to gratifies her.

I am here, of course, to talk to Oates about herself and her work, but Im not so interested in myself she tells. I remember someone saying that Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton loved to go bar-hopping in New York, and the last thing they wanted to talk about was themselves they were more interested in these characters in the bars. Thats the route I think many novelists are. I was of the view that way. And its often said about Shakespeare that he was transparent, and Keats that he had this negative capability to be interested in other things.

Specifically, Im here to speak to her about her new novel The Human Without a Shadow, her 44 th under her own name to go alongside her many collectings of tales, essays and plays, her memoirs and her novels written under pseudonym. It concerns the relationship between an amnesiac, Elihu Hoopes, and a neuroscientist, Margot Sharpe, for whom Hoopes is both enduring scientific topic and lifelong love object. She is a woman who cant bear herself except as a vessel of work. She is also a person who wonders, What if I have no person what will I do then?

Oates is straightforward about the personal parallels. I very much identify with Margot. And not just for her workaholic tendencies and personality doubt. I suppose, she ventures, were continually devising narrations and filling in blanks and misremembering in ways that bolster our interpretation of something. So I wanted to write about this relationship between two people engaged in different memories.

Since his memory widens no further than 70 seconds, Elihu experiences every meeting with Margot as a first. Accordingly, the novel is written wholly in the present tense, the state in which Elihu lives. In one sense then, their love is literally without foundation: how can you form any meaningful connection in a little over a minute? Yet theres also something pure about their relationship: each encounter has the wonder of the eternally new.

Joyce

Joyce Carol Oates and her first husband Raymond Smith. Photograph: Eva Haggdahl/ PR

The relationship between them is always sort of unreal, she says, but Im wondering if many relationships that are based on love and romance are not fairly highly charged with unreality. When youre actually living with someone over a period of time you do get to know the person in a very complex and detailed way. But the romantic ideal is very much fraught with the possibility of conditioning people. Presenting your best ego. Telling things to the other that will elicits a certain response.

Oates was marriage for 47 years to Raymond J Smith, a professor and editor of the Ontario Review, which he and Oates founded together in 1974. After he died in 2008 from complications arising from pneumonia, Oates detailed her heartbreak in an acclaimed memoir, A Widows Story . Soon after, she met and married Charlie Gross, a neuroscientist. Gross has been a particularly enthusiastic reader of the latest fiction, which has come about, she tells, directly as a consequence of writing A Widows Story and having to deal so rigorously with her own memory. Oates usually works on several projects at once, but it was only after shed finished the memoir that she was able to return to writing novels and narratives. Writing fiction is hard to do when real life seems so much more important, she explains.

Nevertheless: I dont have any anxiety about writing. Not truly. Its such a pleasure, and our lives are so relatively easy compared to people who are really out there in the world working hard and suffering. The art goes much subsequently in civilisation, when youve dealt with other things like poverty and strife. People think that I write speedily, but I actually dont. I recollect guessing to myself, Am I still working on this novel? Its such a slow evolution. The phase of anxiety is lost in all that. You cant be anxious every minute of every day for eight months.

Oatess extraordinary work ethic she writes eight hours a day is such that we now have a virtual sub-genre of literature that we might call where to start with Joyce Carol Oates. Its a phenomenon she mocks wryly in The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates, 19731982 : The list of my books … is overwhelming. So many volumes! So many!

Her very first was By the North Gate , a short story collection published in 1963, but it was her fifth volume, them , a 1969 novel, that won her a National book award and confirmed Oates as a major writer. Blonde , her 2000 fictionalisation of Marilyn Monroes inner life, is often regarded as her best fiction( it was nominated for both a Pulitzer and a National book award) although many readers first encounter her through the repeatedly anthologised Where Are You Going Where Have You Been, a nuanced story of a young girls rape, in which every sentence is taut with something lethal.

And then theres her criticism: lengthy, dispassionate and thorough pieces for the New York Review of Books for which she reads each writer exhaustively. She recalls, for example, sitting in Dallas airport with all these volumes of Cormac McCarthy literal volumes, I wasnt reading on a Kindle and I guessed Im dragging all these books around, and theyre so depressing! But hes such a good writer … This is where I confess to her that, in this case, I failed to adhere to my usual rule of reading a writers entire backlist before an interview. Well, you cant perhaps she murmurs. Maybe that was asking too much of yourself, only in general.

The JCO completists in this world is necessary few. Theres a man named Greg Johnson whos written a biography of me, she tells. And then maybe a few other people.

I ask whether JM Coetzees job description of a novelist as a secretary of the invisible resonates with her.( Coincidentally, Johnsons 1999 biography is titled Invisible Writer .) Im plainly making, she counters. Coetzee is somewhat coy … A secretary is someone who takes notes, but a novelist has a strong will, and is generating narrative situations, bringing people together, telling a narrative. Its a very wilful thing, and Coetzee is a very wilful person as an artist. Theres a will; it should be invisible. No one should really know about it.

Then I broach the subject of another form of writing. Oates, who has nearly 140,000 Twitter followers, has become notorious for missives met with derision or collective huh? s. When she asked, All we hear of ISIS is puritanical& punitive; is there nothing celebratory& joyous? Or is query naive? it inspired the actor Molly Ringwald to react, Okay, who got Grandma stoned?

Most egregious was a tweet that seemed to conflate violence against women with Islam. Where 99.3% of women report having been sexually harassed& rape is epidemic Egypt natural to inquire: whats the predominant religion? I venture that this was Islamophobic. Well, some of the reactions are sympathetic … Its all sort of political. But my fundamental focus is the rights of women and girls and patriarchal religion , no matter what it is, Im not sympathetic to. I have confessed that often on Twitter, that I dont believes in patriarchal religion to me its delusional, so if thats Islamophobic, I suppose that could be true. Its more like religion-phobic, or patriarchal religion-phobic. What I had to say was actually much, much longer than could be said in a tweet. But nobody makes anybody write tweets, so the negative answer that one get is basically, in a way you deserve it. Ive tweeted other things that Ive entailed sincerely, but sometimes people misinterpret it.

She adds, wearily: I dont really care that much. I write something nice about Homeland , but a bunch of people write back to say Oh, we dislike Homeland , its Islamophobic. I literally dont care. I dont even read them. Theyre sort of attacking a tweet, then its gone. The fickle memory of Americans is something you can rely on. The literary world is very different, and Im much more serious about the literary world. I write these reviews which are quite long and nuanced for the New York Review of Books thats really like my real life.

When Ive thanked her and weve both stood up theres a moment of mutual uncertainty. Oates surely wants to get back to work, but the car Ive yet to summon will probably take 20 minutes to arrive. I gesture at a small floral lounge by the front door and indicate Ill just wait there. Upstairs, I can hear the voice of Oatess contented humming receding as she moves towards her desk.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

‘ All my friends had some nightmare experience trying to get pregnant. My story took the cake’

11 days ago

At five months pregnant, Ariel Levy lost her newborn. After four more years of IVF, had she left motherhood too late?

I first fulfilled Ariel Levy in 2009, soon after moving from London to New York, but I had been a fan for more than a decade. Her frank articles about pop culture and sex, which she wrote in her first task at New York magazine from the late 1990 s, the template of what I wanted to write one day. Her 2005 book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, a blister look at how young woman were being sold the lie that emulating pole dancers and Paris Hilton was empowering, became one of the defining feminist statements of that decade. At the New Yorker, where she has been a personnel writer since 2008, she breaks up the publications occasional aridity with vivid articles about sexuality and gender.( She got her job when she told editor David Remnick that, If foreigners had only the New Yorker to go by, they would conclude that human beings didnt care that much about sexuality, which they actually do .)

Heroes rarely live up to your fictions, but Levy outstripped them. Usually marriage used to go for drinkings cocktails that knocked me sideways, but scarcely seemed to touch her sides and from the start she struck me as being just like her penning: laid-back, wise, curious, kind. Sometimes Levys wife, Lucy, would join us. Isnt she hilarious? Levy would say after Lucy had said something that wasnt, actually, all that funny, but I jealousy them their mutual love after almost a decade together. I, by contrast, was lonely and, like generations of single women in their mid-3 0s before me, starting to panic. But like a lot of women of my particular generation, I felt ashamed of this. Panicking about not having a newborn? How retrograde. So I never admitted any of it to Levy, who seemed more likely to eat her own hair than indulge in such uncool, unfeminist thoughts.

I left New York in 2012 and, despite my doomy fears, had twins when I was 37. Levy and I stayed in touch by email, and although her messages became shorter and more distant, I presumed everything was fine, because she was Ari. But in 2013, I opened the New Yorker and learned that it was not.

***

When we meet for brunch on a cold Saturday in February, it has been five years since we last comprehend each other. Its a typical New York scene: weary and winter-pale mothers eating scrambled eggs in a trendy restaurant while their sugar-rushed toddlers play on iPads. Levy, by contrast, looks calm, happy and healthy, and not only because she has a tan from a recent five-week stay in South Africa.

If we had this conversation five months ago, I would have been in a bad way, she says, in a lilting voice that are typically sets an unspoken Oh my God! and Can you believe it? behind her terms. But Im so much less miserable Im not even miserable at all. So what the frack are we going to eat?

We are just around the corner from Levys flat, where she has expended the past year writing a memoir. This in itself is something of a surprise, because she is not usually a first-person novelist. But Levy, after negotiating her order with the waiter( Ooh, the cheddar scramble is that good? But do we have to have the creme fraiche with it? I mean, lets not ), shrugs off any concerns about self-exposure: Im pretty open book-y, you know? I never understood what the big deal is about privacy. The hardest part was realising that Id better entail what I say. The whole schtick of the book is acceptance and surrender. So after I finished writing it, I believed, Wow, I guess Id better follow my own advice now.

In 2012, Levy conceived a newborn with sperm from a friend, having overcome the reservations shed long had about parenthood. She was about to turn 38: It felt like attaining it on to a plane the moment before the gate shuts you cant help but thrill, she wrote in her 2013 New Yorker article, Thanksgiving In Mongolia.

When she was five months pregnant, she flew to Ulaanbaatar for run. Her friends were concerned but, she wrote, I liked the idea of being the kind of woman whod go to the Gobi desert pregnant. After two days of abdominal discomfort, she ran into the hotel bathroom, squatted on the floor and blacked out from the ache. When she came to, her newborn was on the floor next to her. I heard myself say out loud, This cant is all very well. But it looked good. My newborn was as fairly as a seashell, she wrote. She gazed in awe at his mouth, opening and closing, opening and closing, swallowing the new world.

She had suffered a severe placental abruption, a rare complication in which the placenta detaches from the uterus. In shock, Levy held the 19 -week foetus while blood spread across the tiles. She eventually called for help, taking a photograph of her son before the ambulance turned up. She was taken to a clinic where a kind South African doctor tended to her while she hemorrhaged and sobbed. And I knew, as surely as I now knew that I wanted small children, that this change in fortune was my fault. I had boarded a plane out of vanity and selfishness, and the dark Mongolian sky had punished me, she wrote.

Levy flew back to New York and, within two weeks, her relationship with Lucy came to an objective. For months afterwards, Levy continued to bleed and lactate: It seemed to me sorrow was leaking out of me through every orifice. She appeared obsessively at the photograph of her newborn, and tried to make others appear, too, so they could see what “shes seen” and they did not: that she was a mother who had lost her child.

Her article, which won a National Magazine Award in 2014, aims at that point, and I assumed that the end of Lucy and Levys marriage was tied to the loss of their child. In fact, that was a whole other shitshow, Levy tells now. When she returned from Mongolia, she realised through her cloud of grief that Lucy, who had struggled with alcoholism before, needed to go to rehab, poorly. The girls, still in love but too broken to support one another, separated. Today, they are in touch, but, Levy tells, There are times when one of us says, I gotta stop talking to you for a while because this is too painful. Because we are get divorced, you dont magically stop caring about each other.

The breakup is one of merely several shitshows recounted in Levys memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, which looks, in self-lacerating detail, at events in her life before she went to Mongolia, and hints at some that came as. It is not the book that many expected would follow Female Chauvinist Pigs , not least because it could be spun as a warning to women about the perils of waiting too long to have a newborn. Placental abruption, Levy writes, usually befalls women who are heavy cocaine users or who have high blood pressure. But sometimes it only happens because youre old. She doesnt go into this in the book, but Levy, who is now 42, has not been able to conceive again, despite having undergone a ridiculous amount of IVF over the past four years.

The alternative way of looking at Levys memoir is that she is dealing with a subject that feminism has never been able to resolve: the immovable boulder of fertility, butting up against female progress. Levy says she had always wanted to be a writer, so I construct my life with that as my priority; by the time she realised she also wanted to be a mom, she was in her late 30 s. She writes that she and her generation were given the lavish gift of agency by feminism, coupled with a middle-class, western sense of entitlement that resulted them to believe that anything seemed possible if you had ingenuity, money and persistence. But the body doesnt play by those rules.

Of course, this is partly about class, she says now. I dont hear women who are less privileged supposing theyre entitled to everything, whenever they want it. Thats a privilege phenomenon, but it is a phenomenon. It constructs me laugh when people say, Why dont you simply do surrogacy, or merely adopt? Believe me, there is no just about them. Surrogacy expenses $100,000 – $150,000 in the US, while adoption expenses are on average between $ 20,000 and $45,000( costs in the UK are much lower ). After the money Levy spent on IVF( A plenty. A plenty, a lot, a lot ), those options are less possible than ever.

Doomy warnings that women need to stop shillyshallying and sprog up are published in the Daily Mail every day. They are far less common from prominent feminist novelists, and Levy concurs there is no point in lecturing young lady, because it doesnt do anything, and they know it already. Theyre like, Eff you: Im busy trying to earn money and figure myself out. Its just a design flaw that, at the exact moment so many of us ultimately feel mature enough to take care of someone beside ourselves, the bodys like: Im out.

Writer
At home in New York: I was a mess for a very long time. Read an excerpt from her new memoir below. Photo: Annabel Clark for the Guardian

In the UK and US, the average age of first-time mothers has climbed consistently for the past 40 years, partly because of the decline in teen pregnancies, but also because feminism has given women alternatives beyond marriage and motherhood in their 20 s. This, Levy tells, is a seismic rejiggering, and the cost can be epic. While not all women want children, many do eventually, and it doesnt matter how many articles you read about women who are childfree and fabulous when the desire makes, it grabs by the root. That much has not changed, even if the age at which it comes has.

It feels virtually treacherous to say this, I say, devoted how hard our moms fought to give us more alternatives than they had.

I was never any good at maintaining secrets, Levy says. I entail, we ensure their own problems all around us. All of my friends had some nightmare experience trying to get pregnant. My story took the cake, but it wasnt fairly for anyone.

In the book, Levy indicates it was being a writer that encouraged her to believe she could prefer motherhood when she wanted:[ Writers] are accustomed to the power of authorship you control how the narrative unfolds. But I tell her I ensure the writer side of her more in her self-recrimination, the idea that she was to blame for the loss of her child because she waited too long to conceive. Although it is above the average age for first-time motherhood( in the US, this is 26; in the UK, 29 ), 37 is not insanely old to get pregnant. According to the NHS, 82 % of women aged between 35 and 39 will conceive within a year if they are having regular unprotected sex. Levy was in a different situation, because she was relying on IVF. Is it easier to ascribe self-blame, or even societal blame, than say she simply suffered terrible luck in tricky circumstances?

Well, its not just bad luck, because you are more likely to suffer from bad luck if youre older, she tells. But who knows? This might have happened to me if Id got pregnant when I was younger. I just would have had more hour afterwards to get pregnant again.

***

Levy grew up think the rules existed to be defied. As a child in pretty Larchmont, New York country, her mothers special friend, a large African-American named Marcus, would frequently come to stay with Levy and her mothers, a pair of diminutive Jews. Sometimes Levys mother would go to visit him. Marcus had the power to change my mother from a stern regulator of all food containing sugar into a giggling nymph pouring giant glasses of 7Up, as carefree as if it were carrot juice. It was frightening to watch her so happy, Levy writes. Eventually, her parents divorced.

They came out of the 60 s, where people were experimenting with all kinds of things, she tells. And they were going to reinvent marriage, and everything that was established was bullshit. So my mom was like, Im going to have everything. Ill have this thing and Ill have my domestic life, and neither will affect the other. She feels really bad about it. You know, it destroyed their own families. But its not like I think, Therefore convention is great and traditional families are perfect.

Because neither the traditional nor the less conventional approach insures happiness?

Exactly.

As she grew up, Levy occasionally experimented with women, but it wasnt until she was 26 and fell in love with her first girlfriend, Debs, that she realised this was, in her words, a definite thing. The narrative around[ came to see you] is that everything that preceded it was a lie. But thats not true for me I actually dug my boyfriends. But when I was with Debs, I believed, Oh, Im wholly a lesbian. Then I thought, Oh, wait. You dont have to choose no ones going to make you sign anything.

She satisfied Lucy when she was 28 and Lucy 41, at a friends party, and fell for her instantaneously. They had a wedding in 2006 and were legally married the following year in San Francisco. A few years after, Levy, then 35, embarked on an affair.

Even as affairs go, this one truly broke the rules. Levy had got back in touch with an ex-girlfriend, Jen, only to find that she had since transitioned and was now a trans man named Jim. The sexuality was as good as Levy recollected, but on a personal level Jim infuriated her: he indicated the two of them have a baby together employing his eggs and Levys uterus, a theory she found repellent in its blithe presumption: It was his sense of entitlement his belief that you could just keep choosing whatever you wanted in life, without ever sacrificing a single thing, Levy writes.

But this was really a kind of self-reproach: she wanted to be married, but also to have an affair; she had tried to forge her own path, but objective up replaying her childhood; she wanted to delay motherhood, but not reject it entirely.

Levy eventually cut Jim off, and she and Lucy repaired their relationship. Soon after, Lucys alcoholism overwhelmed her, and she attempted suicide. But the two of them went through it; I satisfied them soon after, when they couldnt have seemed more together. They decided to have a newborn. This, Levy believed, would be their happy story.

But happy tales come in unexpected shapes. Soon after Levy returned to New York from Mongolia, suddenly with neither a spouse nor a newborn, she got an email from John Gasson, the South African doctor who had looked after her in Ulaanbaatar. He sent her her medical report, which stated unequivocally that flying to Mongolia had played no part in the loss of the baby, just in case you have any lingering doubt or feelings of remorse, which she did. The two began to coincide, and that was a lifesaver, because he was the only one who saw me with the newborn, and that was the only thing that felt real to me then, Levy tells. Emailing turned into visits. Visits turned into something more, and they are getting married next year. This relationship feels less conventional than my relationship with Lucy: we dont live in the same country, we have different lives. My straight relationship is a lot less straight-out than my gay one was, she says.

Levy only hints at this relationship in her book, and I tell her I was astonished that she defied concluding with this better-than-Hollywood happy aiming. Well, I didnt want the books message to be, Someday, my prince will come, because it wasnt like that. I was a mess for a long time. Theres no such thing as a happy aiming. And this isnt an ending I mean, Im not dead.

The real lesson of Levys story isnt that women are having children subsequently and that this is a problem, but that womens lives are now an entirely different shape, with happiness no longer dependent on the old markers. A female can marriage other women in her 30 s, and then a human in her 40 s; a woman can run for president in her 60 s. And even if they dont get the original intended prize the baby, the presidency the forging of that new route still feels in itself like a victory. But I suspect it will be some time before Levy will be able to tell that story.

She has always loved to garden; her roof terrace was always bordered by shrubbery, and these days she has vegetable and flower beds. If I had my way, its the only thing Id ever do, she tells. In South Africa, she has learned to pony ride along the beach: I like how it feels like flying. When we satisfy, she is just finishing up a New Yorker profile of the artist Catherine Opie, whom Levy describes as a feminist and visual poet on gender.

As for herself, Levy remains first and foremost a feminist, but one who has moved on from Female Chauvinist Pigs: I still agree with myself that reducing females to tits and ass isnt this liberating thing. But Im just not that interested in talking about porn and whatnot at this moment in time. I dont know if its because Im older, or because the world has changed and were in a genuine crisis about womens rights with Trump.

Last summer, Levy chose, after four long years, to stop the fertility therapies. I merely need my life not to be about what I dont have, or consistently failing to get it in the most painful style. And its great. I mean, you cant spend the month of January in South Africa riding horses on a beach and is just like, my life sucks. All options entail not choice something else, and if the kid thing doesnt work up, John and I can travel when we like, and that has its charms.

I feel like were not supposed to admit to regret about our lives, but I do have unhappiness, and thats fine. That doesnt entail I cant live with them, or that somethings wrong. And its pretty great when I can hand my friends children back when they start having a tantrum. Simply as you wont lie to me and say theres nothing fulfilling about motherhood.

A decade ago, Levy profiled the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, and asked her if she regretted not having had children. Everybody doesnt get everything, Dowd replied.

That sounded so depressing to me at the time, Levy tells. Now it just seems like a relief to know I dont have control over everything. Its a part of growing up.

Another part is learning that the rules are mutable: you can be divorced and still love your former spouse; sadness is part of a happy life; and feminism doesnt entail getting everything. It entails giving women choices and thats a good thing even if sometimes those options are taken away.

Dr John wished to know how I am feeling. I tell him that I am in hell: an exclusive extract from Ariel Levys new book

An email arrives from Dr John Gasson, medical director, SOS International Clinic, Ulaanbaatar. As promised, he has sent my medical report, which I need to submit to my insurance company. He has also attached a study on preterm birth that he mentioned when we were in the clinic.

I ask him if it is normal that Im lactating. He explains that the oxytocin that brings on contractions also signals the body to lactate. He adds that the milk letdown reflex after a miscarriage is one of natures less kind tricks, which I think is an elegant and apt style of putting it.

Dr John asks how I am feeling. I tell him that I am in hell. But the very fact of him asking, of is available on communication with the person who was there that night, is a balm beyond any other.

I thank him for being so kind to me at the clinic. I ask if its gets even colder in UB. He says that it has, but that the real problem is the pollution: the colder it gets, the more garbage and coal people burn in the street for warmth, and the harder it becomes to breathe.

He explains that for six months of the year, he lives on the other side of the world, in South Africa, in a bungalow he constructed himself. There is a stable there that he put up for his ponies, and next door, his two adolescents live with their mom and her second spouse. I do miss my children and horses when I am away, and that can be difficult, he writes. The kids will be leaving school soon and off to university. Then I will only have the ponies to miss.

I tell him about the time I spent in Cape Town. I describe my meeting with the track squad out in the wind in Limpopo, my encounter in Pretoria with Caster Semenya.

Actually, he knows that story: he has been reading some of my articles online. He says he likes the way I write.

I like the route he writes, too: One of my fathers better narratives involved being woken up in the early hours of the morning and leaving in some haste as the house was burning. He remembers himself and his younger friend peering through the back window of the motorcar, still in their Victorian nightdress, as the night sky lit up over the rapidly receding town of Barberton. The veracity of his account is suspect, but what is fact is that some very incriminating documents conveniently disappeared in the fire. His sentences are so jaunty! And so foreign. They sound like the latter are written in not just another place, but another time. His narratives transport me.

Dr John tells me about his childhood in Zambia and Zimbabwe Rhodesia, to him, at the time. Growing up, he didnt question why, if the latter are Englishmen, as the person or persons they socialised with considered themselves to be, they lived in a country where everyone else spoke Shona and Ndebele. He did not really contemplate what it meant that his father also a doctor and his grandpa before him were colonialists, until many years later when he began to question everything hed been taught about blackness, whiteness and where he belonged.

His brother, Greg, was his best friend; they were only two years apart in age. Their mother died when they were toddlers. Greg died, too, in a motorcycle accident when he was 21. I can feel how haunted Dr John Gasson was is by that loss from 6,000 miles away. His mom, two brothers, his father, his country no longer exist, are part of the past.

When we converse in writing, everything feelings complete, discrete. I dont have to explain what just happened; he was there. Within the confines of our epistolary friendship, I am not missing pieces of my life except the one that came from my own body, the one that Dr John alone has ensure. Not a picture of the piece, the person.

I wonder sometimes if my grief is disproportionate, inappropriate. I insured my father fall apart after my brother got killed, Dr John tells me. But he had the consolation of knowing the adult that my brother briefly became. You dont even know what your son would have been like as a little boy. I feel desperately sorry for you.

Only Dr John insured him, and merely Dr John insured me with him. Merely Dr John insured what feels so violently true to me, I cant stand that it is invisible to everybody else on Earth: here is a mother with her newborn who has died.

And so, in one style, our friendship is a kind of fiction.

We are two people on opposite objectives of the Earth, who do not know each other, who write one another emails as if we are aware.( At first, we just exchange a few, here and there. But soon we are writing regularly. And the first thing I do when I wake up after I stop crying is check to see if he has sent me an email full of narratives about places I have never seen, in a voice that is swashbuckling but somehow intimate .) In another way, these emails and that picture are the only things that are real to me.

This is an edited extract from The Rules Do Not Apply, by Ariel Levy, published under 16 March by Little, Brown at 16.99. To order a copy for 12.74, go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

The beauty of art can counter Islamophobia- but it won’t be easy

29 days ago

A Qatari-funded Arab and Islamic art museum is opening in New York to challenge delusions but has the US already made up its mind?

What kind of Islamic art has the power to open American hearts and intellects, at a time when Donald Trump has relaunched his attempt to ban entry from several Muslim-majority nations?

In May, a new Institute of Arab and Islamic Art, set up by Qatars Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Al-Thani, will open in downtown Manhattan. The timing is not accidental. Al-Thani is trying to humanise Islam and broaden perceptions of it in the US. He hopes the institute will not only showcase the breadth of art and culture from the Arab and Islamic worlds, but also challenge certain stereotypes and misconceptions that hinder cross-cultural appreciation, he told the Art Newspaper.

Some hope, you may say. The depth of prejudice flaunted by Trump( and apparently shared by many of his voters) is so aggressive in its refusal to engage with a complex world that it seems unlikely to be healed by a little bit of Islamic art in New York. Surely thats the wrong location, anyway the hearts and intellects that need opening are barely those of Manhattanites who voted Hillary.

The
The Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Photo: Rolf Hicker/ Getty Images/ All Canada Photos

Yet thats too pessimistic. If there is one thing that can communicate across every border and cultural gap it is art. Where terms define and definitions divide us, visual art is open, ambiguous and allows imaginations to stray in time and space. Appearing at Islamic art allows non-Muslims to feel the inner beauty of faiths and traditions we do not share, to appear with another heart/ And other heartbeats.

Islamic art beckons me with its beauty. The Alhambra in Granada is the most enrapturing place in the world, a palace of dreamings where ethereal intricacy of design, and craftsmanship of quiet genius, turn brightly lighted rooms into caves of pleasure. Crystalline ceilings and harmonious tiles glitter everywhere you looking, illuminated by windows filled with the Andalusian sky. It is truly like being on a cloud halfway between heaven and Earth.

Of course, it is not feasible to to set this medieval building in an art gallery. It is very difficult to capture the wonder of any Islamic art in a gallery. The rich, subtle weave of decorative patterns and textures that builds the Alhambra so seductive is, in fact, typical of many of the greatest Islamic artistic accomplishments. All-embracing abstract design, rather than the iconic masterpiece tradition of western art, is what devotes Islamic marvels from Isfahan to Cordoba their magic. The best advice is to go to these places. A couple of days in Marrakech would do wonders for any Islamophobe visit the gorgeous Ben Youssef madrasa and feel the warmth and gentleness of the city that surrounds it.

Waqas
Paradisiacal, 2014, by Waqas Khan. Photograph: Juan Cruz Ibaez/ courtest of Sabrina Amrani Gallery

So the task of an Islamic art gallery is not so much to display masterpieces as to find a way to connect them in a living flow of colouring and pattern that gets across the multidisciplinary rapture of these places. One place that does this very well is the V& A in London, which use low lighting and aesthetically harmonious arrangements to unify ceramics, carpetings, architectural fragments and calligraphy in a serene, entrancing installation. Islamic art is emotional; it changes your relationship with space and time. To open American minds, the Institute of Arab and Islamic Art needs to replicate that sublime psychological effect. It should be like wandering into the old part of an Arab city: less a museum than a medina.

Some Islamic art is more effective than others. If I was creating a dreaming collect, I would concentrate on the medieval caliphate of north Africa and Spain, where art reached the sumptuous yet reserved heights of delicate beauty that can still be savoured in Morocco and Andalusia. For instance, the minaret of the Koutoubia mosque in Marrakech is identical to the former minaret that is Sevilles cathedral bell tower. They were both built by the 12 th-century Almohads. The abstract glory of north African and Andalusian art can still be savoured in portable works, though. A wooden minbar or pulpit carved in the medieval Moorish style would be the most enchanting object this new gallery could show.

Art being made today shares the liberating effects of medieval Islamic creations. The Institute of Arab and Islamic Art apparently intends to show work by Mona Hatoum that dramatises global tensions. But is her run likely to change how Americans watch Islam? I would recommend it display the much more utopian, visionary art of Waqas Khan. His huge and intricate abstract drawings share the ethereal freedom of the greatest Islamic art. Here is an artist to change your mind, your soul.

Then again, America has never lacked culture curiosity. In the 19 th century, Washington Irving wrote Tales of the Alhambra and Edgar Allan Poe raved about the poisoning of arabesques. Khans work not only elicits medieval Islam but American minimalism, too for there are close affinities between the American feel for abstract art, from Jackson Pollock to Donald Judd, and the Islamic world, where art always has been largely abstract.

So we come back to the basic problem. The US already has great museums full of liberal good intentions. The problem is that Trump has appealed to the worse angels of our nature, and they have howled acclaim. How can beauty assist when voters have shown they favor the animal?

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Grimsby review- Sacha Baron Cohen’s gags fall flat in cod-Bond caper

1 month ago

The Ali G and Borat creator shows little of his anarchic grandeur in this tame comedy, which is just kept from flatlining by moments of high-impact grossout

Sacha Baron Cohen brings his B-game or maybe even his C-game to this moderate new comedy that basically defeated my attempts to like it.

The film features a lairy football fan from Grimsby with Gallagher-esque hair and position, called Nobby( Baron Cohen ); he discovers that his brother Sebastian( Mark Strong, gamely playing it straight) long-lost in the foster care system, is now a sleek assassin for MI6. Of course the hapless Nobby, along with an entire barmy army of mates, is the only one who can help Strong out after get him into a terrible jam and foil a sinister eugenicist plot to rid an overpopulated world of the working classes.

Steve Coogan once toured a depict called As Alan Partridge and Other Less Successful Characters. Sadly, a less successful character is exactly what Nobby is. There is hardly a sliver of the real anarchic magnificence Baron Cohen proved in Borat, his ruined innocent from Kazakhstan, the satirical punch of his great urban hero Ali G or his Austrian fashion maven Bruno, or even his corrupted Despot from the Middle East. Nobby feelings dated and off-target. Even his northern accent often misses the mark.

For me, the best moment was a bad-taste gag set at a charity event, involving Nobby reacting to some football news just as a child with a terminal illness is brought on stage. Theres also a great line about LinkedIn. But I couldnt help hoping in vain that every line would be that good.

Grimsby has the occasional chuckle and a succession of finely wrought grossout spectaculars which are reasonably entertaining, especially the egregiously yucky elephant bukkake scene, which does deserve an awarding of some kind( perhaps MTVs WTF Moment prize ). Like a kind of high-voltage defibrillator, these touches do keep the movie from flatlining. But with its cod-Bond and mock-action material it carries a weird overall feel, like kids Tv but produced on a lavish scale with added filth. And often theres a worrying hint of late-period Carry On Britfilm sadness.

Nobby himself is a cheerfully outrageous idler and skiver who has a startling way of celebrating football victory with a firework and like Borat, he is the subject of underclass comedy though here slathered with supportive sentimentality. He occupies a bizarre ruining of a hellhole and is utterly happy in a cheekily imagined white-trash world with dozens of children and grandchildren by various partners, the most recent of whom( played by Rebel Wilson) is his devoted love.

Strong, for his part, occupies the entirely different world of the top intelligence officer, but his own lifestyle is of no great interest, and not brought into any sort of meaningful contrast with Nobbys. He merely needs a place to lie low after a hit goes bad, and is forced to settle for grim old Grimsby.

But here he observes to his horror that Nobby has been unable to keep his mouth shut about his brother being a top snoop. The fact is alluded to in the banner strung across the pub for his welcome home party. His cover, once again, is blown. From there, the action soon relocates to South Africa for some of the high-impact disgust humour, the commitment of which I couldnt assist but admire.

There is a string of supporting players dedicated little or nothing to do and no funny lines: Ian McShane and Isla Fisher in mission control; Penelope Cruz as the international woman of mystery; and down the pub in Grimsby there is Johnny Vegas, John Thomson and Ricky Tomlinson. Its possible that they improvised some great stuff which got lost in the edit. They are staggeringly underused in the end product.

Baron Cohens grandeur in character slapstick has created some glorious movies, but the character route is now coming to an end. This unique talent needs to take another direction.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

This family has been designing fireworks displays for 166 years. They explain how it’s done.

1 month, 11 days ago

Phil Grucci is rewarding himself after a three-mile run. He left work at 2:30 a.m. and had to be back at 8. But the running couldn’t wait.

Phil Grucci( center-left) accepts an awarding for pulling off the largest fireworks show in history. Photo via Fireworks by Grucci/ Facebook, used with permission.

“I got my three miles in, then I put a nice New York bagel onto the plate. I do that so I can have a bagel, ” Phil told Upworthy on his way out of the kitchen.

He could be forgiven for maintaining an extreme schedule. It’s three days before the Fourth of July, and it’s Phil’s job to coordinate and execute dozens of fireworks shows across the country.

“We have to make sure that a loading coming up from our Virginia factory constructs it through the city by six oclock in the morning, ” he told.

Because of security concerns , no explosives can be moved through New York City during rush hour 6 to 10 a. m. and 3 to 6 p. m.

Making assured that Phil’s trucks make it over the George Washington Bridge with enough time to reach their destination on schedule involves careful planning, and the margin for error is razor-thin.

The George Washington Bridge. Photo by Jim Harper/ Wikimedia Commons.

“Its critical to reached that window before that close happens, ” he told.

Every Fourth of July, millions of Americans watch fireworks explosion from beach blankets, out windows, or on Tv.

Photo by Anthony Quintano/ Flickr.

We watch them explode. We ooh and aah. We eat our soft-serve ice cream.

It’s astonishing .

But most of us have no idea how it all works.

“We start with a blank piece of paper.”

Phil is the CEO and creative director of Fireworks by Grucci, a company that has been designing and creating fireworks displays since 1850, when Phil’s great-great-grandfather began launching them over the Adriatic Sea in Bari, Italy.

Since then , no two of the company’s fireworks demonstrates have been the same.

Photo via Fireworks by Grucci/ Facebook, used with permission.

“People dont generally understand the amount of effort, and surely ingenuity and planning, that goes into any firework performance, ” Phil said. “You dont just have the fireworks sitting on the shelf labeled firework demonstrate A, B, C, D.”

When work begins on a new show, Phil fulfils with a squad of designers a “think tank” to start sketching out the indicate duration, music involved, types of fireworks required, and dramatic arc of the demonstrate.

A Grucci fireworks show in New York City for Chinese New Year. Photo via Fireworks by Grucci/ Facebook, used with permission.

Their ideas become a large spreadsheet, which then becomes actual, real-life explosives, specially manufactured at the Virginia factory, which are then transported by truck to the launch site and assembled by a team of dozens of pyrotechnicians all in preparation for the big moment.

The process takes months. The show is often over in less than 20 minutes .

“Its a tremendous honor for us to have that ability to be on stage even though its not us personally for our art form, ” he said. “Our imagination is on that stage for that 20 -minute period of time.”

For a firework event to succeed, it needs an emotional arc a bold opening, followed by rising action, with a peak somewhere near the middle before “intermission, ” Phil tells like a Broadway show.

After the infringe, he explains, the tension should ebb and flow, until ratcheting up for a spectacular closing sequence, which should leave without doubt that the show is over.

“When we put on a good performance, a fantastic, well-thought-out, well-choreographed program, the prove could be six-minutes long, and when the audience walks away fully entertained … they guess the show is 30 minutes, ” Phil said.

And the individual fireworks? They’re “characters.”

A fireworks show over Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City. Photo via Fireworks by Grucci/ Facebook, used in conjunction with permission.

“If you envision a stage, and you envision a blank script, the characters that are going to perform on that stage, in the form of choreography and dancing, if you will, are the fireworks, ” he explained.

With each new performance, there’s new fireworks technology for the team to learn.

“Recently, we developed another type of shell with a microchip built inside of it, ” Phil said.

While a traditional shell can explode up to a half-second off from the desired period, Phil has pointed out that the detonation of a microchipped shell is predictable down to the millisecond.

“You can control where you can place a dot in the sky, at what elevation.”

Each of these miniature dots, or “pencil bursts, ” generates a single dot. Connect 1,000 or more, and you can create fascinating, abstract designs in the sky, like the 600 -foot high American flag the Grucci team created for a depict celebrating the 200 th anniversary of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The American-flag effect. Photo via Fireworks by Grucci/ Facebook, used with permission.

The company is also investing in ways to make its product more environmentally sound in order to remain sustainable for the long term, including biodegradable casings, smoking reduction, and removing certain chemicals from the manufacturing process .

“That’s just as important as the aesthetic side, ” he said.

“Im out in the water, so the service is a little sketchy.”

Lauren Grucci is on the phone from a barge in the middle of Boston’s Charles River. She’s a member of the sixth generation of Gruccis to enter the family business.

Like her parent, Phil, she’s starting as a pyrotechnician, working with a team of 25 people to stage a reveal for an audience of an estimated half-million people.

A Grucci crew poses. Photo via Fireworks by Grucci/ Facebook, used with permission.

“Its a little hot out, but we were here last year, so were kind of familiar with it, ” Lauren told Upworthy.

For the ground squads, Fourth of July fireworks proves are like a gauntlet.

The displays are longer. The days are hotter. Everyone is out working. And there’s little time to catch your breath.

“Were out here all day, so its a lot of passion and a lot of stamina.”

Each member of the team does a little of everything. They lift boxes. They set up the launch site with cranes. They hook up regulation to computers.

“Theres a camaraderie that comes with it because you know that its kind of like a big household, ” Lauren said.

For Lauren, that includes her real-life household as well.

“There are some times when Im on a depict, and the pyrotechnicians are my uncles and my cousins and my brother and my friends, ” she told.

Phil Grucci( centre) with family members. Photo via Fireworks by Grucci/ Facebook, used with permission.

Working closely with her relatives has given Lauren some of her most treasured on-the-job memories like the time she climbed the outside of a hop storage tower at Dublin’s Guinness brewery to photograph a present with her cousin.

“We were kind of always raised to merely do it; tell ‘yes, ‘ and figure it out after.”

It’s a value, she explained that was instilled by her great-grandmother Concetta, who helped manage the reveals when she was a baby.

Concetta Grucci and her husband, Felix,( far left) at the company’s first factory. Photo via Fireworks by Grucci, used with permission.

“She was at every event, talking to whoever, whenever on stage. She simply had a really great spirit and had a really great attitude about everything, ” Lauren said.

She thinks about her every time she launches a “gold willow” firework.

A golden “weeping willow” firework. Photo by Epic Fireworks/ Flickr.

“That was her favorite shell, and it reminds me a lot of her.”

Both technical know-how and passion for the work are passed down through the generations in the Grucci family.

“As a 6-year-old, Id go out on the barge with my father, and it was the coolest thing in the world to be out there with the guys and setting up the fireworks prove, ” Phil said.

Too young to sail out with the barge, he would hang out on shore with his grandfather, watching his daddy defined them off from the barge.

“People that would come up to him and congratulate him and give him great wishes and congratulations, and thats how I got hooked, ” Phil said.

He explained that his grandpa encouraged him to embrace change atypical for the patriarch of a long-running household business.

Phil’s grandfather, Felix Grucci, Sr. Photo via Fireworks by Grucci, used with permission.

“He began with shooting fireworks and lighting them with a cigar or a very tightly wrap burlap container, ” Phil told.

Of course, the situation is … a little different these days.

“Now were shooting and displaying our fireworks with laptop computers.”

He said he hopes his children and nephews will continue to embrace new technology as they move into leadership roles.

Perhaps most importantly, Phil hopes that no matter what technological changes come along in the next 10 to 20 years fireworks audiences continue to enjoy the demonstrate, blissfully unaware of the elaborated, frenetic ballet happening behind the scenes.

So if you spend this Fourth of July on a beach blanket, eating your soft-serve , not worrying about how the fireworks explosion above your head got there, that’s by design.

Photo via Fireworks by Grucci/ Facebook, used in conjunction with permission.

As long as “youre leaving” wanting merely a little more, Phil considers his chore done.

“For me, thats what the thrill is about. Thats what keeps you here at 2:30 in the morning and back in here by 8 the next morning to keep the machine going.”

Read more: www.upworthy.com

‘Welcome to NRA Country’: how the handgun lobby tried to tap into country music

1 month, 13 days ago

With big name supporters including Blake Shelton and Thomas Rhett, NRA Country is being used to entice younger members to the NRA by using country credibility. But with some artists distancing themselves, can it survive?

I love the NRA, sang Preston Brust on stage at a recent concert in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Brust, who comprises one half of the country duo LoCash, was performing the groups hit single, I Love This Life, a typical feel-good country ode to small towns, trucks and girls.

The setting was the 2016 Great American Outdoor Show, the NR-Abacked hunting and angling trade-show, held for a week each February, that depicts over 200,000 yearly guests and claims to be biggest customer outdoor show in the world.

Saturday evenings concert was presented by NRA Country, the lifestyle brand outgrowth of the NRA that fosters partnerships between the National Rifle Association and the country music industry.

Since its founding in 2010 , NRA Country has tried, with varying degrees of success, to develop close ties to Nashvilles country music industry, partnering with several of the genres biggest superstars and some of its more prominent institutions.

Those ties were on display at the Great American Outdoor show concert, where bright yellow banners that read This is NRA Country, complete with the organizations logoes of two firearms joining together to form bull horns, adorned all corners of the arena. Between acts, video screens above the stage played looped videos of NRA executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre telling things such as: We need to take our country back and fight like hell to save America.

The first words uttered on stage were from the evenings MCs, DJs Nancy and Newman, from the local country station 94.9, who greeted the crowd by saying: Welcome to NRA Country and imploring the crowd to sign up for an NRA membership.

Throughout the concert, the three musical acts performing namedropped the NRA a total of 20 times. During their 45 -minute set, LoCash alone mentioned the organization on 13 occasions, or approximately once every three minutes.

With I Love This Life, LoCash were also the only group that managed to sneak in a lyric about the NRA into one of their ballads. After Brust sang his line about the NRA, the group then handed out NRA Country T-shirts to the crowd and mentioned the organization a half-dozen more hours before closing their situate. God bless the NRA, they screamed, before vanishing offstage.

Sunny
Sunny Sweeney performs at the 5th Annual NRA Country Jam in Nashville, Tennessee Photograph: Terry Wyatt/ Getty Images

NRA Country was founded as a lifestyle brand that, in its own words, helps bring country music artists together with NRA members in support of our Second Amendment freedoms and hunting heritage.

The NRA positions NRA Country as a crucial marketing tool, presenting a softer side of the organization, as one NRA spokesperson set it in 2010. NRA Country presents a mainstream version of its otherwise hard-nosed image and uncompromising political posture through the international association with country music, one of the largest and fastest growing musical genres in the United States, with an estimated 100 million adults who identify as fans, according to the Country Music Association.

Although country music has become increasingly popular in suburban and urban America over the past several decades, a large percentage of the genres core demographic is still a rural-leaning audience that is more likely to identify with the NRA than that of any other popular musical format.

NRA Country hits at a real country customer, tells Ken Levitan, chairperson of Vector Management, whose clients include several NRA Country artistssuch as Hank Williams Jr, Trace Adkins and Aaron Lewis.

For most artists, NRA Country is seen as yet another corporate sponsorship opportunity, a way to reach potential new fans among the NRAs many millions of members as it becomes increasingly harder to sell new records in the 21 st century.

Its a really competitive business and NRA Country dedicates another voice to your ballad or your album, tells Levitan. Its all promotional. Theyre dedicating full-page ads in Country Weekly and theyll advertise your albums. All the labels are looking for any kind of help they can get.

The chairman of NRA Country is Chris Cox, who also serves as the head of the NRAs direct lobbying arm, the NRA Institute for Legislative initiatives. NRA Countrys director is Vanessa Shahidi, who has served as an assistant to Wayne LaPierre.

Its no secret, Shahidi told the Tennessean last year. If you poll our members, they love country music.

NRA Country is just one facet of the organizations concerted effort in recent years to tribunal Nashvilles prominent entertainment industry. The NRA held its annual meeting there last spring. It was the second-most attended in the organizations history, drawing nearly 80,000 members.

With NRA Countrys uncontroversial, values-based branding and immediate appeal to the country music audience at large, the NRA utilizes NRA Country primarily as a marketing and recruitment tool for new, younger demographics.

According to a recent survey, the age gap among firearm owneds stands at a record high. Whereas in 1980, 23.5% of gun owners were under the age of 35 and 27.4% were over the age of 65, that divided has grown dramatically. In 2014, merely 14% of gun owneds were under the age of 35, and 30.4% of gun owners were over the age of 65.

Because theyve saturated the old white male market, what has happened is that the NRA has made efforts to reach out to new groups, whether its millennials, girls, or country music fans, says Josh Sugarmann, the director of the Violence Policy Center, a gun control group that studies the NRA.

Shahidi has not hesitated to emphasize NRA Countrys explicit goal of courting the youth demographic in recent years. The sold-out crowd of 30-and-unders shows the strength of the NRA Country brand, Shahidi said after the NRA Countrys 2014 concert at the Great American Outdoor Show.

Last year, Shahidi once again highlighted NRA Countrys unique potential to convert young country fans into future card-carrying NRA members.

These are guys who are out in front of big crowds of young folks every day singing our kudoes, get our messaging out there, she said on Cam& Company, a now-defunct NRA talk radio show. Were just so thankful to have this brand and this partnership.

NRA Country did not respond to repeated requests to be interviewed for this story.

Wayne
Wayne LaPierre speaks at the NRA Country ACM Celebrity Shoot. Photograph: Ethan Miller/ Getty Images for ACM

Country music fans are a more natural fit for the NRA than their related recent efforts to court untraditional gun-owning demographics. But Sugarmann hints at another reason behind the organizations recent efforts.

The NRA has a real inferiority complex considering celebrities, he says. Theres a bitternes that folks on the gun control side of things have tons of celebrity spokespersons and the support of Hollywood. NRA Country, he told, has the added goal of trying to create some celebrities who can be attached to the NRA.

A quick glance at NRA Countrys website lists over 30 musicians, including some of countrys biggest contemporary acts such as Florida Georgia Line and Thomas Rhett.

According to a trademark application filed in spring 2010, NRA Country was founded as an organization that would informed about country and rural lifestyles, such as patriotism and liberty as well as information relating to legal affairs and information about handgun safety.

But a quick glance through NRA Countrys website reveals hardly a single mention of handguns, pistols or second amendment rights. The result is an oft-confusing try at reaching an imagined country demographic that Sugarmann describes as almost a caricature of the country world.

One recent post in JJs Country Column, NRA Countrys blog, is titled Country Dogs . The post, written by a dog named Max, is accompanied by a number of photos of puppies that have been stamped with the NRA Country logo.

We country dogs come in all shades and snout sizes, the post reads. We dont sofa in parlors, ride in Mercedes, receive floofy haircuts, and well merely crash a tea party if the back entrance is accidentally left open.

Luke
Luke Bryan at the NRA Country/ ACM Celebrity Shoot. Photograph: Ethan Miller/ Getty Images

In its first few years, NRA Country immediately enjoyed high-profile industry partnerships with institutions like the Academy of Country music, which co-hosted the organizations annual NRA Country Celebrity Shoot, and with high-rising country hotshots such as Luke Bryan, who partnered with NRA Country for his 2011 tour, and Blake Shelton, who hosted the Celebrity Shoots in 2011 and 2012.

Its great for NRA Country to be back and continue our partnerships with the ACM and Blake[ Shelton] for these righteous causes, said LaPierre in March 2012, before the 2nd annual Celebrity Shoot.

By mid-2 012, NRA Country had rapidly attained its presence feel in Nashville, boasting an impressive listing of more than 20 partnered artists on its website. Jake Owen is one of several high-profile singers who is no longer listed on NRA Countrys listing of partnered artists.

Asked to clarify his present association with the organization, a representative for Owen stated that Jake actually never had a partnership with the NRA, explaining that the vocalist had merely once attended an NRA Country-sponsored celebrity skeet shoot event.

Representatives for the NRA and NRA Country did not respond when asked to comment on Owens past affiliation with NRA Country.

On the morning of 12 December 2012, a gunman murdered 20 children in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

That day, the NRA softly canceled an event it had scheduled for that afternoon: an NRA Country Twitter Q& A session with country-rapper Colt Ford. Apologies for the inconvenience, Ford tweeted, but the Tweet& Greet with @NRACountry will be rescheduled.

The Colt Ford cancellation promptly prompted the largest bout of national advertising NRA Country had ever received, with outlets ranging from MSNBC to the Daily Beast to the New York Daily News all encompassing the narrative.

Since Newtown, fewer artists have been willing to publicly acknowledge their ties with the NRA.

In the months after Newtown, the NRAs corporate sponsorships began to receive an unprecedented degree of scrutiny. One particularly controversial event held in the spring of 2013 was the NRA 500, an NR-Asponsored Nascar race held in Fort Worth, Texas that ended with a human shooting himself in the head.

With debate over gun control and second amendment rights brought to the nations forefront in the emotionally charged months after Newtown, NRA Country appeared to grow quiet. The Colt Ford Tweet& Greet was never rescheduled. The annual ACM Celebrity Shoot was not scheduled for the spring of 2013, and the event has not been held since.

NRA Country also completely redesigned its website in the spring of 2013. When the new site was unveiled, its two biggest starrings Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan were no longer among its roster of artists.

Representatives for both Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton did not respond to repeated requests to clarify the status of Bryans and Sheltons current relationships with NRA Country.

The Academy of Country Music( ACM) also declined to be interviewed for the tale, with a spokesperson stating that the organization didnt have anything to add because we arent currently doing something with NRA Country. Although the ACM has not held a single event in conjunction with NRA Country since Newtown, a spokesperson for the ACM denied that the two organizations had permanently cut ties, clarifying that our events are constantly in flux.

Another one of NRA Countrys highest-profile associations in Nashville has been its annual Keggs& Eggs event during CMA Fest, the annual festival hosted by the Country Music Association. When asked to comment on their present relationship with NRA Country, a representative for the CMA confirmed that the CMA had never partnered with the organization. Instead, NRA Countrys Keggs& Eggs party, like many other events during CMA Fest, is an unofficial event unaffiliated with the Country Music Association.

Its all about the times we live in, tells Angie Johnson, a country singer who has served in the air force and has partnered with NRA Country since the organizations inception. A few years ago, or ten years ago, it would have been easier for any artist to say, Sure, Ill partner with NRA Country, she tells. Today, its a little more difficult.

Hank
Hank Williams Jr performs at the fifth annual NRA Country Jam. Photograph: Terry Wyatt/ Getty Images

Many of NRA Countrys partnered artists, including the organizations most prominent names, such as Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett, and Justin Moore, either declined or didnt respond to requests for commentary for this story.

But a number of the 30 -plus musicians currently partnered with NRA Country have deeply personal reasons for their partnership, and several were more than willing to discuss their positive working relationship with the group.

Delaware-born country singer Chuck Wicks considers his partnership with NRA Country as a natural fit, tracing it back to his lifelong love of hunting and animal preservation. You dont want something that you have to work hard to sell that you believe in it, says Wicks.

Just about every mainstream country artist is quick to point out their love of hunting, but Wicks is a devoted conservationist, someone who will start reciting white-tailed deer population growth statistics soon after the subject of hunting comes up.

The NRA is more solid foundation Ive ever been a part of because you know that both feet are down. Its very clear what the stance is and I think thats required, he says.

As for Sunny Sweeney, the east Texas country singer and longtime card-carrying NRA member opinions her partnership with NRA Country in part as a bonding point with her husband, who is a police officer and former member of the armed forces. Sweeney, who describes herself as a liberal conservative, preaches an attitude of tolerance, open-mindedness and mutual self-respect when it comes to discussing controversial subjects like gun control.

Its a sticky subject because its what I believe in, but Im not going to push my faiths down anybody elses throat, just like if someone disagrees with me Id expect them to be respectful and not push their notion down my throat, tells Sweeney, who tells “shes never” received any negative feedback from being associated with the NRA.

Sweeney also points out that her depicts with NRA Country have been some of the biggest of her career. Its a good partnership , no more random than partnering with, say, a fast-food chain, she says. And just like any partnership, theres benefits for both sides, or they wouldnt be doing it.

For Drake White, an Alabama-born singer who is currently working on his debut solo LP, his partnership with NRA Country originates in his relationship with his grandfather, who taught him about hunting, conservation, and firearm security when he was a son. But unlike Sweeney and Wicks, who described their decision to partner with NRA Country as a no-brainer, White told choosing to be associated with NRA Country was not an easy decision to make.

The tough part is that when youre an artist, you want the single mother from Chicago who is against handguns to buy your music just like you want the guy from south Texas to buy your music, tells White, who ultimately felt it was best to represent his beliefs and partner with NRA Country.

I was thinking: Do I want to go and genuinely scream this from the mountaintops or be more reserved about it? That was where the difficulty came in becoming an advocate.

Many was of the view that a large segment of Nashville remains afraid to speak out on gun control. One exception has been Tim McGraw, a firearm proprietor who has expressed tacit support for moderate gun control in the past.

When McGraw played a benefit for Sandy Hook Promise, an organization that promotes gun safety and aims to prevent firearm violence, in 2015, the singer received enough negative feedback from fans that he was compelled to issue a statement to the Washington Post shortly thereafter.

I support gun ownership, McGraw told. I also believe that with handgun ownership arrives the responsibility of education and safety. I cant imagine anyone who disagrees with that.

Like McGraw, most every NRA Country artist interviewed for this story stressed the importance of safety, education, and modest regulation when discussing their opinion on handguns and the second amendment. And despite their partnerships with NRA Country, most also differed with the NRA on at least one of its legislative stances.

Unlike the NR-AILA, which opposes expanding pistol background check systems, both Chuck Wicks and Drake White agree with the more than 70% of card-carrying NRA households who support universal background checks. It creates a strong wall of allowing mentally ill people or people with felonies to have access, Wicks says on such issues.

Sunny Sweeney differs with the NRA in her opposition to the recent open carry statutes in her home state of Texas. Its describe added attention to something that is already scary, she says.

Drake White says: Carrying limbs is a huge responsibility, so I do support tighter firearm laws … Evil people should have a hard time getting guns.

When artists sign up for NRA Country, they dont is understood that theyre tacitly endorsing everything that the gun control people are against, that the NRA is for, but especially that the firearm extremists are for, because people dont induce those distinctions, says Holly Gleason, an industry veteran who works as an artist development consultant and music critic in Nashville. They identify based on their own truth and leaning.

Thus far, NRA Country has had a much easier hour bringing country music to the NRA promoting NRA Country-sponsored artists through its own promotional channels like the NRA magazine American Rifleman and trade depicts like the Great American Outdoor Show than vice-versa.

The country music industry has preferred, for my own part, to keep largely quiet on the issues, downplaying its ties to the NRA, particularly post-Newtown.

I dont know of any organization so totally divorced from music itself, tells Bobby Braddock, a legendary Nashville songwriter who has worked with artists including Blake Shelton and George Jones.

Braddock ensures NRA Country as an unwelcome merge of partisan politics with art and entertainment, though he is an outspoken liberal himself. I hate to watch an agenda tacked on to music, he says.

I resent the incursion of the firearm hall into this music, said one country music executive in 2013. And I believe Im not the only one.

Still, industry executives who work closely with NRA Country suppose the organization will only become more popular in years to come.

Theres a line to get to do it you have to let them know months and months in advance, tells Levitan, discussing the process of becoming one of NRA Countrys Artists of the Month.

NRA Country has been around for a while, so people dont look at it as anything thats unusual, he adds. Right now, I guess people are looking at it as a given.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Why Beauty and the Beast isn’t the first Disney movie for LGBT audiences

1 month, 18 days ago

The studio has promised fans its first exclusively gay moment in the live-action fairytale but that betrays a history of covert messages in its animated films

Its unprecedented for a major studio blockbuster, much less a family film, to seek the LGBT audience. Gay spectators seeking mainstream self-identification in the cinema have usually had to settle for winking nuances and allusions, or at the worst, the more oblivious homoeroticism of sundry Michael Bay-style brawnfests. No more, apparently: in an age when a film as overtly queer as Moonlight can win the creation honour of a best painting Oscar, a corporation as large as Disney can also ultimately acknowledge the love that once dared not speak its name.

Well, sort of. A commotion of headlines ranging from the too enthused to the too outraged greeted Beauty and the Beast director Bill Condons announcement in Attitude magazine that the Mouse Houses live-action remake of their 1991 fairytale smash-up would boast the companys first exclusively lesbian moment. The more we heard about this supposedly startling breakthrough, however, the less encouraging it got. Historys first overtly gay Disney character, it turns out, is LeFou, unctuous manservant to preening, hyper-macho scoundrel Gaston an underling who, in Condons words, on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston.

An obsequious maid who alternates between worshipping and hopelessly desiring his straight-out master? With a name that translates as madman and has also been used as a gay slur in French? In the reliably exacerbating kind of Josh Gad? Its not exactly the recognition that lesbian viewers have been waiting for, even if the finished cinema dedicates LeFou the most fleeting of clues at future romance with a kindred spirit.

Condon, a homosexual film-maker known for such intelligent queer investigations as Divinities and Ogres and Kinsey, must realise that this is no giant leap forward for on-screen representation, though credit him for stoking the off-screen conversation on the subject. This week has also considered him advancing the hypothesi, allegedly founded by the 1991 films late lyricist Howard Ashman, that the Beasts story functions as a metaphor for Aids: He was cursed and this curse had brought sorrow on all those people who loved him and maybe there was a chance for a miracle and a style for the curse to be lifted, Condon explains. The phrasing is wince-inducing its fair to say most people with Aids would prefer not to think of themselves as cursed, or indeed as animals but its a bolder way to queer the material than running a comic-relief subplot around a secondary characters sexuality.

Exclusively gay is a curious turn of phrase , not least when appealing to a community for whom inclusivity has always been a higher priority. One presumes Condons implication is that LeFous passions are unambiguously lesbian , not that theyre identifiable or relatable exclusively to gay spectators. For Disney animation has a long history of LGBT coding, intended and otherwise, that induces Beauty and the Beasts more official lesbian gestures look instead colourless.

Disney may not have awarded a lesbian identity to any of its characters prior to LeFou, but audiences have been doing so for decades. A quick graze of the internet will provide fan theories to feed any hunches youve long felt about the happy-go-lucky companionship of Timon and Pumbaa, and their effective adoption of newborn Simba, in The Lion King or indeed the foppish villainy of the same films Scar, an alpha lion “whos never” detected a mate in the pride. Same goes for Baloo, the nurturing, carefree single bear of The Jungle Book, or the coy, eyelash-batting male skunk who introduces himself to young fawn Bambi with the immortal terms, You can call me Flower if you want to. A few playful Disney animators have even teased us with queer allusions of their own: the character design of Ursula, the vampy, spectacularly tentacled ocean witch of The Little Mermaid, was famously modelled on hotshot drag queen Divine.

Speculating in this way can be superficial, stereotype-dependent fun but doesnt truly get to the essentially queer heart of so many classic Disney narrations, in which socially isolated foreigners yearn either for acceptance or transcendence. Pinocchios dream of being a real boy is a journey of self-actualisation that has inspired many a metaphorical comparison to the coming-out process; the same goes for sweet, sensitive Dumbo, whose chief phase of difference from the rest those enormous ears at first builds him a figure of fun for bullying peers, before it enables him to rise.

Frozen
Photograph: Allstar/ Disney

Its not just the sons, of course. Pocahontas and Beauty and the Animals Belle are marked early on as different from the other girls. Ditto the Little Mermaids Ariel, whose desire not just to change her circumstances but change her physical kind has stimulated her an unlikely is the subject of identification among some younger members of the transgender community a girl who believes herself literally born in the wrong body.( Her ballad Part of Your World, meanwhile, is something of an all-purpose anthem for LGBT not-belongers .)

Fairytale convention may have locked these rebellious women around wholly heterosexual romantic aspirations, but Disney excitingly strayed from that rulebook in 2013 with Frozen, its record-busting rewrite of The Snow Queen. In Elsa, Frozen gave us a magically touched heroine who requires no male partner to complete her self-realisation. Fleeing the community while she independently comes to words with her difference, she belts out Let It Go, a now-ubiquitous tune that not only became an instant Disney standard, but launched a million queer readings for its celebratory revelation of a once-hidden identity: Conceal, dont feel/ Dont let them know/ well now they know the fears that once controlled me cant get to me at all.

The film didnt give Elsa a girlfriend following her arguable coming-out, though fans are clamoring for one to be introduced in the upcoming Frozen 2. But down to its same-sex spin on the hoary old true loves kiss trope yes, theyre sisters, but its freshening to ensure the supposedly all-healing properties of straight love taken down a notch its a movie fully alive to its queerest subtextual prospects. That may not make it Disneys first exclusively gay narrative, whatever that exactly means. But if were at a watershed moment regarding open LGBT representation in the multiplex, the absurd, conservative figure of LeFou scarcely deserves all the credit for the changes that lie ahead.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Powered by WP Robot