Archives For Students

I wrote something for the Tab about something I hate. Lowbrow. Bite me.

http://sheffield.tab.co.uk/2014/05/19/headphone-hype-2/

“From the small time promoter who spent half his loan on a pair of Sennheisers, to the 15-year-old sporting fake Beats his mum got him at the market so he’d be down with the latest playground craze, my qualm is the same. Today, massive over-ear headphones are seldom worn for their sonic virtues, but instead as lavish bits of jewellery and little more… owning an expensive pair of headphones might make you look like a DJ, but it doesn’t miraculously make you into a DJ.”

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The Gentrification of Trailer Park Living

Half of young people now living at home with parents, are posh caravans the answer?

Recently the Guardian revealed how 48% of Europe’s 18 to 30 year olds are now living at home with their parents. To plenty of young adults currently wondering how to find a little independence and a place of their own, these figures came as no surprise.

We’re the first generation in living memory to be told to expect a lower standard of living than our parents and our student debt is among the highest in the developed world. The little social housing left is reserved for people really in need, property prices are record high, banks aren’t leading, the energy markets are crooked and well paid jobs are few and far between.

But here’s the good news. If like so many, your only options are staying with mum and dad, or sleeping in a caravan…. the caravan is actually looking like an increasingly appealing and acceptable choice.

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Across American and via the Internet come the euphemistically named ‘tiny houses people.’ Hipster trailer park heroes seems more accurate to me. They’re currently trying, and succeeding, in making trailer park living not only comfortable, acceptable and civilised but trendy, eco-friendly and somewhat luxurious.

The idea of ‘returning’ to homes of less that 1000 squire feet has been in revival since the 1970s, but the recent resurgence and branding of the ‘movement’ only gathered pace in the US after the financial crash of 2007. It’s an architectural and social movement driven by some inventive craftsmen and designers and epitomised on a selection of popular blogs, and it’s even about to get it’s first TV show.

By drawing on knowledge from house boating, traditional cabins and caravanning, tiny house people have been creating some functional and impressive little buildings – comparatively affordable, hi-tech, efficient or even self-sufficient units. Look at these things; some are like ultimate little hideouts designed for urban free-living, rammed full of gadgets, space saving mind fucks and creature comforts.

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Admittedly life in a house the size of a traditional caravan or shipping container isn’t for everyone. Plainly many 21st century adults simply wouldn’t fit. But even if you’re modestly sized like myself, a certain lifestyle adjustment is required for life in a tiny house. The philosophy and ethos promoted by the movement is a necessary precursor – a simple, slimed down life style. Such a life style is innately eco-friendly and very, very economical.

Unlike traditional travellers who’s choice to live in caravans is due to cultural heritage, tiny house people willingly select this mode of living. But like traditional travellers, it’s often because they favor simplicity and freedom, freedom from the alienation and debilitating restrains imposed by modern consumerism and home ownership.

Despite this, rightly or wrongly, the ‘tiny houses’ identity has been so rigorously marketed by the ‘tiny house people’ because they’re keen to emerge as distinct. They want to distance themselves from the sigma and prejudice that those living in more tradition caravans are so often subjected to.

Tiny house people in the US are twice as likely to have a collage degree and don’t earn any less than your average American [Link]. They’re not people who would otherwise be out on the street, they’re people who no longer want to play the increasingly demanding game of bills, council tax and mortgage/rent. Some try to pass off their tiny houses as alternative studio-flat on wheels, but lets be frank, they’re just spectacular bourgeois caravans. They’re so affordable because just like caravans and “RVs” they don’t require building permits and the majority are readily portable.

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Such is the ‘cost of living crisis’ rent controls and regulating energy markets are now being seriously discussed in parliament. The acute housing shortage has made even finding a house difficult and property prices are eye watering, especially in the south. And if you are lucky enough to get a mortgage off the banks, you’ll be paying it back for a debilitating and depressing amount of time.

Apparently the recover has begun, and unsurprisingly it’s the property market that’s excelling itself, with no less that 6% growth. But that’s largely because the UK’s property market is little more than a monopoly board for foreign investors. Wages remain stagnant and a booming property market only benefits the people who already own the country. Our parents and grandparents made a killing on property, but entering that property market is a dream for half of young people today.

Is an incongruous idea – That some of the many young middle class adults unable to purchase property today could now adopt a mode of living once associated with poverty. Well, not really. Technology, the climate and our unbalanced society have change sufficiently to make the idea quite plausible.

The remaining questions are obviously land, and regulation? Once you’ve got yourself a cozy little house, where do you park it? Well, tiny house people gentrified the caravans so they’ve also gentrified caravan parks. ‘Tiny house villages’ are now a thing – private, exclusive, comparatively affordable little communities. It’s only a matter of time until the UK gets its first village.

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This is an Article i co-wrote with Max Daily (author of @Narcomania) for VICE.

http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/student-drug-dealers?utm_source=vicetwitteruk

The article takes a comprehensive look at the phenomena of student drug dealing. It includes some in depth research and very interesting interviews.

It should hardly come a surprise that students sell drugs to each other, in fact, it should kind of be expected. Students are poor, selling drugs is very profitable and university presents a lucrative and dense market. Because of this, student dealers are often quite distance from the criminal despots who run the majority of the industry.

Research we looked at from the university of Plymouth concluded that, “because some dealers sell for minimal profit… “social supply” should become a distinct criminal offence, to differentiate the type of low-level dealer most common in universities from career drug sellers driven entirely by profit.” I think this is a really important point that needs to be observed by law makers.

Please take a read.

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This appeared on the Huffington Post student blog and pretty much went viral. Decent – http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/liam-deacon/the-death-of-student-actism_b_4904133.html 

Whatever happened to the heroes?

Student activism was once a force to be reckoned with. It changed the world, visibly and profoundly. It was the catalysts that lead to the end of the Vietnam War, it pressured governments to finally stop supporting apartheid and it forced the world to start addressing institutionalised racism. But today, in the face of genuine and widely felt grievances, students are impotent and apathetic. Universities are businesses, education is job training and a degree is a holiday.

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It was “re-fresher’s week” and we were sat round on a circle of fold out chairs and boxes drinking warm cider out of mugs. We were taking turns to explain what had brought us here, to University. People were answering honestly and the notion most commonly expressed was that they just wanted to get away from home. It’s an impetus previous generations will struggle to understand. With the employment and property markets as they are, going away to Uni was the only realistic way to get away from mum and dad at eighteen, to find some independence, to ‘find our selves.’ But it’s also unavoidably a somewhat perverse reason to go into higher education; selfish, myopic, indulgent even – racking up loans and maxing out overdrafts just to get away from our doting parents.

As the question circulated it came to the turn of a philosophy undergrad that we’d only recently met. “Well,” he said, “I came to learn how to live… and how to die, I guess. I want to understand the forces at work in the world so I can change it for the better whilst I’m alive.” The room rippled with smirks followed by a hush of confusion. The boy blushed and conversation moved on.

I was too cowardly to defend him that night. My social survival mechanisms learnt in secondary school kicked in and I bit my tongue. But I wish I’d defended him. After all, truly, I had hoped to escape that ‘high school cool’ at university. I thought, finally, it would be cool to care. After all we were all paying a fortune to study here, why would we scoff at those who are passionate about what they study? Maybe, finally, people wouldn’t roll their eyes and sigh with disapproval when someone wanted to discuss whether or not Israel has a right to exist, or if there is a meaning to this life, even. Those hopes were misled, and now I am complicit.

The stark truth is university culture has fundamentally changed in the past decade. The anoraks are out and the ‘lads’ are in. “Education, education, education!” said Blair. An entire generation raised on American Pie and Skins went skipping off to “unaii” for the “experience” of a life time. Previous generations were rocked by Che Guevara, Nelson Mandela and Gandhi. We lusted for gap years, Jägerbombs and casual sex.

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It’s an infuriating paradox, but intellectual institutions are now infected by an aggressively anti-intellectual culture. Students are making more headlines for urinating on war memorials and telling rape jokes than for fighting injustice or advancing progressive ideas. Too many went, for all the wrong reasons and universities are fast becoming playgrounds for middle class kids to postpone their adulthood. They are dominated by an ugly ‘lad’ culture that fuses the elitist arrogance of public school rugby with a distinctively American, extroverted and stupefied ‘jock’ persona.

The decay isn’t only down to students. Student Unions are now anything but ‘Unions’. They are failing to protect the interest of students, nurture a hot bed of intellectual activity or help co-ordinate any meaningful student activism. Today, student unions are just shopping malls designed to extract money from the ‘student market’ and political apathy has made student democracy nothing more than a beautified popularity contest. Our own union has been powerless to stop the ACS (Accommodation and Commercial Services) setting up a subsidiary company of the university that can effectively be run as ruthless, profit hungry corporation. Sheffield’s union, apparently the best in the country, now contains overpriced shops, a selection of banking outlets and a fine dining restaurant (seriously) – all installed to exploit us not serve us.

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The apathy that’s infecting Universities is not occurring in a vacuum. It’s part of a wider trend that is characteristic of our entire generation. Politicians have been able to so readily trample on the interest of young people because they know we don’t turn out to vote. The prescribed austerity has hardly touch the baby boomers, who reaped the benefits of the post war boom and extravagance of the Thatcher years, simply because they care enough to walk to a ballot box.

People my age will happily sit on their laptops ‘liking’ and ‘sharing’ various worthy causes they purport to endorse. But in reality, all they’re doing is advertising themselves as philanthropists to their thousands of ‘friends’, yet failing to make a difference out in the real world. The Internet and social media have been utilized to magnificent effect in the Arab spring and across the developing world. But here in the cozy west they are insincere platforms of vanity and narcissism.

This generation has so many legitimate grievances; underhand privatization of universities is occurring under our noses, inequality has been rising for half a century and the banking elite continues to leach off the blood of the people. But we’re not scared by the forces that threaten the peace and equality we’ve always known, because we can’t imagine a world where things are any different. To my generation wars are what happened to our grandparents and human rights violations are things that occur in distant lands. We naively take the stability and security of our liberal democracy for granted and have become the most passive and politically impotent generation in living memory.

The student riots of 2010 represented a glimmer of hope. But essentially they were just a furious outburst of shock and anger at the unprecedented tripling of tuition fees (not too dissimilar to the other recent riots). The anger found no unifying purpose, no explanatory ideology or motivating cause. The businessmen who now run universities responded with vengeful and undemocratic means. They have banned sit ins and many forms of protests and the students who care are too fragmented and few to respond at all.

Maybe when the injustice and inequality becomes too much to bear this generation of students will finally wake up. I just hope we don’t leave it so long that the hard won gains of past generations of students are entirely undone.

Do you even lift bro?

Over a period of just four years the alter ego of Aziz Shavershina, Zyzz, rose to “personify a way of life,” as he put it himself. He was probably the most famous figure in the world of amateur, Internet bodybuilding and the poster boy of the so-called ‘Aesthetics’ subculture. For a generation of young men locked into the Internet and social media he was admired as the extreme embodiment of the ‘ideology’ that defined this culture. Zyzz was of a new breed of body builder who’s primary, if not sole, aim of the pursuit is admiration via social media. Shavershina became so immersed in his ‘ideology’ and the character he created, he would take the lifestyle it implies to an extreme his body could not withstand. At just twenty-two, on a holiday of excess and egotistical frenzy in Bangkok his body perspired under the combined strain of testosterone, growth hormones, steroids and an undiagnosed heart defect.

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This distinct new breed of facebook bodybuilders are arguably a faction of a wider ‘lad culture’, defined on the Internet and embodied in websites like Unilad.com, ‘Gym memes’ and ‘Yeah, she squats’. It’s a cultural trend that has undoubtedly been made possible by the uninhibited and inherently narcissistic platform provided by social media. An online world where users are encouraged to share as much as possible and compete with their aesthetically polished, highly stylised and sometime extreme online profiles and personas. Among the posing, pouting and peacocking, teenagers compare outfits, music tastes, opinions and very often now, bodies.

Facebook is saturated with beautified, contrived and sexualised images of girls engaged in the competition, posing in mirrors and nightclubs. But surprisingly there are nearly as many images of young, heterosexual men hogging the lens to show off their muscles in similarly reviling clothes. But ever more now young men are purposefully upload images of themselves with the express intent of updating social media of their progress at the gym. As with Zyzz, impressing on social media actually seems to be one of the primary ends of working out for such men. No doubt they reap rewards in real life. But, it is over social media where they size up rivals and potential suitors and where they find the confirmation of the acceptance they crave and the admiration they desire. Conversely, more traditional ends of the sport might be considered winning competitions and increasing ones physical presence in the real world.

Overt masculinity, chauvinism and general modern vanity are nothing new of coarse. Various facets of modern life have contributed to this continuing shift in our culture – celebrity worship, the commercial beauty industry and the sexualisation of teenagers to mention a few. However it’s clear that this allegiance between social media and amateur body building has created a distinct subculture that’s glaring obvious to anyone that has an internet ‘friend’ who shares pictures of their anaerobic endeavours.

It’s a strange subculture; embracing metro-sexuality and changes in just what it is we consider ‘masculine’, but continuing to push a vicious strain of misogynism. Zyzz’s favourite catch phrase being, “acquire ascetics, disregard bitched.” Much of the colloquial vocabulary of the facebook body-builders has entered wider youth-culture in the past year. ‘Mirin’, meaning admiring, was a personal invention of Zyzz; “Walked around Bangkok all day with no shirt… thi girls mirin brah,” he posted days before his death. Phrases like, “do you even lift bro?” are now so commonplace you can buy the fucking t-shirt.

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Masculinities gone feminine

This seemingly baffling expression of masculinity and the behaviour of those involved in the ‘aesthetics’ / facebook bodybuilding sub-culture, or influenced by it, is a phenomenon best explained by a narrative written, ironically, by a seemingly adverse school of though – feminism. It’s nothing new however to appropriated feminist theory on appearance related pressures faced by women to explain similar pressures increasingly faced by men in modern society. Many prominent feminists, such as Susan Bordo in ‘The Male Body’, have gone on to produce literature specifically aimed at men affected by issues once thought to be exclusively female problems.

In an interview on his sponsor’s web-site “simplyshredded.com,” Zzyz climbs that, “4 years into my training, I can safely say that my motivation to train goes far beyond that of merely impressing people, it is derived from the feeling of having set goals and achieving them and outdoing myself in the gym.” The interview was given on cusp of becoming a professional, Zzyz was almost obliged to toe this borrowed rhetoric. It certainly doesn’t sound at all genuine.

His true motivations, revealed earlier in the interview, are far more typical of the facebook body builders of today, “I was always known as the skinny kid. I remember feeling like a little bitch when I was out with girls, walking next to them and feeling the same size as them.” Social and sexual pressure from society made Zzyz feel completely inadequate with his natural physiology. For him, and many boys today, taking extreme lengths to alter their body shape so as to conform to the hypersexual conceptions of gender stereotypes was his only way to happiness.

Feminists have for decades discusses the apparent free choices that many women make in terms of their appearance, that are in fact pressured upon them. They don’t just discuss bra burning and kicking men in the balls. They discuss why the number of Asian women undergoing eyelid surgery doubled between 1997 and 2001, why eighty per cent of women in the UK are concerned about their weight at any one time (Farrell 1995), why so many black women feel the need to straighten their hair and white women use sunbeds. They examine social norms and cultural practices, such as images in the media and the gender conscious way we raise young girls to explain and liberate women from such pressures.

Jenifer Saul writes, “feminist worries about women’s appearance related pursuits are not criticism of women who engage in and enjoy such pursuits.” Few feminists, contrary to popular myth, believe that women truly don’t, or shouldn’t, enjoy beautifying themselves, for the benefit of men or otherwise. Similarly, I don’t wish to suggest that men don’t enjoy, or shouldn’t be going to the gym. Only that the narrative and images found across social media are narrowing the amount of choices, or body shapes, that young men feel are acceptable. We are now bombarded with images of men with unattainable, impossible physiques; not only now in the mainstream media, but also more intimately over social media, of people we actually know. This leaves many young men feeling like they have to train at the gym to ever feel as if their physique is acceptable to their peers, often within the cultural context of social media.

I believe the evidence for this assertion to be plentiful. Gym memberships have sored and the protein shake industry exploded in close coloration with the rise of social media and facbook. Facebook itself is absolutely flooded by topless images of young men, usually at the gym. Many young men who might not at first seem the types to be particularly image conscious are now going to extreme and sometimes unhealthy lengths to change their body, photograph it and share the images on social media. Those images then contribute to influencing other young men – it’s a vicious cycle.

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In the interview Zzyz goes on to openly describe the social setting that fostered the jealousy and self-conscious vanity that would push him into the gym – “After My HSC, it was holidays, and I started going clubbing every weekend and always noticed whenever a jacked dude walked by, they had a presence a lot greater than that of a ‘normal’ person. The guys respect them, and the girls are all over them.” Many young men today, like Zzyz, truly believe the only way to get the “respect” they so desire is to get ‘ripped’. There nothing wrong with gaining and rewarding respect to someone who stays in shape, who takes car of them-selves. But there’s nothing healthy about the protein shake, supplement fuelled lifestyle that killed Zzyz, and there’s nothing wrong with the natural physiques that most “normal” men posses.

In my view, figures like Zzyz pressure and coerce young men down a dangerous path. Ironically however some commentators have credited celebrity amateur body builders like Zzyz with reviving an interest in fitness and training in young men. Body Building website returnofkings.com stated, “Zyzz single-handedly made bodybuilding popular again among teenage boys, which is no mean feat in a culture where brazen displays of masculinity are stigmatised by the feminist establishment.”

Curiously, masculinity as exhibited by Zzyz, his followers and millions of young men across social median would be considered distinctly un-masculine according to historic conceptions / social constructions of what it is to be Masculine. Overt masculinity once preached disregard of, or apathy towards aesthetic appearance. Vainly obsessing over the minutia of appearance was considered small-minded and distinctly feminine. Today’s ‘masculine’ facebook body builders are bleaching their teeth, removing any trace over body hair, using cosmetics and constantly getting fake tans. The fact that such behaviour is now considered part of, “brazen displays of masculinity” means that our very conception of what is ‘masculine’ has blurred. Zyzz and his crew appeared to be acutely aware of this fact; they accompany many of their posts with the phrase, “no homo.” They certainly borrow a great deal from gay culture, the traditional adversaries of ‘Masculinity,’ but today, it seems the two are easily confused.

Facebook body builders are not only victims of similar forms of pressure traditionally associated with women, but they have in fact begun to shift the boundaries of what is considered masculine. Their form of masculinity can now be criticised for displaying vices that traditional conceptions of femininity are, rightly or wrongly, subject too. Their growing prominence perpetuates the increasing amount of pressure young men face in modern society to change their body that only women were once thought to face. Pressure that is exerted more potently and obviously over social media that in any other area of modern life.

Most men who train at a gym are rational, happy, sane individuals. But some of those who do it just for Facebook likes might be described as vain, small-minded men crippled by self-consciousness and a desire to conform to distorted social norms. I for one am not ‘mirin’.

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References

All discussion of ‘feminine appearance issues’ and all feminist quotations referenced are taken from of cited in ‘Feminism, Issues and Arguments’ by Jennifer Saul, 2003.

Thanks to twocountriesonecistern.blogspot.co.uk for the brilliant forensic examination of the Zyzz story, “Pumping idiocy… the short life and strange death of Zyzz.”

To ensure that my student experience is truly complete and i fully conform to the fair-weather student revolutionary stereo type, I today attend an anti-war protest. There was hardly anyone there but a few angry Yorkshire-men (and women) giving some impassioned speeches made it entertaining enough. I wrote this for the student paper.

http://forgetoday.com/news/activists-protest-against-military-action-in-syria/

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These two look baffled

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Today the Anti-war movements returned to one of its historic strong holds. This protest might not have been a huge success, in terms of turnout, but the victory had already been won in Parliament. Speeches given before the protest were revealing – victorious, but also bitter and cautious.

The protest was called by the “Stop the war coalition” who is represented in Sheffield and campaign nationwide for an, “end the occupations in Afghanistan & Palestine, against any attack on Iran or Syria, against Islamophobia, and in defence of civil liberties. The turn out was modest, as expected, after MPs voted down Cameron’s motion before it could even be debated in the commons.

James Eden of Chesterfield trade union council was clear that MPs must be “applauded” for their decision yet Nick Clegg was not so highly lauded, another speaker, Julia Armstrong of the Sheffield star, spoke of Nick Clegg’s recent “warmongering” on a visit to the offices of The Star.

Armstrong also articulated the most popular and repeated sentiment of the event – that spending money on foreign wars is irresponsible when so much suffering is currently felt at home due to financial cut backs. The event was attended by Sheffield Socialist party, Unite union and Sheffield Un-cut, all of whom where canvasing against the bedroom tax, a lack of social housing and austerity in general.

“We don’t have to make a false choice between Imperialism and supporting the Assad regime,” said Armstrong. The consensus at this event was that foreign bombs would only fuel and inflame this extremely complicated and impassion ethnic and religious civil war. Or, that punishing this one Chemical attack may appear to make the countless other ways of murdering civilians slightly more legitimate.

Bill Ronksley, who has been involved with Sheffield Peace Congress since the end of World War Two, spoke of Sheffield’s long history of peace. On the Syrian conflict and American foreign policy he proclaimed, “the world now knows where the British people stand,” and “this so called holly alliance between the UK and the US is dead.”

Those who remember how the two million strong protests and decisions of the UN were completely ignored over the Iraq war, today is a victorious one.

However Armstrong warned that David Cameron might try to support Obama in an indirect way or bring the issue back to parliament for another vote. We should “maintain the pressure of the anti war movement,” she said.

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Old Rock Stars

July 31, 2013 — Leave a comment

I’ve been on the Internet recently and I’ve noticed that a lot of you have chosen to use it so show the world all of the cool, crazy, wild and adventurous thing you’ve been up to over the summer. I’ve been up to plenty of cool, crazy, wild and adventurous things too; like going to see rod Stewart with my mum.

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I grew up with the man’s music. He’s not a classy and Fleetwood, well know as the Stones or influential as Clapton… but me and my Mum think he’s fucking cool and that’s all that counts.

However, even as a life-long Rod fan, I have to confess I wasn’t expecting much out of the evening. Not because I was questioning my undying love for his tunes, but, because I’ve always thought there’s something quite sad and depressing about rock stars trying their best to live out the dream well into their autumn.

My car decided to break last summer so I took to rolling round in my mum’s 1998 Honda civic. Unsurprisingly, motors that cool don’t have an I-pod connection. However, my mum’s civic did have a copy of, “Rod Stewarts Great American Song Book” in the glove box. It was full of classics like, “Somewhere across the Sea” sung by a mam once described as the, “the greatest living white soul singer,” by James Brown. Sounds good yeah? It was terrible, like, painfully bad. Rods signature, growling voice reduced to a karaoke joke, singing along to whiney, characterless melodies aimed at fitting the blueprint and selling a shit-ton across America.

Because of travesties like this I used to ascribe to the view that if any Rock ‘n’ roll icon gets old enough to record something like a Christmas album, he just can’t be “rock ‘n’ roll” any more – by default.

Entering the NEC to see Rod, My suspicions seemed to be confirmed – before me lay a sea of middle aged, white people in their Sunday best waiting patiently to for the show. In the first half hour the only appropriately drunk woman was ejected for standing up and, well, having a good time I guess.

But things got better when, starting with ‘Maggie may’, he started belting out the classics. I learnt, to my surprise, that he had written and recorded an entirely new album. There were songs about his kids leaving for Uni, his wife and his past. They weren’t cheesy or awkward. They were genuine and heartfelt and the vast room resonated with approval. And when he finished on “Forever young,” I think most of the room believed it.

Cat Marnell knows a thing of two about Rock ‘n’ Roll – she recently proclaimed Pete Docherty, “our last living genuine rock star”. Why Cat? Because he’s the kind of moron that’s so intent on ruining himself, he brings heroin to court when he’s being tried for drug possession?

Just because Rod survived, just because he didn’t make the 27 clubs or end up in a coma, doesn’t make him any less “rock ‘n’ roll” that those who did. When Johnny Rotten appears on butter adverts and Jean Simons is making reality TV shows, they are, by default, no long rock ‘n’ roll. But that’s different. Getting on a bit is one thing, selling out to commercialism and the establishment another.

Yeah, It’s hard to imagine Winehouse or Kurt Cobain ever making it old enough to record a Christmas album. But, if they did, there’s a possibility they could still be rockin’ it, just like Rod.

Our Beloved Union

July 31, 2013 — Leave a comment

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I think, finally, it’s safe to cross the concourse again. The frighteningly extrovert pressgangs who are aloud to cover the union in litter and graffiti once a year have finally fucked off out of my walking direction. Despite the personal space invasions, showering of flyers and awful campaign slogans screamed at anything that moves, I did not vote. I’ll tell you why.
In sixth form I used to think student democracy was a great thing. We had a Head Girl and Boy, chosen by the teachers to be the student puppet arm of the “senior leadership team”, readily available when they needed to empress some parents with some polished, complimentary public speaking. But we also had the student council. Students with behavioral ‘issues’ were encouraged to get involved and channel their frustrations in a productive and democratic way. I ended up representing my year. We had great fun visiting different forms at registration time, fining out what was affecting the year and then chasing worthy causes up in whatever way we could find. We won girls the right to wear trousers and helped redesign the canteen menu after that Essex tart Jamie Oliver deprived us of turkey twizzles. It was a direct, grass root driven, democratic system. However my interest in student politics has turned to disgust since coming to Sheffield.
Firstly however, I must praise the Union for some valiant, if not hypocritical recent actions. For publicly standing against the ‘forward thinking’ cretins currently trying to turn our universities into a business. Forge press hasbeen vocal and dogged in opposing the proposed Spinout Company that will work in conjunction with university, allowing them to undermine their own code of employment by slashing the wages and pensions of the lowest paid employees of the University. A format that is increasingly commonplace within the sector. And for lending their support to the students of Sussex University currently fighting to halt the privatization of their University. But it’s now time the union turned its critical eye upon itself.
When I walk into our glittering steel and glass Union, under the deafening air conditioning and blinding spotlights, I can’t help but think this place doesn’t feel genuine. Between dodging the enthusiastic campaigners, you must first navigate around a ginormous Cadburys stall trying to sell us all sorts of artery clogging filth we don’t need, only to then be confronted by a grinning IT sales man trying to sell me some extortionate new windows software I definitely can’t afford. Then there’s trinket shop selling the sort of junk that I’ve only ever bough in an airport. And further round the corner lies Santander, a posh café and an overpriced food quarter. It’s a selection of retailers that wouldn’t look out of place in Covent Garden. In fact, most of the people usually in there also wouldn’t look out of place in Covent Garden. I can’t help but wonder that the Union is so orientated towards one class, it can only serve to polarise.
It’s time the Union stopped viewing the student body as a potential market to be exploited. It’s time they stopped behaving like just another commercial wing of the university (that they’re apparently so opposed to) and remembered what the word UNION means. The Union should be a refuge for students from the private and commercial interests currently infecting what is already the most expensive higher education system in Europe.
And those creepy grinning faces of our Union Officers, plastered on the walls like the cast of Glee; are they really representative of the student body? The union claims to attract the largest numbers of student voters in the country, over 8000. But Sheffield is much larger that the average university and that amounts to a dismal 34.2%, half what one would expect at a general election. And I think it’s safe to say most of the votes are casts are done so with a hilariously little car. Most students I’ve spoken to found a few minuets to vote after checking their Facebook or e-mails, breezing through the pages and pages of tick boxes, selecting whoever had the most amusing or just plain stupid slogan or a memorable name that was yelled at them earlier. So I think its safe to say even slick-back Cameron is a damn sight more of a representative figure than anyone of our Officers. They’re overly keen, squeaky-clean puppets desperate to tart up their CVs with the word ‘Officer’. The recent arrogant and dictatorial banning of The Sun pretty much sums up the single-minded, uninterested attitude they have.
On paper, our Union might be a fair and successful institution. But to some of us, it’s as a bloated, un-inclusive, intimidating and commercially orientated shopping centre. It has a turn over of over 11million a year and owns a string of shops, bars, cafés and even an independent pub. Only by scaling down the Union can it be made less dependent on it’s profits and drip-fed money from the University and so become a truly independent, accessible and progressive organization. And as I’ve made clear, I find the election campaigns so acutely annoying and egocentric I will forever with hold my vote.
I know most students are very proud of our swanky Union. But to be honest, I’d give it up in a second for the rustic and genuinely independent Student Union romantically recalled by my Mum; “It was effectively a giant shed behind the sports field, almost every student could be seen there. We mainly came for the cheap ale, but also the autonomy. It was ours. People would plot how to over throw apatite with out being expelled.”
 22

Headphone Bling

July 31, 2013 — 1 Comment

Headphone Hype

‘Owning an expensive pair of headphones may make you look like a DJ, but they don’t miraculous make you into a DJ.’

If you’ve left the house this decade you might have noticed the rise in teenagers and students cat-walking across Britain’s high streets, campuses and public transport in huge and often flamboyant headphones. Massive over-ear headphones have become the essential fashion accessory of our generation, making them big, big business.

1000x500px-LL-06f16da8_tumblr_kzhq0bDHCU1qzzhzdo1_500_largeDr Dre just sold Beats to Apple, apparently making him the, “first billionaire in hip-hop.” Most of annalists ranting about the eye watering sale price of beats put the franchises’ success down to some crafty and underhand advertised. Free pairs were sent to athletes at the Olympics [LINK] and everyone from Wayne Rooney to Justin Bieber was pictured wearing them. Whatever you’re opinion of such figure, I think it’s safe to say they’re not the sorts of people you should be taking advice of musical nature from.

The most annoying thing about the headphone craze is that loads of people now seem to believe that parading massive expensive headphones is actually a marker of anyone who knows about good music. Fortunately this isn’t the case. Today, more than ever, they’re just fashion accessories. Owning an expensive pair of headphones may make you look like a DJ, but they don’t miraculous make you into a DJ.

From the small time promoter who spent half his loan on a pair of Sennheisers, to the fifteen year old sporting a fake pair of Beats his mum got him at market so he would be down with the latest playground craze, my worry is the same. Headpones are now seldom worn for their sonic virtues but as lavish bits of jewellery and little more.

Despite this, last week I got in on the act and purchased my first pair of half-decent headphones. They’re great. I can really appreciate how they transform a mundane walk to the shops by encasing your ears in a bubble of crisp sound, allowing you to shut off from your awful surroundings and enjoy whatever new-fangled music you happen to think is cool at the time.

Their virtues aside, I still think it’s pretty clear that this trend is getting out of hand. It’s begging to remind me of when people first went mad for mobile phones in the late 90s; some people went as far as to wear them around their neck as some sort of technological medallion worth upwards of £150.

reallybigheadphonesI frequently seen people wearing them perched on the back of their heads like some sort of halo or Indian headdress, and there’s a few of my friends who I literally can’t remember last seeing without their treasured headphones chained around their neck.

Its great that more people are enjoying good sound quality – but those who adorn themselves with the flashiest pair they could find on amazon like the Mr. T of Music taste just to impress passersby, are completely missing the point. And if they also happen to also be one of the millions who also stroll around all day staring into a smart phone, their technology addiction is probably becoming debilitatingly anti-social.

I have to admit I find the recent campaign by London wasps to raise awareness and acceptability for people to be open and honest about mental illness very sweet. Coming from the hyper macho, emotionally stunted, un-inclusive and very class-conscious world of rugby, they’re certainly the right people to speak out. It also shows that even though they’ve not been able to win anything for a few seasons, they’re keen for publicity.
75892_4197349064580_1074052887_nHowever it appears the moron they chose to interview has been living so isolated in this perverse and judgmental community, or maybe so far up his own muscular ass that he appears to actually believe having emotions is in fact a solely female trait. He talks, more than once, about being an emotionally conscious individual as, “getting in touch with his feminine side” or, “metrosexul”. I know many men, who are neither emotionally crippled, metrosexal or at all in touch with anything I would describe as their “feminine side”.

I hate to break it to him, but as it transpires, possessing emotions and being active members of intricate social groups (apart from drinking, jeering, “Nandos” eating, “bantering”, bicep comparing “lads”) is actually what makes us human… not feminine! The example used of player’s use of social media is interesting. I think it’s encouraging that rugby players are attempting to be a little more social and intellectually engaged over the Internet; he implies it’s girly. Well if that’s the case, I’m a right fucking little girl.

In our protein shake fed, gym pumped, aesthetically distorted, imaged obsessive generation, the rugby community have fused a jock culture borrowed from the Americans with a very English sense of self importance and class divide to turn the “gentleman’s game” into a very ugly and intimidating community. The wasps seem to be moving in the right direction, but I won’t be taking personality tips from them for now.

(Of coarse, I am generalising horrendously here. I happen to know some very keen and very pleasant rugby players. Don’t take me too seriously)