Monday, 29 October 2012


I've decided to come out of my self-induced blog hibernation period in order to make a big post about Halloween, because Halloween is hands down my second favourite time of the year (Christmas comes first, obviously, because I am 12 years old inside forever and nothing beats eating and drinking as much as physically possible and watching 'Jingle All the Way' and other similar classics). Unfortunately, as much as I love Halloween, my attempts at celebrating it always seem to fall somewhat short - last year I dressed up as Veronica from Heathers (post-high school explosion, pre-cigarette and Martha Dumptruck befriending), expecting to elevate myself to this level of badass-ness:
Basically, I just wanted an excuse to have really big hair and constantly tell everyone to "lick. it. up." Unfortunately, I ended up looking less like Winona Ryder and more like Worzel Gummidge which, I mean...yeah, I guess that's kind of cool and Halloween-y and spooky and all, but it's not exactly the look I was going for. And Worzel Gummidge didn't have a cool catchphrase, and he definitely didn't chainsmoke a lot, so it was kind of a lost cause. I chickened out of dressing up, washed my poor attempt at 'soot' off my face, put on a black jumper with holes in, and told everyone I was a cobweb. No one was impressed. It was grim, to say the least.

The year before that was even more of a disaster. I went to London to visit my sister, and we started off the evening by drinking out of plastic skull shaped glasses and putting on too much eyeliner. We listened to the Monster Mash and made plans to go and see a friend's band, where dressing up was optional. I opted to yet again let my knitwear do the talking, by wearing a sweater which had a skeleton printed on the front. We saw the band, and everyone was dressed up, and everyone looked better than me (except for the guy who decided to dress up as Kurt Cobain, complete with gunshot wound - not cute, dude). However, I drank a lot and kind of numbed myself to the embarrassment of being half a skeleton, and we had fun -  that is, until I decided that it would be a totally awesome idea to travel to the other side of London to attend another Halloween party with some friends, and my sister decided that she wanted to go home and sleep, a lot. So she went home, and I went and got more drunk and felt even more inadequately scary than before. I remember almost falling asleep on the dance-floor due to extreme alcohol intoxication and trying to pass it off as part of my costume, before finally deciding to drag myself onto a night bus heading towards my sisters flat. This is where the story gets truly scary - I made it back to the flat, and rang the doorbell. No one answered, and after bashing on the door drunkenly for what felt like years, I creeped over to my sisters window and looked in. The curtain was open and I could see that she was fast asleep. I bashed on the window and screamed and yelled drunk things until it became obvious that she wasn't going to wake up. By this point it was almost 5am, and I remember calling my mum in tears - sobbing about how my sister was asleep, I was abandoned on the streets of London, I was dressed as half a skeleton, and I hated my life. My mum told me to get the first train back, so I got on another night bus to Euston, and by the time I reached the station being dressed as half a skeleton was the least of my worries, because I looked like a legitimate zombie. A zombie with a horrible drinking problem. 

So yeah, I think it's fair to say that my previous Halloween experiences could have been better. The past few years of continually bad costumes, drunk mistakes, and lack of pumpkin pies have made me realise that nothing is better than Halloween when you're young - the excitement of working on what you know will be a totally awesome costume, the thrill of being allowed to go Trick or Treating without the supervision of your parents or irritating older neighbours, and letting yourself be totally terrified by a scary movie that you know you're not quite old enough to watch. Or, failing that, watching endless reruns of The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror episodes and Are You Afraid of the Dark? whilst eating the best of the treats you hauled in, and making sure to blacklist the name of whoever gave you that packet of Polo mints. There's also that feeling you get during Halloween when you're young - that feeling that, although you know logically that monsters and zombies and vampires probably don't exist, this time of the year makes you doubt everything - that anything could happen. The world is a little bit scarier than usual, but in a different way - all of your usual, boring, real-world fears fade into insignificance when compared to the positively exotic ideas of zombies, and vampires, and werewolves. There's also the idea that these fears can be combated, that you can show the world how brave you really are - that you can step outside of yourself and be a spooky, supernatural hero for one night only.

So I've decided that, as a tribute to the best Halloween's I ever had, this Wednesday I'm going to spend my evening baking pumpkin pies, handing out the best treats I can find to the monsters at my door, carving faces into pumpkins, dressing up as something terrifying (even though I don't plan on leaving my house), and watching the shit out of a bunch of truly scary TV shows and movies. If you want to spend your evening experiencing a good bout of nostalgia, too, then here is a list of spooky things that you cannot go wrong with:

Are You Afraid of the Dark?
There's no way that I couldn't include this, and there's no way that it wouldn't be first on my list. Goosebumps was the first scary book series that entered my life, and for that it will always hold a special place in my heart, but Are You Afraid of the Dark? was the first TV show that genuinely scared me - and it scared me so well that for a long time, I was certain that my hometown was going to be taken over by a team of terrifying vampire, as seen in The Tale of the Nightly Neighbours. This was the first episode of  AYAOTD that I saw, and I remember clearly the scene where the protagonist, a young girl called Emma, watches the arrival of her new, creepy neighbours from her window and feels a chill of excitement - watching them unpack their strange belongings, she hopes that they will 'shake things up' in her tiny suburb. I remember sitting on the swing in my small back garden one boring summer, and the same thought crossed my mind - and as soon as it entered my head I was taken over by fear and I spent the whole summer trembling and paranoid that I would soon be dealing with some nightly neighbours of my own. The effect the TV show had on me was that profound and terrifying, which I guess is kind of embarrassing to admit now, as looking back on it now, the show is obviously more campy than creepy. However, that doesn't take away the fear that many of us felt when watching this show as youngsters, and some of the characters remain as disturbing today as they did when we first saw them. I mean, the weird sea monster in The Tale of the Dead Man's Float? I would not want to run into that bitch in a dark alleyway - or anywhere, in fact.
 SERIOUSLY. Just be grateful I didn't choose a close-up.

The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror
If I haven't yet written an ode to The Simpsons and how it has affected my life on this blog, then please forgive me for my laziness. I grew up watching The Simpsons - it first aired over here in the year that I was born, and my best childhood memories all involve sitting in front of the television with my grandad, waiting for The Simpsons to start. I'm even watching it now as I write this post (Itchy & Scratchy & Marge, in case you're curious). I feel as though anyone who grew up in the 90s with a less than perfect, dysfunctional family can relate to The Simpsons and the humour it uses. The Treehouse of Horror episodes are no exception - they're hilarious, they can be creepy, and they're also very, very clever. One of my favourite segments from the entire Treehouse of Horror back catalogue is definitely Bad Dream House, in which the family move into a haunted house and spend the majority of their time living there trying not to kill each other. The highlight of the episode for me comes at the end, when the house is told that The Simpsons will be living there and the house must therefore respect them. After allowing the house a few minutes to mull it over, it then explodes, after which Lisa comments, "It chose to destroy itself rather than live with us". So there you have it - dysfunctional families are definitely more terrifying than ghosts or haunted houses will ever be.
Another of my favourite Treehouse of Horror segments is The Shining send-up, in which Homer becomes the character played by Jack Nicholson. The segment uses many of the tropes seen in the film version of The Shining, including the infamous axe scene, but my favourite part has to be when Homer remarks that "no tv and no beer make Homer go crazy". I can relate to this a lot - I'm sure that living away from the majority of the human race in a deserted hotel on a mountain wreaks havoc with your mental health, but surely it would all be a lot more bearable with the addition of beer and television.

Freaks and Geeks Tricks and Treats
This episode of Freaks and Geeks is hands down one of my favourite things to watch during Halloween.
 Everything about it is perfect - the homemade costumes, Bill's insistence as the bionic woman that "these are all mine!", Gonna Raise Hell playing during the freaks' car trip and pumpkin smashing escapades, and the heartbreaking moment when Lindsay accidentally eggs Sam, her own brother. In his cute little robot costume, Lindsay! How could you? As much as I want to be a freak and get high all of the time and be a total badass, deep down I know that during my time at high school I could definitely relate a lot more to Sam and his group of geeks - so that egging scene really gets to me, as does the scene when Alan and his cronies beat up the geeks and steal their candy.
This episode also makes awesome use of two of my favorite characters, Sam and Lindsay's parents. One of my favourite parts of the episode definitely has to be when Lindsay ditches her mum's halloween plans (which include dressing up as a princess and handing out home-baked cookies to trick or treaters- I seriously don't know what's up with Lindsay in this episode, because that sounds like a dream to me) to hang out with the freaks, so Lindsay's dad makes a special effort and dresses up in the vampire costume Lindsay's mum has made for him. I honestly cried with laughter when he first pops out from behind the front door and genuinely terrifies the little trick or treaters. At the end of the episode, Lindsay realises her error and returns to the family home, where she dresses up and helps her mum with the Halloween treats, which leaves even my tiny cold heart feeling warm and fuzzy.
Flawless human beings.

As well as watching these three TV shows on Halloween, I also plan to drink a lot of creepy cocktails, bake an awesome pumpkin pie (although you know it'll definitely be made from tinned pumpkins and Jus-Roll pastry), watch some genuinely creepy films on Netflix, and dress up as some kind of weird spooky creature, taking my main inspiration from Sharon Needles - and there won't be a half-skeleton costume or cobweb jumper in sight. Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012


After extensive years of research (okay, one hour of half-hearted googling), I have discovered that most euphemisms surrounding depression are animal-based, and this does not surprise me. What else could possibly describe the true nature of depression - the debilitating, destructive hunger of it, the viciousness, the way that it is not part of the sufferer but a whole new entity, external and uncontrollable. A wild animal, an untamed beast - not something that you want to domesticate and welcome in, arms open. David Foster Wallace called it "the great white shark of pain". For Churchill, it was more like a black dog on his shoulder. When I was younger, and too young to really understand the nuances and intricacies of what was happening to me, I referred to it as 'the bugs'. It seemed logical at the time - I felt as though I was being devoured from the inside, slowly, by tiny creatures who had no mercy or limits.

It's impossible to deny the strength of both Wallace and Churchill's images, as they manage to convey the ferocity with which depression can attack you - after all, black dogs are notoriously regarded as being dangerous and unlucky, and a great white shark kind of speaks for itself (I'm assuming that the two people who read this blog are as obsessed with Jaws as I am). When I talked about depression as 'the bugs', it was an attempt to describe the self-disgust I felt - but one that was larger than just disliking myself, or pitying myself, because it was bigger than myself. Somehow, the whole world was involved in a way that I couldn't quite wrap my head around. All I know is that it made me feel frustrated, and depressed, and like a total failure. Like, I couldn't even experience a break in mental health in the right way! And who manages to fuck up depression? I mean, I spent a lot of time throwing pity parties for myself in my online journals (so what's changed, really?) but I could still function, I could still leave my bed and go to school and go through the motions of being a normal 12 year old, and then a normal teenager, and then a normal adult. Except for, you know, the times when I couldn't. But I soon covered those episodes up by adopting the adorable trait of 'lazy fuck', in an attempt to fool others (and myself) that any time I didn't leave my bed for days was through choice. What I didn't realise then is that depression is actually less of an animal and more of a shape-shifter. It doesn't always attack in the form of dead-eyed anhedonia.

And, just so you know, I'm not sure that I've ever experienced depression as pure anhedonia, ever. Actually, to me, that seems like it would be some kind of a relief - caring about nothing, sleepwalking through life, untouched by everything. Of course, this is a stupidly idealistic view - I'm sure it's horrific to those who experience depression in this way, because nothing about depression is ever relieving, or positive, or comforting, or appealing. I remember being given many questionnaires to fill out by my doctor and, later, a psychologist, during my teenage years - one question that always appeared was "Have you lost interest in activities you used you enjoy, such as reading or socialising?" and my answer was always a frustrated no - like, it's not that I've lost interest in these things, it's just that I am so permanently  and constantly distracted by the pure psychic pain in my head that even the concept of paying attention to anything else is just a total write-off. Like, one thing I've never been able to understand is when some people - doctors, friends, journalists - refuse to entertain the idea that depression is a physical issue as well as mental. That it is only anhedonia and that it does not hurt. Because it does, to me, at least - most of the time it hurts like I've taken a beating. It is exhausting and painful and it wears you down, either slowly or quickly, but either way it basically wants to obliterate you.

To me, one of the ways in which it does this is by completely removing your ability to empathise, or to feel any kind of emotion except obsession with your own psychic pain. It might seem hypocritical that I'm quoting David Foster Wallace just after emphasizing lack of empathy or understanding of others, but I read this paragraph the other day and I felt as though I'd been whacked round the head by Dave himself, like he was saying "Of course I'm still here, you big idiot, isn't it obvious that I can read your mind and that I've never really left your brain?" Like, if I was infinitely smarter and more eloquent, this is how I would describe depression:
 It is a level of psychic pain wholly incompatible with human life as we know it. It is a sense of radical and thoroughgoing evil not just as a feature but as the essence of conscious existence. It is a sense of poisoning that pervades the self at the self's most elementary levels. It is a nausea of the cells and soul. It is an unnumb intuition in which the world is fully rich and animate and un-map-like and also throughly painful and malignant and antagonistic to the self, which depressed self It billows on and coagulates around and wraps in Its black folds and absorbs into Itself, so that an almost mystical unity is achieved with a world every constituent of which means painful harm to the self. Its emotional character, the feeling Gompert describes It as, is probably the most indescribable except as a sort of double bind in which any/all of the alternatives we associate with human agency — sitting or standing, doing or resting, speaking or keeping silent, living or dying — are not just unpleasant but literally horrible.It is also lonely on a level that cannot be conveyed. There is no way Kate Gompert could ever even begin to make someone else understand what clinical depression feels like, not even another person who is herself clinically depressed, because a person in such a state is incapable of empathy with any other living thing. This anhedonic Inability To Identify is also an integral part of It. If a person in physical pain has a hard time attending to anything except that pain, a clinically depressed person cannot even perceive any other person or thing as independent of the universal pain that is digesting her cell by cell. Everything is part of the problem, and there is no solution. It is a hell for one.
David Foster Wallace, you give me life. And like, after reading the above paragraphs and being whacked with understanding and empathy and consciousness in a way that has literally never happened to me when reading about depression before, I started thinking - why do we refuse to talk about psychic pain in the same way that we talk about physical pain? Why is it socially acceptable to discuss every private inch of your body (which you know I'm an advocate of, naturally) but only skim the surface of the mind? Why has it taken me 23 years to find one or two paragraphs that I can relate to, in terms of mental illness? And even then, they are paragraphs from the novel of a dead man. Why do I always develop gruesome stomach bugs when on the phone to my manager during a sick day? Why is it preferable to be thought of as spending your week puking and shitting out your intestines, rather than admitting the truth and saying, "I'm depressed"? Why is mental illness still so taboo? I mean, I'm disgustingly private to a fault, so you know something is fucked up with the way society views mental illness if even I feel as though I should be allowed to air my dirty laundry without raising any eyebrows.
There seems to be a hierarchy when it comes to mental health issues, too. Like, I will never have an issue telling people that I have problems dealing with anxiety, and no one bats an eyelid if I mention it - I think this is because of the way that anxiety is presented to us, as being a simple, manageable extension of something that normal, otherwise mentally sound people also experience. It is still viewed very much as a Thing, an illness, whereas depression seems to be viewed (and this is dangerous, in my opinion) as more of a character flaw. If you are depressed, that is a problem with your personality rather than an illness, and this is reflected in the way that depression is confronted - pull yourself out of it, cheer up, it can't rain all of the time  (ok I definitely just quoted The Crow and I apologise deeply for that, but it's staying.) Those kind of reactions just seem absurd to me now that I've accepted that depression is a manageable illness rather than one of my many gigantic personality flaws - kind of like telling a person who breaks their leg to just walk it off. No, you put a cast on it, and I take two different pills three times a day. And somehow we both end up less broken.

Now a confession - I'm not really sure where this post is going, or even where it has been (proofreading is for losers so enjoy my spelling mistakes!), or what the point of it all is - I guess it is my first step towards helping to end the huge taboo that surrounds discussing mental illness in public. I'm going to leave you with another paragraph from David Foster Wallace, because he managed to say all of the things that I never will, and he said them beautifully:
The so-called 'psychotically depressed' person who tries to kill herself doesn't do so out of quote 'hopelessness' or any abstract conviction that life's assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire's flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It's not desiring the fall; it's terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling 'Don't!' and 'Hang on!', can understand the jump. Not really. You'd have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.

I guess I'm going to end this by dedicating it to the putting out of flames by psychotic depressives everywhere - in honor and admiration and respect of the man who tried to, for all of us, but couldn't.

Friday, 20 July 2012


"No single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable"

Wednesday, 13 June 2012


I cut most of my hair off and spent the weekend in the city of Porto at Primavera Sound, where I waited in a queue in the pouring rain for two and a half hours to get tickets to see Jeff Mangum at the Casa da Musica. 'Worth it' doesn't even come close to a good description because me and my sister ended up sitting a few feet away from him, cross-legged on the floor after he asked the crowd to move closer. Arguably in our rightful place. It was surreal and perfect. I got sunburnt on my arms, shoulder, and mouth (?!?!?!?!?!) and now I'm enjoying peeling away the dead skin way too much. They eat well in Porto, and they put cheese on everything, and the wine is sweet and strong. I loved the beach, too, especially the contradiction of it - pure white sand and sea surrounded by factories and industrial estates.

What else? I turned 23 on the 3rd of June and that was also surreal. It's not that I think 23 is old, just that in my head I still feel as though I'm 16. I mean, I spend every night sleeping in the bedroom of the house I grew up in. I drink in the same bars and spend time with the same friends and I feel like I'm stuck in some kind of weird time warp that is not entirely unpleasant.
Anyway, I spent most of my birthday drunk, except for when I visited the Wellcome exhibition with my friends and walked around the museum for hours and spent £65 on books, as a present to myself. The exhibition was to do with mapping the mind, and in one corner of the museum the curators had set up a video playing footage of two surgeons slicing and preparing brains. It was kind of hypnotic, I think I could have watched it all day. If you think you can stomach it, here is the video:

The brain thing is sort of macabre and I'm gonna follow that theme and say that I've also spent most of my internet time lately obsessively reading through the Websleuths forums for missing people. The cases featured are often sad, and strange, and endless - after reading through many of the threads, I eventually came to automatically expect loose ends and lost girls and clues that trail off into nowhere as the only eventual results. Reading through the forum is frustrating, and hopeful, and terribly sad, and monumentally important.

I've also been reading a lot of true crime and a lot of David Foster Wallace, and I've fallen back in love with Freaks and Geeks big time, especially the character of Mr Rosso. Like, if I was Lindsay Weir, I would have a big fat inappropriate crush on him.

I mean, what a total babe.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012


Guys, here is a shitty reason explaining why I haven't updated this blog in a while: on Valentine's Day this year, I had a date with a bottle of beer, The Simpsons, and some pizza (courtesy of my little brother, of course). It was supposed to be magical, and it was - up until the part where I decided it would be an awesome idea to balance my pizza slice and pot of garlic dip on the arm of the couch so that I could rest my laptop on my knees, therefore allowing me to do some googling and pizza-ing at the same time. I am also the clumsiest person in the world (this is probably shamefully close to not being hyperbole) and hadn't even really lifted the pizza from it's couch-arm base before the garlic sauce kind of tipped over and exploded all over the keyboard of my laptop. It was such a Peep Show moment: disgustingly predictable. Anyway, now most of the keys don't work unless I mash my hand down on them and do a little prayer, and the 'N' key is gone for good. I found this weird touch-screen keyboard on my desktop that I would like to think is some kind of emergency keyboard made for moments like these, but I've decided to go the old-fashioned route - mashing and copying 'n' pasting the letter 'N' from other websites. So far I'm still managing to spend most of my free time internetting, so I'd like to think that in this particular battle of (wo)man vs food, woman has won. I'm trying to write an entry about Neutral Milk Hotel and how they changed my life a few weeks ago at All Tomorrow's Parties, but I'm starting to get this weird claw from copying and pasting too much, so this is my stupid break. Seriously, I was so close to becoming this:

Anyway, today I went to work wearing the shirt I slept in because staying up until 4 a.m. watching Six Feet Under is probably a really bad idea if you have to wake up for work at 6 a.m. and don't want to resemble a zombie. Speaking of Six Feet Under, guys I am so completely obsessed with it - I mean, the main themes are death and dysfunction and fucked up surburbia, how could I not be? And I am also in love with Claire Fisher and kind of want to be her best friend and we can hang out and get high and talk about how stupid boys in high school are and also, Claire, maybe you could introduce me to your brother because it is almost weird how much I relate to Nate Fisher and I'm kind of in love with him and his weird way of talking and I know that I will die when he dies in season five, etc.
this is how I feel about everyone in the world ever, Claire

I see so much of my family, and my friends' families, in the Fishers. The whole aspect of repression and resentment and not having that perfect, harmonious, Walton-esque relationship that is so often televised is strangely comforting. What's also strangely comforting is how Six Feet Under manages to perfectly express the conflict and turmoil of being part of a family and feeling the pull of your own life taking you in one direction, and your loyalty and concept of 'family' desperately trying to cling on and pull you in another. I can see how loyalty would win, and that's what terrifies me - because the family you are from and the heritage and history you have and the class you were born in and the first street you lived down and the house you grew up in and the council estates you roamed around are all such a fucking huge part of you, of who you are. And to denounce your family, to move away from them and make your life your own, is somehow transformed by guilt into being less of a personal choice and more of a denouncement of your history, your class, your background. It seems to me that we just can't seperate the two, or figure out how to hold onto the past without letting it control and potentially ruin us. How many people end up living lives they never really wanted, because of this? That's something that's unbearable to me, and this might sound stupid but I think that's why I've always wanted to leave this town - because if I don't, it won't ever really be my life. I think I'm kinda talking in riddles now, who knows. Writing a blog entry when you're sleep deprived and pill-less is probably not an awesome idea.

Ruth Fisher manages to beautifully express how I feel 99.999999999999% of the time

When I think about this, though, it doesn't begin and end with family - it also makes me think about other things, like how my concept of my own unhappiness is so tied up in the fact that I'm back here, that I've been back here for almost two years now, that (to quote Morrissey, when the things he said were more poetic and less...troll-ish) this town has literally dragged me down. Is it really fair to blame your state of mind on something as simple and obvious as a place? I was unhappy in London, too. I guess the reason I blame Northampton as being the root - if not always the cause - of my unhappiness is because the alternative sort of terrifies me. I could move to Prague, to Montreal, to Berlin, to Amsterdam, to the other side of the world, and nothing could change. You can't run away from yourself. What if I finally get out of Northampton and find that the problem isn't where I am, but who I am? 
Also, like the best dude I know pointed out when we were hungover and giving our friend a tour of the Northampton bus station this weekend, we say we hate this town but we're also kind of obsessed with it. We talk about it all of the time, and most of all, we keep coming back. I guess everyone suffers from this weird kind of masochism - not being able to let go of the thing that you think is ruining you, because in a weird way, it's a huge part of you. Kind of like Chief Brody and Jaws, which probably isn't the greatest example, but I watched Jaws 2 the other day. Once again - how disgustingly predictable.

Saturday, 24 March 2012


(originally posted on Retrograde magazine's website)

I remember the first time I listened to Biggie Smalls. I was on the verge of becoming that thing that every teenager dreads and is secretly excited by at the same time – twenty years of age. I was finishing up my second year of university, and I was broke and angry and disillusioned by life outside of my tiny, working class hometown. I felt like everyone had more money than me, came from richer families than me, had received better educations than me, and therefore I spent the majority of the year (and my life at university, actually) precariously balancing between feeling terribly inferior and alone, and extremely bitter. Then I heard ‘Juicy’ for the first time.

At first it seems as though it was a chance meeting, this collision of my late-teenaged self and 90’s hip-hop, but looking back at the grand old age of 22, it’s clear that we were always meant to be. Hip-hop artists in the early 90’s wrote powerful, angry songs about fighting the power and growing up poor and not accepting the place society wants you to have in the world. I can’t relate to being black, or growing up black, and to suggest that anything in my life would ever come close to it would be ridiculous and insulting. However, hip-hop artists rapped about money and class and the role of the poor in society in a way that no white artists I’m aware of have ever really come close to, at least not to me. The working class need a voice, and 90’s hip-hop gave us it.

It’s a well-know theory that the age of fourteen is when we first start breaking away from what our parents and siblings and friends like and start forming our own interests and opinions about society and the different types of culture it offers us, especially in regards to music (I’d like to thank Dr Spencer Reid of Criminal Minds fame for educating me on this). Therefore, the music we listen to at this age influences us in a way that nothing else quite ever will, and not just in regards to something simple as our taste. It’s the first thrill of doing something for yourself, of making a deliberate step towards becoming a certain type of person, of becoming someone who is complex and flawed and human. When I was fourteen, I dyed my hair pink, badly. I read a lot of Chuck Palahniuk books. I kept a livejournal and wrote bad prose and wore a lot of black (some things never change). These things have all greatly influenced the person I have become and am still becoming, in the way that the friends you have at that age influence you in a way that no one else ever really will. It’s not because everything back then was realer, or purer, in the way that nostalgia can sometimes make us believe – it’s not because your friends were any better, or because music was any better, or because society is falling apart and culture is going downhill and everything just sucks now. It’s because it was happening for the first time.

When I was fourteen, I didn’t listen to hip-hop. I listened to The Smiths and let Morrissey guide me through teenage life in a humdrum town, where the days seemed endless. I listened to Bright Eyes and related to Conor Oberst’s angst about youth and growing up and the future in a way that almost scared me – my life plan for a while was to move to Omaha and work at Saddle Creek. I listened to the Manic Street Preachers and became angry and disillusioned with politics and England and money, as well as wearing a lot of eyeliner and leopard print. These bands were my soundtrack during my most formative years, and at the time they defined me and my beliefs and led me through the jungle of adolescence in a way that my family and my teachers and all of those teen-orientated websites and books and pamphlets couldn’t. They taught me about the real world and how to navigate it.

There is something about this list that needs to be recognised, though. The musicians who guided me through perhaps one of the most important times of my life all have one thing in common – they’re white males. I am a white female. Although I am not privileged in some ways, I am privileged in the fact that I grew up with internet access and books and the ability to listen to and appreciate music. So with all of these privileges at my disposal, why did I end up allowing myself to be guided by the one group that has all of the privileges I do not have? The one group that society is under the power of and at the same time caters to?
It’s easy to place the blame on oneself, but I think the root of the problem lies deeper than this. The majority of music young people are exposed to is more often than not written, performed, and controlled by white males. Although, according to our theory, we make our own musical choices at the age of fourteen, we are still young and susceptible to outside influences. We may feel as though we are completely in control of what we choose to listen to, but the reality is that this choice is still made within the context of the society we belong to – and this is a society in which white men rule the roost, so to speak.

Therefore, when considering the context in which modern music is presented, it is important to recognise how misogyny is generated and perpetuated due to it. Obviously, the fact that society is fundamentally a man’s world is in itself a sign of the misogyny that women face every day, and this is represented in the music we listen to. However, perhaps the most interesting aspect of misogyny in music is how reluctant we are to attribute it to white men.

As I stated earlier in this article, I have a lot of love and respect for 90’s hip-hop. I also consider myself a strong feminist. The one question I always hear when I inform people of the above two facts is, without fail, “How can you be a feminist when you listen to music that is as misogynistic as hip-hop?” I have a lot of problems with this response, and what it tells us about the society we live in. I’m not going to deny for one second that some hip-hop is misogynistic – to do so is counter-productive, because it is very true that some hip-hop music does focus on belittling women and therefore reinforces the idea of men as being superior. The point isn’t that hip-hop music is not misogynistic – the point is that it is no more misogynistic than other genres of music, but is constantly scapgoated and focused on as being the only music that is misogynistic and therefore dangerous towards women. I believe that misogyny is just as rife in other genres of music, but because this music is created by white men in a society that favours white men, it is not picked up on. It is a lot easier to blame the minority instead, because it is not the minority who controls the context in which we listen to music. It is easy to blame a black man for misogyny towards women being perpetuated through music, because it is simpler than going against what society tells us.

So what is the logic for hip-hop being universally referred to, and thought of, as misogynistic? Firstly, one of the main points that is brought up is the language which is used towards women in many hip-hop songs – “they’re always calling women bitches! Or hoes!” should really have been copywrited by now, I hear it so often. The fact is that, yes, a lot of hip-hop songs do use language that is potentially derogatory when referring to women. However, it is important to also consider the cultural context in which the word is being used, and who it is being used by. Many female rappers have reclaimed words such as “bitch” and therefore refer to themselves using the word, and will also sometimes accept being called it by men in songs, as long as it is on the terms they have laid out. Obviously not all uses of potentially derogatory words in hip-hop are by women and not all of them are intended to be complimentary. However, although no man has the right to refer to a woman as a bitch or a whore or a hoe (which in itself is a gross stereotype of most hip-hop music), and no woman should be subjected to it against her wishes, the sometimes-explicit use of the words in hip-hop songs makes it a lot easier for us to identify what is and is not misogynistic. This might sound like a strange thing to include in an article that wishes to convince you that hip-hop is no more misogynistic than any other genre of music, but it is important to consider when discussing why the majority of white, male music is not seen as being misogynistic.

So, hip-hop is widely considered to be misogynistic because of the language many artists use to describe women, including women themselves. What could be more misogynistic than a woman being referred to as a bitch or a hoe? Well, at least if a woman is described using a word that is widely thought of as sexist and derogatory, it is easy for us and most of the general public to recognise it as being offensive and not accept it. However, not all misogyny is presented through a nasty word or name-calling, and this is the biggest issue I have with hip-hop being referred to as more misogynistic than other genres. I believe that other genres of music, mostly represented by white men, are so full of misogyny that is internalised and accepted in society, and this is dangerous because it means that we are not always aware of it.

So if misogyny in hip-hop is mostly presented through the language used, then how is it presented in other genres? Internalised misogyny is not as simple as a woman being referred to in a negative way – instead it reinforces ideas about how women should act, specifically in regards to men, in a way that is subtle and not always recognisable as being negative. The popular-in-2006-on-myspace genre of music known as ‘emo’, or emotional hardcore, is especially responsible for encouraging this way of thinking. I love Brand New, but think of ‘Jude Law and a Semester Abroad’ (sample lyric: “and even if her plane crashes tonight/she’ll find some way to disappoint me/by not burning in the wreckage/or drowning at the bottom of the sea”). Jawbreaker are an amazing band and most of Blake Schwarzenbach’s lyrics are perfect to me, but think of ‘Sluttering’. Dashboard Confessional were the first band I listened to on my walkman in 2004, but think of everything Chris Carrabba has ever written. What do these artists all have in common? They are intelligent, middle class, white males who comment sharply and succinctly on social issues and politics and heartbreak and adolescence (Chris Carrabba only gets credit for the last two, though).However, they also rely on the idea of women as being one-dimensional and almost fictional in their attributes and identities. Take Brand New first, for example. In ‘Jude Law and a Semester Abroad’, Jesse Lacey focuses on how the girl mentioned has wronged him, how if a plane crash didn’t bring her imminent death then it would be purely to disappoint him. Basically, the female character exists only as a catalyst for his anger and heartbreak, not as a real person. The same can be seen in ‘Sluttering’ and perhaps most explicitly in many Dashboard Confessional songs. Females are either described as being weak and simpering, purely as a love interest for the protagonist, or as cold-hearted and evil, the source of his pain and frustration. The problem with these representations of women is that they are just not realistic. A woman does not exist purely to appease a man or to justify his anger or hurt. Women are not either one thing or another – we are more than the stereotypes we are presented as in modern music.

Another issue that arises when discussing misogyny in hip-hop is, inevitably (and rightly so), regarding race. Is it any coincidence that hip-hop music is mostly written and performed by black men? It is easier for a society in which white men hold the most power to accept that it is not ‘one of us’ perpetuating these ideas. It is easier for white people to accept the idea of a black man encouraging violence and oppression against their sisters and daughters than it is to accept that it might be a lot closer to home than that. A lot of this is to do with extremely racist connotations and stereotypes, the idea that black hip-hop artists are all gangbangers and live in ghettos, promoting the kind of lifestyles that respectable white men would never lead. Sadly, it’s easy for society to justify this extremely racist train of thought, as it is a result of a misguided attempt to fight oppression. It’s easier to accept it than it is to challenge it, and this is where we are going wrong.

This is not a denial that misogyny exists in hip-hop. This is not an excuse for the vile language that is used to shame and oppress women by some hip-hop artists. This is not a condemnation of every song written by a white man. This is a wake up call to everyone who believes the stereotype that misogyny is only perpetuated and generated by black men, that calling a woman a bitch or a hoe is the only way in which she can be dismissed or oppressed, that our opinions and choices are made fairly and freely and are not influenced by a society that is white and inherently misogynistic. This is, to paraphrase Biggie Smalls, to all the ladies in the place with style and grace who refuse to accept what society tells us we should accept, and who refuse to accept misogyny only when it is well-hidden and sung to us instead of rapped.


(originally posted on Retrograde magazine's website)

The internet is full of ghosts. From the deepest, darkest, dustiest corners of the World Wide Web to the welcoming home page of your browser, the internet is the ultimate haunting ground if you’re willing to suspend your hard-earned belief that ghosts only exist in horror films. These ghosts aren’t caricatures, like Casper and his merry band of followers. They’re not even really paranormal, in that sense that there are no reports of online poltergeists or heavy demands for browser-exorcisms. This is haunting of a different nature, and the ghosts are of a different nature. Because, after all, what do we really mean when we use the term ‘haunted’? These days, it’s obvious that it has evolved into something less to do with the paranormal and more to do with human nature. We are haunted by death every day but not because we have a direct hotline that links us to ghosts and ghouls and all things terrifying - instead we are haunted in ways that, to those who have not yet become part of the club, seem to be almost imperceptible.
One of the strongest examples of this daily haunting comes in the form of the internet. If you are reading this, if you are browsing the internet right now, then you are probably a member of some kind of social networking site. If you are a member of a social networking site (be it Facebook, Myspace, or even Bebo – but if it is Bebo, then ouch) then you will have friends on that site. If your number of friends on that site equals or betters the number of friends of the average user, then I can guarantee that you are being haunted.

It might take you a while to notice it. You might come across it firstly in the form of a status update about someone’s granddad, someone’s dog, a friend of a friend, which you scroll past too quickly. This kind of ghost is easy to ignore. Then, slowly, it starts inching closer. An acquaintance from school invites you to a memorial group for a mutual friend. Facebook pages dedicated to those who have died in tragic accidents are mentioned in the local newspaper, alongside an obituary. When you google the names of local deaths out of morbid curiousity, you come across blogspot posts, livejournal entries, tumblogs, and tweets before any definitive news articles appear. You’re surrounded by ghosts.

Many people believe that this modernisation of grief is due to the iron grip technology has on the world, and proof that even the starkest human emotions are not immune to it. Borne from this belief is also the opinion that, because they are expressed online in a public setting, these feelings of grief are not completely natural and instead are somewhat doctored and dramatised for their online audience. To assume this is not only incorrect but also dangerous, and I think that to reduce online memorials to this is doing the movement (and I believe it definitely is a movement, for better or worse) a great disservice. I do not believe that online memorials have been created as a means of competition, of showing who is ‘grieving the hardest’. I do not believe that they have become popularised purely due to morbid curiosity, although it definitely is a huge factor. I do not believe that a person creates an online memorial simply because the internet is there and we have all become slaves to the proverbial machine. I do not believe that grief which is shared via a social networking site is any less real or deeply felt than grief which is internalised and hidden away (the ‘stiff upper lip’ school of thought) - in fact, I think that one of the main reasons young people in particular turn to the internet when grieving is that it allows them the chance to take hold of it and manage it in a way that is comfortable and familiar to them. I believe that online memorials are simply a modernisation of the ultimate ghost, the thing that haunts every one of us on a daily basis – our fear of death, and our ultimately futile attempts to control it.

When discussing death and the internet, it is impossible not to mention the behemoth of online memorials, In the same way that many people can recall exactly where they were during Princess Diana’s death, or the falling of the twin towers, I can remember exactly where I was when I discovered mydeathspace. I was eighteen years old, fresh out of state school, in my first year of university. I was living behind a book shop on Gower Street and it was the beginning of a new year. I was sitting at my tiny desk, with the Ethernet cable carefully balanced between the wall and my laptop. I can’t remember what exactly I was doing, but I know I’d been reading about the Columbine shootings when the now-familiar skull banner appeared on my screen. I clicked it and my life changed. is a website and forum dedicated to chronicling and discussing death. In the archive section, you’ll find a depressingly endless list of people who have died in specific ways. They each have their own page, listing at minimum their name, age, date of birth, and a link to their social networking site (hence the name mydeathspace). If you head over to the forum, you will find thread after thread discussing the saddest and strangest deaths.

My discovery of mydeathspace hit me like a ton of bricks. I’d never been so aware and terrified of my own mortality. The majority of people listed on mydeathspace were my age or younger, and having the links to their social networking sites provided for me meant that I couldn’t ignore them or write them off as another teen tragedy. Mydeathspace offers a level of intimacy that no either grieving process can provide – social networking sites are often no-holds-barred, and comments from friends and family provide another dimension to the deceased that an obituary in a newspaper never will. This is part of the popularity of mydeathspace, and is also where the controversy lies.
It’s no coincidence that mydeathspace has a Hate Mail section, and a brief glance through the forum only confirms that some people are not very happy at all with the existence of such a website. Mixed in with discussions between users and comments hoping that the deceased will rest in peace are angry postings from family members, friends, and locals, defending the deceased and demanding that the website be taken immediately. There are outcries of offense, of not wanting to read ‘that’ about their child/friend/brother/sister written by a stranger on the internet. This is where part of the main controversy lies – in the idea that by modernising death, by archiving pages after pages of dead youth’s facebooks, mydeathspace is somehow trivialising what happened to them. It’s easy to understand the parents’ point of view – some tragic deaths are horribly exploited on the internet, as in the case of Nikki Catsouras. There are websites that sadly do exist in order to trivialise death and jeer at people who have died and their families, but mydeathspace is not one of them. Instead, I believe that this initial shock and disgust at finding a friend or family member resting within mydeathspace’s archive is linked into our basic human fear of death. With websites like mydeathspace, we are confronted with death head on. It’s lined up and packaged neatly in front of us, archived in black and white. It reinforces the everyday brutality of death, contrasted harshly against the fragility of life. It’s hard to bear. Seeing passport sized photographs of people who could have been so much more, row after row after row of them, is hard to bear. But death exists. It is an absolutely certainty in life. What happens when we choose to ignore it, when we choose to x out and close the page? What kind of memorial are we leaving behind then?

The other aspect of controversy that mydeathspace brings is not just the general nature of the website, but the specific content. Most people think that sex is the last taboo, but I disagree. It’s death. In this society, it would be pointless to argue against the fact that some deaths are seen as being more desirable and socially acceptable than others. Natural deaths, for example, are acceptable – they are almost comforting, as they seem to suggest that it was the deceased’s ‘time to go’. They fit in with the ideas we have of the world as being just and right. Noble deaths are also acceptable – if someone dies for their country, or whilst saving a life or helping others, the taboo of death is automatically lifted. It’s okay to talk about these deaths, because they are a representation of how good and kind the deceased was. They emphasise their best qualities, and leave a positive memory for those who knew him or her.
Other deaths, however, remain taboo because they are still not seen as socially acceptable. Deaths from drug use or overdose are often not talked about, as society still seems to have the underlying view that if someone is suffering from a drug problem or takes drugs recreationally then they are bad and wrong and therefore their death is not as much of a tragedy. Their death is unnatural and therefore undesirable, but it is not unexpected. Many of the angry comments posted by family members that I mentioned earlier appear in threads regarding a child who died through illicit drug use or overdose – it’s sad but true that many families still cover up drug-related deaths and therefore do not want this news to be readily available. There is the fear that their child will be dirtied, viewed as less valuable, and that they will be remembered as something undesirable, such as a drug addict. What these family memories (perhaps understandably) don’t realise is that mydeathspace is not passing judgement on the way in which any of these people have died. Instead, it is a place where forum members can discuss the death and try and discover what the deceased was like, via their social networking page. Mydeathspace is trying to get us to talk about death, to inform us that no death should be hidden away and viewed as shameful. Only by discussing death and the deceased can we attempt to face our fear of death.

Suicide is perhaps the most taboo death of all. Although suicide has become more widespread in the news, this does not mean that it has been accepted by society. In fact, suicide is viewed as being perhaps the most undesirable, unacceptable death of all. For most people, it goes directly against their views that life is sacred, and should be lived to the full. Society celebrates life, and it celebrates wanting to live. It sounds hyperbolic, but it is fair to say that everything that exists in our society is an attempt to preserve life, extend life, and give us a better quality of life. This is why suicide cannot be accepted. It is perhaps the saddest, hardest death to come to terms with, not only because mental illness is still so misunderstood. Depression is still seen as shameful and more of a state of mind than an illness – we are taught by society that the acceptable way to respond to depression and mental health issues is to work our way through them and ‘be strong’, which sadly reinforces the idea that depression can be beaten this way by everyone. Once again, mydeathspace does not want us to be shamed into hiding or covering up mental illness, and any death that is a result of it. By offering a forum to discuss suicides, and by linking to the social networking pages of those who have committed suicide, mydeathspace is normalising it and allowing us to see the differences between each suicide, and to understand that anyone can suffer from mental illness. Suicide needs to be more publicised in this way, a way that does not demonise or glamorise it, so that the taboo attached to it is finally removed.

Mydeathspace ultimately exists because humanity has an almost animalistic desire to control what it is scared of. Death is the final end, the giant full stop. What is said about us in death reflects who we are as people just as much as what is said about us during life does. Online memorials do not trivialise us or make us one dimensional – instead, they capture us as we were in a certain moment and they make us human. I still remember the first mydeathspace article I read. It was for a young girl, Californian, who died when she was 15 years old. Her name was Kate Persten and for days I read her myspace, her last blog entry, and comments from her friends and family. I was immersed in her life, and her myspace made me feel like I knew her, if only for a moment. It offered me a glimpse into her life, the kind of person she was, and the way she interacted with people around her. It made the loss all the more extreme.

When we read obituaries, it is often hard for us to fully connect with them and feel the impact of each death personally. Perhaps this is a good thing. Most obituaries focus on how good the deceased was, how loving, how kind. I do not doubt that any of this is true. Mydeathspace, however, focuses on more than just the words of others when offering a memorial – it allows us to briefly enter the deceased’s life, to get to know them for an hour or so. In doing this, we come to view them as more than just a collection of adjectives. We don’t view them by their full stop. We see their flaws, their bad grammar, their posed pictures and the youtube video they posted the night before it happened. We see them as human, as they were in life rather than death. What could be better than this? With a social network memorial, friends are constantly posting memories, family members are tagging baby pictures, and comments from acquaintances fill up the page on public holidays. They don’t wither like flowers at a grave. I don’t want a tombstone for these years, a sentence supposed to define me that ultimately says nothing about me. I’d rather have a Myspace.