Friday, 13 January 2017

Game of... Wine? (spoiler alert)

I, like millions out there in the world, love Game of Thrones. Unlike millions out there, I do not drink (for no particular reason, before you ask!) so this blog will be like the blind leading the blind drunk!

Game of Thrones (GoT) has a huge fan following and there is so much to enjoy including:

  • The socio-political feuds between families who may or may not be related to one another
  • The acting, music, setting of the fantastical world of Westeros
  • The witty, sassy and intensely clever dialogue that leaves everybody on the edge of their seat. 
  • The inventive, albeit totally unnecessary sheer violence that viewers are subjected to and we almost crave.

Crave is an operative word. It is a show that wants an audience hooked, hungry for more. It is far too easy to become susceptible to the grip and binge on seasons at a time without any concept of time. I'm pretty sure I watched all of the second season within the space of 4hrs... Not sure how that is possible as each episode is about an hour but it happened.

I suppose in some sense I get hooked, enter the 'meta' of the GoT universe and lose control of my normal inhibitions. Sounds a little like an addiction of sorts right?
I happened to come across this video a little while ago and it really does hit home how prevalent wine is in the show.


A tally is created each time someone takes a tipple and the score is marked against their respective family crest. It really isn't much of a spoiler to see the Lannister family topping the charts.

It seems that in the first 4 seasons alone there are around 176 instances of wine/another alcoholic drink being consumed. That works out to be 44 instances per season, or 4.4 instances per episode. This may not sound like a lot from the show that has shown rape, beheadings, shadow spectral/astral projection births, incest, massacres and many burnings... but in actual fact it kind of is a lot.

An audience witnesses somebody drinking just over once every 15mins. As an audience we are saturated with wine. Now one logical reason for the dependance on alcohol may well be that the water supply may not be considered safe and the processing of alcohol makes the drink safe for consumption. To me the most obvious link is Victorian London, where Cholera was just as common as murder in Game of Thrones.

One huge flaw in this line of thought is that beer exists in the GoT world. Generally speaking, beer has anywhere between 3-6% alcohol content but can be made weaker or stronger dependant on the brand. I can only hope the children in the image below were not absolutely trollied by lunchtime!



Wine, on the other hand, is usually at least 10% alcohol though more often around 12-14% mark. So if you wanted a 'safe' drink in King's Landing, beer should probably the drink of choice over wine... right?

Wrong. I think that is precisely the point that wine is consumed. Wine is intended both represent and undermine the pomp and power of those who consume it.

According to the 'Wine Mix' - the first character to drink wine is a Lannister. Audiences are constantly reminded about the wealth Lannister's have. With this in mind, wine is therefore not only infused with whatever fruit or additional flavours, but status. A lot of the wine consumed is accompanied with a meal, denoting civility and wealth in order to afford the seemingly bottomless bottle to top up the glass. However, a lot of wine is just casually drunk regardless of food and it is in these moments that we see the darker suggestions of wine.

In the clip below, wine is clearly used as a weapon. The final clause of Margaery's sweet and polite offering of food or drink to Cersei Lannister is laced with a shady undertone, as the final clause in her "I wish we had some wine for you, it's a bit early in the day for us" is laced with a shady undertone. The newly appointed queen's use of language is incredibly telling, establishing a clear divide through the use of pronouns as "you" (Cersei) is made distinctly different or other to "us" (Margaery and the other women at the table). This is emphasised even more by the reaction of silence and a glazed glare. This is one of many moments where wine no longer has the splendour or glamour associated with a Lannister. Instead wine is part of the core implication that Cersei is an alcoholic.


Another clip, another Lannister. This time an interesting quote that frames the perils of wine:
"It's not easy being drunk all the time. Everyone would do if it was easy".


It begs the question what makes it difficult, or at the very least not "easy"? The unsustainable health issues of being drunk all the time maybe? Perhaps the high chances of being impaled by a someone in the violent continent? Could it be the cost of affording the endless fountain of wine. Sure, the Lannister's have the wealth for a great deal of wine - but all the elegance associated with wine is immediately lost when those who consume it succumb to the effects of alcohol: slurred speech, loss of inhibitions, generally being a sloppy mess.



I think it would do the livers of Westeros good to have a brief prohibition, or maybe we should just show Cersei the 'wine mom' meme for jokes - what are your thoughts?

 or 


References:
Prohibition image: https://media1.britannica.com/eb-media/63/116463-004-F04F918E.jpg accessed 13/1/17
Tyrion drinking clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22e2V526DNU accessed 13/1/17
Cersei and Margaery clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLqhlpWbnr8&t=15s accessed 13/1/17
Wine mix: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPf-sXqMb90 accessed 13/1/17
Pinot Grigio gif: http://68.media.tumblr.com/406a2d5569a1b82bb74c16da4464a1d3/tumblr_n2365hljkv1ql5yr7o1_500.gif accessed 13/1/17

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Enforcing preferences and exploding egg whites

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single human being in possession of hunger must be in want of food. How they go about fulfilling this hunger, or with what food is ultimately down to availability of foodstuffs, finances to pay for said foodstuffs and resources to prepare or eat said foodstuffs. 

It seems incredibly obvious to say - but food and tastes are subjective. That said, there are some foods that many cannot object to. A huge silky chocolate bar or the fluffy, almost creamy seduction that the inside of a crisp roast potato offers. A cold slice of pizza the morning after a 20hr binge to finish that essay for the deadline. 

Some foods, obviously do not have such an appeal. Burnt chocolate, meat that has developed a colony of fungal growth, a raw dough. 

The purpose of a recipe is that you follow a set methodology using particular ingredients to finish with a particular result. There are many variations on any single recipe, but there are always base standards. A cheese omelette will always contain eggs and cheese rather than icing sugar and ghost peppers, for example. 

I have discovered a Youtube series called ‘you’re doing it all wrong’ where various cooks show the ‘right way’ of cooking something along with the perilous ‘wrong way’ of how things should be prepared or made. Though the series itself is primarily designed to enlighten, assist and educate the masses on making a range of items it often comes across as obnoxious and patronising. How can it be that something designed to assist do the opposite?

There are many, many reasons. Starting off with the title of the series itself, 'you're doing it all wrong' which comes across as patronising and condescending. The addition of the adjective "all" really demoralises a viewer and seems to be designed to obliterate any hope that a viewer understands food or how to prepare it. I suppose the main purpose is to promote their own videos of how things should be done… according to these guest cooks at least. It already sets things off to a bad start, doesn't it?

Maybe it is the fact I seem to love playing devil's advocate on this blog of late, but I can't help but feel these videos are primarily based on a singular opinion than any factual or food knowledge backing behind the majority of choices (and yes, they are choices) in the videos.  

What if I like some of the vegetables in a stir-fry slightly charred and others barely kissed by the heat? What if I enjoy my pasta separate to its sauce until I mix it in myself? 

These preferences don't seem to be taken into account at any stage, enforcing these preferences makes the world of food that much more reductive.

For example, the video on how to make oatmeal (or porridge for us UK folk): 
As the host proposes the argument "you want your quick bowl of oatmeal . . . instant oatmeal is not your solution". Without bringing out the OED the sheer irony of that statement  made me chuckle. 

First of all, oatmeal is such a strange name... though I suppose so is porridge...? 

I DIGRESS. 

Secondly, and most importantly, I have the distinct feeling that quick and instant could be used interchangeably and technically instant is the perfect solution if you want something to occur 'quick' or quickly. The incongruity of the statement is genuinely laughable. 
I mean it would be lovely if we could always make our porridge from scratch rather than relying on ready ground oats or pre-prepared packs of porridge, there is no denial on that. That said, I'm not sure how realistic it is to expect - nay demand - that we buy oats and potentially grind them ourselves of a morning.  


Okay then... let's try another video on how we should make mashed potatoes. 
Here, there are some genuine tips on the different types of potatoes and their ideal use - which is generally backed by botany and culinary experts alike. There are also some perils most people could face too - such as not cutting the potatoes at the right size, meaning they do not cook evenly. 


Things seem to go awry in this video where we are informed we should "kill it with cream", with "it" being the potato. The host in this video then proceeds to pour what can only be described as a lake of heated cream/milk into the mashed potato. It looks like a "sticky pasty lump of glue" - which is exactly what the host described the 'wrong' type of mash potato... 
Maybe it is just me - but this looks like normal mash to me? Unsure why this is 'wrong'?
If this video was in isolation, anyone would think this is a parody or satire… sadly no. 
To my clearly ignorant eye, this seems more like a herby potato soup sweating in butter... but what do I know?
Ironically - if we was to follow these recipes word for word, we wouldn’t have any variation in our food for better or worse. This is all well and good when I go out to restaurants and expect a certain standard of cooking and would demand that the menu is replicated on the plate I am served - but this cannot be the case in the domestic sphere. Simply put, part of the joy of home cooking is it’s idiosyncrasies. 

Overall I have found that the baking videos are more informative and based on scientific fact and culinary hints or tips to be less patronising as the cooking videos. Then I discovered the brownie video. 


I have many issues of critique watching the above video, so thought it would be apt to pose them in the same style as the web series:

  1. What if somebody prefers their brownie more of a cake consistency than they do fudgy in the middle? 
  2. Surely putting a brownie mix into a paper cake case, then using a recipe that makes it more of a cake-like consistency/texture makes it that much more of a cake and less of a brownie?
  3. Still on the paper cases, part of the joy that comes with brownies is the ability to share and distribute slices of joy that a traybake always offers. Don't ruin it in individual cases!
  4. Do brownies really need toppings to be a brownie? Not sure... 
  5. Surely if the brownie mixture and oven were that awesome there wouldn't be need to fiddle about with them in the oven - especially when they've barely been in a few minutes.
  6. If this really was the best way to make a brownie, a recipe, even if left in the video description would be nice rather than taunting us with your alleged 'baddass brownie'... 

Also - can we can take a brief moment to discuss how the only 'baddass' thing about these brownies is how they literally have every topping on them including the kitchen sink.. as the sunken middles really are a woeful sight. This is due to the host of this video taking the brownies out and switches them around in the oven to ensure an 'even bake'... which consequently lets the heat out of the oven and lets the middles of the brownies sink. That rings alarm bells for me, as she doesn't seem to understand that with cakes and bakes it is edible suicide to open the oven before they are done. No covering the sins with a masterful blob of salted caramel or ganache can hide from that. 

The ones on the left and right look like an abandoned mine...
With all of that said with me slating this video series, let's go to the opposite end of the spectrum... where some preferences should never exist.

Meet Kay of 'Kay's Good Cooking'... there is a joke in there somewhere. Kay is refreshing in the fact she doesn't claim to be the best cook in the world - and has a go at almost anything. This is wonderful, the results of her cooking however... not so much. I am spoilt for choice as to what video I should refer to, but this evening I have resigned myself to her "exploding meringues" video - a delight for all.

A meringue is a type of dessert made from egg whites that typically is used in 3 different methods - French, Swiss or Italian. Regardless of the method, each involves whisking the egg whites while adding the sugar until it massively grows in size and forms peaks that suggests how much air has been whipped into it. You want to keep as much air into it as possible so when serving on a tray to place in the oven you need to be as delicate as you can.

With that in mind let's look at Kay's attempt...
Meringues from the depths of Mordor
You may be asking 'how did that happen', well she decided to blitz the egg whites in a blender:
By using said blender, all air is pulverised out of the eggy mixture meaning it has no structure. One of Kay's endearing qualities is she doesn't look up or consequently follow a set recipe, leading to this creation.


Looking at the two web sources - one of improvisation and disaster and the other with pretentious overtones it is evident home cooking should be in between these two states. When making or preparing food we should have some idea of the end result to match our preferences. Equally we must include some spontaneity. Use technology absolutely - but possibly not to grind our oats during the morning grind or pulverise our eggs into oblivion for a tantalising dessert. Preferences are just that - but there should be some baseline and boundaries of how things are done in the kitchen. 

Do you agree we should have a medium or do you like your potato soup mashed?


References:
Ain't nobody got time for that - accessed 11/09/16 - http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/starpolar/images/6/6b/Notime.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20150225125846 
Brownie video (inc. screenshots) accessed 11/09/16 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPTSLYgYfGQ 
Exploding meringues (inc. screenshots) accessed 11/09/16 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57m46lrzNPM 
Mashed potato video (inc. screenshots) accessed 11/09/16 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84i8Qdnyd0k
Oatmeal video accessed 11/09/16 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pT8IaxL6jtg&index=13&list=ELIGCGLqsYUc8

LET'S NOT BODY SHAME OUR WOMEN (part 3)

Female culinary illusions

Fast forward to the modern age and we still have women who have gained a high accolade for their contribution to the culinary world. Fanny Craddock, Nigella Lawson and Delia Smith are probably the biggest British cooks and food television personalities. 


Focusing on Delia for now, whose ‘niche’ or demographic has always been basic food and refining culinary skills for the masses. I doubt you could find a recipe of hers describing how to create caramelised sugar cages to be placed over a tart, or using liquid nitrogen to make ice cream. Instead, Delia generally sticks towards the more simplistic, homely and at times rustic palate. Her role can be seen as an educator for the masses of how to cook or bake, which is clearly represented in the titles of the books she has published: Delia Smith’s Cookery Course, Delia’s How to Cook (Book I, II and III respectively) and Delia’s Book of Cakes. A brief analysis of the language used places Delia firmly in a position of knowledge, skill and acts as an exemplary figurehead of how things should be done in the kitchen. Much like Mrs Beeton’s Household Management a century before her, Delia’s texts are much more than a simple cookbook to flick through for a fun recipe, but in fact a manual of how we should function. While Beeton included guidance on servants or medical advice, Delia’s books track the introduction of other cuisines and styles into the British diet. The “Delia Effect’ has been economically mapped - as consumers of her books or tv shows en-masse buy products or utensils which she has recommended. Egg sales allegedly rose 10% in 1998. Anita Singh outlines the gravitas of the so called ‘Delia Effect’: 
She caused a national cranberry shortage in 1995 and transformed the fortunes of a struggling Lancashire firm when she described their omelette pan as a "little gem", prompting sales to leap from 200 a year to 90,000 in four months.
The 'little gem' in action!

You can even buy said pan here on her website!

Sounds impressive, and it is. 

However, there is another side to Delia - she openly cheats at cooking. In fact, her initial cookbook was called How to Cheat at Cooking! A whole debate could be made as to what ‘cheating’ consists of, but I think it is easier you see it for yourself as she makes a Shephard’s Pie. 


One thing to note from her introduction is 'the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so when you taste it you'll know it's okay'. Okay seems to be the operative word here - immediately introducing audiences to a lower standard of proof when it comes to culinary delights (or is my inner cynic showing?). My inner cynic would go even further and say that her humility acts as a guise of 'cookers guilt' as she is fully aware the food she is preparing is not of quality... but for fear of a defamation charge I shall not continue. 

Thankfully later on in the clip she continues to show viewers how to prepare a leek, which is a surprise considering she grabbed a bag of ready prepared leek a few moments prior (to which a part of my soul vanished). For a recipe clip that is just over two and a half minutes it is upsetting to think that the only part of cooking skill/ability from scratch comes in at 1min 42 seconds. Not that I am saying all meals should be made from scratch, but for a television cook who based her career on educating the masses on how to cook it is troubling to see such blatant disregard for her own culinary niche.

Delia has been on British TV for decades and has published goodness knows how many books and recipes. Of course, I could factually look that up with a quick internet search… but in true Delia form I will cut corners to get a quicker finished product. 


Unlike Beeton who doesn’t really divulge in the origins of her recipes, Delia makes it very clear that she doesn’t make everything from scratch. Quite the contrary - she seems to revel in it. In fact if you once again have a brief look on her website - there is a whole section dedicated to her 'cheat' recipes - as the URL can reveal: http://www.deliaonline.com/recipes/type-of-dish/cheat

The themes and ideas I refer to above have  been seemingly put into practice in other forms of media. The music video ‘Everybody’s Fool’ by Evanescence is a prime example - exposing the superficial world we surround ourselves in. The introduction before the song starts is in a domestic setting that has a distinct late 60s/early 70s vibe to it. We see a teenage girl (played by lead singer Amy Lee) return from the kitchen with a pizza in hand, in what is clearly a television commercial. Twee music plays in the background as the family  hungrily awaiting their meal - are ecstatic to see the pizza. The other woman, presumably playing the mother asks the origin of the pizza:

“-And you made it all by yourself?”
“That’s our girl” 
The cut to the lead character who seems to break the 4th wall
This shot is pivotal. It immediately outlines the superficiality of the scene and shatters any culinary domestic skill we may have attributed to the character. Though brief, the almost overenthusiastic "OOPS!" - all in capital letters is undermined by the knowing smirk of deception. Ultimately - it is evident that this is a ready-made pizza, presumably frozen that has simply been heated through. 

This domestic setting is one dominated by women,  as in this example the male characters are submissive to the actions of women as to what the family is fed. 


The commercial ends with a summarative slogan that outlines the conflict for the rest of the music video “there is nothing better than a good lie” with an eerily cheery smily to boot. 


So - what has this all to do with body shaming I hear you ask? 

Well... everything and nothing.

After the patriarchal policing of what fruit a woman can be easily compared to in order to judge their body and the harsh ingrained judgement we cast on any woman that eats or 'drinks custard' - it only seems fitting that we shame the ways in which women prepare the food that is consequently consumed too. Fulfilling this domestic fantasy that has been conjured in the last century. The idea of the housewife, the domestic woman at home who is manager of the home. Beetonite women in the modern age. 

Rest assured I will include a brief analysis on Mrs. Beeton later on to add on to this entry!

References:
Evanescence - Everybody's Fool accessed 11/09/16 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jhC1pI76Rqo
Screenshot from Everybody's Fool accessed 11/09/16 
Delia effect quote - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/6709518/Delia-Effect-strikes-again.html 

Saturday, 23 July 2016

LET'S NOT BODY SHAME OUR WOMEN (part 2)

Demonising women and liquid gold:

Following from my previous post - let’s see how we can use representations of food to shatter any confidence women have in their bodies! Let’s give our women so many syndromes and stigmas about eating or hunger - a natural, normal human behaviour so we can profit on the fabricated scandal of it all. Huzzah! 

In the media you regularly find women essentially stalked for their body. Have they gained weight, have they lost weight, what diet are they on, how pregnant could they be. Sadly, these types of ‘important’ stories are rife and sell pretty well too. I thought it might be fun to find a prime example of such a headline and analyse it like any normal literary text. 

For today’s masterclass I give you Vanessa Feltz. How dare she feed, the gluttonous creature. 

Click to see the picture in more detail!
God, where do I begin. 

First and foremost, how else are you to consume custard - it is a liquid!

The concept of someone gaining a significant amount of weight simply on the basis of ‘drinking’ custard, it so fantastically ludicrous I couldn’t help but laugh out of shock. Here, the cleverly subtle nuances of the layout of the front cover sensationalises a story to portray horror at the female body. Using the present tense ‘drinking’ to imply she is ‘out of control’, or as the other main headline for another celebrity - Ms. Feltz has gone ‘TOO FAR’. Note the use of caps to really hit it home. In fact, all of the major headlines include little digs at a woman’s weight. ‘Extra’ and ‘Plus’ create this uncomfortable feeling of excess. Using several synonyms on the same page, all of which are in a bold clear font and surrounded by the colour pink (the same colour as the dress Vanessa is wearing in the picture) creates the effect that the reader is Vanessa, subliminally creating this bloated and exacerbated tone to which casts ‘shame’.  

Don’t think I haven’t noticed that despite all of these digs and little shady remarks the publication is called ‘Woman’s Own’… when a woman clearly can’t own her own body. In fact, based on this front cover it seems to me that the only thing women should be ‘owning’ is the ability to cast judgements, shame and disgust on how other people look. 

The ridiculous scrutiny of women has reached the stage where verbs such as ‘drinking’ - which by all accounts is a natural and essential action of functioning like a normal living being has been hyperbolically scrutinised. The result is a conflicting nonsense.  

For those of you who enjoy Game of Thrones like I do - please enjoy this video which I think is wholly appropriate and essentially represents the public humiliation and disgust we as audiences are supposed to feel for Ms. Feltz. Spoiler alert. 

Shame, shame, shame... 


Going back to sonnets, it is almost as if these tropes you would hope is exclusive to the Early Modern sonnets are very much alive and well - just are simply disguised in a new format. However, where a sonnet was designed to demonstrate love and affection - I can't see how this headline can claim to have the same purpose. It seems to be more of a barbed attack with the probable intention to make Vanessa Feltz feel so bad she either starves herself or goes on a comfort eating binge. Either of those options would be fantastic as there could be a follow up article and therefore sell even more copies of the publication. A body shaming self-fulfilling prophecy and lots of publication profit. An easy business plan? I think so!

Who would've thought I would be writing in depth about Vanessa Feltz' alleged eating habits!


This photo was taken in response of such a ridiculous headline. Cheers! 
References: 
Vanessa Feltz drinking all of the custard, for shame. accessed from http://i2.mirror.co.uk/incoming/article5659993.ece/ALTERNATES/s615b/Womens-Own-Cover.jpg on 04/07/16
Vanessa Feltz playing the media for their own game, fair game! accessed from http://i1.irishmirror.ie/incoming/article5660188.ece/ALTERNATES/s615b/Vanessa-Feltz-necks-custard-after-magazine-says-weight-gain-is-down-to-drinking-dessert.jpg on 04/07/16
Walk of shame https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOY-6QMRHAo accessed from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOY-6QMRHAo on 23/07/16


LET'S NOT BODY SHAME OUR WOMEN (part 1)

One phrase I have noticed myself shouting at friends, family or even general members of the public is “LET’S NOT BODY SHAME OUR WOMEN” which out of context seems a slightly bizarre instruction. However, hopefully after reading this series of slight rants of it will hopefully become clear why I am becoming so frustrated on how we place the contradictory relationship between women and food. I could rage about this forever so I think I will split this between body shape, female culinary illusions and the use of food to demonise women. 

Body Shapes and poetic origins:

If you were to Google (other search engines available) the phrase “body shape” you immediately get placed clearly within the constructed feminine sphere: ’12 body shapes from Trinny and Susannah’, ‘3 female body types’, ‘female body shapes: which are you?’. Some of the immediate results are obviously focused on men, but the overall focus is predominantly on women. Now this isn’t exactly a hard fact to base my claims on, but looking a little deeper as to how we describe these body shapes is where it becomes a bit more disturbing. 

Apple, pear and even banana are but a few of the more common ‘body shapes’ out there. On its face value this seems logical, as the generic outline of that fruit can match a body shape. Logical, but slightly ridiculous practice. However, the connotations of this allusion places women as something to be grown, helplessly nurtured, selected, traded and consequently consumed for economic, pleasurable or nutritious gains. That sounds like a bit of an exaggeration in today’s society… but looking back at the role of women in many cultures for centuries it sounds all too familiar.


The image below exemplifies this, as you have a general outline of a range of female bodies with a picture of the respective fruit literally overlayed on top. Viewers are invited to directly correlate the body with food. 

Are we supposed to make a timely smoothie with 50% of the population? 
Note how the artist hasn't included any defining characteristics other than the fruit and the incredibly crude category of what shape they fit into. Though I have no objection to people fitting into general trend of body shape/size and breaking things down in such a way may be helpful in certain situations (though after 10mins of thinking I've yet to think of something other than clothes... which doesn't exactly counter my main point!).

I can't help but think of Elizabethan sonnets where the female body is deconstructed and essentially dissected to fit within a societal norm of beauty. Alabaster skin, ruby red lips, globes for breasts, golden locks are common imagery in the literary genre. However, in a sense makes these poor beloved subjects of these poems sound like a B&Q or a treasure trove for pirates. 

The Ditchley Portrait of Elizabeth I (circa 1592) 
The Ditchley Portrait - which portrays Elizabeth I exemplifies this even further. She is so extravagantly adorned with the huge dress, tiny synched waist,  hair emblazoned with jewels and even the background by extension as she stands on an atlas demonstrating her dominance over the the country. The only parts of Elizabeth's actual body on show is her face and hands. You could make a joke about how even her ankles are covered to distinctly remove any sense of sexuality but joke would sadly be correct - Elizabeth was known as the 'virgin queen'. The female body has clearly been manipulated to fit within a societal structure that has been crafted by a patriarchal society.

Thankfully, some playfully exploited this  Shakespeare's Sonnet 130 for example, who manages to parody these techniques to great comic effect:

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
   And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
   As any she belied with false compare. 

Shakespeare's subject is not as beautiful as nature: yet nonetheless the speaker is in love. That seems like an incredibly reductive and simple literary analysis - and it is. At every comparison to nature, astronomy or beauty - the subject is often the opposite. By Elizabethan sonnet standards, she is an absolute failure - but yet she still has the speaker in love. While the physical body shape of the subject is not revealed, her facial features are still emblazoned into separate parts for the readers to weave into a complete image. 

This dejection of literary convention not only plays with the form of the sonnet but also can be seen as a comic commentary on how enforcing these nonsensical rules of how we should and shouldn't look are plain whimsy. Yet despite all of this, the presentation on how we approach the bodies of women still appears to be very similar - if not the same. 

References:
Sonnet 130 accessed from http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/130.html accessed on 23/7/16
The Ditchley portrait accessed from http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw02079/Queen-Elizabeth-I-The-Ditchley-portrait 16/7/16

Monday, 30 May 2016

The 'Euromyth' of Cucumber curvature.

Bonsoir (French), dobra večer (Croatian), Kalispera (Greek)… Good evening Europe, London calling. 

No, that wasn’t my attempt of showing off how nifty I am (with the help of an online translator to make sure everything makes sense!) 

War is coming. Apples will be harmed. Celery will be used as artillery. The less said about the state of tomatoes, the better. 

If you have been living under a rock for the past few months in British media, the UK will be holding a referendum in the coming weeks on whether or not we should remain a part of the European Union (EU) or leave - which will take place on June 23rd.

A map of the economic and political ties between European states

Already there has been be lots of discussion, debates, scaremongering, dare I say propaganda of ‘factual fiction’ on lots of issues that surround this bubbling issue. I think it would be just to say the core of all of these issues are pinned down by the cucumber. Perhaps a banana at a push.

That’s right. The mighty cucumber. The plant that is added to a salad, served as a refreshing snack or pickled with other fruit/veg, herbs and spices. It doesn’t have a great deal of flavour and compared to other popular fruits or vegetables it doesn’t offer much in the way of nutrition either. Some have a super-subtle sweetness, not unlike a melon. Others have a sense of bitterness about them as a result of the compound cucurbitacin. Most raw cucumbers are over 90% water.
As with any plant there are many different varieties and forms, but for the purposes of this blog entry I am exclusively referring to the ones you would commonly find in a supermarket, greengrocers or fruit and veg stall. From my brief research I believe the variety is a ‘Green Tasty’ - though I could be totally wrong. Though there are many variants and strains that have common characteristics, as with any plant, they come in all shapes and sizes. 

The dichotomy of taste perfectly reflects the ‘in’/‘out’ campaigns that we will all be subjected to for the next few weeks. 

This man won't hold any prisoners if you don't vote
The media took vegetable body positivity (if there ever was such a thing!) to a whole new level a few while back where rumours and articles of the EU banning any fruit or vegetable that did not conform to a set specification would not be allowed to be sold. 

This was consequently backed up by EU commissioners, with Commission Regulation (EC) 2257/94 which states bananas must be “free from malformation or abnormal curvature”. There is no guidance as to what is to be interpreted as ‘abnormal curvature’, which led to inflammatory arguments from the media. These claims were completely blown out of proportion, but still remains into the mindset of the public to this day with some journalists making the point that the "most famous Euromyth of them all" is in fact straight bananas

This contrasts from the case based on cucumbers (Commission Regulation (EEC) No 1677/88) where class I and ‘Extra class’ cucumbers are permitted to have a 10mm per 10cm bend. Class II cucumbers can bend twice as much. 

I should highlight that despite every piece of EU law or legislation being translated into every language of  the culture of the general public seems to be somewhat dependant on being apathetic when it comes to the political sphere. 

Though cucumbers are used in cosmetic products and home remedies for it’s naturally soothing properties, there aren’t many products that you can buy that are flavoured with cucumber or you buy primarily because it contains cucumber. In one sense, it is a rather trivial addition to our plates. Similarly, while this ‘euromyth’ I have referred to above is just a trivial creation of the British media it will be used as a weapon for leaving the EU. Dare I say it may even be possibly viewed as equally crucial as immigration or benefit breaks. Well, we will see about that anyway. It represents a mainland European challenge to our parliamentary supremacy and authority that we once held as an arguable world-leader in the Victorian age… yet it is artifice.

In the world of heated bureaucracy, political customs and systems the average human population too often are left out to get cold. Much like that poor dollop of sad, stagnant tinned mushy peas on the side sometimes served with glorious and lovingly made fish and chips from scratch. If you was wondering, yes, I am rather hungry writing this! 

Therefore I predict, for better or for worse, that food will be used as a language translator between the world of politic and the greater people. Economic plans or the intricate details of the core issues such as the ‘Free Movement of Goods’ or ‘Free Movement of Persons’ turned into much more domestic analogies or comparisons. 

By transposing all of this into a form people can understand, it can be used as a political weapon. Following this logic and without bigging it more - it is essentially Excalibur to the ‘question’ of European membership. 

However, as a result this poses the risk of conflation, as complex issues are collapsed into a simplistic comparison. As I said earlier, it is rare you buy a product because it contains cucumber itself. You buy it in addition with lettuce, tomatoes perhaps even yogurt. Cucumbers need context to work, much like you need the details behind the headlines to see things for what they are. 


All of this talk about the UK’s relationship with Europe and I’ve just discovered that the origins of cucumbers are thought to be South Asia. Oh sweet, sweet irony. 


Gourd for thought*?



*Come on, I needed at least one shoddy pun to lighten up this potentially very serious issue!

For a much more light-hearted visual interpretation of this blog, I have found this entertaining clip from a cartoon my sister used to watch. Readers, you can decide whether or not the characters flinging fruit/veg is either 'remain' or 'leave':




References:

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/1a/Supranational_European_Bodies-en.svg/600px-Supranational_European_Bodies-en.svg.png accessed 30/05/16

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBfOOmBnfH0 accessed 30/05/16

http://i.imgur.com/72vNIsS.jpg accessed 30/05/16

https://twitter.com/BBCNews/status/737399821615681537 accessed 30/05/16 

Monday, 18 January 2016

The addiction of consumption

Without too much thought, food is one of the basic needs of life. We need it to sustain our bodies to develop and grow and maintain our strength.

If we go without food, we become irate and most of our functioning decreases. Going without food for too long our body goes into starvation, where it kind of eats itself in order to sustain itself. I suppose if you take this on its logical face value, we are in one sense addicted to consuming food both physically and cognitively.

Up until this point, I have also pretty much kept within the boundaries of our relationship with food, its meanings that we attribute to it. Today I will look at food’s relationship with humanity, or rather dark substitutes that, sadly, many consider as routine as ‘food’.



‘Weak and Powerless’ by A Perfect Circle is an interesting song with an even more harrowing music video. In fact, the album to which this song is from The Thirteenth Step (which ironically only has 12 songs in its track listing!) is predominantly focused on the different perspectives, dimensions and consequential recovery of drug addiction.

At no point is food (human food at the very least) shown within the music video, and the only overt reference to food in the lyrics is simply the word ‘feed’ and ‘ravenous’. However, the multiplicity of symbols, allusions and slightly harrowing imagery show the dangers of consuming the wrong products - in this case hard drugs.

A woman with long blonde hair, naked, standing up. The camera edges closer and it becomes seemingly apparent that something is not quire right. Focus is placed on her navel, which instead of a belly button there appears to be this gross, almost burnt looking hole (much unlike some of the graphic anti-smoking campaigns and adverts). It isn’t clear to me whether the intended effect of this is to make it look similar to a black hole, that is commonly understood to have such a poignant gravitational pull even light (a cliche symbol for happiness and life?) cannot escape it OR this is one of the few examples of necrosis in a music video.

I digress.

The initial lyric takes no prisoners to immediately throw the audience into the dark depths to which the song is based on. Using a simple metaphor, “tilling my own grave to keep me level” the speaker outlines the conflict of the entire song - doing drugs to make yourself feel better, however it is bringing him closer to death. It’s matter-of-fact tone directly correlates consumption with decay: the antithesis of what consumption is designed for (see above).

The chorus carries this reading even further:


Desperate and ravenous
So weak and powerless
Over you

Only three lines, the speaker clearly defines the relationship of enslavement. Though subtle, the repetition of the word ‘and’ demonstrates a deeper level of addiction, as the speaker is unable to even form sentences without using a different conjunction or alternative to fuse the clauses together. The first two lines have a similar amount of syllables. By comparison, the final line feels disjointed, which can easily be reflective of the incoherence that substance abuse has led the speaker to.

"Someone feed the monkey while I dig in search of China
White as Dracula as I approach the bottom"

Feed the monkey is an idiom for a serious problem that you cannot forget. A much more sporadic reading into this line conjures an image of organ grinder… although what that has to do with anything I don’t quite know. Meanwhile, ‘dig in search of China’ is an interesting phrase. While ‘China’ is an allusion to opium, if the phrase is taken literally it seems absolutely ridiculous. Somebody digging to find China, picture that for a second. Madness. It is this nonsensical logic that masterfully maps out the mind of an addict, as rational thought is abandoned in order to ensure the next fix.

Intertextuality is used as the speaker refers to one of the most famous Victorian Gothic fiction novels: Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The effect of this technique immediately evokes connotations of horror, disgust and the inhuman as the ‘white’ ‘China’ again recalls the motif of the grave earlier seen in the initial line.

It is during the second chorus that clusters of Amblypygi appear. If you are not a fan of their general appearance - do not worry. I have a newfound fear/loathing for Amblypygi. Horrifying demonic looking creatures. I hate them. I suppose that is the exact purpose in this video.

Amblypygi - horrific looking creatures. Nightmare fuel. 


The more observant of you may notice that the size of the animal that is thrown into the hole gets progressively bigger as the video continues. A lizard, small snake, iguana-based creature and finally a massive python. Each time without fail the insects shred the flesh of the creature and devour it almost immediately… as the hole in the woman’s stomach grows larger and larger. Towards the end of the video (2:41-2:42) the hole incases the entirety of the woman’s body, as what looks like a field of gravity drifts into the cavity that has now formed.

The video, sadly, ends with the creatures leaving the leftover pieces of animal carcass into an imperfect, broken symbol - the symbol of the group. This insignia flashes in the woman’s eyes and in a daze falls into a pit. As an audience we do not find out her fate… but I think it is pretty obvious what this represents.

References:

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0b/AmblypygiDorsal.jpg - accessed 21/02/16