Are our private lives too public?

Every university student using social media nowadays is part of what journalists worldwide call Generation Facebook. Having used it for several years already, the majority of us are naturally aware of its negative aspects (such as receiving friend requests from complete strangers). However, being conscious of the downsides to social media does not mean we have become invulnerable to them. In August 2012, Ben McNeely, a third-year Economics student at University of Birmingham, went to a Caribbean-themed party wearing an afro-wig with his skin painted black. Once a photo of him in this attire recently emerged on Facebook, a racism debate rapidly ensued at University of Birmingham – an institution where nearly a third of its undergraduates come from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background – and McNeely was eventually forced to make a public apology and resign from him position as President of the Christian Union. Ten years ago, before the inception of Facebook (2004) and the subsequent arrival of other social media (such as Twitter), this scandal would probably not have happened; hardly anyone would ever have seen the offending photo. The success of social media subsists on a willingness to disclose content that may have remained relatively private in the past (party photos, for instance). Broadcasting such material to our friends and followers is generally one of the most positive aspects to social media, giving us each a unique means through which we can express ourselves and communicate with others. However, as the case of Ben McNeely demonstrates, there is a sensitive balance between what our respective audiences regard as appropriate and downright offensive.

In ‘1984’, arguably his most accomplished work, George Orwell satirises the ubiquitous surveillance of a totalitarian government in the dystopian novel, a theme epitomised by the all-seeing, all-knowing Big Brother. The means through which the ruling government – The Party – maintains its unrelenting control over its citizens is technology, specifically television. ‘With the development of television’, writes Orwell, ‘and the technical advance which made it possible to receive and transmit simultaneously on the same instrument, private life came to an end’. Today, supported by the fact we can access it easily on any internet-connected device (mobile phones, laptops, home computers), the same can also be said for social media. It is just as pervasive as the telescreens Orwell conceived in ‘1984’ in order to encapsulate his concern over the emergence of television – still a relatively new invention in 1948 (note the swap of numerals), the year the satirical novel was published. Facebook, for instance, automatically keeps track of our respective locations through the photos in which we feature, whilst it also greets us with the question: ‘What are you thinking?’ There are significant differences between the furtive surveillance Orwell portrays in ‘1984’ and our use of social media, though: we students are not members of a totalitarian regime; nor are we invading the privacy of others with the intent of discovering wrongdoing. However, as the ‘blacking up’ scandal of Ben McNeely suggests – one that stemmed from social media, we do indeed observe each other online. This can make us feel insecure, perhaps even paranoid about what others think of us. Consider how aware of social media we can be nowadays whilst posing for photos, for instance. Like Winston Smith, the persecuted protagonist of ‘1984’, we are conscious of being under surveillance.

Besides our friends and family, there is another group of individuals of whom we students should be mindful on social media, perhaps more so than any other: our potential employers. In a recent study on the importance of social media for companies in their hiring procedures, 91% said they used it to screen perspective employees; 69% said they had rejected a candidate because of what they saw about them. Consequently, although doing so at the time may seem side-splittingly funny, the bleary-eyed images some of us upload onto social media of our drunken behaviour during ‘heavy’ nights out may not be the most astute decision, particularly with ‘posted content about them drinking’ being a possible reason for an applicant’s rejection. ‘Many young people do not appreciate how an offensive comment or embarrassing photograph can create an indelible stain on an individual’, says one board member of a multinational firm, ‘and how it can subsequently become an impediment for them successfully applying for a position for which they are otherwise perfectly suited.’ We post such inappropriate material because of the freedom social media seems to permit us – a freedom that can have a negative effect on our public image as a result. However, when it is used responsibly, social media can equally enhance our employment chances: 68% of companies say they hire candidates after seeing them on social media, with giving ‘a positive impression of their personalities’ as the most popular reason for doing so. Companies, it seems, are attempting to gain as much information as they can about us through social media – and why not? By uploading personal details onto social media, we publicise them on one of the most public domains in the world: the internet. Consequently, we should all be mindful of the image of ourselves we portray through social media. If we are, and thus use social media sensibly, it is something we can easily manipulate to our advantage.

Published on The Exeter Tab.

The Unwitting Activist

Alberto Casillas and me – the map immediately gave me away as a tourist.

In central Madrid, just a few hundred metres away from the Palacio de los Cortes, Alberto Casillas stands quietly outside Café Prado. Dressed in his uniform – a white shirt, black tie and badly-fitted black trousers – he stares into the stream of traffic that flits past him on the opposing street. The mob of photographers that encircled the entrance to the café a few nights before have gone; so have the scores of protestors that packed tightly inside it, sheltering from riot police behind Alberto’s outstretched arms. After guarding them for about half an hour, Alberto’s defiance against the local authorities that night made him an inadvertent hero among the protestors, encapsulating their insurgent spirit. ‘I told the police they could not enter,’ he informed the Huffington Post, who uploaded a video of his valorous behaviour, ‘because there were a lot of people inside and because we are all human beings.’ He added, ‘I do not want to go against the law, but if they entered (into the café) there would have been a massacre. There were children and everything.’

Having worked at the Café Prado for the past three years, Alberto has witnessed personally how the protests of the 15-M movement, described a few months after its inception as ‘small’ and ‘inarticulate,’ have allowed the political group to become an influential societal force. By harnessing the unifying power of social media sites, its leaders have been able to summon large numbers of people to protest in the Spanish capital, most of which were initially peaceful. On May 18th 2011, the BBC reported that ‘about 2,000 young people’ gathered in Puerta de Sol, one of the largest squares in the city, for a ‘peaceful protest’ over Spain’s high unemployment rate, the highest in Europe. With the ‘crowd singing songs, playing games and debating,’ the general ambience of the protest was cheerful, perhaps even festive. Now the tone is changing though: caused by Spain’s unstable fiscal situation, a more radical form of political activism has emerged among the most recent protests in the Spanish capital. ‘Society is now on the precipice of it starting to break,’ declares Alberto Casillas. ‘You can see it in people’s faces, the sadness and powerlessness. It is the image of fear, all you see is fear, fear, fear.’

On September 25th 2012, the day that lead to Alberto pleading the police to stop their violence, the 25-S movement, an offspring of 15-M, attempted to occupy the Palacio de los Cortes with the bold intention of forcing ‘the dismissal of the government.’ Unlike all previous protests of 15-M, the atmosphere was sombre and frighteningly serious. ‘We believe that the current situation has exceeded all tolerable limits,’ their manifesto claims, ‘and we are victims of an unprecedented attack from the economic powers.’ Hunting in packs of two or three, the police seemed to choose their victims indeterminately in the brutal violence that ensued. They beat both innocent spectators and suspected protestors, leaving some of them sprawled helplessly on the floor. (One man, after being knocked unconscious by one of the riot police, was also left paralyzed). ‘I see a policeman shouting with a gun in his hand,’ writes Jesus G. Pastor on The Huffington Post ‘I see a disarmed citizen pleading, knelt down and defenceless,’ and ‘I see a victim that protests because they need things to change and they want to believe it is possible.’ Alberto Casillas even compared the police’s behaviour to that of Venezuela’s, whose members have been described as ‘a law unto themselves.’ ‘I lived in Venezuela for 25 years and I saw this type [of behaviour] there, he says. ‘Now I’m also seeing it here [in Spain].’

At the Council of the Americas conference in New York the following day, Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish Prime Minister, addressed the nation, praising the country’s silent citizens who did not protest the previous evening, who simply accept the hardships his government imposes upon them. ‘You do not see them, but they are there,’ he said. ‘They are the majority of the 47 million people that live in Spain,’ and ‘they are people that suffer, shouldering enormous difficulties.’ During his visit to the United States, one that had the intention of recuperating some of Spain’s economic credibility, he also declared: ‘the perception of Spain does not correspond with the reality.’ However, in what is most likely an attempt to appease the world’s media, is it not the Spanish government that creates a false impression of its current situation? Jorge Fernández Díaz, the Minister for Home Affairs, described the police’s behaviour on September 25th as ‘magnificent’ and ‘splendid,’ despite the videos recorded by protestors and spectators that firmly suggest otherwise. Conrado Escobar, a spokesman for the same ministerial department, also said the police were ‘brilliant’ and ‘exemplary.’ By failing to reflect the truth of events that evening, these statements do not unify the Spanish public to its government; they simply push them even further away. However, regardless of whether they are silent or not, the majority of Spanish citizens have already been pushed too far by their government. Let us hope that the actions of Alberto Casillas, a man who prevented police from attacking their fellow citizens, do not foreshadow what awaits Spain.

Published on The Student Journals

Too much is enough, Tulisa

Bono, the lead singer of Dublin-based rock band U2, asserts that ‘music can change the world because it can change people,’ and indeed it does – both positively and negatively. Commanding the potential to transcend all boundaries of communication, it is one of the world’s most influential cultural forces. As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow states, music is the ‘universal language of mankind.’ Those that can successfully harness its power can influence the beliefs of individuals significantly as a result, and there is one group of individuals that is often affected in particular: adolescents. Helping them to ‘create a personal identity’ as they provide ‘information about society, social and gender roles, and expected behaviour’ in their work, musicians can become a young person’s role model. On the website LAyouth, 18 year-old Nancy Berabe writes that Bob Marley’s reggae music is what she looks for ‘every time I need some uplifting,’ motivating her ‘to overcome the tough times I encounter each day.’ After being reprimanded for not attending school once when she was 13, Nancy says that it was Marley’s lyrics: ‘There you are crying again / But your loveliness won’t cover your shame’ that made her ‘reflect’ on her actions and thus ‘encouraged’ her to attend classes each day. Music has had a profound affect on 17 year-old Mark Riviera, too: ‘popular opinion controlled my ideas,’ he says, ‘until I heard Bob Dylan sing, “Gonna change my way of thinking/ Make myself a different set of rules.” The lyrics inspired him ‘to see the real world,’ taught him ‘to appreciate life’ and thus helped him to become ‘a real person,’ – ‘the person,’ Mark says, ‘that I am today.’

Music, then, is a changeable force for young people in the modern world, and the significant impact musicians can have over adolescents subsequently brings about a degree of responsibility in regard to what message(s) they communicate through their lyrics and music videos. However, rather than embracing their influence over them, some musicians in the UK’s pop music industry abuse the power their music has granted them – musicians such as Tulisa Contostavlos. Regardless of whether she does so intentionally or not, Tulisa promotes binge drinking – one of the UK’s most dangerous (and common) nightlife activities – in the second single taken from her debut album, ‘Live It Up’. By definition of the Oxford English Dictionary, binge drinking is ‘the consumption of an excessive amount of alcohol in a short period of time.’ Consequently, there is an unequivocal correlation between the definition of binge drinking and some of the song’s lyrics and video content. Throughout the song, Tulisa, a 24 year-old singer-songwriter who originally found fame with the Camden-based hip-hop group N-Dubz, sings on three occasions: ‘put something in your cup/ Too much is not enough,’ a lyric that, along with the song’s opening line: ‘We should pop more champagne this year,’ firmly suggests alcohol is something that can be consumed excessively. The image of a young woman being held upside down as she drinks from the spear of a beer keg then provides evidence of alcohol being consumed in a short period of time. The Urban Dictionary defines this stunt as a Keg Stand: ‘the act of guzzling alcohol in an inverted position in massive quantities, with onlookers cheering.’ It also explains why the young girl, who does indeed appear to be surrounded by cheering onlookers, is upturned in the video: ‘there is a common myth that by being positioned upside-down during the consumption of beer, the alcohol will reach the brain more quickly.’ This romanticized portrayal of binge drinking is dangerous: there is no hint of the violence, unprotected sex and vomiting that it can often instigate in reality. If they watch this video and listen to its lyrics, adolescents in the UK, who already have ‘some of the highest levels of teenage binge drinking, drunkenness and alcohol related problems in Europe, may subsequently assume that alcohol is a harmless substance and that binge drinking is socially acceptable. However, with one mother writing on Tulisa’s Facebook page (without any hint of irony): ‘she is such a great role model for young girls,’ it seems that some parents are worryingly oblivious to this notion.

In April 2011, Ofcom, the UK’s regulatory authority, deemed the lyric: ‘You want some more baby? I love the way you do it cos you do it so crazy’ as ‘unsuitable’ due to its breaching of rule 1.3  – even though ‘it does not contain an explicit sexual reference, it ‘is ambiguous in its meaning, and is unlikely to be understood by children as specifically referring to sex’. In ‘Live It Up,’ though, there is no ambiguity in its lyrics: ‘Put something in your cup/ Too much is not enough.’ It is an explicit reference to drinking alcohol excessively, thereby promoting a substance that is considered to be the ‘most dangerous drug in the UK by a considerable margin’ – even ‘more harmful than heroin or crack’. Therefore, when it surpasses the standards of what regulatory authorities regard as inappropriate in other contentious issues, how is ‘Live It Up’ not also considered to be the same? By portraying alcohol as something harmless that is fun to consume excessively, she contributes towards the ‘culture of intoxication’ that has recently emerged among the UK’s adolescents. However, perhaps a more perturbing notion to consider is: what motivates Tulisa to advocate binge drinking to her audience? Though she obviously does not advocate it with the specific intention of causing harm to them, Tulisa, a self-proclaimed’ inspiration for broken Britain’ sings about binge drinking deliberately; she knows the subject of alcohol will appeal to her audience. In the article ‘Why Do Students Love Booze,’ for instance, one university student in the UK says: ‘alcohol is seamlessly ingrained into the majority of most students’ lifestyles,’ whilst another describes how they go out clubbing ‘several times a week,‘ an activity that has also become increasingly popular among party-going under-18s with the introduction of ‘kids’ events at nightclubs. Of course, Tulisa, who was recently described by one teenage fan as ‘an inspiration to all the young,’ is not the first pop musician to publicise subjects that will appeal to their listeners. However, she is one of the first musicians to promote such dangerous activities as binge drinking to an audience that includes adolescents and children. In future, then, perhaps Tulisa should use her power over adolescents in the same way we are all encouraged to drink alcohol: responsibly.

This article is compiled from edited sections of ‘Music: how does it effect today’s youth?

Published on The Student Journals.

©2012BenStupples

The Politics of the Olympics

Regularly commanding unparalleled attention worldwide from both the general public and the media, sport provides perhaps one of the greatest stages to showcase a political message. As Nelson Mandela, one of the foremost (and few) political leaders to harness sport’s political power effectively, says about its potential: ‘sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does’. Subsequently, it is unsurprising that, in spite of the fifth chapter of the Olympic Charter stating that ‘no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in the Olympic areas’, several politically-influenced incidents have occurred during past Olympic Games – the world’s largest sporting event. In 1936, Adolf Hitler exploited the Berlin Games to substantiate his ideology of Aryan racial superiority, an ideology that was rendered risible by Jesse Owens, a black athlete from the United States, who went on to win four gold medals during the Games – more than any other athlete in the whole competition. In 1972, during another German-hosted Games, a Palestinian terrorist organization, Black September, broke into the Israeli quarters in the Olympic Village in Munich, taking members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage and, eventually, killing six coaches and five athletes after the Israeli government dismissed the terrorists’ demands.

Fortunately, the Olympic Games has not been sullied by any political boycotting or terrorist attacks since the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta when Eric Rudolph, an anti-gay and anti-abortion terrorist from the ‘Army of God’, placed the three pipe bombs, which were surrounded by nails, in the Centennial Olympic Park that killed two people and injured 111 others. However, that does not mean that politics has not meddled with the Olympics since the start of the second millennia Indeed, many economists, such as Dr. Curt Hamakawa and Dr. Elizabeth Elam from Western New England University, have regarded the architectural spectacle and organizational brilliance of China’s 2008 Olympics in Beijing as their deliberate (and successful) attempt to advertise themselves a ‘full-fledged first-world economic power‘. The world’s political situation, then, often overshadow each Olympic Games, and this year’s Olympics in London is no exception to the rule. With the UK’s economy currently floundering in a double-dip recession, London 2012, which the British Olympic Association secured whilst the UK was still profiting from a period of consistent economic growth, has provided the country’s politicians with a prime opportunity to exhibit the UK (and particularly London – one of the world’s leading financial and cultural centres) to potential investors. ‘Britain is back open for business‘, declared David Cameron at the British Business Embassy’s Global Investment Conference on the day preceding the Opening Ceremony of the Games, ‘and we are committed to supporting global growth with open trade between our nations’. To an audience containing senior figures from some of the world’s leading business, he then concluded: ‘So invest in Britain, partner with Britain, not just to invest in this country, but because this is the place, the hub, from which your company can grow and expand’. Other members of Mr. Cameron’s coalition cabinet have also reinforced their leader’s positive message about the UK. The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, stated that the Olympics provides a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity to boost the UK’s growth potential’, and the Chancellor, George Osborne, said: ‘Britain has always been a country that is open to the world. In hosting the Olympic Games, we are showcasing that openness’.

Behind the foreground, therefore, of the thousands of Olympic athletes striving to claim a much-coveted medal, the UK’s politicians, by using London 2012 as the ultimate (and possibly most expensive) worldwide advert, are striving equally as hard to salvage their country’s precarious economic situation. However, have the Olympic Games always been a financial success for other host nations? In short: no. With its debt of $1.5 billion from the cost of their Olympic Stadium’s construction, which was only paid off in December 2009, the 1976 Olympics in Montreal effectively bankrupted the city. Furthermore, some economic commentators, such as Nick Malkoutzis from Bloomberg Businessweek, have suggested that Greece’s appetite for extravagance in preparation for the 2004 Olympics in Athens – its overall cost of €9 billion made it the most expensive Olympic Games at the time – foreshadowed Greece becoming the first EU country to be subjected to the European Commission’s fiscal monitoring in 2005. Equally, though, there have been a number of Olympics Games that have proven to be a tremendous economic success for the host nation. In 1984, contrasting with Montreal’s financial nightmare in the preceding Games, the Olympics in Los Angeles made a $250 million profit; after the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea’s economy grew by 12%; and the 1992 Olympics held in Barcelona sparked the inception of the city’s cultural and financial resurgence.

Like London 2012, Barcelona’s Olympic Games were held whilst Europe’s economy was beleaguered by recession. Consequently, its long-lasting success may well be a source of guidance and inspiration for our politicians. Indeed, the London Olympics’ legacy for the city’s commerce has been an area of particular focus for Olympic Minister, Hugh Robertson: businesses, he told The Evening Standard, need to take a ‘long term view‘ on the effect of the Olympics and expect ‘a huge payback in terms of tourism and spend on both the economy and in the retail sector in the years ahead’. The Cultural Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, supported Mr. Robinson’s outlook: ‘London is already one of the world’s greatest cities, but these Games have made it iconic and if you have a business in London, in the years to come you are going to benefit massively from the huge amount of publicity, PR, promotion and marketing that you get from having a Games in London’. However, with the British Business Embassy’s forecast of the Olympic and Paralympic games generating ‘£11 billion in benefits to the UK economy’, could they alleviate the country’s current economic issues? Goldman Sachs, according to MindfulMoney, ‘predicts a short term boost to the economy of 0.3% to 0.4% in Q3 – enough to perhaps [sic.] temporarily lift the UK out of recession‘, and Capital Economics, according to The Guardian, concur that they could help ‘the economy grow by 0.8% in the third quarter‘ with a ‘temporary boost’. It seems, therefore, that the financial benefits of the Olympics could be regarded as both a short and long term solution to the UK’s continuing unstable financial circumstances. Like the many athletes we have seen recently peering up at the Olympic Stadium’s electronic screens, though, we must wait nervously to see the results.

Published on The Student Journals

Spain’s Economic Crisis: Cuts or Run?

Advancing lines of riot police spread out across streets, thousands of shouting, sometimes violent protestors squeezed into the city centre, and placards raised in the air declaring the return of a fascist government: these events did not transpire in the province of Homs – an area ravaged by Syria’s ongoing civil war; they took place after the latest €65 billion austerity package was announced by the Spanish government, in the country’s capital, Madrid. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, in justification of its staggering amount, said to Parliament the austerity package (which includes raising the general sales tax rate (IVA) from 18% to 21%, bringing forward the proposal to raise the legal working age from 65 to 68, and slashing unemployment benefits after six months’ joblessness) was ‘not pleasant, but it has to be done’. However, in the unforgiving financial environment of the Great Recession, Mariano Rajoy’s determined efforts to save the Spanish economy comes at a price – a costly one. Spain’s long-term borrowing rates now exceed 7% (Portugal, Greece and Ireland, after their long-term borrowing rates surpassed the same amount, were all previously forced into bailout schemes), and this precarious economic situation has left many forecasting even more vehemently the imminence of Spain’s financial system’s collapse. Gavin Hewitt, European Editor of the BBC, forecasts a less than hopeful future: Spain’s ‘borrowing costs of around 7.5% cannot be sustained’, he says. ‘Some time, probably in autumn, the country will need a full-blown bailout’.

Some journalists, such as Matthew Lynn in The Wall Street Journal, have even dared to predict that Spain, not Greece (who are currently failing to meet their required tax and privatisation programme targets in order to receive any further bailout funding), will be the first country to abandon the Euro: ‘the Spanish are a lot more likely to pull out of the Euro than the Greeks, or indeed any of the other peripheral countries’, Lynn writes. ‘They are too big to rescue, they have no political hang-ups about rupturing their relations with the European Union…and there is a bigger Spanish-speaking world for them to grow into’. Mariano Rajoy’s €65 billion austerity package also entails the suspension of Christmas bonuses for all civil servants, members of parliament and regional sectors – a decision, according to El País, that will save 14% in governmental spending; an end to the tax deduction, in 2013, for citizens buying a new house; and the modification – a euphemism, in this instance, for increase – in energy tariffs that have already risen, according to the EU, by 70% over the last six years. (El País) Understandably, the Spanish public’s response to the latest austerity measures has been one of indignation. Before embarking on a protest march in Madrid against the cuts to civil servants’ salaries, when 40,000 protesters later that evening packed into La Puerta del Sol, the geographical centre of Spain, Ignacio Fernandéz Toxo, the leader of the Confederación Sindical de Comisiones Obreras (CC.OO), and Cándido Méndez, leader of the Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT), described the government’s austerity plan as ‘a brutal backward-step in quality of life’ for the country’s citizens, and, because there was no evidence to suggest such cuts would occur in Mariano Rajoy’s electoral manifesto, a ‘fraudulence of democracy’.

Since Mariano Rajoy came into power in November 2011, some aspects of the austerity measures of his party (the Partido Popular) have indeed included cuts to some sectors that would generally be regarded as a regressive step in the developed world. In January 2012, for example, whilst the Brugal Case still continued in the region – an investigation into the alleged crimes of bribery and extortion in the Partido Popular’s regional government – several schools in Alicante were forced to accept reductions to their lighting, heating and even toilet paper. We need to keep on fighting! has been the widespread message from union leaders to their members, and in some parts of Spain there has been actual confrontation between the public and the police. In León, miners (who are now faced with a 63% cut in the government’s subsidies to coalmining companies, a decision that might cripple the Spanish coal industry entirely) shot fireworks at riot police through make-shift rocket launchers and set up road-blocks of flaming rubber tyres across the region’s main roads. The police, in turn, responded to the miners’ violence by ostensibly firing only rubber bullets at the miners. However, as The Guardian reported in their coverage of the confrontation, the police may have also been using golf-balls as ammunition – an object, as the miners said themselves: ‘if it hit someone’s head…would kill them’. Whilst the Spanish government, then, continues to scavenge savings from wherever it can, there is evidently – and worryingly – a growing divide between Parliament and the rest of the country’s population. The most unsettling aspect of Spain’s financial situation, though, is that the public’s protests are mostly futile: because of the overwhelming pressure it is currently under from the European Central Bank and the European Banking Authority to rescue its debt-inundated banks, the government cannot (and will not) alter its austerity measures. Leaving the Euro, therefore, is perhaps the most likely way the Spanish government will be able to have control over its own political decisions – an audacious step, if it is taken, that may well foreshadow the painful dismantlement of the Euro currency.

Published in The Prisma

Are Football Thugs Extinct?

‘Serious sport’, writes George Orwell  in The Sporting Spirit (1945)’…is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all the rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence’. Although this essay of Orwell’s was first published in the denouement of the Second World War, his cynical outlook on competitive sport and its environment, particularly among some football fans, can still be regarded today as a valid observation. Football hooliganism emerged as a societal issue in recent English history during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Fans often fought before and after fixtures, equipped with any possible afflictive instrument in order to quash and conquer opposing fans: bottles, knives, iron bars, razors – even concrete slabs. Bitter, though relatively harmless, rivalries that have always existed between football clubs (and always will do) subsequently erupted throughout this period, resulting in English hooligans becoming increasingly disruptive. On May 29th 1985, for instance, in the European Cup final between Juventus and Liverpool, 39 Juventus fans were crushed to death – an event that led to the banishment of all English clubs from all European competitions until 1990 (with Liverpool being banned for an additional year).

Organised, mettlesome ‘firms’ of English football clubs (such as Manchester United’s ‘Red Army’ or Tottenham Hotspur’s ‘Yid Army’) were the advocates of this hooliganism. For some, the throng of violence on match-days became a drug: ‘I go to a match for one reason only – the aggro’, says ‘Frank’, a 26 year-old lorry driver and self-confessed football hooligan from the ‘Red Army’. ‘It’s an obsession’, he explains, ‘I can’t give it up. I get so much pleasure when I’m having aggro that I nearly wet my pants’. With this insatiable appetite for violence, hard-core hooligans such as ‘Frank’ can be considered by those not involved in their unusual communities to be fanatics – the origin, ironically, of the term ‘fan’. Due to the extensive police effort over the past twenty years to prevent football hooliganism, though, club firms are not so wide-spread today as they were three or four decades ago. Some, however, still exist, feeding off that uncontrollable urge for violence: ‘it’s just like being a crack-head or an alcoholic’, says ‘John’, a current member of Coventry City’s firm (‘The Legion’); ‘you’re addicted to it’. One senior official at one of London’s most prominent football clubs verified the existence of football hooliganism in modern society when he told The Observer in 2010: ‘If anyone thinks it has gone away they are naïve. The Internet provides an easy way to arrange meetings. This is gang violence that attaches itself to sport’. London, indeed, has witnessed over the past decade two serious incidents of football hooliganism between rival clubs: after Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur drew 3 – 3 in the quarter-finals of the F.A. Cup on 11th March 2007, a ‘running battle’ (Metro) broke out between the clubs’ fans; at least ten people were stabbed. Before the second round Carling Cup tie between West Ham United and Millwall on August 25th 2009, a man, also, was stabbed as West Ham United’s ‘Inter City Firm’ and Millwall’s ‘Bushwackers’ renewed perhaps the most vicious rivalry in English football, thereby demonstrating how football clubs still provide a stage for hooliganism.

In the first place, though, why are so many men (mostly between the ages of twenty to thirty) attracted to football hooliganism? Anthony King, Professor of Sociology at University of Exeter, offers one possible explanation, identifying football’s male-dominated environment as an opportunity to form and define one’s sense of masculinity: ‘Through the support of a football team’, he argues, ‘the male fan affirms his status as a man (in the eyes of his peers and himself) and also articulates the nature of that manhood’. On the matter of why football hooligans readily turn to violence, sociologists Eric Dunning, Patrick Murphy and John Williams recognise mob-mentality to be a significant factor: ‘at a football match…(hooligans) are able to act in ways that are frowned upon by officialdom and much of respectable society’, they argue. ‘The game, too, can generate high levels of excitement and the focus of this excitement is a contest…between the male representatives of both communities’. The offensive chants fired towards opposing fans and violence used against them are thus attempts to subjugate the other side in mock-battle, an argument supported via the fact that football firms ‘march’ to matches. These hooligans – as Dunning, Murphy and Williams suggest – are usually men that are (or have been) ‘discriminated against’ in work and school environments; they often lack a sense of identity and, therefore, though they probably would not admit it themselves, confidence in terms of their social standing in wider society, too. Among football hooliganism’s inner circles, however, these men can climb up from the bottom of a hierarchal structure to be revered by the fellow members of their community. By using violence as the primary means of achieving this status, though, the rise up the ranks in a hooligan firm is ultimately a destructive process.

Published in The Prisma

Review – ‘Chavs: the Demonization of the Working Class’

I wholeheartedly recommend everyone to read this book; it addresses perhaps one of the most polemical and prevalent issues in our contemporary society: the middle-class’s change in attitude towards the working class. Since ‘chav’ first entered into our vocabulary (officially) with its inclusion in the 2005 Collins Dictionary – ‘a young working-class person who dresses in casual sport clothing’ – its meaning has developed significantly and become increasingly pejorative. ‘Above all,’ as Jones states, ‘the term chav now encompasses any negative traits associated with working-class people – violence, laziness, teenage pregnancies, racism, drunkenness, and the rest.’ 

A BBC T.V. documentary (‘British Style Genius’) stated in 2008 that chav culture is ‘an evolution of previous working-class youth subcultures associated with particular commercial clothing styles, such as mods, skinheads and casuals.’ Jones, however, argues that political, not social, issues relating mostly to Margaret Thatcher’s dogged destruction of the trade unions during her tenure as Prime Minister is the most significant factor in the emergence of chav culture: “Margaret Thatcher’s assumption to power…marked the beginning of an all-out assault on the pillars of working-class Britain,” Jones states. “Its institutions like trade unions and council housing were dismantled; its industries, from manufacturing to mining, were trashed…and its values, like solidarity and collective aspiration, were swept away in favour of rugged individualism.’

 The term ‘chav’, then, may derive from the wreckage of working-class communities in the latter stages of the previous century. Having been described as ‘the salt of the earth’ throughout the years preceding Thatcher’s incumbency, the working-class seems to have been elbowed aside by the Conservative Party; its members accordingly changed from being an integral part of society to becoming its outsiders. Being working-class thus became something almost to be ashamed of, which allowed the middle-classes to sneer or laugh at them and enforce a social divide. As Jones states about the middle-class’s often snobbish attitude towards the lower-class: ‘if you convince yourself that the less fortunate are smelly, thick, racist and rude by nature, then it is only right they should remain at the bottom.’

 In terms of a concept, the ‘chav’ quite possibly embodies the most crucial political issues that affected the lower-classes over the last forty years. Nowadays, the snobbery and ridicule surrounding the representation (or, depending on your point of view, misrepresentation) of the working-class has arguably reached farcical levels – remember Matt Lucas’s portrayal of Vicky Pollard in ‘Little Britain’? This book is truly remarkable through the way in which it explains each cause in the downfall (or, as Jones says, ‘the demonization’) of the working-class. Regardless of whether I agree with his views or not, I have attempted to summarise briefly the crux of Jones’s argument to give you an idea of what to expect in ‘Chavs’. If you don’t read it, trust me, you’re missing out. 

Jones, Owen. Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class. London: Verso, 2011. Print.

Why Do Students Love Booze?

Wine, vodka, gin, beer, whisky, champagne, port, rum, absinthe, cider, ale – the catalogue of alcoholic drinks stocked on shelves across the country is almost as innumerable as the health issues ensuing from excessive use of them: cancer of the mouth, neck and throat; high-blood pressure, an irregular heart beat and cirrhosis of the liver, to name the most severe. You may have thought, then, that at our hallowed universities (where the most intelligent young minds of our society can be found) students would make a deliberate effort to avoid exposing themselves to alcohol, a substance that David Nutt, a former Government drugs adviser, identifies as ‘the most dangerous drug in the UK’. You would, however, be totally wrong. Whilst to some extent there has always been a drinking culture in our universities, mostly due to the social freedom most wide-eyed students discover once they have waved their parents goodbye, the emergence and dangerous development of what Dr. David Nylund describes as the ‘new lad’ (a misogynistic and amoral hedonist, seemingly) since the mid-1990s has slowly strengthened the grip that alcohol has on university students.

Nowadays, as one female second year English Literature and Spanish student at a Russell Group university says, ‘alcohol is seamlessly ingrained into the majority of most students’ lifestyles, and the laddish camaraderie that exists among male students certainly encourages this culture’. Drinking alcohol is now not only a means of enjoying yourself among friends, but also a way of proving your worth to your peers in student sports clubs and societies. Dr. Nylund, interestingly, suggests this ‘new lad’ culture was an initial response to the ‘humiliation and indignity’ caused by the ‘girl power!’ movement during the 1990s (remember the Spice Girls?). Men, he explains, felt ‘battered by feminism’ throughout this period, resulting in the subjugation of the stereotypically domineering male ego and its subsequent fashioning into a passive image. Men, thereafter, needed to react to second-wave feminism; they needed to find a new identity. However, rather than reinventing the lad as a respectful and righteous man, the ‘new lad’, the male response to the girl power movement, can only be regarded as an exacerbation of the insensitive, binge drinking and aggressive old one. ‘Lads took up an anti-intellectual position’, Dr. Nylund says, ‘scorning sensitivity and caring in favour of drinking, violence and a pre-feminist racist attitude to women’.

Consequently, it is unsurprising that this period saw the inception and subsequent popularity boom in ‘Lads’ Mags’ such as Maxim (1995), FHM (rebranded in 1994) and Loaded (1994); whilst films that promoted male hegemony such as ‘Snatch’ (2000) and ‘Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ (1998) also proved to be tremendously successful. (‘Snatch’, according to Guy Ritchie, the film’s Director, earned over a 400% profit from its $3,000,000 budget as it grossed £12,137,698 in the UK alone.) The new lad susbequently managed to liberate men throughout the last decade of the 20th century from the grasps of ‘girl power!’ Since then, however, today’s young adults, the generation who grew up amidst the confusion of the gender conflict, have now become advocates of this culture: they have suppressed any potential feminist movement since the millennium, a notion that is perhaps most patent in the laddish lifestyle of the university student. Throwing up one’s alcohol-saturated stomach contents outside clubs (an indication of Dr. Nylund’s alcohol-loving ‘new lad’) is not only accepted but also, shockingly, the norm. If you’re at a ‘pre-lash’ (a quasi-house party where students drink, often heavily, to avoid spending money later on in clubs), it is also common practice to spew in someone’s bin, sink or, if the queue for the bathroom’s too long, on their carpet. From my own experience as student over the past two years, usage of the toilet is an ostensible luxury.

The disturbing connotations of flagellation evoked by the verb ‘to lash’ in the term ‘pre-lash’ should not be ignored, too. Many, I’m sure, will argue that its meaning should not be taken seriously, that it is tongue-in-cheek. However, whilst the term may well have been so when it was first coined, it simply is not now due to the amount students drink before going out. ‘At a pre-lash’, according to one male French and Spanish student, ‘it is not unusual to drink a bottle of wine over an hour’, an amount of alcohol equivalent to three times the legal drink driving limit. Students, then, are foolishly (and dangerously) abusing their own bodies, which may have serious consequences to their physical health in the future. ‘This kind of activity contributes to the fact that we now see people presenting with alcohol-related liver cirrhosis at a much younger age’, says Dr. Varuna Aluvihare, liver specialist at King’s College Hospital. ‘Any day of the week I might now expect to see 20-to-30 year old patients with livers working at only 5% or 10% of their normal function and needing a transplant, while 15 to 20 years ago we rarely saw this in people under 50’ (Gardner).

Some students, staggeringly, have in fact started drinking before even going out to a pre-lash. ‘Almost regularly’, says one female Biochemistry student from a leading UK university, ‘I watch and time my male house mates ‘strawpedo’ (downing a drink as quickly as possible via use of a bendy straw) their bottles of wine, often in less than ten seconds, before the pre-lash’. She then goes on to state, ‘I wouldn’t have believed anyone before I came (to university) that I would accept this behaviour as normal. However, maybe we have all just learned to accept it as day-to-day normality’. This alcohol-fueled culture has become indoctrinated, therefore, into student society. It is emerging as a prevalent problem in universities and investigations into its negative effects suggest it is a matter that must be resolved. Recent studies by Cardiff University’s Gabrielle Ivinson and Open University’s Patricia Murphy both identify lad culture as a source of behavioural confusion, whilst Adrienne Katz has even linked it to depression and suicide. If laddish students continue their reckless rate of alcohol consumption their livers, simply put, may not last for long.

Published in The Prisma