A One Night Stand With One Direction

A one night stand with One Direction might sound like a dream come true for some (or many) but the lyrics to their song Perfect provide a multitude of reasons why it would be better to stay at home. You have been warned, by the 1D lads themselves.

Celebrity’s a funny thing right – I mean, all the 1D boys have to do is sing quite well and look conventionally quite good and we’ll do the rest: we’ll ascribe them all sorts of qualities that they may or may not have (honour, loyalty, intelligence), we’ll venerate them and we might even let them get away with the metaphorical equivalent of murder. But the 1D guys are good enough to acknowledge this, they know that with platinum selling records and their faces plastered on billboards and posters they are basically the 21st century equivalent of gods. They know our culture worships celebrity, especially if those celebrities sing pop songs, that’s why they come with a warning.

Thus, Perfect – “I might never be your knight in shining armour, I might never be the one you take home to mother, and I might never be the one who brings you flowers” – OK, ditch the fairytale fantasies these guys aren’t going to faff around with chocolates and wine (seriously, why would they waste the cash when all they’ve got to do is wink and hundreds will rush to their beds). “And if you like midnight driving with the windows down [hmm, sounds a little dangerous], And if you like going places we can’t even pronounce [Worcestershire perhaps, or Billericay]…I might never be the hands you put your heart in [yup, no blood sacrifices or organ donations necessary, they’re not pagan gods after all] Or the arms that hold you any time you want them [they’re being explicit here – they don’t do affection]…And if you like cameras flashing every time we go out [WARNING – one night of bliss with 1D = being all over the internet forever, something their career thrives off but yours might not], and if you’re looking for someone to write your break-up songs about [probable dig at Taylor Swift here from Harry Styles – further warning, don’t be an independent, successful woman who plans on standing up for herself].” So they make it pretty clear what they don’t do – affection, respect and safe driving – but what do they do?

They do like causing trouble in hotel rooms and the video shows them needlessly chucking their luggage at elevators and kicking footballs around the hotel lobby – what about the other guests!? They do like a secret little rendezvous, although it won’t be so secret if the paparazzi have anything to do with it. And they can do some loving “from time to time”, emphasis on the infrequency. So, yeah, basically 1D are promising one awesome night of passion and maybe the occasional quickie afterwards. “Girl, I hope you’re sure, what you’re looking for, cause I’m not good at making promises” – so you have been warned from the horses’ mouths themselves – succumb to their coiffed  celebrity charm and you might end up on the front of a tabloid and mocked in a subsequent number 1 hit. But one thing you most certainly will not get is a second chance. Thanks guys but I’m afraid I’m a “Not Attending” for tonight.

You Can’t Stop The Beat Of Equality

Fascists painting swastikas in blood on the sides of buses during an anti-refugee march in Dover. Rich Oxford University alumni threatening to write Oriel College out of their wills if the college removes a statue of the racist Cecil Rhodes. Mega-corporations getting away with avoiding paying billions of pounds worth of tax during a time of austerity and increasing inequality. Sometimes, maybe always, it seems like the world is going to pot and that the bad guys really will win. And whilst I don’t think equality and justice are guarantors but are contracts in need of endless renewal, in the same way the social fabric is a patchwork in need of constant darning, I do know that despite all the hatred out there it is so much easier being nice. Plus, nice people get a better soundtrack.

Bigotry is hard work. As the Red Queen boasts to Alice that she can believe six impossible things before breakfast so too must bigots juggle all sorts of contradictions and paradoxes in order to justify their narrow-mindedness. For example, one of the fascists who marched in Dover yesterday has to believe that certain groups of people are inferior whilst demanding that they themselves, and the people they care about, are superior. It tends to be one rule for them and one rule for me (and my family). A fascist also has to believe that our economic problems can be blamed on migrants and refugees, meaning they get to scapegoat the vulnerable whilst not bothering to question the economic and political realities that keeps a constant stream of wealth and power flowing to the elite minority at the expense of the majority (a majority that they are part of!). On the other hand, it’s much easier for a nice person who realises that nothing makes anyone inherently better or worse than anyone else and so doesn’t need to expend lots of energy discriminating against certain groups. They can also google around the issues of inequality rather than just accept what the newspapers tell them. At the end of the day (and at the start of it) love is a much more sustainable energy source than hate.

And nice people get a much better soundtrack. Take You Can’t Stop The Beat that ends the ace musical Hairspray (big spoilers by the way, equality wins). All the characters, even the baddies, shake their booty to a song that relishes the striving for so many forms of equality – between people of different races, skin colours and body shapes. “You can try to stop the paradise we’re dreaming of,” they sing, and of course (as Taylor Swift also told us) haterz gonna hate, because that’s what haters do. But “you can’t stop today as it comes speeding down the track,” sings Queen Latifah, “Child, yesterday is history and it’s never coming back.” And she’s right, today is zooming straight at us like a highspeed train and we get to choose whether it’s a train that runs people over or if it’s some awesome party train to which all are invited (rehabilitated fascists included). Because when it comes down to it hate and love are choices, and as difficult as we might find it to choose the latter, there’s still time to learn (trust me, it’ll be fun). And so concludes my blog about being nice – perhaps just an excuse to post this awesome song which does what this blog does anyway but too a far catchier tune (Spanish subtitles included).

Out Of Style

Style, a new song by Taylor Swift. The lyrics tell the simple story of a fraught relationship. Swift is picked up by a male lover who she can’t stop thinking about despite the fact he rarely calls and is rumoured to have been sleeping with other women. He drives a little recklessly and they eventually go back to her house. He admits the rumours are true and Swift also states that she has been sleeping with others. A catchy chorus intersperses these dramatic moments:

“You got that James Dean, day-dream look in your eye
And I got that red lip, classic thing that you like
And when we go crashing down, we come back every time.
Cause we never go out of style,
We never go out of style.”

The chorus captures two central themes of the song. The first is that of crashing: be it a car or a relationship. Nevertheless, Swift asserts that they will survive the metaphorical car crash of their partnership and keep returning to one another. The second theme concerns their looks – they are both classically and timelessly attractive. Other verses sing of his “long hair, slicked back, white t-shirt” and her “good girl faith and a tight little skirt.” Meanwhile, the video shows Swift and a male model casting smouldering looks, walking in front of projected images, holding up pieces of glass, striking poses, getting wet by the sea and generally doing what conventionally good-looking people do.

However, there is something very concerning about the central message of this song. The fact that Swift and her partner will never go out of style because of their looks is basically a threat: if you’re not one of the stylish few then you never will be. If a man does not look like James Dean and if a woman does not look like Taylor Swift then it’s off to the ‘ugly’ pile. Now, a social hierarchy based on looks is no new concept but it does often rest on the presumption that beauty is an objectively measurable scarce resource possessed by a lucky few. Furthermore, the less this view is questioned and contextualised the more it seems that the timelessness of beauty is an unquestionable truth. Hence, Swift’s ability to never go out of style.

But I like context and ours is one of capitalist, consumerist patriarchy. Bodies are constantly commodified and objectified by consumer capitalism’s endless quest to turn everything into profit. Advertising, films and television fall back on simplistic tropes of body image in an effort to get us to hate our bodies and buy their products. It is not that the people we see on adverts are more beautiful than the rest of us – bearing in mind they are heavily made up and airbrushed – it is that a group of predominantly male ad execs with limited imagination and social awareness will have once again failed to exercise any creativity or compassion. Meanwhile, whilst sexism is continually being challenged it still remains rampant – in the streets, in work places, in the home and in presentations of beauty. Watch 4music for any prolonged period of time and more often than not it is women who are presented sexually on-screen and reduced to sexual objects in lyrics. It happens to men too, but not as much. Furthermore, these women are often held accountable for how they appear rather than the larger dehumanising cultural and political milieu. In essence, sexist, consumerist capitalism dictates to and sells us a very limited, dubious conception of beauty.

So what could beauty look like in a world beyond patriarchy and consumerism? Imagine a beauty that transcends gender binaries, one that is happy to embrace queer bodies and blurred boundaries, rather than forcing us into little boxes. Imagine a beauty that ages, one with wrinkles, sagging skin and grey hairs, rather than one that relentlessly presents youth as the one thing worth possessing even though aging is the one thing we all do. Imagine a beauty that is not dictated to us by billboards and those who profit from them, not predicated on the fear of loss, and not treated as a scarce resource in constant need of capitalisation, but one that is an abundant commons available to all, hierarchy free, enjoyed as it changes, enjoyed because it changes and never answerable to currency.

This unfettered beauty already exists in our society and is available to all, should we wish to engage with it. Of course, it can be very difficult to feel beautiful in a society where we are constantly made to feel ashamed of ourselves for the way we look. Challenging this agenda will be tough but worth it as we prove that style is something for all of us and not just reserved for the James Dean and Taylor Swift lookalikes, although they are welcome to partake of it too.