Friday, 25 April 2014

Male Body Issues Don't Matter

Male body insecurity is not the most important thing facing our society at the moment. I would say famine, climate change and saving the bees (does anyone actually know what's happening with the bees?) are a little bit more important.

While making my most recent video about Zac Efron's chest and the pressure on men to be buff, which can cause them to partake in dangerous activities like steroid use, I was very aware of the issue's position in the pecking order of things that will make our world a better place. The inevitable comparison with the female body image issues that have plagued Western societies for generations was particularly salient for me, so I touched on the subject, acknowledged that in a world dominated by sexism and patriarchy women had it a lot worse, but I continued to address the topic that I had decided on for this video and that was important to me personally.

Comments in the video so far have been positive and yielded the results I wanted. I wanted men to be able to share their own body insecurities (for the record, I feel like I'm very hairy and have love handles) which they have, and for people who weren't aware of the issue to become aware of it, which some have. I urge you to scroll through the responses. I still maintain I have the best comments section on the Internet.

I do believe some people will have watched this video and brushed it off as a non-issue, especially as it was touched on by a middle class white man; my own privilege pains me. I did have the following comment from someone who has watched my videos for a while. I needed to digest for a little because it hit me quite hard as it was very critical of the topic I had chosen and the way I had addressed it.

NB: I've taken off her username and would appreciate if she weren't given a hard time by anyone reading this.

My response:

Sunday, 3 November 2013

YouTube's Illusion of Intimacy

There was a piece in Vice magazine about the YouTube Music Awards. Vice itself is one of the organisers of the event, and admit so in the article, but insist that what is going to occur at the award show, hosted by Jason Schwartzman and Reggie Watts is going to be 'insane'.

They voiced their amazement that the hosts would be unscripted, so that they could be spontaneous like the standard YouTube video. How daring! How frigging cutting edge!

When I read this, I must admit I scoffed. I personally haven't turned on the camera and been 'spontaneous' for several years now. And most of the independent content creators have well thought out scripts for their vlogs. Many are now even moving into more conventional forms of artistic expression. The examples of crabstickz having a panel show, the comedy drama Project Library and PJ's sketches all spring to mind as examples of a though out process before the creator even turns on the camera.

The fact is, this illusion of an unregulated medium between creator and audience is a farse. The original content that people view on YouTube is more filtered than ever. Before, creators had the desires of the producer, director and film editor to deal with. Now, the only person deciding on the final product is the creator themselves, filling the role of all the above professionals. And the fact is that the end product is even more scrutinised than the content we (used to) view on the original 'boob tube'.

Is the increased control afforded to the creator a bad thing? It is often heralded as a ground remaking positive for creatives. But I would argue that it creates more illusion of authenticity than the faux-intimacy that appears on millions of screens.

I believe that most viewers will believe that the person that they are seeing on their laptop is the real deal, similar to what was suggested by a fan on the BBC's Woman's Hour last week. "I feel like I know them," she said, citing Charlie, Alex and the VlogBrothers as her main YouTube staple.

But the reality is that the person present in the vlog is miles away from the person who comes up with the concept. After the script is perfected, the quiff set in place and the fish eye lens attached there is a finely choreographed personality.

YouTube and its creators are changing media in a lot of ways. But the illusion of a more intimate relationship between talent and audience is false. Those that are at the top of their game and are raking in the views know very well what they are doing. 

Whether or not this is a good thing or not, I don't know. But the perception of intimacy should not be confused with the ever more polished product presented on our screens.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Boycott Sochi? From Russia with Not-So-Much Love

Now is a good time to believe in equal rights for LGBT people.  We are seeing massive progress in Western Europe with the passing of Equal Marriage in France, England and Wales and 83% of the British public saying they'd be 'comfortable' with the newly born royal baby ending up gay, not to mention the overturning of Prop 8 and DOMA in the United States.

It's a cruel irony that we live in a world where these great strides in equal rights are being made where a couple of thousand miles to the East in Russia human rights are being stripped away from the gay community.

Earlier this month the President Putin signed a law banning the adoption of Russian-born children not only to gay couples but also to any couple or single parent living in any country where marriage equality exists in any form. Earlier he had also deemed it legal to arrest any foreigner or tourist who was suspected of being either gay or lesbian or a gay rights supporter. Thirdly, earlier in June he passed yet another anti-gay bill branding 'homosexual propoganda' as pornography. It seems possible that under this third, broad law any parent, teacher or public official who suggests that homosexuality is normal could be charged.

Just to drive the nature of this hostile environment home, Buzzfeed showed the chaos that erupted around gay-rights protests across Russia. Blood, violence and rainbow flags.
The difference is that Russia is soon going to be under the world's gaze as host of the two largest sporting events in the world: next year's Winter Olympics in Sochi, happening in just under 6 months and also as host of the Fifa Football World Cup in 2018.

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine implied on Twitter that sporting contests should not be used as a political mouthpiece for progressive, liberal countries' values. I would tend to agree with this statement, but sport has always been tied in with global politics. From the propaganda of the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany to the exclusion of South Africa from the Games for 28 years due to its apartheid policies, global sporting events have been used as vessels used for political ends. If gay rights is an issue that Western Europe and North America take seriously, then why should these events be overlooked?

It is not just the fact that Russia's principles clash so much with those of more progressive countries. Under their new laws any athletes, spectators or journalists entering Russia to take part in the Games or the World Cup who are gay, suspected of being gay or accused of being gay can be jailed, fined and/ or deported. 

It should be mentioned that the International Olympic Committee has issued a statement saying that they would 'work to ensure' no discrimination against LGBT people. Although how that would be enforced is unclear. Their official statement read:

In the past I have had a torn attitude towards the fight for equal rights in other countries. I am rather anti-interventionalist when it comes to the internal affairs of other countries. I believe that imposing (often Western) ideals upon a country with a different history and culture can often do more harm than good. Disapproval can be expressed in exclusion from international organisations or trade embargoes to show principle. You aren't going to change a foreign nation's psyche overnight. 

"The International Olympic Committee is clear that sport is a human right and should be available to all regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation... [The organisation will make sure] the Games can take place without discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media."

In terms of diplomacy I don't believe that there is going to be much action on this issue. Iceland is so far the only nation to have altered its diplomatic status, with cultural and political ties being cut between Reykjavík and Moscow. Russia is just too damn big and important for anyone to shake that bear's cage.

There is a petition you can sign here and a boycott you can join here if you want your voice to be heard. I personally will be writing to MPs to give this issue more awareness. 

With the chances of a boycott being effective low we can only hope that the large amount of media attention that the country will face while hosting these sporting events will improve awareness and understanding of these issues. Like with China's human rights record in the run up to the 2008 Olympics, nothing can avoid the floodlit glare of media scrutiny. 

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

In Defence of Taiwanese Women

There is an article on the Taiwanese web that has been making quite a ripple on Chinese social media. To date the article has been shared over 220 000 times on Facebook; mainly amongst Chinese speakers. You can read the article in both Chinese and English here. It’s a long and convoluted article – but read it until you want to punch the screen and you’ll have probably gotten the gist of the content.

For those of you not up for the essay, here is an exert:

“I find TW women to be utterly selfish, insecure, and self centered. As I have seen with many couples and unfortunate friends, when they age it's even more nonstop bitching and moaning. The focus just becomes on more money, more eating, more competition to show off to family and friends. You can forget about an exciting sex life. Lately I look at them with a mild disgust, despite some of their physical beauty.”

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first; this article is disgusting and its writer is a sexist and a bigot. As a British guy who has lived in Taiwan and Mainland China for a large portion of my adult life, I feel like I have to apologise on behalf of all the foreigners in Asia with half a brain cell. Let’s just thank God this is a blog and not an article with merit.

Furthermore, this piece demonstrates a colonial attitude towards non-western cultures that should have been left behind in the ages of world wars and empires. Taiwan is an economic and cultural hub of East Asia, which politically and socially stands tall in a region of high-performing nations. But according to this American-born Chinese (ABC) writer, that doesn’t matter because the women are shallow.

Sadly, these are sweeping statements and blinkered views that I have come across all too often among western expats. One’s invitation to enter a country in order to teach, study or work does not include a licence to become the nation’s critique.

In the west we are encouraged to believe that the way we do things: culturally, socially and politically, are all superior to the methods implemented in other parts of the world. We are taught little of the histories and cultures of other parts of the world, and maybe this reinforces this blinkered view. If you pass through the UK’s education system you’d almost be forgiven for thinking that the only culturally significant points of world history were the Romans, Queen Victoria’s reign and the two World Wars.

This may explain this Western arrogance towards the rest of the world but by no means excuses it.

An Asian visiting the USA may also find some pretty atrocious social phenomena. A country in the midst of an obesity epidemic with no social healthcare and a political system paralyzed through extreme ideology.

Perhaps I am reading too much into our ABC friend’s blog, as he focuses almost exclusively on relationships and expectations of love in Taiwanese culture, calling them shallow, self centred and materialistic. But statistics would argue that Taiwan is a better place to be in love than the US. Although divorce rates are rising, they currently stand at around 25% in Taiwan. This is one of the highest rates in Asia (second only to South Korea) but still pales in comparison to the astonishingly high proportion of divorce rates in the USA and the EU, 53% and 44% respectively.

Perhaps people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

I would also suggest that one's experiences abroad are only as positive as the people your surround yourself with. I was lucky enough to be studying in Taiwan as part of a postgraduate course with local students as my peers. The women I had the privilege of knowing were intelligent, considerate and interesting individuals, albeit a little obsessed with Hello Kitty.

If you hang out in the places where bitches and douchebags go, then you are only going to come across bitches and douchebags. If this is his only experience of Taiwanese women, then it suggests to me that he hasn’t bothered to look very far. Get out of Luxy and Babe 18 [the two major clubs in the centre of Taipei] and broaden your horizons, my blogger friend. It sounds like you’re a long way from being an authority on how Taiwanese women should be conducting themselves.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Not #ProudtoLove

2013 has turned into a landmark year for LGBT rights. We have seen France move to legalise gay marriage with the UK hot on its heels, and of course the overturning of Prop 8 and DOMA in the States just last week. People have been celebrating and with this weekend the end of Pride Month I myself will join in with some of the festivities in London. It's a good time to be gay.

Unsurprisingly YouTube has jumped on this and chosen to celebrate the role the website has had to play in the humanisation of LGBT folks and the support it has given to countless people struggling with their own sexual identity. The platform has been a great tool in the furthering of gay rights and I think it's great to be recognising this. Google and YouTube always have a presence at pride parades around the globe and they should be commended for this.

This aside, I am not a fan of the way they have chosen to highlight pride month, with the #ProudtoLove campaign.

#ProudtoLove was rolled out with videos from some of the most prominent LGBT vloggers on YouTube where they listed things that they were, surprise surprise, proud to love. Because creators were asked to provide videos there seems to be a disconnect with the content and the intended message, with people saying they were proud to love comic books or pizza and a couple even using the hashtag as an advert to plug their own content.

To be honest, the whole thing felt a bit dead behind the eyes, disingenuous and vague. If this was meant to be a celebration of the good that YouTube and its community has done for LGBT causes it has fallen flat on its face. 

Other YouTube phenomena like the It Gets Better project, the curation of 'coming out' playlists, the pro gay marriage adverts that became popular online were all grass roots movements that naturally went viral and moved countless people to get involved. These movements were heartfelt and candid, where as the majority of the #ProudtoLove videos left me with a 'so what?' taste in my mouth.

I feel like YouTube was maybe half heartedly trying to turn this into a gay vlog-tag-game. It's seen the good that its users have done with this format, as well as the prominent gay community on the site, and thought, "Awesome! Another tent-pole event".

But when these kind of events are dictated from above and not organised from the user base, sincerity is lost. I feel like a similar thing happened with YouTube's Comedy Week: a hash of unrelated videos that were ironically unfunny. They've tried to do something similar here, to create a welling of positive nostalgia towards YouTube's gay movement, but I fear that they have failed again.

I by no means want to take away the good that the site has played in creating a strong, queer community. But this good was brought about by the individuals using the site as a tool, not by YouTube the company. Leave the content and community to us, YouTube. You're invariably bad at it.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

YouTube's Support Network

Earlier this week a friend of mine, Rob Wells, wrote an article on the Vada Magazine website about the relationship between YouTube and its apparently high number of gay users. He was kind enough to mention me - so I thought I would continue the conversation here.

What feels like a lifetime ago, there used to be a running joke among YouTube users that if you were gay or Asian, then you were already halfway to having it made. Gay vloggers dominanted the site and included the likes of Michael Buckley, William Sledd, Perez Hilton and that guy who did the ‘Leave Britney Alone’video, Chris Crocker.


These men, although entertaining in their own way, did not do amazing things for diversifying the representation of the LGBT community in new media. Their content focused around gossip, celebrity and fashion; not exactly breaking the mould. We may as well have been watching Are You Being Served. That said, these men were at the top of YouTube, driving an awful lot of the regular viewers to the site as it grew in popularity in the late naughties. 

Gay, flamboyant men are no longer the Kings (Queens?) of YouTube; they have since been usurped by the cute boy with a floppy fringe anda British accent, but the LGBT community still makes up a significant portion of content creators and viewers. And they aren’t just hanging around, they’re candid and frank about their sexuality, experiences and opinions.

Since its popularisation the Internet has been a place where people who feel like they don’t fit in come to rant, socialise and find like-minded people. Many queer kids, especially those growing up outside of larger cities, will not have ever known anyone who is like them. YouTube provides a more personal bond with someone than watching the latest episode of Modern Family or Glee.

This can be summed up in the It Gets Better Project, a movement started by Dan Savage, famous for his sex advice column in Seattle’sStranger, his Podcast and his gay rights activism. In the wake of the suicideof Billy Lucas who killed himself because of the lack of acceptance he experienced at school, Savage made a video with his then boyfriend, now husband, letting young LGBT kids know that bullying in school is not the end, that It Gets Better.

Thousands upon thousands made their own videos with their own stories of finding love and acceptance after enduring hardship wile they were growing up; even Obama and Cameron joined in. YouTube is now a bank of these stories, showing queer kids that even if they have it hard right now, there is invariably a light at the end of the tunnel.

In his article, Rob suggested that YouTube provided kids with a place where they can find acceptance when they come out of the closet. I think that YouTube’s role begins even before that – because when you feel alone, scared and confused, knowing that someone else has felt the same way can make the journey so much easier.

I should also say that this isn’t just for queer kids. EmmaBlackery’s videos on her experiences with depression and how to deal with it will help countless young people struggling with the illness. Meekakitty’svideos on beauty and her struggle with anxiety are equally heart-warming.

Coming out of the closet or dealing with depression used to be like jumping off a cliff that you couldn’t see the bottom of. But now we can see the landing and have a thousand anecdotes from people who have made the jump themselves.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

FeministFrequency on Gay SciFi

I am a fan of feministfrequency. She has the courage to address social issues that she cares about in the face of a Web that is less than welcoming to the passionate feminist. The Internet is, after all, still a male-dominated sphere – with all the boobies, nerd in-jokes and banter one could wish for. She is a refreshingly unapologetic about her opinions on how women are portrayed in modern media and truly tickles my brain cells in a most favourable way.  She recently posted a new video which you can check out here. 

However, she is sometimes guilty of drawing too much out of a particular trope, issue or experience – as is often the case when one has a point to make. I usually let this slide, especially as I love the content she makes – but as I have been working my way slowly through the back-log of her videos, I came across this morsel that got my attention, uploaded in 2010.

I cannot tell you how happy it makes me that Caprica has a prominent gay character that kicks arse in the form of Sam Adama. When I was growing up, gay people in the media were only present in the Graham Norton Show, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Will & Grace; gay characters in Sci-Fi were light years off my radar. Torchwood wasn’t aired until later and George Takei doesn’t count.

I especially love Caprica’s gay character precisely because he is not portrayed as a gay character. He is a character that happens to be gay. His sexuality is so subtly mentioned that it could be easily missed. As someone who tries to announce their sexuality as a footnote in their personal life, I would rather gay characters where presented in this way than in the, “I’m here, I’m Queer” method of some other television shows. Glee, The New Normal, Vicious, Queer as Folk and Will & Grace all have characters who are gay first and personalities with quirks and flaws later.

Feministfrequency has an issue with the portrayal of this character because he is a murderous bastard; literally, he is a bounty hunter. She is critical of the fact that he kills his victims with phallic shaped objects. Although the fact that most of our murderous weapons are long and pointy probably does have something to do with society being more than a little obsessed with a man’s dangly bits, I don’t think this has any significance in this case. You work with what you’ve got and I don’t think the producers would have been up for inventing a vagina-shaped weapon just for the series.

She also laments that they have created a character that happens to be gay and then made him evil. It seems like she is saying that because this gay man (sorry, man who happens to be gay) is a douche, the viewers are going to project that on all gay men they meet: this is the conclusion that she comes to that I am particularly disappointed with.

We should be moving towards the normalisation of homosexuality and gay characters in the media. The fact is, the world is full of people who are likeable, people who are dicks and people who are bounty hunters; and gay people are going to fall into all of those categories. We are not a lifestyle with specific traits, we are a percentage of the population that can be found in all corners of society.

I don’t feel demonised or hated because a murderer in a TV programme happens to be gay. His homosexuality is never used as a reasoning for him being a killer. I want there to be main characters who can have storylines that don’t revolve around their sexuality. TV in general, and especially SciFi, should help us normalise people in the queer community by providing us with more characters like this.