Diss Talk: Reading oneself in Lisa Hogan’s ‘The Woman Who Watches Over the World’

By Anna Trowby

A year ago, as the effects of the pandemic started to settle in and we were all locked down in our homes, I was just beginning to prepare research for my third-year dissertation. As was the case for many students, the term was severely disrupted by Covid-19 and the mock exams that I had been preparing for were cancelled. As inconvenient as these developments were, it gave me more time to think about what I wanted to research for my dissertation. I knew that I wanted to study something that would push me out of my comfort zone and engage with ideas in literature that I had not previously thought about before. After spending the entirety of second year writing a turgid dissertation on T.S. Eliot, I wanted to occupy myself with something more peripheral – something that would make me feel impassioned about English again. I stumbled across inspiration for a topic when I was perusing the English Faculty Website’s suggested authors for the Postcolonial paper. It struck me as odd that the suggested American and Canadian authors were almost exclusively white – wouldn’t it have made more sense to centre indigenous voices in this syllabus, given that they were the main targets of colonialism by Western forces? As a result, I decided to write about Native American literature. Over the next year, I read various works by indigenous authors, studied indigenous postcolonial theory, and tried to write sensitively and compassionately about a culture I became deeply invested in. 

It’s worth noting at this point that I am not Native American myself. I am of indigenous heritage, my mother being an indigenous Buryat woman from Southern Mongolia; however, as with any other indigenous person, my background does not make me privy to adopt other identities as my own. Indigenous identities are often collapsed into one another as if they are indistinguishable, but with 350 million indigenous people in the world, it is not possible to treat ‘natives’ as interchangeable. I was therefore careful not to displace the Native American experience with my own, and I was also aware that I should treat indigenous Americans and their various tribal nations as societies and cultures in their own right, as opposed to feeble projections of the Western imagination that conceives the indigenous as ‘other’. Conscious of my own position as someone from outside of this culture looking in on its literature and traditions, I challenged myself to dispel my Western-inflected lens when writing.

I discovered many exciting authors whilst researching this topic. Some of my favourite writers include Zitkala Sa, Layli Long Soldier, Tommy Orange, Jake Skeets, Joy Harjo and Louise Erdrich (I particularly recommend Erdrich’s revelatory novel, The Roundhouse). I ultimately decided to write about The Woman Who Watches Over the World, a memoir by Linda Hogan. The memoir is a painstaking documentation of Hogan’s life, which intersperses autobiography with Native American history, religion and ecology (Hogan is an ardent environmentalist). Although I cannot fully identify with Hogan’s struggle, the way in which she wrote about pain and the difficulty of survival for those who, as Audre Lorde writes, were ‘not meant to survive’, spoke to my own history of endurance. I come from a difficult background, and to discover a Native American writer who was reflecting on indigenous survival was revelatory for me. Writing about Hogan’s memoir was, at times, incredibly painful; it was only two years ago that I started to think of myself in indigenous terms, and analysing the way in which Hogan writes about survival excavated my own journey of self-discovery. Hogan’s memoir was instrumental for me in coming to terms with myself, and I am so grateful to her for that. I must again emphasise that I am by no means claiming Hogan’s Native American identity as my own. Rather, I have a strong affinity with her reflection on the difficulty of endurance for indigenous people, and the way that she incorporates historically dispossessed voices into her narrative, namely when she writes about her troubled daughter, Marie.

Reading and researching Hogan’s memoir not only taught me about the variety of indigenous literature and Native American forms of storytelling; it taught me essential truths about myself, and the sheer difficulty of overcoming trauma. The memoir is by no means an easy read, but it is a testament to the complexity of the human spirit.

Image: Black Mesa State Park by Christopher Gabbard

The Invisible Woman in Cambridge Portraiture

By Eleanor Antoniou

I had never given much thought to the portrait paintings that surrounded me in my college hall, but last year when I attended a talk as part of the Rising Tide exhibition, I realised that the majority of the portraits hung in Cambridge colleges depict white European males, whose portraits converse with each other to imply that the narrative of Cambridge’s past is solely theirs. 

While I’d glanced at the male-dominated walls during formal dinners, I’d never considered the effect they can have and the atmosphere their presence creates. Today, our college spaces are no longer reserved exclusively for men, and yet the artwork installations surrounding us suggest that the female experience has been made invisible. For the students who eat beneath these portraits every week, for the women who clean our college spaces under the eyes of so many unmoving male faces, these paintings suggest a certain history of the college and portray a particular message: this is a space in which the female experience, and female achievement, are not as important as their contemporary male counterparts.  

This disproportionate representation in publicly displayed portraiture exists not just in Cambridge but across the world.  During the 1970s Women’s Liberation Movement artist Mary Beth Edelson highlighted the gender imbalance in her piece entitled ‘Some Living American Women Artists’, a reworking of da Vinci’s Last Supper, in which the men are replaced with the images of 69 female artists, a striking acknowledgement of the women that are all too often left behind by history.  Even today in London, over 90% of commemorative statues are dedicated to men, something which recent campaigns are now trying to remedy.  

Naturally, the portraits in the halls of each Cambridge college have been chosen because they reflect each college’s history, and this history cannot be changed – it is perhaps unreasonable to expect that we simply swap men for women, as Edelson did in her Last Supper reworking. But does the story that we are presented with have to be so exclusive and one-sided?  

In 2018, Christ’s College celebrated the forty year anniversary of the admission of female undergraduates by reimagining the space in their Hall to recognise that, although women had only studied there for forty years, they had been involved in the life of the college for far longer than that.  Lady Margaret Beaufort refounded God’s House as Christ’s in 1505, and in her honour, Christ’s asked its students to send in their own depictions of Lady Margaret, which would temporarily replace the portraits that were already hanging, celebrating her as a woman, a mother, and an advocate for education. Students commented that their dining experience was transformed by the new exhibition; it became a more inclusive space for the college’s female students, who could see themselves reflected in the images surrounding them. 

Whilst colleges cannot rewrite their histories, they can shift the aspects of their history which they choose to portray. Evidently, bringing in new and different narratives can make a welcome and lasting impression on both female and male students, even with temporary exhibitions like Lady Margaret at Christ’s. The New Hall Art Collection at Murray Edwards College is a fine example: exhibiting one of the largest, most significant collections of modern and contemporary art by women in Europe, it champions artists who identify as women, giving them visibility and a voice.  

Women now live in all of Cambridge’s colleges: we study in the libraries, and dine in the halls. Yet the visual narratives that surround us still need to reflect this in order to highlight that Cambridge is now a place where all genders are welcome.

Featured image: portrait of Lettice Ramsay from the Rising Tide exhibition, courtesy of Newnham College, Cambridge.  

Don’t You Know That You’re Toxic?

By Eleanor Antoniou

This article discusses mental health and sexual harassment.

The recently released Framing Britney Spears documentary has sparked strong reactions across social media. It reveals the details of Britney’s ongoing conservatorship which has legally blocked her from making her own decisions for 12 years.  A conservatorship is typically used for elderly people, who are unable to safely make decisions for themselves, and involves the legal appointment of a person to manage the personal decisions and finances of another. After Britney’s mental health struggles, her father was appointed as the conservator of her person and estate when she was just 27. Now Britney has stressed that she wants his control removed completely, and is currently facing a court battle against him. The New York Times documentary reported that Britney never wanted her father to be her conservator in the first place. She was denied a choice from the start, even being refused the right to hire her own legal representation. It strikes me that a man in Britney’s position would most likely have never been placed under the same conditions.  

It is not only in the courtroom that Britney has had to fight a battle. Since she first appeared in the public eye as a young teenager, Britney has battled against the misogyny of the media and the paparazzi. Her body has been repeatedly scrutinised and objectified, and her mental health became a frequent, tasteless joke during the 2000s, with the media propelling the narrative that Britney was a loose woman gone mad.  

The video clips from interviews shocked me the most: a young girl torn apart by the vultures of the tabloids. After a live performance at just age 10, one of these clips shows Britney being asked by the over-60-year-old male host if she has a boyfriend, because of course this is the most important thing to ask a pre-teen. Later, aged 17 and now a newly famous popstar, a male interviewer exclaims: “everyone’s talking about it… your breasts!” Then, during a press conference at age 21, Britney is asked if she is a virgin, a question which fuelled ongoing public debate within the tabloids.  

Britney’s breakup with Justin Timberlake revealed just how much media portrayals of celebrities are informed by sexism. The tabloids praised Justin for sleeping with Britney, as if her virginity were a trophy to be won. Britney was painted as a heart-breaker, a girl gone wild and a slut. She was obsessively sexualised yet simultaneously shamed for her sexuality, expected to tread the fine line between ‘sexy’ and ‘pure.’ It is uncomfortable and grotesque to watch Britney facing this hypocrisy, reduced to tears as she is told that one mother would shoot her because she sets a bad example for children. Meanwhile, Justin’s career only seemed to benefit: he even used the music video for Cry Me a River to further vilify Britney.

It is hardly surprising that, after years of enduring the paparazzi’s harassment with polite, sweet smiles, Britney began to experience difficulties with her mental health.  Who wouldn’t feel like hitting the paparazzi’s car with an umbrella after being followed and harassed? Not to mention her ex-husband had just blocked her from visiting her children. I’m sure many of us would have shared Britney’s anger at that moment. Yet Britney’s mental health issues and personal struggles became a cruel running joke in the media: she had had a ‘meltdown,’ she had gone ‘crazy.’  

This image of the ‘crazy’ woman has much deeper roots than we may at first assume. The very word hysteria originates from the Ancient Greek term for womb, and throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, female hysteria was commonly diagnosed by doctors, seemingly to explain away any mental health condition which made men uncomfortable. These ideas persist to this day in new, more insidious forms.

The list of women who have undergone a similar treatment to Britney is disturbingly long. In the 2000s, Lindsay Lohan and Amanda Bynes were also branded as ‘crazy,’ demonising their mental health issues and struggles with drug and alcohol addiction. Millie Bobby Brown has been sexualised to a horrific extent since the age of 13 in a disturbing echo of Britney’s treatment as a child star. Meghan Markle has been driven from the royal family after constant vilification by the press, a haunting flashback to their treatment of Princess Diana years before, though this time also fuelled by vile racism. Most recently and most tragically, Caroline Flack committed suicide following heartbreaking abuse by the media, who seemed to thrive on degrading a woman who was already vulnerable. The Sun even cruelly referred to her as ‘Caroline Whack’.  

The tabloid world is built on criticising, attacking and judging women, tearing apart their actions and their bodies for profit. In Britney’s case, this can only have fuelled the continuation of a conservatorship that she does not seem to want or need. The sad truth is that the press is still profiting off this misogyny today and the list of women who face media abuse continues to lengthen.

Image from Britney’s ‘Oops!… I Did It Again!’

‘Lagging’: An Interview with Molly Taylor

I spoke to Molly Taylor, who is currently directing, writing and starring in her online show ‘Lagging’.

Lily Could you summarise the premise of ‘Lagging’ for us?

Molly ‘Lagging’ is basically a blatant rip off of Staged. I fell in love with Staged over the summer – it was the first online production I’d seen that felt really suited to the format. Lagging is a reality-based fiction about the cast of ‘5 Lesbians Eating A Quiche’ (the show we were going to do this term) who get cancelled and go to Zoom to do online rehearsals for their online production – we’re playing with the weirdness of online rehearsals as well as some classic student theatre character jokes. It’s quite fun to do something that’s so blatantly stereotypical and jokey, whilst finding some sort of sympathy for the characters. They’re all stuck at home, doing this as basically a bit of a favour, and no one’s really getting what they want out of it. But everyone’s still doing their best, which I think does summarise a lot of what Cambridge theatre has had to do.

Lily What was the thinking behind the decision to do it as a series of small episodes rather than a long production?

Molly Part of the impetus is that I was tired of doing three-month long rehearsals of something that was then cancelled. You can also do short musing, not entirely directed comedy much better in short episodes – people then have a lot more tolerance for stuff that isn’t plot heavy. But I was also really excited by the idea of being able to do something and seeing it come to life a week later. It’s amazing how quickly people got stuff together: my AD wrote an entire sea shanty in three days! We got an editor two days beforehand and he’s done an amazing job. A bit terrifying, but it’s fun doing something so immediate and kind of stressful after such a sedate year.

Lily How does the rehearsal process and filming work?

Molly Episodes are broadcast on Sunday, and we’re supposed to start writing the next episode the same day (I don’t know if we do). I really wanted to be collaborative with the writing so that anyone in the cast or production team who wanted to be involved with it could be. We have a writing gathering, an open Zoom call that anyone can come to for two hours, I gather everything together and then we have a sort of script by Tuesday. On Wednesday we do a rehearsal/read through and a staging of it. At this point, the script is still up for debate. But on Thursday we have to film, and it actually takes quite a while so at that point the script is a final product. It’s a tight turnaround and there’s a lot of room for people to make contributions if they want to, but not to openly devise, because otherwise things inevitably end up not getting done.

Lily With comic timing, doing it over Zoom obviously makes things very different to how they would be on stage. Do you record it with everyone on Zoom or do you record individual parts and then edit it together? 

Molly That was the biggest challenge. We realised quite early on that you can’t really get an actor in a comedy to just sit down and record themselves reacting to jokes. So instead, we have this elaborate setup: everyone is on a Zoom call, but we use the Zoom option ‘Hide non video participants’ so that those not in the scene can’t be seen. When someone enters a scene, they’re already in the room and then they can enter on cue easily, because there’s a whole lot of late entries or people coming in at the wrong time (classic Zoom banter). You have the Assistant Director screen recording the grid, and everyone separately screen recording themselves so that you can cut between group and individual shots. For comic timing, it was crucial that they all were on the call together. 

Lily You act in it as well as directing, which is a theme throughout with production team members making cameos. Is that something you’ve done before? And for those who were acting for the first time, how do you make someone feel comfortable? 

Molly I think a lot of people who were willing and excited to do it had done acting before, and if not, there was very much a willingness to do it, as it doesn’t require incredible acting skills. I really considered casting someone to play myself, but it felt a bit strange to have everyone else play themselves plus this other person as I lurked in the back. And, you know, it’s quite fun. It creates more of a community as well because we all do really enjoy hanging out with each other, even if the script says otherwise!

Lily It’s nice that it’s something for you guys as much as it is for the audience. What themes are you keen to explore in the weeks coming forward?

Molly The future episodes see a lot more joking around with online theatre as a concept rather than Zoom. Each episode is based around a related issue. You’ve got an episode about getting the rights for online theatre, which is trickier than you might think. We’ve got one about intimacy direction on Zoom with a fun cameo from a Cambridge Theatre classic coming in to play the intimacy director. The cast in future episodes, especially two of them, also get closer – the sea shanty becomes more relevant! How you start friendships or relationships and maintain them remotely will definitely become increasingly relevant. I think those two are the emotional heart. I hate that phrase, but they’re certainly the avenue through which we explore relationships.

Lily What advice would you give to anyone else who’s playing with the idea of theatre during lockdown? 

Molly There’s lots of funding available if you send forms to the right people and there are always people you can go to and ask for help – ADC online and the ADC are incredible at supporting online shows. But you don’t necessarily need them – we applied to ADC online with this show and didn’t get a slot, but I was so determined and so fed up with being cancelled that we decided to do it anyway. Use the fact that online theatre doesn’t need a budget because YouTube accounts are free. There are also so many people at the moment who are willing to give up their time to create something. And you don’t need to know people either – I put up the editor ad on Facebook and got loads of applications. The resources have almost never been easier to access, so use them! It’s a great way to flex directing and organising muscles, get to know people, and make theatre connections so that hopefully when theatre comes back in person, you’ll be a better, more experienced person for it. And we can all get on with making the theatre that we would ideally be making. 

You can watch episodes 1 and 2 of ‘Lagging’ on Youtube here. Episode 3 is due to be released on Sunday 14th February.

‘This made me think of you’ – my lockdown playlist

By Anna Calder

With the news that Boris had announced a new national lockdown, one of the first thoughts I had, besides how boring it was going to be in Cambridge without the people, coffee shops, and art exhibitions, was that I needed a new playlist. So with that in mind, I took to Spotify to create the one and only ‘lockdown part II’. For the tagline of the playlist, I aptly put, ‘get sum headspace luv’. Despite the awful spelling in an attempt to be cool, it describes exactly what we all need to do: remember this isn’t going to last forever and that some beauty can be found in these extraordinary times. 

First, let’s start with the songs that friends sent me. People always talk about ‘those three little words’. Well, I’d prefer to hear those six words: ‘this song reminded me of you’. Honestly, there’s no sentence I’d rather hear – especially if the song’s a banger. With that in mind, the first song on my playlist is ‘Golden’ by shiv, sent to me by my best friend from home. shiv is a Zimbabwean-Irish musician based in Dublin, who really reminds me of Pip Millet and Frank Ocean. Her soothing lyrics and chilled out vibes are perfect to work to, relax to or just walk around and feel at peace to. The first line of ‘Golden’, “I just wanna get away, find a place to just escape”, is probably a perfect description of those who find themselves in an unlucky two-week quarantine. Why thank you, track and trace. 

shiv, ‘Golden’

The second song that deserves a shout out is ‘Unsatisfied Woman’ by Barbara Stant. I imagine many of those in Cambridge can relate to the title of the song, thanks to the no mixing of households rule. However, I can assure you that you will indeed be satisfied after listening, with the American artist’s soothing soulful tones and powerful female voice. 

This playlist is also a big debut for Olivia Dean, who I’d never heard of before lockdown. Her music could be described as a mix between Pip Millet (again!) and Freya Ridings, making her definitely one to watch out for. I like to think that some of her songs capture our lockdown moods. Whether you decide to take a more mellow approach with the song ‘Crosswords’, settling down with your nearest and dearest for some old-fashioned fun, or you’re in more of an ‘Ok Love You Bye’ mood, saying goodbye to those pre-lockdown flings. Oh, what could have been. My favourite lyric is by far, ‘four pints in and you’re someone else’, reminding me of previous zoom quizzes where I maybe got a bit carried away at the virtual pub. 

Finally, I can’t make a playlist without including some Spanish music. YEИDRY is a singer-songwriter who grew up between the Dominican Republic and Italy, who I first came across from watching her COLORS SHOW performance. But don’t worry, it’s not your classic reggaeton and ‘Despacito’; YEИDRY grew up with 90s pop RnB and tries to mix latin vibes with an electronic touch. She doesn’t yet have an album out, but if it’s anything like ‘Nena’, then it’s going to be heavenly. 

YEИDRY, ‘Nena’

Although I use my dad’s spotify, and he might be a bit confused if tons of students start following his playlists, feel free to go and have a listen and enjoy some soothing tunes. This compilation of all-female artists is a testament to the powerful presence of the women killing it in the music industry.

Vogue Portugal’s Latest Cover Reveals Fashion’s Problem with the Aestheticisation of the “Mad Woman”

By Sophie Coldicott

CN: Discussions of mental health

On the 2nd July, Vogue Portugal revealed its concept and four covers for its July/August issue. The issue was to be about “love”, “life”, “us”, “you”, and finally, “health”; specifically, “mental health”.

Supposedly encapsulating this slew of buzzwords was the first cover, depicting a beautiful, naked woman hunched in a bathtub whilst water was poured on her by two nurses – the implication being that she was a patient in a psychiatric hospital. The title of the issue was to be “The Madness Issue”.

Naturally, this was met with immediate backlash. The top liked comment on the Instagram post reads “these types of photos should not represent the mental health conversation!”, whilst another states “psychiatrized people are not a trend.” The consensus in the comments section, and across social media at large, was that the depiction was outdated and offensive.

Vogue’s imagery of the stigmatised ‘asylum’ has a long history in fashion, providing basis for historic shows such as Alexander McQueen Spring 2001. In the show, lauded by Vogue Runway as “nothing short of monumental”, bandaged models walk around a mirrored glass cube that resembles the wards of a psychiatric hospital, swatting at invisible flies and pushing against the glass separating them from the audience. More recently, Gucci opened its Spring/Summer 2020 show with models stood on a conveyor belt dressed in white, heavy, buckled clothing, obviously referential of straight jackets. These items were not part of the collection “Gucci Orgasmique” but used as a device for the ‘spectacle’ of the show. This produced the iconic image of model Ayesha Tan Jones protesting during the show by holding up their hands with the words “mental health is not fashion” written on them, having covertly biro-ed them on in the bathroom before walking – a moment unsurprisingly scrubbed from the official show recording.   

Ayesha Tan Jones protesting at the Gucci Spring 2020 Show.

Fashion’s troubled relationship with mental health is also a gendered one. French philosopher Michel Foucault’s Madness and Civilization argues that ‘madness’ is not an abstract concept, but a construction informed by the society it is produced by.  Thus, ‘madness’ is an explicitly gendered concept; in Women and Madness, Phyllis Chesler writes that “what we consider ‘madness’… is either the acting out of the devalued female role or the total or partial rejection of one’s sex role stereotype.” What is medicalised as ‘madness’ is inextricably bound to patriarchy, and is weaponised as a mechanism of patriarchal control. This is a key idea of feminist thought, appearing across a variety of works from Mary Wollstonecraft’s Maria (1797) to Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s classic The Yellow Wallpaper (1892). Historically, women have been more likely to be deemed ‘mad’ and institutionalised as a consequence, a fact naturalised by patriarchal medicine that located women’s imagined predisposition to ‘madness’ in their biology.

18th century charges of sensibility, defined by Samuel Johnson in 1755 as a “quickness of sensation; quickness of perception” and a “delicacy” expressed in a hyper-sensitivity and emotionality, were made most frequently against women. Whilst both men and women were accused of sensibility, women were thought to have a more natural receptivity to sensibility due to their nervous systems that had a greater sensory perception and thus greater capacity to “feel”. As John Perkin’s 1790 domestic instruction novel wrote, the “peculiar ordering of [women’s] frames” made them distinctly more prone to sensibility. This upheld the Enlightenment model of sexual duality that denied women’s reason and rationality. Wollstonecraft, a contemporary critic of sensibility, summed up this belief that “man was made to reason, woman to feel: and that together, flesh and spirit, they make the most perfect whole”.

The 19th century diagnosis of hysteria was the successor to sensibility in providing medical basis for patriarchal control of women. Hysteria, coming from the Greek word Hystera, meaning womb, was an all encompassing diagnosis for women that exhibited symptoms such as shortness of breath, anxiety, sexual forwardness, hallucinations, and spasms, believed initially in the 16th and 17th century to be caused by a wandering womb, and later, by a hereditary neurological fault. Hysteria was considered grounds for institutionalisation.

The leading authority on hysteria in the 19th century was Jean-Martin Charcot, a French psychiatrist based in the Parisian Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital. At the height of the Salpêtrière in 1873, 3,633 women and 103 children were interred there, a population made up of paupers, vagabonds, “decrepit women”, old maids, epileptics, “women in second chidhood”, “misshapen and malformed innocents” and incurable “madwomen”. The overall cure rate in 1863 was just 9.72%.

Famously, Charcot would put on displays of his ‘hysterical’ patients who would perform their ‘madness’ in public lectures every Tuesday. Patients would be hypnotised and made to hysterically fit on command. One ‘act’ known as the “mariage-a-trois” would have the patient hypnotised to believe that each half of her body had a separate husband. The men could fondle their respective half of the patient’s body freely, but would receive a slap should they go past the boundary. Charcot, like Vogue Portugal, also attempted to image the ‘mad woman’ in order to discover a universal set of symptoms for hysteria. Many of these images also feature the patients in a state of partial undress, following artistic conventions that depicted the ‘mad woman’ in ecstasy with an exposed or near exposed breast.

Some of Charcot’s images of a ‘hysterical’ woman. The far right image is titled “Ecstasy”.

In aestheticizing the ‘mad woman’ as a symbol of mental health, Vogue Portugal’s cover invokes this legacy of patriarchal suppression. Whilst Vogue’s statement defending the cover claimed the shoot explored “the historical context of mental health” and modern “real life … authentic stories” based in “deep research”, the image simply reproduces harmful notions about the “mad woman” whilst divorcing itself from the long history of suffering psychiatrization has wrought and its specifically misogynistic practices.

Undeniably, mental health is a defining issue of the modern era. In October 2019, the WHO estimated that one in four people globally will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lives, a figure that is expected to be worsened by the Coronavirus pandemic. The fashion industry is no exception, with the growing number of testimonies from those in the industry such as Kate Moss and Adwoa Aboah and the tragic deaths of designers Alexander McQueen and Kate Spade highlighting the ongoing crisis within the industry. Fashion can provide a legitimate platform for the exploration of mental health – but this cannot be achieved through the same harmful and offensive references. The industry must pledge to do better.

‘Joker’ shows how it could have been any of us

It opens with a dim room, reminiscent of New York lofts. The camera pans towards our isolated protagonist painting his face, spotlighted by the warm bulbs lining the mirror. Zooming intimately in, we are brought face to face, almost uncomfortably close, with Joaquin Phoenix (playing Arthur Fleck, the man we eventually know as Joker) as he stares at his white-coated reflection. The camera draws to his hands hovering indecisively over the paints, fidgeting unsettlingly. It is this constant element of the unsettling that director Todd Phillips aims to portray throughout his film, which complements the prevalent dramatic irony. Arthur’s blank eyes starkly contrast the immediate moment after, when his hands physically contort his face into a smile, then into a sad face. With the last smile he pulls up, we see a teardrop through an extreme close-up shot, leaving a bead of blue eye makeup rolling down.


This powerful first impression struck a chord with me, as it likely did with others in the cinema that night—this act of forcing on a mask to conceal the turmoil underneath. Now the first R-rated film to make $1billion in global ticket sales since its official release on 4 October this year, Joker has become the most profitable comic book movie of all time, despite not being released in China (with the film’s political undertones, one could speculate why that is).

Following an impressive legacy of iconic Jokers (excluding Jared Leto, apologies Suicide Squad), Phoenix demystifies this infamous character through his performance tracing the origins of this supervillain, and perhaps simultaneously, explores the roots of many contemporary sources of evil. Co-written by Scott Silver and Phillips himself, Joker contextualises Arthur Fleck in his own life, constituted by unfortunate events and failed relationships, and a Gotham society proliferated by socio-economic inequality and increasing unrest. Arthur epitomises neglect and devaluation, both by the people in his life, as well as by wider society and the government. Contrary to fellow Marvel/DC comic book adaptations, Joker delves into the genre of psychological thriller, providing a plausible backstory of Batman’s nemesis—one that perhaps hits too close to reality.

Like many box-office films that have dealt with controversial themes, Joker has proved divisive. It has been criticised for being a “dangerous” film that is unnecessary when mass shooters, most of whom match Arthur’s profile (traumatised, radical, and lonely white men), are rampant across the US. Instead of condemning Arthur’s brutality, he stands atop a police car, glamorised as the revolutionary in the narrative of underdogs overthrowing elites. Phillips and the team have come under fire for glorifying violence, idolising the protagonist who “could easily be adopted as the patron saint of incels” (referring to misogynistic men sharing anti-feminist hate online). These are valid criticisms. Such a high-profile film carries the risk of promoting violence in popular media. And with its enormous success, some may argue, the responsibility of not perpetuating this culture of violence falls all the heftier.

However, the film equally had the productive potential for flagging the widespread inaction off-screen towards, and highlighting the urgency of confronting them. There appeared for me, elements of the everyman in Arthur, which could resonate (at least to some level) with individual viewers. Of course, one may argue that casting this cold-blooded killer under a sympathetic light unrightfully excuses his violence, as if experiencing suffering gives you an automatic green card to inflict violence. I think that would be oversimplifying. By creating this character who for much of the film, was grounded in the mundane rhythms of everyday life, as opposed to a larger-than-life supervillain persona, Joker points to how it could have been any of us.

Ultimately, Arthur Fleck was just an ordinary person. However, under those specific conditions, encountering certain people at those exact times, this man was moulded to evolve into what he became. In some ways, humanising the Joker to construct a somewhat relatable character, served as a tool to underline the role of wider social, political and economic structures. None of us are immune to them and therefore, any of us can be subject to their injustices as Arthur was, creating prime conditions for a dangerous downfall (or here, the rise of the Joker). Gotham’s issues parallel those in our off-screen world, such as gun violence, the declining welfare state, wealth gap, and treatment of mental health. The consequences of inaction (or indifference) by Gotham’s government and elites, proved dire in the film—a foreboding commentary on real life.

The film confronts the problematic aspects of the state and its elites, admittedly sometimes in a heavy-handed way, but gave me hope that a mainstream film unabashedly delivers important political commentary. The persisting theme of an indifferent, ineffective state that has consistently rejected its citizens’ demands, brewing long-term resentment that consequently sparks widespread chaos, reminded me of recent global protests—Iran, Chile, Lebanon and my home city of Hong Kong. The urban scenes in Joker looked eerily familiar.

Another significant issue is that of mental health, which our protagonist suffers from, along with chronic illness. Having been confined to a psychiatric ward previously, Arthur was categorised as needing to be treated, medicalised and segregated from society. His ill mother, Penny, is similar. Both their treatments have proved ineffective and lack sustained support for long-term recovery, paralleling the inadequate mental health support from real-life institutions. The recurrent motif of ‘putting on a happy face’ was instilled in Arthur early on, when his mother said his life purpose is to bring laughter to the world. Arthur’s case, albeit an extreme one, shows how negatively an individual can be affected. Although we have progressed, mental health remains a taboo subject, causing individuals to feel they need to literally mask their troubles, thereby preventing intervention where help is most needed.


Despite incorporating those aforementioned issues, one shortcoming is Joker’s representation of people (particularly women) of colour (POC/WOC). When it came to unpacking the casting choices of the main five women Arthur interacts with, I was stumped explaining the significance of casting WOC for four. This could be positive—Hollywood finally “blind casting”! I would suggest otherwise. The black women in the film lacked character development, basically just props to our white, male protagonist—visible but not seen. For example, Arthur’s delusional love interest, Sophie (Zazie Beetz), is a tired single mother living in a run-down building. This may be done to highlight how much the movie’s flawed society (thus, our flawed society) disproportionately disadvantages certain people facing a “double jeopardy” (being black and female). But all of their appearances are relatively fleeting, and nearly all meet ‘the struggling but strong black woman’ stereotype, which unintentionally burdens individuals and boxes WOC into a two-dimensional image. Phillips’ choice to cut the scene revealing Sophie’s fate, further causes us to scrutinise how much tangible progress is being made in diversifying the silver screen when the full stories of these WOC are essentially ignored and excluded?

Overall, despite its controversies, Joker is undeniably a thought-provoking film. The success and ethics surrounding how it deals with difficult subjects can be debated. Nonetheless, the fact the film got people debating in the first place, is in my opinion, more important than its flaws. It covers a plethora of highly relevant topics, with the productive potential of inciting conversations amongst viewers on topics they may not regularly consider, but as Arthur’s trajectory shows, indeed affects each one of us. If, as Phillips asserts, “outrage is a commodity”, then I think Joker mobilised it well.




Queer women and non-binary singers to add to your playlists

Support the LGBT+ community with your clicks, your views, your listens, your shares! Here’s a list of some of my favourite queer women and non-binary singers to diversify your listening. Hopefully there’s something for everyone here.

Christine and the QueensHéloïse Letissier, Christine and the Queens

Chris is a French singer-songwriter and releases songs in English and French who identifies as gender queer and pansexual. Her music has a pop feel with Janet Jackson as a big inspiration for her latest album. Her music is fun, sexy, and powerful.

Fun fact: I bought a blazer from Zara because she was modelling it. Moral of the story? I am a sucker for advertising and hot people in suits. But do I look fantastic in a blazer? Absolutely.

Song to start with: 5 dol

Iconic lyric: what if the obvious is suddenly so insane?



Clairo is perfect for fans of soft indie rock. Her latest album Immunity is relaxed with plenty of songs about unrequited love and learning to be comfortable with the unknown. Have a watch of her genius video explaining the song Bags for more of an insight into what her music is about.

Song to start with: Softly

Iconic lyric: Sofia I know that you and I shouldn’t feel like a crime


King Princess2019 Lollapalooza - Day 1

Anyone who knows me knows I literally cannot shut up about King Princess. I am pretty much convinced she is a goddess sent from gay heaven to taunt me. A New York native, she just released her first full album in October after releasing an EP in 2018. Her sound is fairly chilled with gorgeous vocals and lyrics that appeal to anyone who was an angsty teen and is now an angsty twenty-something. When does this angsty phase end by the way? Asking for a friend.

Song to start with: 1950

Iconic lyric: I rule with the velvet tongue, with my dress undone


Princess Nokianokia

Princess Nokia is hip-hop singer and rapper. She’s an intersectional feminist who is keen for women of colour to take up space. Her lyrics are always clever and range from rapping about her upbringing, to her sexuality, to the state of New York City. Her album 1992 Deluxe has a great mix of low-fi hip-hop tracks and others with a nostalgic 90s and early 2000s RnB feel. Whatever the track, her sound is powerful and sexy.

Song to start with: Tomboy

Iconic lyric: A nerdy girl with nymphomanic tendencies


St Vincentvincent

Since starting her career touring with Sufjan Stevens in his band, St Vincent has released a wide range of experimental tracks. She takes inspiration from Kate Bush, David Bowie, and Jimi Hendrix. She’s said before that her music is so changeable as it reflects her life living with anxiety. Everything can change in a moment and she channels this in her songs. 

Song to start with: Masseducation

Iconic lyric: I can’t turn off what turns me on


Girl in Redred

Girl in Red is another queen for those with angsty souls. Her indie-rock tracks are written, recorded and produced in her bedroom in Norway. Her song “we fell in love in October” is particularly lovely. She’s said in an interview that it’s about the joy of experiencing being in love with her first girlfriend after a long time of struggling to accept herself. Just shouting “my girl!” over and over again.

Song to start with: I’ll die anyway

Iconic lyric: you will be my world, my girl


Janelle Monáejanelle

Once again, anyone who knows me knows I won’t stop forcing them to listen to Janelle Monáe. Her music is an eclectic mix of hip-hop, RnB, rock, and pop. Her most recent album is especially incredible lyrically, with plenty of comment on the state of the US at the moment. Older albums take a lot of influence from Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” with the idea of the robotic woman as a recurrent theme.

Song to start with: Take a Byte

Iconic lyric: Hundred men telling me cover up my areolas, while they blocking equal pay, sipping on they coca-colas


Emily Kingemily

Somewhere between RnB, soul, and pop, everything Emily King has released absolutely bangs. Another New Yorker, she’s toured with John Legend, Floetry, Alicia Keys, and Erykah Badu. When I saw this queen live last year (pun unintended, flex absolutely intended) it was one of the best gigs I have ever been to. Her voice is so soulful and controlled.

Song to start with: Look at me now

Iconic lyric: always know when the last smile has been drawn, so you won’t have to give too much of yourself


Tracy Chapmantracy

This list would not be complete without Tracey Chapman. Her androgynous voice is deeply soothing and her lyrics are powerfully emotional. Her song “Fast Car” is one of the greatest songs of the 20th century in my opinion. Her album titled “Tracy Chapman” from 1988 is great listening for a long car ride while you stare out of the window.


This article could have been a lot longer so if you made it this far and are still looking for more, here are some honourable mentions that I didn’t have time to write about: Frankie Cosmos (indie-rock), dodie (sad girl bangers), Tove Lo (pop/electronic), Hayley Kiyoko (pop), Shura (pop).

‘MOODS and NOODS’ review: Exploring Millenial Nostalgia in Cambridge

By Atlanta Tsiaoukkas 

‘MOODS and NOODS’, an exhibition by PIN_COLLECTIVE, is at the new Motion Sickness gallery space, in the unlikely location of Lion Yard. The uninspiring streets of cafes and shops, in fact, makes the gallery space appear inviting to those who love anything millennial, with flashes of pink and a gaudy, cereal-topped waffle (EJ Montgomery) as the window display. The space is part of an ongoing project by Cambridge School of Art graduates, Arabella Hilfiker, Denise Kehoe and Eleanor Breeze to stimulate the currently quite dull art scene in Cambridge, allowing experimental, young artists to be celebrated in dedicated spaces. So far, this venture can be considered successful, as the ‘MOODS and NOODS’ exhibition has meant that, whilst many in Cambridge feel the need to get on a train to see new art, for a couple of weeks, it is only a short walk away. 

The exhibition clearly explored ‘millennialhood’, and if this concept can be defined by one feature it is nostalgia. News outlets regularly decry the younger generations for an ‘obsession’ with nostalgia, often with a further comment shaming us for missing the past when we have it so good now. With ‘MOODS and NOODS’, PIN_COLLECTIVE have fully embraced the millennial stereotype, with all artists touching on themes of nostalgia, whether it be paintings inspired by childhood cereals (EJ Montgomery), child-like collages (Lily Rankine), or a princess themed play tent (Holly Rose Jackson). However, unlike many artists who today work with nostalgia, the pieces fortunately did not feel trite, rather, there was a sense of pushing boundaries, exploring, perhaps, what is hidden behind young people’s love of nostalgia. In particular, this can be said of the larger-than-life paintings of cereal packaging, which, though taking such direct inspiration from advertising is relatively common in the art world at the moment, felt like an appropriate acknowledgement of a collective millennial childhood, tainted by excessively bright colours and capitalistic endeavours. 

Screen Shot 2019-10-22 at 14.36.35

There was also an underlying sense of anxiety, evoked by the pieces themselves and the experience in the gallery space. Much of the work, such as the the various sculptures, were scattered throughout the floorspace of the gallery, risking being knocked by passersby, immediately creating a nervousness amongst viewers, especially as, usually, artwork is kept at a reverential distance. Considering the familiar content of many of these pieces, it feels only right that we almost slip on plastic bags from the corner shop and trip over abandoned cardboard boxes, just as we did as children. Even more anxiety-provoking was a specific sculpture by Gwen Senhui Chen, in which the piece dripped a cement-like substance directly on the floor – as the sculpture dripped, the floorspace reduced (it was much harder getting out of the gallery than getting in). These physical choices complemented the work brilliantly, such as Holly Rose Jackson’s film (found within the princess tent), which was described by one viewer as ‘American Headspace’, referencing the manic yet calmingly repetitive and meditative voice over. The exhibition was full of contrasts between millennial colourful childhood and the stress-inducing world we live in now. 

The nostalgia of this exhibition is seemingly both joyful and distressed. The ethos of PIN is ‘our interests include…pretty colours…mocking you…mocking ourselves.’, and this very much comes through in their self-referential and nervous composition. This is definitely not just an exhibition exploring nostalgia, but one which explores corrupted nostalgia. The work reminds you of when your innocence was questioned – when you accidentally saw a porn ad whilst trying to watch a cartoon; when you realised that cereal boxes were colourful and exciting purely to make you ask your mum to buy it. 

If just to support two young collectives, one with the aim to make Cambridge a great city for art, you should go to this exhibition. You should also attend regardless of your loyalty to the art world – it is a thought-provoking, stimulating exhibition which will keep you thinking long after you’ve visited. 

17th October – 3rd November 2019 

15 Petty Cury, Lion Yard, Cambridge CB2 3NE 

11am – 4pm, Friday to Sunday. 5pm – 8pm Wednesday 

Header artwork by Corinne Seymour

A review of “Football, Feminism & Everything in between”

Selin Zeyrek

This summer sees the introduction of a new podcast by Grace and Alistair Campbell (yes, that one), a father and daughter pair that is funnier than it should be. Alistair is a politician, best known for being Blair’s ‘spin doctor’; Grace is a feminist activist and comedian. Each week, they invite a guest to discuss ‘football, feminism and everything in between’, and while they always begin on either football or feminism, the conversation frequently veers off into the ‘in between’ category. Part of the strength of this podcast is how different each of the guests are from one another: some notable ones include Ed Miliband, Ebony Rainford-Brent and Rachel Riley. The guests come from a variety of backgrounds, so their views and experiences of football and feminism are rarely the same. When the topic shifts, it can be to anything from private schools to whether politics is the best way to change the world.

Grace and Alistair make for a quick-witted and intelligent pair of interviewers: unafraid to openly criticise one another, their interactions are always lively and they bounce off each other with ease. As explained in the introduction, football is Alistair’s passion, feminism is Grace’s passion, and this podcast aims to integrate these two topics. As a staunch feminist and lukewarm football fan, I was at first skeptical as to how much I would be able to understand and enjoy the conversations about football. What has surprised me is that, although of course there is some discourse about the various managers of football teams through the years, football tends to open up into broader conversations about how to connect with the people important to you in your life, and how football is an extremely effective way to do this.

Rachel Riley is a good footballer in her own right, having played for her university team. However, her introduction to it stemmed from a reason other than a love of the sport: ‘it was the way I interacted with my father’, she explains. Multiple guests have brought up the fact that they become invested when England is playing, but they would otherwise not be termed a football fan. This revelation in particular is brought up near the beginning of each episode, where the Campbells ask their guest to rate how much of a football fan they are, and then how much of a feminist they are, from 1 to 10. Their answers are hardly ever straightforward, and lead onto the nuances of being a feminist and the different levels of football fan.

In a similar way, conversations that begin with feminism tend to open up into broader discussions about the difficulties these people have faced in their lifetime, and how they managed to overcome them and become successful. Especially relevant is the interview with Gabby Logan, the ex-gymnast who presented the BBC showing of the Women’s World Cup. Having been a sportswoman as well has having a footballer father and a rugby player husband, Logan represents the perfect overlap between the two main focuses of this podcast and contributes to probably one of the best episodes in the series so far. Logan, upon being questioned over the criticisms surrounding the USA women’s team’s celebration in their 13-0 win against Thailand, offers this response: ‘they beat the record after 11 goals – they became the biggest scoring [team]. Can you imagine if England’s men last summer stopped celebrating against Panama (which was the most one-sided game I’ve ever seen)? They wouldn’t have stopped celebrating. There’s a double standard with almost everything in women’s football… it’s like everything has to be justified: the crowds, the goals…’. Having had a wealth of experience in both men’s and women’s football, she is well-placed to make these comparisons; prior to this analysis, she gives a short history of women’s football in Britain, and her ultimate message is that things are improving: ‘watching the opening ceremony I was thinking ‘wow, this World Cup feels different already’ – in the crowds there were men, women, families – because of course this is important, there is no point having women’s football being watched only by women … it is a game-changer.’

The reason why this podcast is so enjoyable is because it is not restricted to a particular area of interest. The lack of structure allows the insights and reflections of the hosts and guests to shine through, whether they are discussing feminism in politics or how to deal with grief. Given the distinct differences between the life experiences of the guests, this means that each episode leads down a different path, the specific topics of football and feminism never being a barrier to getting the guests to talk about – well, basically anything. The podcast ends with the question of how best to make meaningful change in the world, where each guest is asked what their six-a-side team to change the world is. This feature reveals a lot about the person: some choose writers and artists, believing that culture is the best way to shift people’s perspectives; others choose motivational speakers and politicians, with the aim of altering policy. In any case, this podcast makes you laugh and also think about the dynamics and relationship of football and feminism.

Cover art source: audioboom.com

The inclusive politics of women’s football

Posy Putnam 

I have been attending male football matches for years, but only recently have begun to watch women’s football. Does this make me a bad feminist? Perhaps – but I would hope my newfound enthusiasm for the women’s sport rectifies my past ignorance. And I do not appear alone in showing such enthusiasm. My conversion to women’s football reflects a growing trend, with rising TV ratings and match attendances. Indeed, 11.7 million people watched England lose to the USA in the Women’s World Cup semi-final in early July – the most-watched TV event of the year.

That semi-final also served as my full introduction to the US Women’s Team. Of course, I had seen a few of their earlier matches and caught the headlines centred around Rapinoe’s attacks on President Trump. However, as I followed the American women’s progression into the final, I was struck by the sheer volume and pride in their queer representation.

On July 7th in Lyon, as the crowd cheered the United States’ win in the Women’s Football World Cup, Kelly O’Hara ran over to kiss her girlfriend. Behind her, engaged teammates Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger celebrated, as did co-captain Megan Rapinoe, and head coach Jill Ellis. Whilst O’Hara had never publicly commented on her sexuality, all of these other women were publicly and unashamedly gay. O’Hara, meanwhile, felt comfortable enough to out herself on live, international television.

This victory snapshot illustrates one of the core aspects of women’s football that has made me such a fan: its unabashed inclusiveness. This is something that the women’s game appears to have taken on and celebrated – highlighted by the official Twitter account for the US Women’s National Team’s tongue-in-cheek re-tweet of Rapinoe’s quote, “Go gays. You can’t win a championship without gays on your team. It’s never been done before. Ever. That’s science right there,” with the caption “Told ya”, following their World Cup victory.

This tweet was no attempt to play down some of the players’ queer identity to make them more palatable to a wider audience, or to attract greater sponsorships. No – it was a bald statement of the inclusive, vocal identity the team has taken on, spear-headed by Rapinoe. After all, this is also a team who sued the US Soccer Federation for equal pay with the men’s side – leading to chants ringing out following their win of “Equal Pay! Equal Pay!” – and used their World Cup victory parade to reiterate their demands. Rapinoe was also the first white athlete to kneel for the American National Anthem, in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, and during the course of the World Cup, attracted criticism for refusing to put her hand on her heart for the anthem.

Contrast this to men’s football. Political causes are rarely part of its discourse, and queerness is largely seen only in the context of homophobic chants and jeers. The fact that so few male players have ever publicly come out as gay is testament to the fact that men’s football simply is not a safe space for it. It was not twenty years ago, when Justin Fashanu, the first professional footballer to be openly gay, killed himself in 1998, and it is still not today. This is not to say that no efforts have been made – the Premier League did partner with Stonewall for the Rainbow Laces campaign with the aim of tackling homophobia in sport – but inclusiveness appears largely as a top-down policy, orchestrated by governing bodies, whereas the US Women’s Team demonstrated a more grass-roots approach.

However, inclusivity in women’s football goes beyond the US team. In many senses, women’s football feels like a more radical space than the men’s sport. Indeed, the existence and success of the sport itself is a challenge to football’s traditionally masculine association and assumptions, if not yet its inherent power structures. Following on from this, the queer representation at all levels of the women’s sport helps support a wider shift in how society accepts queer women. These women are strong athletes, great commentators, and masterful tacticians, not merely a punch-line in a joke, or reduced to a category on Pornhub.

This inclusive politics does not take away from the football itself – instead, it adds to it. I am able to invest far more in teams I identify with, who have players I follow off of the pitch. The support that the US team has garnered is merely an example of this phenomenon. Football has never just been about the pure, unsullied game on the pitch – pub disputes over penalties given, the buying of your team’s scarf, player transfer speculation and the chants sung during the match all serve to make the game so popular, and so integral to many people’s daily lives. For me, queer representation in the sport is an extension of this.

For too long, my sexuality has led to a feeling of otherness, of uncertainty and, predominantly, simply not feeling safe, when combined with my love for football. However, the more inclusive politics of the women’s game, introduced to me through the US Women’s Team at this World Cup, has opened the door to new possibilities for me. Rapinoe’s kick of the ball was not a magic solution to the problem of homophobia and discrimination in sport, but the success of the World Cup did give me, and others like me, a sense of hope and validation. It was, in many ways, a lifeline; I am allowed to love both football and women, and the Women’s World Cup was a glorious space to come to terms with this.

Cover image source: the author’s own artwork.

Diss Talk: Emma Veares on the Harlem Women

At a small exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery early this year entitled ‘Black Chronicles: Photographic Portraits 1862-1948’, a white printed caption on a black wall read: ‘There’s nothing like a photograph for reminding you about difference. There it is. It stares you ineradicably in the face’. In the exhibition’s selection of over forty photographs capturing snapshots of black lives and faces, the sheer size of some of the glass plate prints demanded that we face their near life-sized subjects eye to eye. Some were welcoming, and others hostile. What stared at me ‘ineradicably in the face’ was not so much their difference, but their familiarity. I was curious, not to see how vastly unlike mine their lives were, but to discover to what extent I might be able to understand their view of the world. How far was it possible to read stories from faces?

Camille Silvy, Sara Forbes Bonetta, captured aged five by slave raiders in West Africa, rescued by Captain Frederick E. Forbes, then presented as a ‘gift’ to Queen Victoria, 1862. Paul Frecker collection/The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography.

Continue reading Diss Talk: Emma Veares on the Harlem Women