Friday, 28 May 2010

Homos and fauxmos and straights, oh my!

One huge thing I've learnt in the single patches of my tempestuous dating life is that men are tricky. When you're young you're taught that boy will meet girl (eyes across a crowded room), say hi, be lovely - and single - and love will blossom in the blink of an eye. Not so. Noughties males seem to make the already baffling task of meeting a decent specimen much harder than it needs to be, not least because sexuality has become so flexible. Some social scenarios are easy to navigate; last week I went to the fabulous West End Eurovision, and I knew I didn't need to bother with looking hot in a squealing sea of gay men and dancey girls. But, confusingly, there's such a thing as the Gay Straight Man; I once worked with a gorgeous guy at a kids' summer camp, and was convinced he was flirting with me... until I added him on facebook and checked out the photos of him at a recent Gay Pride event. Many just don't go for the tank tops and hair product, and there's nothing more embarassing than thinking you were having a frisson with someone who was merely checking out the darling embroidery on your cardi. Please see Sue Sylvester's 'Sneaky Gays' rant for further disapproval.

Fauxmosexuals are even harder to spot - these are very well-dressed straight men who play up to the Gay Best Friend-type relationship (bitching, gossiping, hugs) and then BAM! hit you with the news that they actually like girls, usually by launching themselves at you. Goodbye potential GBF and hello bafflement. And don't even get me started on Bromance. Our formerly boisterous and marginally homophobic straight friends are now free to frolick with their boy pals, cry, hug and jump on each other in a non-rugby context without any censure. This is beautiful of course, and I would never want to turn back the clock, but then what chance do potential girlfriends stand? If their mancrush doesn't like you, you're out. If you hang in there, chances are your new boyf would rather cosy up with him of a weekend. The boundaries have changed, and we don't always enjoy it. 'Metrosexual' I have a bit of a problem with - is this not just another word for 'preening git'? By all means guys, spray tan, manicure and guyliner yourself into the blurry area between gay and straight, but I certainly won't be going there. Who wants a boyfriend who can lend you organic lipbalm and a tiny mirror at a moment's notice?

Mixing in drama circles, you'll find the tiny percentage of straight men are bursting to prove their hetero virility between trills and pliés. They'll hit on anything in a skirt to boost their fragile ego (yes, the jig is up, we all know you were the fat/spotty/weedy kid in school) while certainly having a covert girlfriend, and being a thespian, having the ability to pull out any line at any time to charm you. So the point is, I'm puzzled. Single life seems shark-infested right now, as I lose track of the types I need to mentally cross off the list. There seem to be so few simple, unbaggaged, nice men out there available for a straightforward drink and a no-surprises flirt. I've had enough drama for one year and am in the market for some smooth sailing. Although for now, the (non-sneaky) gays are perfect for drinking and dancing your troubles away with...

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

A is for Age

I haven't really felt my age since I was about 18. I feel like very little has changed for me since then, although I know I must be a little wiser and perhaps calmer than I was.

These unretouched pictures of Madonna's latest campaign for Louis Vuitton are circulating online, and they made me think about how skewed our visual perception of age has become. My sophisticated first reaction of OH MY GOD, WHAT'S HAPPENED TO MADONNA'S FACE?? surely can't be right, when after a moment of consideration the answer is clear - time.

On third glance, she actually looks fabulous for a 51 year old woman (with some hefty cosmetic procedures on her side) minus the airbrushing - why does LV need to go one extra step to de-age her by a quarter of a century? Of course this is the way we've been trained to receive and appreciate advertising, but we all know how old Madonna is - especially those who danced to her 80s tracks as clubbers in their twenties, but have mysteriously zoomed past her in terms of their physical ageing. It's no secret, but she and we are happy to collude in the 'Madonna looks so great' myth. The overwhelming feeling I get from the raw pictures is tiredness, sheer exhaustion. Not due to age perhaps, but to the titanic effort of maintaining her everlasting youth. The teenage boho hair, the leotards, the dewy make-up, the playful bunny ears are all part of the theatrics.

The interesting thing about the brand she represents is that Louis Vuitton is a classic label. It represents wealth, maturity, the security of being able to buy their luxe leather goods to travel with. Couldn't they have unveiled a new Madonna with a more fifty-plus look tailored to her own style and image? She is, after all, the queen of reinvention. In the re-touch Vuitton have not only de-aged her, but feminised her - note the sculpting away of arm muscle and softening of expression. They aren't fully celebrating the defiant, bordering-on-bionic Madonna, but giving us a completely different person than the icon photographed.

I do agree that you're only as young as you feel, and I admire Madge's energy and determination that her life and career shouldn't need to slow down after fifty. But I do think other celebs manage to stay in the limelight while still looking fabulously middle-aged in it - it's a hard time for those who have built their career around their body or face. Age can be a beautiful thing, if you're at one with the self that remains: in your mind, your conversation, your laugh. I can't see myself filling my cheeks and forehead with every type of silicone and poison available to me post-fifty, but who knows - I'll get back to you when my face starts to collapse.

Alpha Female

A-Z tag.There are 26 letters in the English alphabet. Think of something you love, or something important to you starting with each letter of the alphabet and post 26 corresponding blogs.

I shamelessly stole this from another great blog - I'll be interspersing my Alphabet topics with my usual ramblings. I'm not usually short of ideas but it'll be a nice challenge and motivate me to post more...

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Let's not get Carrie-d away...

With this Friday's release of the second Sex and the City film, there has been a bit of a media backlash against Carrie and co as people begin to tire of the glamorous foursome's adventures. The fabulous Stylist magazine (that I love a little more with every issue)has a four-page feature on why men don't get SATC - it's vapid, banal and wildly unfeminist, apparently - and The Guardian's Hadley Freeman this week slates the first film while casually dropping spoilers and judgements on the second (which, it must be noted, she has not seen yet.)

I find it all very amusing that people get so hot under the collar about a little 90s HBO entertainment; I cringe a bit when people declare that SATC changed the world, and I bristle when they dismiss it as misogynist tripe, but mainly because (until Hadley) no one has really made a distinction between the series and the film. They are very different creatures, but in my experience fans of the show tend to adore the first film, and those who always hated the concept were equally unimpressed by SATC on the big screen. I enjoyed both in different ways, but I have to agree with Freeman that the the original TV series was sharp, witty and gritty yet chic. It went from fairly realistic (Carrie's frizzy bob, Sam's hoochy lycra) to uber-glam (bigger budgets, better labels, chicer styling), but all the while maintained its key weapons - snappy dialogue and pacy storylines.

It was groundbreaking, if not revolutionary, because it tackled abortion, cheating, and STDs with aplomb, never once giving them a palettable Hollywood gloss. There was dark humour, discomfort, and real sadness as well as bad puns and outrageous outfits. One of the reasons I've always found it compelling is the acting; as well as most American dramas and sitcoms having predictable dialogue, fairytale storylines and sanitised humour, they are also generally acted in the most attractive way possible (if that makes sense.) I will stick my neck out and say that I think Sarah Jessica Parker is an extraordinary actress; when Carrie cries, most women will too. Her ability to sacrifice lightness and glamour for a crushing narrative moment is rare. I appreciate that she is not conventionally attractive - while not worthy of being constantly portrayed as the direct opposite to viagra in the male mind (or as 'looking like a foot' in Family Guy) - I think she has a glow and an animation on screen (specifically as Carrie) that women are drawn to. The girl's got charisma.

As well as Samantha's HIV test and the erectile dysfunction ruining Charlotte's perfect marriage, the SATC writers domesticated modern things rarely seen on the US small screen - women smoking, the gay club scene, non-maternal ladies having babies and a plethora of weird sexual preferences. Yet I have never felt it to be gratuitously shocking; the show basically took the freakshow that is the world of dating and relationships and laid it bare. Men like those writing in Stylist choose to focus on the cocktail chats about sex lives and the amount of shoes Carrie owns (a relatively small part of the narrative, if you've ever sat through one continuous episode) but there was a whole other level to the TV show. These women were work and friendship first, and romance was generally something that they fit around those two things - an approach I and many others admired. In suburban Surrey, looking for an ambitious single girl is a bit of a needle/haystack scenario - domestic bliss has swung right back into vogue and everyone seems to be settling down. Take the 30 minute trip into London and you'll find plenty of perfectly pretty, lovely, witty single girls juggling dating with the many other things they want. Toby Young's assertion in the Stylist article that women inspired by the SATC girls shouldn't expect a boyfriend or a marriage as they have merely been duped into a no-strings, promiscuous lifestyle seems way off base to me. Most women still want the lovely traditional things our parents and grandparents had, we just want to live a bit first. The choice to wait and shop around in order to find the best relationship for you is an exciting prospect for those who didn't find Mr Right in week one of our dating life, and the more you date the more you realise that life does go on after a relationship ends. You see the flaws, you learn from the mistakes and you carry on better equipped to make a new one work.

Carrie's writing also inspired me because she looked out for something that was in the air that week, being mulled over at brunch, in the celeb world or in her own life, and tackled it as a cultural trend. I never minded the puns, the neurotic girlfriend behaviour or the sometimes terrible style choices because that's who she was - imperfect, especially when it came to men, and that was much more engaging than any of the glossy women of Friends or Desperate Housewives. Equally, Miranda was the first female lawyer I had seen in fiction, and very realistically the writers made her great at her job but consequently a little frazzled, intimidating to men and struggling to juggle family bereavements and motherhood with work. Samantha's character is a bit of high camp which I can't believe SATC's critics take so seriously - I have never met a woman like her, and the best way I've heard her described is as 'a gay man in a woman's body.' There isn't as much of a market out there for famously promiscuous women as the show would have you think, but it's a bit of fun and allows for most of the funny sex stories and frank conversations that are its hallmark - and she is as much about her career as her sex life (especially poignant in the episode where they discuss women crying at work.) I do think talking openly about sex is the way to go for better relationships and less teen pregnancies, so she was a good role model in that sense at least. And Charlotte is the perfect example of the dangers of the Prince Charming dream that no real relationship can live up to. But her optimism and Miranda's cynicism made the show an interesting debate about what women want, expect and actually get in life.

I think that the follow-up films have taken on a life of their own. I won't say that the SATC creators have created a monster, as I think they've stayed true to much of the original charm, but they have definitely sacrificed the integrity of a cult series in favour of more cash. Like most fans, I loved the way SATC broke off ever so coolly after just six seasons (when they could have done ten), leaving the girls in various stages of happy-ever-after, but with plenty of compromise as well as romance. I didn't need to know how it went with Carrie and Big, but then along came the film franchise to ram that down my throat. As a separate story I enjoyed film 1; I cried, chuckled and enjoyed the ride... and I also felt a bit let down by the things the characters settled for: an insecure fiancee, a giant penthouse, a cheating husband. But you could argue that this is a dose of realism - women do have to forgive things and compromise more the older they get, so it was fairly reflective of reality.

Film 2 looks more like a 'romp' - uh oh - so I fear it may damage the memory of a great show even further. The forty and fiftysomething women are looking freakishly youthful, even Big's had one too many eye lifts, and the whole hysterical 'getting away with the girls' thing just seems tragically unrealistic - I would have liked to see them getting more middle aged, buying a Slanket, catching up over tea and talking about the menopause. Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte were real women in so many ways (periods, laser eye surgery, grey pubic hairs and all) in the TV show, but the whole movie franchise has descended into glitzy madness. I will probably still see the sequel, but I will also feel a little sad to see a concept that was so original becoming just another cash cow.

The straight-talking girls back in series 2...

...and unrecognisable behind the labels and airbrushing.

*Since writing the above, two interesting pieces have come out about the backlash....

1) Laurie Penny for the New Statesman on the death of 'sex-and-shopping feminism'

2) Lindy West for The Stranger on her utter, extreme boredom with the whole concept (warning: contains unsavoury language and imagery - also may cause pant-wetting)

Both interesting - the first because it analyses why SATC2 is so irrelevant to most women at this point (although who would go and see a film about 'the lives and problems of ordinary women', I have no idea.) The second hits on the bizarre choice of Abu Dhabi as a getaway location, and the fact that so much of SATC's material is fantasy because it is 'essentially a home video of gay men playing with giant Barbie dolls.' So both point out that the film is escapist fantasy, but also suggest that we shouldn't want to see or enjoy this. I don't mind a bit of fiction in my fiction films, but I do see their (especially West's) scathing point about very privileged women moaning about the minutiae of their expensive lives being fairly unrelatable to me and my friends, here and now. Betcha it still makes a ton at the box office though...

** Andrew O'Hagan of the Evening Standard read my mind and tackled the 'escapism' question... touché.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

The heart of the matter

Stephen Fry recently tweeted a link to this letter to a local Vermont newspaper. The Valley News apparently receives regular letters from Vermont's aggressively Christian/conservative residents about the 'homosexual menace' they perceive to be infecting their fine community. Eventually a local mother of a gay man wrote this passionate missive to contradict - and reason with - the prejudiced group. It is very striking (Fry admitted it made him cry) and well written; not necessarily because the writer is superbly educated, gifted or has a better point - although she does - but because it is simply and logically expressed and comes straight from deeply-felt personal experience.

I just thought I'd pass it on as it is a perfect example of how to express your point without resorting to overly emotional or defensive tactics - this is the kind of writing I'd be proud to produce. I know mine isn't flawless (as some readers kindly remind me on a weekly basis) but I'm still learning and developing my opinions, and I hope that in time I can get somewhere near this level of eloquence.

It also put me in mind of this post, and the fact that tolerance does work both ways. I wouldn't want someone to have to hide their sexuality in the workplace (although like religion, I believe your business is your business) so even I learned something important reading it. A good link to pass on to any anti-gay acquaintances you might have, religious or not - sometimes people have to see a human example to make a move towards acceptance.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010


To make my desk days whizz by, I often browse around for funny sites that are a great read, so I don't just find myself tweeting constantly like some chronic oversharer [note to some... if you find yourself tweeting the words 'Note to self', stop and think for a moment. You have misunderstood the basic function of Twitter.] Some recent gems I have found include Over the Rainbitch - an endlessly spot-on critique of the Andrew Lloyd Webber casting show - the deliciously dark confessional Postsecret, and the latest, AwkwardFamilyPhotos. This last one is utter genius; people send in anonymous family photos that range from the bizarre to the heavily posed, and we all laugh at them. They are excellently captioned (although the messy blog-style site could do with a makeover) and accompanied by a thread of awkward stories. The stories are more hit and miss, but several, including an intense set of instructions for a family Thanksgiving meal and an equally asphyxiating birthday celebration itinerary, are just brilliant. Although quite America-specific, they celebrate the weirdness of families and their unintentional hilarity.

AFP's creators posted an email a while ago from a reader named Greg, who had sent them some fairly constructive criticism about the website. Unfortunately he had done so with very few words spelt correctly and, unforgivably, even suggested that they re-think their 'righting'. This sparked an epic surge of comments, many mocking the hapless Greg for his idiocy (often ironically in cackhanded online 'righting' themselves) some defending him, lots finding the colossal reaction to a little mispelling completely baffling. I do agree that lots of people suspend accuracy for their internet comments, tweets and statuses, but this was an email, and a formal critique at that. Shouldn't that have warranted a little care? I feel bad for him (and a little admiring, reading his razor-sharp follow-up), but I also feel that even the most valid point is dented when spelling and grammar is abandoned. Not only did the Gregster fail to see the comic potential of his email, but he sounded like a raving hypocrite. Emphasis on the raving.

Spelling and grammar are slipping ever closer to extinction - I read Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves recently and sympathised with her exasperation. I know the wily pair don't come naturally to everyone, so some people have to put more time in and check their writing a little more carefully, but essentially, it's practice. I don't like overly pedantic people [especially vicious little anonymous twerps who comment on my every slip - yes you, arseface] but if we all stopped caring and thought, 'They'll know what I mean", no one would ever write anything compelling. I'm immediately turned off by writing with mistakes in it, from national newspapers to short online comments, and it inevitably undermines the writer's core message because it screams laziness if not stupidity. The immediacy of the internet is a wonderful thing, but how are younger generations going to learn to read and write correctly if such breezy inaccuracy is the norm online? It is vital to most jobs, especially when securing deals and seducing clients via email. In many a magazine office I've worked in, journalists either laugh at or swiftly discard badly spelt or nonsensical press releases; I know PR is a fast-paced environment, but you're selling something - at least run it by the spellcheck.

I would be interested to know which camp people are in: is it only us hardcore language fans still devoted to the preservation of the correctly-placed apostrophe? Do we need to chill out, or do the spelling culprits need to sharpen up? I'm not sure, but I do know I'll be proofreading this one to death.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Set the Mood

Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life ~Berthold Auerbach

After my iPod recently passed away (an unfortunate incident with a sports-cap bottle of mineral water in my bag) I was iPodless for about a week. After plenty of iMourning and just a little iRage, I decided I couldn't live without my choons and purchased a new model nano - I was replacing one of those little square flat ones, my fourth mp3 player - and set about putting the music back in my life.

The thing about music is, if I'm having a bad day, a little iPod fix can turn it all around. I never realise how much I use this little device for inspiration, motivation, therapy and escape until I am without one for a while. I realised it more than ever as my camera and phone were also taken out by the mini-flood, and I missed my mobile soundtrack the most. I am a total playlist freak and am always making those 'On the Go' ones on the way to things. Today I made a workout one as I resolved to start using my work gym; I have chillout lists and glamming up lists and tidying lists galore. Many would just put their iPod on shuffle, but I feel the few minutes it takes to put together a playlist mean you have exactly the right ambience to promote energy, efficiency, happiness or relaxation. A misplaced track can be jarring, jolting you out of whatever state you have carefully lured yourself into. A playlist means old and new music and genres of every kind all coming together with only their attitude to connect them.

Here are some excerpts from the playlists that rock my world - I've had to use the third more times than I care to mention...

Workout (Think pop remixes, angry pop/rock & club collaborations)
Starry Eyed - Ellie Goulding
My Favourite Game - The Cardigans
Pump It - Black Eyed Peas
Sex on Fire - Kings of Leon
When Love Takes Over - David Guetta ft. Kelly Rowland
Hounds of Love - Kate Bush
Telephone - Lady Gaga
The Creeps - The Freaks
Untouched - The Veronicas
In Your Eyes - Kylie Minogue

House Party (Blasts from the past, seductive riffs, a general sense of mayhem)
Stripper - Sohodolls
Daft Punk is Playing at My House - LCD Soundsystem
Butterfly - Crazytown
No, No, No - Destiny's Child
Love Sex Magic - Justin Timberlake/Ciara
Let me Think About It - Fedde Le Grande
Higher Ground - Red Hot Chilli Peppers
Why Don't You - Gramophonedzie
Run This Town - Jay Z ft. Rihanna
Ooh La La - Goldfrapp

Getting Mad/Even (Anti-man rage - I generally sing along loudly and clean things)
Never Again - Kelly Clarkson
You Oughta Know - Alanis Morrissette
Fly Away - Lenny Kravitz
Cry Me a River - Justin Timberlake
Harder to Breathe - Maroon 5
If I Were a Boy - Beyonce
It's My Life - Bon Jovi
Paint it Black - Rolling Stone
Fighter - Christina Aguilera
Speechless - Lady Gaga

So whether you're thinking 'I'm superwoman', 'Let's party', or simply 'Screw you', there's a playlist for every occasion. Get creative!

Sunday, 9 May 2010


As a follow-up to this post, (and a neat way of side-stepping more commenter abuse in a fortnight where I've had to work extra hard to slip my blogging in around a new job and show rehearsals and performances every night) a more lighthearted style post today. I bought two playsuits as part of my 'Break the Rules' plan for my Spring/Summer wardrobe. Having browsed around some of the high street shops and not seen anything perfect, I found two gorgeously retro and curve-friendly ones on (I must add to that free advertising that they cocked up the 3-5 day delivery more than once and they took two weeks to get here.)

They are both gorgeous on, however, and such a joy to wear. The shorts are flattering on my less than sky-high legs and the whole look is every bit as glam as a dress while feeling more casual and playful. I road-tested the more daytime checked one yesterday and felt great in it, while I'm saving the more dressy navy one for another occasion. I'm so glad I decided to branch out on my clothing options, it is so easy to get stuck in a jeans and T-shirt rut at weekends. Now I just need the sun to return so I can actually wear my new purchases...