Fifty Shades of Absolutely No Way

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Screw it, I’m going to write a whole post on 50 Shades and why I hate this book so damn much.

Content warning: rape, sexual assault, bdsm, misogyny.

The movie is about to come out, starring actress who hasn’t had enough of a career to ruin as Ana Steele and Jamie Dornan, only slightly watering down his misogynistic serial killer role from “The Fall” as Christian Grey. Beyonce is doing the soundtrack! Sexy, right?

WRONG.

My issue with this book is not the sex. Not essentially, anyway. I have no beef with a sexy sex book being popular. Even a sexy sex book featuring chains and whips and all that Rhianna stuff. As long as my Mum doesn’t start reading it, I’m fine with it. I have an issue with the way sex is presented in this book. Western society already has a less than healthy attitude to sex and consent (rape someone, get two years in prison before a return to football!) as well as virginity and female sexuality. The way sex is presented in this book is so warped and damaging it amazes me it even got published. Seriously, Catcher in the Rye got banned and 50 Shades shot to the top of the bestseller without a problem?

Christian Grey is a sexy dominant CEO who has very particular sexual tastes which include having total control over his partner. Ana is a young innocent virginal sort who seems to know fuck all about anything including how to use a computer despite having just graduated from college what the hell…

Anyway I’m losing track. BDSM is a thing some people do, and as long as it’s between two consenting adults who know exactly what they’re doing its fine and groovy with me. But Christian Grey is more than just a “Dominant”, he’s a dick. Ok, let me be more eloquent and insightful (that’s totes why you’re on my blog right?). Christian Grey is patronising and controlling, not in a sexy way in a flat out abusive way. At the start of the book Ana gets drunk (for the first time! another thing she’s hopelessly and unrealistically naive about!) and Christian TRACKS HER PHONE and turns up to stop her from being assaulted by her friend and takes her back to his lair. House, I mean house. He blames her for nearly getting assaulted, as she was drunk. So far, so awful. Later, he gets pissy when she tells him she is a virgin later rather than sooner. As it happens it’s none of his damn business if she’s slept with the president (Kirsty MacColl reference!) or of she’s never even spoken to a guy before. Then comes the sex contract. Ugh. He offers to ‘negotiate’ with her, then ignores her genuine concerns and belittles her for not being down to get down on his terms.

It gets worse! He buys her a laptop, in the typical “you are now indebted to me” abuser tactic, and they email each other on it. She jokingly fake breaks up with him and guess what he does? He turns up to her house despite never having been given her address, and he rapes her. She explicitly says no, she tries to kick him off, she even tries to work out the easiest way to escape her room. He makes her feel like it’s her fault because he’s an abuser and then he leaves her and she starts crying. The book continues in this pattern. He intimidates her, belittles her and abuses her. This not a romance. This book is an exploration of domestic abuse.

All the red flags are there. I wouldn’t mind if the book picked apart the mentality of someone abused by a parter. It would actually be quite subversive and cool to start it off like a typical romance and slowly reveal to the heroine and the reader that it is in fact an abusive relationship. If Ana was slowly having to come to terms with the fact that Christian is a terrible person and she should in fact stay away from him (as he so angstily insisted in the start of the book), this would be a really important and groundbreaking piece of work. Instead it’s a romanticised story about straight up rape and abuse. It’s also massively popular. Swathes of people are obsessing over it, you can buy “keep calm and obey Mr Grey posters” and the world is just generally going to shit.

Those are my objections as a woman, a feminist and a human being with a functioning heart and brain. I have yet more objections as a writer and reader. Ernest Hemingway says that all you have to do to write is “Sit at a typewriter and bleed”. E.L James writes like she sat at a typewriter and drooled. Twilight was bland and occasionally cheesy, 50 shades is laugh out loud terrible. Here are some actual quotes:

“His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel… or something.”

“My very small inner goddess sways in a gentle victorious samba.”

“I can tell from his accent that he’s British.”

“Why is anyone the way they are? That’s kind of hard to answer. Why do some people like cheese and other people hate it? Do you like cheese?”

“I thought it was chocolate hot fudge brownie sex that we had, with a cherry on top. But hey, what do I know?”

A bestseller everyone. It pains me as someone paying nine grand a year to be a better writer that such half baked rubbish is doing so well. Not even for myself and my own snobbish bitter-writer angst, but for every struggling author who’s ever agonised over the perfect metaphor or had an existential crisis and thought of themselves as the worst writer of all time. It’s painful to see a book with such bizzarely bad prose as 50 shades do so well. However I will try to look at the positives. If 50 shades can get a published trilogy and a movie deal, so can any crap I write. I may not be Margaret Atwood, but at least I will never ever be E.L James.

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The feminine appeal of Hannibal (spoilers)

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The tv adaptation of Thomas Harris’s novels ‘Hannibal’ , which I have written about before, has become known for it’s devout cult audience (hi!) known as ‘Fannibals’. Known for their supremely silly sense of humour, at odds with the show’s dark aesthetic, their intelligence and their close link with the show’s creators, they keep the show afloat and preach it’s message and merits to others. Something that has been written about before is the female domination of the Hannibal fandom. A crime show stuffed with gore with two male leads doesn’t scream “female audience” to promoters, but the show has appealed to smart young women and worked it’s way into their hearts and fanfictions. Showrunner Bryan Fuller described in an interview his joy at finding “well read bright young women” love the show. As a fannibal and, I hope,  A “well read bright young woman”, I thought I’d explain why the show appeals to women, at least from my perspective.

What makes the show unique in a sea of murder-solving boxsets is its emotion. The writers care more about keeping the psychological and emotional reality of the story than cold, hard details and intricate logic. Visual metaphor, dream sequences and borderline supernatural plot points create a dream like atmosphere where we see what people are feeling and the pursuit of beauty and insight trumps the “gritty” reality of crime. One scene involves a live bird flying out of a corpse mid autopsy. It was placed in her ribcage to emulate a heartbeat. To say this is near impossible is to miss the point. Hannibal isn’t out for realism. In a sea of macho gritty crime shows Like True Detective and cold, emotionless characters like Sherlock Holmes it is refreshing to see a show where logic isn’t king. Since civilisation began women have been held back by assumptions that they are over emotional, illogical and weak. Even of you are a woman who can’t be described as highly emotional or empathetic, it feels like a breath of fresh air to see such qualities celebrated and prioritised for once over ‘masculine’ qualities we are both chastised for not displaying and accused of abandoning our femininity if we do. In a genre were coldness is glamourised and having heart is seen as the ultimate weakness we finally have a crime show driven by ‘feminine’ qualities.

Take the lead protagonist Will Graham. On the surface, a typical guy. He wears check shirts, goes ice fishing with homemade fishing gear and repairs boats. He is called in to help the FBI because he suffers from an empathy disorder. He can feel what killers feel and unpick their motivation, a great cost to his mental stability. There are a million wonder detectives with oddly wired brains in pop culture, Will Graham sticks out because of his empathy. He doesn’t join the dots and work out the clues with his super logical wonder brain, he relates to killers on an emotional and psychological level. He’s not a “high functioning sociopath” He’s an empath. Emotion, imagination and empathy are presented as highly valuable qualities, superpowers even. As an emotional, empathetic and imaginative person myself (I cried at a dog food advert) I can relate to his character and love seeing my so called weaknesses shown as brilliant strengths. Compare him to Sherlock Holmes, the aforementioned high functioning sociopath. We are constantly reminded of how cold and hard and brilliant he is. His antisocial coldness is sometimes chastised but more often used to separate him from the sentimental idiots around him and mock anyone who tries to get close to him. The treatment of Irene Adler in series two was a classic example. A brilliant woman nearly brings Sherlock Holmes down with her flirting and sharpness but is defeated by her girly crush on him. Sherlock has a large female fanbase too, but showrunner Stephen Moffat sees them as silly little obsessives lost in Benedict Cumberbatch’s piercing eyes and deep voice who are too smitten to realise he will break their hearts. Bryan Fuller celebrates his female fans, rather than mocks them. He rejoices in homoerotic fanart and fanfiction rather than laughing at it. He understands the power of geeky women rather than scratching his head at the female appeal of his macho supermen characters;

” It’s been wonderful and unexpected. I was surprised at the demographic that the show was reaching. A significant portion was young, smart, well-read women; they really responded to this show and I typically relate to young, bright ladies [laughs]. It was nice to see how enthusiastic and passionate they were. And, also, happy in the face of the dark material. They found joy and hope in something that is arguably quite bleak. I found that really rewarding and as somebody who is a fan of many things myself, I appreciate and relate to being enthusiastic about a show you love. I think it’s wonderful”

http://www.etonline.com/tv/138735_Bryan_Fuller_Hannibal_Interview_Season_Two_Spoilers_Season_One_DVD/

One of the main draws of the series is its title character, Hannibal Lecter. Here he is a respected psychiatrist and secret murderous cannibal. Not exactly a Carrie or Miranda, but still has a lot of female fans. True he wears fabulous outfits, lives in a flawlessly designed mansion and drinks fine wines but it goes deeper than that. Tumblr use axmxz has eloquently explained a lot of his appeal here;

http://axmxz.tumblr.com/post/90094859327/the-reason-why-nbcs-hannibal-found-such-a-huge

He’s not a gangster or a pimp or a drug lord. He’s a brilliant man and a respectable professional who kills people when they offend him and arranges them into beautiful dishes which he serves with fine wine and classical music.He’s the bad guy you can’t help but respect, he’s intelligent and well presented and he always gets his way. He quotes philosophers and composes on the harpsichord. He’s restrained, cool headed and attractive, he’s not a violent masochist filled with masculine rage and a desire for the physical upper hand. He fights with his mind and he’s not afraid to make friends along the way, particularly with Will Graham and his collection of adorable stray dogs. Actor Mads Mikkelsen regularly describes him as a passionate man and a perfectionist who wants everything to be beautiful and interesting. His motivation is not power, it’s passion. His invitation he assist the FBI is an irresistible and fascinating offer. He loves Will and his imagination and he’s not afraid to admit it. He doesn’t look down on emotional characters or see everyone else as an idiot, he invites them to dinner and offers them friendship, even if his own needs come first.

The most obvious appeal is the dedication to diversity and the respectful treatment of female characters. Characters which appear as male in the book, Freddie Lounds and Alan bloom, are genderswapped and brought to the front of the story. Female characters which only get a brief mention are given complex personalities and story arcs. Characters traditionally played as white are racebent as well, Laurence Fishbourne is excellent as Jack Crawford. There is a deliberate effort to create diversity and include people. Bryan Fuller has also spoken about his effort to exclude sexual violence towards women. A common problem in gritty crime shows is the ubiquity of sexual violence, which is excused as a reflection of reality. For once women have a dark and horror driven show which does not remind them of everything they fear when they have to walk home alone at night. The violence is horrific but it is almost never gendered, female dead bodies are not sexualised and do not outnumber male victims. This shouldn’t be a standout feature of crime shows but unfortunately Hannibal is unique. Female characters are not violently punished for their flaws either. Jack Crawford’s wife Bella cheats on her husband while struggling with illness and is treated sensitively and understood rather than chastised. Alana Bloom is a romantic interest of Will Graham’s but turns him down, saying as a psychologist she would only examine him f they were in a relationship. Will accepts this. She even begins a relationship with Hannibal Lecter, the same man who framed him for murder and his respect for her does not wane, he even praises her professionalism. Female characters in Hannibal do not exist to look pretty and provide a love interest for the male heroes. They are complex, flawed and strong and essential to the plot. They are not throwaway sexy one dimensional lady shaped characters, or damsels in distress, or over the top flirty “strong” women who fall for the hero. They are people, which is what we’ve been asking for!

Bad Romance

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Cartoon – Kate Beaton http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php

I am a terrible writer in that I have definitely not read enough books. I was really bookish as a kid but when my true passion for movies took over I became far more picky and read far less. However my last two New Year’s Resolutions have been to read more and I have been catching up.I have actual opinions about books now rather than just superhero movies.

One genre of both movies and books that I’ve always held at arms length is romance. I’ve never actually been in love, unless you count unrequited affection for actors and singers (Morrissey for life), so for one I felt they were not for me. I’ve always seen them as cheesy and mass produced. Mills and Boon and formulaic romantic comedies have ruined my perception of the genre. A fun game my Mum told me about is to read the ridiculously floral and exotic names of the characters in the summaries of Mills and Boon books (ten points for a ‘Cassandra’). The romantic subplot has always been a tacked on feature of most movies, mainly to prove the inevitably male hero is straight and to provide him with extra motivation and a reward at the end (write to me for more film based gender studies rants). The entertainment environment I am so engrossed in has enough to make me cynical and unaffected when it comes to fictional romance.

Recently, however, I have dipped my toe into the world of classic romance in the form of our future ten pound note gracer, Jane Austen. I watched both major adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and read the book. I have now moved on to Emma. I found myself reacting to Pride and Prejudice exactly as women have been reacting to it for centuries. I laughed, I swooned, I fell slightly in love with Mr Darcy. Ok, a lot in love. He’s a major babe. And I feel a connection to Lizzie. The bolshy (scouse word meaning sarcastic and rebellious) second daughter of a female dominated family, the marriage resistant cynic, the girl who prides herself on being a good judge of character yet is sometimes blinded by her prejudgement, I can relate. She is flawed and three dimensional, as is Fitzwilliam Darcy.The “they hated each other at first” trope has never been better or less trope-y. I wanted them to get together, I booed Mr Whickham, I felt Darcy’s anguish when Lizzie rejects him. The question is, why did I have this reaction to THIS romance?

To explore this I am going to compare the book to my two least favourite in existence, Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey. Beginning with Twilight: I picked up the book as a teenager with every intention of enjoying it as much as my peers. I have since been accused of “hating it because it’s popular”, but that has never really been my way. I tried to read it BECAUSE it was popular! I was in the target market, the premise was gripping, every girl my age loved it, why wouldn’t I? Some things are popular for a reason. I found that I couldn’t find a reason to read it after around 10 chapters and returned it to the library, much to the shock and disbelief of the girls who recommended it to me.  I have since been told things like “ooh how can you know it’s bad if you didn’t read the whole thing?” and “it gets good in the second/third book, you just have to give it a chance. To the first I say if a book doesn’t grip me within 10 chapters it is clearly not worth my time and online extracts and those terrible movies have since proved my original Lizzie Bennet style dismissal. To the second I reiterate: if a whole book isn’t enough to grip a reader then it is badly written. The first thing you learn about creative writing is to hook the reader in the first sentence. My problems with this book could take up a whole dissertation but I’ll attempt to cover them in one paragraph.

Firstly I found both the main characters utterly un engrossing. Bella Swan is a dullard. She moved to a town of her own volition and complains about it constantly. Her Dad is perfectly nice to her and she is dismissive and cruel to him. Similarly the kids at her new school are friendly and kind to her and she mocks them, ignores them and treats their attempts at friendship like harassment while playing the “ugh I’m such a lonely outsider” card. She is also two dimensional, she doesn’t really have a character beyond complaining about everything, allegedly reading a lot and being clumsy. Ah, the ‘clumsy’ trope. Take an infeasibly perfect yet character free character and make them clumsy. Hey presto! You have a relateable! Flawed! Female! Character! As an actual clumsy person it irritates me when this pain-in-the-arse trait is played off as endearing. No one ever made eyes at me after I smashed a plate or bumped into a chair. Also what irks me is her total dependence on her vampire boyfriend Edward. The romanticising of codependency has never been worse. She goes into a deep depression when he kind-of breaks up with her. Similarly he attempts to kill himself when he hears sketchy reports of her death. This is not a healthy romance, it is two unstable people using each other as crutches. And as for Edward, I think he is not just a bad character but a dangerous one. Darcy’s unfortunate legacy is the “brooding serious guy”.  Edward is controlling, abusive, humourless and possessive. He watches her sleep. HE WATCHES HER SLEEP and it is played off as a romantic sign of his utter devotion to her. That is my main problem with this series. Teenage girls are being taught that such behaviour is romantic and not emotional abuse. He basically loves her because he wants to drink her blood the most, which is the strongest metaphor for an abusive relationship I have ever come across. The two never banter, or have fun, or enjoy each others company much. They stare at each other and brood. This isn’t a story about love, it is a story about dangerous obsession.

I thought it wasn’t possible for me to hate a book more than Twilight. Then came 50 Shades of Grey. The demon spawn of Twilight. The hastily written and seemingly unedited and unrefined fanfiction of Twilight. I could write a book on how abysmally it is written and the cardinal sins of writing it commits but for now I’ll focus on it’s dreadful story and characters, which make Twilight look like a seminal exploration of love.  Ana is so dull and one dimensional I hated her within the first page. She stands at a mirror and complains about being skinny and having big eyes, as though they are bad things to have. She complains about her friend being ill and leaving it to her to take this once in a lifetime journalistic opportunity to interview a billionaire. She is unrealistically out of touch with the world and bafflingly naive. I refuse to believe a modern college student does not own a computer and has never gotten drunk. It is simply not possible. And as for Christian, whom the authour Evil. L James described as a better romantic hero than Mr Darcy, I have never hated a fictional character more. He is abusive, manipulative and takes advantage of Ana’s worrying and unrealistic innocence. He treats her like crap and all his awfulness is dismissed and excused  with a “bad childhood” backstory. He’s just so tortured, you see, he may treat her badly and have the maturity of a stapler but it’s only because he’s so deep and dark and tortured! And again their romance is one of unhealthy obsession and emotional instability. And once again an abusive relationship is being highly romanticised and sold to the masses in undoubtedly the worst written anything I have ever come across.

Compare these books and those like them to Pride and Prejudice. When Lizzie brutally rejects Darcy he neither begs for her acceptance nor spirals into melodramatic sadness. He explains his actions politely and says he will never bother her again if that’s what she wants. The line “Forgive me, madam, for taking up so much of your time” would never be spoken by a Christian or an Edward. Even after admitting his deep love for Lizzie and being told he doesn’t have a hope in hell and she hates him, he takes it graciously. He doesn’t harass her or cry “but I’m a nice guy!”, he doesn’t resent her. Even after saving her family from ruin and more than redeeming himself, he tells her that if she still doesn’t want to accept him he will leave her alone. THAT is maturity. That is a healthy romance. That is where the swoons are. Not “I must have you and I can’t live without you”, a respect for the other person’s wishes despite a deep attachment. Similarly, when she sees who he really is and falls for him she believes it to be too late and attempts to move on. The tension comes from their unwillingness to bother the other against their wishes. Neither of them see each other through rose coloured glasses. On their first meeting Darcy disputes her status as a beauty and refuses to dance with her. She knows his flaws and publicly calls him out for them. In fact, that is one of the reasons he falls for her. Their relationship is not a constant boring cycle of telling each other how great they are, and that’s why it’s healthy. Lizzie is a woman who isn’t afraid to stand up to him and can clearly think for herself. She is not a submissive waif who will bow to his every whim. She’s a bit of an idiot herself, jumping to conclusions and having every confidence in her assumptions about people. She has an over zealousness I and many others can relate to. The romantic element doesn’t come from seeing each other as perfect and ignoring the flaws, it comes from seeing the flaws and loving them anyway. Similarly in “Emma” the hero Mr Knightley is described early on as the only person who ever criticises Emma. She is bossy, proud and interfering, her romance with Mr Knightley is based on the fact he can get her head out of the clouds better than anyone, not on his constant praise and obsession.

These romances are human, realistic, healthy and take place between flawed and relateable people. The obstacles to their romances come from their own faults and miscommunications, not from ridiculous outside sources infringing on their perfect, argument-free relationship. Their physical beauty and personalities are not exaggerated or unrealistic, and the circumstances of their getting together reflect real life. The reason I and other people love them so much and why they endure is because we can see why they are suited and we can imagine it happening in our own lives. Darcy is such a dreamboat because he is such a gentlemen even in his lowest moments. Lizzie is such a babe because she is every bit as smart, witty and interesting as Darcy thinks she is. Not because he regularly declares it despite a total lack of proof for the reader. They aren’t self insert fantasies, they’re real people.

Club Hate Relationship

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By the time I got to university I had been going to my small town’s single terrible nightclub on a semi regular basis. I was already done and dusted with them. Freshers week felt like a chore to me. I would have preferred to get to know my new flatmates by talking to them rather than getting drunk and dancing with a group of strangers. This has never been the normal way to get close to someone. However I had to do it. I didn’t want to be known as the weird flatmate who never went out with everyone and ended up miles behind in the friendship stakes. I reluctantly went clubbing to keep my reputation as a fun, normal person. This carried on. I dragged myself to clubs reluctantly on a weekly basis to avoid being seen as a loser. I would groan on a saturday when I was asked if I was “out tonight” and have to feign excitement. It would be the same every week. Same music, same people, same routine, I began looking for excuses to skip nights out and would then sit in my room watching sitcoms and feeling like I was missing out. This year I’ve decided to be honest.

I am 21 years old and as such I am expected to be full of life and to propel that force outwardly in nightclubs. They only really work on you if you’re young. Nightclubs play music so loud you can’t possibly have a conversation that isn’t screaming I’M JUST GOING TO THE TOILET into someone’s ear. This means the only available activity is dancing. For literally hours. And I don’t mean ‘literally’ as in that’s what it feels like, I mean you are required to do nothing but dance for hours on end. You only have this kind of energy for a short period of time and for me that is already gone. I’ve never been particularly high energy and on hour three of dancing I am silently praying that someone else will ask if everyone wants to go home yet. It irritates me that clubs don’t offer more. There are chairs and tables dotted around the side of the dancefloor, sure, but the comical volume of the music means you could not have a conversation. I recently took to wearing earplugs on nights out to prevent that awful ringing you get in your ears, and every now and then I’ll pop them out just to remind myself how loud the music actually is. It has to be measured on a richter scale. Of course you can’t complain because that would make you “old”.

There’s a reason people pre drink before going out. Actually there are several reasons. Drinks are expensive at bars. Nothing that fun ever actually happens when you’re in a club so the pre drink is where the fun is. You have to be drunk to enjoy yourself. If you described any other thing with “I would have to be off my face to have fun” that would be a succinct way to say it was so mind numbingly dull you would have to drink yourself into a stupor to tolerate it. Yet it is accepted you must be drunk in a nightclub. If someone asks how your night was and you say you were sober they will roll their eyes and grunt in solidarity for how terrible that must have been. Sober clubbing is not fun. There are sweaty people grinding into you. Elbows are flying in your face. Everything is sticky and smells bad. The music they play is not music you listen to in your right mind. Usually the pressure to be drunk means you can’t manage it no matter how many jagerbombs you down. The need to be pissed feels like a requirement rather than a bonus. Being drunk in a pub is a laugh. Being drunk in a club is the only way you can put up with it.

Club music has become a genre of its own. As obnoxiously loud as it can possibly be with completely inane or no lyrics. Sometimes these songs become associated with fun memories and parties and you enjoy dancing to them. Familiarity breeds fist pumping. Sometimes you like the song enough that you actually leap out of your seat to dance to it. More often than not the club will have a DJ that likes to show off by splicing three bars of your favourite song with another one and expecting you to go crazy for its unholy offspring. My dancing drive comes from knowing the song and liking it. If I’ve never heard the song and I find myself trying to copy the people who clearly do my energy drains to nothing within the first verse. I had a night recently in the local hipster haven where I didn’t know a damm song they played for hours. It was generic hipster porridge without even a serviceable beat. I would have happily gone home after two songs. What’s worse is a DJ who plays nothing but a beat, a standard untz untz untz sound for you to dance to like some awful ancient pagan ritual that will culminate in a sacrifice. There’s always someone in your group who drags you to that corner of the club and seems to love it while you decide to go with your friend to the smoking area just to get away from it.

It’s also hard to have fun if you’re female. We get some perks sure, getting ready can be the best part of going out. That’s not an exaggeration. Expressing yourself through clothes, hair and makeup is a luxury afforded to us and on a night out we can really go for it. The problems start when you get there. If you’re a man reading this ask one of your female friends how often they’ve been groped or harassed on a night out. It may shock you. You may never have seen this behaviour because in a mixed group you’re less likely to end up on the receiving end of it. It’s sad but men respect other men enough not to approach their women. In a big group of girls or even being temporarily detached from your group you find yourself constantly on guard. Someone might feel you up in the queue for the bar. Someone might grab you or parts of you as you cross the dancefloor, or take your mildly suggestive dancing as a sign that any man in the room is welcome to you and you’re a prude lesbian bitch if you say no. It gets to a point where an entire security system is required. A hand signal that shows a creepy guy is bothering you, a buddy system, a head count once you’ve all left, having to rescue your friends from overzealous drunks who won’t take no for an answer. I slapped a guy once for making a particularly awful suggestion, it’s a battlefield out there if you’re a woman.

If you’re young in the current generation then you have no alternative to nightclubs. There is no ‘dance’, no one will ask you politely to couple up with them. There is no band playing or special new dance that is all the rage. I asked my friends recently if they would rather waltz or twerk? The answer was a resounding “waltz!”. Like many of my generation I feel cheated. The nights out of our grandparents prime and before seem glitteringly romantic and glamourous in comparison. While it is nice to dance of your own accord rather than waiting to be asked it feels like a far more satisfying experience. My Mum once told me about a trip to ireland and being asked to dance by young men on nights out, it just sounds so much more exciting. If I had a choice between the two I wouldn’t care, I may even occasionally choose clubbing. I just don’t understand why we all decided this was better.

Perhaps the worst thing about clubs is being constantly told how great they are. Leaflets, posters, mailing lists all tell you just how ‘bangin’ their nights are. How cheap their drinks are. How crazy it gets after a certain time. You are constantly being told how cool it is. Not just by clubs themselves but by your friends. Facebook statuses about how many times you’ve been out this week, pictures of people posing on dancefloors holding up a sign with the name of the club, your friends going “whaaaaat don’t be boring!” if you say you’re not coming out tonight. The truth is a lot of people feel the same as me. We’ve all kept up this lie that clubbing is the most fun you can have, the reason we have weekends and we all just roll with it. Ask people honestly, in the cold light of day what they think and they’ll probably admit they aren’t as much of a good time as everyone says. You know there’s something wrong if people in their 20s turn to you and say “I’m too old for this shit!”.

‘Hannibal’ and why you should watch it

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Today I will be recommending what is to me the best show currently on television. Yes I’m including Game of Thrones (losing points for gratuitous sexual violence), Sherlock and probably all the stuff I haven’t seen.

Hannibal is a prequel to the Thomas Harris crime novels and subsequent adaptations helmed by showrunner and nightmare magician Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies). It stars Mads Mikkelsen who is carved from fine oak as the gentleman cannibal himself and human puppy Hugh Dancy as emotionally troubled detective Will Graham. What you’re thinking right now of course is why. They’re flogging a decomposed horse right? The brilliant Silence Of The Lambs movie and countless other less successful adaptations have bled the fine chianti dry and the world does not need another rehash, prequel, reboot, remake or whatever you want to call it. This idea means that ‘Hannibal’ doesn’t get great ratings.

The show is one of those great underappreciated gems that is adored by critics and devoted fans (we’re called ‘fannibals’. Hi) but is criminally overlooked by the general public and is thus constantly on the brink of cancellation. However fan power and critical praise mean the show is currently baking a third series and my mission is to create as many new fannibals before then.

So lets start off with what makes the show unique. What could be unique about a story which has been adapted many times of a scary serial killer and an antisocial, brooding super detective? Not only has the formula been done to death the actual characters have too. You would be right to think that, but Hannibal stands out in a sea of gritty crime dramas as an emotional, operatic and darkly beautiful production. Instead of weekly!murdered!prostitute! the murders take the form of artistic tableaus, art installations of blood and guts that you simply can’t look away from. The show relies on metaphor and imagery that is often missing from the genre and  regularly includes visually breathtaking scenes. I’ll just let them speak for themselves. Look away if you don’t like gore.

Detective Will Graham has what is described as an empathy disorder. What makes him valuable to the FBI is his ability to instantly get into the heads of serial killers. We actually see him commit the murders he is investigating as he coldly verbalises the thoughts behind the actions. That’s what’s so clever about the show – the hero is shown killing more people than the monster he is trying to catch. As the series progresses his emotional state becomes more unstable. Other shows often glamourise murder or feature cold, hardened protagonist anti-heroes who remain unaffected by what they have seen. While the crime scenes are repulsively beautiful (try and use that description for anything else) the true emotional aftermath is not ignored. And in a televised world of hardened, emotionless ‘high functioning sociopaths’ an emotionally vulnerable protagonist feels like a breath of fresh air.

Another thing you should love about this show is its refusal to worship at the altar of ‘gritty’. The dirty realism and hypermasculine energy of most crime procedurals is completely missing and it’s what makes it so refreshing. There are no scenes randomly shot in strip clubs, no grim and grey sets, no filthy back alleys or misogynist killers. There ARE elaborate visual metaphors, dream sequences (and horrible nightmare sequences) and a deliberate effort to make the dialogue poetic and memorable. As Alana Bloom says ‘fear is the price of imagination’ and the two are combined to form a visual masterpiece. The writers care more about the deeper meaning and the emotional reality than how much it reflects real life. And it is all done spectacularly. Who cares if it would be night on impossible to arrange a body like that? It’s just so damm striking.  Not to mention the actual effort to diversify the cast. Alan Bloom? More like AlanBloom. Freddy Lounds is now a woman and you will love her and her outfits. Jack Crawford is black (played to perfection by Lawrence Fishbourne) and his wife has a story arc. Get ready to have your heart broken. And feast your eyes on this quote from Bryan Fuller:

I don’t want to do rape stories on the show, because I don’t find them entertaining. I think that they’re exploitive. There are some rape elements intrinsic in the novels that I’m like how do we shift that story so it’s not about rape. I just feel very strongly as a feminist and somebody who likes women. I just can’t derive any sort of entertainment pleasure from it. So that’s why we steer away from those things. 

That shouldn’t be a revolutionary statement for a writer to make but it is. Which brings me on to the fannibals.

Becoming a fan of Hannibal means becoming a Fannibal. I’ve always shunned the idea of ‘fandom’. Either you like something or you don’t, there is no reason you would have anything in common with everyone else who likes it so why label yourselves? But Hannibal fans are people you want to be involved with. Usually young, well read, intelligent women they have a sublimely silly sense of humour to counteract the seriousness of the show. And buckets of talent. Observe this fanart.

Hannibal by TheMinttu

And er.. this fan art

(Comic) The Adventures of Hannibal the Cannibal #1 by ekzotik

And whatever the hell this is

Be warned – not all fan art is PG

Back to the show itself. The plot grows and twists and engulfs you like ivy and is as deep an intricate as tree roots. Read all of Thomas Harris? Can you quote every line from Silence? You still have no idea what’s coming. The showmakers have described themselves as “Thomas Harris mash up DJs” and that is what they do. Elements from different novels are put together and twists and turns are brought in that you wont see coming. Characters that are given a throwaway mention in the books become an essential part of the plot. The character of Dr Hannibal Lecter himself is of course the most intriguing. Here he is a practising psychiatrist, respected and unsuspected. He is brought on to help Will Graham psychologically but naturally he has his own diabolical game to play. What struck me most is how much you are taken in by him as a viewer. An intelligent, dapper, well dressed gentlemen with exquisite tastes and no outward signs of evil, you understand completely why he got away with it. There is no one in the western world who doesn’t know who Hannibal Lecter is and yet you forget who Hannibal Lecter is. The first time he is shown killing someone you find yourself shocked and disappointed in him. “Oh goddammit I liked him!” The fans make a point of the fact that his name rhymes and his regular use of puns. Mads Mikkelsen’s performance is flawless. It may even be better than Anthony Hopkins’. He can’t go full evil, his true nature is beautifully disguised and his monstrosity is occasionally glimpsed. It will be a real treat to see Silence era Hannibal played by Mikkkelsen. His composure so far is tighter than a violin string.

Hannibal is one of the most emotionally and intellectually rewarding shows on television. If not the most. I would urge you to give it a chance before series three. Chances are you’ll be just as obsessed as the rest of us.