1. Tom Humberstone’s weekly comic for the New Statesman.

     

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  4. We were so nearly spared those “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters. Although designed during WWII, it was never used because the Treasury was adamant that the public would “resent having [the message] crammed down their throats at every turn”. If only it hadn’t been rediscovered in 2001…

    [Image: Jack.Less on Flickr via Creative Commons]

     


  5. How to enjoy Gay Pride (if you’re straight)

    By Eleanor Margolis

    Glitter supplies are running low, corporations have gone rainbow to hide their bastardism, religious nuts are upset: yay for Gay Pride season. In case you don’t know any LGBT people who have been in the throes of the annual “Do We Still Need Pride?” debate for the past fortnight, the London one is happening this weekend. Famously, any friends of The Gays are welcome. Now, straight people, I love you, but some of you need a bit of handholding when it comes to doing Pride. Here’s my guide to not ruining it for everyone:

    Remember: you’re not on safari

    Breeders, I hate to break this to you – Pride may well be this wacky, thongy hootenanny, but it doesn’t happen for your entertainment. Stop taking pictures of absolutely everything, like you’re some kind of cultural Kaspar Hauser who’s never seen a balloon. It isn’t, “ZOMFG random o’clock”, it’s probably just a body builder in a pineapple bra. Chill.

    And stop daring each other to “go up to” drag queens.

    Watch your fucking language

    No, those aren’t “trannies”.

    “But they’re blokes in resplendent evening gowns,” you protest, “They look like my auntie Brenda on her wedding day, if she’d been 6’5” and had hands like Le Creusets.”

    Yes, and you look like Norman Tebbit’s podiatrist, but duller. I’m not going to make a thing of it though.

    Remember folks, just because you once gave a lesbian directions to the nearest Boots, and were “totally cool” about it, you can’t use the word “dyke”. Even on special occasions.

    Enjoy yourself

    Aside from the inevitable rain, nothing puts a dampener on Pride quite like a group of straight people looking like George Galloway in a synagogue. Whatever’s happening, just go with it. How many times a year do you get to grind to Beyoncé with an oiled Adonis in a Miley Cyrus mask, in broad daylight?

    Oh, and I’m allowed to look like I’m chewing a turd: I’m a lesbian.

    Be supportive

    Even LGBT people often forget that Pride is, at its root, political. Sure, it’s about drinking enough slightly warm cider to dance in public. But it also serves to remind people like you that the queer community has a voice, and that, in the words of Conchita Wurst, “We are unstoppable”. So please don’t be afraid to shout as loud as us, or louder even.

    Don’t buy a penis balloon

    Every year, vendors turn up to Pride with heaving fistfuls of dicks. I’m not sure who these people are, or why they think Pride is some kind of pagan fertility rite. Last year I saw one of them being arrested, so I’m guessing they’re not supposed to be there. But anyway, Pride isn’t your own, personal Saturnalia (well, maybe it is a little bit…) so please don’t meander though Soho, wielding a phallus on a stick like a disturbing lost child. If you absolutely have to wield something, just opt for a rainbow flag like everybody else.

     

  6. Hillary Clinton: the new stateswoman

    Will Hillary run for president in 2016? Her memoir is more interested in the fine art of diplomacy.

     

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  8. For about a year of the time I worked on a videogames magazine, I shared my office space with a three-foot purple dildo called “the Penetrator”. The dildo was mounted on a baseball-bat handle and presented in a wooden stand. It was a promotional item for a game called Saints Row 3, in which it appears as a weapon: the Penetrator was, essentially, a big, floppy rape joke. Most of the time the Penetrator was left alone, although sometimes me and my colleagues would take it off its stand and duel with it, or use it to play cricket. One day, someone struck a particularly forceful boundary with it, and it snapped plaintively in mid-shaft. Anyway, the point is not what happened to the Penetrator. The point is that, increasingly, discussion around games is coming to accept that they are a mature and fascinating medium – a mature and fascinating medium which has a colossal problem with sexism.
     


  9. Marina Abramović and the self-indulgent side of anti-materialism

    By Daisy Lafarge

    Routinely hailed as the ‘grandmother’ of performance art, Marina Abramović’s recently opened 512 Hours at the Serpentine marks a departure from former work, which since the 1970s has often used her body as radical canvas placed at the mercy of the public.

    In her 2010 show at MoMA, The Artist is Present, Abramović sat silently at a table for 736 hours and invited members of the queuing public to sit opposite her, often provoking emotional and dramatic responses. The show attracted a frenzy of media and celebrity attention, and the artist herself reached superstardom, subsequently collaborating with Jay Z, Lady Gaga, and high end fashion labels and magazines.

    In The Serpentine, though, there are no ‘art objects’ to be found - instead it’s the visitors who become art subjects, led to do things in the otherwise empty room by the artist and her assistants. In language that caters to the current Mindfulness fad, they’re instructed to breathe deeply, to feel the space around them and be “in the present”.

    Abramović claims the work is “as immaterial as you can go”, a statement that comes across as anti-commodity culture, and especially anti-the art world’s obsession with luxurious, marketable objects. This is an immensely popular show, with predictably long queues and personal accounts of transformation pouring in from visitors. Londoners work infamously long hours with little sleep, and the political potential of a work that can make them slow down and take a breath should not be underestimated. Yet we live in a world where capitalist oppression can also be immaterial, in the form of a deliberately opaque and difficult to regulate financial system and a daily assault on our subjectivity by algorithms and Big Data – so a personal encounter with an artist and a feeling of ‘well-being’ can miss the point by only emphasising self-fulfilment.

    Performance art has been described as a safe or liminal space for what would otherwise qualify as torture, or sadistic or spiritual practices: think of Chris Burden’s macho-cum-masochist Shoot! in 1971. It’s the latter of these that Abramović’s work channels, introducing a mostly secular audience to a meditative experience that they might otherwise find alienating. Visitors to the Serpentine must leave coats and bags in lockers before entering a room lined with tables and chairs (and which, on inspection, are disappointingly “material”). A lucky few are invited to count and tally grains of rice, part of the ‘Abramović Method’, which is described on the Marina Abramović Institute website as an “ironic and useless action for our contemporary western society”.

    Divorced from its context, the activity more resembles a form of menial torture inflicted on prisoners of war. Is this about moving beyond materialism, or is it just pointing out our willing complicity in a capitalist ideology, that tells us boring, repetitive tasks are “good” for us?

    The chic-ification of poverty has precedence in visual culture - just look at dieters last year, who were desperate to undereat their way to emaciated-revolutionary-heroine following Anne Hathaway’s performance in Les Misérables. We’re used to the ‘homemade’ meal no longer indicating scarcity but instead being a middle class marketing angle, and to the affectation of ruinenlust, and furnishings readymade with a pseudo-patina of time, in hipster bars and burger joints. Abramović herself is reportedly a fan of the infamous juice detox - it’s frugality repurposed as ‘self-discipline’, by someone who can afford not to eat enough.

    Growing up under the communist regime of Yugoslavia, the image of Abramović’s body often takes on a political symbolism. Grainy black and white nude photos of her from the 1970s have, like those of other performance artists of the period like Carolee Schneemann and Ana Mendieta, created a marketable aesthetic for ideologically challenging work. The Occupy movement’s settlements of 2012 bear significant visual resemblance to the recurring ‘shelter’ in installation art, but the line separating art from politics has become increasingly bent by commodification. The political or activist potential of artworks is at risk of drowning in a competitive market which has reduced ‘political’ to a visual theme, rather than a sensibility capable of provoking action and change.

    For Abramović, “immateriality” means “a lack of objects”. The concrete manifestation of this “not having objects” for many is often not enlightenment but poverty, and 512 Hours toes a fine line between empathy and indulgence. It’s political sensibility that delineates the self-starvation of the Suffragettes or Simone Weil from the anxiety-fuelled diet culture of today. Following the advice of the feminist art historian and curator Linda Nochlin, we must look between what is exhibited; the implications of what have not been shown. The Serpentine may indeed be emptied of objects but is far from liberated from the clutches of the elitist art world. By emptying the gallery, 512 Hours proves that an exhibition is held intact not by the art, but the complex nexus of artist-celebrity as commodity, gallery branding and media interest. Hopefully this de-objectification will instead heighten the social awareness of visitors, motivating them to look outwards, as well as in.

     


  10. What is the purpose of fanfiction? There is no single correct answer. It can be a way to critically engage with the source material – a rewriting of a plotline, a reexamination of a scene from another angle, a what-if twist that alters the entire thing. It can be a way of fulfilling a fantasy – say, when you write that your favorite singer has fallen in love with an ordinary girl. It can be pure, sugar-spun fun; it can be more challenging, emotionally or intellectually, than the works that inspired it. It can be an enormous dialogue, inter-fandom and intra-fandom, sharing tropes and themes and methods of experimentation. It can be a way to just spend more time, in whatever way you prefer, with characters or a world that you find compelling. It can be a space that exists wholly outside the pressures of commercial writing – a story can have a million followers, or just one, and it doesn’t make a difference. But then, if a story has a million followers, is it hitting that commercially-publishable note – and can you fault the publishers, or the writers, from cashing in?
     


  11. It’s not that the general public don’t know about assorted cuts – those are covered by the press on a daily basis. It’s not that the general public don’t disapprove of the cuts – there’s plenty of evidence of that, too. Yet Eoin Clarke still asked “Please give me 1 good reason why the BBC News Website has not covered this anti-Austerity march in London today?”

    Here’s the reason – the government don’t need to order a media blackout because the sad truth is “Lefties march in moderate numbers, again, and then go home, again”, isn’t much of a story. That’s it. That’s why the BBC didn’t cover it.

    It’s not new – demonstrations happens with those numbers three or four times a year in London alone, usually with the same people carrying the same banners. The metropolitan police tell me they don’t keep a log of how many, but that they “facilitate thousands of demonstrations in London every year”.

    People marching – even if there are 50,000 of them – just isn’t a big story. Yes, it’s enough to win one parliamentary constituency, but it’s not a revolution. Sure, BBC editors are being selective in their coverage – but that’s an editor’s job.

    It’s often said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. People need to wake up to the fact that marches, for all their symbolic value to the left, just aren’t that relevant or newsworthy anymore. Even if you do add in Russell Brand.

     

  12. Once the most numerous bird species in North America, passenger pigeons went from numbering in the billions to being extinct in less than a century. But new research suggests that their extinction wasn’t entirely our fault - intensive hunting coincided with a natural decrease in population size.

    [Image: the frontispiece from a volume of articles entitled “The Passenger Pigeon”, published 1907. Source: Wikimedia Commons.]

     


  13. In a way, it’s a relief to read a memoir that is so affectionate, so moan-free, so reluctant to apportion blame. But its sweetness – and at times this book is very sweet indeed – needs cutting, if not with the vinegar of disappointment, then at least with the acid of doubt.
     

  14. Could Ed Miliband be another Clement Attlee?

    [Clement Attlee in 1950. Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images]

     

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