Monday, 31 December 2012

A snippet of the most intriguing stories from 2012

2012: the year that changed everything. Or did it?

I’ve been lucky enough to spend this Christmas with my family on the beautiful island of Antigua. Every day, just before sunset, I take a walk through the luscious Caribbean rainforest which surrounds the area. Whilst these daily exertions have run the risk of being hounded by packs of savage dogs and, on one terrifying occasion, murderous donkeys (like cows, they have an evil glint to their eyes) they have also been an opportunity for reflection. Today, I was contemplating how innovative 2012 has been.

It’s been a big year. I've turned 18, left school and been financially severed from my parents. Britain held the Queen’s diamond jubilee, the London Olympics and is now expecting the birth of their future monarch. The world has been dragged through elections, uprisings, hurricanes, earthquakes, wars, economic turmoil and, through all the chaos, records have been broken, discoveries have been made and random acts of kindness endure. In a farewell salute to the past 365 days, I thought I’d ponder over some of the elements which have shaped 2012 in their own, unique way. This is not a summary. Nor is it a list of the most influential events or individuals. It's a snippet: a handful of newspaper cuttings from this incredible year.

Bradley Wiggins

It is as a lowly and inactive observer that I celebrate the achievements of Bradley Wiggins this year. He is, in my opinion, the British icon of 2012. Sir Wiggo (knighted at this year’s honours) became the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France and, during London 2012, joined Sir Chris Hoy as the most decorated British Olympian. He beat the French at their own game and he effortlessly rocks canary yellow and sideburns. The man is a true role model and made me care that bit more about the world of cycling than I did last year. I pray that he doesn’t do ' a Lance Armstrong' on us.

Marie Colvin

This is a personal tribute as well as a nod to the news story which has dominated media outlets throughout 2012 and has inflamed sensibilities across the globe: the Syrian revolution. This year has not been without heartbreak, disappointments and tragedies. Among those was the untimely death of Marie Colvin. An award-winning War correspondent, her remarkable bravery and determination are an inspiration to me and thousands of others. In 1999, through her reporting and refusal to leave a besieged compound, she was credited with saving the lives of 1,500 women and children. This was not an isolated incident – she was not deterred when in 2001 she lost the sight in her left eye after falling under attack in Sri Lanka. Right up until the end she was a woman who fought for the causes she believed in: despite the Syrian authorities’ attempts to prevent foreign journalists from covering the uprising, Colvin crossed the border illegally on the back on a motorcycle. It was a move which led to her death in the city of Homs in February – she has not, and will not, be forgotten.

The Evolution of the Meme

How could we forget Gangnam style, Kony 2012, the Overly Attached Girlfriend and the Ridiculously Photogenic Guy? We couldn’t. Because as an internet user, and I assume you are one if you are reading this, you will see them ALL over the internet. Whilst you can dismiss spending hours mindlessly watching videos of cats flushing toilets and chimpanzees on segways as a waste of time, it’s important to put it into perspective: we are possibly witnessing the beginning of a universal sense of humour. Just think, if the world shared the same jokes we could solve conflicts and prevent wars just by showing the “other side” a meme of the Grumpy cat. It brightens my day to have a little giggle at, what really is, a shared celebration of the absurdities of life. Whilst it is imperative that we pay attention to the monumental episodes of this year, it is also important that we don’t forget the small ones…

Images from

Pussy Riot

It’s time I wrote about this. Like L’Affaire Merah it’s something I’ve been following all year but for some reason cannot bring myself to write about properly. Nevertheless, I need to address one of the central effects of Pussy Riot: the incarcerated Russian rockers have revolutionalised the nature of political protest. They have illustrated, like the Occupy movement and Kony 2012, that the internet is a powerful political force: upload a video to YouTube and you can trigger a worldwide political movement, supported by stars such as Madonna, Paul Macartney and Lady Gaga. It doesn’t even need to be a universal struggle – make it “stylish” and the trends of the Internet will bring in the cyber troops. I will not attempt to defend Pussy Riot: what they did was wrong and I cannot abide the hypocrisy of western “democracies” in their accusations. Their punishment, however, was disproportionate to their crime and justice should always be fought for. 2012 also saw the re-election of Vladimir Putin, a strong leader often criticised for his inflexibility. This event alone will have long-term consequences for Russian politics and the country’s relations with the West.

The Denver and Newtown shootings

The killings shocked America and the world. Lack of gun control meant that the lives of hundreds were needlessly lost because of an out-dated, dangerous clause in the American constitution. Whilst some argue that it is unbalanced to focus on these events when the American government has been responsible for the deaths of so many innocent citizens in Iraq and Afghanistan , it doesn't change the fact that gun crime brings grief and hardship to families every year. This pain could be prevented. Shootings happen all over the world but it happens more often and more violently in the US. This needs to stop. Everyone knows it. The die-hard protection of the 2nd amendment has always been seen as inevitable and its revision impossible. Will 2012 be the year that the NRA finally starts to see eye-to-eye with the rest of the world?

If you’re not drunk already, take a moment to reflect on what 2012 has meant to you. I wish you all a very Happy New Year!


© Francesca Ebel D-504 blog

Friday, 28 December 2012

What to expect when you read Bulgakov's Master and Margarita

An article I wrote for Yuppee Magazine - published 28/12/12

Expect the unexpected...
Admittedly, the title is somewhat 
suggestive of Christian Grey at a cocktail party. I am sorry to disappoint all the 50 Shades fans out there, but this is not the case. As a classic, The Master and Margarita is a definitively cerebral work of literature: I fully expected it to be one of those books that would take me months to read and, on turning the last page, I'd congratulate myself on having run an intellectual marathon, cross-eyed from the confusion of nuances that only the most educated of scholars can decode. Do not be seduced by this expectation. Whilst The Master and Margarita is certainly one of the most complex books I've ever read, it is also a captivating tale of love, courage and black magic...

Click here to read the rest...

© Francesca Ebel D-504 blog

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Generation XXX: should we accept that Porn is now a force to be reckoned with?

Porn: an odd taboo. It causes people to recoil with embarrassment at the very mention of it, yet every second over 28,000 internet users are viewing pornographic material. In other words, whether by accident, curiosity or motivation, we’ve all seen it. If you are prepared to admit that it’s kinky to watch other human beings engage in sexual acts then watching porn is really no big deal. Pornography and voyeurism has existed since the beginning of time: there’s the kama sutra, Ancient Greek eroticism and, well, I highly doubt Neanderthals bothered to install mammoth skin privacy screens between cave dwellings.

An impressive example of ancient pornography that I encountered in the ruins of Pompei 3 years ago 

As a yahoo baby, I am from the generation that grew up together with the internet. On the eve of my 16th birthday there was no longer any need for “the talk”: I, along with my contemporaries, had already discovered the facts of life by myself, either through adolescent shenanigans or the World Wide Web. Indeed, the average age of internet exposure to pornography is 11 years old. Free and unrestricted access to adult content has revolutionised sex education:  for many, it is now their primary input of information and arguably not a bad one – far more lucid than awkwardly sliding a condom over a banana. However, as is so typical of the internet, every social progression has its drawbacks: from early on youngsters learn about a warped and often extreme form of sexual intercourse. These images tend to colour the fantasies which stay with a person forever. Furthermore, opposition groups point to evidence that suggests that porn has had desensitising effects on young consumers.

Before researching this article, I was at war with the porn industry – albeit, mentally. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been reading Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman. Before any male readers scoff in disgust and accuse me of penis envy, I’ll reassure you that I am not about to give you a lecture on feminism. Well, maybe a tiny one. What Caitlin voiced were the anxieties I’ve been feeling for a while now. The industry, and the expectations it implies, have distorted today’s sex lives rather drastically. Take, for example, the Brazilian wax. Most men now expect the women they encounter to be partly, if not fully shaven, thereby instilling in all of us a fear of the “Hairy Mary”. Whilst I’m all for a bit of maintenance, why should we go through the pre-planning, extortionate costs and PAIN of having our genitals stripped so that they look like a pre-pubescent child’s? As Caitlin put it “we’re basically paying money to own a vagina”. All because the porn industry says so.

And it’s not just women who are affected. Most men are now driven by a feeling of inadequacy, both in the muscular and phallus department. How are they meant to compete with the Channing Tatum/Ryan Gosling/Christian Bale ideal? This is a direct result of the regular consumption of videos involving women with bouncing plastic boobs and men with monster shlongs.

Jesse Jane: the male ideal

In order to get some direction in analysing this colossal minefield of controversy, I decided I’d conduct a mini-survey (20 people: 10 female, 10 male) of my friends’ pornographic preferences. I didn't realise how tricky this would actually be: few people want to talk about it, it’s a very private part of people's lives. However, I did manage to cobble together some form of data. The most revealing aspect about my survey was the absence of female voices – they either denied that they watched porn (which, sadly, may very well be true) or didn't want to answer my question. Official research found that 70% of women keep their cyber activities secret. I think that this reveals a fundamental problem with our modern and tolerant society. My male participants readily provided me with a healthy diversity of categories from blonde babes (6/10), schoolgirls (2/10) and threesomes (3/10), to MILF (4/10), lesbian (4/10) and anal (2/10). Men know what they want and what turns them on – for them it’s usually positive experimentation and exploration. Perhaps it’s my age, but why this discrepancy ladies? There are thousands of women out there who watch it and enjoy it, but why do the majority remain silent? Does our society see the publicised consumption of pornography as unacceptable? If women are to win the battle of ridiculous expectations we need to beat the industry at its own game. I am calling all women to arms; Amazonian style. Whether you like it or not, Porn is now an indestructible part of our culture and I say we embrace it. As a $4.9 billion industry it’s never going to disappear – the effects, be they positive or negative, cannot be reversed. Let’s get porn savvy.

There is one big problem with this theory. When I asked one friend why she didn’t watch porn she replied that the violence of “regular” porn scares her. To her credit, she’s right to be freaked: if someone was trying to brutalise me with a gigantic sausage, rasping into my ear like a sick goat, I would run a mile. Porn always seems to be the same old drill (as it were) and is completely unrealistic. Where are the muffin tops, awkward bra tangles and queefs? There comes a point in a woman’s life where, as she tries her hardest to bend her pale, flabby body into ‘The Pretzel’, she must sit her man down and tell him, sweetly, that she will never be the Sasha Grey or Alexis Texas of his dreams. What my friend’s fears told me, more than anything, was how unfriendly the porn industry is towards the average woman: girls generally want passion, sensuality, and a bit of slap & tickle. What women need is good porn – the quality stuff. This is why I fully support E.L James’ contribution to erotica. The 50 Shades formula is genius: it’s hot and it pushes the ‘mainstream’ boundaries. Like Twilight, it also includes the not-so-secret ingredient to every good recipe for infatuation: the “perfect” man. The effect is clear: more and more women are speaking out about what they want. They’d love to explore in a way that doesn’t make them feel demeaned. The porn industry needs to adapt to accommodate women without quirky preferences or fetishes – women who are out of their depth in a shadowy world of bukkake, creampies and orgies.

James Deen: the female ideal