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The Cost of Unpaid Internships

              ***also on my new style blog***

Internships and the “working classes” is a subject close to my heart. I was prompted to write this article after reading David Morrissey’s comments in the Guardian about the struggles working class actors face in the industry, with the current pool of British actors hailing mainly from posh schools (Benedict Cumberbatch, Damien Lewis, Dominic West…) I then read in the Times (not a Tory, honest) about Labour’s plans to “force all public-sector organisations to declare the class make-up of their workforces”. This is a bloody good idea. It comes after the shadow women and equalities minister Gloria De Piero revealed that fewer than 4% of grads recruited to the fast-track civil service were from working class backgrounds. She also promised to address the toxic prevalence of unpaid internships. I really, really hope they do.

Full transparency alert: I am a very recent graduate of Oxford University in English Literature. Upper-middle class as you get, you might, quite reasonably, assume. However, my dad works as a Technical Support lab assistant at Southampton University, and my mum is unemployed, struggling to find work that allows for her leg, hip and back problems. I am entirely state educated, and not from one of those places that masks itself as a state school with private school pretensions. I received full whack student loan/maintenance grant and a very generous bursary from my university. I’m not working class, but I know how it feels to be poorer than the vast majority of my acquaintances.

There are a wealth of reasons why abolishing unpaid internships is so important. Degrees in art and humanities subjects lead into industries which are firm believers in the work experience lackey. Journalism is my poison of choice. Morrissey covered the acting profession, and there are wannabe lawyers, civil servants and film directors who’s only shot at success will come at the end of many arduous, unrewarding and ultimately unpaid internships. This is just fine for those who can live at home in London with Mummy and Daddy, with their generous handouts for Tube fares and latte runs. So, yes, these obviously put the poor at a disadvantage, and this is the crucial flaw of the system.

But there are other problems. Background and upbringing are also factors which place the working class at a huge disadvantage. We might be lucky enough to grow up in a loving family who do their very best to provide – or we may not – but a frequent affliction of working/lower middle classes is a disengagement with more “prestigious” or vocational careers. When you have to spend as much of your time working, are you really going to encourage your child to be a writer, a journalist, an actor or a politician when these people represent everything that is wrong with your world? My own parents have very little interest in politics or news in general, and my desire for a career in journalism stems entirely from my own engagement with the world. There is nothing wrong with this attitude, it is understandable, but it can put someone who has aspirations outside of their social and familial circle at a huge disadvantage. Your success rests entirely on your own back.

This, of course, makes entering your dream profession even harder. Careers advice at school was an attempt to dissuade from pursuing such a dishonourable career, and advised a harder focus on maths. Googling “How to be a journalist” can get you only so far, but I had a couple of sympathetic teachers in college who took me seriously and put me in contact with journalists they knew so I could hound them for advice. The advice is always the same – you need experience. How to get experience? Contacts. Now, I have been incredibly lucky whilst at university, and I would be entirely stuck without the generosity of my boyfriend’s dad who has got me some valuable work placements. This is my point. I went Oxford where, by the nature of the beast, you meet people who know people who know people. For those who don’t have this opportunity, getting contacts is bloody hard work. There aren’t any family connections: no Uncle Bertie who is director of RSC or a godmother big in publishing.

Schooling is a help or hindrance – depending on what sort of institution you went to, you will have different information about the world. This may seem a banal and obvious point, but it was something I repeatedly ran into at university. I got onto my course because I was good at English, not because of what I knew about Culture. As such, I didn’t get many of the references people would make in tutorials and at the pub, and half of my first year involved frantic Wikipedia-ing to keep up with conversations about Schrödinger’s Cat and Israel and Palestine. It makes you feel stupid. And this feeling of stupidity can make you feel worthless and undeserving of these careers that often depend on cultural awareness – you know what you’re up against. Furthermore, there is that sense of confidence which is gained by a certain type of upbringing; I do not want to further stereotypes, but it cannot be denied that self belief is more prevalent in the upper echelons of society. Fake it till you make it, they say, but what if you don’t think you can?

All these factors can make it harder for working class people to aspire and succeed to such careers, meaning that the people that shape our society are frequently from similar backgrounds with similar bankrolls. This leads to further stagnation, where the majority of people feel even more disconnected from their politicians, from their press, and with hardly a hope of changing that. I have been accepted for some work experience with Sky New in the New Year, with the promise of some cash to cover expenses which is certainly a step in the right direction. More places need to do this. Being expected to work for nothing, sometimes for months at a time, is frankly despicable, as it severely limits the type of candidate on offer. I don’t want to live in a society represented by the rich, when there are so many voices out there with so much more to give. Don’t get me wrong – individuals should be deserving of the posts they hold. I’d rather be turned down from a job because I’m not suited to it – not because I can’t afford it.

Guardian article:

Guardians of the Galaxy - late to the party.

 I am going to be entirely honest.

I did not want to go and see Guardians of the Galaxy. I have long been a fan of the Marvel franchise (comics included), and when I saw the trailer for this film, I was apprehensive. “They’re taking the piss!” I sanctimoniously thought, tutting disapprovingly to my long suffering boyfriend and long term cinema companion, “How could they debauch the brand in this way?”

Yeah, turns out I was not getting it. Think finals robbed me of my sense of humour. How I managed to miss the point so impressively is, frankly, humiliating. Even among the most serious Marvel comics and films lies a humourous heart, an entertaining streak of irony which makes them such a joy. So how could I think that a Marvel film fronted by Parks and Recreation's glorious Chris Pratt would fail to fit this tone? This ain't DC. Marvel has embraced the wisecracks in a way which makes Iron Man look dull as death by comparison.

Read on as I continue to swallow my pride and eat my snobby little hat. 

The film is based on a lesser known Marvel comic from the 60s, so this film was a real risk compared to the stalwarts of The Avengers/Iron Man/Hulk etc, and the lack of huge stars means pressure was off for director James Gunn. He was clearly able to have fun with it, and his creative licence really shows through in a film which is unique in terms of Marvel offerings, and, dare I say it, the best yet. 

Wannabe space playa Peter Quill A.K.A Starlord AKA Chris Pratt has a huge bounty on his head after nicking a mysterious space orb. He’s some sort of a space pirate, a deviant from a motley group of scavengers called Ravagers. He ends up being chased around the galaxy by a terrorist named Ronan (he’s Kree, not  IRA) and his former Obi-Wan Kenobi pirate master, picking up members of the ragtag Guardians on the way.This film has a rich set of characters, and Pratt translates his humour (a blend of witticisms and slapstick) throughout, making Quill a very endearing protagonist. He’s got a tear jerking back story which manages to avoid the saccharine despite the lighthearted tone of the film. The other characters are great too: Zoe Saldana plays Gamora, a green girl on a mission, and while her arc is fairly typical, its still enjoyable to watch - there’s a great scene involving her discovery of soul music. Bradley Cooper plays Rocket, a cynical raccoon hybrid, who is best friends with his bodyguard Groot, who happens to be both a tree and Vin Diesel. Finally there’s Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer, who spends most of the movie getting beaten up.

I’m not going to give the plot away for obvious reasons, but know that if you haven’t seen it already (and you probably have), Guardians is well worth a watch. It’s basically a Marvel B-movie, drawing clear influence from Star Wars, other 70s sci-fis and The Goonies. It has fantastic sets and costumes, a witty screenplay and actors which are successful in pulling it all off. And if you thought you could never be moved to tears by a giant monosyllabic tree, think again.

If one meets a powerful person - Rupert Murdoch, perhaps, or Joe Stalin or Hitler - one can ask five questions: what power do you have; where did you get it; in whose interests do you exercise it; to whom are you accountable; and, how can we get rid of you? Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system.
Tony Benn

hear hear

The Wire - finishing for the first time. spoilers may occur.

i’ve nearly finished the wire and i can’t quite believe it. i started watching a yearish ago, on the strong recommendation of my boyfriend joe. he started watching it in the first year of uni, spending freshers week ensconced in his room watching back to back episodes, he would walk around with his hood thrown up and his cans on, listening to the beats of baltimo’ hiphop. says it made him feel “street”. it’s his fault i watched it, so, props to joe. (thank you, thank you, save the applause).

i’ve never quite seen anything like the wire before. its a bit of a disconcerting mix between dark, brutal reality of the streets of baltimore, maryland (by this i mean drug dealers, hookers, dysfunctional families, desperate dock workers and immoral hacks) and the light humour of human reality. one of my favourite scenes is when omar little, one of the big and terrifying names of these mean streets, goes off in hunt of breakfast for his current squeeze. they have no honey nut.

the wire is endlessly quotable, and can make even the most white, middle class girl feel like a ghetto mama from murderland. it took me a while to get into, because let’s be honest, those unused to the african american dialect used gets some getting used to. i’ve heard those who NEED to have to have the subs turned on when they watch the wire - pussies, yo. that’s the thing with the wire - it takes effort. i should say now i was so determined to get to grips with it i did my second year coursework on it - i do english lit and lang, and spend 2500 words analysing the dialect used in episode 1.

you have to sort of force yourself through the first series (i’m not going to pretend i wasn’t bored to tears at some points, probably because i had no clue what was going on)

because it’s moments like that which make the wire a bloody good watch. people die all the time, some when you least expect it. some of those deaths just happen and you become a bit immune to them, but others are completely heart wrenching because you don’t realise how much you liked a character till their brains are in a bloody pool on a corner shop floor.

it’s subtle, the wire, and it doesn’t talk down to its audience. you have to be a bit clever with it, that’s why watching it and getting it feels like an accomplishment. so i’ve got two episodes left. there are five series in all, each focused on a seperate bit of society, but a central bunch of characters running through them all. i’m talking about mcnulty, bunk, lester, kimi et al - the latter’s character arc particularly interesting. i don’t know exactly what is coming, would be a bit shit if i did, but i can tell you now my heart is in my mouth.

you got to play the game. this america, man.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (or is that Smorrrg?)

So, it’s been a while - despite the fact that I saw it on the day of release (ok, day after), I’ve only just got round to penning my thoughts. Ah well. It’s taking Peter Jackson three 3 hour films to translate a 200 page book, so I’ll not beat myself up too much.

Right, so down to business. I’ll be straight with you and admit that I liked the first one a lot. I know there were many naysayers (“More like Bilbo BAGGY”, “Too much kitchen sink drama”, “What the fuck is Radagast on”, blah, blah, blah) but I found it a rollicking ride. Yes, it was too long, yes, there was too much slapstick and no, it didn’t compare to the orgasmic masterpiece that is LOTR, but I thought Jackson done good. We know it’s pretty much his personal wankfest, that’s why it’s so long, but still. It’s set in Middle Earth.

Bearing this in mind, I wasn’t one of those who was expecting the worst. 

But I got it.

Nah, just kidding. It was great! I have a couple of problems, which I will address, no fear, but overall it beat the first one hands down. We got great landscapes, great action, ok dialogue, and a nice bit of Jackson Added Backstory, which I quite enjoyed. I liked the inclusion from the appendices when Gandalf ran off to Gol Guldur and saw Sauron blossoming into being (although I take the point of a valued critic who dismissed the FX as a bit eighties). Beorn and Bard were highlights - I liked the way they did Lakeland, it made me want to visit. Stephen Fry was suitably grim as the Master, and Richard Armitage was nicely grumpy as Thorin. He did dragon greed good. I was also a fan of the opening scene in Bree, the young Barliman Butterbur was a nice touch. Martin Freeman did his thing, looking baffled but brave, and I wasn’t the only one to squeal when he spoke to Smaug  for the first time (ermagerrrd, Sherlock and Watson, willtheywon’ttheyyyy). Overall, the arrival at Erebor was decent, if a little overlong - the cinema was freezing and I needed the loo, so by then I was ready to take what I had and leave.

As a whole piece then, it was good but long - a familiar criticism. And it’s not as long as Gone With the Wind

My issues, then.  

The inclusion of fantasy she-elf Tauriel has definitely split opinion. I wasn’t particularly against her, Evangeline Lily was pretty good and I liked seeing Legolas again (although Orlando Bloom was once again beaten in the looks stakes by a rugged brunette: Bard) - I knew that PJ had put his stamp on it so I was prepared for these additions. Mirkwood was done well, and Legolas’s dad was a miserable fucker. So all good, fine, let’s have a new elf and bring back blondie.

The love triangle. Ouch. I detested this, I’m not sure why, maybe I’m just jealous of Tauriel (gotta love Aidan Turner) but I just did not like that whole thing between Kili and Tauriel. It just felt a) forced and b) unnecessary, and distracted from the rest of it. Time was being wasted, and if you cut that whole palava we could all go home a bit earlier. As standalone characters, they’re fine, but it didn’t seem to click in The Hobbit. Sorry.

Also, the Pale Orc thing again I am a bit tired of. He’s a scary villain, yeah, but do we need him as a threat when we have Sauron, a dragon and the impetus of returning to the fatherland to get our heroes going? I feel not. 

But in all honesty, these are pretty mild criticism - I liked this installment, but again am wondering what PJ is going to do for There and Back Again. There isn’t a whole lot of material left - but I trust him. If Return of the King is anything to go by, Jackson does third parters with style.

(Forgive the title - I’m just fed up of hearing radio pundits debate how to pronounce the bloody dragon’s name)

So, in case you were unaware, Nelson Mandela died on December 5, 2013. I heard in an Oxford pub, just after buying an overpriced (yet delicious) mulled cider. A headline update from the Guardian buzzed through my phone; I was shocked, and immediately told all my pint-toting peers, who were equally dismayed.

But we knew it was coming. He’d been ill for months, was 95, and had even been medically dead for a short amount of time. The world had been on tenterhooks for a good few months (my boyfriend’s Dad works for the BBC, and they have someone whose job it is to rebook the plane tickets to SA in case of emergency), yet when it happened we were all gobsmacked.

Reading the coverage, of which there has been a lot, I was mainly struck by those journalists from the generation who actively protested against apartheid, who were hollering ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ when it came out, who rallied at the Springboks match at Old Trafford. They can write about Mandela’s death now, knowing the contemporary situation and reception. They can record their own personal feeling about him, knowing how it felt to see him radically change the face of South Africa. They, to use that awfully clichéd term “were there”.

I’m jealous.

Honestly, the most I can know about Mandela is from books and the interweb. The most I have discussed Mandela with friends it related to the fact that Wadham college play The Specials at every bop. There are those who will come to know him by Idris Elba’s portrayal. It all seems a bit…lacking.

This, however, isn’t a piece about Mandela. I write, wondering whether there will ever be a figure like Mandela again. Students followed and lauded Mandela so much because he was an icon separated from them – he represented a wild struggle against a white, oppressive authority. That’s what students dreamed of doing, but from their enclaves in Bristol, Leeds or Manchester, such cause was hard to find. Mandela encapsulated that rebellious spirit, fighting in righteous anger. So students could rally behind a man who was fighting for human rights so ferociously.

I don’t think we’ll have that again. I think the comparable, current cause is sexism – women and men are swept in a gallant fight against misogyny, and it gets us riled. Comparable, too, are the fee hikes and cuts to education – I recently covered a march through Oxford which culminated in an occupation of exam schools. Admirable, but slightly laughable, as I saw young protesters shouting angriy whilst the university staff looked nonchalantly on.

That’s about as radical as it gets, nowadays. Who was the last individual political icon our generation fought for? All our politicians are either evil Tories or slightly uninspiring quasi lefties. Don’t get me wrong, I like Ed Miliband and his love for Robbie Williams, but he’s not going to have me marching in his name.

I guess I’m sad that we’ll never have someone like Mandela to watch with awe. Furthermore, even if we did, it may escape our notice. We’re in an age where we’re bombarded with so much news and so many people it’s hard to process it, let alone care about it, all. I love that I can get news wherever I want, in that little Oxford pub, but because I can, I wonder if it becomes part of everyday life all too easily. It’s harder for things to stand out anymore.

We need something or someone to care about. Let’s get angry.  


This can’t be said enough

my new simile for everything

Learning How to Listen

A few weeks ago, I was privileged to spend some time at the BBC, working on a show called ‘World Have Your Say’. Now, those familiar with the World Service will also be familiar with the ground breaking programme. For those that aren’t, here’s a brief. It pioneers collaborative journalism, gathering voices from around the world to comment and debate upon a topical story. These voices aren’t necessarily specialist or connoisseurs, but those who are affected or react to a world news event – as the show’s editor, Mark Sandell, told me, it has been criticised for not having enough experts on. He made the point that they are all experts, ordinary people with something to say.

WHYS “reacts” to the news, it doesn’t make it, and that’s what made the program so interesting to listen to, and to work on. In those few short days, it helped to broaden my world view, as I was surrounded by opinions that differed from my closeted, liberal English eyes. Why is there such a high culture of rape in India, for example? Not because Indian men are lawless animals, but, according to one speaker, the economical situation is so dire. People can’t afford to get married, so they get sex in other ways. Of course, I have my own opinions on the matter, but the point is there are a million others out there, and who am I to say which is right, which is wrong? People think what they think for a reason, and until you know those reasons, there’s no judgement here.

It was the topic of vigilante justice that led me to one of the most moving and illuminating conversations of my life. Given recent events in Mexico, with “Diana” the alleged bus driver hunter killing men in vengeance of those women raped and killed, we led with cases of vigilantism in general. Is it ever right to take the law into your own hands? In India, amongst the Pink Saris and Red Brigade, one woman who did was Suzette Jordan. I called Suzette to ask her whether she would like to appear on the program. She graciously accepted, and went on to tell me about her story.

Suzette had been enjoying a night out in Kolkata, when she became friendly with a man who started chatting with her. He offered her a lift home, and given they had got on well throughout the night, Suzette accepted. However, the night turned when he, instead of driving her home, took her to a hotel room. He was soon joined by several of his friends. They proceeded to torture and gang rape Suzette, before throwing her out on the street.

Feeling ashamed, she reported her ordeal to the police, where she was met with disrespect and humiliation. They didn’t believe her, and blamed her for the rape as she had agreed to accept a lift. Later, after encouragement from her aunt, Suzette approached the press, who helped publicise her story and went again to the police. She was then seen by a female officer, who listened and, after a long 13 months, two of her perpetrators were charged with gang rape.

This is not enough. Suzette’s point was that the authorities, there to protect and support women, do nothing of the sort. They ignore their pleas, and at worst, debase and disgrace them.  Suzette was only taken seriously when another brutal rape case reignited the debate, and she revealed her identity to the media, something unheard of in India. Suzette stood up against the police, told the world she had no shame, and that women should not live in crippling fear. She stresses that there is a very long way to go, and a war to be fought – but it can be won.

Hearing Suzette’s story was transformative for me. Speaking to her from an office in the middle of London, we couldn’t be further apart, yet she shared with me an intimate and distressing experience. In the end, we are both women who want justice. I was so humbled by that twenty minute conversation, and whilst I know I’m pulling out all the clichés in the book, I felt changed – and I told her that. Perspective is a valuable thing, and I feel I gained plenty with my conversation with Suzette, and the others I had during my time at the BBC. I learned that broadening horizons is essential if you want to understand the world and fundamental if you want to change it. The more people who hear stories like Suzette’s the better. We spend most of our time in a solipsistic bubble, and while I get how that can sometimes be necessary to function in everyday life, it can lead to a selfish immunity. Now and again, listen to something you know you’re going to find hard. It’s the least we can do.

In which CJ is my absolute favorite
  • C.J. Cregg:

    They beat women, Nancy. They hate women. The only reason they keep Qumari women alive is to make more Qumari men.

  • Nancy McNally:

    So what do you want me to do about it?

  • C.J. Cregg:

    How about instead of suggesting that we sell the guns to them, suggesting that we shoot the guns at them? And by the way, not to change the subject, but how are we supposed to have any moral credibility when we talk about gun control and making sure that guns don't get in the hands of the wrong people? God, Nancy! What the hell are we defining as the *right* people?

  • Nancy McNally:

    This is the real world and we can't isolate our enemies.

  • C.J. Cregg:

    I know about the real world and I'm not suggesting we isolate them.

  • Nancy McNally:

    You're suggesting we eliminate them

  • C.J. Cregg:

    I have a briefing...

  • Nancy McNally:

    You're suggesting that...

  • C.J. Cregg:

    I'm not suggesting anything. I don't suggest foreign policy around here.

  • Nancy McNally:

    You are right now.

  • C.J. Cregg:

    It's the 21st Century, Nancy. The world's gotten smaller. I don't know how we can tolerate this kind of suffering anymore, particularly when all it does is continue the cycle of anti-American hatred. But that's not the point, either.

  • Nancy McNally:

    What's the point?

  • C.J. Cregg:

    The point is that apartheid was an East Hampton clambake compared to what we laughingly refer to as the life these women lead. And if we had sold M1-A1's to South Africa fifteen years ago, you'd have set the building on fire. Thank God we never needed to refuel in Johannesburg!

  • Nancy McNally:

    [nods] It's a big world, C.J. And everybody has guns, and I'm doing the best I can.

  • C.J. Cregg:

    They're beating the women, Nancy.





Know where you stand.


Why I love history.