The Love List: May.

Ahoy, bangin’ babes of the blogosphere! I return, my body practically convulsing in exam period hysteria, to bring you another instalment of the Love List. Yes, it’s back! Like a nasty dangin’ flu you just can’t kick (or Arnie Schwarzenegger, for a much more pleasant analogy. BYO Austrian accent, of course).

It’s been a blustery, arctic month here in Melbhattan, what with winter drooling icily over the CBD, suburban backyards, faraway mountains, and often my Saturday night plans. Yet I’m pleased to report that despite said frosty temperatures, I have ventured outside the house on multiple occasions for an annual uni ball, drunken dumplings sessions, potluck dinners, spontaneous Brunswick adventures, walks along the Yarra and some Body Attack classes that are probably more aptly described as an exercise in self-inflicted torture. I’ve also been doing a shit tonne of online shopping this month because, hey, ASOS exists, and I possess about as much self-restraint as I imagine Tony Abbott would at a Speedo’s convention.

Song of the Month:

At the risk of sounding like a total bore, a ginormous chunk of May has been taken up by study; be it written assessment, textbook reading, or cramming ten million trusts cases. Like many, I float between background music while hitting the books, although certain artists definitely woo me into a productive frame of mind more than others. Key favourites are Bonobo, Bon Iver, London Grammar and some wonderful random classical music playlist I stumbled across via Spotify. But the holy grail of study music for me is definitely Grizzly Bear. This is for a thousand reasons, one being that their 2012 album Shields is the dictionary definition of perfection, another being that they are absolutely stupendous live (my housemate and I saw them in Stockholm, Sweden when I lived in Paris back in 2012 and I have never been the same since) and one more being that Ed Roste just generally takes the cake for the most awesome frontman on the planet (side note: check his Instagram. Nature porn on crack. Just on another level). So this month, although it’s a slight throwback, I’ve been all about Shields’ ‘Gun-Shy’; a quiet, unassuming track that just oozes cool and calm vibes.

Media-gasm of the Month:

The New Yorker is, and will always be, my biggest source of inspiration. Yes, it’s snotty and elitist, but the journalistic talent that rests between its pages is nothing short of genius. There are so many articles I want to link, because each feature just transports you to a whole other planet, usually about something that’s never even vaguely crossed your mind before. That’s one of the reasons I love this month’s ‘media-gasm’, Stephen Rodrick’s ‘The Nerd Hunter’. This article is all about Allison Jones, an American casting director who may not exactly trigger your memory at first, but is the guiding force behind the careers of everyone from Jason Segel, Seth Rogen and James Franco, to Scarlett Johansson, Kristen Wiig, and Aubrey Plaza. She’s also the mastermind behind casting the likes of Rainn Wilson as The Office‘s Dwight Schrute, Nick Offerman as Parks and Recreations‘ Ron Swanson, and, in a great touch, The Office’s Phyllis, who for years apparently worked as Jones’ casting associate and isn’t a trained actor (doesn’t that just make your heart burst?) Look, I think I’ve divulged enough already. If you’re a TV nut or just like learning about the entertainment biz, this read is right up your glorious media-gasm alley.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/04/06/the-nerd-hunter

Fashion Item of the Month:

Rejoice, all ye fellow fashionistas! Revel in the rare event that trainers are en vogue, even if it’s just for a few minuscule moments. In the midst of a property law-induced haze, I caved into buying these babies online, the Adidas Originals Superstar 80s DLX Trainers in White and Green (woah! What a mouthful). I am so far from being a sneaker person. A velvet slipper or fun pointed flat, sure, but runners? Not usually my jam. Still, to me these scream “Hi! I’m a sophisticated French tennis player from the ’60s!” and “How ridiculously comfy are my feet right now?!” They also yell, “Don’t you dare get dog poo on me!” and “What’s for dinner?!” but I’ve usually told them to be quiet by then.

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Meal of the Month:

The Rochester Hotel, lovingly known as the Rochy, met a cruel fate early last year when it closed its grimy, beer-stained doors after a few difficult months. This Fitzroy pub is an absolute institution to my boyfriends’ friends and I, having spent countless dirty Saturday nights obscenely loose on its dance floor, and many a Wednesday howling with laughter at its famous Trivia evenings. We befriended the most amazing staff, flew paper planes down its sticky floors, took over the pool table, danced to sweaty bands upstairs, drank our weight in free cider jugs, and agonised over the meanings of the cryptic notes on its toilet doors. My boyfriend Michael even had a crack at their famous Clive Parma Challenge, where he attempted to chow down five chicken parmagianas stacked on top of each other with a serve of chips and salad – $30, and your money back if you finish it. Needless to say, much like the old Rochy we adored, Michael just didn’t make it to the end.

After many painful months standing by as the Rochy decayed into a boarded-up, heavily-graffitied, ghost hotel, I was beyond delighted when new owners began to breathe life into the pub we once called home. A few Friday nights ago, we ventured back to our beloved haunt to try its new incarnation, Miss Katies’ Crab Shack.

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This is definitely not the first time someone has got crabs from the Rochy… ha! Oh, and this is my boyfriend. He will probably bombard me with embarrassed texts in T- 20 minutes when he reads this blog post and sees his photo here. Hi Michael! Say hi to Michael, internet pals! Bib aside, I promise he is 10/10 rad and awesome.

Feasting on their famous country boil of a ginormous crab, surrounded by potatoes, corn and Kransky sausages, we also ordered soft-shell crab sliders, beer, and salty chilled prawns, which were as delicious as they were fun to pull apart and devour. We didn’t go overboard on the ordering, because Michael had already tried the fried chicken with waffles, and their chilli cheese fries. Needless to say, they are apparently nek level and I experienced crippling food envy upon seeing them on fellow diners’ tables, so God help me I will be back before the month ends to try those too.

While the crab was mouth-wateringly good (once you eventually tore it apart), I really wasn’t there for the boil. Frankly, it was enough of an adventure just putting on our geeky plastic bibs, using such novel utensils, and seeing the space we worshipped transform into such an atmospheric, hipster seafood joint. Where were the sleazy Strokes fans liasing by the bar tables? Why can’t I smell that intriguing stank of grit, sweat and vodka vomit?!  The actual food at Miss Katie’s is probably about a 7.5/10: great fun when you’re in the mood for some quirk and a cheeky calorie hit, but perhaps one to miss when taking Mum and Dad out for a sophisticated birthday dinner (or looking to impress a first date without wearing a bib drenched in ranch dressing). Still, a place where the music rocks, the candles are lit and memories flood back of grungy dance floor raves, pool table successes and questionable life choices? That will bring me back, time after time.

Most Googled Topic of the Month:

Without a doubt, this has to go to the Eurovision Song Contest 2015. It only finished less than 24 hours ago, and thus the smell of smoke machine and Russian tears still lingers nostalgically in the air. This was the first year in history that Australia was allowed to compete, which is both insanity and the most incredible thing that has ever happened to this country, ever (too far?). Being a little too obsessed with this Europop glitter fest that basically entails fighting World War 3 through spandex and key changes, needless to say, this has been a hot topic for me this month. What’s more, having all round Best Person in the Universe Lee Lin Chin read the Australian votes just took it to a WHOLE other planet. Swedish winner Mans Zelmerlow was of course a standout, and Australia’s rep Guy Sebastian killed it (despite wearing a fedora, ew), but my favourite would have to be Estonia’s entry “Goodbye to Yesterday”, which is genuinely a seriously addictive tune I may quietly download later on this eve (hey, don’t hate the playa, hate the game, baby). I would link it, but let’s be real, these gifs are far more entertaining.

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Inspiring Person of the Month:

In light of this infectious Eurovision fever, how can I not give the title of most inspiring person of the month to Conchita Wurst, aka Tom Neuwith? The Austrian hosts jokingly called her the “Queen of Europe” at the final last night, but I’ve got to say, I quite seriously agree with that title. The impact of Conchita Wurst is something that deserves a whole other blog post of its own (one day soon I’ll write one!), but let’s just say this for now- what she has done for LGBTQI rights and stigma in Europe is nothing short of unbelievable. The tolerance and equality she promotes is so much more than a European karaoke contest or a big silver trophy, and the light she has brought to so many lives cannot be underestimated. Above it all, there is nothing more inspiring than seeing a person truly comfortable in their own skin (Also, just saying, wouldn’t you sell a kidney for a waist like that?! And the sparkly pink jumpsuit. #FLAWLESS).

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Note: Conchita holding the hand of Russian contestant and runner-up Polina as she nervous cried and freaked out as the votes were being read. Comforting someone so publicly even though the country they represent not only wants to censor you from their TV screens, but actually has laws that cripple your sexuality? Now that is class.

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TV Show of the Month:

Orange is the New Black. I don’t even need to say anything else. Watched the entire thing in 10 days, without even a smidge of guilt. This show is seriously, seriously good. Go on, finish season two, so we can talk! Quiiick!

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Holy guacamole, what’s that? You got through that ginormous rambling post and have still hung onto the end?! Sweet Jesus, what a marathon. You deserve the largest M&M McFlurry I can find at 11.18pm on a Monday night for this kind of commitment. Second best to that, here’s a topless photo of the winner of Eurovision this year. I mean… what? How’d that get in there?

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You (and your ovaries) can thank me later.

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The Love List: April.

When I was in high school, my best friend and I would sporadically message each other to demand an exchange of our latest newfound music obsessions. Both being colossal Francophone nerds, this usually entailed YouTube links to soppy Carla Bruni confections, peppered with the occasional Kelly Clarkson hit, Eskimo Joe power ballad, or obscure movie soundtrack. Despite our clear lack of music-hunting prowess (whatever happened to Eskimo Joe?), there was something so inexplicably comforting about listening to my friend’s suggestions. Because music is so flippin’ personal, corny as it sounds, getting a glimpse into what my galpal had on repeat  while cramming international studies homework seemed so intimate and lovely, like finally understanding the inner workings of her brain. What did she listen to in the dead of night? What made her want to dance? What made her run that much further? What wrestled into her veins, knifed her soul, and made her cry?

Currently studying postgraduate law, waist-deep in stiflingly horrendous administrative law cases; I’ve swiftly learnt that the world is a much brighter place when you have things to be inspired by. Life is so much better when you’re excited, whether that’s about the latest episode of Game of Thrones, a fancy ramen joint opening up around the corner, a new pair of tailored navy Topshop trousers (just me?) or the fact Tony Abbott ate an entire raw onion. With ‘Don’t Tell Mama’ being my little sparkly corner of the internet, I’d like to propose my new monthly venture, The Love List: a bite-size insight of what’s filling my belly, what’s pumping through my earphones, what’s filling up my ASOS shopping cart, and what’s keeping me sane. I miss sharing those songs with my friend, so it’s time to get the blogosphere involved. Surely if these things have jazzed up my month, they could pep up yours too. And if not, well, you might just get a decent New Yorker article out of it, or at least a half-arsed excuse to fangirl over Taylor Swift (actually, I retract that. Do you need a reason?).

Anyway, enough yacking. Herewith lies my list for March/April, a month of mid-term university assignments, theatre visits, and approximately 36873 Cadbury Easter eggs.

Song of the month:

Fronted by full-on musical legend Alexander Gow, Melburnian indie rock band Oh Mercy is way up there as one of my favourite groups of all time. I’ve been forever enamoured by their 2009 album ‘Privileged Woes’ (and follow-ups ‘Great Barrier Grief’ and ‘Deep Heat’ go down damn well on a Sunday afternoon) but something about their latest track release, Sandy, just makes me feel invincible (and okay, kind of sexy. Can I say that on here? Hi Mum!). I’d love to say Sandy makes me want to slap on red lippy and go flirt with a thousand Calvin Klein models in a darkly lit bar, but it really doesn’t. I just want to blare this track full blast while jumping up and down on my bed, screaming the lyrics in my underwear… 10/10 obsessed with this song, which is probably no surprise considering my crush on Alexander is currently reaching obscene heights, rivalled only by mid-2000’s Jake Gyllenhaal.

Media-gasm of the month:

A self-confessed media nerd, there is nothing like a stellar article, podcast or documentary to really get the inspiration flowing. This month it’s Alec Baldwin’s podcast, Here’s the Thing, hosted by WNYC and in association with Killer Content. Basically, Alec Baldwin’s voice is caramelised crack. It’s orgasmic. I could listen to him read the back pages of the Financial Review or the instruction manual of a hairdryer and still be head-over-heels. Surprisingly, Baldwin is a killer interviewer, and I really respect the idea behind the podcast- a focus on “intimate and honest conversations” with people that delve into how they got their careers started and what inspires them. For someone incredibly disillusioned with her degree at the moment, this is heavenly. I haven’t worked my way through all of them yet, but so far Lorne Michaels, Lena Dunham, Chris Rock and Kris Jenner (Bow down to the queen of momagers!) are standouts. Still, the best one to date has definitely been Kristen Wiig’s. Somehow, discovering that she spent a good part of her twenties working at Anthropologie makes me feel infinitely more okay with my life choices. I’ve linked it below in case you need a further excuse to procrastinate (you know you do).

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http://www.wnyc.org/story/197391-kristen-wiig/

Food of the month:

Hands down, the apple pie waffles at Mixed Business cafe (Clifton Hill, Melbourne). Ginormous, piping-hot buttermilk waffles with blistered, maple baked apples, crumbling pecan biscuit, covered in melting vanilla icecream. Who knew something could be better than Ryan Gosling naked, a binge-watch of ‘Girls’, and Solange Knowles’ wardrobe combined? Being a) lactose/fructose intolerant and b) possessor of a metabolism that operates at the speed of a snail on a peak-hour tram, I reluctantly resisted these babies, but my boyfriend devoured them in a matter of seconds.

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Oh, and with it being April, shout out to the literal hundreds of easter eggs I consumed in the space of 72 hours. Why can’t it be Easter all the time? Or at the very least, mini eggs should be available year round. I’m surprised there hasn’t already been a nation-wide rally, to be honest.

Fashion item of the month:

Despite now being unemployed and thus having a severe lack of fat stacks to burn, I stumbled across these Martha Jean earrings whilst perusing High St, Northcote last Saturday afternoon. How could a gal resist? A nifty price point, and a local designer? I mean, really, it would only be polite to buy one in both gold and black. Just doing my part to stimulate the economy. Thank me later, Joe Hockey.

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Cultural activity of the month: 

‘Cultural activity’ seems like such a wanky way to phrase it, but how else do you encapsulate plays/ gigs/ comedy shows/ concerts into the one category? Stay with me (or suggest a better name in the comments! Culture Club nearly won, but to be honest, I feel like this blog is jazzy enough without continuous Boy George references).

Anyway, being a Melburnite, I went along to see two comedians at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this month, Adam Hills’ ‘Clown Heart’ and Rich Hall’s ‘3:10 to Humour’. Rich Hall NAILED it. Man, when you get two hundred politics nerds in the room and then a comedian starts talking about gun control, you just know shit’s going to get real very fast. I also saw the Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Samuel Beckett’s ‘Endgame’ on Monday night, but I’m not sure I’d recommend that, unless you like absurdist drama, an impending apocalypse, and not understanding anything you’re seeing.

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Inspiring person of the month:

Bryan Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative and NYU law professor. If you’re a law student (and okay, even if you’re not), just watch his TedX Talk. The man is a walking legend. He needs no other introduction. I ordered his book ‘Just Mercy’ online, and plan to read it in approximately ten thousand years, when my trusts law professor will eventually stop giving me fifty-page cases to read every night.

Most Googled topic of the month:

Following on from my recent obsession with Bryan Stevenson, and in light of recent events concerning the Boston Bomber, my boyfriend and I have been completely fascinated with the death penalty in the United States. In particular, I was shocked to discover more about the botched execution of death row prisoner Joseph Wood in Arizona last year, and, following a bit of a gallop into the Internet hole, found myself on the Death Penalty Information Center’s website, accessible here. Being incredibly fortunate to live in a country where the possibility of state execution doesn’t hang over my head, I found the statistics regarding death penalty in the U.S. equal parts intriguing and horrifying, and was shocked to learn that California has the largest death row in the country (currently at a whopping 751 inmates, despite not having executed a single prisoner since 2006). Regardless of your beliefs (and heck, mine definitely reside in the anti-capital punishment territory), this topic is only becoming increasingly important, and, yes, one hundred percent Google-able.

(Coming close second: is Taylor Swift dating Calvin Harris? GUYS, serious question. They did look matey at Whole Foods. Okay, enough about that.)

Website of the month:

This month, what with a plethora of incredibly uninspiring uni lectures, I’ve been obsessed with the fashion blog of Ms Pandora Sykes: fashion writer, stylist and blogger. When I should have been giving my undivided attention to a case about mortgages, I’ve instead regularly perused the many inspired posts of this glorious English fashion maven. I could not be more in love with her chunky, fab coats layered with shirts, brogues, tights, and everything else under the sun- glitter, pom poms, piercings… And shout out to her use of the word ‘home slice’, which has now become an awesomely unexpected addition to my vocab (what’s up, home slice?)

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Movie of the month:

Now that I think about it, I’m fairly sure this is the only movie I’ve seen this month (does a Say Yes To The Dress marathon count?). Very late to the party, but I watched Interstellar on the weekend, while lying in front of a fireplace eating taramasalata and pita in my pyjamas on a Saturday night (yo don’t hate the playa, hate the game, baby). I’m equal parts amazed and totally freaked out by space, and this movie only intensifies both those emotions. Moreover, it’s the first movie I’ve seen that’s officially part of the “McConnaissance“, and dang, the dude’s got downright talent. I’m not a sci-fi/fantasy chick by any realm of the universe (ha! See what I did there?) but I didn’t snooze off or even check my Instagram during the entire film, which is basically like climbing Everest: it’s BIG. But what I love more than anything else about the movie? It reminded me that at the end of the day, we’re all here on this tiny little unique planet, spinning around a slowly dying sun in an infinite universe, a tiny speck within the concept of time. And suddenly… whether Taylor Swift is dating Calvin Harris doesn’t matter anymore. You feel insignificant, but in a way that is oddly comforting, not isolating- like you’re part of a wider narrative.

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(Okay, just kidding. Whether they’re dating TOTALLY matters).

Well, that’s clearly enough ranting for one day. I’ve got all that #inspo off my chest and now I’m as happy as a clam, ready to perve on what you’ve been loving this month too. Share below if you please! There’s always time to procrastinate. And hey, if you’re Alec Baldwin… call me.

Eurovision 2014: Holograms, Wind Machines and Rising Like a Phoenix.

Grab the Kleenex, dear friends. Find a strong shoulder to cry on. Hold my hand. Yes, it’s true. The 59th Eurovision Song Contest is officially over for 2014. I know, I know. It’s tragic. I’m already having hairspray withdrawal symptoms.

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This year held in Copenhagen, Denmark, the only way to describe Eurovision for those who have not yet seen it is that it’s basically European Idol on steroids. What contest is complete without pyrotechnics, human hamster wheels, fire, and costumes that look like the entire cast of Wicked threw up on them? Think wind machines, glitter, and hairstyles that well and truly belong behind the Iron Curtain. With competitors from 37 countries (and viewers from countless more- hellooo Australia), Eurovision is entwined with the underlying complexities of EU tensions, all culminating in one lucky country being awarded the coveted Eurovision trophy. It is hilarious, daggy, and unashamedly fabulous.

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Last year, more than 180 million people worldwide tuned into the extravaganza, then held in Malmo, Sweden. With this weekend’s spectacular arguably the most talked about in its nearly 60-year history, and some cracking best moments, viewing audience records are expected to be smashed like the Berlin Wall. More than ever, Aussies have claimed the contest as our own, with our debut performance at intermission care of the gorgeous Jessica Mauboy.

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Although touted as a non-political musical contest that unites all of Europe through power ballads and fake eyelashes, this year it seems current events just couldn’t be left in the wings. Indeed, the tension between Ukraine and Russia remained the enormous, bumbling elephant in the stadium. It rose to a ferocious climax when the Russian entrants, the Tomalchevy Sisters, were audibly booed during both the semis and the grand final voting. The 17-year-old twins began their song “Shine” with interconnected ponytails that resembled a faux umbilical cord, and spent most of their time on stage on a giant seesaw. Crooning “living on the edge, closer to the crime, cross the line, one step at a time… maybe there’s a day you’ll be mine,” you don’t have to be Henry Kissinger to interpret their lyrics as mirroring the invasion of Crimea and Russia’s territorial ambitions in the former Soviet Bloc.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian songstress Mariya Yaremchuk and her somewhat ironically titled song “Tick Tock” was accompanied by a guy in a human hamster wheel and some pretty impressive hair extensions blowing in the wind machine breeze. Maria stressed the song was free from political intentions. Well, with lines such as “my heart is like a clock, you wind it with your love”, it probably was. Still, controversy arose when organisers revealed that Crimea’s Eurovision votes were counted as Ukrainian because their tallies were based on existing national telephone codes. And, for those playing at home, Ukraine beat Russia by one spot- the feuding nations coming sixth and seventh respectively.

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Not to be overshadowed, the 35 other Eurovision entrants arrived at Copenhagen’s B&W Hallerna stadium armed with plenty of conversation-starters.

21-year-old Danish crooner Basim belted out “Cliché Love Song” to his home crowd, all about falling in love with a lesbian. Slovenia’s entry consisted of a woman dressed like an evil Disney character, armed with a jazz flute, while Romania’s featured a 30 second hologram of their singer Paula, uncannily resembling a fourth Kardashian sister. Greek band Freaky Fortune’s “Rise Up” was said to inspire the disgruntled Greek youth into rebellion and revolution, but really appeared an excuse for men in tight pants to jump up and down on a trampoline. Belarus’ entry “Cheesecake” was not so much an ode to baked goods as it was lead singer Teo berating his ex-girlfriend for calling him her “sweet cheesecake”. Often referred to as the European rip-off of Robin Thicke, his dance moves were a little more Backstreet Boy, and perhaps served best in moderation.

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Poland’s sexed-up, saucy “We Are Slavs” consisted entirely of washerwomen, boobs, butter churning, boobs, traditional dancing and, well, boobs. This might explain why the video has been viewed over 43 million times on YouTube, and why UK voters ranked the Polish performance number one. Apparently, nothing says Europe like a busty milkmaid.

 

Crowd favourite, Swedish singer Sanna Nielsen, warbled beautifully, but may need some English lessons after key chorus line “undo my sad.” But the sad was truly undone for tiny Republic San Marino, who got a little emotional after finally qualifying for the final after four failed attempts and two withdrawals for financial reasons, having only participated in the contest since 2008. It was entrant Valentina Monetta’s third time at Eurovision, and, with a population only three times larger than the actual crowd at the Copenhagen stadium, questions have been raised as to whether there are actually any other singers in San Marino who could enter.

Yes, it appeared that the theme for the night was well and truly one of acceptance. Proudly known as a gay icon, the Eurovision Song Contest stood as a strong statement against Russia’s anti-LGBTI laws, Copenhagen swarming with pride flags and expressions of tolerance.

“No Prejudice”, sung by Icelandic band Pollapönk, saw members looking like the Wiggles on LSD, in suits every colour of the rainbow, and a member of their own parliament on background vocals. “Being middle aged, heterosexual, white men makes us a majority group and we believe that we should use this opportunity to point out the injustice in the world,” the band, who are mostly pre-school teachers by day, told Gay Star News. And what was behind their decision to rock dresses on the Eurovision red carpet? One member replied simply, “it’s very comfortable to wear, and I feel sexy.”

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But the resounding highlight of the night indisputably went to the winner of the Contest for 2014, Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst. With her cascading locks, piercing eyes, enviable figure, and bushy brown beard, Conchita wowed audiences internationally with her rousing rendition of “Rise Like A Phoenix”, widely touted as a genuine candidate for the next Bond theme.

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25-year-old Conchita is no stranger to controversy. Following the announcement of her candidature last year, a 31,000 like-strong “Anti-Wurst” Facebook campaign began, and, in October, Belarus’ Ministry of Information called for her performance be edited out of their Eurovision broadcast, deemed a “hotbed of sodomy.” Russia and Armenia launched similar petitions against her televising. The leader of the Russian Liberal Democratic Party even asserted that Conchita showed that the Soviet army made a mistake in freeing Austria from occupation fifty years ago. Wow.

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Still, Ms Wurst, born Tom Neuwith, clearly didn’t allow politics to rain on her spangly parade. Her “Phoenix” anthem, an ode to those struggling with identity and discrimination, was heralded a grand success and, last night, secured the first Eurovision victory for Austria since 1966 with a win of 290 points. More importantly, Conchita’s tears of shock and heartfelt thank you’s saw her winning hearts all over the world. “I hope we can change just a few minds,” said René Berto, Wurst’s agent. “It is just a lady with a beard. But it is like we have landed on the moon.”

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First published in Farrago Magazine Online

Baby, It’s Cold Outside: Sochi 2014

It’s time. Dust off that mink coat, retrieve your finest Russian vodka, and switch on ye olde telly box, because the 22nd Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, have officially begun.

If you’re anything like me, Russian geography isn’t exactly your speciality, so allow me to enlighten you of the Olympics’ whereabouts. Sochi is a city in the Krasnodar Krai territory just north of Georgia, along the border of the Black Sea directly opposite Turkey. This city, which boasts a population of 400,000, is apparently so far removed from the icy throes of winter it is affectionately labelled the “Russian Riviera”, or the Florida of Russia. Famously remembered as the location of Stalin’s summer home, some news sources have even gone so far as to call Sochi “subtropical” and “balmy”. Temperatures rarely drop below 8 degrees Celsius, and at press time, there was no snow to be seen other than in the 500 faux snow guns specially imported from Finland. Yes, a seaside town seems a questionable choice for a Winter Olympics in an otherwise arctic Russia, particularly if it means Speedo’s could be involved.

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Still, who are we to judge? No doubt these Games will be spectacular, if its total expenditure of US$50 billion is anything to go by. President Putin is footing the bill of one of the costliest Olympics of all time, with brand spanking new infrastructure including the Fisht stadium,  rumoured at 14 times over its initial budget, and some highly fascinating double toilets. For the next ten days, we will watch as 6,000 athletes from 85 countries compete in 89 events and, according to CNN, consume 265,000 litres of Russian borscht in their Olympic Village. More importantly, we will see some outrageous uniforms that may make you simultaneously snort and cry (Norway, anyone?), and even the return of another Jamaican bobsled team, “Cool Runnings” style. We’ve already witnessed the Olympic torch being shot into space and completing a space walk, so no doubt future Games antics will be, well, out of this world.

Still, not everything about this Winter Olympics is as pure as the driven snow (oh yes, pun definitely intended). Russia’s recently adopted, draconian legislation banning gay “propaganda” to minors has been internationally criticized, with the global spotlight now shining on Russia’s LGBTQI community. With politically motivated social conservatism at a momentous high, things are unbelievably tough for gay and lesbian people in Russia right now. There are widespread calls for the criminalization of homosexuality, only encouraged by public figures, such as TV anchor Dmitriy Kiselyov, and growing anti-gay violence in city centres. As a result, it seems calls for boycotting the Winter Games have quite literally snowballed. 27 Nobel laureates have signed a letter demanding a repeal of the laws essentially denying homosexuality. A 200,000 signature strong petition headed by Amnesty International has condemned Putin’s new legislation ahead of the Games. Even the International Olympic Committee asked its Russian organizers last week to respect press freedom and freedom of speech during the event, when it comes to athletes speaking out about the controversial legislation.

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When coupled with the country’s already controversial political situation, threats of terrorism, and the 150th anniversary of the Circassian genocide, Putin may have hit a bit of an iceberg. Barack Obama, Francois Hollande, Angela Merkel and David Cameron, to name a few, have announced they will not be attending the Games as spectators, citing the Kremlin’s anti-gay legislation as highly contrary to the Olympic spirit (China’s leader Xi Jinping will be attending, however- his third trip to Russia in just 12 months). While the United States is not withdrawing their team, Obama has made a statement of sending openly gay LGBTQI sportsmen along to Sochi. “If Russia doesn’t have gay or lesbian athletes, then that would probably make their team weaker,” he said in August.

None of this seems to be an issue, of course, because Sochi mayor Anatoly Pakhomov has told the BBC in an interview that aside from foreign tourists, there are no homosexuals in his city (and don’t we all believe that?). Luckily, then, it appears no one will have the urge to protest at Sochi. But if they were to, surely any one of the 37,000 security officers deployed for the Winter Olympics could step in and, er, break the ice. Literally.

Thankfully, Russia’s horrific treatment of their gay and lesbian community hasn’t deterred too many athletes from going for gold. “I want to be proud of who I am and be proud of all the work I’ve done to get into the Olympics,” openly gay Australian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff revealed in a recent interview.  And she’s not too pleased with President Putin. “After I compete, I’m willing to rip on his ass,” she has said.

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This is the first time Russia has held a Winter Olympics, and it seems the event is already sending chills down some international spines. So, the expected global television audience of 3 billion waits with bated (foggy) breath for news of the shenanigans in the snowy city by the sea.

PS- The Russian Police seem a lot less terrifying in their choir’s rendition of Get Lucky. Just sayin’.

Neknomania.

I’m sorry, do we know each other? Uh, this is awkward. Let me reintroduce myself. Bonjour, I’m Phoebe, an absolute dorkface who has not partied it up in the blogosphere since a very mortifying August 2013.

I know what you’re thinking. Did aliens abduct me? Did I finally manoeuvre that life transplant with Beyonce? Did I fall into a newly discovered, Carrie Diaries-induced television coma? No, no, and … no comment. Deplorable excuses aside, I’m baaaack. I’m going to take you to the blogging candy shop. I’m going to let you lick my blogging lollipop (what? Okay, this metaphor needs to stop). Today’s temperature here in Melbourne is a blistering, brain-melting 44 degrees and it seems all my body can manage is to eat its weight in Frosty Fruits and type sweet lil nothings into the Internet’s ear.

Naturally, there have been a billion and two topics to discuss since August 2013: the treatment of asylum seekers, boycotting the Sochi Winter Olympics, our brand spanking new PM, that disturbing fad of pairing Nikes with jeans to name a mere few. Most recently, Lena Dunham’s hipster baby Girls Season 3 was birthed to the world, and while I journo-gasm at the thought of a lengthy discussion about Hannah Horvath’s nudity, the last thing the Internet needs is another opinion on Girls. But what I have noticed as being the flavour of the month is neknomination,. Or, as I should write, #NEKNOM (#badass #yolo #haiboyz #etc).

The highly academic and trustable Urban Dictionary defines neknomination as

“a grand tradition, with origins dating back to Mesopotamian time, in which a neknominator has the honor (after posting a video of themselves sculling/chugging whatever alcoholic beverage the have available to them) of calling out or “#neknominating” in conjunction with a Facebook tag two others to sculling/chugging an alcoholic beverage. Scholars say the first of the modern era neknominations started with a naval officer in a submarine sinking to the bottom of the Mariana trench and with his last means of communication he had, he #neknominated Will Smith and The KFC Colonel. If you’ve got one, scull a BEER ya pussy.”

If your Facebook feed is anything like mine you will know exactly what this is referring to. If not, essentially, people are uploading a video of themselves chugging alcohol as fast as they can onto social media, then proudly tagging two other friends to do the same. Yes, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds. I found this one quickly on ye olde Tube de You. It’s probably one of the most obtuse ones out there:

Yes, that person really exists. Now, I don’t like to think of myself as the kind of gal who would poop a party by hiding all the pina coladas, smashing an iPod dock pumping Jay-Z, or sitting on the birthday cake. It’s important to be pro stuff, not anti stuff. But I’m putting on the Granny pants for this one. WHY IS THIS A THING? I will fiercely defend my Generation Y co-people until the day I cark it, but this really is an insanely stupid trend that bears zero reason to even vaguely exist. Neknomination is concrete proof that Australia’s binge drinking culture is not just socially acceptable- it’s a social expectation. We can all sheepishly raise our hands and admit we’ve necked a bev or two as part of a drinking game with pals, or skolled the Kings cup one too many times, but boasting about it on social media just takes it to a whole new level where people seek validation for consuming alcohol. By “neknominating” somebody, this game suggests that drinking beer isn’t so much a way to treat or even socially lubricate yourself, it’s a way of showing that you are “man enough”. Chugging a beer no longer means skolling the rest of your glass quickly before the pub closes, or as an ultimate dare- it’s an assertion of masculinity, strength, and that highly-sought-after “cool” factor. What’s more, the process of tagging your friends to join in on this task on social media escalates peer pressure to such a humongous height that if someone resists, they’re not only shunned by their friends, but by the entire online sphere too. It’s not a harmless way to share a bev with your buds- it’s a fully-fledged competition. What did that Urban Dictionary definition say again? Oh yeah. “If you’ve got one, scull a beer ya pussy.”

It’s highly improbable that inhaling one lone beer will kill you, but when we put this game into the scale and context of Australia’s alcohol-worshipping binge drinking culture, it’s really not something that any of us should be endorsing. A couple of bevs after work followed by few hours of drinking games with the lads, then a drunken #neknom dare? That’s the kind of picture Neknomination paints for me here in Australia, not just one standard drink being consumed in lightning speed. In this way, a cheeky #neknom may easily lead to a range of seriously dangerous, drunken situations. Immediate issues of alcohol poisoning, choking on your own vomit, or even just the insanely painful hangover the next morning could make way for more concerning risks- the link between cancer and excessive alcohol consumption being just one of many. Having had to call an ambulance recently myself because a friend of mine got far too wasted and was having trouble staying conscious or communicating, I can tell you personally that getting obscenely drunk isn’t always sunshine and rainbows.

Health issues aside, what also comes to my mind with this neknomination trend is the number of unfortunate future consequences for all these bright-eyed and bushy-tailed beer chuggers. One can only imagine the kind of reactions potential employers might have when they stalk their candidate’s Facebook wall to make sure their lives are vanilla enough to be hired, only to find a year-old viralvideo of them chugging a beer alone in their undies, or while driving, or, as that seriously gross guy above was, to the applause of friends out of a toilet bowl (classy). Let’s just say the likelihood of that unhygienic lad getting that coveted position at KPMG might as well be flushed down the loo along with the Carlton they were trying to skoll.

It’s a pleasure to go out for a night on the turps in a dirty pub every once in a while, but this notion of competing with mates to neck as much alcohol as possible for the “glory” of the internet is just another byproduct of the increasingly destructive binge drinking culture we are immersed in. I’m not trying to be Senior Constable of the Fun Police here, but it doesn’t take a sip of an Asahi to see that this Neknomination trend is an embarrassment to all of us twentysomethings on this alcohol-marinated island we live on.

If that wasn’t convincing enough, how about a video of our former Prime Minister Bob Hawke doing a neknomination too? Yes. For real.

Really, Australia? REALLY?

North Korea: For Dummies

Newsflash: it seems Kim Jong-un can’t get no satisfaction. Right this moment, national news programs are self-combusting with Pyongyang’s tantalizing threats of nuclear warfare. We all know Kim Jong-Il liked to look at things. But when struggling with the bona fide prospect of getting our pants nuked off, the world is surely in need of factual information a little more, well, explosive. So what, in the name of khaki uniforms, is the deal with North Korea?

Today, U.N. sanctions appear as common as coughs. State propaganda threatens to turn foes “into a sea of fire,” while missiles stay “mounted on launch pads, aimed at the windpipe of our enemies.” This permanent state of war is all the isolated Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has ever known. Once tumultuously ruled by both Japan and the Soviet Union, North Korea has always remained in conflict with its Southern counterpart- even though a hostile armistice ended the Korean War in 1953. As of March 13 this year, the Republic terminated this olive branch of peacekeeping- clearly, a source of much anxiety for nations alike (and not exactly chicken soup for the Seoul).

But there’s a crux within this politically fiery landscape. Even if neighbouring allies China and Russia suggest the contrary, North Korea is no longer communist. Since 1972, the Republic has worshipped Juche, which, according to North Korea’s official webpage, means “that the masters of the revolution and construction are the masse of the people and that they are also the motive force of the revolution and construction.” Okay… what? Was that an ideological explanation or a power tool instruction manual? Essentially, Juche allows the Republic to be totalitarian to the core by justifying their despotic ways under themes of self-sufficiency and passionate state supremacy. Oh, and by maintaining murderous political prison camps. Lovely.

The fact is, Juche works. North Koreans are crippled by crisis- hunger is rife, poverty prevalent, hospitals disastrous and propaganda spoon-fed from birth. Yet whispered reports of inconsequential rebellions are few and far between, mostly because the population appears genuinely brainwashed into loving their leaders, fighting for their state (with the fourth largest army in the world), and fearing foreign powers like the U.S or South Korea will invade at any time.

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This might explain the defining characteristic of North Korea’s international persona- its kooky choice of leaders; alongside a cult of personality that ensures their militarized population trust the “Kims” to watch over like loving fathers. First up was Kim Il Sung- the Communist creator of the guerrilla Korean People’s Army who reigned the Republic for forty-six years, initiated the current regime and is forever known to North Korea as the “Eternal President”. Next came the seventeen-year wrath of Kim Jong-il, who, according to a 2004 Human Rights Watch report, ran one of the world’s most repressive governments- restricting press, religion, education and political opposition, prolonging famine, and producing nuclear weapons. This was all pretty violent for a guy who was born mountaintop beneath a double rainbow. Nowadays, Kim Jong Un reigns the Republic, the chubby-cheeked, new-generation son with a penchant for NBA, crew cuts, and international fear-mongering. 

Now for the million-won question. Is it time to turn the basement into a bomb shelter? While we have reasons to be alert, experts warn these nuclear threats are magnified by internal politics.  The North Korean government often manipulates the international community’s fear of nuclear war so they can feast upon much-needed aid and donations. For example, the early 1990s saw a nuclear weapons program swapped for $5 billion in fuel and two reactors, with a similar scenario reoccurring in 2006. Christopher Voss, past FBI hostage negotiator, asserted, “From the outside, it makes no sense. From the inside, it makes all the sense in the world…. You keep playing the game as long as it works.”

We are encouraged to downplay these fanatical taunts as a way of thwarting Kim Jong Un’s tactic of using unpredictability as a crippling power-solidification tool. And we should, because in the face of increasing exposure to the outside world, this desperate tyrant has got a lot to lose. So long story short: there’s no need on the horizon to diarise being nuked. Regardless, I’m not sure I’d fancy a holiday to Pyongyang anytime soon. Then again, I’m not Dennis Rodman.

*First published in Farrago Magazine, Edition Four*

The New Winter Coat: Beards in Melbourne

Originally written for a journalism class, but thought I’d share it with you beautiful peaches.

Move over Don Draper, there’s a new man in town. He’s rugged and raw, unfussed and unshaven, wearing only an op-shopped woolly and the scent of pure testosterone. Keep your cologne at home and give your lotions a demotion. Welcome, gentlemen, to the age of the retrosexual.

Ladies, take a deep breath. It seems facial fluff is no longer reserved for Movember. Beards are latching on to Melburnian men at an epidemical rate, and they’re here to stay. Be it a 5 o’clock shadow, overgrown stubble or a solid chin-hedge, the contemporary beard resembles more of an out-of-work Johnny Depp than a Santa-style face rug. From Burwood to Hollywood, males worldwide are embracing the razor-free lifestyle.

Could this be an instinctive response to insulate the modern man’s jaw in these blustery months? Not so, says Ben Elgar-White, 22, criminology student and self-confessed beard enthusiast. It’s all about the aesthetic.

‘It started in year 12 when I was able to grow a ‘real beard’. Friends were jealous and encouraged me to grow it out into something fun. I get plenty of compliments, which makes me hesitant to shave it. Then again, maybe I just keep it because I like feeling in control of my face, and how I keep my beard likely has an impact on how people see me.’

What about his girlfriend? ‘Jess isn’t a fan,’ he admits. ‘She’s never complained about how it looks, but has protested against whiskers up her nose when kissing and pash rash.’

She’s not alone. A recent New Zealand study published in Behavioural Ecology in January last year found that women not only found beards unattractive, but also believe that they make men seem older and more aggressive. On the other hand, it was concluded that having a beard created a greater level of respect between males by signalling signs of masculinity, with both sexes agreeing that a beard symbolised higher social status.  Conversely, Northumbria University psychologist and researcher, Dr Nicholas Neave, found light stubble was the most popular amongst women. He theorized that ‘it was almost as if women preferred a man who could grow a beard but hadn’t.’

It may come as surprise then that Adelaide band The Beards’ hit ‘You Should Consider Having Sex With A Bearded Man’ was voted by Australians as #99 on Triple J’s coveted ‘Hottest 100’ countdown in January 2012. ‘Perhaps there are women- or men- who hadn’t considered bearded men as a viable sexual option who are now saying “You know, perhaps I should have sex with someone with a beard,”’ band frontman Johann Beardraven mused in a 2011 LiveGuide interview. ‘It’s for the bearded man on the street corner asking for change, we’re saying, “Maybe give him a go.” ’

Such a mentality can only encourage this hairy phenomenon- according to award-winning Professor Steve Jones’ Y: The Descent of Man, a man’s beard grows fastest when he anticipates sexual activity.

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If not just for morphing into an instant chick magnet, this sudden surge of follicle freedom could be a sign of the times. A 2011 Travelodge study published in the UK’s Telegraph found that the average adult’s toiletries bag was worth a staggering $251.55, with men spending approximately 81 minutes on their personal grooming regime each day (that’s 6 more minutes than women). The global financial crisis, economic slump and rising costs of living can be seen as a factor in provoking regular blokes to reject expensive creams and time-consuming styling in favour of sprouting something cheap, fancy-free and low maintenance.

Fashion blogger Hannah Borg, 20, also connects this popular trend to ‘indie’ culture and society’s new appreciation of eccentricity. ‘It’s quite a hipster aesthetic, particularly popular amongst independent artists,’ she commented. ‘Beards create a sense of style and bring an edge of cool and maturity to a guy. They ooze confidence yet mystery… sort of re-claiming the Y-chromosome.’ Style icons definitely do not shy away from the unshaven- everyone from Prince to Prince William embracing their inner bushranger.

But these facial hair vines surely have their limits. ‘While the acceptability has allowed more people to sport interesting facial hair without being labelled as crazy, it’s also encouraged people to grow patchy beards and wispy moustaches which look pretty awful,’ Ben observes. ‘Like wearing skinny jeans, it’s not for everyone.’

Trim the mop on top or else you could end up channelling Chewbacca with more fur than flesh.  Shampoo regularly, unless you want your beard to doubly serve as a visual food diary. Stray too much into dirty goatee territory and you might be asked to stay at least 500 metres away from schools and playgrounds.

Any good at wrestling your whiskers and you could be jet setting off to the biennial World Beard and Moustache Championships next held in Stuttgart in November this year. With categories such as the ‘Alaskan Whaler’, ‘Dali’ and ‘Full Beard Freestyle,’ Melburnian hair connoisseurs have much to strive for.

But at the end of the day, could this all just a quick fad? ‘In many ways, it’s no different to any other trend, from sixties style bangs to greasy grunge nineties hair,’ Hannah observes. ‘Everyone wants to be part of the cool crowd.’

As the Beards so eloquently croon, ‘having a beard is the new not having a beard.’ So there you have it, gentlemen. Let the manes begin.