“My Form Is A Filthy Type Of Yours”

This was originally meant to be for my uni newspaper, but because I am a wasteman, I didn’t get it finished before the deadline. It was meant to be a piece about ‘kicking homophobia out of sport’, an initiative Warwick Sport runs every year. However, my experiences of homophobia at uni haven’t really been much more than the occasional ignorant comment, and I’ve certainly not experienced it within my sports team. So, I wrote this instead.

I’ve always faced derogatory comments regarding my sexuality because of the way I look. I am an androgynous person who doesn’t adhere to feminine conceptions of beauty. Roughly until the age of 17, I was consistently misgendered and derided as the school ‘dyke’, the epitome of uncool. However, these remarks were based purely off of my masculine appearance and the presumption that I was therefore gay. Admittedly, they weren’t wrong (nor were they right), but it did shine a light on the assumptions people place on the performativity of queerness, and how negative these assumptions are. I was an object of intense scrutiny and intense revulsion because I embodied something that went against the norms of small-town suburbia.
When I was openly out, however, the verbal attacks were a lot less frequent. This is no doubt because I was in sixth form, in the oldest year group and largely isolated from the rest of the school because we had a private common room.  The incident that angered me the most came from a fellow sixth former, and occurred the day after I first had sex. The girl derided became the girl desired; for the first time in my life, I felt attractive. Confidence made my head swell and my little chest puff up with self-importance. That day was spent in a glorious bubble of bacon sandwiches and stolen kisses in the kitchen, but it was not to last; we had to journey into town to watch the National Theatre Live’s screening of Frankenstein for school. We rolled up after a perilously long bus journey, and mate was I smirking. I’d just gotten my new glasses and was feeling particularly snazzy. We took our seats; I ended up next to our teacher, who had kindly bought snacks for everyone.  Giddy over the prospect of free chocolate, I failed to notice the conversation behind me.
Three of our classmates were engaged in an intense debate that had my relationship as its focal point. The most vocal critic was a newcomer to our sixth form: he was an attractive young man who had charmed the ‘cool kids’ in our year with his confident swagger. He was also a born-again Christian, who objected greatly to the “sin” of the two girls sat in front of him. Our relationship was simply an “abomination.”
I stared slack-jawed at him. Abomination? People had been rude to me before, but never had I faced such absolute judgement. I felt the blood rush to my temple and wondered how much trouble I’d be in if I rammed my fist against his teeth. My friends encouraged me to move away from him while I sat seething. I told them “no, no, he’s not worth it.” We settled back to watch the show.
The NT’s production of Frankenstein features a sequence in which the forces of modernity collide with religious rhetoric and traditional modes of living. A steam-train cuts through the mist while voices cry out fire and brimstone Bible verses. As this segment played out, I felt a strange pressure in the small of my back; someone’s foot was pushing against my chair. At first, I thought nothing of it, until I began to hear a murmuring. Every time a character screamed out a religious epithet, I heard an “amen” and felt the foot dig into my back.
What bothered me about this incident is that my teacher remained absolutely silent throughout the ordeal. Perhaps it was because he was using religion to justify his bigotry, and she didn’t want to get tangled up in that; regardless, what he was saying was homophobic, plain and simple. It was also a direct attack, he was not simply stating his opinion in broad terms. I understand that it was not our teacher’s place to defend us – we were 18, after all – but letting such insidious hatred hang in the air unchecked, perturbed me.
I’ve since learnt that the lad in question is a full-on druggie. Isn’t life wonderful.

Dear No-One

*Inspired by Presentable Liberty. This game is truly harrowing and encapsulates the feeling of  complete isolation, all through pixalated paper, AND it’s free; who doesn’t love a freebie? I highly recommend checking it out: http://gamejolt.com/games/presentable-liberty/42997

Trigger warning for mentions of suicide.

It’s raining again. I can hear it hitting the roof. They must be big drops. Thud, thud, thud….
It’s bedtime so I can’t see outside. I’m lying in bed, looking at where my lightbulb used to be. Thick black wires that just poke into my cell. I can see their outline. I often think about tugging them out but I never have.
I can map out every inch of this room like the back of my hand. A small cuboid: floor, ceiling and four walls. Grey grey grey grey grey grey. The door is big and dull metal with a little barred grate so I can look outside, and a flap for food and letters. My bed is pressed up against the left hand wall, flat and uncomfortable with just a raggy blanket covering it. It is not quite white. The bed is slightly raised off the ground. The pillows are lumpy and splotched with brown; I never rest my head on those bits. A black and white clock hangs above me, to the right. Directly above the pillows is my only window to the outside world, a small rectangle with no covering. I am not tall enough to look through it. I’ve tried everything. The cold is biting but you get used to it. Sometimes I hope a bird will fly through and I can stroke its head, but I don’t know if the birds still live. Maybe it’s just people in trouble. That’s all that’s in my room. No desk, no pens or paper. Dr Cameron doesn’t see the point of it.
Dr Cameron writes to me a lot. I never see them deliver it. I just look up and there it is waiting for me on the floor. I put the letters under my pillow to give it some cushioning.
I don’t like the doctor. They were the one who locked me up. I don’t like the clock they gave me either. It ticks and tocks so loudly. It was meant to be “comforting”, a way for me to keep track of my life. It was, at first. Now it only reminds me that I don’t know what day it is. All I know is tick, tock.
The rain has stopped. It drowned out the ticks and the tocks. My pillows are wet but I have to sleep. I have to sleep.

My friend!
I hope this letter finds you well. I can’t believe you’re still locked up in that awful place, but if I know you, you’ll be holding up something marvellous. I’m writing to you from sun-kissed mountains high up in the valleys. The clouds hang low and brush their pointed peaks, it’s stunning. The air up here is sublime, dear friend. How I wish you were here. But yet, you are always with me on my journeys; I often imagine the laughs we would have!
I miss you, friend. I have enclosed a little gift to brighten up that cell of yours. Do not despair – I will be home soon and we can work on breaking you out!

Oh Sal… I miss you.
Sal was always the dreamer, chasing down that next adventure. “Life’s too short to spend sitting around!” they’d yell. The day needed to be seized, a sunset painted or the curve of a river noted down in their Moleskine.
Sal had painted me the mountains they described in their letter, in vivid detail. My eyes watered at the vibrant colours.
This is the longest they’ve ever been away, almost a year. I’m glad they left when they did. It was six months into their excursions that things started to get strange around here. I remember it.

Dear Citizen,
As I’m sure you are aware, a virus has taken hold of our population, with approximately 98% of people infected. The public is dying at an unprecedented rate due to organ failure.
But you are special, citizen.

We have reason to believe that you are part of the 2% who are uninfected. We have prepared a safe location for you so research can be conducted. We will be in contact shortly.
Dr Cameron

Everything blurs into one after that letter. I remember the black cloth bag they put over my head after breaking down my door, and hands gripping my arm so tightly that I had little fingerprint bruises. I remember the smell of blood and suddenly the smell of sterility. The silence is the only constant.
I have not seen anyone since I have been here. There has only been the letters. Sometimes I wake up and feel like someone is looking through the grate at me, but when I check the hall is empty.

A new letter. It was not Doctor Cameron. Their letters always came monogramed with a perfectly sketched stencil of their outline dead-centre. This was bright yellow, toxic yellow. It hurt my eyes.

HeY hEy hEY!!!!!!
J I’M hERe TO MAKE sURE  ThAT U R HAPPYYY!!!! TO MAKe SUrE, i BOUGHT U A gift!!!! i HOPE U liKE it!!!!!!!!
*Personal Buddy is a prototype program designed by Cameron Inc. to reduce loneliness and depression amongst our guests. Please report ANY faults to Dr Cameron IMMEDIATELY.

It’s a painting of a clown. Not a painting like Sal’s. This was… grotesque. The colours had run, reds and oranges spliced over each other. The clown looked like he was crying blood, it was running into his mouth. He was a sad clown.
Another letter. Already?

HEY beST BUd!!!!
sPEaK SOON BUddY STAY haPPy FOR ME!!!!!!!!

I don’t know what’s worse. Looking at the clown or listening to tick tock, tick tock. No. I know. At least tick tock is familiar.
It’s getting dark. I have to sleep.

Dear friend,
It is so peaceful in the wilderness. I’m finally learning what it means to be alone. I can go for days without seeing another soul up here. Sometimes I feel like I am the last person on Earth, dear friend; I simply cannot convince myself other people exist. Madness, I know!
As much as I’m enjoying my ramble, I think home is calling my name. My, I’m excited! There is nothing quite like the smell of home, don’t you agree? That feeling of contentment when you step over the threshold into your own home is unbeatable.
But of course, none of that will compare to seeing you, my wonderful friend! Yes, the voice that beckons me home is yours! I’m on my way!

Sal’s finally coming home! Oh, it’s been so long, please hurry. But wait… What are they coming home to? I can only hear silence. The occasional bird sings, and once or twice I’ve heard a scream. Who knows what life is like out there now?
But it’s not my place to worry. It’s not my place to do anything. The doctor says that I’m too important to be left to my own devices, that in time my purpose will “become clear”. They say Cameron Inc. is working around the clock to develop cures, but they haven’t done any ‘research’ on me yet.
I don’t know what to believe anymore. I don’t have to believe anything; I can sit on my bed and count up my letters, or lie down at the foot of the bed and stare out of my window as the sun sets.
I think the days are getting longer because the sun hasn’t set yet. Today the sky is grey, not blue. Sometimes I think my eyes are deceiving me. I don’t know what to believe anymore. One day I’ll wake up and my blanket will be soft to touch and nice to smell and it will be coral blue. That’s my favourite colour in the whole word. That’s why I like to look out of my window during the day; sometimes the sky is so blue you could run your finger through it and write your name in big bold letters across the sky. I’d like that a lot.

A pretty pink envelope is on the floor of my room. The border of the envelope is rimmed with a white band.
It’s beautiful.

Hello there,
I do hope this is reaching someone. I can’t be the only one left, I can’t be…
Please forgive my rudeness; my name is Charlie, I used to run the bakery on the High Street before everything changed. Perhaps you and I met before, over a loaf of bread? Ha. That’s actually how I’ve managed to survive this long. I haven’t had to go outside to find food; I’ve just been using up my ingredients.
But I’m starting to run out of time. I can still see out of my shop window. People’s bodies are just giving up on them. I look out and I can see people with blood crusted around their mouths from vomiting so violently. There are people with jaundiced skin, clumps of hair falling out and rotting teeth. How long before that happens to me? No-one bothers to clear the bodies anymore.
It’s lonely here. The silence is beginning to get to me; how long can one person go without talking to another? I don’t think I want to find out.
I feel awfully silly doing this, but the prison is the only building left in town with its power still working. That must mean something, right? I have to try.
Stay safe.

A letter from the outside… How bizarre. Sal is one thing, but this? This is strange. Why is it being delivered to me? Charlie, Charlie, Charlie… I don’t know anyone by that name, and I never went into that bakery either. Maybe Dr Cameron knows what’s happening. Yes, I’m sure they’ll send a letter to explain all this. Any minute now.

Is this really the state of things out there? People dying in the streets like animals. I can’t imagine it. It’s strange, you would think I’d be able to smell that kind of decay. I must be high up. It’s for the best I suppose.
Ah, here’s the letter from Dr Cameron.

Good Day Mr Smiley,
We have noticed that you have not hit your daily quota of letters for your assigned prisoner for several days now.
The Personal Buddy prototype must be a success, Mr Smiley. We cannot afford to lose any more prisoners to depression.
Please remember you will not see your daughters again until you lower the prison’s suicide rates.
Have a pleasant day, Mr Smiley.

The poor man. Perhaps he’s locked in this place with me. I look out of my grate. The view from my room has always puzzled me; all the other doors on the block are white and wooden. Dr Cameron said that this was a low-security facility, but with me they had to take ‘certain precautions’. They wouldn’t tell me why.

We believe you have received a letter addressed to a Mr Smiley.
We would like to apologise for this administrative error and assure you that it will be swiftly taken care of.
Doctor Cameron is taking time out of their busy schedule to say EVERYTHING IS FINE. Please continue with your day.

Everything is fine. It’s getting harder and harder to believe.
I look out of my window. The sun is starting to set but my mind is abuzz. I haven’t felt this stimulated in a long time. Even the drab grey walls have started to shimmer a little.
I’ve never woken up to a stack of letters before. I’ve never gotten out of bed so quickly.
HEY BeSt BUD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Something strange is happening.
People are flocking to the prison – I daren’t go outside, but from what I can gather, Dr Cameron has started selling an antidote for the virus, but a hugely inflated price.
I don’t trust this. Why would your first instinct be to profit off of a mass illness? I’ve heard the rumours about Cameron, everyone has, but I always hoped they were just that. You don’t think he somehow caused all this, do you?
I hope that you’re receiving these letters. Do they even bother to deliver them in times like this? You could be dead for all I know.
No… I mustn’t think like this…
I hope to hear from you soon. I really do.

My friend… What has happened to our home? I can scarcely believe it. The streets are littered with corpses and the pavement is red; it looked strangely like rust at first, dark and heavy. But then the smell hits you.
I have only seen one other person since I got back. I spotted them from afar. They were limping heavily, clutching their stomach as if their life depended on it. They were a fair distance from me when they collapsed. I immediately ran over.
Their shirt was soaked through with blood. It was fresh and yet a smell of rot hung in the air. I looked at their face. The eyes were glazed over and sweat was pooling on their forehead – they didn’t have long left. I lifted up their shirt. A jaggered scar ran vertically across their stomach, poorly held together by stitches. They were taut and bursting at the seams, blood spilling through the gaps. A piece of pink flesh was caught between the stitches; the smell was the strongest there.
Monstrous things have happened here. We must leave immediately.
I am coming for you, my friend. Godspeed.

I scrabble for the letters stacked under my pillow. None of them are dated. Fragmented words leap out from the blur of ink. This is too much, way too much…
Sal is coming for me. Sal will explain to me. But what if the doctor gets here first?  What if what Charlie’s suggesting is true, what does that mean for me?
I sit on my bed. When I need to think I sit straight-backed, legs spread wide apart, hands resting on my knees.  I have spent many hours sat like this, thinking about times gone by.
More letters are waiting for me.

I. Don’t. Care.
I am not your friend. I was never your friend.
The doctor told me that if I complied, my daughters would be kept happy and safe.
But the doctor lied.
My daughters are dead.
I didn’t even get to say goodbye… But to you, I will.
You are one of the few people left uninfected, and Dr Cameron has grand plans for you. “You are worth every penny”, that’s what they say.
You need to escape. Find something to keep fighting for, even if it’s just the idea of seeing one last sunset outside of a cell, or the feeling of fresh air on your skin.
I hope you had better luck than I did.

I’m an idiot. Why did I think there would be anyone left in this hell-hole? God, I feel so stupid. And yet I keep writing…
I can’t do this anymore. I don’t want to look out of my window and see another poor soul staggering down the street, trying to hold their stomach stitches together. I can’t stand hearing them cry out, waiting for someone who never comes.
I can’t do this anymore. I really thought someone would reply, you know? How did things get this way?  No matter. It’ll be over soon; I found some rope in the basement. I can’t pretend I’m not scared, but I am tired of this place.
I’m sorry.

Sorrow overwhelms me. Tears fall on the letters, making the ink swim. I let them fall to the floor; how did it come to this?
No. There’s no time for this. Sal is coming. I must be ready. I will be ready. I lie on my bed and wait for the tears to dry.

Footsteps approach. A jingle of keys and my door is open. I don’t remember the faces, just the black cloth bag they put over my head.


In The Pines

Take me to the woods and
bury me beneath
the trees, leaves drooping in the
cold winters’ wind.

Take me to the woods and
we’ll gaze at the stars as they
they flicker across a darkened sky.
bursts of vibrance that flicker and fade,


I am

Take me to the woods and
one evening we’ll find the Erl-King and Red Riding Hood
sitting beside the campfire, trading stories.
i’ve a grimm tale for them

are you lost?
are you scared?

Take me away.
Take me to the edges of Earth, where only solid
stillness remains.

we’ll scream like mother courage.

in perfect silence.

The One With All The Problematic Content

At the tender age of eleven, I fell into a world of endless cups of coffee and a temporal space where problems were solved in thirty minutes or less. I am, of course, talking about Friends. Every night at 5pm, my brother and I would whack on E4 and sit slap-bang in front of the telly, eyes glued to today’s shenanigans. We laughed and we cried right alongside them, and the show will always hold a special place in my heart for providing comfort during my turbulent teen years.
However, I began to grow and change over the years. Feminism was no longer a ‘dirty word’ or a misconstrued idea, but an ideology I embraced and deployed in all areas of my life. Media was one of them. As my views on gender expanded and began to hold substance, my consumption of entertainment changed. Casual jokes took on a sinister tone and the show’s problematic assumptions about gender and sexuality went unquestioned while the laughter track chattered away. A sinking feeling of dissonance joined me on the sofa when “I’ll Be There For You” blared out of the speakers. As I grew more confident in my beliefs and how to express them, I posed my theories to my father and brother regarding Friends. My, my, did it kick off, “HE’S A GOOD MAN, SARAH, STOP TRYING TO TWIST EVERYTHING TO YOUR FEMINIST AGENDA.”
How I wish that exchange was fictitious.
This altercation reflects a great worry of mine, how society passively absorbs and indoctrinates media messages without any critical thought. Subconsciously or not, we shape our lives around the sociological models presented in our favourite books, films and television shows. We blindly believe what media companies spew out, without peeking behind that curtain and wondering why they present certain behaviours as normal and healthy.  Concentration of media ownership means very few people make very large profits from their output; indeed, 90% of media is owned by only six companies (“These 6 Corporations Control 90% Of The Media In America”). They want to produce content to keep the underlings pacified and docile. For people not to question their situation, it must be presented as the norm – what better way to do this than through a comedy show, an innocuous medium?
This is, of course, the most cynical way to look at the situation. Perhaps there are no insidious orchestrations by the production company, and the writers are simply ignorant, products of a system where problematic and oppressive behaviours are glorified. They have simply regurgitated what they consider normal. Regardless, they are producing content which reinforces oppressive norms. I will be focusing on the sexist implications of Friends, but understand the erasure of people of colour in New York and the uncomfortable jokes about weight and homosexuality are equally important.
There are six leads in Friends who, at first glance, appear to be decent people. Yes, they are flawed and damaged, but nothing a two-to-three minute conversation before a commercial break can’t remedy. There is one character, however, whose behaviour perturbs me deeply. You ladies out there might know him, in fact; he is the nicest boy you could ever hope to meet.
But he harbours a dark, dirty little secret. He is consumed by a burning desire.
For who?
For you, my dear! Yes, he longs to call you ‘his’, but is terrified of rejection, and therefore never dreams of telling you.
So, what are his options? Confront his issues, overcome his fear and face the consequences, i.e. the unthinkable; or, play a game of stealth.
Night after night, he will be there for you.
He will make you feel like only he understands you, and he will wait for you to realise that. He may even speed the process along by berating your partners, how they’re never good enough for you.
You come to depend on him. His snare has you well and truly caught.
In a moment of weakness, in a moment of sadness, you give in.

Guessed yet?
Mr Ross Geller, prepare to become intimately acquainted with my scathing tongue…

Even as a child, Ross was my least favourite character on the show, but I could never fully put my finger on why. As time worse on and my little mind widened, it became abundantly clear.
Ross is an awful human being. As a friend, father and lover, his ego and desperate attempts to bolster his masculinity and perceived authority poison his behaviour. He reeks of ‘Mr Nice Guy’, a sadly all too common troupe in entertainment. The man simpers and pines over an ‘unobtainable’ sweetheart – here one Miss Rachel Green – who he neglects to directly express his feelings to. Besides one off-the-cuff remark in the closing moments of the first episode, Ross never reveals his feelings to her. He believes his friendship is enough, that she will eventually stop wasting her time with the Barry’s and Paolo’s of the world, and turn to the ‘only boy who understands her’. This stealthy approach relies on subtle coercion and manipulation, a terrible foundation for any relationship.
It is clear that Ross has a severe fear of rejection, which is explored in the show – in the fourth season Monica makes comments about Ross never worrying about his partners cheating on him before Carol, his first wife, left him for another woman.
Here’s where things get tricky. Reality demands that we confront our issues, or they linger and fester until they destroy all that’s left of us. This concept is vaguely explored in Season Five, where Ross suffers a nervous breakdown at work, screaming bloody murder over a sandwich. It appears promising at first – his boss requests that he sees a counsellor, and we expect to see explored this in coming episodes. It would be progressive for a comedy to openly talk about trauma, how to recover from it and refuse to let it define your life.
Alas, my hopes were too high. Throughout the whole series, Ross does not show a modicum of character development. His obsessive desire is a staple of the show and bookends its run. The most notable example is when he refuses to get an annulment from Rachel after a drunken marital mishap in Las Vegas in Season Five. Interactions between Ross and Phoebe clearly reveal that he is still in love with Rachel. Again, he plots to box her into a corner and then prey on her in a moment of weakness to get what he wants. This grotesque situation is heighted by their co-habitation. Despite this emotional manipulation, Ross is still portrayed as being Rachel’s equal, worthy of her love and companionship.
This is worrying. The relationship they share is deeply dysfunctional, built on coercion, manipulation and distrust, but is lauded as a classic modern romance. Jealously and paranoia run rampant throughout the couple’s first attempt at dating in Seasons Two and Three, where Ross believes Rachel’s co-worker Mark is trying to seduce her. He sabotages their friendship, stops them from spending time together and passive aggressively (not to mention childishly) marks his territory around Rachel through excessive gifts. At first glance, I can somewhat condone this kind of behaviour – irrational, foolish decisions are common where love is concerned, and it is a human thing to do. However, for it to avoid being problematic, either the character responsible must show signs of recognition and growth, or the show itself must make it clear that this behaviour is an issue, otherwise the action is merely unhealthy and producing a toxic atmosphere. Flaws and mistakes are a part of life, but Friends ignores the fact that learning, developing and improving your behaviour is too. Instead, it glorifies an emotionally abusive relationship and presents it as perfect love.
Rachel Green undergoes the most character development during the show. She arrives a spoilt, suburban brat relying on daddy’s bank cards, and leaves a high-flying career woman thriving as a single mother. She walks away from a life of privilege to pursue a life that will truly be hers, and when the opportunity came to build her career in fashion, she seizes it with both hands and never looks back – these were bold, brave moves in attaining her goals. The writers want us to characterise Rachel as shallow, self-centred and spoilt – even Ross believes this of her, noting it down on his infamous list – but her actions belie this interpretation: she attends her ex-fiancé’s wedding despite fears he will humiliate her for playing the runaway bride, refuses to upstage Monica on her wedding day with news of her pregnancy, and is best friends with Monica during high school, despite their vastly different popularity levels. None of these actions are in-keeping with the assertion that Rachel is an entitled, selfish person.
Rachel earns disparaging labels for the pure virtue of being a woman. Ross has many petty, selfish moments, but not once is he ever labelled as such. When he disrespectfully argues with Phoebe about her beliefs on evolution and refuses to let the matter lie, he is merely sent away with his tail between his legs, and not branded petty; it is important to note that this is a repeated behaviour, as he acts in a similar manner when Phoebe believes she has found her mother in cat form. He also has no problem sabotaging Rachel’s career on more than one occasion to get what he wants. At the beginning of Rachel’s career, she is required to work long hours to make her bones in the fashion world, and cannot make her anniversary dinner with Ross, having to complete a large order. Despite possessing a PHD and therefore knowing the importance of knuckling down at the right time, he chooses to ignore Rachel’s reasonable request and violates her workspace, making her feel guilty for diligently building a career. The end of the show is capped off in a similar manner. Ross decides once again that he wants Rachel to himself, and asks her to stay with him in America instead of relocating to Paris. By her own admission, Rachel has achieved all she can in New York, and is excited to work in one of the world’s fashion capitals. Ross appears to take this into consideration, encouraging her to go, but in the final episode, chases after Rachel and asks her to give up her a chance of a lifetime for him, just as she is about to board the plane.
These behaviours are the very height of entitlement, and yet his character is never damned the same way that Rachel’s is. This is displaying a common norm in our society, where women are often viewed as ‘bitches’ if they are assertive and make their own decisions, instead of deferring to male authority. As this is a threat to patriarchy – a system that relies on women being meek and submissive – the perception of female strength is warped and portrayed as negative. Friends adheres to this skewed gender model by having characters directly refer to Rachel as selfish and entitled, while her actions state otherwise, and fails to characterise Ross’s entitlement, instead dubbing him as a kind, genuine man, while his manipulative actions contradict this.
Ross’s entitlement extends to his perceived right to invade women’s spaces and bodies, something he does continuously throughout the series. In the Season 3 Episode “The One with Frank Jr”, Isabella Rossellini stumbles upon Central Perk just as Ross completes his list of female celebrities he’s allowed to bed. Seeing Rossellini, he leaps at the chance to brag that she is on his list, and that she –she – is allowed to sleep with him. Objectification and entitlement (again) run rampant, and yet the whole scene is treated as a joke; Rossellini even appears flattered until she discovers she has been bumped in favour of a local celebrity. In the Season Two episode, “”The One Where Eddie Moves In”, he imposes himself upon Monica, constantly staying at her apartment and deliberating irritating her. This could be seen as typical sibling behaviour – I’m sure my brother and I will still be bickering over whose turn it is to make the tea when we’re both sporting artificial hips and no teeth. The resolution to this scene is where the issue becomes concrete – Ross doesn’t realise the impact of his actions. When Monica calls him out on his inappropriate behaviour, he is shocked, merely thinking it a bit of fun; Monica swiftly tears into him, but reverts back to the old favourite of “oh, you: you’re so annoying, but I love you.” His behaviour is again swept under the rug and excused in the face of his ‘redeeming’ qualities. As I mentioned earlier when describing Rachel’s character, actions speak louder than words. Ross’s actions do not belie a man worthy of forgiveness. He needs to be held accountable; otherwise, what is this telling the audience? That they can chance their arm with misogynistic pick-up lines and invasions of privacy without any serious consequences? Media needs to do better.
Perhaps the most worrying episode of the saga involves Ross’s son, Ben. Still a toddler, he chooses a Barbie doll from the toy store and happily plays with it. This is a great teaching moment, where toxic gender stereotypes can be knocked down and healthy attitudes can be instilled. Ross, however, is horrified, and spends the entire episode trying to impose hyper-masculine ideals on his child by taking the doll away and making him play with a GI Joe.
This sequence sticks in my craw due to personal experiences. As a child, I loathed anything remotely girly, even going as far as colouring in the tiny flowers on the back of my school shoes with permanent marker. I was lucky enough to have parents who never cared about my lack of adherence to the gender binary, but my father had his limits. Only a few years ago, he attempted to force me to wear a dress to a wedding, against my wishes, and refused to go unless I complied. His reasoning? “Girls have to wear dresses at weddings.”
The toy situation is born from the same thought process, that there are coded gender behaviours that, if broken, deserve to be punished. I appreciate that the show means it to be comic and we are meant to laugh at Ross’s pathetic adherence to gender stereotypes. He is a buffoon who we laugh at, not with. This additional layer creates satire, which causes a problem; true satire is meant to punch up and poke fun at the problematic and oppressive power structures in place. When this is flipped, it merely mocks the underclass who already carry a great burden. The “joke” in this episode reinforces hyper-masculinity as the only acceptable state of being for a boy, who is still a toddler. Femininity being embraced by men is looked upon with scorn and derision, and is actively mocked and discouraged. Even Ross’s comeuppance is tainted by this unhealthy acceptance of problematic behaviour – Monica mentions that as a child, Ross enjoyed wearing his mother’s dresses and pearls. To me, this is very uncomfortable – the only way that Ross can be punished for his vehement dislike of Ben embracing femininity is by mocking it once again. The joke comes full circle, without any criticism of enforcing this dangerous stereotype. The scene is engineered to present the situation as something worthy of mocking, and the passive audience absorbs this.
To state that any form of media, even comedy, is simply for entertainment purposes is wrong. There is always a dual purpose, to inform and entertain, but the former is often overlooked. Problematic behaviour that is endemic in our society is played back at us from our TVs day in and day out, a reflection of our own world. Unless we begin to produce critically engaging media and encourage audiences to critically engage with it, we will be stuck in this vicious cycle of problematic and oppressive behaviour, its projection onto society via entertainment, and our internalising of its messages. My engineering flatmate often tells me that the study of literature is simply “reading too much into things.” That kind of attitude from a university student is poison in the water. The change needs to start somewhere, and it is not going to come from our darling mogul overlords. Creators must accept this dual duty, and do it justice.

Works Cited
Lutz, Ashley. “These 6 Corporations Control 90% Of The Media In America”. Business Insider. June 14th 2012. Web. January 11th 2016. http://www.businessinsider.com/these-    6-corporations-           control-90-of-the-media-in-america-2012-6?IR=T.

The Innocent Flower

An adapted scene from Macbeth, Act I, Scene VII

            Night had fallen across the castle. The inky sky was bare of clouds; not a blemish marred the sight. The perfect stillness of the heavens was cunningly deceptive – all across the grounds, servants dashed to and fro, clutching huge silver pitchers spilling over with wine, never-ending platters of smoking pork and skewered beef. They dipped, ducked and dodged their way through the throngs of household staff all converging towards the hall. The noise booming forth from behind those walls was astounding. Duncan’s raucous laughter rang clear into the night, its joyful timbre injecting sparks of colour into the bitter night sky.
One man took no such pleasure in the king’s high spirits. Macbeth stood alone on the parapet, leaning heavily against it. His eyes barely took in the action below; he had bigger things on his mind.  The antics of dilly-dallying servants could wait. His hand rested slack on the wooden barrier.
The king. The king. One prophecy came true, did it not? But at what cost? The thane’s own stupidity, which looped thrice around his neck and robbed him of his life. A man cannot escape punishment in this lifetime; would that be his fate too, to be hung as a traitor and abhorred across the nation?
To kill a king… God, even the thought was a sickening one. In his own home, too! The man who should take a knife in the heart for his honoured guest, to be the one to bear it!
That boisterous laugh burst through the doors once again. Macbeth raised a smile – there was no man quite like Duncan, that was for sure. A fierce leader, a humble father and a fine drinking companion. Scotland would carve a river of tears straight down the nation in the case of his demise. With an almighty bang, the great hall doors were yanked open, but Macbeth turned away. The petty squabbles of his servants were banal on the best of days. A symphony of laughter reached a crescendo, but it fell upon deaf ears. He felt the basest of emotions stirring within him, threatening to overwhelm. His sweat reeked with its infernal influence; he needed to move, to get away from this place, to –
“Why did you leave? He has almost finished dining!” Lady Macbeth’s voice pierced him, like a knife shredding through cloth. God give me strength for this, he thought, as he turned to face his wife. God, she was a woman possessed. The manic gleam had taken root in her eye – he knew only bad things came from that look.
“We will proceed no further with this plan”, Macbeths stated, struggling to keep his voice level, “Our good king has treated me graciously as of late; to risk throwing these things away, at so early a stage, is sheer madness!”
Silence. He could see the cogs whirring in her mind, ticking and turning. He gulped down his fear – he’d survived all manner of wars, he could handle his wife, for goodness sake.
How wrong he was. She rammed him against the wall, arm under his windpipe, and hissed, “Were you drunk when you first suggested this enterprise to me? The brave Macbeth, cowering with his tail between his legs.”  She stepped back, disgust etched upon her face. Macbeth rubbed his neck, running his fingers over his wife’s fingerprints. She’d left deep groves in his skin, much like the last time.
Rain began to cascade from the sky, great shards of bullet-water pounding down onto the castle. Standing tall, he said, “I merely do my duty as man, to serve my king; who dares to do more is nothing.”
“So were you a blundering animal when you wrote to me, then? It would explain an awful lot.” Lady Macbeth spat with scorn upon the ground, and jabbed her finger into her husband’s chest, “When you told me you would become king, that made you a man – you dare to do what no other would dream of doing! No opportunity will be as good as this, and yet you pussyfoot around, like a lost child without its mother.”
Her words seeped with venom. Jaw clenched, Macbeth could not look her in the eye. Was she right? Was he merely a babe lost in the woods? The rain spattered against her face, giving it a sickly pallor. In the moon’s pale light, she looked like she was melting. Macbeth’s eyes narrowed – that yellow tone, the dripping skin, it couldn’t be…
A witch. Just like the others. In his home. He fell back against the wall, reeling. What did this mean?!
“The Thane of Cawdor making such bold claims, but yet he cannot follow through. What kind of king would you be?” she chuckled derisively, ignorant to her husband’s horror-struck eyes. “Let me tell you what kind of queen I would be – a woman of her word. I would take a new-born baby, not even weaned from its mother, and smash its skull against the wall if I had promised the way you had.” She stepped towards Macbeth and grasped his cheeks between one hand.
“Look at me.” she said softly. His scared eyes met iced blue stones, ablaze with hatred, “If we fail -” he began. Her hand tightened.
“We, fail?” She smiled a mirthless smile, “Screw your courage to the sticking-place, and we will not fail.” Her other hand began to caress his neck. “We shall ply his guards with enough drink to fell a horse, and pin the murders on them. Sleeping like stuffed pigs, how will they know what occurred?”
Never before had Macbeth noticed the sharpness of his wife’s incisors. They were daggers, ready to cut at a moment’s notice. She was like a caged animal, freed for the first time in its pitiful life and thirsty for vengeance.
Another round of belly-laughs broke the silence between them. Macbeth roughly shook his head and pushed past his wife, hurrying down the parapet. He needed time, he needed to think and escape from her.
He didn’t get far; a vice-like grip snatched his wrist and twisted him around. “Where do you think you’re going?”  Lady Macbeth exclaimed, “Your task awaits you. Do not wear a heart of white, my husband.” Macbeth simply turned away.
“I must think for a while. Meet me here at midnight, and we will talk further.” Before she could answer, he walked away.
He didn’t look back.
Macbeth approached the stables to shelter from the rain. Thunder had taken hold of the night sky, rumbling ominously. What had happened to his beloved wife? Had he been at war that long, that she was now unrecognisable to him? True, she had always been a fierce woman, a woman of conviction – indeed, that was one of the things he loved most about her. But now? Now she was a woman overcome by the threshes of violence, of madness and unscrupulous actions. The talk of bashing children’s brains in, those not even able to walk, it made him want to wretch.
He ran his fingers through his hair; it couldn’t go on like this. If he did murder Duncan, what would happen afterwards? There would be no end to the bloodshed – just body upon body, all with bloodied necklines. She was no different from those wenches that sat upon the heath.
She was evil.
Macbeth clutched his head between his hands. What was happening to him? Yesterday, life had seemed so simple – now it was painted in shades of grey, unevenly stroked against ripped parchment. He looked up.
No… It couldn’t be…
A dagger?!
He blinked. Once. Twice. Three times. It was still there, glistening in the dark.
A flash of lightening illuminated the full moon in all its glory. Macbeth reached out blindly, desperate to clutch the blade. It slipped away, just out of his grasp. Viscous blood dripped from the tip, but left no mark on the ground. Was this another trick of the weird sisters? Was it his wife? Or was it his fever-induced brain, melding his dark fantasies with reality? This bloody business was driving him insane.
The blade began to float through the air, moving back towards the parapet. Macbeth followed, transfixed. The rain was relentless, pounding into his skin, but still he followed, eyes never wavering from the dagger. He followed it up the stairs, to the balcony. And there she was, with her back turned to Macbeth. She was tapping her foot against the floor, agitated. He stopped, but the dagger continued; it passed straight through her heart, once, twice.
Again, and again, and again.
The sky was flecked with rivers of red – Macbeth stepped forward. The wood groaned under his feet. Lady Macbeth spun around. “What took you so long? The guards are passed out, the time to act is –”
Macbeth put his finger to her lips. “Hush, my love,” he whispered, “someone will hear you.” His finger drifted to her neck. He smiled.
The thunder masked her screams.
No dagger required.