There’s more to success than just hard work

Inspiration for blog articles, indeed inspiration for anything that involves creating, can come from all manner of places. I was eating dinner whilst scrolling through a picture based Facebook page (who says multi-tasking is a chore?) and came across an image I’ve seen multiple times which reads:

“No one is forcing you to work at that job you hate” – I think you will find the threat of starvation and homelessness is fairly coercive

Which was met with some interesting responses such as this “Yes, you may have to work at a job you hate for a short while in order to stay afloat, but you have no excuse to be “stuck” at a job that you don’t like. Work your ass off to get something better, people do it every day. You’re never stuck unless you choose to be stuck.” Followed by “Cue the sarcastic crybabies whining about their excuses as to why it doesn’t work… (spoiler alert, it does work, I’ve been in this situation)”. This is similar thinking to “you can be anything you want” and is a subjective observation of reality (Aren’t they all?). The problem with this type of thinking is that in most situations hard graft simply isn’t enough, sure there are exceptions but they are the exceptions entirely because they are, well, the exceptions. Being talented and good at something isn’t enough. One thing that always seems to be missed out is how important luck is in these scenarios.

I know a lot of people in the arts, and they are a talented bunch of people. Some of them are even able to peruse their love full time- though most probably won’t be able to retire at 40. These people work hard, they have skills, and they are skills people want to see. But no matter how hard they graft it might never be enough and many people, especially in the arts, end up doing a job they aren’t that keen on in order to allow them to follow their real passion but that might mean their passion is a second part time job. In some cases they may even have to abandon their passion entirely. Using your own personal experience of success to inform others they can do it too ignores that success isn’t just about talent. If it were I’d know a lot of very wealthy actors.

Those who insist you can make it too because they did, and you just aren’t trying hard enough, do not reflect the reality of the world we live in. They are the lucky exceptions, not the norm. Out of those on my HND course a decade ago, only about 3 are still involved in the career they intended to pursue. Now there are reasons others haven’t, such as changing direction, but when there is so much competition out there it can be difficult, near impossible, to actually stand out from the crowd no matter how hard you try. Not everyone has the same chances- maybe there is an over saturation of similar talents in your area, and moving to another city is not always that simple or even possible, especially if you have a family. If it was, more people would do it. The only reason I could move to Edinburgh is that I had connections here already and had nothing that necessitated my remaining in Leicester.

Let us look outside of the creative industries- there simply are not enough available jobs to go around meaning no matter how hard some people graft they will never make it as a huge successful CEO. Of course success is what you define it to be, and you might well consider yourself successful for having a job in the first place. But when some parts of the country have 50 people for every available job, and even the best places have 2 for every job, we can already see not everyone is going to end up either employed or on top of that employment ladder. Luck is a huge factor- being in the right place at the right time can change a life. Missing the number 32 bus might mean the difference between bumping into an old friend who happens to be looking for your particular skills at that time, and missing them and getting a roll from Greggs. That scenario has nothing to do with talent or hard work- of course once you get the break you do still need to have the ability. But getting that break is not as simple as simply being good at something. There is a lot to be said for the cliché “It’s not what you know but who”.

Lets look at someone like Derren Brown. I imagine everyone reading this knows his name. He has highly successful television shows and regular tours packing 2000 seat theatres. The man is a magical legend and has changed the face of magic, and specifically mentalism, forever. When David Blaine came along we saw so many more street magicians, but the explosion of psychological illusionists since Brown is staggering. But did you know we only have him because of a set of lucky coincidences?

Now first things first, Brown is talented as all hell. He may well have become a house hold name another way, or then again maybe not as we haven’t seen a mentalist since him with the same draw and appeal. Had someone got there first we may never have heard of him, he would in all likelihood still be a working magician as he was getting decent bookings and work before he hit big- but the arts are a fickle industry and again, being good is no guarantee of a full time career. He is without a doubt one of the best card magicians around, even though we don’t see it as much any more. But Brown almost never became what we know him as. Yes he worked hard, yes he spent hours a day practicing, yes he was getting work. But a jobbing magician, no matter how successful is never going to make it to the dizzy heights Brown has without a little extra help. And that help came along due to someone else not wanting the gig.

Back before Mind Control came along, the show that brought Brown to the public, he was a fairly strong performer at restaurants and live shows. In 1999 Channel Four wanted to produce a show about mind reading which if the original plan had carried through we’d know today as “Mind Control with Andy Nyman” not “Mind Control with Derren Brown”. Originally, the multiple threat actor, director, magician and producer, Andy Nyman was to front the show but at that time he wanted to focus on acting- we lost Andy Nymans Mind Control because at that point he wanted to go a different route. If he hadn’t then we’d be seeing a very different name on theatre marquees. So the search was on to find the new front man. It was actually Jerry Sadowitz who recommended Brown to the gig. So in order for the hard working, grafting Derren Brown to become what he is it required A) for the original presenter to drop out and B) another person to suggest at the right time, and to the right producer, that Brown was suitable. That is several lucky coincidences that needed to happen.

Had the producers been unable to meet Sadowitz we likely would not have Derren Brown. If Sadowitz had not himself been aware of Brown, then he would not have been able to recommend him. This is absolutely no comment on Browns abilities or talent, he absolutely ran with the idea and brought so much to it that we would likely not have had the same show at all. And yes, his talent meant he got suggested- but remove any of the above variables and everything changes. He may well have got a TV deal at some point, however he may not as people may have just seen him as derivative of Andy Nyman’s Mind Control. There are many magicians out there as talented as Brown who will never get the same success because they didn’t meet person A, who recommended it to Person B at the right time, because Person C dropped out.

Because of his talent I have no doubt Brown would have continued to work and been a decent jobbing magician, but he wouldn’t be the success we know and considering how difficult an artistic life is, he might well have decided to go back to Law at some point- we’ll never know, but many talented people do have to drop back despite some early successes. That has as much, if not more, to do with chance encounters and coincidence as his great talent. And he is just one example- we may not like Donald Trump but he is successful. Would he have been without his fathers wealth and investment? Would Obama have still been president if the Republican candidates were stronger? Would the people saying “I did it, you can too” be able to say that if a dozen different pieces of luck did not occur? No one succeeds entirely by themselves, we all succeed or fail based on circumstance and those we know as much as what we know – finding out about the right interview or opportunity at the right time. This is not intended to take away from anyones success or talents, because the hard graft is an essential component, but to suggest it is the only one is naïve. As much as we’d all like to be a success in our chosen field, it isn’t always going to happen unless we find the right opportunity.

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Top 5 Psychic Stings

Over the years psychics and psychical researchers have presented all manner of claims relating to supernatural phenomenon.  Whether such abilities exist or not, is not the purpose of this article, but even if the people on this list do possess genuine abilities it hasn’t stopped them being the subjects of skeptical stings.  Below is a video version of this post, albeit with less detail due to the format if you’d rather watch instead of read.  Otherwise, after the jump we’ll look at my personal favourite Top 5 Psychic Stings.

Number 5 – Helen Duncan
At one stage, Helen Duncan, was probably the most famous medium in Britain. She is certainly remembered by many to this day as the last person imprisoned for witchcraft. Although she had been subject to criticism throughout her career, even once being fined at Edinburgh Sheriff Court for fraud pertaining to her psychic claims, she was pretty much accepted as genuine by the psychic community.

Even today, 70 years after the sting that made her infamous, she is still seen as a wronged woman and a martyr for the Spiritualist cause. Documentaries, plays, books all exist and there is even a mural commemorating her just down the road from me in East Lothian.

Her most famous séance took place in 1941 in Portsmouth, when the ghost of a sailor came through claiming to be from a recently sunk ship the HMS Barham. It is true the ship sank with all hands, but this news was apparently secret- apart from the fact the attack itself was documented and the families of all 800 plus crew, many in Portsmouth, were informed. Hardly the secret Duncans supporters make it out to be.

The sting, which lead to her trial and imprisonment, occurred almost 3 years later starting in December 1943 when a sailor named Worth attended her séance. Duncan’s big draw was her ectoplasm demonstration, something we now know – and knew at the time- was created through the use of regurgitated cheesecloth. Worth was less than impressed with her skills, and considering her failed tests with investigator Harry Price and her numerous exposes for using puppets and costuming herself to create the physical spirits, as well as the earlier conviction all meant it was time for Duncan to be taken down.

The following month, in January 1944, the local police organised a sting operation. Two plain clothed officers of his majesties constabulary attended a séance above a shop in Copnor Road, Portsmouth and waited for their chance. This chance came quickly as a ghost manifested before them, launching forward they grabbed at the spectre to reveal Duncan herself in costume.

This lead to her prosecution under the Witchcraft Act 1735, an obscure piece of legislation which is misleadingly titled. You see, the Act wasn’t about persecuting “genuine” witches, but about prosecuting frauds who pretended to be psychic. Duncan was exposed and found guilty, spending 9 months in prison. This only solidified her in the Spiritualists eyes as a genuine case who was persecuted and it eventually played in integral part in the repeal of the Witchcraft Act, replacing it with the Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951.

Duncan lived a further 11 years, dying in 1956 after another police sting at one of her séances, though one that this time wouldn’t make it to court.

Number 4 – Project Alpha
This is a little bit different to the other entries on the list. It doesn’t involve a sting on practicing psychics or mediums, but on a parapsychology research department investigating psychic claims.

In 1979 the McDonnell Laboratory for Psychical Research began working on investigating psychokinetic metal bending- basically spoon bending to the rest of us. They had obtained half a million dollars from the aerospace manufacturer and weapons contractor McDonnell Douglas to begin the research via Washington University. Of the many people who presented themselves as being psychic a number of them were dismissed as either having no ability or using sleight of hand. Two particular subjects however- Steve Shaw and Michael Edwards- were stand out metal benders, whom the researchers decided to focus their energies on.

Edwards and Shaw, the wunderkinds of this research facility, who were proving the most likely candidates for actual PK ability were in fact plants. Magicians put there by noted skeptic James Randi and had no psychic ability whatsoever.

They accomplished their rouse by a variety of simple tricks- such as switch the labels on spoons so that later measurements showed a change in their dimensions, dropping cutlery into their laps and bending it there and using the more eagle eyed members of staff as volunteers to distract them from noticing the cheating. Another test involved stapled envelopes with pictures inside- as they were left alone with he envelopes they simple removed the staples carefully, had a look, and replaced the staples so it looked as if no tampering had occurred.

Another test involved objects in a sealed container they were asked to move- noticing small openings in the container they used the James Hydrick method of simply blowing. Randi even wrote to the lab informing them that he thought the two were magicians, but this fell on deaf ears. Research briefs were released detailing the amazing abilities and the two men were celebrities in the Psi world.

After Randi released leaked statements that the two were plants and this had some impact in that the test protocols were more rigorous and the success rate was downplayed. When Randi finally revealed the truth, it resulted in the McDonnell lab being shut down, many supporters being publicly discredited but yet others who insisted the magicians really were psychic and were lying about being magicians.

This sting threw the parapsychology community into chaos with some suggesting it set the field back 100 years. It remains one of the most important stings in the history of psychic claims.

Number 3 – Bullsh!t Detectors
In the mid 2000s, around the same time he had “stung” Derek Acorah (see Number 1 slot), Ciaron O’Keefe was called in by BBC Three to take part in another sting for a piece called “Bullsh!t Detectors”. This show featured three mediums being taken into a chocolate factory to see if their psychic senses could detect anything.

The story that was featured was that of George Bull. Bull was described as a fat, aggressive manager from Maine, USA, who ruled the company with an iron fist and amassed great wealth. He was the first manager of the factory but was maimed when a horse and cart went out of control, cutting his legs off and killing him. A picture of the man hung prominently in the factory.

The problem? The story was entirely made up by O’Keefe. It wasn’t in the least bit true. The story existed in only one place- on the chocolate factory website. The only way the mediums could have picked up on this was if they had looked at the website beforehand as no spirit would have been able to recount it, and certainly Bull himself could not be present.

Three mediums took part and all to a lesser or greater extent picked up on George, a former factory manager. One medium, Phillip, starts by recounting the story of a fat angry manager named George who had an accident. Another medium, Kevin, only gives basic information suggesting he has only got the information presented at the factory to go on and hadn’t done any pre show research. A wonderful scene of Kevin involves him unable to get Georges last name – until he is shown the picture with his name underneath at which point he, with a little bit of showmanship, gets the name Bull. When he is told the information is all made up he tries to turn it around so he is still right by saying “It’s all made up? Are you sure? Check it”

The final medium, Goldie, went into a trance and was actually taken over by the fictitious Bull who recounted the fictitious story. When she was presented with the truth however, she had the grace to accept the sting and confesses that although she personally didn’t look at the website, she mentions a “friend of a friend” and congratulates the presenter with a handshake. Even after the reveal, she still insists that the name George Bull was a real name she had got, until the presenter mentions the name was chosen because Bull= Bullshit she responds with “I know, I’m psychic”. Though she does admit she cheated, but only for “most of it” and only gave about “30% truth” though considering the story is 100% fiction, I think she’s being a little generous.

The mediums give a variety of excuses for why they couldn’t be faking- Kevin insists he couldn’t have read the name plaque on the painting because he needs glasses, and Phillip says that psychics don’t just connect with the mind of spirit but the minds of others present so if they are thinking of that information the medium will pick it up. This entire sting shows how mediums are capable of turning the biggest miss in to a hit and still coming out, as far as supporters are concerned, on top. Even when mediums are wrong, they’re right.

Number 2 – Peter Popoff
In the 1970s and 1980s the psychic superstar was a force to be reckoned with. With the likes of the Israeli Uri Geller wowing the world with his apparent telekinesis, and the British Doris Stokes becoming a phenomena it was time for America to get in on the act.

Peter Popoff was born in Germany but immigrated to America as a child with his parents. In the 1970s whilst still a young man he began his televised ministries that soon became national events.   The big sell of Popoff’s sermons was in the form of psychic healing curing long standing chronic conditions. He didn’t just cure people, but was able to read them much like a stage medium would an audience and tell them not only who they were and where they were from but what specifically was wrong with them.

The psychology of why this type of public evangelical healing seems to work is well documented, but just how was he able to glean such an insight into complete strangers? Surely he must be psychic? Well, that is where James Randi stepped in.

In 1986 Randi lead a sting which involved a radio scanner, you see the thinking was that Popoff was actually being fed this information via electronic means after it had been gathered before the sermon began. Sure enough, when the scanner was used it picked up Popoffs wife relaying the information to him from off stage. The oft quoted line from his wife to start the one way interaction was “Hello Petey, can you hear me? If you can‘t, youre in trouble.

Randi’s investigation also recorded her laughing at the appearance of a man with terminal testicular cancer, warning her husband not to touch the breasts of a member of the congregation. Another thing the sting involved was using audience plants- including one man in drag whom Popoff “cured” of cancer.

After this was revealed Popoff first attempted to pass the sting off as a hoax using a voice actress though eventually admitted the use of his wife and the radio communication. The following year he declared bankruptcy, though that didn’t keep him down as he has found a new outlet for his ministry by offering free blessed water which was accompanied by letters asking for donations- letters which continue for several months and contain a variety of gifts such as a cheap handkerchief, an eraser modeled like a dollar bill and a single blue paper slipper the recipient is instructed to wear on their foot and stand one legged on a Bible.

Number 1 – Derek Acorah
I must admit a soft spot for Derek Acorah. Mutual friends who have met him or worked with him describe him as a pretty nice and kind man and generally speaking, his shows are enjoyable and he doesn’t seem to prey on the bereaved in the way the late and odious Sylvia Browne did. In fact, Derek is one of the few psychics I’d very happily sit down for a pint with. That all said, Derek was at the centre of one of the most famous stings in British television.

Derek used to be the medium for the show Most Haunted and regularly became possessed by the spirits at the locations they visited. One hilarious moment came during a show where he went into a trance and repeated the phrase “Mary loves Dick”, which quite rightly resulted in crew hysterics after the feed cut out. But the specific incident in question for this sting came in another show, and the sting set up went even further than it’s creator ever thought possible.

During an investigation into Castle Leslie, Ireland, Derek began giving information about an entity he had gained from a four poster bed, however the bed in question was not an original fixture and lead resident parapsychologist Ciaron O’Keefe to question just how Derek was getting his supposed psychic information. And so the game was afoot as Dr. O’Keefe set about his plan to test Derek and see if he was in fact gathering information from other sources.

During series 6 the show was set to visit Bodmin Gaol, at a point prior to this- and within earshot of Derek- O’Keefe discussed a South African Jailor by the name of Kreed Kafer. However, Kafer was totally made up, and the name was in fact an anagram of Derek Faker. If Acorah were to even mention the man then it would go some way to showing he was obtaining at least some of his information from less supernatural means.

Now just to take a slight sidestep here, this wasn’t a rigorous scientific test at all. There could be many reasons why Derek picked up on the name that didn’t involve intentional deceit- he might well have heard the name and forgotten and dismissed it only for him to pick up on it in a reading, that might prove he was getting information subconsciously from memory but wouldn’t prove outright fraud. It could be passed off as him giving information about a real ghostly jailor but it getting mixed up with his memory of having heard the name elsewhere.

But that isn’t what happened. Kafer wasn’t simply mentioned in passing, Derek went full on possession, being taken over by the entirely fictitious jailor. But it doesn’t stop here. O’Keefe tried the same stunt again in another episode at Prideaux Palace, this time with the highwayman Rik Eedles – an anagram of Derek Lies. And again, Acorah identified the spirit of Edles when he was entirely fictitious.

And even THAT was not the end of it. O’Keefe had set up Derek with information in Craigievar Castle, Aberdeen, about Richard the Lionheart, a satanic presence, a group of four children and an apparition of the late King Richard vanishing into a wardrobe. Derek related this information and this seemed to be the final straw for O’Keefe, who went public, especially considering that Derek had just told the story of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Now maybe Derek could argue he was just picking up on vibes, that maybe the spirits had relayed false information but whatever the explanation, it certainly hasn’t stopped him appearing on television and touring his stage shows. Acorah is pretty benign and to me feels closer to the general stage mediums that demonstrate at Spiritualist Churches rather than the quite abhorrent behaviour of people like Peter Popoff and Sylvia Browne.



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The Restriction of Mediumship; on the Government Petition to prove themselves

Do psychic powers exist? Subjectively you will find a lot of people with personal experience of psychics and mediumship, it is a big trade – the exact number of practicing mediums is unknown – with the more famous getting television shows and 2000 seater theatre venues. It is a common argument that these people are not really psychic and are just fleecing people, these accusations have existed for as long as mediumship has and cheating has even been accepted by believers in these abilities as something that does occasionally happen- prominent Spiritualist publications of yesteryear happily acknowledged that sometimes psychics cheated but that it was done to ensure a demonstration was given when they weren’t feeling an otherwise genuine connection. The get out clause was that the psychic was really gifted but it wasn’t a skill you could turn on and off and if it wasn’t being felt that session then something had to happen.

We might never know for certain if psychic abilities exist, I am doubtful but I’d also be excited if we suddenly discovered tomorrow that it really is possible to communicate with the dead. Of course, that wouldn’t mean Helen Duncan wasn’t cheating and defrauding people with fake ectoplasm, nor would it mean all those times where psychics have been prosecuted for fraud aren’t still acts of fraud. If psychic powers are shown to exist, the con artists still existed and still do exist – even if it does then come to light others are genuine. Which is one reason why it is still important to tackle bogus claims. Peter Popoff was famously brought down in the 1980s for deceiving his audiences via technology in a skeptical sting, and skeptics are carrying on a tradition that dates back at least to the Edwardian era of providing pamphlets exposing common psychic tricks.

I do a lot of public performances around the history of psychic trickery, my main interest is from a performance point of view rather than a science one though there is of course overlap. Though the Q&A sessions are rarely as in-depth as they would be were I discussing something like Alternative Medicine, there are still a few good questions that almost always crop up. They tend to start with asking if I have ever experienced anything that I couldn’t explain, what might convince me and should psychics be licensed/ have to pass a test. It is the latter I am focusing on here, due to the appearance of this petition on the Government website.

The petition calls on the Government to require all psychics pass a test to prove their abilities before they can practice. I sympathise with the desire to do something to curb frauds and a couple of years ago I might even have signed it. But as I delve further and further into the world and history of spiritualism I find it harder to support the petition. Don’t mistake me here, I don’t think psychics should get a free pass entirely, but there are major issues that come along with this petition.

Firstly it is unlikely to ever pass, mainly because there is already legislation to tackle frauds – the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading which replaced the Fraudulent Mediums Act in 2008. Second, psychic and medium aren’t a protected title or occupation. Also, people who believe in psychic phenomena are not automatically going to stop believing it, if anything it could bolster their belief there is a skeptical vendetta against their practices and make them dig in their heels deeper. Then there is the issue that even if they fail the test it doesn’t refute entirely their claim to psychic ability- it is very common for psychics to insist that because their abilities are supernatural in origin, they can not be tested by any naturalistic method. There are exceptions, but few. And remember my first paragraph- psychics have historically claimed that they might not be strong that night, or the spirits might not be with them at that moment. Some might see that as a cop out, but if psychic phenomena does exist how are we to know such weaknesses wouldn’t occur? Some of these points have already been raised in this piece by Hayley Stevens, so pop over and have a read in a bit more detail.

But one thing that also is worth remembering is just what psychics are, what they are a part of and why insisting they pass a test is inconsistent with our attitude to other religions. Yes, religion.

When we think of mediums we can be forgiven if we leap to the names like Derek Acorah or Sally Morgandoing TV and arena tours, but they are simply the celebrity medium, the majority of them though you have never even heard of. Mediumship is not a New Age fad that sprung up in recent decades and is just another branch of the New Age tree. In fact, although there is overlap, mediums and psychics aren’t New Age at all. The New Age movement started around the 60s/70s at a time when mediumship was already well over a century old, and has been a legitimate religion more or less since its birth.

Spiritualism is commonly accepted to have begun in the United States in the 1840s, by the young Fox sisters who began communicating with the deceased through “spirit rappings”. They would ask a question to spirits and through the knocks determine an answer. The life of the Fox sisters is messy and at times deeply sad- the two younger sisters Kate and Margaret died penniless alcoholics, their reputations pretty much in tatters. There were accusations of fraud almost immediately with the common explanation for their acts being controlled clicking of bones and muscle, something that when tested demonstrated their ability to be non existent with Margaret publicly confessing the fraud in 1888 (she later recanted the confession, though I doubt many people believed her- least of all herself). But whether the Fox sisters were frauds or not, they kick started a religious movement that exists today.

During the Golden Age of magic, magicians were quick to replicate the abilities of mediums, mainly because they at the time relied almost entirely on physical demonstrations. Hands would reach out of tables, mediums would levitate, ectoplasm would flow and all of these could be easily replicated by magicians of the day. Over the years mediumship became more streamlined until we reach the modern age where physical demonstrations are rare and usually restricted to things like table tipping, which can be performed without any intentional deception.

Modern mediumship is almost exclusively restricted to one person on stage relaying messages from the dead. And it is this type of mediumship that fills small rooms and community centres across the country. Every town will have several spiritualist churches where believers gather and might pray, or sing and then greet a guest medium who will take to the stage and give a demonstration. For lack of a better analogy, mediums are the priests of Spiritualism and this is where the important religious angle comes in.

People who attend spiritualist churches aren’t going there to be entertained like many who might go to Psychic Sally – having seen her audiences waiting to go in I’d describe them more like groupies at a rock concert than people attending a religious ceremony. People go to these churches because it is part of their religious identity.

Spiritualism is a religion, and the psychic medium their priest (again, for lack of a better word). Although just what spiritualists believe can vary from believer to believer- with some taking the more traditional spiritualist view that “God” is more of a spirit energy or entity or intelligence– which is maybe why some mistake it for New Age. Others, such as Christian Spiritualists, do still hold on to some elements of mainstream mono theism. There is usually some type of God at the centre, but its not greatly defined and leaves room for personal interpretation. There are even ministers within Spiritualist churches just like within mainstream Christianity.

But however we cut it, Spiritualism and the mediums that speak at the churches are part of a religious group. And this is where the petition above gets tricky. As much as we like to see mediumship as separate from religion, it is not, it is an integral part of a religious group and as such if we are going to demand those practitioners prove their abilities and beliefs why are we singling them out and not saying priests have to pass a government sanctioned test to prove they can talk to God before becoming priests? This is at the heart of my own issue with the petition, but also with the wider attitude toward psychics. Whether we think it is bunk or not, many people believe in psychics and many people believe they are psychic. There are no figures to state the ratio of really believes it : fake : mix for us to say one way or the other how many are swindling and what net effect that has. When you meet mediums who give demonstrations at Spiritualist churches they are usually only getting expenses, or maybe a donation which in such small groups is not a lot, though they may also get a fee for their time- as does anyone doing a job. They will likely provide personal one on one services but not usually for an extortionate fee. These aren’t your end of the pier fortune tellers. We look at Psychic Sally selling 2000 tickets at £30 a pop but she is one of the exceptions and doesn’t represent the day to day medium working within their church.

The stereotype of the deceitful and advantage taking psychic is maybe not representative of the majority of practicing mediums who travel from church to church to give readings. The readings they give may be more personalised, but are not entirely dissimilar to a priest saying Christ is with a person, helping them and caring for them. Within Spiritualism it is the existence of spirit that is key, as within Christianity it is the existence of a divine Christ. If we insist mediums must pass a test then we must also demand the same for priests and Imams else we are being inconsistent. Because they are all practitioners within their religion.

What I would much rather see is the Spiritualist community taking a more direct role in weeding out cheaters, which many groups are by listing accredited mediums who have to go above and beyond the usual “it starts with a J” and demonstrate an understanding of the religion first – as with any religion. The only drawback is there isn’t a united Spiritualist group at the head of all these smaller groups to do that, and although there is a Spiritualist Association of Great Britain, they are not a regulating body. Some other groups offer accreditation through their own programmes which is a positive step but unless Spiritualism gets a central church like Catholicism has, it is unlikely we are going to get to a stage where all mediums are accredited. But does this mean the petitions alternative is the right way? No, I don’t think it is for all the reasons above- the important one being to remember that mediums are legitimate representatives of a religious movement.

As much as I understand the reasoning behind the petition, I don’t think it will work nor do I want it to until we also start demanding priests prove God to the rest of us before they can practice – and to be honest I would be uncomfortable in such extreme religious restriction. The majority of mediums practice within the confines of the church, maybe also doing readings to earn an income- but that is all part of the service the religion has historically offered. As soon as we realise that mediums are not lone wolves but part of a religious church (or churches to be more accurate) then this petition becomes troubling in the precedent it could set were it to not only go to debate but become law.



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The Weirdest Parts of 2015

Its been a funny old year. I am sure we have all had personal ups and downs, some very big downs and some very big ups. But on a larger scale there has been a lot of change and strange goings on. The worlds of celebrity, politics and media have thrown us some oddities this year and although many other sites have listed the bizarreness of 2015 I thought I’d jump on the page-hits band wagon. Now, not all of these on the list are funny bizarre, some of them are simply weird whilst others examples of people getting their just desserts. In no particular order let’s crack on:

A Petition to crown Donald Trump King of Englandtrump
Donald Trump could fill a list entirely by himself. From his suggestion of making Muslims wear identification to having an honorary degree revoked from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen it has been a big year for the man with the big hair. But one of the oddest Trump related moments wasn’t something he did himself, but something a man called Bob Jones – was John Smith too obvious a pseudonym?- set up on the UK Governments petition website.

A petition to have Donald Trump crowned King of England!

Although clearly meant in jest, it is non the less a bizarre place for us to start. Sadly – or fortunately- the petition was taken down and only reached the dizzying heights of five signatories. The idea of King Don would certainly stir things up and give us a real life King Ralph scenario, the question is though; would Camille Coduri fall in love with him?

ITV mistakes Ainsley Harriot for Lenny Henryfreeman
Earlier this year comedian and charity fund raising legend Lenny Henry became Sir Leonard of Henry and the revelation was covered by many media outlets. ITV, being one of the UKs biggest television stations joined in and made the announcement followed by a clip of an interview with Henry. All well and good. Except part way through they switched to a clip of chef Ainsley Harriot shaking maracas at a comedy club.

Obviously a silly mistake, but one that should really not have happened. This wasn’t a picture or fleeting appearance, it was a clear and obvious video of another man.

 Man buys AIDS drug, hikes up price then Schadenfreude kicks inmartin
Martin Shkreli was formerly CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals and earlier this year acquired the drug Daraprim which is used, among other things, for treating AIDS. He and his company immediately hiked the price by a whopping 5,500% changing the cost of a dose from $13.50 to $750. This was of course met with great anger and frustration from the general public. He later went on to buy, for $2 million, a one of a kind album by the Wu-Tang-Clan. But his taste in music wasn’t his downfall, instead he was recently arrested on suspicion of securities fraud. He has since proclaimed he is being targeted because of his price hike and his obnoxious behaviour was simply part of a social experiment.

Prime Minister David Cameron put us all off bacon butties for life.pig
David Cameron has faced massive backlash for his apparent disregard for the well-being of the poor and disabled. Some suggest his Government has done whatever it can to try and make life difficult for those already suffering. So it was a pleasant gift to the world when a story (which in fairness may not actually be true considering the source) came out that whilst at university he put his penis in a dead pigs mouth.

The internet jumped on this, and although it a) might not be true and b) was not really sexual, it is still fun to refer to him as “the man that head fucked a pig”. It was stated by Michael Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott in their unofficial biography of Cameron – Call me Dave– that whilst studying at Oxford University, Dave, joined an exclusive society. The Piers Gaveston Society is a men only dining club started in the 1970s. Membership is limited to 12 people and there are initiation ceremonies to join. It was at one such ceremony where Dave had to place a “private part of his anatomy” into the gaping mouth of a deceased pig.

The authors of the book do admit the story may be a case of mistaken identity, but the fact that Ashcroft had a falling out with Dave in 2013 has only added fuel to the claims the anecdote is a bogus attempt to ridicule the Prime Minister. True or not, it will likely stick around until long after Cameron is ousted as PM, until long after he has aged and will likely be remembered even after he has bought the farm.

Jack the Ripper Museumjack
In 2015 a new museum opened up in London’s Cable Street. When planning permission was sought, the intention was to use it to celebrate women of the East End. It was to showcase Suffragettes, to celebrate the overcoming of adversity in Victorian England and to present the history to people who may be unaware of it. Now the history of women in Victorian Britain is pretty fascinating reading in and of itself and the 60 year reign of Victoria saw women’s place in society fluctuate – from losing the right to work in mines because they and the men usually worked almost nude, up to changes in the law that meant women could finally keep their own property.

So it was a great opportunity to showcase these changes and bring the history to people who may be unaware of just how the role of women changed in Victorian and later society. But then the museum opened and yes, it did focus on women to some degree. Specifically five women – victims of the never caught serial killer Jack the Ripper. There was immediate backlash and accusations that it was glamorising the butchering of these women. There is already enough literature, movies, tours and even video games about the murderer that makes a museum somewhat redundant. But it was a very real slap in the face for many, and changes what could have been a wonderful addition to the street into nothing more than a horror display.

What Jack did to these women is not something to celebrate, and even if the museum claims not to celebrate them, it is difficult to see it in any other way when you can get selfies with the victims, and the fact you can buy tacky merchandise after walking around scenes of brutality.

Bacon causes Cancerbacon
Earlier in the year Vegans and Vegetarians, usually a quiet bunch, had something to celebrate. It was shown that eating processed meats such as bacon increased the likelihood of certain cancers by a whopping 18%. That’s not a small number.   Bacon eaters were not budging however and insisted the increased risk wouldn’t stop them eating pork. To be fair, if David Cameron pumping a pig doesn’t put you off pork, a little thing like cancer isn’t going to.

This news was widely reported and although it is true that there was an 18% increased risk of cancer for beacon eaters the reports failed to take in to account an important factor. This wasn’t an 18% whole increase, it wasn’t rising from 5% to 23% an increase that seriously would make one reconsider eating processed meats. Instead it was an 18% increase of the original risk factor, which was about 5% for non meat eaters, bringing it up to around 6% for meat eaters. When you look at it like that, the increase seems negligible.

Honestly, there are good sound reasons to go vegetarian, and unless you actually have a medical condition that requires the nutrients from meats (such conditions DO exist, though are incredibly rare) then there arent really any good reasons for eating meat. The arguments for going meat free are pretty strong, whereas the arguments for eating meat – it tastes good, our ancestors did it, we wouldnt have evolved without it etc- aren’t really strong enough and at its root we are killing other life forms simply for our own pleasure.  This does not sit well with me and I should look at going veggie- but the cancer risk should not be the deciding factor.

Journalist offers £500 for stories about sex with ghostssadie
In November, journalist Sadie Nicholas, tweeted the above.

Spectrophilia is the term used to describe sex with a ghost. Now, ignoring the fact that based on current evidence ghosts do not exist, if ghosts did exist how would they have sex? It is one of the ongoing problems with ghosts, in that how they are described jumps between them being able to throw things to not being able to do anything because they have no form. No one can decide on exactly what a ghost is in the first place

Stories of ghost sex are not rare, but the explanations could be varied including but not limited to; sleep paralysis, dreams, hallucinations. Any one of those natural explanations, now matter how flimsy, is still more likely than it being a ghost.

My main query here though is; “pics essential”… pics of what?

Election candidate attends polling station in suit of armourarmour
In May this year, the United Kingdom had a general election where we ended up with a Tory Government.  I don’t think even the Tories were expecting a majority of seats, and we were all discussing whether it would be a hung parliament, a multi party rule, a single party like Labour relying on smaller parties to build up their numbers on votes or another two party coalition. No one was seriously considering a Tory outright win.  In the end the Tories did get into power, though even getting a majority in the house it was hardly a landslide considering that majority was voted in by just 36% of the voting public meaning 64% of voters DIDN’T want them.

But before all of that happened there were debates, hustings, and discussions culminating in the election night results at polling stations across the country. When the results came in, each constituency had its prospective MPs lined up to announce the final decision. Now we have come to accept parties like the Monster Raving Looney Party attend in wacky attire, but not others. Except in Scotland.

At the results for the Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk seat, all of the candidates were dressed pretty smartly in suits. Although one of those suits was a little different. Jesse Rae, an independent candidate turned up in full battle armour, however he could not take his sword in to the polling station.

Miss Universeleela
It is a common gag that the winner of Miss Universe is always from Earth, but when the results of this years event were announced the Earthling winner wasn’t even the actual winner.

Television host Steve Harvey was presenting this years show and when it came time to announce the 2nd runner up, 1st runner up and winner he misread his details. Instead of announcing Miss Colombia as 1st Runner Up, he announced her as winner and it was not until mid way through the fanfare, crowning and celebrations that the mistake was realised and the real winner, Miss Philippines was crowned. But this was too late, the celebration of the moment was over.

Now regardless of whether you think Miss Universe is outdated sexist claptrap, or a legitimate cultural phenomena, we need to take a moment to think about how these two women must have felt. Humiliated comes to mind. Not only did Miss Colombia have to unceremoniously give up her crown after a wave of euphoria, but Miss Philippines lost out on her big moment. It was a mistake, mistakes happen, but its an embarrassing and humiliating one that neither contestant is likely to forget.

Harvey has at least taken some responsibility and has been self deprecating by wishing everyone a Happy Easter at Christmas, but the impact this must have had on the two women is truly something that elicits my sympathy.

Man says really long word  name
Wales, the land of leeks and dragons. Also the land that seems to have omitted vowels from its language. I love Wales, my surname is Pryce, my grandmother a Pritchard suggesting that somewhere deep, deep back in time there is some smatterings of Welsh ancestry. I’m an Englishman with a Welsh name living in Scotland. I believe if I marry someone from Northern Ireland I get to become King.

When weather presenter Liam Dutton took to the screens to read the weather in September, he had the troubling issue of having to discuss the weather that was hitting a specific town in Wales. A town with a name so long that written out it went off the UK map and into mainland Europe. The town? Well, that little place called:


No, I can’t say it either, but Liam rose to the occasion and said it. Fair play to that man.

I hope you all had a great Christmas, and here is to a wonderful New Year and 2016. It is bizarre to think how deep into the new Millenium we are getting, the Millenium is already sweet 16 years old and now legally old enough to have sex, pay taxes and work. Way to go Millenium, remember to practice safe sex now.

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Top 5 TV Show Chart Toppers

Movie soundtracks and TV shows are no strangers to the musical single release world. We have The Timelords/ KLF giving us “Doctoring the TARDIS” we have The Firm giving us “Star Trekkin” but generally speaking these have little to do with the show itself and are performed by groups outwith the actual show. But several programmes have gone one further and preyed on their popularity by releasing musical attacks on the charts. Here we look at the top five TV chart toppers. Starting quite obviously with…

The Rembrandts- I’ll be there for you
For people of a certain age the television show Friends, styled F.R.I.E.N.D.S to make typing a bastard, was a defining comedic experience of their age. Personally I preferred Fraiser because I’m smarter than you, but his theme never really took off. The show’s final episode was watched by over 50 million American viewers and over the course of it’s run featured cameos from such heavy weights as Jean Claude Van Damme, Hugh Laurie, Jennifer Saunders, Brad Pitt, and a monkey.

The theme song was performed by The Rembrandts who were not an artistic movement based on Baroque paintings but a modern pop rock group. With the success of the TV show they released the music video and purchasable song to the consumerist public. The video is wonderful 90s-ness and will take us all back to a time when sky blue jeans were considered acceptable to wear in public.

It reached number 3 in the UK charts, spending 6 weeks in the UK Top Ten but was defeated in reaching the top spot in its release week by Madonna at number 1 (fair enough) and Clock at number 2. We all remember where we were the day Clock got the number 2 spot.

 Spitting Image – The Chicken Song
What the fuck is there to say about this song? In 1986 Spitting Image was a phenomenon. It was, for those who lived under a rock, a puppet based satirical television show and lampooned celebrities and politicians mercilessly. It was said that you had finally “made it” when Spitting Image mocked you.

I often wonder what Spitting Image would do today? David Cameron’s infamous Pigscapades would undoubtedly form the back bone of an ongoing sketch much like they did with President Regan losing his mind – which fled to Russia.

It is o surprise therefore that Spitting Image attacked the charts, and in 1986 they reached the number one position in the UK with The Chicken Song.

Written by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor (keep an eye out, they’ll appear again in this list) it was a satirical attack on the cheesy, crappy, bubble gum pap of the time, famously lampooning Agadoo and Do the Conga. It ridicules not only the style but, obviously for Spitting Image, the singers associated with those styles.

Sitting Image is truly missed in this modern age when it would have so many opportunities to cleverly and mercilessly lampoon those in power. Imagine it, a David Cameron puppet spending time with a piggy, imagine how Donald Trump would be portrayed. ISIS would stand no chance.

 The Cat- Tongue Tied
There are very few successful Sci-Fi comedies. Mostly they have success in movies, but TV is sadly lacking in comedic space travel. There have been attempts to create memorable sci fi comedy TV such as the short lived show Hyperdrive, but that didn’t really seep in to the public consciousness. Of course, Futurama is a popular show and the Nicholas Lyndhurst vehicle Goodnight Sweetheart has its fans (me among them) but television has never really been able to merge Science Fiction with comedy in a successful way.

Except with Red Dwarf. Red Dwarf is the tale of the last man alive- David Lister- who spends his time with a senile AI, a hologram of his dead boss, a Mechanoid with severe personality defects and a creature evolved from his pet cat.

Red Dwarf is huge. It has a global fan base and after nearly 30 years is still on the go. The latest series feels just as fun and fresh as some of the first episodes and the cast has fun with the bizarre concept of a crew stranded 3,000,000 years from Earth.

It is also the only space based sci-fi show I can think of that has no aliens in it whatsoever. It was so successful that the US tried to create their own version of the show, trying twice with two separate and terrible pilot episodes. Another interesting point is that Alfred Molina and Alan Rickman were considered for the roles of Arnold Rimmer and Dave Lister respectively.

In October 1993 Rob grant and Doug Naylor, creators of the show, released another musical attack on the charts. The song was Tongue Tied by the character of the Cat, performed by Danny John Jules. It was a surreal dream sequence originally, later remixed into an early 90s synth and bass filled number. It didn’t do well, only reaching number 17 in the charts though that is said to be due to a lack of promotion on the productions part.

 Kate Kestrel- S.O.S
In the 1980s Supermarionation and puppeteer legend Gerry Anderson released the show Terrahawks. A short lived, but truly terrifying, sci fi show utilising the best in modern puppetry techniques that focused on a Martian invasion of Earth lead by the hideous Zelda. Earths only protection was the Terrahwaks, a group of military minded specialists with cutting edge technology. There were many forgettable characters but among those that stand out are Dr “Tiger” Ninestein, a series of clones leading the team, the scientific advisor Hiro with the most racist East Asian accent since Mickey Rooney put on yellow face and one other stand out character in the form of Kate Kestrel, part time club singer and international hero.

Several songs were released “by” “Kate Kestrel” but were actually sung by singer Moya Griffiths. Very little information exists about this song, I can’t even find a chart position but it was released in 1983 as a 7” single. It did not make it in to the top 2 is all I can say.

Anita Dobson- Anyone can fall in love
The title is pretty obvious, I mean anyone can fall in love really. Love according the aforementioned Red Dwarf is simply a short term hormonal imbalance. The television soap opera Eastenders began airing on BBC television in 1985 and featured a variety of characters, two of the most popular being local pub landlords Dirty Den and Angie.

One of the most famous scenes in UK TV history is of Den presenting Angie with divorce papers on Christmas day. But a far greater crime was committed by Angie actor Anita Dobson in 1986.

The theme tune to Eastenders is recognisable to most people in Britain, but it was decided less than a year after the show premiered that the theme should be solidified in peoples memories by releasing a version with lyrics performed by Dobson.

The song reached the incredible position of number 4 in the UK charts showing us that 80s music really is pretty dire and they had no taste…. I say that, though my first single bought was in the 1980s and was Star Trekkin by The Firm… but I was a child… and I was scared by the dub track remix on side 2 of the record so much my mum had to mark that side with pen so I knew not to play it alone.

Anyone can fall in love is clearly just a money grab, but like Leias song to the theme of Star Wars in the slightly-better-than-the-prequels-movie The Star Wars Holiday Special, it is as much cringe worthy as it is curiously appealing.

Honourable Mention – Star Trek
Finally we have this bizarre little number. This didn’t chart at all, not that I can’t find the charting, it didn’t get anywhere because I am not even sure if it was originally released, but is worthy of an honourable mention. Not the awesome Star Trekkin that I have mentioned copiously since the start of this, but the original song. You see, when Star Trek was created by Gene “the more we learn about him, the more of a dick he is” Roddenberry he hired musician Alexander Courage to create the theme music. Roddenberry, aware that Courage could keep the rights and make money from his own work, decided to add lyrics to the music. These lyrics were never intended to be released and only served to ensure Roddenberry received 50% of any royalties from the music.

What a cockwomble. And the lyrics are no better.

The song starts at 0.24 seconds

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Hermione Granger and the Racists of the Interweb

Untitled-5I really enjoy Harry Potter. It’s fun, it’s entertaining and is at it’s heart a very simple story of good versus evil. The movies are wonderful examples of film as art, with a truly phenomenal cast. Rowling completed the seven books in the series, but they do not represent the whole. There is the in universe books that are getting their own series- namely Fantastic Beasts and where to find them– there are numerous additional shorts written by the author and additional biographical information in the Pottermore website, as well as video games based on the franchise, Lego and now an eighth installment in the saga being presented as a two part play.

The characters have moved on a couple of decades in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and the casting has been announced. There has been some anger about one particular casting decision and I have to say I agree with the anger, the frustration and annoyance people are expressing. The change is disgusting. How can you cast a non ginger person as Ron?…


…Wait, that’s not the casting decision making people angry? Did they cast a squirrel to play Harry? That must be it? No?

Well, kind of.

Well, kind of.

What is it then? Well, let me introduce you to the brand new Hermione Granger.


The backlash is because she is wearing Slytherin colours.  No, of course its because she is not white and people are complaining because its the internet and its what they do.  Dare I venture into the comments sections of articles? Well, I shall be brave for you dear reader. Here is some of the backlash, though there is much more if you care to spend time on any news site:

546 654 Untitled-2 Untitled-3

There have also been responses from people, particularly author JK Rowling herself, claiming that Hermione’s ethnicity is never mentioned in the books.

rowlingThis however isn’t strictly speaking correct. There is one solitary mention of Hermione’s skin in The Prisoner of Azkhaban.


Now some people have attempted to dismiss this as poetic rather than practical- that it is implying the colour draining form her face as she faces a dangerous situation. This is a possible interpretation but seems like a retroactive attempt to excuse the mention of white face. I do not think that is particularly helpful. Hermione is implied to be white in the books – from the description above and the approved artwork- and although it is only one line in seven books, it is enough to suggest her ethnicity is Caucasian. The Harry Potter world has a serious problem with a lack of diversity, but attempting to retroactively change that isn’t the way to deal with the overwhelming whiteness of Western literature. It is a serious problem. Kamala Kahn, the new Miss Marvel is a brown skinned Muslim and a big deal was made of it. Non white protagonists are in a minority, and such a small one that it doesn’t even reflect actual diversity.

Now, with that out of the way, I want to say: it is not important how she is described in the books- as Jeremy over at Cinemasins says “The books don’t matter” when it comes to adaptations. If an actor is suitable for the role then they get the gig. Rowling would be better suited by admitting the troubling lack of diversity in the books rather than attempting to ignore the fact the character is at least implied to be white. But I say again, when it comes to casting this does not matter. Hermione can be played by an actor of any ethnicity if they are talented enough for the role. The racist reaction is repugnant but sadly not surprising.

The idea of a black actor cast as Doctor Who was met with equal hostility and he isn’t even played by a black actor. When it was suggested the amazing Idris Elba was in the running for the new James Bond there was uproar, though this is a franchise whose fans got angry over the latest Bond- Daniel Craig- not being a brunette. And of course there is the all female Ghostbusters line up. The Ghostbusters do not need to be male, they are a bunch of people who bust ghosts. If you can accept ghosts and ghostbusting then you can accept women.

Sadly the racial elements of Harry Potter are pretty troubling when you look at the characters portrayed. Lets take the character of Lavender Brown, Ron’s love interest from The Goblet of Fire. Lets look at her:


White, blonde, bright eyed. Lavender Brown. But lets look at her in previous non speaking roles in the franchise:


That’s a non white, non blonde Lavender there. The role was recast with a white actor when it came time for the character to take on a larger part in the story. Where were the white people angry and up in arms over this? This isn’t even casting a new actor in a separate production, this is literally changing the skin of a character already established as existing in that world.

Then there is Cho Chang. A name that just oozes whiteness doesn’t it? Of course not, and yet when this clearly Asian character was portrayed by an Asian actor there was again uproar. At this rate I’m surprised there wasn’t anger the Patel twins weren’t portrayed by Jedward. Harry Potter and many of its fans clearly have an issue with race and this is troubling. There is an assumption that unless clearly stated “this character is black/ Asian etc” then they are automatically white. Even when the name is clearly Asian. People tried to justify a white Cho by suggesting she must have been a white girl adopted by an Asian family because that is more realistic than an Asian girl being Asian! The fact that Cho also had a Scottish accent was another reason to take issue- yet, I live in Scotland and can attest to the fact there is a very high East Asian population.

Another important thing to realise is even Emma Watson does not fit the description of Hermione either and yet we accept her as the default. Watson has perfect hair and teeth unlike the character that Hermione is, with her hair and teeth being regularly mentioned aspects of the character.  Watson looks nothing like the book description, but she was white so accepted. It seems that it doesn’t matter what an actor looks like as long as they are white. And white is clearly the right move for many people- even historical people such as Jesus (the myth debate is for another time people) are almost universally portrayed as white, the Egyptian queen Cleopatra is always portrayed as white, despite the fact she wouldn’t have been. She wouldn’t have been black either in all likelihood but she wasn’t white yet we accept her as such.

Again, white is seen as the default. In The Hunger Games the character of Katniss is described as having straight black hair and olive skin which might suggest someone of Mediterranean origin. And here is the actor playing her.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence)

And the character of Rue in the same series of books is described as having dark brown skin, yet when she was played by a black actor there was again outrage because people assumed this character clearly described as a black character wasn’t portrayed on screen as white. When we say racism is dead we are lying. It is not dead, it is alive and well and just because we are not hanging black people from trees any more doesn’t alter that. The type of racism that exists today is the assumption and demand that characters be white even if they are clearly described as of a different ethnic background.

Now in many of these cases the ethnicity of the character is not relevant to the character, Hermione doesn’t need to be white any more than Captain Kirk needs to be, or James Bond or the Doctor. Hell, it is now established in canon that Time Lords can change gender and ethnicity after not only The Master becoming Missy, but the head of the Time Lord army changing from a white bald man to a black woman. I have seen several comments suggesting we would be angry if Othello was played by a white actor, and of course we should, but this ignores the fact that he has been played by white actors and more importantly his ethnicity is relevant to his character, a white Othello completely changes the entire story. So calling that out as an example is flawed.

Having a black actor portray Hermione actually adds layers to the character we have never considered. She now goes from a Muggle world where skin based bigotry is common into a world where this bigotry is replaced with another type of racism based on her Muggle lineage. We also have the character desperately fighting to free an enslaved race of House Elves, which now having a black actor adds an entirely new level to that struggle- Hermione understands slavery and its implications in a much more direct way and re-reading the character as black would be a very good exercise.

I for one am happy with this casting decision, it matters not that it is implied in the books she is white because this is the Hermione we have now and it is the one we should embrace as it brings much needed diversity to a non diverse world as well as creating the chance for some serious textual analysis of the novels from a new perspective.

Hermione is black, the Ghostbusters are women. The world has not gone mad, this isn’t PC run amok, this is much needed diversification of a society that has for too long insisted the default is white and in the case of Ghostbusters male. I am now more excited about seeing the play than I was before. But seriously? A non ginger Ron?

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12 Myths of Christmas: Rudolph

So, I present a new series are daily blog posts that will take us up to the day after boxing day… because I am two days late getting the first one out after an overindulgent Life on Mars marathon. Trust the Gene Genie. Anyway, I plan to look at 12 stories relating to Christmas and the holiday season with a critical eye as well as some stories that are just a bit odd or quirky. We start off with the story of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

We all know Rudolph, and we all know that he is an integral part of not only the tale of Santa but of Christmas as a whole. After Jesus and Santa, Rudolph is probably the most famous aspect of Christmas. His story is documented in a Christmas Carol that is sung around the world, and I heard it again this evening whilst waiting for a taxi as a group of carollers sung at Tesco. Every Choir Helps.

This is Rudolphs story: In the cold, dark wastelands of the North Pole lives a man and his army of child slaves, might possibly be elves. Though I assume the naughty boys and girls are sent there to make toys for the good boys and girls. Anyway, the Crimson Overlord known as Santa Claus takes these toys and traverses the globe in one night, similar to how Superman turned back time. These toys are carried in a sack which contains the billions of treats for kids. This sack, may or may not be Time Lord technology, but is in a sleigh driven by 8 reindeer. Despite legal requirements that vehicles travelling at night must be equipped with sufficient lighting, Santas sleigh has none. This creates a problem one year when the 8 reindeer are unable to clearly see and so drastic measures must be taken. Aside form the 8 that pull the sleigh there is one more reindeer who is never involved in the flight, and has no reason really to be there except of course to provide cruel amusement to the thuggish brutes that pull the sleigh. You see, these school yard bullies use this one reindeer, Rudolph, as their little victim- bullying him, mocking him, and refusing to let him join in any games. Bunch of bastards. But one thing that sets Rudolph apart is his physical deformity, a target for their vile taunts. Rudolph has a glowing red nose. How he got this, we do not know, but considering he has no real involvement in anything at Santas Forced Labour camp, we can only assume he is the result of cruel experimentation by Santa Mengele. Though Rudolph’s story has something of a happy ending when it is realised his deformity can be exploited for Santas own ends and he lets Rudolph lead the sleigh. Finally, he is accepted- at least until the skies clear and he is dropped into the engine of an oncoming jet. Probably.

Or for a less dystopian view of the story: It is a tale of a lone reindeer with a special gift, brought to the forefront of Santas team to guide them with his nose so bright. Okay, that probably sums it up better than the above paragraph. Rudolph is a staple of Christmas, he adorns decorated walls, children sing about him in school and he is probably better known than the other 8 reindeer who without Googling I believe are called Donna, Blitzen, Comet, uhm.. Gary… er… Chlamydia… you know what, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is everyone knows Rudolph, everyone loves Rudolph and everyone knows Rudolph is an integral and ancient part of the Santa story probably dating back to the earliest tales centuries ago, right? Well, wrong, actually.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was basically a marketing ploy by a large retail company. Rudolph was created for Montgomery Ward, a retail outlet in Chicago in 1939. Robert L May is the man who came up with the character and promoted him as Santas Ninth Reindeer. Montgomery Ward had been giving away colouring books to kids every year- a clever little marketing gimmick that clearly was working for them by bringing more people into the store. It was decided that making their own book would save them money and so May was brought in to create Rudolph the Red Nosed Moose. Yes, Moose. Rather quickly it was decided a reindeer would be better as reindeer are friendlier. And so Rudolph was born, though his name originally was a choice between Rollo and Reginald. Though Reginald sounds less like a happy little scamp and more like someone working in a white collar industry.

Come on, sing it with me “Reginald the Red Nosed Reindeer, had a very shiny and productive job as an accountant”.

So Rudolphs origin was a result of a company creating him to give away books to children, these books contained the original story of Rudolph, and the story itself is currently in copyright. The song was not penned until 1949 by Mays brother in law, who only passed away in 1985 meaning the song is one of the few “traditional” Christmas songs that isn’t public domain. The question of Rudolphs copyright status is murky, the story and the song are of course copyrighted, and you would imagine that as the character was only created within the last century, that he too would be copyrighted. However, finding a definitive answer is not clear as according to a legal expert on this site the name itself is not, which seems odd as you would expect the character to automatically become copyrighted when the story was. Though if he is copyrighted, it does not seem to be upheld considering the sheer volume of Rudolph knock offs out there, and it could be argued that as the character has so powerfully integrated into tradition there is an argument that he should exist in public domain as has happened with Sherlock Holmes in America.

But regardless of the copyright status of the character, it is an interest occurrence that Rudolph has become so important a part of Christmas when he was invented so recently and for reasons of encouraging shoppers in with the promise of free books for the kiddies.


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