Saturday, 20 February 2016

"Murder is Hot. That's What Everyone Wants" (Unedited)

It has been difficult to escape the ongoing debate and petitions surrounding Netflix’s latest instalment, Making a Murderer. It has created lawyers out of all of us. Our friends and family seem to know as much about the criminal justice system as we do, making studying criminal law seem futile if we can learn just as much from a ten hour Netflix binge.  Yet, despite disturbing tales of police corruption, death and suspicious circumstances it was the words, “murder is hot” spoken by a Dateline NBC producer on the show that struck me. Sex might sell but murder is coming up trumps.

Making a Murderer has enthralled viewers as we intimately follow the lives of Steven Avery and his family during his plight to prove that he was wrongly convicted to 32 years imprisonment for the brutal attack of Penny Beernsten in July 1985. Avery served 18 years in prison before he was exonerated after DNA testing – a technology which was unavailable at the time of the trial – identified the true criminal, Gregory Allen. Viewers were shocked and appalled with corruption of the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department which led to Avery’s great miscarriage of justice. After his release, Avery filed a lawsuit against the county for 36 million dollars during which Avery was arrested again in 2005 – this time for the murder of Teresa Halbach, a 25 year old photographer. Sixth months later, his nephew, Brendan Dassey, was arrested after confessing to helping Avery in the sickening rape and murder of Halbach and to burning her body. In 2007, after separate trials, both Avery and Dassey were sentenced to life imprisonment; Avery was denied possibility of an early release. Now 53 years old, Avery has been in prison for 28 years of his life.

Within weeks of the series being released on Netflix, petitions circulated demanding the retrial of Avery. Internet-warriors began spinning webs of theories and even ex-FBI cold case worker, John Cameron, has spun his own theory that notorious serial killer, Edward Wayne Edwards, killed Theresa – his website on the matter blaring the words, “EDWARDS IS THE KILLER OF TERESA HLABACH AND SET-UP OF STEVEN AVERY AND BRENDAN DASSEY”. With such an intimate glance into the case, viewers are able to evaluate the evidence themselves and come up with their own verdicts. But it is too easy to succumb to the trap of these conspiracy theories. We are so accustomed to court room dramas like Law and Order in which we are lead to believe that guilt and innocence are entwined with a person’s goodness, rather than whether the facts and prosecutor display a solid case of guilt beyond reasonable doubt, such that our judgements become clouded with the portrayal and our perceptions of the defendant.

This begs the question: should we film real life trials at all? Filming in court is forbidden in the UK and the intensity of the filming of Making a Murderer makes the criminal justice system appear unnecessarily perverse in America. In Avery’s case it was not merely a televised trial but rather a gripping court room drama, we expected and even relished in the scandals and deceptions. Yet how accurately can a piece of television designed for our entertainment depict a real life case. Criticisms have been directed towards the filmmakers, Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi, for excluding some of the prosecution’s evidence against Avery. Their excuse being that they had to cut out some material in order to fit a six-week trial into an accessible ten hour viewing. Thus it is inevitable that some key pieces to the puzzle of the complex trial will be omitted, so how can we viewers successfully imagine ourselves in the juror’s position? Frustrated viewers have displayed a righteous sense that if they were on the jury they would have made the “right” decision to acquit Avery. Justice should be accessible but perhaps making the minute details of the trial so publicly available will lead to a loss of faith in the justice system. Perhaps it is fairer if we keep the trial behind the court room doors.
Making a Murderer has created dangerous narratives about criminal victims and devious cover ups such that it could easily be called “Making a Victim”. It treads precarious grounds as it paints Avery as the leading casualty in a tale of police corruption, yet only gives the real victim, Teresa Halbach, a mere glance. That is the innate concern with these documentaries following the lives of disturbed criminals; we become so obsessed with them that we nearly always forget about their victims. The filmmakers needed viewers and they got them by moulding Avery to conform to middle-class ideas of sympathy. Avery was painted so convincingly as victimised and innocent man that we all forgot, or dismissed, previous evidence displaying his violent character as he burned his family’s cat alive and threatened to kill his ex-wife. Documentary filmmakers display the facts, but it is unavoidable that some of their opinion and bias will rub off on the portrayal of their subjects, thus can we ever trust the picture they lead us to believe?

The documentary closed with Avery’s poignant words “When you know you’re innocent. You keep on going. The truth always comes out sooner or later” and perhaps it will. But has our obsession and sadistic enjoyment of murder deceived us? Every story needs a victim, but have we chosen the wrong one?

Thursday, 18 February 2016

In Defence of the Hipsters (Unedited)

Exploring the real villains of gentrification

Gentrification is a word that has been thrown around since the sixties however, it is only recently that it has gained any momentum. In the past few weeks we have been bombarded with tabloid images of bearded blokes, extortionate cereal and angry mobs shielded with masks and armed with red paint, pigs’ heads and torches alongside the word “GENTRIFICATION” in big, scary caps. But what does this word really mean? Should we all take to the streets in the shape of this modern tribe? Are these self-interested hipsters really the enemy here?

Defining the term
The word “gentrification” was first recorded by sociologist, Ruth Glass, in her book, “Aspects of change” back in 1964. She defined it as a process in which “all or most of the working class occupiers are displaced and the whole social character of the district is changed”. It is a vicious chain of events; lower-middle class neighbourhoods are gentrified by the upper-middle class, who are in turn gentrified by upper classes as urban property is undervalued as a result of disinvested land, former occupiers are displaced, and a class transfer occurs to more affluent inhabitants.

Exploring the impact    
The damaging impact of gentrification, particularly in the poorest areas of London have been explored in a new analysis by the Department of Communities and Local Government in September 2015; results of which have sparked further campaigns and protests. The data reveals that there has been a significant reduction in the number of inner city boroughs which are classed as the least deprived in the past decade, whilst London’s share of the poorest neighbourhoods in England has almost halved from 462 in 2004 to 274 in 2015. People living in the bottom 10% in terms of relative poverty have consequently been pushed out of their homes and their communities. Gentrification has led to areas like Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Newham and Haringey no longer being amongst the poorest 20 areas in England. Meanwhile, areas like Barnet, Bromley, Havering, Redbridge, Sutton and Wandsworth, which were not classed as deprived in 2004, now hold that title. This proves that there has been a mass exodus of deprived inhabitants from inner London to the outskirts as house prices rocket; the average price of a house in London being more than half a million pounds.

Identifying the enemy
Many people have been quick to criticise protestors for targeting the symptom rather than the disease. Big corporate chains, politicians and real estate agents have also been held accountable for this mechanism of structural inequality in the urban environment, yet it was the Irish brothers who had to bear the brunt of the attack as their business was rampaged and defaced by over 100 angry protestors on the streets of East London. Technically, these brothers have done nothing wrong –bar displaying their self-ignorance in a Channel Four interview which they abruptly ended after uncomfortable questions regarding the irony of their high priced, gimmicky products being sold in one of the poorest areas of London. But are small, independent business the ones to blame? Three pounds for a small bowl of cereal may be ridiculous; particularly when you can get a whole pack for half that price, but there is nothing wrong with high-priced cereal, not until people recognise it as perpetuating privilege and environmental gentrification. What’s more, should we be condemning a local business for bringing trade to a deprived area? Is it not the politicians and the real estate agents we should be targeting? They are the ones directly responsible for the increase in house prices and rents in London which has massively outstripped any increase in people’s pay packets. The rise in house prices coincides with cuts to in-work benefits meaning that many low income families cannot afford to live in London at all. Yet the targeting of hipsters begs the question: are protestors as bothered by the demolition of “coolness” as they are by the rocketing house prices?
The irony enshrined in this whole debacle is that we hear nothing of the true victims of this unjust renovation. Where are the interviews with deprived kids, struggling residents and local businesses? All we see are victimised, middle-class cereal café owners, concerned politicians and inverted snobbery from left-wing protestors.

Novelty cereal has thus become an allegory for gentrification and social change. Tony may be adamant that Frosties are “Grrrr-eat!!!” but would even he pay over three pounds for a bowl?

Sunday, 14 February 2016

How to nail Paris in three days

(Proclaimer: this post has been in the pipeline for over sixth months, oops.)

For years it had been my dream to go to Paris. I think my childhood spent lusting over Marie in Aristocats had a little something to do with that. I dreamt of little Parisian cafes, boulangeries filled with pastries and baguettes, pastel streets and men in loafers riding Vespas. My dreams were not in vain either; Paris was everything a girl could dream. However, being eighteen, jobless and having only three days to waltz about the city and realise all my French dreams was quite the challenge. So, if like me, you're looking to spend a long weekend in the beautiful city on  a modest budget, buckle up my friends because here is my ultimate guide to Paris in three days...

It can be difficult to know where to devote your precious time when there is so much to do. Our answer to that was to dedicate our time evenly between the typical tourist destinations and exploring the hidden gems of the city. Below are my top ten destinations to visit.

Montmartre, Champs-Elsyees, Pere Lachaise, Eiffel Tower at night, Eiffel tower in the day, Village St. Paul, Louvre, Notre Dame, Jardin de Luxenburg, Shakespeare and Company

10. Pere Lachaise 

9. Montmartre (Moulin Rouge, Sacre Coeur)

8. Louvre 

7. Champs-Elysees 

6. Eiffel tower in the day

5. Notre Dame

4. Eiffel tower at night 

3. Village St. Paul

2. Shakespeare and Company

1. Jardin de Luxemburg