Can Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s La La Land help us manage the Trump era?

The golden age of the Hollywood musical offered reprieve from recession and war. Can this all-singing all-dancing cinema do the same now?

Cant sing. Cant act. Balding. Can dance a little. The famous, perhaps apocryphal, description of Fred Astaires first screen exam jump unbidden to my intellect as I watched Ryan Gosling in the new film La La Land . It is the most dazzling confection, a full-blown Hollywood musical confidently set in contemporary Los Angeles, a movie carrying the perfume of movies that have gone before and yet letting Emma Stone and Gosling, two of todays most attractive stars, to reveal themselves in a new sun. They play Seb, a jazz pianist, and Mia, an aspiring actor, who fulfilled, fall in love, sing and dance like its 1929, bringing the genre blazingly back to life.

That you can think of Gosling, a brooding presence in films such as Drive and The Place Beyond the Pines , at the same time as remembering the well-groomed charm of Astaire is testimony to how charismatic his performance is.( And hes not really balding .) But as he and Stone shuffle their shoes softly beneath a lamppost and sing gently of love with an unembarrassed grace, they evoked a lost world of romance.

Director Damien Chazelle had wanted to build La La Land ever since he was at college with the movies composer, Justin Hurwitz. As he has written, musicals favour emotions over logic. Theyre not a literal reflection of life theyre about how life feels. His first cinema, made in 2009 as a project at Harvard as a tribute to the mood of Jacques Demys The Umbrellas of Cherbourg , was the musical Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench , shooting in black and white. Its US gross was only $33,000, indicating that the world wasnt exactly waiting for a narrative about a jazz trumpeter and his desire to find a girlfriend. Chazelle had to wait for the success of 2014s Whiplash before he could convince anyone of the value of a new big-screen musical.

Yet from the moment La La Land begins, with a woman stuck in traffic on a freeway, get out of her auto, stretching her arms and bursting into a anthem that triggers a full-scale production number with the energy and drive of Fame and the chutzpah of On the Town , it is irresistible. No wonder it has just won the New York Film Critics Circle award for best image. In a time of uncertainty, it takes America back to the most glorious days of the silver screen and reasserts the value of an art sort Hollywood invented.

The Hollywood film musical is not the same as a filmed version of a stage production. It is also a different animal from the Broadway musical, though they are closely related. Initially, Hollywood simply imported the stars of the stage and stuck them in front of the camera: Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor and Fanny Brice among them. But gradually, the filmic aspirations of the studios became more complicated. They realised that cinema could create a fiction land bigger than any Broadway stage, and full of dazzling imagery, beautiful women and toe-tapping choreography. It was an art kind that allowed directors to take risks and to experiment , notes movie historian Clive Hirschhorn, writer of The Hollywood Musical and a biography of Gene Kelly. From the late 20 s until the late 50 s, when TV dimmed its sun, the movie musical became a thing of wonder, a refuge in time of recession and war, an assertion of the human spirit.

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in The Barkleys of Broadway, 1949. Photo: MGM Studios/ Getty Images

From the early 30 s, Busby Berkeley, among others, defined the tone, perfecting a style that turned excess into art, marshalling huge number of dancers to create exquisite, elaborated patterns in such Warner Bros movies as Footlight Parade and Gold Diggers of 1933 . Meanwhile, at RKO, Astaire and Ginger Rogers were putting their own indelible mark on the movie musical, in a series of romances as sharp and sassy as their stylised black-and-white design. Astaires perfectionism may have built Rogers feet hemorrhaged, but together they induced dancing seem as effortless and natural as breathing, yet complex enough to take the breath away. Their soundtracks were drawn from the best use of US popular music: Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern.

Theres something entrancing about these films, a kind of innocence that sits alongside their sophistication. When Astaire serenades Rogers, her hair covered in shampoo, with The Way You Look Tonight in Swing Time ( 1936 ), its a recognisably intimate vision of love, something everyone can dream of even if the setting is impossibly glamorous. No wonder such movies carried audiences through the Great Depression. They offered a vision where life was lovely, people were beautiful and happy terminates came to those who deserved them. They are the ultimate fantasy, recognisable yet distant.

The Berkeley-choreographed 42 nd Street , released in 1933, is exposing given this context. There is no doubting the suffering that afflicts Julian( played by Warner Baxter ), the impresario prepared to danger his health for a make after the Wall Street crash has cleaned him out; you cant miss the chorus girls desperation for security as much as notoriety. When Julian rehearses Peggy( Ruby Keeler) before her debut Ill either have a live leading lady or a dead chorus girl real issues are on the line. The truthfulness of the frame sets off the glory of the dance routines.

Radiant Cyd Charisse in The Band Wagon , 1953. Photo: Allstar/ MGM

A similar quality haunts Vincente Minnellis The Band Wagon , constructed 20 year later. Astaire, by then 54, plays with rueful charm a fading star who hopes a Broadway musical will revive his career, battling a crazed director and falling in love with his young co-star Gaby( a radiant Cyd Charisse ). Chazelle tells it is one of his favourite musicals, quoting Minnellis supple and graceful camerawork, but adding its a great portrait of the artist as an older man, learning what to hold on to, what to adapt to in short, how to live.

This is what the best film musicals do. Their heads may be in the clouds, but they are rooted in reality; the fragility of peoples dreamings is personified by the kind. I think the musical can be just as truthful as any realist genre, Chazelle writes. Musicals can get at the way it feels to hold hands in a movie theatre, when your heart is beating a thousand times per second. They can nail what it feels like to fall in love. They can describe with absolute accuracy what its like to cling to a dream when the odds seem stacked against you, and the ache “youre feeling” when that dreaming is dashed. They can capture like no other genre the elation and the triumph when the dreaming goes true.

It is for this reason, as much as for the practical one of having people who can sing and dance and mount a flashy production number, that US film musicals are so often about actors, singers, dancers and novelists. They focus on artists as they can transform drab reality by the creative power of their work. Another of Chazelles favourite musicals is Summer Stock , built in 1950, which features a scene where Gene Kelly, alone in a darkened theatre, utilizes a creaking committee and a piece of newspaper to weave a tap dance of relaxed improvisatory joy almost out of thin air. He transforms the mundane into sorcery in front of our eyes. It is art in action.

The most obvious instance of this is Singin in the Rain , many people selection as the best movie musical of all time( though when it was released in 1952, it won far less critical praise than An American in Paris which had been in cinemas the previous year ). This is a film about film, a love letter to the industry it depicts.

La La Land shares those qualities. It is a cinema where other films Notorious , Rebel Without a Cause , Casablanca appear on screen, but it remains utterly itself. When Seb and Mia dance amid the stars in the planetarium at the Griffith Observatory, they are entering a building they have just watched on screen, and transforming it into their own romantic wonderland.

Layers within layers, supposes within supposes. Throughout its history, the film musical has allowed directors to assert the value of dreaming, particularly at times when peoples hopes were being crushed by reality. The release of La La Land as the world is facing the arrival of President Trump is more apposite than Chazelle could have imagined when he planned the film all those years ago. Its bittersweet beauty is the perfect antidote to the world around it. Just as in the old days.

La La Land is released in the UK on 13 January .

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62 Ridiculously Simple Ways You Can Start Saving Money Right Now

Looking to save a bit of money for a summertime journey? Of course you are. We all are.

And the best route to do it is to start small. Although it’s easy to gues, “Okay, if I buy fewer shoes this month, I’ll save X amount of money after four weeks, ” saving money starts with changing everyday behaviors. Do you end up throwing out a few veggies here and there? Do you grab a latte from Starbucks on your style to run every morning? You’re not alone! Simply by doing things like becoming one with your freezer or changing your morning routine, you can save hundreds in the long run.

Here are 62 tips to help get you started!

1. Cut down on Starbucks runs to save anywhere from $15 to $100 per month.

2. Make your own coffee house drinksinstead.

3. Building dinner at home instead of eating out saves between $150 and $200 per month.

4. And packing a lunch every day can help you save between $40 and $200.

5. Buy produce in season and then freeze fruit for smoothies or dehydrate it.

6. Define a grocery budget, make a grocery list, and stick to them!

7. Make your own bread to save $15 a month.

8. Make breakfast for dinner.

9. Grow your own vegetable garden.

10. Only shop organic for the dirty dozen.

11. Freeze leftovers.

12. Get into canning.

13. Stock up when you find a bargain.

14. Buy a one-quarter or side of beef.

15. Get make from local farms.

16. Make your own taco seasoning.

17. Make your own almond, cashew, hemp, rice, or coconut milk.

18. Make your own yogurt.

19. Buy whole chickens instead of parts.

20. Use Pinterest to find new recipes.

21. Take advantage of price match insures.

22. Shop organic at Costco.

23. Stop buying lottery tickets.

24. Buy discounted movie tickets, theme park tickets, and restaurant gift cards at Costco.

25. Be content with the money you’re bringing in right now.

26. Learn about money management.

27. Don’t carry a credit card balance so you can save about $30 a month.

28. If you have trouble dealing with credit, opt for cash or debit.

29. Pay off debt as quickly as possible.

30. Use your tax rebate to give you a boost

31. Stimulate a budget that covers just about everything from amusement to food.

32. Shop for gift wrap at the dollar store.

33. Keep it simple when you have company over.

34. Decorate for parties with what you already have.

35. Pack food for breakfast and snacks on vacation.

36. Take the bus, ride your motorcycle, or walk instead of driving. This can save between $30 and $400 per month.

37. Carpool.

38. Commit to being a one-car household to save an average of $400 every month.

39. Save money on gas by get all your errands done at once.

40. Make sure tires are properly inflated to save $30 a month.

41. Drive the speed limit to save a few bucks.

42. Do your own automobile maintenance.

43. Maintain your eyes peeled for better car insurance rates.

44. Quit smoking to save hundreds of dollars a month.

45. Cancel that gym membership in the summer and exert outside.

46. Quit coloring your hair.

47. Save manicures and pedicures for special occasions.

48. Use in-network providers for healthcare to save between $30 and $120 a month.

49. Use cloth nappies instead of disposable ones.

50. Try out cloth baby wipes instead of throwing a bunch out.

51. Buy gender neutral baby clothes and gear. That way, you can use them for any other bundles of elation who come along!

52. Switch to cloth napkins so you can save money and look extra fancy.

53. In fact, you are able to make your own cloth napkins.

54. Do your own home maintenance.

55. Shop for better bargains on health and life insurance, and always bundle when you can!

56. Move to a cheaper, more efficient home.

57. Downsize when it was is right.

58. Do your own yard work.

59. Replace plastic bags with reusable food containers.

60. Make your own laundry detergent.

61. Sign up for free samples.

62. Make your own cleaning supplies.

See? That’s not so hard, is it? Most of these changes are so small, they won’t even feel like sacrifices.

( via Growing Slower)

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Kenny Chesney: ‘Entertainers detest audiences watching through cellphones’

The country star, on his 17 th album since 1994, has a new direction and strong things to say about the style our digital culture has changed human interaction

Like any big music starring, Kenny Chesney is used to people reaching out to shake his hand from the front rows of his stadium reveals. But he hasnt forgotten the woman in New Jersey last summertime who clasped her hands in his, depicted him close, but never looked at him once. She was looking at her telephone, he recollects. She was so lost in the noise of it all, she missed the human connect. It was sad.

A risk of success is the cheapening of the message, and sometimes the messenger. Which is why on Cosmic Hallelujah, his 17 th album, Chesney moves another step closer to transforming his role as one of mainstream countrys most enduring superstars to an artist freshly invested in both challenging himself and pushing his audience his fans are known as the No Shoes Nation even if they are fine with the route things are. Chesney is 48 and while the world has certainly changed since 1999, where reference is released She Thinks My Tractors Sexy, hes changed along with it.

Theres more to my life than escapism, he says. I love that part of my life, but it is more important now to talk about other things. Its where I am at right now.

Cosmic Hallelujah is the album destined to grow his audience, although with 28 No 1 records on the country chart, he hasnt precisely underserved them. But Americana fans would find much to admire here through ballads like Jesus and Elvis, a bittersweet story told with traditional country elements and featuring his finest singing in years. And while anthems like Bucket and Bar at the Objective of the World are insured gravy for his blockbuster live presents, Hallelujah also stimulates space for more thoughtful material that reflect both the anxiety of the times and the determination to move through it.

The centerpiece is Noise, the albums first single, which detonation through the digital overload of daily life. The lyrics appeared like a inundate and, with songwriters Ross Copperman, Shane McAnally and Jon Nite, Chesney crafted a dramatic treatise on the potential we are becoming numb to intimacy. Unlike other anthems that tackle the same subject, Noise is less ripped from the headlines and more from his own personal diary. I felt it was affecting my creativity and my personal relationships, he tells of the onslaught of 24/7 connectivity. I felt I was texting I love you instead of telling people I loved them.

Unplugging now translates to leaving the cellphone off the table during dinners. But Chesney has the unique view of watching just how immersed people have become in removing themselves from the present moment when he seems out from the stage of a football stadium and insures 50,000 people staring back at him through their screens.

Its very frustrating, any entertainer will tell you they dislike it, he tells. Especially for me I want to look at everybody straight-out in the eye and make them feel something and its really hard to do that if theyre not looking at you but theyre looking at their telephone. Theyre missing the connection and taking fragments home with them. Its like looking at a bookshelf of volumes but you dont read any of them, you simply read a little bit of each.

Sun, ocean and stetsons: Chesney on the beach. Photograph: Ann Allister

Chesney arrived in Nashville not long after he graduated from East Tennessee State University in 1990. He instantly logged years in the downtown honky-tonks while signing a publishing bargain, which led to his first album, In My Wildest Dreams, in 1994. Back then he was a newcomer who had a voice comparable to George Straitand by the next decade he handily filled the shoes of Garth Brooks because of an abundance of hits and a natural ability to translate them to arena-sized audiences. As a new generation country artist who was also created on classic rock, Chesneys populist touch continued to grow through albums that reliably blended upbeat sentiments from the sun-and-sand belt.

But it was with The Big Revival, his album from 2015, that things turned a corner. Unusually prolific, with a new album out almost every year, Chesney took a full year to concentrate on the record that eventually covered a range of emotional ground. It also helped that he pledged not a single song would mention a truck.

Hallelujah continues that thread with songs that, for Chesney, were collected since they are focus on the stillness and balance of life in the existing. Defining the World On Fire, a duet with Pink, reflects that maturity with its small moments that, near the end, explosion into bliss; Small Town Somewhere brings listeners to images reminiscent of Luttrel, Tennessee, Chesneys hometown, where he remembers standing in the yard behind his grandmothers house and looking at the sky dreaming if there was anything beyond the county line. Luttrel, situated about 20 minutes outside Knoxville, is slightly different today than he remembers. Now the distance between the small town and big city is pocketed by suburban sprawl. He can go home again his grandmother and mom still live in the region but when he does he is reminded of those early years.

That song is very much the truth. I only had certain things sports, church, school, and family, and that was it, says. I was a wondering kid.

The song Chesney says he never would have recorded five years ago is Rich and Miserable, which he admits is not just about the monetary riches hes enjoyed but the ambition that constructs climbing the endless ladder training exercises in addiction. The sung is structured as an anthem that could easily pull an audience to it in the chorus, a nihilistic agreement that enough is never enough. Were too young until were too old/ Were all lost on the yellow brick road, he sings. American dream never wakes up.

The problem may be uniquely American, but he says it also represents directly personal. When can you be happy and still be hungry and work hard? I struggle with that, he says.

Hallelujah is co-produced by Chesney with Buddy Cannon, a country music veteran who has been at the helm of the majority of his catalog. Their working relationship is unusual in that it has lasted so long and is also multi-generational. Cannon, 69, has written songs for George Strait and Mel Tillis and his production credits run from George Jones to Willie Nelson to Merle Haggard. Chesney says he remains indebted to Cannon because he was the first to teach him about the qualities that separate good anthems from bad. Hes one of the guys in township who knows so much about the history of songwriting here, he says.

Jesus and Elvis arrived in Chesneys hands from Cannon through an email that simply said: Just listen. Chesney did and recognized the lonesome core of the song that he tells might have made some of his peers nervous. This was the kind of anthem that inspired me to move to town in the first place, he said. If it was anybody else creating my record, I doubt they would have found that anthem and sent it.

This record joins recent endeavours by Miranda Lambert, Chris Stapleton and others in pushing mainstream country closer to regaining ground it has lost due to the prevalence of party anthems that Chesney himself acknowledges he played a role in elevating. Whether a full renaissance is yet to be determined, but Chesney says he already has a song cycle in his hand that he wants to record as an acoustic album. When youve been doing it this long, there is the pressure of how do you keep going? But I have to do it. Im already looking ahead, he tells. Its only part of how Ive always done things. Because I cant help it.

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Shkreli, Kanye and Trump: a most heinous trinity not worthy of our loathing

Some people are just awful, and the more attention we give them or write about them, as Dave Schilling admits the more they will act out. So lets stop already

Churlish, smirking assface Martin Shkreli is back at it again, and no one is happy about it.

Yesterday, Shkreli offered fellow bleating twit Kanye West $ 10 m for the exclusive listening rights to Wests imminent album The Life of Pablo, despite facing fraud charges and not having a task with which to earn a proper income to pay for it. If Shkreli is successful in duping West into selling him the album exclusively , no one else can listen to it except for Martin Shkreli. West would have to instantly cancel plans to release the record and hand over a single, solitary transcript to Shkreli, much the same way Wu-Tang Clan sold Shkreli the only physical edition of their album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. Boy did that induce everyone righteously angry all over again.

In the clear illuminate of the morning, Shkreli backtracked a little bit on the ludicrously vain offer. The point is NOT to keep music from people, its to remind everyone how important and central it is in our lives, he said on Twitter. This fits with his recent Vanity Fair profile, in which the author painted a picture of a conflicted, complicated young man who may or may not be putting on an act for the sake of performance art. Never mind that hes been arrested and had to appear before Congress to answer for his odious pharmaceutical price-gouging tactics. Hes only a merry prankster out to prove a point through next-level satire.

If Martin Shkreli is actually a brilliant social commentator and performance artist, then I might be able to interest you in this pile of old diapers covered in pony entrails. You assure, under that knoll of crap is Tupac Shakur alive and well and eager to start recording again and a fresh, untapped oil well worth billions of dollars. Start excavating!

Were all so bloody desperate for the world to not be a roiling cauldron of bile and hatred that we pretend as though anyone making asinine statements in public is some kind of clever artist. Kanye West can barf up a heinous non sequitur about Bill Cosbys innocence and a percentage of the population will shrug it off while reminding us that he wrote Flashing Lights and deserves our adoration. Perhaps Donald Trump, for all of his maniacal exaggeration, is actually operating for chairwoman at the behest of the Clinton family as a spoiler to ensure Hillary wins the general election. After all, how can someone truly be so vile and mean it?

It aches me to be the one to expose this to all of you good, honest, hard-working folk out there, but some people are just awful. And the more attention we proffer these twits, the more they act out for our dubious benefit . . Donald Trump doesnt devote a damn about America. Hes simply bored and needs a challenge. Martin Shkreli is lonely. Kanye West knows that manipulation of the media helps him sell more albums and more overpriced shoes.

Complain all you like about Shkreli today, tomorrow, next week, and for the rest of their own lives. He already has what he wants, which is a bunch of aggrieved citizens squeaking about him so he can drown out the deafening stillnes. Trump and Kanye, too: they dont care how you feel as long as you feel something. This is not a revolutionary notion. Its existed long before I was born, but the human race has a short memory, likely because all the smart people end up succumbing eventually, leaving us drooling children to induce the same mistakes over again.

Thats why we need to elect a 100 -year-old woman to be permanent president of the planet. Women are better, more merely leaders than men. First , notice that the three people Im berating in this piece are all male. Second, at 100, shell be too old to derive much pleasure in power anyway. She probably wont be able to get out of bed because her bones ache too much and shed “re going to have to” unplug herself from her feeding tubing, so the perverse thrills enjoyed by despots such as Saddam Hussein and Idi Amin will be lost on her. Lastly, at 100 shell be old enough to remember all the dumb things humanity has been responsible for in the past century. If we can maintain her on life is supportive of a few years, we might be able to rid ourselves of the scourge of pedantic, blustery celebrities wasting all our time bloviating about absolutely nothing of consequence. And maybe get single-payer healthcare while were at it.

Unfortunately, in this elderly-run utopia theres no room for me. Without Martin Shkreli, Donald Trump, Kanye West, whomever is complaining about Beyonces Super Bowl halftime show, Bill OReilly, Justin Bieber, and whatever ill-mannered sports pundit you dislike most, culture novelists would have nothing to write about. Late night talkshow hosts would have no monologues. Physicians, barbers and cab drivers would no longer have an easy conversation starter, like: So, did you ensure what Trump said at the debate last night? He called Ted Cruz a penis-face and Hillary Clinton some dumb broad who dresses like a Starfleet admiral. What a dork. In short, our world would be 100% better, but Id have to get a real job.

People like me are part of the problem, whether we are comfortable admitting it or not. My task is to write about idiots, morons, neer-do-wells and prats. If they all pissed off back to their home planet, Id have to learn accounting or masonry, which would be awful considering how clumsy I am and the fact that I sometimes still do simple addition with my fingers. But I exist, and Martin Shkreli exists, because of all of you. You keep clicking on this bollocks because you love having someone to loathe. Once you get this out of your system, hopefully youll read one of the many pieces on the ceasefire in Syria, the water crisis in Flint, or the Los Angeles gas leak.

Maybe we do this to ourselves because were lonely, just as isolated and desperate for affection and belonging as Martin Shkreli. Our lives consist of transferring from one cold, sterile pod to another from our bed to our vehicle to our office to our bathroom to a bar to our grave. OK, perhaps Im speaking for myself there, but these moments of outrage afford us all a few moments of community. We unite against a common enemy, which can be incredibly, if fleetingly cathartic. Scapegoating feels great for a minute before it turns sour. Ask the citizens of Germany in the late 1930 s.

Donald Trump unites his followers against Mexicans, Muslims and anyone who opposes him. You can be a part of a mission when you support Donald Trump or if “youd prefer”, you can be a part of the mission to stop him. Either route, the guy is great at bringing people together for a common goal. Even better, Martin Shkreli unites us all against Martin Shkreli. That entails everybody is abhor him in unison. Unlike Trump or Kanye, hes not polarizing hes universally vilified. We can like, we can share, and we can join hands in agreement that Martin Shkreli is despicable. I know I am never alone as long as someone else detests him as much as I do. Except that the rage we foment through these glory-seekers and narcissists isnt healthy in the long term. Media outrage is a bump of cocaine: it feels spectacular for 20 minutes, and then afterward you wont shut up about how this is necessary more.

Or, more accurately, the modern media is like bobbing for apples in a horse trough filled with cat urine. You might find something good if you try hard enough, but in the process youre likely going to make yourself sick. In this ridiculous analogy, youre better off skipping the trough completely and growing your own apples in an orchard somewhere, preferably someplace quiet, where Martin Shkreli can never find you.

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Paul McCartney was turned away from a club. He should be glad | Luke Holland

The doorman who rejected the former Beatle entry to a Grammys after-party did us all a favor. No one need take these refuges for D-listers severely again

How VIP do we gotta get ?! Upon being refused entry to the rapper Tygas Grammy aftershow party, an indignant Paul McCartney peers at the faces of his companions, baffled. The doorman, with a doormans unique and innate infallibility, wont budge. Paul wrote Eleanor Rigby. He wrote Yesterday while actually being asleep, for goodness sake.

Never mind that Macca had turned up at the incorrect party he was supposed to be three miles down the road at Mark Ronsons, presumably equally swanky, after-party. And it is certainly too little too late for Tyga to pass the blamed on to overzealous doormen, claiming he would have been more than happy to have invited the Beatle in. This was the worlds greatest living songwriter, with a net worth of PS820m, but on Monday night none of it mattered. Paul was just a 73 -year-old man who, for the first time in at the least 54 of those years, was seeing that his best chance of getting in might be to nip behind the bins and change coats with one of his mates.

Surely this is it the final straw for the club as a desired final destination on any night out. The rest of us have been putting up with Your names not on the listing or No trainers, mate for decades, but Macca? No. Not him. Clubs have gone too far this time. Yes, his situation was different from ours: his mates were Beck and Foo Fighters Taylor Hawkins as opposed to two idiots who sank a bottle of pinot each because Wethers is so cheap youre sort of losing money if you dont, and the party he attempted to get into was Tygas , not Tiger Tiger. Nevertheless, if even “the mens” who redefined boulder with Helter Skelter isnt good enough to get in to a club, the time has surely come to conclude that clubs are not good enough for us to actually want to get into to.

Im not talking about dance connoisseurs nightclubs here ones where club is used as a verb. Theyre different. Theyre fine full of happy, dancing people there to enjoy music. No, I mean the inexplicably snooty, cocktail-y ones. They play Jason Derulo a lot. Or Drake. Blasted so loud it renders dialogue impossible without yodelling into your victims ear the point, incidentally, at which they discover a damp waft of saliva down the ear canal does little to reduce the agony of a perforated eardrum. Sometimes you can get a pint in these places, but opportunities are youll pay full-pint price for a bottle, which last day I checked is just over half a pint. Utter, meritless nonsense.

Pub licensing laws have changed and clubs no longer have a monopoly on wee-hours boozing. So what exactly is the point of them? Why are people still queueing up for 40 minutes to get into one, shall be required to urinate so fiercely that all the capillaries in their eyes have exploded?

People go to clubs on the pull, for one thing. This is fair enough, understandable: clubs remove any possibility of dialogue and promote boozily confident dancing handy for people, lets tell, whose best feature is their seems. Clubs also often have an tempt, velvet-roped-off VIP area, inviting you to wonder what exclusive pleasures might lurk therein. Lets set this one to bed right now Ill tell you what lurks therein: my mate sneaked into one in Ibiza once and all she did was snog Dean Gaffney and nick Michael Grecos hat. The best you can hope for here is a fleeting appearance by Dane Bowers or Arg from Towie. You dont imagine you could have a prolonged debate about the best book in the His Dark Materials trilogy with either of them. In fact, you get the distinct impression that, whatever you said, eventually one of them would end up crying.

Clubs are rubbish. They were rubbish when we were all 18, and theyre rubbish now. Theyre a relic of a day when people wanted a fleeting savour of D-list celebrity for the price of a thrown-together mojito. Now were older and wiser, and paying PS8 to get into a place where the staff treat you like a minor irritant seems wildly unnecessary. Its day the club, as a notion, died, and we all received a half-decent late-opening pub instead. The over-zealous doorman at Tygas after-party undoubtedly saved Paul McCartney from an nasty, nasty night.

My local saloon bides open until dribble oclock. It has no DJ, but a vinyl deck with a panoply of records for utilize by anyone, many of which have Paul McCartney on them. Theres dancing. Darts. Chatter. A smoking gazebo. It has two fat , non-judgmental puppies in it, and a cat that sleeps in the nut tray. And, most importantly, because its not 1996, it has no doorman with a face like the back of a fist telling you your moneys not good enough because your shoes are wrong and he doesnt like your hairdo.

If youre in the area, Macca, stroll past the clubs and come down for a pint. Join us in 2016. Mines a pale ale.

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Aaron Paul:’ It’s impossible not to throw our own emotions into the mix’

The star of Eye in the Sky on the droning debate, learning to love LA, and the return of Breaking Bads Jesse Pinkman

Aaron Paul is a 36 -year-old actor who came to prominence playing crystal meth merchant and producer Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad , for which he won three Emmy awardings. In Eye in the Sky he plays a droning pilot was necessary to blow up an Al-Shabaab cell in Kenya.

Eye in the Sky is dedicated to the memory of Alan Rickman , who co-starred. Did you get to meet him ?
Sadly we never had the opportunity. This was the second movie he and I did together, but I never had the privilege of meeting the man. Im very blest to have shared a screen with him. Your character refuses to fire his droning because he is likely to kill an innocent girl. But if he doesnt act, the suicide bombers hes targeting might kill many more innocents. Do you have a moral posture on that dilemma ?
Its impossible not to throw our own emotions into the mixture. I feel I side with my character on this, thats why Im so happy I dont have to be in his shoes and Im not part of the decision-making process. Hes just trying to bide time, to wait until the last possible moment to release his payload. Has there been much debate in the US about the use of droning warfare ?
Absolutely, theres been a discussion ever since dronings started flying. But if you talk to our director[ Gavin Hood ], whos been doing endless amounts of research for the past three or four years, he informed me that even when the longbow was created and they started utilizing that in battles, people thought it was terribly unjust. How are you peacefully pulling back a longbow from across a giant field in the convenience of your bunker? Drones are a more dramatic version of that.

Eye in the Sky trailer

You grew up in Idaho, the son of a baptist pastor. What kind of childhood was that ?
It was unbelievable. I appreciate it much more now being away from it. I grew up on the lagoon, floating the rivers , nothing but mountains and streams and wildlife and that kind of thing. I was always snowboarding from a very young age. And you think, oh God I cant wait to get out to live a more exciting life. But now living in Los Angeles since I was 17, I cannot wait to get back to Idaho. You moved to LA as a adolescent. Was that a lonely hour of your life ?
I didnt fall in love with Los Angeles as quickly as I had imagined I would. It took me a good two to three years to actually love the city. Now Im madly in love with it. Theres a lot of Los Angeles that at first glance youre frightened by, a lot of fake people and the glitz and glam, thats not really my cup of tea. Then eventually you get your core group of friends who you love and trust. I wouldnt call it lonely. I was fighting for something. I was trying to get my foot inside that door. And eventually the door was opened. Did you ever think of ceasing ?
There was a lot of anxiety. I never wanted to quit. I had many ups and downs in the business. I started doing commercials to pay my bills, then I stopped doing that because I wanted to focus on guest places on Tv. If you have a lull in working its hard to keep up and pay your bills. Right before Breaking Bad was likely the lowest point in my career. That was the first time I had ever asked for any money from my family, and my family didnt have any money to dedicate. But they managed to get some money together and pay my rent of 3 months in a row. That was unbelievably heartbreaking for me. Jesse Pinkman was a wonderful character, and one of his distinctive characteristics was his deep lazy voice. How close is it to yours ?
I took a while to actually know who Jesse was. In the pilot he just came off as this druggy burnout. I wanted him to stand out. I know this kid says Yo and bitch far too much. I wanted to create a character around that. His voice came to me throughout the first season of the prove. And I got a true sense of it in the second season. Is it difficult staying in one character over so many years? Does it begin to possess you ?
A lot of periods it would be difficult but with a prove like Breaking Bad it actually induced it easier, because these characters were so well developed and absolutely on the page right there in front of us for the taking. The more scripts we had the more we figured out who these characters were. You are able to tell an incredibly descriptive narration in 62 hours of television.

I read that at one stage you were dreaming as Jesse
Thats true. I truly lived and inhaled every moment and then some of what you insure on screen. It was almost impossible not to guess as Jesse, to actually transform into that guy. So at night there would be periods when I would wake up in a panic as Jesse, and bad things were happening to me. Which actually I was so into. I never had that experience before of dreaming as the character.

Theres talk of you turning up on the prequel , Better Call Saul . Do you have any news about that ?
All I can say is that weve had multiple dialogues about such a possibility and if it were to happen it would happen for absolutely all the right reasons. They wouldnt wishes to hurl Jesse in just so the audience could see him in the background. Hed have to really enter the tale. And as Im such a huge fan of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul , if they did figure out a way to stimulate that happen Id be very excited. What do you do to relax ?
Any chance I have just to be at my house, I take it. Im never at home, Im always travelling. I never work in LA. Being home is actually a vacation for me and my wife. Music is our obsession. I fell in love with my wife at a music celebration. We have concerts inside our living room. Whenever were in town, we track down artists playing in Los Angeles and just reach out to their tour manager and see if theyd like to play our living room. Do you think youd be able to make crystal meths to a reasonable quality if you were required ?
Absolutely not. I wouldnt even know how to jolt myself up. I would be terrible at it.

Eye in the Sky is out 15 April

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Lionel Shriver’s full speech: ‘I hope the concept of cultural appropriation is a passing fad’

This is the full transcript of the keynote speech, Fiction and Identity Politics, that writer Lionel Shriver dedicated at the Brisbane Writers Festival

I hate to frustrate you folks, but unless we stretch the topic to breaking point this address will not be about community and belonging. In fact, you have to hand it to this celebrations organisers: inviting a renowned iconoclast to speak about community and belonging is like expecting a great white shark to balance a beach ball on its nose.

The topic I had submitted instead was fiction and identity politics, which may sound on its face equally dreary.

But Im afraid the bramble of thorny issues that cluster around identity politics has got all too interesting, particularly for people pursuing the occupation I share with many gathered in this hall: fiction writing. Taken to their logical conclusion, ideologies lately come into vogue challenge our right to write fiction at all. Meanwhile, the kind of fiction we are allowed to write is in danger of becoming so hedged, so circumscribed, so tippy-toe, that wed indeed be better off not writing the anodyne drivel to begin with.

Lets start with a tempest-in-a-teacup at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Earlier this year, two students, both members of student government, threw a tequila-themed birthday party for a friend. The hosts provided attendees with miniature sombreros, whichthe horror numerous partygoers wore.

When photos of the party circulated on social media, campus-wide outrage ensued. Administrators sent multiple emails to the culprits threatening an investigation into an act of ethnic stereotyping. Partygoers were placed on social probation, while the two hosts were ejected from their dorm and later impeached. Bowdoins student newspaper denounced the attendees absence of basic empathy.

The student government issued its declaration of solidarity with all the students who were injured and affected by the incident, and demanded that administrators create a safe space for those students who have been or feeling specifically targeted. The tequila party, the statement specified, was just the sort of occasion that creates an environment where students of colouring, particularly Latino, and especially Mexican, feeling unsafe. In sum, the party-favour hats constituted wait for it cultural appropriation.

Curiously, across my country Mexican restaurants, often owned and run by Mexicans, are festooned with sombreros if perhaps not for long. At the UKs University of East Anglia, the student union has banned a Mexican restaurant from devoting out sombreros, deemed once more an act of cultural appropriation that was also racist.

Now, I am a little at a loss to explain whats so insulting about a sombrero a practical piece of headgear for a hot climate that keeps out the sunshine with a wide brim. My parents went to Mexico when I was small, and brought a sombrero back from their travelings, the better for my brothers and I to unashamedly appropriate the keepsake to play dress-up. For my part, as a German-American on both sides, Im more than happy for anyone who doesnt share my genetic pedigree to don a Tyrolean hat, pull on some leiderhosen, pour themselves a weisbier, and belt out the Hoffbrauhaus Song.

But what does this “re going to have to” do with writing fiction? The moral of the sombrero scandals is clear: youre not supposed to try on other people hats . Yet thats what were paid to do, isnt it? Step into other people shoes, and try on their hats.

In the latest ethos, which has spun well beyond college campuses in short order, any tradition, any experience, any costume, any route of doing and telling things, that is associated with a minority or disadvantaged group is ring-fenced: look-but-dont-touch. Those who espouse a vast scope of identities ethnicities, nationalities, races, sex and gender categories, classes of economic under-privilege and disability are now encouraged to be possessive of their experience and to regard other people attempts to participate in their lives and traditions, either actively or imaginatively, as a form of theft.

Yet were their authors honouring the new regulations against helping yourself to what doesnt belong to you, we would not have Malcolm Lowrys Under the Volcano. We wouldnt have most of Graham Greenes fictions, many of which are set in what for the author were foreign countries, and which hence have Real Foreigners in them, who speak and act like foreigners, too.

In his masterwork English Passengers, Matthew Kneale would have restrained himself from including chapters written in an Aboriginals voice though these are some of the richest, most compelling passages in that novel. If Dalton Trumbo had been scared off of describing being trapped in a body with no arms, legs, or face because he was not personally disabled because he had not been through a World War I mutilating himself and therefore had no right to appropriate the isolation of a paraplegic we wouldnt have the haunting 1938 classic, Johnny Got His Gun .

We wouldnt have Maria McCanns erotic masterpiece, As Meat Loves Salt in which a straight girl writes about lesbian men in the English Civil War. Though the book is nonfiction, its worth noting that we also wouldnt have 1961 s Black Like Me, for which John Howard Griffin committed the now unpardonable sin of blackface. Having his scalp darkened Michael Jackson in reverse Griffin found out what it was like to live as a black man in the segregated American South. Hed be excoriated today, yet that volume made a powerful social impact at the time.

The author of Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law, Susan Scafidi, a law professor at Fordham University who for the record is white, defines cultural appropriationas taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone elses culture without permission. This can include unauthorised use of another cultures dance, dress, music, speech, folklore, cuisine, traditional medication, religious symbols, etc.

What ten-strikes me about that definition is that without permission bit. However are we fiction writers to try permission to use a character from another race or culture, or to hire the vernacular of a group to which we dont belong? Do we set up a stand on the corner and approach passers-by with a clipboard, getting signatures that award limited rights to hire an Indonesian character in Chapter Twelve, the route political volunteers get a candidate on the ballot?

I am hopeful that the concept of cultural appropriation is a passing fad: people with different backgrounds rubbing up against one another and exchanging ideas and practises is self-evidently one of the most productive, fascinating aspects of modern urban life.

But this latest and little absurd no-no is part of a larger climate of super-sensitivity, devoting rise to proliferating proscriptions supposedly in the interest of social justice that constrain fiction writers and prospectively stimulates our work impossible.

So far, the majority of these farcical cases of appropriation have concentrated on manner, dance, and music: At the American Music Awarding 2013, Katy Perry got it in the neck for garmenting like a geisha. According to the Arab-American novelist Randa Jarrar, for someone like me to practice belly dancing is white appropriation of Eastern dance, while according to the Daily BeastIggy Azalea committed cultural crimes by mimicking African rap and speaking in a blaccent.

The felony of cultural sticky thumbs even extends to workout: at the University of Ottawa in Canada, a yoga educator was shamed into suspending her class, because yoga originally comes from India. She offered to re-title the course, Mindful Stretching. And get this: the purism has also reached the world of food. Supported by no less than Lena Dunham, students at Oberlin College in Ohio have protested culturally appropriated food like sushi in their dining hall( luck cuss in my day, we never had sushi in our dining hall ), whose inauthenticity is insensitive to the Japanese.

Lionel Shriver is the author of We Need to Talk About Kevin, the winner of the 2005 Orange Prize. Her other volumes include Game Control, A Perfectly Good Family, and Double Fault. She lives in London. Photo: Antonio Olmos for the Observer

Seriously, we have people questioning whether its appropriate for white people to feed pad Thai. Turnabout, then: I guess that means that as a native of North Carolina, I can ban the Thais from eating barbecue.( I bet theyd swap .)

This same sensibility is coming to a bookstore near you. Because who is the appropriator par excellence, actually? Who presumes other people voices, accents, patois, and distinctive idioms? Who literally puts terms into the mouths of people different from themselves? Who dares to get inside the very heads of strangers, who has the chutzpah to project thoughts and feelings into the minds of others, who steals their very souls? Who is a professional kidnapper? Who swipes every sight, stench, sensation, or overheard dialogue like a kid in a candy store, and sometimes take notes the better to purloin whole worlds? Who is the premier pickpocket of the arts?

The fiction writer, thats who.

This is a disrespectful vocation by its nature prying, voyeuristic, kleptomaniacal, and presumptuous. And that is fiction writing at its best. When Truman Capote wrote from the perspective of denounced assassins from a lower economic class than his own, he had some gall. But writing fiction takes gall.

As for the culture polices preoccupation with authenticity, fiction is inherently inauthentic. Its fake. Its self-confessedly fake; that is the nature of the form, which is about people who dont exist and events that didnt happen. The name of video games is not whether your novel honor reality; its all about what you can get away with.

In his 2009 novel Little Bee, Chris Cleave, who as it happens is participating in this celebration, dared to write from the point of view of a 14 -year-old Nigerian girl, though he is male, white, and British. Ill remain neutral on whether he got away with it in literary words, because I havent read the book yet.

But in principle, I admire his fortitude if merely because he invited this kind of ethical forensics in a review out of San Francisco: When a white male writer writes as a young Nigerian girl, is it an act of empathy, or identity steal? the reviewer asked. When an writer pretends to be someone he is not, he does it to tell a story outside of his own experiential scope. But he has to in turn be careful that he is representing his characters , not have them for his plot.

Hold it. OK, hes inevitably representing his characters, by portraying them on the page. But of course hes have them for his plot! How could he not? They are his characters, to be manipulated at his whim, to fulfill whatever purpose he cares to put them to.

This same reviewer recapitulated Cleaves obligation to show that hes representing[ the girl ], rather than exploiting her. Again, a false dichotomy.

Of course hes exploiting her. Its his volume, and he made her up. The character is his being, to be exploited up a blizzard. Yet the reviewer chides that special care should be taken with a story thats not implicitly yours to tell and worries that Cleave pushes his own borders perhaps further than they were meant to go.

What stories are implicitly ours to tell, and what boundaries around our own lives are we mandated to remain within? I would argue that any story you are able to make yours is yours to tell, and trying to push the boundaries of the authors personal experience is part of a fiction writers chore.

Im hoping that crime writers, for example, dont all have personal experience of committing slaying. Me, Ive depicted a high school killing spree, and I hate to break it to you: Ive never shot fatal arrows through seven kids, a educator, and a cafeteria worker, either. We make things up, we opportunity our arms, sometimes we do a little research, but in the end its still about what we can get away with what we can put over on our readers.

Because the ultimate endpoint of keeping out mitts off experience that doesnt belong to us is that there is no fiction. Someone like me merely permits herself to write from the perspective of a straight white female born in North Carolina, shutting on sixty, able-bodied but with bad knees, skint for years but eventually able to buy the odd new shirt. All thats left is memoir.

And heres the bugbear, heres where we really cant win. At the same day that were to write about merely the few toys that landed in our playpen, were also upbraided for failing to portray in our fiction a population that is sufficiently various.

My most recent novel The Mandibleswas taken to task by one reviewer for addressing an America that is straight and white. It happens that this is a multigenerational household saga about a white household. I wasnt instinctively inclined to insert a transvestite or bisexual, with issues that might distract from my central subject matter of apocalyptic economics. Yet the implication of this criticism is that we novelists need to plug in representatives of a variety of groups in our cast of characters, as if filling out the entering class of freshmen at colleges and universities with strict diversity requirements.

You do indeed insure just this brand of tokenism in television. There was a phase in the latter 1990 s at which suddenly every sitcom and drama in sight had to have a homosexual or lesbian character or couple. That was good news as a voucher of the success of the homosexual rights movement, but it still grew a little bit tiresome: look at us, our show is so hip, one of the characters is lesbian!

Were now going through the same fashionable workout in relation to the transgender characters in series like Transparent and Orange is the New Black.

Fine. But I still would like to reserve the right as a novelist to use only the characters that pertain to my story.

Besides: which is it to be? We have to tend our own gardens, and merely write about ourselves or people just like us because we mustnt pilfer others experience, or we have to people our cast like an Id like to teach the world to sing Coca-Cola advert?

For it can be dangerous these days to run the diversity route. Especially since there seems to be a consensus on the idea that San Francisco reviewer put forward that special care should be taken with a story thats not implicitly yours to tell.

In The Mandibles, I have one secondary character, Luella, whos black. Shes married to a more central character, Douglas, the Mandible familys 97 -year-old patriarch. I reasoned that Douglas, a liberal New Yorker, would credibly have left his wife for a beautiful, stately African American because arm candy of color would reflect well on him in his circle, and maintain his progressive kids objections to a minimum. But in the end the gag is on Douglas, because Luella suffers from early onset dementia, while his ex-wife, staunchly of sound mind, aims up running a charity for dementia research. As the novel reaches its climax and the family is reduced to the street, theyre obliged to put the addled, disoriented Luella on a leash, to keep her from wandering off.

Behold, the reviewer in the Washington Post, who groundlessly accused this volume of being racist because it doesnt toe a strict Democratic Party line in its political outlook, described the scene thus: The Mandibles are white. Luella, the single African American in the family, arrived at the Brooklyn incontinent and demented. She needs to be physically restrained. As their fortunes become ever more dire and the family assembles for a perilous trek through the street of lawless New York, shes held at the end of a leash. If The Mandibles is ever constructed into a cinema, my suggestion is that this image not be employed for the movie poster.

Your author, by implication, yearns to bring back slavery.

Thus in the world of identity politics, fiction writers better be careful. If we do choose to import representatives of protected groups, special rules apply. If a character happen to be black, they have to be treated with kid gloves, and never be placed in scenes that, taken out of context, might seem disrespectful. But thats no way to write. The burden is too great, the self-examination paralysing. The natural outcome of that kind of criticism in the Postis that next time I dont use any black characters, lest they do or say anything that is short of perfectly admirable and lovely.

In fact, Im reminded of a letter I received in relation to my seventh novel from an Armenian-American who objected why did I have to make the narrator of We Need to Talk About KevinArmenian? He didnt like my narrator, and felt that her ethnicity disparaged his community. I took pains to explain that I knew something about Armenian heritage, because my best friend in the States was Armenian, and I also guessed there was something dark and aggrieved in the culture of the Armenian diaspora that was atmospherically germane to that volume. Besides, I despaired, everyone in the US has an ethnic background of some sort, and she had to be something!

Especially for writers from traditionally privileged demographics, the message seems to be that its a whole lot safer just to make all your characters from that same demographic, so you can be as hard on them as you care to be, and do with them what you like. Availing yourself of a diverse cast, you are not free; you have inadvertently invited a host of regulations upon your head, as if just having joined the EU. Use different races, ethnicities, and minority gender identities, and you are being watched.

I confess that this climate of scrutiny has get under my scalp. When I was first starting out as a novelist, I didnt hesitate to write black characters, for example, or to avail myself of black dialects, for which, having grows up in the American South, I had a pretty good ear. I am now much more anxious about illustrating characters of various types of races, and accents make me nervous.

In describing a second-generation Mexican American whos married to one of my main characters in The Mandibles, I took care to write his dialogue in standard American English, to specify that he spoke without an accent, and to explain that he only dropped Spanish expressions tongue-in-cheek. I would certainly think twice more than twice about ever writing a whole novel, or even a goodly chunk of one, from the perspective of a character whose race is different from my own because I may sell myself as an iconoclast, but Im as anxious as the next person about attracting vitriol. But I think thats a loss. I think that indicates a contraction of my fictional cosmo that is not good for the books, and not good for my soul.

Writing under the pseudonym Edward Schlosser on Vox, the author of the essay Im a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Scare Me describes higher educations current climate of dread and its heavily policed discourse of semantic sensitivity and I am concerned that this touchy ethos, in which offendedness is used as a weapon, has spread far beyond academia, in part thanks to social media.

Why, its largely in order to keep from losing my fictional mojo that I stay off Facebook and Twitter, which could surely install an instinctive self-censorship out of dread of attack. Ten years ago, I dedicated the opening address of this same celebration, in which I maintained that fiction writers have a vested interest in protecting everyones right to offend others because if hurting someone elses feelings even unknowingly is sufficient justification for muzzling, there will always be someone out there who is miffed by what you say, and freedom of speech is dead. With the rise of identity politics, which privileges a subjective sense of injury as actionable basis for prosecution, that is a battle that in the decade since I last spoke in Brisbane weve been losing.

Worse: the lefts espouse of gotcha hypersensitivity unavoidably invites backlash. Donald Trump appeals to people who have had it up to their eyeballs with being told what they can and cannot tell. Pushing back against a mainstream culture of speak-no-evil suppression, they lash out in defiance, and then what they say is pretty appalling.

Regarding identity politics, whats especially saddened me in my recent career is a trend toward repudiating the advocacy of anyone who does not belong to the group. In 2013, I published Big Brother, a novel that grew out of my loss of my own older brother, who in 2009 died as a result of the complications of morbid obesity. I was moved to write the book not only from sorrow, but also sympathy: in the years before his death, as my brother grew heavier, I saw how horribly other people treated him how he would be seated off in a corner of a restaurant, how the staff would roll their eyes at one another after hed ordered, though he hadnt requested more food than anyone else.

I was wildly impatient with the route we assess peoples characters these days in accordance with their weight, and tried to get on the page my consternation at how much energy people waste on this matter, sometimes distressing for years over a few excess pounds. Both writer and volume were on the side of the angels, or so you would think.

But in my events to promote Big Brother, I started to notice a pattern. Most of the people buying the book in the signing queue were thin. Especially in the US, fat is now one of those issues where you either have to be one of us , or youre the foe. I confirmed this when I had a long email correspondence with a Healthy at Any Size activist, who was incensed by the novel, which she hadnt even read. Which she refused to read. No amount of explaining that the novel was on her side, that it was a volume that was terribly ached by the way heavy people are treated and how unfairly “they il be” judged, could overcome the scrawny writers photo on the flap.

She and her colleagues in the fat rights movement did not want my advocacy. I could not weigh in on this material because I did not are members of the club. I received this an artistic, political, and even commercial letdown because in the US and the UK, if only skinny-minnies will buy your volume, youve evaporated the pool of prospective consumers to a puddle.

I worry that the clamorous world of identity politics is also undermining the very causes its activists claim to back. As a fiction novelist, yeah, I do sometimes deem my narrator an Armenian. But thats merely by way of a start. Simply being Armenian is not to have a character as I understand the word.

Membership of a larger group is not an identity. Being Asian is not an identity. Being lesbian is not an identity. Being deaf, blind, or wheelchair-bound is not an identity , nor is being economically deprived. I reviewed a novel lately that I had regretfully to give a thumbs-down, though it was terribly well intended; its heart was in the right place. But in relating the Chinese immigrant experience in America, the author put forward characters that were mostly Chinese. That is, thats sort of all they were: Chinese. Which isnt enough.

I made this same point in relation to gender in Melbourne last week: both as writers and as people, we should be seeking to push beyond the holding categories into which we have been arbitrarily dropped by birth. If we espouse narrow group-based identities too ferociously, we cling to the very enclosures in which others would seek to trap us. We pigeonhole ourselves. We limit our own notion of who we are, and in presenting ourselves as one of a membership, a representative of our kind , an ambassador of an amalgam, we ask not to be seen.

The reading and writing of fiction is patently driven in part by a desire to look inward, to be self-examining, reflective. But the form is also born of a desperation to break free of the claustrophobia of our own experience.

The spirit of good fiction is one of exploration, generosity, curiosity, boldnes, and compassion. Writing during the day and read when I go to bed at night, I find it an enormous relief to escape the confines of my own head. Even if fictions and short stories merely do so by creating an illusion, fiction helps to fell the exasperating obstacles between us, and for a short while allows us to behold the astonishing reality of other people.

Dr Kirstin Ferguson (@ kirstinferguson) September 8, 2016

@Clarke_Melissa WfWHg9UkXP

The last thing we fiction writers need is restrictions on what belongs to us. In a recent interview, our colleague Chris Cleave conceded, Do I as an Englishman have any right to write a story of a Nigerian girl? I totally sympathise with the ones who tell I have no right to do this. My only excuse is that I do it well.

Which brings us to my final point. We do not all do it well. So its more than possible that we write from the perspective of a one-legged lesbian from Afghanistan and fall flat on our arses. We dont get the dialogue right, and for insertions of expressions in Pashto we depend on Google Translate.

Halfway through the novel, suddenly the protagonist has lost the right leg instead of the left one. Our idea of lesbian sex is drawn from wooden internet porn. Efforts to persuasively enter the lives of others very different from us may fail: thats a devoted. But maybe rather than having our heads taken off, we should get a few phases for trying. After all, most fiction sucks. Most writing sucks. Most things that people make of any kind suck. But that doesnt mean we shouldnt make anything.

The answer is that modern clich: to keep trying to fail better. Anything but be obliged to designate my every character an ageing five-foot-two smartass, and having to set every novel in North Carolina.

We fiction writers have to preserve the right to wear many hats including sombreros.

This is the full transcript of the keynote speech, Fiction and Identity Politics, Lionel Shriver dedicated at the Brisbane Writers Festival on 8 September. Her latest volume The Mandibles, is published by Harper Collins .

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John Oliver tears into Wells Fargo over banking scandal

After a few weeks off, the Last Week Tonight host returned to excoriate bank CEO John G Stumpf, and reserved some venom for Donald Trump

After a few weeks hiatus, John Oliver came back in fiery form, ripping into Wells Fargo in the wake of the companys banking scandal on his HBO series Last Week Tonight.

Wells Fargo: the only bank ever to be serenaded by an eight-year-old Ron Howard, said Oliver, before demonstrating a clip of Howard singing about Wells Fargo in the 1962 cinema The Music Man.

Just three weeks ago, Oliver continued, Wells Fargo was the most valuable bank in the world. But recently, its reputation has taken a massive reach after some alarming revelations.

Oliver recounted how Wells Fargo employees secretly opened unauthorized accounts to reach marketings targets and receive bonuses, affecting more than two million customers. He then quipped: Hidden fees are bad enough without being hidden inside concealed accounts with concealed pin numbers constructed with concealed email addresses because thats like a Russian nesting doll where the last doll is giving you the middle finger.

The bank recently announced it was ending the sales quotas at the core of this scandal. About 5,300 employees were fired for opening unauthorized accounts in order to meet their marketings quotas.

Despite this, Oliver didnt go easy on the embattled Wells Fargo CEO, John G Stumpf, taking his cue from the thorough lash he received from Senator Elizabeth Warren, who last week implored him to resign in front of the Senate banking committee.

Stumpf actually appeared in front of the Senate banking committee this week with a bandage on his hand, which I legally cant say is the result of carpal passageway from typing in so many fake email addresses. And he wanted to be clear: he didnt know anything about anything, said Oliver.

Oh, come along, added the host. If he was going to play that dumb, he should have depicted up with his shoes on his hands and a Stone Cold Steve Austin T-shirt. Then it would have constructed sense.

Oliver dedicated much of the rest of the depict to build the case that Donald Trumps worst scandals trump those of opponent Hillary Clinton.

This campaign has been dominated by scandals, but it is dangerous to think that there is an equal number on both sides, he said. And you can be annoyed by some of Hillarys that is understandable but you should then be fucking outraged by Trumps.

Ethical fails in a politician are like raisins in a cookie, he explained. They shouldnt be there. They disgust people. But most legislators have at least a few raisins.

Hillary is a cookie like this one, he said, holding an oatmeal raisin cookie. She arguably has more raisins than average.

As for Trump? The man is a fucking raisin monsoon, yelled Oliver, as a torrent of raisins rained down on his desk.

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50 documentaries you need to see

Ten of the best nonfiction film-makers today choose their own favourites, from serial killer stories to meta pranks.

Joshua Oppenheimer

The Texan directors feature debut, The Act of Killing (2012), and its follow-up, The Look of Silence (2014), explore the aftermath of massacres in Indonesia. Both were nominated for Oscars.

Joshua Oppenheimer, photographed at home in Copenhagen. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose for the Observer

Salaam Cinema, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, 1995

For this film, Mohsen Makhmalbaf announces a casting call: thousands of people turn up and theres a riot to get in. Each participant is channelling their worries and hopes into the desire to be in a film. He interacts with them in this dictatorial way, which makes the film ultimately about power and authority. He demands that people cry on command. One woman becomes so frustrated that she does start to cry, so he says OK, youve made it. And shes so happy, but then theres the disappointment as she realises this was her moment on screen. She thought thered be a script and a real film to make afterwards. Its a devastating, beautiful film.

A scene from Close-Up by Abbas Kiarostami.

Close Up, Abbas Kiarostami, 1990

A man pretends to be Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the director of Salaam Cinema. He insinuates himself into a familys life out of loneliness, to make friends. At one point the family realise hes not really the director and have him arrested. The film follows this mans trial in an Iranian court, and then the real Mohsen Makhmalbaf meets the man and takes him to the family.

The impostors fragility ultimately embodies what it means to be poor and struggling in life, and through that you feel how sad it is that we live in a world where people are measured by wealth and power, and the cruelty that any human being could ever feel insignificant.

Gates of Heaven, Errol Morris, 1978

This was Errol Morriss first film. He was taking his time with it so Werner Herzog promised If you finish this film I will eat my shoe, which he did. Its about two families in California who run pet cemeteries, and it looks at humans relationships to their pets. Its an odd mystery, a pet. We eat animals, we use them for labour, but then we keep them in our home as objects upon which we project love that we maybe lack elsewhere. Morris has these carefully crafted tableaux: theres one continuous shot where a woman has a 15-minute lament, complaining about aspects of her life, and thats where the film becomes something altogether greater and more mysterious.

Loss Is to Be Expected, Ulrich Seidl, 1992

This was made shortly after the fall of communism in eastern Europe and it looks at two communities on either side of the Czech-Austrian border. Theres an elderly man in Austria looking for a new wife, and he meets a lone single woman on the Czech side of the border.

There are these amazing scenes where they go on a date to a funfair and then to a sex museum. Shes much more sexually comfortable than he is, which is a source of incredible comedy. But its about desire and love and the fulfilling of our quotidian needs and the necessary, wilful blindness towards our deeper needs because ultimately, to contemplate those needs is to contemplate our own mortality.

A scene from The Hour of the Furnaces. Photograph: Tricontinental films

The Hour of the Furnaces, Octavia Getino and Fernando e Solanas, 1968

This is a furious, angry film about neocolonialism in Argentina, and its the most devastating look at colonialism Ive seen in nonfiction films. The sections about Argentinas oligarchy, and the exploitation on which they thrived, are so poetically rendered that you relate to the horror of dictatorship purely through your emotions.

It was made secretly and was screened at illegal opposition meetings, in defiance of the authoritarian rule. People were arrested for screening it. I imagine that seeing it at the time you would come out feeling like youd have to do something about the situation. There are sections of The Act of Killing where I surely had this film in the back of my head. KB

Lucy Walker: The Up series showed me what the medium was capable of

Director Lucy Walker. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

British director Lucy Walker has been Oscar-nominated twice, for Waste Land (2010) and The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom (2011). She is currently working on a remake of Buena Vista Social Club.

Hoop Dreams, Steve James, 1994

Hoop Dreams follows two very talented African American boys in Chicago who get a basketball scholarship to go to a prestigious, predominantly white high school. It follows them for five years and its a spectacular example of a longitudinal documentary where you get to glimpse the machinery of life. You get a real sense of time unfolding and the big forces that act on us. The twists and turns are subtle, nothing much happens, and yet it feels incredibly dramatic and compelling because its so well crafted and the characters are so beautifully rendered. I watched it repeatedly when I was making my first film, Devils Playground, because it follows young people through this pivotal period in their lives, and I was trying to understand how you could get so much narrative, emotion and character into a film. Theres a scene where the mum is icing a birthday cake for her sons 16th birthday. Its an interview, in the sense that the film-maker is asking her questions and shes talking to camera, but it doesnt feel like one, its so much more cinematic and compelling and the activity is so perfect.

Streetwise, Martin Bell, 1984

This film had its beginnings in a photojournalism assignment for Life magazine by the photographer Mary Ellen Mark about a group of street kids living in Seattle. She persuaded her husband, Martin Bell, to make a film about them. Its just so intimate that its hard to believe the film-maker is actually in the room with these kids. Its like hes put on a cloak of invisibility. I could have chosen any number of cinema vrit masterpieces but for some reason this moves me. Ive made quite a few films with young people and its fascinating because the plot of their lives is so close to the surface: one conversation can change the course of your life when youre young in a way that is rare when youre older and you can capture that nano-second when the course of a lifes direction is altered. When you put a camera and a film crew into a room, the observers paradox is almost always true you cant capture life because youre in the way of it. But these kids seem unaware of the camera and theyre behaving in a way that feels like life unfolding. The filmmaker is so present with them, you cant help but understand what theyre going through, and to understand is to feel empathy and to want to help.

The Five Obstructions by Lars Von Trier.

The Five Obstructions, Lars von Trier and Jrgen Leth, 2003

In this underrated film the iconoclastic Danish director Lars von Trier challenges experimental film-maker Jrgen Leth to remake one of his earlier films, The Perfect Human, five times, each time with a different creative constraint. The first obstruction imposed by von Trier, for example, was that the film had to be made in Cuba, using shots of no more than 12 frames. Another was that it had to be made as a cartoon. Its basically these two creative egos going up against each other and it gives a fascinating insight into the film-making process, what goes on in a directors head and how you cope with stress and constraint and challenge. Its delicious and playful and theres never a dull moment watching these two maestros needling each other.

The Gleaners and I, Agns Varda, 2000

This film was made during the early days of the hand-held digital camera, when for the first time you could capture something high-quality enough to show on a big screen on a camera that would fit in your handbag. Its an essay about the people who pick through other peoples leftovers, whether it be the remains of the harvest in the countryside, or in cities. Its very casual, but Varda is so astute and the quality of the film-making is such that it becomes something very beautiful, a meditation on life. Were having this golden age of documentary right now and its being driven by technology. In the past you would need to write a script first because the editing process was so laborious but now you can shoot a whole bunch of stuff and capture life in a way that you couldnt before and this film, shot by a 72-year-old woman using a very low-key format, shows you just what level of artistry is possible.

Jackie in 21Up, 1978. Photograph: ITV

Up series, Michael Apted, 1964

Im fascinated by longitudinal film-making and this series, which has followed the lives of 14 British children since 1964, when they were seven years old, showed me what the medium was capable of. This series is head and shoulders above any other attempt to record dramatically a whole human life. And because its a whole group of people, you learn not just about the individual but also about the system in which theyre living. I cant think of any other artefact in our culture that can tell us so much about Britain in our lifetime and how society is evolving as this body of work. Its illuminating and fascinating and its one of the things that inspired me to do the work that I do. JOC

Alex Gibney: Fake home movies dont bother me you might as well object to dreams

Going Clear director Alex Gibney. Photograph: Larry Busacca/Getty Images

Alex Gibneys award-winning films include Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005), Taxi to the Dark Side (2007) and Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (2012). Last year he released documentaries on Scientology and Steve Jobs. He says: I dont believe in five best films. But I do believe in influential films. These are five of mine.

Night and Fog, Alain Resnais, 1955

What really impressed me about this film was its concision. Its about the Holocaust, but it has a simple and horrible beauty to it, because it describes the terrifying nature of the Holocaust through a powerful series of images and a narration that was specific, naming the collections of items of the prisoners and survivors. Its the cruel poetry of detail that is so heartbreaking: the handles of the ovens, the fingernail scrapings on the ceilings of the cells. We see piles of combs, shaving brushes, shoes and a vast mountain of human hair. It took something so horrible but found a way to go to the heart of the matter through simple details.

Gimme Shelter , Albert and David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin 1970

Here you see the Rolling Stones on tour singing about sympathy for the devil, but their posturing about satanism blows back at them at the Altamont music festival. Its structured like a detective story: it starts with a murder a Hells Angel stabs somebody who seems to have a gun in the audience and then you go back in time. Maybe one of the most powerful scenes is of the Stones listening to a playback of Wild Horses in the studio. Its stunning in its simplicity. That film went way beyond a concert show; it celebrates music but its really about a moment in time and how dark forces get unleashed. Its powerful both in its observation and its analysis, which is a rare combination.

Leon Gasts When We Were Kings. Photograph: Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar

When We Were Kings , Leon Gast, 1996

This is maybe the greatest sport film ever made. It has wonderful cinema vrit footage of the Rumble in the Jungle, the famous 1974 fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. Gast has the most magnificent material, particularly in Muhammad Ali on a run, dancing, gooning for the camera, at his most charismatic. And then the brooding figure of George Foreman. But Gast wasnt able to put that footage together, and in comes Taylor Hackford, shoots some interviews with people who were there, notably George Plimpton and Norman Mailer, and through their recollection you also have a sense of analysis and understanding rather than mere observation. So its combining those two things in the film that really is magnificent.

Stories We Tell, Sarah Polley, 2012

This is a detective story thats very much in the first person. Its about identity, trying to understand your childhood, and ultimately paternity. Sarah Polley is digging back into the relationship between her mother and father, who she discovers isnt her biological father. In some quarters she was criticised for using a series of fictional home movies that she manufactured, but it didnt bother me at all they might as well object to dreams and memories, because those are everyday recreations. The trick is finding the poetry in them. Its a very powerful film about memory and exploration and love, because she comes to appreciate her adoptive father in a way she might not otherwise have done.

Waltz With Bashir, an animated documentary.

Waltz With Bashir , Ari Folman, 2008

Part of the small but growing category of the animated documentary, Waltz With Bashir is really a film about repressed memory, and the recollection of Israeli soldiers trying to understand why theyre having these nightmares. The idea of using animation to convey what is mostly going on inside their heads, in their imaginations, is such a powerful one. It doesnt become clear until almost the end that the soldiers all took part in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp massacre in Lebanon in 1982. And the very end of the film includes just the slightest bit of real footage: a woman wailing in the wake of that massacre. It really is one of the most poignant films about the trauma of war. KB

Kim Longinotto: All the good TV documentaries are on the BBC at the moment

Film-maker Kim Longinotto. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

British film-maker Kim Longinotto tackles themes such as female genital mutilation (The Day I Will Never Forget) and women fighting abuse (Sisters in Law). Her most recent film, Dreamcatcher, is on Chicago women trying to leave the sex industry.

Shermans March, Ross McElwee, 1986

I saw this at film school, then watched it again at a festival a couple of years ago and thought it was so charming, so good. It has a very simple premise. The director is meant to be making a film about General Shermans march through Georgia during the American civil war, but he falls out of love with the idea. Instead, the film becomes about his attempts to find a girlfriend, shot as a kind of video diary an approach that was completely new at the time. Its so candid and affectionate and lovely, and everyone at the festival loved it. Not many films bear rewatching, but this one does.

Tales of the Grim Sleeper, Nick Broomfield, 21

Nick Broomfield has become much more serious and political in recent years and this is a difficult and committed film. Its about a man who was arrested in 2010 for killing as many as 100 prostitutes in Los Angeles over a period of 25 years. Whats extraordinary is how he managed to get away with it for so long the police didnt pursue because his victims were mostly black prostitutes. Its a very timely film, in terms of Black Lives Matter and police abuses in the US, and I thought he got it just right. Its also a really good crime story.

Solar Mamas.

Solar Mamas, Jehane Noujaim and Mona Eldaief, 2012

This is a film about Bedouin women trying to get solar energy in their village in Jordan. It follows one woman travelling to a college in India to become a solar engineer. I like it because its not saying, Oh, look at these poor women. Instead, it shows women actively changing their lives and I found that very inspiring. So many documentaries tell you what to think. This one doesnt it puts you straight into the story and you get to know the characters just by watching them. It was part of a very good BBC series on poverty. Thats where all the good TV documentaries are at the moment: on the BBC.

Virunga, Orlando von Einsiedel, 2014

I watched this in the cinema, which was good because its very beautifully filmed a real spectacle. Its set in a reserve in the Congo, which is home to the last mountain gorillas on earth and it follows the people who are trying to save them, as well as the corrupt people trying to get the land to drill oil. Theres a moment when the people in a neighbouring village are attacked. It was filmed so well, I dont know how they did it. Youre right in the thick of it and you feel so angry, because you know it all comes down to corruption and greed.

Five Broken Cameras.

Five Broken Cameras, Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi, 2011

This is about a Palestinian man who films the destruction of his villages olive groves by the Israeli army. His cameras keep getting broken by the Israelis, hence the title, but he just kept filming. I think he was feeling: Theres an incredible wrong being done to my people, Im going to film it, even if I die doing it. Then he linked up with an Israeli film-maker, who edited the footage. I remember people saying he shouldnt have worked with an Israeli, but I thought it was so great that they came together and made something very powerful which showed us what is really going on in Palestine. KF

James Marsh: In my view there should be no boundaries to film-making

James Marsh at the 2015 Palm Springs film festival. Photograph: C Flanigan/Getty Images

James Marsh is a British film-maker, best known for the Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire (2008) and the acclaimed Stephen Hawking biopic, The Theory of Everything.

Man with a Movie Camera, Dziga Vertov, 1929

This was the first truly subversive, playful documentary. Its notionally a day in the life of a city in the Soviet Union and so it has, on a purely sociological/historical level, great value. But what it does beyond that is to show you the means of production: the filming, the cutting room, the editing all the things that are going into the making of this film. Its way before its time, the Tristram Shandy of documentaries, if you like. Its so inventive and it has techniques that, 87 years later, still look pretty revolutionary: the freeze frames and slow motion. Its just full of inventive and brilliant formal ideas as well as being a very beautiful film to watch. And its informative too, showing us the Soviet Union in a halcyon period before Stalins terror, when you felt that things were still possible in a new political context. Of course we now know that Vertov suffered in the Stalin era, as many other independent artists would have done, but theres a sort of optimism and a playfulness to it that you wouldnt expect from a Soviet documentary from 1929.

Le Sang des Btes, Georges Franju, 1949

This is a documentary about an abattoir that was made in Paris just after the second world war. If the film had been shot in colour it would be unwatchable, its so gory and weird and disturbing, but its in black and white and so it becomes a bit more abstract. There are images in that film that I think are some of the most powerful Ive ever seen. Theres a surreal sequence where lots of sheep have been beheaded and theyre all dancing without their heads on this conveyor belt. Its like a bit of choreographed horror, but its all real. The director Georges Franju went on to have a career doing very artistic horror movies in French cinema, most famously a film called Les Yeux Sans Visage.

The War Game by Peter Watkins.

The War Game, Peter Watkins, 1965

In this film, Watkins takes a possible scenario a nuclear attack on London and shows you very carefully, each step of the way, what is likely to happen. It was banned by the BBC for many years because it was just too harrowing a depiction of a reality that everyone at that time was very concerned about: this was in the middle of the cold warand at the time there were dozens of warheads pointing at us. Its like a documentary made by Brecht youre staging something to flush out a reaction in the audience, and that reaction is one of utter horror. Some people would say this is not a documentary because everything was staged, but its a speculative documentary the director is saying: This is how it could be and Im going to show you this in a way thats very truthful.Its very responsible, even if the imagery is very disturbing: youre seeing bobbies firing at people in the street, people with their clothes burned off. His information is sourced directly from the government and based on scientific fact, so the bed of it is factual, and people responded to it as if it were a real documentary.

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She never heard people bad-mouth Appalachia until she left. Now she’s making a cinema in response.

“Where ya from? ” is a question Tijah Bumgarner got a lot after she left her home state.

“West Virginia, ” she’d reply, when she was waiting tables in Los Angeles and folks noticed her accent. And she knew the follow-up before it was asked. “They’d joke around like look down to see if I was wearing shoes and of course ask me if I’d marriage my cousin.”

“They’d joke around like look down to see if I was wearing shoes and of course ask me if I’d marriage my cousin.”

After a while, the 20 -year-old started to respond with a prepackaged quip. When asked where she’s from, she’d tell, “West Virginia, but I have all my teeth and I’m wearing shoes, so don’t bother asking about that.”

It was an understandable defense mechanism making fun of herself before anyone else could but looking back, Tijah says she never “recognized what that really entailed or that I was really merely perpetuating this stereotype in a way.”

What are the dominant stories that come out of West Virginia and other parts of central Appalachia these days?

On the one hand, you’ve got plenty of movies and proves about ignorant, backward, and ” other ” mountain people. Like the “Wrong Turn” series of six( yeah, SIX) movies about inbred, cannibalistic hillbillies in West Virginia.

Those types of stories can be traced back to the late 1800 s, when travelling novelists from the North would come to the mountains to write what was essentially fiction about the isolated people there who were oh-so-against advance.

This narrative took the fact that folks were living off the land and twisted it around against them because surely anyone who doesn’t want their land stripped away from them for resource extraction must be against advance, right? Right.

And then, of course, you’ve get news stories heavy with misfortune: chemical spills, poverty, drug use, mine calamities.

“Of course it’s sorrowful. Of course we’re losing a lot. Of course they’re blowing up mountains. But there are other things happening too.”

“Of course [ the histories of devastation] are important, ” Tijah emphasizes. “But they’re not the only stories. Not everything has to be just about devastation, about regret for our land. Of course it’s sorrowful. Of course we’re losing a lot. Of course they’re blowing up mountains. But there are other things happening too. So even that’s pushing this narration of helplessness in a way.”

This summer, Tijah’s working on a new various kinds of tale: one that’s simply about growing up.

Her story is a simple one, a relatable one, and maybe even a cute one, about a 14 -year-old girl growing up in Tijah’s hometown of Meadow Bridge, West Virginia.

. Sure, we may think we’re a little different, but really, we all kind of go across these things. Y’know, we all have a crush, we all have a first kiss. I’m hoping that people can relate to that.”

Tijah knows that there’s no way “Meadow Bridge” could single-handedly reverse all the stereotypes people have about central Appalachia. No one tale could do that.

But she hopes that adding to the discourse may help create something different. “At least, ” she hopes, “it’s a drop in the bucket.”

“Sometimes telling a simple tale is a revolutionary act.”

Help make sure “Meadow Bridge” comes to life! Support the Kickstarter campaign here:

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