PERSONAL BLOG: An ode to Creatives

The arts and humanities are frequently shat on: they’ve always been regarded as the “soft” subjects in academia. They’re interests, not professional pursuits, and if you do happen to choose them as a lifelong career, you’ll be looking at judgment for being on the less credible end of the pragmatism spectrum.

“What’s that degree going to get you?”

“Where’s the money in that?”

Being a creative condemns you to a life of constantly proving yourself. You will most likely build a self-employed, precarious career that doesn’t pay well. You will feel the need to constantly prove yourself to other creatives within your field, as well as the audiences beyond, who consume your products on a daily basis, but fail to see exactly how important your work is, in the grand scheme of things.

The pandemic has only further highlighted clearly how undervalued these crucial industries are within the UK. Creatives have felt the cruel blow of COVID-19, with barely any financial support during this drought of no live performances and events. Most of my friends are furloughed and, whilst some people are turning to virtual band practices and gigs, this is incomparable to the real deal experience of seeing your mates and making art as a collective. Venues are being swatted out like flies and there’s gloomy prospects as to them ever opening their doors to audiences again.

The bizarre irony is that most of us have spent our time during the pandemic turning to the arts as a means of survival. This is no exaggeration: TV, music, films, books and general entertainment shows have become our crutch at this difficult time. We share these experiences as part of a community, be it friends on Netflix Party or the people we live with, and sometimes we enjoy these platforms as an individual experience. The effect of the arts is profound on people’s mental health: the aforementioned crutches offer opportunities of escapism, connection and inspiration.

I, for one, don’t know how I’d have gotten this far in the COVID-19 era without the arts. This pandemic has given me the opportunity to catch up on serial film/TV series binging and voracious reading. It’s one of the few positives that 2020 has granted me, and I’m very grateful to have other worlds at my fingertips during a time that has forced so many of us to stay cooped up in the same four walls, day-in and day-out.

I’ve found comfort in the strangest, darkest places. You’d think that between the dismal rolling news coverage and mental health woes, escapism would best come in the form of romances or comedies. Maybe this works for some: however, it seems that I don’t have all that much of a tolerance for rainbows and butterflies, and instead, turn to Stephen King’s bosom and horror/apocalyptic stories to get through these dark days.

Lockdown 1 began with reading the epic King novel The Stand, and Lockdown 2, so far, has seen my days occupied by rewatching The Walking Dead. The consistent theme here is “viral pandemic” and, whilst The Stand was a girthy project that befitted lunch breaks on the lawn in the sun and the silence of a lockdown-ed Bradford, TWD is a more inspirational piece that fits nicely with the icy fingers of winter that have begun to creep in.

There’s something about watching a group of people navigate through an unprecedented global disaster that seems to emanate hope… Shows like this, as gory and niche as they may sound, examine what it is to be human. The determination to survive forces people to adapt and grow into stronger, albeit more jaded (in some instances), versions of themselves. But most importantly, even while the world around them is burning and blatantly unrecognisable (when posited against the memories of what the world was pre-virus), the characters find ways to persevere on. They find beauty in the ugliness around them and embrace their new identities, shrugging off remnants of their distant former identities.

This metamorphosis is currently being undergone by most of the world. Life as we knew it ended before 2020 even began. We just hadn’t accepted it, yet. But now, in a reality that sees us wearing protective face masks for every limited outing, people are turning to the magical fantasy worlds that have been painstakingly created by underappreciated authors, producers, actors etc. We consume the fruits of their labour with little to no consideration as to exactly how many people and how much precious time has been invested into our free form of therapy/entertainment.

One endeavour that’s taken off during the pandemic is the launch of The Independent Wave. Initially started as the brainchild of Graham Ryan, a man I met briefly when I worked alongside him in a retail store, this online group has pulled in a huge following. It started as an intimate hub of avid music-lovers and has now spiralled into something way bigger, appealing to a global audience of strangers who are now connected through their love of small-time bands that deserve recognition. It’s a forum that has united a community and brings great recommendations on a daily basis. I would definitely encourage readers to take a look, because this group is going places, to infinity and beyond!

If there’s one thing we should remember when COVID-19 finally fucks off, it’s that creatives hold the world together and without their brilliant minds, getting through times like this would be altogether unfathomable.

FILM REVIEW: “Now vote… Or you will be execute.”

“Now vote… Or you will be execute.”

These are the final words on-screen before the rolling credits and they would seem oddly misplaced as the finale to a Borat feature film were it not for Sacha Baren Cohen’s satirical genius in the 1 hour and 36 minutes before.

You would be forgiven for considering Cohen’s alter ego a disregarded character of the past: in recent years, Cohen has done a fantastic job of distancing himself from roles such as Ali G, Bruno and Borat. So convincing was he, in the aforementioned roles, that audiences may have struggled to accept the “real” Cohen: a well-spoken, articulate and highly intelligent screenwriter and actor with a great range, spanning beyond the comedy genre.

His social media platforms are a hub of political discussion which encourage fans to make conscientious choices regarding their votes in upcoming elections. He’s done talks on surveillance in the post-Facebook era and has finger on the pulse, when it comes to current affairs. His credibility as an actor has been proven as part of musical ensembles such as Les Miserables, light-hearted laughs like Grimsby, as well as serious roles in the Netflix originals The Spy and The Trial of the Chicago Seven. Garnering widespread accolade for his variety and having the opportunity to work with A-list film-makers, you’d think Cohen would be focused on fresh pastures, but 2020, the year we’ve all learned to hate, has done the utter unthinkable and brought Borat back to our screens.

Boy, we’ve needed him.

Cohen’s resurrection of Kazakhstan’s poster-boy Borat is timely. In his classic top-form, this time with the accompaniment of his daughter Tutar as sidekick, the exiled Borat, slaving away in a Gulag camp, is given a chance of redemption. When he accepts, he finds himself sent back to America with the objective of redeeming the soiled image of his homeland. The ultimate end-goal is to present Donald Trump with Kazakhstan’s national treasure aka celebrity entertainer/pornstar Johnny the Monkey, and the weirdness of the narrative only gets weirder from this starting point. Along the way, Borat has numerous encounters with colourful personalities in the midst of America’s political turmoil.

There are moments where newcomer Maria Bakalova stifles on-screen laughter as the unwilling actors in her scenes go off on their tangents, without realising they’re revealing their inner bias and prejudice to a global audience. She does a remarkable job of handling the responses by staying in character, a tough feat that Cohen has perfected over his years in the industry.

There’s appearances from Mike Pence and Rudy Giuliani, captured in their element (and without their knowledge), as well as features on the likes of Pastor Jonathan Bright (who believes all life is sacred, even that which is formed from an incestuous relationship between father and daughter). There’s also scenes of a mass-crowd, led by Borat himself, singing along to race-hate songs at a gun rally and a brief lockdown comprised of Borat and two right-wing conspirators, who share their remarkable theories on Wuhan and the pivotal role of Obama/the Clintons in the depreciation of America.

There’s admittedly a very different tone to this sequel. Yes, it’s outrageous in true Cohen form and elicits belly laughs every few minutes, but also very depressingly touches upon the modern-day virus of fake news and division.

It’s entertaining on a surface level and cerebral for those who can appreciate satire. One thing is for certain: Cohen has a vast well of material to work on with the way the world is going at the moment, so I look forward to seeing what he creates next!