Media I’ve been consuming in July

As you’ve probably figured out by now, I’m a bit of a media junkie. Here’s where I’ve been getting my fix this month.

I’ve been reading: ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

Salems lot

I didn’t include ‘Salem’s Lot in my blog of vampire books the other week, and there are two reasons for that. Firstly, I hadn’t read it yet. And secondly, because I still haven’t finished it – and don’t really intend to. What I’ve read of King before, I’ve enjoyed: The Shining scared the pants off me, and On Writing is generally considered essential reading for any creative writer. ‘Salem’s Lot – or at least, the first 150 pages of ‘Salem’s Lot – unfortunately didn’t grab me in the same way. There were a lot of character viewpoints, which I liked, but it sometimes got a little confusing, and some characters felt very poorly created compared to others – and this goes about tenfold for his female characters. Just once it would have been nice if he’d described a woman without having to bring it back to how attractive she was or wasn’t.

The final straw for me, however, was the amount of homophobic slurs King scattered in. Far, far too many characters used the word ‘f*ggot’ or ‘queer’ as pejorative, whether in their dialogue or in the indirect verse. I don’t know if King perhaps utilises this, and makes a point about homophobia later in the book. I sincerely doubt it though, and to be honest that message would fall­ flat considering the homophobic language was bad enough to make me put the book down after so few pages. It’s disappointing; I was looking forward to a nice vampire story. Maybe I’ll give it another go one day.

I’ve been listening to: Howlin’ Wolf

Howlin wolf

Do you ever listen to an artist for the first time and think, why have I not already been listening to this for years? That was my reaction to Howlin’ Wolf, aka blues legend Chester Arthur Burnett. After catching one of his tracks on a blues programme on Planet Rock, it didn’t take me long to realise that a) this guy was obviously a big influence on Tom Waits, one of my long-time faves, and b) I was actually already familiar with one of his songs from Swing Republic’s remix album. Next thing I knew, I was working my way through his discography.

I’ve been watching: Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy

Three flavours cornetto

Edgar Wright and I are on the same wavelength. Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End have somehow managed to combine everything that I love: comedy, cinematics, intertextual references, zombies, murder, Arthurian allusions, Timothy Dalton – I could go on. So when my partner popped down for the weekend and suggested we watch the entire trilogy back to back, I jumped at the chance. Every single film is smart, hilarious, and shocking at once. I give them five stars each, and can’t say which is my favourite because they’re somehow all equally fantastic. Very few trilogies can boast that.

I’ve been literally consuming: Salted Caramel Green Tea

Salted caramel green tea

I have a horrible feeling that this delicious infusion is limited edition, so I’ve been stocking up. Green tea is hella good for you, and with this one’s sweet, smooth caramel flavour, you bet I’m going to be drinking it non-stop from now on.

What have you been consuming this month? Comment below! 

Magic Monday: 5 novels every vampire fan should read

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Welcome to the first Magic Monday! On Mondays I’ll be posting a blog that has something to do with fantasy, horror, sci-fi, or anything else a little bit magical.

To start things off, let’s take a look at vampires. Books about our old blood-sucking friends are more popular now than ever, but with all the pulpier titles out there, it’s easy to miss some of the classics. Here are five super important novels about vampires every fan can enjoy if they want to really get their teeth into the genre.

1. Carmilla (Sheridan Le Fanu)

Carmilla

Not that many vampire fans seem to have read Carmilla, which is surprising considering it’s a story about a lesbian vampire. Published in 1872 and pre-dating Dracula by a couple of decades, it tells the tale of Laura, an aristocratic young woman who is tempted astray by the vampire Carmilla. Considering it appeared at the height of the backlash against decadence and the New Woman, it’s clear why this went down so well. Conservative readers enjoyed the satisfaction of that darn homosexual woman being defeated by a good strong man in the end (sorry, spoilers) and letting the poor virgin woman go free. It’s a classic hero/adventure story at heart, but its choice of monster has proven to have quite an impact. Plus, cool lady vampires.

If you want to read more of Dracula’s roots, Polidori’s The Vampyre is fairly essential reading too – since it’s a short story I’m afraid it didn’t make this list.

2. Dracula (Bram Stoker)

Dracula

It’s impossible to read up on vampires in lit without spending some time on Bram Stoker’s classic. In Dracula, the villain is truly a monster: unsympathetic, terrifying, and with no goal other than death and drinking your blood. He plagues our modern British protagonists with his scary old-world creepiness, and is defeated in the end by the heroes. Unsurprisingly, Dracula set the stage for a lot of vampire novels to come. From the odd sexual undertones, to the charming characters, and the way a compelling story manages to be carried by sub-standard prose, it’s easy to see how big an influence the tale has been.

3. Interview with the Vampire (Anne Rice)

Interview wtv

Widely regarded as the second most influential vampire novel ever written (gee, I wonder which was number one), Interview signals a noticeable shift in literature’s approach to vampires. Suddenly, we’re rooting for the monster. Our protagonist Louis is bookish, philosophical, and sensitive, and struggles with his new immortality. For what was probably the first time, the vampire is given a real voice. If we want to get analytical, I could say that this shows a change in the politics of the author and readership: if the vampire represents the conservative’s nightmare (think of the foreign degenerate Dracula and sexy gay Carmilla), switching him to a sympathetic character shows a markedly liberal shift. Either way, Rice’s rich prose tells a story with a depth that no one else has ever quite matched in the vampire genre.

4. Lost Souls (Poppy Z. Brite)

Lost souls

Lost Souls was quite obviously written by a teenage goth in the 80s. For some that’s a redeeming feature, but I can imagine it being an irritation too. A hugely popular cult novel in the early 90s, Lost Souls seemed to fade into obscurity for quite a few years, but a recent reprint means it could gain traction again. It’s a wild and raucous tale of untamed, modern vampires, living a life of bloodlust, drugs, and rock and roll. The subtle sexual undertones of older vampires are eschewed in favour of something a little more, er, explicit. Graphic and sometimes violent sex scenes abound, interspersed with gore, incest, rape, and good old-fashioned murder. Oh, and a lot of blood. Not for the faint-hearted (or anyone without a completely cast-iron stomach, for that matter), Lost Souls brought the vampire novel to the modern age, and somehow managed to balance horrific gore with the lost and isolated feelings of youth. Aw.

5. Twilight (Stephenie Meyer)

Twilight

Before you have an aneurysm, I’ll reassure you that I’m not recommending this one based on the outstanding quality of its writing. This list is really about understanding the generic tradition of the vampire and how it has changed over time – and, unfortunately, Twilight is incredibly important when it comes to vampires in literature. It’s been alarmingly popular in the few years since its release, and it’s difficult to ignore a book which has become such an intrinsic part of our cultural consciousness (terrible though it may be). In Edward Cullen we see the ultimate in the broody, guilt-ridden vegan brand of vampire. The love and romance aspect of the vampire story is hiked up to the extreme, with protagonist Bella’s life pretty much revolving around her relationship with the abusive Edward. Romance – and abusive romance – isn’t uncommon in vampire tales, but the narrative usually admonishes it, or at least presents it in a way that allows the reader to see it for what it is. The Twilight series does not. The shift towards creating vampires for teenage girls to enjoy is interesting, and something that could easily be a good read. If only the novel to reach this level of popularity had actually been a good one.

What are your favourite vampire novels? Comment below! 

The 3 reasons why Netflix’s TV shows are working

The Emmy nominations came in this week, and Netflix has raked in a massive 31 – more than some of the mainstream TV networks. It’s clear at this point that Netflix isn’t just yet another streaming service; it’s fast becoming a TV force to be reckoned with, and one which is seriously beginning to compete with network TV. But how is Netflix, an online-based video streamer, able to produce such popular and high-quality programmes? In this post, I’m going to take a look at the main reasons why I think they’ve been so successful.

1. They’re taking risks.

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If Netflix don’t make new TV programmes, that’s all right by them. They have an enormous audience already and they’re raking in the cash. Choosing to make new programmes isn’t going to lose them any of their audience; the nature of streaming means they can keep adding more and more films and shows ad infinitum, without sacrificing any viewer favourites (as a TV channel would have to do). Creating a new series can only increase their viewership. And because of that, they’re able to take a few risks.

Would Orange Is The New Black have been picked up by a mainstream network? It’s a fantastic show, but there’s no way a big TV network would go with it. Its massive ensemble cast of dozens of women – and not just women, but women who are conventionally unattractive, ethnically diverse, all shades of LGBT, mentally ill, and above all criminals – is far too risky for prime time. Regional laws would also make it a problem to show the sexual content and nudity in the series, which of course isn’t an issue for the internet. Same goes with its showing people committing crimes or breaking rules (and in some cases, getting away with it) – the BBC, for instance, has quite explicit rules about showing crime in its programmes. Taking sides with the criminal isn’t always an option.

It’s only on a platform like Netflix that a series like Orange Is The New Black could possibly be aired. And it’s clear to see that the risk has paid off for them: Orange‘s viewing figures are thought to have been immense.

2. They approach their series in the same way their viewers do

OITNB eating

The beautiful thing about Netflix is that you can watch the entirety of a 6-season TV show back-to-back without having to do anything other than click a couple of buttons. Unfortunately most of us have lives and can’t really do that, but nonetheless it’s not unusual for Netflix viewers to sit down and watch several episodes in one sitting, or to get through a whole series of a programme in the space of a week or two.

This creates an entirely different viewing experience from the old-fashioned one-episode-a-week system we’re used to on TV channels. Gone are the need for ‘last week on ___’ segments at the beginning of an episode, for a start. Instead, a series needs to be approached as one extremely long film with a few regular toilet breaks. This can mean it needs some smoother technicalities – a series needs complete coherency in its story arc and plot, for instance, as audiences are more likely to spot inconsistencies if they only just watched the last few episodes. However, the medium also lends itself to more creativity.

Anyone who has seen series 4 of Arrested Development – which was broadcast exclusively on Netflix – will tell you that it needs watching multiple times. Throughout the fifteen episodes, the writers have woven together several story arcs that all interact with each other in a very complex way. Then, as you watch through the series, it all slowly begins to come together. This of course would not work if only one episode was being broadcast a week, as the individual episodes don’t have the punch and immediate resolution that a TV-based comedy needs. The entertainment instead comes from watching the whole series unfold at once. It’s this Tralfamadorian nature that made the series so successful, and it’s something that simply wouldn’t be possible in any other medium. As a result, Netflix’s audience feel valued, and the use of the medium in this way has enabled something brilliant to be created.

3. They are harnessing the power of the internet

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Netflix are, quite frankly, fantastic at using the internet to gain new users and keep their existing ones. Their audience are internet users by default, and Netflix know how to harness this. Whether it’s by adding hilarious Easter eggs on their site for April Fool’s Day, or basing their film addition choices on torrenting figures, Netflix really know how to speak to the internet generation and use this to their advantage. There’s even evidence that illegal pirating and torrenting figures go down in regions that Netflix enters – that’s just how in tune they are with the net.

The effect of this is that, again, Netflix’s users feel the company understands them. Here is a brand and a service that is in touch with their needs and desires, therefore one that they feel at ease with. And if that brand puts out a new service – say, a brand new show called House of Cards – the audience is more likely to give it a go. It comes straight from their trusted brand, after all.

The other effect is that it can create services, in this case a new series, that are already in line with its audience’s desires. Arrested Development was critically acclaimed when it was first shown on the US channel FOX, but its audience wasn’t particularly huge; it was only through the internet that a new, worldwide cult following was able to emerge. And then, when that following reached its peak several years after the programme was first aired, Netflix stepped in and commissioned a brand new series. Viewing figures were phenomenal when it was released. It’s clear to see, then, how exactly Netflix is gaining traction the way that it is.

Overall, Netflix is a feat of both branding and customer service. It’s going to be interesting to keep watching it (and not just because OITNB‘s been commissioned for another series) to see if it manages to continue to be this good, or if it goes downhill. I’m hoping it’s the former, but then again I hoped the same of Myspace back in the day.

Do you like Netflix? Hate it? Comment below! Or follow me on Twitter even though I almost never tweet about Netflix.

Hello!

Hi, readers! I really want to just jump straight in with this blog but it seems good form to have a quick introduction post.

I’m hoping to use this blog to combine a few things close to my heart: writing, and TV, film, books, music, and any other form of media I can get my grubby mitts on. It’s my opinion that a study of media is just as important, if not more important, than the study of literature (yes, I went there – perhaps I’ll even write a whole post about this some day on my fab new blog!), so I’m pretty keen to encourage thought on this in a way that’s accessible to everyone.

So, please do stay tuned – I’ve got a super duper post on the way all about why Netflix is so great (another subject close to my heart), and plenty more ideas in my head. Enjoy!