Amy Fox

Writer. Editor. Bad at blogging.


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Not quite the same thing: HBO’s Newsroom and my week at work experience

Stay classy.

This week, two significant things have happened to me so far:

1) I finally started work experience at my local paper.

2) I finally started watching HBO’s The Newsroom.

Now, I should point out that by “started watching”, what I mean is I watched all five episodes available so far in just two nights. For some reason, I can’t stand that much TV in a row when I’ve got nothing to do with my time, but going out and having a purpose makes me feel perfectly justified in coming home and doing nothing.

Plus, I need to entertain myself while I finish knitting the tea cosy I promised my aunt and uncle six months ago.

ALMOST THERE.

Anyway, it was only logical that while I am doing journalism again for a week, I should also start watching TV about journalists. You know, as inspiration in case the residents of my town suddenly decide to overthrow their local council and govern themselves in a quaint ex-manufacturing town revolution. Power to the people! If you don’t mow out our publicly-owned grass right, we will mow YOU right! (Note: I am pretty sure this hasn’t happened yet, and that if it did they would have better slogans.)

Despite my optimism, my newsroom and HBO’s portrayal of an American broadcasting newsroom are a little different. While Will informs America on primetime TV that BP has caused the biggest environmental disaster in many years, I inform the local area that a questionnaire is being sent out to pensioners and disabled people asking what they think of their free bus pass. I don’t write about the results, mind you. Just that it’s being sent out and here is how you can have your say.

There are some other key differences: Will gets paid millions; I do this for free (in fact, I am beginning to have nightmares where endless faceless figures chant “It will look great on your CV!” as they dangle a career on a stick in front of me, and I am left eating raw potatoes for all of my adult life). Their team tries to come up with the most accurate and moral way of informing a nation about complex international events; I try to think of puns about woodchipping. The staff in America are caught in a series of complex love triangles and rivalries; we throw grapes at each other across the desks.

(Side note: what is it with America and cute floppy-haired Jims tortured by unrequited love? I keep expecting Steve Carrell to show up and do an inappropriate impression of Gadaffi on national TV.)

Pam, is that you?

Basically, there are highs and lows each way. The point I’m trying to make is that I really enjoy them both so far. I love being at a proper local paper, and I’m actually learning a lot about what makes good news articles. And The Newsroom is also pretty fantastic. Did I mention it has Dev Patel being an adorable nerd? Because it does.

Plus it is well-written and intelligent and saying some cool things about journalism, even though a lot of journalists apparently hated it. But if my life does not end up like Mackenzie MacHale’s, I will just be really sad.

Maybe now that I’ve been spending so much time reading about local council decisions, I will also get around to catching up on Parks and Rec.

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I talk about John Green a lot: a review of Jonathan Safran Foer

I have been struggling for a couple of days to write a blog post about Jonathan Safran Foer’s two novels, Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. I absolutely loved them both – halfway through reading each, I declared it to be my New Favourite Book, slightly illegitimising my own statement – but when I tried to explain why, I couldn’t.

But, dedicated new blogger that I am, I kept struggling on, determined to share my Safran Foer epiphany with the world in a well-written and structured post which would inspire people to open up a new tab, head straight to Amazon and order them both. But I couldn’t. I should have known that I couldn’t – when trying to explain the book to my housemate a few days before, I had said, “He just – he uses all these – it has all these, like, different ways, you know?” Needless to say, I am far more eloquent on paper (or rather, through screen) than I am out loud, and my housemate was left looking confused, and also amused.

But even through-screen, I couldn’t really get my thoughts across. The literature student took over and I just banged on about “narrative voice”, put the word “about” in quotes (a pretentious habit picked up in a Contemporary Writing class), and reverted to rather dry phrases like “non-traditional methods”. Now, that would all be fine if I was writing an essay about the two books, and I kind of hope one day I’ll get the chance to, because writing essays about things you love ought to be the whole point of writing essays, and often sadly it isn’t. But I was writing a blog post, and kind of boring even myself.

In the end, crippled with post-book sadness and frustrated that I couldn’t accurately portray my mid-book rapture, I just started copying out whole chunks of quotations in the hope that they would do my work for me. Spoilers: this is also not how you write a good review.

And then I just gave up completely and wrote a post about Fifty Shades of Grey for someone else’s blog instead, because it is a whole lot easier to just make fun of all the stupid stuff in the world than it is to write something meaningful. Finally, I decided to just put the review aside and come back to it later, and instead went about my daily life, giving my various siblings lifts to various places, answering emails about Concrete (my university’s student newspaper, which I am editor of and without which this summer I feel bereft of all purpose), and moving on to the next book waiting in the pile – in the form of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

This was also a good book. I mean, it wasn’t Safran Foer good, but it was pretty great. It’s a Kids With Cancer book, but the kids are doing their utmost to avoid the Kids With Cancer stereotypes, and frequently point out that most of those stereotypes are a load of crap. It did really well at portraying Kids With Cancer who were actually just kids who wished they didn’t have cancer any more, because they are too young and it’s not fair and the universe can be kind of terrible. But they were also incredibly funny, and the book made some beautiful observations about life, while acknowledging that life can often kind of suck. I enjoyed it a lot.

And it was talking about The Fault in Our Stars that I finally realised what I wanted to say about Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. My dad asked, as I was around 20 pages from the end and hadn’t moved in a while, probably looking quite distressed, how it was. I told him that it was sad, “but then it is a book about cancer.”

“Oh. So not a comedy then?”

“Actually, it’s really funny. Just not right now. The best sad books are also really funny.”

It was a slightly pretentious-literature-student comment to make (what the hell gives me the right to decide what makes the best sad books? Maybe what makes the best sad books is being sad ALL OF THE TIME, with no humorous respites to remind you of the beauty of life whatsoever) but it made me realise that it was also exactly what I wanted to say about Safran Foer.

Because both his books were also immensely, heart-breakingly sad. The first was about (or maybe “about”) the Holocaust. The second, 9/11. These are not fun topics. Neither, I don’t need to tell you, is cancer. It doesn’t take a literature student, pretentious or otherwise, to make this observation.

But it was the humour of all three books I am writing about which made me love them the most. And it was Safran Foer’s humour which I enjoyed more – the difference between “I really like this sad-funny book” and “this is my New Favourite Book, no really this time, I can’t even put it into words, please just read it and find out for yourself.”

It was all in the language. Everything is Illuminated is narrated – partly – by someone who learned English through a thesaurus (“all of my friends dub me Alex, because that is a more flaccid-to-utter version of my legal name”), while Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is narrated – partly – by a nine-year-old boy who can’t stop inventing (“… or maybe a set of kettles that sings the chorus of “Yellow Submarine”, which is a song by the Beatles, who I love, because entomology is one of my raisons d’être, which is a French expression that I know.”)

Safran Foer created totally unique and hilarious characters, who were also completely traumatised and deeply sad. But it wasn’t one-minute-you’re-laughing-the-next-you’re-crying. The laughter and the sadness were all mixed up into one, each trying to conceal the other, adding to the other, taking away. I’m getting pretentious again, but I sort of can’t help it. I really loved these books.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, especially, stuck with me. It’s very visual – there are photos and diagrams; two pages of numbers and punctuation as a man who can’t speak tries to communicate what may be a lifetime’s worth of thoughts down the phone to his wife, but we’ll never know; partially-overheard conversations with huge gaps missing in the text; a flip book of a man falling from the World Trade Centre in reverse, so he appears to be flying upwards.

These could easily come across annoying, gimmicky or too Literary (capital L), but I enjoyed them – and they worked just perfectly at their own points in the novel, adding just enough to make it stand out from all the Good Books I’ve read to become Maybe My New Favourite Book. I absolutely adored it, and if I could, I would force everybody I know to read it just so that I could look them in the eye and say “I know, right?”

But then again, I’ll probably change my mind in a couple of weeks.


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Concrete: Police close Climategate case

Police announced yesterday (18 July 2012) that they have closed the investigation into the theft of emails which began the Climategate scandal at UEA in November 2009. No criminal proceedings will be followed, with the breach being described by the Norfolk Constabulary Major Investigation Team as a “sophisticated and carefully orchestrated attack on the CRU’s [Climate Research Unit’s] data files, carried out remotely via the internet.”

Senior Investigating Officer, Detective Superintendent Julian Gregory, said: “Despite detailed and comprehensive enquiries, supported by experts in this field, the complex nature of this investigation means that we do not have a realistic prospect of identifying the offender or offenders and launching criminal proceedings within the time constraints imposed by law.

“The international dimension of investigating the World Wide Web especially has proved extremely challenging … There is no evidence to suggest that anyone working at or associated with the University of East Anglia was involved in the crime.”

In response to the case’s closure, UEA vice-chancellor Professor Edward Acton said: “We are naturally disappointed that those responsible for this crime have not been caught and brought to justice. We are very grateful to Norfolk Constabulary for their sustained effort over the last two-and-a-half years, and appreciate the difficulty of devoting continued resources to such a complex international investigation. Clearly the perpetrators were highly sophisticated and covered their tracks extremely carefully.

“The misinformation and conspiracy theories circulating following the publication of the stolen emails – including the theory that the hacker was a disgruntled UEA employee – did real harm to public perceptions about the dangers of climate change. The results of the independent inquiries and recent scientific studies have vindicated our scientists, who have returned to their important task of providing the best possible scientific information on this globally critical issue.”

Meanwhile, Professor Phil Jones, Research Director of the CRU, commented: “I would like to thank the police for their work on this difficult investigation and also for the personal support they offered me. I am obviously disappointed that no-one has been prosecuted for this crime but hope today’s announcement will draw a line under the stressful events of the last two and half years. My colleagues and I remain committed to the research CRU undertakes to illuminate the globally important issue of climate change.”

The investigation, “Operation Cabin”, focused on the unauthorised access of material, an offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990. However, there is a three-year limit to proceedings after the original offence, meaning that Norfolk Constabulary, in consultation with The Met, were forced to close the case, with the possibility of finding the perpetrator deemed unrealistic.

Independent inquiries into the Climategate emails did not find any evidence of wrongdoing by the CRU scientists.


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The Fifty Shades dilemma: it is all our fault

So something pretty terrible has started happening to me recently, and when I was asked if I wanted to do another guest post for Bad Books Good Times (cheers guys!) I decided that this would be a pretty good chance to get all these confusing emotions out.

By now, I’m pretty sure everyone is sick to death of Fifty Shades of Grey. I am, and I’m not even reading the stupid things, I’m just reading a blog about reading the stupid things (it’s pretty good, you should check it out).

But I have, nobly, been keeping up the good fight anyway. I am a student of literature! There are so many great books in the world! It is basically our responsibility to warn people away from being sucked in by this nightmare. Besides, everyone is acting like erotica has only just been invented. But Mills & Boon has been around for decades, Lady Chatterly’s Lover was first published in 1928, the ancient Greeks weren’t shy about it at all, and there are Paleolithic cave paintings which are positively filthy. So pointing out to everyone you know that EL James doesn’t even write good erotica seems like a pretty decent way to pass the time.

Also, doing dramatic readings for your friends in the middle of a bookshop and watching their horrified reactions is kind of hilarious too.

But I’ve started noticing disastrous consequences. Despite reading a passage aloud in Waterstones during which Ana referred to Christian as “Mr Orgasmic” and my friends promptly vomited everywhere, a few days later I received a Facebook message from one of them, excitedly announcing that she had bought the books (and continued to want to vomit everywhere). It happened again with an entirely different set of friends. One day we were laughing about how Jose totally isn’t Jacob. The next it was “But it only cost me £9 to download all three onto my Kindle! And I kind of got really into them!”

I was appalled.

Instead of dissuading all my friends from falling into the trap, I seemed to be actively pushing them towards it.

Not even Admiral Ackbar could help them now.

There are many articles all over the internet trying to explain why Fifty Shades has become so popular so quickly. Some theories include:

  1. The ebook form which meant it could be bought and read without anyone ever knowing (this may have been true at first, but now the paperbacks are everywhere and no on seems bothered about reading it in public AT ALL).
  2. It is a slower build up than most pornography, so women respond to it better (thank you, internet, for telling women what we want).
  3. It helps to articulate previously unexpressed female fantasies (okay. I am all for women being able to explore their sexuality freely and openly. Obviously, that is not a bad thing. But see above, re: not the invention of erotica. Maybe studying an arts subject at a liberal university makes me totally biased, but come on, this is not the first time female sexuality has ever been discussed. I mean, did no one listen to Rihanna’s S&M? It’s right there in the name, you guys!)
  4. The recession means that cheap, escapist novels are more popular than ever (after all, reading about wealthy businessmen who casually own helicopters certainly makes me feel better about my life!)
  5. The most obvious, and probably the most true: no one will shut up about it.

And it’s this last one that got me thinking. I am absolutely complicit in that reason. I am writing a blog post about it. Right now. That is what I am doing. I am adding to the 88,800,000 results which turn up when you google “why is Fifty Shades of Grey so popular?” Of course my friends went out and bought it! They want to be part of the discussion too! Not being able to talk about Fifty Shades of Grey is probably now an official handicap during conversations at parties. Or at work. Or on the bus.

Plus, making fun of things is hugely entertaining. It’s an easy way to get a laugh, and it indulges that part of you that likes to feel smarter than everybody else (although it just occurred to me that “indulging the dark secret parts of your psyche” is another alleged reason the series is so popular, so if our making fun of it does just that, we are actually proving it’s own intentions true, just not in the way it expected. Balls.)

In conclusion, based on pretty much no evidence at all, the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey is all my fault. It is all of our faults for talking about it in the first place. The more we talk about it, the more the entire phenomenon spreads. The more we retweet jokes by 50 Sheds of Grey, the more people wonder what all the fuss is about. And the more people wonder that, the more it outsells Harry Potter.

I’m not saying we should stop doing those things. Making fun of Fifty Shades of Grey is basically an entire sub-genre of comedy now, one that I don’t really want to give up. There are just so many good jokes to make.

I just hope we can all live with the consequences.

Yes. This is a Fifty Shades cufflink. Whatever point I was trying to make, it has now been made.


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King in the North: the five best things I saw in Yorkshire

In my quest not to be bored this summer, while I wait for various work experience placements to start – I am going to be the best local newspaper intern there ever was – I have not only been catching up on all the pop culture I seem to have missed, but have also been visiting various friends around the country.

Last week, I went to Yorkshire for four days, during which time I visited York, Whitby, Scunthorpe and Westwoodside, a village which is technically in North Lincolnshire. But never mind that.

I saw many things during this journey into the North, many of which included Game of Thrones references. But really, if you go to “the North” and there’s a “Wall” there, what else are you supposed to do?

So, without further ado, here are the five best things I saw in Yorkshire:

1. York wall, which may or may not protect the rest of the country from wildlings and White Walkers.

That is probably the last reference now.

2. Whitby, where Bram Stoker’s Dracula was set. I was kind of expecting Whitby to be the tackiest themed tourist town ever, but in the end it turned out to be quite classy and well thought out. I was sort of disappointed.

It was very pretty though.

3. Some horses sleeping by Whitby Abbey. As I was taking this photo, one of them snored.

It was cute.

4. Some Hebridean sheep. I was going to help shear them, and I already had an entire blog post planned about the future experience. I was going to be so bad at shearing! It was going to be hilarious! There would be posed pictures of me looking useless! All the farmers would probably hate me!

But then it rained so instead I just helped to feed them instead.

I sort of wanted to steal one.

5. The Amazing Spider-Man. Ignore anything anyone says about those other versions, Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield are probably the two greatest people alive.

I mean, really. I would marry them both.


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The Capitol is bad: an analysis of The Hunger Games

So, The Hunger Games. I haven’t had the free time to read them until the last couple of weeks, which left me out of many debates, mostly between people trying to put their finger on what, exactly, bothered them about this series. And now, because everybody else has moved on, I will try to articulate my response to that problem in a blog.

Because it’s true that as a story, they are very good. Children murdering each other! Creepy wolf mutations made out of aforementioned dead children! Dystopian politics, mind games and rebellions! A love triangle!

The problem, for me, was that there was just not a single ounce of subtlety. Absolutely everything was explained to an excruciating degree. Every metaphor came with a giant parade several floats long, declaring “Look everyone! Over here! Do you see me? I AM A METAPHOR.”

See that bread? IT IS A METAPHOR. Also the Capitol is bad.

It was all just so heavy handed. Like this moment, detailing Katniss’ inner turmoil in book one:

I avoid looking at anyone as I take tiny spoonfuls of fish soup. The saltiness reminds me of my tears.

Excuse me while I vomit everywhere.

Or this moment:

But if this is Prim’s, I mean, Rue’s last request, I have to at least try.

Because did you know that Rue reminds Katniss of Prim? It’s kind of a secret that she only mentions every time the girl shows up. Let me just take a moment to prove this, because seriously, the heavy-handedness bothered me, and this is just one example of over-explained symbolism among many.

When she first arrives, Katniss observes:

… she’s very like Prim in size and demeanour.

Then when she learns her name a few chapters later, a subtle comparison is made once again. But careful, you might miss it:

Rue is a small yellow flower that grows in the Meadow. Rue. Primrose.

In case putting their names side by side isn’t enough to make the comparison clear, Katniss later spells it out for us once more:

But I want her. Because she’s a survivor, and I trust her, and why not admit it? She reminds me of Prim.

Why not indeed? You know we really hadn’t noticed that before, Katniss. By the end, it’s not really a surprise that she gives up on any kind of narrative and just says “Prim, whoops, I mean Rue.” Because, at that point, there’s really no use even pretending that there is any kind of subtlety going on here.

See the flowers? THEY ARE A METAPHOR. Also, the Capitol is bad.

When Katniss starts talking about everything their “ancestors” did to screw things up, it gets so excruciating I can barely keep reading:

I mean, look at the state they left us in, with the wars and the broken planet. Clearly, they didn’t care about what would happen to the people who came after them.

Man. It’s almost like the entire series was created to make a point about the decline of a contemporary society which is concerned only with public image, entertainment, and who has the most powerful weapons.

Unfortunately, while all of Katniss’s thoughts and emotions are explained to an absurd degree, there are also a lot of things that are left completely unexplained, or just feel really rushed. Like the last part of Catching Fire – after the first two parts built the tension and established that whole rebellion plot, everything in the arena was very quick and hard to follow (there’s a dirty joke in there somewhere).

Sure, portraying a plot which is out of the main character’s hands and which she herself has no idea about (despite all the unbelievably obvious clues) is difficult with a first-person narrative. But even the stuff Katniss did understand was kind of rushed through. I swear the rest of the tributes died every other paragraph, and then the penultimate chapter was basically just “EVERYONE TURNS ON EACH OTHER NO WAIT EXPLOSIONS” and then it was over and I was confused.

The same thing often happened in Mockingjay. After the first two parts were just following Katniss around while she acted really stupid (this time other characters were ALSO following her around while she acted really stupid, with CAMERAS, to make PROPOS, which just made me giggle every time they were mentioned in a serious situation, because that is an unnecessarily comic name), all the action in the final part was rushed and badly explained.

Finnick dies before we even remember he’s there, and Prim shows up for about a line before she’s blown up in front of Katniss’ very eyes.

I mean, I have a lot of respect for Suzanne Collins for going ahead and killing Prim. I wasn’t sure she’d have the balls to do it. But was there really no build up whatsoever? She just showed up for no reason then exploded? Okay.

See that mockingjay? IT IS A METAPHOR. In case you miss it, every single character explains its symbolism at every opportunity. Also you know the Capitol? IT’S BAD YOU GUYS.

And that’s the real issue I had. There was so much potential for these books to be fantastic, but they just kept finding new ways to annoy me. When they should have been focusing on the rebellion and the politics of the dystopian world, they were focusing on who Katniss enjoyed kissing more. When they should have been all action and horror, it was rushed and then we were back to Katniss explaining her feelings and not understanding anything that happens around her.

And when it was really good – such as in the final chapters, when everything had fallen apart, Prim was dead, there was so much moral ambiguity that no one could be considered truly good anymore, especially not Katniss herself – even then, it still managed to annoy me. I was so excited – my first post here was about how much I like it when characters are killed off, and admittedly the series did not shy away from that. Sure, the novel was kind of lame up to that point but it was finally getting something right! Katniss’ narration didn’t get on my nerves at all when she genuinely seemed to have lost her grip on reality after everything she had been put through. But then suddenly she decided that she could live with it after all? And the cheesiest final lines ever written happened? And then she and Peeta had kids in the stupidest 20-years-on epilogue since Albus Severus Potter?

Not impressed.

And there were some really great parts too. The plot of the actual Hunger Games in the first book. The rebellion scenes in Catching Fire (even if Katniss was kind of oblivious to their significance). The genuinely dark moments of Mockingjay which, unfortunately, were often never brought up again. How much Peeta loved bread.

And because of that, despite making fun of it consistently all over twitter, I couldn’t hate it too much. Let’s be fair: it was still way, way better than Twilight.

See my fancy beard? IT IS A METAPHOR. Also, the Capitol is bad.


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Concrete: Confusion over results leaves students frustrated

Updated 4 July: According to Dr Andrea Blanchflower, director of Learning and Teaching Services, yesterday’s deadline for final students was met in all schools. The deadline for continuing students is 5pm on 10 July.

A document from the Learning and Teaching Service (LTS) webpage said that the “Deadline for publication of pass lists” would be 3 July. However, for the last few days, the official UEA Twitter account, @uniofeastanglia, has been informing individuals that continuing students will get their results by the end of the week.

There was no official announcement from the University explaining this, and when the 3 July deadline passed, many continuing students appeared to remain uninformed, describing themselves on Twitter as “frustrated”, “fuming” and “sick of waiting”.

After saying that they “understand frustrations” on Twitter, the University went on to announce that the 3 July deadline was for finalists only, most of whom have their results. However, this was also seen as unacceptable by some, with law student James Laughlin citing the month-long wait for many finalists as a “bit of a joke” considering the imminent graduation ceremonies.

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