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In Defence of Slytherin

SlytherinIf you’ve ever read JK Rowling’s now famous Harry Potter series, you’ll probably know a lot about the universe she constructed, where wizards and witches attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and learn magic. There are four houses that students can be sorted into when they arrive at Hogwarts; these are Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin.

From the time Harry Potter arrives at Hogwarts, he is presented with the glaring fact that people in Slytherin are bad people. This does not just mean they are nasty – they are genuinely evil, with Ron telling Harry that most of them end up as Death Eaters, followers of the Dark Lord Voldemort.

When reading the books I accepted this view of Slytherin with complete blindness. Why would I bother asking questions about Slytherin’s supposed badness when I was too busy rushing from page to page, frantically trying to stay awake so I could read another page?

And then it was all over. JK Rowling published Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in 2007. It was the final installment of the series of books. Just like that, my childhood wilted and everything seemed to change.

Needless to say, I was delighted when JK Rowling announced the birth of Pottermore, a website that would allow readers to experience the books in an interactive way unlike ever before. I was one of the first people to join, and plunged into the journey, which would allow me to get my first wand at Ollivander’s and, most importantly, to get sorted into a house at Hogwarts.

This was determined by a personality test, of sorts. I didn’t think too much about what house I would end up in. I assumed it wouldn’t be Gryffindor. It was the house that Harry, Ron and Hermione were in, and bravery was one of their greatest traits. I’m not brave, and anyway, Gryffindor seemed a little bit overrated. Not to mention the fact that Ron Weasley was one of the most undesirable, immature teenagers ever encountered. If Gryffindor would allow him into its ranks, then Gryffindor could keep their common room empty.

During the test, I started to wonder where my answers to the questions might lead me. They were difficult to gauge, and weren’t like the usual ‘sorting’ tests found online, where you could predict what house you would end up in just by looking at the answers. I thought maybe Ravenclaw, or *shudder* Hufflepuff. I decided that Ravenclaw would be grand. Kind of nice to be in with a bunch of smart people. Pretending to know what I was talking about had defined my entire education, so I figured Ravenclaw could be an interesting place to spend my time.

Hufflepuff was, of course, my last choice. Well at least it was my last choice along with Slytherin, which never even really entered my head. I knew nobody who could be in Slytherin as I knew nobody who was genuinely evil. Hufflepuff was my worst nightmare, simply because it seemed to be the house where the personality-lacking, squid-like blobs ended up. No, Hufflepuff would be a disaster. So as I waited for the page to load, and waited to see what house colours would erupt onto the screen, I hoped I wouldn’t see a badger and a yellow background.

Green burst onto the screen accompanied by a serpent, and indeed, the serpentine sibilance of Slytherin greeted me. I was shocked. Slytherin? The house of Draco Malfoy, the selfish, stuck-up rich kid who characterised the nature of ‘my father will hear about this’ politics in the Harry Potter series? I then laughed, called my sister and told her the news. She too was shocked, and concluded that I must be secretly evil or deranged.

That night, I thought a lot about what Slytherin as a house stood for. I had always accepted the evidently biased assertion made by JK Rowling in her writing of the Harry Potter series that Slytherin was a cesspit of badness. But when I started to look at what they stood for, I understood everything so much more clearly.

Some of the main characteristics of a Slytherin are that they are cunning and ambitious. I had always been reluctant to call myself cunning, but when I considered what the word truly meant, I realised that I was a little bit cunning. And that was not a bad thing. Cunning people can be selfish and self-absorbed, but what they are really trying to achieve is success in life. And what’s wrong with a bit of success? If you have to push a weaker squid from Hufflepuff beneath the water to get to where you want to be, who’s going to object? Nobody, surely. The fact of the matter is that the blob from Hufflepuff has no traits, and therefore there’s no point in giving credence to any of them.

And what about ambition? In our western world, we have deemed ambition to be a bad thing. Why is it such a bad thing for somebody to want to achieve great things in their lifetimes? It’s not vanity, and it’s certainly not greed. We all have a short time on this earth, and in that short time, we want to make an impact, whether that be in loving and appreciating those around us (if this is you go join the Hufflepuff squids) or becoming a bestselling writer and having your name remembered for possibly hundreds of years.

And what is so unusual about this is that JK Rowling is the latter of these. She is the world’s richest author. Seven hugely successful books combined with eight enormous blockbuster films have cemented her place in the world as the most famous writer of our time. So why did she portray Slytherin as being so bad? I would hazard a guess that JK Rowling could have been left shocked if she had been a student of Hogwarts when the sorting hat belted out the word Slytherin.

If you are wondering what house you would be in at Hogwarts, log on now to Pottermore and do the test. And don’t be afraid of Slytherin – despite what the scrunched up face of Draco Malfoy might tell you, ambition is a good thing. When you think of the house, try to think of Snape, the double-agent who devoted his life for the cause of good, rather than the bratty child who bought his way onto the Slytherin Quidditch team. And if you’re a Hufflepuff, try your best to alter your personality so everyone else won’t have to endure it. Happy sorting!

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Is the Diary of Anne Frank Pornographic?

anne frankThe Diary of Anne Frank has burst into the spotlight of the international media this week with a great suddenness.

Most people have heard of the diary; it is the real life musings of a teenage girl who died at the hands of the Holocaust. She and her family went into hiding to avoid the Nazi regime, but were caught. They were sent to notorious concentration camps, and joined the ranks of millions of Jews who were killed in the name of racial purity.

When Anne’s father, Otto Frank survived, he returned home to discover that he was the only surviving member of his family. His daughters and wife had perished. He discovered his daughter’s diary, and decided to publish it, so that people all over the world could know what it is like to be a teenager, and know that leaving the house could result in your death.

Not surprisingly, it is now considered one of the most important social documents from the era. Her diary has been translated into countless languages and sold numerous copies.

However her diary is in the spotlight of the international media this week for an entirely different reason. This time it is not in celebration of the strength of this teenage girl, who documented her time in hiding. Rather, she is in the spotlight because, according to one woman, Gail Horalek, the diary is pornographic and unsuitable for her seventh grade daughter.

We can assume that this woman’s daughter is either twelve or thirteen. This girl and her classmates, who were required to read it for class, probably know a few simple truths at this point of their lives. Most will know that they have something called a vagina.

Anne Frank wrote this diary when she was around a year older than the seventh grade girls who are currently reading it. She also knew she had a vagina. According to Gail Horalek, this is what makes the diary pornographic and unsuitable for young girls.

The passage that Horalek refers to is this one:

“Until I was eleven or twelve, I didn’t realize there was a second set of labia on the inside, since you couldn’t see them. What’s even funnier is that I thought urine came out of the clitoris…When you’re standing up, all you see from the front is hair. Between your legs there are two soft, cushiony things, also covered with hair, which press together when you’re standing, so you can’t see what’s inside. They separate when you sit down and they’re very red and quite fleshy on the inside. In the upper part, between the outer labia, there’s a fold of skin that, on second thought, looks like a kind of blister. That’s the clitoris.”

The passage is fairly clear cut. It simply details a young girl’s fascination with her vagina and with her body. Surely this description, and these musings from Anne Frank, are similar to what go through the heads of many young girls. After all, it is only natural for a child to find the changes their body goes through during puberty to be fascinating.

Horalek’s claim encompasses difficulties that have plagued the human race for thousands of years, yet we consistently fail to do anything about; that is the sexualisation of the woman’s body by society, and the encouragement of the belief that women are merely temptresses, only there to tear men away from the good, holy lives they could have led.

Why does society encourage the belief that genitals are something to be ashamed of? We still associate women with the famous depiction of  Eve from the Bible. She famously disobeyed God – she took the forbidden fruit from the tree, and just like that, she and Adam became ashamed of their nudity, and everything started to go wrong.

In fact, the story of Adam and Eve is a metaphor for sex. The forbidden fruit that they were supposed to stay away from was the act of sex, and of course, Eve was the one who couldn’t control herself. Even at the time this was written, woman was presented as the sexual miscreant, with man being the pitiable slave at her service.

Women’s rights have come a long way in recent years. In many parts of the world, women are seen as equals to men, ready to contribute to the world around them as much as they please.

Yet one thing Horalek’s comments prove is that we have much further to go. Full equality will never be achieved until we de-sexualise the vagina, and de-stigmatise the natural fascination of men and women with their bodies.

Rather than condemning the diary of Anne Frank for giving a description of her vagina, we should champion her honesty. This is not pornographic, it is mere biology. The intention of pornographic material is to sexually excite or arouse. It is highly unlikely Anne Frank intended to sexually excite her readers, considering she never intended to have readers; this diary was a personal one that she happened to be writing before her death.

Most of all, however, we must look at Horalek’s comments critically, and remind ourselves that Anne Frank’s diary is vital to people of today. We must keep the devastation of the Holocaust in our minds to avoid any kind of repetition. Her description of her body must be seen as an aspect of adolescence, and the truthfulness of this work should be commended rather than be seen as something that is wrong, dirty and sexually deviant.

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Top Ten: Worst Summer Blockbuster Disappointments

sex and the cityThis article originally appeared in The University Observer on 16th April 2013.

10. Spider Man 3 (2007): After two decent Spider-Man films, somebody somewhere decided to release this trash. They opted to leave out the storyline, so it consists of Spider-Man sitting around looking thoughtful on window ledges. A must for sight-seers.

9. The Haunting (1999): Set around a group of young people going to a haunted mansion for a terrifying experiment, this is certainly a summer blockbuster to avoid. It’s 113 minutes of people sitting around looking scared, mirrors and special effects that would give 1990s kids’ TV shows a run for their money.

8. Van Helsing (2004): What begins as a tale of Van Helsing’s ass kicking ways quickly descends into a farce that few could have predicted. It may have satisfied the Goths and pre-emos of the decade, but it did nothing for everybody else, including the careers of Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale.

7. Evening (2007): With a cast that would leave Hollywood’s jaw firmly on the ground, it was perhaps a surprise that this drama became one of 2007’s greatest disappointments. Despite its strong performances, its sentimental tone clashes with the harsh drama of rejected romance.

6. Pearl Harbor (2001): Michael Bay’s adaptation of the tragedy of Pearl Harbor fails on every level. Essentially trying to be Titanic but in war-movie style, it is a monumental failure for its wooden dialogue and sentimentality.

5. Green Lantern: What should have been every teenage nerd’s dream rapidly turned into catastrophe. It was made famous when swarms of teenagers emerged from theatres looking somewhere between anger and hurt.

4. The Last Airbender (2010): With a budget of $130 million, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to have some small semblance of hope that this could amount to something. Sadly, it is not the story that made this film so dreadful; rather, it is the painful dialogue that clearly had no time or effort invested in it.

3. Catwoman (2004): It’s not that the tale of a painfully shy graphic designer turned crazy woman/cat/thing is all that bad; rather, it’s the fact that clearly nobody except Halle Berry made any effort to make this film watchable.

2. Godzilla (1998): Known as ‘money making racket’ in some regions, this disaster movie revolves around a giant lizard. I rest my case.

1. Sex and the City 2 (2010): Sex and the City was hard to sit through during its television series stint, so naturally, not one, but two movies were never going to be a fun addition. In this film, Sarah Jessica Parker and company work hard at undoing all that has been done by feminism, by coming across as silly, self-obsessed narcissists with serious daddy issues.

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Is Austerity Really Working?

michael noonanThis article originally appeared in the University Observer on 16th April 2013.

It emerged recently that it is not just Irish people who are unhappy with the snail paced reform seen since 2008, when recession first set in; the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Commission have also expressed concern. According to a leaked draft of the IMF’s quarterly report and the European Commission’s recently published quarterly report, there are more issues to be tackled if Ireland is ever to recover.

They were particularly critical of how slowly the government have dealt with problem mortgages and their progress with dealing with non-performing loans. They also criticise the approach to unemployment, with particular emphasis on the system that can leave people claiming benefits for years without meeting a case officer who could offer help. These observations of the troika are alarming, and show little positive indications for Ireland’s recovery. Ultimately, this asks the question: is austerity working?

Since 2008 there have been six austerity budgets and €28.5 billion in spending cuts and taxes. One would question why it is, that after five years of stringent conditions that have pushed many to breaking point, and many more out of this country, that little has changed. While the country was in a better state at the end of 2012 than it had been at the end of the previous year, growth remains slow. The point of these cuts and extra taxes was to pull Ireland out of recession, yet it seems that the money evaporates almost instantaneously into Ireland’s debt. All the while the cuts become increasingly invasive.

And while austerity is supposed to bring this country’s economic situation back to its former glory, is it possible that the government are ignoring the social implications? A 2012 survey by the Irish League of Credit Unions said that 20 per cent of adults have no cash left after paying bills at the end of the month, and more than half have less than €100. Almost a quarter of those surveyed said it was unlikely that they would be able to afford the new property tax. Perhaps more worryingly for the government, 43 per cent of those with little or no income left at the end of the month said they saw no future for themselves or their families in this country.

And despite a clear pattern emerging, austerity continues, most notably with the aforementioned property tax. Leo Varadkar’s remarks in March of this year that the property tax is ‘easy to pay and hard to evade’ show in crystalline clarity just how detached the government has become from its people.

Essentially, what increased austerity has done is pushed people to the edge. They can no longer afford luxuries – in fact, some can barely afford the necessities. And when people have little money, they make less purchases – resulting in businesses having to shut their doors for good. Ironically, this results in more people turning to social welfare to get by. It seems that austerity serves only to make people more reliant on the State, which is precisely what the government claim to want to avoid.

Irish business owners seem to be split down the middle regarding whether or not a corner has finally been turned in the Irish economy. Almost half said in a recent poll that they did not intend to take on staff in 2013, and is this any wonder? Why would they be optimistic when they too have been pushed to the edge by harsh budget cuts and increased taxes? The recent closure of HMV shows just how serious Ireland’s tentative situation remains.

The rate of emigration in Ireland further shows how austerity is not working. By the end of 2012, it was estimated that emigration had reached heights not seen since the Great Famine of the 1840s, a period now deeply entrenched in Irish history for the untold death and suffering it brought about. While it is obvious that Irelands’ situation is in no way as bad as the Great Famine, the government must realise that emigration rates as high as these point towards a major issue; namely, that Irish people no longer feel satisfied with this country.

The high rate of emigration coupled with the remarks of the IMF and the European Commission all point towards the same fact: something must change. Rather than dealing with the real issues, such as unemployment, they consistently strip funding from various parts of Irish life. Their approach seems to revolve around the belief that once the money is obtained and debts paid off, the other issues can be dealt with. This line of thought is flawed in its assumption that it was lack of money that got Ireland into the situation it is in today. All one has to do is look at the Celtic Tiger to discover that this was not the case at all.

If Ireland is ever to recover, the government must look at the Irish situation differently. Five years into a recession, it is evident that austerity has very simply not worked. To see real change, the government must focus on the real social issues that plague the Irish people. Unemployment must be dealt with; businesses and entrepreneurship must be encouraged, and most of all, education must be invested in, in an attempt to create strong future leaders, who can try to prevent a recession as great as the one we find ourselves in today from ever happening again.

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Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years

the cappuccino yearAdrian Mole has fascinated readers across the world since he first burst onto the literary scene in 1982. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 was one of the defining novels of many an adolescence. Full of angst, pimples, Pandora Braithwaite and out of control families, the novel was almost an assault on the typical view of the British family. This was working-class Britain, and Adrian’s self-absorbed teenage perspective throughout all of this is heartwarming and hilarious.

What many don’t realise is that Sue Townsend didn’t stop writing here. Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years follows thirty year old Adrian as he works as a chef in one of the worst restaurants in London. He is as arrogant as ever, and still firmly believes in his writing talents. Naturally, he spends a great deal of this diary writing about his pursuits, which includes a television series called The White Van. Says it all, really.

Yet there is something warmer about the adult Adrian. Perhaps it is in his fatherly abilities. While undoubtedly irresponsible and childish, he proves himself a capable parent, and for this, as a reader, we can’t help but feel that something has changed in the thirteen year old who cared solely about himself.

So if you want a throwback to your teenage years, to remember the angst and the perils of adolescence, then read Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years. Full of the warm wit of the earlier books, yet also filled with a renewed sense of adulthood and coming-of-age, this is a novel that will leave you in stitches, but will also remind you how deeply layered a character Adrian Mole truly is.

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Jude the Obscure and the Liberalisation of Divorce Laws

judetheobscureI’ve preached about the joys and wonders of Thomas Hardy before, and I think most people would agree that Hardy is one of the greatest writers of the Victorian period. In his lifetime, he regarded his novels as a supplement to his poetry career. Novel writing was where the money lay, and while he undoubtedly enjoyed and cherished his novels and his characters, poetry was where his heart truly lay.

Jude the Obscure was Hardy’s final novel. Published in 1895, it marked a point in his career when his novels had become progressively more and more controversial. Tess of the d’Urbervilles, perhaps his most successful novel, met controversy for its depiction of rape. Jude the Obscure, a novel about people living out of wedlock, continued in this vain.

In Victorian society, this novel was not greeted by many with enthusiasm. Amongst public burnings and brandings of Jude the Obscene, his novel was rejected by many. He was disappointed by the reception of the novel, and it is widely regarded that it turned him off writing novels forever. It was the last novel he wrote.

Today, most people have less of an issue with the idea of a novel about such a theme, and it has become quite popular indeed.

Jude the Obscure follows the story of a man called Jude, from childhood to adulthood, as he strives for an education, and to be recognised in this elitist world. However his dreams are disrupted in the form of opposites Arabella and Sue. Arabella, a full-figured woman of seeming low-morals, and Sue, slight and intelligent – flawed, but with a deep-rooted sense of right and wrong.

Sue is perhaps the highlight of Jude the Obscure. Strong, showing flourishes of independence, she is a Victorian feminist with new ideas of living a life not entirely ruled by the men around her. From a modern perspective, she is a new woman with invigoration seen in not as many female characters of the day as many would like.

What Hardy really achieves most of all in this novel is highlighting social issues while not letting the plot suffer. It can be argued that this was one of Hardy’s greatest skills in his writing. He raises the issue of divorce, something which was an issue of significant magnitude at the time, and questions, is it right or wrong? The novel is a champion for liberalisation of divorce laws. It shows just how controversial voicing these concerns was at the time, if we consider the fact that divorce was only legalised in Ireland, Britain’s neighbour, in 1995, one hundred years after the publication of Jude the Obscure.

The novel succeeds in so many ways; it is emotive and gripping to the last, and highlights the social consequences of elitist and religious dominated society. Coupled with Hardy’s beautiful and lyrical writing style, this is sure to be a novel enjoyed for many years to come. Plus the Kindle edition is free for all of you Kindle folk!

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Ten Worst Rom-Coms

leapyearThis article originally appeared in the University Observer.

10. How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days

Kate Hudson is a journalist in New York City, and is left desperately incomplete without a man by her side. She fails to lose Matthew McConaughey in the required ten days, and so the movie ends, leaving us riveted to the last shot.

9. 27 Dresses

Katherine Heigl is always the bridesmaid and never the bride, and has amassed twenty-seven bridesmaid dresses. She must find a man to chain her to a kitchen sink before it is too late, and she descends into spinsterdom. Who ever said feminism was dead?

8. PS I Love You

Hilary Swank plays the miscast widow of an Irishman in this disappointing film. It might be watchable if it weren’t for Gerard Butler’s awful attempts at an Irish accent. Hilary Swank’s talent is completely wasted.

7. Fifty First Dates

Audiences take cover: Adam Sandler is yet again trying to be funny in this catastrophic, chaotic mess of a film. Although its central story deviates from the typical rom-com, Sandler makes it impossible to enjoy this film.

6. What Happens In Vegas

Picture this: a cocktail of Ashton Kutcher, Cameron Diaz, Las Vegas and a shotgun wedding. Still want to see it? I thought not. I think we all wished what happened in Vegas would have just stayed in Vegas.

5. The Proposal

Although the central premise of Sandra Bullock getting married to avoid deportation might sound somewhat thrilling, it’s not. Despite its promising beginning, it descends into sentimentality and mediocrity, and not even its lead actors can save it.

4. The Break-Up

Things don’t get a whole lot worse than watching Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn meander around a devastatingly boring plot for 107 minutes. Although its attempts to be something unique are admirable, ultimately it completely fails in its main goal: to be funny.

3. One Day

This romantic ‘dramedy’ tells the story of Emma and Dexter, and their lives over the course of twenty years. If you can appreciate Anne Hathaway’s awful Yorkshire accent or the cheesy, tinkling piano soundtrack, then feel free to enjoy this catastrophe.

2. Because I Said So

Mandy Moore stars as the world’s latest singleton in this film. Clearly she couldn’t survive without a man, and needed her mother to sort one out for her through online dating. Yes, it is as ridiculous as it sounds.

1.  Leap Year

Amy Adams travels to Ireland in this film to propose to her boyfriend, but fate intervenes when she meets a charming Kerry man who sounds French and/or British. It is famous for its soul destroying depiction of Ireland as a place where trains don’t run on Sundays.