The death of Lil Peep: how the US prescription drug epidemic is changing hip-hop

This week, rapper Lil Peep died of a suspected overdose. Hip-hop has always been open about recreational drug use but how did constant references to depression and prescription painkillers move into the mainstream?

Pop a Perky just to start up / Pop two cups of purple just to warm up Quavos lyrics swim through the slow, narcotised production of Slippery, a track by rap trio Migos that has become one of the genres biggest hits of the year with nearly 150m views on YouTube. For the uninitiated, Perky is Percocet, a painkiller made up of paracetamol and the opioid oxycodone; purple is a drink made from codeine-based cough syrup. Quavos drug use is as improvisatory as it is blithe, and is just one example of a rap scene where substance abuse has become normalised.

This permissiveness has claimed a talented victim in Lil Peep, a New York-born 21-year-old rapper who died this week of a suspected overdose. On his Instagram in the hours leading up to his death, he said he was taking magic mushrooms and honey (a kind of super-concentrated version of marijuana, turned into a wax); another picture sees him with an unidentified substance broken into pieces on his tongue. He is also filmed dropping bars of Xanax, the anxiety medication that has become perhaps the most fashionable drug in 2017s rap scene, into his mouth.

Q&A

Why is there an opioid crisis in America?

Almost 100 people are dying every day across America from opioid overdoses more than car crashes and shootings combined. The majority of these fatalities reveal widespread addiction to powerful prescription painkillers. The crisis unfolded in the mid-90s when the US pharmaceutical industry began marketing legal narcotics, particularly OxyContin, to treat everyday pain. This slow-release opioid was vigorously promoted to doctors and, amid lax regulation and slick sales tactics, people were assured it was safe. But the drug was akin to luxury morphine, doled out like super aspirin, and highly addictive. What resulted was a commercial triumph and a public health tragedy. Belated efforts to rein in distribution fueled a resurgence of heroin and the emergence of a deadly, black market version of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. The crisis is so deep because it affects all races, regions and incomes

Lil Peep also rapped about drug-taking: I hear voices in my head, they tellin me to call it quits / I found some Xanax in my bed, I took that shit, went back to sleep; Sniffin cocaine cause I didnt have no Actavis / Smokin propane with my clique and the bad bitches; Gettin high cause my life dont mean shit to me. His vision of drug-taking was not without pleasure, but certainly a means of escape as well as straightforward hedonism a marked change in rap culture.

Three drugs are most commonly associated with hip-hop: alcohol, weed and crack. The former is often used merely as a straightforward wealth signifier: Hennessy and Courvoisier cognac, Cristal champagne, Patrn tequila and Grey Goose vodka. Blended with a gin and juice, Snoop Dogg hymned the relaxing properties of marijuana (laaaaaid back…) while Cypress Hill synthesised its paranoia with the creepy malevolence of B-Reals voice.

Crack cocaine was a different prospect: the rappers never got high on their own supply. On Clipses Grindin, Pusha T says that four and half [ounces] will get you in the game and that he is known in the neighbourhood as Mr Sniffles, but his laser-precise flow suggests sobriety and business nous. On the 2014 mega-hit Trap Queen, Fetty Wap introduces his girl to his stove hes not showing off his new Aga, but rather where they will cook crack together. The songs pop beauty conjures a couple revelling not in the drugs high, but the emancipation it gives them as a result of cash from its sale. By shamelessly leveraging the glamour of criminality, these rappers appeal to prurient middle-class audiences (including a sizeable white demographic) and by pointing a route out of poverty, they appeal to working-class ones too.

Around the turn of the century, rappers increasingly started dabbling in designer drugs, too, particularly ecstasy. Eminem recorded two songs from The Slim Shady LP while high on it, while mentor Dr Dre suggested on Bad Intentions, take an X pill, how the sex feel? A little-noted detail is that the civic euphoria of Jay-Zs Empire State of Mind is powered by the drug: MDMA got you feeling like a champion / The city never sleeps, better slip you an Ambien. Kanye West sees a whole party melting like Dali after dropping molly, raps now-favoured name for ecstasy (also namechecked by the likes of Tyga, Rick Ross, Rihanna and, infamously, Miley Cyrus). In their songs at least, there are no comedowns, only the dizzy, meaningless highs.

But at the same time, prescription drug addiction took hold of the US last year, 91 people a day died of opioid overdoses. Thanks to a robust marketing campaign, sales of the opioid painkiller OxyContin grew from $48m (36.5m) in 1996 to $1.1bn in 2000; in 2012, 282m prescriptions were made for it a bottle for every American. Its popularity has tailed off slightly, but other prescription drugs often used recreationally have joined it, arguably in part thanks to the inadvertent marketing by rappers, who have swapped uppers for downers.

Lil
Lil Pump with a drug-shaped cake. Photograph: Jerritt Clark/WireImage

The attention-deficit medicine Adderall has been rapped about by Danny Brown and sung about by Justin Bieber; as well as Migoss championing of the aforementioned Percocet, Futures Mask Off, another huge rap hit this year, has a chorus that runs Percocet, molly, Percocet.

But its Xanax the drug Lil Peep boasted about taking six of in a video hours before his death that has become the most prevalent. Each pill is an oblong divided into five chunks, with X A N A X imprinted on each; as a design it has real visual impact that enhances its appeal. A$AP Mob-affiliated DJ crew Cozy Boys were formerly known as Blackout Boys, and used Xanax bars as their logo; current hot property Lil Pump celebrated getting a million Instagram followers with a Xanax-shaped cake. Etsy is weirdly full of Xanax jewellery. Guesting on iLoveMakonnens track Tuesday, even the clean-cut Drake admits to having Xans in an Advil bottle before swiftly reassuring us theyre just for that nights boo: I dont take them shits but you do.

Xanax now underpins an entire subgenre of rap: sometimes dubbed SoundCloud rap, as many of its progenitors upload it to that music streaming service, it is characterised by a fug-headed mumbling flow; raw, lo-fi production full of clouds of noise; and constant references to depression and prescription painkillers. Along with rappers such as Yung Lean, $uicideboy$ and Lil Xan, Lil Peep was at the heart of this scene; it has moved into the mainstream, too, with Lil Uzi Vert, whose track XO Tour Life features a couple discussing suicide. Spotify caught on, dedicating a playlist to the style called Tear Drop its top 10 is now full of Lil Peep, with a tribute reading: Gone too soon We will always remember you.

This style is also called emo, but where that word has previously been used to describe punks who analysed their own emotions with a forensic level of detail, here the emotion is underanalysed: these rappers feel bad, but theyre not sure why.

The fact that some of them are unable to verbalise what theyre feeling, leads them to fall back on rap cliches around bitches and clips, and simply compounds the overall feeling of desperation. This is an inevitable cultural byproduct of the US, where the marketplace has been allowed to triumph, and silence moral concerns about the availability of these drugs. Because theyre profitable, people are allowed to just get on with self-medicating, without trying to understand the reasons for their sadness.

But perhaps these rappers ennui goes wider than mere Xanax, and into a numbing effect of our wider culture. One of the most chilling aspects to Lil Peeps death is that his cries for help were so public, and yet went so unanswered perhaps as a result of the paradoxically distancing effect of social media. He wrote on Instagram hours before he died: I need help but not when I have my pills but thats temporary one day maybe I wont die young and Ill be happy? But were inured to see Instagram as performative, not real, and its inherently aspirational vibe along with the sheer visual noise of its scrolling feed drowns out individual torment. That Spotify named its playlist Tear Drop, selling back these artists real pain, doesnt help.

Rap has always told its drug stories in more than just its lyrics. Snoop conjured the sensuality of his own buzz through his very vocal cadence and languorous G-funk backing, as well as his words. In Houstons chopped and screwed scene, rap tracks are radically slowed down, designed to match and enhance the corporeal sluggishness that comes from drinking codeine cough syrup. And its the same with this new breed of rapper: their deadened flow and sad, anxious production replicates the anti-high of Xanax in sound. It can be hard to tell which of them are genuinely troubled and which are like the fake gangstas of the crack era trading off the glamour of drugs and pain. But the tens of millions of streams theyre getting mean it doesnt matter: their popularity shows that people are hearing their own pain, fellow participants in a culture that has been left to manage its own wellbeing.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/nov/16/death-lil-peep-us-prescription-drugs-epidemic-hip-hop-rapper

‘We’re told to be grateful we even have readers’: pirated ebooks threaten the future of book series

With 4m or 17% of all online ebooks being pirated, novelists including Maggie Stiefvater and Samantha Shannon say theft by fans puts their books at risk

The bestselling American fantasy novelist Maggie Stiefvater is leading a chorus of writers warning readers that if they download pirated ebooks, then authors will not be able to continue writing because they will be unable to make a living.

Stiefvater, author of the Shiver and Raven Cycle series, raised the issue after she was contacted on Twitter by a reader who told her: I never bought ur books I read them online pirated. On her website, Stiefvater later explained that, when ebook sales for the third book in the Raven Cycle Blue Lily, Lily Blue dropped precipitously, her publisher decided to cut the print run of the next book in the series to less than half of its predecessors.

This is also where people usually step in and say, but thats not piracys fault. You just said series naturally declined, and you just were a victim of bad marketing or bad covers or readers just actually dont like you that much, wrote Stiefvater, who had seen fans sharing pdfs online and was intent on proving that piracy had affected the Raven Cycle. So she and her brother created a pdf of The Raven King, which consisted of just the first four chapters, repeated, and a message explaining how piracy affected books.

Maggie
But pirating book one means that publishing cancels book two Maggie Stiefvater. Photograph: Johnny Louis/Getty Images

The effects were instant. The forums and sites exploded with bewildered activity. Fans asked if anyone had managed to find a link to a legit pdf. Dozens of posts appeared saying that since they hadnt been able to find a pdf, theyd been forced to hit up Amazon and buy the book. And we sold out of the first printing in two days.

Stiefvater revealed that she is now writing three more books set in the Raven Cycle world, but that the new trilogy nearly didnt exist because of piracy. And already I can see in the tags how Tumblr users are talking about how they intend to pirate book one of the new trilogy for any number of reasons, because I am terrible or because they would rather die than pay for a book, she wrote. As an author, I cant stop that. But pirating book one means that publishing cancels book two. This aint 2004 anymore. A pirated copy isnt good advertising or great word of mouth or not really a lost sale.

According to the Intellectual Property Offices latest study of online copyright infringement, 17% of ebooks read online are pirated around 4m books.

Ebook piracy is a very significant issue and of great concern to publishers, said Stephen Lotinga of the Publishers Association, which works to take down and block pirated ebooks links and sites. As an industry weve not had the situation that the music and film industries have gone through, Lotinga said. But that obviously is 4m ebooks that authors and publishers arent getting paid for, and should be getting paid for, and its a particular worry for publishers at a time when ebook sales are slightly in decline.

Last week, a poll on piracy from Hank Green, the brother of the bestselling novelist John Green, was responded to by more than 35,000 people. Just over a quarter (26%) said they had pirated books in the past, while 5% said they currently pirate books.

Samantha Shannon, author of the Bone Season series, said that attempting to stay on top of pirated editions of her books was a Sisyphean task. I think all authors experience it to some degree, unfortunately. Its a reality of modern publishing, she said. I dont often look for pirated copies of my books, as I find it too dispiriting, but I do batch-send links to my publisher now and again in the hope that they can remove some of them.

Shannon wrote on Twitter that the thing thats really exhausting about piracy is that authors are often not allowed to be upset by theft of their work. If we ask people not to do it, no matter how courteously, were told we should have more compassion or be grateful we even have readers. Outside the creative industry, people broadly dislike theft. Within the creative industry, it becomes a grey area where people arent sure.

Authors who ask you not to pirate are not attacking people who are too poor to afford books, or people who genuinely cant access libraries, wrote Shannon but Lotinga at the Publishers Association said that those people were not often the perpetrators. Ebook pirates tend to be from better-off socio-economic groups, and to be aged between 31 and 50-something. Its not the people who cant afford books, he said. Its not teenagers in their rooms.

Novelist Laura Lam wrote on Twitter: Im personally not bothered by the small percentage of readers who pirate because they have no access to books any other way. But of readers, I think thats a small percentage. Im more heartbroken by those who can easily afford books but pirate anyway. Any sales lost via those readers will have a very real impact on my career.

According to a survey carried out by the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society, the median income of a professional author in 2013 was 11,000, a drop of 29% on 2005.

Lam said that she had a trilogy cancelled through her first publisher three weeks after book two came out. Thats an instance where if even a couple hundred had pirated instead of buying, it had repercussions. Long-term, that publisher went bankrupt and I re-sold it to my new publisher, but it was still a challenge at the time. Not everyone gets a second chance.

Fantasy novelist Tom Pollock said that readers needed to be aware of the consequences of pirating In an economy based on market signals, the signal being sent if people pirate rather than buy or borrow is: Nobody wants this.

He added: Theres an argument that you sometimes see that a download is not equal to a lost sale, because that person wouldnt have bought it anyway, and theres varying evidence on that, but its very much a static analysis of a dynamic problem, because if you normalise the practice of pirating books, you erode incentive for people to pay for them, so eventually, people who would have bought them stop doing so.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/nov/06/pirated-ebooks-threaten-future-of-serial-novels-warn-authors-maggie-stiefvater

How one actor turned her brush with street harassment into a raucous, emotional concert.

Three years ago, Diana Oh was followed down the street and viciously catcalled by a group of men in an SUV.

In the wake of that incident, the New York City-based actor and musician sat down in Times Square in her lingerie in front of a stack of paper bags arranged on a soapbox.

One bag read, “The world bends over backward to make excuses for male violence.” She stood there, silent, for hours, as passersby stared, applauded, jeered, and, occasionally, joined in.

Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

That installation, titled {my lingerie play}, garnered a raft of national media attention (in Upworthy and elsewhere) and spawned nine further installments, which eventually came together in a raucous storytelling concert that follows Oh’s struggle to assert her voice and exist without fear of abuse as a queer woman of color in America.

Now remounted at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in New York after two years of development, the concert seesaws between tales from Oh’s childhood and life in New York City and its anthemic songs, laid down by a hugely talented, synced-up band (full disclosure: Oh and I once collaborated together on a theatrical project). Where the piece truly transcends are in its audacious — and plentiful — moments of audience participation, including an on-stage haircut and an electric make-out session (more on that later). Audience members are encouraged to write their own messages on paper bags before the show and take one home at the end, either their own or someone else’s.  

Oh, who grew up the child of working-class immigrant parents in Southern California, is a magnetic, open-hearted, and funny performer. She transforms the show’s wrenching subject matter into a celebration of life, difference, and voice. She considers the stage show, with its message of joyful resistance and predominately performer-of-color cast, a radical statement.

“We do what we want,” Oh says. “I do what I want on that stage. And that is a revolutionary act, to see a queer woman of color who is Korean-American get to be … doing what I want on that stage.”

As the Harvey Weinstein scandal sinks toward an unknown bottom, and #MeToo stories continue to spread, I sat down with Oh to discuss the performance, its call to arms, her belief that white critics frequently get art made by people of color wrong, how much work putting together a diverse team required, and why that work feels worth it.

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

There’s a moment, late in the concert, where you talk about the frightening experience you had on the street and how it led to the genesis of {my lingerie play}. What was the moment like when you decided, “I’m going to stand on a soapbox in my underwear in Times Square”?

My roommate was like, “Do you want this thing someone is throwing away outside? It’s a soapbox.” I remember I saw it, and it was turned over, so it looked like an open box, and then I turned it upside down, and it was like, “Oh my God. A soapbox. I know what soapboxes are. People used to use them. They used to stand up on them and talk about their feelings.” And I was like, “OK, I think this is something. And then that was it. Before I even knew, like knew, what a soapbox was, I primally knew what a soapbox was. My memory, my previous life or something like that. It was like a spiritual something, where it was just like, my spirit knows that I have to be with this thing.

I knew that I wanted it to be silent. I knew that I just wanted to stand there and make a point, and I wasn’t going to yell, and I wasn’t going to be frantic.

How did you choose the location?

It was the most public location I could think of, and it was like the center of the universe, and anywhere else would have been too subtle. I was done being subtle. I don’t want to be subtle anymore.

Diana Oh. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

I was already writing this piece [for the stage]. And then eventually, I was like, “This is crap.” Because all the people who know not to treat people like shit are going to come to the theater and be like, “I’m doing so great.” It came out of being frustrated that I was choosing a bubble — that my art form was actually a bubble. Knowing the things I had to say, I wanted it blasted to the universe. So that’s where the street installations came in.

It’s very bold, obviously. You’re standing there and you know that the people walking by you — it’s not necessarily safe. What was the experience you expected to have?

I don’t even know. It was like I blacked out. It was like something came over me. I didn’t even have an expectation. I just knew that I had to. I had zero expectations.

“Every step of the way, I feel like, I always have agency. Always. And that is the power behind this piece.” — Diana Oh

Being out there, it was a mix. A lot of people were like, “Thank you,” and a lot of other people were like, “I don’t understand? Why are we seeing more women in their underwear. I just don’t get it.”  

In thinking about the stage show, and selling it, was there something you came up with that was like, “This is how we’re going to get people in who wouldn’t ordinarily come?”

I’m a theater nerd at heart. And I believe in collecting people in a room together and having a powerful, spiritual experience. And that’s a gift that only theater can give. So that’s what I knew. In terms of marketing or selling it in any way, it was less about that than about “join in.” The revolution can’t be bought. I cannot sell the revolution. I don’t own the revolution, so it’s not mine to sell. But I can join the revolution, and you can join with me. And you can give your time and your support, and that’s it.

In terms of this year, 2017, with this concert, the thing I keep rubbing up against right now is this concert is for the people and by the people. I can sense that there’s a great chasm in between the people and theater culture and the theater critic world.

What sort of divide?

The divide I sense is in what we’re doing. And I believe the people who come to it believe in it. And I believe the people of color who are in the audience are a direct result of us making sure that people of color are making the work. The culture of the room needs to be right for the culture of the room. And I wish you could write down this dance move.

I’ll write down what you’re doing.

[Oh does a breaststroke in the air, as if releasing, then corralling, a litter of puppies.]

The chasm I find is — I call it the “theater helmet.” When people put on their theater helmet, that’s like, “Ah-ha. I know how to take this work in because I am incredibly educated. I come from a lot of privilege. I studied many many things. And I come from a very certain socioeconomic background. And now I am deemed as a professional thinker in the arts. I know what good art is.” But when it gets to be the same people with the same backgrounds commenting on what good art is, you can feel that commentary. You can feel the difference in experience an audience member is having versus a theater critic who has had a lot of schooling.

Guitarist Matt Park. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

One of the things that I connect with is that many people of color have grown up in messy households. And I find that to be very true. Even if we’re wealthy, even if we’re becoming doctors or whatnot, there’s a certain mess to our households by virtue of us straddling this dual citizenship in the world. And I think it’s this messiness that our educated theater critic cohort don’t quite know and understand. Understandably — because why would they? They didn’t grow up in these messy households. So there’s a certain hunger that I feel from them to have neatness.

Do you think there’s a solution? Do you think there’s something these critics and theater professionals can do to put in the work to come to a better understanding, or do you think it really has to be a change in personnel?

Does it have to be a change of personnel? Sure. Absolutely. Do I want to see more of my artist-of-color friends being reviewed by writers of color? Absolutely. Because I feel like we would feel more seen. It wouldn’t feel so dimming. It would just feel like, “Oh my gosh, you see me. Thank you.”

I think part of the nature of the game is, “I dispense my wisdom from up on this perch,” and that in itself creates a resistance to listening. Because you get so many people telling you, from angles, who are mad at you for giving their shows a bad review, so I wonder if part of it is, you create this wall.

That sounds like a terrible life. I don’t know why anyone would choose it.

The night I was there, at least, you had a very young audience, very diverse, all genders and ethnicities and ages. Not the typical profile of a theater audience. What does that feel like, that you made that happen?

That feels like we did the work. That feels like, I fucking fought for that. I’m done with subtlety, and I’m done with being silent. And if I’m feeling an instinct, I’m feeling an instinct. If these young people need to be reached out to, they need to be reached out to. And our collaborators need to represent the houses that we want. We have a big problem if the majority of our group is white or cisgender or straight. We’ve got a really big, big problem. And so we have to queer our room so that we can queer our room.

You spent five months looking for a female bassist of color. Was it important to you to have a woman of color in that specific role, or was it because you didn’t have that represented already in the band?

Oh (L) with bassist Rocky Vega (R). Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

It just was really important that it extended beyond parity, that it extended beyond equality, that it was more about just representing my upbringing. I wanted more than one Asian person because I was tired of being the token Asian. I wanted that there, and I knew the bassist had to be a person of color, and I didn’t want to be the only woman or non-binary or queer person in the band.

People often talk about, “If you’re really committed to find full representation, you just have to look harder.” What was that process like for you?

It was exactly that. So much digging, so many emails, so much asking friends of friends. And even with bass player Rocky Vega, we found her, we found this spirit, we found a voice, we found her politics, everything. And we still had to be like, “Let’s teach you the instrument.” Because we could find all these capable bassists, but also the ability to sing and do harmony and stand up on stage with us in their underwear and be liberated.

Where did you find her?

Guitarist Matt Park had done “Peer Gynt” with her, and he was like, “Rocky is so awesome.” And for a long time, we were like, “Oh my gosh, but she doesn’t play bass, so we can’t.” And then eventually it got down to the end of five months, and it was like, if we don’t find someone, I’ll be so sad, and we can’t do it. So we just asked her, and Ryan got in a room with her alone to play bass, and he was like, “She can do this. She can learn this.” And she’s incredible.

There are two big moments in the show where you engage in fairly intimate audience interaction. There’s one where you shave someone’s head and one where you make out with an audience member as part of a consent workshop. And I’m wondering how you went about creating those moments — and the guardrails around them.

There was a lot of work that went into it, into framing it, into how to word it perfectly so that we are naming enthusiastic consent. So that we know that we are making sure it feels like an invitation and not like hazing. So that it feels like a gift for an audience member and not like they’re a prop. And every night, it changes. I usually share my head-shaving story. And some nights, I don’t want to share it when I’m shaving a person’s head. I just want to honor it and be with them. And then I’ll share my stuff later. And it’s just about being really present.

The make-out workshop came out of so many rewrites and so many things being thrown away, being like, “We can’t do this. We can’t do this. It’s not working.” There was a point where there was a version of this concert where there was so much trauma in it that it was like, we’re not here to exploit trauma. And the make-out session was born out of a conversation that our dramaturg Mei Ann Teo [note: a dramaturg is essentially a theatrical editor, though the scope of the role varies from production to production.] and the director Orion Johnstone had. I think they were having a conversation about the text, and they came to me the next day and were like, “We have a proposal for you. What if you make out with an audience member on stage.” And I was like, done. Yes.

You were super enthusiastic about that from the beginning?

Yes. Huge. I was just like, life of my dreams. Let’s freaking do it. We’re done with subtlety. Orion, Mei Ann, and me were all aligned in the belief that our sexual liberation is so intertwined with social justice. Oftentimes, the shame or the hiding or the silence or the questions or the anxiety that surrounds my sexual expression, it wasn’t born out of nowhere. And I wasn’t born with all of that. And it’s something that I feel like was piled on me as I have lived my life through this world, identifying the way I do sexually.

I don’t want to feel shame in the streets. I don’t want to feel shame in the bed. And I find that to be true of so many people. To think of how much hiding we do, of the kind of intimacy that we want and who we want to have it with and all this stuff, and all the hiding that we do, and all the breath-holding that we do, and how that’s actually intertwined with, “Well, if you would just let us be who we are, maybe we wouldn’t close in so much.”

The night I was there, two people volunteered really quickly to make out with you. Do you ever have a moment where you felt uncomfortable during that part of the show? Where you had to be, like, this is not working for me at this moment?

This is why working with a sex and relationships coach on your art is amazing because they literally had to tell me, “Take your time to choose.” I have been conditioned to be like, “Make a choice. You have to love it. I’m so into it. Yeah. Do whatever you want.” Where it’s like, “No no no, we’re going to disrupt that and be like, ‘let me take this in and see who it is that I actually want to share this moment with.'”

From there, I have that time to sit with them in the Super Sexy Hot Enthusiastic Consent workshop to be like, “How is it that I want to kiss you as I’m looking at you?” And some nights I want to, like, make out with the person. And some night it’s like, I want to give them a really soft, welcoming kiss. And some nights, it’s like, I want to kiss you everywhere but the mouth. But every step of the way, I feel like, I always have agency. Always. And that is the power behind this piece. And that’s something the dramaturg has given voice to. That the night is actually about watching you, about agency in the room.

You’re performing this at a moment where these issues are exploding into public life in an unfortunate way — with previous accusations against the president of the United States and, of course, more recently in your industry, with Harvey Weinstein. What sort of tools do you hope people walk away from the show with?

My hope is that people walk away feeling like they have complete and total agency to act and speak out and honor themselves and honor their truth and honor their power. That any time they feel that urge to be like, “I feel like I can do something but I don’t know if it’s like this, and I don’t know,” that it’s like, “You can. You can and you will. And you must.” You just have to put one foot in front of the other to do it.

You said you’re preparing one more installation?

Drummer Ryan McCurdy (L), Oh (C) and Vega (R). Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

On Oct. 28, at a to-be-disclosed location, at 4 p.m., we are going to be inviting all the past audience members of the show to stand outside together with the paper bag they left with. And if you don’t have a brown paper bag, we’ll give you one of the leftover ones that we have with the hopes that between now and then you will have given some thought to how we can make this thing possible in whatever small and big way. And it’s just a chance for us to stand outside together, be together, meet each other.

I think that community is built by shared experience, and we will have shared this experience. And every night is so different.

In the meantime, we want everyone to see the show because we believe in it so much. We believe in the spell of it , that it’s really using our civic duty.

{my lingerie play} 2017: THE CONCERT AND CALL TO ARMS. The Final Installation runs through Oct. 28 at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre in New York City. Tickets can be found here.

Read more: http://www.upworthy.com/how-one-actor-turned-her-brush-with-street-harassment-into-a-raucous-emotional-concert

Should we be surprised by the most profitable film of 2017 thus far?

Flying below the high-profile summer superhero flicks and the latest blockbusters brought to you by Disney, one unexpected film is hanging on to the noteworthy title of “most profitable film of 2017” (thus far):

Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.”

The writer and director of “Get Out,” Jordan Peele. Photo by Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images.

“Get Out” wasn’t just critically acclaimed and beloved by audiences it also raked in cash at the box office.

The horror flick, which brilliantly explores the nuances of race relations and racism in today’s America, brought in over $250 million in ticket sales around the world, a number that far surpasses its production budget of a mere $4.5 million.

The return on investment for “Get Out” stands at a staggering 630%, according to The Wrap, which considered overall budgets and box office results of the top-grossing films of 2017 for its analysis.

Allison Williams and Daniel Kaluuya, who star in “Get Out.” Photo by Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images.

To be clear, “Get Out” isn’t the top-grossing film of 2017. That honor currently goes to “Beauty and the Beast,” which brought in $1.26 billion worldwide.

“Beauty and the Beast,” however, was created on a $160 million production budget and included a costly global marketing campaign. While its return on investment is still impressive, exceeding 400%, it pales in comparison to “Get Out.”

Should we be surprised by “Get Out” standing at No. 1?

On one hand, any film that can pull in those box office numbers from a budget that small deserves a round of applause.

On the other hand, the historic success of “Get Out” comes amid growing demands that Hollywood recognize and respond to the impressive financial feats of films featuring stories about people other than straight, white men.

Stars of 2016’s “Hidden Figures” (left to right) Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, and Janelle Mone. Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images for Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Hollywood tends to see blockbusters led by women, people of color, and other marginalized groups as rare exceptions to the rule.

But in the past few years, evidence has shown that’s not really the case at all.

“Every time theres a success [of a film with a mostly black cast], it gets swept under the rug, Jeff Clanagan, president of Lionsgates Codeblack Films, told The Washington Post in regards to 2016’s “Moonlight.” “It’s almost like there’s an asterisk on it. They chalk it off as an anomaly.

Last year, “Hidden Figures” a film predominantly led by black women was the highest-grossing Best Picture nominee at the Academy Awards. In July, “Girls Trip” (again, starring all women of color), exceeded box office expectations; it has pulled in over $76 million globally to date.

Surpassing “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” as this summer’s highest-grossing blockbuster, “Wonder Woman” is nearing the $800 million mark in global box office sales.

Gal Gadot, star of “Wonder Woman.” Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images.

Audiences are hungrier than ever to see diverse stories on the big screen. Why isn’t Hollywood listening?

A new report by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism paints a bleak picture in terms of media representation across the highest-grossing films of 2016.

The report, which analyzed the demographics of speaking and named characters in the year’s 100 top films, found that marginalized groups particularly women, racial minorities, and LGBTQ people continue to be underrepresented. For Hispanic women and people with disabilities, the numbers were downright abysmal.

It’s not so much that audiences are choosing not to see films featuring these characters it’s more that those movies aren’t being produced in the first place by a film industry overwhelmingly run by older straight white men.

“Diversity is not just something that just happens, Katherine Pieper, a research scientist at USC, told the Associated Press of the study. Its something you have to think about and aim for as an objective and achieve.”

The data suggests studio execs would be wise to get out of their boxes and start making films for a more diverse audience. It’d pay off in more ways than one.

Read more: http://www.upworthy.com/should-we-be-surprised-by-the-most-profitable-film-of-2017-thus-far

Not so fast: Despacito singers tell Nicols Maduro to stop using remixed song

Venezuelan presidents attempt to co-opt the global hit for political purposes backfires with Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee calling the use illegal

Venezuelan president Nicols Maduros attempt to use Latin hit Despacito – which means slowly to inject some cool into his controversial new congress has backfired quickly.

Maduros unpopular leftist government on Sunday promoted a remixed version of Despacito to encourage Venezuelans to vote for the Constituent Assembly, which will have powers to rewrite the national charter and supersede other institutions.

Our call to the Constituent Assembly only seeks to unite the country … Despacito! goes the Socialist Party-sanctioned remix of the catchy dance song, which was played during Maduros weekly televised show.

What do you think, eh? Is this video approved? a grinning and clapping Maduro called out to the crowd, which roared back in approval.

But Puerto Rican singers Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee on Monday said they do not approve at all.

At no point was I asked, nor did I authorize, the use or the change in lyrics of Despacito for political ambitions, and much less in the middle of a deplorable situation that Venezuela, a country I love so much, is living, Fonsi said in a message posted on Twitter.

Daddy Yankee, meanwhile, posted a picture of Maduro with a big red cross over it on Instagram.

That you illegally appropriate a song (Despacito) does not compare with the crimes you commit and have committed in Venezuela. Your dictatorial regime is a joke, not only for my Venezuelan brothers, but for the entire world, he said.

With this nefarious marketing plan, you only highlight your fascist ideal.

Millions of Venezuelans have been staging months of protests against Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader narrowly elected to replace the late Hugo Chavez in 2013.

Some 100 people have died in the unrest, which has further hammered an imploding economy that is running short of food and medicine.

Critics say Maduro is trying to cement a dictatorship by pushing forward with the Constituent Assembly this Sunday. He says it is the only way to bring peace back to the convulsed nation.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/25/not-so-fast-despacito-singers-venezuelan-president-nicolas-maduro-stop-using-song

The age of banter

The long read: It used to be just a word now it is a way of life. But is it time to get off the banter bus?

Its the most fucking ridiculous story, isnt it? We went to watch fucking dolphins, and we ended up in fucking Syria. Last summer in the Mediterranean party resort of Ayia Napa, Lewis Ellis was working as a club rep. I mean, it was fucking 8am, he told an Australian website soon afterwards, and the last fucking club had closed, and we thought, We can still go dolphin watching. Well blag our way on to a fucking boat and go dolphin watching.

But when the boat sailed so far that Cyprus disappeared from view, Ellis explained, they started to worry. Why are we so far from land? they asked the crew. Were fucking miles away and weve got no fucking wifi. Something, Ellis said, had been lost in translation; his exuberant season as a shepherd for the resorts party pilgrims had gone terribly awry. The crew wasnt taking them to watch dolphins: they were going to a Russian naval base in the city of Tartus, on Syrias Mediterranean coast. Yeah, it is a little ridiculous.

It was, nonetheless, a story that had legs. Hungover lads boat trip boob lands them in Syria, wahey-ed the Mirror; British holidaymakers board party boat in Ayia Napa and end up in war-torn SYRIA, guffawed the Express. If you saw these headlines at the time, you may dimly remember the rest. A stubborn trawler captain, chugging doggedly onwards to Tartus, where he turfed the friends out upon landing; interrogation at the hands of Russian intelligence officers; mutual hilarity as the Russians realised what had happened; and, after a hot meal, a quick tour of the area, and a good nights sleep, spots on the next fishing vessel headed back to Cyprus. It was never made clear why the captain had let them on the boat in the first place, but whatever. Everyone lapped it up.

Reflecting on the whole thing five months later, Ellis, a 26-year-old with a business degree and a marketing masters, couldnt totally wrap his head around it. I think I found 35 stories about us, he told me. I read about myself in the Hawaiian Express, do you know what I mean? (Notwithstanding that there doesnt appear to be any such newspaper, yes, I definitely do.)

What made it really weird to see the media pile in with such unstinting enthusiasm was that the story was total cobblers. I could not believe how gullible they were, Ellis said, a top note of glee still in his voice. We were just having a laugh! It was banter!

Lads: this is the age of banter. Its long been somewhat about the banter, but over the last few years, it has come to seem that its all about the banter an unabashedly bumptious attitude that took up a position on the outskirts of the culture in the early 90s and has been larging its way towards the centre ever since. There are hundreds of banter groups on Facebook, from Banter Britain (no memes insinuating child abuse/dead babies!!!) to Wanker Banter 18+ (Have a laugh and keep it sick) to the Premier League Banter Page (The only rule: keep it banter). You can buy an I banter mug on Amazon for 9, or an Archbishop of Banterbury T-shirt for 9.99.

There are now four branches of a restaurant called Scoff & Banter. When things were going badly at Chelsea FC under Jos Mourinho, it was reported the team had banned all banter in an attempt to focus their minds, and that terminology appeared in the newspapers, as if you would know exactly what it meant. Someone has created a banter map of London using a keyword search on the flatshare website SpareRoom, showing exactly where people are looking for a roommate with good banter (Clapham tends to feature prominently). When a 26-year-old man from Leeds posed for a selfie with a bemused aeroplane hijacker, Vice declared it the high-water mark of banter.

Lewis
Lewis Ellis (left) and friends in Ayia Napa, pretending to be in Syria. Photograph: Lewis Ellis

If you are younger than about 35, you are likely to hear the term all the time. Either you have banter (if you are funny and can take a joke) or you dont (if you arent and cannot). The mainstream, in summary, is now drunk and asleep on the sofa, and banter is delightedly drawing a penis on its forehead.

As banter has risen, it has expanded. Long a word used to describe submerged expressions of fraternal love, it is now also a word used to excuse uninhibited displays of masculine bravado. Today, it is segregated by class, seized on by brands, picked over by psychologists, and deplored by cultural critics; it is dominant, hotly contested and only hazily understood.

And so, whether he intends it to or not, Ellis use of the term raises some questions. Is he throwing his lot in with the most pervasive branch of the blokeish mainstream, a sanitised and benevolent hilarity that stretches from lad-dad panel shows to your mates zinger about your terrible haircut? Or is he lining up with the misogynist imitators of the Bullingdon club, a sprinkling of racists, and, as we shall see, an actual murderer purveyors of a malicious and insidious masculinity that insists on its indivisible authority and calls you a slut if you object?

Ellis isnt preoccupied by these questions, but for what its worth, he does say that he and his friends never had the slightest intention of going to Syria. We werent really trying to fool anyone, he told me, although Im not sure thats entirely consistent with the facts. We were out for a stroll, and we came across this area that looked really run down, we thought it looked like Syria. So we put it on the club reps [Facebook] page that thats where we were. And everyone started liking it. And then one of the people who contacted us was from LADBible which is like the Bible, but for LADS so we said, well have a mess around here. Well tell a completely ridiculous story, see if the media believes it. See if we can become LADBible famous.

It did, they could. Eventually, the truth came out, not thanks to any especially determined investigative journalism, but because Ellis cheerily admitted on Facebook that his tale of magnificent idiocy was a fiction. Hahaha what a prank, he wrote, with some justification.

The confession only brought another cycle of attention. Publications that had picked up the story in the first place resurfaced it with new headlines to reflect the audacity of the invention; social media users adduced it as evidence for their views of young men, or the media, or both. The Russian embassys Twitter account called it a telling example of how many Syria (and Russia) stories are made up by UK papers, which was great geopolitical banter. The attention entertained Ellis, but he says it wasnt the point. We just thought it was funny, he said. People are too serious. I keep being told to grow up, but I still want to have a good time. Ive had the jobs, Ive got the education. But when Im off work, I want to escape.

Ellis is an enthusiast and an optimist. He is, he told me late last year, desperate to take every opportunity, just to say yes to everything I can. We were on a night out in Manchester with his friends Tyson, John and Chris. In the course of the evening, the following things found their way into my beer: fingers; salt; vinegar; mayonnaise; a chip; saliva; a 10 note; and, I hazily remember being told after the fact, at least two shots of vodka.

Everyones got a thing in the group, Ellis said, as we walked from one bar to the next. One guy, hes not even that ugly, we say he looks like a Peperami. Tysons got this mole on his face, its like a Coco Pop, so youve got a Coco Pop on your face. I looked like Harry Potter when I was a kid, so they call me Potter, thats my nickname. Every single one of us has something. So you youve got Chinese eyes. Youre Chinese.

For the record, I didnt think this was OK, but coming after such a harmless litany, it didnt seem malicious enough to confront. Of course, tacit endorsement is what makes such offensive epithets a commonplace, and so it troubles me that it made me feel mysteriously welcome, just as it had when John punched me lightly in the balls when I arrived. There was no doubting Elliss sincerity: as he spoke, the sheer daft beauty of male friendship seemed to amaze him, almost to the point of physical pain. We just take the piss out of each other, and thats how we show our love, he said. So many group chats on the phone, and you just take the piss until they cry. And its like, when youre really killing them, you go, Ill stop if you want, because you know they cant say yes, so you just keep going. Then we arrived at the next bar, where I was made to drink something called a Zombie.

Early in the evening, before any of this had undermined my ability to take useful notes, Ellis broke off from talking as we walked down the street and sidled into a window display at Next Home, where he Tracey Emined a carefully made bed by climbing into it and rolling around. Everyone cracked up. Give the world a laugh, Ellis tends to think, and the world will smile back at you. Jump on a boat, and youll end up somewhere great; make the boat up, and youll get there faster. Its all about having fun, its all about the banter, he said, after hed rejoined us outside. Banter is about making the world a more exciting place.


If nobody can agree on what banter is, thats hardly a new problem. The first usage of the word recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary comes from noted Restoration lad Thomas dUrfey, also known for his hit song The Fart, in a satirical 1677 play called Madam Fickle. Banter him, banter him, Toby, a character called Zechiel urges, which may be the first time that someone called Toby was so instructed, but certainly wasnt the last.

The OED also notes early attempts at a definition by Jonathan Swift and Samuel Johnson. (Swift mentions a banter upon transubstantiation, in which a cork is turned into a horse, and fair enough, turning a cork into a horse would be classic banter.) Both are a little disgusted by the word, and neither unearths much of an origin story: by their accounts, banter is so coarse that it emerged, fully formed and without antecedent, out of the mouths of oafs.

As it turns out, though, the OED is not at present fully able to handle the banter. According to Eleanor Maier, an associate editor on the dictionary, a search of earlier English texts reveals that a number of previous examples are missing from the dictionarys definition, which was first drafted in 1885 including a quote from a 1657 translation of Don Quixote. (After examining the history, Maier told me that she would be adding banter to the list of entries that are up for review.)

dougie stew (@DougieStew)

Welcome to London #BagelGate pic.twitter.com/KcJoz0ycZU

February 26, 2017

In recent years, banter has barged into our lives at a remarkable clip. Googles Ngram Viewer, a tool that assesses (with some limitations) the frequency with which a term appears in a large database of written sources, finds that banter popped up about twice as often in 2008, the most recent year covered, as it did in 1980.

But banter plugged away for a long time before it became an overnight success. In the 19th century, it often denoted a kind of formal sparring. Even as the term evolved over the 20th, it continued to seem a little prim. In the House of Commons in 1936, Ramsay MacDonald, the former Labour prime minister who had returned in a new seat after losing his old one, was subjected to a good deal of banter Dear old Granny MacDonald!, among other witticisms.In 1981, a Guardian report that chess champion Anatoly Karpov and his handlers had successfully protested at his challenger Viktor Korchnois constant cross-board talk ran under the unlikely headline: Chess banter banned.

Such stories do little to prepare us for what banter has become. Consider the viral video that became known as #bagelgate earlier this year. In the recording, a minor scuffle broke out on the 00.54 train from Kings Cross to Huntingdon, and then for no obviously related reason a woman who had a large bag of bagels decided to put one on the head of the guy sitting in front of her, and then another after he took it off and threw it out of the window, and another and another, and then everyone in the carriage started chanting hes got a bagel on his head, and eventually the slightly spoddy victim who is me when I was 13 and someone filled my pencil case with Mr Kipling apple pies (squashed, oozing) because I was fat lost it and screamed Get the fuck out of my face!, and then another fight broke out on the platform, and then the police got on to the train, and every single person fell into not-me-guv silence: this is not Granny MacDonalds banter any more.

If it is hard to understand how these activities can fall under the same umbrella, it should be noted that a phenomenon may predate our choice of term to describe it its just that the act of definition makes it more visible, and perhaps more likely to be imitated. At some point, though, banter became the name for what British men already regarded as their natural tone of voice. There is a very deeply embedded folk culture in the UK of public ribaldry, extreme sarcasm, facetiousness in other words, of laddishness, says Tony Thorne, a linguist and cultural historian. What you might think of as banter now is rooted in that tradition.

That tradition first lashed itself to banters mast in the early 1990s, and controversy soon followed. In June 1992, a Guardian story headlined Police fire sex banter officer, about the dismissal of a sergeant for sexual harassment, recorded an early skirmish in the modern banter wars, and an important new layer to its meaning in the wild: The move is seen as part of the Metropolitan polices desire to reassure women officers that what has previously been tolerated as banter is no longer acceptable. Two years later, the lads mags arrived.


The first edition of Loaded magazine appeared in May 1994, with a picture of Gary Oldman on the front smoking a dog-end, under a banner that declared him a super lad. What fresh lunacy is this? the editors note read. Loaded is a new magazine dedicated to life, liberty and the pursuit of sex, drink, football and less serious matters Loaded is for the man who believes he can do anything, if only he wasnt hungover.

If banter dismays you, James Brown, the magazines first editor, is quite an easy bogeyman. As he acknowledges himself, he created a title that defined a genre. Loaded was swiftly recognised as a foundational text for a resurgent and ebullient masculinity that had been searching for public expression. While it was always overtly horny, the magazine was initially more interested in a forlorn, slackjawed and self-ironising appreciation of A-listers (one reversible poster had Cindy Crawford on one side and a steam train on the other) than the grot-plus-football formula that successors and imitators like Maxim, Zoo and Nuts milked to destruction. But it also flirted with something murkier.

To its critics, Loaded and its imitators aimed to sanitise a certain hooliganistic worldview with a strategic disclaimer. Banter emerges as this relentless gloss of irony over everything, said Bethan Benwell, senior lecturer in language and linguistics at the University of Stirling and the author of several papers on mens magazines. The constant excusing of sexist or homophobic sentiments with this wink that says you dont really mean it. Benwell pointed to Loadeds emblematic strapline: For men who should know better.

Brown denies that his magazine invented banter. Instead, he says, it captured a zeitgeist that the media had previously failed to acknowledge; the folk culture that Tony Thorne refers to, brought out into the open. Before Browns intervention, GQ had run John Major and Michael Heseltine as cover stars, for Gods sake. I took the interests and the outlook of the young men that I knew, and I put them in a magazine, Brown said. Im not responsible for the tone of the later entrants to the market. We were criticised because we fancied women, not because we belittled them.

The thing about Loaded was that the way we wrote reflected the way we were with our mates, he went on. Theres definitely a thing that exists in the male outlook: you take the piss out of the people you like, and you ignore the people you dont.

Accept this as your starting point, and objections become exhausting to sustain: what youre objecting to is an act of affection. Of course, this is what makes it insidious. Because Browns account rests on the intention behind the magazine, and Benwells on the effect it had, they are impossible to reconcile. Its a very difficult thing to resist or challenge without looking like the stereotypical humourless feminist, said Benwell. But by laughing, you become complicit.

Loaded gave this new kind of banter escape velocity, and it began to colonise other worlds. On BBC2, for example, David Baddiel and Frank Skinner were staking out their own territory with Fantasy Football League, a mixture of sketches and celebrity chat that managed to be enthusiastic and satirical at the same time, and reached its peak when the pair became national icons, thanks to their Euro 96 anthem, Three Lions. While a long-running joke about the Nottingham Forest striker Jason Lees pineapple haircut seems flatly racist in retrospect Baddiel did an impression of him in blackface by and large, the tone was milder and more conventional than the magazines were: this was the sensibility of the university graduate slumming it before embarking on grown-up life.

Baddiel implied that laddism could easily occupy a spectrum from ogling to literature, drawing a line to Nick Hornbys memoir of life as an Arsenal fan, Fever Pitch. Hornby once said to me that all this stuff you know, fantasy football and his book is men talking about things that they like and for a while in the mid-80s they werent allowed to, he said in 1995. Ive always liked football and Ive always liked naked women, and its easier to talk about that now than it was eight years ago. Those comments reflect a kind of sneer at its critics that you could often detect in Fantasy Football League, even as its hosts protested that they were just having a laugh though Baddiel himself denies that view. Twenty years on, he, like Brown, is at pains to draw a line between the approach that he and Skinner popularised, and the forms that came later. I guess me and Frank did specialise in banter, he said in an email. In a time before it was known as bantz.

Over the next 10 years, two things happened that ushered in the age of banter. (You might call it mature banter, except that its also the opposite.) First, instead of just being a thing that happened, it became a thing that people talked about. Then, as it became a more tangible cultural product, everyone started trying to make money out of it. The watershed moment, the forms equivalent to Dylan going electric, was the invention of Dave.

Like most good ideas, it looks simple enough in retrospect. Before Dave was Dave, it was UKTV Gold 2. The predecessor channels audience share was 0.761%, and no one could tell who on earth it was supposed to be for. But we had the content, says Steve North, the channels brand manager in 2007 and content of a particular kind that the existing name did very little to communicate: Have I Got News for You, They Think Its All Over, Top Gear. Viewers said they loved the repartee, the humour. It reminded them of spending time with their funniest friends.

The
The first issue of Loaded magazine, from May 1994

The target audience was highly specific. It was men married or in relationships, maybe with young children, not going to the pub as much as they used to, says Andy Bryant, managing director of Red Bee, the agency brought in to work on the rebrand. And they missed that camaraderie.

Their purpose thus fixed, North started to run brainstorming sessions at which people would shout out suggestions for the name. One of the ones we collected was Dave, he says. We thought, great, but we cant call it that. But then we thought, Its a surrogate friend. If the audience really sees it as that, if they see it as genuinely providing the banter, maybe we can really give it a name.

They put their hunch through its paces. The market research company YouGov was commissioned to test Dave alongside a bunch of other names (Matthew and Kevin were also on the shortlist), but nothing else had the same everyman resonance. For us, Dave is a sensibility, a place, an emotion, a feeling, said North, his tone thoughtful, almost gnomic. Everyone has their own sense of who Dave is, thats the important thing. Its hard to find anyone who doesnt know someone called Dave.

Now the channel had a brand, it needed a slogan. Lots of people claim they played a part in the naming, says Bryant. But it was just as important to encapsulate what the channel was all about. And at some point someone, I dont know who, wrote it on a board: The home of witty banter. The rebrand added 8m new viewers in six months; Dave saw a 71% increase in its target audience of affluent young men.

Conceived by the first generation of senior professionals to have grown up with banter as an unremarkable part of their demographics cultural mix, the channel crystallised a change, and accelerated it. In 2006, The Ricky Gervais Show, in which Gervais and Stephen Merchant relentlessly poked fun at their in-house idiot savant Karl Pilkington, became the most popular podcast of all time. In 2007, the year of Daves rebrand, Top Gears ratings shot from below 5m to a record high of 8m. The following year, QI moved from BBC4 to BBC2. (A tie-in book published the same year, QI: Advanced Banter, sold more than 125,000 copies.)

North saw the kind of fraternal teasing that was being monetised by his channel, and the panel shows that were its lifeblood, as fundamentally benign. The key thing is that its two-way, he said. Its about two people riffing off each other.

But like his 20th-century forebears, he can see that something ugly has evolved, and he wants to keep his brand well away from it. Bants, he said with distaste. That thing of cover for dubious behaviour we hate and despise it massively. When we launched, it was about fun, being light-hearted, maybe pushing each other without being disrespectful. When people talk about Ive had a go at that person, great banter no, thats just nasty.


By the turn of the decade,as other branding agencies mimicked the success of Dave, banter was everywhere, a folk tradition that had acquired a peculiar sort of respectability. The men who celebrated it werent just lads in the pub any more: they had spending power and establishment allies on their side. But they were, by the same token, more visible to critics. Aggression from an underdog can be overlooked; aggression from the establishment is serious enough to become a matter of public concern.

Take Richard Keys and Andy Gray, Sky Sports brand-defining football presenters, who got themselves up to their necks in some extremely bad banter in 2011. Keys blamed dark forces, but everyone else blamed him and Gray for being misogynists. We knew this because there was footage.

The firestorm, as Keys called it, centred on claims that the two men had said and done heinously sexist things off-air. Most memorable, at least for its phrase-making, was the clip in which Keys eagerly asked his fellow pundit Jamie Redknapp if hed smashed it it being a woman and asserted that he could often be found hanging out the back of it.

Gray went quickly. In the days before he followed, Keys burned hot with injustice in a series of mea-sorta-culpas, particularly focused on the tape in which he expressed his derision at the idea that a woman, Sian Massey-Ellis, could be an assistant referee in the Premier League.

It was just banter, he said. Or, more exactly, just a bit of banter, as he said Massey-Ellis had assured him she understood in a later telephone conversation in which, he added, much banter passed between us. She and I enjoyed some banter, he protested. It was lads-mag banter, he insisted. It was stone-age banter, he admitted. We liked to have banter, he explained. Richard Keys was sorry if you were offended, but also, it wasnt his fault if you didnt get it. It was just banter, for goodness sake!

Andy
Up to their necks in some extremely bad banter Andy Gray and Richard Keys in 2011. Photograph: Richard Saker/Rex

Keys insistence that his mistake was simply a failure to move with the times was nothing new: banter has always seemed to carry a longing for the past, for an imagined era before male friendship was so cramped by the tiresome obligations of feminist scrutiny. But while his underlying views were painfully dated, his conception of banter was entirely modern: a sly expansion of the words meaning, and a self-conscious contention that it provided an impregnable defence.

The Keys variation understood banter, first, as a catch-all means of denying responsibility if anyone was hurt; and, second, as a means of reinforcing a bond between two people by being cruel about a third. The comparison wouldnt please a couple of alphas like Keys and Gray, but both strategies brought it closer to a style of communication with classically feminine associations: gossip. Deborah Cameron, the Rupert Murdoch (lol) Professor in Language and Communication at Oxford University, argues that the two modes of interaction follow basically the same structure. People gossip as a trust game, she said. You tell someone your unsayable private secret, and it bonds you closer together. Theyre supposed to reciprocate with a confidence of their own. Well, banter works in the same way now. You say something outrageous, and you see if the other person dares to top your remark.

The trust game in banter was traditionally supposed to be: do you trust me when I say were friends in spite of the mean things Im saying about you? But now theres a second version of the game: do I trust you not to tell anyone the mean things Im saying about other people? I think originally it was a harmless thing, said Cameron, whose analysis is rooted in an archive of male group conversation, mostly recorded by her students, that goes back to the 1980s. But then it started to be used as an excuse when men were caught out engaging in forms of it that werent so harmless.

It comes down to context and intent, says the comedian Bridget Christie. The gentler form of banter is still knocking around, she suggested, but now it exists alongside something darker: I found The Inbetweeners adolescent banter hilarious, because it was equal and unthreatening. But there is obviously a world of difference between a group of teenage boys benignly taking the piss out of each other, and a bigot being racist or misogynist and trying to pass it off as a joke.

Trace the rise of banter, and you will find that it corresponds to the rise of political correctness or, anyway, to the backlash against political correctness gone mad. That phrase and just banter mirror each other perfectly: one denoting a priggish culture that is deemed to have overreached, the other a laid-back culture that is deemed to have been unfairly reined in. Ironically enough, just banter does exactly what it accuses political correctness of, seeking to close down discussion by telling you that meaning is settled by category rather than content. Political correctness asserts that a racist joke is primarily racist, whereas banter asserts that a racist joke is primarily a joke. In the past, the men who used it rarely had to define it, or to explain themselves to anybody else. Today, in contrast, it is named all the time. The biggest change isnt the banter itself, says Bethan Benwell. Its the explicit use of the word as a disclaimer.

By sheer repetition and by its use as an unanswerable defence, banter has turned from an abstraction into a vast and calcified description of actions as well as words: gone from a way of talking to a way of life, a style that accidentally became a worldview. He bantered you, people sometimes say: you always used to banter with your mates, but now it often sounds like something you do to them. Once it was directionless, inconclusive chatter with wit as the engine that drove it, said the comedian Russell Kane. Now, if I trip you up, thats banter.

You might think the humiliation suffered by Keys and Gray would have made banter less appealing as a get-out, but not a bit of it. Banter, increasingly, seems like the first refuge of the inexcusable. In 2014, Malky Mackay, who had been fired as manager of Cardiff City Football Club a year earlier, was caught having sent texts that referred to Chinese people eating dogs, black people being criminals, Jewish people being avaricious, and gay people being snakes all of which were initially optimistically defended by the League Managers Association as letting off steam to a friend during some friendly text message banter. The comedian Dapper Laughs, whose real name is Daniel OReilly, established himself as banters rat king, with his very own ITV2 show, and then lost it after he suggested that an audience member at one of his gigs was gagging for a rape. A man was convicted of murder after he crushed his friend against a wall with a Jeep Cherokee after an argument over badger-baiting, a course of action that he said had been intended as banter. Another slashed the throat of someone he had met in a pub and described the incident as a moment of banter after 14 or 15 pints. Both are now in prison.


By any sane measure,banter was falling into disrepute, as often a disguise for malice as a word for the ribaldry of lads on the lash. Still it did not go away: instead, the worst of it has mutated again, asserting its authority in public and saving its creepiest tendencies for the shadows or, at least, for the company of five, or 10, or 20 of your closest mates.

At the London School of Economics, it started with a leaflet. Each year at the universitys freshers fair, LSE Rugby Football Club distributed a banterous primer on rugby culture. In October 2014, says the then-president of the student union, Nona Buckley-Irvine, a student came to her in tears with a copy in her hand. The leaflet talked about trollops, slags, crumpet, mingers, and the desirability of misogyny; there were passing references to the horrors of homosexual humiliation and outright homosexual debauchery. Anyone charmed by all this was invited to sign up for the club and join the banter list, entitling them to participate in the exchange of chappish email conversation.

To anyone with a passing knowledge of university laddism, it was hard to imagine a more ordinary iteration. Still, after the unreconstructed chappishness of the leaflet came to light, the club knew it had a problem. It issued a collective apology acknowledging that we have a lot to learn about the pernicious effects of banter, and promised to organise a workshop. But there was reason to be sceptical about the depth of that commitment.

When Buckley-Irvine and her colleagues published a report on the incident, they noted a string of others, including an antisemitic assault on a university ski trip to Val dIsere in 2011. And there were other indiscretions it didnt mention. According to two people who were present, one club dinner at an Indian restaurant on Brick Lane ended with a stripper having bottles thrown at her when, already intimidated, she refused to take her clothes off. She hid in the toilet, and had to be escorted out by a member of staff as the team vandalised the restaurant.

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Photograph: Alamy

According to five people who were either members of the rugby club or closely associated with it, one notorious senior member was widely thought to be responsible for the leaflet. (He did not respond to requests for comment.) But when they came to defend themselves to the student union, members of the club fell back on one of the most revered pillars of laddism: all for one, one for all. Theyd clearly worked out a line, says Nona Buckley-Irvine. No one individual was responsible. They were sorry. It was just banter. Thats what they all said.

The accountancy firm KPMG, which sponsored the universitys wider Athletics Union, decided that banter was not an especially helpful brand association, and withdrew funding worth 22,000. The students union decided to disband the club for the academic year. The decision moved some observers to disgust. It was a gross overreaction, a former team member told me. We were the best-behaved team when it came to actually playing rugby but they banned that bit and they couldnt ban any of the rest.

Others took a less measured tone. I had old members emailing me and calling me a fascist, says Buckley-Irvine. Asking me if I didnt understand that it was just banter. Rugby players chanted abuse at her on nights out, she told me. They shoulder-barged her, and called her a cunt.

These kinds of interactions would tend to take place on Wednesdays, also known as sports night, at a bar in Leicester Square. Sports night was the apotheosis of the rugby clubs bleak solidarity. In deference to what you might call the wingers-before-mingers code, for instance, members of the club who were expected to dress in suits werent allowed to speak to women before 9pm. So they would just shout abuse instead, one female former student, who Ill call Anna, remembered. One chant, she said, went, Nine nos and a yes is a yes. At the time, Anna thought that it was all a joke. People would say, Its just banter all the time. After everything. Absolutely everything, she said, sitting in a cafe in south London. If you were meeting someone new, saying they had good banter, that was a pretty high compliment. Whereas if you dont go along with that stuff, its seen as, you cant take the chat, you cant take the banter. And its not seen as having a stance against it. Its seen as not being able to keep up.

After the rugby club was disbanded, nothing much changed in sports night social life. Many members of the club still went on the same nights out; they just colonised other teams. They still addressed girls as Sarah 2 or Sarah 8 depending on how attractive they considered them out of 10; they still had shouted conversations about their sex lives in front of the women they had slept with but refused to acknowledge.

That culture was not confined to Wednesday nights. Anna remembers a guy who took her picture as she slept, naked, in the bed they were sharing, and circulated it to another non-university sports team via WhatsApp. She wasnt meant to see it on his phone.

Ask anyone well-informed where banter resides now, and theyll give the same answer: WhatsApp groups and email threads, the safe spaces of the lad class. What youd get out of those WhatsApp threads, its another world of drama, one former member of the football club said. The details of girls bodies that youd read, a few funny jibes, that was the limit for me. But when it moved on to, like, really, really bad stuff, always about sex it was too much. Those threads are the source of everything.

If the threads were an outlet, they were by no means the limit. Banter, by common consent, wasnt confined to mocking each other: it was about action. If you dressed up for a night out, one female student remembered, it was just kind of status quo that you could have your arse grabbed. It was just like, Oh, that was kind of weird, but OK, thatll happen. Like everyone else willing to speak about it, her view of that culture was perplexingly nuanced, sometimes contradictory. It sounds scary, she said, but that being said, some of my best nights were there, and like it was fun. But then she said: What was defined as serious just got so pushed. I think for someone to lodge a complaint they would have to be actually hurt.

Anna remembers lots of sketchy incidents. She recalls nights when her choices faded into a blur, and she wondered if she had really been in control. But at the time, I would never call it out, she said. And then, youre all living in halls together, and the next day, its like: What did you do last night? Thats hilarious. Thats banter.

When Anna thinks about the behaviour of some of the men she knew at university, she finds it hard to pin down exactly what she thinks of them. Theres one in particular who sticks in her mind. On a Wednesday night, he was a banter guy, she said. He was a Wednesday animal. But the rest of the time, he was my friend.

Controversial though all this was at the time, no one seems to think that it will have cost the perpetrators much. Ive tried so hard to leave all that behind, said the former member of the football team. But those guys theyre all going on to run banks, or the country, or whatever. The senior rugby man who many held responsible, by the way, has landed on his feet. Today, he has a job at KPMG.


In 2017, every new instance of banter is immediately spotted and put through the journalistic wringer. (Vices Joel Golby, who wrote the definitive text on the bagel thing, has made a career from his exquisite close readings of the form.) But when each new absolute legend emerges, we dont usually have the context to make the essential judgment: do the proponents tend towards the harmless warmth of Ellis and his mates, or the frank hostility of the LSE rugby boys? Is their love of irony straightforward, or a mask for something else?

As Richard Keys and Dapper Laughs and their cohorts have polluted the idea of banter, the commercial entities that endorsed its rise have become uneasy with the label. They wanted it to go viral; they hadnt expected it to go postal. Dave, for example, has dropped the home of witty banter slogan. Its not about classic male humour any more, its a little bit smarter, says UKTVs Steve North. We definitely say it less than we used to.

Arms review: Nintendo’s springy limbed fighting game is ridiculous fun

Lack of story and some dodgy characters dont spoil this physical Switch games immensely playable core

The premise of Arms requires a substantial suspension of disbelief. The characters in Nintendos new fighting game mostly seem to have ended up immersing themselves in this sport because their arms (or, in one case, hair), instead of regular arms, are capital-A Arms springy and extendable and ending in interchangeable weaponry. This raises some questions: How do they eat? How do they pick their noses? How do they wipe?

Of course, a game like this doesnt need to make sense, and the marketing makes it clear that Nintendo is perfectly content with the ridiculousness of it all. But given the popularity of the Switch and the focus on multiplayer, Arms could become a hit with a huge online fanbase, and its a shame that the lore and characters are lacking the kind of treatment received by games like Overwatch. There will still be fan fiction and fan art, obviously, it just wont be as compelling.

Style seems an easier fix than substance, however, and what Arms lacks if only a little in character it makes up for in form. As youd expect from a new IP from Nintendo, designed for its unpredictably popular new hybrid console, Arms is unique, colourful, and accessible, with enough complexity to tempt a competitive scene but not so much to make anyone feel alienated.

At every stage, Arms is welcoming. The box art is all big eyes and bold colours, an aesthetic that permeates throughout the game. Motion controls are encouraged, and enjoyable enough to discourage the tendency a more experienced player might have to immediately discard them in favour of the comfort of a pro controller.

Nintendo
Nintendo global president Tatsumi Kimishima (R) and Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aim play Arms at E3 2017. Photograph: Reuters

Playing with a Joy-Con in each hand in what Arms insts is called the thumbs-up grip Joy-Con vertical, buttons facing inwards, thumbs on triggers is comfortable and intuitive; you can get through the tutorial in less than a minute. You tilt both Joy-Con in the same direction to move, tilt them towards each other to block, press buttons with your thumbs to dash or jump or unleash a charged attack, and obviously punch to punch, throwing a long springy arm out to meet its target.

Punch both hands forwards together and your character will grab their opponent and throw them to the ground, which feels so satisfying that you may find yourself performing a throwing motion yourself despite it being completely unnecessary. You can also use tilt (or analogue stick, or D-pad) to steer punches after youve fired them, though it requires a little extra mental energy to remember to do that if, for instance, youve been moving your character right and you need their punch to go left.

There are no complicated combos here. Arms operates on a rock-paper-scissors basis: block a punch, grab an opponent whos blocking, punch to break a grab. In these 3D arenas theres also an emphasis on movement. It feels better to jump and dash to avoid punches and counter before the opponents long Arms have sprung back into place.

Players will soon find a character and play style that suits them, like a lighter character who can easily jump (or, in the case of Ribbon Girl, double jump) out of harms way but can be knocked off their feet with a single blow. Further options come in the form of the Arms themselves; each character starts with three to choose from before each match (and while players who like symmetry might want to choose the same for each Arm its generally better to make them different), but you can use the currency earned in game to unlock more.

Again, different players will find their different preferences. Some Arms are heavy enough to break through incoming punches, some shoot several projectiles spread horizontally or vertically, and others can approach in an arc to attack a defensive opponent from the side. Holding down the dash or jump button will charge a characters Arms so that when theyre released the attack has an elemental effect, perhaps temporarily freezing their opponent so their movement is restricted.

The single-player content encourages experimentation with the different characters and Arms. While theres no real story, which feels like a missed potential in a game with such a varied cast, there is a 10-stage Grand Prix. Choose a character, choose a difficulty level between one and seven, and if you beat all 10 stages that character wins a crown on that level (lower levels are automatically filled in). Completionists who want to beat level 7 with each of the 10 characters will have quite a task ahead of them.

Most stages will be regular fights, though the occasional round of V-ball (volleyball with an explosive ball) or Hoops (basketball where you grab and dunk your opponent) are always welcome. You can also play through an entire Grand Prix with a friend, teaming up against two opponents. Teammates are joined with a spring, so if one is thrown it adversely affects the other, but it does help to have someone else to block attacks coming your way, though this may happen far more often by accident than on purpose.

Nintendo
Arms is a game where the core idea came before the aesthetic trappings Photograph: Nintendo

You can also team up with a friend on the same console when playing online, whether against other friends in a lobby of your making in the sensibly named Friends or against strangers in Party Match, where youre thrown into a lobby in which different groups of players are matched for different modes simultaneously. Complete the Grand Prix at level 4 and youll also unlock Ranked Match, where you can fight strangers to boost your rank. Here, Arms manages to show a little more charm, as the ranks are named for things that can like springs be spiral shaped: snail, lollipop, whirligig, pinwheel.

Elsewhere, however, Arms feels like its missing the extra flavour that would make it practically perfect. The music is annoying, the arenas feel largely uninventive and the characters are hit and miss. Spring Man and Ribbon Girl are generic; Byte & Barq and Helix are a little more interesting. Min Min, with her dragon-themed weapons and Arms made out of noodles, feels like an uncomfortable stereotype. And the fact that the only black character has weaponised hair is definitely a problem.

But Arms appears to be a game where the core idea came before the aesthetic trappings, and that core does work. Anyone can pick up the Joy-Con and punch, and there are few enough other controls that it doesnt take long to learn the rest. Its always easy to tell whats happening on screen, whether thats a grab coming towards you or an elemental effect taking hold, so players can quickly progress to learning how and when to react to an opponents moves. And there are enough combinations of characters and Arms to give those of a more competitive spirit room to grow. Arms is a good starter fighting game, both for players and for Nintendo. Hopefully future updates will give the inevitable franchise a bit more bounce.

Nintendo; Nintendo Switch; 49.99; Pegi rating: 12+

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jun/16/arms-review-nintendo-switch-fighting-game-fun-play

Beyond Glastonbury: why Gorillaz and Disclosure are in a field of their own

More and more musicians are throwing their own festivals is this the future of live performance or a cynical fad?

Once, musicians were just workshy, financially illiterate types who were quite happy to turn up to a festival, make their quota of onstage welly bants and head on to the next Pieminister zone. Enterprise culture was treated with suspicion. If you put on a festival, you were basically Bob Geldof. And no one wanted to be Bob Geldof. Now, though, a generation raised on startup culture this eras answer to Fairport Convention, or Peter Gabriel or whoever is curating Meltdown each year wants to lean-in at boardroom level.

Artist-curated festivals are bigger than ever. In Sussex this weekend, Disclosure and Rudimentals Wild Life punches in the upper-medium size bracket with 35,000 punters a day expected; while todays Demon Dayz festival, hosted by Gorillaz, has sold out Margates Dreamland. Then theres the xxs Night & Day, which is so popular that, having already been to London, Portugal and Germany, therell be an Icelandic edition in July.

Its an insight into the artists mind, Disclosures Guy Lawrence explains. People feel more connected to the act. Its basically the music from our iTunes. Despite what were told about the hopelessly cut-throat nature of festival economics, Wild Life has been profitable since it started in 2015. That was one of the biggest surprises, says Lawrence. Obviously, wed expected to lose money in the first year at least.

Facing
Facing the music: Disclosure. Photograph: PR

For bands, having your own festival is a chance to set the context in which youre seen (often left to chance in a field of cidered-up morons waiting for Good Charlotte). As Lawrence points out, its also an opportunity for fans to get to know you. In the language of marketing gurus, it also drives brand engagement. Just as surely as Nike Town isnt really a place to buy shoes so much as a place to imprint your brain with the memory of how awesome shoes are, festivals are a way to gather the tribe, then to help them develop a neural network of positive associations. All fine, so long as you come up with the rest of the goods. Notes Lawrence, Im sure if we were to release a dogshit album, people would have less faith in our festival.

But are these events actually fests, or just big outdoor gigs? Like Gorillazs one-off, the xxs Night & Day is effectively a headline set from the band, plus hand-picked supports. In March they ran it as seven nights at the Brixton Academy; roughly the numerical equivalent of one- and-a-half nights at the O2, but cannily dodging its sterility and corporate connotations, putting the our little thing back at the centre.

Either way, more cynical promoters are typically only a few steps behind any trend. It cant be long before the UK gets its first Fyre debacle. And when Ellie Goulding is left explaining why thousands of punters have been stranded on an airfield outside Crewe for 24 hours with only three toilets, we will see what bespoke grovelling looks like.

Wild Life is at Brighton City airport, 9-10 June; Demon Dayz is at Dreamland Margate, 10 June

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/jun/09/gorillaz-the-xx-disclosure-hosting-their-own-music-festivals

Online top ranking: what does Amazon Charts mean for the book industry?

Amazons new rating system for the book market is seeking to challenge the decades-long dominance of the New York Times bestseller status

For nine decades, the New York Times bestseller lists have been the industry gold standard when it comes to obtaining a seal of approval that will make readers sit up and pay attention. But like most things in the book industry, its something Amazon has in its sights.

Last week the online retailer launched Amazon Charts, which complements the sites usual hourly updates of bestselling books. The new list combines whats being ordered from them with data obtained from Kindle and Audible users to find out what books are actually being read and listened to.

Its an interesting algorithm, and one that has been utilised before, but never formally by Amazon in this way. In 2014, the mathematician Jordan Ellenberg created an index of the most abandoned books, based on Kindle data. So while every man and his dog might have bought a copy of Stephen Hawkings A Brief History of Time and Thomas Pinkettys Capital in the Twenty-First Century, not everyone actually read them.

Amazon Charts might open up a whole new set of bestsellers based on books actually read rather than books bought as coffee-table status symbols. But will this carry more weight with the publishing industry and readers than the venerable New York Times bestseller tag, which has been the go-to example of bragging rights since 1931?

On the face of it, Amazon Charts might democratise and re-evaluate the bestseller concept, but on the other like Coca Cola, KFC and Big Mac special sauce nobody really knows what actually goes into the New York Times bestseller list.

It certainly isnt just a roundup of physical books bought over the counter at bricks-and-mortar stores. A request for an explanation and a breakdown of audience figures for the various NYT bestseller lists which are posted online was greeted with a firm: We dont share traffic data at the section level.

The New York Times has a reasonably detailed explanation of its methodology online, without actually giving away the actual 11 herbs and spices that give it its market-leading flavour. To summarise: Rankings reflect unit sales reported on a confidential basis by vendors offering a wide range of general interest titles The panel of reporting retailers is comprehensive and reflects sales in stores of all sizes and demographics across the United States.

Methods of data collection notwithstanding, can Amazon oust the New York Times for that all-important blurb on a books cover that denotes something being so popular that you just cant afford to not read it? Does the New York Times bestseller tag actually help to shift more units anyway?

I do believe the tag helps sell more books, says Liz Stein, senior editor with HarperCollins imprint Park Row Books. Theres prestige associated with being a New York Times bestseller, and industry influencers and booksellers take notice of it. I believe consumers are looking for an affirmation that a book performed well/is popular when making their decision.

Amazon
Amazon Charts are based on real-time orders and whats being read on Kindle and listened to on Audible Photograph: Hannah Mckay/Reuters

One advantage Amazon has is that it subdivides literary categories almost to an atomic level, which has both pros and cons. On the one hand, it gives a leg up to authors working in a genre that might not have its own New York Times bestseller category, and who might never trouble the upper reaches of the general fiction sales charts.

In general, I do not think the Amazon bestseller tag will carry as much weight for literary works, Stein says. Though for genre books, for which a New York Times tag is not possible due to their evaluation system, it might serve the purpose in the same way as a validation that this book stood out above the others.

Two authors who are going all out for an Amazon bestseller tag are Canada-based life coach Mark Desvaux and Mark Stay, who works in publishing in London. They are attempting to write a book that will hit the top of Amazons chart listings in any category and charting their efforts in a weekly podcast called The Bestseller Experiment in which they interview other authors aiming for the same dream.

Stay reckons Amazon bestseller rankings can allow authors who dont usually trouble the traditional bestseller lists to come into their own. Weve interviewed indie authors who regularly outsell the kind of household-name authors you see on the New York and London Times bestsellers, he says.

It feels like this chart signifies that the indie author sector has come of age. When we speak to these authors its clear that they take the business side of things very seriously, and are passionate about their craft, and its great to see them get some recognition.

But what means more, the New York Times or Amazon? British author Sarah Pinboroughs psychological thriller Behind Her Eyes hit the New York Times bestseller list when it was published in the US by Flatiron Books earlier this year, with attendant stellar Amazon sales. Does she have a preference for which is going to sell more copies for her?

I think both are good to be honest, says Pinborough, diplomatically. But there is something so fabulous when you get that New York Times bestseller tag on your book that it will take a while before it has the same effect on the ego of the author at the very least.

Perhaps the biggest challenge to the New York Times dominance of the bestseller market is the fact that, according to publishing consultant Rob Eagar, not enough publishers capitalise on it. Writing for Book Business magazine earlier last month, he said that although the status of having a New York Times bestseller remains undiminished, its a lost opportunity if customers dont know about it.

Today, people make most of their purchasing decisions on smartphones, tablets, and computer screens, wrote Eagar. When browsing books online, all they get to see is a small cover image and a few sentences of marketing copy. There isnt much screen space or much time to connect with a consumers limited attention span. If the language and imagery isnt obvious, people can miss the fact that a book is a bestseller.

Which, given that latest estimates suggest 69% of all book sales are done online rather than in physical stores, is an omission you can bet Amazon will not make when it comes to shouting about its own bestseller lists.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/may/22/amazon-charts-books-new-york-times-bestseller-lists

Ultimate Fighting Championship: the fight of our lives?

Mixed martial arts is the fastest-growing sport on Earth. Beloved by Vladimir Putin and its so-called godfather, Donald Trump, what does this bloody spectacle say about the world we live in? We took a seat cage-side

For an event that presents itself as the most exciting combat sport in the world the Ultimate Fighting Championship involves many long minutes in which, to the untutored eye, nothing much happens at all. The UFC is the dominant promoter of mixed martial arts, the fastest-growing sport on Earth, measured both by participation and audience. At the O2 arena in London last Saturday I sat in a sellout audience of 16,000 people and tried to work out why exactly that might be the case. There were, it turned out, plenty of moments for such stray thoughts.

The combatants in a mixed martial arts (MMA) fight are permitted not only to punch but also kick, elbow and knee their opponent within the octagonal cage in which they fight. In an effort to avoid any of those eventualities fighters can also wrestle their opponent into powerlessness, mostly using the technical holds and joint locks of jiu-jitsu. Like the change of overs in a cricket match, the resultant longueurs, which can go on for minutes, allow you to step out from the action, think about what it is exactly that you are watching.

During one of those interludes early last Saturday evening, while Tim Johnson, a hairy 18st man from Fargo, North Dakota, held Daniel Omielanczuk, a flabby Pole, in an awkward-looking embrace against the mesh fence a hug that involved him thrusting his head into the Poles armpit while occasionally trying to force a knee into his thigh, or slap a fist into his paunch I looked around at the faces of the audience. Though the real action of the night hadnt got going, I was surprised to see that the majority of these 16,000 people who had paid an average of 100 for their tickets seemed happily gripped by the spectacle of the two overweight men in Bermuda shorts pressed against the cage wall.

I had come to the O2 as a UFC virgin to try to see what they see. Id not witnessed the sport in the flesh before, but I had, in preparation, along with apparently every other youngish male on the planet, watched more YouTube clips than seemed healthy. These clips 2bn views and counting tend not to show the minutes in which the fighters are in deadlock. They show instead, on a concussive loop, the many bloody ways in which UFC fights come to a brutal end, dwelling in particular on the knockout blows of the sports superstars: the Irish lightweight Conor McGregor, Jon Bones Jones (currently suspended for a failed drug test) and the former Olympic judo medallist Ronda Rousey (who has singlehandedly popularised womens UFC). The UFC is a sport made for the internet. Fights are short and do not offer much in the way of narrative, but they can deliver in terms of gifs. The clips do not need subtitles. As Lorenzo Fertitta, one of the brothers who bought the UFC brand for $2m in 2000, explained: What makes UFC so great is that every single man on the planet gets it immediately. Its just two guys beating each other up. Last June, the Fertitta brothers proved that lucrative point by selling UFC to Ari Emanuel, chief executive of WME-IMG for $4bn. The new owners have the ambition to make their championship bigger than the World Cup.

The entertainment we choose to watch tells us something about the world in which we live. Id come to the O2 with a theory that, in the same way that Victorian rules of football and rugby codified an attitude towards team play that made sense in the factory and on the battlefield, so the UFC looked something like a symbol of a more atomised, red-in-tooth-and-claw society. Within its cage MMA emphasises a binary, zero-sum world: for one man to succeed, another must be humiliated. It seems, along the way, to appeal to that unreconstructed nostalgia for a time before political correctness: when men could say what they wanted, and watch what they wanted, and celebrate the fact.

The contours of this cultural shift were neatly exposed at the end of last year in the brief war of words between Meryl Streep and Dana White, the bullish president of the UFC. Streep, you will remember, had used her Golden Globes acceptance speech to take a stand against the America that was emerging under the 45th president. Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners, and if we kick them all out, youll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts, Streep said.

Conor
Conor McGregor stands on a scale during a weigh-in. Photograph: Julio Cortez/AP

To Dana White, that sounded like fighting talk. He came out from the opposite corner in that perceived cultural divide, throwing punches of his own.

The last thing in the world I expect is an uppity 80-year-old lady to be in our demographic and love mixed martial arts, White said (referring to the 67-year-old actor). Of course [MMA] is an art, he added. These fighters, these men and women, are so talented. They train their whole livestobe the best in the world.

Though some of the fighters on the undercard at the O2 offer scant evidence of that latter claim, as the night progresses you begin to see some of that art and dedication on display. The thoughtfulness and strategy of some of the UFC fighters seems at odds with the attention-deficit tone of the presentation. I find myself intrigued by the style and charisma of the bearded Icelander Gunnar Nelson, who feints and fends for a round or two, upright and alert, before laying out his opponent with a single judicious blow.

White and his organisation have worked very hard, at least on the surface, to emphasise such skills. In the early days of the UFC the sport made a virtue of its lawlessness. The UFCs first show was in Denver in 1993. Taking its cue from videogames like Mortal Kombat, it threw fighters from different traditions and weights into a ring and had them fight until someone was beaten to a standstill, or worse. In the first tournament, a French kickboxer struck a sumo wrestler so hard in the face that two teeth had to be removed from his foot. Hardly anything was off-limits. In 1996 Republican senator John McCain, the Vietnam war hero and 2000 presidential candidate, branded UFC human cockfighting and it was banned almost everywhere.

White, who was installed as president of the organisation by the Fertittas, strived to change that perception, enforce rules, get the UFC licensed and recognised. The new rules outlawed butting, eye-gouging and striking the throat, groin, spine or back of the head. Weight categories were imposed. Women, excluded from UFC in its first two decades, became headline acts in the sport, led by Ronda Rousey. Even McCain was eventually won over. The UFC now makes much of its safety record. The fact that fighters only wear rudimentary gloves (mostly to protect their hands from being crushed against the cage) is presented as a virtue. The absence of padding makes knockouts cleaner, the argument goes, as opposed to the repetitive pounding of boxing, and unlike in the latter sport there are no 10-second counts; any loss of consciousness ends a fight.

The marketing genius of the UFC seems to lie in the fact that despite making itself acceptable to almost every regulatory code (only in France does MMA remain banned) it retains, in a few ways, the tone of its original streetfighting roots. For one thing, if a fighter is cut, blood is allowed to flow. And if a fighter is knocked down, but not knocked out, his opponent can continue to rain blows down on his head while he is on the floor.

In spirit, the UFC exists somewhere between the rigour of traditional martial arts and the contrived drama of pro wrestling. The fights are not fixed, but the narrative of them seems to be. The UFC has 520 fighters contracted to it from 45 countries, and unlike the complicated world of boxing, where fighters from different federations can avoid each other, it insists on the matches that are made. In this way, it builds up heroes and villains, trades on a sense of us and them.

During a fight at the O2 between Irish Joe Duffy and an Iranian fighter with Swedish nationality called Reza Madadi, all of that intention seems clear. Early in the fight Madadi suffers a bad cut above the bridge of his nose after Duffy has straddled him while on the ground and landed punches to his head (the ground and pound tactic that is the UFC at its most brutal). For the remainder of the fight a great deal of blood flows out of Rezas wound and into his eyes, making his best defence to hold the free-swinging Duffy in a desperate clinch. As a result, by the end of the bout Duffys pale skin is bathed in Rezas blood, a sight that all other sports have outlawed for 30 or more years, but in which the UFC appears to revel.

In large part, the crowd, mostly men, seemed nonplussed by the spectacle. For a few, however, the sight of blood seems to loosen inhibition. Unfortunately I am seated in front of one of the more vocal of those individuals, who keeps up a running commentary that relies on two observations the first a general plea for Irish Duffy to fuck that motherfucker up; the second, slightly more precise in its demands, is a suggestion to put him on disability and Ill pay your bail, son. (In between rounds, the same character, a man in his mid-30s, cant seem to contain himself at the sight of the bikini-clad woman who holds up a sign for the number of the next round. No matter how often she circles the ring, he offers the same pair of thoughts: I want your babies! Dont tell the wife!)

Not everyone attracted to MMA shares those particular passions, but sitting beside the cage it seems hard to ignore the idea that the tremendous popularity of the sport speaks to something of a crisis in masculinity, a nostalgia for more traditional gender roles, a nostalgia that also fuels populist politics.

Grayson Perry, in his recent television quest to define British masculinity, talked to some MMA fighters in the north-east. Their stories were framed by the annual Durham Miners Gala, and Perry made the argument that the demise of the old masculine ideals, rooted in physical work to put food on the table, had left a vacancy that had not been filled. Watching one of the mixed martial arts fights on a more brutal, local scale than the UFC the artist suggested persuasively that hard labour [had been] reinvented as leisure spectacle. In a place in which men had gone in a generation from digging coal underground to packing sandwiches in a factory, there was a desperation for the heroicnarrative.

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Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden in David Finchers 1999 film of Fight Club. Photograph: Allstar

The narrative that the UFC presents is a carefully stage-managed form of heroism, one in which its not hard to see the artifice. Whenever there is a lull in the action in the O2 cage, big screens around the arena run through their concussive highlights packages. The effect is a bit like going to watch Grimsby Town and having shots of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo playing on a loop. Conor McGregor may not be here in person, but we see almost as much of him on screen as we do of the fighters in the cage. Those in the crowd who wear full beards in the style of the Irishman, the undisputed cock of the walk, seem to enjoy the virtual proximity in the same way as if he were here.

The argument for ritualised, rule-bound martial arts has always been that it helps fulfil a Darwinian need in men to test themselves against each other while minimising the carnage. It gets them off the streets. The UFC not only trades on those impulses, however, it also trades on the idea that they are essential features of manliness. While the rules of traditional martial arts were social constructs, demanding submission, the mythology of MMA feels closer in spirit to the nihilistic tenor of Chuck Palahniuks book Fight Club, written in 1996, and David Finchers subsequent 1999 film, starring Brad Pitt as the no-holds-barred hero Tyler Durden. Durden presented a world in which only in fighting did men truly find status: Were the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great Wars a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. Weve all been raised on television to believe that one day wed all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we wont. And were slowly learning that fact. And were very, very pissed off

Palahniuks novel, and Finchers film, in part satirised this anger and the anarchy that resulted but they also seemed prophetic of a powerful impulse in western societies: the impulse of insecure alpha males to reassert their strength. It is no surprise that the so-called alt-right likes to quote liberally from Tyler Durden to give their bigotry a Nietzchean veneer. The catch-all insult to liberals snowflake, for example, derives from Durden, a hero for whom men are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. Like the UFC, Fight Club dramatises a life of instinct above one of thought. It suggests that man is at his best when he is in thrall to his animal nature, and what is wrong with that?

Read through this lens, the rise of Donald Trump his special adviser Steve Bannon refers to the campaign and the administration as his own personal fight club might be viewed as an expression of this reasserted biological determinism. Trump makes no effort at all to hide his masculine urges, and is rewarded for it. He is all instinct. He boasts about sexual assault. He licenses beauty pageants because he likes to display his control over a harem. And, inevitably, perhaps, he is celebrated as the godfather of the UFC.

When Trump accepted his nomination as Republican candidate, Dana White offered the GOP convention a public endorsement. White explained how, in the darker days of the sport, after Senator McCain had criticised the UFC as cockfighting and no one would license or put on MMA bouts, Trump stood alone in support of it. He personally hosted and endorsed two UFC shows in 2000 at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, a commitment that probably saved UFC from bankruptcy. State athletic commissions didnt support us, White recalled. Arenas around the world refused to host our events. Nobody took us seriously. Nobody except Donald Trump.

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Donald Trump in action against Vince McMahon at WrestleMania in 2007. Photograph: Sam Greenwood/WireImage

Trump not only embraced the sport, he explored the possibility of himself developing a rival to the UFC called Affliction. He signed up a famous Russian fighter, Fedor Emelianenko, close friend of Vladimir Putin, to star in his events. The experiment ended after a couple of promotions but for all his efforts, Trump was inducted as a visionary into the New Jersey State Martial Arts Hall of Fame (Trump is known to have fought just once in public himself: at WrestleMania XXIII in 2007, he body-slammed the wrestling promoter Vince McMahon outside the ring before, bizarrely, shaving his hair (an encounter preserved for historians on YouTube).

In the opening skirmishes of his political war on nuance, Trump seems to have identified the UFC, or at least fans of it, as likely fellow travellers. Its sort of like somebody dies! he said, when asked about the sports appeal. Ive never seen anything like it Its not like, Oh, how are the judges voting? Its like, you know, somebody just succumbs.

That particularly adolescent now presidential fantasy is never quite as simple in reality. Watching the UFC up close, without the edits and the highlights, you have a strong sense of the vulnerability of the fighters as well as their prowess. They look as likely to have been bullied as to be bullies. The strangest moment in a long evening at the O2 comes with the farewell fight of 38-year-old Brad Pickett, a native East Ender, who has been a stalwart of the UFC for nearly a decade, and who has earned the nickname One Punch.

In case you were in any doubt of his cockney connections, Pickett enters the arena to Chas and Daves song Wallop, wearing a string vest, braces, his customary trilby, and reading a paper (Im guessing not the Observer). He is, given the valedictory nature of his performance, also in tears. He is fighting a lithe Ecuadorean kickboxer, Marlon Vera, who is at least a foot taller than him and just over half his age. For a couple of rounds the farewell fight seems to be going to plan; in the third, however, as Pickett tries to land a trademark punch, Vera knocks him out with a vicious kick to the jaw. Pickett tries to get up and fight on, but is stopped by the referee. In tears again, he leaves his trilby in the centre of the Octagon. Later in his press conference, he is still bemoaning the way that the fight ended. He doesnt believe he had lost consciousness. Hed told the referee: If you are going to stop it make sure Im stiff, but he hadnt listened. Still choked, he speaks a little about his long history with the sport, how at his first MMA fights on Portsmouth pier he didnt even get paid: Just a free seat for my mum and dad. It wasnt even a sport really, at all then, he says, but look at it now, all around the world.

Pickett is not wrong in that evaluation. In its apparently unstoppable growth, the UFC now broadcasts in more than 152 countries to more than a billion households worldwide. In Europe, more people, 237 million, watch the UFC than Formula One. New owner Ari Emanuel bought the organisation with a view to extending that reach still further.

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Brad Pickett of England punches Marlon Vera of Ecuador in their bout at the O2. Photograph: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

To this end, in the months since taking over the sport, he has been doing the rounds of key political figures. Emanuel has history with Trump: he bought the Miss Universe Organisation from him in 2015, and prior to that acted as his Hollywood agent. When the pair met two weeks after the presidents election in November, on a golf course in New Jersey, Trump referred to his friend as the king of Hollywood.

Emanuels immediate ambition appears to be to expand the UFCs reach into what has become a spiritual homeland of MMA, Vladimir Putins Russia. Like Trump, the Russian president is a great admirer of the sport for what it reveals about men. A former judo champion himself, he has often watched bouts at ringside, particularly those involving his great friend Fedor Emelinenko. His enthusiasm is outdone perhaps by the hardline leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, who was recently chastised for staging a televised MMA night in Grozny in which his three sons aged 8, 9 and 10 prevailed in one-sided bouts against terrified-looking schoolboys. Kadyrov cheered them on at the side of the cage, in an event aimed at popularising the sport in Chechnya. Though there are no childrens cage fights in Russia itself, the appeal of creating a generation that grows up fighting finds ready advocates in a parliament that has passed laws allowing wife-beating and considered the proposal of turning football hooliganism into a recognised sport.

In December Emanuel had a productive meeting with the Russian deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko, and a deal for a UFC event in Moscow seems likely. Theyve shown me their presentation, Mutko said. I was shocked when I saw what they were doing. The revenues, how much they get from the TV The march of UFC shows no signs of stopping.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/mar/26/ultimate-fighting-championship-fight-of-our-lives-mma-donald-trump-vladimir-putin-conor-mcregor