Archive | November, 2012

Politics as fandom

16 Nov

In the wee small hours of the morning of November 7th, President Barack Obama passed an historic milestone many had expected would go to a different kind of person altogether: a snapshot he posted on twitter, with the caption “Four more years”, became the most retweeted message in the history of the six-year-old microblogging platform. Such dizzying heights are normally attained by, well, Justin Bieber, but – never mind the millions of people who’d just voted for him – the President’s got a lot of fans.

And those fans have engaged with this election like no other. Every word said by both sides, as well as being scrutinized and analysed and spun in every way imaginable, has been reproduced in a staggering array of creative formats, from autotuned remixes that turned stump speeches into music videos to colourful graphics emphasizing emotive words, and printed (or hand drawn) on to t-shirts and tote bags and badges and baked goods.

I don’t live in the US anymore, and having never been a citizen, I couldn’t vote to re-elect the President. So I threw him my support the only way I knew. I tweeted, I Facebooked, I read and reposted funny or inspirational things he said, I bought a sweatshirt expressing my allegiance and then posted pictures of myself wearing that sweatshirt. I tossed in a bunch of West Wing references for good measure, and got possibly a little bit overexcited whenever anyone else either understood them or did it too.

It was a lot of fun. A lot.

And it made the bleary-eyed morning (as an aside, I maintain that the time difference actually made it better – there’s something terribly romantic about waiting until dawn for the results) waiting for Romney to just get over himself and concede already feel meaningful and moving, in a way that the policy implications of the result (however vital), just didn’t.

Of course, this is all feels slightly detrimental to the business of politics and governance, but it’s not like before animated gifs (the latest thing in instant debate commentary) the sparkle and flash of the campaign trail wasn’t already getting in the way of reality.

But here’s the interesting thing: in the face of the biggest criticism of the process overall – that it costs an enormous amount of money, an obscene, staggering, shocking amount of money – the “fandom” elements are actually, in and of themselves, almost free. You can’t buy quotability. And selling people t-shirts with your face on them actually raises cash.

The tools of modern fandom are free and widely accessible. They’re the social media platforms: twitter, tumblr, facebook, pinterest, reddit, youtube, the list goes on. Their reach is tremendous, and instantaneous. And in the fast-paced, brightly-coloured, emotionally-driven world of Twihards and Whovians, a picture of the President’s dog appearing sandwiched between a One Direction video and a misattributed inspirational quote in a whimsical font is an assertion of allegiance as powerful as the color of your Hogwarts scarf or your preference for Sherlock or Watson (personally, I’m team Molly). What it isn’t, is disrespectful. And what last week proved, is that it doesn’t mean that fan isn’t also going to vote.

In fact, fans of democracy got a bit carried away. You couldn’t click on anything without another blurry self-portrait-with-I-Voted-sticker appearing on your screen, which is all well and good (and yes, I was really jealous), but when folks started instagramming their ballots, things got a bit sticky. There have been no reports of anyone actually being cited for it, but in many states, it’s against the law.

Another extraordinary thing. It’s not new for people to idolize political figures. Many people would probably characterize themselves as “a fan of voting”, even if not quite to the extent of buying a t-shirt that says so (I did though). But in the aftermath of this election, a statistical analyst named Nate Silver, who cut his teeth on baseball predictions and got every electoral result of the night except for one single Senate race right, became an overnight sensation, spawning several trending topics on twitter and the website A STATISTICAL ANALYST. Who now has a legion of fangirls and fanboys hanging on to his every word. His words being mostly about polling data. Don’t let anyone tell you the politics fandom is superficial.

Of course, some of the other names of the “political fandom” are better known. The merest mention of Hillary Clinton sends the internet at large into a frenzy – speculating, yes, about the chances of a 2016 run, but also passing around favorite versions of the “Texts from Hillary” meme. The beauty of that is that was funny, without being in any way mocking, derogatory or sexist. It was affectionate, a way to express awe and admiration, that captured people’s imagination.

It’s naïve enough to think that the people who typically attract fan followings – sports stars, actors and musicians – are real life heroes, and even more so to think that about politicians, who are bureaucrats with enormous PR teams (although before you make up your mind on that, do look up Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark New Jersey. He might be the exception to the rule.). But while the trivial aspect of it is frustrating to policy wonks, it’s an engaging, inspiring way for people to take ownership of the process, and of the leaders that come out of it.

The Women’s Room – calling female experts!

15 Nov

by Catherine Smith

So it’s Monday morning and I am starting the day with my usual dose of frustration and weary resignation as I listen to John Humphrys on BBC’s Today programme, discussing contraception for underage teenage girls with two men. Admittedly, one was the Headteacher of a school but even so. I’m not convinced that he has any real understanding of what it might feel like to be a teenage girl.

I let some steam off on twitter, sigh and go about my day.

Tuesday morning arrives and I switch on Radio 4. This time a discussion on breast cancer actually includes two women who have experienced it. But wait! What’s this John? Now we turn to the expert? A man?

Cue rage, exploding head and another rant on twitter, fuelled further by the BBC responding with a short statement saying they would like more female experts but can’t find them

‘Right’, I decide, ‘enough is enough. If the BBC can’t find experts, I’ll do it myself’.

Caroline Criado-Perez, a freelance journalist, responded by tweeting out asking for female experts in both of these subject areas and, within ten minutes, had a selection to choose from.  A continued exchange with Caroline resulted in being set up on November 1st with the able assistance of Jem & Jax, our long-suffering website team.

The response to the website was simply overwhelming.

Within hours of launching we were inundated with entries  ranging from; lecturers in Film, Media, History and Architecture, to lawyers, zoologists and nurses, to survivors of domestic abuse, women who grew up in care and women who have been in forced marriages.

We simply couldn’t keep up with them and had to put a call out to our twitter followers to ask for assistance. Our twitter account is still gaining approximately 200 – 300 followers a day and we have, as of 7th November, received over 150,000 hits on the website from all over the world. We have clearly captured the imagination of women everywhere, many of whom say they feel silenced or ignored.

The response in the media has also been extremely positive and supportive, and our continued press coverage and sustained presence on twitter has also resulted in some high profile endorsements from such as Clare Balding, Alison Mitchell, Gaby Hinsliff and Chris Addison. We were even re-tweeted by Harriet Harman.

One of the aims of is to challenge and re-define the general perception of an ‘expert’. It does appear that when an expert is called upon for their opinion, it tends to be someone who is formally qualified in their particular profession. And more often than not, they are male. We believe that an expert is someone who has experience or expertise in any area.

For example, with regard to the breast cancer debate on the Today programme, the two women who talked about their experiences are, as far as we can see, experts. They are able to give their unique insight into the impact that cancer has had on their lives, the lives of their families and how it feels to be in recovery.

It’s important to recognise that women’s experiences of domestic abuse, mental health, substance misuse, abortion, child care or rape are different from those of men. They may not be ‘qualified’ in the conventional sense, but they are very definitely experts so let’s start treating them as such.

Women have long been vocal about the inequalities, discrimination and, in many cases, institutionalised sexism that they experience. In the media, in politics, in the workplace, in daily life.

It’s the 21st century. It is time for women’s experiences and expertise to be acknowledged, and for them to be viewed as experts.

And Mr Humphrys? If you want to discuss an issue that primarily affects women, or any other issue for that matter; you know where to find us.


Catherine Smith

Co-Founder of The Women’s Room



Get Loan Sharks Off Newcastle’s Pitch

13 Nov

by Karen Reay

Just take a look at your local street next time you are out. Where once there may have been a butcher or a baker, there will now be a NUFC and Wongapay-day lender or a shop offering sofas and cookers on sky-high interest rates.

And now you can’t even escape the hard sell when you go to a football game. Wonga has paid Newcastle £23 million to be able to plaster team shirts with their logo.

Newcastle is not the first to succumb – Hearts and Blackpool took the shilling before. But Newcastle is the biggest name by far. It is a byword for passionate fans and team loved by its city. Its good name ought not be sullied by pay-day loan sharks preying on hard-pressed people, but the board sadly thinks otherwise.

Unite has been campaigning to cap Wonga-style credit rates of 4200 percent because people tell us that these drown them in debt. What starts off as a short-term loan soon becomes a snare, with the average worker borrowing £325 a month to get by.

The small loan to bridge the gap between the rising living costs and shrinking wages ends up a treadmill of borrowing more to pay off the original loan. Our research tells us that someone will have to work three days a month just to pay off their loan. Small wonder they have to borrow again and again. They are not borrowing for high spec TVs or luxury breaks but for food, mortgages, money to get by.

But this is not what Wonga wants you to believe. They want to seduce with how `easy’ it is to borrow, never mentioning the danger of the debt trap.

That is why the Newcastle’s pact with Wonga is so dangerous. It normalises something that ought to be ringing alarm bells – extortionate rates of credit. And this is why Unite and the TUC in our region are calling on Mike Ashley to think again.

Newcastle’s fans deserve better than for their passion and good name to be used to peddle debt. The return of St James’ Park is scant comfort – won’t it always be the name known to fans?

In October, a No 10 adviser went to work for Wonga. The prime minister takes advice on how to slash workers’ rights from the venture capitalist who funded Wonga, Adrian Beecroft. To Unite, these links are nothing short of shady, which is why we want an inquiry. Mike Ashley and the Newcastle board, the latest to put the interests of big business before the interests of people, should take heed.

In the north east, times are tough enough for people but we have our pride. So take a stand. Don’t let your club’s gilded name become tarnished. Join the fight to see the Wonga sharks off from our communities.

If you think Wonga’s cash is dirty money, then complain. Write to the Mag or use the club’s official Facebook and Twitter pages to speak out

– details on To find out more about Unite, visit


Karen Reay is Unite regional secretary for the North East, Yorkshire and Humberside. 


This article was originally posted on The Mag, Newcastle’s United’s largest independent network for fans. 

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