Friday, 28 August 2015

Apocalyptic Sentiments: A Reading of 'Filming the Doomsday Clock'

As it has been a while, I thought that this entry would be a return to poetry. By a while, I also mean that it has been some time since I last engaged with poetry critically, and have felt a mighty need to return to it. This year, I have been fortunate enough to be able to study Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid and Dante's Divine Comedy in great detail, but focusing on something both more succinct and more modern makes for a refreshing change of pace. 

This entry's poem was written by Mary Jo Bang, a poet whose work I am reading for the first time as I prepare to write this analysis. As with most of my poetry analyses, the aim is to focus on the text itself and to present some of the connections/allusions which come to mind whilst I am reading it, rather than to provide a heavily analytic discussion. I almost chose to write on An Autopsy of an Era, but instead have chosen Filming the Doomsday Clock. It goes as follows:

Filming the Doomsday Clock
We were told that the cloud cover was a blanket
about to settle into the shape of the present
which, if we wanted to imagine it
as a person, would undoubtedly look startled—
as after a verbal berating
or in advance of a light pistol-whipping.
The camera came and went, came and went,
like a masked man trying to light a too-damp fuse.
The crew was acting like a litter of mimics
trying to make a killing.
Anything to fill the vacuum of time.
The wind whirred and tracked the clouds.
The credits, we were told, would take the form
of a semi-scrawl, urban-sprawl, graffiti-style
typography. The soundtrack would include
instrumental versions of "Try a Little Tenderness."
Our handler, who was walking backward
in order to maintain constant eye contact with us,
nearly stumbled over a girl in a sheath and pearls
who was misting a shelf of hothouse flowers.
While the two apologized to each other,
we stood and watched the fine spray settle
over the leaves and drip onto the floor.
On the way out, we passed a door
with a small window reinforced with wired glass
through which we could see a nurse
positioning a patient on a table. We swore
afterward we'd heard her say, "Lie perfectly still
and look only inward." A clock chimed and
as the others were audibly counting backwards
from five to zero, I thought I heard someone say,
"Now let go of this morbid attachment to things."


First, the title. Already we have a fatalism introduced into the mix. From the outset, we are led into thinking of the end of things. The doomsday clock, for any who are unfamiliar is a conceptual clock-face which represents the proximity of the current situation to widespread global disaster (either in the form of irrevocable climate change, nuclear disaster or some other irreversible event), We also have the word "Filming" which situates us further within contemporary society and introduces connotations of modern technology and modern media culture.

This association with modern media, particularly media in the form of large news corporations is reinforced with the first line. The line itself is formulated as a recording of an address. The plural subject, the "We" that is set up as the first perspective of the poem, is passive in that it is being told, rather than doing the telling. That they are passively receiving a message is an allusion to the passivity with which the modern mass, the "We", interact with massive news corporations. 

The first line contains a further allusion, this time perhaps to climate change, one of the major contenders amongst those things which might make the doomsday clock strike midnight. The mention of a meteorological phenomenon 'cloud cover' opens the poem with this environmental connection, but that the clouds are specifically mentioned as 'cover' furthers the potential commentary on mass media culture, subtly introducing the idea of the media as an impediment to the truth.

Moving on to the second line; that the the clouds are about to 'settle into the shape of the present' is likely indicative of the volatile nature of things. As one can imagine, a doomsday setting (of course, the poem is implying that we are already approaching, of not already part of, this setting) is a time of upheaval and chaos as the structures under which life is lived begin to collapse. Yet, the phrasing is not simply indicating that things are chaotic and that they will settle, but that they will take 'the shape of the present', which places us at the end of the process. The outcome of this settling is now. 

We then move on to a few lines of overt personification. The present is transformed into a 'startled' person, but only, as it says, if 'we wanted to imagine it/as a person'. Carrying on the media reading of the poem, which I seem to have become rather entrenched in, we could take this as the distorting effect the relaying of a narrative can have about the truth of events. Yet this distortion is not a complete removal of reality. It is not an warped understanding, but it is very much changed. Events, whilst shaped by people, are not literally the people themselves (though philosophically there might be a discussion to be had here), yet here the events are being transformed not into people but into a single individual. That this individual is displaying an emotion, fear, makes them all the more real. Furthermore, the description of the fear as akin to that pertaining to 'a verbal berating' (notably a social punishment) or 'in advance of a light pistol-whipping' (the act of using a firearm as a physical weapon, notably here it is only 'light') does serve to provide a character of the 'present'. We are being told something by this metaphor, rather than nothing, but what we are being told has been transformed and changed so much from what it is to what we hear of it being, through this fictionalised media, that it is incredibly different. Like so much of mass media, we can hear grains of truth, but never the whole story. 

Needless to say, I had plenty of media-critical cartoons to chose from...many of which were produced by that very media...curious...
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Moving onwards, we have a continued representation of the media, this time signified by a camera. It 'came and went' multiple times, which perhaps suggests the dogged determination to find something worthy of coverage, a sentiment reinforced by the idea of trying to light a 'fuse'. What is sought by this media coverage, is something which is quite literally explosive. Anything less is a disappointment. Thus, this caricature of the media is as an agent of catastrophe, existing to stir up the public and cause controlled frenzy.

This is further reinforced by the later line 'trying to make a killing'. The media cares less for truth and accurate reporting than it does for financial gain and cash flow. Truly, we have a negative (though not inaccurate) depiction of the media in this and the preceding line: 'the crew was acting like a litter of mimics'. Many criticisms of modern media aim at the conformist approaches it presents, the way in which is transforms us into mindless sheep which follow blindly the ideals and orders pumped directly into our heads. This is reflected here, with this depiction. The media itself is the rabble, yet we still passively receive the message.

A continuation of the idea that the media exist to cause (oops, I meant to say expose) scandals which in turn whip up the public into frenzy, is found in the line 'Anything to fill the vacuum of time'. Here we have presented a comment on modern conditions. Of people sitting idly, twiddling their thumbs until the time has come to tweet and share the latest media frenzy. Time is empty without these incidents, there is nothing beyond this worthy of comment or effort, only the maelstrom of commentary. 

We have a momentary movement to something beyond human control, the wind, and it is depicted as tracking the clouds. Returning to this image of the clouds as a mask for the truth, as that which is eventually going to settle and reveal what is truly happening, yet still partially obscuring it, maintains the media criticism, while at once taking a step back to acknowledge a force far beyond their control. In this sense, it puts the enemy, the media, that which is being so heavily criticised here, in its place. It is a human controlled force, and a powerful one, but it is vastly exceeded by the wind, which is so formative in the clouds which were the first object of our obsession.

Now we have 'the credits' another herald of the end. This time, however, this end point is not to be brought about through the natural forces already mentioned (the clouds and the wind itself) but instead through human forces: societal unrest. For these credits are a 'scrawl', it's 'typography' brought about in the form of 'urban' 'graffiti'. Reminiscent of modern media's hatred of delinquency (and tendency to demonise the lower classes), these lines are a rather beautiful way of capturing the nihilistic tendencies of the modern media, whilst also displaying plainly the way in which they always have another who can be blamed. After all, it could never be our fault.

Like any article of mass media, one must consider the musical side of things, and this is clear in the mention of a 'soundtrack'. The choice of 'Try a Little Tenderness' has a very clear role. The title of the song is intended to invoke a message of compassion, but not only is the media sharing another's message, that is to say Otis Redding's, (which indicates a lack of commitment to this message, as they do not augment it with their own contribution or display any level of engagement beyond 'sharing' it) but they represent this song without its lyrics. It is 'instrumental', lacking its central message, its compassion, its sweetness. The media is lulling us with its proclaimed kindness and compassion, whilst actually using this only as a cover to their own insidiousness, present in the poem as the manipulative way in which they tweak and change minor things to distort reality. 

Image by Carol Simpson, hosted on cartoonwork.com

'Our handler' is the next figure introduced, and this reaffirms the poem's comment on modernity, more specifically focusing on the herd-mentality often spotted amongst the public of the western world. Once again, we are plural, the 'handler' is ours, not mine, and thus we are constituted as a group. This, coupled with the fact that we are again in the passive, and our handler is in the active reaffirms this image of the great herd. Without the handler, we would be lost, yet they are also lost, for they are 'walking backwards'. This line furthers the criticism of the media, which seeks (if not overtly claims) to lead us forward, yet often it does so blindly, blundering and spewing mixed or warped messages.

And the reason this media figure walks backwards? 'eye contact'. Constant communication, pandering, wanting to foster connection which enables them to render us more pliable. Often, news corporations seek to tell us what we want to hear, or at least what they think we want to hear.

We then have the collision between the handler and the girl. To me, this episode is indicative of a minor news story, which rises to the top of the mainstream media (often due to it being a proverbial 'slow news days') and which dominates at the expense of what might be termed, rightly so, more pressing matters. The two collide and then there is a length apology. The girl is 'misting a shelf of hothouse flowers', a domestic task relatively unworthy of attention, much like many of these kinds of news story. We have a hint of the natural, tying us back to the wind and the clouds through not only the mention of the plant, but the act of misting, which could be representative of the way in which these kinds of story tend to be made to seem relevant, whereas in truth they have little place amidst the apparently similar news items. That 'we stood and watched the fine spray settle' without our attention immediately ignoring the incident to focus on the doomsday clock and the apocalyptic situation is reminiscent of the way in which we prefer to watch the viral cat video rather than reading articles concerning the latest breach of human rights.

We become distracted by minutia and this is a calculated phenomenon, someone benefits from this.

The next few lines concern the episode of spying, another activity which the media has been known to engage in. Further, we pry into the private interaction between a nurse (a position which is often criticised by the modern media) and her patient. There is a controlled, invasive feeling to these lines, for we watch through a 'window' which has been 'reinforced with wired glass'. Every precaution has been taken to keep us out, yet we look in.

Her speech is indirectly reported, given to us through what we would have said later. This maps how the media is always reporting on that which has already been said and, since the nature of events are that they unfold constantly, without control and we do not know when something notable is going to happen, we are thus unable to properly prepare and therefore the media report upon that which has already happened. Most of this reporting are completed events, which cannot be fully verified. Certain details are presented which can never be confirmed, only assumed through hearsay.

The suggestion 'only look inward' is an encouragement that we ignore outward circumstances and instead focus on the contents of our thought. I considered the possibility that this could be a more overt tie to a mental health topic, but have not developed this thought further. Regardless, there is the possibility of a suggestion of such a topic. The nurse seems to be guiding people away from the circumstances of the counting clock, which we can assume is leading to the end of the world, á la the title of the poem.

This countdown begins and we have the only mention of a clock in the poem, before the final line. 'Now let go of this morbid attachment to things'. We could take this line in several ways. It could be a comment on consumer culture, which is in many ways responsible for climate change, one of the possible doomsday scenarios. 'morbid' certainly encourages us to think that this attachment has led to death, as the cause of the apocalypse has. It could be an invocation of Buddhist philosophy. It could be an instruction, a hollow message or a wholesome one. Is it an empty message proclaimed by the media sources, or the hint of a personal voice only coming in at the end of the poem. I suppose this would be determined by the speaker, who is not mentioned, though we know that they are in the singular, it is not a collective voice. To me, the last line is something of a mystery, with too many avenues for me to fully capture here.

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So that concludes me reading of Filming the Doomsday Clock. Thank you for reading.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Hemlock Grove - Typology

Though reviews have been mixed, the Netflix series Hemlock Grove holds a special place in my heart. I am not sure whether it is simply the weird melange of various horror elements, or if it is just the disturbing essence of something that lurks beneath the service, unspoken by characters who are not quite aware of it themselves, but I have lapped up the first two seasons, begun to read the novel and am awaiting the third, and final season, with great anticipation.

For those of you who have yet to hear of this series (for something Netflix has made itself, it has seemingly not made much of a fuss about it), I would undoubtedly recommend it. The series begins in a small Pennsylvania town, which suffers a terrible string of murders: young women found savaged by some unknown beasts. A young Roma boy, the scion of a wealthy household and a whole cast of other characters seek to uncover the truth. Of course, everything is embedded in the supernatural it a wonderfully dark mixture of tropes and concepts from gothic horror integrated into a modern setting. 

Anyone who has not seen the series can do so on Netflix, but do be careful about reading this entry. There will be spoilers

So, given my interest in identity, particularly MBTI, and my love for the series, it was only a matter of time before I prepared an entry on its characters. Thus, without further ado, here are my MBTI analyses. 


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Peter Rumancek - ISFP (The Composer)

Above all, Peter's actions are informed by a strong sense of self and personal values, formed through this self-hood and through the environments through which he has lived. Having been raised as a Roma, he has internalised the values of these people (or at least the values as they are represented in Hemlock Grove). This is where his sense of self stems from, those he deems to be his people: his family. Familial ties are more important to him than anything else and Peter truly cares about those whom he considers to be part of his inner circle, which eventual begins to include Roman, Letha and various others. He is willing to do whatever it takes to help his mother when she is imprisoned, even at expense of himself. This demonstrates a strong Introverted Feeling (Fi). This is very much followed by Peters perceptiveness. Peter notices things and is appreciates novel sensations and experiences, such as his love of exploration and always wanting to see what is beyond the horizon. This is his Extroverted Sensing (Se). Of course, Peter has access to a whole world of symbols and hidden meanings, through his dreams. Though his ability to decode them is relatively undeveloped, he is led by gut instincts which guide him at key moments, this being demonstrable of Introverted Intuition (Ni). Finally, Peter's inferior function, Extroverted Thinking (Te) comes forth in his impulsive behaviour and general inability to plan ahead. Even when he tries to prepare in advance, things tend to go awry. These functions lead Peter into being an ISFP - the Seeker and Keeper of Human Values. 


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Roman Godfrey - ESFP (The Performer)

Scion of the Godfrey family, Roman overindulges in physical sensation. Sex and cigarettes form a huge part of his lifestyle, and he has a predatory attitude to his relationships with women, often using some of his latent supernatural abilities to coerce them into giving themselves to him. He always seeks out novel sensations in which to indulge himself, and has developed quite the appreciation for the finer things in life. This is demonstrative of a dominant Se. Following this is Fi, for Roman has extremely strong feelings for those whom he is close to. He adores his sister, Shelly, his cousin Letha, and holds his mother with increasing contempt as the season progresses. As the story progresses, the intensity of his bond with Peter increases until Roman is almost dependent upon him. Most people pass him by without him caring, and he only takes his feelings out on others if they are pent up, and usually through physical means (sex and violence), hearkening back to his Se. Roman is not the most proficient planner, though his tertiary Te expresses itself through his ability for force his will upon the eternal world. This manifests through his powers, which always take a toll on him and leave him reeling, but which do enable him to make others do as he wishes. Finally, Roman's life is hugely influenced by visions, images and symbols, a hidden world which he has intense connection to, yet cannot fully understand. This is his inferior Ni, allowing access to, but not full appreciation of these hidden mysteries. Roman struggles with the things he sees in his dreams, far more than Peter, and while informed by gut instinct, less so than Peter. For these reasons, Roman is an ESFP, the Motivator Presenter.

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Letha Godfrey - ESFJ (The Harmoniser)

Above everything, Letha cares for others and wants to ensure that everyone is getting along. This care is not reserved for people she is close to, but for everyone. She offers emotional support to those who have witnessed the terrible murders, even though she is not close to them. In doing so, she specifically offers her support, as an aide, someone to listen. Her emotions likewise change depending upon whom she is with. She picks up on her father's stress when he drives her home from the clinic and immediately seeks to reassure him. When she goes into labour, she wants above anything else to support those around her, even though she is the one having the experience. These all demonstrate a dominant Extroverted Feeling (Fe). Secondary to this is her Introverted Sensing (Si), for Letha is very much informed by her past experiences. The lessons her parents have taught her stick inside her head and she does not rebel against them quickly. When her father tells her to do something, she might complain and object, but she often does it. She has learnt many lessons and is able to use her experiences to inform the present. Despite her relative ignorance as to the supernatural elements in the series, Letha is able to spot connections quickly and is able to pick up on unspoken problems and tensions, even when people are trying to hide things from her. Furthermore, she does not shy away from these potentials, instead earnestly wishing to learn more about them. This is her tertiary Extroverted Intuition (Ne). Finally, Letha's inferior function is her Introverted Thinking (Ti) and she does not spend much time trying to organise her own thoughts. This leads to a feeling that often she is bumbling through the world, rather than organising everything in her head, for she is guided more by emotion, care and her own experiences than abstract reasoning. Thus, Letha is ESFJ, a hostess of the world.

Shelly Godfrey - INFP (The Idealist)

Largely due to an oppressive upbringing and an inability to vocalise her thoughts, Shelly has been forced to live in a world entirely her own, internalising everything. This has undoubtedly led to the formation of her dominant Fi. Shelly has a very small inner circle of people about whom she cares, yet she is willing to do anything it takes to protect and help them. Take, for example, her actions in protecting Peter, Letha and Roman, actions which led to her getting shot. Furthermore, with Roman, she cares for him so much that she literally glows with happiness when he touches her face. Shelly demonstrates a wealth of inner emotion. For instance, when she is corresponding with her uncle, she is verbose, clear and extremely expressive. Following this is her love of ideas. Shelly reads and paints and seeks many ways of absorbing and exploring, even if she is unable to go out into the world and seek her own place, she demonstrates an auxiliary Ne in her interest in novelty. Shelly is driven by a want to understand things and to do so from new perspectives. She has, however, absorbed many lessons from her experiences, particularly those with her mother, Roman and Dr. Pryce She has taken these lessons to heart and they certainly make her more cautious when encountering new things, particularly in the flesh. This is her Si. Beneath is all is her Te, which is undeveloped and prevents her from being able to get the wealth of thoughts within her into the outer world. The constrictive environment of her life and that those around her constantly strive to control her means she struggles to affect her environment as she would like. Due to this, Shelly is an INFP, making life kinder and gentler.

Destiny Rumancek - ENFJ (The Teacher)

Much like Letha, Destiny wants to ensure that those around her are safe. Of course, she cares about her family, particularly Peter, more than she does others, yet at the same time she demonstrates a wealth of care for those she is not so close to. She cares about Roman, even though she has many reasons not to, and goes out of her way to help him and Letha. Destiny faces great risk, often her own powers, in order to protect those around her. She bares the risk because she cares and she cares without much discrimination. This, and her willingness to forgive (not to mention her ability to manipulate others), are the marks of a dominant Fe. Of course, second only to her compassion is her immersion within the world of hidden meanings and symbols. Her mystical side allows her access to a whole realm of representations and messages and it is her task to not only understand them, but also to take instruction from them. This visions enable her to see the world as she wishes it to be and then she has to make it happen. This is her Ni. Destiny has a physical side. She enjoys pleasure and sells a diluted version of her gifts to the public, which a fair amount of farce. Furthermore, she has style and wants to present herself properly. This is tertiary Se. Finally, we have an inferior Ti. Destiny lives in a world of emotion and instinct, not in an analytical dominion of logic.Thus, Destiny is an ENFJ, the Envisioner Mentor.

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Clementine Chasseur - INTJ (The Mastermind)

A member of the Order of the Dragon, Clementine has adopted their principles and thus has a clear understanding of the way in which the world works. She has been imbued with a vision, the image of a world in which the supernatural and the mortal are somewhat able to coexist, provided that werewolves and upir keep by the pact parisienne. Of course, she struggles with this, often seeming to want to simply purge the world of those which she views as beasts. Yet her faith remains strong and she follows the inner pull to create this vision of the world: her dominant Ni. Furthermore, Clementine is able to take her inner vision and shape the world before her accordingly. Her rigorous training enables her to plan and wait patiently for the correct moment to strike. Though she has her impulsive moments, Dr Chasseur plays the long game, biding her time until the best moment to further her long term plan. This is her auxiliary Te. Her tertiary function, Fi, manifests through her personal values and beliefs, which determine much of her morality. Clementine keeps a lot to herself, unwilling to reveal herself to those who are not extremely close to her. So emotionally insular, she is told that all she knows is how to take, she is unable to give. Underneath everything else is her inferior Se. Clementine is known to indulge herself in her pleasures, one of them being women, another being drink. She has a somewhat addictive personality, demonstrative of an undeveloped Se. Thus, Chasseur is an INTJ, one of life's independent thinkers.

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Norman Godfrey - ISFJ (The Protector)

Defined by traditions, Norman is dominated by his family name and his past. He is a relatively cautious man, slow to change and dependent upon the lessons he has learnt over his lifetime. Certainly, Norman is led by experience, rejecting out of hand gut instincts and visions, refusing to believe his own daughter when she claims to have been impregnated by an angel. He has certainly internalised the scientific method of a slow and steady approach to life and its sensations. This is his dominant Si. One of the few things that breaks him out of this caution, however, is protecting those he cares about. Truly, he has an inner circle of people for whom he would die if he had to, but Norman is far more caring generally and genuinely wants to help people. This is, after all, why he became a psychiatrist. This is his Fe. Norman possesses a tertiary Ti, which secures him as a consummate scientist. He is dismissive of visions and the paranormal, wanting a logical explanation and it takes him a long time before he is able to wrap his head around some of the things which are going on in his town. His rationality is a personal one, however, and he is more than willing to allow others to get on with their own lives, and is even willing to support people who are different from him. Finally, we have the inferior Ne, which imbues Norman with a niggling curiosity, the likes of which often get him into dire straights. A man fascinated with ideas, Norman Godfrey is always interested in novelty, yet he is tempered by his natural caution. Therefore, Norman is an ISFJ, service before self.

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Lynda Rumancek - ESFJ (The Harmoniser)

Undoubtedly the better mother of the series, Lynda is largely defined by her position as a mother. This role leads her into her unlawful activities, for above all she wishes to create a life for herself and her son. Her ties to the other Rumanceks are not inconsiderable, but she cares far more intensely for Peter. However, it should be noted that Lynda's dominant Fe manifests in the readiness with which she expresses concern for those around her, particularly those of whom she is initially suspicious. Though she keeps some distance from them, Lynda comes to care for Roman and Letha, even expressing some concern for Olivia, though this is quickly replaced. Lynda isn't stereotypically kind, instead she is more concerned with maintaining harmony and protecting herself and those she cares about. This is demonstrated in her willingness to make a deal with Olivia, though she disapproves of her methods. Throughout her life, Lynda has experienced much as this manifests through her auxiliary Si. She has memorised many tips and tricks, having spent a life on the run from the law. When presented with a problem, Lynda knows how to respond and she had learnt well the need for a contingency plan. Tertiary is her Ne, for Lynda shows a great ability to think on her feet and overcome challenges unconventionally, though these methods are all informed through her previous experiences. Less of a concern for her is inner, logical consistency, manifested in an inferior Ti. Lynda is wonderful at many things, though she does not spend much time organising her inner thoughts. Thus, Lynda is ESFJ, everyone's trusted friend.

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Dr Johann Pryce - ENTJ (The Commander)

Pryce is a man of vision: he foresees a world in which technology and science has overcome what he deems to be perfectly malleable barriers to human advancement. Death, life, all such things are there to be bent and controlled and manipulated by his intellect, but he is not blindly exploring for the sake of it. No, Johann wants to advance himself and prove what can be done. He views his science as greater than a world of myth and superstition with lycanthropes and upir both easily explained by his work...which can also serve to overcome them. His ability to plan and meet deadlines (but also his being so limited by them) is indicative of a dominant Te. Johann thinks of something and the world must bend to accommodate his will. Very little can stop him. These plans are fuelled by an inner vision, a determination for a future state which he wishes to bring into being. This is his auxiliary Ni, granting him a purpose, a vision for how he wishes to see the world. His wishes to become a renowned scientist, to do things that no other human being could dream of doing. It is this sense of directed purpose which filters up into his planning. As a man of science, Johann must be attentive to the state of things as they are and this is his Se: his tertiary function. Before he acts, Dr Pryce watches with keen eye, capable of noticing the most minute of details before synthesising things as they are with how he wishes them to be. Finally, we have Johann's Fi, his emotions, which are kept under control and largely ignored. However, when he grows angry, Pryce shows his anger through acts of violence. Of course, he is not easy to anger, for his feelings are his own, relatively unaffected by the acts of others. Thus, Pryce is an ENTJ, a Commandant Organiser. 

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Olivia Godfrey - INFJ (The Prophet)

I am sure that many will disagree with my typing of Olivia. They will see Olivia and INFJ and immediately refuse it, thinking that there is no way she could be. Yet this is why I think she is quite clearly an INFJ:

Olivia plays the long game and her goals are her own. However, she pursues them without doubt and without falter, willing to do whatever it takes to attain her desired outcome: a perfect child, an heir. There have been many failed attempts, and each of these have been slain, by Olivia's own hand. The way in which she wishes to future to be is entirely defined by her inward sense of purpose, by her internalised superiority and complete faith in the role of the upir. This is undoubtedly the work of a dominant Ni. Even when threatened, not that much can truly harm her, her sense of purpose wins out. Following this is an auxiliary Fe. Although Olivia does not care for others, save perhaps for Roman, she demonstrates far too much awareness of the emotions of others for her to lack this function. She has managed to achieve so much in her life through playing others, through winning over their hearts and minds, inspiring them to adore her. The feelings of others are hers to do with as she wishes. Without her Fe, Olivia would never have achieved so much. Of course, Olivia never doubts herself, or her purpose and many of her rationalisations stem from her tertiary Ti, through which she can rationally organise the contents of her own intentions. So aware of the emotions of others, it is only through the potency of her Ni and the support of her Ti that she can be so cruel. Her Ti enables her to retain her sense of superiority, to rationalise her disregard for others and their infinitesimal lifetimes. Underneath all of these lurks her inferior Se. Undeveloped as it is, it leads Olivia into addiction and a need for the physical. This comes out her in her need to feed, her reliance upon drugs to retain her thirst and her seemingly insatiable want for the pleasures of the flesh. Olivia demands extravagance. Only the best music, food and lovers will do for her. For these reasons, Olivia is clearly an INFJ, fittingly known as an author, for it is by her hand that so much of the happenings in Hemlock Grove come to pass.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Inside Out - The Pursuit of Happiness

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend an advanced screening of Pixar's latest animated film: Inside Out. From its commercial success and ascension to the role of seemingly instant classic, I expect many of you will have also gone to see it and I am almost certain you will have enjoyed it as much as I did.

Many writers have been commenting on the film before and since its release, many of them talking about all the things that the film 'gets right'. It has been discussed widely how the film manages to accurately represent the ways in which our minds work (both Amy Elis Nutt and Xan Brooks have written on this) but my interest in the film is less scientific. 

Expectedly, my perspective on the film concerns human experience and perhaps some of the more poignant meanings of the story. Whilst it is interesting to think of how the film cleverly represents the inner workings of the mind, in a way that is both entertaining and explorationary, I think there is a more fundamental lesson we can learn from the film.

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This important lesson concerns ethics: primarily, the concept of the good life. Philosophers have examined this topic extensively (most notably Platonic and Aristotelian virtue theories), but rather than reproducing their attitudes here, I would like instead to begin with the film itself. 

Needless to say, there may be spoilers ahead...



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The film gives us a pretty clear system for how the mind words. Each person is fundamentally ruled over by five homunculi, each representing a fundamental emotion: Joy, Fear, Anger, Sadness and Disgust. Within Riley's (our protagonist's) head, Joy firmly controls everything and self-righteously forces all the other emotions to follow her lead in order to ensure that Riley remains "happy". 

Eventually, everything goes wrong, with Joy and Sadness separated from the control room, Riley's islands of personality disintegrating and 'core memories' becoming clouded by Sadness' touch. Until of course, at the end of the film we are shown that Sadness touching these memories is not in fact a negative.

I consider the fundamental point of the film to concern the balancing of emotions.

In fact, main problem of the film is that two of the homunculi get separated from the controls. This all happens because of Joy. If Joy had not tried so hard to be in control all of the time, if she had understood that all the emotions have an important role to play, many of the problems in the film could have been avoided. 

It is interesting that the pursuit in the film is of happiness: it is not the pursuit of Joy. However, Joy herself fails to understand this and dominates all of the other emotions ensuring that all of Riley's 'core memories' those which contribute to founding these changeable islands of personality (which in turn reveal just how we are not an indivisible whole, but actually how we are many impermanent parts) are yellow: coloured-coded to Joy. Sure, she allows the other emotions to act sometimes, but if her own supremacy is threatened, she can only understand that as detrimental to Riley.

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Due to her dominance, Joy's absence is catastrophic. Fear, Anger and Disgust are for the first time left alone in the control room and they have never been able to develop on their own. We are faced with a situation in which stunted emotions must try and run the show. 

What the film is showing us is clear: happiness lies in more than just Joy. Furthermore, if we pursue Joy alone and disregard other emotions, we are left in a problematic state. Firstly, we can never be happy, as our other emotions do not develop and when faced with a situation Joy cannot handle, we crumble. Secondly, we fail to appreciate Joy for what it is. 

A central turning point of the film is when Joy herself realises that Sadness has in many ways enabled Joy in Riley's life. Moments of negativity have allowed her to then go on to feel Joy and to appreciate it all the more for having experienced the sadness. Learning this marks a transition for both Riley and Joy: they both begin to mature. 

Furthermore, when we get a brief glimpse into the minds of Riley's parents. Neither of them have Joy at the centre. Her mother is governed by Sadness, her father by Anger. What we are given is a personalised and complex representation of how people are. We are all made out of similar stuff, a fundamental human is gestured towards, yet each person we experience is very much an individual, these components are not always the same and even the fundamental parts can be structured differently. 

By separating the emotion, Joy, from the concept of happiness, Inside Out presents a far more mature account of what it means to achieve a happy or good life. Happiness is not the same as Joy, to single-mindedly pursue Joy is not to pursue an enriching life. Ethical theories have tried to provide a hedonistic or pleasure-centred focus to morality, and have been long-criticised for their inability to understand a person in all their full complexity. 

This, more than anything else is what Inside Out has to teach us: happiness is more than an emotion, it is a way of being. Any more than anything, to be happy is to see harmony between what are often divisive parts of the self. 


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Just a few of my thoughts.

Let me know what you think and, as always, thank you for reading.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Vivienne - Beneath the Surface

Known as the 'Ambition', Vivienne is the verbose, shrewd and magnificent First Enchanter of the Montsimmard Circle of Magi. As an individual, she has been graced with mixed reception by both stalwart fans and newcomers to Thedas alike. Some see her as a typical establishment mage, indoctrinated by the very chantry which suppresses her freedom to the extent that she pro-actively seeks to extend these limitations (some might refer to such things as injustices) to others of her 'kind'. Others, however, view her as a particularly caring and maternal figure who simply wishes to keep the world in good shape, despite the many instabilities and new-found forces who seek to usurp it.

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So, without further ado, let us turn our attention to the pillar of order that is Madame de Fer. 

The Imperial Game

Though she was born in the Free Marches, Vivienne was transferred to the Circle of Montsimmard whilst still an apprentice. We know not what means she came from, but we can be certain that the move to Orlais and her subsequent victories have served as a major improvement in her social standing. She became the mistress to Duke Bastien de Ghyslain, the head of the Council of Heralds (a political body responsible for reconciling all heraldic disputes and which has a role in determining claims to nobility). From here, Vivienne has pursued the completion of her goals and her own advancement doggedly and has refused to allow any to stand in her way. For this reason, many regard her as a 'heartless bitch' or a 'typical social climber'. 

Of course, Vivienne has shown us that what she wants is to make a place for herself in the tumultuous world of Thedas, a difficult task for any Mage, let alone when one is attempting to achieve such a thing within the Imperial Court of Orlais without the boon of noble birth. In order to do this, she has had to play the great game to the best of her abilities and as demonstrated consistently that she is enjoys it. She has followed the hierarchy as it has been presented to her, climbing to the rank of First Enchanter and from there claimed an almost entirely ceremonial role as Enchanter to the Imperial Court. Before her appointment to this role (which would not have been possible without the endorsement of her lover) it held few political advantages. Upon taking it, Vivienne has transformed it into a position of great importance and prestige. 

Rightly, Vivienne is named 'The Ambition' by the developers and she has earned herself the title Madame de Fer, the lady of iron, for she is both respected and feared. We are told that she finds such a title amusing. She is headstrong and can be stubborn, but she acts relentlessly and in spite of that which may seek to divide her from her goals.
"Rest assured, dear Seeker. I'm never truly out of my element."
Naturally, her links with Bastien opened many doors, and many fans of the games have dismissed her a social climber, who is perfectly willing to exploit others and manipulate them to her own advantage. Of course, this is certainly the case, for she could not have attained such a position without indulging in such behaviour. From what insights we have gained of the imperial court, one cannot be honest and hope to endure within it for long. However, the charge that she does not care about Bastien is certainly unfounded. Those who have followed Vivienne's personal quest-line (Bring Me The Heart of Snow White), fetched the heart of a snowy wyvern and followed her to what will become Bastien's deathbed, will know the genuine sadness and upset caused by watching him die. Some have said that her upset is selfish, for she can no longer use his position to her advantage, but the truth is that she does not need to. She has already established herself as a First Enchanter and the Enchanter to the Imperial Court of Orlais, two of the highest positions a mage could hope to claim. Any tears she sheds for him are genuine. Furthermore, why would one spend so many resources attempting to prolong the life of someone for whom one only has an instrumental care?

Already, we can see that Vivienne is an emotional human being, though one who possesses a thick skin and who has become accustomed, mainly due to her experiences within the empire, to always maintaining a façade. Within Orlais, if one's only mask is the very literal garment upon one's face, then one is not playing the game well at all.

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Thus, from a very early stage in her life, she has lived within the Masked Empire of Orlais and this is certainly noticeable in the manner through which she conducts herself politically. Each of her actions is calculated and she holds appearance in the highest regard. Some might dismiss this as shallowness or some 'lack of character' but the care with which she fosters a perfect outward appearance is not done out of vanity or pride, at least not primarily. Instead, her experiences within Orlais have taught her the importance of how one presents themselves. The Empire places great weight upon appearance and one's conduct and, in order for one to make a place for themselves at court, one has to be willing to cultivate these things. 

Her experiences within the empire have had extensive formative impacts upon her character, fostering her desire to improve her station as well as instilling her with keen social awareness. She knows how to act, how to dress, what is expected of her and to what extent she is able to ignore these demands and how much she should co-operate with them. The result is an ostentatious, astute figure who has learnt the importance of adaptability and what can be gained from the tactical employment of social graces. In many ways, she is a natural product of the imperial environment into which she has both been flung and flung herself. 

Blackwall: You must miss the comforts of your mansion, travelling with us as you do.
 Vivienne: I miss them. I do not require them. But please, continue to imagine me a pampered lady, if it makes you feel superior.

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The Chantry and The Chant

"We need an institution to protect and nurture magic. Maker knows, magic will find neither on its own."

Vivienne is often regarded as a typical traditionalist, valuing the pre-existing norms of society and choosing to stand for this order whilst dismissing the subversive voices. This is due to her relatively conservative views regarding magic and those who are able to use it. Vivienne is a firm supporter of the circles, regarding them as entirely necessary for those who are capable of working with magic. She equally understands the Templar Order as a necessity, for not all who are given the ability to wield the power of the Fade are quite up to the task. Her distrust of uncontrolled magic spills out through her initial interactions with Dorian, during which she constantly derides him and Tevinter for their foolish and lax attitudes toward magic. Without such institutions in place, able to provide the requisite guidance and tutelage to young mages, the world would be forever ravaged by abominations, with no capable force at the ready to protect the innocent. She sees the Chantry as the only force able to stand between a civilised world and one of blood magic, possession and chaos. 

"In my own experience, nothing is more deadly to young mage than a lack of knowledge."

But she does not hold these views for the sole benefit of those who do not possess magic. To her, the circles ensure the protection of mages, granting them a haven from a world which has been forever trained to hate them and what they perceive to be their curse. Of course, she is aware that this ideal has, in places (she does specifically mention Kirkwall as among the worst), entirely failed. The Templar Order has become a shadow of what it should be, enabling the abuse of young mages, which is certainly not something that she permits. She is aware that all who live within the circles have vastly different experiences and that there is no such thing as a singular vision of circle life. Furthermore, she understands this as something which is necessarily going to happen, but her vision is a circle that is a haven for mages, but not one which values their personal freedoms above collective safety. 
"I will once again ensure they are protected from a world that hates and fears them."
Many think that she simply wishes to revert to the old system, but should one decide to endorse her as divine, one clearly sees that this is not the case. True enough she re-establishes the Templar Order as well as the Circles, but the mages are granted additional freedoms (which come hand in hand with responsibilities) and the Templars are more firmly leashed under her control. We can surmise that mages under her vision are more like she is: able to understand the power of magic and to respect it, but also trained to use it masterfully and able to enjoy a life outside of the circle. 

"Kirkwall gave the world a reason to remember its fear of magic. A mage killed hundreds with a snap of their fingers. Across Thedas, a new tangible fear of magic grew. Commoners and nobles alike called out to the Chantry for protection. But the malcontents in the towers thought nothing of this.

In truth, she treats her those of her former colleagues who have openly embraced the mage rebellion with open disdain, bordering on disgust. Considering the timing of the rebellion, (which followed the terrorist destruction of the Kirkwall Chantry by Anders at the end of Dragon Age II) she views the separation from the Chantry as hugely damaging, as the rebel mages were fleeing into a world which had just renewed the vigor of its anti-magic sentiment. 

"Magic is dangerous, just as fire is dangerous. Anyone who forgets this truth gets burned."

Due to these views, as well as her willingness to become Divine if the option is given her, it is relatively safe to assume the Vivienne is Adrastian. It is because of this attitude that Vivienne is rightly understood as a pillar of order, but that it is also wrong to regard her as an indoctrinated zealot who has been trained through years of conditioning to simply tow the line. In truth, however, Vivienne demonstrates a canny grasp of the political forces operating within Thedas and whilst some might dismiss her as cold, she has a well-reasoned point to make concerning the politics of magic.

"I never worry, darling. A leash can be pulled from either end."
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From the Inside

Of course, Vivienne's own experience as a mage of the Circle and all that entails have served to shape her views on the proper place of magic, as well has her treatment of other characters. 

I have already mentioned her initial interactions with Dorian, through which she uncovers a deep-rooted rejection of the altogether overly-liberal attitudes of Tevinter. She wishes to hold true to the catechism at the heart of the Chantry's teaching that 'Magic Exists to Serve Man' and this comes with a wholesale rejection of the very image of a Tevinter mage, who lords his power over those who are unable to resist him and seeks only his own advancement. This image is fixed within her mind and thus informs her expectations of Dorian. It is not until later that she allows herself to question.

Dorian: Vivienne, are you saying you wouldn't rather live in a land where mages aren't herded into cages like dogs?
Vivienne: Which land is that? The one where mages are feared and despised as tyrants?

I do not intend to imply that Vivienne is not critical of the structures of power which operate around her, for I think I have already established the opposite to be the case. Instead, I wish to press the point that Vivienne is cautious wherever anything concerning magic arrises. Those who detract from her and regard her as 'typically establishment' often forget what a devastating force magic can be for those who can wield it (particularly unwitting) as well as for those around them. Particularly where the Fade is concerned, and it often is, being the source of magic, there is the potential for possession, the entire loss of the self which often leads to far more destructive ends. Magic is a mighty force and much of it is not understood. 

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Solas: Your rigorous training lays a solid foundation, true. It also creates boundaries, limits, where none need 
exist.
Vivienne: I do prefer to have boundaries between myself and the demons, my dear.

In conversation with Solas, it is clear that he regards her as restricted and close-minded, unable to even begin to understand anything outside of her ivory tower. When Vivienne invites Solas to make a claim against he responds with "You would not believe me. You have learned your lessons all too well." It is also true that when Solas seeks to advise her, she responds with "I sincerely doubt you could add anything." Further banter occurs in which Vivienne criticises Solas' lack of technique and he in turn makes jibes about imperfections within her own magic. Notably, when Solas attempts to encourage her to abandon her training, she responds with "Ah, the temptation to leave the path. You sound like a pride demon."

These exchanges establish not only Vivienne's trust in the circle, but also her dependence upon them. Whilst her talents are great, she is in many ways limited by them. Above all, Vivienne requires control, an environment in which she is able to keep herself in check and for her, this is the circle. Outside of it, she is nothing and has no guiding principle which she can turn to. This is her support, her world, and its principles are deeply her own. Those who turn away from the doctrine of the circle leave themselves open to disorder and through this disarray they are rendered open to becoming tolls wielded by demonic hands.
Solas: "You need never concern yourself with the possibility that your Circle was wrong."
Magic is often an agent of chaos and destruction, capable of dealing great harm to all who come into contact with it. It is control and self-restraint alone which prevent a mage from becoming possessed or turning their power on an innocent. For Vivienne, the only institution capable of providing the instruction conducive to this level of discipline is the Circle, where mages pass their wisdom on to others, whilst also protected from themselves by the Templars. 

Importantly, many of Vivienne's attitudes are revealed through her interactions with Cole. Revealed to be a spirit of compassion, Cole joins the Inquisition because he wants to help. Vivienne does eventually come to care for Cole, though she keeps this attitude very much to herself, but initially she is outright hostile to him, regarding him as a demon and an influence which should be expunged from the Inquisition, for he could undo it from within.

Her scepticism is born from a life spent learning of the dangers of the Fade, learning that its denizens are malicious and cannot be trusted, for they all they seek is possession or the death of any mage. Having been told all her life that the Fade is universally a place of peril and that all which hails from within it only serves to undo the precarious order the Circle seek to preserve, she naturally is suspicious. Furthermore, Vivenne's experience of spirits is limited, for the Circle actively avoid such things and study into such areas is restricted if not completely forbidden.
"The Circle taught me the tricks demons play to gain the trust of any mage foolish enough to listen."
A notable exception is the Harrowing, a trial by fire through which a mage is forced into the Fade to face a demon, to demonstrate that their will is strong enough to resist possession. We learn of Vivienne's Harrowing through conversation with Cole. 
Cole: Everything bright, roar of anger as the demon rears. No, I will not fall. No one will control me ever again. Flash of white as the world comes back. Shaking, hollow, Harrowed, but smiling at templars to show them I'm me. I am not like that. I can protect you. If templars come for you, I will kill them.
Vivienne is not only Harrowed, note the capital, but she is hollow and shaking. Her only known experience within the Fade (we might presume, due to her extensive time in the Imperial Court, that she had little time to run around the world of dreams) has evidently been traumatic, thus preventing her from becoming open to the possibilities of spirits. Not only has she been taught to view all spirits as malignant, but she has also only extensively experienced the wrath of demons.

Considering how dangerous magic has been clearly established as being throughout the Dragon Age series (think on just how many renegade mages within Kirkwall suddenly flipped out as a demon took control), Vivienne's response to Cole, though naive and incorrect, is entirely reasonable. Even Cole admits that he might be a demon, that he simply does not know and that is enough for Vivienne to rightly be suspicious. Not only that, but Cole is clearly using her memories to get closer to her, as spirits do, and she interprets this as trying to coerce her into lowering her guard. He further makes matters worse by offering to kill templars, mimicing the offer made to apprentice mages by many demons "I will protect you and give you the power to free yourself from your chains". 

This interaction reveals Vivienne's dependence upon the Circle and its structure. Though she is wary of the templars and evidently fears them, she does not wish them dead, as they are an integral part of her own security. Above all, she fears possession and a loss of control. She never wishes to be at the whim of external forces and for this reason, she endeavours to become the very image of a perfectly disciplined mage, which is only possible through the circle. She then seeks to extend this to others, for what she perceives to be their own benefit. 

Conclusion

Through this entry, I hope to have established Vivienne as not only a pillar of the established order, but provided her reasons for serving as such. She is not the unthinking follower of a doctrine, for she consistently demonstrates an acute awareness of how things are working and it is perhaps this insight into the bigger picture which leads her to what many view as a conservative stance regarding magic. Sure, her extensive experiences within the Chantry have contributed to her views significantly, but they are not the sole reason she thinks as she does. 

Despite her title as Madame de Fer, Vivienne acts as she does because she genuinely believes that she acts in the best interest of the mages. She is warm of heart and evidently cares very deeply about the situation the mages have found themselves in, though she does not mince words and is quick to curtly remind those who have only made matters worse of their errors, lest they forget. Were one to elect her as Divine Victoria, she would create world in which mages could prosper within their circles, given proper security and tutelage. Surely, there would still be malcontents wishing to live libertarian lives independent of the Chantry entirely, but that will always be the case. If her vision were to be realised, magic might slowly become less and less stigmatised and things could be better. Of course, this is pure speculation. 

On a final note, I stand by my claim in an earlier entry that Vivienne is an ENFJ. Though she might be mistaken for an ENTJ, she is simply too aware of the feelings of others and to able to manipulate them too fluidly for this latter typing to be accurate.

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Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Guarding the Garbage

Now that I have successfully completed my Undergraduate Degree, I can finally turn some attention to some of the things I've recently been ignoring, such as this blog. 

To end the overly long hiatus, I am going to discuss something that I overheard in my local co-op, and how I have chosen to respond to it. I hope, in reading this, some of you might think about doing something similar. 

Yesterday, when I visited my local co-op on Lovelace Road, Norwich, I overheard a managerial figure, loudly boasting to his employees. As I walked past the group, I overheard this manager boast about how he had heroically protected the bins of his co-op from bin-divers who were trying to obtain the food he was intending to throw away. Naturally, his employees commended him on his efforts.

In all honesty, I was rather disgusted to overhear such a flagrant display of ignorant behaviour. That the manager of a co-operative store, a chain which has gained a lot of support for their ethical practices (indeed one could argue that their brand image depends upon it), could so openly declare his disdain for the inconvenience of dealing with what he unreservedly considers to be "theft", was rather sickening. 

Firstly, those who steal food from bins rarely do so as a hobby or for "fun" (somehow diving through waste for morsels of food doesn't scream fun to me), they do so because, strangely enough, they cannot afford to pay for food, or obtain food through other means. To accost people for doing this, to threaten them with legal action is a foul act of demonisation. Effectively looking someone in the eye and stating 'you cannot afford food, but how dare you refuse to starve'. Due to particular economic attitudes, through no fault of their own, 1,084,604 people nationwide have been forced to rely on food banks.

Screen cap taken from the Trussell Trust

Secondly, if you are going to be throwing that food away, you are making a very clear declaration that you can no longer profit from the sale of this food. If you can no longer capitalise upon it and yet it is still edible, why seek to vindictively deprive people who cannot afford to put food on the table from that which is no longer of any value to you? 

After hearing this, I decided to do a little research into Norwich food banks and into the East of England Co-Operative's stance regarding the support of food banks. According to the Norwich Food Bank website, 8,905 local people (3,072 of which are children) have been forced to rely on their service in the past year. Therefore, there is evidently a need for the service within Norwich. Furthermore, according to their website, the East of England Co-Op are "dedicated to helping them ensure they have enough food available to be able to continue to provide this valuable service." [citation

On that same page, they state that they have "have foodbank collection points in every one of our food stores". Having never seen one in the Lovelace co-op, I engaged in some minor espionage and discovered this:



Though far from empty, the collection point is tucked into the back of the shop and is far from advertised, save for the tiny laminated sign on the front. Sure, you can easily enough deposit your food into it, but you're only going to find it if you're actively looking for it. This was rather discouraging. 

Furthermore, I would like to draw your attention to what is on the secluded pinboard above the collection point.



This is far more encouraging. Excellent work, Lovelace Co-Op. A shame that your manager stood fewer than 10 feet away from this very certificate, demonising the very people you are apparently "generously supporting", but at least this is something, right? I am not going to detract from your good work, you have evidently done a lot of it, but the very principle behind this act of giving has been undermined through your willingness to waste perfectly edible food. 

Considering the recent push within France to force Supermarkets to give away their unsold food to charities, I think it is clear that more can be done to aid services like the food banks, which, considering the impending benefits cuts and other austerity measures, are likely to be used even more over the coming year. 

In response to this, I have emailed one of the Executive Team members of the East of England Co-Op. (Searching for about an hour or so, I was only able to find one of their email addresses, unfortunate, some might say). I have implored them to consider donating the food that would otherwise go to waste to those who need it and to discourage their staff from demonising the poor, especially due to the commitments the brand has made to either practice.

After all, the nearest donation point for the Norwich food bank to Lovelace Co-Op is but 10 minutes down the road. 

So I encourage you, not only to donate what food you can spare to local food banks or other charities, but also to take a look at some of the businesses near you and encourage them, in whatever way you can, to donate their food, rather than simply throwing it away. Write to these businesses, let them know what you think. My whining (or the whining of those who have whined before me) is not going to achieve anything if nobody else kicks up a fuss. 

Thanks for reading.