Thursday, August 4, 2016

Social Media: Will you embrace Instagram Stories?

Instagram's new 'stories' update has boldly incorporated the main ideas of Snapchat. Will Grammers and Snappers ignore Instagram stories, abandon Snapchat in favour of the update or give in and simply add it to an ever-expanding list of social media duties?

my first Instagram story
This update is particularly shrewd as Instagram has, until now, been a space reserved for slick images. The more professional your photo, the better. Over the years, Instagram users have created an app-specific aesthetic (bright and minimalist overhead shots) typified by the grain bowl-filled feeds of clean eating gurus Deliciously Ella and Madeleine Shaw. These best practice rules (which I outlined in a House & Garden piece) are difficult to follow consistently and do not suit the lazy.

Snapchat, where we feel permitted to post dodgy selfies, clumsy photos and shaky videos, has been filling that 'lazy' gap competently - just about. Its closed off framework requiring users to add friends rather than follow is a factor thats set it apart but also severely limits mass appeal. Anyone normal beyond their teenage years feels uncomfortable adding people as friends without knowing them in real life. (Perhaps we should be worried that following strangers is more acceptable than befriending them, but social media etiquette is another discussion entirely.)

Indeed, teenagers set up 'finstagrams' years ago. These private Instagram accounts where teens would post selfies and imperfect photos - deemed 'fake' as opposed to their primary 'real' accounts, which are public - may well be deleted now.

The stories of Insta-celebs, while very slightly shabbier, will almost certainly continue to give the impression that they lead perfect lives. But this update does give us all more freedom on Instagram. Being less picky about what to post is probably a good thing.

So, will the update succeed? Or be largely forgotten, like the direct messaging capability? Let's look at the pros and cons.

Instagram stories

  • Two in one. You don't have to open another app. Pokemon Go players need all the battery they can save.
  • Glowing neon pen. Check out the third writing option. It looks cool. The marker style is nice too.
  • More text allowed.
  • Hide your story from specific people. A bit like customising the privacy settings of a post on Facebook, which is always useful when your entire extended family are friends with you.
  • More views. This is the big one. My first Instastory has already been viewed by 40 people, and I don't even have 40 friends on Snapchat. Great for loners/misanthropes/anyone who isn't a teenager.
  • Can't choose the number of seconds, as far as I can see, unlike Snapchat.
  • Lack of clarity generally. It's fairly easy to add to your story by mistake.

  • Incumbency. We're already using it, many have only just become accustomed.
  • Filters. This is the big one. Many of us open Snapchat simply to check out the latest filters, with 'beautifying' modifications and new voice changers being particularly popular. 
  • Fewer views. Snapchat friends < Instagram followers.
Considering filter ideas can easily be stolen, it doesn't look good for Snapchat. However, extensive research conducted by me (a Twitter poll with 14 votes) shows that most intend to ignore the update.

You can't blame them. Bloggers and writers with social media profiles to maintain must already keep up with Twitter, Facebook, Periscope, Vine, Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat. Spending weeks or months getting used it, as Food Stories pointed out, means Snapchat may not be easily dumped. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Cucina Rustica: no gimmicks, just simple, locally sourced Italian food

“I was a chubby little Italian kid running around my family’s six restaurants.” That’s how Giorgio Fabian Honey describes his upbringing, and it’s this childhood that explains his passion for “good, honest, local food”.

Giorgio, who is based in Kentish Town, will soon open temporary restaurant Cucina Rustica in his local pub, The Rose & Crown. After taking on various roles in London restaurant businesses, from senior management to head chef, he decided to embark on a lone venture. Fortunately, pop-ups do not present the same challenges as permanent restaurants, which are notoriously prone to failure. Giorgio happily acknowledges that starting a pop-up avoids “all the hassle” and red tape. “This is the quickest way from getting an idea that’s in my head to another person’s mouth.”

The Italian chef is passionate about his neighbourhood, which reminds him of Italy’s provinces. “Fiercely local,” he summarises. “I feel people in Kentish Town want to get behind a local scene. People want to support local businesses.” This is where his attraction to hyperlocalism, the unique selling point of Cucina Rustica, develops.

“Italians have been doing the hyperlocal thing for decades, even centuries. My nan was telling me they don’t trade with money. They farm pigs and the next door neighbour farms tomatoes, so they trade a kilo of tomatoes for a couple of pork chops.” Giorgio believes in the ethos of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”, evoking the ‘shareconomy’ concept popularised during the recession.

North London produce is lovingly highlighted throughout the menu, which features sourdough bread from Muswell Hill fermented with the beer of a micro-brewer in N10, meat from a local butcher, pasta made in NW10, vegetable boxes from NW5 and Giorgio’s homegrown herbs and spices.

Traditional beef and pork meatballs in passata is his favourite item on the menu, though over half of it is suitable for vegetarians. One meat-free option is mozzarella and fresh fig bruschetta. I wonder whether the honey dressing is sourced locally, and after learning that it is not, I suggest asking the North London Beekeepers Association for leads. (Rumour has it that the honey made by Alexandra Road estate residents, which would be perfect, sells out instantly every year.)

Giorgio rejects the “gimmicky” food found on the pop-up scene, which is overflowing with meme-ified Instagram fodder. “People are trying to put comedic twists on things, naming burgers after famous actors. I thought it would be really great to concentrate on normal food.” Much like Padella, London’s hottest pasta bar, Cucina Rustica offers a respite from rainbow bagels, ramen burgers and Cronuts. Instead, simple Italian dishes are at the fore - and what’s not to like about that?

The Rose & Crown, 71-73 Torriano Ave, Kentish Town, NW5 2SG. From 2 August.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Are men oppressed by patriarchy? Discussing masculinities and the matrix of domination

A week ago I received a text from an ex-flatmate from university whose final year coincided with my second. I helped out a little with his dissertation, for which he got a brilliant first! Around the communal kitchen table, we often discussed gender, compulsory femininity, and how class interacts with these forces. 

I once painted his nails while we watched My Mad Fat Diary and he became very angry when I didn't have polish remover. He said I didn't understand how much shit he was going to get from his friends, that any expression of femininity was out of reach to him as a working class man.

After completing a masters at Cambridge, he is now looking at masculinity for a PhD thesis. When we spoke on the phone recently, he was happily on way to a date wearing mascara. He intends to enrol in an American university to start a new life as a more liberated man who cannot be identified as working class Mancunian and thus pigeon-holed.

This is his text (adapted very slightly to omit personal details):
"Hey, hope you're well. I was wondering if you could help me think through something. I just read a feminist critique of a book about masculinities in which the author's attitude  was it was absolutely important not to claim men are oppressed by patriarchy. I'm pretty convinced, however, that is exactly the reason men kill themselves: death is better than admitting sadness. It matters because I want to be certain of my epistemological footing before I write my PhD proposal. The best I can come up with is that patriarchy is like capitalism, in that there are winners and losers but ultimately America, for example, is more powerful than "insert poorer country". I'm sure you know far more about this than me, can give me a heads up please?"
Today I got round to replying by email:
I agree with the feminist source you read re: men being oppressed by the patriarchy. 
Men are not oppressed by the patriarchy. Do men experience disadvantages? Yes. Men feel emotionally restricted and put under pressure as breadwinners. But those disadvantages and limitations exist as drawbacks from a central purpose, which is to make men more powerful - opposing women's ‘hysteria’ and assuming financial control in the process. 
Let’s use the body image discussion as illustrative of the wider debate. We say women are put under enormous pressure to be thin. Every woman I’ve ever met feels that pressure and our weight informs all interactions with each other and with men. Girls know from a very young age that being anything other than skinny means being of lesser value. 
Men respond, ‘we also have to live up to expectations! When I look at a men’s magazine/comic/advert, I see a man with lots of muscles. That takes a lot of time, effort and resources, and can lead to men taking dodgy steroids, etc.'
1. Men are not *primarily* judged by their appearance to the extent that women are. The pressure is strong but a man who doesn’t have the physique of David Beckham isn’t seen as worthless. 
2. Looking physically strong, having muscles, is a power fantasy. Men are encouraged to have muscles, which makes them bigger and stronger than women (and even more intimidating), whereas women are coerced into making ourselves smaller and weaker, to physically take up less space. 
3. This power fantasy is a male fantasy. Men are encouraged to do look a certain way by other men. Who writes those comics and heads those advertising agencies? Men have built patriarchal structures; they didn’t just appear in a vacuum and they’re no mistake.  
The discussion above can be extrapolated to answer your wider question of whether men are oppressed under patriarchy for being men. 
A class based analysis is used for radical (not liberal) feminist theory. Men are the oppressor class. That doesn’t deny that individual men may be in worse positions than Theresa May. And you are not in a better position than Obama, despite your whiteness. Obviously, other axes of oppression are at play (cf Crenshaw on intersectionality, Patricia Hill Collins on the matrix of domination). 
But are men being oppressed by... men? Here I’d look at Connell on hegemonic masculinity and conclude that the hierarchy of masculinities exists to keep standards of masculinity high. Competing forms of masculinity mean that gender non-conforming men are marginalised and subordinated, but ultimately the process serves to reinforce gender and the power of men. 
Look into Michael Kimmel and absolutely read Frye's ‘Oppression’ piece.
I'll update if the conversation continues...