About Beat

Beat is a magazine dedicated to exploring developments in Art and Culture in the networked age. Our aim is to deliver exciting and progressive content using all the tools currently available, reflecting the changes in cultural production that access to new technologies brings.

As such contributions may vary in their form; You may find an essay of in-depth analysis, alongside a short album review; a photo-essay of an exhibition or a video performance; a meme, a series of hyperlinks or a music file. We want to explore what a magazine is and can be, who contributes and how, to blur the lines between who is ‘in or out’ of the magazine process.

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Each issue is broadly themed, tying together the various forms contributions may take.

A theme should be seen as an inspirational starting point, a provocation and not as a perscriptive cage, they may take the form of a word or a sentence, a piece of music or a video.


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The Drug Debate

by Jessica Howard

Russell Brand at Drugs CommissionPopular comedian and ex-drug addict Russell Brand recently gave a speech in front of the Commons Home Affairs select committee in which he voiced his support of drug decriminalization. The committee is currently looking at the UK’s drug policies, which many have criticized as failing in recent years, and Brand’s words were met with both admiration and outrage from both the committee and various other participants such as anti-cannabis group “Cannabis Skunk Sense” (slightly amusing name, very serious group).

But what would the decriminalization of drugs mean for the country?

As most people who are pro-decriminalization are keen to point out, decriminalization IS NOT legalization. Drugs would still be illegal. However, decriminalization would see drug abuse becoming a health matter rather than a criminal matter, which would mean that users would be treated as having an illness rather than as criminals. Instead of being arrested and face possible jail time for possession, users would have other options, such as paying a fine or attending meetings akin to Alcoholics Anonymous. Dealers and suppliers, however, would still face the full force of the law. Essentially, decriminalization would create more prison space and free up police time to catch the ‘real’ criminals, and allow them to focus their resources on taking down the dealers and suppliers.

Not only that, but decriminalization would cost a damn site less than locking every user up; as Brand said, it would be “a brilliant idea” if the costs of “nicking people for possession” were instead used to fund treatment and honest drug education programmes.

But Russell Brand can’t seem to open his mouth without causing controversy, and this recent speech was no exception. Journalist Peter Hitchens responded by saying that the government had “abandoned many years ago” any real attempt to stop the usage of cannabis and certain Class A drugs. Personally, I don’t believe that lack of information is the problem. It is the lack of honest and truthful information that is the problem. We all remember having to sit through endless school assemblies where we were told that just the smell of cannabis would either turn us into paranoid schizophrenic who needed locking up, or reduce our brains  into thoughtless sacks of mush. In fact, a recent study by The Guardian found that the majority of drug users would be more inclined to quit if the Government provided them with realistic and evidentially supported dangers of drug usage. Overwhelmingly, the drug that most users would choose to give up first was tobacco, for fear of getting lung cancer. But instead of championing for real, hard evidence, Hitchens went on to state that drug use was just ‘wrong’ and that the law should clearly reflect this.

Another argument centred around cocaine use was put forward by Ms Gyngell of the Cannabis Skunk Sense group. She claims that cocaine use is “only common in certain circles” and decriminalization would only encourage the number of users to rise sharply. This is not true.  Cocaine isn’t a drug that is exclusively available to the rich upper classes; like any drug, it is available to whoever looks hard enough for it.

Marginalizing this will only worsen the problem by shunning those who really need help, either through denial or ignorance.

Whether you love or hate Russell Brand, there is no doubt that having experienced the highs and lows of drug abuse his opinion is worth listening to; probably more so than these politicians who admit that yes, they smoked a spliff at university, but they didn’t inhale. As a matter of fact, Brand isn’t the only ‘celebrity’ to have spoken up in favour of decriminalization in the past few months. In March, Richard Branson met with Ian Blair, former commissioner of the Metropolitan police force to argue the case for decriminalization.

He used Portugal as his prime example, one that has kept cropping up throughout the recent debates. In 2001 they abolished all criminalization laws against the use of any drug for personal possession. Their main argument was that fear of prison time would force addicts underground and that locking them all up was more expensive than helping them. Despite initial criticisms the scheme is now seen as a success; by 2009 a study found that drug use amongst teenagers had declined, and the rate of new HIV infections through sharing dirty needles dropped, whilst the number of people seeking help for drug addiction more than doubled.

The decriminalization of drug use is an issue that will no doubt be debated for some time, and whatever the outcome it is bound to be controversial. No-one can deny that the so-called ‘war on drugs’ has been less of a war and more of an ongoing struggle for the government, and that new tactics are definitely needed. By UK standards, decriminalization may be a radical but necessary approach to tackling drug use; necessary for the people, for the country and the economy as a whole.

Posted on Tuesday, May 1st 2012, by I Am Dan Eastmond

Tags Culture Jessica Howard drugs Russell Brand home affairs select committee

Hobbit -v- Hobbit

by Jessica Howard

Post image for Hobbit -v- HobbitIn this time of economic crisis everyone has been hit hard; families, single parents, civil servants, carers…the list goes on. But whilst we have had to contend with whatever ‘money saving’ scheme the government throws at us, whether it be public spending cuts or tax increases, spare a thought for small business owners; you may have thought it was just rising cost of inflation, or competition from larger chain stores that they had to deal with, but now they face a bigger enemies. The dreaded Corporations.

I don’t want to sound like some ultra-liberal hippy type who slams anyone for making a bit of money-or, in some cases, a lot of money-but it seems that decency, common sense and compassion have become a thing of the past where the Corporations become involved. So is it really all about the money?

It all revolves around ‘The Rights’. Take, for example, a current on-going battle involving a small pub in Southampton called The Hobbit. The Hobbit is essentially a homage to Tolkien. You can buy cocktails with names such as ‘Frodo’ and ‘Gandalf’, and Tolkien inspired art and decoration fills the pub. It is a novel and individual place, and has been trading under the name ‘The Hobbit’ for twenty years.  But a couple of months ago, The Saul Zaentz Company (the SZC), who own certain rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books ordered The Hobbit to either change its image or shut down completely.

Zaentz has owned these rights since 1976; so why now? Obviously the up-coming release of The Hobbit movie must have something to do with it. But why not take up legal proceedings in 2001, when the first of the Lord of the Rings movies came out?

Well, because these days it is easier to get away with. Thanks to what is known as the ‘suing culture’ where everyone is suing everyone, where every other TV commercial is a solicitor promising to get you compensation for stubbing your toe at the supermarket, and where everyone has gone health and safety mad to ensure that they don’t get sued, something like this is almost expected. Excluding factors such as common sense and human decency, the SZC is legally completely within its right to do this, as are many of the large companies who own ‘The Rights’ to various names and products.

But does that mean that mean they should? It isn’t just The Hobbit pub that has come under attack; Microlodge Uk, which specialises in fixed camping shelters have become a victim of the SZC for the selling of their ‘Hobbit Houses’, and a small café in Birmingham called ‘The Hungry Hobbit’ has also come under fire. If it is a matter of principle, then the SZC is making its point, and fairly.

But of course, it isn’t completely fair. After drumming up over 50, 000 supporters on Facebook, Sir Ian McKellen writing of his support for the Save The Hobbit campaign, and Stephen Fry, who is currently involved in the filming of The Hobbit movie tweeting “sometimes I’m ashamed of the business I’m in. What pointless, self-defeating bullying”, the people of The Hobbit refused to go down without a fight. Now, SZC have told The Hobbit that they can continue trading, but only if they pay them $100 a month, a price which could rise at any given time. Luckily for The Hobbit, both Stephen Fry and Sir Ian Mckellen have come together and announced that they will pay the monthly fee, and whilst this is good news for The Hobbit, it isn’t the point; the SZC are essentially pitting money over any sort of principle that might make this acceptable behaviour.

Despite not agreeing with the action taken at all, I can see (legally) the SZC’s point. Some companies, however, seem to have let common sense fly out the window, with some claims that are both petty and childish. Take for example the famous Dolce and Gabbana; At the end of last year, two Scots mechanics where threatened with closure by the Corporation when they tried to register their business. Their crime? Their business name, created from their initials, “D&G Autocare.” Dolce and Gabbana decided that their business name would be likely to confuse people and they were afraid people would unwittingly enter the garage looking for expensive designer handbags. Or, heaven forbid, a customer may drive a car into one of their expensive city stores and demand an MOT! Please, give us people some credit; most of us aren’t that stupid. So are Dolce and Gabanna going to sue everyone with the initials ‘D&G’ in their names? Luckily the Italian Corporation lost their case thanks to a costly legal battle and the fact that Dolce and Gabbana failed to get their formal objection in on time.

At a time where people are financially vulnerable, this seems like the perfect chance for the million pound Corporations to swoop in and try and exert their control over our small, homegrown businesses. But as the Hobbit case shows, people power can still prevail; if we truly want to live in a fair and decent world, it’s time we started looking out for one another, time we started supporting each other and standing up against this nonsense.  The Hobbit is an inspiring story, and at a time when it seems everyone is forced to look out for no-one but themselves, it proves just what we can do when we band together and take a stand.

Posted on Friday, April 6th 2012, by I Am Dan Eastmond

Tags culture Jessica Howard hobbit Saul Zaentz Company copywrite

Vampires in fiction: A Brief History

by Jessica Howard

Post image for Vampires in fiction: A Brief HistoryVampire fiction has changed a great deal in the past 200 years; from the classics to the modern day phenomenon Twilight, the vampire has been transformed since the rise of Dracula. But how has it changed, and why?

It was Bram Stoker’s Dracula that really marked the beginning of popular vampire fiction and gave rise to the ‘modern’ vampire in 1897. In this classic novel, the vampire Dracula is depicted as a soulless and dark creature, an aristocrat who lives in an ancient castle, sleeps in a coffin, and can seduce a victim by merely looking into their eyes.

One commonly accepted supposition is that Dracula is a metaphor for cholera or tuberculosis. The symptoms and the way that the illness took hold of its victims until death are very similar to the effects of having your blood drained by Dracula; the patient, or victim, would grow weaker and weaker in both body and mind, until they were taken over completely by the disease and all that was left was a slow, lingering death. If Dracula wanted to change a mortal into a vampire, he would feed them a little of his blood, ‘infecting’ the victim with the ‘vampire’ disease.

This is the first notable instance of the vampire having a direct correlation with the society it inhabits. Throughout the past couple of hundred years, society has progressed, and the vampire itself has changed to reflect this.

The next prominent contribution to the genre came roughly 80 years later with Anne Rice’sVampire Chronicles, the first book in the series being Interview With The Vampire in 1976. Lestat de Lioncourt, is a French Nobleman with a very aristocratic manner similar to Dracula, and has more in common with Stoker’s vampire than the vampires of today. This was a period in history where society began to change rapidly; promiscuity and the free love movement began a rebellion against the Church and the commonly accepted Christian morals that governed society.  Contraceptives became more readily available, taking illegal drugs became a popular pastime and people were pushing the boundaries of what was socially acceptable. They say that change is good, but is it moral? The Vampire Lestat represented the selfish, indulgent side of human nature and the questions of morality surrounding this new way of life. Now vampires seemed to harbour human-like emotions and exhibited biological and psychological motivations for their actions.

Reflecting this new openness in society, Interview With The Vampire is more erotic than previous vampire novels, a trend which was to continue as the genre progressed.

The twenty first century has seen the Twilight phenomena explode onto the scene, and whilst its popularity cannot be denied, it also attracted much criticism. Whilst there are vampires in the series that do adhere to the traditional archetype – they seduce their victims and drink their blood-it was the main characters that caused controversy. These vampires redefined how the modern vampire was perceived. These vampires no longer retained the refined, aristocratic nature of vampires before them; instead they wore denim, put gel in their hair and went to the local state school like your average human. Unlike the traditional vampires, these could walk around in the sunlight; they just chose not to, because instead of bursting into fire and dying painfully, their skin simply sparkles like glitter. Possibly the biggest difference between these vampires and the vampires of previous stories is that these vampires have chosen not to drink human blood, only the blood of animals. Everything that previously made vampires threatening, and symbolized their soulless nature had been compromised. Whilst the vampires of previous novels seduced their victims for their blood, the Twilight vampires seduce purely out of love even though love between a human and a vampire is depicted as frowned upon by the rest of the vampire community.

It would appear that nothing is out of reach within our current society, not even the vampire. Twilight is as much, maybe more so, about a mortal seducing a vampire rather than the other way round. The vampire is no longer an aristocratic and mysterious stranger; he is the boy next door.

We now control the vampire, bending even his ‘natural’ and blood-thirsty impulses to our own desires, fitting it nicely around our own wants and needs.

So what does the future hold for the vampire? That all depends on the direction we as a society choose to take, but one thing is for sure; vampires have changed a great deal over the past two hundred years, and will continue to change in ways that are impossible to predict.

Posted on Friday, February 3rd 2012, by I Am Dan Eastmond

Tags culture film Jessica Howard Literature

A Serbian Film: Is It Art?

by Jessica Howard

Post image for A Serbian Film: Is It Art?The definition of art is one that has been debated for centuries, yet never truly defined. Most will agree that art should move us; it should stimulate us emotionally and intellectually; or at the very least it should be aesthetically pleasing. It is accepted that;

“…art refer[s] to intentional, conscious actions on the part of the artists or creator. These may be to bring about political change, to comment on an aspect of society, to convey a specific emotion or mood, to address personal psychology, to illustrate another discipline, to (with commercial arts) sell a product, or simply as a form of communication.”

With such a broad definition, it is possible that almost anything can be viewed as art. Maybe there can be no clear-cut definition, because if the basis of art is to affect oneself, then art becomes something personal; and what may be deemed as art by one person may seem meaningless to the next.

But can films be considered art? If a film has the power to touch us, to make us think and deeply consider a message or story, then surely films can be considered art as much as any other medium could be. But can A Serbian Film be considered art, or is it just gore for the sake of gore, thrown into the sub-genre of ‘torture porn’ along with films like Hostel or A Human Centipede?

Released in 2010, it didn’t start making waves throughout the film community until 2011 when it was met with both loathing and admiration by critics and banned twice in this country. A Serbian Film whipped up a storm of controversy for its twisted and detailed scenes of torture and sexual depravity, but Writer and Director Srdjan Spasojevic and co-writer Aleksandar Radivojevic who have spent their whole lives in Serbia, have made it clear that this film is a metaphor for the political situation within the country over the past twenty years. Under the regime of Communist President Milosevic who ruled from 1989 until 1997, violence became a part of everyday life and oppression was everywhere, with media being censored and free speech being all but wiped out. Milosevic was arrested in 1999 for war crimes and crimes against humanity and died in prison in 2006. Despite the fact that Serbia is now a democratic country, it is still struggling to completely break free from the influences of the Milosevic regime.

Whilst there are many instances within the film where parallels can be seen between the violence depicted and the message the writers want to convey, a lot of the brutality seems completely unnecessary and an unimaginative way of getting the message across. In an interview, Aleksandar Radivojevic said that:

“We think that some of our own emotions that were caused by our inspirations are very strong and must be shown in strong means and extreme metaphors. We feel extremely violated and we want to put that into pictures.”

The oppressive regime of the state is skilfully represented in the beginning of the film. When main character Milos arrives for his first day of shooting, he is immediately confronted with men dressed as police holding video cameras; everywhere he turns there is one of these nameless uniformed figures pointing a camera at him, and the viewer does get the unnerving sense of being constantly watched, judged and ultimately oppressed.

A serious mistrust of authoritarian figures is evident throughout the film.  At one point, one of the characters asks, “Who can you trust if not a child psychologist working for security?” As the film progresses we can’t help but relate to this character as a symbolic representation of the Serbian government, and we soon learn the answer to that question: no-one. As the film develops, we can’t help but empathize with Milos and feel the hopelessness of one who truly has no choice.

In contrast, the second half of the film lacked what the first half strongly represented. The thought-provoking and powerfully symbolic depictions of a dehumanized nation were gone, and whilst the brutality does indeed shake you to the core, by the end you feel desensitized to it. This was definitely a case of ‘less is more’ and by the end of the film I was unfortunately in agreement with previous critics; this is quite simply torture porn. If you have a strong stomach I recommend you watch this film; for if you want a film with a thought-provoking and cleverly conveyed message that plays strongly on one’s emotions and adheres to nearly all of the qualities that a piece of art should as outlined in the opening, I can’t think of many other films that will deliver as much as A Serbian Film. This film is indeed a work of art.

Well, the first half of the film at least.

Posted on Thursday, December 1st 2011, by I Am Dan Eastmond

Tags Film Jessica Howard A Serbian Film review