Arcade Fire’s “We Exist”, but is Transgender being portrayed correctly?

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I first heard Arcade Fire from the Hunger Games Soundtrack with their soldier-like marching track named “Abraham’s Daughter” however; the Canadian band first came to prominence in 2002 with their debut album Funeral. Their latest track “We Exist” has hit the headlines for its music video, featuring Andrew Garfield, which attempts to show someone attempting to come to terms with their self-identified gender as well as the difficulties they face for being a transgender in a society which does not truly understand it and is therefore out of the cultural norm. The video could not have been released at a better time in Europe than when it was due to the celebration of the drag queen Conchita Wurst’s victory in winning the 2014 Denmark Eurovision title.

Andrew Garfield is a British actor with a dual citizenship with the United States and is most known from his role as Peter Parker in the Amazing Spider-Man franchise – it is no surprise for Garfield to accept a role in playing a transgender woman as he has already expressed his support for the legalisation of same-sex marriage and starred in a gay marriage-themed play in 2006 called Beautiful Thing having commented in The Times in 2013 that “There is no argument against equality. How can anyone argue against compassion and understanding?”. Although transgender is sometimes confused with someone’s sexual orientation, it is not the same.  Transgender is the state of one’s gender identity rather than which gender they prefer to be in a relationship with, it is these common misconceptions which suggest why transsexuals and transgenders alike are not fully understood by the people around them. However, is music videos the answer to informing the mass public? Are there portrayals of transgenders as positive as someone who is not transgender believes they are? In order to discuss this I will be calling Garfield’s character by the gender they identify with; female.

Although the music video begins promising with Garfield shaving his hair off looking apprehensive to how they might be perceived for what she is about to do and changing into women’s clothes where she begins to smile yet still changing clothes a number of times due to the worry about how people will react. More so, the scene whereby she is watched by everyone in the bar as she enters adds symbolic imagery to the video about always feeling stared at before she is harassed by a group of drunken men where Garfield is beaten. This all presents a worryingly realistic “story of a young person’s struggle with gender identity” as Arcade Fire has claimed. Afterwards however, the video takes an  unexpected turn in adding some fairly tacky and stereotypical ‘bears’ as back up dancers which adds a form of surrealism that makes the video lose its grasp on presenting a serious social issue.

Although any free market corporation such as the music business can be argued to be in it simply for profit and just wants to hit a niche audiences such as the transgender community, by using a fairly known actor such as Andrew Garfield who does not identify himself as transgender to dress up as a woman and act the part well has added mediated attention to the issue at hand. In fact, it has gotten people such as myself to write about the social anxieties installed upon transgender lives as well as gotten it into everyday conversation. So, whether or not Arcade Fire did it for the niche market revenue does not fully matter as music videos such as “We Exist” can be applauded for helping a large proportion of the public to actually find out what being transgender means and in doing so allow transgender to exist without fear.

Tonight Matthew, I’m gonna be…’ – The lack of contemporary Role Models in a celebrity-crazed Culture

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What has happened to us when we find ourselves ogling celebrities and ignoring those that actually make a huge difference in the world? Where are the people that value the importance of individuals like Harvey Milk and Tony Benn rather than Kim Kardashian and Kanye West? Celebrity culture seems to have replaced any ambitions society may have once had and although the celeb life may be intriguing, putting them on a pedestal does not help progress our society but arguably regresses it instead.

Tabloid newspapers have concerned themselves so much with the Katie Prices of the world for so long that they have lost sight of the politicians, scientists, writers and so many more which have all contributed in developing the culture we live in now. Where would we be without the fairly unknown Willem Kolff who created the first artificial kidney dialysis machine thereby saving so many lives? As it has always been with humanity, we have forgotten to respect and look up to those that have given things we take for granted today; women’s rights, penicillin and the light bulb just to name a few. The examples I have given are evident proof of how the media are so preoccupied with the easily disposable star that it has become nearly impossible to name a contemporary celebrity worthy of aspiring to. Malala Yousafzai, the girl who stood up to the Taliban or even Dan Savage and Terry Miller who independently created the ‘It Gets Better Project’ into a worldwide movement are the sort of people we should be aspiring to and praising rather than the random celebrity who occasionally supports a humanitarian cause.

Celebrity used to be reserved for those with a skill that we, the adoring audience, saw as worthy to look up to but somewhere between two world wars and the creation of the internet we lost the true meaning of what it means to be a celebrity. Most celebrities today can be seen as leeches, suckling off of the working man, becoming rich for very little reason other than because we allow it. Perhaps it is time we brush the sparkles from our eyes and take a hard look at the kind of people we let reach fame.  Reading stories about a 19 year old Canadian that speeds at 136mph in a Lamborghini and a 27 year old actor who dons a paper bag on his head claiming he is ‘not famous anymore’ is getting tiresome and, with an entire business based around the celebrity industry such as the paparazzi, it is sadly becoming too frequent in the news. Are these the kind of people that we want our future children to aspire to be like? Where have all the true inspirational role models gone?