Neutral examines the advantages and consequences of living in a technological world and begins to explore what our world may look like in the future.

Neutral Magazine + Media
Women’s Football Euros Come to South Yorkshire

By Oliver Casey | Media and Communication BA (Hons)

The 2022 Women’s Euros, a European based football competition, was held in England over the summer South Yorkshire got to play a role in the sporting festivities with two locations being picked as host venues. Rotherham’s New York Stadium was used for group games and a quarter final and Sheffield’s Bramall Lane being also used for group games and, excitingly, a semi-final. As a Sheffield native I went to a game at both Bramall Lane and the New York stadium to see how South Yorkshire had been transformed into an international sporting venue.

Firstly, we see the fan party banners used to welcome visitors into a festival-like celebration zone. This banner shows just how large the tournament is with both its large logo at the top and a multitude of sponsors shown at the bottom.

In this image, we can see how the host cities advertise themselves as being a part of the event. Welcoming fans to the town itself and then showing how they are proud to be the home to the nations of Belgium, France, Iceland and Italy. This sign was located directly outside of the train station. Meaning visiting football fans knew exactly what to expect and non-football fans could become clued up on what to expect from Rotherham over the next couple of weeks.

Here, we see how prolific imagery can be used to associate yourself with the team you support. Outside Sheffield's Frog & Parrot pub we see a large congregation of Swedish fans. The pub is hanging Swedish flags outside, the umbrellas also carry the flags, the fencing has been adorned with flags and all of the fans are wearing their country’s jersey with pride. Due to the sheer amount of imagery used by these fans and the pub to proclaim their love for Sweden, it is mind bending to think such a large foreign fan presence can take place at a Sheffield pub.

This picture shows us how the stadiums themselves are changed to portray that they are being used for an international match, in this case the group stage game between Sweden and Switzerland. Firstly, at the top of the image we see the flags for UEFA (European football governing body), the competition logo, Switzerland’s flag and Fifa (the world governing football body) have been displayed high up for all supporters to see. Secondly, we can see that the walls of the stadium have had their usual motif (home team Sheffield United) replaced with branding for the tournament. Lastly, we can again see small clusters of fans proudly wearing their country’s shirts and boasting their flags to rally behind the team.

Lastly, I want to draw attention to this map that is based in Rotherham’s town centre. It informs fans where the fan zone, concessions, accessible/disabled, toilets and activities are based. It shows that the Women’s Euros is not purely a sporting tournament. It is a celebration of culture and people. The map indicates places where fans can go to mingle and enjoy other events not purely related to football but to the countries involved. It also helps show spectators around Rotherham making it not just a place for football but for a town centre that people can explore.

Even though the Women’s euros only lasted a month. It transformed South Yorkshire in that time making it a hub on the international stage. Fan zones, sponsors, flags and shirts all contributed to drawing peoples’ eyes on to South Yorkshire.

Creating a large and memorable tournament for locals and visiting fans alike.

Neutral Magazine + Media
When I’m 64? How about 80?

By Oliver Casey | Media and Communication BA (Hons)

On Saturday, June 25th 2022, Paul McCartney wowed festival goers and tuned in audiences around the world as he rocked the main stage at this year’s Glastonbury. Fans new and old danced, sang and partied their way through the eighty-year old’s jam-packed two-hour set. Delayed for two years due to the Coronavirus pandemic fans were eagerly awaiting to hear the legendary McCartney tear his way through solo, Wings and most importantly Beatles favourites we’ve all come to love over the years. In this article I want to narrow down to some of the key performances throughout Macca’s set to understand why the world has been enamoured by this man for over sixty years.

The start of McCartney’s set seemed to appease the more hardcore fans of the timeless Liverpudlian, playing lesser-known Wings and solo songs such as Junior’s Farm, Letting Go and Come on to Me. The first song, however, Can’t Buy Me Love, shows that McCartney knows what it takes to get the crowd going. Starting the set off strong with a much loved and great sing-along song proves McCartney knows his audience. Roughly a third of the way into the set we see McCartney start to insert one of his favourite feelings into his songs, nostalgia. First in was Maybe I’m Amazed a classic ballad love song written for McCartney’s first wife, Linda (who passed away in 1998). Then, there was a cover of the Buddy Holly song In Spite of All the Danger. The song may seem simple and pass over the heads of many listeners, however, it was the first recording ever made by John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison when they were teenagers.

McCartney wowed the Glastonbury crowd and the audiences at home by bringing out two very special guest performers. First was Dave Grohl (of Nirvana and Foo Fighters fame) to play I Saw Her Standing There and Band on The Run. Foo Fighters are a group who consistently play fantastic rocking concerts to sold out crowds. Grohl’s guest appearance helped add a modern flare to McCartney’s performance. He has been playing to audiences since the late 1950s and can still hold up with one of the best rock frontmen in 2022. The second guest of the evening was none other than “The Boss” Bruce Springsteen, where they performed Springsteen’s Glory Days followed by The Beatles’ I Wanna Be Your Man. Springsteen is one the best-selling musicians of all time, yet his original inspiration was The Beatles. These two great performers on stage not only made for a legendary moment but showed just how long-lasting and influential music can be.

“Macca’s” set was full of tributes to the passed-on members of the fab four; John Lennon and George Harrison. McCartney played the Harrison-penned song Something featuring an intro played on a ukulele, Harrison’s favourite instrument. Various songs featured a backdrop of clips of The Beatles in the studio, giving interviews or being on stage, helping us relive the era of Beatlemania. One of the most touching and thought-provoking tributes was the one for John Lennon. McCartney began talking about the new Peter Jackson documentary series Get Back which used remastered audio and footage from the (thought to be) tumultuous Get Back/Let It Be recording sessions. McCartney then went on to describe how Jackson and his team had done such a good job at remastering the audio for Get Back; they were able to create an isolated vocal track of Lennon singing I’ve Got a Feeling. The crowd is then stunned by a 2022 recreation of one of the most famous song-writing partnerships that has ever existed, Lennon and McCartney. McCartney starts singing his lines and when it’s John’s part of the song, he appears on the screen at the back of the stage in footage from the famous rooftop concert. It seems touching to bring back such a much-loved and famous duo after over 50 years since their last performance together. We must question though, does isolated audio and accompanying footage really make this a duet? Or is McCartney performing with a computer for most of the song? Whether it’s bringing back an icon or more akin to pressing play on a video it nevertheless feels like a touching tribute to the peace-loving war is over member of The Beatles.

McCartney’s Glastonbury set was no small feat. The man is 80 years old and still rocking out for three hours, entertaining hundreds of thousands of fans both in person and those watching at home. It is a testament to this man’s work ethic that he has been able to consistently perform and wow audiences for over 60 years. McCartney’s set also had one underlying characteristic that is paramount to his personality; love.

Performing tributes to the much missed Harrison and Lennon, bringing out new rockers (Grohl) and old rockers (Springsteen) shows how timeless McCartney’s music is and also shows how far his reach goes.

Neutral Magazine + Media
Amazon’s Alexa: A perfectly simple life, or the beginning of an Orwellian dystopia.

By Zuzanna Steczkiewicz | Media and Communication BA (Hons)

Have you ever thought in detail about new technologies that we are being constantly exposed to? Modern inventions are always advertised as solutions to the problems and difficulties that we face every day. As time goes by, they become more normalised, and they seem to fit into our routines perfectly. Amazon’s Alexa is currently one of the most popular gadgets and it does indeed have some advantages, however, what we also may need to bear in mind, is the risks it might carry.

Amazon’s Alexa is a voice-operated virtual assistant that can do a great number of things. At the very beginning, it was built into Amazon Echo and Echo Dot speakers so the users could give commands to play music or to check the weather forecast. Now, the technology can be used to contact your friends or to do shopping on Amazon, but it can also be found in other devices such as security cameras, light sources etc. The listed items connect to each other and create a ‘smart home’. Alexa links up to all the Alexa-enabled products so it can easily transfer information and instructions telling them to switch on and off or to work in a certain pattern. Thanks to that we can complete different activities in a faster and smoother way. After all, that is what modern living is about. Technologies give us order and clarity and that is what is meant to improve the quality of our lives.

Alexa is also supposed to make daily activities easier because it does not require a lot of physical involvement. Some people might say that the device is an extension of the human voice but also the human body as a whole. It can be awakened with just one word, and it will do anything we ask it to do. It sends our commands to other devices and that means we do not need to walk up to every single one of them and turn them on with our hands. We can be resting on a sofa and still start a washing machine or a vacuum. What is more, Alexa is supported by an app that can be useful when we are away from home. It can be controlled orally but also manually so, for example, if we are in a loud place, we do not have to worry that Alexa will not hear or understand us properly; we can still control our gadgets with just one tap on the screen.

It can also be said that Amazon’s technology is an extension of the human brain as we are more likely to forget about something than a machine that is sophisticatedly programmed. In the contemporary world, we are expected to multitask and handle everything at once, so it is likely that our memory will sometimes fail. Alexa does not only remind us to complete tasks, but it can also answer our questions; it is a big source of knowledge. Thanks to that, we do not need to remember the information we do not find essential and instead, we can focus on things that truly interest us. However, such a point of view can also be found controversial. Some people argue that, because of the incorporation of computers into our everyday lives, our memory capacity becomes gradually smaller. We become lazier and get out of the routine of learning and remembering important facts ourselves. We get used to having things done by someone or, definitely more relevant in this case, something else.

What might be another disadvantage of listening devices like Alexa is the issue of privacy. Some people argue that we cannot fully control or trust them. It is a major concern that has grown to the level of moral panic. It is believed that such technologies might be storing personal information and using it for purposes that we are not aware of. It is a form of surveillance, often referred to as dataveillance. Alexa devices are always switched on waiting to be activated with a wake-word and that is why we cannot be sure what exactly it is listening to. It might hear private conversations including confidential details which can then be used against us reminiscent of dystopian visions. Although Amazon insists that our information is safe with the company, there have been several cases that showed that the technology and the way in which it operates can take an unexpected turn. A Guardian article from 2018 tells a story of a woman from the United States who was a victim of a privacy invasion when the device sent a recording of a conversation she had with her husband to a random number from her contacts. Amazon said that Alexa must have heard a word sounding like its name and then misinterpreted parts of the dialogue. A situation like this should not have happened and it proves that the technology is not programmed in a way that guarantees safety and security.

All in all, Alexa is a technology that people have divided views on. Some have already given in to the idea of living a simpler life, but some persistently keep away from it.

It certainly poses questions about the increased integration of interactive smart technology into our homes and personal lives and the potential consequences of this ubiquity.

Neutral Magazine + Film

Spielberg’s West Side Story in the Open Air

By George Norman | Media and Communication BA (Hons)

What better chance is there to kill two birds with one stone when it comes to first time cinematic experiences than a seemingly hot summer’s night in the serene setting of York museum gardens across from the abbey. On this occasion, it was the shared experience of an outdoor screening and the viewing of Spielberg’s 2021 adaptation of West Side Story. However problems arose during the experience for this viewer and film fan.

In no part was there a lack of effort lacking by the organisers of the event. The touring group Outdoor Cinema, as everything was catered for, but the logistics of sitting still outside in for a film with an extended runtime, with an extra hour and a half commencement past the advertised arrival time results in a very uncomfortable viewing experience. Technically, the screening also falls apart particularly with the projection, even at half 11 and therefore darkest point of the evening, with the screen seemed to have a ‘motion smoothing’ effect running with too high contrast and too low brightness completely shattering one of the main attractions in Janusz Kamiński’s stunning cinematography. Audibly too there was always going to be no comparison to being in a surround sound cinema, given the physics of sound waves and open air, but to have only two small speakers at the side of the screen is always going to be less than optimal, but it completely detracted from the musical numbers to not have the true scale demonstrated.

Concerning the film, Spielberg’s established quality as a director is present in the translation of the kinetic energy of stage to the big screen, with each musical number feeling grandiose and wholeheartedly cinematic but the problem lies arguably not with the visual nature but either the source material itself or its casting. In order for the narrative to work, it must have an emotional core but when that necessary duty lands on the shoulders of Ansel Elgort and Rachel Ziegler it is never going to achieve its full potential. Ziegler does demonstrate star power, especially in musical numbers, but when faced with Elgort, who is still yet to exhibit on screen chemistry with any co-star, it would take a master performer in order to elicit any signifier of a connection. The central dynamic is also constrained by the abrupt nature of the narrative, taking place over 24 hours, the reality of the situation of that level of such a severe emotional connection being formed that quickly truly requires careful consideration into portraying it as believable which is where the importance of the lacking chemistry is vital. Due to this glaring fault, all the supporting cast seem infinitely more interesting in their roles, a cardinal sin for a film with such a major time investment, as they are not constrained to such a manufactured plot line that only seems to be included in the story by original writer Arthur Laurents for it to become a reimagining of Romeo and Juliet.

Inconsequential is the best word to describe the film then as there is no backbone to the cinematic scope of Spielberg’s eye due to a lack of any positive changes as an adaptation. As an experience then, unfortunately it fell completely short despite a considerable anticipation.  

The end result, and the conflict between the technical, logical and content issues added to an ultimately disappointing experience.

Neutral Magazine + Film

Chungking Express and the journey towards love and companionship

By Dan Rawcliffe | Media and Creative Writing (BA Hons)

WIn Wong Kar Wai’s 1994 romance, both souls lost in the Chungking Mansions seem to be walking the journey of life on completely different paths, yet both Officer 663 and Faye have simultaneously got their foot stuck in a purgatorial hole upon their life’s journey. Love’s key purpose in ‘Chungking Express’ is to help our characters escape this hole: Officer 663 mourns a crushed relationship, stuck in a loneliness which plagues the personified objects of his apartment, “everything in the apartment was lonely when she left”. It is this apartment which is the catalyst for both his and Faye’s romance, but also their rebirth. As Faye sneaks in and tenders the apartment, both parties benefit - she escapes her purgatorial life in a menial job, blasting music too loud so “I don’t have to think” about the mundane grease of her everyday life: the apartment hints at her taste for mischievous freedom, eluding work to renovate without permission of the owner. She sees it as her own land in her utopian California, and this caring new presence therefore consoles the apartment itself, arguably curing Officer 663’s heart of past romantic grief. We see the denouement of our characters’ escape when both find refuge in the apartment together. The film is a rumination on loneliness and redemption through gesture, unspoken tenderness and the hope for a more soulful life of interconnectedness, where we eventually see characters who have remained for the most part separate unite in the final act.  

Wong Kar Wai portrays a soulful tale of both characters using their disquieted love to pull each other out of hole of humanistic purgatory, and move on with their lives.

Neutral Magazine + Film

Portrait of a Lady on Fire and the fragility of love.

By Dan Rawcliffe | Media and Creative Writing (BA Hons)

Céline Sciamma’s 2019 period piece sets the secret relationship of two women against the motif of ephemerality. The film portrays love in the form of a quick dose of delight, with a brutal deadline gnawing away at their time together, as Heloise will be forced to Milan for an arranged marriage. The initial pulses of connection, through searching eyes rather than imposing words, serve as “fleeting moments that lack truth” in which a romance is planted in the crannies of their conversations, and desperately watered as Marriane butchers her painting and buys them five more days together. Sciamma displays Heloise’s time with Marriane to be an escape from the walls of reality which are closing in on her life; her sister’s suicide, a fallen relationship with her mother and an unwanted, loveless marriage. However, although she escapes the present plight, both women are unable to escape the wolf of time as it chases them throughout the film. It is a film in which both love and time are dangerous drugs: love’s euphoria hooks them to each other, then time’s hand breaks them apart and leaves them with nothing but memories. With the perilous final shot of Heloise’s sob, years later showing her still rehabilitating from the drug that was her love with Marriane, offers despair at its untapped potential. This scene reflects the evidence of what Marriane describes as “not the lover’s choice, but the poets”, as in parallel to the Greek mythology of Eurydice struck down to hell for one last look at her lover; an eternal love is surrendered in exchange for the memory of a gloriously singular experience. With an emphasis on the fleeting nature of time, Sciamma unearths the fragility of love through film, and yet as the final moments hover over Heloise’s face stained with past romance, our director’s key message is that love will always prevail, as Marriane declares  

- “Do not regret, remember.”