Neutral Magazine

Culture & Society

Exploration into culture and society allows Neutral to provide its readers with a deeper analysis of the world around us.

Neutral Magazine + Culture & Society

How Doctor Who can guide us through this crisis

By Amy Glasman | amy.glasman@yorksj.ac.uk

‘Know that in this time of upset and concern… that for two hours, we all sat together, worldwide, the Whovian fanfamily, and supported each other, through social media, watching this, connecting… It’s okay to be upset, it’s okay to be sad, but know we’ll get through this, because we’re all looking out for each other.’

John Barrowman, who portrays one of the show’s recurring characters, Captain Jack, welled up as he spoke to his phone camera on his sofa, watching — together with scores of people around the world — Doctor Who episodes The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End, streamed on 19th April as part of “Corona times” entertainment for Doctor Who fans. During the watchalong organised by Emily Cook, the show’s former writer Russell T Davies (RTD to his fans) who created the two episodes and actors David Tennant (the 10th Doctor), Catherine Tate, Freema Agyeman, Noel Clark and others, along with Barrowman, live tweeted, reminiscing about old times.

By the end, I was more than welling up; I was crying. I was surprised at how moved I felt, and equally surprised that I wasn’t the only one. There is something about this era of Doctor Who; about Russell T Davies’ writing, the acting, the music, the story, that has an emotional depth that sadly has not been matched since Davies’ departure in 2010.

The two streamed episodes were chosen well. They have always been the episodes. In them, everyone is together for the first and the last time — all the 10th Doctor’s companions, past and present. The moment when they’re standing around the TARDIS console and celebrating saving the world feels like a family reunion, one I’ve always felt a part of. What struck me as I was watching along and feverishly checking people’s live tweets, was how much we all felt like a global family, standing around this console, catching up, laughing, crying, and hugging. As Nicholas Pegg – the operator and voice of the Daleks – tweeted, referencing Sarah Jane’s beautiful line: ‘The Doctor really does have the biggest family on Earth, doesn’t he? I think tonight has proved that.’

The imminent end of the world has never been so sickeningly plausible, and any non-Whovians who saw ‘DETONATE THE REALITY BOMB’ trending on Twitter may have been a touch concerned, but not all that surprised. Except that instead of aliens, it’s humans who apparently have the capacity to bring about the end of the world. It is our greed, our disregard for nature and other humans, our constant othering that has caused the current calamity. But now that we are faced with it, whether through the ‘Subwave Network’ or Zoom, we find it more possible than ever before to overcome separation and feel more connected.

During RTD’s era, Doctor Who made a mark by exploring – but not lecturing on – what it meant to be human. It allowed us to see ourselves through the eyes of the Doctor, in particular our ability to be both ‘fantastic’ and brutal. In the 10th Doctor’s first episode, The Christmas Invasion, he pleads with invading aliens to spare the human race: ‘look at these people… these human beings; consider their potential. From the day they arrive on the planet, blinking, step into the sun…’ But when Prime Minister, Harriet Jones orders that the retreating aliens are killed, the change in the Doctor is sudden: ‘I should’ve told them to run… because the monsters are coming — the human race!’ Humans also break the Doctor’s — two — hearts and show themselves to be, in the words of the Master, the ‘greatest monsters of them all’ after a future humankind returns to present-day Earth to slaughter their ancestors. In April’s streamed episode, Journey’s End, Martha is prepared to end the world by detonating 25 nuclear warheads because ‘the suffering of the human race is so great…’ Luckily, this doesn’t transpire and the Doctor reminds us that there is always hope. Giving up is never an option.

Monsters, of course, are distinguished by a complete lack of empathy, just like the Daleks and the Cybermen, which allows them to be ruthless killing machines. To them, humans are weak because they have emotions. But the Doctor sees that this is, in fact, their strength. Despite all the violence he knows we are capable of, the Doctor never gives up on humankind, because he knows our real brilliance comes from our ability to feel a spectrum of emotions. Crucially, he knows and hopes that our ability to empathise will always stop us from becoming real monsters. We must let the Doctor guide us out of these desperate times by collectively unlearning the social construction of separation and instead choosing connection. Connection doesn’t just feel good; it’s our only hope for survival. The Doctor would feel deeply disappointed to learn that while 265 million people in the Third World are in danger of starving because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the richest corporations and their executives are being ‘rescued’ by Donald Trump’s government with hand-outs worth millions of dollars. Our choice is well represented in the two episodes: we can choose to destroy each other, or we can choose connection and hope.

If you thought Doctor Who was a wacky children’s sci-fi show, think again. It’s really about us.

Neutral Magazine + Culture & Society

The Strokes: Out With The Old and In With The New Abnormal

By George Taylor | george.taylor@yorksj.ac.uk

The Strokes are a funny band for me. Their best work is undeniably their first album. Is This It (2001) reinvigorated rock at a time of crisis and paved the way for the garage rock revival. However, I never want them to go back to that sound. If they were to replicate their early stuff it would be disingenuous; an unauthentic attempt to recapture the glory days. Put simply, The Strokes are no longer the same five piece they were when they first picked up their instruments, which begs the question: who are The Strokes now?

Their follow-up albums to their seminal debut were never bad, in fact most of them are very good. Their sophomore album Room on Fire (2003) is the closest they got to striking the same chord as their debut and 2013’s Comedown Machine is an overlooked gem. While the quality was always there, the sense of being a band was not. Many of the recording sessions of their later albums were plagued by arguments and were so intense that Julian would record his vocals separately to the band on their fourth album Angles (2011).

Which brings us to now. Amid a global pandemic, The Strokes release their sixth album, the aptly titled The New Abnormal. At nine tracks in length, the album already feels less messy than their 2006 album First Impressions of Earth. This also allows more time to be spent on individual tracks, giving the band a greater creative freedom for ideas to be fully explored. The album art is a painting by New York street artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. The painting, Bird on Money, suggests an exciting venture for the band due to its bright colours and surrealist composition.

The first track, The Adults Are Talking, establishes the tone of the album within the first five seconds: a looped drum machine before a distinct Strokes riff bursts into the listener’s ear. This sets the precedent that The Strokes are taking all their best previous elements and injecting them into this album. From their signature guitar tones to their more eighties influenced songs. Then at the twenty-five second mark the music stops, and Julian sings his first line. Like the first sip from a cup of tea after a long day, Julian’s vocals are warm and welcomed. He seeps onto the track with a whisper-like quality, his voice the cleanest it has ever sounded, a benefit to having Rick Rubin producing the album. The song glides at a groovy pace, with catchy choruses and trademark guitar interplay between Albert and Nick. The track culminates in Julian’s falsetto which has greatly improved since the previous album. The song fades out and we hear the first of some studio chatter, segueing into the next song.

Selfless is a fine follow up, particularly noteworthy for mature lyrics and beautiful vocals, especially on the chorus. That being said, it is not one of my favourite tracks on the album, mainly due to Rubin’s production. Yes, I know, I just praised him for the clean audio. Yet on this song, and in some other places on the album, it feels slightly too compressed. This results in the instruments not having enough space to breathe and the track feeling slightly claustrophobic. Still, the song works well within the context of the album and is by no means bad.

Up next are two of the singles released prior to the album. Brooklyn Bridge to Chorus is arguably the most eighties tinged track with its pulsating synths and zipping electronic

guitar. The song certainly picks up the pace and is one of the more radio-friendly tracks on the album. This is one to be played loud with its fist-in-the-air chorus and tantalising verses. Bad Decisions continues the quick pace and is the closest the band comes to sounding like their younger selves. Thankfully, this homage is not overbearing due in part to the eighties sounds that complete this rocker. The song begins with a New Order inspired riff and continues the nods to that era with a chorus that sounds exactly like Dancing with Myself (the band don’t hide this though, as Billy Idol gets a writing credit). The song carries a sense of irony, for it sounds so much like early Strokes but the lyrics suggest the band are tired of sounding that way. While it may please the fans that desperately want early Strokes back, if they dig a little deeper, they may find that the band are rejecting them. I respect the band for staying true to themselves instead of making an entire album of songs with this sound. The next track is Eternal Summer, which has grown on me a lot since first listen. It can be divided into two distinct parts: the pleasant-sounding falsetto verses and the attention grabbing and abrupt choruses. At first, I found this jarring, but upon further listens I realised that this song acts as a transition of sorts. It carries on the fun and upbeat sound of the first half of the album, but also hints at a darker, sadder side of things to come. The song is a further testament to Julian’s vocal ability. He ranges from falsetto, his usual croon and shouting all in one song. The New Abnormal features his best singing yet and this song is a perfect representation of that.

Then we get to the absolute highlight of the album: At The Door. The song is such an achievement for how simple it is. Being the first single released, I was initially unsure about the track due to its lack of powerful riffs and pounding drums. But every subsequent listen has had me fall more in love with it to the point where I now consider it one of the band’s best. For most of its runtime, the song is just Julian and a synth. The instrumentation feels other worldly and wouldn’t be out of place in a sci-fi film. His voice is like velvet as he sings heart-breaking lyrics such as “sinking like a stone/use me like an oar/to get yourself to shore”. The song comes from a dark place as it deals with themes of depression and loneliness, representing a maturity found throughout the album. The final minute is pure feeling, leaving you empty in the best way possible. You question your own futility as the track floats you into the abyss.

Why Are Sunday’s So Depressing and Not The Same Anymore continue the mature themes. Both songs deal with nostalgia and looking back. They sound somewhat like older Strokes songs but slowed down. A faster tempo for either of these songs would have been appreciated. The songs would still have enough new elements to avoid sounding like a pastiche of their earlier stuff. I can envision the more casual listener zoning out around here due to the pace being slower than the first few songs of the album. They require a bit more from the listener than other songs, due to their lyrics and slower pace. Upon multiple listens I find them to be important components of the album, whereas initially, I was not too enthralled by either. It is also between these songs that another studio chatter occurs. I really enjoyed these little snippets. They are reassuring that the band had fun making this album, as opposed to their previous releases. The band finally seem passionate again and it’s a joy to see.

Finally, the album draws to a close with Ode to The Mets. It begins quite stripped back until Julian asks Fab to come in with the drums, a humorous moment in an otherwise emotional song. The song adds a nice finality to the album and even makes call-backs through reuse of the chord progression from Brooklyn Bridge. It builds up to the final verse which is an explosion of Julian’s finest vocals and swelling instrumentation. Julian sings bitterly how the old times are gone, perhaps a statement summarising the band. Regardless, it is the climax of the album and it feels warranted.

The New Abnormal is The Strokes best album in years. While not as immediate as their debut, the band show a new maturity in song writing and comradery. For the first time in a while, the band seem to be enjoying themselves and it makes for a much more enjoyable listen. Julian is at the top of his game vocally as he sings some of his best lyrics yet. The rest of the band are tight and as skilful as ever. While the album is occasionally held back by some production choices and tonally similar songs, it challenges the listener with its experimental instrumentation, making it the band’s most engaging record. To answer the question: who are The Strokes now? The Strokes are a band who refuse to be held back by their past. They acknowledge it but prove that change is a good thing, a sign that progression leads to a better future. In these abnormal times, that’s a message we can all do with hearing.

Neutral Magazine + Fiction

The Factory of Misfortune

By Indee Watson | independence.watso@yorksj.ac.uk

Before I tell you this story, there’s one thing you should know; Alex didn’t mean for things to turn out the way they did. He was only a child, and he only wanted to find out what happened to his mother. You must believe me.

* It had been 21 days since Alex had seen the sun. The City was always bustling with people even in the light-droughts, so the world was accustomed to it. The faint glowing of candles and torches were peppered throughout the darkness, their glow illuminating desperate faces, as workers scrambled through the rain to get home. Alex, rebelling against his father’s instructions, always stopped at The City on his way home from the factory, just in time for the old man in the market to give him his last bag of chips before closing, the smell of vinegar overpowering the stale smell that accumulated there. Taking a spot on the bench, he waited for his brother to finish working, occupying himself by observing anyone and everyone. That evening, he watched as a shiny-eyed man handed over money to the girl on the corner, before she led him into an old brick building with a big black door. The men always came out smiling, and Alex was happy to know she was spreading joy. He thought she was probably a pianist or something. After all, he’d overheard mummy telling his father that it was her fingers that made the men smile. Alex liked to think of himself as a detective, and nodded to himself in satisfaction, knowing another mystery had been solved. As he bit into his last chip, the taste of potatoes and salt eradicating his hunger, his brother emerged from the smoke. Adriel was almost 17, 8 years older than Alex, and was an aspiring historian. He always told Alex never to stay in The City for longer than 20 minutes, as the smog was always the worst at the end of the day. Buildings were coated by thick layers of dirt, his skin would become 3 shades greyer than it should be, and he had to cover his mouth whilst he was there, else the smog would choke him, and he’d be coughing up dust throughout the night. All that said, he’d grown used to it.

As they wandered out of The City, desperate to get home before the dark hours, they could hear Jerome Gent preaching to a small crowd about The End. “Let your soul save you! Hold it close and be free in The End!” he cried out. Alex craned his neck to hear, his body following suit as he planted himself amongst the growing crowd. “Do you want death to bring enrichment or damnation? The choice is yours to make, let your soul be your ticket there!” Astonished eyes widened; the message clearly being understood. “You,” the speaker’s bony finger stretched out towards Alex. “Do you want to be damned for etern…” The words trailed off as Adriel dragged Alex away, snippets of other nearby conversations clouding his mind instead. With his head down, Alex held tightly onto his brother’s coat, rain pattering against his back and dripping through his tattered shoes. He couldn’t wait to get away from The City and the rainclouds watching overhead.

They called it ‘The City’ but it wasn’t really a city at all. Alex always thought the name was silly, but his father said it’s because it’s the only place the war left behind. Alex found that even more ridiculous. After all, there were tiny homes and factories all over! It wasn’t the only place. Despite this, their walk home was always quieter than The City, which was even noisy in the dark hours. As they walked, they passed the dried-out rivers that they say used to run free with fresh water, and even fish! But all they’d ever known were barren riverbeds, spread over the land like a cobweb. Adriel told stories of the lakes and rivers that used to encompass the country. He expressed his wild tales about the aliens who roamed the land, and the mermaids who would wave to passers-by from the lakes, and Alex smiled, believing every word.

“They had spaceship shaped homes and would fly to work in rockets! And if the humans were lucky, they’d be allowed a ride too!” Alex’s eyes widened in awe.

“How jealous the people would get! That’s why you don’t see aliens around anymore; they had to leave so the humans wouldn’t go mad.”

A frown found its way onto Alex’s face. “They’ll come to visit one day, won’t they? I’ve never met an alien before. Do you think mummy and father have?” In happier times, the brothers would go home a warm fire and Alex would recite Adriel’s wild stories to their parents. They wouldn’t be in the factories every day, and Alex would even get to go to school. But the war of 2129 eliminated any chance of that happening. Adriel attended school until it was bombed during the war, causing everyone to flee the town. As well as his outlandish stories, he told Alex about the wars before they were born; The Techno War of 2099, The British European War of 2025, and even The Cold War of the 1970s. The Techno War had been the worst of them all, sending the world back into times long forgotten. ‘The industrial devolution’ Adriel always called it.

Adriel didn’t get chance to answer Alex’s question before their father came rushing towards them. His face was old, but not wise, and black dust had gathered in all his wrinkles. His eyes were always obscured with anger, too intense to even let him sleep. Though encompassed by a weak frame, he stood tall above both his children, always looming and intimidating. His thin arms unfolded as he placed a large, weathered hand onto Alex’s shoulder, the weight sending a chill down his spine. He knew something was wrong; his father never showed affection.

To be continued…

Neutral Magazine + Fiction

Payback

By Hannah Darley | hannah.darley@yorksj.ac.uk

CHAPTER ONE: Coming to terms with it all Most of my friends are settled into their careers, married or engaged, pregnant or are parents. And me? I’m sat here on the sofa, writing to you, whoever you are. I’m desperate to relieve myself, but I’m currently suffering with such significant physical trauma that I can’t even go for a piss unaided.

Welcome to my life, dear reader.

***

LORNA:

I have been told by my psychopathologist (aka a higher end of the scale middle-aged, upper class snob named Julia. Obviously paid for by my well-to-do parents who don’t know how to deal with their overly emotionally and physically damaged daughter), that if I can’t speak my trauma out aloud, I should try noting it down: how I’m feeling, that I’m taking my medication (yes, mother). I feel like even Bertie down the road can hear this sertraline taking hold of my body…and my sexual desires).

I mean, how is writing to myself, reliving my own emotional trauma, going to help anything? I look at all the ridiculously strong pain killers I have and just think maybe it would be better to end it all. I shouldn’t have to put up with this. Trouble is, I have regular phone calls and home visits from doctors, so it would be hard to find the time. I have already tried once. In fact, right now is the first time I have been in my flat alone for the first time since I escaped. I have no idea why people think I can’t cope. But then, who would be able to bloody cope? I say alone, I have my chocolate Labrador, Polly, to keep me company. That, and my mother and father letting themselves in every other hour on the dot; they must have cut themselves a key to the flat when I was in the hospital.

***

“Lorna Hedgerow? The Doctor’s ready for you now.”

Fuck.

“Good morning, Lorna. My name is Dr. Hilgard, I am a psychopathologist. I have more than twenty-five years’ experience in mental, physical and emotional trauma. How are you feeling today?”

She looks like a doctor. A short, brunette bob (obviously dyed), round glasses, and a grey skirt suit, brown smudged eyeliner and a neutral coloured lipstick.

The pattern on the wallpaper is disgusting. A piss-yellow colour.

She is looking at me intensely.

Like she wants something from me.

She wants me to explain what happened to me, but I can’t. I cannot bring myself to say it aloud.

What am I doing here?

The room is spinning. I’m going to be sick.
My mouth is so dry I can barely swallow.
I can feel my heart beating ten times faster than it should be.
My palms are sweaty.

“I…I…I don’t know how..”

“You are not expected to come to terms with this straight away, Lorna. Take your time. I find the best way to settle your thoughts is with a nice cup of tea. How do you take it?”
I have to go.
I have to get out of here.
Fast.

“…Lorna? If you come back, we can take this as slowly as you wish.”

I had two full bottles of wine to myself again last night.
I really should stop that.
LORNA:

Who is that knocking on the door? It’s an early Sunday morning.
Is it?
I think I must’ve blacked out.
“Lorna, babe? It’s your mum?”

Oh. Fuck.

Lord, give me strength.

***

We’re sat on the sofa together. Correction, opposite sides of the sofa. I can’t bear to be near other people at the minute.

Well actually, for a long time.

“Are you cold, love?”
“No.”

“You have a jumper and a blanket on. It’s the middle of June. Let me put the heating on. Do you want a cuddle with your old mum?”

“NO!”

I flinched more than she probably expected. A lot more.
I wish she would listen to me first time, rather than pushing me over the edge.
I feel bad for snapping now.

I realised I was sat in the recovery position, curled in a ball surrounded by the safety walls of this blanket.

My brain hasn’t quite adjusted yet.
I am constantly on watch. For anyone. Or anything.
I don’t think I will never get over that.

Neutral Magazine + Fiction

Dog Fight

By Abi Whitaker | abigail.whitaker@yorksj.ac.uk</p>

Heartbreak feels like a choke
Mourning someone that was never mine is a joke
And if I don’t laugh then I’ll cry

Love is a dog fight and I’m the scrawny one no one bets to win
One that survives, just barely, severe wounds to soft skin
And no one to whimper to now

Briefly a breaker
But more often broken
Now wondering which pieces I’ll give away again

Love is a dog fight and I was never good enough at maths to place a bet
But if I keep being the loser surely that leaves me with a debt
A little love to collect?

To be known is to be forever naked even when they dress
Wishing you could take back all those secrets you confessed
And feeling embarrassed for existing

Love is a dog fight and I wasn’t taught how to bare teeth
I’m belly-up in defeat and pinned beneath
He was a better opponent, more pedigree than me
Knew what he was doing
And I let him do it to me

Neutral Magazine + Fiction

Nourishment

By Abi Whitaker | abigail.whitaker@yorksj.ac.uk</p>

Feed me
I can’t feed myself for I feel too guilty
Will you do it for me?

Feed me reassurance
Feed me neutrality
Feed me ‘oh fuck you look so sexy’

Feed me pasta and cuddles in front of the telly too
Feed me space and support
So I can learn to feed it to myself
And after that maybe I could feed myself some guilt free chocolate too

Neutral Magazine + Fiction

Too Much, Not Enough

By Abi Whitaker | abigail.whitaker@yorksj.ac.uk</p>

If you don’t feel me even when you’re inside
Then I don’t know why I’m trying so hard to hide
If you don’t want all that is inside my head
Well then I guess I’ll fill myself up instead

If its too much to ask for you to spare me
Go ahead, shoot, but please don’t ask to share me
Please believe I’d love to love someone new
And I would if not for the haunting of you

And I know that really a ghost could never satisfy
An appetite for affection that growls as you let it cry
But it didn’t stop me chasing your breeze
Hoping for a hurricane love and receiving a wheeze