Yar! Dimension 20’s Pirates of Leviathan trailer released

Pirates of Leviathan premieres September 16 | Dimension 20

Dropout TV’s tabletop comedy show Dimension 20 just dropped the trailer for their sixth Side Quest, which finished filming last month. Taking place after the events of Fantasy High: Sophomore Year, this adventure is set in the pirate city of Leviathan, aka the Jewel of the Celestine Sea. This Side Quest stars Carlos Luna as Cheese, Krystina Arielle as Barbarella “Bob” Sasparilla Gainglynn, Aabria Iyengar as Myrtle the Bitch, B. Dave Walters as Marcid the Typhoon, Marisha Ray as Sunny Biscotto, Matthew Mercer as Jack Brakkow, and Brennan Lee Mulligan as the returning Dungeon Master.

Pirates of Leviathan’s trailer reveals the entire city to be in grave danger | Dimension 20

What do we know about Leviathan?

Leviathan is a pirate city in the Celestine Sea made of shipwrecks that have been strung together to form an island that inhabits roughly 1.5 million people (yikes, that’s a lot of NPCs, good luck Brennan Lee Mulligan). This location has already featured in Dimension 20 LIVE; if you have yet to watch this D&D live show, skip to the next sub-chapter to avoid spoilers.

Detailed map of Leviathan, illustrated by Mark Ledgerwood | Dimension 20

Well-known locations in the Leviathan include Maelstrom’s Maw, a supply shop of sorts where ships are dismantled and looted for their materials. It is run by warforged bosun Jamina Joy, who has the delicate job of keeping the city afloat. Jamina has already made appearances in Episode 5 through 8 of Dimension 20 LIVE.

Leviathan is also house to the Four Castles, a violent part of town where citizens will gladly take each other out for half a shilling, or control of the street’s block. Close to the Four Castles lies the cursed Sternwood forest, plagued by beasts, monsters, distorted trees, and human remains.

Further South, Cannon Court has used shipwrecks and hulls to form a large dwarven-style subterranean neighbourhood full of dwarves and gnomes. In contrast, Galleyard is a lovely area that includes The Gold Gardens (notable NPC Garthy O’Brien‘s house of debauchery), and forms the nexus of the city. With a reportedly New Orleans type architecture, the city centre is bustling with diverse peoples.

Connected to the city’s mosque by way of dagger, Gibbety Square is adorned with the head of a former pirate king, put on display by Fabian Seacaster‘s father Bill Seacaster. It includes a sign that reads “No kings for a captain.” Near Gibbety Square lies Aftward, home to a tower of prison blocks neatly named the Row and the Ruction. Atop Aftward stands Crow’s Keep, housing the Compass Points Library and the Ramble (a place for elder pirates to engage in decision-making).

Lastly, Poop City is, you guessed it, the name deemed worthy of the wealthiest and most luxurious neighbourhood in Leviathan. Why not!

Read more about Leviathan’s neighbourhoods on Fandom

Pirates of Leviathan’s Intrigue: An entire city at stake

The trailer is peppered with clues that offer some insight in terms of location, plot, and player characters. Those unfamiliar with the island of Leviathan know it now as a “behemoth of shipwrecks”, and the “Jewel of the Sea”, perhaps foreshadowing the location’s innate dichotomy: a monstrous creature, and yet a precious treasure.

At the start of the clip, an NPC ominously utters the words “Take her body to the Sternwood with the others”, possibly implying that a female NPC has either died, or that her body is somehow affected or cursed. “The others” suggests that there are several, if not many, people in Leviathan who have lost their lives or have been met with some terrible fate; rough enough to have them be dragged to Sternwood, a place apparently adequate for storing bodies. Eerie.

Our Intrepid Heroes, here Buccaneer Buddies, have been informed that “all of Leviathan is in a heaping helping of trouble.” Such a sinister statement surely supposes that the torments bedevilling the city are greater than a squabble limited to a singular NPC or set of NPCs. The combination of bodies being taken to a cursed forest and the omen that all of Leviathan is somehow affected might indicate that something larger is at stake. This begs the question – who, or what, is determined to take down an entire city? And why? If the name is any hint, perhaps a sea serpent, but knowing the DM’s background in philosophy, it’s likely a nod to Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan in which the author proposes absolute sovereignty as a necessary evil. That’s not to say the two Leviathans are mutually exclusive. Absolute sea serpent sovereign end boss? Yes please!

Player Characters in Pirates of Leviathan

The trailer also sheds light on the kind of PCs and party mix viewers can expect, and how they might complement each other, or clash. Heads up – some class, race, and level spoilers ahead in this subchapter! According to Fandom, all PCs are level 5 residents of Leviathan. No one is a newcomer!

Barbarella “Bob” Sasparilla Gainglynn, played by Denver by Night’s Krystina Arielle is an Aasimar multi-classing as a Level 3 College of Lore Bard, and Level 2 City Domain Cleric (Unearthed Arcana). Bob’s chirpy voice and good-natured spirit come through in the trailer: “Sometimes you just need a little diplomacy”. A nice, and perhaps unassuming, Bard-Cleric, Bob seems to be the antithesis of typical pirate life.

Cheese, played by Roll 20’s Carlos Luna, is a Forest Gnome School of Necromancy Wizard. Though he might have a fighter side viewers have yet to witness, the trailer has him pinned down as the party’s nervous adventurer in touch with his emotions. “Oh god,” and “I cry all the time” set the tone for this PC. Then again, being a life-reaping necromancer does warrant constant crying.

Jack Brakkow, played by Critical Role’s Matthew Mercer, is a Ratfolk Path of Ancestral Guardian Barbarian. The trailer portrays Jack as a bit rough around the edges, and maybe a bit of a loner: “Sorry child, I don’t have friends.” He is also heard shouting quite aggressively “You bastard – I can’t afford a new wall!”, suggesting that damage was done to his property, and that he isn’t financially in a position to repair it. Yar – this PC could be in it for the coin!

Marcid the Typhoon, played by Dungeons & Dragons’ B. Dave Walters, is a Bugbear Gloomstalker. Perhaps diplomatic in nature like Bob, Marcid seems partial to some negotiation: “We can talk it out, mate.” As a Gloomstalker, it might be safe to assume that he is a careful character, in the know when it comes to the darkest of places in Leviathan. His warning “Loose lips sink ships” might be a reference to his experience overhearing conversations. Beware!

Myrtle the Bitch, played by Saving Throw’s Aabria Iyengar, is a Merfolk Tempest Domain Cleric. Myrtle’s profile is a whirlwind of mystery that is to die for. Her Fandom description reveals that she “sinks ships to appease her god”, and that her favourite colour is “Blood”. In Dimension 20’s trailer, an NPC (perhaps her god) addresses her with “You’ve sent many souls down to my hungry mouth”. This same person or creature, one could suppose, also responds to her with “Quite worth the spells…”. Is there an actual Leviathan in Leviathan? Is Myrtle a warlock? Only time will tell.

Sunny Biscotto, played by Critical Role’s Marisha Ray, is an Aarakocra Oath of Devotion Paladin. Although Sunny didn’t say too much in the trailer, her “Whoah wait!” could be a quick nod at a Paladin’s usual pre-conflict behaviour: use your words, not your fists! Or wings. As an Oath of Devotion Paladin, Sunny would typically be bound to the highest of ideals, virtue, and order, and it’ll be interesting to see how she gets along with PCs such as Myrtle, Marcid, and Jack.

Of course, it would be a sin not to mention that the experienced (guest) cast and crew of Dimension 20 always manage to circumvent the usual stereotypes, tropes, shallow motivations, and black-and-white character choices. If Pirates of Leviathan is anything like the rest of D20’s Quests, then its PCs are sure to be multilayered, emotionally complex, and lots of fun.

Dimension 20’s Pirates of Leviathan premieres September 16 on Dropout TV.

TTRPG: The illusion of choice in Dungeons and Dragons

Created in the mid 70s and currently resurfacing as a popular fantasy tabletop role playing game, Dungeons and Dragons is an open world pencil-paper-and-dice game that lets your imagination run wild. But how limitless should the world be, and where do Dungeon Masters draw the line?

I recently stumbled across an archived thread in the r/DnD subreddit on the topic of railroading versus illusion of choice. Both forms of deception offer TTRPG players two or more options, with all or several of them resulting in the same outcome. The crossroads example is classically drawn on to illustrate this strategy; the party has the option to go left or right, but both paths lead back to the dungeon. If they decide on neither, the dungeon inevitably comes to them.

Is there a difference between illusion of choice and railroading?

Illusion of choice and railroading seem to be distinct in that they connote different intentions. The former is likely to occur when Dungeon Masters are ill-prepared for a twist in narrative or action, and are obliged to quickly improvise. Sometimes the only option is to put the party back on track, whatever the costs. The opposite hypothetical also warrants some attention; being overly prepared can come at a price. As a DM, I have hundreds of options laid out for my players with each choice and outcome promising to be unique and significant. Regardless of gameplay style, I know beforehand that it’s downright impossible to prepare for every scenario. When taken by surprise, I eventually come up with an improvised solution, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t relied on illusionism once or twice.

Similarly, railroading is a deliberate manoeuvre used to force player characters back into whatever situation the DM had intended them to be in. It leaves little room for any meaningful choices at all, and is largely more transparent than illusionism. Constant and reoccurring railroading might well be a sign of an inexperienced DM, or in the worst of cases, an uncooperative DM.

So aren’t illusion of choice and railroading, in essence, cut from the same cloth? Dungeon Solvers are of the opinion that illusionism is indeed “a form of railroading where the players can make a decision, but their choice has no effect on the game’s direction.” Illusionism is then an umbrella term that encompasses railroading. In either case, using deception too often risks affecting the level of trust between DM and PCS, and impinging on player morale.

A careful balance between deception and trust

Of course, every player’s ideal DMing style is entirely subjective, and might even depend on the edition of DnD the participants are acquainted with. Many 3e enthusiasts enjoy the idea of being pitted against their DM in a Battle Royale style massacre where no one can be trusted, and in this sense, maybe illusionism matters less, as they are essentially fighting against the DM as well.

This dynamic has evolved in 5e, and many feel that trust between the DM and the Player Character is absolutely essential for a good campaign. This relationship makes it harder to know when and if you should deceive your PCs. Are you confident that your PCs rely on you, and trust you to be helpful and honest? Avoiding illusionism as much as possible might be the best solution.

Illusionism is the easy way out

From the DM’s perspective, illusionism might just be a blessing in disguise. Presenting irrelevant choices to your party can sometimes be exactly the breather you need.

Some of the benefits of illusionism

  1. There is no longer a need to prepare as many outcomes as possible if you are not well-versed in improvisation.
  2. It can take pressure off of DMing and allow for narrative or descriptive development. Release those quirky NPC one-liners.
  3. Worldbuilding immediately becomes a lot easier; there are a limited amount of places you can and will end up.
  4. Generally speaking, it saves hours of preparation time.
  5. It’s a wonderful tactic for lighthearted, action-packed, non-RPG-heavy one shots.

At the end of the day, one could argue that what matters most is the DM’s ability to cover up these illusions and make them seem like meaningful choices. That said, the sheer thought of denying agency to the players is enough to cause distrust. Personally, I need to be able to trust my DM not to deceive me more than what is strictly necessary. In turn, players are honest about their rolls, their stats, the amount of spell slots they have left, whether they have already burned their reaction.

Video games are restrictive; TTRPG should be limitless

It’s worth emphasising that Dungeons and Dragons is unique exactly because it operates on an open world model in which literally anything can happen. These realms thrive on a plethora of meaningful choices, and if DMs choose to railroad their characters to the point of enforcing a singular set of paths, then PCs might as well play a video game.

Unlike DnD, video games are exclusive, and, prohibitively expensive (not only due to the price of the game, but also that of the console, monitor, controller, reliable internet connection…). They depend on restricted choices, be it by way of fixed quests, or the reductive binary male vs female avatar selection. Heck, Ubisoft didn’t even provide us with gender options.

DnD is about inclusivity, which should extend itself to meaningful decisions beyond choosing a class and race. Escapism seems less valuable if it’s only to perform in yet another closed off universe. Or what do I know, a one shot with an all-male human fighter cast collectively called Arno could admittedly be entertaining.

How to avoid railroading

A rough draft

In order to avoid being ill-prepared for a session, always plan out a rough draft of a few possible options. Instead of meticulously sketched out dialogue and encounter scenes, write up a page per NPC and opponents with their possible reactions, one-liners, loot, and the information they can supply the party with. If this suits your style, continue with a page per location complete with loot, traps, and monsters. Stick to bullet points!

Creative solutions

Instead of defecting to your original plan, come up with a series of creative solutions that have been pre-planned before the session and that you can fall back on when you’re in a rut. Perhaps you operate in a world where there are evil creatures spawning from set of locations (forests, towns, cities, mountains). If a radically different outcome or path is pursued and they find themselves near a spawn location, roll a d6 and choose from a list of homebrew (or existing) monsters. The inclusion of a closing combat leaves room for the modifications next game’s prep will now undergo. This allows you to be the kind of DM that won’t render player choices meaningless, but delay them enough to give you time to adjust accordingly.

Redirect with clues

Your players might be derailing themselves from your main plot because there aren’t enough clues per session to peak their curiosity and redirect it back to the larger picture. Alternatively, you might have too many clues and pieces of information, giving them an overwhelmingly unapproachable air. Simplify your hints without taking away from their mystery, and allow for ways in which the dots can be connected.

Improvise

Easier said than done, the key to smooth flowing narrative and storytelling is to match your players’ level of improvisation. Are they responding differently to a dilemma than you had expected? Perhaps you had assumed they would save a child from a burning building, but instead they ran. Huzza! A perfect backstory for your new villain; a vengeful, burn-ridden baby warlock of a fiend patron. Creepy.

Is illusionism ever acceptable?

All that said, sometimes the DM is, ironically, left without a choice. Fortunately, non-toxic ways of dabbling in illusionism do exist. For example, if your party is having fun advancing in a particular quest but are way off track, nudging them in the right direction shouldn’t be frowned upon. See it as a help action that is in their best interest rather than your own. By no means is this participating in toxic railroading where the outcome is always the same no matter what the players choose to do. If you put in the work, it’s likely that participants will instinctively feel the difference between a forced path, and an intelligent choice that aligns with their quest. Despite the modicum of extra DM prep it might imply, there really is nothing better than imbuing your players with genuine curiosity, and newfound purpose.

10 Reasons Why Dimension 20’s Fantasy High is a Hit

dropout.tv

Dimension 20 is a tabletop RPG comedy show hosted by DM and actor-writer Brennan Lee Mulligan. Produced by CollegeHumor‘s subscription service Dropout, Fantasy High is set in a 1950s through 1980s American-style city Elmville, Solace. This campaign follows the exploits of six courageous High School students from the Aguefort Adventuring Academy. Here are ten reasons why this Dungeons meets Detentions campaign played by a group of talented comedians should be at the top of your binge list.

1. Complex character building in a digestible timeframe

With a group of comedians behind the wheel, the potential for a show lacking in depth and complete with farcical chaos was necessarily on the table from the very start. This comedy campaign, however, is refreshingly well-structured and thought-through, all whilst remaining lighthearted; no easy feat to accomplish when also doing justice to world building, character development, and narrative coherence.

All players, including DM Brennan Lee Mulligan, have built complex characters with unexpected depth, questionable flaws, and personable qualities. Fantasy High has few clear-cut bad guys vs good guys, and even NPCs who at first seemed almost devoid of emotion might unintentionally divulge their gut-wrenching ails to the party through a Detect Thoughts spell.

Yet what truly stands out about Fantasy High when compared to other campaigns is not its fully-fledged out characters with emotional background stories (the likes of which can be found in many DnD adventures), but its ability to include this level of profound character building in such a short amount of time. Rarely surpassing the 2-hour mark, Dimension 20’s sessions are half the length of a Critical Role episode, and therefore perhaps better suited and more digestible to excited DnD newcomers.

2. Incomparable and yet complementary to Critical Role

Though its generally ill-advised to compare any unique DnD campaign to the next, Critical Role has set the bar so high in all that it does that the juxtaposition has become inevitable. As an advocate of everything Critical Role with a profound admiration for Matt Mercer’s DMing skills, I was formerly convinced that no other set of players, and no other DM, would ever come close to inspiring the emotions and relatability that Vox Machina and the Mighty Nein do.

Dimension 20, by virtue of not being comparable to Critical Role but instead complementary to it, does not pressurise the viewer into favouritism, but lets their fans add another gem to their shelf of unparalleled campaign shows. Simply put, Dimension 20 is Critical Role’s silly sister; though they share many qualities, their DNA is different.

3. High quality improvisation, description, and narration

imdb.com

If you put aside the perfectly produced set, amazing camera quality, and professional lighting and sound, all of which can be prohibitively expensive to a lot of players, one key factor that makes Fantasy High thrilling to watch is the solid acting and storytelling. Never a dull moment, the players find a way to solve the main quest whilst still making time for inappropriate hospital ER romances, strange sex talks with their parents, and killing a villain with a spoon – no, a ladle.

Similar to other campaigns that are also made up of professional actors, the storytelling and improvisation (CollegeHumor’s forte), is so spot on that the show almost seems scripted. Mulligan whips up long monologues about arcane lore in response to a random dice roll, and player characters have comebacks spilling out of their mouths when confronted with High School bullies and vicious villains. Was the Episode 7 one-liner “keep cadaverously cool” conjured in the moment? I sure hope so.

4. Dramatic irony and opposing imagery

One of the comedic strategies used in Fantasy High is constant contrast; everything you thought was set in stone is now up for grabs, and an endless flux of hilarious dichotomies permeate the entire campaign.

Fantasy High uses external character-to-character contrast; for example between half-elf teenager Fabian Seacaster, a wealthy grade A snob played by comedian Lou Wilson, and his father Bill Seacaster aka Papa, a loud-mouthed, overly assertive, and imposingly proud pirate privateer. This same contrast is found between sturdy half-orc barbarian Gorgug Thistlespring, played by Zac Oyama, and his happy-go-lucky, always smiley gnome parents who live in a tree.

Dimension 20 also employs internal character contrast; Kristen Applebees (Ally Beardsley) is a Cleric who pretends to drink alcohol to fit in at parties. Though she repeatedly questions her faith, she does so whilst trying to convert all of her friends to her religion and add them to her Prayer Chain group chat. Figueroth ‘Fig’ Faeth (Emily Axford) is a badass, no BS, bass guitar wielding tiefling whose rebellious nature coats a nucleus of emotions and daddy issues; her elf stepfather Gilear Faeth is a yoghurt-eating, university-educated cuckold, and her biological father is a demon who is partial to a bit of ice cream.

Fantasy High’s mastery of the unexpected, much of which can be credited to Mulligan’s side-splitting NPCs, is without a doubt its biggest selling point.

5. From recurring themes to well-rounded storytelling

As much as this campaign thrives on the unforeseen, the DM and players take heed to one-liners and oddball situations that might make for a quirky comeback later. Riz Gukgak (Brian Murphy) is unanimously referred to as ‘The Ball’ throughout the campaign after having been dunked into a trash can a total of once in the first session, and rolling a NAT 1 Insight Check on an NPC for Gorgug is now synonymous with him believing them to be his dad. When Adaine Abernant (Siobhan Thompson) casts Identify, it is narrated by an immaterial arcane voice that reappears frequently to add some flavour to the spell.

6. Party respect, cohesiveness, and team player attitude

imbd.com

Perhaps most satisfying to watch for seasoned DnD players is the level of inter-party respect displayed by the cast. Both friends and colleagues, the high regard with which the players treat each other is evident in their team player attitudes, willingness to work together to develop each other’s character quirks and backstories, and the caution they proceed with when participating in dialogue.

The advantage of being professional actors and friends is that the cast have an eye for recognising the difference between added dialogue that can take a moment from funny to priceless, and added dialogue that is superfluous, and even bordering on disrespectful. Rarely interrupting each other, instead the seven participants lean back and watch when their pals are having a moment, without the need to insert themselves for the sake of it.

7. The pros of meta-commentary

Meta-gaming is often frowned upon in the DnD community by hardcore RPG lovers, yet Fantasy High makes good use of meta-commentary that has this aforementioned added value. As comedians, the Dropout TV crew play their comedic selves as well as their DnD characters, and are able to expand upon a joke so that it can be appreciated from a meta standpoint. This further encourages the DM to build on the moment, as it is clear that his players are having fun.

In terms of entertainment, this meta-commentary could be seen as part of the campaign’s bi-fold show format, as they are being watched both as CollegeHumor comedians and as DnD characters. The show format also presupposes performativity and impacts gameplay choices. As the party knows they are being watched for the purpose of entertainment, performing meta-commentary provides that extra layer of relatability, and lets us imagine ourselves with our own friends at the table. Because everyone meta-games sometimes. Not only is it funny, but the players are likeable because of it.

8. A twist on your typical Breakfast Club High School stereotypes

Some criticism that a setting such as the Aguefort Adventuring Academy is likely to receive is that it utilises and relies on overused and potentially discriminatory High School stereotypes and tropes, which are extended to gender and race as well. Of course, the same can be said about virtually any DnD campaign or setting, yet the High School scapes seem to lend themselves particularly well to these stereotypes; the half-orcs are the bullies, the jocks are bad boys, the coach can be bribed, and the pretty girls are airheads. The shy and nerdy kids get are tormented, whereas the rebellious party members befriend the seniors, and sneak into the teachers’ lounge to flirt with the Vice Principle. The goblin’s parent can’t afford cereal milk, the elves are rich, and the lead cigarette-smoking tiefling in a leather jacket is literally called Danny Johnny.

At first sight, Fantasy High is like any other loser High School: not very woke at all. But when you dig deeper, it becomes clear that Aguefort is more than what it seems, with a geeky AV club too cool even for Gorgug, a hot greaser who ‘doesn’t fuck’ and embodies cringe-worthiness, a formerly drug-selling bouncer who turns out to be a great guidance councillor, and an angry orc who is coming to terms with the fact that he might be gay.

9. A supportive DM you can trust

thegeekiary.com

Most importantly, it is without a shadow of a doubt that Brennan Lee Mulligan, much like Matt Mercer, Deborah Ann Woll, or Mark Hulmes, is a DM you can trust. He is always supportive of his player’s decisions, frequently starting or ending his sentences with “Hell yeah” and “Rad” in response to their creativity, and rewarding them with advantage rolls or extended dialogue. He claps when a PC rolls a NAT 20, and ‘oofs’ when enemies roll high on their damage.

With several gameplay and DMing styles out there, there is truly nothing better than feeling completely free to make bold and creative choices under the wing of your DM, without unnecessary punishment for attempting a clever move. Not only does Mulligan excel at accents, improvisation, sound effects, character building, world building, and comedy, but he puts up a great DnD fight whilst still remaining fun and fair till the very end.

10. It’s just good fun

If you remain unconvinced, all I can say is that you will be laughing on your sofa, in your bed, and at your desk throughout the whirlwind of crazy that is Fantasy High, and Dimension 20 campaigns in general. You won’t know what you’re missing, until you give it a shot.

The best ally you can be

Being an ally is active, not passive. It sounds absurd now, but I’ve only just internalised that you can’t rely on simply knowing that you’re a person with good intentions who isn’t racist, sexist, misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, xenophobic, ableist. Because allyship isn’t about intention. Because declaring “I am an ally” is insufficient.

Listening is vital too, but it’s not enough either, and to be completely honest it hasn’t felt enough to stand by and simply watch as it all unfolds. We, that is myself and other white cis women, need to act without inserting ourselves, to reach out to other white, straight, cis, privileged people, hopefully, to solidify our choice to be and act as allies. To encourage others. Because it’s a choice, and not an identity. It seems that this is what we have misunderstood all along. No one is born an ally.

Being an ally is active, not passive.

In truth, and perhaps it’s selfish too, I also cannot really stand the thought of running a blog where I post about women’s issues and feminism, where I eco-criticise Black Friday and discuss the violence we commit against our environment, if only to consciously and casually decide to skip over racism, or how to be an ally to any oppressed community that isn’t my own, just because I’m afraid to broach the topic, or to mess up my part. So I’ve decided to post and share what I’ve discussed with others, and compiled over these past few weeks. I might fuck up, and I’ll take the risk that comes with change.

Being a better ally

There are perhaps many different versions and definitions of what it means to be an ally. It might seem over-whelming, but the more you research, read, learn, and listen, the better equipped you become, and the more you’ll grow to understand about how to act, and when to act. There will always be more, there will always be ways to better yourself, and diverging advice. Let’s start with advice and pointers that are echoed across the board, and discussed in The Guide to Allyship by Amélie Lamont, and these videos by Ahsante Bean (Ahsante The Artist) and Franchesca Ramsey (Chescaleigh).

  1. Allyship isn’t passive, and it’s not enough to proclaim yourself an ally. Ally is a verb too, so do the work.
  2. You educate yourself, consultation is a job and it’s not free. Education is not static, so keep reading and learning, there’s always more.
  3. Stand up even when you feel scared, especially because you are less likely to be attacked or hurt, and more likely to convince people who share your privilege to become allies.
  4. There is no singular experience of what it means and what it is to be black, queer, trans, black gay/bi/lesbian/asexual, disabled gay, the list goes on. You cannot read one author or watch one film, and understand ‘the‘ black experience or ‘the‘ queer experience, because there is no unified experience, even if there are similarities, recurring themes, or shared struggles that crop up.
  5. Do your part and transfer the benefits of your privilege onto others. Hire, pay, include, insert, promote, support, help and consult where appropriate.
  6. Understand and use your privilege appropriately. Racist people are more likely to listen to other white people, family members are more likely to listen to other family members. Men are more likely to listen to other men. Use your voice where others cannot. Do not insert your voice where others can speak for themselves.
  7. Understand that even if you are an ally and want to contribute positively, the conversation is not about you. As Chescaleigh puts it, you’re the Michelle, not the Beyoncé (sorry not sorry Michelle!).
  8. Don’t take credit. It’s not about intent, it’s about impact.
  9. Own your mistakes, apologise, and de-centre yourself.
  10. Even if the education system is heavily flawed and focuses on straight, cis, white, male experiences, understand that your education, especially if you are privileged, is up to you and no one else. You can google, you can decide what to read in your spare time, you can decide to engage in conversations. You have agency beyond the institution and beyond the curriculum.
  11. Understand what privilege means. Privilege does not mean being rich or not having struggled. You can occupy several positions of privilege even if parts of you or your experience are disadvantaged. This will also help you understand your rights, which is crucial in order to compare them to rights others do not have.

Towards debunking misconceptions I’ve heard as an academic and a writer

Ally resources

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Marques Brownlee; on skin colour, and following authentically

Creators & accounts to follow

Ahsante The Artist, kickass art and socio-cultural critique
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whatever your political beliefs
Ashley | Best Dressed, best thrifting and open talks about sexuality
Black Pride NL, on a mission for Black Pride in the Netherlands
Black Queer & Trans Resistance, a Black LGBTI+ political action group.
Button Poetry, inclusive & multilingual performance poetry
Check Your Privilege, unlearn and relearn and dismantle the system
Chescaleigh, socio-cultural critique and comedy
Contrapoints, controversial chats about feminism, inceldom, trans experiences
Feminist, self-explanatory I hope
Free The Nipple, seriously, free it
Ginny Di, astounding female cosplayer, gamer & artist, reviving pin-up
Grace Beverley, sustainable business, fitness, and fashion queen
Hannah | Studyous, my amazing friend & literary queen with an instagram that is to die for, focusing on diverse book reviews
Jazzmyne, aesthetic, style, comedy, socio-cultural critique
Jouelzy, in depth commentary on intersectional feminism & diaspora
Kathy | Kathy Drops A Line, my fabulous friend & pro journal keeper, sharing a selection of personal experiences on her beautiful, minimalist blog
KO Zwarte Piet, against the Black Peter ‘tradition’ in the Netherlands
Life With Lanea, simply hilarious?
Machaizelli Kahey | MacDoesIt, satirical commentary and fun reviews
Marques Brownlee, detailed and honest tech reviews
Michelle Phan, the ultimate OG beauty queen, guru, and makeup artist
Nederland Wordt Beter, towards a future without racism and discrimination in the Netherlands
Phenomenal, female-owned business with a beautiful message & aesthetic
Rain Dove, a rad AF no-labels, fashionista activist & actress
SAARA, great music and weird shit that is wholesome as funk
Sad Girls Club, mental health & feminism
Saima Chowdhury | SaimaSmilesLike, great cultural critique, photography, and podcasts
Salty World, providing a voice to all babes who are justifiably salty
SolangeTeParle, it’s just weird and different and I love it?
StyleLikeU, mother-daughter-run storytelling platform & project
TALA, sustainable, ethical & diverse business headed by Grace Beverley
The Black Archives Amsterdam, cultural centre and archive striving to make hidden history visible
Therapissed, thought- and action-provoking posts on trauma and allyship
The Spark Company, sassy feminist critiques and great apparel
Unapologetic Street Series, storytelling in public spaces
We All Grow Latina, highlighting latina & latinx voices

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My 2020 reading list: honest and hopefully improved

  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  • A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
  • A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coats
  • City of Ash and Red by Hye-Young Pyun
  • Dawn by Octavia E. Butler
  • Fun Home by Allison Bechdel
  • Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
  • Grand Union: Stories’ by Zadie Smith
  • Hagseed by Margaret Atwood
  • Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall
  • How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • In Other Worlds: SF and The Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood
  • Kallocain by Karin Boye
  • Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
  • La Peste by Albert Camus
  • Las Constelaciones Oscuras by Pola Oloixarac
  • Le Deuxième Sexe by Simone de Beauvoir
  • MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood
  • Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
  • Rayuela by Julio Cortázar
  • Reflections on the Color of My Skin by Neil deGrasse Tyson
  • So You Want to Talk About Race by Iljeoma Oluo
  • Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg
  • Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg
  • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
  • The Castle, Franz Kafka
  • The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa
  • The Price of Salt, by Patricia Highsmith
  • The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  • We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
  • ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  • Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Appendix

You might be doubting yourself, or feeling guilty. I’m the same; however, putting too much focus on these thoughts risks re-centring the conversation back onto yourself rather than the people you are supposed to be an ally to. If you’re considering writing or talking about your own experience of someone else’s reality, in depth and beyond a superficial disclaimer or footnote, take into account how it might re-centre the focus onto yourself. Ask yourself if that is your goal. It shouldn’t be.

Of course, I don’t deny the existence of a plethora of dichotomies (potential) allies might want to consider, discuss, and conduct research on:

  • Listening vs being an inactive bystander
  • Speaking up vs speaking on behalf of
  • Being vocal and supportive vs inserting yourself
  • Supporting vs exhibiting white saviour complex
  • The social media era: to share, comment, like, and participate, or not
  • Promoting vs seeming insincere and part of a trend
  • Online activism vs IRL activism vs both
  • Asking for advice only vs also educating yourself
  • Educating yourself vs trusting yourself enough to conduct quality research
  • Recognising and accepting the consequences of innate bias vs undermining your capacity to consciously counter and question bias when conducting research
  • Reading only vs also writing on being an ally
  • Being an inclusive & diverse brand or business vs profiting off of someone else’s experiences of oppression & marginalisation
  • Not your conversation vs the vantage point you have in a conversation with other straight, cis, white people

But we do have to remind ourselves, especially in this self-obsessed social media selfie era: this is not about me or you. It’s not about our feelings. It’s not about our experience. It’s not about victimising ourselves. Being nervous or unsure is natural, but it shouldn’t take over your responsibilities as an ally. Use your platform to actively, openly, and selflessly support, uplift, listen to, and promote other voices.

So from hereon out, we drop ourselves from the equation, we move past our (un)related issues, past guilt and self doubt, and past ‘self’. We, for lack of a better metaphor, become humanitarian customer service. Do your own research, stand by to help politely but not overbearingly. Always apologise, always de-centre, always be attentive to feedback, and never be defensive. Your mindset from now on is:

How can I help you?

The value of honest work and how to support your locals

Quarantined amidst (justifiable) coronavirus panic, I am one of the few who can still sit in a café with a cup of tea once a week and watch as passersby pick up their food in bulk. 1.5 meters away from the smallest sign of movement, alone at the closed bar of the Little Plant Pantry, I find it impossible to ignore the thought of other small businesses and how they will be affected by the crisis, some of their owners coming in to share their afflictions. Whereas corporations will lose money and stock value, smaller (local) companies might be forced to lay off their employees, and risk going out of business without fast and creative solutions.

“It ain’t much, but it’s honest work.”

My mind rushes to the irreparable impact the coronavirus pandemic will have, especially on all the honest work that is done (you know, work where you don’t manipulate or oversell, work that is collaborative and caring, or about creating something beautiful without a focus on huge profit, with a love for the job itself). As a result of the lockdown, a great number of honest workers will now be struggling, those exact people who dedicate their lives to contributing to greater good, however big or small their service may be. And there it is: however big or small their service.

I wonder why we entertain the idea that honest work isn’t worth much, that the service isn’t always big, and that some jobs are more important than others because of their title or socio-economic standing. It is clear to me now more than ever how much we rely on honest and dependable work: nurses and service industry staff are getting us through this crisis, and so is a hell of a lot of pro bono work.

Devaluation of honest work makes me think of this meme of a farmer who’s undermining his own contribution to society. He seems so convinced that all he slaves away for really isn’t much, but at least it’s honest. A sad disclaimer and an almost insignificant defence, separated by a measly comma.

Honest work and segregation

Part of me understands the disclaimer “It ain’t much”, having been taught to strive for great success, the kind that will leave a lasting impression. Striving for greatness has me necessarily compare to ‘that which is not great’, and it has conditioned me to think that a lot of work is, frankly, not worth much.

None of us are blind to the segregation we create between important and unimportant jobs, and to the value we impart on honest careers we consider impressive, such as being a doctor. Yet the list of honest jobs that many of us rely on enormously but take completely for granted is endless; that’s a heartbreaking shout out to all the small food businesses and artisans, for example.

What surprises me is how little credit and consideration we give to jobs that are both honest and essential to our society (what a feat). As a (pre-corona) part-time cat sitter and full-time volunteer at a packaging-free and zero plastic, minimal waste vegan bulk store, I feel now how satisfying it can be to give back, our shop flooded with those who couldn’t find pasta on the empty shelves of their neighbourhood supermarket. We are considered essential work. I, not hired during the course of my 5-month application spree, am considered essential. Yet, only a handful of people see it that way.

Courtesy doesn’t cut it, but a title will

Only now do I see the irony in the constellation of hierarchies we have made for and of ourselves. The laziest professor in the world would still impress me. The idea of intelligent work impresses me because we have somehow tricked ourselves into thinking that the more we hyper-particularise and climb a fictitious ladder, the more special we are, and the more knowledgeable we are. The more valuable we are. The more we are worth. This is not necessarily true.

I’d walk the aisles of an unflinching classroom, small limbs sheepishly pinned to their sides, should I be so bold as to ask: raise your hands those of you who consider impressive cat-sitting, cooking, farming, making coffee art, owning a small business, creative writing, doing honest work.

Why is what we do “not much”? And can I convince you to think otherwise, to support us now when we need it most?

Subjective suggestions: Amsterdam businesses you can support right now

Little Plant Pantry: For your pastas, grains, beans, rices, nuts, chocolates, soaps, deodorant, moisturiser, vegan milk and cheese, teas, coffees, cookies, granolas. All the basics you’re looking for, all organic, homemade, vegan, natural! Visit in store, or order to collect at hello@littleplantpantry.com.

Screaming Beans: A speciality coffee café with a house blend and some of the best, ethically-sourced coffee in Amsterdam, dare I say. If you’ve always wanted to make amazing coffee at home, SB has a sale of 21% on their Brew At Home set right now. And they’re now back with takeaway!

Willem-Pie: Delicious vegan cakes, including the typical Dutch roze koeken. Now delivering through Life of Pie to supply you with STAY OCAKE. Pun-tastic.

Holy Nut: Bite-sized plant-based goodies run by a one-woman show!

Max & Bien, and Rosie & Riffy: Amazing vegan cheeses, enough said.

The Very Good Candle Co.: Cruelty-free, eco-friendly candles and fragrances.

Yerba Restaurant & Bar: Seasonal dishes, with à la carte weekly menus. Order to collect!

SauerCrowd: Naturally fermented plant-based food sourced from organic farms.

Obacht: Maria is an Amsterdam-based freelance graphic designer doing top quality creative work! And, Obacht’s instagram is so aesthetically pleasing.

Eat Mielies Weird Illustration: Fun and weird illustrations on socks, key rings, mugs, you name it (a lot of genitals and pet portraits, folks).

DIYSoaps & Het Zeeplokaal: The names speak for themselves, and their soap is great.

Kind Words: Okay this one is not local, but if you’re a Steam gamer who enjoys niche cute vibes, lo-fi chill music, and writing sweet letters, this is it. It’s a game about writing and receiving nice letters and is particularly uplifting right now. Consider investing in some fun indie games.

Plastic Free Amsterdam: Your guide to a zero plastic, zero waste shopping experience.

Plant Ahead: Handmade sustainable products, including the cutest coconut bowls and candle lights.

Gift cards & vouchers : Can’t visit your favourite place right now? Are they not delivering (yet)? Consider purchasing a gift card or voucher you can use later.

Cat-sitting: You might not be going anywhere now, but you’ll book a vacation one day, and your cats will thank you later for having thought ahead. If you want to support me as a cat sitter for your future travels by way of voucher, send me a message!

Basic Snitch & Quibbsy: Looking for some (creative) writing, graphics, or cool postcards? E-mail me at: basicsnitch@gmail.com.

At the very least, consider ethical consumerism, shopping with Etsy and Bol, or directly from the business, and avoiding Amazon. Bezos has enough $$$, and enough to think about too: employment conditions, packaging, carbon emissions.

Asking My Campaign: Why You Should Give Dungeons and Dragons a (One)Shot

How do I sacrifice my estranged little brother to a potent god? Maybe you don’t ask yourself that question too, but it’s possible that you’re off daydreaming about other universes, tinkering with machines, or concocting potions: whatever your fantasy world is about, you can probably find it in Dungeons and Dragons.

Dungeons and Dragons, or D&D (also stylised DnD) is the first modern role-playing tabletop game, and the most un-board-gamey-game out there. Created in the mid 70s and recently re-popularised with newer editions surfacing, DnD is different from traditional wargaming in that each player creates their own completely unique character, with a huge amount of mix-and-match possibilities and very few limitations.

All players choose a race (such as goblin or elf) and a class (such as druid or rogue) and pick from a long and elaborate list of spells and/or combat tricks. They roll some polyhedral dice (ranging from d4s to d20s) to come up with their in-game statistics, complete with ability scores and modifiers. These scores, which players roll for and allocate themselves, will determine their abilities: how good or bad they are at lying, convincing, dragging, jumping, sneaking around, recalling information, and so on. Left to fend for themselves with only a modicum of guidance, they walk into a spontaneous, or maybe fully-fledged, fantasy world.

Led by the Game Master (GM), also called Dungeon Master (DM), the characters meet each other, or have already met beforehand and must weave their encounter(s) into their respective backstories. They tackle the world they are in with a simple dice roll determining their ability to accomplish a certain task: perceive, investigate, attack… Unexpected enemies or allies can appear at any time, and players might run out of spell slots, or even die.

The purpose of the game is to go on several, often improvised quests, and the beauty of it all, is that it is essentially never-ending: DnD is not just a game, but a story that involves a lot of character-based calculations, consideration for other players, and commitment to meeting up and playing the part. Conversely, many also choose to partake in ‘one shots’ for a riveting DnD session lasting one night and one night only.

That all sounds pretty funky already, but here are a bunch of expert opinions sourced directly from my own completely unbiased party on why you should borrow a set of dice and sign up for your very first game of DnD.

RISK-TAKING

Our quick and cunning thief likes to take bets on her luck and creative mind. Chantal, who plays Earing the Halfling Rogue, will tell you that her favourite thing about playing DnD comes in packs of three:

“The combination of skill, chance, and creativity. Going on a prolonged journey into the imagination of other people whilst they play a character who does not necessarily represent their own [out-of-game] choices and how that collective effort brings life into the in-game world.”

And try as you may, the dice will determine your fate. But if you think creatively and way, way outside of the realm, then your DM might be humoured into lowering the number needed to succeed. So why not take a chance!

Benefits of the halfing rogue combo

• Nimble
• Dexterous
• Good with traps
• Lucky
• Sneaky
• Able to communicate in thieves’ cant
• A lock’s worst enemy

GAMING, MINUS THE SCREEN

Photo 2 by Espen Meisfjord.

If you’re looking for orphaned royalty, we’ve got that too. Our mysterious and untrusting half-elf ranger was once a noble paladin. Sebastian plays (Tar-)Darion Beluarian, The Strayer, and he likes the idea of gaming without the adverse effects of screen-time:

“There’s no screen, and actually, no writer or director telling you what the fictional world should look like. It just allows everyone in the group to have their own world, and yet play together, in real life. You’re totally free, you can eat and drink at the same time, you can leave quickly to the kitchen and come back, and the freedom extends to you as an actor.”

In DnD, players are free to choose what kind of a person they’d like to play, whereas video-gamers are often limited to a list of pre-made avatars:

“Here, you not only choose your own spells and abilities, but your entire background story, look, and personality.”

And it’s not untrue; there isn’t always a list of narrative A, B, C, D options to choose from, and you could spend years on creating a backstory, or invent it on the spot. If you’d like to swap genders, professions, political parties, or philosophies, go ahead. No one is stopping you.

Benefits of the half-elf ranger combo

• Charismatic
• Diplomatic
• Ability to multi-attack
• Knowledge of various terrains
• Bow expert

LARP THE NIGHT AWAY

*The artwork for these minis have been sourced from the internet and most have been modified to fit our needs with photoshop. The artwork has only been used for our miniatures and non-commercial poster. We do not recommend using artwork that is not your own if you are going commericial or pro.

Live Action Role Playing, or LARPing, is not just an activity you can participate in to see what it would be like to be a catastrophically elite version of yourself. Vulnerability is key, so don’t shy away from taking on an insecurity or belief you might not have in real life. Becoming someone else and building a common narrative is tricky, but ultimately very rewarding. As a relatively confident person, recent graduate, and atheist, I play Elyssee Elwing, the paranoid half-elf cleric student. It makes no sense, but it’s a lot of fun.

All of it comes with a no-strings-attached policy, because it’s only a character. At the same time, if you dedicate yourself to it enough, it’ll become you. Players in-game usually only refer to each other by their character names, team-members will adopt strange accents and quirks, and, when you die, you die. Back to the drawing board for your new character.

Benefits of the half elf cleric combo

• Charismatic
• Diplomatic
• Necessary healer
• Always useful
• Banish the dead
• Befriend the dead?

MAP-MAKING, WORLD-BUILDING

And just when you might begin to think that DnD sounds unmanageably free and off-the-usual-track, you’ll be pleased to know that the game also offers a wealth of information on how to play. Gimble the Gnome Wizard, played by Espen, dreams of worlds built on travel narratives.

“It gives the gameplay a coherent structure and shifts between an emphasis on ontological and subjective approaches to documentation of places and people encountered.”

You’ll find many maps and treasure troves of information on DnD, which include The Player’s Handbook and Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. Our well-travelled gnome is thankfully our living map guide, but there are many digital resources, such as Roll 20, DND 5th Edition, and D&D Beyond’s 5th Edition Maps, if you’re not too sure about investing in costly tabletop books quite yet.

Benefits of the gnome wizard combo

• Intelligent
• Unparalleled knowledge of the Arcane
• Naturally gifted illusionist
• Able to communicate with animals
• Chaotic good fun
• So many spells

BY THE BOOK, OR NOT

With all its books and platforms, any rule in DnD can be interpreted as a long list of suggestions at the discretion of your group’s Dungeon Master. Frank, the team’s hilarious bear-who-was-revealed-to-actually-not-be-a-real-bear (it was shocking), or Varen the Firbolg Monk, is all about the in-game freedom:

“Whilst it’s true that the game involves many rules, they don’t operate by restricting creativity, but rather by guiding it, helping to make the game fun for you and your group. When playing DnD, each player has the freedom to invent their own game, which results in an unbelievably rich and unexpected adventure.”

As a bear who walks and talks in the country’s capital without care, Varen embodies freedom of game, exemplified by his quirky tangential mini-adventures, such as the quest for a decent yet rustic pipe to smoke.

Benefits of the firbolg monk combo

• Giant
• Naturally detect magic
• Naturally disguise yourself
• Invisibility
• Mulitattacks
• Ability to stun and delay

Our inscrutable barbarian agrees. Though he initially had many existential questions on the game’s lack of necessary structure and coherence, Nil, or Tork the Orc, now finds the idea of a freer world built on a semblance of reality to be comforting:

“The people I come across, the places I visit. Do they exist before I encounter them? […] The future could be predetermined, yet I have no means of knowing. Where does free will lie under such an argument? Although these questions occupy my mind often, I have learned to not think about them. It is likely that the DM improvises as he goes, and I have found peace in not questioning his ability to [lead us].”

Coming to terms with the at times strange nature of the game has led to a number of absurd occurrences, such as when Tork killed a wizard in one blow for purely narrative reasons. He didn’t seem to mind, though. Tork smash!

Benefits of the barbarian orc combo

• Strong
• Resilient
• Robust
• Naturally intimidating
• Deal 40 points of damage in one swing

BE THE GAME

There’s one last actor, hidden behind a dividing screen. Arvid, our smiling Dungeon Master, also loves the narrative and geographical world-building that DnD has to offer; after all, the game we play is in many ways the seed of his creative mind intermingled with our own individual and joint choices. In other ways, the game is out of his control almost entirely:

“The reason why I play and act as the Dungeon Master in DnD is mostly as a creative outlet. Whether I play or act as the DM, I see it as a performance of story-telling and as immersion for the players and for myself. I like to improvise and I love to write short little stories in my mind that I can act out in front of the players. I am always curious as to what the players will do and where they will end up. This gives me, as a Dungeon Master, the opportunity to express my imagination both in terms of world-building, and in terms of being an improvisational actor.”

According to our DM, an opinion I am sure our players would back up vehemently, the rich fantasy world of DnD us unlike any other game out there:

“I know of no other game that allows for such freedom of expression and after not having played for a while, I always feel drawn back into this fantasy world to see what ideas may present themselves.”

Benefits of DMing

• Narrative storytelling
• Worldbuilding
• Character creation
• Practice accents
• Surprise your players
• DM and NPC – double the fun!

Think you’ve got what it takes to DM? Check out professional voice actor and DM artist extraordinaire Matt Mercer and his top tips on leading a campaign of players.

So, are you ready to play?

Black Friday and the dangers of greenwashing campaigns

Last year, Burberry burned unsold items worth £28.6m (€33.5m) in a singular bid to protect its brand, and the hyper-consumerism that Black Friday and Cyber Monday desperately encourage is likely to fuel similar scandals behind closed doors this year. Sustainability and up-cycling has a mindful ring to it, and big brand names and companies are really starting to get it. In fact, they are getting it a little too well. Here are some key issues to keep in mind this weekend whilst shopping, or hopefully, not shopping at all.

MediaNews Group/Getty Images

Greenwashing

A noticeable trend in modern (Black Friday) marketing strategies is the use of keywords such as ‘green’, ‘compostable’, ‘biodegradable’, and ‘sustainable’ as a selling point, especially in the fashion industry. Anything that is googled or trending can be picked up by SEO marketeers, which is not exactly a secret seeing as almost every ad on Facebook and Instagram is now ‘highly personalised and tailored to fit your needs (?) and preferences’.

An article posted two days ago by Ethical Corp mentions that research done by Hubbub, a sustainability communications charity, has shown that two thirds of surveyed people don’t actually enjoy taking part in Black Friday, with half feeling uncomfortable about the event. With the upper-hand, companies are now appealing to the public by using everybody’s favourite ‘eco-words’, such as sustainability, to incite consumers to buy their products.

Greenwashing, marketing campaigns that use the environment for financial profit only, promote buy-waste-buy by appealing to this generation’s environmentally-conscious consumers, and do so without the planet in mind. In an earlier 2017 report by Pulse of the Fashion, market-driven sustainability was found to have great limitations in terms of actually being beneficial to the environment, as brands still need to sell more in order to generate a profit, and initiatives to address environmental and social issues in sales campaigns were only contributing to the buy-waste-buy cycle.

The sustainability ploy

Hubbub also concludes that “nobody currently has a clue about what constitutes a ‘sustainable material’.” So what does green and sustainable fashion actually mean, and are sellers covering all significations of the words?

Sustainability is a word encapsulating a number of complex processes and ways of thinking, and is not only limited to durability and ethically-sourced. The product might be long-lasting, and it might not have been produced in a sweat factory, but what are working conditions like for the employees that have made the garment? How much are they being payed and what are they sacrificing in order to be there? What material is the garment made of, and what is the company’s understanding of a sustainable fibre? Is it renewable? Has it been dyed and prepared in a way that might harm the environment? Were all parts of the process of turning raw fibre into textile sustainable? What is the total carbon footprint of the material, including transportation, shipping, washing, processing and more? And what happens to the product when it has reached the end of its lifecycle? Is it recycled, or burned like Burberry?

Ambiguously-speaking™

Not knowing what a brand means when they say their product is sustainable also highlights a lack of transparency: it’s difficult to tell what makes a sustainable material when it isn’t clear from the product descriptions or advertising campaigns, and materials that are seen as sustainable aren’t in fact produced in a sustainable way.

For example, cotton is the most widely used clothing fibre, and prevalent in apparel fibre. In fact, it accounts for over 50% of clothing material worldwide, and at the same time it uses 2.4% of all our arable lands and needs 16% of the world’s pesticides. It is often bleached, dyed, and washed so much so that calling it sustainable seems almost absurd. Efforts to reduce plastic waste would then be undermined if every Black Friday shopper decides to buy that extra cotton tote bag they don’t need.

Brands are also failing to report emissions properly, with the majority reporting only their annual carbon footprint. Some brands report no emissions at all. If a company boasts sustainable materials, but it’s not clear what makes the material sustainable, and there are no extensive emission reports available, then perhaps there are grounds for thinking twice before buying.

Online shopping’s carbon footprint

As mentioned above, sustainability also has to do with the overall carbon footprint of a product, which includes transportation, packaging, preparation and more. In an interview published a week ago, Diana Verde Nieto, co-founder of Positive Luxury, says to Bustle’s Lauren Sharkey that “In 2017, it was estimated that every 93 seconds, a diesel truck left an Amazon fulfilment centre.” She adds that if something is returned, shipping impact is doubled.

Online shopping is just as harmful for the environment, with massive air pollution spikes during Black Friday and Cyber Monday due to a surge in online orders. And yet, a 2019 report done by PricewaterhouseCoopers, shows that shopping is now largely done online in the UK (77%), Germany (75%), the Netherlands (66%), France (65%), and Ireland (63%).

The urgency trap

The biggest trap of them all is perhaps urgency: consumer psychologist Nisa Bayindir highlights the “sense of urgency in consumers’ minds” that is created by events such as Black Friday. This urgency is prevalent in the creative editorial industry, and well-known to digital-space copywriters (hi that’s me) who are often tasked with maximising ‘inspiring call-to-action copy.’

Oxford-educated business women and influencer Grace Beverley, who founded multimillion dollar businesses B_ND and TALA during her undergraduate studies, prides herself on being very focused on sustainability and ethically-sourced products. Despite this, her businesses still knowingly engage in ‘urgency-trap’ behaviour. Whilst TALA joins the boycott by refusing to participate in Black Friday, sister brands B_ND and SHREDDY do not.

Beverley has released a statement on Instagram clarifying that the brands are separate, and that the modest sales being offered are to help students and other consumers who normally would not be able to afford her high quality products. And yet, her Black Friday campaigns all promote urgency with words such as “today and today only”, “what are you waiting for”, “Get subscribing now”, “24 hours” all in one post.

When urgency is promoted as part of marketing campaigns, it incites customers to act quickly without adequate time to think or conduct research, increasing the likelihood of regretting a purchase, and ultimately contributing to the production of waste.

In the same IGTV video, Beverley admits that “It’s amazing to see kind of how many people love the idea of not doing Black Friday”, and this has not been lost on eco-friendly brands. Beauty company DECIEM, who has also refused to participate in Black Friday, still announced on November 1st that they would be having a month-long sale of 23% off an all items, effectively turning Black Friday into Black November. How about the radical idea of not participating in Black Friday this month, like, at all?

Recycling’s complexities

Many people do have the environment in mind, take note of the fine print, read up on emissions, and recycle on a weekly basis. The problem with recycling is that the process is far more complex than a few bins separating different materials from each other. Unearthed, Greenpeace’s investigative journalism news site, points out that mixed fibre garments cannot be recycled. The Textile Recycling Association adds that certain types of recycling processes (mechanical) shorten fibres drastically so that the majority of textiles can really only be recycled once.

Reward systems: Recycle-Buy-Recycle

Next level greenwashing, beyond marketing campaigns, also occurs in the form of take back schemes that encourage customers to trade unused clothing for vouchers, effectively promoting an apparently ‘green’ recycle and reward culture. According to Greenpeace, the ‘waste’ is then resold or recycled into lower grade products, which at first seems like a step forward; however, the outcome of recycled clothing is not always positive in terms of customer satisfaction, and the ulterior motive is that the client is essentially gifted a tiny discount and incentivised to treat this as a call-to-action to shop more, perpetuating the buy-waste-buy cycle. Sadly, recycling has now also become an effective marketing strategy for business- and consumer-oriented companies who are not truly focused on the environment.

Donating to charities, and landfills

Ignoring the reward system and refusing to recycle clothing by trading it in at an H&M for a 5 euro voucher must mean that it’s safe to assume that your unwanted clothing has a spot amongst the racks of a charity shop. And yet, according to a (somewhat dated) 2006 ABC New Report, only an estimated 10% of donated clothing in the US is kept by charity shops. Clothing that is kept is usually trendy, high-in-value fabrics that are easily thrifted.

The other 90% of the clothing, closer to the fast fashion end of the donations, goes to textile recycling firms, where 70% of the donated clothing is turned into industrial cleaning items (rags, cloths), and 20-25% is sold on to an international market. The report indicates that whilst some used products are sold to low-income customers abroad at a lower price, most of the resold clothing still ends up in a landfill as US sizes fail to fit the global average. This warrants extra care when it comes to all the good-hearted intentions out there: if you’re style isn’t thrift-worthy, your donation might just be to a landfill.

Illusory self-control and hyper-consumerism

A moderate participation in Black Friday would also seem like a better idea than a total blow-out, but it sounds rather idyllic to me. Two days ago, Delphine Batho, France’s former environment minister, proposed that Black Friday be banned as part of a new anti-waste bill that is yet to be debated, explaining that: “You can’t at the same time reduce green house emissions and call for frenzied consumerism”. In response, the trade council of France claimed that “Using the word frenzy gives the impression that consumers are not committed and responsible citizens.” It fails to miss that exact point: humanity’s biggest vice is probably its failure to act moderately. This failure has contributed not only to hyper-consumerism, but is the leading cause of global warming and the climate crisis.

Slow fashion and privilege

So perhaps the solution is just to cut out all fast fashion completely, and to only invest in high-quality, durable, ethically-sourced and produced, sustainable, biodegradable, compostable, green products. You’re not alone if with every word you felt the price of the product you have in mind increase. Whereas fast fashion is a huge contributor to water and air pollution, greenhouse gases, and waste production, slow fashion is only its elitist antonym. How are low income earners expected to participate in slow fashion to the same degree as moderate to high income earners. Would this mean that only the wealthiest gain access to high quality, durable, and expensive goods?

Slow fashion creates yet another socio-economic rift between those who are in a position of privilege, and those who have no other alternative than to buy poorly-produced, temporary fast fashion. This perpetuates fashion’s hierarchy which is still very much based on social and financial status.

Just for fun: Blaming women, ’cause why not

All of that sounds terrible, and if you actually are a moderate consumer during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, then surely there is another group of heavy consumers that can be held accountable.

The practice of blaming women for absolutely everything is not unheard of, but if you thought they were the root of the problem, the big instigators and upholders of Black Friday and shopping, think twice. A 2019 report done by PricewaterhouseCoopers on Black Friday and Cyber Monday analysing UK consumers indicates that men are more likely to shop for Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals than women are, and more likely to buy for themselves (77%) than for their family (62%). Women, on the other hand, use the event as an occasion to save money (62% vs 56%) and to shop for others.

Similar statistics are provided by Finder for US Black Friday shoppers, with 88% of men saying they will participate in the event, vs 85% of women. Men are also more likely to regret their purchases than women (56% vs 49%), making them more likely to throw out their buys. The statistical differences are marginal, however, and the final conclusion is that somehow, someway, even those of us with good intentions, are almost all to blame. Oops.

Consider a shop-stop, and if not:

If buying only what you truly need doesn’t sound like fun, especially around Christmas time, then support unpackaged products, eco-friendly materials, and avoid being assumptive when it comes to understanding what a “sustainability” label means. Look for certifications such as the Butterfly Mark, and items that have been up-cycled and recycled. Opt to support local shops in person instead of ordering online, and if you do order online, go for standard shipping to save on fuel emissions. Happy Morbid Friday.

Absurd philosobro Alain Finkielkraut strikes again: “I’m telling men: rape women. I rape my wife every night.”

Being a philosopher doesn’t mean that every outrageous claim you ever make or course of action you ever take is just ‘provocation’, ‘proving a point’, or ‘irony’. In a televised debate on French TV channel LCI (La Chaîne Info), largely between philosopher Alain Finkielkraut and feminist activist and politician Caroline de Haas, some very absurd declarations were made.

Screen-grab from LCI’s televised debate // La Chaîne Info.

The segment, part of the programme’s “#TheGreatConfrontation” series, hosted by David Pujadas and broadcast on LCI only three days ago, dealt with freedom of expression, the politically correct, and whether all opinions should be voiced or not. The clip has since expired and is no longer available on LCI’s website, but key moments of the debate have been re-uploaded on YouTube and elsewhere.

In a video excerpt, which seems to begin right after the panelists have been shown a series of comedy sketch snippets, Pujadas points out that it is not a question of whether some things are funny or tasteful, but whether some things should be allowed to be said at all. Framing the debate in such a way already puts de Haas in an uncomfortable position: either she must admit that humour is part of freedom of expression and therefore anything can be said, or she must agree to limit freedom of expression by supporting that not everything can always be said (without consequences), and take on the role of a dictator.

Extract of “The Big Confrontation”, LCI, 13 November 2019 // Dissident Officiel, YouTube.

Whereas the episode is entitled, verbatim: “Are all opinions good to be said?”, many in the debate itself seem to be interpreting the question as “Can anything be said?”, which in itself might not be worth debating at all. Of course, what is said cannot legally be limited unless the speech itself is an illegal speech act, such as a violent threat. So what’s the point?

When Finkielkraut shouts “Rape, rape, rape. I’m telling men: rape women. In fact, I rape my wife every night. Really, every night. She’s fed up with it, she’s fed up with it” on national TV, and then ludicrously tells Caroline de Haas “You are absurd”, no one in the studio is laughing.

Well, the episode mentions comedy, and that’s more interesting. Can you get away with saying anything when you’re a public figure who’s job is to joke around, be unserious, and at times, say the exact opposite of what you believe in? Comedy is tricky, and frankly, the deciding factor can definitely be tastefulness. There are sexist jokes on the more tasteful side of things that I can enjoy and laugh at, even the very crude ones.

At the same time, comedians are taking a risk by engaging in a socio-cultural pact of probabilities. Not all jokes land, and not everything will appeal to all people (hence the point of changing your material to suit a certain audience). When jokes are so politically, socially, or ethically charged and then are ill-received, it is your responsibility as a comedian to embrace the backlash. You set yourself up and you saw it coming too.

Alain Finkielkraut, however, is not a comedian: he is a French-Jewish philosopher and public intellectual who has written serious material on supporting identitary nonviolence. So when he shouts “Rape, rape, rape. I’m telling men: rape women. In fact, I rape my wife every night. Really, every night. She’s fed up with it, she’s fed up with it” on national TV, and then ludicrously tells Caroline de Haas “You are absurd” for thinking comedy sketches can trivialise assault, no one in the studio is laughing. In fact, there are audible gasps of shock, the panelists themselves don’t seem all that comfortable, and the host is quick to throw in “It’s just irony, it’s just humour”.

This isn’t the first time Finkielkraut has made such preposterous and honestly, weird declarations. He has previously been accused of making racist remarks when referring to France’s national football team, and has been critiqued for his unwavering defence of Roman Polanski who was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl.

When referring to the case in this segment, Finkielkraut maintains that the girl was not a child but a teenager of “13 years and 9 months of age”, was “not prepubertal, she had a boyfriend, she had a relationship with Polanski, he was accused of rape, today she has reconciled with him, and she is imploring Caroline de Haas to stop harassing him”, with no mention of the consequences of psychological alliance brought on by Stockholm Syndrome, fear, anxiety, shame, and embarrassment often felt by survivors of abuse.

Finkielkraut is a public figure broadcast on national French TV and he has the power to influence those watching what many are interpreting as a very serious debate.

Of course, imposing legal boundaries on speech is not the same as critiquing speech, or taking subsequent action because of speech. So though not everything Caroline de Haas says has to stick, when she declares “You can not say that” in response to Alain Finkielkraut’s absurd rape joke-comments, she has a point in that it is a question of morality and responsibility, rather than legality.

Finkielkraut is a public figure broadcast on national French TV and he has the power to influence those watching what many are interpreting as a very serious debate. One would have hoped that such a framework deserved some consideration for the moral responsibility and authoritative power held by a public intellectual.