Category Archives: Sheffield

Peer Review

So I like the new Mooncup ad for lots and lots of period positive reasons.

Here it is again:

I watched it, I enjoyed it, I shared it, but I couldn’t ignore this other blog post title forming in my head after the first viewing:

“OMG! They’ve used an educational rap!” say several slam poets and rap battlers (including a statistically small number of female rap battlers) at once as they collectively facepalm.

Yeah, so, there’s that. A number of readers will know I perform regularly on the spoken word scene and I’m on my university’s slam team. Lately, there’s been a little more slam/battle crossover in the spoken word universe, so I thought I’d check in with a few pals for some peer review. They’ve each agreed to weigh in below on their impressions of the video’s effectiveness from a wordsmith’s perspective.

Sticking with the marketing point of view though, cultural appropriation of rap for commercial purposes is such an old trope that it’s more status quo than newsworthy. In fact, in this particular advert, I really think that the usual criticism is mostly offset by the genuine use of rap as protest against disposables.

Interesting as it might be to me, I know that the femcare industry and most consumers don’t need to read a peer review of the authenticity of the rap battle. I had a hunch that Mooncup’s choice to adhere to some of the conventions of the genre has actually helped them get the message across more effectively (and certainly more effectively than more typical #OMGRAP ads currently making the rounds).

I don’t think it’s a gratuitous use of rap. I think it’s a well observed and effective pastiche.

When I got in touch with Mooncup last week to get the stats for last Friday’s post, I also checked out the origin story for the rap battle. Kath Clements, their Campaigns and Marketing manager, was happy to share their process:

“It was a real collaborative effort between Mooncup and [the ad agency] St. Luke’s. We needed a device for positioning a debate and a conceptual framework – we put it in our natural habitat which is the toilet! We were aware we were appropriating a thing with cultural connotations, so we tried to do it with finesse.”

I asked her about how it was written, and she told me that St. Luke’s worked with a producer who battles in his free time, and liked the concept enough to help them out and write it pro bono. He also coached the actors who play Tampon (who has actually rapped before in her own right) and MCUK (I just got that joke), who appeared in Mooncup’s last viral ad campaign.

With that insight, it looked to me like I could analyse the battle in good conscience. See, I really like the wordplay, puns and syncopation of classic freestyling, and my twelve-year-old self delightedly and ignorantly partook in gentle games of The Dozens with my middle school pals. The casual sexism and homophobia that I’ve witnessed on the current battle scene puts me off, though. I valued this ad’s depiction of women in a rap battle scenario. So I wanted to check out my theory that the quality of the pastiche and the rhyme are part of the payoff for this ad.

The first bit of commentary comes from Harry Baker, who’s been on Don’t Flop but who also raps about maths and slams about dinosaurs, both of which are more my speed.

“I think it’s almost too obvious that it’s made up of key statistics made to rhyme, but I guess that is the point of the advert. Things like the ‘no strings attached’ line would get a reaction from a crowd probably. So first reaction is ‘eye roll’ + ‘rap to get down with the kids’ but the rhyme/hook is there. For me I’m fine with it being a rap battle between two women, and it makes sense as a way of A vs B advert information, but the rhymes themselves aren’t really good enough to get away with it, or do the genre justice – I guess it’s good they want to use the format in mainstream media (pastiche is a great word) but what I would watch for/do in a rap battle is the intricate word play and rhyme schemes which I feel this lacks!”

Next up was Paula Varjack, originator and host of the Anti-Slam:

“Cheesy rap as an advertising device has been in effect since the eighties. I think the device only works if the rhymes are very clever or funny or both. Like a bad slam poem this doesn’t totally work as its more didactic than clever, and definitely not funny enough. I’m not sure I would have watched to end unless you asked me, and it’s only a minute and a half long. But as advertising for menstrual products go, it’s nice to not have abstract scenes of tennis playing and the like and I did actually glean info about Mooncups. Also I give them a couple points for rhyming mental with lentil.”

So the first two responses swung more toward the #OMGRAP side of the cringe-o-meter.

I spoke next to Kate Garrett, my captain on the Sheffield Hallam University slam team.

“Wow – first impression is, yes a bit cheesy as many ads are, but it’s also wicked cool and far more clever than most. I enjoyed that. In the case of women selling femcare, I think that’s a good device and empowering, that side of it isn’t cheesy – I just find most ads cheesy because they’re ads. Also as the Tampon Crew started the rap battle, it’s showing how those companies are quietly bullying us all into using what’s already widely known, and trying to bully other options out of the market by going, ‘ew weird reusable femcare omg go away’. So if anyone wakes up to that, the ad’s done a great service. Mooncup had good rhymes, and great lines ‘we only collect from the menstrual flow’ and ending the ad with ‘no strings attached’ – love both of those, great wordplay (I like ‘flow’ because a rap is someone’s ‘flow’ as is the intended meaning in this context, and obviously strings/tampons – excellent …)!

“Nothing particularly jumped out as a bad rhyme, it scans well and seems to work, however, I’d say they shouldn’t use the phrase ‘it’s making me mental’ just to rhyme with ‘lentils’. There are other words and other rhymes more suitable. In an advert empowering women to make informed choices, which is refreshingly free from the usual sexist stuff, it’s probably better not to use any ablist language either. Then again, the phrase came from Tampon Crew, among several insults, so I guess they could’ve been making a complicated point about tampon companies being bullies by giving them certain language? I’m not sure now. Could’ve been lazy writing, could’ve been super clever subtext.

“Anyway. I also loved that Mooncup were honest about loving the earth in the face of being called tree-hugging hippies and whatever else. The Mooncup Crew clearly don’t care what people think in this rap battle, which is ace. In a rap battle, if the other person can’t insult you, you win! I prefer this ad over other femcare ads. I actually started mentally blocking ads for tampons and sanitary towels years ago, but this ad is totally honest, clever and genuine – it uses words like “menstrual” which I’m not sure I’ve even heard in an ad for tampons!”

Regarding mental/lentils: In real life, the intersectionality of oppression means avoiding the word ‘mental’ to challenge mental health stigmas at the same time as challenging the menstrual ones. Examining all of Tampon’s lines, though, I think Kate may be right about the super clever subtext.

Throughout the rap, here’s what Tampon is says about herself:

  • She is criminally dismissive of outer space
  • She has no qualms about repeated name calling and putdowns
  • She uses the phrase tree hugging hippies, so she stereotypes people
  • She does not believe in global warming and equates it with herbal remedies (which, David McCandless style, can go both ways).
  • She uses the word mental when describing her own escalating emotional state after considering the implications of reusable femcare gaining in popularirty and stubbing her out once and for all.

This is a clever way of alienating Tampon from the audience, it’s a little bit Brechtian, and works in Mooncup’s favour. Kate’s right: In rap battles, blatantly ignoring a dis and coming back with a better one is in keeping with the genre. But maybe next time they could try to find another rhyme or have Mooncup use counterspeech to call her on it within the ad. After all, most people watch viral videos and move on – there’s not a lot of time for deeper analysis.

To round off all that food for thought, I asked the University of Sheffield’s slam team captain, for balance. He’s a good guy, when we’re not in direct competition on stage. He thought the battle format was essential for allowing a reusables company to challenge the disposable femcare industry. Here’s Jack Mann, captain of Dead Beats Poetry Society:

“Rap as a medium for advertising always seems cheesy, however I didn’t know about Mooncups, and so I followed the link to see what they were. As such, the ‘cheese’ was necessary for awareness and, in such an ephemeral zone as online media, worked exactly to spark intrigue. It’s a parody, soI knows that it isn’t to be taken seriously as a medium, however as a poem in that sense is spot on ! it pits them as equals, as if that’s assumed.”

I point out that the Tampon and the Mooncup don’t have equal time – that after the first round, Mooncup actually has two extra lines per round to make its point and subtly influence the viewer: not only do Tampon’s excuses seem shorter and whinier, but Mooncup grows more articulate as each round continues.

Back to Jack:

“Because [Mooncup] want to usurp the grip of the tampon without seeming like upstarts, the only way to do that is to forget that they aren’t on the same level and then use the language behind the established leader to assert that the tampon is not just (relatively) silly but no longer on the same level. In a live battle she would potentially be scored down for exceeding the time limit, but because of crowd reaction would invariably score higher – same as with slams – if a poet pleases the crowd, the crowd then usually influences the judges who then want to please the crowd also.”

These guys all took my questions seriously, scored the Mooncup rap as if there were weighing in after a battle or judging a slam, and answered my slightly tongue-in-cheek queries about the battle rules honestly. It looked overall, whether they thought the rhymes were cheesy or not, that this worked.

I asked Erica Mitchell Packington, social media tech consultant and Chair of Sheffield Steel Rollergirls why it works.

“I think it’s clever, funny, the rhythms work and its factual as well as being kind of kitch and knowing. I guess if I was properly going critique it, I’d recognise the ‘cat fight in the toilets’ thing, but it comes across more strongly as a rap battle that situates the choice in the place that it’ll be enacted and the Mooncup character role models ignoring insults and using stats to fight back against bullying.

“If people don’t know what a Mooncup is, it might prompt them to look them up. I love the way they deal with the whole hippie aspect of it. It’s ridiculous, but I felt a bit sorry for the tampon woman at the end. But rap battles are battles and someone has to lose, I suppose. Might have been better if the victory was softened by her taking a Mooncup or something, but I doubt that fits with the practice of rap battles!

“From a social media perspective, they have really tried to honour the conventions of the rap battle. In the past, advertisers might have been able to get away with a vague approximation of an art form or subculture, but now it’s much easier for the audience to check. The access to the ‘real’ (or at least the real that is shared) means marketers have to quite finely balance the tone.”

Details in this ad are very well observed, and the tongue-in-cheek nod to rap battle as product showdown, despite the initial cringe-factor, is satisfyingly executed. So? Does the battle complement Mooncup’s game plan?

Harry summed it up well:

“On the whole I like the ad because it gets its message across without insulting women, which is a lot more than you can say for many femcare ads and many rap battles.”

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Stuff and news and things to click about zines.

Zines in the news! Latest two titles  got a mention on the BBC news website today in a Sheffield/Rotherham fanzine feature, which was kinda amazing given all the other stuff that’s going on. Also, here’s the bit I did on  Radio Sheffield, which is online for a week. (Listen from about 2.20.) And now back to your regularly scheduled Fringe.

Adventures in Menstruating at the Fringe, and Space!

Hello! I’ve had a very cool day -had a chat about zines on BBC Radio Sheffield including my new zine about the secret lives of planets. Then packed up and got ready to head up to Edinburgh Ladyfest at the Fringe! Come check us out – Sarah and I will be each be doing stuff from our own individual shows and then concluding with the best of Adventures in Menstruating.  Really looking forward to dipping a toe into Fringey waters, seeing some of our friends’ shows, and discovering new stuff! Hope to see you there!

LADYFEST AT THE FRINGE CABARET NIGHT
SUNDAY 14 AUGUST 8PM-11PM
Leith Circle 115 Leith Walk (near the foot)
Edinburgh EH6 8NP.
Fringe Venue 186
Come and experience the pick of the Fringe with this exciting and eclectic line up of the best of the fest’s female performers!
* JEANNE D’ARK – costumed apocalyptic electropunk!
* CAROLINE KEMP – riot folk!
* SHARON (WITCHES REVENGE) – a musical smorgasbord!
*ELEANOR MORTON – comedy on the ukelele
*GUDRUN HIRT – appalachian dulcimer player and singer
*YAZ DUNCAN – singing heart felt acoustic street folk from Edinburgh’s dank alleys and dive bars!
* BARBARA SCOTT – singing Scottish songs
* CHELLA QUINT & SARAH THOMASIN – subversive poetry and comedy including Adventures in Menstruating!
*THE MULLIN PROJECT – smokey jazz classics!Tix £5 in advance from venue or on door, everyone welcome!
BYOB

Pecha Kucha rocks.

Pecka Kucha #6 was awesome.  The talks were amazing, the responses even better! It was very cool sharing my feminine hygiene advertising insights with my adopted hometown of Sheffield, and I met some very interesting people. I’ll add another post when videos are up, but here’s a picture by the lovely Nynke Wierda:

Back in stock.

I’m getting ready to do another print run of Adventures in Menstruating #5 because I’ve just realised they’re nearly gone! The first run is currently available at Rare and Racy in Sheffield, and will be restocked at Marching Stars (who are now starting wholesaling to shops, which is a big leap and I wish Lizzy lots of luck!) by Monday. For US readers, I’ve just packed up some zines to restock at Things You Say and Sweet Candy. And then that’s pretty much it for Issue 5, which may be a record for us.

Thanks for all your support and interest, everybody – a genuine, massive thanks to our readers and to Bluestockings for always hosting our readings in New York, the distros that carry the zine, and all of the amazing people who contributed to this issue.

If you think you’d like a copy of this issue, let me know by email or on facebook. I’m contemplating another biggish run and want to guestimate (ok, really I just wanted to have a giggle saying ‘guestimate’, but send me an email anyway).

Cheers,
Chella

Chella’s new zine: The Venns

So people often ask me if I only do comedy about periods, and I always say no. When the mood strikes me, I do Stand Up Columnist pieces at gigs around Sheffield, I perform my green room and sound check signature tune, “The Lesbian Song” to the fear and panic of many, and I also have this other thing I’ve been working on for quite a while. The second part of the project, a new zine, is finally finished, and I’m launching it in Sheffield tonight. It’s a comedy zine all about the British cultural phenomenon known as the pub quiz.  Pub quizzes are awesome, and over the years that I’ve lived here, I’ve developed my own (ridiculous) theories about what (possibly) makes them tick. My love of charting things (anything – periods, the number of times my mom’s neighbour says, ‘ya know’ in any given sentence,  and, now, pub quizzes) has led to this whole other endeavour that’s been chugging along nicely in the background. The zine heavily features Venn diagrams, which are my favourite kind of diagram, as seen on our Honeymoon Period tour logo two summers ago, actually.  They’re hot off the press and I’m quite excited!

I’ve got some plans to mix this up with performance, just like with Adventures in Menstruating, that’ll draws heavily on a combination of mockumentary, improvisation and infographics. If you live further afield, stay tuned or ‘like’ The Venns on Facebook for more details on availability as we confirm them. Here are the vital stats:

The Venns is a spoof research paper on the workings of the average pub quiz team. Anonymous ‘Informants’ are quoted, terms are defined and serious-sounding theories are bandied about, but it’s all in good fun. Articles include player archetypes, an interview with an unusual quiz-master, foreign perspectives, a word from the guy who said ‘Munted’ on Countdown, a sample quiz, reviews of some of the pub quizzes in Sheffield, and, of course, there are very important diagrams, charts and graphs throughout. It’s an A5 zine with 20 litho-printed black-and-white pages plus full colour front and back covers.

Get in touch if you want more info, or if you’re in Sheffield and want to get in on the quiz action.

Sometimes cool stuff just happens.

If you know me, you’ll know that I love cultivating a usual at the diner. (My record is three visits, for those of a competitive nature.) I’ve also had to slowly accept the reality that I’ll probably never have a dish or a drink named after me (not that I haven’t tried, and also probably because I don’t actually know how to cook anything other than toast and salad).  

So I was totally surprised and delighted when the owner of a new bead shop in Sheffield looked at the bracelet I’d put together in her shop and asked me if she could sell it as a kit…called ‘The Chella’.  Fifteen minutes, folks. Seriously.

This is a way cool shop, as well. It’s brand new, and looked so cute that I just kind of wandered in with beady eyes and crafty intent after seeing it out the bus window.   All the beads are in little Ikea juice glasses just like the ones we have at home, and arranged by colour. Bead kits come in jam jars with beads, string or ribbon and instructions. Prices are cheap (cheaper than my old favourite bead shop in Leeds, that used to be in the now totally and putrefactionally gentrified beyond all recognition Corn Exchange), the layout is great (no Bull-In-China-Shop effect fear of knocking over a million seed beads) and Yvonne, the very groovy owner, also sells ribbons in patterns I can only describe as for ‘the discerning feminist punk crafty lady’. 

Presenting…The Chella:

You can make your own, stock up on supplies or buy this kit from Jam Jar Beads in Sheffield (Yvonne has a facebook group and their website is coming soon – stay tuned for updates). I don’t make any money from it – all profits go toward keeping Sheffield crafty.  

I’ve  just realised – there’s nothing menstrual about this post…until now!  I’ve always wanted to make a bracelet indicative of my cycle. It’d have to be a beaded spiral – one colour for period days, another colour for the rest (or a third for ovulation etc if you wanna get fancy) and you could do a whole year…but that’s a lotta stringing, and it may only be beautiful in a space-time synaesthesia kind of way. More zine and period posts later in the week!

Chella