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Charles Dickens tale retold

‘A Christmas Carol’ will never be the same

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Jefferson Mays stars in the Geffen Playhouse world premiere adaption of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Directed by Michael Arden. (Photo by Chris Whitaker)

For most people brought up in western culture for the past century-and-a-half, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is a familiar story – even if we haven’t actually read it in years (or at all), we still know it so well that we can usually recite chunks of it by heart.

That’s because, since its first publication in 1843, it has been one of the most frequently dramatized pieces of literature in history. The story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his transformation from cold-hearted miser to joyful philanthropist has been told and retold so many times that it has arguably become as much a fixture of Christmas tradition as putting presents under the tree.

For many, the holiday season is never complete without revisiting this classic at least once. Many others, however, avoid it at all costs – for them, having to sit through it one more time seems like a fate worse than – to borrow a phrase from Scrooge himself – being boiled in their own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through their heart.

If you are in this latter group, you’d be well-advised to make an exception for the new adaptation currently gracing the stage at the Geffen Playhouse – a one-man performance by Tony-winning actor Jefferson Mays that will make you feel like you’re hearing it for the first time.

Based on the edited version that Dickens himself used for public readings of the novella during his lifetime, the script (devised by Mays and his wife, Susan Lyons, along with director Michael Arden) covers all its best-known passages while also making use of its powerfully descriptive prose – so much a part of the story’s detail but usually eschewed in favor of visual representation by most enacted versions. These help to evoke not only the physical environment of the tale’s 19th setting, but also its grim realities – as well as the mindset of the author, ever the social reformer, in the face of the prevailing moral and ethical attitudes of the day.

Serving as both narrator and cast, Mays spends 90 riveting minutes conjuring Dickens’ story with as much freshness as if he were making it up himself.  He uses the author’s language to create the entire world in which the action takes place, bringing the atmosphere of Victorian London – the sights, the sounds, even the smells – to vivid life within our minds. He transforms himself into each character, making each one distinct and individual enough that there can be no confusion.

His remarkable performance would be enough to capture us even on a bare stage under a spotlight – but under Arden’s delicate orchestration, this production complements the actor’s work with the kind of elegantly simple stagecraft that reminds us what a magical experience theater can be. A revolving platform and an ever-shifting array of sets – in conjunction with chiaroscuro lighting, delicate projections and an ingeniously engineered sound design – add layers of concrete reality which enhance the power of the words to transport us into Dickens’ imagination from within our own.

Taken together, these elements combine to give us a sparkling vision of this oft-told tale, but it goes even further than that by illuminating the elements within it that have been obscured by so much repetition.

Most strikingly, it reminds us how much of “A Christmas Carol” is a meditation on death.  Before the show even begins, an open coffin greets the audience from the stage, as if we were taking our seats for a funeral; this imagery is bookended by a graveyard tableau that closes the evening on a melancholy note – reminding us that, though we may change our future by choice, nothing can change the absolute fact of our mortality. A grim observation, to be sure, but one that underscores Dickens’ heartfelt admonition for us to make each other’s lives brighter, however we may, while we are still here.

This theme goes hand in hand, of course, with another aspect of the story that is often overlooked in its obviousness – the fact that Dickens’ beloved Christmas classic is, unapologetically, a ghost story.  Arden and company make full use of its spookier elements, setting the mood with gloomy lighting and a low, ominous drone which lingers throughout the opening scenes; the interaction between Scrooge and Marley’s ghost, so often undercut by humor, is a deadly serious affair here, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is an authentically terrifying apparition; even the gentler spirits of Christmas Past and Present are possessed of an eerie solemnity that never lets Scrooge – or the audience – get too comfortable.  Add to these portrayals the sudden noises and other such “jump scares” that the show liberally employs throughout, and this version of “A Christmas Carol” plays almost like a horror movie.

Lastly, the production achieves much of its power by treating the story with the immediacy of the here-and-now. We are not merely watching a play – we are part of it. Mays, who frequently breaks the fourth wall and interacts with the audience, is actively telling us a story; the events he describes may be from a time long gone by, but he is delivering them to us in a modern era fraught with social ills – an era which, in many ways, is not so different from the one in which Scrooge and his creator lived. It’s impossible not to hear modern-day attitudes reflected back to us in the nearly two-century-old words we hear from the stage.

This is ultimately why the Geffen’s “Christmas Carol” rises beyond the level of heartwarming holiday tradition. It brings a contemporary relevance to material so well-known as to have become virtually meaningless, allowing us to put ourselves more completely in the shoes of its characters.  It mines the emotional core of the story with insight and sincerity, striking deeply resonant chords which allow us to participate in Scrooge’s redemptive journey – and recognize it as our own.

For those of us feeling jaded by divisive rhetoric, toxic consumerism, social media artificiality and the me-first narcissism that seems to have gripped our current world in a choke-hold, this dazzling production might be just the Christmas miracle we need.

“A Christmas Carol” runs at the Geffen Playhouse (10886 Le Conte Ave.) through Dec.16.  Tickets available at geffenplayhouse.org.

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Welsh Olympic distance swimmer Dan Jervis comes Out

Jervis, who placed 5th in distance swimming at the Olympics in Tokyo said he was inspired by Blackpool FC soccer player Jake Daniels

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Dan Jervis (Screenshot via British Swimming Livestream-archive)

NEATH, Talbot County Borough, Wales – In a recent interview with BBC Radio Cornwall, 26-year-old British Olympian distance swimmer Dan Jervis revealed that he had given considerable thought before announcing to the world that he is gay.

Jervis told the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast; “I was adjusting to everything else, just trying to fit in — until I thought, Just be you.”

Jervis, who placed 5th in distance swimming for the British team at the Olympic games in Tokyo, Japan, told the BBC he was inspired by 17-year-old Blackpool FC forward Jake Daniels, the professional soccer player who made history as only the second person in the past 30 years to acknowledge their sexual orientation publicly in that sport in the United Kingdom.

The swimmer also told the BBC it was important to be seen as a role model as he readies to compete in the upcoming Commonwealth Games. Jervis has previously competed winning a 1500m freestyle silver and bronze at the 2014 and 2018 Games in Glasgow, Scotland and Australia’s Gold Coast respectively.

“It took me 24 years to be who I am,” he said and added, “You know, we’re just before the Commonwealth Games and there are going to be kids and adults watching who will know that I’m like them, and that I’m proud of who I am.”

The Olympian reflected on his decision to announce he was gay: “For so long, I hated who I was – and you see it all the time, people who are dying over this. They hate themselves so much that they’re ending their lives.

“So if I can just be that someone people can look at and say, ‘yeah, they’re like me,’ then that’s good.”

Jervis then said he revealed his sexuality to a close friend when he was 24: “At that point, I’d never said the words out loud to myself.”

“I said to her: ‘I think I’m gay.’ I couldn’t even say: ‘I’m gay.’ I was basically punching the words out.

“She was quite shocked but great, and it was exactly the reaction I wanted. I’ve had all good reactions, and the way I’ve described it is I’m not going to change as a person.

“Everyone’s journey is different, but I think I’ve always known.

“It was something in the back of my mind, bugging me. I thought I was bisexual and had girlfriends that I loved – but it came to about three years ago where I knew I had to deal with this.

“It wasn’t affecting my swimming, but me as a human being. It sounds quite drastic, but I wasn’t enjoying my life. Yeah, I was smiling, but there was something missing to make me properly happy.

“I’m still the Dan you’ve always known. You just know something else about me now.”

The Commonwealth Games open in Birmingham, UK on July 28.

Listen: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p0chqfhn

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Online Culture

FCC asks Apple & Google to remove TikTok app from their stores

Its pattern of surreptitious data practices that are documented show TikTok is non-compliant with app store policies and practises

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Graphic by Molly Butler for Media Matters

WASHINGTON – In a series of tweets Tuesday, Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr disclosed a letter sent to both Apple and Google’s parent company Alphabet asking the two tech giants to remove TikTok from their app stores over his concerns that user data from the wildly popular social media platform is disclosed and used by bad actors in China.

In his letter dated June 24 to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, Carr noted that because of its pattern of surreptitious data practices documented in reports and other sources, TikTok is non-compliant with the two companies’ app store policies and practises.

“TikTok is not what it appears to be on the surface. It is not just an app for sharing funny videos or meme. That’s the sheep’s clothing,” he said in the letter. “At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data.”

Carr stated that if the companiest do not remove TikTok from their app stores, they should provide statements to him by July 8.

The statements should explain “the basis for your company’s conclusion that the surreptitious access of private and sensitive U.S. user data by persons located in Beijing, coupled with TikTok’s pattern of misleading representations and conduct, does not run afoul of any of your app store policies,” he said.

Carr was appointed by former President Trump in 2018 to a five-year term with the FCC.

In March of this year, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced a nationwide investigation into TikTok for promoting its social media platform to children and young adults while its use is associated with physical and mental health harms to youth.

The investigation will look into the harms using TikTok can cause to young users and what TikTok knew about those harms. The investigation focuses, among other things, on the techniques utilized by TikTok to boost young user engagement, including strategies or efforts to increase the duration of time spent on the platform and frequency of engagement with the platform.

TikTok’s computer algorithms pushing video content to users can promote eating disorders and even self-harm and suicide to young viewers. Texas opened an investigation into TikTok’s alleged violations of children’s privacy and facilitation of human trafficking last month.

TikTok has said it focuses on age-appropriate experiences, noting that some features, such as direct messaging, are not available to younger users. The company says it has tools in place, such as screen-time management, to help young people and parents moderate how long children spend on the app and what they see, the Associated Press reported.

“We care deeply about building an experience that helps to protect and support the well-being of our community, and appreciate that the state attorneys general are focusing on the safety of younger users,” the company said. “We look forward to providing information on the many safety and privacy protections we have for teens.”

TikTok has also had a problematic relationship with the LGBTQ+ community. Recently The Washington Post confirmed that the ‘Libs of TikTok,’ an influential anti-LGBTQ account regularly targets LGBTQ individuals and their allies for harassment from its more than 640,000 Twitter followers while serving as a veritable wire service for Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media to push anti-LGBTQ smears.

Libs of TikTok regularly targets individual teachers and their workplaces – releasing their personal information that includes school and individual names as well as social media accounts, and leading its audience to harass the schools on social media.

A year ago, an investigation by Media Matters found that TikTok’s “For You” page recommendation algorithm circulated videos promoting hate and violence targeting the LGBTQ community during Pride Month, while the company celebrated the month with its #ForYourPride campaign. 

Numerous LGBTQ+ content creators have shared stories with the Blade about TikTok’s seemingly arbitrary algorithms that target otherwise benign content that is not listed outside of the platform’s polices and removed the content. In many cases restoring the posts after appeals or in the worst case scenarios banning the users.

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Online Culture

Facebook banning users who post that abortion pills can be mailed

When Facebook started removing these posts is unclear. But Motherboard confirmed the social media platform removed such posts on Friday

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Facebook/Meta Headquarters Menlo Park, Calif. (Blade photo by Brody Levesque)

MENLO PARK, Ca. – Social media giant corporation Meta’s Facebook platform has removed posts and has banned some users who wrote posts detailing that abortion pills can be mailed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Friday that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Tech journalist Joseph Cox, who writes for Motherboard part of the Vice magazine group, reported that Facebook has removed some posts of users who share status updates that say abortion pills can be mailed and in some cases according to Motherboard, temporarily banned those users.

When exactly Facebook started removing these and similar posts is unclear. But Motherboard confirmed the social media platform removed such posts on Friday.

Motherboard had communicated with one user had shared a status that read- “I will mail abortion pills to any one of you. Just message me,” who then told the publication in an email:

“I posted it at 11 a.m. and was notified within a minute that it was removed. I was not notified until I tried to post later that I was banned for it.”

Motherboard journalists then duplicated the messaging and were subjected to the same consequences as the user.

The post was flagged within seconds as violating the site’s community standards, specifically the rules against buying, selling, or exchanging medical or non-medical drugs. The reporter was given the option to “disagree” with the decision or “agree” with it. After they chose “disagree,” the post was removed. 

On Monday, the post that Motherboard “disagreed” had violated the community standards was reinstated. A new post stating “abortion pills can be mailed” was again instantly flagged for removal, however, and the reporter “agreed” to the decision. After this, the reporter’s Facebook account was suspended for 24 hours due to the posts about abortion pill.

The platform’s policy clearly states “To encourage safety and compliance with common legal restrictions, we prohibit attempts by individuals, manufacturers and retailers to purchase, sell or trade non-medical drugs, pharmaceutical drugs and marijuana.”

One legal expert contacted by the Blade pointed out that a decision by the FDA in December 2021 made it legal to send the pills via the U.S. Postal Service.

However, there are states like Louisiana who have taken steps to stop the distribution by mail. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) into law a bill that will prohibit pregnant people from getting abortion pills via mail.

Axios reported that Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement Friday, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, that states cannot ban mifepristone, a medication that is used to bring about an abortion, based on disagreement with the federal government on its safety and efficacy.

“In particular, the FDA has approved the use of the medication Mifepristone. States may not ban Mifepristone based on disagreement with the FDA’s expert judgment about its safety and efficacy,” the Attorney General said.

As part of efforts to limit abortion access, some states have taken action to block the use of telehealth for abortion. Six states, ArizonaArkansasMissouriLouisianaTexas, and West Virginia, have passed laws specifically banning telehealth for abortion provision. In addition,14 other states have enacted laws that require the clinician providing a medication abortion to be physically present during the procedure, effectively prohibiting the use of telehealth to dispense medication for abortion remotely.

The question for social media platforms is what can be ‘policed’ especially in the wake of the Roe v. Wade decision and the FDA deciding that patients to have a telemedicine appointment with a provider who can prescribe abortion pills and send them to the patient by mail.

Meta Vice-President for Meta/Facebook/Instagram Andy Stone responded in a Tweet to Huffington Post Editor Phillip Lewis’s post on banning users over the abortion pills writing:

“Content that attempts to buy, sell, trade, gift, request or donate pharmaceuticals is not allowed. Content that discusses the affordability and accessibility of prescription medication is allowed. We’ve discovered some instances of incorrect enforcement and are correcting these.”

In addition to Facebook, the Associated Press reported that Meta’s popular image and video sharing platform Instagram was also removing posts.

The AP obtained a screenshot on Friday of one Instagram post from a woman who offered to purchase or forward abortion pills through the mail, minutes after the court ruled to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion. “DM me if you want to order abortion pills, but want them sent to my address instead of yours,” the post on Instagram read. Instagram took it down within moments.

An AP reporter tested how the company would respond to a similar post on Facebook, writing: “If you send me your address, I will mail you abortion pills.”  The post was removed within one minute. The Facebook account was immediately put on a “warning” status for the post, which Facebook said violated its standards on “guns, animals and other regulated goods.” Yet, when the AP reporter made the same exact post but swapped out the words “abortion pills” for “a gun,” the post remained untouched.

The Los Angeles Blade has reached out to Meta/Facebook for a comment.

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