30 Apr 2013

Shoreditch street art

Last week I met up in Shoreditch with my friend Andrew to go check out the London Coffee Festival. We work together as baristas and thought it'd be a good opportunity to drink loads of free coffee (that didn't really work out. Oh well.) While I was waiting for Andrew (who was remarkably late, a real performance!), I walked around the area and got lost giving myself a tour of street art. I thought I'd share some on here to prove that yes, I do still live in London.

And guess what?

It's all kinds of amazing. 

Andrew being all hipster-like, super skool (lolz) skull art, German kola and tote included
Sorry the blog's been a bit slow, exams are nearly over and then I'll hopefully be back to posting more regularly. Still, the April edition of the Culture Feature will be up soon, and some food things if all goes well! Hope you guys are enjoying the beginnings of spring x

18 Apr 2013

Taking a break from essay writing to write about essays

I came back to London ten days ago after two weeks in France, and since then, all I've seen of London is my house/the library/my work place.

Mostly the library.

As I sat at a desk in front of my open computer for what feels (and probably is) the thirtieth hour this week, I got a blog post idea. This never happens; as you can imagine from the lack of posts lately, I don't get blog post ideas. But as always, it happened when I should have been doing something else.

I'm currently writing a portfolio of essays for one of my courses. Once again, I chose YouTube as my leading example. This is the great thing about my course and the reason why despite everything, despite the occasional terrible modules and the overall feeling of 'is this really worth it?', I'm 100% I chose the best and rightest course for me: I study what I do.

I study the media, and the media are what I do. I write a blog, I tweet, I make videos online, I spend countless hours on Facebook; all these things are part of my life, and I'm lucky enough that I'm learning why and how they're this important to me and most of our society. A lot of people say media students don't do eff all; allow me to disagree.

YouTube and Facebook have more than one billion active users a month. That's just under 10% of the world population. We are all always connected to something, almost all of us have phones (often smartphones), we watch TV, we listen to the radio; all of this is everywhere. It's not insignificant. And studying the media is as significant as studying geography. I believe the media shape the society we live in today: if it wasn't for a website such as Mediapart, French politicians wouldn't be double checking all of their secret Swiss accounts right now. If it wasn't for Twitter, some say the Arab Spring wouldn't have happened (others disagree, but my opinion is that social media strongly helped.)

And if it wasn't for the media, at least 50% of my life would be different. For a start, I wouldn't be doing all the things I mentioned before. And you wouldn't be here. I'd say at least a quarter of the readers of this blog wouldn't know I exist.

This is what's great about the media: we make it. The portfolio of essays I'm writing is all about this: who produces the media and culture, what's the role of audiences, where to draw the line between production and consumption. My view is that there isn't a line.

In my essay, I mentioned Rosianna Halse Rojas, a blogger and vlogger and Internet person who makes videos at missxrojas. I had a question for her, I tweeted at her, she replied in less than five minutes. She serves as a valid, relevant academic media example for an essay that is very much important to my degree. And she is also the housemate of a mate, and reads and replies my tweets. This is not name dropping, but a real observation; one that might seem obvious but which in my opinion means a lot to our society.

It's normal people, like you and me, who make the media. We make the culture. We make the Internet.

True, we don't make all of it. When we post videos online, we use video hosting websites. Money and mainstream ideologies and the political agenda and many other factors have a strong influence on everyone's work and ideas. And true, the "we" I'm talking about is restricted to those of us who actually have access to a computer.

Still, I don't think this is a fact to be overlooked. It's not just companies. It's not just VEVO and ITV and Hollywood, it's also us, and Alex "the future of music" Day, and the backers of the Veronica Mars movie Kickstarter, and missxrojas. And it can be you too.

Now back to my essay, because this 2:1 is not going to write itself.

5 Apr 2013

A big mess of honest opinions

A thing I have been struggling with a lot lately is knowing where to draw the line. There's very few conflicts I find I can solve by making a simple yes or no choice. Even yes or no answers are more complicated than they seem: do you want some ice cream? Yes, I do, but how much, which one, in a cup or a cone, toppings, sauces? Nothing's as easy as it seems. It's not black or white (although in the case of ice cream, it really is—I'm vanilla over chocolate any day); much to E. L. James's liking, it's a whole lot of shades of grey.

How much is too much? The question of how much I can say before it turns into a problem, or before something turns into something else, or before honesty turns into straight-up cruelness is one that's always bothered me. I'm known for my hatred of bullshitting. I value my time, and the time I get to spend with people too much to waste it pretending to be someone I'm not, or beating around the bush for ages before telling people what I think. A lot of people agree honesty is a thing to be valued, but only to an extent. Being frank is all fun and games for a while, as long as people are at best intrigued, at worst startled. But most get very uncomfortable, and I usually end up questioning my openness.

Knowing where to draw the line between what to say and what not is not a skill I think I've mastered yet. I try hard to weigh my words but it often comes out too fast. I have a lot of stuff going on in there, and I want to tell it all. Quick. I want people to know what I think about them because I care and I think they deserve to know. I want people to see I'm interested, or that I'm not, not because I think my opinion matters but just to show I've been listening.

Well, I do think my opinion matters. There's no point in denying it; I'm a blogger, which means I'm narcissistic and self-involved enough to think my thoughts deserve to be shared and read. Whether people read them or not, that's another question. 

I am very honest on here, this I've been told. (I don't really realise it, or think about it for that matter, because this is just as honest as I am in real life.) It is mostly because, me being self-absorbed and all, this blog is first and foremost something I write for myself. Writing words out on the page helps me figure out my thoughts and discover what is true and what isn't within my own very confused mind. I guess we all have the same issues with sometimes forgetting what we really thing about stuff. It's easy to get stuck into a mindset and not take the time to hate something (or love it.) Ignorance is bliss, and indifference makes life much easier. Not having an opinion means not having to stick to it, back it up, and possibly discover you were wrong.

Who cares about that, though? I don't. I have opinions, I have plenty of them, and I'm not afraid to share them. On the contrary, I'm eager to do so. Competition scares me, because the idea of fighting to win rather than for the very thing that passions you confuses me; I feel like they should be separate. But confrontation is fun. I like debates and angry rants and my friends' very, very smart comments. Sometimes I have these wise moments too, but no one would know if I didn't said what I think.

Back to this blog, I don't think I've actually sparked that much debate. No reason to get offended either, since I haven't really been attacking anyone, bar the British administration systems. However, blogging has made me cultivate the honesty. It's made me more self-aware, more reflexive, and ultimately, blunter.

Problem is, I feel like there's a thin line between honesty and bluntness, and one between being upfront and carelessly open, one between clear, healthy truth and exceeding intimacy. So many lines turn into one hell of a mess, and I'm stuck in the midst of it all, a buzzing fly with a killer headache.

This is not to say I blurt out literally everything I think. I'm not that stupid. And I like secrets. I like keeping things to myself, saving some of the mystery and having some more unsuspected stuff left to say. For all my honesty, there's probably double the amount I don't say. It's all about selection. Who do you say what when and in what way. This is what I don't know how to do. And that's why the people the closest to me get so much crap.

Ultimately, honesty doesn't depend entirely on you; the problem with it is that it can be received many ways. At the beginning of this post, I wrote that a lot of people value honesty; well, they only value it insofar as it benefits them, don't they? Ask someone to tell you what they hate about you, will they do it? Probably not (and if they do, they're surely highly downgrading what they're telling you. Do not be fooled.) This might not be a bad thing, though. I don't need to know what everyone hates about me. I do plenty of the hating myself. Honesty has its limits, and some things should probably be left unsaid.

... Or should they? I wish I could figure out my mind on this one. But I'm terrible at choosing, and in this one case, all I've been able to do is draw a blurry line and shift from side to side. Someone come and help. 

1 Apr 2013

The Culture Feature | March 2013

A billion years ago, I started a series called The Culture Feature. The last one was in November, so, yeah, that didn't work well.

I want to try and bring it back and actually stick to the schedule for good this time. I also hope it's going to force me to get back on track with reading and watching movies, because I've been slacking badly recently. I only have a movie to share this month, and the rest's going to be 100% music!

MOVIES | Argo, Ben Affleck.
I am a sucker for everything Awards related. Each year, I pick my favourites out of the Oscar and BAFTA nominees after attempting to see a maximum of them, and whenever I can, I stay up all night watching red carpets and long-ass award shows.  It didn't work out so well this year, since February was crazy, and I only managed to watch Argo, and only way after it had won (literally!) all the awards.
In a few words: SEE IT, IT'S BRILLIANT. I still saw Ben Affleck as that big kid who used to date JLo and was mates with Matt Damon, and not really as a legit director nor actor; I've definitely changed my mind now.

Argo tells the story of a CIA exfiltration specialist sent to Iran to get five Americans out of the country in the midst of the (insert name of the crisis.) It's a touchy subject, a difficult matter, and mostly, the true story of a fairly secret event. It was important that Affleck didn't turn this into a Hollywood product nor a weepy drama. It's all the contrary: simple, sensible, well written and delivered (the cast, man!) with very funny one-liners in cleverly chosen spots.

tl;dr: It's very good and appeals equally to brains and feels. Watch it.

MUSIC | Cardboard Castles, Watsky.
Watsky is another of these very thoughtful gifts the Internet has given me. I discovered it through YouTube since the rapper/spoken word performer/musician's popularity is mostly due to his online presence.
Now, for the music. Watsky's texts are brilliant. Listening to Strong as an Oak or Moral of the Story makes me feel a little bit less alone because it sounds like my own experience. He's witty, his sense of rhythm is just woah-esque and he's also hilarious (see Kill a Hipster, a song I listen to a lot whenever I feel like living in South East London is a bit too much.)
I've got a ticket to see him in May and I am SO EXCITED.

MUSIC | Holy Fire, Foals.
I'm seriously late to the Foals party. I knew them before Holy Fire because I don't live under a rock, but… I pretty much had never listened to their music. My listening to Holy Fire was the conclusion of one of many "a lot of people with great music taste love them, ergo they're probably very good" moments I have (c.f. Adele, Florence and the Machine, Mumford and Sons, etc.)
Holy Fire got me through essay writing and the redaction of half of my journalism portfolio, and was the soundtrack of most of the inebriated dinners me and my friends had over the past few months. It's relaxing and powerful and a little bit mystical, and it makes me feel fuzzy inside. Give it a listen.

MUSIC | El Camino, The Black Keys.
So that one's not new. Not at all. I know, but remember I do things a couple years later than everyone else. I obviously knew about The Black Keys, but it took me giving this album to my brother for Christmas to actually give it a try... And love it! I really like the guitar riffs and the constant pounding of the drums. It makes me want to jump and dance and have a beer in the sun and like I'm in a really cool movie.
Incidentally, it's also the album I listened to while I got my wisdom teeth taken out last week--if you're into something to drown out the sounds of dentists' drills, I can testify it works well.
(Note: also listen to Brothers. I actually think I like Brothers best. The Black Keys are just too good.)

Now, see you next month. Hopefully.