Turning Cultural Analysis ON/OFF?

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Wordify-2014-10-09 14-04-58When I first had a taste of cultural studies I was in my first undergraduate year. Although my programme focused on English literature and linguistics the coordinators thought that the content was interdisciplinary enough to afford including some courses on media globalisation and later on a beginner’s course in representation. Although these types of courses are not taught within the programme anymore, one could still chose to take them as electives. Judging by how decided I was then that I will go on with literature, I doubt it that I would have chose something like that on my own, so I am very thankful that cultural studies entered my life in that way.

That first course was considered hard by many of my colleagues, including me. It dealt with things like globalisation of the media, standardisation, panopticism, etc. It did more than teach us some theories and present us with some new authors, but showed us how to think differently. For me it was an eye-opener and ever since then I looked at the world in a different way— a more critical way.

I remember we were talking about panopticism and Michel Foucault and at some point our teacher advised us to not think about these issues too much because it might confuse us, distract us, make us “lose it”. I have to admit that thinking about those issues is everything I have been doing ever since he said it. I have heard people talking about this problem of the cultural analyst who cannot “turn it off”, cannot stop himself/herself from analysing things or questioning everything. But I disagree when people talk about this in that term of “turning it off” as if it were a switch or a button. You either have it on or you have it off. I can definitely not turn it off nor do I aim to do that at any point in my life. What I need to get better at is to stop talking about theories and their applications with people who find it boring or confusing. I realise that not everyone thinks cultural studies and cultural analysis is fun, that I can become annoying if I keep pushing people into talking these subjects, and I need to temper myself. But every lecture is exciting for me ever since we started MACA (Master of Applied Cultural Analysis) and every fieldwork I conduct teaches me new things about things I thought of as simple and straightforward before.

In one of the previous lectures in my actual programme we have tried to define culture. We reached the conclusion I have always suspected: you can’t. How can you define something that is everywhere and in everything? Culture is something I learn about and work with, therefore my field is immense. So how then, can I find a switch that “turns it off”? Turn off what? My world? My every conscious moment when I look around and see things which I interpret a certain way, perhaps a different way than other and perhaps not. It’s hard to impossible to do such thing so I guess all I’m left with now is the realisation that I need to stop analysing everything aloud and convince my friends I’m still a person who can watch TV normally (although that would be a lie because TV is for a cultural analyst what a candy shop is for a 5 year old).

On a side note, I do realise I need to blog more but things have been more busy than I though they would be when I started this. I promise I will do what I can and, more importantly, when I can. I have ideas I want to leave out here “in the open” and things I ponder upon that I would like to write about, but time is passing fast and I can’t seem to find a way to move with it.

I Survived Writing my BA Thesis. I Think.

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IMAG0794Although I’m quite aware people have much greater problems than writing a BA paper, this has been my biggest problem since January this year. As cliché as it might sound, I learned more than the content I was writing about. It’s been insane at times and wonderful other times. I wished I would have been able to blog about it while I experienced all this, but to be honest I barely had time to leave my house and I don’t think I would have made much sense anyway. This is not going to be a post where I complain about oh-how-hard it was. Although it is true that many tears were shed and many feelings were broken when my ideas didn’t go through supervision, I think it was one of my most useful experiences so far. I learned so much about my own limits, my own strengths, and my general ability to appear confident when I was the exact opposite in reality. So instead, I choose to write about the positive things of writing my paper, although some nagging will,needless to say, squeeze in here and there. Read the rest of this entry »

Sexual Objectification Works Both Ways.

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Recently I had a (civilised) argument with someone about a certain site that in many people’s opinion sexually objectifies women (it doesn’t matter what site it is, there are tons that do it anyway). Many people tend to talk a lot about how this and that sexually objectifies women these days. I think this is wonderful as this tends to trigger interesting debates and perhaps brings the subject more into focus. However, I feel like there is a need to widen this idea as I see more and more sexual objectification of men as well. Perhaps some of you would think that’s equality finally, but I think it’s equally bad. I mean, if one gender is miserable, swimming in stereotypes, should we help fix the problem or should we all give a hand at making the other gender equally miserable too?

There are many ways to conceptualize this objectification of men, but I feel like I can only illustrate how I feel through advertising, since I have been happily studying it last semester. The course changed my view of things, which was a very naive one before, and made me realise the problem is more complex than pointing at things and saying “it’s wrong to do that”.  My post will only include some examples that I feel are worth posting, but there are many others I don’t have the courage to post online as they often include nudity or extreme content. I am not cherry-picking my examples, but be warned that it will be an image-heavy post (images that might offend some of you). Read the rest of this entry »

On (my) Choices.

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yellow road sign choiceIt’s been a long time since I posted anything, and that’s because I am now writing my final paper after which I will officially have finished university. For now. Because I’m going straight back, this time in the wonderful world of graduate level. Oh boy!

I seem to find less and less time for the things that I like doing (like blogging), as I’m pretty much just reading research, trying to wrap my head around literary theory, and keeping what’s little left of my sanity intact. I am now at the point where I know where I’m heading with my paper ( American Psycho and the critique of society) so things are not looking as desperate as they did when I started. That being said, I have made my application to a programme for MA level and my choice surprised many people (me included).

Choices, choices. It’s hard to make choices, I guess everyone figured that out so far. So you take a deep breath and you plunge head-first into an unknown world and try to make the best of it. At least that’s what I do. My choices regarding my academic life have been various and plenty. I like studying and I am a curious person so it’s very hard for me to decide on one what sole subject that I would like to study, work with, etc. Can I do a little bit of everything, please? But the more I work my way through life, the more I realise what are the things I like to study more in depth and what I would like to know more about.

When I was 18, still living in Romania, I dived directly out of high school to university life. Big mistake, but we won’t talk about that now. I was studying Math but I chose to go to Psychology because I felt like that was what I wanted to work with. In the end it felt…wrong. It felt as if I didn’t belong in a system that constantly made me feel uncomfortable. In that University I’ve met one amazing teacher and ten that should have never been allowed to teach. I felt cheated and was constantly reminded that I was too young to study and I should “ live a little”, whatever that meant. I struggled to make my way through books of theory that I had to later “regurgitate” in exams without a drop of critical thinking. Teachers would read the newspaper while we would write exams and it often felt like I was the only one trying to study, trying to understand. I had many friends who I would have loved to discuss the things that we all studied; that never happened as the only time we were together we were partying. There was no interest because we were not stimulated enough I suppose. This is not a critique of the Romanian educational system, but only a glimpse of how it was for me. I gave up during my second year, disappointed by the attitude of the teachers and of my fellow students. More than everything I was disappointed by my own attitude- I had lost interest. At 18 I had planned to change the world but I realised I did not want to go through a string of humiliations and disappointments anymore.

When I moved to Sweden I had to think really hard what I wanted to do. So I started from zero and got going in studying English (literature, linguistics, and a bit of cultural studies). It was a big step and an important one. In that program I could focus my passion for reading into something productive and understand how and why I wanted to read certain things. I could finally voice out my thoughts on literature. It felt like I have been keeping my love for the English canon inside and finally I was given a voice to communicate my ideas. I felt free, I felt happy. It had taken me some good years to find what I liked to do but it did not matter anymore once I was there. I had, and have, colleagues who were happy to go out for a coffee and talk about our studies, teachers who are inspiring and supporting, a creative environment. Even though by that point I realised I could not change the world, I was confident I could change mine.

In my 3rd year I dared to take a braver step, something that is very unlike me. I went to study abroad on an exchange semester. I went to England, and despite my hopes that I could find some nice literature courses I was only allowed to take cultural studies, something that i’ve studied before only briefly. And in England I was given an even better voice, one that could now scream even, that could confidently talk about critical theories. I became more passionate about cultural studies than literature. And so, every time I think/read/talk about a theme in cultural studies, I always apply it to a literature text in the back of my mind. To me, they complete each other; critical theories made me enjoy literature more than before. Jane Austen is more fun in regards to feminism; Kristeva’s text on abjection makes reading horror so much better; and I somehow always think of Postmodernism when I read newly published books (and it pays off sometimes).

So when I had to choose what I will like to study at MA level, I had to make a decision between literature or cultural analysis. And I chose the latter. I wouldn’t have guesses it myself a couple of years ago, but things have changed since my semester abroad. Choices such as these are hard to make but even the bad ones taught me something important. As I’m making my way through writing my BIG paper, I smile and think of the 18 year old me who once thought she will never figure it out, never whole-heatedly be able to say she wants to study X. But now I do. Education is great and vital, and I believe it to be at the core of who I am today. Nothing and nobody in my life helped me as much as what I got from simple lectures, books, exams, and good talks with my teachers/colleagues. Saying that, maybe BoldItalic will see more of concepts, theory and theorists, than book reviews this year. Or, ideally, a mix of both.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Window

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DSC_0297-2After getting a taste of what the weekly photo challenge is all about on my study abroad blog, I decided to keep my ”challenges” more close to home, so here is my entry this week:

This is the view of the Tynemouth Priory, UK, from inside what used to be the kitchen’s window of the Gatehouse. It’s all in ruins now (but beautiful ones), with a 2000 years history behind. I enjoyed spending a lovely couple of hours exploring between its remaining walls, its old nearby cemetery, and enjoying the view over the North Sea. The place is loaded with history and if you would like to read more about it, the English Heritage site does a good job at showing you around, even if only virtually: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/tynemouth-priory-and-castle/#Left

From all the pictures I took that day (you can see some here), this is my favorite. It’s hard not to imagine how people a long time ago saw the Priory, then in all its original glory, through the same window as I did. They stirred the soup in the nearby fireplace that still betrays its presence in the room and occasionally looked through that same window. What did they think of when they watched the Priory? Did they hated the always cold rooms? Did they dream of being somewhere else? Or perhaps they wondered who will look through the same window in a hundred years’ time like I was when I took my picture?

Christmas cards. Do it your way.

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IMAG0724…or my way. Or a different way. Call it whatever you want, really. Every year I get cards from friends and family and they make me all fuzzy inside at the thought that they took the time to buy the card and write me a nice wish on it and then go to the post office to mail it. I’m sure many of you feel the same when you see the envelope in your mail pile. It almost has a glitter around it (especially if your pile of mail is composed mostly of bills). If you are like me, you put it in a nice place dedicated to cards, where it stays the whole Christmas, somewhere near a window so you can see it from all angles and the neighbors will know you have friends! Also, if you are like me you put them in a box after the holidays are over, because you are thinking when you reach  80 you will hold your grandchildren on your tired knee and show them your lovely card collection. (Quick confession: I only keep the really nice ones). But year after year I realize nobody in their right mind has such a box. I also realize that in the eventuality in which I will reach 80 I will have much better things to show and talk to my grandchildren than Christmas cards (because if that’s the case I’ve obviously lived a very sad life). Most of the people throw these cards. From the bin- to the garbage truck- to the nice fire- ending up as ashes. It’s the cruel reality, I’m afraid. So what do you do if you want to do something special and unique that doesn’t end up in the pretty flames? Something that makes the person remember the gesture? That has that…je ne sais quoi? Here are my suggestions: Read the rest of this entry »

The Book is dead. Long Live the e-Book. Part II

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1A while back I wrote a post where I declared that my stance regarding the rise of the e-book is somewhere in the middle. At the time I did not have an e-book reader but I was pretty committed on buying one. I remember I made a mental note after publishing the post to come back to it after I had my Kindle and see if I still thought the same about the whole thing. I’m still quite ambivalent since books and literature are things I feel quite passionate about. It’s never black and white I suppose…

First of all, I do not regret buying the Kindle. I love it, love it. It’s light and I can carry books in my purse that would otherwise need a bag of their own. The fact that I don’t need two hands to flip the pages (it’s done by a button on either side) allows me to hold my drink/shopping bag/ metro pole/etc. with the other hand and conveniently so. I can choose from a large variety of protection sleeves to make it more “mine”. The contrast of the letters is good and my really sensitive eyes never had a problem reading for hours and hours. I can upload .pdfs of the articles I’m reading that I would otherwise have to read on a computer screen or print them (I often need to read about six lengthy articles a week for school). The battery lasts long, the menu is as simple as it can get. But… Read the rest of this entry »

The Alnwick Garden.

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Alnwick garden logoSeeing as winter is almost here (we had all sorts of weather lately except good), my mind wonders to all the magic places I’ve been in the last past months. I wanted to write about Alnwick Garden sometime late December when I will visit Alnwick Castle. However, I have much to say about the garden only. Even though I went to see the wonderful Alnwick Garden in November, I think it will be a welcomed post seeing as all there is outside these days is just wind, rain, hail, and other horrible things. So let’s cheer up and hope for a real December with real snow soon!

The Alnwick Garden, together with the majestic Alnwick Castle (Harry Potter anyone?) are situated in the small but lovely market town Alnwick. The Duke of Northumberland lives in the castle together with his family, making this one of the few castles in UK that are inhabited. I and my friend went to visit the garden only, leaving the castle for December. This visit remains as one of the dearest memories in UK so far due to its imaginative and inspirational display. Visiting it in the autumn made the whole experience unforgettable due to the explosion of amber colors, children playing in the foliage, and the ongoing of one special event. But all in due time. Read the rest of this entry »

Haunted Newcastle. And Yes, I Live Here.

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haunted newcastle One of the unavoidable things I did when I came to Newcastle was to find my way to a good bookshop. Some people would choose to locate the nearest hospital or police station. I need to locate the nearest bookshop. Priorities first, you know…

Once located, I started to slowly make my way through the shelves. I needed an England Lonely Planet guide, a notebook, and an hour or two of undisturbed browsing. And it turned out that the before mentioned hour of browsing had some surprises in store for me (see what I did here? In store? Right? Because I was in a store… OK never mind). Under local literature, other than the local tourist guides and historical books, there was an entire shelf dedicated to paranormal activity around Northumberland. And as you might have guessed, I started to worry. I am ready for whatever this exchange experience has in stock for me except poltergeist activity type of stuff. I mean…they don’t really prepare you for this stuff in the Kick Off meeting at my home university. I probably wasted too much time just browsing through those books. I didn’t buy one because there were seriously too many to choose from… Last Monday I gave up and bought Haunted Newcastle by Darren W. Ritson. I thought it was more than fitting as Halloween was around the corner and all that. So here are my thoughts on this book…. Read the rest of this entry »

Happy Halloween + Bonus Poem.

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Happy Halloween everyone!

Filled with this newly found Halloween spirit ( we don’t really celebrate it in Sweden, but what the hell- I’m in UK), I am going to jump head first and post one of my poems. It’s an old free verse I wrote, and it’s somehow dear to me for reasons I have yet to find. I don’t normally write poetry but once in a blue moon it happens.

Enjoy your spooky day! Read the rest of this entry »