Monday, January 27, 2014

Taylor Swift as a Countercultural Icon?

Taylor Swift was definitely a special artist for me. I didn't notice it back when I first learnt about her, but I did notice it as soon as early 2009, when she first became popular worldwide. There was something that made her different, although I couldn't quite pinpoint it.

Then in 2011, Amity Shlaes, writing in Bloomberg (Read here:, proclaimed Taylor to be a 'Counterculture Icon for Teens'. I personally think she put it quite well in that article. Most music was "anti-parent, or at least parent-free", Shlaes explained, and that "most parents have assumed there was nothing you could change about this dynamic". At that end of the article, having examined Taylor Swift's pro-family style and her popularity, Shlaes concluded that "maybe the professional entertainers held sway too long".

Taylor Swift is what a popular cultural icon should be like, to me, and to many other people. Of course, there will always be those who prefer people like Lady Gaga, Ke$ha, Rihanna and the like, but to me, it's just normal human nature to prefer someone like Taylor Swift over them.

So do I agree that Taylor Swift can be seen as a Countercultural Icon? Yes and No. What she does can seem countercultural at times, compared to the 'norm' out there. But then, it's probably because the 'norm' has been distorted. Rather than being countercultural, I suggest that Taylor Swift represents a return to what normal everyday people desire to see in their entertainment scene, taking back power from those who have too long controlled the scene and think they know what's best.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

How a Tweet got One Direction's Liam Payne Misunderstood

I don't watch things like Duck Dynasty, but many people do, and many are big fans of the show. Which is understandable - some people do like that sort of thing. One of them is One Direction's Liam Payne, apparently.

After Willie's father, Phil, made some anti-gay comments in an interview with GQ magazine last month, praising Duck Dynasty's people in public has become a no-no in some sections of the community. Recently, Liam tweeted to Willie Robertson, saying 'huge love to you/your family huge respect for your business prosperities and the family values you still all behold'. This did not go down well with some sections of the internet. Some people went on and on about how disappointed with Liam they were.

Liam clarified himself later. "Being a fan of someones show and the way they still hold a family together doesnt mean i am ok with all they say," he wrote. But some people still weren't satisfied.

I am heartened to see people take a stand against homophobia, as always. But I think in this instance some people have gone a little bit overboard. I mean, I do trust that Liam didn't mean to support homphobia, it's hard to believe otherwise really. So why are some people not letting this go? It's as if nobody can say anything remotely controversial nowadays (except when it relates to drug use). It's sad, really.

Equally saddening is some people's picking on Liam's use of the 'buzzword' family values. I mean, I understand that the fundamentalist right version of 'family values' wasn't exactly gay inclusive, but haven't we moved beyond that? Family values can be inclusive of everyone, and that is the kind of family values I subscribe to myself. Indeed, it is family values that are driving me to put marriage equality at the top of my political priorities. Please don't hate on 'family values' just because some people have distorted it.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

You Need a Roadmap, and Some Priorities

With dreams taking longer than ever to achieve, the ride can seem long and dark at times. Having an all or none approach can add to this. This is where you have one big end goal, which probably won't be achieved until 10 or 20 years later. Meanwhile, you will have a decade or two of feeling not achieved, desperately asking 'are we there yet'. This could be enough to zap your spirit out before you can get to the end.

Therefore, there are two things I wouldn't recommend a person to set out on their journey of dreams without: a roadmap, and a sense of priorities.

The first thing is to get your priorities right. You want that package that is your ultimate goal at the end, but you have to decide which parts of it you really want the most, and which parts of it must come before the others. Set out on achieving these first.

Say your goal is to live in New York City and write a book about it. However, you currently live in a small town in New Zealand, and don't even have the money to travel to New York to have a look at the place. Your two first goals may be to familiarise yourself with New York, its landmarks, its culture and the way people think about it, and get a higher paying job so you can save some money for your eventual move. With the internet nowadays, it is very easy to get somewhat familiar with big global destinations like New York. You can get familiar with where things are in the city for a start. Google maps or any other mapping application can be useful for that. You may try to get into Street View and 'walk' a block or two to get a sense of how the places connect together on the street level. You would also try to read the many articles people write about New York. Articles like 50 Things I Love About New York or 40 Reasons to Hate New York, or even things like 30 Signs You Grew Up in Manhattan can be very useful sources of information for you. It will take years to go through all of that and get it absorbed into your brain, trust me. Meanwhile, during your day, you may like to start looking for a job if you don't already have one, or look for a second job or a higher paying one. You may decide to return to education so that you can get even higher paying jobs later on.

Then you need to draw up a roadmap. Using the example above, once you have saved some money, your next step may be to move to Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand, to get a feel of how city life is like. Auckland may be a lot smaller than New York, but it has skyscrapers, international food and lots of business activity, some of the experiences you will find in New York. It may help you get used to New York when you eventually get there. An alternative would be to take a two month holiday in a nearby large multicultural city like Sydney, Australia, which also has all these things, perhaps on a slightly larger scale. Meanwhile, you will want to continue to connect with the cultural phenomenon that is New York. You may want to watch so many New York movies that you become so familiar with the settings you can point to where they are exactly on a map. You may want to make some New York friends online. When you feel you have enough knowledge and connection to New York, perhaps you can start writing parts of your book. You will have to modify and rewrite parts of it when you actually get to see the place, but it's great to make a start when you already have something to write.

Eventually, your dream may be achieved in a similar fashion to your roadmap plan, or maybe not. Maybe you'll find something even more suitable in your life. But in any case, none of it goes to waste, and every bit of it would have helped coloured your life vividly. Twenty years down the line, it's quite likely you would have lived in New York and finished your book. Or alternatively, you may have decided to just settle in Auckland, but have a cultural connection to New York. By then you might have already seen the city on two or three different trips there during your annual leaves, paid for with the money you saved over the years. Although you didn't write a book about living in New York, you did write a book about your connection to New York and your opinions about the city as a New Zealander, an even more unique thing. You might have also written another book about living in Auckland, or perhaps a book comparing and contrasting the two cities. Either way, the dream did not go to waste.

One important thing is that you enjoy the process as much as the outcome. In my example above, there would be new experiences and inspirations every year along the way. It's not the final act of moving to New York (or not) that mattered, it's the knowledge, experiences and friendships gained over the years that were the main gains from this big dream.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

When the World will not Accept that 'You are Special'

Unfortunately, even if you believe that you are special, it doesn't follow that everyone will believe the same about you. In fact, it is almost ridiculous to expect the big machine that is 'the system' to believe that anybody is special, when it clearly functions more like robot than human.

Even if you have it resolved that you are special and you are going to embrace it, the world will still pour buckets of cold water onto your flame from time to time.

I believe the best solution to this problem is to continue to do the work you need to do, whilst ignoring this kind of critique. It's like how you dealt with the school teacher who never liked you, who would find opportunities to criticise you whenever he could. I think the best attitude to have to those parts of the world which insist on treating you like nothing special is the same attitude you had to this teacher. You still had to do the assignments and tests in his class, but you knew what he said was usually irrelevant. You did the work in his class well enough, but you avoided letting his critiques get to you.

Some Related Musical Inspiration:

Friday, January 3, 2014

You ARE Special - Reasons to Remind Yourself

You are special, and you were born to do some special work in this life. You are the way you are because there is some special work out there that requires someone like you to do it. Without you, that piece of the puzzle will be missing.

Your are special because you are special to someone. It may be your partner, your parents, or somebody you will meet in the future. It may even be someone you don't know - but they know you, and cherish your existence.

You are special, because no other mind in the world thinks and works in the same way, and has the same material (experiences and memories) to work on. As a result, no other mind will have the same output on a given topic.

You are special, and the world would be missing a unique part of its richness if you did not exist. It would be like a colourful quilt made up of pieces of different colours, but one piece was missing. Wouldn't it be sad?

Even your imperfections are unique, and they make you even more special. Only with your imperfections you could have experienced the world in this particular way, and have the particular memories you have. You can then use that experience to help other people, especially others with the same imperfections.