Thursday, May 31, 2007

We have this problem called diversity

It's been quite a hectic week which can be also seen in the frequency of posts during the last few days. I am currently rather busy with organising a journalistic workshop taking place next week in Morocco and also preparing a big funding application to the European Commission. At times I must confess that I feel more like a juggler than an organiser.

We had a chat at work about our current focus, personal experience of diversity. The ECF is working on a publication showing how we as an organisation address the issue in our work. I have promised to contribute on youth cultures so need to find time for some intellectual work during the next weeks.

The thing I find myself constantly pondering is the concept of community. Especially when working with immigrant groups, the word community is a frequent visitor in the sentences. People wish to address certain communities, get an access to a community and what have you. On a political level this is very much the way multiculturalism is seen, a society consisting of smaller communities.

I find myself running into problems with this notion especially when dealing with youth. I fear often that we impose an identity on people without asking them whether they want it and then we make assumption on what does this identity - as in ethnic or religious background - means to them and their daily life. I know several friends of mine with an immigrant background who have been driven into situations where they are being asked to interpret something that people with the same background are doing, like for instance a Moroccan businessman would by definition have some greater knowledge into the minds of Moroccan teens.

What I would like to see us working on are identities that people choose themselves and working with communities people associate themselves with. On a simple level I could see this working in a way that we see the online gaming community as a relevant community and the visitors of a local mosque as another relevant community (sometimes overlapping) but we do not expect that someone from the gaming community could by definition represent all teenagers owning computer games or that an imam can by definition represent all Muslims in his neigbourhood.

The headline of this post is a sentence I hear very often. The mindset behind it advocates for a simple straight-cut solution that would "take care" of diversity for good. I really detest this approach. With the educational level and access to information most of us, we should be able to do better and accept complexity and mediation as an exciting daily practice.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Release The Stars

Zurich airport
Originally uploaded by amsterboy
Today has been a good day. After having a second brilliant session with the design students in Zürich, I made my way to the airport with the new Rufus Wainwright CD in my iPod. Sunny streets and his flirtatiously clever voice in my head was just the ultimate start for the weekend. And just to make my sister jealous I need to mention the perfectly salty crispy bretzel at the railway station.

By the way the Zürich airport is quite an experience. I would dare to name it as the most impressive airport I have seen. The share amount of empty space, the size of the airport compared to the size of the city (only like 300.000 inhabitants) and the fact that the airport is completely spotless all support an image of a city quite comfortable with its prosperity.

In our second session today with the students we focused on self-representation, migration and contextualisation. We compared for instance presenting a video on one's own MySpace site and on YouTube which is much less contextualised. The longest discussion was on "the story" behind a video of a teenager girl shaking her ass in her bedroom to 50 Cent's openly sexist song Candy Shop. The group slightly divided between those who did not see a reason to worry and those seeing signs of a lack of parental control.

After watching a lot of oneminutes, hip hop videos and parkour videos we dived into the question whether there are differences in the visual languages based on the teenagers ethnicity or nationality. My own gut feeling is that the differences are much more on subjects and in the tone of communication but the visual structure follows relatively unified paths.

I also got a question on why we do not indicate on theoneminutesjr website whether the maker is for instance an asylum seeker or an orphan or belonging to a cultural minority in a country. My answer was that we give the context of youth but after that it is up to the young maker to decide which particles of their identity their wish to highlight in their video. I have lobbied and will keep on lobbying for strategies where young people - whether or not with an immigrant background - are allowed to choose the communities they wish to attach to.

Friday, May 25, 2007

It's a completely other world out there

50 Cent
Originally uploaded by weirdoldhattie
Sun is shining here in Zürich where I am for a lecture I gave this morning at the University of Zürich on visual languages and strategies of young Europeans. I flew here yesterday from London where my colleague and I met potential partners for next year's video festival in Amsterdam. We also took some time for ourselves and went to see a new musical called Wicked. It was fun, have to give you that. Just listen to the clips on the site. And I bought the new album from Rufus Wainwright which is just fab.

London was hitting record-high temperatures which both showed the city and its beauty at its best but also showed how little oxygen and how many people there are on that spot. Heathrow especially was horrendous with the air-conditioning not working properly and with the stinking carpets all over. The change to the slick Zürich airport (huge but empty) was dramatic.

But about the lecture. My main points were that the generational difference in media consumption and production is underestimated and that there are much more possibilities than risks in the current change. I also said that entertainment and popular culture offers great possibilities for political engagement which I sensed caused some people to raise their eyebrows.

I think the message went down well when I spiced it with funny comments from baby-boomers "But I mean when do you find the time to watch all these videos") and teenagers "Come on, don't give me that bullshit" and strong visual material from theoneminutesjr. I have spent the afternoon now compiling stuff from YouTube for a playlist I will use in our session tomorrow morning.

Preparing the lecture has been a good exercise. It made me realise that I actually can consider myself an expert on this subject and that I know what I am talking about.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Lutheran - To be or not to be?

May 2007 in Barcelona
Originally uploaded by amsterboy.
My new Year's resolution last year was not to kill myself with work. I decided to take more time for myself. I must confess that I have not been too successful with abandoning the protestant work ethics. It has been one exhausting April and May. For weeks and weeks my life has been only full-on work which was starting to show on my face, on my skin and on the quality of delivery. In that sense the 5-day holiday in Barcelona scheduled months back really came at the perfect moment.

One of the best outcomes of this work is a network of wonderful people across Europe. My Europe is really a pool of great people. Partying in the middle of the night at the office of my friends' magazine in Gracia is something you just cannot do as a pure tourist. Having a glass of whiskey in your hand, seeing the cleaners wash the silent square and listening to Daft Punk really makes one forget work.

And like we people of the north every year, I went overboard with the warmth and the sun. One just does not learn. In the first two days I managed to burn my chest on the beach, get a decent blister between my toes from the new flip-flops, barely make my way through a completely random absent-minded work call and party until six in the morning.

Barcelona really is high on my list. I think every city in the world should have quiet cool streets, heavy investments in public art, boutiques instead of supermarkets and decent priced food made from fresh ingredients.

This week my colleague and I are in London for meetings and I continue on Thursday to Switzerland to give a lecture on visual strategies of teenagers. The emails keep flooding in but after the holiday I answer them much more in peace.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Bizarre times we live

It's spring and bizarre things are happening. I am overswamped with work, many of my friends are driving (or are driven with) their relationships into a crisis and people seemed to have managed to wake their hormones from the winter. All and all emotions are IN again - in better and worse.

I worked this weekend both Friday and Saturday evenings. I can tell you that on the verge of thirty it has its price even if the occasions were quite special. Saturday's highlight was kissing a real princess. Or to be exact, she actually kissed me. My royal story made me the king of the evening at the Eurovision party following the official event.

Due to the prosecco in the Helsinki-driven party, my Sunday was one of the slower ones. The new CD of the Dutch singer Trijntje Oosterhuis suited the Sunday perfectly. Her perfectly sad voice and the underappreciated songs of Burt Bacharach really made my Sunday into a beutiful solitude.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

This is how to do it

American Apparel Bag
Originally uploaded by amsterboy.
Lately this blog has been turning very serious and political. As a counteract, some heavyweight consumerism. I wish to share my ideal shopping experience of today. All store owners, take notes.

I enter the American Apparel store on Amsterdam's Westerstraat. The guy working in the store smiles and says hi. I glance around for 3 minutes before one of the salespersons comes to me (following translated into English):

"If you need any other sizes, just ask."
"Would you have this T-shirt in XS, what is this colour again in Dutch?"
"That's brown."
"No, this is not brown. Or is it?"
"Yeah, it is sort of graphic brown."
"Ok, well, I will try that then. Brown it is."

Once coming out of the booth, she comes to me again.
"Let me take the things you are not taking."
"Oh, thanks. Yep, even this XS was too big. Funny. I did not think I am that small."
"Well, maybe you wanna try the other model. This one is a smaller cut."

I collect my stuff and go to the counter.
"Hi. Did one of my colleagues help you with your stuff?"
"Yes, thanks."
"Who did? Him?"
"No, she did. The girl with the curls. Why, are you making a survey?"
"Sort of. So she can keep her job, eh?"
"Yep, I agree. So, I helped today someone to keep their job. That qualifies as the good deed of the day, right? This is my lucky Saturday."
"Most definitely."
"Hey, I will take this magazine as well."
"Yep, it is a nice one. Did you check the photo book with the Mexicans crossing the border? It's really good."
"I'll have a look. Yep, nice. But maybe next time. Hey, nice plastic bags you have."
"Yep, it won a design award and it is now in MOMA in New York."
"Cool, so I got a design artefact for free."
"True, good day, eh? Here you go and have a nice day."

Friday, May 11, 2007

Boldly on moral ground

Originally uploaded by Ferg.
Yesterday it happened: Tony Blair announced his departure from the position of Prime Minister. And as always, the most talented public speaker of contemporary politics did it with class. Blair's 18-minute speech could be used as educational material for studies of rhetorics. It was personal, emotional, honest and uplifting.

The sentence there on the cover of The Guardian sums up to a great extent the reason why I still admire this politician who is so hated by so many. One could say that Blair is an old-fashioned politician with his firm belief in right and wrong. One can say a lot about the spin during his 10 years but I would dare to state that Blair will be remembered as one of the great politicians of our time. Together with Peter Mandelson and Gordon Brown they started a change of The Left which had influence on the entire social democratic movement in Europe. The concept often referred as New Labour brought the left closer to the middle, updated the collaboration mechanisms between public and private bodies and saved the individual from overcollectivism.

Stephen Frears' recent film The Queen reminds us well of the impact the landslide of New Labour had in 1997. Politics was once again cool and there was a sense of positive change. One could say that New Labour was not able to deliver what they promised but I would give credit to Labour and Blair for trying. In his speech yesterday Blair defended wonderfully his idealism and overambitious plans. As he said, he would not want to do things any other way. He apologised for mistakes and took credit of the improved social equality in Britain during their era.

For me the best part of Blair's speech was his defense of idealism and optimism. I was not able to find the exact quote online but it was something on the lines that he has always been an optimist and remains stubbornly as one. The marvellous part was saying that often people say that optimism does not work in politics and Blair saying that "in life we should give the impossible a go". Superb and brave. Blair is one of these politicians who is not afraid of making bold statements. I like that. Without him politics will be more boring, more cautious and less sexy.

Monday, May 07, 2007

One intellectual less

Originally uploaded by Kepa ry.
Just got back from a fab evening with two Finnish friends who are visiting Amsterdam. We ended up into a fierce debate on Finnish politics which was really inspiring. I love talking about politics with people who know what they are talking about. I truly enjoyed the evening, especially with one of my friends who is a true leftist whereas I am more on the centre-liberal side.

I have not hidden in this blog the fact that I am rather optimistic when it comes to the new government but there is one thing that I really miss: having a leading figure like the Foreign Minister who is a clear intellectual. We had that in Finland for 7 years with Erkki Tuomioja. I sincerely look up to him as a person who does not fall into populist rhetorics, does not talk bullshit and has the courage to be himself. Tuomioja for me is the one thing I miss from the Social Democrats in the government.

This popped into my head again today when I was reading his blog. His Finnish is superb and lively, he does not beat around the bush and dares to take a stand. I do not agree on many issues with his rather old school leftish approach but I admire his passion and I acknowledge the level of accuracy in his writing. I think Tuomioja was a fantastic voice for the European Union during the EU presidency last year.

And when it comes to his own party he does not let people off the hook (himself included) too easy. Tuomioja was the one who dared to say after the election defeat that the reason for the loss was the politics of the last years, not a failed advertising campaign.

He writes in his blog:
"SDP:n julkisuuskuva kertoo ikääntyvästä ja nuhrautuneesta, ylimielisestä ja sisäänpäinkääntyneestä, omasta erinomaisuudestaan ja vallassaolonoikeutuksestaan vakuuttuneesta, pelotteluun ja negatiiviseen kampanjointiin turvautuvasta, SAK:hon nojaavasta ja uudistuksia karttavasta johtajakeskeisestä valtionhoitajapuolueesta. Tämä on ainakin se kuva, jonka valtavirtamedia meistä antaa. Ja vaikka itse tiedämmekin, ettei todellisuus toki näin synkeä ole, on tämä kuva kuitenkin riittävässä määrin totuudenmukainen. Siksi on tunnustettava, etteivät ongelmamme ratkea vain kosmeettisilla muutoksilla ja mainostoimistoa vaihtamalla."

What Tuomioja is saying is that the party has an arrogant and self-congratulating image which true to such a level that the problems can not be solved by changing advertising agencies. I could not agree more. What I said to my friends today as well: I actually hope that the kick on the bum makes the Social Democrats reinvent themselves and come out of the crisis stronger than ever.

Friday, May 04, 2007

What to do with retired statesmen?

Katse tulevaisuuteen
Originally uploaded by SannaL.
Last week I had a discussion with a British woman (voting Tories) on the legacy of both Blair and Thatcher. We actually managed to agree that both of them have done quite impressive work during their terms but Lady Thatcher has made very peculiar comments after retiring (or being ousted). As an open fan of Blair I sincerely hope he can retire with dignity in the same way as for instance Clinton.

The Thatcher phenomenon is not unfamiliar in Finland. The former Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen (Social Democrats) chilled for some years as the Speaker of the Parliament but is now completely retired. But what he still is determined to do is give advice on the pages of a regional newspaper. I just find this both awkward and difficult to cope with.

Lipponen writes in Turun Sanomat that the National Coalition (winner of the elections) gave too much in for the Greens and the Centre Party in the cabinet programme negotiations and he calls for them to sharpen up. This happens at the same time when polls show that National Coalition is the most popular party amongst the people and the Social Democrats are still struggling to get their figures on the rise.

Lipponen writes also that the government is calling for help and warns the National Coalition of the energy bogus of the Centre and the Greens (Lipponen himself being a firm supporter of nuclear energy and openly detesting the Greens). His columns remain to be very fatherly and condescending.

What is too common among retired politicians is this sense of bitterness. When you have been on the driver's seat for years of course it is of course difficult to let go. But the sad thing is that this fatherly approach seldom increases one's popularity. Lipponen who I actually find to be a wise man is in my judgement on a mission to destroy his rather fantastic legacy. Same goes for dinner parties and politics: no one really wants to sit next to the grumpy old man going on and on about how things used to be so much better.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Say no to dictatorship of the thieves!

New bike
Originally uploaded by amsterboy.
It is Labour Day. But unlike the rest of Europe, the Dutch work on 1 May. So I found myself today in situations when I called a colleague abroad only to find them either drunk or just otherwise disoriented. Well, the Netherlands has never been a flagship of the proletariat. They believe firmly in ownership.

Was just watching the Finnish TV news. Covering 1 May is nearly as exciting as working on a domestic news in July. "Shall we write another story on weather? Or how about alcohol today for a change, we have not written about it for like two days now."

As the rest of Europe is showing their dedication to the neverending battle of the working class, the Dutch go wild for the monarchy. Queen's Day was once again a nice carnival although someone should tell these people that orange does not look good on anyone.

My other reason for celebration next to Queen Beatrix was my new bike. After my bike was stolen some weeks back, i have postponed the decision to get a new one until this Saturday when I realised that i need to get this thing sorted. So rather than going for a bargain (rational consumption never been my thing), I walked to a closeby store and bought a used Peugeot. (see pic)

My flatmate told me when my bike was stolen that I should learn from my mistake of buying a bike that stands out of the crowd. My previous bike was bright green. I decided not to follow his advice and may end up paying for my stubborness but until then I am going to enjoy my fantastic new steelblue fiets (Dutch for bike). Down with the tyranny of the bike thieves!