Thursday, February 28, 2008

Class Dismissed

Originally uploaded by amsterboy
Today over lunch at work we had a heated discussion on diversity. It was pointed out that very often people make assumptions on your background purely based on your nationality or looks and it seems to be widely shared notion that we all have a middle class background. Also I have heard several times the comment:"Oh you would not understand, you come from Finland." This usually refers to me not understanding hardships or conflicts or social struggle. These are often people who have never been to Finland and who easily mix Finland with for instance Sweden which has not had a war in centuries. A colleague of mine mentioned wisely today:"I mean we spend eight hours together every day and you know nothing about my family but you make a lot of assumptions."

Last weekend I read with great pleasure my friend Laura Kolbe's book on social classes in Finland. The goal of Professor of European History Kolbe and Cultural Anthropologist Katriina Järvinen was to break the silence on socio-economic backgrounds in Finland and shed light on the fact that we all do not belong to the middle class and that social mobility works both ways. The book is based on interviews and addresses issues of shame, humiliation and joy in a fresh and rare manner. Kolbe and Järvinen encourage us all to talk openly about class.

They pick on a highly important issue. Finland is not a flat society where everyone has the same chances. Although the social mobility in general has been rapidly upwards over the last few decades, only between 2003-2007 more than 100.000 new people were classified as poor in Finland. Finland had last year 650.000 people earning less than 750 euros per month (from a population of 5 million). Accidentally, in the project that I run, the researchers of Demos were last week in Finland interviewing young people and it was heartwarming to hear from them that the Finnish teenagers are concerned about the growing difference between the haves and the have nots.

To join Kolbe's and Järvinen's movement, I could say that I have belonged to the middle class all my life, maybe even upper middle class. My parents are part of the generation that experienced the fast urbanisation of Finland and who still believe passionately on the empowering role of education. We were never swimming in money but we never lacked a single thing. The economic recession of Finland in the 90s did not influence me in the same way as it did my friends from Eastern or Northern Finland. I remember one of my best friends telling how she saw it all through her mother working as a social worker and her father running his own company.

I am part of the generation Kolbe describes as the generation from the suburbs with detachment to the nation state and not a strong sense of community to the physical surroundings. Me and my friends belong to subscenes in Finland which can also be found from other European countries. My relationship with the countryside could well be described as awkward.

But I am conscious of my background. My mother comes from a big family which experienced the high price Finland paid after the Second World War. My grandmother had to abandon her home within a few hours and they were settled to a new part of Finland. On my father's side our family brings together Swedish-speaking bourgeois and Finnish-speaking working class. My uncle was a worker's son who was exceptionally allowed to play on the tennis court of the better people. Even our last name is part of the story of a birth of a nation: Lindstedt was changed into Laitio as part of the patriotic dream of an independent Finland.

I am grateful for the opportunities Finland has given me but I don't think it is all of my own doing. In my work I see constantly that we do not start from an even playing field. Class still matters in the same way as gender or ethnicity. Only for raising your own class consciousness, I recommend reading the book.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Top of the class

Working with video and youth, you get to see a lot of good stuff. But there are very few videos that would beat Francis Luke Wasser from Dublin and his video 24/7. Have a look. This makes me think of a basic premise of the Demos research we have commissioned around StrangerFestival: these are not expressions of who they are but these cultural expressions are tools for becoming who they will be.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Urgency, no urgency

This afternoon the Dutch organisation for international cultural policy SICA organised a session on Finnish and Dutch creative industries policy. As a true Finn, I made my way to Felix Meritis to listen - as was stated in the programme - what the Netherlands could learn from Finland. I however came up with a list for both:

Dutch from the Finns

1. Sometimes you really have to make choices.
2. Government policy helps in mobilising and stimulating people but does not deliver results by itself. And seeing results takes time.
3. Interest to creativity starts already from the way you teach arts in primary school.
4. Sense of urgency helps in making choices. Finland has several times been forced to choose rather than the Netherlands with decades of prosperity.
5. Design needs demystifying. Design is also about handy, practical and quality.
6. Patience.

Finns from the Dutch

1. It is not all about results, sometimes process and discussion matters as well. Hearing people out often helps in building commitment.
2. It is OK to be proud of your achievements.
3. How you present things does matter.
4. Diversity means often slowing down and more strive for concensus.
5. Sometimes investing in quality beats a good bargain.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

New Folk Culture

StrangerFestival is proceeding. First videos are coming in and the workshops are currently going on in Slovakia and Finland. Romania has already finished their first two workshops, so has AT5 in Amsterdam. And the quality of the videos is brilliant which makes me extremely happy. This video is a good example of a clear message. Although it has been fascinating to show this in different settings and realise that people read different things to it. What do you think the maker is saying?

More videos available at

More of this analysis will be done in the research we have commissioned the British think tank Demos to do. They are openly developing their project online which I think is a great way of keeing the ball rolling.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Jumping up together

Yesterday evening I had a long chat on what counts in the end, i.e. what is the foundation for happiness. We talked about what real friendship means and how moving to a new country makes you push yourself often to an oversocial mode even to gain 20 % of the social circle you had back home. We talked also about work. Career surely is important but if we actually take some time to think things properly, it is easily outruled by family, love and friends. Relying purely on career is an empty but common road to follow.

As I was thinking of subjects for this post, I went through the historical independence of Kosovo and the irritatingly evangelical empty rhetorics of Barack Obama. But it is difficult to say anything new on either of those subjects. The EU's recognition of the independence declaration made me smile whereas Obama's "momentum" makes me afraid of a post-electoral hangover. I must say - even sounding too much like a friend of the system - that I like Clinton's notion of being in the solutions business. But also her star is not shining as brightly in my eyes as some weeks back - Ms Clinton, dirty tricks may work on the short term but they are lethal for the system in the long run. Offering something yourself is better than bashing the other.

But back to the things that constitute happiness. I mean of course post-Bush and peace in Europe works also for my benefit but you get the point. A colleague of mine played this song of the Dutch singer Alain Clark to me at work last week on a sunny day. Even if it irritated me in the beginning due to its simpleness in melody and text, it truly makes me smile and makes me appreciate once more the fact that I have an amazing family and a group of true friends - although often too far away. It also made me think of a discussion I had with my awesome brother during the Christmas break. The foundation of happiness is fairly simple: when you have a firm basis and a 100% guaranteed safety net, it is easier to jump higher.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Smarter Than You Think

Originally uploaded by Le Marais
Through my work I often end up in situations where I am being asked questions starting:
"Why is it that young people are not interested in..."
"Are young people..."
"My children told me that young people today..."

Usually I get slightly annoyed and attempt to show the foolishness of the approach with phrases like "well, the middle-aged mostly like". It often feels that reactions to youth have the following options: fear, scaremongering, overoptimism, condescension and ignorance. I hope StrangerFestival can broaden a few minds in that respect (website live,!)

Now, after tonight, I have a better answer to the fools: go and see Juno. The film starring the exceptionally talented Ellen Page (picture) as a 16-year-old who finds herself pregnant shows what keeps youth workers, teachers and youth journalists going: the wit, intelligence, empathy and enthusiasm of teens.
Juno also reminds you how we adults are so often so shitscared for saying things as they are and feeling things like it feels natural.The film's dialogue is out of this planet: it is extremely clever, challenging and honest - just like the best discussions I have had in my work with people between 16-20 years of age. As an example, Juno's friend's reaction to the news about her being pregnant:"What? Honest to blog? Are you sure it's not a food baby? Did you eat a big lunch?"

And most of all, the film is superromantic. I mean seriously. Who would not like to be described by their spouse:"He is the cheese to my macaroni."

Saturday, February 09, 2008

It is America, baby

I have had a day of YouTube. I remembered that a while ago I heard in a podcast Robert Redford describing taking part in the Kennedy Center Honor Ceremonies so I decided to check what we are talking about. I was hooked. It is a series of events celebrating great entertainers and sources of inspiration by other world-class starts performing their material. This is one of my favourites, honouring Beach Boys' Brian Wilson by a British boy choir Libera. I also highly recommend the parts like Oprah and Beyonce celebrating about Tina Turner or a parade of performances celebrating Diana Ross and Dolly Parton. Only Americans know how to do this right.


death of a star
Originally uploaded by shioshvili
It is Saturday afternoon, around three or so. The sky is clear and the sun is shining. I sit in my living room watching it. I have not managed to get myself out of the house by now. The reason for this is clear: five-day working week. Please do not take this as whining, it is purely a description of the state of affairs.

From January onwards I have switched to working a full week instead of Mon-Thu. Also the amount of work and my responsibilities have grown significantly from last year. Previously I used my Friday for this: wasting the day and recharging batteries. Now I find myself more and more often doing that on Saturday - very often I leave the house only late afternoon and do not build big plans for the weekend days. I am starting to understand how most people feel when they close the office door on Friday afternoon.

Over the last weeks I have forced myself to the gym at least three times a week. I feel that it has been the key for making it through some difficult situations and coping with the growing stress level.

I feel lucky now because our house is empty. My flatmates are doing their things which lets me sit here in peace. Doing a social job, managing a team takes its toll: I noticed yesterday after work that the thing I wanted the most was just to be left in peace for a while. I got myself to the gym and the yoga class was starting. Consciously I decided to go for headphones and complete isolation of 1,5 hours.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

On Idols

Yesterday evening in the dinner table we had a discussion on politics and I asked me friend and colleague who she would say is her political idol. She could not come up with one but promised to come back to me on the issue. I mentioned Madeleine Albright in that interview as a determined woman playing the game with equal rules and not afraid to show strength. This interview shows why I like her so much.

Getting the job done

Senator Hillary Clinton
Originally uploaded by Laphoto1
If the US election would classify as an illegal drug, I would be by now either jailed or in rehab. I just cannot get enough, I just cannot. I am not that much into the mud-slinging but I am really driven by the in-depth journalistic analysis on the weaknesses and strengths of the candidates. Just yesterday I listened to NBC's Meet the Press at the gym (highly recommendable podcast) which reminded me again that the United States is the superpower of journalism.

I cannot vote but I feel still somewhat puzzled. Already at an early stage I found myseld inclined to support Hillary Clinton instead of Barack Obama. This choice is constantly tested, lately by the following factors:

1. Bill: The ruthless and ugly campaigning of the former president really disgusts me. Clinton reacted like a 6-year-old boy to Obama's comment in Nevada that Clinton was not reforming, modernising president. Clinton has been fiercely profiling Obama as a black candidate like Jesse Jackson. As Maureen Dowd pointed out in Meet The Press, this is an ugly strategy to drive the Latinos and whites on Hillary Clinton's side but it has a negative effect on the image of politics as a whole.

The other criticism on the Bill factor is a feminist one. Somehow his big role somewhat seems like Hillary Clinton's campaign would think that she cannot handle it on her own.

2. Obama's supporters: Most of the people I value in US politics and also most of the cool celebrities support Obama. He has most of the people who are cool (Scarlett Johansson, Oprah, will, George Clooney), maybe with the exception of the fab America Ferrara. Obama is much more popular among young voters and he is endorsed by the leading Kennedys.

Still, I stick to Hillary Clinton. If Obama wins the Democratic nomination, I think he will become a wonderful president. But I trust Clinton more in getting the job done. The US is a mess after the Bush era and Clinton has an impressive track record. Madeleine Albright, one of my political idols, supports her. When Obama's talks in abstract soundbytes, Clinton focuses on what can be done.

I also dislike Obama's branding as the most Kennedy-like candidate: I don't see the same passion and emotional, personal involvement, I see a preacher. And every leader should create their own style, rather than warming up an old one. We all know that a dish is not as good on the next day when heated in a microwave.

And yes, the tears moved me too. Most people, even Obama supporters, state that Hillary Clinton face-to-face is an incredibly compassionate and warm person. And it is about time that the world is led by a woman.