I saw a note I made during a HOPE XXL conference in the Netherlands in 2014.

“Hi I am Nadira and I am here to speak on behalf of the people who can’t be here. I have lived in this world just for 23 years. But those years are enough for me to realize that what we need in this world is more people that have the ability to put themselves in other people’s shoes. I am a woman, and I recognize that I am luckier than some people. I want you to think about what it feels like to be a different person than you are now. Sometimes I imagine what it feels like to wake up in a place where women are being caned after they were raped. I imagine not being able to vote to this day. I imagine how it feels like not to have the right to education because I am a girl. I imagine being out in public without the ability to choose to wear or not to wear a veil. I wonder how it is possible that people cannot give permission to women to leave their houses without their husbands; permissions. What if tomorrow people are saying that I cannot play sports or drive a car because I am a woman? What if someday I am stoned for a crime I did not commit? Yes, I might be lucky now, but as soon as we forgot about what happens in other parts of the world and lose the ability to fight for other people… then we lose our privilege too. Let’s not make national boundaries your reason to forget about other people’s misery. We are all human and we should always strive to be the defenders of the people who cannot raise their own voices.”

It was not a long time ago
When I look at those pairs of blue eyes
Precisely knowing what I want to do
And start not being afraid to speak

It was not a long time ago
When I stand in front of a class
Grasping for air
Searching for help

It is a rare thing
Being completely certain of who you are
When other people try to stir you
To the other direction

Those flawed minds think that they know me
Without wanting to first understand
What is inside of my mind
Misunderstood has always been my name

But I am at my best state of mind
…and it was not a long time ago

This week, Beyonce came with a new surprise. After 2 new songs were being leaked on the internet, she released a new music video for 7/11 on the 21st of November. The background of the song name itself is still a mistery to this day, with some people making their own theories about what the title might implies (see http://www.bustle.com/articles/50485-why-did-beyonce-name-her-song-711-9-theories-you-need-to-read-video). The video looks like it has been shot by Beyonce herself at her place. Even though I like the concept of the video (it looks undone and not over prepared), I am pretty disappointed. I am reminded of how her tremendous voice might not always translate to creativity in lyrics (granted, probably most of Beyonce’s songs are not actually hers). The lyrics almost do not mean anything and has been thrown into the song to fit the music. Those disappointments aside, I still want to congratulate her on releasing a platinum edition of her album.

Moving on, I still saw a gem of a music video this week: “Baby It’s Cold Outside”. This song was made by a duo that was made in heaven: Idina Menzel and Michael Buble. Whoever came with the idea of collaborating is an absolute genius. You can see the video here:

The video is just adorable, I love the young actors (or dancers? or lip sync-ers?). It’s amazing how they are able to resemble Idina and Michael perfectly. The coordination in the video is amazing – with its colors, Christmas trees,well-dressed kids in the background and the rolling suitcases.

I also loveee this music video by She & Him (Zooey Deschanel’s band), “Stay Awhile”

Here is a little bit of the lyrics:

Stay awhile, let me hold you
Stay awhile til I’ve told you, oh
Of the love that I feel tonight, oh yeah!

Stay awhile, what’s your hurry?
Stay awhile cause I worry, oh
Any time that you’re out of sight

It’s a simple song and the duration is not even longer than 3 minutes, but it is truly a relaxing one. The fake guitar playing by M. Ward and Zooey’s dance truly looked like hard work (there are probably stunt doubles and CGI involved), but it looks so artistic you can’t help but falling in love. My two favorite scenes: Zooey dancing in the clouds and M.Ward leaving the room with the guitar shadow.

In conclusion of this week’s review: it is starting to sound like… and look like… Christmas! December is almost here 🙂

Christmas trees~

I have been contemplating to create “my week in popular culture” series for a long time, but never have been brave enough to start until now. I hope I can be consistent in writing blog posts for this section. To start, I am going to let you know how this works. For a week, I am going to look into at least one song (or a music album) and a film (or a particular TV show). If you know who I am, you will be pretty sure that I am not going to completely detach a music or a film from either politics or social backgrounds. So, be prepared for me to throw some of that in the reviews that I am going to write.

This week, I am going to look into a song from the hugely popular Taylor Swift, largely because I haven’t heard the whole album. So far, though, I am very intrigued to hear all of her songs from 1989.

I am going to review Blank space. I won’t only be talking about the music and lyrics, but also the most talked about music video. By the time I am writing this, the video has been seen for about 23 million times.The concept of the music video itself is quite Ariana Grande-esque to me. It is a humorous and dreamy music video. I am also pretty sure it was shot in a castle.

I have never been a fan of Taylor Swift, but this album has somehow amazed me since it is really different from her previous albums. She has changed her genre quite a lot, for this album especially. I didn’t hear the country music influence anymore. She has taking a lot of risk and it paid off. While industry experts predicted 1989 to sell 650k copies in the first week, while it actually sold 1.287 million albums (Facebook, 2014).

Here’s the excerpt of the “Blank Space” lyrics:

So it’s gonna be forever
Or it’s gonna go down in flames
You can tell me when it’s over
If the high was worth the pain
Got a long list of ex-lovers
They’ll tell you I’m insane
‘Cause you know I love the players
And you love the game

Her lyrics are poetic and as you can probably see from the lyrics and the music video, the song addresses how Taylor is portrayed in the media. She has been seen as a needy girl that keeps losing her boyfriend. For the ones who have seen her previous work, this is definitely something different and empowering for her. She chooses to embrace the bad things that have been said about her and turn it into a masterpiece. Being a popular culture enthusiast, I have been wary of calling every female artist feminist, but I am sure Taylor is. She is also one of my favorite type of feminists: the feminine feminist. When addressing an interviewer question about the rumor that she did not write her own songs, she replied:

“And we all know it’s a feminist issue. My friend Ed [Sheeran], no one questions whether he writes everything. In the beginning, I liked to think that we were all on the same playing field. And then it became pretty obvious to me that when you have people sort of questioning the validity of a female songwriter, or making it seem like it’s somehow unacceptable to write songs about your real emotions—that it somehow makes you irrational and overemotional—seeing that over the years changed my view. It’s a little discouraging that females have to work so much harder to prove that they do their own things.” (Dickey, 2014).

This year, she takes more control of her work. Before the release of 1989, she pulled all of her music from Spotify. The criticism has been very harsh on them. Spotify is believed to pay their artists in a low rate. Moreover, I heard that her record is telling her to ‘drop’ something from her new album, but she chooses to go ahead with what it was. In her interview with the TIME magazine (thanks to @lasbonitaschicas), Swift says “my label and management were the ones saying “Are you sure, are you positive? This is risky.” And I was the one who had to come back every time and say, “No, this is what we’re doing.”” (Dickey, 2014). And… just look at the result of what she’s doing!

The Best of Me

For the film, I am going to review The Best of Me. It is one of the films that are based on Nicholas Sparks’ novels. It is one of the most anticipated films this year when it comes to a romantic drama. However, sadly I have to say that it is a disappointing adaption (3/5). Why, you ask?

The Ups: The actor (James Marsden as Dawson) and actress (Michelle Monaghan as Amanda) who plays the older version of the main characters, have better acting skills compared to the ones who play the younger version. A very persuasive female character (Amanda). The place where they took the pictures, I believe, are actually quite close to what has been described in the novel itself.

The Let Downs: Bad editing. The stark difference of the acting skills of the younger version and the older version of the main characters ruin the flow of the story line. When the young Dawson and Amanda are on the screen, the film is becoming overly cheesy and packed with cliches. Secondly, the difference of appearance is quite outstanding as well. This probably makes some of us wonder whether it is actually the same people they are portraying. The ending is also quite predictable for the people who have been following Nicholas Sparks’ work, whether it is the Notebook, A Walk to Remember, The Lucky One or Dear John.

Source: Taylor Swift’s Facebook Page
Dickey, J. (2014). “Taylor Swift on 1989, Spotify, Her Next Tour and Female Role Models”. TIME. [online]. Available from: http://time.com/3578249/taylor-swift-interview/

Source: Eric Blog

The emergence of the internet, social media and smart phones has created more complex processes of the ‘boomerang’ and the ‘ricochet’. The ‘ricochet’ is the process of political and legal argumentation and information exchange between non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and regional or international institutions. The individuals behind the internet, similar to the NGOs, help to frame the issues that matters to people. The internet has a significant role in quickly generating useful information (‘information politics’). However, the internet also raises new problems. The ‘ricochet’ process exposes human rights activists to resistance and oppositions, because the actors are not always coming from the progressive groups. Furthermore, it can also be dangerous when criminal groups and terrorists take part to influence others. The raise of the internet makes the process of ‘ricochet’ more complicated for NGOs, since they have to always check whether an information is true or not. The information flows are more unreliable and NGOs’ role is becoming more important to clarify what has been said in the cyber world. While the internet itself is only a tool that is neutral in practice, it surely enhances public participation and makes democracy become more dynamic. The internet has helped create a burgeoning civic or citizen journalism, which informs NGOs about real situations on the ground (often also in real time). Nowadays, local and international NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch actively monitor these online participations. Internet makes it harder to hide human rights violations and therefore improves state’s accountability. Internet is important for democracy because it does not only provide information, but also engage the public to take part in debates that affect their lives. In this regard, citizens are not only spectators anymore, because they are also taking part as participants. What makes these processes more complex is that the public debates in the internet sometimes inform actions taken by NGOs, but NGOs sometimes also influence the public debates on the ground. Hence, while the ‘boomerang’ concept by Keck and Sikkink argues that NGOs affect policy making in international organisations such as the United Nations to influence the country they are in, the individuals behind the internet create an endless interactions among themselves, nation states and regional or international organisations (by informing one another). The other importance of this technological advancement is how quickly people can take action compared to the previous years before internet exists. It will be much faster today to gather like-minded people to protest, to donate or to write a petition for policies that affect human rights (for example, by setting up an event page on Facebook or a twitter hashtag). Leverage politics can therefore be more direct. An example of this can be seen from the case of James Buck, a guy who got arrested wrongly in April 2008 when he was photographing an anti-government protest in Egypt. A day after he tweeted “arrested” on twitter, he was released. The help was coming from other individuals, who were able to pressure Egyptian authorities by contacting U.S. embassies and Buck’s university. Symbolic politics has also becoming more intense, as people are able to share images and stories within seconds to other individuals. In conclusion, it can be argued that the internet has changed information, symbolic, leverage and accountability politics significantly.

Sources:
Holzhacker, R. (2013). “State-sponsored Homophobia and the Denial of the Right of Assembly in Central and Eastern Europe: The ‘boomerang’ and the ‘ricochet’ between European organization and civil society to uphold human rights”. Law & Policy. 35 (1-2), pp. 1-28.
Keck, M. E. and K. Sikkink. (1998). Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. New York: Cornell University Press.

by Nadira Irdiana, A graduate of the University of Groningen, MA International Relations (Global Governance)

Source: Becky van Ommen Photography

Both Sen and Nussbaum apply what is known as the ‘capability approach’ into their research. While Sen is concentrating on individual freedom, Nussbaum has created a list which focuses on human dignity. Taking their vision of democracy into account, the European Union (EU) will have to measure poverty and development away from the basis of primary goods and income. Poverty is seen as a barrier for citizens who want to live a happy life, while development is understood as expanded capabilities of the people. Both Sen and Nussbaum argue that what is important in democracy promotion is the enhancement of capabilities, not the economic performance of a state. The focus of the capability approach is with the human conditions and what states or institutions are able to do to improve them. People’s capabilities are not just measured by material goods, but also health, housing, education and other essentials that will help them to be able to participate better in a democracy. In this case, ethics and economics are merged together to create a more equitable distribution of wealth. It regards diversity as something that needs to be addressed, because people’s ability to participate in a society and to achieve well-being depends on their own experiences. The ‘capability approach’ wants to address inequality, justice and social exclusion in much of a broader sense. In the EU, poverty and social exclusion are still measured by income and access to market. Sen’s approach, however, will push the EU to split people into target groups and to provide resources to them according to their needs. For example, people who are poor in terms of their income, the unemployed, the elderly, the disabled, the illiterate and the migrants might have different needs for their capacity to participate fully in a democracy. Each of these people needs to be provided with different kind of support. Here, income is still an indicator, but is not considered as the most important because it is only one of the measures that affects capability deprivation. Promotion of democracy, rule of law and human rights of the EU works mostly under EU’s development assistance. The capability approach wants to move away from this framework, placing the focus on the individuals (quality of life), rather than only focusing on economic growth and improving institutions (e.g., election monitoring and training for a state parliament). If the EU incorporated the capability approach, it would be expected that the EU would invest more in human capacities (whether it is improving education or increasing opportunities abroad). Education, for example, is instrumental because without it people will not be able to make informed decision when it comes to voting. Furthermore, rule of law will only be respected when citizens understand their responsibilities and rights. Sen argues that a country should be able to ‘fit through democracy’, not ‘fit for democracy’. Democracy in this case helps to make people’s ability to function to be more equal. The EU should help to highlight the intrinsic, instrumental and constructive value of democracy as argued by Sen. It is clear, either when we took Sen’s or Nussbaum’s approach, that the ‘one-size fits all’ approach of the EU need some reconsideration. However, while the capability approach is truly beneficial for a democracy, how they will work in practice is still unknown.

Sources:
Holst, C. (2010). ‘Martha Nussbaum’s outcome-oriented theory of justice’. Centre for European Studies, University of Oslo, ARENA.
http://www.sv.uio.no/arena/english/research/publications/arena-publications/workingpapers/working-papers2010/wp-16-10.pdf [17 March 2014].
Robeyns, I. (2011). ‘The Capability Approach’. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. [online]. Available from: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/capability-approach/ [17 March 2014].
Sen, A. (1999). ‘Democracy as a Universal Value’. Journal of Democracy. 10.3 (3-17).
http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/jod/v010/10.3sen.html [17 March 2014].
Wells, T. (Unknown). ‘Sen’s Capability Approach’. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. [online]. Available from: http://www.iep.utm.edu/sen-cap/ [17 March 2014].

by Nadira Irdiana, A graduate of the University of Groningen, MA International Relations (Global Governance)

Thought Catalog

1. “Everything you can imagine is real.” ― Pablo Picasso

2. “I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.” ― Gilda Radner

3. “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” ― Isaac Asimov

4. “There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to…

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