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Monday, 30 January 2017

Flirting Between The Borders of Clickbait And Propaganda



There has always existed a large number of publications that released ‘fake news’, but the issue has become significantly more prominent during the period of the 2016 US elections. In times like these, where media has such an overwhelming upper hand in possessing the power to influence and inform the public, it is imperative that only verified and reliable news is published. News agencies, publications and likewise have the responsibility to speak of the objective truth and only the objective truth. Sadly, responsibility is not always legally binding.

I’m not talking about tabloid-esque fake news, the painfully obvious fake news. The fake news that does not seamlessly blend into the pool of reliable information. I’m not talking about the ones with headlines that read “ALIEN ENDORSES TRUMP” that are so boisterously fake that even plastic Barbie dolls shy away from titles like these. (FYI, this is really a headline). No, rather I am talking about the ones that not only claim to be real, but the ones that actually read like real news.

Take FOX news for example. One of the biggest news agencies in the US, one of the most watched news channels in the US too. To show you why this statistic is so ridiculous to me, let me explain that FOX Business Network once published a deceptively edited video of Barack Obama to “argue that he encouraged illegal immigrants to vote when in fact he had said nothing of the sort if you go back to the original transcript”. Those who constantly surround themselves with other, reliable sources of news (take the BBC, the NYT, CNN for example), may easily be able to recognise the fraudulent features of FOX news, perhaps even get a good laugh out of it. But what outsiders don’t recognise is that those who rely on FOX news, don’t.

This is where selective politics kicks in. Sometimes, the media can gain power by spoon feeding consumers what they want to hear. This is not to say that the media ‘spoon feeds’ its users and viewers, and those who engage with the media should be smart enough to use it merely as a source of data and information and form their own opinions from it henceforth. But a large part of media is also simply about amassing a large viewer base. (Because that’s what capitalism is - the end goal is always profit. In media, larger viewership = larger profit). It’s a simple concept, but a dangerous one. There are people, colossal amounts of people, who genuinely believe in this fake news, purely because it aligns with what they already believe in. By feeding off of what its viewers want to hear, news agencies akin to FOX News gain trust among its viewers. The rest? They don’t wanna hear it. I’ll go as far as to say some are in denial of it; refuse to hear it.

Let me reach a short conclusion. Fake news is dangerous. It’s dangerous for all the obvious reasons and so much more. By spreading fake news, one is breeding a following of people who fall victim to propaganda without realising it. 

I have always felt strongly about the wonderful influence the media can and has had on the masses. This is something that I have consistently been fascinated in, the reason I wish to pursue a career in journalism. I wouldn’t dare say that I could ever single-handedly rectify this, I can’t help that there are people out there soaking in this fake news faster than a sponge can soak up water. But I hope to work towards a new generation of journalism and media that swears by the publication of the truth.


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Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Selective Politics


I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now, but thought I would wait until I really solidified my opinions and thoughts on this topic. (You know, since politics is always controversial).

I realise that my last political post (Me Among Trump Supporters) was written in a state of major frustration, which I don’t regret, but though it was coming from an honest and truthful place, it lacked retrospect which is what I intend to provide through this post.

Politics, to a large extent, is immensely personal. Your political alignment usually represents your values, your beliefs, what rights you believe certain people should have; it represents what you think the word ‘progressive’ means to you, it represents how you wish to envision the future of the country you live in. It’s safe to say that your political views also represent your needs and wants, what you believe to be beneficial for yourself.

With that logic, it seems largely selfish of me to have so brutally bashed Trump supporters in my last post. Because the truth is, I am a member of the group coined the ‘liberal elite’. I can see nothing else but my personal wants, my personal vision of what the world should be like. I have only ever been surrounded by liberals like myself, only ever been told that to be accepting is to be progressive. This doesn’t go to say that my political views have been shaped by what I have been told, but to a certain extent my political views have been moulded by the environment that I live in - the environment that preaches equality across races, genders, occupations, etc.

It’s so easy to convince yourself that you are right if you have never attempted to explore the other side, so easy to regard the other side with disdain if you have never felt the same societal pressures as them, never experienced the same losses they have. For some time, I blamed myself for the outcome of the elections, for not ever attempting to understand the other side, for never thinking it would be eye-opening to talk to a republican, and perhaps understand why they believe in the things they do.

In a way, the intolerance that I associate the ‘far right’ to have against different races and sexual/gender identities is the same intolerance I hold for those of the ‘far right’. 

If I live by open-mindedness and tolerance as I say I do, then the only acceptable thing to do would be to approach other political views with the same attitude.
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Tuesday, 3 January 2017

CHIJMES


A picturesque dinner at CHIJMES along with a(n accidental?) photoshoot session seemed appropriate to celebrate the end of college applications. Frankly, I thoroughly enjoyed writing my supplement essays. They were tasks, sure, but having the freedom to just splatter myself across a page was, to say the least, a great feeling.


Here's to a 2017 filled to the brim with exciting adventures, lifelong memories and new experiences!
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Sunday, 25 December 2016

Me Among Trump Supporters



It’s hard to imagine that upon attending a school with fees upwards of $35,000 per annum, boasts more than 80 nationalities of students and is modelled on the values of Nelson  Mandela, I’d be sheltered. But the 2016 US elections have unveiled something I had genuinely been blind to - and that is the ubiquity of ignorance and intolerance. You’d think that a school whose core mission is to be accepting and progressive would house students equally so. But I have been proved terribly wrong.

My confidence in Clinton winning the elections was astounding. So much so that I scoffed at anyone who came up to me with a ‘But what if…’. I did not for a second allow myself to believe that the elections would ‘come close’ or that I would even have to check the polls to see who was ahead, because, of course Clinton would absolutely trump him, right? Right.

I realise now that this was a product of my having been brought up in an environment that never shed light on the immediacy of racism, on the realness of misogyny, on the tangibility of narrow-mindedness. When, like me, you’re thrown in a bubble environment where the world seems so perfect, so full of like-minded millennials who breathe equality in and out, the existence of anyone otherwise becomes distant, almost mythical. You begin to refer to these people as though they were some faraway creatures of a fictional land; how dare anyone be homophobic? Islamophobia? What does that even mean? How could anyone be so dumb as to be racist?!

But then Trump was elected. And I didn’t know how to react. And then I started this process of mourning for myself and my fellow liberal friends, who believed so whole-heartedly in the goodness of the world, who thought that we would grow up and skip happily ever after into the sunset holding the hands of our fellow Black, Muslim, Hispanic and Jewish friends. And then the Trump supporters started seeping in, and slowly but surely they began to show themselves, and this is what shook me. 

First it was my female Black friend, who, being the combination of two demographics Trump is known to be intolerant towards, I had the hardest time believing. 

“I don’t know… I just know that Hillary Clinton is racist… like, I know Trump is also racist, but like… I just know that if I had to vote, I’d vote Trump. Oh yeah, and Hillary lies a lot too.”

Yes, because we all know Trump is so tolerant of all races, right? And of course we all know of his immaculate, untainted history of telling the truth. (Wrong. 78% of his statements are false. Check the link at the bottom of this post titled “Donald Trump has been wrong way more often than all the other 2016 candidates combined”).

Truthfully speaking, to see just how many friends around me were breaking out of their shells as Trump supporters scared me, and more than that, gave me a wake up call. It enabled me to understand the realness of intolerance, and how even in the seemingly most progressive environments, bigotry pervades. This is the reality. This isn’t some bullshit liberal folktale woven by the words of our scholastic leaders, this is hard grounded reality. And the reality is that I’ve been sheltered from an overwhelming demographic of secret Trump supporters who believe Trump’s values aren’t ‘all that bad’.

Understanding this has destabilised me, and gripped me into a reality that I was sure to face sooner or later. I still now maintain the same friendships, but I would be lying if I said that I view my Trump supporting friends the same way I viewed them pre-elections. Because as much as people may talk about politics as though it were some abstract concept that doesn’t affect individual lives, one’s political outlook shares multitudes about the person, such as do they believe certain human beings deserve rights? What is their vision of a perfect world? What does the term ‘progressive’ mean to them? So while I do believe that a friendship is much more than political outlook, I simultaneously believe that politics can and have changed my opinions of those close to me.

Donald Trump has been wrong way more often that all the other 2016 candidates combined.
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Friday, 5 August 2016

My Love n Hate with Suicide Squad


If I've ever anticipated a movie more than I have David Ayer's Suicide Squad, let me know. When the clock ticked 12 a.m. on New Year's Eve of 2015 and I stepped into the new year, two threads of thought cascaded through my brain:

1. It's my birthday, and 2. Suicide Squad comes out this year.

Each day henceforth became only a skipping stone, drawing me one day closer to the highlight of my 2016. As with many DC comic lovers, I have read all five volumes of Suicide Squad. The announcement of a live-action movie of the same name was more than I could have asked for, and within 2 days of the movie's release, I have watched it twice.


Right off the bat, the question that loomed over me while the movie credits rolled out was, "So what just happened?". It hurts me, a self-proclaimed OG Suicide Squad fanatic, to say that I cannot overlook the incoherence of the plot. The entire movie was like a montage - quick snippets of a rather one-dimensional story being brutally splattered onto the screen, with only the star studded cast and occasional bursts of humour to keep it together. Even then, the movie failed to hold onto a string of continuity. It leaves me wondering if Ayer wrote onto pieces of paper a spectrum of scenes that could be included (from Amanda Waller's callous and unfazed façade to Harley Quinn's happy-go-lucky swings of the bat), dumped them into a top hat and blindly picked out one by one to recreate on set.

Simply put, the plot (assuming there is one) was a mess. A complete mumble jumble. It doesn't stray far from shards of shattered glass that were half-heartedly glued together, their jagged and barbed edges akin to the rough transitions throughout the movie. One moment the movie is ready to unveil the chaotic and deeply disturbing roots of the Joker and Quinn's abusive relationship, and just as we're about to fully submerge into a scene that could shed light on such, we are flung into a closeup of Deadshot who blurts a humorous line before shooting down an army of faceless deformities.



But I give Ayer credit for the vision. The movie was conceptually daring and unapologetic. For some, the splurges of pink, green and blue to signal a flashback were tacky. The list of character traits that appeared whenever a squad member was introduced could have seemed outdated and childish. Personally, I loved them and could not think of a better way to introduce the tone of the movie. Suicide Squad by nature is not some pretentious, morally righteous group of people (you'd need to wait on Justice League for that). They're fun, bouncy, witty, and anything within that range. They're "bad people" governed by a burning desire to make something out of their lives, and in doing so they wreak havoc and crack jokes along the way. It wouldn't be right to cast the movie with a somber tone with somber visuals like those of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Ayer completely nailed the essence of the Suicide Squad, and rightfully executed the upbeat and colourful vibes on which the comics hinge.

To add onto the things that Ayer got right, the characterisation of every single character was absolutely accurate. Of course, character development could have been much more profound. Harley could have been dug deeper to showcase the extent of her introversion and inner conflicts. Her duality was lightly scratched upon - when she distraughtly threw away her Joker branded choker to engulf herself in grief, but quickly wiped away the sadness when the squad approached her so as to tuck away her humane and vulnerable self. The Joker, in all honesty, could have been portrayed as more abusive, manipulative and downright mad. Instead, he took on the aesthetics of some nightmarish, jealousy-stricken crazy ex-boyfriend whose entire sense of being was dependent on Harley.

But I understand that the Joker was added to the cast as more of a crowd-pleaser, an instantly recognisable comic character to draw interest, and, most importantly, to help build Harley's character.

Otherwise, even amidst the tumultuous plot, the characters were branded distinctively and accurately - just as I had pictured them when reading the comics.

Needless to say, the visuals were more than engaging and thrilling, which is what a blockbuster movie like Suicide Squad should achieve.

Holistically, I liked the movie. The plot was heavily underdeveloped, but everything else - characterisation, tone, setting (I couldn't have asked for a more accurate representation of Gotham), Ayer's vision behind the movie - was done just right.
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Thursday, 30 June 2016

Anecdoche


When Emily entered the room, she coyly tip-toed her way through the cluster of words hurled across one gossamer glass wall to the other. She had somehow managed to slip herself unbeknownst to the other twelve into the middle of a manic discussion. The madness was real. Her fingers pricked against the jarring words that locked horns with each other before they were swallowed whole as quickly as they had appeared. Never had her tongue tasted so acrid a taste, never had her nose whiffed a scent so pungent it shot up and clung mercilessly at the edges of her brain.


At one end of the table a disgustingly paunchy man bellowed to his fatty heart’s content, his words dripping in a gloopy saliva and throttling the poor man across him. The sickeningly sallow woman seated next to him forced a string of words that shrilled through the sweltering heat down the throat of the man whose vulgar double chin Emily could not take her eyes off of. The frantic jumble of hand gestures made by the man opposite Emily could not keep up with his mind, which could not keep up with his jabbering mouth, and his words just plonked onto the table, one by one, until a pile that was big enough to fill the room and leave it bursting at the seams was created.


In the midst of this, Emily found and held for dear life onto a thread of momentary stillness. Her chatoyant eyes narrowed in on a single grain of dust settling softly onto the glacial leaf of paper atop a marble slab. A clinquant gem on the ballpoint pen twinkled luringly, and the uninterrupted sound of nothingness pranced merrily around her dazed head and weaved itself into the deep chambers of her ears. She salvaged such a precious moment before tumbling back into the bedlam she had tried so hard to escape from.

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Sunday, 24 January 2016

Jane Austen: Overhyped and Undeserving


Unpopular opinion: Jane Austen does not deserve nearly as much praise and reverence as she always has.

When I pick up a new literary novel, say, The Picture of Dorian Gray or The Beautiful and Damned, I expect to be wowed. Of course, I don't expect to be wowed in the same way I'm wowed when I read such novels as The Hunger Games or the like. Books of the fantasy or young adult genre I read when I'm craving a quick distraction, something to fully engross my mind in for a few quick seconds and be done with within a day. With most literature I anticipate the painfully slow beginnings, the arguably redundant and sluggish nature of setting descriptions, etc. 

But I still read literature because after reading a literary masterpiece (a relative term), I am astounded. Dumbfounded, flabbergasted, left breathless. Good literature makes me feel things and think things I have always thought before but never held to examine. Anyone can relate to this: that feeling of amazement as you retrace the final words of a life changing novel, that feeling of awe that gushes all around you after you've watched an incredible movie. In much of the literature I have read, the authors have always clutched the core of some profound, universal feeling or thought and crafted it into something personal. If not, I have nevertheless closed good novels shut knowing that it would haunt me for the rest of the month, and that I would itch to find the "deeper meaning".

But Jane Austen's novels seem so superficial. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson: "I am at a loss to understand why people hold Miss Austen’s novels at so high a rate, which seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in invention, imprisoned in the wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world.  Never was life so pinched & narrow.  The one problem in the mind of the writer in both the stories I have read, “Persuasion”, and “Pride & Prejudice”, is marriageableness; all that interests any character introduced is still this one, has he or she money to marry with, & conditions conforming? ‘Tis “the nympholepsy of a fond despair”, say rather, of an English boarding-house.  Suicide is more respectable."

I have given myself so many chances time and time again to like Austen's novels simply because she was always so highly regarded as the 'feminist writer we should all aspire to become'. When I read reviews of any one of her novels, the most prominent opinion seems to be that her plots are intricate and that the characters are well crafted. But these are solely what Austen's novels depend on. The characters and the plots are the only things that make up Austen's novels. Even then, the plots are agonisingly dry and petty. 

My problem with Jane Austen is that as a result of all this, she has been carved into some literary mastermind whom we should all idolise and consider in the same pool of writers as Tolstoy, Fitzgerald, Brontë, Flaubert etc.

Having forced myself to read her novels Emma and Pride and Prejudice, I realised that the plots themselves weren't enough for me to even pretend to like her novels. Let's take Flaubert's most renowned work - Madame Bovary. Madame Bovary found herself bored to death in a dull and dry marriage, trapped in a town no different to a bird cage. So she tore that all down and ran wildly down a road of frisky affairs, plunged herself in a plush sea of lavish shopping sprees and to top it off, drank poison. Tolstoy's Anna Karenina tells a ravishing story of a woman whose debonair lover has pushed her into the fathomless depths of a blinding love and passion - which ends when she tragically flings herself under a train. Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita paints out the mind of a compulsive, intellectual, disgusting, sophisticated man whose pedophilia gets the better of him, and a thrilling tale ensues. 

In stark contrast, Austen's novels vomit the static and lethargic setting of a simply uninteresting provincial life. The highlight of each of her novels comes when the protagonist, usually a damsel-in-distress, has to decide whether she loves a man enough to actually continue some sort of relationship with him or run away with him perhaps. Her novels even end uninterestingly. Everyone gets what they want, the protagonist is happy, her lover is happy, the cat is happy, the sun shines on and the breeze blows on. As Emerson explains, her novels indeed portray a very narrow aspect of life upon which I struggle to find an insightful thought or a profound meaning. I mean, if you're going to make your novels purely superficial, at least make that superficiality engrossing.

I will end this with a delightful quote from Mark Twain, that truly encapsulates my feelings for Jane Austen: “Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin bone.”
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