Category Archives: Topical

Thoughts on YouTube

When I tell my parents that I’m just ‘catching up on YouTube’ they look confused, shake their heads and walk away with an air of ‘young people these days’. They, and many people older than my generation, are well aware that YouTube is great for looking at funny videos of cats and babies, seeing music videos and film trailers. However there is a whole other role that has developed that makes YouTube much, much more important than this.

There are hundreds of communities that use YouTube to connect people, educate each other and share common interests -beauty, gaming, nerdfighters, vlogging – all these communities and many more have hundreds of thousands of creators and viewers contributing to them every day. Not only does this allow for a huge, unlimited exchange of ideas (often with both positive and negative results), but creators are able to connect much more readily with a large audience thanks to the popularity of YouTube around the world. Yes, much of what is uploaded to YouTube may not be of high cultural value, but a large portion of the content can be educational and entertaining for its dedicated viewers. The interactivity possible with YouTubers is probably where this success comes from; you are not just being talked at through a screen, but encouraged to ask questions, give comments and even contribute to future projects. This makes YouTubers far more accessible than your average celebrity, and so seem much more real. It also shows how attainable this online status is, and YouTubers are constantly reminding viewer of this fact when asked ‘how do I start making videos?’ – You just have to turn on a camera and talk about something you are interested in.

Moreover people are making entire careers out of being a professional YouTuber, some earning well over $1 million per year, yet general opinion of career opportunities in new social media are incredulous at best. I can cite countless hugely popular YouTubers who decided either not to go to University, or to drop out, because they see YouTube as a better and more focused use of their time (for example JacksGap and charlieissocoollike). Ever since I was small I was told that to achieve my goals in life I would need to go to University. This is just not true anymore, particularly for creative young people who can learn the skills they need by doing instead of by studying. Obviously this does not apply to everyone, but more and more people nowadays aspire to emulate the success of famous YouTubers, and being a professional vlogger, beauty guru or musician on YouTube is now a viable career choice for those willing to spend 2 or 3 years building up their channels. As we all know, an online presence is vital for new companies, bands and celebrities to gain the attention of the younger ‘tech-savvy’ generation, and YouTube personalities are particularly skilled at utilising all aspects of the internet to build up a following. Much like more conventional celebrities, YouTubers have thousands of followers on Twitter, crowds gather at meet ups to see them in real life, and the success of events like VidCon (a conference for online creators and consumers) shows just how well this new media is doing. Much like blogging, the possibilities for YouTubers are endless in terms of what they can progress to doing – there are collaborative channels, huge events, some have even migrated to radio and TV!

I think the point I am trying to get across in this post is that many people still don’t quite grasp the importance of new social medias; they have enormous power to connect people and ideas across the globe (in an unobtrusively profitable way as well!) So next time you hear somebody saying they are catching up on YouTube, maybe ask who they are watching? You may discover a whole new world of entertainment through your computer screen!

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Travels in Cuba

For 10 days three friends and I travelled around Cuba. I’d love to say we chose to go there for some very intellectual reason, but in reality we went because 2 of my friends had been travelling around South America and Cuba was a bit closer and cheaper than going onto the continent to join them. I was, however, extremely intrigued to see a country that I expected to be completely different to anywhere I had ever visited, and I was not disappointed in this respect.

Without sounding too patronising (I hope, do tell me if I’m wrong!), Cuba seemed to be a country of contradictions. The people are incredibly generous, with their equivalent of a hostel being a room in a persons house – casas particulares – where you can also get food and invaluable advice and help organising activities and trips. Yet you can’t help but feel like a walking cash machine as you walk down a street – constant and unrelenting calls of “Taxi, taxi” (and if you say no then they may as well try “Boyfriend, you free for love?”) The country is absolutely beautiful, as you will see later with my pictures, but outside of the main tourist areas in cities, buildings are left to crumble, with paint peeling or entirely faded. 

These contrasts made me feel both uncomfortable and very privileged. It was hard to deny that I come from a country where my income isn’t limited, where I am not forced to help with the harvest when yields are low, or where the newspapers are only 1o pages, and contain no criticism of the government whatsoever (many thanks to our taxi driver who gave us his Granma after a lengthy discussion about the state of Cuba); I have an arguably much easier life than cubans, and it is hard for me to begrudge them wanting to make some money out of undeniably better off tourists. But at the same time it does make it harder to warm to the population as a whole when you are constantly being called upon to part with your money for using a toilet.

However, my privileged feeling stems from the fact that I have (pretty much) got to see the real Cuba. The gritty, still resolutely and unapologetically communist Cuba that fascinates and horrifies me in equal mesure. I saw hundreds of propaganda messages of “Patria o Muerte” and “Todo para el socialismo” painted on rural homes, I saw the poster in the airport that called the 5 Cuban terrorists “unfairly accused” of trying to blow up Cuban emigrés in Miami, and I got to speak to a taxi driver who was completely honest in telling us about corrupt traffic police and his opinion that a successful, powerful government will always limit the press. I don’t think this Cuba will last long. With Raúl Castro now in charge after the abdication of Fidel in 2008 restrictions are being lifted (albeit slowly and minimally at the moment); Cubans can travel more freely without hugely expensive bureaucratic processes, and I think this will lead the way to more free travel generally, especially for Americans to Cuba. While this represents a political victory, and undoubtedly an improvement in Cuba’s global relations, I cannot help but feel nervous that with an influx of American interests Cuba will lose some of the uniqueness that I was able to experience. It was a complete culture shock for me to arrive in a place where internet is the hardest thing to come by, where residential buildings are allowed to fall into a clearly unsafe condition, and where a communist state isn’t just a social idea but the power which drives everyday life. Of course I do not condone the activities of the Cuban (or indeed the American) administration that limits access to medicines, food and necessary consumer goods, and I would never paint myself a communist, or even close to it. However I think that it is unavoidable that tourism and an influx of American products and ideas will change Cuba irreparably, albeit mostly for the better. This change will mean a loss of a truly unique culture that I found completely fascinating, and I only regret that we had to limit the trip to the 3 cities we visited.

Without further ado, here are just a few of my pictures from the trip!

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Havana

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Havana

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Under the colonnade of the Gran Teatro de la Habana

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El Capitolo, Havana

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Havana

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View of the Canal de Entrada, Havana

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Havana Cathedral

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The Cuban flag, hanging in the Museo de la Revolucion

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Trinidad

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View of Iglesia de la Santísima, Plaza Mayor, Trinidad

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El Nicho waterfalls, between Trinidad & Cienfuegos 

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The plunge pool which we jumped into at El Nicho

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El Nicho waterfalls

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Hotel la Union, Cienfuegos (our night of luxury in the middle of the trip)

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Catedral de la Purisima Concepcion, Parque Marti, Cienfuegos

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Sign for the ‘Cuban 5’, with their slogan ‘Volveran’ (They will return)

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City Hall, Parque Marti, Cienfuegos 

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Malecon, Havana

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On playas del Este, just outside of Havana, for our last day

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Che Guevara, Plaza de la Revolucion, Havana

I would really urge anyone who can to go to Cuba. It is an amazing country, and if you take the time to get out of the hotel or off the beach (although there are some truly beautiful beaches), you will get to see a glimpse of a way of life that is completely alien to an outsider.

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Your First Year

I have just finished my first year studying French and Italian at Bristol University. I have already written a reflective post about it, but today I wanted to give you my tips about how to make the most of your first year. I wasn’t one of those freshers that spent all their time drunk or hungover watching endless TV series on the internet (although a lot of that did happen…), and so I think I have picked up quite a few tips about how to get the best out of yourself and your university!

  1. Get out of bed and go to your lectures: It isn’t that hard to get to a 9am when a bit hungover, and especially if you just can’t be bothered there is really no excuse for not making the effort. We now have to pay £9000 for our university eduction, and if you don’t make the effort to learn as much as possible from the people you are paying to teach you then you are just throwing money away.
  2. Go to freshers fair, and take ALL the leaflets: You never know what might catch your interest, and there are so many random societies at Universities that you may never have thought about joining. Also at freshers fair you also get a crap load of free stuff that can save you a lot of money over the first term!
  3. If you find something you like doing, stick with it: I know a lot of people (including myself) that really enthusiastically joined a society, went for about 3 weeks and then couldn’t be bothered to carry on. They now regret that decision, and most are determined to join again next year.
  4. Don’t feel weird joining  a society late in the year: This is the other side of point 3. Most societies love to get new members, it doesn’t matter when in the year you join, no one will turn you away. I realised I really missed dancing so joined Dance Soc in February, and had the best time!
  5. Stop worrying about what other people think: At most schools people are put into categories; there is always the ‘cool’ group, the sporty lot etc. At University all that gets thrown out the window. I think when people get a fresh start they stop caring about their image, and instead just want to pursue their own interests and meet people with the same ones.  Also please don’t worry if you don’t drink/smoke/do drugs or whatever – at University I have found that everyone just accepts other people’s limits and decisions, and really won’t pressure you into it. Of course there are the occasional exceptions, especially sports team initiations, but generally speaking most people are happy to let you get on with what you want.
  6. You only ever regret what you don’t do: If there is an opportunity you want to take, a society you want to join, a person you want to talk to just go for it! There are so many great things that can happen at University, and if you don’t take the opportunity you really only have yourself to blame for that. If in the end it doesn’t work out that is ok, but at least you gave it a go. University is meant to help you broaden your interests and there are so many possibilities on offer that you are bound to find something totally new that you love doing!
  7. Be nice to everyone: You never who you may end up being best friends with, and you are constantly meeting new people throughout the year. It also just makes it easier to get along with a whole new set of people if you are nice, rather than overly bothered about your image/ having a specific group. Also I think being ‘cool’ at University is such a ridiculous concept – there are SO many people that there will never be a ‘cool’ group; there are just the really nice, interesting, approachable people, and the stand-offish ones that you cannot be bothered to deal with!
  8. Just because first year doesn’t count, doesn’t mean it isn’t important: At UK Universities, for the most part first year doesn’t count towards your degree; it is more a formative year to help you adjust to a new way of learning. But it is really important to take that seriously; not only do a lot of internships ask for your first year grades/ predicted grades, but also if you learn what is expected of you in first year, the rest of your time at University will be a lot easier.
  9. Don’t stress, and remember to have fun!: on the flip side of point 8, your first year should be fun. If you stress too much about work that won’t have TOO much of an impact on your future you will be making life a lot harder for yourself. Yes do all your work, be prepared for seminars, but also don’t feel too bad if you don’t spend as much time as you could revising for exams, or if every now and then you do an essay the night before the deadline. If instead you could be making better friends with someone, learning a new non-academic skill, or just letting yourself have a little break, that’s ok!
  10. Remember, everyone feels the way you do: Everyone is experiencing an entirely new way of living, meeting new people, trying to learn new things, being away from family and friends. Almost everyone gets scared, homesick, sad, happy, drunk, silly, shy. First year is such a whirlwind of emotions, people, and experiences that I think people who may be having a bad time forget that everyone else is going through the same thing. If you keep reminding yourself of that I think it makes it easier to talk to other people if you are feeling crappy, and you don’t get as annoyed at yourself for feeling anything other than “OMG THIS IS THE BEST TIME OF MY LIFE EVER.” (I cried with my friend for far too long one evening about 2 weeks into first year when we were both really homesick… if that makes you feel better!)

I hope these tips help any of you starting University in September, and if you have already gone through first year please leave your tips for freshers below!

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Chime for Change

I have just watched the highlight show of the Chime for Change concert that happened at Twickenham on Saturday. When trying to find the full concert online I came across an article documenting the Twitter outrage that many of the performers outfits provoked. Many viewers thought the performers outfits didn’t fit with the female empowerment message of the concert.

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Beyonce

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Jessie J

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Rita Ora

Yes Jessie J, Rita Ora, even Queen Bey herself (and many of the other female performers) were wearing tight/ short/ sexy outfits. And? Surely the whole point of female empowerment is to focus on what women can DO not how they dress. The most common reply to this line of argument is “but by dressing like that they give the impression that to be successful you have to dress sexy and prance about in heels.” Or you could be both? I have never understood why people are scared to suggest that women can be successful AND sexy. The two concepts aren’t mutually exclusive. At least they aren’t for men. No one has ever accused George Clooney, or Benedict Cumberbatch, or even Justin Bieber (depending on your preferences) of being too sexy to be successful! So why are we so scared to admit that women can be both?

For me, feminism is about wanting equality for both sexes, plain and simple. This essentially means allowing women to do and be whatever they want, a privilege that men have always had. If Beyonce wants to remind everyone that she is not only an incredible singer and activist, but also sexy as hell, then all the more power to her! The very fact that people have been talking about what these women are wearing, rather than their talent, or the contribution they are making to a truly important cause, shows just how far women still have to go before we can truly be equal to men. Of course I’m not saying that women should be treated like sex objects, but I really don’t think that extremely successful pop-stars dressing in tight clothes at a benefit concert should be presented as all that is wrong with the place of women in today’s world. Being sexy isn’t a crime, and quite frankly these sorts of comments are part of the victim-blaming culture we are unfortunately still living in. Just because a women is dressed in a way that makes her feel good about herself doesn’t mean she should automatically be viewed as a sex object. That’s not the point of outfits like this. I’m pretty sure when I dress for a night out I’m not thinking “ooo what will make someone want to make crude comments/ grab my ass/ have sex with me?” I (and most probably ALL women) am thinking “what will make ME feel good about MYSELF?” And I reckon that is what Beyonce and all the other performers were thinking at the Chime for Change concert. The variety of outfits shows this: Mary J Blige wore a sequinned catsuit ; Florence Welch wore a flowing blue dress and cape; Haim’s Danielle wore grey jeans and a leather jacket. Each performer wore what made them feel their best, so that they could give the best show to raise money for a hugely important cause that they all support. And that is all their clothes represented.

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Florence Welch

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Danielle Haim

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Mary J Blige

What do you think? I think this is a really important debate to have, and I’d love for you to weigh in!

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A Reminder

Yesterday a man was brutally killed by two others in broad daylight in Woolwich, London. This is a horrible tragedy in itself, but it is also being called an act of terrorism by many because the killers were filmed shouting islamic chants, supposedly in the language of jihad. While these men may have been acting in the name of Islam, worrying numbers of people have been taking this as a chance to spread their racist, Islamophobic message. The scariest I have seen so far are the tweets from the English Defence League calling the people of London to take to the streets to hunt ‘them’ down. This was the work of two deranged men acting in a way that is not deemed acceptable by any establishment or religion, and I worry for my country if that is how some people see this. There are countless articles on the horrible messages left by people after this attack, so I thought I would instead gather some of my favourite positive messages that remind people that attacks such as these are not the fault of a religion, but of the people who hide their horrific and cowardly actions under the label of one.

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RIP Margaret Thatcher

I am in no way qualified to talk about Margaret Thatcher’s policies and their effect on this country, having been born 3 years after her exit from office, and having never studied them in detail. I am all too aware (just from looking at my Twitter and Facebook feeds) that they divide opinion hugely.

However I think it appropriate today to pay tribute to an undoubtedly impressive woman. She obtained the highest post in the country, held it for the longest time, changed Britain’s political landscape, and she did all of this without ever compromising her dignity as a woman.The calibre of those paying tribute to Thatcher in the past few hours shows just how influential she was: Obama, Medvedev, the Queen and countless British politicians (of the Right and Left) have commented on her death, describing (I think most poignantly) how she proved to women in politics and in Britain that “there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered” (Obama). Whatever your politics I think this message is probably the most important to take away from Thatcher’s legacy. She proved that a woman was capable of holding any position, and could inspire a generation, a country and the world with her strength and conviction. 

I would also like to say that those rejoicing, cheering, or celebrating Thatcher’s death are essentially celebrating an old woman dying from a stroke. I find this really quite horrific and disrespectful. No matter what your opinion of a person I cannot imagine celebrating a death. It is a sad moment for many people and should be treated with due respect and tact. There is a time and a place to discuss the policies of a past PM, but that is not on the day of their death, 20 years after they exited politics. 

Until I have studied and formed my own opinions on Thatcher’s policies, I will remember her as a pioneer for women in politics, our first (and hopefully not only) female PM, and a strong and determined woman. 

RIP Margaret Thatcher, 13 October 1925 – 8 April 2013.

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I’m an Emergent Service Worker… Apparently

I took the BBC’s new ‘Class Calculator’ test and apparently I fall into the Emergent Service Worker class. I have no idea what this means, and I think I know why. I would have put myself at the higher end of the scale – I live in a nice house, go to a good University, I went to a private secondary school, and had a very upper-middle class upbringing. But the test has reminded me that all of this was the product of my parent’s hard work, not mine. I don’t own the house I live in, the government is paying upfront for my University education, and my parents help me with living costs. It is interesting to see that the first questions asked by the class calculator concern matters that most students and young people cannot relate to. We don’t really have a household income, and I know very few students with significant personal savings. In fact the test seems to exclude young people from its calculations all together, with the youngest average age of any group being 34.

However, I think this is probably a very good thing. Our society is obsessed with class – where you come from, what school you went to, what your parents do – all of this seems to factor into our valuing of a person. And even more so we seem to be obsessed with labelling these classes – I cannot tell you the number of times I have been called ‘posh’ because of my West London accent. What this new class calculator shows is that the concept of ‘class’ is much more complicated in an age of greater social mobility and indeed greater social integration. University is a prime example of this new phenomenon – thousands of young people from hugely different backgrounds concentrated in a place whose aim is to broaden their minds and encourage the forming of life-long friendships based on common interests, not common backgrounds. The fact that young people and students don’t naturally fit into the BBC’s definitions of class gives me a sense of hope that my generation will be even less concerned about class as a defining, and often divisive, factor. It also suggests that the potential success of young people cannot and should not be limited by social class, a fact that I find hugely refreshing considering our obsession with categorising people at the earliest opportunity. So have a go at the test and see what class you are put in, and whether you agree with the results!

You can take the class test here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22000973

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