This is what I’ve been doing for the past week, preparing for my Sociology exam (3 essays in 2 hours):

Despite the an-essay-a-day routine in the week leading up to the most dreaded SC2210 exam on Tuesday (24/11/09), my writing still left much to be desired. Maybe it’s because I was required to churn out 3 essays instead of the 1 that I was used to, in JC. For GP, we had an hour and a half to write a properly thought-out essay that you could spare maybe the last 20 minutes editing. But the SC2210 paper was like a Human Geog essay, where I was scribbling so furiously my hands cramped up pretty badly. Not fun. Really, it took away all the fun of writing an essay. Plus, I noticed the length of my essays gradually got shorter and shorter. I was so drained by the end of it. Maybe I’ve fallen out of the essay-writing momentum. Writing Geog essays is good training. Makes you hardier, because you’ve endured the agony, the hardship. Builds up your mental stamina … that falls to bits after a year of slacking.

But the Philo and New Media exams were MCQ, and so is English (this coming Monday), which gave me some breathing space. After the rigour of the JC curriculum, uni feels like a huge relief (apart from the tiresome projects). For now, at least. I don’t want to jinx the coming semesters.

Anyway, I’ve decided to put off Mint for now and focus on Patches of Blue Sky (need to change title soon!), because Mint doesn’t seem to have much of a solid plot despite my upbeat note not too long ago about the summary-equals-strong-foundation bullshit. It wasn’t quite as painful as I’d expected it to be, probably because I’ve neglected it for so long (thanks to schoolwork) that I was practically detached from my characters.

Still, good news is, Patches is taking shape very nicely. There’s a proper pacing thanks to an element I’ve decided to incorporate, and the words flow relatively easily (for now – not about to jinx anything!), more easily than for Bedful of Moonlight, almost as easily as When the Lilies Turn Orange. Yiruma’s music is a drug, is all I can say.

Triv told me she’d read a couple of my ‘stories’ that I’d written prior to my first proper novel, Lilies. The word is in inverted commas because, as aforementioned, I don’t regard anything I’ve written before Lilies a proper, publishable story that I’m particularly proud of. So she read High Grounds – which I wrote when I was 15 – and said she could see the improvement from that to my subsequent novels, which is one thing good that came out of it, I suppose. Writing High Grounds was actually fun, despite the many cringe-worthy bits. I enjoyed creating the drama, weaving the romance and spinning the catty betrayals. But in retrospect, it is too run-of-the-mill teen series, very OC-ish, The Clique-ish in my book and very 90210-ish in Triv’s (I don’t watch that show, so I don’t know). Still, when I was writing that, I didn’t have being published in mind, because then, I was still under the impression that you needed lots of money for start-up fee to get published: paying the literary agents, the editors, etc. So I was writing that purely for my own enjoyment.

But later, after writing Lilies, I decided I wanted an audience, or at least some people to tell me how they felt when they read my story. So I researched more on publishing, and found out – whaddya know – you don’t need any start-up fee, just loads of dedication, perseverance, a tough hide and a willingness to learn – and, of course, the discipline to actually crank out those words.

That’s what NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is all about, isn’t it? I did think of taking part in it this year, but because November is a hectic month for those in uni, I didn’t have the time to embark on the 50k marathon (the idea is to write a 50,000-word novel in a month – that, as they say, involves lots of caffeine).

But that’s okay. I’m not the type who forces myself to stare at the computer screen till my eyes bleed, just so I can write the 5 pages I tell myself to write everyday. Some days the words just get the better of you, and some days you can grasp them in your palm. Ultimately, the writer is the one in absolute control of the way his or her novel turns out. And the best thing is, there are so many possibilities. That’s scary, in a way, but also what makes creative writing so exciting. I realised it’s the only – well, one of the only few – things that actually makes me feel like life is worth living. Some people work hard for the money, for the designer Coach wallets, for the photos of them clubbing that they can stick on Facebook and have everyone comment on it. Others prefer staying at home, Yiruma replaying on the stereo, and creating a world that is entirely their own.

Guess that is the main reason why I am, to quote Chooyan, ‘so single I don’t even have a has-been’, ‘as evergreen (a term uni people fancy when referring to themselves or others who have been single since forever) as Bukit Timah Reserve’.

I’m in my Philosophy lecture now. The number of people turning up for lecture seems to be dwindling week by week. Well. Apart from one reason that I won’t mention here, the other is that there’s webcast for it, so that’s probably why some people don’t really see the need to turn up for it physically.

Anyway, I just had my Sociology of Pop Culture tutorial, where we discussed pop culture icons in representing gender and ethnicity. It was rewarding, to say the least. For our Sociology tutorial, we generally just sit in a classroom and then take turns proposing an idea each, with the tutor starting the ball rolling. He gave Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a representation of Asian American masculine figures. Some others proposed the idea of a shift towards androgyny in fashion trends (eg, boyfriend blazers and jeans, etc), as well as a move towards curveless models. Someone else talked about Barbie dolls as a representation of the ideal female, with her Kelly doll, so she’s seen as a mother figure, whereas Ken doll drives a car and looks cool and often isn’t sold with the Kelly doll, so it seems as though he doesn’t have any responsibilities. Which is a really cool way of looking at it. The whole Barbie, Ken and Kelly doll package also represents the traditional family with heterosexual parents. And lately, Barbie has been modified to look like a real woman, and other forms of Barbie have also been created to encompass other ethnicities.

I talked about Disney’s princesses, like Jasmine and Snow White. There wasn’t enough time to talk about Ariel, because I also talked about Victoria’s Secret Angels. ‘Angels’ – deification of women by males in a male-driven industry (backstage crew is mostly comprised of males). The Angels pander to male fetishes, the male gaze, but also send out messages of female empowerment because they have curves (eg, Doutzen Kroes, one of my favourite models) and are tanned, toned and strong (eg, Alessandra Ambrosio). Lately, though, VS is moving towards skinnier models like Miranda Kerr (only like her face, but not her body, because it’s so skinny I feel awkward for her when I look at her). I don’t like this trend. VS models are the only models I like, because they look strong yet feminine. Why feature skinny minnies like Miranda Kerr when we already have (way too many) catalogue models like Chanel Iman and Kate Moss? So what does this all say about the male gaze? And the heightened female consciousness of that male gaze? Why are we so conscious of how we look, as compared to guys, who just pull on a polo shirt and berms and are so secure in their skin? Male ego is one thing, but I think women are still inherently dependent on men, so they still see having a soulmate as their ultimate goal for security in life. Males are more financially and physically independent, so they don’t care for that as much as women do.

For Jasmine, she’s one of the sexiest Disney princesses, and on YouTube, I see how guys slobber over her. So even if she’s in her ethnic costume, her outfit is sexually suggestive. Plus, even though she fends off Jafar’s advances throughout the show, she ends up using her feminine wiles to distract him so that Aladdin can save the day. She also, despite being Oriental, has Western ideas of freedom and Aladdin is therefore the person who represents adventure and escapism, and she ends up running off with him and ignores her father’s wishes of arranged marriage.

Snow White is constantly pining for her damn prince, wishing he’d sweep her off in his white horse and save her. She does end up being saved by him too, as does Sleeping Beauty, so does that suggest that women are the weaker sex and can only be saved ultimately by men? Plus, Snow White offers to do the domestic chores for the 7 short little men so that she can stay with them, because them 7 little guys, being guys, are portrayed as being unable to clean up after themselves and shouldn’t be bothered with it, since the male duty is to go out and work (in the mines, in the dwarves’ case) and then come home and have dinner ready for them. And her beauty, demureness and domesticity even wins over Grumpy.

And then someone else talked about magazines like Cleo and 17, and how it defined the feminine identity, etc etc. And someone else mentioned gay culture and pointed out how it’s not so in the closet anymore, and how butches in girls’ schools are idolised, while effeminate guys get their asses kicked in boys’ schools as the ass-kickers assert their masculinity, etc etc. Other magazine examples include T3, some cars and girls magazines for guys. Someone said the girls have absolutely nothing to do for the cars, but the tutor suggested the power of the cars is translated into a (phallic) power to attain the girls. Okay, so there is a link after all, if you put it that way. Objectification of women is still a prevalent practice now – jeez, guys.

And then there was the James Bond example, where the women are given horribly degrading names like Octopussy (my lips curl in disgust). But a reversal of roles is observed, when Halle Berry in Die Another Day was the one in a bikini (or, as Ris Low says, ‘bigini’) coming out of the water, it is now Daniel Craig coming out of the water in his tighties in Casino Royale.

Sex and the City was mentioned too, as was Desperate Housewives, and it was pointed out how that triggered and fuelled the trend of ‘cougarism’. Sarah Jessica Parker’s character, Carrie Bradshaw, was the one who dreamt about marrying Mr Big – thereby reinforcing the idea of marriage as something that completes a woman, as the ultimate goal that women should strive towards – while Kim Cattrall’s character, Samantha Jones, was the cougar who spied on her neighbour changing. Desperate Housewives promotes promiscuity, because of the proliferate affairs – clandestine or otherwise so – throughout the show.

And then we moved on to talking about the representation of women by the media. There were only 4 guys in our class, so it sort of felt like a women’s book group when we talked about the model issue and how they are becoming skinnier, etc. While curves were celebrated in the past (see Brigitte Bardot, Marilyn Monroe, etc), thin is in now, as seen by examples like Chanel Iman (go google her if you don’t know who she is), Jessica Stam and Agyness Deyn. I like Doutzen Kroes because she’s got an angelic face, but womanly curves. Her beauty is breath-taking. Oh, and am I the only who thinks she kinda resembles Carolyn Murphy?

We talked about a lot more, like Buffy and Grey’s Anatomy, The OC, Gossip Girl, Britney Spears and Madonna, etc. It’s so cool how we get to talk about that and analyse all these pop culture icons for school.

SC2210: Sociology of Pop Culture
Forum Topic 4:

Q: Post modern pop is perhaps best manifested through the cut n paste culture of the DJ who reassembles and reproduces, instead of assembling and producing. If pop culture is essentially in the realm of the postmodern, how does it reflect on the society that consumes postmodernism? Are we looking at the greater acceptance of hybridity, diversity and dissonance on an increasingly more cynically informed populace?

A: Considering how pervasive pop culture has proven to be in our lives now, I would say there is a greater acceptance of this ‘cut-and-paste’ culture. Not necessarily because we like it; rather, it might be due to an ingrained mentality, a notion that this sort of culture is the norm and there is nothing wrong with reproducing (or repackaging) old ideas into new, shinier ones. Indeed, we of the MTV generation have been brought up to believe this is innovation, this is creativity and imagination. We might be wrong – this may actually be the dearth of creativity – but we won’t know that. After all, many hail Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup Cans as the movement to usher in the new era of pop art, lauding him as an avant-garde artist who satirised our culture of consumerism. Yet, others question his credibility as a true artist, because all he did was portray an old item (one that’s been around for some time) in a new way.

Therefore, I don’t think it’s a greater acceptance of hybridisation in our society (although it could be seen that way too, to a certain extent), but more of the formation of a social axiom. Mix-and-match has become a new way of life for the new generation.

I’m just going to talk about the synonymy of pop culture and low culture from a man-on-the-street perspective, not as someone studying Sociology of Pop Culture, all right. Don’t quote me on anything.

So the (past semester exam) question is: to what extent is pop culture synonymous with low culture? We’re supposed to explain with regard to “mass society” and “progressive evolution” theories, but I’m not going to pretend like I know a hell lot about all that, so I’ll just say whatever I have to say regarding this.

Based on what I know, low culture is the sort that panders to the general audience, the Philistines, to use a derogatory term. It’s mainstream culture. My kind of culture. Because, really, who doesn’t like pop culture? Who doesn’t like infectious hits like ‘Love Games’ by Lady Gaga, or the easy singalongs by Taylor Swift? Who doesn’t enjoy action-packed movies with cars exploding and hot bods splayed everywhere? It’s POPULAR culture for a reason.

But for some reason, that said culture is now given a rather unkind name. Just because it is generally accepted by the middle class, it has become something to turn up your nose at? In terms of film, are the only ones worth watching the international ones or the Oscar-worthy ones like Revolutionary Road? Entertainment used to be Shakespeare, until the elites decided to act like the snobs they are and close it off to the general public or those who are unable to adhere to more restrictive code of conduct. Now, Shakespeare has become high culture. To think Shakespeare used to be pop culture! Maybe that’s one way in which pop culture is linked to low culture. Because of how palatable something is, it becomes known as pop culture. But because of how generally popular it has become, the elites decide that this is below them, and denounce it low culture. Maybe everything started off as high culture in the first place. For example, not many people liked indie films when it first took to the silver screen. It just seemed too stagnant, where characters went about their business in life and then went on an INCREDIBLE road to self-discovery blah blah blah. Now, though, shows like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Little Miss Sunshine (what’s with the sunshine theme?) win critical acclaim.

So who’s to say pop music is low culture?

I’m actually suffering from a brain-block at the moment. It’s a result of a long, long lapse in studying. My above argument (more like a rant – it has no structure WHATSOEVER, much less both sides of the coin, which guarantees a fail in jc) doesn’t only make no sense; it also doesn’t really answer the question.

I’d delete this post and go on with the self-flagellation in private, but I want to publish this for posterity’s sake. I’m tempted to say I’m not cut out for this (I’ve always viewed my place in uni with no little amount of scepticism), but it’s early days yet and I have to keep my spirits up. Or I’d just go nuts later on.