guard

My Latest Project: Criminal Movie Reviews

A few months ago I had a brilliant idea. I was looking for something new to work on, online. It came to me suddenly, and I knew I had a winning idea:

I wanted to write movie reviews and mix them with criminology.

As you may know, I’m a huge movie buff and a student in criminology. My master thesis is on science fiction movies and stuff. And above all that, I definitely needed the practice in analyzing and writing about movies for.

So, I founded Criminal Movie Reviews and started writing reviews and some other articles. I love it. I am extremely excited and passionate about!

As I’ve put it on the CMR website:

What makes Criminal Movie Reviews special? CMR tries to mix movie and criminology; it offers general reviews of movies that have some crime aspect, and then deepens the review with a discussion of those aspects from a criminological point of view. CMR is run by Manon de Reeper. She is currently working on her thesis, in which she analyses how crime, law enforcement and punishment are discussed in dystopian science fiction movies.

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I’ve already posted reviews of THX 1138, Olympus Has Fallen and Side Effects, and others. I don’t just review new movies either, I also do older (or just old) movies, because there’s still so much interesting to be said about many of them from the criminological point of view.

Please check it out if you want, and I’d be eternally grateful if you’d share it on your social media/blog, whatever!  Please also like it on facebook and follow CMR on Twitter :D

Yay :D

Source: ellzalmighty @Flickr

How to Become a Your Own Story Idea Generator

I’m currently working on Spring of Spirits and my thesis. The fiction is suffering a little under all the work I have to do for my thesis, especially since the thesis costs so much (creative) energy already!

What frustrates me is that I’m still coming up with good ideas for stories. Usually, they just pop up in my head, and I’m like O_O Manon, that is brilliant! And then I’m totally, 100% frustrated with myself for being stuck, writing the other stuff. I feel a hint of the fresh air of a new story, but… I can’t. I shouldn’t. I should finish what I’m working on now, first.

Source: ellzalmighty @Flickr
Source: ellzalmighty @Flickr

So when I think of something cool, I make sure to write this down as quick as I can so I don’t forget, and store them all in an “ideas” doc. I call it my secret pot of gold.

I know some have more trouble to find what to write about. The following is a list of a few things where I usually get my ideas from, and could maybe help you too.

 

1. Watch Movies and TV shows

Yesterday, I was watching an episode of Castle. A certain element of that episode really appealed to me – and I thought… “what if I would combine that with a different genre?” and BAM! There was another golden idea. Just out of nowhere!

When you’re watching a movie or an episode of a good TV show, allow yourself to dream a little about where you would take the story, or about a specific character, what places he could go… Or take a specific element of it, maybe something you’re not used to working with usually and just think about all the things you could do in the genre (e.g. I don’t write crime novels, so I tend to dream about what I could do with such stories and how to implement that in sci-fi). What also helps is mixing movies: what if The Matrix happened in the Alice in Wonderland world? Or what if the Batman movies were set in a post-war fifties era? Change the scenery around.

Well fuck, I am getting more and more ideas as I’m writing this.

 

2. Travel

A bit more expensive than watching a movie or tv show, but traveling often does the trick for me. I am greatly inspired by traveling to foreign places and taking in the scenery. I based a story in Venice after I travelled there, for instance. I was also very much inspired by Egypt, and got more than one idea during and after my time there. Be creative, and again, during your brainstorm/daydream sessions, don’t hesitate about mixing genres. That usually takes the originality of the idea up a notch, too. Don’t let yourself be bound by norms or set notions about what your story should be about or like.

Source: CubaGallery @Flickr
Source: CubaGallery @Flickr

If you don’t have the liberty to travel, watch documentaries about countries, or do research about a country. Infuse yourself with it. Use Google Earth. Go places digitally. I haven’t been to India, but my current story is set there. What also helps is to find and connect with people from the country you haven’t been to so they may help you get some of the cultural aspects right.

Also, the places you travel don’t have to be as exotic as the couple I just mentioned. You can be inspired by a small town near to you. Just open your mind to it!

 

3. Use Other Story Material and the News

Someone once said that the best story ideas are usually stolen from other, older stories. The Hunger Games for instance? I bet Suzanne Collins watched the Japanese Battle Royale when she got that idea. There are many examples of immensely popular stories that are a lot like other stories. Every kind of story can inspire ideas. Or watch the news – there’s enough crazy going on in the world to produce some idea (and here, the same counts – don’t be afraid to inject some fantastical element into this).

Be sure to deviate from the source material though. You don’t want to make it too obvious that you “stole” your story idea. Add or detract elements, add some spice to it. Change the characters around. Use other perspectives. You know what I mean. You don’t want to plagiarise, you just want to be inspired.

 

4. Daydream

My final and golden tip… Daydream. Daydream a lot. Just let your mind wander for a bit every day. I know it can be hard because it needs a certain level of relaxation, and I know our contemporary lives are hella stressful. But I know you have to commute to your job, or ride your bike to college. I’ve found that traveling to places are usually the best times to daydream, and I’ve gotten many ideas while riding my bike. Just let your mind wander about the things I mentioned above, and you’ll get ideas soon enough!

Let yourself be inspired by the landscapes you pass as well, even if you’ve already seen them a million times before. If you see a small cabin on a field, just think about what could happen there. Or if you see a certain shady looking car – what’s its story? I drove by a large industrial area a few weeks back by night…

Source: Gerard Mengerink @ Flickr
Source: Gerard Mengerink @ Flickr

How inspiring is that view? I got quite a few ideas since I had just read Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker.

Writing down your dreams is another good one too, though I usually forget my dreams fairly fast, and I’m usually too groggy and cranky to write my dreams down in the morning. But for some people it helps to get story ideas, so maybe that’s something you could try, too!

 

I hope these tips will get your idea generating juices going! If you have some other tips to share, please do so in the comments. :)

duolingo

Procrastination Top 3: May Edition

I am a procrastination professional. It’s a skill developed and nurtured over many years. That’s why wou should trust my expertise in this: I am a procrastination rock star.

So today I bring you the very first Procrastination Top 3! I hope you enjoy, and let me know if you successfully procrastinated, and what you should have been doing instead.

 

#3 Instagram

instagramIf you don’t have an instagram account yet, go get it. It’s addictive, fun, and great to see pics from all over the world, on any topic that you fancy. It’s also awesome to make pics and share them with strangers. Oh, and don’t forget to add tags to your pics! I can spend hours exploring instagram pics.

While you’re at it – don’t forget to add me!

 

#2 My Cocktail Bar (Free App)

unnamedIf you’re into cocktails like I am, get this app. Currently it’s only available for Android (who cares about iPhones anyways!). It’s an awesome app: you fill in all products you have at the moment, and this app will show you which cocktails you can make. Have some limes in the fridge? Some old vodka in the back of a cabinet? Grenadine? This app will tell you what to make. It will also tell you what ingredients you’re still missing to make other cocktails with the stuff you have right now. I feel very inspired to get every type of liquor out there, now.

Must. Not. Go. To. Store… I have other things to do! Or maybe I should go…….

There’s also a paid version of this app, but the free one will do just fine.

 

#1 Duolingo.com

Great way to procrastinate but still learn something: Duolingo.com is a website on which you can learn languages, game-style. With every lesson you complete, you’ll score points, so you can compete with friends (or total strangers). Even though sometimes the grammar isn’t explained so well, if you score a hundred points every day, you will be able to tell your skill is improving! Mi Español es mejor cada día!

duolingo

Currently, you can only study Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese and French at Duolingo. Of course, there are some down points, too: the “mother tongue” is always English, and the grammar, for as far as I can tell, isn’t always very clearly explained. But those are just some minor quibbles, and I’m sure at least the latter will be improved.

The Duolingo iPhone app is already available, and the Android app (highly anticipated here) will be made available May 29th (almost! \o/).

 

So I hope you’ll successfully procrastinate with these three options – right now, what I should have been doing instead was reading articles and books for my thesis, but instead I wrote this blog post. Procrastination: mission accomplished.

How to Write Academic Papers Like A Boss

Over the past few years I have written many, many academic papers. I think with all the practice, I can finally say I really know how to write one. Today, I’m going to tell you how to write an academic paper (or article) like a boss. Writing a paper is all about the preparation. It doesn’t matter what kind of piece you’re writing – a review, an essay, a research report, thesis, dissertation – proper preparation will help you write the thing in a jiffy.

Academic_Life_by_Ennokni

Preparation

 

Preparation #1: Look for Good Sources

Start with searching for good sources for your paper. Not only is the actual content important, also make sure to look for sources that show you how to write an article such as the one you will be writing. It will give you an idea of what to include (and perhaps even more important: what not to include). Don’t read them just yet, just scan them.

Preparation #2: Create an Outline

What I usually do is, after I’ve checked out source material, is create chapter and paragraph headings in the order I want to write them. Note: at this stage, this is not set in stone at all – if during the writing you feel you need to change the order around or that you’re not happy with some of the paragraphs or chapters, don’t hesitate to ditch them. This is an outline – a guideline, not a rule. What is especially important is that – for most papers and articles, you include the following:

  • introduction
    • introduction of the topic
    • your research question
    • an outline of the contents of the rest of the paper
  • middle
    • further introduction and outlining of the topic
    • your arguments
    • research results
    • methodology
    • theory
    • et cetera
  • conclusion
    • a short summary of the introduction and middle
    • your conclusion
    • very important, something you should never forget: a concise answer to the research question you posed in the intro
    • a final thought or comment or recommendation to end the paper
  • sources

Fill in this outline to your needs, and you’ll have a great guideline while writing later on.

Preparation #3: Do the Reading & Researching

Read all the things! Read your articles, books, and all the other sources you gathered. Make notes, mark passages. This can be a lot of work, especially with thick, wordy books. If you need a little help on how to get through this quickly, read this blog post: “How to Gut a Book“. Also, while you’re working through these sources, jot down the references (name(s) of author(s) and year) beneath each paragraph/chapter in your outline so you know which sources to use when. Also, if you haven’t started it already, this is the stage you’ll have to start your research.

Academic

Writing

 

Writing #1: Go!

Start writing. It doesn’t matter what part you start with, since you already have your guideline. To get the writing juices flowing, I usually start with the part that interests me the most – once you’re writing, the rest usually comes more easily too.

Writing #2: Keep Your Personal Opinion Close, But Your Sources Closer

Arguments for and against your statement

Yes, a personal opinion is important. But whomever will be grading your paper will not be overly impressed if that’s all you use to build your argument. While you shouldn’t be afraid to state your own opinion, make sure to use – good – sources to support your argument. However, if you want to sound like an academic professional, avoid pronouns – some teachers/professors don’t mind if you use them but I’ve been hit on the nose for it too many times to not get nervous of the pronouns – hurray for conditioning! Don’t just use sources that support your argument! Search for sources that don’t agree with your statement, and do your best to counter their arguments – also with the help of other sources. Keep in mind that the phrases “on the one hand (-> your argument)” and “on the other hand (-> an argument that counters your that you’ll counter)” are praise-worthy to many a professor.

Writing #3: Keep Track of Sources

What has always helped me greatly to save time is to keep track of my references during writing, especially when I use a big pile of sources. So whenever you jot down an in-text reference, make sure you type out the entire source in your sources section after the end of your paper. This is something you’ll want to accustom yourself to, because there’s nothing professors like less than plagiarism, even if you didn’t intend it to be plagiarism. It’ll cost you points, trust me. No matter what kind of reference style you use (I’ve always used APA), make sure you get the style right. I’ve never actually had points deducted for it myself, but former fellow students of mine have: they just didn’t italicize a title or journal name, or forgot a period somewhere. Don’t just depend on the reference generators you can find online either – I’ve found they make too many mistakes (and I know because I know about every APA rule by heart).

Academic

Editing

 

Editing #1: The Big Picture

Read the entire thing through. Check the order of your paragraphs – is it logical? If not, change it around. Are your arguments decent and convincing? Have you presented enough for/against arguments? Have you answered your research question properly? Have you fulfilled all of your professor’s requirements for this assignment? Make sure your big picture is right, that you’ve covered everything you wanted to cover. If not, get back to writing.

Editing #2: Copy-edits & Grammar

One of the most useful tools I’ve ever used in my entire academic career is Paperrater.com. This little tool gives you so much more info than your average document processing software. You can select the type of paper you’re writing, the academic level you’re at, and it will generate info on how you scored on grammar, vocab use, transitional words use, spelling, and will even grade all this. I wrote a review about this great tool – you can read it here. I personally never settle for anything less than an A.

Editing #3: Sources, sources, sources

Yes, more about sources. It’s important, people! Check one final time if your in-text references are all decently presented, and that your list of sources is perfect. Look closely – I usually pick out a few tiny mistakes (i.e. I used a comma instead of a period, or I forgot to italicize something). It’s a hateful job, but it needs to be done.

 

Final Round of Perfectionism

If you’re a perfectionist like I am, your last bit of work on your paper will pertain to the physical looks of your paper. Give your paper a nice layout, don’t use Comic Sans but use a font that’s plain and easy to read, make sure you have a shiny, yet professional looking title page and don’t forget page numbers. Or your name. Or the date. Or the number of words, if your professor requires it. Usually font size 12 and line spacing of 1,5 and  is required. Justify the text – it looks nicer and less chaotic. And don’t forget to indent the first sentences of paragraphs.

 

A Last Tip: Use Google Drive

I have one final tip for you: USE GOOGLE DRIVE. It saves your document every few seconds, which is a blessing. I have lost much work because a pc crashed (which luckily is a little less common these days, but you can never be too careful), or because I accidentally closed Word (I get twitchy fingers after hours of working), or just because I was hungry, got distracted, closed my laptop and it went to sleep on its own, and destroyed all my work in the process. Loss of work looms around every corner, seriously. The only thing with Drive is that it doesn’t allow for many layout options, so to make it look nice I usually download the doc when I’m done, pimp it in Word and save the completed work as PDF (and upload it back on Drive to back it up). It’s a bit more work, but a lot less than if you’d lose your work.

Also, many universities and colleges require you to work on group assignments – this is also where Drive comes in really handily. Nothing is more annoying than working on a Word document, having to send it around, downloading new docs again with tiny edits, and then eventually have someone hand in an old version by accident (it happened to me before). In Drive, you can work with a group of people on one doc, it even has a chat, it keeps track of edits, and you can use comments in the text to highlight and make a note to tell people to change it around. It works splendidly. It made my life so much easier when I was working on my bachelor thesis. So, just do it.

 

That’s all I have for now! I hope this helps you – now go write that paper, you can do it! If you have any more tips and ideas for my readers, please feel free to share in the comments. Questions are also always welcome :).

Sleep Dealer

Science Fiction & Criminology

You may have noticed that I have been somewhat absent the past few weeks – lo siento! I have been insanely busy with writing the last few papers for my Master’s. I’m done, now, though! Finally.

As I shared a while back, I handed in my Master’s thesis proposal. My supervisor was excited and enthusiastic about my proposed research! While writing those last few papers I got more and more anxious to get started.

To refresh your memory (or to enlighten you, if you’ve been confused by my recent tweets :p), I am currently researching dystopian science fiction movies. Most people who I tell arch their brows at me, confused about how I could possibly mix that with criminology. Let me tell you.

Science Fiction
Gattaca

I am looking into how dystopian science fiction movies discuss “formal social control”, that is every kind of control exerted by the authorities (either in classical government form or, as is sometimes depicted in sci-fi, the corporation who plays a governmental role), often in the shape of law enforcement. Not only am I looking at law enforcement, though. Control also includes punishment, so any kind of prison system or punishment modality, and crime risk management. Additionally, I’m looking at how certain scientific technological developments are portrayed in science fiction, but only tech development that is related to social control (such as the use of eye-scanners and DNA profiles for identification).

Society and Movies are Linked

The theory, among some cultural and popular criminologists is that film and society are linked inherently. Sociologists have often thought that movie only portrays “real life”, and so often for crime films, in analysis, people wondered how accurate the depiction of reality was. According to for instance Rafter (2006/2011) is that it’s not important how accurate it is: she says that film is influenced by reality, but that reality is also influenced by film – it’s going both ways (her example, for instance, is John Dillinger’s fascination for movies).

With my research I hope to shed light on what kind of developments have taken place in late modernity (approximately from the 1970′s to now), and how this has influenced formal social control. Science fiction movies are as much a depiction of a possible future as well as social criticism on society today.

The Movies

I will be watching about 40 science fiction movies in the next month, among which In Time (2011), Blade Runner (1982), Soylent Green (1973) – in the law enforcement category, A Clockwork Orange (1971), Children of Men (2006), The Running Man (1987) in the punishment modalities category, Banlieu 13 (2004), District 9 (2009) and Battle Royale (2000) in the crime risk management category, Gattaca (1997), Sleep Dealer (2008) and Strange Days (1995) in the scientific development category. I’ve already seen quite few, though, but I’m also seeing lots of new (to me) movies.

Science Fiction
Sleep Dealer

I’m very excited that I can combine my love for science fiction and film with my academic field! I’m very daunted about having to write a coherent, cogent thesis on the matter though. Nevertheless, I don’t think anyone has ever had as much fun writing a thesis as I have, lol.

What are your favorite dystopian science fiction films? What do you think of the capability of sci-fi to deliver social criticism?

Unwind: Could Retroactive Abortion Work?

Recently I researched Neal Shusterman’s novel titled Unwind, and in particular, the concept of restroactive abortion for harvesting organs.

I critically assessed whether this concept could be a solution for the worldwide shortage of donated organs. Current solutions that are offered at the moment are the concept of “presumed consent”, where the state assumes you will donate your organs at death, unless you have explicitly stated otherwise. This is only used in a few countries in Europe, but other countries are considering adopting this policy as well.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Unwind takes place in a near future United States of America, after a Second Civil War has taken place, fought over abortion. The pro-Unwindchoice and pro-life groups reached a compromise: a constitutional amendment, the Bill of Life, was passed and from then on, parents would be allowed to sign an order for their children between 13 and 18 to be “unwound”. These children are aborted retroactively, taken to “harvest camps”, where their body parts are harvested. The only condition to the Bill of Life was that the lives of these children don’t “technically” end: because all useful body parts are (required to be) taken and reused, the groups reasoned that the children are (technically) not dead, because the individual body parts live on. This is called the “divided state”. The story takes place many years after the Bill of Life was passed and the practice of unwinding is then common and accepted.

As the term suggests, retroactive abortion means abortion after birth, for the sole purpose of organ harvesting, and for the parents to rid themselves (and society) of children that in their eyes are unmanageable. In Unwind, every one child in 2,000 is unwound each year.

A great alternative… or not? Pros and cons(equences)

Retroactive abortion would go great lengths in solving the problem of the organ shortage. On average in the U.S.A., 100,000 people are waiting for an organ, however, only 30,000 transplants are performed each year, and 6,000 Americans die per year while waiting for a transplant. Currently, there are about 35 million children between 13 and 18 years old in the United States (United States Census Bureau, 2011). If the Bill of Life were to be passed today, every year, 0.0005% (1 in 2000) of all children between 13 and 18 years old would be unwound, resulting in 17,500 full-body donations. With every unwound body, multiple patients could receive viable organs, if each Unwind would provide for only five of 21 transplantable organs, the waiting list could be cleared in merely a year.

However, the problems retroactive abortion could cause are serious as well. It seems fairly unimaginable that any pro-life group would agree to abortion of any kind, even by rationalizing that “technically” the soul lives on as the separate body parts live on in the “divided state”. In the novel, the main character is an Unwind who escaped the government on the eve of his arrest (and becomes an AWOL Unwind, absent without leave, as they’re called). There are many of these AWOL Unwinds: shadow people, hunted by the state. Out of necessity, they steal food and other materials and have to defend themselves with violence. The children are never asked their consent for unwinding, and most of them would not agree to it. The disregard to free will in this is quite astounding, the children are left no choice whatsoever, as they are taken away from their homes by bulky officers of the National Juvenile Authority, with force if necessary.

Additionally, resistance groups have come into existence. These groups are strongly against the notion of unwinding. Some of the se groups’ members are turned into “clappers” – they are injected with an unstable chemical substance. At the target location, e.g. harvest camps, all they need do is clap their hands and they explode, they are suicide bombers. There are also resistance groups who do not use violence like the clappers, instead, they rally the AWOLs and bring them to a safe haven where they can hide until they are 18 years old and can no longer be unwound. It is realistic to imagine that crime and violence would increase after a law such as the Bill of Life were passed, even if most of it isn’t visible “on the surface” for most of society.

Another serious problem retroactive abortion poses, however, is the carelessness with the plenty organs and body parts. The masses in Unwind have become used to the notion of retroactive abortion and the abundance of organs. Resistance as mentioned early is actually exceptional – generally, people no longer feel any moral objection to using organs and body parts freely. For instance, eyes are transplanted as fashion statements, or, if an arm is damaged severely in an accident, the entire arm is replaced as to avoid the hassle of reparative surgery. The general carelessness of people about the body parts harvested from the children is actually something that is seen in reality, albeit to a lesser extent, as well. Scheper-Hughes’ (2003)  illustration is painful:

“Dr B. Clemente, Medical Director of Capitol Medical Center in Manila, saw no conict in advertising to foreigners (especially to patients from the USA and Canada) the availability of modern transplant services at her modest hospital and of fresh kidneys procured from local donors for whom (she said) ‘a few hundred dollars or even a large sack of rice is payment enough’.” 

The body part has become a commodity, it has become a good to be traded, with which relatively rich Western buyers can save their or their beloved’s lives and relatively poor Third World sellers can pay off their debts or satisfy their need for monetary gain. In this sense, this trend could eventually lead to extremities as seen in Unwind, however unlikely it would seem.

Organs for Sale

To conclude

Ultimately, retroactive abortion would most likely not be accepted worldwide. Although in the U.S.A. alone retroactive abortion would save at least 6,000 lives a year because people no longer have to wait to receive a replacement organ, instead, nearly three times as many youngsters would be lost per year. If retroactive abortion is not a practical solution, and presumed consent is not either in certain parts in the world, all possible alternatives need to be considered that could satisfy cultural and religious demands to solve the organ shortage and prevent further extremities such as organ theft, trafficking and harvesting without consent.

 

Have you ever considered the worldwide shortage of organs? 

I love science fiction books that go into our real world problems. What other sci-fi’s have you read (or seen) that deal with current problems?