Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Auld Lang Syne

I apologize for the utter lack in posts here in December. I've been working and inordinate amount, but when I've had time to post, I haven't felt up to it. The truth of the matter is that there's a lot going on, but nothing I can talk about publicly and has little to do with the content of this blog as well. Some of it involves silly little things that aren't worth the time to write about. Some of it involves stories that aren't mine to tell. Much of it are the sorts of things that some bloggers could write about and not worry about who reads it, but I can't do that. I adhere to a sort of public-private split here and know better now than I did before to not divulge too much into personal stories that could involve people who might be reading this blog. And some things I don't feel comfortable writing about, not at all. I can hardly admit them to myself, let alone write them down in words.

I can't say that December has been the kindest of months to me. It's incredible how very happy and very sad I've been, often at the same time. Often I put on a good face and tell people things are going fine, that I'm good, that everything is just great, even when I feel the opposite. Maybe it's because I don't want to clutter up people's times with my troubles or maybe it's because it's easier to pretend to be okay than to have people worry about me and how I'm doing. This of course causes other problems - when I am upset, it seems very out of character and I worry about people knowing that I conceal it, afraid that people will thinking I'm a fake or not honest. I've often felt as over-reactive and so I've learned to try and quell it down instead of showing how truly thin-skinned and reactive I can be.

I came back to an empty apartment on December 26th after a long day at work and felt a mix of feelings. I lived by myself for an entire year and yet now I don't know how I could do that again. I like my solitude and privacy, sure, but not all the time. Having nothing but my own actions to fill a space is rather alarming now. The other night, I treated myself to dinner on my own in a restaurant, a reward for surviving the Christmas season in retail amid a credit/debit card hacking issue at Target. I'd never eaten in a restaurant on my own before and I couldn't help but think I was treated differently. Think about it - how often do you see a woman eating alone in a restaurant, especially a pub or bar? Not often, I feel. I watched The Muppets (the 2011 film, for clarification) for the first time the other night and greatly enjoyed the Amy Adams/ Miss Piggy song "Me Party." I like treating myself and embracing solitude, but I can see a stark difference between solitude and a solitary life. I enjoy the former, not the latter, and I worry more and more that I'm slipping into the latter.

I am also abundantly self-aware that every section in this post begins with "I" and I cringe at it. It all seems so me-focused and selfish. Who cares that I'm dragging along a gaggle of emotional baggage and feel a little more clouds and less sun? But denying my right to feel these emotions is partly what got me into this mess to begin with, this attempt to pretend that everything is okay when maybe it's not. I don't like to talk about my problems because there are people who have it much worse than me and they need their voices heard far more. Yet when I start to apply this to all aspects of my life, I feel I'm cutting myself off from other people or from truly understanding some aspect of myself. It then feeds into a vicious cycle of thinking that I only want to talk about my problems because I want to talk about myself and I'm selfish and love to victimize my life and am terrible, wretched creature. I demonize myself, which only feeds into the problems, which makes me simultaneously try and repress and yet yearn to discuss all the more. You see the issue.

Often I wonder what seed is planted in the subconscious to make some people so doubtful, so self-critical of themselves, so certain that there is something wrong with them. Are we born that way or is it thrust upon us? I don't know. It seems like I've always been this way. I remember writing in a journal for fourth grade, in an entry where we were supposed to talk to Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street about our faults and short-comings (or whatever the fourth grade equivalents to that are). I eventually divulged in this very long entry (which I still have, somewhere) about how this voice appeared in my head, telling me to do terrible things or saying terrible things about people. I made it out to be a very literal devil on the shoulder but it was less like that, more of me realizing that, no matter how much the little Catholic school girl I was yearned for it, I would never be a saint. I had terrible thoughts appearing in my head and there was nothing I could do about it. I was not a perfect person. I was angry at my teacher. I hated some of my classmates for their cruelty and their ease at attaining things I would never gain. I wanted to skip class and run away but was too afraid to do so and had no where to run. The only thing I'd ever seen as mattering - being a saint - was utterly unobtainable and the only other option left for me was to be a monster. But it didn't entirely start here. This is when it manifested itself more clearly, because I wrote about it, but I'd often felt like a problem. Ever since Jordan the blonde-headed boy I can perhaps label as my first crush ratted on me to my pre-school teacher for stealing clay did I begin to ruminate on my flaws and feel there was something wrong with me.

The point isn't how I began to feel this way, but that I do, and others don't. It's left me struggling to act confidently and to believe in myself for many, many years. This year though, for the first time in my life, I felt like things were changing. I graduated from college, I got a job (even if it wasn't the job I had imagined for myself), I had a career path, changed it, and found one more suitable for me. I felt stronger, better, happier. Sure, I had some mishaps, but I pulled myself through them.

Then there was a moment at Globe University when this woman, Carol, said something to me that has continued to echo through my mind. Carol was the most amazing person I met at Globe. She's animal rights activist who's in her sixties (should have just turned 64, I believe) and gone back to school so she can get a degree in activism. She went to the University of Minnesota during the protests of the 60s and majored in theater and Russian. She developed a drug habit and worked as a prostitute (not necessarily in that order, but she did seem to allude to link between the two) and dealt with arrests and prosecutions multiple times. And yet here she was, pulling herself through school despite health problems and a lot of emotional turmoil in her life. I really like Carol and she's one of a few people I truly miss from Globe. Sometimes she'd be a bit inappropriate or say something crass in class, but I admired her forthrightness and fortitude of opinion. Yet she thought so little of herself when speaking about her abilities. Before class one day, she was talking about how nervous she was for a mock interview (being the interviewer rather than the interviewee) we had to do in another class. She turned to me and asked how I felt about it. I shrugged and said it was okay. She couldn't believed I wasn't concerned and asked if I was nervous about it. I said no. She looked at me, aghast. "Where do you get your confidence from?" she cried. I blushed and shrugged, saying I didn't know, but that I'd done other job interviews recently and it was nice to be on the other side of the table for once.

That was the first time I can ever remember someone describing me as confident. A woman who has no problem expressing herself verbally, who can argue animal rights all day, thought I was confident because I wasn't nervous about a simulated interview. It occurred to me that confidence comes in different forms and it was a pity that she could see mine so strongly and not her own, while I'd been oblivious to mine.

I of course then made the fatal mistake - I became too over-confident. I started believing I could do anything. I walked with a certain bravado. I felt utterly self-certain and elated with myself. It didn't last. Cracks formed and my ground of certainty was shaken. It crumbled and I fell through. I'm still trying to regain my footing, trying to put on a brave face. But all that bravado felt like a masquerade, not the real thing. I can't see that confidence Carol thought I had.

I made the mistake of reading a few sections of my old high school diaries over Christmas. I found them embarrassing at the time, even more so now. I was so concerned with the most miniscule of things, but world was smaller then. However, that isn't what bothered me. What truly bothered me was how much I still sound like high school me, how my voice still sounds the same. I'd like to think I've left high school me behind - I didn't like her very much. I'd like to think I've left her behind precisely because I didn't like her at the time and I caused myself a lot of emo self-hating misery. Long have I tried to embrace the fact that I will always be high school me in some respects and that it's important to remember when I came from. But that's little help when your very mind and body feels monstrous.

What causes people to hate themselves when others feel far less negativity? Where does it come from? How is it born and/or bred? This time of year always makes me a bit nostalgic for childhood, especially here recently because I'm recalling my deep, deep love for Peter Pan and my long suffering empathy and appreciation for Captain Hook. I like to think of my childhood as a time before I felt all this darkness, all this personal dislike, but I'm not entirely sure that was the case. Sure, there was less of it, but I remember feeling particularly crummy about myself around six or seven. It starts young. How? Why?

And so it's the end of another year and I look back at all that's occurred. 2013 was a particularly wondrous year, full of excitement and new beginnings. But it was also a rough, full of mistakes and mishaps and ends. As much as I love change, I also fear it - whenever I gain something, I also lose something in the process. And I'm afraid to see what else I will lose. 

But I made it through this year. I made it to this point and I am hopeful for 2014. I can withstand the losses and look forward to whatever gains my come my way. I won't wish for the impossible - that the confidence I seek will suddenly appear for good and attach itself permanently, instead of jerking itself loose like Peter Pan's shadow and tangling itself up elsewhere. It's a long process to gaining it but I know I'm much further along than I was just a year ago. I won't wish for love or wealth or glory or anything like that, but only what Carol wanted - to feel content with her life. I'd like to be content with myself, to feel that what I am is good enough. Because if I can't believe in myself, how am I going to continue to believe in the rest of the world?

This has been a post I've gone back and forth between writing but never actually have. I'm just going to publish it, in the hopes that getting it off my chest will allow me get back to regular blogging. To end, I'm sharing go-to song for the past few weeks. I have developed a love for Bastille and this song's lyrics really resound with me after some crazy things happened this December. While I've struggled to be an optimist about things, I believe that I can still be and that at least if I've been here before, I know the territory - and I know I can get through it.

So with this, a very happy New Year to you all. May 2014 be warm and bright and good.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Christmas!

With work, and Christmas, followed up by more work, I haven't gotten the time or opportunity to write a real post. Instead, I'd like to extend to you all a gracious season's greetings and a very happy, merry Christmas to all of you. And while your all cozy and snug by the fireside, drinking tea eggnog (as I'd like to image you all are), enjoy my favorite poem, "Stopping By the Woods On a Snowy Evening" as read by Robert Frost himself:

The best to you and yours this holiday season <3


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Media and the Fanbase

Over the weekend, a curious event occurred at a Q&A session with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. Led by author and reporter Caitlin Moran, she made the actors read fanfiction that she had found on the internet, claiming that it wasn't racy, only to have selected passages that seemed to be heading in that direction. The actors were uncomfortable with the situation and refused to read further. And now the internet had erupted in anger over Moran's actions and is furious at the treatment of fandom by the media.

Being part of media myself - I am a blogger, I express my thoughts through this medium - I can understand how it can often be difficult to show all the various, dynamic sides of fandom without focusing only on the negative aspects or most well-known, and sometimes it's hard to talk about the issues within fandom without speaking in generalizing terms and/or stigmatizing it. I have certainly had these issues in my writing and failed before and know there is a strong tension of fandom and its representations. The mainstream media especially takes an unsavory look at fandoms, despite the fact that they often fuel and promote the very things that make other forms of media, such as films, books and movies, successful. What then, is going on here, and why is inappropriate about what Moran did?

There are two very good reactions that I've see. One I found on Tumblr, from the blogger fireplum. The other was sent to me by a friend and is an article from The Telegraph. Let's start with The Telegraph article. It highlights some really key issues - using the fanfic without permission from the author, not wanting to break the fourth wall between the fandom world and the source material, and the development of skills that writers gain from writing fan fiction. These quotes are some of my favorite from the article:
Using and extending an existing universe can help writers who don't yet have the hang of creating fully rounded characters, and offers unique challenges to experienced authors more used to rolling their own.
It's entirely possible that thanks to Sherlock fanfic, someone who never before considered writing professionally might decide to give it a try. It's also possible that some who considered doing so may now be scared to, fearing the long memory of the internet and the ridicule they might receive. And to those authors I say: forget the haters, sally forth and conquer all worlds. There is nothing shameful about stretching your wings.
This article gives me a lot of hope and makes me feel much better about the relationship between the media and fandoms. Dr. Brooke Magnanti, the author of this piece, seems to really understand what fandom and fanfic celebrates and why its so important to its participants.

The post from fireplum likewise has some really powerful points: fireplum talks about how fanfic writers may use this as an opportunity to better their skills in another language that is not their mother tongue and better develop their writing in this second (or third, or fourth) language. The blogger also makes a really interesting point about not wanting the fourth wall broken - these fics were never written for the creators of the source material to see and they are not meant for them. It's written for fans, by fans, and likely feels somewhat like a betrayal to have that world ousted into the faces of those working with the source. Most of all, fireplum catches on to Moran's tweet that responds to calling fans virgins, as if fans were simply a bunch of hysterical, virginal girls who needed to get laid and stop writing smut. Last time I checked, virginity was a construct - and a warped one at that - and writing fanfiction has nothing to do with being a virgin or not. Moran plays right into a stereotype of fangirls and, as fireplum explains, expresses misogynistic ideas of women who are passionate about things. Her handling of this situation makes her appear terribly uncouth and unprofessional. It saddens me that she would think that giving fanfic to Misters Freeman and Cumberbatch to read would be appropriate and that it's acceptable to mock the fans that care about these actors so dearly. No one mocks fantasty football - so why mock fanfiction? 

The emotions are different and the participants are different, that's why. Fantasy football is about "strategy" and "commitment" and "hanging out with the guys." Fanfiction writing is "passionate" and "sensual" and is a generally a solitary act (though I have a friend who's written fanfiction with her roommates and it sounds like a great way to spend an evening). Fanfiction writers are seen as obsessive and indulgent while fantasy football participants are seen as devoted and committed, though both are just as likely to become obsessive or detached as the other. And while we can of course acknowledge that not all fantasy football participants are males and not all fanfic writers are women, there is a general difference of gender - and one that media continually emphasizes in negative ways. It's also interesting that football players would not be told about how fans view them in fantasy football teams but it's seen as okay to tell actors about their fanfiction, despite the fact that they want to separate themselves from, as Mr. Tom Hiddleston called it, "all of that energy." It is a lot of energy and it can be a lot for actors to deal with. While they generally seem very appreciative of fandom, its another thing to have reporters and talk show hosts force them into it by forcing fan art and fanfic upon them. There is a certain separation between the practices of the actors and the source material and the practices of the fandom, and it's important to respect and recognize that.

I am no authority on fandom and I am a novice at writing fanfic, but I can tell you this - it is one of the most positive experiences I have had. It's one of the few ways that you can write about something that really interests you, play around with characters and plots and themes, explore subjects that other forms of writing or mainstream media may not accept, and publish it for free, all while having a willing audience happy to review and critique it for you. Yes, there are haters out there who may lambaste your writing and yes, not all parts of fanfic writing are great. Fandoms are flawed - people are flawed. We know this and there's not much more to be said on the topic. So it's time to do something more constructive when viewing fandoms - for people like Moran as well as myself - and stop provoking stereotypes and harmful ideas of fandom. While it may be difficult to deal with fandom and its relationship with source material, it's important to understand what boundaries do exist to the participants and understand what one is doing when interacting with them. Respect the fandom. And, as Dr. Magnanti said, "Conquer all worlds. There is nothing shameful about stretching your wings."

Friday, December 13, 2013

Annotating Men's Health

Occasionally, in my spare time, I take a twisted sort of joy in reading the magazine Cosmo just to see what I'm missing out on by not subscribing to this magazine and getting an idea of how some people actually construe femininity. Every once in a while, Cosmo does something to surprise me and I feel a little better about its existence - only to have that destroyed by another article about how to change yourself to please your boyfriend.

I always wanted to start a series on this blog where I analyzed the covers and the content on some of the magazines I'd managed to acquire, but somehow never got around to it - perhaps because I'd be discussing the same issues over and over again with every issue. But then over the Black Friday weekend, I was sitting in the break room at work and saw this magazine sitting on the table:

I started annotating it in my mind and couldn't stop, nearly breaking out into maniacal laughter in the middle of the break room. Why discuss the content of Cosmo when I could discuss Men's Health, and take a look at the constructs of masculinity, which are just as weird and bizarre and alarming as the constructs of femininity? So I'm going to do just that and break it down piece by piece of this cover. It's important to know that I didn't actually read this magazine, I only looked at the cover. But that's what many people will do - and the cover speaks volumes about what it wants to represent.

The first thing I noticed was the hunky photo of Luke Evans, paired with the description of "three power moves for career success" and close to the other article tag of "hard muscle made easy." This is a very clear expression of the desire to be a muscular, physical, successful man that is continually idealized - and not often recognized for its effects. The pairing of hard and easy in the tag for gaining muscle mass is interesting - perhaps because gaining muscle like Mr. Evans' here is likely not easy at all. The way in which magazines lead women to believe that weight can be easily shed lead men to believe they can gain muscle mass in the same way.

And yet men also have the fear of weight, with the largest tag reading: "Blast Belly Fat! Amazing 30-Day Plan." This could have come from a Comso cover - it's the same rhetoric, same fear of weight in the same area of the body.

My favorite, however is: "Smoke Fire Meat: Cook like a man." As apposed to cooking like a woman, I suppose? Why exactly barbequing and cooking with fire is so gendered is obnoxious - but the fact that cooking is gendered at all is far more obnoxious. The title also reads to me more like a series of nouns that don't really tell me anything - except that perhaps the editors of the magazine want simple direct titles so that their assumed "simple direct men" can get a clear idea of what this article will be about. None of that sissy complicated cooking stuff - all you need is smoke, fire, and meat and you can cook like a pro.

"Say This, Live Longer" is just confusing. Because I'm annoying, I read is as saying, "If you say the word 'this', you will live longer." Clearly that's not what the article is about - you have to actually read it to find out what magical phrase will give you Dorian Gray-esque longevity.

"Charm the pants off her" is the most Cosmo of all the taglines on this cover, I think. Here we're going to idea that men are meant to be the seducers - but it also speaks to a re-emerging desire of masculinity: to be charming, suave, and get women just because you're so likable. This seems to be resulting in a lot of flattery and 1950s style bravado, which makes me think that maybe we should be focusing a little more on charismatic part of charm as apposed to the alluring, seductive aspects. I'd really appreciate it if this article talked more how to support your girlfriend's life choices and be supportive and open-minded as apposed to a donning a Don Draper-like swagger (oh my God I did not mean to make that pun) to get girls to sleep with you. Again - didn't read the article, but the focus is on sex, not relationships so I wasn't getting the vibe that charm means what I thought it meant.

The bottom tag got cut off a bit, but if I remember it correctly, it read: "Strip Away Travel Stress" which assumes a certain role for the readers: that men are traveling for their work, they're stressed out about it, they want relieve from it, and they probably won't assume like I did, having read the charming the pants off line before, that this has anything to do with visiting strip clubs or partaking in stripping to ease stress. But really, who decided that a line about removing pants and another about stripping away stress belonged right next to each other on the cover?

The top corner has the tag for the best new tech for men because, you know, the technology that men need is so different from that of women (read: sarcasm). I'm not going to go into the issues in the tech industry for how women are treated versus men, but if you ever want to get me angry, ask about the time my mother and I went to the Apple store to get my laptop and saw how vividly different we were treated than we had all the times before when my father was there with us.

At the top of the magazine, just above the title, is the tiny line: "Full of Useful Stuff" which is the sort of motto put on each issue of Men's Health. This is interesting and seems to emphasize the fact that this is not just a fluff magazine, this has useful, helpful information inside. This read as, "This is for your health, men, not just about how to look good and be manly. It's about your well-being, it's about you, presumed white athletic handsome male reader. This is stuff to help you and this is the most important useful stuff. You don't need those other magazines making things all complicated. You're a man - you need simplicity and you need consistency. It's worth the money to buy this magazine and because it has a buff handsome dude on it (no homo!) no one will think you're reading the male version of Cosmo." I could have taken this magazine kind of seriously. I could have given it a chance that it wasn't belittling masculinity down to a simple, flimsy construct of meat-eating, sport-playing, sex-driven muscle-bound individuals, but that tag line ruined it for me. I don't know why that was the breaking point. But it was.

Maybe it's because I've developed an overly critical mind or maybe it's because I see so little TV now and read so few magazines that when I do see them, I'm walloped over the head by the rhetoric and intent of it all. All I can see are the ways in which the magazine is trying to work on its readers, to develop a certain audience. And it weirds me out. Perhaps most unsettling is how similar this is to the way in which Cosmo works. It yearns to build up an audience base of witty, clever, young women who want everlasting beauty, skinny bodies, successful careers, and hot, loving boyfriends. Men's Health operates in the same way, creating similar expectations of its audience and addressing similar desires. The biggest fallacy I see about feminism right now is that feminism doesn't help men, it hates men, it hurts them. Lies. The pressures that men feel are as much of the patriarchy as the pressures women feel, because it isn't good enough to just be a man - you have to be a certain kind of man, the alpha male who is physically strong, successful, and alluring, who is an expert as sports and technology and doesn't take shit from anyone. Continuing this idea perpetuates sexism because it assumes that a certain kind of man is superior, not just to women but to other men. This magazine subtly speaks to that idea and doesn't leave room for men who don't have a six pack or are vegetarians or are not interesting in charming off her pants or don't look anything like Luke Evans. Not that there's anything wrong with looking like Luke Evans - there's just a lot more to men that one archetype.

It's probably a good thing I didn't actually read the magazine, or this post would be far longer. Perhaps on the inside, Men's Health is the most diverse, equality-driven men's magazine on the planet. But if they are, their cover certainly doesn't support that. Given that I just saw someone on Tumblr reacting to Beyonce's new song "Flawless" (which discusses feminism) negatively because, as they stated, all genders are equal in most parts of the world now and feminism promotes double standards because it really is about making women superior, it's extremely necessary to recognize that no, men and women are not treated equally in much of the world at all and men are not even treated equally to each other. The double standard is believing that feminism should account for men but thinking that we're already equal, that feminism doesn't care about men's problems while only focusing on the problems of certain men, that feminism is about superiority when it's the patriarchy that purports that. And if you feel threatened by feminism - well, I don't know what to say, mate. Perhaps its time to re-evaluate what something like Men's Health says to you.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Flailings and Failings

Between trying very hard to not freak out about the fact that Christmas is just around the corner, Coriolanus is very much a thing which reviews are already coming out about (which I am far too excited and terrified to read), and we are continually getting snow here in Minnesota (I have a problem with my love of winter; it's a bit much), I'm also finding myself with another quandary that's made itself apparent: fandom stuff. Generally I have a fairly amiable relationship with fandoms, despite my continually strange half-in, half-out situation. But right now, I'm a bit distraught with them. It goes a little something like this:

1) Apparently there had been a lot of hate from certain areas of the Sherlock fandom towards actor Amanda Abbington who will be playing Mary Morstan in season 3 of the television series. I've mentioned a related issue briefly way back here, but that was in regards to the Steven Moffat issues. Now she's apparently been getting death threats - death threats - because of the character she plays and the fact that it will "break up the ship" of John and Sherlock. There's a good gif for my feelings about this...


2) Someone I follow on Tumblr made a post that was later deleted which said:
i try to be as indulgent of fandom as is humanly possible but i stg if hiddleston fangirls ruin coriolanus for me there will be blood
The tages included something about how Hiddleston allegedly showers blood off of him onstage and the text post author's outrage that fans are going to be flipping out over of this instead of caring about the play. Commenters couldn't believe that anyone would really be bothered by this silliness but I was one of these people who agreed with the poster, albeit less harshly, in having worried about fans' reactions at the show - including my own reactions. I don't want to have to worry about fans crying out through the play or screaming at Hiddleston's entrances like one might at TV talk shows or other public events, as I'm going to be enough of a mess as I described in a previous post. I'm not the kindest to myself about my fandom proclivities as it is and I also feel some judgement from various parts of Tumblr (and perhaps subconsciously from myself) for attending the show as a Hiddleston fan. Likely, posts about fears like this are over the top and far too negative about the fan base, viewing them as silly, irrational people rather than responsible, level-headed folk who can handle themselves at a show. But because I doubt my own abilities about this and hear tales of the dark sides of fandom, I worry anyway.

3) I've been thinking about Thor: The Dark World a lot because, while I loved the film, there was a lot I wish they had done differently. Here there be spoilers, so if you don't want me to epically ruin the film for you, stop reading now. After talking with a friend of a friend at a Christmas party this Friday, I learned that apparently Loki's death scene is meant to be his real death scene, which would explain why there were all of those posts about Mr. Hiddleston being upset about this likely being the last Marvel film he'd be in and why he cried on the red carpet when someone mentioned this. I was a bit confused about this reaction after seeing the film, where Loki is very much not dead. But it seems that extra footage was added in to leave an open-ended possibility for Loki's return (though it seems Mr. Hiddleston is none to certain of that). I don't know how I feel about the end of the film, knowing this. I mean, I'm glad they kept Loki around - he's my favorite character, after all - but I wish that perhaps they had done something different, perhaps brought in Lady Loki or let us know Loki was still alive but not in Asgard. There's a lot of chatter, especially with people wanting a Loki film, that Marvel is focusing too much on Loki and not enough on other characters and that putting all the focus on him weakens the franchise. Don't get me wrong, I adore Loki and he is by far the best developed character in the franchise. But I would love to see that development extend elsewhere while simultaneously keeping Loki on-hand. I just worry that the franchise will go for what gets them a big, bold audience and right now that's definitely feeding into the Loki fandom. He seriously has an army - which has the potential for both great and terrible things.

4) My entire Tumblr dash has been flooded with, other than Christmas and Sherlock posts, critiques of the animation in the movie Frozen. I'm very excited to see this film and am disheartened to see that there are some flubs in this film. I guess what upsets me most is that people are getting so outlandishly upset about it, to the extent that they're no longer rationally talking about how a film that costs so much to make still has mistakes in it - like most films - and discussing the complexities of the Disney franchise, but instead are just blindly hating on the film or are going on about how you can't critique it, just let it go, Disney is perfect and just sit back and enjoy the film. And then the argument about the lack of diversity in Disney is used to defend the animation flubs, which I confuses me. Yes, the lack of diversity is a serious issue but I don't see how that is related to heavily criticizing the animation mistakes - why not discuss the diversity issue head on instead of hating on the animation instead? (Probably because in the case of Frozen, which takes place in a Scandinavian-esque land and is based off of a Danish fairytale, people who have complained about the whiteness of Disney have been told that this land would be whitish and have been shut down about their complaints. Regardless, the whole debate on the film is messy and not entirely clear to me because - well, that's how Tumblr works.)  I feel entirely weary and drained by this and I'm not even part of this - I'm not an artist, I'm not an animator, I have mixed feelings about Disney but at the end of the day, it doesn't actually affect me. And yet the toll it takes on me seeing it posted and argued about over and over again is exhausting.

And so, after all of this, I have a confession to make: I feel really dissociated from fandom right now, more than I did before. I'm extremely excited about Sherlock, I'm eager about the new installment of The Hobbit, I'm hoping Disney is working back towards a revival of their animation like they had when I was growing up along with incorporating more diversity, I've never loved Marvel movies more, and I'm pretty sure Shakespeare studies is going to take over my life. And yet I find myself drifting away from fandom in certain respects. I find myself being more open about my interests and talking about it more with people, no longer afraid to appear passionate about something as I was before I joined Tumblr. I happily write fan fiction. But I don't feel driven to expand my fandom participation like I thought I would. I'm still interested in going to cons, not as a participant, but rather as an onlooker. I still have pretty minimal ships. I'm not really expanding what shows or movies I watch that have fandom connections, perhaps because I don't have time but also because I'm worried about being involved with certain fandoms will be like. Fandom taught me a lot about myself but now it feels as if I've never really bridged the gap between participant and onlooker as I thought I would. Now I'm in this unsteady, teetering balance between the two. I think fandom should be taken seriously but, when fandoms themselves lambaste others for trying to take them seriously, it's kind of awkward. "But wait!" I want to cry. "You don't understand! I'm a part of you! I like the same things as you! Yes, I might pass on critique about things but it's out of love! Right? I critique what you do because it matters, even if it is just for fun. Because fun matters? Right?"

The truth of the matter is I don't know. I don't really know how to deal with fandom effectively. I've fortunately avoided making more mistakes like I did last year when preparing to write my paper on fandom (which yes, you can finally read! I've posted it here for your pleasure) but I still struggle to balance my need to critique with my need to geek (okay, that's a new tagline for this blog). Fandoms a lot of energy and a lot of people and, while they're treated as one  immense organism, they're more like a bunch of little societies made up of individuals that can all act together or act independently depending on how they choose. They can be inclusive and cold at the same time and can bring people together and drive them apart. This is nothing really new in the contexts of this blog, I suppose, but it bears repeating.

However, it's incredibly frustrating to see fandoms do things as they have in the situation with Amanda Abbington. When it comes down to it, the Coriolanus worries, the focus on Loki's army, and opinions on Frozen are all small potatoes in comparison. When an actor is being aggressively harassed and threatened by fandom, that's far too much and utterly uncalled for. I cannot understand what would drive people to act in such a way to anyone and I am embarrassed and ashamed that anyone would do this. There's enough negativity in the world as it is and I worry, now that it's occurred, that it's hard to distance oneself from this extremely unfortunate reaction in part of the fandom. Perhaps it's just me, but I feel as if I see far more negative posts about fandom from fandom than I did before. And it's troubling.

It could be related to a lot of unrest right now - Sherlock's coming back, a new doctor will be appearing on Doctor Who soon, it sounds like Supernatural is putting its fans through more pain and turmoil than usual, Hannibal is restarting soon, it's Christmas and too many people don't have happy circumstances with their families. But I feel a change in the force of fandom and, while I can't quite put my finger on what it is, it feels distinctly different.

But perhaps it's just me. I've been participating with and studying it for over a year now and running this blog for far longer. I can't help but think if perhaps I've just grown accustomed to it and find it less enticing as before. But I don't think that's the case. I still actively use Tumblr and I still find myself drawn to the texts I love and to interacting with them. But some days I feel as if I could walk away from Tumblr and not really mind. I would miss some things about it, but other parts - the bickering, the criticizing, the hipsters versus fans, the social justice blogging fights, the sudden surplus of posts saying we should punch feminists (where the hell did this come from and how the hell do we stop it?), the ridiculous out of control lambasting that occurs at times - I wouldn't miss at all. I continually fight to give fandom's more positive image but at times I see why they get such negative associations. I think I'm just tired of fighting to no avail. And thus I've begun to distance myself, both on here and in my own experiences. I'm clearly still very much immersed in fandom things, I just feel my relationship to it all has changed since even just the summer. Where exactly I stand on fandom as a whole, I don't know. When I wrote this post, I was struggling with fandom identity. I still am, perhaps more so than before. Why is it such a struggle for me when some people can so easily accept themselves into such a community? Apart from the fact that I am an overthinking, self-critical, doubting Thomas, I think there's also some fears of individualism versus collectivism going on here. While I don't usually ascribe myself to being terribly focused on being a unique individual, I find myself feeling that way more and more when it comes to fandoms. I feel the need to show that I am an individual, that I don't go along with everything the fandom thinks and perhaps may not even belong to the fandom. After so much positivity and support that I once felt, it's disheartening to see that this is where I stand right now.

I hope that I will grow back towards fandoms, but I've always been at a bit of a distance and likely this will continue. As far as blogging goes, I'll be posting as I have been lately, on whatever random fluff makes it way on here and my offer still stands to write on whatever topics or requests you might have - the door is always open for thoughts and ideas. I do apologize if you came here when I was posting in one way and have greatly deviated since, but such is the way of blogging, it seems. I don't totally know what this blog has evolved to at this point, but I'm enjoying it. And I hope you are too.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Going Off Script

It's that time of year, with Christmas just around the corner and New Year's fast approaching where people - well, I at least - start considering what I've done over the past twelve months, whether I'm happy or not, wondering what I'm doing for Christmas and whether I'll be donning an ugly sweater and singing Christmas carols at the top of my lungs (spoilers: I will be). Historically for me, this is also kind of a tumultuous, dramatic time of year, generally with finals and social gatherings and seeing people I haven't seen in months and inevitably wondering if I'll ever kiss anyone under the mistletoe or on New Years Eve (and thus wondering HOW exactly Christmas became more connotated and view with romance by me than freaking Valentine's Day), and also whether I have any idea what I'm doing with my life.

I sense from the general postings I see on Tumblr about this time of year, that I am not alone in some of these sentiments. Christmas I believe is my favorite holiday (it's in a rough tie with Halloween, but I think the caroling and the snow and the cookies and the snow and the parties and the snow make up for it. And peppermint. And did I mention the snow?) and I love this time of year. Though I'm additionally sad this year not being able to see my relatives in Indiana because of my work schedule and hearing "I'll Be Home For Christmas" played in the seasonal section of Target makes me want to cry. Not to mention all the hopes for change that come with Christmas weigh heavy on my mind. And I'm beginning to get way too emotionally attached to "The Christmas Waltz" and "Sleigh Ride" and "All I Want for Christmas is You". As I get older, all the perceptions and mythology we have built up around Christmas becomes more and more unrealistic. We have certain expectations of what this holiday will bring - sugar plum fairies and sleigh rides and meeting the love of our lives at ski lodges while singing karaoke (you know, I used to make fun of this in High School Musical until I realized that if you replace ski lodge with pub/bar, I have the same damn dream). We have this mental script of how this holiday is supposed to work and how our lives are supposed to follow it. Which is problematic.

A week or so ago, my roommate found this video of Betsy Grawe, a Spanish teacher from our high school, talking in a TED Talk (which I was ecstatic about and then very jealous of - how come we never did that when I went to school there?!) about our high school and the idea of what sort of plans we expect to follow in our lives. Give it a watch:

It's nice to know that I'm not the only person who thinks thinks this, who feels a struggle to measure up to the expectations set both by themselves and by society, who feels the life they created for themselves in their head frustratingly doesn't measure up to what's happening (and if you narrate your life like warped writer me does, then you can understand how terrible this can be). We worry that there is something wrong with us because we don't fit into this niche of expectations. The "I thought by now..." thoughts are so common in my mind and often criticize myself for doing something wrong because I'm not dating, because I don't have a high-paying job, because I'm not settled into some comfortable life. This video highlights on a lot of great points and Ms. Grawe does a great job of covering them. It's a good video and a good place to start - I wish I had heard these things in high school; it would have made the last few years a lot easier for me. But there's something more I'd like to consider, and that's where these expectations come from.

I think it's a bit faulty to think of reality versus expectations - our expectations are very much a part of our reality, or at least what our reality would like us to achieve. I'm not sure if I buy that reality is something separate from our perceptions of it. Of course, I think I might be taking a far too "I read Baudrillard and watched The Matrix too many times" approach to the word reality, but I think it's important to consider how we used this world. I got told so often that high school was not the real world, which is a totally incorrect evaluation of the time spent there. Of course it's part of the real world - what is it otherwise, an alternative universe? (That would explain all the AU high school fanfics out there). It's real to you when you're there and the things that are important to you are important, even if your young, naive mind is making mountains out of molehills. It's still important and that stands to be recognized. Also, I don't know how aware you are of this, but the way high school works is pretty similar to much of the rest of our society. But at least once you leave high school you don't have to ask if you can use the bathroom ever again.

This is the part where we could go on a metaphysical discussion about what reality means and the theorists can duke it out forever. I'm going to make this fairly brief, by using a screenshot of a gifset of Tom Hiddleston talking about The Matrix:

I don't intentionally mention Mr. Hiddleston in all of my recent posts - but when he keeps saying pertinent, relevant stuff like this, it's hard not too. Literally, I've been trying to figure out how to concisely say how I feel about debates about reality for a while and then I see this gifset and realized, "Holy shit, this is it." Reality is the combination of both what is perceived to be truth and consciousness was well as illusion and conceived perceptions is important. Reality is a construct - a messy, complicated construct - and to say that there's one real Reality that we can access it outside of our situation heavily influenced by this other state, by our culture, by our personal perception of the world, is an idea I'm not really a fan of. We're in a mix of how it is and how it could be, how we see it and how others can see it, what we want and what we have. So I really could have summed up reality as being this:


This then builds into a complicated idea of scripts and what's expected of individuals in society. I like the idea of tossing out the script - I've tried it myself. But it hadn't worked for me because I feel too much pressure from the society around me to fit into a certain mold or ideal. There's a reason why so many kids are choosing jobs that relate to STEM education - they are told they pay well and that they are growing fields. While this is true, there's a lot of pressure to go into fields like these as not as much support for things like music, art, languages, history - in short, social sciences and the humanities. I certainly think that STEM subjects are important but it's necessary to realize how we're writing the script. For instance, the idea that students are going to go to college at all, assumed that they are going to work for a company, assumed that they will get a job at all, is all part of the script. There's a certain preference to the studies and work we should be undertaking in our lives. The video touches upon this but it's important to think about what exactly is part of the script and what it means to throw it out. Because in our society, it isn't always possible to completely throw it out, for which I'll present myself as evidence (because I'm limited to my own perception of reality and so on and so forth and I'm really good at yammering on about myself).

I take great comfort in the idea of being a loser (which I discussed a while ago here) and that what I'm proud of doing may not be the same thing society takes pride in. It helps me deal with not following the script that surrounds me - I am 23, haven't been dating, only recently figured out what I want to do with the next few years of my life and what sort of career I want to pursue. But it doesn't keep me from still wanting to "win." I continually have dreams of being a successful writer, of landing a job admired and respected by others, of having a partner and a family and proving that guy in my high school psychology class who insinuated that I'd never get married that I am freaking marriageable goddammnit, as if I lived in some Austen-esque drama where that needs to be proven. I want to feel like I'm worthy, accepted, and appreciated. I worry about not being good enough, about wasting my life, about failing myself and others. Some days none of this matters and I feel completely confident of myself and my choices. And then other days I need so badly to be accepted and self-assured that I feel tempted to compromise everything I care about just so I feel some security. Of course, there's another important aspect to realize in my feelings: I have the luxury of choosing.

I came across this the another night:


I felt a bit sad upon seeing this, as I had when I saw a similar post which I used to kick off the start of this blog. It makes me sad because it reminds me how few people can make the choice to just decide to stop following a script - and it's not often a script they wrote. Society writes its own scripts for us and some of us can push them away. Others don't have that luxury. While I immerse myself in the belief that I can follow my heart and do what I really want with my life, I can take the risks that come with it. I can toss out the notion of having to have a career that isn't necessarily "lucrative" because I don't have to worry about supporting anyone but myself right now, because I have a college degree, because I'm from a well-off family, because I don't have any mental or physical condition that would stop me from pursuing it, because I have a long list of privileges that go on and on. The ability to say "Fuck it, let's go" is a wonderful and powerful one. I'm blessed to have it and that's important to recognize. I was able to unenroll from my school unlike some of my classmates because I have other options. For many of them, this is their chance - and their one investment they can make - in their education. It's a strange situation to be in. But it's a choice I had to make for myself.

When it comes down to it, we need to recognize privilege, that there is a certain luxury that comes from being in a position where you can say, "Fuck it, let's go" and have it work to your advantage. Telling people to leave behind their crappy jobs can be really positive but it's not the only motivational rhetoric that should be told. This comes in letting go of this idea that there's just one script you have to follow, that there's one idea of success and one idea of what's right for someone to do. It's not an idea of tossing out a script but accepting that there are multiple scripts. Because telling people to toss out a script or follow their dreams are scripts of their own. Some work, some don't. Some are viable, some aren't. While ideology might like to purport that there's one script we should all be following, that's not the case. There's no one script that's good for any one person and no reason we'll stick to just one script in our lives. And, while the script we're in might personally be great, we should recognize that not everyone's is and do what we can to help rewrite them. All of this is easier said than done, absolutely. But it's not just about changing scripts or about throwing them out - it's about changing society's idea of what you should be doing when in your life. Life is weird and sometimes unfair. What can we do to make it feel less weird and more fair?

One last final thought on reality: while it is important to know that life is unfair and not all things will go your way, I'd like to caution away from certain perceptions of reality once more. Here's Dylan Moran with some brilliant thoughts on this:


"Be realistic." I hate that phrase. I hate it so much. Reality is that weird equation of truth and perception. My reality may not be the same as yours. I, for instance, deeply want to raise dragons one day. People will say that's unrealistic but that's not the point. I know that I can't raise dragons - but I want to. The yearning to do so is real. I wish I'd understood this better when I was younger, so I wouldn't have felt so frustrated about my inability to be a pirate (initially it was mermaid but the species change was a bit much). I still want to be a pirate. That's a part of my reality. It's not going to happen, but the yearning is real. And that matters. It doesn't absolve someone's reality - it doesn't make it right or appropriate. It just makes it real.

I'm going to stop there before my brain explodes with this badly worded philosophical spewing, but I'd like to end with a song from the movie Frozen. I haven't seen the film yet but this song is my anthem. If we bring back the karaoke bar dream, I want to belt this song like no other. I love it because it carries a certain wisdom in it: knowing when to let go of something in your life, to deal with it, or to fight for it. Sometimes it's hard for me to know which is appropriate. This is the encouragement I need, that works for me, to see the difference.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Action is Eloquence

It occurred to me the other day that I might be in a bit of trouble. Not the sort of trouble I should be concerned about, such as how I've been paying tuition to a school that doesn't even have accredited classes, but a sort of... well, fangirly trouble. Back in May when I decided I should try and get tickets to Coriolanus, it seemed so far away and magical, a faint hope on the horizon, something to look forward to. But now as the date approaches and the actuality of this trip settles in and I see photographic evidence like this:


I'm realizing that yes, Coriolanus rehearsals are happening and the play is a thing (or perhaps, to quote Hamlet, it's the thing). But I can't help feeling a little bit apprehensive. A bit like:


I am of course concerned that I will completely lose my shit and turn into a puddle of Jell-o in my seat at the Donmar Warehouse and die from having my cells morph into a gelatinous substance upon seeing Tom Hiddleston and Mark Gatiss on stage and on the same stage. But beyond my fangirly predicaments, I'm going to cry myself to death from seeing this play because, God damn it Shakespeare, Coriolanus is a beautiful, epic, tragic heartache that couldn't be more pertinent to modern politics.

I confess that I hadn't read Coriolanus before buying tickets, but given how I already loved Shakespeare's historical and political plays such as Henry V, Richard III, Othello, and Macbeth, I presumed I'd probably enjoy it. Upon reading Coriolanus a few months ago, I had one of those "Oh God what have I done" moments when I realized that I might - just might - have found my favorite Shakespeare play.

What is Coriolanus about, exactly? Here's Tom Hiddleston describing it for you (and reading from the first folio to boot... excuse me while I cry in a corner about how beautiful the original pronunciation to Shakespeare's writing sounds):

I really love the description provided here. While reading the play, I was caught immensely between thinking, "Coriolanus, man, why do you hate the plebeians so much? Stop trying to make bourgeois a thing - that comes later. With John Locke and new ideas of property rights" and also feeling very much like, "The immensity with which being forced into the political arena and being told to represent things you don't believe and do things you don't want to after killing a lot of people in battle would suck is a very, very large amount."

This play presents what it means to act as a public figure, how one can become a celebrity of sorts due to war hero status and the costs that come from being thrust into the political realm where a different sort of custom is expected (a discussion which reminds me greatly of the discussion good old Henry has on ceremony in Henry V) while being held to words in a way that one wasn't before. "Where blows have made me stay, I fled from words," Coriolanus says (2.2.71). Like many other Shakespeare plays, the idea of acting and having to play a certain part or act a certain way is very important to the events that occur. Coriolanus is criticized for acting too proud and is disparaged for refusing to show his war wounds publicly, which wonderfully captures the complicated interaction between needing proof of someone's valor and having something very private - one's body - become the focus of the public.

There's issues of representation as well, of speaking for other people and representing as a leader. In Act 2.3, lines 15-16, citizens describe the masses of people in Rome as a "many-headed multitude," which echos historical notions of the masses being monstrous (which, if you have an interest in, I highly recommend chapter one of The Many Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic by Peter Lindbaugh and Marcus Rediker). This feeds right back into Coriolanus' pride and hatred of the plebeians, and his speaking "o' th' people as if you were a god to punish, not a man of their infirmity" (3.1.80-82).

But wait, there's more. Coriolanus, being a man who believes to know himself, refuses to change for public appearances. In one of the best and most quoted lines from the play, he declares, "Why did you wish me milder? Would you have me false to my nature? Rather say I play the man I am" (3.2.14-16). (And can we just take a moment to appreciate the fact that he says "play" - Shakespeare, your meta-analysis of theater is showing.)

Coriolanus has a lot going against him - he won't allow himself to be changed to appear as a public politician should. He uses language as a weapon rather than an instrument of conciliation (Crewe xxxv). He is deeply idolized and misconstrued, caught between his knowledge of warfare and the expectations of his political prowess.

Something I really love about Mr. Hiddleston's analysis of the play in the above video is description of the divide between soldiers and politicians and the different sort of expectations and skills each of these roles require. What I love about it so much is it's something that never occurred to me because of politics in the United States. We constantly conflate military and political roles and often elect people based on military experience. The President of the United States is the Commander in Chief, after all. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to have a conversation about how combining the two might be kind of problematic at times, USA...

Also, I would like to take another moment to flail about the FREAKING FIRST FOLIO AND HOW AWESOME THAT IS. OH MY GOD CAN YOU IMAGINE TOUCHING IT I WOULD CRY.

Okay, I'm good. 

Coriolanus is interesting in all of the elements it touches on - politics, warfare, pride, honor, self-constructs versus public appearances, concepts of masculinity - which if I dive into that, we'll be here for the next five days - communication, and power. This fall I was reading Machiavelli's The Prince which also had excerpts from his Discourses on The First Ten Books of Titus Levy when I encountered these passages in Book 1, Chapter 58 of the Discourses:
But as for prudence and stability, I say that the people are more prudent, more stable, and better judges than a prince....It is also evident that in choosing magistrates they [the people] make far better choices than a prince does, nor will the people ever be persuaded that it is good to put in public office a man of bad repute and corrupt habits, something which a prince is persuaded to do in a thousand different ways (Machiavelli 182-183).

...for prince who can do what he wants is mad, and a people that can do what it wants is not wise (Machiavelli 183).

The cruelties of the masses are directed against those they fare will usurp the common good; those of a prince are against people he fears will usurp his own property. But the prejudice against the people arises because everyone can speak evil of the people without fear and in freedom, even while they are ruling, but of princes one always speaks with a thousand fears and hesitations (Machiavelli 184).
I instantly thought of Shakespeare while reading this, especially Coriolanus as it most clearly pits the people against a "prince" of sorts. It's also interesting to see Machiavelli's view on the people, which looks fairly positive. Bless him for thinking that people won't be persuaded to put a bad person in office - whether it is true or not stands to be debated, but he was writing in a time before mass media, political campaigns and a great deal of historical events throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. But he as a point about princes - it is very easy to manipulate them, as Coriolanus is so easily manipulated politically. He is steadfast as a soldier, but such steadfastness doesn't hold in the political arena. These excerpts also give a very different view on Machiavelli, who is usually seen as pretty cold with the concept of "the ends justify the means" for princes. He never actually says this in The Prince, though he says something slightly similar, and, while he does say lots of troubling things, he's not exactly establishing that this way of ruling is necessarily good, though it is effective - he's describing the sort of ruling that's occurred historically, especially in Italy (yes, Ancient Rome and, yes, the Medicis, we are looking at you). But I digress. Point is, Machiavelli and Shakespeare would have had some really interesting conversations about power if they'd ever been in the same room together.

Also, this picture from a Tumblr called Texts from the Drunken Crown, walloped me in the face while reading Machiavelli:


Well, that's one way to read Henry V.

Looking at Coriolanus in this framework presents a certain positivity to the plebeians (which I appreciate) while accounting for how someone like Coriolanus could be so greatly misled. Coriolanus is expected to be an individual, to represent the masses as one person and, when the person he is does not conform to what the public - or at least the officials around him - want him to be, he is cast out of Rome and shunned by his home (which if you really want to add another layer to this, you could read as representation of political refuges and/or expatriates). It accounts for how a man who has been told "action is eloquence" (a quote I loved when I was told it way back in high school, having no idea it was from this play - thus causing me to love it all the more) by his mother, that people will notice his actions more than his words, only to have both his words and actions used against him (3.2.76).

There is also the issue that Rome is a hot mess, which is important to consider. Having recently dealt with a not-so-wonderful tyrant (which kind of seemed like an ongoing problem in Rome), there's a certain unrest in the air. Coriolanus becomes convinced that neither "virtue nor truth is common or popular" and sees truth as "acting a part" (Crewe xxxiii, xlvii). I've seen a few episodes of the TV show Scandal as my roommate has been watching it, and I've been completely fascinated how the show captures exactly those elements. Everything is about how the press and the media will react and how to best manipulate and create political reputations to the public through the camera lens. It's a brilliant show and, if one were to modernize a performance of Coriolanus, would provide a really interesting interpretation.


I've realized that there's so much I want to say about this play - how Aufidius is a foil, or even a double, of Coriolanus (they also have an epic homoerotic not-really-subtext bromance going on that I want to recognize), the complexities of Volumnia, Coriolanus' mother who builds him up for failure but also saves Rome, the father/son relationship between Coriolanus and Menenius, which gives me some Hal-Falstaff flashbacks, just how wonderfully layered this play is, the fact that Tom Hiddleston said in the vidoe that we still suffer from "what are construed as the seven deadly sins" (rhetoric: you're doing it right) and how that applies to the plays, and the fact that Shakespeare allows for multitudes of interpretations and stagings and, while the plot may stay the same, it's never just one single story. It's brilliant.

Clearly I could go on and on about this for eons, so I'm going to wrap it up now with a quote from the introduction to the edition of Coriolanus I have: "To overthrow a tyrant is not necessarily to eliminate the structure of command - that is, dictatorship - from the republican state or the political culture" (Crewe xxxii). Coming off my post about The Hunger Games, this reminds me greatly of the end of Mockingjay (which I won't spoil for you, but kind of already have by tying it to this quote). The fear of tyranny runs deep in society and I think the repercussions of this are even more pertinent, especially when it comes to questions about how we should regard politicians, what sort of power they should have, and - well, debates about democracy in general.

So there you have it. I have a lot of Coriolanus feels. And I imagine they will only intensify when I see it live. Well, at least I can do something productive with these feels, like write blog posts and essays and the like, right?

Of course, that's assuming I find away to turn my gelatinous form back into normal human matter after the whole shebang. This could be difficult.

PS: Why the hell have I not seen the Ralph Fiennes film? This needs to be remedied.

All citations from:

Crewe, Jonathan. Introduction. Coriolanus. By William Shakespeare. New York: Penguin Books, 1999. Print.

Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince and Other Writings. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2003. Print.

Shakespeare, William. Coriolanus. New York: Penguin Books, 1999. Print.

Man, have I missed MLA format. I've had to do APA the last semester and I hate it. It feels good to be back to this.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Nationality and the Most Important TED Talk I Have Ever Seen

Despite my previous plans to write about Shakespeare today, I'm going to reorder my posts (because I'm away from my apartment and the notes I wrote up for the Shakespeare post). Instead, I'm going to talk about nationality - mainly, how I'm struggling with this idea of being an American.

I've discussed before my confusion on this descriptor, and in light of recent events, I realize that my difficulties with this are growing. After seeing The Hunger Games and discussing with my friend Paulina how different American sensibilities and issues with violence and environmentalism are from those in Germany, this has become more clear. With all of the Black Friday ads and my frustration that Black Friday even exists, coupled by a whole "Why do we sing the National Anthem before sporting events?" and "Why do we have a Pledge of Allegiance and why did we say it every day in elementary school?" considerations I've mentally argued about for the past few days, my idea of how weird the US is is just growing stronger. Not to mention that I caught a section of a TV show called Entertainment Tonight while in the break room at Target the other night. This show is one of those celebrity news shows that recaps current events in the "world of celebs" and generally gives me hives. The segment I saw especially bothered me as it discussed some beauty competition where the man orchestrating the event said he wouldn't accept overweight or "ugly" people because that's just not what beauty is in America, one contestant said he would never date an overweight woman because women like that weren't attractive, a female contestant said she got plastic surgery to feel better about herself, and the anchor the show summed it all up to tell us not to worry, older people participated in this competition as the oldest contestant was fifty years old.

There were so many things wrong in this three or four minute segment that I saw that I couldn't even handle myself and almost mouthed off to the TV in the break room. I watch TV so infrequently now that when I see shows like this, I get shocked that people still say these things on air. Being immersed in the world of Tumblr which generally critiques such modes of thinking and viewing celebrity culture from a far different vantage than what's presented on shows like ET makes it all the more shocking when I do see things like this. Then I being to wonder: is this the basic perception of celebrity culture that most Americans have? Is their view of people who are overweight or beautiful in a "non-traditional" way similar to the beauty contestants? Is fifty really considered old and are we really that vapid overall? I say no. I cannot believe that what this show purports is really what the majority of Americans believe. But then I overhear conversations people have about such topics and I begin to wonder if my way of thinking is more in the minority than I thought.

I have long since decided that the ideological nature of what it means to be an American is something I don't identify with very well and don't support. I've been aware of this for a while. What I'm beginning to sense is that more ideas of what being Americans means don't apply to me as well.

Let's be honest - the whole idea of nations states makes perfect sense to me but at the same time I find them very, very strange. Arbitrary lines suddenly mean so much and add cultural identity while stipulating what a person is or isn't. I've grown up with this idea, I understand it, but it's just so strange. Because of internet communication, I can easily connect with people thousands of miles away and understand how much I have in common with them despite the distance and different culture. But at the same time, I see how strong certain differences are and how the US is not as global as it thinks it is, being very much set in a distinct mentality of... well, for a lack of a better word, "Americanness." I am certainly part of that mentality but there are moments when it's clear to me that I don't fit it very well at all.

This becomes most clear to me when talking about living abroad. I myself am planning to do this in the near future and my friend and roommate Sarah spent last year living abroad in Russia. She's been dealing with assumptions that she's still in Russia or has all of her friends in that country now while trying to express how her perceptions of America have become nuanced from living elsewhere. She feels a little like she has no other choice but to go back to living overseas because people have written her off as still being there in a sense (I'm summarizing a conversation we had so if I get this wrong, Sarah, kick me). While I've never spent longer than two weeks at a time being overseas, I feel a similar disconnect - not as strong, certainly - but a perception of being not quite here, perhaps partly due to my own thinking. I spend a lot of time online hearing and seeing opinions expressed by people living in Europe and may have developed what some people would call "European sensibilities." This of course assumes that there is only one sort of sensibility that defines all of Europe, which is not correct, but does highlight how the US separates itself from its allies on the other side of the pond. There's us and there's them - that's how nation-states work. But what happens when you get people like me who dream of living abroad and likely working there, or people like Sarah who have lived abroad and are now treated differently because of it? We get written off into this sort of ex-pat grouping that isn't accurate, but occurs because of our limited idea of how to define people who pass between borders, who cross country lines frequently, who live in one place but dream in another. I only have very restricted means to discuss this, but after hearing a panel of students at the U who had studied abroad, I feel like there's a great deal of misunderstanding that these students go through when returning, that they have a very hard time discussing their experiences with anyone else. How do we deal with being Americans abroad, understanding that we have the privilege to go overseas like this in ways that other countries don't? How do we respectfully engage in the culture without being too much of a tourist but understanding that we are Americans and are coming in with a very specific understanding of the world? How do we return back to the States then and try to explain what we've seen and experienced, while trying to deal with American exceptionalism and ideas of not being patriotic or American enough? I truly have no idea.

 I do find a strange sort of comfort in hearing other people talk about Americans. Getting a different perspective, from friends abroad and various internet discussions helps me try and redefine nationalistic categories. While listening to the Chris Hardwick's interview with Tom Hiddleston (which I highly recommend listening to if you're a Hiddleston fan; it's delightful), Mr. Hiddleston mentioned the differences he sees in how Americans versus Europeans discuss family ancestry. Americans seem so capable of tracing their heritage back to other parts of the world and having a specific understanding of where their family came from (the idea of "my great-great-great-great grandfather came over on the Mayflower and..." etc.) while Europeans, who have generally lived in the same area of the world for centuries draw a blank. Yes, they know where their grandparents and great-grandparents lived, but after that it gets rather muddled. I found this conversation strangely comforting because I've long had this feeling about other Americans (especially from my friend Kevin, who somehow knows he's about six or seven European nationalities while still claiming to be a "mutt") while I myself seem to have the assumed European approach to this. Here is a basic understanding of my heritage:

- My grandfather on my father's side grew up in Pennsylvania and was a first-generation Italian-American. My great-grandparents had an arranged marriage and met for the first time here in the US after coming from Italy. Where in Italy, you ask? I think it was the northern area. But my father seems to think it was Naples? But for some reason I thought I once heard that they were from Florence? So I really have no idea.
- My grandmother on my father's side grew up in the Midwest. She was Irish, Dutch, and possibly English. And maybe German? I know nothing more than that.
- My mother's family is even more vague. My grandfather's surname was German. My mother remembers seeing or hearing about a painting of an American Indian woman in someone's household who might have married into our family, but we have no idea who she married or who she was. Where my relatives came from, where they lived before they lived in Indiana... not a bloody clue.
- In my heart, I dream that I am Scottish, because my mad love for that area of the world makes little sense otherwise.

There you have it. I can't trace my ancestors back to the Mayflower. I don't even know when my great-grandparents from Italy - who I have the most info about - came over, or from where. Most likely because once they got here, they put the past behind them and started anew. They likely never figured that it would be important to remember their family tree in precise detail so that when their great-granddaughter, when faced with people who could draw their heritage from Laura Ingalls Wilder and Joseph Stalin or bank robbers in the Midwest, would wonder who in the world she were related to. I've tried those Ancestry.com things, but I can't get anywhere before having to pay money because my parents can only go so far back - they don't know anything about their great-grandparents - and there's just no record of them. And if I did know, what would it matter? I come from a long line of European middle-class or lower-class individuals who were most likely peasants. When I was younger and stuck in the Disney-princess mode where people always found out they were secretly heirs to some throne, I thought this might be possible. The film Anastasia gave me a ridiculous amount of hope. But there are only so many royal family lines and, to be honest, I don't think I really want to be connected to any of them. Besides, now I can sing Lorde's "Royals" at the top of my lungs. And if I did know my ancestry, what could it really tell me about myself? I grew up in the United States - that defines the culture I was raised in. And yet I still feel dissociated from that. I grew up eating lasagne and homemade pasta for Thanksgiving dinner - as we did this year - rather than turkey. I have a strong sense of wanderlust. And I really can't shake off the feeling that Scotland feels all too familiar to me... (And we're not even getting into the fact that I love snow and mountains despite having been born in one of the flattest, least snowiest states in the US). The point is that my idea of my own Americanness is so warped that I long to find answers through some other means - in this case, heritage - even though there are likely no answers to be found there. But when categories are defined between Americans and Europeans and I find myself having more in common with Europeans, I struggle to clear up the confusion it causes.

Fortunately, I'm growing used to confusion. And also fortunately, I saw the most important TED talk I have ever seen in my life in my managment class on Wednesday. Take a look:

I regret never having heard of Chimamanda Adichie before, because this is brilliant. This takes on so many of the issue floating around in my brain - issues with writing and storytelling, nationality, race, culture, stereotyping, communication - it's perfect. Absolutely perfect (not to mention it's given me exactly what I need to frame my endeavors of study in grad school). It also reminds me of Studs Terkel, a writer I first encountered in my intro to Cultural Studies class. I adored his writing because he went around the US, interviewed people, and wrote down their stories. It was a great way to break through the idea of a single story, of breaking through a single idea of what living in the US meant. And when I get all confused and boggled about things like this, its reassuring to see that there is more to being an American, a writer, a human, than what is often expressed.