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 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.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Odds Are Never in Our Favor, Part 2

To continue from the part 1, I believe that violence is becoming more common across the United States, increasing in all areas. The first question of order is, of course, what do we do about it? Gun protection is widely contested issue but I'm not going to delve solely into that here because I think the issue is misrepresented: yes, of course, it should be much more difficult to buy a gun than it is. I should not be able to walk into a sporting goods store and walk out with a semi-automatic within a few hours having no gun training or proof that I can adequately and responsibly own one (though what adequately and responsibly mean is a good question too). I'm pretty sure that I can buy a gun more easily than I can buy a car and that deeply troubles me. Entirely getting rid of guns will change the violence that occurs but not completely get rid of it - people will likely switch to other weapons and/or the gun black market will be greatly increase and people will still be buying guns, this time totally illegally. The debate continues on which I think distracts from the main issue: our relationship and affinity to violence itself. Why do Americans feel like they need to buy guns to protect themselves? Why do we live in such an armed society? Why is violence only increasing then if we're supposed to be so protected?

Here are some thoughts on that:

1) We don't trust the police: It a understood idea that many people of color don't trust the police because of how they have - historically and recently - been treated by them. I think it is also perceived by white Americans that they also can't trust the police because they see them as inattentive, slow-acting, and badly managed, and (for some) if an armed robber came to one's house, one would have to take their own vigilante action because the police can't be counted on. They aren't prejudiced against, they're just at the mercy of sloppy, ineffective forces. Which is a legitimate problem for everyone, regardless of the color of your skin - but if you also have the added caveat of being a person of color, then distrust of the police is likely going to be doubled.

2) We live in a fear-mongering society: All I hear about are these news reports about violence and danger. While it's true that all of these things are going on, it's hard to get a grasp on just how commonplace these things are when five different news stories are reporting on the same occurrences in five different ways and tying them to other crimes and constantly operating in the post-9/11 mindset in which there is no security and we're all in constant danger. Which we are. But that isn't really any different then when we were in constant danger from plagues, famines, and being eaten alive by wild animals. The human race has always been in constant danger. We now just have 24-hour a day news services to remind us of it.
3) We live in fear, but only if it affects us: I am so guilty of this. I'm worried right now because I've been affected. But the fact that this violence has happened for centuries all around the world to other people wasn't as big a deal to me. Which makes me feel like a pretty shitty person, but I'm not alone in this - which is quite possibly shittier. Many could honestly care less about what's happening in Syria or the Philippines except for sob-story reasons. I'm not saying people don't actually care - but I'm going to level with you, I have a very limited idea of what's going on in the Philippines. Why? Because our news sources already got bored with it and moved on to talking about other more "important things" like Black Friday.
4) We think we can fight fire with fire: "Don't bring a knife to a gun fight!" is a common idiom. We for some reason seem to think that if we keep using the tools of the master, we overtake him and win. Maybe this works in certain ways, but I think we need to change the tools we're using. Owning guns will not reduce violence. The object should be to reduce violence overall not fighting back against it. If we only purport that shooting people who want to shoot us is supposed to resolve violence then we're talking about the issue very ineffectively.

Let me use another example of this fighting fire with fire issue in an issue that doesn't actually involve weapons (as that might make my point more muddled).  The other day I was approached by someone from Greenpeace on the way to work. While I'd love to help support an environmental group, I really can't afford it at the moment (and good old skeptical me seems to recall Greenpeace being less than stellar). Regardless, the guy who approached me was very aggressive about trying to get me to donate by talking about how "fat Americans" buy fast food and throw out all of these containers made from ancient forests while also telling me that I should support them no matter my monetary level because the rich aren't going to make such changes. He went on to tell me that many of the people who donate are broke and/or homeless and really want to make a change now rather than waiting until financial stability occurs - which he used to combat my excuse that I am not financially stable enough to make such donations. Basically, he said (and I am paraphrasing, but this is the gist of it), "It's great that you've got a new job but you should give your money to us because we'll use it to good ends and you won't, and financial stability may never come so stop being so selfish."

I was offended by his rhetoric on about twelve different levels. First off, to mark out "fat Americans" as this sort of generic, ignorant, comfortably elitist class pisses me off. Obesity is a serious issue throughout all classes ESPECIALLY in lower classes, fast food is often consumed by those who cannot afford other meals, and I myself was physically one of those "fat Americans" when I was younger (and still am mentally). Good job, you've offended me immediately by assuming the way people look equals what they do and how they live their lives. (I'd also like to note he was shocked to hear I was twenty-three because I had a "baby face" but acted "so mature for twenty-three." Look, if we hadn't been having this conversation in 17 degree Fahrenheit weather and he hadn't thanked me twenty times for being so polite because he hadn't had anyone be polite to him for hours, I might have gotten rude. Because I am seriously developing an age complex here. Baby face? I just... ugh...) Secondly, the fact that he was trying to guilt trip me into donating makes me angry - let me make my own choices, dude. I already donate monthly to another organization it is. And their representatives didn't offend me.

Touche. (
Thirdly, the homeless/people: to say that they will pay when I won't is just... unfair. And wrong. I feel like this organization is utterly using them to get money. I don't care if Greenpeace solves climate change and ends deforestation tomorrow - to say that they take money from people who are fighting to pay their own bills and feed themselves EVEN THOUGH they have to ask if giving their set monthly donation would put you in a dangerous position BUT THEN convincing you to do it anyway is... twisted. I got the feeling that this guy was way more concerned about planet Earth than people. It seemed like a stereotypical environmentalist archetype of, "Wow, people have screwed up the earth and it'd be so much better without them" (despite the fact that we're supposed to be the ones fixing it) that I thought was only a myth but then saw portrayed in front of me. Look, I get it - humans have done a lot of terrible things to our planet. But putting nature over people - rather than seeing them as all interconnected - is a mistake. Any group that would let people starve just so they can collect money to - do whatever it is they do with it - is greatly ethically problematic to me. You're not really helping people or the world if all you do is collect money and lobby and/or threaten these big organizations to change their ways to more environmentally friendly ones (which is how Greenpeace was described to me by this representative) while letting these people on the street starve yet use them to guilt-trip me because I don't look broke or homeless. I much prefer the group I've donated to before that is a local organization known as Sister's Camelot that provide organic food to the homeless (eco friendly and helping people; my kind of organization). However, I think actions speak louder than words and, as I've discussed over and over again, there's the issue that giving money to groups that are about money and disparity might just reinforce the issues rather than resolving them. Sure, you can tell me that you are giving the homeless and poor a voice by having them be part of your cause, but then that cause requires them to give money to be a part of it, I find the whole thing ineffective.

Fighting fire with fire? Not my cup of tea.
5) We are encouraged to be distracted by other things: Half of Catching Fire is about how Katniss is a sort of means to cover up the problems of what's really going on in Panem by paying attention to her budding romance and her fabulous-ness from winning the Games. Instead, she manages to show just how screwed up Panem. Which is - irony of ironies - exactly what the marketing of Catching Fire has done. Discussing how much the film is about love triangles and having this whole "Capitol Couture" and Maybelline make-up line for the Capitol and Districts is meant to glamorize the movie but instead just makes it all the more obvious how our society acts like Panem (which I can never quite tell if it's intentional or commercialism just perfectly pronouncing its own flaws without realizing it. Pretty sure it's the latter). Realizing how discussion of Katniss by the Capitol media sounds a whole hell of a lot like how we discuss the lives of celebrities and fixate on their romances is important and hard to ignore. If you've ever seen the older South Park episode about Britney Spears (which was aired after her break-down several years ago) in which Spears is sacrificed to appease some god or being and it was expressed that she was just the first of many to be sacrificed in society, you'll get an even creepier feeling about this part of Catching Fire. I found that South Park episode to be in poor taste, yet it is also makes a haunting point - we do sort of sacrifice our celebrities. We urge them on into self-destruction and watch them burn up in front of us - not all that different from watching lives destroyed before one's eyes in the Hunger Games. (So someone should write a paper comparing this South Park episode to Catching Fire and the dark side of celebrity culture and send it to me (though don't say I didn't warn you that the episode is grisly and pretty offensive.))
Furthermore, I sensed a strong Hollywood reference from Katniss and Peeta's victory tour as well as their interviews with Caesar Flickerman. There's the glamor of an award show, the awkwardness of a Today show interview, the obscuring real issues with stardom while simultaneously invading someone's privacy for the pleasure of the Capitol. If this movie wins any Academy Awards, it's going to be the biggest, awkwardest, most brilliantly ironic thing. And it will do nothing to help clarify my feelings about Hollywood.

I'd also like to take a moment to appreciate all the Roman references in The Hunger Games - after recently reading Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, I have a whole new cascade of feels about Cinna. And if I had time to write a dissertation, I'd love to talk about all the Shakespearian tie-ins I could make to The Hunger Games trilogy (but I'm saving my Shakespeare fandomness for Friday's post).
This has been a lot of musing without a lot of resolution. But I think it's important to consider these films aside from the spotlight Hollywood puts it in. The phenomenon of these stories captivate me as they contain a lot of the mental struggles I find myself in - trying to find how to resist the problems in our world nonviolently, how to become aware of what's going on the world without completely dissolving into fear or fear-mongering, searching for truth in a world that's gone mad, and trying to be honest without being over-dramatic while also recognizing that the world is dramatic and great things are at stake. There are a lot of powerful ties between our society at the moment and the society of Panem, ties that film reviews and critics in Hollywood may be reluctant to talk about. But watching this film felt less like a traditional blockbuster and more or a strong, allegorical message for our times. These books and movies continue to boggle my mind and make me think - and I can only hope that it does the same for the majority of people who read/view them.

The Odds Are Never In Our Favor, Part 1

I'd like to preface this by saying while sitting down in the student commons at school to draft this post, a news report came on the TV about a shooting in a Minneapolis restaurant which killed one person and injured three and was immediately followed a breaking news story about an alleged gunman on the Yale University campus. I cannot emphasize the terror I felt from this - I like my posts to be relevant and timely, but this is too much so.
I begin this post otherwise in the frame of reference of having just seen The Hunger Games: Catching Fire on Thursday night. I was not prepared for the feels I anticipated having while viewing it and, after seeing it and crying far more than I've cried during any film save maybe Third Star, I'm still dealing with how much I was moved by this film. I've been seeing a lot of criticism (as I had for the first) about it being too violent for children and people not wanting to see a movie about children killing children. These are totally valid points, but I take a different view of The Hunger Games - both the books and the films. The media and marketing for the film might be exemplifying and glorifying violence and be trying to convince us the narrative is all about a love triangle, but I'm going to (as I did with the first film) separate the marketing from the story, the violent "it's just entertainment" elements from the timely cultural/political reflection in order to take a look at what exactly is going on with this film and the society it's reflecting and acting upon. Namely, we're going to be looking at some forces that oppose each other yet are also interrelated and require some pulling apart: the Entertainment v. Metaphor to our  lives as mentioned previously and Public/Political v. Private/Personal.

First off, The Hunger Games is not really meant to be only entertaining. Clearly, it is entertaining and has a very interesting story, but I can't say that it's entirely an enjoyable piece of literature or film for me. I walked out of the theater with my throat aching and feeling like I'd had my heart ripped out, stomped upon, set on fire, and my body had been thrown down a flight of stairs to boot. I told my roommate it was a better film than Thor: The Dark World (don't take it personally, Thor; you were a good film, but this is... this is different). The Hunger Games is violent, but I don't think its violent in the way that some films are in order to glorify such actions and disgust - Katniss is none too happy about the violence and commits limited violent actions in this film, haunted by her killing in the first Hunger Games. This got criticism from Entertainment Weekly, which found Katniss weak and boring for not killing anyone in this film, or as the author says "getting her hands dirty." Seriously. It wasn't dark and violent enough, apparently.
I believe that it was plenty violent, but not as much as it could have been (which I think then would have shown gratuitous violence and head in the wrong direction). It's honest and allegorical to the same violence that happens in our own world. What troubles me are people who say they don't want to watch kids fighting to death and are unaware that such things, in a sense, occur in our own world on a daily basis and are privileged enough to think that such things could never affect them. I completely utterly understand about not wanting to watch such a thing as entertainment - because then we'd be watching The Hunger Games actually AS the Hunger Games: it would no longer be a metaphor for society's ills but rather an acceptable way to watch such violence, fictional as it may be - for the time being. There is a fine line between watching this movie as a critique and watching it to see violence and I'm not entirely sure any of us are clearly on one side of it or another. But there is a strong difference between how viewers see this film and how Hollywood is dealing with it. Namely because there is a plethora of violence in the world around us and it is becoming more obvious.

Right now, I am immersed in news reports about things such as:

- Bored kids are randomly sucker-punching people in the face for shits and giggles as an internet trend called "knock-out." Several people have died due to this nationwide.
- There have been armed robberies in my neighborhood.
- A gunman robbed someone in the middle of the day in Anderson Hall, a classroom building on the U of M campus (which I, mind you, live eight blocks from).  
- A student was sexually assaulted by a man pretending to be a cop near campus.
I don't even feel entirely safe at work now. On Saturday, I took a call for the home improvement part of the store, which I was working near. It started off strange, as after answering the man on the other end said, "Who is this? Is this the home improvement?" when I had literally just said I worked at the downtown Target. I clarified where I was and asked how I could help him. He then said he was looking for two items. I had trouble understanding him as his voice was muffled and only caught WD-40. I then asked him to repeat and, as he was still muffled, asked him once more to please repeat what he had said. Then he began shouting profanities and finally I caught that he was looking for a hammer and WD-40. He then apologized saying he hated it when "I get all emotional." I, like the stupid fool I am, stayed on the phone and said that it was okay and that we certainly had the items he was looking for. He then asked where they were. I immediately got very confused. When people call our store, they are generally calling from outside, checking to see if we have the product, which they will then come in and get themselves or have us put on hold for them. He, however, sounded as if he was in the store, which is exactly what I inquired next. Instead of clearly replying, he snapped, "NO!" furiously, as if he were speaking to a disobedient dog. I was shocked, but still kept trying to clarify, knowing he wasn't in the hardware section, as I was only a few yards away and would have been able to hear him. I kept trying to find out if he was in the store, explaining that if he was, I could come find him and show him where the items were, but that I was accustomed to customers calling from outside the store and I had assumed that's what he had done. Instead, he started talking vaguely about customer service, saying something akin to, "See the thing about employees and customers..." and trailing off into something else and "Interesting word, customer. It starts with a C. Seen any customers lately?" Starting to get seriously frustrated, I asked again for clarification if he was in the store. Instead, he asked "What the hell is that beeping sound?" which I thought could have been him overhearing my walkie, but said I had no idea what he was talking about. He then asked, "So, how's your weekend? Done any shopping?" in a tone that I can only describe as lascivious. This is the part where I slammed down the phone, covered my mouth with my hands, and rushed over to the fitting room operator, telling her I needed to talk to someone. After explaining what happened to her, she instructed me to call AP (essentially our police/protection service in the store) while she called over the LOD (leader on duty, or the floor manager). I explained to AP what happened, then promptly burst into tears in front of basically the entire AP force, the LOD, members of my sales floor team, and several befuddled customers. It was my first time crying at work and the worst customer issue I've had to date. The LOD, who previously I didn't like as much as the others won me over with her gentleness and directness, saying that if such a thing happened again, to notify her right away and let her take the call. At this point, I still wasn't sure if the guy was in the store or not, so having AP there and being comforted by the amazingly kind fitting room operator made me feel better. After taking a breather in the staff area, I was able to slip back into a more rational, friendly persona. But I have never lost face like that at work before and it was alarming. I'd also never felt so vulnerable and scared.

I don't know if this man had a behavioral or mental condition, or if were had epic misunderstanding or what the hell happened, but I am not going to blame myself for this. I didn't know in a situation like this that I should call in the LOD and I didn't know that AP could handle things like this. But I do know, thanks to my Human Sexuality class, that sometimes people will call various places - fast food restaurants, retailers, and other such places and ask bizarre or sexual questions and get gratification from it. I hope to God that is now what occurred, but based on the tone I detected in the man's voice at the end of the call, that is what I initially suspected. And he wasn't a young kid prank calling either - by his tone, he sounded forty of fifty.
I mention this (besides a need of disclosure and caution to others who hold jobs like mine) because I want to remark on how this can happen to anyone. I live a fairly privileged, safe life. That doesn't make me free from danger. Strange calls occur all the time at my store - it just so happens this is the first time it happened to me. I am in a less precarious situation than many, but it doesn't protect me. What I think bothers me about both the media's handling of these incidents and my own awareness of them is that I'm only noticing how widespread violence is when it affects people like me - middle class, white, average - when really its been affecting many forever. It's nothing new - and yet it does seem more widespread, different somehow. There's almost a sense of acceptance that such violence is everywhere, anywhere, not just in "dangerous parts" of the city (though that rhetoric is dangerous in its own right). It's not as if violence was ever restricted to certain areas - that's a load of crap and kind of racist to boot - but I think there is a change in violence everywhere in the city and in the US. We're becoming a society where a gunman appearing on a college campus is a monthly event. Mass shootings happen every year, if not multiple times a year. Such mass violence is either becoming more common place or the media is reporting on it more. Or, as I suspect, both.

This post has become much longer than I expected, and because I don't want to make this any longer as shorter posts are more favorable, I'm going to pause here and continue this into a part 2.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Electronic Tattoos

This is blog post #200 on here AND it's my 23rd birthday. You know what that means?

Damn straight. There is no better coincidence of events than this.

Of course, given this stupendous occasion, I feel the need to outdo myself and write a really epic post. However, I also have to work tonight (because silly me didn't take my birthday off from work) and so am working under some time constraints. Let's see what I can do.

We watched this Ted Talks video a few weeks ago in my management class and given my interest in social media, I thought it would be interesting to share here:

I think this is a fascinating way to think about social media. As someone who has both physical tattoos and a lot of electronic tattoos, I found this video really compelling. Not only did he use Greek mythology to discuss social media, which makes me want to fangirl uncontrollably, the idea that we only remain anonymous for fifteen minutes and are threatened with immortality through the internet is fascinating and kind of terrifying.

Add that into the issues discussed in this article from The Guardian, and things get even more complicated. Several posts I've written had dealt with nontroversy issues where a celebrity or some well-known figure allegedly said something but was misquoted in an interview or was never uttered by them in the first place. Not only can the Internet retain what we've said indefinitely, it can also also entirely misconstrue what we've said and ruin reputations because of it. Now, as the article discusses, some public figures won't say anything at all about various topics to media sources because they're so afraid of being misunderstood.

I've seen these present in two different sources - the What Would I Say? app and Lily Allen's new single, "Hard Out Here." Let me start with the app. I have been laughing my butt off about this thing for the last couple of days, enjoying the ridiculous randomness as it pieces together parts of my various posts and messages from Facebook to create new posts I might share. Here are a few of my favorites:

Hoping the weather stays this nice for the evil henchman. 

My God, I'm forced to be

It's ok; I'm restoring balance to the universe

It means Babe in Total Control of the differences between scotch and Irish whiskey

I was thinking the very difficult way? And God said, I set him on his horse and he's so lucky! Well, high five! You can talk about your host brothers. And then Rochester totally wipes out with Hercules and no Loki, but let's keep saying that I was at Target tonight.

Wow I am a badass empowered woman; don't mess with me.

While they are hilarious, some of the ones the app generated were... interesting. When all the content you've ever posted can get randomly thrown together, you're bound to see a few things that appear and make you think, "Wow, if I ever actually said that I would be in SOOOO much trouble." It is entertaining, but yet another reminder of what can happen with words when they're taken out of your hand (and mashed up by a robot that has limited concerns about grammar).

Next - Lily Allen. I've been listening to her new song, trying to decide how I feel about it. I like that it's a parody/attack on "Blurred Lines" but the music video has gotten controversy and I wonder if the lyrics are the best response to Robin Thicke's song. She states that "Sometimes it's hard to find the words to say/ I'll go ahead and say them anyway." This I think capitulates the entire song. Instead of saying nothing on the issue, she's made a statement, even though it can be misconstrued and misunderstood. Furthermore, there's an issue of what sort of language to use to address the issue - is the best approach to do what she's done and use the language of the oppressor and turn it on its head to fight back? Or should an entirely different language or way of speaking be used? And what would that form of speech look like? How exactly does one communicate through art and technology in a world where nothing ever quite sounds the way you think it does when it's repeated by someone else?

These are things I wonder about while trying not to think what I might find if I were to Google myself...

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Mother We Share

Gahhhh, Friday's are turning into bad days for me to post because I have a five hour class and am either working or doing something else in the evening after. So I need to remedy that.

Once again, in lieu of a legitimate post, enjoy the song "The Mother We Share" by Chvrches, because 1) They're Scottish and brilliant, 2) they do a remix of this song with We Were Promised Jetpacks (another Scottish group I discovered at the U and fell in love with), 3) because I listen to too much indie music, and 4) it gave me some serious Thor-Loki-Frigga feels before I saw Thor 2 and now SERIOUSLY gives me those feels. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Brief Review in Gifs of Thor: The Dark World

Unfortunately I was busy all day Friday and didn't get the chance to review Thor: The Dark World after seeing it Thursday night. So let me take a brief opportunity (and spoiler free) chance to share my thoughts on it from the beginning of the film to its end, through the brilliant expressions of Emma Stone:

Nailed it. Go see Thor: The Dark World. See all the science. Feel all the feels. And prepared to get Loki'd.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Liveblogging an Existential Crisis

You might have noticed that I failed to post on Friday, mainly due to the fact that I didn't have time. And now I'm posting late today, mainly because I've spent the day doing nothing but feeling overly worried about my sore throat and wondering how many times I can wish for Thanksgiving to get here before I go mad. Yes, I realize that I intended to write about my love for Halloween, but that's pretty straightforward. I could talk about why, but right now my thoughts are so set on time off from classes and the need for a smorgasbord of food that I feel the whole post would come out hollow and insincere.
Here's the deal: I'm having existential crisis part nine and three quarters (but really). Compared to the onslaught of crises I had this summer and earlier this fall, this one is both easier to deal with and far, far worse. There are three things I've realized:

1) I cannot, under any circumstances, stay at the school I'm attending: I'm not challenged, I'm not motivated, and I'm not comfortable with the school's treatment of its students. After this quarter, I will not be going back.

2) I may not want to be a paralegal: I have a meeting with Hamline University, a school in St. Paul, next Tuesday to discuss both their paralegal and their law program. Over the last two weeks, I realized that Globe was not the right school for me and began wondering if perhaps I should consider law school instead, thinking that I might like international law, working in an embassy or for a humanitarian organization. But then the third realization came.

*gross sobbing* I miss you, UMN.
3) Sweet Jesus do I miss the humanities: I tried to get away from them. I thought after four years at the U and being exhausted from writing papers and doing all kinds of cultural criticism for weeks and weeks and weeks that I was ready to do something else. I was wrong. I find myself missing those long readings and class discussions and being utterly perplexed by various theories. Hell, I even miss the U. I walked through campus today to get to a FedEx Office to return a shipment I'd gotten and I wanted to cry, I missed the atmosphere of it so much. I realized the other night that really the only thing I want to do is read books and dissertations and write essays and drink lattes and discuss the weirdness of the world with people. Though Globe isn't the right place for me, I do enjoy the conversations I've had with people and it reminded me I want more of that, in a place where I can do and be my best. I'm not ruling out law yet - I do have an interest there - but I'm no longer sure it's where my heart lies. I'll go in and talk with the people at Hamline, but I'm already pretty sure I know the answer of what I do. Yes, there are no jobs in the humanities. Yes, if I major in English or Comparative Literature or Critical Studies, the job outlook isn't spectacular. But no job has complete security and life is too short to not do something that makes me happy. Learning really makes me happy and while academia is far from perfect, I can deal with the flaws. I would love nothing more than to write about literature and discuss Shakespeare with undergrads and I can't deny that I really felt at home in academia. I know that now.

But I didn't before. Things have taken on a different scope, now that I've been out of school and realized all the possibilities I have. I could do anything, I know this, but I want to do something that inspires me. I felt the most inspired going to my Cultural Studies and English classes, as well as working at the Guthrie and if I continue on a path like that, I'd feel pretty good about my choices. I have a lot regrets and I don't want to miss out on doing something I really love. Considering I can't walk across the river without looking at the Guthrie and missing it, I known now that something needs to change. And soon.
A lot has changed already since I graduated from the U six months ago (God, I can't believe it's been six months). I'm less scared than I was before of the future, of getting a job, of knowing when I'm right or wrong. I know when I'm wrong; I just struggle to know when I'm right. But I'm getting better at it. I can clearly see what I'm doing now is wrong and it's caused me to make mistakes elsewhere. But since I've made those mistakes - well, I feel like everything is clearer. I'll un-enroll from Globe, spend the winter working, writing, researching schools (and going to London!). I likely won't be going anywhere until the fall of 2015. But that's okay. I've been in such a hurry to get on with my life that I forgot that I'm living now. My life has literally been the song "Vienna" that I posted a couple weeks ago. It feels like I've just woken up and realized that. And so, I just need to take a deep breath, relax, and realize things will come in time. Right now, I'm just going to work on getting through school and enjoying the fact that, for once, I have a NANOWRIMO project that might just work.

Writing all of this seems highly tangential, irrelevant, and personal, but things might be kind of weird around here, so this is partially a heads-up. I mean, things are always weird here but they're bound to get weirder. Hang in there, I promise I'll get back to fandom things. Until then, enjoy the song that I'm going to be singing to myself every day until winter break comes: