The Blog

Post by Peyton Austin

Ah, high school. Remember that one time where one of your friends overdosed on your spring break trip to Mexico? How about that time you had a fight with your friend at her party, got drunk, and killed a man driving home? Or that one time you and your friends were blackmailed by an anonymous person who also stalked you every day?

Obviously not. The real question here (besides what the hell are teenagers in TV shows getting up to?) is: why are high school television dramas so melodramatic and unrealistic?

My answer would argue that this is not actually—or at the very least, not totallythe fault of the high school TV dramas (HSTVD)

Obviously, the number one reason why HSTVD’s are unrealistic is because they are not written by high schoolers; they are written by adults who have probably not set foot in a high school in ten-plus years. Just watch any episode of Riverdale and listen to those characters speak. You’ll automatically know that whoever these characters are, they are for sure not seventeen-year-olds.

But, again, that’s the obvious answer. I’m here to argue that HSTVD’s are just Like That—unrealistic, melodramatic—due to the nature of television writing. Unlike movies or books, television does not have the luxury of starting out slow. Riskier or more comfortable shows can, but for the most part, television requires that viewer get hooked on the show immediately. And these hooks need to keep happening—the TV show must have a constant, underlying drive. It not only asks, why keep watching this show?, but delivers the this is why.

So, enter high school dramas, of which the dramatic nature of TV already puts them at a disadvantage. TV shows about a police force, teacher-turned-drug dealer, or pirates will not lack any drama. Think about your high school experience, however. The majority of high school is spent sitting in a class or sitting at home doing homework. Sure, you have extracurriculars, relationships, family drama—but even for most kids, those things are not as dramatic as their portrayals in TV. For the most part, high school is extremely boring. No matter how realistic it is, no one wants to watch some high school kid get an A (or and F) on the test. Dramatic for the kid in question, but definitely not for the viewer.

So the writers for HSTVD’s have to imbue their stories with lots of drama, and they do this by adding in every conceivable plot possible. Sex? Pregnancy? Alcoholism? Drugs and overdose? Murder? Fame? Cheating? Parental divorce? Blackmail? Gambling? Not to mention shows like the recent Degrassi: Next Class, which often tackles issue-based storylines, creating plots on immigration, Islamophobia, mental illness, abortion, racism, homophobia, rape, suicide, and so much more.

To be clear: tackling these issues, or writing storylines on them, does not automatically make it bad writing. What HSTVD’s do is pack all of these things into seasons or even single episodes. This means that while one character’s plotline is worrying about their first kiss—normal high school escapades!—another high school student is dealing with their drug addiction. It causes, if not an inconsistent tone, then an utter bewilderment on the part of the viewer. And even more bewilderment occurs when the story moves on quickly to its next harsh storyline, giving the audience an emotional whiplash. Considering TV shows are given 22-episode seasons, this rapid whiplash is nearly nonstop.

Another disclaimer: many of these issue-based storylines are realistic to high school. The idea that any high school is free from racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. is ridiculous. I know my school was guilty of that and more. In fact, my school had many of the wackier plots as well: drugs, possible pregnancy, and teacher allegations alongside all the -isms mentioned earlier (and boy, there was a lot of that). The difference is that most of those wackier plots at my high school were one-offs. Sure, drugs and alcohol were fairly common, but only at special occasions—and they were only ever caught on campus a few times. Pregnancy rumors were whispered about and not confirmed until after high school. Still, this type of stuff makes up five percent of a high schooler’s life—maybe even less than that. HSTVD cram so much of it into its show that it becomes oversaturated and then, yes, melodramatic.

The consequences are not just melodrama (which some people enjoy!). More often than not, the highly dramatic nature of HSTVD’s result in a lot inconsistent characterization. In many cases, characters cheat on their partners for no particular reasons; the reasons given are usually contrived, and you can easily see the writers instead of the characters. In season two of 90210, the womanizing jock Teddy has an entire arc about learning to settle down into a monogamous and serious relationship. In season three, however, Teddy discovers that he’s gay. The show tries to connect these storylines together, but it’s a weak thread. It’s not that the second storyline is bad, it’s just that the two versions of this character are wildly different from one another.

The more inconsistent your characters are, the easier it is to throw them into the melodramatic situations. The more melodramatic the situations are, the harder it is to maintain the characters. It’s a self-sustaining cycle.

All of this, however, begs the question: do high school TV shows even need to be realistic?

I think the answer is: to some extent, yes. I don’t expect every HSTVD to be realistic down to a T; again, I understand that a TV show needs drama for it to work. But in some cases, realism is important—or at the very least, refreshing. In a landscape of Naomi Clarks of 90210 or Cheryl Blossoms of Riverdale, My Mad Fat Diary’s exploration of the interiority of a mentally ill, fat teenage girl does become necessary. (My Mad Fat Diary, by the way, incorporates many of the plotlines I’ve mentioned above—abortion, sex, mental illness—but grounds these storylines in characters and relationships, rather than speeding onto the next big plot twist.)

Or consider the Norwegian webseries, Skam. It tackled (Norwegian) teenhood and the struggles they face (particularly eating disorders, queerness, and sexual abuse) in such a realistic and respectful manner that it has spawned remakes in eight different countries across Europe and the U.S. For the recent Netflix show American Vandal, one of its many praises received from critics was the realism of the high school students. Despite the main plot (a documentary) being unrealistic, American Vandal’s themes, characters, and humor accurately capture the contemporary high school student experience.

But realism is not just necessary because of the critical praise (although, that should be a sign). How often does one tiny scene in a HSTVD suspend your disbelief and rip you out of the show, even for a moment? Take Netflix’s recent show Sex Education. In the first episode, the students receive none other than the classic trope of the school-wide text message. This is usually done for dramatic effect—oh no! now everyone knows our protagonist’s humiliating secret!—but it would never, ever happen in real life. I honestly don’t know how this trope got started, because I can’t imagine a time where a student had every other students’ number. This is a small moment, granted, but the more these small moments build up, the more the lack of realism grates on the viewer.

So to the high school TV drama: I don’t hate you. You get criticized a lot, and for mostly valid reasons, but I know it is not entirely your fault. For the things that do come under your purview, however, do just a little more research. Please. We’re begging you. The longer these bad tropes, melodrama, and inaccurate representations persist, the worse-off your TV show appears.

Story by Christine Linh Nguyen

By the time the fairy arrives at the manor, Ella’s already stripped herself of the dress her stepsisters had ruined and changed into a sensible tunic and pants. The fairy’s flabbergasted by Ella’s choice of attire, while Ella, on the other hand, is unperturbed at the sight of the elderly woman swathed in a silk cloak dripping sparkles all over the floor Ella had just scrubbed earlier that morning.

“May I help you?” Ella asks.

“Dear, dear, Cinderella! I am your fairy godmother and I am here to make your dreams come true.” The fairy waves her wand, releasing more glitter and Ella inwardly wishes the insipid creature would get to the point already.

“That’s nice,” Ella says. “But I can take care of myself, thank you very much.” With that, Ella turns on her heel and begins packing for her journey. Since her father’s death, Ella has stored what few valuables she could squirrel away without her step-family noticing beneath a loose brick by the fireplace. Now that she’s eighteen and a full-fledged adult, she thinks she’s amassed enough money and just worldly enough to be able to survive on her own.

“Er, but don’t you want to go to the prince’s ball, dearie?”

“Oh no, that was just a diversion,” Ella snorts. “I never expected Stepmother to allow me to go.”

“Well, dear, I can help you get there! I’ll give you a gown, and a coach, and shoes, and soon enough, you’ll be off to your own happily-ever-after, Cinderella!”

“No thanks,” Ella replies. “I’m going into the village to see Ruby, the blacksmith’s daughter. We’ve been courting for a few years now and her father’s agreed to take me on as his apprentice. And if that doesn’t work out, Ruby’s mother is the baker, and I’m plenty good with food, considering how I have to cook all the meals in this house.”

“Dear, dear, Cinderella,” the fairy says, her wings fluttering up a dust storm of sparkles behind her. “You can’t possibly want a life like that! Don’t you want to leave all the ashes behind? If you marry the prince, you’ll be taken care of the rest of your life. Don’t you want a happily-ever-after?”

“I’ll pass, thanks.” Ella swings her pack onto her back and heads for the door. “I don’t need an ending. I just need a new start.” She pulls out a matchbook from her pocket and glances back at the fairy, who wilts under her gaze. “And by the way, my name is Ella.”

She lights the house on fire before she leaves to make her own happiness.

Post by Tabatha Lewis

There is no doubt that Ariana Grande is an insanely talented singer. She has proven her vocal prowess on Saturday Night Live, imitating singers such as Shakira, Céline Dion, and Rihanna. However, I would argue that her song lyrics and music videos are lackluster and cliché. She leaves the audience wondering whether she is empowering women’s sexuality or inviting them to have sex with her through their computer screens.

One of her hit songs last year was “God is a Woman.” With such an enticing title, there is a hope that the song will empower women to some extent, as it plays with the idea of God being historically viewed as a male entity—depending on the religion and one’s own perception of gender, what does God having a gender even really mean? Yet the way the audio and visual effects of “God is a Woman” are interwoven makes me feel as if I’m watching a blurred out porno. In one of the scenes we see Ariana slathered in paint, conveniently covering her nipples. In all her sexual prowess, why does she insist on conforming to society’s discomfort about seeing female nipples, when masculine nipples are a common sighting. I feel much more empowered as a woman watching Cardi B’s “Money” music video in which women’s breast are unashamedly shown, and Cardi B herself is shown breastfeeding in the music video. “Money” promotes women’s sexuality and power more than “God is a Woman” by bravely straddling the line of what it means for a woman to show her body as it is, rather than as a sexualized object, waiting to be viewed on the internet.

Additionally, the lyrics in “God is a Woman” mirror the artistic vision of the music video. The lyrics produce this message that women draw their strength from their ability to please men/women. Exemplified in the opening line, “You love it how I move you, You love it how I touch you,”  and another lyric,“have it any way you like.” Each sets up the dynamic of Ariana pleasuring another, which is a misguided attempt at showing off a female/male’s prowess. As someone who identifies as a female, my strength doesn’t come from my ability to pleasure a male, it comes from my ability to succeed at any task I put my mind to. My sexual appeal is an amalgam: of looks to an extent, intellect and character, but certainly not the way I can make a male feel with my body. Properly worded, this song could have empowered women yet by focusing on pleasuring another being it made woman the physical equivalent of a sex doll.

Her newest music video “Thank u, next”, was hugely popular. While amidst this massive crossover of the most well-known “Chick Flick” films available, Ariana Grande relates a positive message of thanking, not bashing on, her ex-boyfriends for the things she’s learned from and experienced with them. The use of iconic, albeit basic, movies in the music video certainly helps broadcast its message as it attracts the attention of its target audience. While the message is clear, and is one that modern day youth should process, the writing of the lyrics itself leaves much to be desired; most of them are unnecessary and repetitive. Half of the lyrics are the song title itself, some name drops and then a few lyrics regarding lessons about patience and love. Making popular music with simplistic lyrics is an insult to many other great artists, like one of my personal favorites, Twenty-One Pilots, who have complex lyrics and themes behind their songs.

The importance of lyrics in music varies in magnitude depending on the genre. For example, in electronic dance music (EDM) or classical music, the lyrics are not essential to the music, whereas the beat and all of the accompanying sounds are placed at the forefront. On the other end of the spectrum is rap, where lyrics are crucial to the song. Pop music falls somewhere in the middle, making it a little more difficult to navigate. Artists can choose to have meaningless lyrics and tell their fans to “Shake it Off”, or produce something quite personal and profound, like admitting to the fallibility of the human condition and the inability to break an addiction. That is the artist and their team’s choice. Choosing the former, however, forgoes the artist’s ability to shape society’s perception of important issues, while the latter can be a tool to aid society in looking at a particular topic in a different light.

All in all, Ariana Grande’s music and music videos conform considerably to pop cultures entertainment standards, as do many artists. However Ariana Grande is arguably a more talented vocalist than those artists. In my opinion, her voice belongs on Broadway where she can fully showcase her talent, not in music videos that falsely make women feel empowered when they are, in actuality, just being portrayed as objects used for pleasure. While she has incredible vocals she is not the best song writer, making a strong case for the idea that being an amazing singer does not a good writer make.

Story by Sarah Garcia

The woman formerly known as the little mermaid looked back on the kingdom she had once longed for. She had gotten all she had ever wanted – convinced her prince she was his savior, got him to love her, and married him aboard a ship, the sun setting as they shared their first kiss. Now that sunset seemed less like a romantic vision but instead an omen, where her fantasies and grand love had died away.

Her realization arrived slowly, built up year by year and with each and every step she took upon her new home called land. She held no voice to speak to her prince but danced whenever asked, her pain and bleeding feet as proof of her love. She hoped her suffering would lessen with time, but it never stopped hurting, never ceased in slicing and dragging her blood across the floor in an unrelenting stain. And in return, her prince asked only for more and never gave fully in kind, never considered her agony and scarred feet.

Too many years of this brought her to the realization that her prince had never seen her as anything more than a child, a plaything, an ideal to be loved. He had never loved her but instead her dancing, her utter adoration, her mystical beauty. Even if she could speak, he wouldn’t have listened. Not if what she said didn’t fit into his narrative. After so much of her spilt blood, she had moved past her teenage notions of true love and come to see that she was not his spouse but his possession, something he loved but was not in love with.

She could no longer exist with her pain simply for his pleasure. But she also could not return to her kingdom in the sea, for she now had two legs and an immortal soul. She was unwelcome in both worlds. So she had decided her only escape was to combine the two. Years into her dead romance, she gathered her courage and slipped away into the night, leaving her marriage bed for the last time. She journeyed to the docks and left a trail in her wake, the moonlight shining on her blood like a morbid dream. And now she stood on a stolen ship, taking in the sight of her second abandoned home before sailing away.

She had no plan for what lay next. She belonged nowhere on land or sea, adrift between two worlds. She thought of her grandmother’s old tales of the sirens – those winged creatures enchanting and singing sailors to their deaths as they crashed upon the rocks. The woman formerly known as the little mermaid thought of these legends and smiled, hoping they would seduce her into a watery grave, becoming one with the sea again, or pity her as they saw her broken but living body on the rocks and raise her to their ranks among the heavens above, where her feet would never touch the earth and suffer again.


Post by Paige Hua

If your holidays are anything like mine, then you spend a decent amount of time traveling to visit family. Because, admit it, more family equals more presents (or in my case, more red envelopes). However, those hours upon hours of nothing to do can get boring. Here are four books from a variety of genres that are long enough to keep you entertained on your holiday travels and short enough to finish before those dizzying spells hit from endless passages on bumpy roads.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

Set in New England during World War II, A Separate Peace takes a bit of a twist on coming of age stories and speaks on what friendships can really be like. Knowles’ writing easily takes you back to your own moments of your youth where sometimes even the best of friendships suffers from envy. At 208 pages, this novel is fitting for any holiday travel as Knowles also beautifully describes New England snowfall during Christmas time. Not to mention, this story is a wonderful reminder to be thankful for the friends you have around you and to take greater care in how you treat them.

The Princess Saves Herself in this One by Amanda Lovelace

A wonderful read for any lovers of Rupi Kaur’s style of poetry and can be easily finished in perhaps a short train ride. These poems hit deep and will resonate with anyone who has suffered the trials of being a woman. Yet, it also goes beyond these trials and tribulations as well; there’s a wonderful poem about the uncertainty that is often intertwined with being an English major. Perfect for anyone who needs some reassurance before settling in with family or with some hot chocolate for the holiday season.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

In my opinion, young adult fiction has a bit of a bad reputation these days, but this little novel is sure to restore some faith in the genre. Although, be warned, you might want to sit in the backseat for this one because it is almost guaranteed to put you to tears. I recommend you go into it as blind as possible, but just know that Sáenz does a beautiful job describing the effect words can have on us and why we as readers can cherish them so much. This is just such a short, sweet, and meaningful novel for any trip and especially warming for the holidays.

Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman

This novel was definitely one that took me by surprise. At 110 pages it was no arduous read; however, be willing to suspend your disbelief as Eagleman proposes some wild tales for the afterlife. Eagleman writes of forty mind boggling situations that is sure to not only get your mind working during any long travel, but also remind you to be grateful for the short life you are given. Boredom suddenly seems like a dangerous thing because, as Eagleman so graciously points out, you spend two years reliving it in your afterlife.

Post by Jessica Magallanes

We all love a good TV show binge during winter break, but sometimes watching just isn’t enough. Here is a list of books that can help curb your super fan appetites while you wait for the new seasons of your favorite shows.

1. American Horror Story: Asylum / One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

This is one of the most popular seasons of AHS, and to any AHS fan this is the perfect book for you (we all remember Kit Walker…enough said). But if you aren’t a fan of the show and are just wanting a bit more of that Halloween spirit, I recommend Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. This classic novel shares a lot in common with American Horror Story: Asylum—from it’s setting, to the creepy-psycho employees, to even it’s dashing, and somewhat questionable protagonist. If you loved season two or just want to keep some of that post-Halloween spook, this is a great book to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Buy it here.

2. This Is Us Commonwealth

NBC’s This Is Us has been blowing up the charts recently, and will for the foreseeable future. If you just can’t get enough of the family love and drama that comes with it, then why not pick of Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth? This #1 New York Times Bestseller poses the question, “who is family?” and fits perfectly into the drama and tears that we’ve all come to love from watching the Pearson family. Expect some heartbreak and some warm fuzzy feelings with this one, because it’s sure to take you on quite a ride.

Buy it here.

3. Game of Thrones The Name of the Wind

All of us Game of Thrones fans are dying to get our hands on that final season, and, whether you are a #Jonsa fan or a #Jonerys fan, I know you are itching for some more action and romance. To try and ease your anticipation a bit, because let’s be honest, we still got six months to go, I recommend a healthy dose of Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind. This will be sure to curb your appetite for action, magic and political intrigue. Be prepared though, because winter is coming, and finals week is dark and full of terrors, so you may not be able to handle the pull of this addictive fantasy read.

Buy it here.

4. Riverdale /One of Us is Lying

Is you favorite part of Riverdale the addictive mystery? Well if so, you’re not alone and you’ll love Karen M. McManus’s One of Us is Lying. With teen angst and delicious scandals, this book is perfect when you just can get enough of Riverdale High’s dark secrets. Try to solve the mystery before it’s revealed and see how wrong you were all along. You won’t want to put this mind game down until you’ve read the very last word.

Buy it here

5. Grey’s Anatomy The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Grey’s Anatomy fans live for the medical drama and love a good twist and Rebecca Skloot’s novel, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, has the biggest twist of all. What if you saved a million lives, even after death? What if no one ever knew that it was you? Henrietta Lacks is the owner of the first “immortal” human cell grown in culture, known today as HeLa cells. The book recounts the story of her life and how she came to be the savior of millions. If you love drama (it’s okay you can admit it, we all do) and love a good medical miracle, than this book is sure to hit the spot.

Buy it here.

Post by Elise Escamilla

Writing as an art form has transcended all types of different mediums: from the screenplay of a film, the lyrics of a song, to the writing in video games. Yes, video games. For those who play them and know them well, this isn’t news. For those who are less familiar, and only have whatever party games that came with the Wii to go off of, video games are simply games. However, I would argue that there is a bit more writing in the world that they could be missing out on. Just as literature and other pieces of art can tackle philosophy and issues of morality, video games often take the same plunge.

A good example is the game Bioshock. Here is how the setting is described in one of the most iconic introductions ever:

“I am Andrew Ryan and I’m here to ask you a question. Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow? ‘No!’ says the man in Washington, ‘It belongs to the poor.’ ‘No!’ says the man in the Vatican, ‘It belongs to God.’ ‘No!’ says the man in Moscow, ‘It belongs to everyone.’ I rejected those answers; instead, I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose…Rapture, a city where the artist would not fear the censor, where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality, where the great would not be constrained by the small! And with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city as well.”

The underwater city of Rapture is built upon the idea of complete freedom. A utopia, free from the subjection of religious ideologies or corrupt governments.  However, embedded in the language of independence are severe red flags: “petty morality” and “the great would not be constrained by the small.” These phrases foreshadow the truth behind the supposed utopia and imply that, in Rapture, there will be no moral compass guiding right from wrong. Everything will be done in the name of science, progress, or creativity. Real psychopaths emerge (was anyone surprised?) in the exciting forms of a sadistic artist, an insane plastic surgeon obsessed with beauty, and ruthless business men. While these characters wait for you to face them, you, as a player, have to face moral conundrums of your own. The game as a whole confronts morality head on, while also producing an incredibly compelling and heart-felt (depending on your game play) story.

Another classic franchise is Half-Life. Following the chaotic events of the first game, Half-Life 2 begins many years later. Aliens called the Combine have established themselves on earth and are ruling over humanity. A creepy notion, but it gets weirder. The aliens have created a suppression field that prevents humans from reproducing. Elements of dystopia and science fiction are always a good time on their own—but together? You get masterpieces. One aspect of Half-Life that I have always found interesting was the Vortigaunt species. They are an alien species that had once been slaves, before your character freed them.  If you decide to talk to them, one of them tells you,

“The way ahead is dark for the moment. What seems to you a sacrifice is merely, to us, an oscillation. We do not fear the interval of darkness. We are a tapestry woven of Vortessence. It is the same for you if only you would see it. How many are there in you? Whose hopes and dreams do you encompass? Could you but see the eyes inside your own, the minds in your mind, you would see how much we share. We are you, Freeman. And you are us.”

The language of weaving reminds me of the Post-Colonial literature class I took here, at UCLA. The idea of weaving is a domestic, often feminized, action, and in many ways, the Vortigaunts embody classic notions of femininity. They often heal you or your companions when in dire need, and they are very emotionally connected with their surroundings. Their femininity is juxtaposed by the masculinity of the tyrannical Combine, who use violence in their quest for absolute power. Additionally, the Vortigaunt’s words, “We are you, Freeman. And you are us,” reach toward philosophy, in that there is an implication of infinity in the way that we think, feel, and share. I could probably write an entire paper about these wonderful aliens and how well they represent oppression and resilience, but, let’s face it, I’d be the only one to read it.

And yet, video games also don’t have to necessarily be that “deep” to be considered highly for their writing. One of my personal favorites is the Uncharted series. The games follow a treasure hunter, Nathan Drake, who encounters myths and legends that come to life in his adventures, whether that be finding El Dorado or the pirate colony, Libertalia. The writing in the series is on par with anything you see in a good adventure film like the Indiana Jones franchise or Romancing The Stone (1984). The characters are fleshed out, real people (thank you voice acting and motion capture), and there are clear arcs in character from beginning to end. Because of the absolutely likeable cast of characters, the story itself is only bolstered. Each game has a new treasure to find, a new adventure to embark on, and a new story to fall into.

I can’t truly describe the impact these games have had on me in terms of how I write or what I write, especially if you haven’t played the games, but what I mostly want to convey is that the idea of good writing can be extended to video games. It’s different and new, but so are all art forms at one point. It’s difficult to tell a strong story and have an audience emotionally invested—ask any writer. The fact that video games can have the same emotional impact on me as a film or novel, solidifies them as their own form of art.

Post by Timothy Calla

Social media is a vast well of untapped and underappreciated talent in the world of spoken word poetry. Even as a term, “social media” harbors a negative connotation as a space reserved for vapid millennials and overly opinionated old people. Even if there is some truth to stereotypical exchanges, such as the older relative who violently comments about politics on all your pictures and the youth who immediately deletes those inappropriate rants, it doesn’t invalidate social media as a platform of expression. That messy and chaotic convergence of social media and spoken word poetry has born many aspiring spoken word poets. I echo a fellow Westwind-er Dylan Karlsson, whose article about InstaPoetry asserts that, for many young writers, social media is their only exposure to the world of poetry. For the spoken word bard, social media allows their work to be experienced anytime and anywhere. This liberty is so massive that it changes the nature of spoken word as a consumable performance.

Spoken word is a performance art–a performance poetry–where the actions on stage, the intonations of the voice, and the social surroundings play a role in the experience and interpretation of the poetry itself. Once a single performance is captured in a recording, that single act exists in a distinct realm different from the clones of its future or past selves. The act of rehearsing a poem for the stage is less about mastering the words, but about capturing the spirit of the poem in the performance. Thus, the poem and performance are synonymous to the identity of the work. And those small qualifying differences in performing the same poem then creates different versions of that poem. If I get on stage and perform a spoken word poem a hundred times, each time emphasizing different words, gesturing differently, with changing tempos and speeds, the poem, by the nature of the performance, will be different than its other ninety-nine counterparts.

That’s why social media and spoken word poetry tango so perfectly. They match each other’s steps, social media swings around the hip of spoken word poetry and spins it to new heights (Okay, I don’t really know how to tango). Social media creates opportunities for spoken word poets to be experienced beyond the stage or the open mic. Don’t get me wrong, to experience spoken word poetry live is still far more gratifying than through the screen, but it matters immensely that there is an avenue for poets to be experienced even if they can’t, or aren’t ready to, get on stage.The first performance of a budding, spoken word poet may be the recording posted to Instagram, where they perform in their room. That same poem will then be experienced on the stage once they are ready. And each recording of that poem, from bedroom to stage, will be distinct in identity. Social media allows those thirty second snippets of spoken word poetry to exist as its own form of art.

If you’re interested in checking out or supporting spoken word, I recommend a group on Instagram called Buttonpoetry. They post short clips of spoken word events, some of the poets are well versed and well known such as Rudy Francisco, and others are up and coming spoken word poets shedding themselves on the same stage as the pros.

Post by Anayib Figueroa

NaNoWriMo, which stands for “National Novel Writing Month”, is a creative writing project that takes place over the course of the month of November, starting November 1st and ending at 11:59 pm on November 30th. During this month, some writers attempt to write a 50,000-word novel, while others choose to pursue other creative writing projects, like finishing a script or writing a series of short stories.

So what makes NaNoWriMo appealing?

Part of its charm is the sense of solidarity that comes with it, especially in knowing that there’s a larger writing community undergoing the exact same process you are. It also gives you a solid deadline to help hold you accountable and even if you don’t finish in time, it encourages you to write more than you normally would.

That being said, if you decide NaNoWriMo sounds fun and want to give it a try, here are a few tips I’ve learned through my own trials and tribulations, regarding how to not fail.

1. Set a realistic daily word count goal. Stick. To. It.

The standard daily goal for NaNoWriMo is 1,667 words (assuming you’ve chosen to tackle the 50,000-word novel, which for the sake of this tip, we are). If you stick to 1,667 words per day, then by the end of the thirtieth day, you’ll have a total of 50,010 words. While you can modify your goal based on your writing availability (because some days leave more room for writing than others), you need to stick to it so you can stay on track. Be honest with yourself. Are you really going to do better and write more tomorrow? Or are you just procrastinating and hoping that tomorrow will bring more inspiration on what to write?

2. Prepare ahead of time

Simply put, know what you’re writing. Thirty days is already a very limited amount of time to begin with, so taking a chunk of that time to try and hash out what your novel will be aboutits plotline, conflicts, and twistswill set you back if you don’t do it quickly and efficiently. That being said, if you’re struggling to figure out what the story you want to tell is, get back to the basics and ask yourself: Who are your characters? What do they want? What is standing in their way? That should give you a foundation to start off with and just take it from there.

3. Schedule Time to Write

If possible, set aside a couple of hours every day during the month of November and dedicate that time exclusively to writing. Physically block out that time in your planner or your calendar and respect that writing time. That would be the best case scenario, but at the same time, I’m very aware of the fact that NaNoWriMo does not align itself well with the quarter system since it falls in an awkward middle ground between midterms and finals. So if you can’t afford to block out entire hours at once and you have to schedule your writing time around studying for exams, then so be it. Just be honest about when you will actually have time to write. Early morning, before you start your day? If you have the willpower to get up earlier than absolutely necessary, then why not. At the end of the day when you’re tired? Sure, so long as you aren’t too tired to form coherent sentences. Like I’ve said before, just be honest with yourself and find what times work best for you.

4. Find a support system

Writing is hard (duh), but it gets easier if you have people around you who are also taking on NaNoWriMo or who encourage you to keep writing because they want to know how the story ends. Find those people. It makes a world of a difference.

5. Use Your Available Resources

If after all of this, you still want to try NaNoWriMo, then here are a couple links to use along the way.

For more information on NaNoWriMo itself, go to their website. It answers FAQs, has a community of fellow writers, and also works as a source of inspiration to keep you going.

For a step-by-step outline to guide you during your month-long journey, check out Better Novel Project. They make writing a novel seem less intimidating.

All in all, good luck and may your inner muse be present, pleasant, and ready to work.

Post by Peyton Austin

What does an 18th-century Irish satirist and a 21st-century high school TV mockumentary have in common? A lot of shit, apparently.

Jonathan Swift, an Anglo-Irish writer from the 18th century, is most famous for his novel Gulliver’s Travels and infamous for his satires, and in particular his scatological poems. Yes, you read that correctly: Swift’s three scatological poems dramatically describes how disgusting the body can become and usually includes the catchphrase, “Celia, Celia, Celia shits!”

American Vandal’s recently released, second season follows the investigation of a vandal known as “The Turd Burgler,” a student who poisoned the school lemonade with laxatives and watches the shitshow (labeled “The Brownout”) unfold–and after posting videos of the event, forces everyone else to watch as well.

Both of these works are satires. Swift’s poems aim to satirize men who romanticize women to the point of idiocy, with varying degrees of success; American Vandal satirizes the the recent true crime fad (with immense success). While Swift’s satire leans towards the bitter and angry, American Vandal takes the more light-hearted route. Yet, despite the three-hundred years separating them, American Vandal seems to have taken a few notes out of Swift’s works.

One of these notes is the mixture of extreme exaggeration and hyper-realism. In Gulliver’s Travels, Gulliver voyages to fantastical islands with giants, miniature peoples, and enlightened, talking horses–but Gulliver and his travels are made to look as realistic as possible. Swift purposefully imitated the frontispiece of travel narratives of his time, and began the novel with a letter from Gulliver swearing the story’s truth. American Vandal not only imitates this but doubles down on its realism in its second season. Instead of naming the show’s actual creators, the show’s credits say the show is “In Association with Hanover High school” (the show’s setting), the executive producer is Mr. Baxter (a character), and that it’s “Shot and Produced by Sam Ecklund and Peter Maldonado” (two main characters). The second season opens with protagonists Peter and Sam describing how Netflix “bought” the American Vandal documentary to explain why the show is on Netflix at all. Vimeo had made the documentary a staff pick. Netflix added higher quality everything to the series. Peter and Sam even appear on The Daily Show. The show wants you to believe these are real people making a real documentary, despite its outlandish premises.

The biggest commonality between American Vandal and Jonathan Swift is their shared interest in shit. Swift’s highly descriptive language surrounding scat received disgust from his contemporaries (and future readers as well). In “The Lady’s Dressing-Room,” Strephon steals into Celia’s room, opens her chamber pot, and discovers “A sudden universal Crew / Of human evils, upward flew” (85-86) and an “excremental Smell, / To taint the Parts from whence they fell” (111-112). And despite every kids’ horror at the events of The Brownout, American Vandal barrages the viewer with video after video of kids shitting themselves, their wailing, and the excrement itself. These acts are portrayed just long enough that it’s hard to tell exactly where the creators take disgust in such acts and where they take pleasure, if at all.

Most importantly, what Swift and American Vandal understand about shit is its potential and indeed its ability to expose us as human beings, in the most base way possible. We daily romanticize our lives and people around us. Shit reminds us that we’re “human” in the sense that we’re not perfect, that our bodies betray our sensibilities and romantic idealities and firmly remind us that we can be disgusting and imperfect. This is what Swift and American Vandal recognize: there is something about our physical insides–bile, acid, vomit, and most of all shit–that exposes our moral and psychological insides.

Swift employs shit to expose men as idiots for romanticizing women. The men of his stories believe women to be purely innocent and angelic and nothing more; their discoveries that women have bodily functions (or possibly, the same necessary functions as men) shocks them deeply. While Swift’s highly descriptive language and detail of the women’s bodies mires him in controversy, the poems invite us to laugh at the idiocy of the men who cannot fathom that women are human beings. “He soon would learn to think like me,” writes the cheeky narrator of “The Lady’s Dressing Room,” “And bless his ravish’d Eyes to see / Such Order from Confusion Sprung” (141-143).

American Vandal, or more accurately the Turd Burglar, creates the Brownout (and other shit-related crimes) to expose the student body for romanticizing ourselves. The Turd Burglar couldn’t handle the disconnect between his fellow students actual selves and their ideal self presented on social media. “We’re all full of shit,” the Turd Burglar says in episode eight. “You all pretend to lead these perfect, happy lives when you know you’re just as lonely as me.” American Vandal constantly uses this language of concealment, referring to social media as a mask, pretend, and fake. The resulting exposure of the student body via the Brownout implies that this exposure was revealing the true self and, consequently, almost necessary.

Forcing your classmates to shit themselves and posting those videos online, all to show how fake they are, seems excessive. It is excessive. Yet satire revels in exaggeration, so the plot driving season two of American Vandal fits perfectly. This is also a show that other critics call one of the most realistic high school shows on television (which it is). Perhaps that is why exaggeration and hyper-realism coincide together so seamlessly. Swift’s works and American Vandal prove that because so many things in satire are hyperbolic, the rest of it must be extremely realistic. We have to believe the satire. The realism makes the exaggeration less extreme; the exaggeration makes the realism doubtful. They work together to excite, raise doubts, and yes, expose.

And satire invites shit. In every other genre, shit, the body, and all its implications, are mostly taboo. Satire’s exaggeration is the genre where shit can finally find its place. Perhaps this is why one of the greatest satirists of the English world and American Vandal were attracted to this shit in the first place. Certainly the attraction to shit is not entirely on the fault of the creator. There is entertainment value in shit, as shown by the critical response to American Vandal’s second season. There is even wary or gross interest in Swift’s scat. There is an audience to such satires. “Poop is funny,” Sam says in episode three.

Entertainment was not Swift’s desire in creating his satires. “The chief end I propose to myself in all my labors is to vex the world rather than divert it,” Swift wrote in a letter to Alexander Pope. Swift was successful in his vexations. Many of them came from his political pamphlets, where he was not afraid to expose others for their beliefs or deeds. American Vandal, on the other hand, is entertainment, and successfully delights and disgusts. It does not make the show without its message, though. It always has a more forgiving look on its subjects than Swift ever did.

“We’re not the worst generation,” Peter concludes in the end of the second season. “We’re just the most exposed.”


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