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Post by Jaime Garcia Sandoval

Most people react with confusion when first encountering Björk. The iconoclast is known to many for her avant-garde music, and to others for her bizarre attire (Google: Björk swan dress). Her music is not what one might call radio-friendly or catchy—or even music, for that matter—but that’s exactly what first made me want to know more about her. As an English major, I know how rewarding it can be to read some 300-year-old text that is initially inaccessible but, after meticulous study, decodes before my eyes. I knew it would be a challenge, but I was hoping that it would be a worthy one.

And it was. Don’t get me wrong—it took me some time to truly “get” her music. I would listen to curated playlists on Spotify but found that every song was so different from the next. It was difficult to understand where she was coming from. Then, I decided to simply listen to her albums in chronological order. Looking back, this seems like a no-brainer, but it really made a difference. Björk’s discography is a complex musical journey that offers only a couple of access points. The best way to start is to go back to her 1993 solo debut, aptly titled Debut.

It’s hard to understate the legacy this album has had on dance-pop music. Artists like M.I.A., Lady Gaga, Robyn, and Grimes have all cited being influenced by the album’s eclectic blend of genres from electropop to art pop. Debut is Björk at her most radio-friendly; the conventional verse-chorus structure is largely intact throughout, but that doesn’t mean that this a simple pop album. As co-producer, Björk uses not only her lyrics to tell her story, but the music itself. In “There’s More to Life Than This,” the singer ponders an existence beyond partying while at a bar. The song was recorded in the bathroom of a London bar and uses its hustle-and-bustle as a backdrop for its steady beat and sultry vocals. “C’mon on, girl! Let’s sneak out of this party. It’s getting boring,” she sings. The volume and clarity of the track changes as people open and close the bathroom doors, and it really feels like you’re inside a dance club with Björk as she cajoles you into sneaking off to the harbor to see the sun come up. This wish to escape the crowded city and go somewhere quiet is fulfilled in the album’s last song. “The Anchor Song” features a minimalist arrangement of saxophones that are meant to sound like boat horns. It is the only song on the album entirely produced by Björk, and notably does away with orthodox song structure. She opts instead for a single verse repeated twice, in which she vows to always live near the ocean. The song is a glimpse of the minimalist direction that the singer would adopt after the turn of the century, and the rest of her albums in the nineties are an interesting transition into that.

Björk’s second album, Post, is even more diverse than her first. The singer dives head-first into genres previously untouched by her. At times combining the genres and other times featuring them on their own, this album offers big industrial beats (“Army of Me”), jazzy pop standards (“It’s Oh So Quiet”), and the chaotic, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production of “I Miss You.” Although it’s not an immediately cohesive album, the glue that holds it together is Björk’s evolving lyricism and its relationship to the music. In “Enjoy,” the singer explores a dangerous and unprecedented moment of intimacy. Produced with the help of trip-hop pioneer Tricky, the song features a bass-heavy production that blends hip-hop beats with industrial synthesizers to create a track that is eerie yet club-ready. “How can I ignore? This is sex without touching…I’m only into this to enjoy” she says, her voice filtered and distant. Her descriptions are paradoxically precise yet ambiguous enough to contribute to the mysterious song. The song’s chorus features Björk screaming “enjoy!” and doing her signature growl over a militant beat. This simplicity and brashness is the charm of Post.

Homogenic is Björk’s marked separation from pop music and into strictly experimental music. The album deals with deeper themes and sees the singer floating unrestrained in an ocean of strings and electronic beats. This marriage of soundscapes presents itself perfectly in “Bachelorette.” The song features drastic beats coupled with a dramatic string arrangement that sounds like something out of a dark, contemporary take on Phantom of the Opera. “I’m a fountain of blood in the shape of a girl. You’re the bird on the brim, hypnotized by the whirl,” she sings, the desperation thick in her voice. The song is a part of the Isobel Series, a cycle of songs spanning the singer’s career which chronicle the adventures of a fictional woman of nature who is forced to grapple with the rise of technology and city life. Regarding the song, Björk says, “Because I wanted the lyrics to be so epic, I got my friend Sjón—who’s a poet in Iceland—to write them. We sat together at the kitchen table and drank a lot of red wine and I told him the whole story for hours and days and he wrote to the words from that story.”

The song’s video adds another dimension to the storytelling by featuring Isobel (played by Björk) going into a city that becomes overtaken by nature. It’s hard to do this visually stunning masterpiece justice using words, so I highly recommend watching it. Critically acclaimed art production is a hallmark of this era. The iconic Homogenic album cover features Björk with a heart painted on her lips, wearing an Alexander McQueen kimono-style gown and “10 kilos of hair” arranged in an exaggerated version of Princess Leia’s hair buns. The cover is one of Björk’s most iconic career moments.

Four years after Homogenic, Björk returned with a much more subdued sound that would come to define her style for years to come. During the early 2000s, music sharing sites like Napster were threatening the music industry by providing pirated music to listeners online. Due to the technology of the time, these illegal mp3’s greatly reduced music’s quality. As a result, Björk set out to craft an album whose quality would not diminish if illegally downloaded. She says, “I use micro-beats, a lot of whispery vocals, which I think sound amazing when they’re downloaded because of the secrecy of the medium. The only acoustic instruments I would use would be those that sound good after they’ve been downloaded, so the harp, the music box, celeste and clavichord.” As a result, Vespertine is an album noticeably different than its predecessor. Whereas Homogenic had an aggressive techno sound, Vespertine had a more subdued, ethereal charm.

Björk’s idea about the secrecy of music downloading and individual listening continues into the content of the music itself, with the album’s first track being titled “Hidden Place.” The song features a subtle choir paired with micro-beats that were created from everyday domestic sounds. The song gives a feeling of closeness, as if Björk is personally whispering to you, “let’s go to our hidden place.” On the next track, “Cocoon,” Björk softly murmurs about the surprising intimacy she has found with her partner. “When I wake up…In his arms, he’s still inside me,” she sings in shaky falsetto. This album is not a place where Björk is concerned with vocal performance so much as creating the right ambiance. The places where her voice cracks only add to the texture of each song, making it seem that much more earnest. Vespertine is an album that focuses on the aesthetic of honesty and transparency. Rather than shout and growl, Björk whispers sweet nothings. At times, she simply vocalizes wordlessly along with the music. The effect of the album’s musical direction creates a beautiful album that only gets better with each listen. It’s Björk’s quietest album by far, but that’s precisely what makes it so loud. Vespertine is considered Björk’s best album by many fans and critics alike.

Björk is certainly an acquired taste, and she takes some effort to truly understand. Throughout my years listening to her, I have realized that it requires work to parse out all the different layers of her art. But, damn, it’s worth it. Every time I give one of her albums a spin, I find something new to focus on. If you’re ever in the mood for some music that gives you a bit of a challenge, throw on Björk’s Debut and get ready for a genre-bending musical journey.

Post by Elise Escamilla

What makes a Jane Austen film adaptation good? Is it complete faithfulness to the text, or can it be found in the innate nature of film to “up the ante,” so to speak, in terms of drama and romance? Like most things in life, the answer can be found somewhat in between the two extremes. While I’m under no circumstances a researched, doctorate-wielding, Jane Austen scholar, I have seen enough adaptations (too many) to come to a solid conclusion about which worked well and which should be forgotten in the depths of hell forever. Here are my favorite Jane Austen film adaptations.

Persuasion (1995)

With only two well-known adaptations, this isn’t the most difficult choice. The 1995 film creates a wonderful picture of Anne Elliot as the sweet, patient, and capable heroine that Austen wrote in her novel. The actress is also a bit older, as the character is supposed to be 27 years old, an unmarried age that delegates her the title of “spinster.” The older age is quite different than most of Austen’s leading ladies and the casting choice is significant to Anne’s character. There is one scene in the film that doesn’t appear in the book, where Anne stares into a mirror, tracing the aged lines on her face, after Wentworth makes a comment about not recognizing her “altered” appearance. (He’s lying of course, but how rude of him!) The comment itself was a line in the novel, but the movie gives us her absolutely heartbreaking reaction: contemplating her loss of youth brings out a new aspect of Anne that makes us empathize with her and recognize that she has deep, unspoken feelings. Indeed, both of the romantic leads are much older looking, weathered even, by the lifetimes it seems they have lived apart, than any Austen adaptation I’ve ever seen, and I think it suits the novel perfectly.

Clueless (1995)

Clueless is, by far, the best adaptation of Emma ever made. There are a few more adaptations to contend with, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Emma being the most famous. However Clueless goes a lot deeper into Cher (Emma) than any other adaptation, and has a more defined character development. Readers of the novel know that Emma is completely humbled for her awful behavior and begins atoning for her wrongs in an authentic way. Similarly, Cher looks for small things she can do to help others, actively searching for ways to better herself. It comes from a genuine place. I didn’t want to talk about other adaptations, but what really bothered me about Paltrow’s Emma is one specific line, where Emma tells Knightley, “If only you’ve been around to see how much I’ve changed.” Cher never needs to say anything like this to Josh (Mr. Knightly), instead in a voice over narration she stresses the importance of bettering herself for herself, saying, “I decided I needed a complete makeover, except this time a makeover for my soul.” Overall, the writing is incredibly fun and witty throughout the film, taking Austen’s characters to another realm of social hierarchies in a completely new playing field. Who doesn’t love a good high school story?

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

I doubt that I could ever sing enough praises for this film. It is the perfect example of just the right amount of production and set design, an absolutely incredible script, and great actors. We have Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Kate Winslet, and Alan Rickman giving the absolute best possible performances, bringing Austen’s characters truly to life. The script actually won Emma Thompson an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, and it is well deserved. Sense and Sensibility, as a novel, was also not the most interesting thing to me when I first read it. Maybe as a young girl with only brothers I couldn’t relate to the close, sisterly relationship between Elinor and Marianne Dashwood presented in the novel. However the film made me feel so deeply for the two sisters and their relationship. You are able to see more conversations and interactions between the two sisters and it really accentuates the difference between them, one being a pragmatist and the other a romantic, while also portraying the strengths and weaknesses of both. I fell in love with Emma Thompson’s portrayal of Elinor Dashwood as she perfectly encapsulated the calm and collected, yet deeply emotional woman that Austen created. I cannot finish this subject without mentioning Alan Rickman’s Colonel Brandon. I became infatuated with him and his character because of how romantic he was in the film. If you watch no other Jane Austen movie, watch this one.

Pride and Prejudice (1995)

What can I say, BBC knows how to make British things. I have seen my fair share of Pride and Prejudice adaptations in my life, most of them awful. Interestingly, what most adaptations of Pride and Prejudice get right is the characterization of Elizabeth Bennet. I think every actress brings their own flair to her, but her character is so naturally likeable and fun, it is difficult to completely ruin her. But what differs about the 1995, episodic version of the novel is its depiction of Mr. Darcy. One of the most significant aspects of the novel is Mr. Darcy’s understanding of his own faults and accepting that he must change to become, not just someone Elizabeth could love but, a better person in general. This miniseries truly captures that change, without shying away from the fact that Mr. Darcy did some pretty insufferable things. I think it is important to make the distinction that Mr. Darcy’s character isn’t just some shy, introverted, and quirky guy (I am looking directly at you, 2005 Pride and Prejudice). Likewise, Elizabeth Bennet has her own share of prejudices that she must reconcile, which should also not be disregarded. The actors in this adaptation are incredible and there was so much attention to detail in the creation of costuming and set design that deserves appreciation in and of itself. Of course, this version has the added benefit of being hours and hours long, but if you want to see the most true and entertaining adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, this is the one.

In conclusion….what is it about the year 1995 that produced the best Austen adaptations? I have absolutely no explanation other than Jane Austen must have been sending her energy from the beyond the grave. So what does make a good adaptation? For me, it lies in the characters. What I think is so great about Jane Austen’s novels is her vivid and complex characters, especially her female characters. And she goes a step further in all of her novels by also employing these already fleshed out characters to represent intimate social aspects, or critiques rather, of the Regency Era. If not for her characters, her novels would just be lifeless, one-dimensional windows into the domestic life of women during a time period where their prospects were limited to marry rich or marry poor (or live and die alone as a burden to your family—my personal favorite). I find that what makes an Austen adaptation good for me is truth to the novel’s characters. It doesn’t matter if the story around them is conflated, but as long as each character action or dialogue is something that represents the characters that Jane Austen created in her novels, then the film really can’t go wrong.

Story by Jillvie Nguyen

When I was a little girl, my dad used to take me to the ice cream shop and tell me stories about his life. When I was younger, I always wanted to afford fancy clothes. When I was younger, I never thought I’d be in America. When I was younger, I never knew I’d have a daughter like you.

I was eight.

He was forty-four.

Time flies by.

I’m getting married tomorrow at a quaint, little chapel overlooking the ocean. In exactly eight hours and twenty-two minutes, I’ll be walking down the aisle in front of ninety-nine people. Ninety-nine and missing one person—my dad.

My friends say that marriage is all about the future. But the past haunts me. I wipe tears from my eyes and reach over to the nightstand. The lights flick off.

One hour and eight minutes.

Everyone probably thinks I’m leaving the groom at the altar, but I’m not. I’m sitting at the ice cream shop in my wedding dress with a coconut flavored ice-cream cone in hand. My dad’s voice flashes back to me. All of a sudden, I feel like I’m eight years old with my dad chattering beside me:

Hot sun, blazing down. That’s Kansas for you. It’s hot and dry and there’s nothing there.

“Then why were you there?”

“I’m getting to that part, kiddo.”

My entire family immigrated to America from Vietnam. We all ended up smack dab in the middle of Kansas. That’s why I was there. That was my new home.

For a place with nothing it did have one thing—

“What?”

“If you keep interrupting, I’m never gonna get there.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s okay, kiddo.”

One thing—a woman so beautiful I couldn’t stay away. I didn’t know I loved her. I don’t even think she knew she loved me. Until one day, she asked me to leave Kansas and make a life somewhere else with her. She was my new home. Vietnam, Kansas, and now her.

We sold everything and bought a brand new car. Then drove to California. It was the best decision of my life because it all led to you.

Fifty-nine minutes.

I’m almost done with my ice cream so I go to buy another. I can hear my dad already. What are you doing, Brea? You’re in love.

“Thank you,” I whisper.

I finish my ice cream cone. Put ten dollars into the tip jar. And dash out the door.  

Four minutes.

I’m standing outside the chapel doors with no bouquet in my hands. Only a framed photo of my dad rests in between my fingers.

Eight hours and twenty-two minutes ago, only ninety-nine people were going to be here for my wedding day. But now—as the doors open and the music starts—there are a hundred people here with me. I look down at the photo in my hands. My dad smiles up to me. Together, we walk down the aisle.

Post by Timothy Calla

An Easy Guide to Tabletop Games:

1.) A guidebook

2.) Dice

3.) More dice

4.) 3 or more people

5.) Drinks (optional)

6.) An imagination

There you have it. A thorough list of just about everything you need to start your own role-playing bonanza. Though what really defines the overall experience of tabletop games is number 6 on the list: imagination. The common first impression about Dungeon and Dragons (D&D) usually involve images of dice rolling, fireballs, and traversing a Tolkien-esque world while stuffed in someone’s basement. And to a certain extent that can definitely be true, but I also believe that D&D is one of the best tools for creative writers. It’s an open platform where writers can construct a narrative with the singular goal of engaging their players. Even if you’re not the one creating the world or scenarios, you’re able to experience someone else’s story and collaboratively engage with their ideas. In fact, the nature of D&D requires all players to contribute to the construction of their own incredible story. Most of all, D&D provides a safe space for imaginative minds to create a world around them. It’s an outlet for writers to freely embrace whatever crazy idea they have and a testing ground to see how well you can express an idea, a setting, or scene to other people invested in how you describe it.

When D&D resurfaced into the realm of pop culture (thanks to Stranger Things), it brought with it HarmonQuest, Adventure Zone, Critical Role, and a plethora of other shows that revolve around people simply playing the game at a table and rolling dice. And at face value, it sounds kind of strange watching people roll dice and narrator their character’s actions, but there is something special about that: listening to someone become the narrator of their character. For a writer, this is a practice that we engage in throughout our pieces of work. We plop our characters in the middle of a situation and we become the narrator of their reactions. D&D does that but in a collaborative setting, allowing you to narrativize your character’s actions in response to another person’s story. All of the sudden, you are creating this symbiotic story where multiple minds are all invested in their character and what their role is within the narrative.

Let me break down the two necessary roles for playing D&D: there’s the DM, or Dungeon Master, and PC, or Player Character. In short, the DM creates the world and scenarios for the PC’s to encounter and interact with. It is a relationship, not DM versus PC. The goal of D&D isn’t to produce a winner or a loser, but rather to create compelling experiences. The game itself (well, as far as I use it) allows for theatrics and creative ridiculousness; there are many technical rules, but none on the behavior for how you play it. As the DM creates the world, the PC’s create themselves—or rather, they create the role they wish to play. This is where a lot of the creative minds get to work; a player’s character can have vivid backstory, rich with details and tragedy, or sometimes a character can be a completely blank slate. It’s all up to the individual. If you want to play a teenage, orphan runaway or an old, grumpy therapist, go for it. You create the character that you want to see, and experience with, the unknown world that you are about to embark upon. Based on my own sessions, people often create their idealized hero; some super chiseled, manly man brimming with ideals and barrel-chested chivalry. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, in fact I love it. It allows me to create a character who can play off those tropes. Even when I am in the PC position, I don’t hesitate to go all out with my own characters. My personal, go-to character is a misanthrope with an always long winded backstory. When I’m DM, I hope I play with creative writers. I hope I get to play with someone who crafted a long, expansive backstory. This game is the ultimate playground for writers.

D&D is a microcosm where writers can engage each other creatively, but mainly under the context of improvisation. This means you can do just about anything you want and, more importantly, you can use your own potential story or character ideas and bring them to the table as screening, to see how other players engage with what you’ve come up with. Honestly, I am not much of a fantasy writer; my focus has always been based in reality, but D&D is still a place where I can bring character ideals, narrative based relationships, and landscape descriptions to the foreground of other players’ imaginations. They will assess my ideas with their own enjoyment in mind, focusing on how they can affect it within the overarching narrative.

It’s a strange experience when you first get yourself seated around a table, preparing yourself to intrigue your friends with just your words. But in many cases, that is what we do as writers. D&D (or any roleplaying game) gives you an opportunity to create with people you trust, and mainly, it gives you a place to let go and try anything, be anyone, and allow your imagination to run rampant. Again, it takes some time dropping your guard and getting out of your comfort zone, but once you do–call me, I need a campaign! Really–I’ve been dying to get a group!

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.

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