Post by Vivien Adamian

I bought Hangsaman on a whim, since I had a curiosity towards Shirley Jackson’s work and had never really read any thriller novels. Also, I thought it might be appropriate to read a horror story about a girl going away to college just before moving to UCLA. Hangsaman is generally regarded as one of Jackson’s weaker novels, and unlike some of her more popular works (i.e. The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Lived in the Castle), it has not been adapted into a movie or TV show. What interested me most about Jackson’s approach to the story was that, with her insight into the state of mind of a teenage girl feeling like she can’t win in her social circumstances, she could have written an entirely different and maybe more accessible story if she had decided to venture outside of the horror-mystery genre. 

The book jacket sells Hangsaman as a thriller centered around an imaginative aspiring writer named Natalie Waite, who becomes obsessed with a professor at her private all-girls college and soon falls victim to the manipulations of others. However, I think upon reading the book this turns out to be inaccurate or, at least, a lot more dramatic than the actual plot. With little straight-out horror in the bulk of the story, Hangsaman is more subtle than advertised. Jackson plays more on a sense of growing unease as Natalie’s dissociative mental state builds, stemming from a recent trauma. Set in the 1950s, the cast of characters consists of Natalie’s awkward family, dominated by an arrogant father who gives Natalie writing advice, a repressed mother, and a younger brother, all of whom she seems to have a pretty perfunctory relationship with. Natalie also interacts with some rich, mean college girls, and her young English professor and his wife, a former student of his. Last, there’s the mysterious girl, Tony, who is the source of the most hallucinatory aspects of the novel. Jackson uses a lot of the characters to criticize relationships and social standards in the 1950s university environment, but as a result they tend to come across as underdeveloped and caricature-like.

Meanwhile, there are parts of the narrative that show a deep understanding of the adolescent brain. It’s hard to characterize Natalie, since she spends a lot of her time questioning her identity internally, fantasizing about made-up scenarios, and observing others from a mental distance. Despite this, sometimes I really felt for Natalie, especially when her logic is she counts herself out of almost every social circle and starts nursing a shy kind of superiority complex. Other times, as Hangsaman is a thriller, the narration lacked empathy towards her and felt exploitative of her delicate psychological state. Natalie is not exactly relatable, but I feel that there is plenty of potential in her unusual development as a character. 

From the very start of the novel, the plot strays pretty far from the classic coming-of-age story we’re used to seeing in contemporary media. Instead of going out of her way to try and fit in with her peers (though part of her seems to want to), Natalie spends more of her time concerned about her fate as a writer and attempting to better her emotional state by writing letters to herself, in which she expresses that she just has to wait until this is all long in the past. This reminded me of the Netflix series The End of the F***ing World; the main character James’s indifference to life leads him to just “let things happen” to him, which very much parallels Natalie’s attitude. As a result, both characters’ lives are hijacked by someone with a stronger personality, but unlike James, Natalie doesn’t get someone who shows her that life can actually be fun. Instead, the novel takes a downward spiral where Jackson convinces the reader that sometimes there’s no way out of teenage alienation, and you just have to let your sanity go. I can respect this, since it’s true that not everybody finds the meaning of life at 17 years old, and there aren’t many anti-coming-of-age stories out there, if Hangsaman can be called that. 

I would add that anti-coming-of-age makes for a fairly stagnant narrative; a more successful attempt at this genre might be something like the 80s cult-classic Heathers, which starts out as an anti-coming-of-age story, but doesn’t resolve as one, as it involves a much more dynamic plot and main character. Veronica, a high school student who begrudgingly hangs out with her school’s cruelest rich girls, shares Natalie’s submissive personality and no-way-out attitude. In Veronica’s case, the person who hijacks her life gives her a false sense of empowerment, and then turns out to be a negative influence, which is closer to Natalie’s situation. But instead of receding into herself like Natalie, Veronica’s individuality develops more as things get worse. What follows is a comically violent and totally amoral series of events, but what makes Veronica more appealing to me than Natalie is that she always articulates what she’s feeling as her life gets more and more out of control, and that self-awareness is exactly what gives her the clear-headedness to look beyond her apathy and solve some of her problems.

Heathers is funny, unapologetic, and most of all focused on what it wants to accomplish: criticize the hypocrisies of teenage social life while parodying the popular tropes and obvious plot lines in other teen movies. Maybe Jackson was attempting something like this, but with its lack of humor or commentary on one end and its inadequate trading of a psychological study for a psychological thriller on the other, I think Hangsaman just misses the mark. Jackson does a nice job of creating an atmosphere of limited choice and psychological disturbance, and I guess I would recommend this if you managed to enjoy something like The Bell Jar or are just a die-hard Shirley Jackson fan. In the end, though, I definitely had more fun imagining what Hangsaman could have been rather than soaking in the depressing paperback thriller that doesn’t have the hope and appreciation for life a lot of coming-of-age stories are built on.

Post by Peyton Austin

Twelve minutes into the Academy Award-winning film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the main protagonist, Miles Morales, spray-paints his outline over the words “no expectations.” This references his earlier literature assignment on the book Great Expectations, the famous novel by Charles Dickens. When I first watched the movie and they showed Miles reading this book, I didn’t think much of it past my own excitement. Great Expectations is one of my favorite novels, so seeing it included in the movie pleased me. The subsequent subversion in Miles’s graffiti was equally pleasing. The second time I watched, I similarly didn’t think much of it. The third time, however, I could not stop thinking about this insertion of Great Expectations. Did Miles truly have no expectations, and how far could one apply the 19th-century book to the 21st-century movie?

The answer: far indeed. I soon realized that the writers of Into the Spider-Verse are not actually using Miles Morales to subvert Great Expectations, but rather expand on it. The themes and issues that Pip, the novel’s protagonist, face prove that the writers of Into the Spider-Verse took their consideration of the novel’s themes far beyond Miles’s graffiti art. 

Courtesy of Netflix.

For Miles, his expectations have nothing to do with money—rather, the sudden inheritance that he receives is his superpowers. Miles’s expectations are deeply tied into his family life. The same way that Pip’s sudden influx of money causes him to treat his family horribly, Miles’s new powers further isolate him from a father who hates Spider-Man and an uncle who works for the main villain. (No matter how great the expectations are, they bring with them a lot of baggage.) This family set-up, however, is most crucial for Miles, because it is his family that will help him fully come into his powers.

The graffiti scene becomes immediately important again. It’s no coincidence that Miles receives the spider bite while he graffitis with his uncle, at the spot his uncle picked out. One of the major themes of Into the Spider Verse, and the one important for this essay, is family as inspiration. While Miles’s father discourages Miles’s tagging, Uncle Aaron is the one who inspires Miles creatively, encouraging him to continue his passion for graffiti art and tagging. As Miles tags, his uncle says, “The real Miles, comin’ outta hidin’.” Thus this scene comes together both thematically and narratively: Uncle Aaron takes the time to encourage Miles in his art and life, and Miles gains his superpowers in the process. His “real self” also becomes his superpowered self.

This graffiti scene is also the one that first poses the question for Miles: does he truly have no expectations? In fact, he has many—his family, and especially his father, expects him to succeed in an elite school where Miles originally did not want to go. The original Peter Parker expects Miles to disable The Super Collider. The other Spider-characters expect Miles to be able to save the multiverse. Yet more than that, Miles is loved. His mother and uncle love him, and his father, while harder on Miles, clearly loves him too. So where is Miles getting this perception that he has no expectations?

Despite the love there, the family still remains fractured. Miles and his father cannot get along, and Miles’s father and uncle further cause a rift by refusing to talk to each other at all. Miles struggles with his powers throughout the movie (as Pip struggles with money and love, getting himself into large debts). No matter how much Peter B. Parker attempts to teach Miles control of his powers, no matter how much advice the other Spider-characters give, Miles’s powers cannot grow in strength. Miles’s family, especially when Aaron dies, is still falling apart.  

Courtesy of Netflix.

Miles finally achieves his full powers when his father approaches him about Aaron’s death. His father opens up to Miles, reaffirming his love and care for Miles and saying, “I see this spark in you, it’s amazing. That’s why I push you, but . . . that’s yours.” Immediately after this moment, Miles taps into the full extent of his powers. This is the critical moment, between Miles and his father. Despite Miles being unable to respond, his father stops trying to place so much expectation on his son, instead giving it to Miles to do whatever he wishes. He offers unconditional love, especially in the face of family tragedy. In the moment where Miles has lost his number one supporter in his uncle, his father finally steps up to reconnect. This was something that Peter Parker didn’t understand (and couldn’t, considering his family issues with Gwen). It’s Miles’s family that finally steps up.

Despite losses like Aaron, Miles’s superpowers eventually bring his family closer together, where Pip only reconciled with his family as he grew out of his elitism. But it’s still very clear that the writers of Into the Spider-Verse were more than inspired when it comes to Great Expectations. (Plus, many of the characters in Pip’s life can transfer right over to the movie. It’s crazy how similar they are.) The movie writers took their own perspective of the book’s themes of family, inheritance, and coming-of-age. 

And what is Into the Spider-Verse about if not the way we relate to other people’s stories while creating our own? All the other Spideys have stories that are similar in narrative but distinct in detail to Miles’s, and this is exactly how the movie plays Miles’s story with Great Expectations. Miles is another version of Pip, the same way he’s another version of Spider-Gwen and Peter Parker and Spider-Man Noir. And as the movie proved, despite Miles Morales’s similarities to other narratives, he’s able to create a distinct and unique narrative of his own.

Post by Peyton Austin

“Hallmark movie” has become synonymous with “bad, cheesy romance movie”— and rightfully so — but the general consensus is that they can be forgiven because they spark joy a la Marie Kondo. Or, in my case, they’re fun to make fun of. Or, what’s really true (and less mean): Hallmark movies are a great place to analyze tropes and find out why they work, fail, or are needed. Much in the same way that intentionally symbolic films or books ask you to read into itself, the heavy tropiness of Hallmark movies begs you to do the same.

Over spring break, I had the equal pleasure and misfortune of watching Hallmark’s Once Upon a Prince. The movie follows Susanna, an aspiring gardener, as she falls in love with Nate, who she assumes is a regular, vaguely British-sounding man but surprise! He’s really a foreign prince. Despite the fact that he can’t marry a commoner, much less an American, he continues to court her. How romantic!  

The issue throughout the movie, however, is that there is never an issue between the two of them. This is not to say that there is no conflict in the movie at all. Susanna’s father is hospitalized very briefly, and Nate’s mother (the queen) refuses to let Susanna and Nate become a couple. There are some digs at Susanna’s Americanness and class, though Susanna in actuality is very well-off and the prince accommodates her and her sister. But there is never any conflict between Nate and Susanna. From the moment they meet, when Nate helps Susanna fix a flat tire, they are amicable and completely into each other.

This type of plotting, where the couple must fight against an external (rather than internal) problem, is common in Hallmark movies. Just think about how many of the Hallmark Christmas movies must save Christmas! or save the town’s Christmas spirit! The couple just happens to fall in love along the way. This type of plotting, consequently, made me realize why the enemies to friends to lovers trope is so good, and it comes down to a) actual conflict between the couple, which eventually leads to b) mutual understanding and respect.

There are two main problems with these couples that have no internal conflict. The first is that emotional moments, or moments that should be emotional, have no weight. Susanna finds out that Nate is the prince because her sister shows her an online article, but the movie cuts before we see her reaction. She then confronts Nate, but even using “confronts” is too strong a word. He explains everything and it’s laughed off. His major lie has no consequences at all, because the movie refuses to put any conflict between the characters. Moments of emotional weight completely disappear, dissolving major stakes in the relationship.

The second problem is that the relationship becomes boring. The entire movie, Susanna and Nate just do various activities side by side (gardening, walking, eating dinner) without talking about anything meaningful. The edits cut between their gazes, held just long enough so that the audience can understand Susanna and Nate are into each other. The closest thing the audience gets to understanding their intimacy or compatibility is an outside character’s comment on the relationship. It’s all telling and no showing; there are no moments of genuine connection because these characters don’t actually know each other. The movie tells you, “Root for these people to get together!” and you think, Well, why? Even the shown moments of connection are bland.

In an enemies to friends to lovers situation, there is practically nothing but emotional weight. The initial hatred between the two characters is what fuels their relationship, usually pushing the characters into further action out of anger, pettiness, or this hatred. The emotional weight is constant — in fact, the emotional weight is present in every stage of the enemies to friends to lovers relationship. The friendship tempers the previous hatred, also sparking disbelief that the two characters can get along. This disbelief continues in the lovers stage, along with every other emotion that accompanies romance. This development between the characters, especially starting in hatred, never makes the relationship boring.

And in the lovers stage, the question Why this person, after everything? is easily answered because the relationship develops so thoroughly. To get to lovers—to even get to friends—there has to be an understanding of the other person. These people hate each other because of fundamental beliefs or because of personality traits—intrinsic and internal conflict. This hatred can only be amended by various meetings between the people, where they learn new things and attempt to reconcile this news with the person they hate. They have to reach new understanding and knowledge about the other person. They have to conflict! They have to work hard to get to friendship. And from that understanding of each other, love blossoms. The love feels earned because genuine effort was put into these two characters reaching this romantic point. It’s dramatic and exciting! The conflict between them heightens the romance, rather than the other way around.

This is not to say, as I wind this post down, that every couple needs to follow the enemies to friends to lovers trope. But the this trope shows, in possibly the most extreme version, that conflict between couples is a good thing (and let me make it clear, enemies to friends to lovers is different from abuse). It forces a deeper understanding of the other person and creates a more dynamic relationship between the characters. This change occurs in the audience as well as the characters, and there’s no doubt about why these characters are together.

So let the Hallmark movie writers continue to pick plots and characters by throwing a dart at a board. We can learn from their gold mine of tropes, even if — as in my case with Once Upon a Prince — the trope isn’t actually there.

Post by Gianna Provenzano

A reading slump is the inability to read no matter how much you want to. As someone who has experienced the dreaded reading slump several times, I can personally attest to how frustrating they are. However, because of my experiences, I also have some good tips for getting out of them.

Letting Go

First things first, if you have any guilt or frustration from not reading recently, let it go. Sometimes school happens, sometimes life happens, sometimes work happens — whatever it is, it’s okay. If that means walking away from whatever book you’re trying to read and taking a break, or setting a book down for a little while longer, that’s okay. Take the time that you need.

Clear Out Your TBR and Start Fresh

Having a long ‘To Be Read’ pile can induce feelings of guilt and frustration. Stacks of books piled up everywhere may be an #aesthetic, but they can also feel like pressure. Getting rid of the feelings of ‘I have to read this first’ or ‘I should read this’ can help clear out any negative energy that you might associate with your TBR. Reading should be fun, not an obligation, and starting fresh can be one efficient way to break out of a reading slump, that will also give you peace of mind.

Get Something From a Genre That You Wouldn’t Normally Try

Tropes and genre conventions can be really fun, but sometimes they can be too much of a good thing, effectively embedding you in comfortability. Trying something from a genre you wouldn’t normally read could provide a much needed shakeup. Into high stakes thrillers? Maybe try a romance. Or if contemporary YA is usually more your speed, try a historical fiction novel. You could even try a different format all together, like a comic or graphic novel!

Reread an Old Favorite

Revisiting a book, perhaps an old favorite, can remind you why you loved reading in the first place by bring you back to the time you first read it. Taking a trip down memory lane and finding themes and little details I missed before, as well as seeing how much I’ve grown since last reading, are all reasons I’ve revisited old favorites. Sometimes you realize they weren’t the epic tales that you remember and that’s okay too!

Read a Book That Inspired a Movie You Love

There have been some really great (in my opinion) book-to-movie adaptations coming out recently. My personal favorites so far have been Love, Simon (also known as Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda), To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Crazy Rich Asians, and The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Reading a story about characters you already know and love, and want to discover more about, could be one entry point to get back into reading.

Ask For Recommendations From Friends

One of the best parts of reading is discussing the book afterwards. By getting recommendations from friends, you already have someone who’s excited to talk about the book with you. Their excitement might even be the thing that breaks you out of your reading slump.

Reading slumps are normal, so be kind to yourself and go out and read once more!

Post by Mariah Miller

As someone that has been using computers from the age of chunky off-white Mackintoshes to compact iPhones, it goes without saying that I’ve dedicated a lot of my time to internet culture—from virtual pets, to emo MySpace profiles, to memes. Yet over this span of time I’ve observed one medium that is especially unique to the internet—the independent animation.

Animations created by independent artists have thrived online for years, dating back to the internet’s first meme, “Dancing Baby” (1996). One can only imagine the catharsis of watching that 3D rendered baby dance on loop to the intro of Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling”. Additionally, the creation of the program Adobe Flash (1996) made animating all the more accessible and websites like Newgrounds and Albino Blacksheep played a large role in functioning both as a testing ground for young artists, and as a birthplace for other early memes.

Because of this mutual relationship between animators and the cultural landscape of the internet, who better to create art about our lives on and offline? In this article, I’ll be looking at six animated shorts and the way they discuss how relationships function with the introduction of computers from the early 2000s to now. It might go without saying, but the following animations fall within the not suitable for work territory, so watch at your own discretion.

She Blocked Me” Samb (2005)

This animation has not aged well. (Floppy diskettes, anyone?) Part of the reason that I chose to include it is because it was originally hosted on the flash website Albino Blacksheep, so it serves as an example of the motion-tweening and barebones visuals that characterized a lot of early flash animation. Also, the cavalier reference to “bestiality porn” serves as a reminder of how the purposefully shocking humor of the early 2000s scrapes against the standards of today, and often reads more as borderline disturbing than funny. Despite the fact that the video is hard to get through, the tone of the video reflects certain attitudes towards an (anonymous) internet culture in which no one was held accountable for their actions.

Side Note: I recommend checking out “Shii’s Song” and the “There She Is!” series to gain a more rounded sense of what early 2000’s flash animation looked like. (These are both really cute, well done animations so they’re worth checking out anyways!)

LOVESTREAMS” Sean Bucklew (Released in 2017, set in 2002)

This animation was done in 2017 and unlike the animation above, it’s able to (thankfully) set aside some of the residue associated with early internet culture, in favor of a more romanticized perspective on anonymity. This animation is also done by a professional animator, and is included in a feature length film hosted by a collaborative group, the Late Night Work Club (The full film is open to the public). Beyond his expert usage of easter eggs entirely reminiscent of the early 2000s (ranging from household names like Squirtle to the more obscure Giko cat), Bucklew creates a compelling narrative by visually juxtaposing the three-dimensional protagonist against her two dimensional “reality,” which grows flatter as the film progresses. To me, this visual shift beautifully signals the protagonist’s changing perspective on her anonymous lover, who takes a turn from alluring to alien. Also, the ephemeral nature of this encounter would be difficult to fully experience today, as in 2002 webcams weren’t integrated into computers, so revealing your face wasn’t a common practice. This text-based landscape serves as a reminder of a time where people were able to make meaningful connections without being tied to photo-based identities—no matter how fleeting they may have been.

kittykat96” Victoria Vincent AKA Vewn (Released in 2017, set before or around 2009)

Beyond exploring how the internet functions as a kind medium for people to interact together, independent animator Victoria Vincent’s work delves into the experience of the online “public figure”. I want to let this film speak for itself, but I’ll leave you with a quote from philosopher and critical thinker,Walter Bejamin, in his essay, “The Work of Art in the age of Its Technological Reproducibility” (1939), that I feel resonates with the work:

“The film actor’s feeling of estrangement in the face of the apparatus [or, camera…] is basically the estrangement felt before one’s appearance in a mirror. But now the mirror image has become detachable from the person mirrored, and is transportable. […] While [s]he stands before the apparatus, the screen actor knows that in the end [s]he is confronting the public, the consumers who constitute the market. This market, where [s]he offers not only [her] labor but [her] entire self, [her] heart and soul, is beyond [her] reach.”

Sons” CONCORDE & Eddy Production Company (2014)

Now jump forward 5 years into a more familiar internet—one where you can find people you went to high school with and try to hook up. Yes, now we’re fully immersed in the world of social media. Much unlike the first two narratives, photography plays an integral role in dating, as the protagonist stares into the profile picture of her former crush. To me, the element of digital vs. physical photographs indicates a divide in how the characters understand each other. The protagonist sees her crush through an intangible medium which is projected to a broad audience, whereas the crush holds onto a unique photograph of the protagonist, despite the fact that it’s over handled and worn. In contrast to the inanimate, text based world of the early 2000s, this work expertly depicts how simply looking at a profile can unearth long forgotten—or in this case, repressed—memories.

Mr. Carefree Butterfly” Yonatan Tal (2017)

This work by independent artist Yonatan Tal is probably the most accurate representation of how our devices, and the internet, function in our daily lives today. Rather than showing how characters are physically tethered to devices, the “windows” (like the alarm clock app and “low battery” symbol) that appear on screens are visually integrated to the main character’s reality. Because the main character uses a smartphone he is able to seamlessly integrate social media into his active lifestyle, in contrast to the laptop or desktop computers in the previous animations. Note how when he’s describing the ways that he’s been “living it up” he does so through the lens of social media. One thing that stuck out to me, is that even though the best friends are visually in opposition to each other—the protagonist being associated with artificial light and electronic imagery, while his best friend is in natural light, surrounded by trees—they both still use devices to communicate with each other in the beginning of the film, and in the shot where the best friend is in college. Though the majority of the animation prioritizes the human connection between the two, the fact that the best friend still uses social media shows a version of the world where our devices are ever-present, and seemingly inconsequential.

Today, artists from all backgrounds and age ranges continue to post their animations online in the form of gifs, shorts, and feature length films—an amazing feat considering that animation was a largely inaccessible art forum (to the public) before the mid 90’s. After such a paradigm shift in the industry, one can only look forward to the future works of such a diverse class of animators.

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.

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.

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.


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