by Quentin Freeman
Santa Cruz, CA-- a beach town that is home to lush, towering redwoods and a groovy surfer vibe-- is the city in which I spent the first 18 years of my life. The same city is now the site of a weeks-long strike by UCSC grad students demanding a cost of living adjustment (COLA) to address the rent levels that are, quite frankly, absurdly high, and leave many students housing and food insecure. Santa Cruz, as idyllic as it is nestled between the redwoods and the ocean, is in the midst of a housing crisis. Between the university continuing to enroll more students than it has room to house (sound familiar, Berkeley?), and affluent Silicon Valley professionals moving in, demand for housing far outweighs supply, and rent prices have skyrocketed. Grad students at UCSC, who are responsible for the majority of face-to-face teaching, are spending on average 50% -- sometimes as high as 70% -- of their income from the university on rent. Students live in cars, or are forced to choose between rent and food, health care, or opportunities for their children. Months of negotiations with the university for a monthly stipend to address the disparity between pay and cost of living in Santa Cruz have turned into an all-out strike; grad students and hundreds of undergrad and faculty supporters have held a picket line since February 10 in the face of threats of police violence, firing, and deportation of international students from the university. The movement for a COLA isn’t contained to UCSC: last week saw solidarity rallies at every single UC campus, including our own.
Berkeley’s grad students find themselves in a similar predicament to UCSC’s: we all know the struggle to find housing- and the far greater struggle to find affordable housing- in Berkeley. Our own COLA is calculated to be $600 per month more than UCSC’s, and grad students on campus are considering their own strike if their demands to the UC aren’t met by March 6. It’s unclear how willing the university will be to negotiate. The rally that took place here on Friday and spread to an occupation of Crossroads was already met by police presence-- there were even police outside Cafe 3, hoping to prevent any further takeovers of the dining halls in the name of food security for our grad students. The police presence really provided a charming ambiance for my already delightful dining hall meal.
Grad students and lecturers are responsible for the vast majority of teaching on our campus; without them, UC Berkeley would not function as an educational institution. Yes, we have professors with Nobel Laureates. But without their GSI, would that professor be able to effectively teach, grade papers or field questions? Seems unlikely. As someone who grew up in Santa Cruz in all its beachy rent-burdened glory, I am now an undergrad at UC Berkeley learning just as much from my GSIs than my professors. Additionally, I’m on my own hunt for affordable housing, so these strikes hit close to home. No student should be sacrificing their quality of life, their safety, or their health for their education or their job. So here’s the question: if grad students are invaluable at our schools, why aren’t we paying them enough to live, teach, and research here? Why are we meeting them with police presence and threatening to fire them? Who does Janet Napolitano expect to teach countless classes and discussion sections if all the grad student teachers are fired? If the UC is theoretically a public institution, shouldn’t it serve everyone, and not just those affluent enough to afford to live in California? It’s not like the university doesn’t have the money-- UC Berkeley spent $290,000 just on security for Ann Coulter to speak on campus. Think of the housing and food for our grad students that could have gone to (perhaps a better cause than protecting hate speech, but that’s just one girl’s opinion). So keep your eye out for a COLA strike of our own, Berkeley, because the fight for better living, working, and learning conditions won’t stop in Santa Cruz. And in the meantime, be nice to your GSI.
by Lucas Fink
I entered the theatre never having seen Nicholas Cage milk alpacas. I exited the theatre having seen Nicholas Cage milk alpacas.
Color out of Space is a 2020 film directed by Richard Stanley, written by Scarlett Amaris and Stanley, and shot by Steve Annis. The film is an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story of the same name. Like Franz Kafka, Bertolt Brecht, and the like, Lovecraft spawned a new genre in fiction, and hence, a new word English teachers everywhere now use to flex their cultural literacy: Lovecraftian. If a given work is Lovecraftian, it tends to feature immense, unknowable forces that ravage the delicate psyches of the humans who encounter them. The essence of Lovecraftian horror is the irony inherent in our futile attempts to apprehend and understand that which evades comprehension. In the face of our failure to know and control, we feel sad and small, dwarfed by an infinite and uncaring cosmos. Adapting Lovecraft is pretty difficult because a book, a medium with which the reader engages on a more cerebral level, and hence is afforded a greater ambiguity, can very effectively suggest the indescribable without ever actually having to describe it explicitly. Film, being an audiovisual medium, cannot offload most of the work on the viewer’s imagination like books can; film must show. How does one show the unshowable, know the unknowable? You give Nicholas Cage some alpacas, hire a good cinematographer, throw in a heaping helping of absurdist comedy, and get really weird. Thankfully, Richard Stanley does all of these things. As a result of Stanley doing all those things, the final product is genuinely hilarious, thoroughly unnerving, grotesque, quite beautiful, and really fun to watch.
It is very clear that the cast, all of whom do a bang-up job, had a clear understanding of Stanley’s tongue-in-cheek, campy vision; they still manage, though, to project an air of emotional authenticity. Allowing just enough self-awareness to poke through during the more over-the-top moments of horrific hilarity while still maintaining a bedrock of believable pathos is difficult; Cage and company pull it off impressively.
Is this film more than just a technicolor gorefest? Yes. Firstly, the film relies on more than just gore for its scares. Secondly, any film that innovatively and respectfully adapts a Lovecraft work must have something on its mind. The film scathingly depicts the mayor of this fictional Maine town and the bureaucratic structures of which she is a representative as ineffectual and disconnected, while casting in a much more sympathetic light the young hydrologist surveying the land around Cage’s property who serves as the audience stand-in and as the hyper-competent proletarian dude not afraid to get down and dirty and wise enough to not drink the alpaca milk. These two figures, standing in contest with one another, engage with the asteroid and the ensuing madness in different and important ways. The mayor employs a news team to milk the crash site for any spectacle to be had and then neglects it for the rest of the film (and, mild spoilers, eventually covers it all up, literally and figuratively). Our hydrologist hero, on the other hand, tries to understand and learns quickly that this color from outer space, and the reality we inhabit, cannot be understood. Here, we have the root source of the film’s horror: humans are in no way of any cosmic importance and are the mere playthings of chaotic, arbitrary forces that we will never come to control or even comprehend. What are we to do when mocked and belittled by the cosmos like this? The film presents three options: we can cry, go insane, or laugh. I choose the last option.
by Lucas Fink
I love Disneyland. I have assembled here a loosely cohesive array of hot-takes on the hallowed theme park, in an attempt to convince myself I can be the next Baudrillard. Here they are.
Fake rust eats away at the fake walls of fake airplane hangars in the area surrounding the legendary Soarin’ Over California, a ride so steeped in nostalgia that the actual ride itself - a raised row of seats floating before a massive rounded IMAX-style screen that convincingly renders the many wonders of our state - ceases to be the primary source of our enjoyment. No longer are my veins filled with giddy, infantile excitement upon seeing the spires of the Cinderella castle towering below my feet at the ride’s conclusion as I turn to my mom and exclaim “That’s Disneyland! That’s where we are now!”. Instead, my veins are filled with a far more potent strain of that excitement, an excitement distilled and intensified by the magic of memory.
Disneyland runs on nostalgia. When they brought back the Electric Light Parade, they used the classic synth ear-worm in the commercials promoting it, and only for a few seconds at the tail end of the ad. This is nostalgia weaponized. The selective, restrained usage of the parade theme, other than being proof that these masterminds know just how powerful that weapon is, is designed to merely arouse those memories gently, to pluck them delicately from your subconscious and let your own romanticization of your childhood do the rest. These people are loath to assail their audience with too much tasteless pandering, as they know the Disneyland brand retains that which sets it apart: prestige. Cleanliness. Professionalism. Whatever you care to call it, something about Disney feels high-brow. You go to Disneyland because you know you will be well taken care of and that everything you see and eat and do has been refined to the point of utter perfection by boardrooms upon boardrooms of “Imagineers” infinitely more gifted creatively and intellectually than yourself.
Disneyland and its neighboring park, California Adventure, feature several themed areas, each boasting ridiculously impressive levels of detail. Again, this is why we go there. Yet this attention to minutiae does not stop at the terracotta roofing of Buena Vista Street or the creole townhouses of New Orleans Square. Fake rust eats away at the fake walls of fake airplane hangars in the area surrounding the legendary Soarin’ Over California. FAKE RUST. Imperfections are deliberately constructed in a park whose entire reputation is predicated on its perceived perfection. Fake rust at Soarin’ Over California was joined by leaky piping, flickering lights, and dank basements in a decrepit hotel at the Tower of Terror. Disneyland allows its visitors to engage with decay and danger safely. We know it’s not actual rust that has appeared as a consequence of the passage of time and neglect; we rest assured knowing that “the outside world” is far away, out in the sprawling suburban hellscape of the greater Los Angeles area. The approximations of reality Disneyland offers don’t exist to be “convincing” or “authentic”; they function as reminders of the world from which Disneyland offers you sanctuary. They are reminders of the park’s infinite beneficence. Look at the imperfections and horrors from which we shield you! Be thankful that we offer respite in the imaginary and shelter from the “desert of the real”.
These imperfections also illustrate the extent to which the forces of capital have appropriated and monetized the appearance of wear and dispossession, both of which are states that people and buildings alike reliably come to occupy under late capitalism. One might justifiably have a difficult time seeing how presenting reminders of the failings of the current socio-economic state of affairs could actually serve to perpetuate that state of affairs. Basically, things that are outside of/exist in opposition to the established order (radical social movements, reminders of the system’s failings like abandoned lots, decay, and rust, etc...) are absorbed by the established order. In the process, they are neutered, so to speak, or stripped of their power to force the established order to yield meaningfully, whether that power may involve reminding the alienated masses of the negative externalities of the market system or expanding tolerance to minorities who have been exploited by the established order. Whatever the case may be, the thing that could be perceived as a threat to the system is rendered “safe”, is defanged, is sapped of political or social potence.
All the preceding, which just amounts to a clumsy attempt to imitate cultural theorists much smarter than myself, doesn’t mean that I don’t thoroughly enjoy myself whenever I go to Disneyland. I love it. I revel in the opportunity to experience it, the aura, the atmosphere, the waves and radiation.
by Akshata Atre
As much as I’d like to say that I’m an avid reader or that I’ve watched all the latest movies and television shows on the infinite streaming platforms that now eat away at our bank accounts, the truth is that as an anxious, overworked college student, I don’t consume much new media. To cope with a lot of my daily life, I turn to basic staples such as The Office, Parks & Recreation, and Friends (before Warner Media snatched it off of Netflix) and other shows that I’ve already watched more than five times over.
The only way I can really drag myself out of this repetitive cycle of consumption is through my headphones. Those giant headphones that I wear all. the. time. Because for some reason, it’s much more boring to listen to the same podcast over and over again than it is to rewatch “Dinner Party” for the ninth time. So, to start off this semester, I thought I’d share what it is I listen to when I’m avoiding talking to literally any other human being in this city. I hope this list can bring some of you enjoyment on your hasty walks across campus too.
This podcast has a pretty straightforward logline: it’s a podcast about the internet. So, as you might imagine, it gets into some pretty random stuff, from Billy Joel to the DMV. The hosts Alex and PJ have a very enjoyable rapport, especially when they bring in their boss for my favorite segment on the show, Yes Yes No (in which Alex Blumberg brings in a tweet that he does not understand and Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt explain it to him). My two favorite episodes are “Long Distance” (in which Alex tracks down a spam call center in India) and “The Q Anon Code” (a classic Yes Yes No). The network this podcast is on, Gimlet, also has some other great shows such as Science Vs. with Wendy Zuckerman, which is loaded with puns and an amazing narrative fantasy podcast called The Two Princes.
Alba Salix, Royal Physician / The Axe & Crown
Set in an alternate universe where trolls, fairies, and humans all live in (sort of) harmony, these fantasy-comedy podcasts are the perfect way to escape reality. The original, Alba Salix, follows Alba, a witch, and her two assistants as they try to heal various characters in their kingdom. The spin-off, The Axe & Crown tells the story of human Stan who has purchased a pub run by a troll named Gubbin. The voice actors on both the shows are fantastic, and I really love when their Canadian accents poke through :) Also stick around for the happy, forest-y theme music
Girl In Space
This dramatic narrative podcast is a collection of audio diaries recorded by a mysterious woman-- known only as “X”-- who is living on a spaceship by herself . . . until she is taken prisoner by an aggressive space crew. Although the episodes are only about half an hour long, the somewhat slow pace of the narration makes the experience of listening satisfyingly drawn-out. I also love the voice acting on this one. (One disclaimer: it’s going to be a long wait for season 2, since the podcast is run by an independent writer. But I think it’s going to be worth it.)
Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend
Okay, I’ll admit it. I had never watched or really known much about Conan before my mom recommended this podcast to me. But this podcast has shown me the light. As soon as you start listening to this podcast, you too will realize that Conan is one of the funniest comedians ever. Honestly, the best part of this podcast might just be the conversations he has with his assistant Sona (who I adore) and producer Matt (who sketches in the park with his mom once a month!). It’s such an enjoyable office dynamic that also led me down the rabbit hole of his remotes with the stone-faced Jordan Schlansky. Start with the episode with the marvelous Lisa Kudrow. (Also related: The Three Questions with Andy Richter. I LOVED the episode with Natasha Lyonne.)
As a South Bay native, it’s my self-appointed duty to love and learn everything about the Bay Area. And, for those like me, there’s a podcast for that. Bay Curious from KQED brings you all the secrets, mythologies, and facts about the Bay Area that will make you love being here even more. They even have an episode about what’s really inside the Campanile! You’ll also get to learn about what famous foods were created around the Bay, the origins of SantaCon, and much, much more!
Want to feel like you consume intelligent content that provides you with good conversation fodder? This one’s for you. Invisibilia is a podcast from NPR that explores the “unseeable forces that control human nature.” The stories are generally very intriguing and can teach you a lot about how your own psyche works. I highly recommend the episode “Entanglement,” which explores mirror synesthesia and make you realize that you’re not really an “empath.”
Historical Figures (aka “Famous Fates”)
Another fun educational podcast that provides digestible biographies of notable figures in history with fun music and voice acting. The name of this podcast has changed a few times, but if you look up “Parcast” podcasts, it should come up in some shape or form. While you’re looking, I’d also recommend the Conspiracy Theories podcast from the same network. Both shows have great episodes on Marilyn Monroe.
This scripted dramedy series from Allison Raskin (of Just Between Us fame on YouTube) is a fun, albeit a little cheesy show about . . . gossip. Although it’s obviously (mostly) fake, listening to Bethany, Valerie, and Mia talk about their upstate New-York neighbors in what sounds like an adorable coffee shop is just so relaxing, and it definitely satiates my need for random facts about people I don’t know’s lives. Protip: start from the beginning; there is a throughline!
Speaking of throughlines, this podcast, also from NPR, traces current events back to their historical roots. I really enjoy this show both for its compelling storytelling and its experimental score. One of my favorite episodes is called “American Shadows,” which dives into the role of conspiracy theories in the founding of the United States.
. . . and a few more . . .
It’s Been a Minute with Sam Sanders | Office Ladies | The Good Place: The Podcast | The NPR Politics Podcast | Up First | 99% Invisible | Hidden Brain | The TED Radio Hour | Radio Diaries | Pop Culture Happy Hour | Shortwave