By Ryan Simpkins
Let's talk Baby Driver.
Came out on a Wednesday last summer’s June. Originally intended to get an August release but was pushed up after a positive reception at SXSW. Edgar Wright’s first American film with him at the helm as both writer and director. A movie I had been waiting for for months, if not years. (I’ll defend Wright as one of the most interesting directors alive today, utilizing his punchy editing and succinct sound design, along with every other medium exercised in filmmaking, to sell a joke. What a guy.) I was lucky enough to catch an advanced screening of the film the month before it’s release, the theater revving with electricity. People dancing in their seats to his iconic soundtrack, cheering for Baby to evade the police one more time, exploding when he succeeded to do so. Walking home from the theater felt like a dance, my friends and I spinning around to remind each other of that one scene we loved so much, jumping off tall curbsides in recounting that one song. I had never felt so amped by a film, so satisfied by something I had built up so much in my mind. Even Ansel Elgort was charming despite his history as a wooden plank in my eyes. Then, amid our excitement in original content and inspiration to make our own, my friend Nick said “The love story’s sort of... unrealistic, right?”
At first, I defended it. I countered by explaining that it was a fairytale, it was classic retelling. Wright works to reinvent genre, to play on its tropes. He was exploring bank robbers and get away drivers in heist movies-- of course there had to be the agreeable girl to ride off into the sunset with.
But I knew what Nick meant. And I knew my defense didn’t really matter. Sure, maybe Wright works to reinvent familiar genre, but here he had only reproduced myths of the feminine in characters flat and mimicking. Wright’s men leaped off the page, but his women weren’t even colored in. I have now seen Baby Driver six times: four in theaters and twice since I’ve bought it on iTunes. And every time my disappointment grows and astonishment fades as the female characters make the same mistakes, hit the same boring notes, and kiss the same men the way they always do, despite my mind willing them to do otherwise. While Wright shines in this showcase of his directorial skills, his film falters in his flat female characters who lack agency, personality, or originality, characterization practically pulled from a hat of love interest tropes.
To sum it up, Baby Driver is a boys club. It’s music video meets heist film, story told by soundtrack songs played by Baby, our ears and eyes (and unavoidable male gaze). Elgort plays Baby, a sweet kid in a bad situation: he listens to iPod after iPod to deal with a hearing ailment, makes garageband like music in his free time, and misses his mom (played by breathy Sky Ferreira, cause, sure) who died when he was young. But in between making playlists and caring for his handicapped foster father (CJ Jones), Baby is forced to drive criminals away from robbed banks to pay off a debt to gang leader mastermind Doc (played by ~super yikes~ Kevin Spacey). Doc only chooses the best of the best for these gigs, he “never does a job with the exact same crew twice”, save for Baby (a testament to his talent). This plot ploy introduces us to several big bad bank robbers, such as lovers Buddy (Jon Hamm) and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez), as well as Jamie Foxx’s Bats (plus Flea is there at one point, cause why not). These colorful characters (literally characterized by colors black, lavender, and red) come together at the films climax for the ultimate unexpected heist-- but of course, now Baby wants out. He wants to escape with his girl-next-door “waitress girlfriend” Deborah (name like the Beck song, or the T-Rex one, played by Lily James). So Baby bails, or tries to, and runs for his life to achieve a dream of romance that sounds like lyrics to a Chainsmokers song: “to head west... in a car I can’t afford with a plan I don’t have: just me, music, and the road.”
Throughout the film, Baby dreams of a 1950s fantasy: black and white as Deborah leans on a smooth car in a school girl skirt as Baby with his hair gelled up approaches. It’s simple and nostalgic, much like the rest of the film romanticizing American diners and classic rock. But this nostalgia reveals ignorance as Baby (and Wright) reminisce on a time of heightened heteronormativity and patriarchal control, the women in the film serving as 1950s pin-up girls, and nothing else.
First, there’s Deborah. Poor, beautiful Deborah. Lily James does her best. She’s classic Manic Pixie, a term coined by Nathan Rabin to describe Dream Girls who “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures". Their feelings often ignore, their character often prop to serve male counter points, revealing their inner feelings and motivating their plot rather than having an independent plot or arch of their own. We first meet Deborah on a tricked out coffee run where the Harlem Shuffle plays in Baby’s headphones, car horns and wall art signing along to the song. A quirky girl in cheerful yellow with big purple headphones catches Baby’s eye as she passes below a graffiti mural of heavenly clouds and a big red heart: there she is, that’s our love interest. With a coy smile to Baby before her look away, Deborah is pinned under the film’s thumb as a girl different from the rest, a girl who gets it, in the eyes of Baby, a girl who will be his girlfriend and nothing more.
Deborah later enters the diner where he eats, dreamingly singing out the letters of his name to Carla Thomas’ tune “B..A...B...Y, ba-by”. She takes his order and just starts acting weird. She first notices his tape recording their conversation, a habit of his we’re familiar with, but one a stranger would see as crossing a line, right? Not Deborah. She picks it up and plays his game, speaking right into the tape’s mic. Sure. Rather than taking his order she begins to ramble, confessing suddenly her escapist dreams involving driving (omg, Baby drives) and listening to music (omg, Baby LOVES music). What has Deborah taking interest in this tight lipped, expressionless, monotoned (she’ll say “Mysterious”, I’ll say white bread) white boy is left unsaid, as female thoughts or rationale has no place in the film. And this immediate attraction is only the beginning of that issue.
As the film goes on, Baby keeps secrets from Deborah and grows more dangerous and violent, lying to her about his personal life and work while putting her in these dangerous contexts. Deborah is threatened by his gang, witnesses him shoot a man, and still decides to run off with him. Keep in mind, they have only been on a date or two at this point in their relationship, yet Deborah is willing to give up her whole life to escape with him, knowing once they start running (from the police, from the gang) they’ll never stop. But what independent life is she giving up, really?
The most we ever learn about our waitress is on one of her first dates with Baby in a laundromat (so domestic, wow). The two sit against machines spinning bright cycles of primary colors as their feet tap to the music playing from their shared headphones. They listen to a song with the same name as Baby’s new girlfriend (“Oh De-bo-ra, always look like a ze-b-ra” “Well I am wearing black-and-white so I guess you could call me Zebora” - and she’s funny too!) as he lip syncs along, knowing the words by heart, and watches a smiling Deborah bob her head. The camera pans around them the wash cycles behind them as they stand and spin around each other the same way to learn about where they’re from, what they’re like, all the while keeping their earbuds in place. The two stand close as Deborah leans against a washer, Baby standing over her. He tells her how his parents died. Deborah tells him she’s lost hers as well. Her eyes line with tears as she tells him “I don’t have much to keep me here anymore”, as if that’s Wright’s excuse. It’s honestly a lovely scene. It’s fresh and exciting, the audience able to feel the early first date jitters when you’re just getting to know someone you know you’ll fall in love with. But it’s as far into Deborah’s character as we get. Her orphaned backstory mirrors Baby’s, her simple dreams align with his, her only characterization is flirting with him and waiting on him, literally, both in the diner and in their lives, as she waits for him to drive off with her or waits for him on the outside of (spoiler alert) prison. Deborah serves as his yes-man, lacking any original character to serve anything other than his plot.
The other female character we really meet is Darling, characterized by her beauty. Darling, younger than Buddy, her boyfriend and often seen sucking a lollipop, has a flirtatious air about her, laughing at the men with things get stiff, singing to Baby rather than threatening him. The male gaze is strongest concerning Darling, the film featuring a few direct shots of her hips as she walks away. She’s sort of not much more than the Hot Girl of the team. However, I give a bit more credit to Gonzalez in Baby than most people do. There’s a moment in the film where things get tense: an arms deal has gone wrong, lots of cops are dead, and Bats reveals how much of a loose cannon he is. No ones seeming to like each other very much. Bats has Baby pull into a gas station to raid the convenience store while Darling and Buddy sit in the back, Darlings legs draped over Buddy’s as she brings her face inches from his. She strokes his ego, reminding him of his violence towards men who threatened his girl, his relationship. “Remember that time you killed that guy, cause he looked at me funny?” she asks, Buddy nods. Darling cocks her head, eyes serious, and nearly whispers “Bats just looked at me funny”. I like to believe that both Darling and Gonzalez know what they’re doing here: they’re playing with dangerous men, performing the part of sex kitten to gain control, or a least have a little fun. But I know this is kind to the film and it’s treatment of Darling, as she too is just meant to serve the plot.
Fastforward, final heist goes wrong, Baby’s on a run from the gang, the gang is on the run from the cops, and they all meet up at a musical shootout. Darling, for whatever reason, jumps from her cover and shoots off rounds in a fiery blaze. Of course, she dies, taking shots to the body to the tempo of Focus’ “Hocus Pocus”. Buddy yells in anguish, cursing Baby, sending him over the line from sweet-but-edgy father figure to fucking crazy violent bad guy. Her death motivates his descent into antagonism, providing a bad guy for Baby to contrast (proving to us that he is good) and defeat. But Darling’s death is not her own, it belongs to Buddy now, after all she did was show up, look hot, and die.
(I just wanna say that as I write this in a coffee shop a white boy in a Baby Driver Jacket - black vest, white collar and sleeves - and dollar store black sunglasses walked in. The influence of this film presented in real time. I wonder if he hits on his waitresses.)
I know this piece doesn’t sound like it, but I genuinely love Baby Driver. I truly believe it’s a feat in filmmaking to have an action film so well modernized, so grounded in this realm of fantasy that we can believe in, relate to, and root for. Wright’s editing and choreography are brilliantly repurposed for the sake of not just comedic timing but suspense, conflict. It represents characters with disabilities using actors who actually have them (CJ Jones is so so good) not as handicapped, but as people who move in stride, with Jones’ deaf character loving music in a deeper sense than auditorily because he feels it. Above all else, it’s fun. But this is why I think it’s all the more reason to recognize it for its faults. Imagine a Baby Driver I could watch without rolling my eyes, without a feeling of uncomfortability, without wanting to slap Deborah across the face and shake her out of her weird zombie drunk like state. I relate to Baby in its protagonists’ quirk and charm, and am then alienated by the way he looks at women like cardboard. Imagine if I could have my cake and eat it too.
By Ruby Bracher
Reniel Del Rosario is a senior majoring in Art Practice at UC Berkeley! He is a first-generation immigrant and grew up locally in the Bay Area since his big move at four year old. He’s also the instructor of the Natural Pigments in the Modern World DeCal, which I highly recommend.
You can find his work at the Berkeley Biennial exhibition at the Worth Ryder Art Gallery from Wednesday, November 7th to Thursday, November 15th, or on renieldelrosario.com or @adrenieline on Instagram.
Can you start by talking a bit about the art you make?
Right now the sort of stuff I do is make stores, and then I sell replications of objects out of those stores. A lot of my work is based off of the act of selling rather than the object that I make. This is called Social Practice, and it consists of a lot of working with people, so it’s art not in the sense that I’ve replicated an object, but the fact that I’m able to sell these objects to these people.
What drew you to Social Practice?
It was this trajectory, where in my sophomore year Ceramics class, I did this project where I sold ceramic fruits and vegetables at a convention. I was just carrying a box of apples, onions, avocados, and stuff like that from gallery to gallery, and people were like, what the fuck is going on? They recognized me because I went there for three days straight. I guess I looked back at it last year, like, that was fun selling stuff; just seeing what people would buy, and then reflecting on what they bought.
Oh yeah — and the fruits and vegetables were like, the price of produce at a farmers’ market. A lot of it was about selling for the real price (not “artist” price) and having people react.
A year later, I started doing a food store, because the last summer I had worked at a candy shop and I was inspired to make a lot of candy, donuts, and stuff like that. I started noticing that people were really drawn to these things, and I thought, huh, I could sell this. So then, I started making a storefront for that which traveled from Cal Day, to the San Francisco Art Institute, to the ceramics convention for three days.
Now I’m making a Filipino store and I’m making an art store, so each store has its own theme, but in general it’s just about selling these objects and reflecting on people buying them.
Are there any projects that you’re working on right now that you’re excited about?
Yeah! On November 7th, there is going to be the opening of my art show, which is what the Filipino store and art store are for.
I’ve been making a lot of objects for the Filipino store that are controversial in a way, that are embedded within Filipino culture, and modeling the storefront off of the sari sari stores put up in front of family homes. I’m selling cigarettes, because a lot of my family in the Philippines smoke a pack a day. I grew up with my dad smoking a pack a day in the garage.
There’s also canned food being implemented after American colonization. Canned food is a very big thing in our diets, and it’s very bad for us; there are a lot of statistics showing that after that implementation, cancer skyrocketed. I had family that got blood cancers, and diabetes runs in both sides of the family because of the saturated fat and high sugar content in that diet.
There’s the bootleg culture, too, so I’m selling bootleg dvds out of there—they’re ceramic, so they’re not functional. None of them are functional, none of them should be functional; they should have a humor to them.
For the art store, I’m selling a bunch of art supplies for the price of art supplies, so I can buy those same art supplies. It’s a cyclical nature.
What art or artists inspire you?
The main person that inspired me to start the storefronts was Claes Oldenburg. Before he started doing factory made art (like the gigantic bow and arrow in San Francisco, or the cherry on top of a spoon in Minneapolis), he did a bunch of plaster work that was sloppy as hell, but it was interesting because he sold it for the price of the actual objects, too. He had a store, with this representation of 7-Up, being sold for the price of 7-Up, when in reality it’s just messy, slathered, plaster that looks pretty much like a compacted car with a 7up logo on it. And people buy this stuff, which says a lot about consumerism and what people are willing to buy.
Other people that inspire me within the faculty are Ehren Tool, a ceramicist in the ceramics department, because he is a maker. He’s made, like, 20,000 cups and I think I want to make 20,000 of something eventually. I like multiplicity.
What would you want to make 20,000 of?
20,000 sold objects. I’m at about 300 right now. So maybe I’m getting close? Not really, but, I’m on my way.
Has your artistic perspective been influenced by your time at Berkeley? If so, how?
I came into Berkeley thinking I was gonna be a graphic designer, and I didn’t. The first semester I was here, I wasn’t able to enroll in Art Practice classes, so I was trying to be self-sufficient and was doing album covers for local rappers, because that was the graphic design at the time, but I didn’t really like it, so I gave that up and got back into painting.
Next semester, I tried to sign up for the painting class and it was full, so I was like, fuck fuck fuck what do I do? I signed up for anything and I got into a ceramics class, and ever since ceramics has been a part of my work. I can’t think of doing anything else.
I think the main influence Berkeley has had is that they are very rooted in conceptualism, there is less focus on how fine-crafted your stuff is, they care about the content behind it. I think that’s what pushed me — I remember when I first came here, I was a bullshit abstract painter from high school. When I look back at my high school work, I’m very glad that concept was taught to me and not just technique, because I think I would make stuff with no meaning.
What classes offered by the Art Practice department would you recommend taking?
Definitely take Ceramics, or take Craig Nagasawa’s class (ART 160 : Ancient Pigments and Contemporary Drawing Practices), which is the whole natural pigments class that my DeCal is based off of. It’s really interesting to have people make their own supplies versus going to the store and buying things. You go to any art class and they’re like, “Here’s a supplies list! Here’s a materials list!”, then you walk into Craig’s class and you’re told, “Find a rock.” It makes people shift from their usual methods.
How do you recommend students interested (but maybe not majoring) in art get involved with the arts community at Cal?
There are definitely a lot of organizations that can help you get involved. You can look into DeCals (like this one!), or you can go to the ASUC, which also has art classes that are a little less structured — they don’t meet 2 times a week for three hours. There are also organizations such as Cal CREATE, that let people teach visual arts, theatre, dance, creative writing, and stuff like that. There is a huge abundance of groups out there that do let you pursue your own creative passions.
On Wednesdays: We Do Spoken Word
By Asri Alhamdaputra
The truth is a penis
Today an old friend asked me “are you getting a sex change surgery?”
It wasn’t the words that hurts me. It was her reducing me to my genitals.
As if all that matters is what lies beneath your pants.
As if being a trans is reduced down to genitalia
As if gender is a box, it can only be one or the other.
I am more than my penis. I am more than my gender.
I am a man. I am a woman. I am both and neither at the same time.
The truth is I am neither a man nor a woman, yet I am everything in between.
A concept so intricate to fathom that explaining it wouldn’t shed the slightest light to the brightest of mind.
A penis is a penis is a penis.
The world revolves around the penis.
Phallic, glorified, and looked upon, everybody’s looking for the penis.
Privileged when you have a penis.
Censored yet talked about the most.
Objectified yet humanized.
A penis is a penis
But a penis is not your gender
Because having a penis doesnt make you a man
And having none doesn’t make you any less of a man
You are what you identify as
Tricky isn’t it? What does that mean?
Basically, that means
When i say i’m a woman, just fucking respect it.
When i say i’m a man, understand it
When i say i’m neither, acknowledge it
When i say i’m both, believe it
No i don’t need you to fully agree to what i have to say
I don’t need you to advocate for me and pretend to understand my experience
What i do expect is for you to respect me regardless of my gender. Understand that i am a complex human being, just like any other, and i am more than my genitals. What i expect is for you to not ask questions such as “when’s the surgery?”
You wanna know the truth? Here’s the truth. The truth is i am hurting. I am sick and tired of constantly needing to reassure myself that what i’m feeling is valid. The truth is i’m sick of hiding and pretending to be someone i’m not. The truth is i’m tired of conforming to your standards and binaries. The truth is what you think of me doesn’t define me, and i’m tired of having to explain myself to change YOUR perception towards me. As if that matters the world to me, as if your lack of understanding of the concept of gender is my liability.
Must be so nice isn’t it? To have people understand what you are. Who you are. Must be nice to have people around you that look like you, talk like you, and think like you. Must be nice to be have your identity understood, received, and unquestioned.
The truth is everyone’s hurting, and i’m sure you are too.
We’re not so different you and I.
And the presence or lack of a penis doesnt make it any different.
I value you. I validate you. I acknowledge you. And i support you.
But why can’t you do the same for me?
I’m not asking for much here.
Just a little respect and understanding.
Can we start over?
A penis is a penis is a penis.
It seems like it’s everything.
Truth is, a penis has nothing to do with anything.
by Gillian Robin
“So where are you from?”
A simple, justifiable question to ask someone when you first meet them. It’s a way to tap into to a person, a way to figure them out immediately and allow (hopefully) for follow-up questions, usually along the lines of, “Oh yeah! I heard [insert local band] is from there!” or “Woah, my grandma lives there!”
But when someone asks me where I’m from, I retract, the butterflies in my stomach flutter, and any persona I fronted is dropped. Because I’m from Lancaster, in the Antelope Valley, in the Mojave Desert, about halfway between Bakersfield and Los Angeles. No, not the picturesque, we-should-start-a-commune-here Joshua Tree Desert that everyone in my co-op flocks to each three-day weekend, but the cheap, commuter desert that’s home to a ridiculous mixture of rocket scientists (thanks to the Air Force base), future professional athletes, scary, NIMBY, Tr*mp-supporting desert people, a large prison, and one single shopping mall that still happens to have a Sears in it. Streets don’t have names in the AV, they’re simply letters (which run east-west) and numbers (which run north-south). On your birthday, you go to the Olive Garden. You get the vibe.
Sometimes, admittedly, my long-winded explanations of the desert town where I grew up are premature, and I get the occasional “Oh yeah, I use to have soccer tournaments out there.” or the “I stopped to pee there once.” Though without fail, those are followed by the classic “There’s not much out there, huh?,” to which I always reply, “Yup,” with the ashamed, defeated expression that only people from places deemed “insignificant” know how to pull.
Usually, though, I’m prompted to explain myself to people from places that I know all too well. People from The Valley™, which is less than an hour away from me, look at me with a vacant expression on their face and reply with the unimpressed, “Oh, wait, how far is that from LA?” as if your proximity to Los Angeles determines your value as a person. When I don’t feel like explaining the exact coordinates of my town, I just say “around LA,” because *technically* my town lies on the correct side of the Los Angeles/Kern County border. But even then, my friends who are (very proudly) from approved LA sub-towns shoot me a look, as if I’m not worthy of wearing the Los Angeles title and the social prestige that goes with it.
The only reason I’m explaining the nuances of my relationship with Lancaster is because, although it’s a desert that regularly reaches 105 degrees in the summer months, deserts get pretty fucking cold.
“But, Gill, c’mon, it’s a desert!” I know, but no one tells you about the chill that deserts welcome every October. That’s why half of y’all try camping in Joshua Tree and end up at an Airbnb because you forgot the down-feather Patagonia jacket that you got for your study-abroad in Berlin last semester. What my LA friends underestimate, and what I take deep, self-validating pleasure in, is their ability to dress in cold weather. You see, the privilege of being from Lancaster, where it’s boiling in the summer and below freezing in the winter, has taught me and my body how to function properly in any climate. So here, to all my Studio City, Agoura Hills, and Sherman Oaks pals out there, is the Desert Rat’s Guide to Winter, because, well, y’all need it:
Step 1: Ditch the puffy jacket.
It’s Berkeley, it will NEVER drop below 55 degrees. I know, “I’m cold when the temperatures dip below 70, blah blah blah,” but your vintage North Face looks ridiculous in a heated lecture hall. Sure, we all heard the crazy, quintessentially Los Angeles story of how you got it, which is usually something like “I fought a Youtuber for it at Jet Rag’s Dollar Sundays!” or “I went to this estate sale of this old movie producer in Bel Air and is was tucked in the back of the closet!” But I promise, you’d be much less obnoxiously Southern Californian if you opted for layers, perhaps a nice long-sleeve tee under a jacket, or something else that doesn’t scream “Help, I’m frozen.”
Step 2: Your Golf Le Fleur high-tops aren’t waterproof.
No one wants to comfort you after you ruin your coolness-approved shoes on the rainy walk to Dwinelle. Yes, they match everything, and yeah, Camp Flog Gnaw had a great lineup, etc., but rain doesn’t discriminate based off of social media clout, and you will be wildly uncomfortable taking that 2-part American Studies midterm in wet socks. Perhaps throw on “your mom’s old Docs from the ‘80s!” instead of $100 “vintage canvas and burlap” sneakers.
Step 3: Finally, it’s time to swap the “Yeehaw, I’m a cowgirl” aesthetic for the “Call your Babushka” look.
Your pink cowboy hat won’t shield your wet, post-shower hair from the Bay Area breeze, but you know what will? The headscarf that your mom wore on her first date (a drive through Mulholland!) with your dad. Besides, if you’re going to look LA, go for the classy, intellectual Joan Didion-esque Los Angeles, the kind of LA where sunglasses are bigger than your face and you always have a copy of The New Yorker (how bicoastal!) in your tote bag. The “I listen to The Garden” LA vibe is strictly reserved for warmer weather, and UNIF never quite transitions well to NorCal anyway.
Well, Angelinos, I hope this desert rat from the middle of nowhere could help your winter-ensued identity crisis. If it makes you feel any better, we all already know you’re from LA, and we love how much pride, memory, and respect you have for your roots. Los Angeles will always be your home, and perhaps others could never understand that. But, sometimes, a little chill is good for the soul, and a little openness can definitely help warm you up.
Hilarity For Charity
The cast of “A Mid-Nineties Night's Dream” at rehearsal
by Katherine Schloss
Coming to college, it’s interesting to see the different paths that those of us who dedicated our high school careers to theater take. For some, it means a degree and a pursuit of the bright lights of Broadway. For others, it means finding that theater bleeds into so many other forms of learning, and that we can diversify ourselves from the skills that we gained. I feel that theater often gets written off as cheesy and that theater kids get pushed into a corner where we’re wearing dramatic scarves and doing random interpretive dancing. Truthfully, comedic theater is an art form that reflects the ups and downs of the universal human experience.
To dive into the theater scene on Cal’s campus, I interviewed the President of Theater for Charity, Ethan Schlatter. Ethan himself got involved in T4C because he didn’t want to major in theater but still wanted a way to be casually involved in theater at Berk. He said that, “Theater4Charity was founded over 10 years ago as a student organization at Cal. T4C is a 100% student run, acted, written, directed, and acted club. This means that we only put on completely original shows by Cal students. From these shows, we put on usually two showcases a semester and donate 100% of our ticket proceeds to charity and we pick new charities each semester.”
Ethan also comments on the universality of theater, saying, “I personally think theater and comedy are so universal because of the sheer escapism of theater. Especially with how constantly connected everyone is, it's great to just sit back and watch something that will make you happy. I also think theater and comedy are so universal because they’re so accessible. You don’t need a camera, crew, or even a dramatic stage or lighting to put on a performance. Comedy can be as simple as just telling jokes with friends.” I feel that comedic theater is a real art and that many do not realize the true extent of planning and life experience that goes into a good joke or bit. To this end Ethan says, “It’s a really great form of self expression, letting the writers, actors, and directors all share something in a wacky and outlandish way that they might not have been able to regularly. It’s also a great way to share ideas with people. You don’t have to be doing a serious drama to broach an important issue. While obviously not all of comedic theater is going to have some underlying message, I feel like a lot of people discredit the ability of comedy to actually say something.”
I personally joined T4C this semester and I’ve seen first-hand how students light up when they’re given a space to engage in comedic scenes and bits, such as with our recent one-acts. We’re now moving on to our full-length, “A Mid-Nineties Night’s Dream,” which was written by Brendon Greenberg. It’s a lose comedic biography of Kurt Cobain told in Iambic Pentameter. Proceeds are being donated to the Berkeley Food Collective.
When asked where his inspiration for the project came from, Brendon said, “My friend Joe and I went for a night walk through the neighborhood and we were just riffing and joking around and the concept of ‘That 90’s Musical’ came up and I wrote it down in my notes. Then it morphed into ‘A Mid-Nineties Night's Dream’ and I really wanted to write a play around that pun. I was obsessed with Nirvana in highschool and so I already knew a lot of trivia and lyrics that I could incorporate to make a plot. Also, angsty Kurt Cobain as a 90s Hamlet analog, and his controversial romance with Courtney Love a la Romeo and Juliet seemed to fit quite well.” For someone who’s obsessed with music as well as the bard, it’s been such a magical experience to watch Brendon’s smartly-written text come to life.
When asked how he combined the ancient art of Shakespeare with more recent forms of comedy, Brendon said, “There are a lot of these tropes like disguise plots and mistaken identities, roundabout wordplay, the rhyming, etc. that kinda lend themselves to humor as it is. The rest, hopefully, comes from the juxtaposition between the antiquated, metered English and the world of the 90’s i.e. ‘Hast thou seen the new vid on MTV’ --you know, at the least it sounds kinda weird.” His writing of the play combined his love for Nirvana with an academic pursuit of English as a minor. “One of my favorite classes was 117s, which surveyed Shakespeare’s career beginning to end. That's where all of my knowledge of Shakespeare and theater comes from, for the most part. From there I just pulled from character archetypes, type scenes, famous monologues and mashed them together with their counterparts in Kurt Cobain’s life, and inserted and adapted music lyrics to make a lot of the dialogue and speeches while counting the syllables as I wrote.”
Brendon is in many improv groups on campus, including Improv4Charity. In relating this back to his writing, he says, “In improv a lot of the humor is about being inspired by real people and situations and using those real experiences as a starting point. I'm really amused by fandoms, hardcore sports fans, super pretentious sci fi nerds, diehard EDM people, etc, just the concept of these big cultural phenomenons that have so much gravity and effect on people but they're so niche and kinda ridiculous in a vacuum...I channeled the diehard Nirvana geek I was sophomore year who listened to ONLY Nirvana for like 6 months straight...so I guess I tried to parody this idea of ‘a rock mythos,’ you know they talk about this pantheon of ‘musical gods.’ I guess what I’m trying to say is people worship these people, the Kurt Cobains and Thom Yorkes-the big players in whatever niche community they identify with, and it’s fun to look back and laugh at that sometimes?”
Brendon also has some great insight when it comes to seeing art in terms of comedy: “You always see that theater symbol logo thing with the two masks, one frowning for drama and one smiling for comedy...so art and comedy are definitely not mutually exclusive especially for theater, it seems to be at least half of it based on this evidence. A lot of the time art is funny and funny is art, or at least I tend to find humor in art museums and novels and stuff…maybe the safe thing to say is comedy is an approach to art?
“For example, a portrait painting can be funny depending on the subject, or at least the way the subject it painted (i.e. an oil painting of some nobleman with a neckbeard and fuzzy fedora hanging in the museum of beaux-arts vs. caricatures of people with super exaggerated features painted by the guy sitting in the park, it’s kind of a stretch, but you get the point). For me, art is about representing the world and how you represent it. You can choose to represent the drama and woes of the world in very poignant forms, or the comedy of the world in way that heightens the ridiculousness, or a mix-match of either, maybe with a tinge of irony.”
“A Mid-Nineties Night's Dream” will be performed November 30th and December 1st and 2nd! Come out and support a great cause while also feeling as if you’re in the globe theater with the frontrunner of Nirvana himself. Follow Theater for Charity on Facebook for updates.
Left: Katherine Schloss as Courtney Love and Arcadia Eckmayer as Kurt Cobain
Right: Ethan Schlatter, T4C Prez
Vivre Quelle Vie?
by Nash Croker
Susan Sontag tells me that Vivre Sa Vie is a ‘demonstration’, so I will demonstrate for you the life that I live. If a film can be ‘proof’, then so too can this essay.
“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within”
- James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1964)
For all the sexuality, Jean Luc Godard explicates a musing on the problem of language in his 1962 film Vivre Sa Vie. As we watch a ‘demonstration’ of Nana (Anna Karina) living her life in twelve tableaux; leaving her husband, attempting acting, entering sex work, and ultimately being murdered - Godard interrupts with several textual allusions. From Dreyer’s 1928 classic La Passion De Jeanne D’Arc, to Poe’s The Oval Portrait (1842), it is difficult to see how these textual references do not comment upon the action of the film, at least to forebode Nana’s death with a wink and a nod to the well-versed viewer. Godard is undoubtedly a writerly film maker. Much can be said to the way his films lack interpretation or analysis of the ‘proof’ he exhibits. Yet, so much as he shows with his own camera, he tells with his use of texts.
Before her eventual death, Nana embarks on a debate with the philosopher Brice Parain in a cafe. Unlike the others, this interjection into the plot does not appear to comment on the events of the film in so far as it is a commentary on film itself. She asks if one can live without words, but talking is thinking and thinking talking, for Parain there is no life without thought and thus - words. One then cannot speak well without first speaking poorly. Crucial less to Nana and more to Godard, is the problem of language explored in this Parisian conference. Language itself is a poor imitation of the profundity of thought, yet thought can only be expressed in language. Godard’s films may be full of language, but they typically lack an overbearing commentary or authorial voice. Instead the ideas expressed span in scope well beyond the film itself. Godard as director, then explores the problem of language through film itself. The 90-minutes or so he creates can never truly encapsulate his vision and the ideas entertained within them. Like language, Godard’s films are a formidable if poor imitation of ideas. In their own way, his use of texts help to bridge this fact, interjecting others’ ideas into his own to expand his film beyond the film itself.
More so than an attempt at reconciling Sontag’s view of a film that cannot not feel like a morbid moral to his own wife - she will die for living her life - however, is the application of the problem of language to subjectivity. Nana’s philosophical debate is part of Godard’s musing on prostitution - passionless sex - as a betrayal of consciousness just like language. Like Nana’s (Karina’s?) life, the link is cut short, but it is better explored in another favourite; Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1966).
Here, the problem of language becomes that of the problem of subjectivity. Elisabet Vogler (Liv Ullmann) is a celebrated actor, yet midway through a performance she stops. This ‘breakdown’ leaves her silent and in the care of Alma (Bibi Andersson), a young nurse. Elisabet’s career is in the performance of roles, but what then or who is she? Her realisation of her own performative existence (that we are all acting out roles) becomes her ‘breakdown’ into silence. Language is a betrayal of consciousness, is a betrayal of her consciousness - so she shuts up.
Yet, to not speak is to deny oneself an existence in the world. Spivak’s ‘Subaltern’ springs to mind. Speaking is a primary route to sociability, it is how many of us communicate with others. Yet to be social requires not just a voice and thus language, but a subjectivity through which to make oneself legible to another. Language demands a subject just as sociability requires subjectivity. As Elisabet retreats into silence she becomes increasingly lonely, separated from her husband, swept off to an island in the sole care of her nurse.
But by now it has already become clear that it is Alma who is the real patient. Elisabet’s ‘breakdown’ occurs before the fact of Bergman’s film. Encased in Elisabet’s silence Alma opens up about her truth. She likes her job and her husband, but there is always other enticing possibility beyond the comfort of the role she has drifted into. While she has reassurance and respectability in this path, this social security comes at the cost of subjectivity. As she recounts the frivolous pleasure of a spontaneous beachside orgy we are made more aware of the costly marital sex she had later that same night. The weight of subjectivity chosen by and for her elucidates her breakdown, facilitated by Elisabet’s silence and her own words.
“I’m so tired of subjectivity”
- Jenny Hval, Female Vampire (2016)
This problem of subjectivity, however, is really a problem of love. Love requires sociability and thus subjectivity. To give oneself to another requires one to be someone or something to give. To be legible in the eyes of a lover is to have a subjectivity that they can perceive. Do we love our image of our partner or who they really are? As Fanon’s ‘Fact of Blackness’ makes plain, these social subjectivities are a stifling process of assuming the role of ‘Other’. Too often to claim subjectivity, to be legible in the eyes of a lover, is to deny one’s self, is a betrayal of consciousness. Love then is just another process of ‘Othering’. Yet to refuse, as Elisabet Vogler’s fictional existence shows, is to be lonely, to be no one.
Crucially, Bergman’s film takes a turn. Alone on the island, these almost indistinguishable women stray into one. Sat opposite on a table, Alma recounts in horrific detail the tale of Elisabet’s motherhood. Twice. The second time we see Elisabet’s anguish at the revelations of her innermost conscience from some other who had no means of knowing. In this moment the two consciousnesses become one as Alma essentially speaks for Elisabet. Alma violently recoils, claiming not to be like her, slapping and then sucking the blood Elisabet’s pressured nails released on herself. If there is consummation of love in Persona it is in this violent scene, fighting is fucking for two queer subjects trapped in the confines of their subjectivity - it is through fighting and breaking norms that queer identity is reified.
It is this bleeding of consciousness, however, that seems to offer something on love. Alma becomes Elisabet by truly understanding her from within, she inhabits Elisabet’s consciousness. Elisabet then comes to recognise herself through someone else. She has silenced herself to not betray her consciousness, but now her consciousness has betrayed her through another - Alma. The subjectivity expressed in Alma’s account of Elisabet may be traumatic for her to hear, but only so far because it is true. The subjectivity is not false, she is interpolating herself through another. Love then, as a bleeding of consciousness, as an understanding without words, speaking through each other, is to interpolate one's own self. Love in Persona is less about becoming, and more about recognising and identifying yourself through someone else. Elisabet hails herself through Alma. Love acts as desubjectification; taking off “the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”
“...I’m only interested in people engaged in a project of self-transformation”
- Susan Sontag, Journals and Notebooks (1964-1980)
So much of existing in this world is a process of (dis)identification. Forming the self through identifying what I am not; heterosexual, gendered, white, american. Yet when you exist in a state inbetween legible subjectivities this process is doubled to challenge even the possibility of belonging; not heterosexual not homoseuxual, not male not female, not white not brown. To exist then is to embody a constant process of self-transformation. One does not then take up subjectivity or reject it, but search for recognition in another’s identification of myself as between legible subjectivities.
In this way, love is life and death. In love I am not seeking myself, but identifying myself through another - I belong in and to them. I long for another to see me for who I am. Love is about learning to love yourself through another because you cannot love yourself alone - because if we are not recognised, if we do not speak, then do we really exist?
Godard’s film opens with an epigraph from the French philosopher Montaigne: “Lend yourself to others and give yourself to yourself.” There is something to love and the search for it in this quote. Back to Parain in the cafe, Nana must fail before she finds what she is after, there is no going straight for the truth. Love then, too, is a constant project of self-actualisation and self-realisation. One that involves failure but through the right eyes may unerringly be true. If belonging is what we seek, then perhaps we can find it in love.
by Jack Wareham
It’s been said that people reach middle age once they realize that they’ll never read Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, which spans seven volumes and an impressive 4,200 pages.
Well, I’ve already given up on that novel. My version of Proust is Out 1 – the 1971 magnum opus of French New Wave director Jacques Rivette. It clocks in at almost thirteen hours, making it the third longest film ever to receive theatrical release.
I bought the 7-disc DVD box set last April on a whim and it’s been taunting me from my bookshelf ever since, enticing me with its sleek, modernist spine and whispering at me in my weakest moments: “I know you’ll never watch me.” Even Out 1’s subtitle, Noli Me Tangere, is a cruel joke; translated from Latin, it means Touch Me Not.
Sometimes I can even hear Rivette’s thickly-accented voice, coarsened by tens of thousands of cigarettes, posthumously trash-talking me as I consider watching his masterpiece of the avant-garde: “Jack, just sell me on e-bay already. You don’t have the endurance. Go and re-watch Breathless like the basic film student I know you are.”
It’s not like I haven’t tried to watch it, okay? In fact, I’ve watched the first three hours over two normal-movie-length sessions. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t somewhat challenging (especially the extra-long, single-take sequences of an experimental theatre troupe screaming together). But overall, I thought Out 1’s fuzzy orange color palette and moody paranoia were genuinely mind-altering – even borderline psychedelic.
I would start from the beginning and watch the whole thing in a heartbeat… but I’d like a buddy or two to help motivate me. So, please watch Out 1 with me. We can split it up over a few days or something.
For comparison, season five of The Office is a full hour longer than Rivette’s chef-d’œuvre, and I’ll wager you’ve watched that at least twice.
Plus, it would be pretty cool to say you’ve done it. Prove those Gen Xers wrong when they complain about our weak attention spans and over-stimulated minds.
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org; serious inquiries only.
by Ryan Simpkins
I have such a crush on Carey Mulligan. She’s perfected the role of the difficult woman, finding understanding in characters like hateable Daisy Buchanan or obnoxious Kitty Bennet. She cheats on Justin Timberlake in Inside Llewyn Davis, getting pregnant with broke-as-shit Oscar Isaac’s unwanted kid. Before that she cheated on Oscar Isaac with Ryan Gosling in Drive, playing a love interest with thought and agency amidst a gang war (while those characters are often left unexplored). She is always, always so thoughtful, and likable in a way despite the shit her characters pull. Or maybe I’m just biased. (I cut my waist length hair to a bob because of her when I was 16. Sometimes people say I almost look like her and I die.) But in all of these roles she is second to a man, her insanity reflected against their stoic performances. She’s been wife to several Hollywood hotties (I just named four counting DiCaprio as Gatsby), but so rarely is she able to claim these characters in their own light. Finally, she has been given the chance.
Any critic will tell you, Wildlife is Mulligan’s movie. Penned by indie film power couple Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano, and the directorial debut of the latter, Wildlife explores the implosion of a nuclear family in 1960s small town Montana against the backdrop of a roaring wildfire. Mulligan’s Jeanette is wife to Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal, also killer) and mother to Joe (Ed Oxenbould, pretty much Paul Dano age 14), picture perfect for the first ten minutes. Joe plays football, Jerry works, and Jeanette makes the meals, all three coming together to listen to the game on the radio at the end of the day. Jerry has moved his family from town to town amidst a cycle of being hired and let go from seemingly every job. Jeanette has supported her husband through this, used to meal prep and job loss, but is now tired of the constant moving. Upon his most recent lost job fresh from the move to Montana, Jeanette and Joe are resistant to another move and willing to make things here work. The two get jobs as the patriarch drinks late into the night and sleeps in his car, desperate for a change of pace but unwilling to set the wheels in motion. Finally, he finds work fighting the forest fire that threatens the town, a job recognized as impossible as they only dig trenches to keep it from spreading and wait for the snow to fall, for nature to control itself. Jeanette loses it. She fights him, guilts him, tells him he’s only running away again, this time leaving his family behind. Joe watches his parents yell at each other for maybe the first time. And still, Jerry leaves. Jeanette is left to fall to her own devices, thrashing against social norms as the family life she worked towards falls to ashes around her. Yet Gyllenhaal is not the villain of this story. He too is just a player in what the 1950’s asked of its young men. The family has simply fallen victim to itself: pressures of performity and social construction building people into a dollhouse of patriarchal roles and female submission. What is so brilliant about Kazan and Dano’s script paired with the talents of Mulligan is its recognition of Friedanian stresses on nuclear housewives as the mental illness that it is, the pressure of forced motherhood turning women sick. A family that never wanted to be a family can’t do anything but burn.
The film is set just a few years before second wave feminism was really set into motion. In 1963, Betty Friedan published her Feminine Mystique. The book explores a “problem with no name” living within American housewives. Young women with husband and children felt trapped within the walls of their homes, submitting themselves to housework and chores, serving their family as if that was enough to serve themselves. These women felt guilty hoarding these feelings, resenting their loved ones as they were confined to a feminity of submission. Friedan defines this problem, letting these young (mostly white, middle class, all American) women know that they were not alone, that they were not crazy, that their feelings of entrapment were valid and the system ushering them into these roles was unjust. A bit of Friedan’s theory can be credited to Simone de Beauvoir’s exploration of what she calls The Second Sex (aka the construction of femininity as a gender made submissive), a major bit of foundation for feminist theory. De Beauvoir credits the societal pressures on women to reproduce and raise a family as a means of society’s domination and use of women. Famed Judith Butler based her own feminist theory on both these writers. If you’ve taken any sociology class I’m sure you’re familiar with her idea that gender is performative. We are simply policing ourselves to act out prescribed notions of gender archetypes, subconsciously acting the way we believe a society would want us to. We see all of these theories exhibited in Wildlife. Mulligan’s Jeanette acts as a model example of a woman hindered by what these theories define. She works to act like the perfect housewife, submitting to the controls of a patriarchal family, all the while an unnamed problem boiling beneath her skin.
Jeanette was a young mother, as so many women in the period were. She’s only 34 raising her 14-year-old son, making her 20 when she had Jerry’s baby. She dropped out of college, telling her son she practically left the school before her time there began, doing so presumably to raise this family. Jeanette is nostalgic for her youth before motherhood, telling Joe stories of the cowboy bars she used to linger in, wearing outfits from her “pageant queen” days. “It’s probably nice to know your parents were once not your parents,” she says, swaying her hips to music like she used to. Jeanette was pushed into motherhood before her time, before her chance to explore her potential granted with a college education and degree. She fell into this role amidst exciting young adulthood, opportunities endless with the whole world ahead of her. All of that stopped short by a pregnancy that may have easily been accidental. But Jeanette seemed to have taken this in stride, rolling with the punches and claiming this role as her official title, working to look like a woman in a ‘50s Jell-O advertisement.
Jeanette puts work into her image, Mulligan playing the roll of pin up housewife perfectly for the film’s first 15 minutes. Her hair is huge and overdone, makeup spotless, dresses for cookbook family dinner like it’s a ball, in an appearance that would have taken hours to complete. While Jerry is putting hours in at work, jobless Jeanette is working hard for this image. She masks money trouble, excusing a check bouncing at her son’s school by explaining a bank switch that came with the move (sounds fake but ok, Carey). She understands the importance of upholding the household, helping her son with homework and encouraging her husband despite his job loss, playing her part in the picture perfect family. But this gets tiresome, and it’s clear Jeanette wants more.
As soon as the opportunity arises, Jeanette offers to go back to work. She mentions her old job as a substitute early in the film, a hint of longing in her voice as she offers to the high school secretary how nice it must be to be surrounded by young people, “all that spirit”. As soon as Jerry loses his job, she mentions the possibility of her getting her own, a proposal framed as an offer that’s really a statement to Mulligan. She mentions it at least three times in half a scene, remaining her composure against her dejected, careless husband, housewife hair still perfect. She then sets out in a fancy fit to go push herself into the workforce, unrelenting in one office that gives her several “no”s until she finally gets a yes. Jeanette does find a sense of liberation in her work teaching swimming classes at the Y, discovering a social circle of young working women living independently at the “Helen apartments”, housing she speaks of with longing once her husband leaves. She finds a bit of room to breathe in working in the public sphere, but that begins to change when her husband up and leaves.
Her husband’s running off to the fires leaves Jeanette fuming. The day he’s gone there is a clear change: she is cold, curt, distant. Joe awakes late the morning after his father leaves, realizing he’s late for school. He moves to the living room where his mother stands in an evening gown, leaning into a mirror to apply her lipstick. She offers Joe no explanation, only telling him she needs to care for the two of them now that his father has “abandoned” them. He’s still in shock, as if it’s a dream he’s still trying to wake from. “You’re wasting your life standing there watching me, sweetheart,” she tells him. This is not the woman who kissed his head and helped him with his homework, this is a woman working to adapt like a confused animal caught in a fire. She continuously reminds Joe that she is the one who’s stayed with him while his father up and left, even taking Joe to the hills too close to the fire to see the destruction while not allowing him a chance to look for his father among the fighters. Jeanette is itching with a slight jealousy, telling Joe “I think your father has a woman out here”. But her jealousy is more than that.
Jerry had the freedom to up and leave, to explore his own path in the face of confusion without society judging him for it. Jerry, a man who got his college girlfriend pregnant and then corralled her into a family home, has now left his family to go live on the edge of life. And Jeanette cannot stand it, as she was forced to sacrifice her youth, her potential, to pull together the appearance of family that her husband is able to so carelessly leave behind. She is forced to stay, while there’s always been a longing for more behind her made up eyes. But in the same way a paranoid partner worries their lover is unfaithful because they have that tendencies within them, Jeanette projects the term “abandonment” onto Jerry’s actions countlessly, as if seeing her own insecurities and desires in what he’s doing. She lashes out in independence, shaking off her motherly responsibilities of making dinner for her son and waking him up for school to go live her own life amongst young working women and powerful men who want her. She’s unfaithful to her husband. Jeanette acts dangerously, something within her snapping that is more than jealousy and betrayal, but a mental illness that’s boiled over.
Behavior exhibited by Mulligan’s young housewife is crazed. Jeanette flies between massive mood swings, dancing and flirting in her pageantry gown one minute before becoming “irritable” the next, speeding to the door. She is aggressive and paranoid, turning the corner after showing her lover out to find Joe and slap him, hard, an energy found in a moment of shock. The audience moves slowly through the halls with Joe, finding his mother’s clothes strewn about a softly lit room, unsure when his father will return as we hear the front door shut. Is it his father come to find her betrayal? We quickly realize it’s only her with her slap, but it’s clear she had the same concern. Jeanette drinks excessively, putting herself in uncomfortable positions with men she doesn’t care for but sleeps with anyway (it’s implied the older man provides her with a financial support), drinking to ease herself into the situation. A strange scene all too long - to make sure we’re as upset as Joe, who was dragged along - plays out where Jeanette goes to dinner with the rich and wrinkled Warren Miller, a man very powerful in town. She wears a dress that’s too nice and drinks his expensive booze, flirting with him while her son sits across the table and watches. Earlier, Joe asked his mother if she liked the man, a man she gave praise to for being “powerful, with powerful friends”. Her look told us she knew Miller as a revolting man who holds that power above the heads of others. And yet she goes back on this judgement from moment to moment, between disgust and desperation. Perhaps she does this because she is used to surrendering herself to male dominance, Jerry having called the shots and moved the family around for so long. In his absence she is angry and confused and works to fill his role with a man she uses for his money and power. This behavior is erratic and unchartable, the audience and Joe never sure what will set her off when, whether or not she’ll be home in the morning or be back for dinner at night, unsure if she’ll greet us with a smile or just look past us to the wall behind our heads. After a drunken mistake she sits in the car and works to breathe through her tears, holding her hands to her head and choking out “I feel like I need to wake up”. Joe, sitting next to her, asks “Mom?”. And she turns, blankly, as if she forgot he was there, before furrowing her brow and putting on a slow smile, juxtaposing the empty look in her wet eyes.
Now, reviews love Carey, as do I, but some take issue with how quickly she turns. She wears a beehive and makes breakfast in one scene and then suddenly in the next it’s like she’s gone. But I think this is misunderstood as a “turn” at all. From the film’s beginning, Mulligan mastered a smile below sad eyes, masking an upset for a greater desire beneath curved lips painted red. Her eyes will tell us of her confusion, of her disappointment with her husband, of her want for work contrasting the way she asks if she should apply for jobs like a delicate question. But above all, the men will see her smile. Jeanette did not turn - for this illness has been within her all along, only now finding room to become unleashed.
L’Origine du Monde (1866) by Gustave Courbet
by Asri Alhamdaputra
It was Friday night in the first week of Fall semester. I was getting my usual at La Burrita, and as per usual, I was stoned. A swarm of white guys walked in, presumably drunk, judging from their lack of awareness of acceptable social cues, and being the white man's whore that I am, my high self inspected each and every one of them, closely.
To my surprise, I find my gaydar to be unreliable at the time. These guys gave strong douchey, rapey, preppy boys vibes but their skinny jeans and French-tucked floral button downs spoke otherwise; are these guys gay or fratty?
This thought led me to a series of tangents I still ponder even today: how come more and more straight guys wear traditionally feminine clothing? From the phenomena of the romphim, to shocking pink oversized hoodies being something Supreme would sell, to the peculiarity of straight guys wearing floral shirts to go out; it seems to me that masculinity has become less rigid nowadays. Has Tan France’s influence towards the straights really been that impactful to the point where more and more straight preppy frat boys dress the way Tan does? I doubt it, last time I checked at Kip’s, countless groups of straight guys wearing floral shirts and pink hoodies still gawk at drunk girls from the corner of the dance floor, waiting on their chance to prowl and nonconsensually grind on them. Never have I seen the anomaly of a group of straight guys dancing their hearts out at the club without giving a shit about discrediting their masculinity, nor have I seen drag themed frat parties. Something doesn’t add up here: you see countless burly dudes wearing tight hawaiian shirts on a typical Friday night, but is this a stride we are making towards dismantling fragile toxic masculinity, or is this merely an ornamental trend used by guys to seem cool and emotionally available to hot babes?
Have you heard of the famous painting L’Origine du Monde (1866) by Gustave Courbet? It’s basically a realism piece of a closeup of a woman’s genitals. The piece utilizes the strategy of poetic shock to spark conversations about eroticism in art, while subsequently spearheading the notion of boundaries of representation and actively rejecting conventional notions of what was considered presentable. Sounds progressive right? Well, simultaneously by creating the piece Gustave Courbet took credit for the painting and sold a depiction of a woman’s genitals to other white men who were able to afford his highly valued artwork; It is crucial to keep in mind that the identity of the model in the painting is still up for debate to this day, while everyone remembers who Gustave Courbet was. Besides, there is something inherently voyeuristic and troubling about the piece, not because of the obscenity, but because the painting subliminally represents a pre-established unbalanced power dynamic between two people due to gender inequality which leads to exploitation of the female body. As radical and revolutionary as the piece was to the art trajectory at the time, it is still inherently unethical and problematic.
Okay, but what’s this have to do with creepy men wearing floral shirts? It has everything to do with it! It tells us that the power move of being seemingly progressive and feminist has been a strategy utilized by men to further oppress women since the early 19th century. It tells us that these frat boys with their French-tucks are not here to talk to you about consent and be there for your emotional needs. It tells us something we have known from the get go: men are trash.
I’m not saying that the sight of men being less concerned about traditional gender roles is pervasive, nor am I saying that men’s views on masculinity should go back to “wearing pink makes you gay!” What I’m merely doing is calling out straight men, from the floral-wearing French-tucking frat bros to the artsy skating co-op sadbois with their nails painted, that accessorizing your outer appearance with knick knacks that make you seem progressive is not enough. It doesn’t give you a freebie to sit out on an active participation to dismantle the patriarchy, it won’t magically make you a feminist man who is radically changing our views towards masculinity, and most certainly, it won't get you laid.
Was this a reach? Probably. Am I being too harsh and generalizing all men as equally trash? Yes. But is there merit to what I say, and am I making the most of my platform to speak my truth as a non-binary femme of color? Also yes. So, girls and gays, let’s all actively call out these men and remind them of the fact that they aint shit.
World Versus Industry: Art, Fashion, and Commodity with Artist Leilah Talukder
by Gillian Robin
I don’t completely remember the first time I met Leilah. I know it had been about a year ago, but I can’t remember the specific circumstances and, when I asked her about it, she was just as stumped. “Maybe through Cai?” she said, referring to a mutual friend of ours, but the details were fuzzy. It was unusual for me not to remember things like that, especially because Leilah was not the type of person you passively meet and immediately forget their name. When you met Leilah, it felt like it was for a reason. I remember hearing wild tales from our mutual friends about her, from her olympic-level athleticism to her trips to Bangladesh to teach English. She is a sharp, curious person, the kind that isn’t afraid to question things you say immediately upon meeting her, with an expression that reveals her confusion and skepticism. Last semester, Leilah and I had a class in the Art History department together. Although she was, at this point, only an acquaintance that I was vaguely afraid of, Leilah and I spent those classes in the basement of Moffitt freezing, sleepy, and frustrated together, listening to our professor practice lectures that he was going to give to people that were way more important than us. Afterwards, we’d walk the two flights up to ground level, complaining about the unnecessary esotericism and the normativeness of the content. This semester, we have a similar ritual, only our class is infinitely more interesting and our professor is infinitely more relatable. As an Art Practice and Art History student, Leilah has a nice overlap of interests with me, but diverse enough experiences to make our conversations important and refreshing to the both of us. This interview was inspired by a conversation I had with Leilah one Friday after our class together in her apartment.
Q: You and I have spoken before about how you’ve gotten involved in art. Could you explain that again?
Leilah: Sure, I think I first got into art through my sport. I grew up as a synchronized swimmer, which, although it is pretty technical, it’s more of an expressive sport, more like dance. It’s also expensive in the same way dance is; I was expected to buy new costumes constantly. Anyway, that led me to take a string of dances classes, from ballet classes to contortionist classes to flamenco classes. All this choreography-oriented art needed garments that expressed that expression, so I started making my own costumes. That, and the fact that I constantly needed new, expensive costumes. So I think that was my introduction to art. I also took some fashion classes in high school, but I was often frustrated at the outcomes of the store-bought patterns, because I felt like the outcomes weren’t mind. So I started manipulating them and making my own pieces.
Q: So you study art, but you make fashion. Why’d you pick art as the route to the fashion industry?
L: Honestly, it came down to paying for school. I’d gotten into a couple of fashion design schools, but they were expensive and the very-rigidly defined “fashion degree.” I didn’t want to be stuck at a fashion school if I changed my mind, and Berkeley gives me freedom to explore. Plus, there’s a lot of freedom in the Art Practice degree here, I can take classes that hone in on my fashion focus.
Q: Do you find any resistance with trying to bridge the art and fashion gap?
L: There’s always somewhat of a resistance towards wanting to include fashion in the art world. I think it has to do with the blatant commodification of fashion. The economy of fashion has a marketing concern; there’s more of an explicit supply and demand factor in the fashion industry, and that’s a truism that I’m willing to acknowledge. But I don’t necessarily think those same factors aren’t at play in the art industry. There’s heavy politics around the museum and gallery space, and no one wants to admit that fine art is just as wrapped up in “the product” as other commodities. So I think it’s a lot of internal anxiety in the art world. But when you really look at it, art and fashion systematically function in a lot of the same ways. There’s differences between cat posters and museum murals, just as there’s a difference between Forever 21 and Comme des Garçons. Accepting fashion as art makes artists and gallerists accept that art is commerce and production. And us artists have to admit that before we can challenge that.
Q: As a fashion designer, how to you hope to challenge that aspect of commerce?
L: I think that there’s something about making clothes for people, something about providing them with what they need that can even invoke feelings or questions about representation and self-determination in them. But obviously, there’s a lot of seediness in the fashion industry; there’s a lot of hiding what people are doing and where things are coming from, and consumers must choose with their dollar what is worthy and what isn’t. It’s a messed up, manipulated relationship, but it’s a relationship that can be mended through exposure, decency, and respect: knowing where our clothes come from and who made them. Again, I don’t think that the art world is void of this manipulations either. We still see shady Warholian workshops through people like Jeff Koons, only we validate that through concepts of intellectual property and “art as genius” mentality. What I feel about fashion is what I feel about art; once we start paying artists appropriately and consistently, we must start to question who and how our art is made and, therefore, legitimized, and we have to stop letting the intellectual or academic concept of “art” get in the way of our ability to critique the way it practically functions in society.
Q: What kinds of things are you working on now? Anything particularly related to this relationship between art and fashion?
L: In my painting class, I’m working on a dress that revolves around the same themes. On one side, there’s Bernini’s Faun sculpture, and Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, and on the other side I’ve painted Calvin Klein and Victoria’s Secret advertisements, sort of as a commentary on what I touched on earlier. I was thinking about the way we’re uncritical of pieces of art because of the context under which they’re disseminated. We’re less likely to formally question the advertisement in the same way we would for a work of art, because we recognize the commerce motivated its production. It’s a process of question that we need to shift into the fashion industry. There’s still people making those decisions, deciding whose bodies are represented and whose are expected to be manipulated before they’re represented. Obviously, there’s that relationship between the body, art, and commodification, or how the female nude is exploited for both fine art and fashion commerce. My plan is to photograph that dress on a variety of different body types in a classic studio setting, asking the model to pick which side they want to be the front. Then, the idea is to paint one of those photographs and leave another just as a photo, so the entire piece would end up as a diptych.
Q: That’s a rather elaborate process. What inspired you to think through all these mediums? More generally, is there anything about Berkeley that prompts you to ask certain questions or inspires you to make certain things?
L: I’m also a student of Art History, so I find a lot of inspiration in studying academic discourse and art theory and criticism. But I would say my biggest source of creative inspiration is from running FAST [edit: Leilah runs FAST, the fashion design and production club on campus]. It’s incredible that we can get enough funding to let 20 people from all walks of life to commit to learning a new skill and creating something for the sake of communicating an idea or feeling. It’s amazing. But also, just walking around campus inspires me. The thrift shop culture here is incredible, and people really use it to its full advantage. You’ll seeing someone in their mom’s 30 year-old dress and a blazer they got at Savers for $3, and they look amazing. See, that’s something you could never do with fine art. You can’t just hand a Baroque masterpiece next to an abstract sculpture next to a child’s scribble, it’s just not allowed. But with fashion, and thrift shops, you can sift through decades of creation and style and mix it until you’re satisfied with it. It’s democratizing in a way that art has yet to accomplish. When I see someone wearing something cool, it strikes me. Since we all have to wear clothes, and have to decide something to put on our body every day, it removes people from the hegemony of the institution, allowing us to see self-realized representations more than institutionally accepted qualifications of “Art” do. Once we can be critical of it, the way it functions in everyone’s life, then we can start to take the art of fashion more seriously. If we’re truly thoughtful about what we wear, then maybe we can open that conversation, equalizing the art world in way that postmodern discourse has been yearning for.
Fair Wages: A headscarf that doubles as a protest toolkit and protest sign. Inside it contains a water pack, bandages, pepper spray neutralizer, painkillers and more. This piece is designed for the women in Bangladesh who work in sweatshop in the garment industry.
A still form a performance piece and installation. In the piece three participants fill the clear vinyl dress worn by the artist with colored sand from the surrounding class containers. In this piece sand operates as a metaphor for the passage of time and memory.