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
by Yasmeen Adin
I had no choice but to unreluctantly start reading Mona Eltahway’s Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution after reading the dedication to her book on Twitter: “To the girls of the Middle East and North Africa: Be immodest, rebel, disobey, and know you deserve to be free”. Eltahaway’s writing is unapologetic and filled with rage. Reading the title alone back in 2015 was partially uncomfortable, but that is generally how she engages with her readers -- she purposefully disrupts them, encourages them to be angry with her, and asks them to use that anger to unlearn, change, and create. And she is right. My tendency towards creation exponentially increases as a result of anger. I did not know what to do with my rage whenever I felt like fuming. I would encapsulate it and wait for it to evaporate from my skin; acting upon it would bring unpleasant outcomes that I was not fully prepared for. However, I find myself now running to a pen and a sketchbook or a laptop instead of helplessly staring at my anger and see it stare back at me. Whether it is a bunch of scribbles, or smashing a keyboard, I found this anger cease and metamorphose to written pieces and rough sketches. This anger-driven art was not something I only experienced, but a psychological phenomenon that psychologists and artists have been investigating through their research and artwork to better understand how rage fuels creativity.
After the bombing of the African American Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, singer Nina Simon said, “I had it in mind to go out and kill someone,” but her husband tried to push those ideas aside and simply said, “you can’t kill anyone. You are a musician. Do what you do.” A year later, in 1964, Simon released Mississippi Goddam, whose inspiration came from her utter rage and frustration, resulting in one of the most revolutionary songs that became integral in the protests of the 20th century in the US. For different reasons, but with Simon’s same fuel, sculptor Louise Bourgeois’ prolific career was driven purely by anger. “You have to be very aggressive to be a sculptor,” she said in her documentary Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, the Mistress and the Tangerine. “It’s the anger that makes me work.” But these anecdotes that correlate between creativity and anger are not exclusive to Simon’s and Bourgeois’ experiences; they are universal in their nature and proven by the human psychology. This topic has been the interest of psychology researchers Matthijs Baas, Carsten De Dreu, and Bernard Nijstad, who conducted a series of studies investigating the emotions fueling creativity, ranging from sadness to happiness, and from neutrality to anger, and which emotion(s) specifically catalyzed this creativity. In their studies, they traced back the “creative” process from its foundation: brainstorming to solve solutions. They found that creative people, although mostly unstructured in their reasoning, were noticeably the most creative in both the quality and volume of their ideas. But as their anger faded, so did their creativity. It seemed like this fuel did not last long once it was ignited and needed to be increased in order to survive. Which further proves the continuity of Bourgeois’ and many other artists’ creative careers as “it is the anger that makes [her] work.”
This series of studies was published in 2011 under the title Creative Production by Angry People Peaks Early On, Decreases Over Time, and Is Relatively Unstructured in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. I showed the article to my friend Saida Dahir, who immediately commented, “why did they not mention me in the title?” She related to the experiences mentioned in the studies, and how as a Black Muslim refugee woman, her rage about issues she faces on a daily basis, from gun violence and police brutality targeting Black people to Islamophobia and misogyne, was best articulated and expressed in the form of poems she used to protest in marches. In fact, her first album, The Walking Stereotype, is a celebration and embracement of this anger. In an interview with The Recording Academy, Saida answered a question about what inspires her to write poetry about tragedies like the Parkland shooting with:“The anger and the fear and all of that just boiled down to, ‘What I can do to make sure that that never happens again?’” And to make sure that never happens again, Saida’s activism extends beyond her personal poetry as she creates spaces for other poets to express their anger and frustration. As I witnessed her cocreate Slam Gun Violence, a youth led poetry slam centering the experiences of marginalized communities as they exist on the frontier of the threat of gun violence, I fully realized that I was about to witness a living proof of not how pure rage fuels creativity, but how it also fuels social and political change. Being in that space, where poets as young as 16-year-old, whose frustration found solace in poetry, I was left with much more anger than I came with. Although I could only snap or shout “PERIOD!” after each line this slam participants recited, like poet Kenede McCloud’s “America was never great,” I was also left with hope and relief and reassurance as well; our rage-driven artistry can move mountains.
Two weeks after Slam Gun Violence, Zara, organizer and artist, invited me to an event they were organizing titled Shape Shift, which they described with: “Experiencing the queer brown musical magic of artists: Diaspoura, Quisol, and Mirrored Fatality.” The use of the words “brown,” “queer,” and “magic” in the same sentence suggested that that the event would promote healing and perseerverance, but the healing process leading to these outcomes demands learning how to deal with one’s rage. And I was not disappointed — as they opened the event, Mirrored Fatality asked the audience at the end of their performance to confront their rage. They emphasized that we are left with so much rage on a daily basis as we carry the burdens of the struggles that we inevitably experience because of the intersectionality of our identities, and we mostly do not know how to deal with it; they as artists express it through their music, and they audience may choose to scream, sing, or simply sit in silence. After their performance, Quisol his performance by thanking them for this part of anger release. “As a soft person,” he said, “I don’t express that anger.” Softness and anger are both radical acts and can exist simultaneously. And when their intersection inspires art of any medium, we get to witness the creation of revolutionary art that moves beyond canvases and book covers and contributes to social and political shifts.
Regardless of the backgrounds and identities they represent and the events their art initiated and continue to inspire, the artists previously mentioned share one main thing in common: they are all angry. And whether their anger is left unspoken and expressed in silence or in the form of music and poetry, their art resembles the correlation between creativity and anger. Their use of different modes of creative expression to release that tension from their bodies to disrupt, disobey, and lead a change that goes beyond their personal work shows that they rage; therefore, they create.
by Lucas Fink
We are in a car with two teenagers and an overwhelming flood of cacophonous music. The camera rotates 360 degrees around a stationary axis in the center of the vehicle, which is speeding down the highway; glimpses of a bright blue sea and sky are seen through the open windows. I knew at this moment that Trey Edward Shults, the writer and director of this flooring, astonishingly beautiful film, was not interested in the notion of “motivated” camera movement, or, at least, not in the traditional sense. Shults’s camera is motivated - just not by the movements of characters or objects of importance through space as is traditional of typical narrative cinema. Shults has opted instead for a camera that doesn’t necessarily show, but evokes. If the goal of the camera is solely to show, to act as a mere relay for visual information regarding the happenings of the story world, then Shults is clearly doing something wrong. Fortunately, Shults knows that the “rules” of Hollywood narrative cinema are arbitrary and restrictive and ripe for breaking. It is to the infinite benefit of the audience that Shults is able to perceive and transcend these limitations and, in doing so, tell a story with a camera whose movements reflect the emotional world of the characters. The wanton exuberance experienced by these two teenagers flying down a freeway, with feet out windows and lips on cheeks, is also experienced by the camera as seen in its perpetual movement; its restlessness and excitement mirror the feelings of the characters. Shults’ strategy is not limited to “positive” moments of emotional intensity; anxiety, confusion, and hysteria are also all “felt” by the camera; these instances of extreme pathos motivate, or animate, the camera just as much as the literal movements of objects through space.
“Narrative” is another notion Shults’ seems somewhat less interested in than his contemporaries. There is a story here, one that is a profoundly moving and important and relevant and beautiful. One might argue, though, that the narrative is subordinated to the style, that the story is a mere alibi allowing Shults to deliver a 2-hour-long sequence of breathtaking shots accompanied by equally breathtaking music, of indulgent audio-visual stimulation. I would argue in response that style here is inseparable from the story. A forward progression through the plot is less obvious in the film, and it often does abandon all sense of narrative momentum entirely. Yet these moments of visual poetry, of slow, wistful contemplation, do further the narrative as they acquaint us more intimately with the characters. This is a film about people, and it sees sound and cinematography as a means by which to provide insights into those characters that traditional modes of storytelling and shot-reverse-shot dialogue wouldn’t allow for.
Digital behavior is a tough thing to depict cinematically. Watching a screen on a screen can produce a certain distancing boredom, as I don’t pay to watch something digitally produced, distributed, and displayed to endure even more digital distantiation; such is the effect of “screenception,” as it were. Some films add in post-production CGI (computer-generated imagery) text bubbles that materialize next to the character texting; others situate the viewer in some entirely animated space through which the camera flies that’s meant to embody the digisphere (think Avengers: Age of Ultron). Though these attempts are commendable for their creativity, no depiction of digital life had ever really captured for me the essence of growing up in a digital media-saturated world until I saw Waves. Rather than just pointing the camera at someone’s phone, Shults takes us literally inside the world of social media by employing a transition in which the camera, after situating us in a prom party, slowly pulls back and soon through the cracked screen of the protagonist’s iPhone, at which he glares longingly and furiously. No other moment in contemporary film so elegantly captures the feeling of “wanting-to-be-there,” of missing out, that excessive engagement with social media invariably engenders.
Waves is a work of surpassing beauty and brilliance. I left the theatre bruised and cleansed, profoundly sad and profoundly joyous, exhausted and rejuvenated, floored and hopeful. The soundtrack is beautiful and prominently features Frank Ocean and Blood Orange. I loved this movie.
by Saffron Sener
When I started taking birth control pills, I imagined that they would come in some plastic case, probably pink or lavender, slightly reminiscent of a Polly Pocket case or a compact mirror. I’m not quite sure why. Did I see this in a movie? Art? Advertisements? A baseless assumption?
I picked up my prescription from Walgreens, waiting until I returned home to open the box. There wasn’t a whole lot that I looked forward to with the pill - beyond pregnancy prevention, it left me with the fear of becoming a hormonal mess for a few months while I adjusted. So I really wanted that cute, plastic case. Something about it was so appealing; it was a special container, a little home to these oh-so-important pills.
But when I opened the box, I didn’t find a plastic case. I found a piece of cardboard-esque material, folded over once like a booklet and encasing a foil package full of pills. The color scheme was kind-of cute, yellow and orange and pink, but where was my case? Where was my pills’ cute home?*
There are so many brands of the birth control pill. And they all look so different. Why? What creative drive is motivating these companies?
To answer this question, I’d like to conduct a basic analysis of six oral contraceptive brands and their respective designs. They include, in no particular order: Kurvelo, Levora, Seasonique, Jolessa, Enpresse, and Ortho Tri-Cyclen. Each name is hyperlinked with images of the brand’s pill pack; feel free to reference these images throughout the article. They are the same ones I based my analysis on.
One baseline throughout pills that determines an aesthetic choice is the inclusion of at least two pill colors. For the combination pill, at least. This indicates to the consumer which pills contain hormones and which are the placebo, or inactive, pill. Kurvelo opts for an orange hormonal pill with a pink placebo, similar to Levora’s pink placebo and white hormonal. Seasonique’s turquoise pill perfectly matches its case (what a statement!) and is paired with a light orange placebo. Enpress and Ortho Tri-Cyclen’s pills assume a multitude of colors; for the former, pills move from pink, white, orange, to a greenish blue while Ortho Tri-Cyclen’s pills fade from white to blue to green.
Interestingly, the most utilized colors appear to be orange, white, pink, and blue/green - consistent also with packaging. Across these six examples, not a shred of purple or brown or even black beyond the typeface is to be found, really. So, it becomes clear that one wants warmer tones, sometimes earthy, when it comes to their pill - but why? Orange and yellow communicate a certain energy, almost happiness. Pink - well, that’s the girl color, right? (ha, ha). White is simple, clear, unassuming. And blue/green are calm, like nature, not scary. I wouldn’t be opposed to a goth, all-black pill pack, but a brown one… maybe that’s too earthy.
The typeface is typically black, other than in Jolessa and Enpresse, whose brighter colorways keep the more colorful text in line. Other than in the brand name, it’s always sans serif. The scary medicine words are the casual font while the brand name is a professional counterpart, serif and all.
The lucky ones, Levora, Seasonique, and Ortho Tri-Cyclen, come in that coveted plastic case. Levora’s could almost be an accessory by choice - light pink, with a seashell embossed on the front. Ortho Tri-Cyclen resembles more a pale yellow compact mirror, while Seasonique appears to be a more practical way to hold its multiple layers of pills. So, for me - Levora wins. But the choice of a seashell relief stands out. It’s cute, but there are implications. Seashells symbolize fertility (which I’m trying to avoid by taking the pill - some irony?) and femininity. Some light research yielded that the scallop shell represents salvation in Christianity. Either way, still interesting and somewhat surprising meanings.
I must say that I appreciate the pinstriping of the Jolessa and Enpresse packages. Extremely similar in their overall “look”, these two brands overlap in their striping, menstrual pad-looking outer packages, and layout of pills and words. Both appear to be produced by Barr Pharmaceuticals, so this likeness makes sense. Nevertheless, it’s still worth noting.
Is there a deeper meaning to be reached with the comparison of birth control pill packages? Likely not. But, they represent a niche, aesthetic design that is somehow extremely varied and quite similar. All of the packages sort-of look like they were created in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, but they assign a particular warmness, almost a personality, to an otherwise sterile medicinal practice. Unlike a generic orange pill bottles, these packages have life - they are all different, sometimes cute and sometimes not, with some correlation but lots of divergence. There is a person, or a group of people, behind these appearance-based decisions; there is some arbitrariness in whether the package is a circle or a rectangle, yellow or pink, cardboard or plastic. This is an untapped alcove of vernacular aesthetic design - look out for how your birth control pill package compares. .
* Would it be a home or an apartment building? I mean, seeing how each pill is in its own plastic case, maybe it’s an apartment building? But I guess an apartment can be a home. Or is a pill pack truly a cooperative?
by Lucas Fink
The opening minute of “Baby I’m Bleeding”, the fifth track off of experimental hip-hop artist JPEGMAFIA’s sophomore album Veteran, assails the listener with a sampled fragment of a digitized female voice. The sample is nightmarish and mind-numbing, conjuring images of a malfunctioning Siri or Alexa whose mindless, incoherent techno-babble pours forth ceaselessly, even as one powers off the iPhone or pulls the plug. It is under and against this smothering robotic vomit that a human voice emerges, first as groans of exhausted frustration and soon crescendoing to screams of impotent rage: “FUCK!”. The source of these cries is someone tired, someone psychically fractured and spiritually bruised such that powerless expressions of anger become gasps for air, become the only means of moral preservation and safeguards of one’s sanity against the nameless thing: the kafkaesque horror of technocratic late-capitalism. The first “FUCK!” is followed by a second, more emphatic “FUCK!”; both of them are the FUCK’s of the generations brought up in this desolate cultural wasteland; they are the FUCK’s of postmodernity; they are the voice of our age.
At the heart of every JPEGMAFIA song is this tension between the authentic/organic and the inauthentic/unnatural, the individual yearning for freedom and fulfillment amidst an atomized digital hellscape and the all-absorbing, amorphous, unnameable power producing this hellscape. This conflict, which plays out more explicitly in Veteran (look no further than “Baby I’m Bleeding”), takes on a new, somewhat subtler form in the artist’s latest project All My Heroes Are Cornballs. Here, JPEGMAFIA often cynically assumes the voice of the inauthentic/unnatural, a tactic beautifully exemplified by the chorus of “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot”. In the verses, Peggy oppositionally addresses the inauthentic directly as a personified character whom he later becomes in the chorus; this character is the cultural phenomenon of the “Instagram Thot”.
Is there a more beautiful embodiment of self-commodification and digital exhibitionism than the Instagram Thot? I should be clear that, in using that term, I refer to anyone of any gender who could be said to enthusiastically engage in the construction of a digital image of oneself. I should point out too that it is not possible to have an Instagram account without engaging in public performance; that is the fundamental purpose of the medium. However, there are those who embrace the medium more thoroughly and, by extension, embrace the creation of an idealized simulation of a person who doesn’t really exist. I must also point out that one should not describe Instagram Thots as having had some moral failure; the medium is deliberately structured to heavily incentivize Thot behavior.
It is no surprise, then, that JPEGMAFIA chooses as his personified representation of the inauthentic, unnatural, impersonal forces of techno-capital one of the foremost victims of such forces: the Instagram Thot. Instead of raging against the unnameable thing as in “Baby I’m Bleeding”, he plays the role of the individual who is made to internalize and perpetuate it. He offers a performance of one who performs.
Though Peggy assuming the identity of a hyperreal digital phantom could be read as a cynical comedic contrivance, which is a justified position to take, I would argue comedy is only a small fraction how this mechanic actually operates. When honestly listened to, the high-pitched auto-tuned wails cease to register as merely bitter and sarcastic, instead taking on a much more melancholic tone, one of deeply sad hopelessness. Again, JPEG is not fighting anymore, for he has become; he is now a part of, not apart from. Though he resents his condemnation to the “within”, his only means of expressing this resentment are mournful howls in internet-speak. There is nothing that can be said that is truly “without”, that is actually subversive and disruptive. In fact, things intended to be subversive and disruptive just enable further cultural homogenization and, hence, hegemonization, as we are now inside a system of perfect absorption, of endless recuperation. When faced with such a system, acts of “resistance” just end up expanding the field of ideological domination. Screams and FUCK’s mean nothing anymore; they are subject to the same cycle of appropriation and commodification to which every other cultural artifact is.
The album opens with a candid recognition of this predicament, of “being trapped”, as communicated by the first track’s title “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot”. However, as the project progresses, the tone shifts from a sad futility to a sad, yet contented, acceptance, embodied by tracks like “Free the Frail”, whose chorus features despondent admissions of Peggy’s powerlessness: “This shit is out of my hands”. And, in the stunning final minute of “Post Verified Lifestyle”, the beat and Peggy’s raspy, moaning vocals abruptly drop away as a beautifully sampled segment of Taylor Swift’s “Delicate” floats faintly over a bed of lush, quiet synths and tentative electronic pan-flutes; amongst this soft, ethereal harmony, a Playstation loading-screen sound effect arises, not as an interruption but as a gift extended to us by this dreamy, contemplative soundscape. It is as if whatever creative force behind what we’ve been listening to has finally found peace. This incarnation of JPEGMAFIA has no mouth, and no longer must he scream. Together, we reach contentment: existing as formless digital phantasms, wafting serenely through a realm of hollow simulacra, grieving no more the land left behind.
by Katherine Schloss
The other day, I was walking down the lovely street of Dwight Way when something shiny caught my eye. A plaque on the ground marked the usually insignificant stoplight where you can catch the 79 (which I find to be much sexier than the trusty old steed that is the predictable 51B) just before Theta Chi. Called “Hell’s Fissure,” the plaque demarcates the mythical location where, apparently, a chasm opened up during the 1906 earthquake and “creatures of unspeakable horror” terrorized the local neighborhood. I started to think of all the crazy characters that I encounter without a second thought on the daily here in Bezerkeley. I started to really believe in the chasm’s lasting power over the area as a result of its introduction of such colorful characters as the Hell Yeah Guy, Furryboi, the lady at Brown’s whose “Next!” hits you like a freight train…
In related news, recent reports have deemed six buildings on the UC Berkeley campus seismically unsafe. When the beloved Hayward faultline opens up at a football game this year - “We could have been good!” we’ll say, “But the earthquake ruined all of that…” - buildings as old as shit will crumble. I interviewed a few passing people about this dilemma. First, I hit up a Fiji frat dude, just as he was coming dramatically down his mansion’s luxurious staircase as if he were Scarlett O’Hara of the movie Gone with the Wind. “Bro, I haven’t been to class in a week! I gave myself a long weekend and went on a three-day bender. We can’t rent out RVs anymore because of the incident last year, so I’m thinking of hang-gliding to the next USC game. Oh, it’s actually here? Sick… we’ll see if I’m coherent enough to make it. Oh, wait - what were we talking about??”
Then, outside of Moe’s, we find a resident soft boi looking at the $2 bookrack. His instagram bio says, “Brain like Berkeley,” and he cries into his beanie when no one’s looking about the girl that wasn’t receptive to his charms. “The way she says hi is cathartic, like the dew on the soft grass.” I decide he’s a lost cause.
When asked for a statement, our lovely chancellor was tempted to not comment. Then, when walking down Sproul one day, dodging flyers and faceless/nameless consultors, I ran directly into Oski himself. I felt him slip something into my pocket, and then it was like he’d never been there. The note said: “When the time comes, hide in the tunnels. You’ll know what to do.” As the world around me started to burn to the ground, and memories of a recent earthquake came to mind, I started to feel like that meme about the dog in the burning room.
by Yasmeen Adin
While facetiming one of my best friends, he received an email back from one of his favorite novelists: Saleem Haddad. Needless to say, he was overcome with joy because he never thought Haddad would reply to his lengthy email, in which he expressed how much Haddad’s debut novel Guapa meant to him as a gay Arab and Muslim man. He only needed to say these three words -- gay, Arab, and Muslim -- to get me interested. Of course I was interested. How can I not be when the only representation of Muslim and Arab queers I have encountered was stories of how they would end up in hell? I had very high expectations for this 368 page paperback that I had kept hidden in my room. And those 368 pages did not disappoint; I ended up sending Haddad a long email just like my friend had done. Haddad created a person that not only shared my concerns and spoke my language, but had a simliar, close relationship with a homophobic family memeber. By reading about this character, even though it may be fictional, I felt less lonely. I had a sense of reassurance -- a reassurance that one experiences upon seeing oneself represented in the dialogue of novel or in a kiss in a movie. This is one of the many reasons why representation matters.
I longed to re-experience the emotions I had experienced while reading Guapa, but this addiction ceased because there were no sources nor supplies to satisfy it -- stories of people like me are almost nonexistent, suggesting that we are imaginary creatures whose lives cannot make it to the stories of regular, everyday lives, which simultaneously contribute to our dehumanization. But this feeling of alienation was soothed whenever I stumbled upon a poet, novelist, filmmaker, or artist whose art was for and about us. That reprieve of feeling understood was intensified with the anticipation of watching Haddad’s first short film Marco which was first announced on Instagram. All of the impeccably refreshing emotions I felt while reading Guapa will immerse me again I thought, and I could not wait for that to happen again when I booked my ticket for the 23rd annual Arab Film Festival, which featured Marco as the opening film of its Queer Lens Program. I thought of asking someone to come with me, but I did not want to tell anyone. I did not want anyone to come with me. I wanted to have this experience entirely for myself, without worrying about arguing or discussing any of the films afterward. And this is how it went at the Roxie Theatre: myself, a group of curtious white people, and tens of queer Arabs whose existence in that space with me seemed surreal. Similar to me, each one of them was there to witness a story that spoke to them. We were ready for the moment the films started playing, the moment of representation we have been deprived of, dreamt of, and advocated for -- it was finally here. And I was part of it.
Marian Wright Edelman, civil rights activist, summarized the importance of representation when she said:“You can’t be what you can’t see.” The lack of figures similar to me became the norm. This was the case until I saw Marco. The plot progressed until I witnessed one of the most important scenes of film history: two Arab men speaking in Arabic, being vulnerable, singing kissed on the screen. I was awestruck. It took my brain a few moments to fully process and absorb it. I did not realize that I needed that scene until I saw it. It was a moment I have been deprived of, a moment of pure love between two people who looked and loved like me. That scene seemed unnatural at first as if I was not supposed to see it or even experience a moment similar to it. After all, I could not be what I could not see, but a simple, romantic kiss between two lovers in a movie and 368 pages were enough to end my delusion.
by Ryan Simpkins
Last night, I decided to drink and watch Police Story with my friends (Criterion Collection just had a sale). The moon was high and vibes were chaotic as we rushed into Safeway at 10:30 PM on a Monday night looking for chips and beer. First person I see is a guy who I only kind-of know, just a bit. People make me feel flustered, especially guys who I only kind-of know and tried to flirt with one time three years ago at a bad party, so I decided to get away from that potential social interaction. I dove into the chip aisle, only to see a guy I was friends with the weekend of my freshman orientation where we only bonded over smoking weed and how I was completely terrified of college. He has become one of those “going to pretend I’ve never met you before” people I see on campus and avoid for my social anxiety’s sake. And here he was. Blocking me from hiding from the other social interaction I was avoiding. In the chip aisle.
I decided to go back and talk to Jack.
It went fine, convo was pleasant, and I told him about our plans to drink and watch Police Story (cause Criterion Collection just had a sale). So then Jack goes, “why is that Criterion?” And, honestly, valid question.
For those of you who don’t know, Police Story is a 1985 cop-action-comedy starring, stunt choreographed, written, and directed by Jackie Chan himself. My boyfriend thinks he’s cute, my favorite director loves his work, apparently he’s politically weird but idk, I just know his animated TV show and now, I guess, Police Story. I’m not going to try to explain the plot to you, because honestly, I do not remember. Chan is a cop, he’s bodyguarding some lady, and the lady is also working for the bad guys. Something to do with a court case. Anyways.
There are multiple reasons why this crazy fucking movie belongs on oh-so-sacred-and-special and film-twitter-deemed-holy Criterion Collection. To start, the film was fully conceived by one of the greatest stuntmen to have ever lived, and so the simple form of filming is brand new. His action sequences are genuinely incredible, mostly existing in few long shots with intense zooms to accentuate context, intensity, or perspective. A close-up on Chan will zoom out to reveal an entire city block of fighting men. A landscape of a bus speeding by shoots in on a minuscule Chan climbing the landscape, the now extreme close up revealing that he just missed the bus he’s been chasing down. It’s like he understood the theory that long shots are the only true artistic film form and combined it with snapchat technology. The feats themselves are so undeniably unbelievable that we would jump from our seats and yell, my boyfriend’s housemate coming down multiple times to ask us to quiet down. At one point, Chan jumps down multiple stories by sliding down a string of fairy lights, electricity exploding around him as the bulbs burst. I think he wanted to show, with his long shots and extreme zooms, that these stunts were truly practically and really him, giving credit to the stuntmen who perform them.
These stunts are fun to watch not only due to the unfathomable acts performed, but because Chan really does have an aesthetic sense of style. Every set piece and character is color blocked in primaries, one chase scene consisting of one all green, one all yellow, and one all red car. A village literally collapses as Chan and the goons plow through it in their cars, bright blue buildings and huge red awnings falling into a colorful rubble. The characters themselves are bright and stylish, wearing pale yellow turtlenecks or all cyan jumpsuits with a flaming orange scarf. Police Story is a fun film to watch, your eyes entertained endlessly. That being said, there are also plenty of valid reasons to question why it was given the Criterion esteem.
Chan excels in style and action, but any moment where the film tries to be anything other than action (Chan, too, trying to shake off his action star role in moments for intense drama or comedy shtick) falls awkwardly and confusingly flat. For example, there’s a scene where Chan wears a very noticeable outfit, followed by a scene where someone else is wearing the exact same outfit. But no one says anything? There are many moments where a character will cross a line with a woman (saying something offensive, physically attacking her, sexual harassment/assault, etc), and the women or characters around her will not acknowledge. There’s a scene where Chan forgets that it’s his birthday, comes home to a surprise party (where every single guest is a woman), and has cake thrown in his face by offended women multiple times. Like, three times. It’s not an action scene. Why does he have so many cakes?
There’s a scene halfway through the movie where Chan, for some reason, is left to watch a whole police station alone. As the scene explores, one man manning all the station’s phones is a hard job, so Chan juggles between phone calls, accidentally referring to one caller as another or hanging up when he meant to hit hold. He eventually gives up and hangs up every phone, only to realize the confusion has left him in a web of phone lines, tangled in a comedic mess. It’s impressive that he envisioned such choreography, and the physical comedy is pretty funny. But the calls Chan ignores are literally women being raped or beaten by men. And Chan just eats his ramen.
That pretty much sums up the whole of Police Story. Chan performs some flashy and well-shot stunts that leave you asking how he did it, as women suffer at the expense of a joke. At least he nailed the depiction of cops abusing their power and ignoring their duties to serve themselves. Maybe that’s why they put it on Criterion.