by Quentin Freeman
Some schools have snow days. So far this year, UC Berkeley prefers to spice it up with Our State is On Fire Days, Worldwide Epidemic Days, and All Our Grad Students are On Strike For Livable Wages Days. Whoever said school was boring? The UC Berkeley grad students voted to go on a full strike starting Monday, March 16, in demand of a cost of living adjustment (COLA) and in solidarity with the 4 other UC campuses currently on strike. Starting Monday, not only will our classes be virtual, but if your GSI is one of the students on strike, it’s no guarantee that they’ll happen at all. Wondering what to do with yourself to fill the time (besides support your GSIs and wash your hands)? Spring break trip to Italy get cancelled? A little freaked out by campus’s new pre-apocalyptic vibe? Consider the following:
Get outside! Berkeley is home to some delightful hiking trails, and nature is only a walk, bike ride, bus, or BART away. Work out those lungs and get some Vitamin D, and word on the streets is that trees can’t spread the virus. Short of using our cancelled classes as an opportunity to live out your hermit-in-the-forest dreams, check out the Fire Trails for some local action, or take the 67 bus to Tilden, where you can stroll through redwoods and around lakes. Want to get out of Berkeley? Head to Briones Regional Park just over the Berkeley Hills for some beatific rolling hills, or make the longer trek to Point Reyes National Seashore-- accessible by public transit!
Listen to Radioactive by Imagine Dragons. Yeah, it might not be the most uplifting song to go with the crumbling university, but what a banger. Get yourself fired up to take on whatever the world wants to throw at you, from glitching internet on your Zoom lecture to a full-scale, nuclear-fallout-style apocalypse.
Teach yourself a new skill or hobby. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn to play the guitar, or speak Gaelic! Learn to embroider, identify edible plants, practice your survival skills, or perfect your latte art. Maybe take up woodworking so you can build that off the grid cabin of your dreams! Now’s your chance to memorize all the lyrics to It’s the End of the World As We Know It by R.E.M.!
Feeling romantic? Hozier’s Wasteland, Baby! is the ultimate album for when it’s the end of the world, but you’re also totally in love. Highlights from the record include No Plan, complete with driving beat and nihilistic discussion of how there is in fact no plan for the universe, and everything will at some point return to darkness-- but at least you’re watching the final sunset with your girl! A little more on the acoustic side of things, check out the titular track, Wasteland, Baby: a soft, delicate ballad with lyrics like poetry. I mean, “And the day that we watch the death of the sun / that the cloud and the cold and those jeans you have on / That you gaze unafraid as they saw from the city ruins /Wasteland, baby / I'm in love / I’m in love with you” -- nobody ever said the end of days had to be a turn off. The album is full of great date ideas for the end of the world, if you need any inspiration.
Maybe don’t read The Stand by Stephen King unless you really want to lean into this whole pandemic thing. A nearly thousand page post-apocalyptic horror epic, The Stand is a fabulous way to kill a couple dozen hours. Its intricate web of characters, slightly disturbing world-building, and unfortunately very timely premise of apocalypse-by-disease keeps you riveted and a tad freaked out-- but very grateful that our own pandemic is not quite as horrifying and end-of-the-world-inducing as the fictional virus in the novel.
However you decide to fill your time, don’t forget that in reality, COVID-19 isn’t the harbinger of the end of days; as truly unfortunate as this situation is, it’s only temporary. Wash your hands, be careful, go home if you want, but don’t fall prey to the panic. See you on Zoom!
by Akshata Atre
Most of the work I do for my architecture classes is essentially just a very extra version of arts and crafts: a plan or a section? Literally a more technical drawing. A model? More like paper and cardboard.
Drawing and crafting are two things I love to do. But why is it so much more painful when it’s for an architecture studio?
At first, I thought the dread and stress was a result of being graded on the things I produced. After all, as one of my GSIs wisely stated the other day in office hours: “everything would be more fun if there were no stakes.” But then I thought back to high school (a period of time that I have blocked out most memories from) and remembered the four years of art classes I took, which were the least stressful classes I ever took in those four hellish years. And sure, sometimes I was worried about what my teachers thought of my work and whether that work merited a coveted “A.” But the majority of the feelings I associate with these art classes are positive and very relaxed-- laughing with friends, experimenting with different media, listening to music, getting messy. I was getting to make things that I enjoyed making, where the end result was the result of a creative exploration that wasn’t stifled by a barrage of technical requirements and critiqued into a jargon-laden oblivion. I was creating, not producing.
The idea of production in architecture, the way I understand it, voids the creation of architectural work-- which is basically a form of art-- of any actual creativity. Designers in an architecture firm are literally part of a department called “production.” You’re resigned to drawing the same things over and over again: insulation, floor finishes, concrete slabs, glazing units. But somehow in the workplace it’s still more tolerable than it is in academia. Because in architecture school even mastering those details is not enough. You have to have an argument for everything, a technical aesthetic rationale behind every stroke and lineweight on your drawing or piece of paper in your model. You are hardly ever allowed to say you designed something because it “just looks better” (unless, of course, you have a moderately empathetic professor.)
And, look, I get it. The study of architecture can no longer be the early Bauhaus pre-hippie trip into expressionism and radical thought. It has a reputation to maintain. But why must that reputation come at the cost of any creativity in the study of architecture? Why is every creative idea critiqued into oblivion? (And if it hasn’t been yet, it will be, so much so that you’ll never want to try anything radical again.) Assignments are given under the guise of freedom, yet when you try to take advantage of that freedom, a critic will find something wrong with what you’ve done. Because unlike in art, the designs you produce as an architecture student must comply with the laws of physics and construction, most of which, frankly, you have little to no real knowledge of.* And because of that, it becomes incredibly difficult to produce any work without strict guidelines, because the fear of being criticized, of the unknown is utterly crippling. Fear doesn’t breed creativity.
*I’m not saying that art school is easy either, folks. The comparison is based on my own personal experience having taken art classes for over ten years before college.
So what exactly am I looking for instead? It seems unlikely that the pedagogy of architecture school (or the study of any other subject in which “learning” is pretty transparently fear-based) is going to change anytime soon, especially since most architecture teachers subscribe to the “well that’s the way I learned it, so now you have to suffer through it too” philosophy. Maybe this is just part of the process of pursuing something you thought you always wanted to do (I’ve wanted to become an architect since I was eight). But I also feel like there’s a point at which academics really need to step back and question whether or not their methods are actually working. Is forcing students to work 18-hour days on little sleep without time to properly feed themselves really fostering an environment in which students are actually producing good work and learning? Based on how the quality of my work has declined since I started junior year, I think not. And if someone comes at me with the classic “well, they’re just preparing you for the real world” nonsense-- well, maybe the “real world” doesn’t need to be based on fear and workaholism.
I don’t know. Just a thought.
Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi and Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism: Shattering the Limits of Possibility
by Lucas Fink
Central to Mark Fisher’s theorizations of late capitalism is his emphasis on cultural stagnation and the resultant increase in reliance upon resurrected cultural forms. Nowhere is such a dearth of genuine novelty more apparent than in J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a film that strays a bit too close to being little more than a beat-by-beat retelling of A New Hope. A force-sensitive teenager on a desert planet is uprooted when she meets a droid carrying sensitive information and is swept up into a galactic civil war, meeting a surrogate father who dies at the end and aiding in the destruction of a massive spherical space station which is blown up after a trench run. I love this movie, but not for its originality. I also really love The Last Jedi, which respectfully and thoroughly inverts the predictability of its predecessor, unabashedly exploding convention and leaving in its wake new vistas of possibility I never thought I’d see in the Star Wars universe. Once every blue moon, the system will glitch and release something so self-aware and subversive that its very existence is one of schizophrenic tension. Why in the hell did Disney produce a movie whose fundamental themes call into question the system on which Disney subsists? I don’t know, but when these glitches in the matrix happen, I get happy.
Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi is disillusioned and curmudgeonly, denouncing the elitism and bourgeois hubris of the old Jedi Order as a result of which Emperor Palpatine came to power. Poe Dameron learns it’s okay to defer to a female authority figure and that his self-worth and identity should not be predicated on a toxic conception of masculinity that consists of reckless, selfish, fame-starved individuality. Finn learns from Rose that there is an overclass of absurdly rich war-profiteering assholes who supply weapons to both the bad and good guys and presumably have been doing so for a while, thus helping to produce and perpetuate the cycle of conflict to which the Star Wars galaxy has been condemned for thousands of years. And then Kylo Ren fucking kills Supreme Leader Snoke (also known as Walmart Palpatine) and for three of the most exhilerating minutes in all of cinema we get to witness a fight scene - so well shot and choreographed it’s unfair - between the new Rey-Kylo alliance and Snoke’s Praetorian Guard during which we, while admiring the spectacle, contemplate astonishedly and frantically what in the fuck is going to happen next. Will Kylo turn good? Will Rey turn bad? What do the terms good and bad even mean anymore in this new realm of moral blurriness in which we suddenly find ourselves? Watching that moment in theatres, I felt something I never thought I would feel while watching a winter blockbuster produced by Disney that’s the eighth installment in a franchise: the promise of something genuinely new. Something interesting and thematically rich and shockingly subversive that all the while manages to enhance my appreciation for and enrich my understanding of the characters I’m already familiar with. I felt giddy and surprised and incredibly happy.
Mark Fisher was a brilliant anticapitalist philosopher, cultural critic, and continental theorist. He took his life in 2017. Before his abrupt and deeply tragic death, Mark gifted us with some of the most lucidly and passionately articulated theorizations of life in modernity, of life in late digital capitalism. His writings are honest, personal, sad, scathing, funny, and often pessimistic, and yet are subtly - but unmistakably - underlined with optimism, a hope that Mark found harder and harder to sustain. For Mark, life in modernity is characterized by a nebulous malaise, in part engendered by the inability of culture to produce anything actually new. Because capitalism presents itself as the last form of social and economic organization, as the end of history, it evacuates the future. There is no future, because capitalism is eternal and inevitable; it is the way things have always been and the way things always will be. In such conditions, art becomes starved of novelty and as such is forced to become parasitic, leeching off of the trends of the past. If a time-traveller played Arctic Monkeys or The Drums or The Strokes at a party in the 1980s, no one would notice. Nirvana and Joy Division t-shirts are easier to find and purchase than any merchandise from a contemporary artist. Only 4 out of every 10 movies released between 2005 and 2014 had wholly original scripts.
The Last Jedi did not have an original script; it was the eighth movie in a franchise now owned by a megacorporation. And yet, somehow, the movie constitutes a rupture in the fabric of the possible. It constitutes the exact thing Mark calls for at the end of his seminal work Capitalist Realism:
“The long, dark night of the end of history has to be grasped as an enormous opportunity. The very oppressive pervasiveness of capitalist realism means that even glimmers of alternative political and economic possibilities can have a disproportionately great effect. The tiniest event can tear a hole in the grey curtain of reaction which has marked the horizons of possibility under capitalist realism. From a situation in which nothing can happen, suddenly anything is possible again.”
The Last Jedi is that glimmer, that tiny event which shatters the imposed limits of capitalist realism and thus renders anything possible. I wish Mark could have seen it.
by Yasmeen Adin
When you create from the margins, your art often refuses and revolts against the the preexisting genres and categories that were created by and for people who represent the dominant culture(s). As a result, your art may be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misused. Unless the main purpose of your work is to appeal to the dominant gaze or align with its imagination, your creation is destined to be placed in the wrong genres by cultural critics at awards shows such as at the GRAMMYs.
One day before the release of his 5th studio album, Tyler, The Creator posted a precaution for people to take into consideration before listening to IGOR. He explicitly stated that no one should listen to it expecting it to be similar to Goblin, Flower Boy, or any of his previous works that were conventionally put in rap or hip hop categories. He defined IGOR as an experience of its own that crossed different genres. Out of all of the things this album represented, it was NOT a rap album. Yet, the experts writing reviews or evaluating IGOR for awards nominations flouted this vision and precaution. To them, it was not possible that Tyler, The Creator and artists who share his experiences were capable of creating something beyond rap. This phenomenon persists in the voting processes for awards ceremonies and remains unaddressed.
Tyler, The Creator did not fail to express his frustration with the process and the individuals controlling it. “I’m half-and-half on it,” he replied to a question regarding his initial reaction to winning, ironically, the best rap album at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards for IGOR. He expressed his gratitude for the acknowledgment of his work. However, to him the win felt like a “backhanded compliment.” For many years, the voting process for the GRAMMYs has been unfair to and limiting for artists of color, especially Black artists, in certain categories and genres. Tyler, The Creator accurately articulated the racism and ignorance underlying the categorization of his production, or any works by “guys who look like [him]” in rap or urban categories, even if they are genre-bending or fit in other categories, as a “politically correct way to say the n-word to [him].”
Other forms of creative expression did not survive this ignorant approach. After the release of her Netflix stand-up special, Nanette, Hannah Gadsby was described as a comedian over and over again in the majority of the articles and think pieces written about her. Although she acknowledged repeatedly her use of comedy to tell stories about her personal trauma, she maintained that what she was doing was not a stand-up comedy; it was a form of storytelling that many queer individuals grow up unconsciously adapted to. From a cis/heterosexual perspective, the way she wrapped her experiences with homophobia, sexism, and rape in jokes was quite shocking; it was a form of comedy that they had rarely (if ever) been exposed to before. However, this mode of storytelling has historically been known as queer storytelling. In fact, various queer critics and storytellers recognized her use of this mode for trauma-centered experiences, including Drae Campbell. She commented on Gadsby’s recent stand-up, and how it “subverts comedy.” She thinks that Gadsby knew her audience well and used their idea of comedy to introduce them to critical issues faced by every queer woman around the world. Gadsby is not the first to introduce this form of storytelling, but since it had been hidden from the dominant gaze, it was immediately perceived as pioneering and novel.
From Tyler, The Creator’s IGOR to Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, there is a trend of miscategorization and misinterpretation of artists' work that does not follow the guidelines and genres of the dominant culture(s). These cultures continue to push their narratives and misconceptions on these works despite the creators’ explicit disapproval of the categories they are forcefully put in. And until the experts in these culture(s) are willing to listen to and amplify the voices of these creators, this trend is not going anywhere anytime soon.
by Quentin Freeman
Santa Cruz, CA-- a beach town that is home to lush, towering redwoods and a groovy surfer vibe-- is the city in which I spent the first 18 years of my life. The same city is now the site of a weeks-long strike by UCSC grad students demanding a cost of living adjustment (COLA) to address the rent levels that are, quite frankly, absurdly high, and leave many students housing and food insecure. Santa Cruz, as idyllic as it is nestled between the redwoods and the ocean, is in the midst of a housing crisis. Between the university continuing to enroll more students than it has room to house (sound familiar, Berkeley?), and affluent Silicon Valley professionals moving in, demand for housing far outweighs supply, and rent prices have skyrocketed. Grad students at UCSC, who are responsible for the majority of face-to-face teaching, are spending on average 50% -- sometimes as high as 70% -- of their income from the university on rent. Students live in cars, or are forced to choose between rent and food, health care, or opportunities for their children. Months of negotiations with the university for a monthly stipend to address the disparity between pay and cost of living in Santa Cruz have turned into an all-out strike; grad students and hundreds of undergrad and faculty supporters have held a picket line since February 10 in the face of threats of police violence, firing, and deportation of international students from the university. The movement for a COLA isn’t contained to UCSC: last week saw solidarity rallies at every single UC campus, including our own.
Berkeley’s grad students find themselves in a similar predicament to UCSC’s: we all know the struggle to find housing- and the far greater struggle to find affordable housing- in Berkeley. Our own COLA is calculated to be $600 per month more than UCSC’s, and grad students on campus are considering their own strike if their demands to the UC aren’t met by March 6. It’s unclear how willing the university will be to negotiate. The rally that took place here on Friday and spread to an occupation of Crossroads was already met by police presence-- there were even police outside Cafe 3, hoping to prevent any further takeovers of the dining halls in the name of food security for our grad students. The police presence really provided a charming ambiance for my already delightful dining hall meal.
Grad students and lecturers are responsible for the vast majority of teaching on our campus; without them, UC Berkeley would not function as an educational institution. Yes, we have professors with Nobel Laureates. But without their GSI, would that professor be able to effectively teach, grade papers or field questions? Seems unlikely. As someone who grew up in Santa Cruz in all its beachy rent-burdened glory, I am now an undergrad at UC Berkeley learning just as much from my GSIs than my professors. Additionally, I’m on my own hunt for affordable housing, so these strikes hit close to home. No student should be sacrificing their quality of life, their safety, or their health for their education or their job. So here’s the question: if grad students are invaluable at our schools, why aren’t we paying them enough to live, teach, and research here? Why are we meeting them with police presence and threatening to fire them? Who does Janet Napolitano expect to teach countless classes and discussion sections if all the grad student teachers are fired? If the UC is theoretically a public institution, shouldn’t it serve everyone, and not just those affluent enough to afford to live in California? It’s not like the university doesn’t have the money-- UC Berkeley spent $290,000 just on security for Ann Coulter to speak on campus. Think of the housing and food for our grad students that could have gone to (perhaps a better cause than protecting hate speech, but that’s just one girl’s opinion). So keep your eye out for a COLA strike of our own, Berkeley, because the fight for better living, working, and learning conditions won’t stop in Santa Cruz. And in the meantime, be nice to your GSI.
by Lucas Fink
I entered the theatre never having seen Nicholas Cage milk alpacas. I exited the theatre having seen Nicholas Cage milk alpacas.
Color out of Space is a 2020 film directed by Richard Stanley, written by Scarlett Amaris and Stanley, and shot by Steve Annis. The film is an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story of the same name. Like Franz Kafka, Bertolt Brecht, and the like, Lovecraft spawned a new genre in fiction, and hence, a new word English teachers everywhere now use to flex their cultural literacy: Lovecraftian. If a given work is Lovecraftian, it tends to feature immense, unknowable forces that ravage the delicate psyches of the humans who encounter them. The essence of Lovecraftian horror is the irony inherent in our futile attempts to apprehend and understand that which evades comprehension. In the face of our failure to know and control, we feel sad and small, dwarfed by an infinite and uncaring cosmos. Adapting Lovecraft is pretty difficult because a book, a medium with which the reader engages on a more cerebral level, and hence is afforded a greater ambiguity, can very effectively suggest the indescribable without ever actually having to describe it explicitly. Film, being an audiovisual medium, cannot offload most of the work on the viewer’s imagination like books can; film must show. How does one show the unshowable, know the unknowable? You give Nicholas Cage some alpacas, hire a good cinematographer, throw in a heaping helping of absurdist comedy, and get really weird. Thankfully, Richard Stanley does all of these things. As a result of Stanley doing all those things, the final product is genuinely hilarious, thoroughly unnerving, grotesque, quite beautiful, and really fun to watch.
It is very clear that the cast, all of whom do a bang-up job, had a clear understanding of Stanley’s tongue-in-cheek, campy vision; they still manage, though, to project an air of emotional authenticity. Allowing just enough self-awareness to poke through during the more over-the-top moments of horrific hilarity while still maintaining a bedrock of believable pathos is difficult; Cage and company pull it off impressively.
Is this film more than just a technicolor gorefest? Yes. Firstly, the film relies on more than just gore for its scares. Secondly, any film that innovatively and respectfully adapts a Lovecraft work must have something on its mind. The film scathingly depicts the mayor of this fictional Maine town and the bureaucratic structures of which she is a representative as ineffectual and disconnected, while casting in a much more sympathetic light the young hydrologist surveying the land around Cage’s property who serves as the audience stand-in and as the hyper-competent proletarian dude not afraid to get down and dirty and wise enough to not drink the alpaca milk. These two figures, standing in contest with one another, engage with the asteroid and the ensuing madness in different and important ways. The mayor employs a news team to milk the crash site for any spectacle to be had and then neglects it for the rest of the film (and, mild spoilers, eventually covers it all up, literally and figuratively). Our hydrologist hero, on the other hand, tries to understand and learns quickly that this color from outer space, and the reality we inhabit, cannot be understood. Here, we have the root source of the film’s horror: humans are in no way of any cosmic importance and are the mere playthings of chaotic, arbitrary forces that we will never come to control or even comprehend. What are we to do when mocked and belittled by the cosmos like this? The film presents three options: we can cry, go insane, or laugh. I choose the last option.
by Lucas Fink
I love Disneyland. I have assembled here a loosely cohesive array of hot-takes on the hallowed theme park, in an attempt to convince myself I can be the next Baudrillard. Here they are.
Fake rust eats away at the fake walls of fake airplane hangars in the area surrounding the legendary Soarin’ Over California, a ride so steeped in nostalgia that the actual ride itself - a raised row of seats floating before a massive rounded IMAX-style screen that convincingly renders the many wonders of our state - ceases to be the primary source of our enjoyment. No longer are my veins filled with giddy, infantile excitement upon seeing the spires of the Cinderella castle towering below my feet at the ride’s conclusion as I turn to my mom and exclaim “That’s Disneyland! That’s where we are now!”. Instead, my veins are filled with a far more potent strain of that excitement, an excitement distilled and intensified by the magic of memory.
Disneyland runs on nostalgia. When they brought back the Electric Light Parade, they used the classic synth ear-worm in the commercials promoting it, and only for a few seconds at the tail end of the ad. This is nostalgia weaponized. The selective, restrained usage of the parade theme, other than being proof that these masterminds know just how powerful that weapon is, is designed to merely arouse those memories gently, to pluck them delicately from your subconscious and let your own romanticization of your childhood do the rest. These people are loath to assail their audience with too much tasteless pandering, as they know the Disneyland brand retains that which sets it apart: prestige. Cleanliness. Professionalism. Whatever you care to call it, something about Disney feels high-brow. You go to Disneyland because you know you will be well taken care of and that everything you see and eat and do has been refined to the point of utter perfection by boardrooms upon boardrooms of “Imagineers” infinitely more gifted creatively and intellectually than yourself.
Disneyland and its neighboring park, California Adventure, feature several themed areas, each boasting ridiculously impressive levels of detail. Again, this is why we go there. Yet this attention to minutiae does not stop at the terracotta roofing of Buena Vista Street or the creole townhouses of New Orleans Square. Fake rust eats away at the fake walls of fake airplane hangars in the area surrounding the legendary Soarin’ Over California. FAKE RUST. Imperfections are deliberately constructed in a park whose entire reputation is predicated on its perceived perfection. Fake rust at Soarin’ Over California was joined by leaky piping, flickering lights, and dank basements in a decrepit hotel at the Tower of Terror. Disneyland allows its visitors to engage with decay and danger safely. We know it’s not actual rust that has appeared as a consequence of the passage of time and neglect; we rest assured knowing that “the outside world” is far away, out in the sprawling suburban hellscape of the greater Los Angeles area. The approximations of reality Disneyland offers don’t exist to be “convincing” or “authentic”; they function as reminders of the world from which Disneyland offers you sanctuary. They are reminders of the park’s infinite beneficence. Look at the imperfections and horrors from which we shield you! Be thankful that we offer respite in the imaginary and shelter from the “desert of the real”.
These imperfections also illustrate the extent to which the forces of capital have appropriated and monetized the appearance of wear and dispossession, both of which are states that people and buildings alike reliably come to occupy under late capitalism. One might justifiably have a difficult time seeing how presenting reminders of the failings of the current socio-economic state of affairs could actually serve to perpetuate that state of affairs. Basically, things that are outside of/exist in opposition to the established order (radical social movements, reminders of the system’s failings like abandoned lots, decay, and rust, etc...) are absorbed by the established order. In the process, they are neutered, so to speak, or stripped of their power to force the established order to yield meaningfully, whether that power may involve reminding the alienated masses of the negative externalities of the market system or expanding tolerance to minorities who have been exploited by the established order. Whatever the case may be, the thing that could be perceived as a threat to the system is rendered “safe”, is defanged, is sapped of political or social potence.
All the preceding, which just amounts to a clumsy attempt to imitate cultural theorists much smarter than myself, doesn’t mean that I don’t thoroughly enjoy myself whenever I go to Disneyland. I love it. I revel in the opportunity to experience it, the aura, the atmosphere, the waves and radiation.
by Akshata Atre
As much as I’d like to say that I’m an avid reader or that I’ve watched all the latest movies and television shows on the infinite streaming platforms that now eat away at our bank accounts, the truth is that as an anxious, overworked college student, I don’t consume much new media. To cope with a lot of my daily life, I turn to basic staples such as The Office, Parks & Recreation, and Friends (before Warner Media snatched it off of Netflix) and other shows that I’ve already watched more than five times over.
The only way I can really drag myself out of this repetitive cycle of consumption is through my headphones. Those giant headphones that I wear all. the. time. Because for some reason, it’s much more boring to listen to the same podcast over and over again than it is to rewatch “Dinner Party” for the ninth time. So, to start off this semester, I thought I’d share what it is I listen to when I’m avoiding talking to literally any other human being in this city. I hope this list can bring some of you enjoyment on your hasty walks across campus too.
This podcast has a pretty straightforward logline: it’s a podcast about the internet. So, as you might imagine, it gets into some pretty random stuff, from Billy Joel to the DMV. The hosts Alex and PJ have a very enjoyable rapport, especially when they bring in their boss for my favorite segment on the show, Yes Yes No (in which Alex Blumberg brings in a tweet that he does not understand and Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt explain it to him). My two favorite episodes are “Long Distance” (in which Alex tracks down a spam call center in India) and “The Q Anon Code” (a classic Yes Yes No). The network this podcast is on, Gimlet, also has some other great shows such as Science Vs. with Wendy Zuckerman, which is loaded with puns and an amazing narrative fantasy podcast called The Two Princes.
Alba Salix, Royal Physician / The Axe & Crown
Set in an alternate universe where trolls, fairies, and humans all live in (sort of) harmony, these fantasy-comedy podcasts are the perfect way to escape reality. The original, Alba Salix, follows Alba, a witch, and her two assistants as they try to heal various characters in their kingdom. The spin-off, The Axe & Crown tells the story of human Stan who has purchased a pub run by a troll named Gubbin. The voice actors on both the shows are fantastic, and I really love when their Canadian accents poke through :) Also stick around for the happy, forest-y theme music
Girl In Space
This dramatic narrative podcast is a collection of audio diaries recorded by a mysterious woman-- known only as “X”-- who is living on a spaceship by herself . . . until she is taken prisoner by an aggressive space crew. Although the episodes are only about half an hour long, the somewhat slow pace of the narration makes the experience of listening satisfyingly drawn-out. I also love the voice acting on this one. (One disclaimer: it’s going to be a long wait for season 2, since the podcast is run by an independent writer. But I think it’s going to be worth it.)
Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend
Okay, I’ll admit it. I had never watched or really known much about Conan before my mom recommended this podcast to me. But this podcast has shown me the light. As soon as you start listening to this podcast, you too will realize that Conan is one of the funniest comedians ever. Honestly, the best part of this podcast might just be the conversations he has with his assistant Sona (who I adore) and producer Matt (who sketches in the park with his mom once a month!). It’s such an enjoyable office dynamic that also led me down the rabbit hole of his remotes with the stone-faced Jordan Schlansky. Start with the episode with the marvelous Lisa Kudrow. (Also related: The Three Questions with Andy Richter. I LOVED the episode with Natasha Lyonne.)
As a South Bay native, it’s my self-appointed duty to love and learn everything about the Bay Area. And, for those like me, there’s a podcast for that. Bay Curious from KQED brings you all the secrets, mythologies, and facts about the Bay Area that will make you love being here even more. They even have an episode about what’s really inside the Campanile! You’ll also get to learn about what famous foods were created around the Bay, the origins of SantaCon, and much, much more!
Want to feel like you consume intelligent content that provides you with good conversation fodder? This one’s for you. Invisibilia is a podcast from NPR that explores the “unseeable forces that control human nature.” The stories are generally very intriguing and can teach you a lot about how your own psyche works. I highly recommend the episode “Entanglement,” which explores mirror synesthesia and make you realize that you’re not really an “empath.”
Historical Figures (aka “Famous Fates”)
Another fun educational podcast that provides digestible biographies of notable figures in history with fun music and voice acting. The name of this podcast has changed a few times, but if you look up “Parcast” podcasts, it should come up in some shape or form. While you’re looking, I’d also recommend the Conspiracy Theories podcast from the same network. Both shows have great episodes on Marilyn Monroe.
This scripted dramedy series from Allison Raskin (of Just Between Us fame on YouTube) is a fun, albeit a little cheesy show about . . . gossip. Although it’s obviously (mostly) fake, listening to Bethany, Valerie, and Mia talk about their upstate New-York neighbors in what sounds like an adorable coffee shop is just so relaxing, and it definitely satiates my need for random facts about people I don’t know’s lives. Protip: start from the beginning; there is a throughline!
Speaking of throughlines, this podcast, also from NPR, traces current events back to their historical roots. I really enjoy this show both for its compelling storytelling and its experimental score. One of my favorite episodes is called “American Shadows,” which dives into the role of conspiracy theories in the founding of the United States.
. . . and a few more . . .
It’s Been a Minute with Sam Sanders | Office Ladies | The Good Place: The Podcast | The NPR Politics Podcast | Up First | 99% Invisible | Hidden Brain | The TED Radio Hour | Radio Diaries | Pop Culture Happy Hour | Shortwave
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.