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.
by Lucas Fink
Sincerity scares me. When the music cuts out in a movie, and I’m to observe the quietly sobbing face of the protagonist, marred by countless rivulets of tears, I get antsy. I get uncomfortable. When the music comes in, and the camera zooms out on the protagonist and their love interest embracing, as the screen fades to black, I get antsy. I get uncomfortable. But when the protagonist cracks a little “wink-to-the-audience” joke to undercut the emotional potency of scene, I feel relieved. Why is that?
Metamodernism is a really cool word that refers to the convergence of a modernist sincerity and a postmodernist cynicism in movies, television shows, books, and video games today. The term metamodernism was first used by Mas'ud Zavarzadeh in the 1970s and was substantiated further by Robin van den Akker and Timotheus Vermeulen in their 2010 essay on the subject. The crux of their argument is essentially that the modulation between elements of modernism and postmodernism in contemporary art is suggestive of a departure from postmodernism, and as a result, we need a new term to more aptly describe the current cultural scene. Let’s take, for example, the first Bryan Singer X-Men and the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man films, both of which are unapologetically sentimental and at no point engage in some meta-commentary on such sentimentality. Then we have the Marvel Cinematic Universe of the late 2000s and 2010s, which is, to an extent, predicated on rejecting and undercutting that overt sincerity with Robert Downey Jr.’s signature sarcasm. And, finally, we now have films like Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, which rediscover an infectious earnestness while retaining that postmodern maturity of their Marvel predecessors.
This return to sincerity, mostly unadulterated by a tongue-in-cheek attitude, has not gone unchallenged; a vocal minority of angry man-children on 4Chan have made it their mission to deride every aspect of the new Star Wars films as a response to this tonal shift in their treasured franchise. Many of my peers share sentiments unsettlingly similar to those of the internet trolls, which to me indicates that sincerity is, in the current zeitgeist, no longer the default mode of communication. I notice this phenomenon in myself: in many discussions with friends, the literal meaning of what I say is the exact opposite of the actual meaning; I often use sarcastic inflections to vocalize thoughts or suggestions that I want to preemptively ensure won’t be taken seriously regardless of if I want them to be taken seriously. Sincerity scares me. I want to change that.
Postmodernism, I must be careful to point out, is in no way an innately bad thing; it, as a broad philosophical and cultural movement, does not endorse the substitution of Toby Maguire’s Spidey-Sentimentality with Ryan Reynold’s deadpan delivery of fourth wall-breaking witticisms. But the more we see this shift in our art, the more we’ll adopt irony as a primary means of communication. Or it could be that our art is merely responding to an increase in irony in the social scene. Does life imitate art, or vice versa? I have no idea. It does appear, though, that a metamodern shift is our only hope at eradicating this aversion to earnest expressions of emotion, as it may allow us to have the best of both worlds: in metamodern art, like Rick and Morty, a relentless, vitriolic, misanthropic pessimism is balanced by disarmingly sentimental reminders of its characters’ humanity. But, again, I don’t know the solution, or even if a solution to this phenomenon is needed.
What I do know, though, is that I miss when moments of collective catharsis, of emotional intimacy with others, weren’t something to be warded off by means of a snarky, self-aware remark. I long to see in the next Marvel movie a scene like Maguire’s Peter Parker suiting up for the first time: the score crescendoing euphorically as the image of Parker admiring himself in the mirror swells with unapologetic and unembarrassed pathos. I’ll end with a quote from the late David Foster Wallace, who says everything I’ve been trying to articulate in the last 690 words or so in just two sentences:
“Irony’s gone from liberating to enslaving. There’s some great essay somewhere that has a line about irony being the song of the prisoner who’s come to love his cage.”
by Melody Niv
Jakob Ogawa’s latest song, April, brings to light images of sleepy afternoons in late August, the cool breeze reminiscent of the slow end of summer, responsibilities lacking yet emotional angst making up for it. Ogawa is known for his enchanting musical pieces, receiving much acclaim for songs Let it Pass, characterized by its incandescent guitar riff, and synth-heavy, sweet All Your Love. This latest song lulls you into a bittersweet respite, its lyrics bringing vestiges of sweet, summer nostalgia. Although the lyrics are seemingly sweet and adoring -- I often dream of you -- it is infused with touches of melancholy, as seen by
Sometimes i'm all alone
Even when you hold my hand
I think you understand
Sometimes you’re all alone
Even when I hold your hand
You know I understand
in a later verse. The switch in perspective demonstrates the nuance of the purported relationship -- both parties are there for each other, supporting one another, yet the narrator of the story is definitive in their partner’s ability to know how much they care, while the narrator is unsure of their partner’s ability to understand their feelings -- “I think you understand” juxtaposing against “You know I understand”. The uncertainty is heartbreaking and relatable, a shared experience most can relate to, or at least understand the tragedy of.
Ogawa’s latest song carries influence from many other sources, ranging from childhood television shows to black female artists from the ‘50s. The initial beats of the song are reminiscent of Elton John’s Benny and the Jets, but with a psychedelic groove element morphed within it. The underlying beat throughout the song is also reminiscent of Alone Again by Gilbert O’Sullivan. Neo-jazz influence can be seen within the song, its emergence ubiquitous in popular music today, as seen in artists like Homeshake, Crumb, and the like. Specifically, neo-jazz influence is heard through Ogawa’s soothing voice over the hypnotizing, funk-inspired track. Neo-jazz is further propagated by the resemblance to Billie Holiday’s Crazy He Calls Me, her tonal shift when singing the words of “the way” in the first verse of “and I’ll move the mountains out of the way”, echoed by Ogawa’s shift when he sings “my hand” in the first verse. April’s enchanting chorus, da da da, simplistic yet captivating, is reminiscent of childhood chorales, carrying a simplistic, highly enjoyable and catchy melody. The entirety of the song brings nostalgia to the brink, but the chorus does so in an even more magical way, its childlike euphony mirroring the endlessly and mindlessly happy tunes of Elmo from Sesame Street and other childhood phenomena.
Sweet and sentimental, Jakob Ogawa’s April is an enchanting, euphonious song that will trap your unsuspecting heart as you drift away, carried by Ogawa’s soothing voice. The lyrics don’t vary much in range, lending strength to its simple, yet emotionally-charged narrative. Mellifluous in nature, the melancholic cadence of the song will leave you wistful over experiences you may not even have had, but can still relate to nevertheless. Listen to Jakob Ogawa’s latest song April -- you’ll be left in a dream state.
by Saffron Sener
What follows is an exhibit proposal. It is a curated collection of multiple pieces all relating to each other as per the below-explained theme/title. This blog post is meant to exist as an online installation accessible to all. Please consider the included pieces as if you were visiting a physical gallery. Enjoy!
Exhibit Title: the Great Beyond
Pieces, with their display captions:
Powers of Ten (1977) by Charles and Ray Eames
This short film (nine minutes) was created by couple Charles and Ray Eames. It documents their perception of existence as it would appear at different levels of magnitude. Zooming in on cells and out on the universe, this work combines scientific interpretation with art in its reckoning of life at every size.
Etc. by Ryan Heshka
acrylic + mixed media on board, 2007
Depicting a group of women and a mechanical beast moving outward from view, this imagining of alien life is colorful, intricate, and wonderfully weird. Heshka draws on pulp fiction cover art from the early to mid-20th century and adds his own eccentric flair and narratives to create windows to other worlds.
Assorted Pulp Fiction covers, unknown artists
A small assemblage of an almost endless collective, these pulp fiction covers display peeks into their subjects, from space adventurers to overlords to aliens. Hailing from the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, these illustrations allow modern viewers an idea of how authors and artists viewed life in outer space and beyond, granting a portal to the science fiction of yesteryear.
Christ and the Virgin Interceding for Humanity Before God the Father by Lucas Cranach the Elder
oil on lime, 1516-1518
For centuries, the stars of space were not necessarily its most compelling aspect; space was also the home of God and Heaven. In this piece, Lucas Cranach the Elder asserts the dominion of God as the skies and the dominion of humanity as the Earth, laying a clear spatial divide and emphasizing the divine aspect of the atmosphere (and beyond).
A short playlist including five songs
"Brave Captain" - fIREHOUSE
"I Hear a New World" - Joe Meek & the Blue Men
"Get Up" - The Blow
"Synthesize Me" - The Space Lady
"Portofino 1" - Raymond Scott
Each of these songs diverge in genre and topic but remain related and valuable in their perceptible treatment of space, the future, or the Great Beyond in some way.
Our lives are spent wholly under a blanket of stars. We can only see them for half of this time, but they are always there. And humanity has confronted this omnipotent presence in endless ways. This exhibit will delve into perceptions of the Great Beyond, be it visions of aliens or God, tales of space-explorers or the sizes of everything.
We begin with a realistic imagination of the universe. Its distance and abstractness pose no barrier for scientific exploration. Charles and Ray Eames tackled this in their short documentary film “Powers of Ten” (1977). Bringing our view of the universe out to 100 million light years and then 0.000001 angstroms in, the Eameses take their viewers into the fibers of the beyond in two directions to confront the magnitude of our existence. This film wrestles with the relativity of everything, braving potential existential consequences and qualms.
The 20th century lent itself to visualizations of the future, of the far-off and magical 21st century. With attempts to pierce space (like Sputnik or the Moon landing), space became synonymous with progress; one cannot separate the Great Beyond from its connection to forward movement. It is in the world of the future where space becomes approachable. Raymond Scott, an American composer who invented and constructed his own synthesizers, drum machines, and other electronic instruments, affirmed the direction of music into the future with his experimental tracks like “Portofino 1”. The happy, yet almost pensive song is a collection of electronic sounds tied together and fit for play over a tour of the metropolises so often imagined of the future. His technological compositions paralleled images of an automated, advanced future.
But, there are aspects of the cosmos and our interjection of humanity into that space which necessitates discussion. Why - why does our species look up to the skies with dreams of divinity and exploration? Is it an age-old fascination of that which is just beyond our reach or is it something more?
And, in this age of planetary collapse - how ethically can we dream about outer space? Should we look to the stars for hope or should they act as reminders of our own relegation to this planet which is currently being killed? Listening to “Get Up” by The Blow exposes us to one person’s grappling with the hoarding of resources by older, richer people. Rather than enter the Great Beyond of outer space, this person sings of “the Internet ghetto” that’s “all made of light,” all that’s left for people “too late to get the 3D real estate.” For this person, it’s not the stars that provide an outlet for their future, but rather the digital lifescape.
Often, outer space is referred to as the “Last Frontier.” The concept of a “frontier” is complicated and often controversial - the word itself implies untamed, ready-for-the-taking space, but often buries the reality of that which already exists. We can look to American history for proof of this; as white settlers moved further and further west, further and further into the “frontier,” they paved their way through the destruction and decimation of Native lives and natural landscapes. Though the United States prefers to remember history through the glorified lens of Manifest Destiny, this requires the denial of a very real Native American genocide.
How does this translate to the Great Beyond? Well, like images of cowboys in Old Western films, there are the heroes and adventures of mid-20th century pulp fiction novel covers. White men and women are seen battling the native inhabitants of whatever far-off planet they’re exploring, conquering the land and quelling the threat. And other adventures in the “Last Frontier” assume an almost Biblical quality - all-powerful entities dictating life and special children become the center of the space story. fIREHOUSE’s “Brave Captain” tells the tale of an expedition on the brink of mutiny. Exploration gone wrong - a treatise into the inevitable dangers of journeys into the unknown.
And yet, it is a lonely dimension, space. There is no sound, no warmth, no song drifting by like Joe Meek & the Blue Men’s “I Hear a New World” feels it would be. And from the human eye, there are only the stars and darkness for miles upon miles upon miles. But it is in those dark spaces that humans have found space to fill. Be it an alien world, as seen in Ryan Heshka’s Etc., or the plane of the divine, as asserted by Lucas Cranach the Elder in Christ and the Virgin Interceding for Humanity Before God the Father, we have lost no time in seeing what is beyond the capacity of our eyes.
With love, though, we look up to the stars. The Great Beyond is that unreachable, untouchable, but wondrous space that allows imagination to flourish. We don’t know what’s out there, so anything could be. We attempt to chip away at it with searches for inhabitable planets and journeys to Mars, but it remains as that which is just away from our fingertips - just beyond. “Synthesize Me”, sings the Space Lady, who got her name from an underground Berkeley newspaper in the 1980s. “Hypnotize me - energize me.”
by Yasmeen Adin
Gasping loudly was the only response my body was capable of when I listened to Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebenase indie rock band, for the first time. I mean, how would a 15-year-old Saudi questioning kid listening to someone singing “[translated from Arabic] The masses (literally: herd) accuse you of treason when you demand change in the motherland” react otherwise? I remember listening to this song, Lil Watan, over and over again, while gasping as if it was my first time listening to it. These gasps were fueled by the reality that freedom of expression was never fathomable to me -- how could Mashrou’ Leila, an Arab band led by openly queer singer and violinist, risk being arrested or assaulted as they sang publicly and unapologetically about topics ranging from the Arab Spring to LGBTQIA+ rights? Although I have found the answer to this question that accompanied me while listening to their albums that I’ve known by heart since 2015, I could not help but gasp as I saw the band I grew up with perform live last Saturday at The Regency Ballroom. I was, and I still am as I am writing this piece, in absolute awe.
A group of students at the American University in Beirut in 2008 decided to gather regularly to make music as a way to help them destress and practice. They decided to call themselves Mashrou’ Leila, which loosely translates to “a project of one night,” thinking their music would not survive, not knowing that they would be touring worldwide in 10 years. They are one of the pioneering Arab musicians who were not afraid to tackle taboos, even if it meant sacrificing their personal safety, receiving death threats, or being banned in some countries, including Lebanon. These sacrifices were natural and expected for a band whose music, in and of itself, is a revolution against the norms and cultures of the people they write and sing about. To be a band that discusses gay sex, transphobia, feminisim, AND in Arabic and not only survive, but also flourish, is something that has seemed surreal even to them. But it did not seem surreal to me. Their survival and success was a must.
When the representation of certain marginalized groups, especially within Arab communities, is nonexistent, any glimpse of representation, in whichever form it may take, feels refreshing and unprecedented. But those labeled as ‘pioneers’ may bring disappointments to the groups they are representing due to their unavoidable problematic nature. My bias and admiration of Mashrou’ Leila may be clear here; however, they do deserve the platform they were given and show commitment to amplifying the voices they represent. When discussing sensitive topics, such as trans bodies, that do not necessarily relate to some of their experiences as cisgendered men, Mashrou’ Leila has never claimed that they have given those communities voices. Everyone has a voice, but our queer, trans, nonconforming voices are marginalized, policed, and tortured. They just amplify those voices through their art, and they do it magically. Being exposed to this magic at the age of fifteen seemed frightening yet liberating and empowering as it accompanied, and partially ignited, a lot of unlearning and healing I underwent to thoroughly accept the fluidity of my body and emotions. Whether listening to Inni Mneeh and experiencing the disappointment and solitude coming with loving one’s country while hating its fucked up government, or listening to Shim El Yasmine and being introduced to the first ever gay love story in Arabic, this band creates a space, for a few minutes on Spotify or two hours on stage, where my existence is validated, acknowledged, and celebrated.
The preparations of their two-hour performance began three months ago and was preceded by a crying session before purchasing the ticket, a crying session after purchasing the ticket, and a crying session in between. Beyond regular crying sessions, the preparations extended to borrowing and choosing outfits with friends (shoutout to Nadia!), showering at midnight while revising their lyrics and ensuring I knew each one by heart, and telling every stranger I meet for the first time that Mashrou’ Leila’s upcoming concert will be my first concert. And was all of the anticipation and the physical and emotional effort poured into it worth it? YES. AAAAAAAHHH. It took my brain a few seconds to process that I was seeing them live when they came from backstage. When Hamed Sinno started reciting a poem, Haig Papazian held the violin, Carl Gerges stood behind the drums, and Firas Abu-Fakhr played a few keys of the piano, I reacted the same way I reacted when I listened to Lil Watan -- I could do nothing but gasp. My body moved involuntarily as they played the first song; it was finally in the space that it longed to be, where it could dance, move, and jump carelessly and unapologetically. For two hours, it was able to exist in a space and be whatever it wanted to be as it mourned as they performed Marrikh and almost exploded with joy as they performed Radio Romance. The scene capturing my movement was actually rare. To be queer, dancing joyously AND publicly and share these moments with complete strangers who only bonded with you over trauma AND feel safe? What a concept! But beyond sarcasm, this is how I felt, how we felt, during the few moments we were inside the Regency Ballroom, where I gasped endlessly.