Monday, November 30, 2015

News Briefs 11.30.2015



ChiRaq


I am not here to inform you about Spike Lee's new film.  I am here to talk to you about the violence plaguing the city of Chicago, Illinois.  I am here to discuss something that is being treated as some type of phenomenon, almost as if it is something unheard of. I am going to take you on a trip through history, a history fraught with failures against the Black community in Chicago.  A history of state violence enacted against Black bodies.   
These are soldiers sent to Chicago during the 1919 race riots.  The case of the riot took place after a white man threw a stone at Eugene Williams who was swimming on the "Black Side" of a segregated beach.  He struck Williams causing him to drown.  When the white man responsible for killing Eugene was pointed out by onlookers he was not arrested.  This was the cause of the riot.




So why am I talking about the past in relation to the present violence in Chicago? Because this is a matter of cause and affect.  The United States never officially sought to resolve racial tension.  The Kerner Commission was created in 1967 (48 years after the Chicago riots) President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed people to a committee to investigate the causes of race riots that were still plaguing cities across the United States.

The Kerner Commission came up with the following suggestions in order to improve black communities:  


  • "Unless there are sharp changes in the factors influencing Negro settlement patterns within metropolitan areas, there is little doubt that the trend toward Negro majorities will continue."
  • "Providing employment for the swelling Negro ghetto population will require ...opening suburban residential areas to Negroes and encouraging them to move closer to industrial centers..."
  • "...cities will have Negro majorities by 1985 and the suburbs ringing them will remain largely all white unless there are major changes in Negro fertility rates, in migration settlement patterns or public policy."
  • "...we believe that the emphasis of the program should be changed from traditional publicly built slum based high rise projects to smaller units on scattered sites."



Needless to say, none of the above happened because it was sixties, and they couldn't afford to invest in improving the Black communities that they initially destroyed, because they had to invest all their money in the Vietnam War.  Now fast forward to 2015 and Chicago is a prosperous city however it has the largest gap between the rich and the poor in comparison to any other city in the United States.  The South-side of Chicago is one of the most dangerous areas in the United States while simultaneously being one of the poorest.  Is this an accident? A coincidence? I think not.

  There is no development, no infrastructure, no economic advancement and no improvement in education. In other words, in 2015 forty-eight years after the Kerner Commission's observations in 1967, we still have not sought out to improve the conditions that have created volatile living situations for people of color.

When the media tells you that they have never seen violence of this magnitude in reference to people of color and and intra-racial violence in poor communities, know this, that they are lying (or they have never read a history book a day in their lives).  What is happening now in Chicago is a direct result of a history of state violence in which the living conditions of Black people have been systematically ignored.  Ghettoes don't just appear, they are manufactured and they are maintained.




What is it that I mean by "state violence"?  1919 Chicago riots are over the unarmed death of a Black men, the white man responsible is not arrested (but all lives matter right?); riots and violence continue to plague Chicago for 48 years after that.  In 1967 The Kerner Commission establishes what needs to happen in order to rectify the problem but what happens instead? Projects are constructed in stead of "smaller housing units on scattered sites" they create "publicly built slums". In 2015 48 years after the Kerner Commission the state still hasn't moved an inch to fix a problem that they have created.  Instead Chicago has turned into a police state in which they are seeking to increase the amount of police on the streets of Chicago. 


"This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish… You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity."

The Fire Next Time,  James Baldwin (1963)


"With segregation, with the isolation of the injured and the robbed, comes the concentration of disadvantage. An unsegregated America might see poverty, and all its effects, spread across the country with no particular bias toward skin color. Instead, the concentration of poverty has been paired with a concentration of melanin."  

The Case For Reparations, Ta-Nehisi Coates (2014)


"You can kill a revolutionary but you can never kill the revolution" (Fred Hampton). RIP Laquan McDonald.


This struggle has never ended, it is a continuous fight.




One Love,



Lisa Del Sol


Miss World Canada Will Miss Miss World

Despite being crowned Miss World Canada in May, Anastasia Lin will not compete in this year's Miss World pageant, which will be held in Sanya, China. Lin never received an invitation letter from the Chinese government in support of her visa request, but still tried to enter the country on Friday, due to a rule that Canadian citizens can obtain a landing visa once in Sanya. But Anastasia Lin was stopped in Hong Kong, barred from boarding her flight and setting foot on Chinese land as retaliation, she claims, for speaking out against human rights violations against Falun Gong practitioners China.
Born in Hunan, China, Anastasia Lin moved to Canada with her mother at the age of 13 and grew up to become an actress, model and activist. After winning the Miss World Canada pageant, her family and residents in her hometown of Changsha were elated and proud of her. But the high from her success was quickly dampened - her outspokenness on religious freedom and human rights in China became an issue. News about her, anything that mentioned her human rights advocacy started disappearing because of censorship. Lin's father, who lives in China, began receiving threats from the government and told her to stop her advocacy for Falun Gong practitioners or he would have to cease contact with her.
Falun Gong or Falun Dafa, is a repressed and persecuted spiritual practice from China that was first taught in 1992. Despite the initial support it retained early in its inception, Falun Gong soon grew too strong, too large, and too independent for government officials and security organizations. By 1999, the number of people who practiced Falun Gong was approximately 70,000,000, and the popularity of this group was seen as a threat to the government. So in turn, the Chinese government led a campaign against the practice and banned it, deeming it heretical organization. The government banned books that taught Falun Gong and censored any Internet mentions of the practice. Before long, Falun Gong practitioners became subject to severe human rights abuses - imprisonment, torture, forced labor, and more. Thousands of these people have died under such conditions, many of them becoming organ harvest sources for China's organ transplant industry.
As an activist and Falun Gong practitioner herself, Anastasia Lin is not surprised that she was refused entry to Sanya, as her advocacy would be far too close for the Chinese government's comfort. Still, she refuses to shy away from speaking on the injustices against Falun Gong practitioners. The threats her father received in May did not stop her then, and being prohibited from competing in China will not stop her now. Miss World Canada may miss the pageant, but she won't miss out on telling the world her truth and remaining a fearless activist for her people.
- Renee 

Currently Reading 11.30.15


You spend all this time trying to figure it out, but then you realize that theres also this interaction and interplay thats still going on in the text. Its not a dead thing. What you listen to or what youre reading is still moving and still living. Its still forming" (107).
                                                                                                            The Undercommons
                                                                                                            Fugitive Planning and Black Study                                                                                                                                               Fred Moten and Stefano Harney

So far this is probably the best piece of literature that I have ever read in my life.





"Where did logistics get this ambition to connect bodies, objects, affects, information, without subjects, without the formality of subjects, as if it could reign sovereign over the informal, the concrete and generative indeterminacy of material life? The truth is, modern logistics was born that way. Or more precisely it was born in resistance to, giv- en as the acquisition of, this ambition, this desire and this practice of the informal. Modern logistics is founded with the first great move- ment of commodities, the ones that could speak. It was founded in the Atlantic slave trade, founded against the Atlantic slave" (92).

Stefano Harney, Historian
Fred Moten, English Professor and Poet




If you want to know what happens when you mix the the beautiful prose Fred Moten with concise factual data from the historian Stefano Harney you get The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning And Black Study.  This book criticizes everything that you thought you knew and forces you to grapple with Moten's commanding manipulations of the English language (in some chapter he makes up his own words, but trust me when I say if you don't understand the text you will feel it).  My favorite chapter in book is the final one titled "Fantasy In the Hold".  The hold that they are referencing is the hold of the slave ship.  They  discuss the connection within Black diaspora to the forced bond created amongst different tribes of Africans thrown together in the slave ship:



"Hapticality, the touch of the undercommons, the interiority of sentiment, the feel that what is to come is here. Hapticality, the capacity to feel though others, for others to feel through you, for you to feel them feeling you, this feel of the shipped is not regulated, at least not successfully, by a state, a religion, a people, an empire, a piece of land, a totem. Or perhaps we could say these are now recomposed in the wake of the shipped. To feel others is unmediated, immediately social, amongst us, our thing, and even when we recompose religion, it comes from us, and even when we recompose race, we do it as race women and men. Refused these things, we first refuse them, in the contained, amongst the contained, lying together in the ship, the boxcar, the prison, the hostel. Skin, against epidermalisation, senses touching. Thrown together touching each other we were denied all sentiment, denied all the things that were supposed to produce sentiment, family, nation, language, religion, place, home. Though forced to touch and be touched, to sense and be sensed in that space of no space, though refused sentiment, history and home, we feel (for) each other" (97)




The past is inextricably linked to the present.  This book tackles multiple issues from an intersectional standpoint that connects race, class and gender.  This is what makes their train of though so radical, so important and so beautiful to me.  It also makes it extremely depressing.  One of my professors told me "History isn't pretty" and it isn't.  As they discuss some of the sociological and logistical oppressions of Black people this book has the ability to crush you.  But one thing I can guarantee is that you will never read a history book that sounds this beautiful:



"There’s a touch, a feel you want more of, which releases you. The closest Marx ever got to the general antagonism was when he said “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” but we have read this as the possession of ability and the possession of need. What if we thought of the experiment of the hold as the absolute fluidity, the informality, of this condition of need and ability? What if ability and need were in constant play and we found someone who dispossessed us so that this movement was our inheritance. Your love makes me strong, your love makes me weak. What if “the between the two,” the lost desire, the articulation, was this rhythm, this inherited experiment of the shipped in the churning waters of flesh and expression that could grasp by letting go ability and need in constant recombination. If he moves me, sends me, sets me adrift in this way, amongst us in the undercommons. So long as she does this, she does not have to be" (99).


This book is so rich, so dense and honestly it is a struggle to read because Moten's writing style is very unique.   However once you get accustomed to way he uses language and the way he manipulates it you can finally see how beautiful it is.  Even if you don't understand all of the concepts and the terminology that he uses it will start to coalesce. Every Sentence is so beautifully crafted and handled with care.  Reading The Undercommons is a journey and I hope that all of you enjoy the ride.

   




One Love,





Lisa Del Sol

Currently Listening 11.30.15


I was going to do this post on some Alabama Shakes song, but then M.I.A. came through this Friday and ruined me - straight up TOOK OVER my life. For those of you who don't know who M.I.A. is, let me give you the most biased rundown on her that I can possibly give.

M.I.A. is a goddess. The End.

My Love.

Okay, okay, she's named after a goddess that represents outcastes (people who have no caste, or have been expelled from their caste in Hindu society), impurity, the power of the spoken word, music, art and knowledge. But what's the difference when you (kinda, sorta) live up to the name? 

Mathangi Arulpragasam, a.k.a. M.I.A. is an English rapper of Tamil Sri Lankan descent. The daughter of a Tamil political activist, M.I.A. is known for her outspokenness on human rights issues. Keeping up with, well, herself, she made quite the statement on Friday with the release of the visuals for her single "Borders". Her self-produced music video for this song draws attention to the current refugee crisis, and juxtaposes imagery/lyrics about strife with imagery/lyrics of privilege. 

Not her best bars, but they don't need be.


See, M.I.A. is all about a whole, artistic package. She started out as a visual artist and filmmaker, so it's no surprise that music videos are meant to hold significant weight with the meaning of her song. I do believe the song is lyrically weak, but the video is what makes the single that much more poignant - if you have 10 minutes of free time, watch and listen to another example of this M.I.A. phenomenon. The video contains graphic violence but it's a very moving film that was banned for a while from YouTube, and has its own Wikipedia page explaining it...if that means anything to you.

Anyway, having been a refugee herself, M.I.A. can relate to the struggles of fleeing areas of conflict, but also knows that as a successful rapper she can and must use her status to speak up. With "Borders", M.I.A. is speaking not only on the refugee crisis, but also on the Sri Lankan Civil War. The release date of the video (November 27th) is the date of Maaveerar Naal, or Great Heroes Day. Banned in Sri Lanka since the end of the Civil War in 2009, Maaveerar Naal is a Sri Lankan Tamil holiday that honors fallen militants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

So yeah, since I watched this video I completely stopped replaying "Sound & Color" by Alabama Shakes and started bumping to M.I.A.'s whole discography. Like, the whole thing. In fact, as I'm finishing this up, I'm listening to her last album, Matangi, which she uploaded in full on YouTube.

I'll leave you with my favorite song off the album.

- Renee

Currently Watching 11.30.15


So recently I've found myself in many conversations about celebrity crushes, and found myself lamenting the fact that I lack them. Seriously. Imagine: I'm sitting there in my bio lab. My lab group is collectively slicing open a fetal pig, and I'm just trying to come up with a possible celebrity crush. They move onto cutting open a cow's eyeball, and I'm sifting through my mental banks of actors, writers, artists.

Ugh have all my babies I don't even want babies and you're dead but I'm willing to work through it
People always scoff celebrity crushes, claim them to be just proof of how shallow we all are as a culture. We're so fixated on looks, it's disgusting. That's the reason Tinder is a thing anyway, isn't it? Except - we're not as shallow as all that. If we were - if the sum of a person's attractiveness were solely based on looks - why would we specify that it's Leonardo Dicaprio in Titanic or Jared Leto in his 30 Seconds to Mars days? If we really were just shallow beings, we'd have crushes on models or the current face of Gucci.


But no. We're attracted to talent as much as to looks, which is why an 'okay' face becomes more attractive when you see them in action. So to have a bit of fun: here's the list I made upon waking at 3:30am fixated on finding a celebrity crush - or a handful - to call my own.

Noah Wilson-Rich
A biologist studying colony collapse disorder and CHANGING THE WORLD
Jo Hoffberg
AMAZING swing dancer ugh yes
Stjepan Hauser
Cellist that's covered AC/DC as well as beautiful classical pieces
Lee Byung-hun
Korean-Japanese actor who's got damn talent
Jack Whitehall
One of my favorite British comedians
Frank Ocean
A rapper for rappers - so well respected by the hip-hop community, and rightly so
Conclusion: oh baby give me your talent. Hope y'all had a happy Thanksgiving, and I hope y'all don't shame anyone (or yourselves!) for crushing on people. Go forth and admire!
 
"KNEEL BEFORE YOUR GOD, BABYLON"

-Courtney

Currently Eating 30.11.15


SO, as you may have known, it was Thanksgiving last Thursday!!
Here is a Thanksgiving video that had me in tears:



To be honest, I don't know much about its origins because no one celebrates this holiday in Argentina (although my mom did make us celebrate it because she loves the food). But, whatever the reasons were, I love the type of celebration that it has become today. I celebrated it with my brothers and cousin and friends and I ATE SO MUCH DELICIOUS FOOD!!!! We had the turkey, we had the stuffing, the mac and cheese, the salad, the rice with broccoli and three types of different cheeses, that thing that has peppers and caramelized onions, and, let us not forget, we had blueberry pie, pumpkin pie and lemon creamy dessert. Oh and we also had a great time blah blah.


What I like about Thanksgiving, or Friendsgiving, is that everyone brings something to share. I always like parties like that, especially if they involve food. I brought the Lemon Creamy Dessert and it was a success. And its sooooo easy to make. I'm translating the original recipe from Spanish (bear with me) just for you, because, and I don't mean to brag, it is a delicacy and you must have it.

What you'll need:
- 16 Graham cookies already made in crumbs
-  1/4 cup of melted butter (1/2 a stick)
-  1 1/2 cups of heavy whipping cream
-  1 can of condensed milk
-  finely grated peel of one lemon
- 1/2 of lemon juice (roughly 2 lemons)

How to make the crust:
In a plastic bag, break the graham cookies with a rolling pin until they are crumbs. In a bowl, mix the graham crumbs and melted butter and later put it in a crystal baking dish and push with your fingers. Bake for 10 minutes in a moderate temperature and then put in the fridge.

How to make the filling:
Put the cream in a big bowl and beat it until soft peaks start to form. Set aside.
In another bowl, mix condensed milk, grated lemon peel and lemon juice. Then add the cream.
Put mixture in the baking dish with crust and let chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

How to eat:
At first cut the dessert as you would do with any other pie and serve. Enjoy the delicious dessert as it melts in your mouth.
Then, when it's late at night and most people have left, grab the fork and dig in directly, no need in pretending you're civilized anymore.

I hope you guys had a wonderful thanksgiving and I hope that you ate a lot of food :)

-Alana

Poem of the Week 11.30.2015

                                               


                                              The Stupid Jerk I'm Obsessed With (c.1994)

THE STUPID JERK I'M OBSESSED WITH
stands so close
I can feel his breath on my neck
and smell the way he would smell
if we slept together
because he is THE STUPID JERK I'M OBSESSED WITH
and that is his primary function in life
to be A STUPID JERK I CAN OBSESS OVER
and to talk to that dingy bimbette blonde
as if he really wanted to hear about her
manicures and pedicures and New Age Ritualistic Enema Cures
and, truth be told, he probably does want to hear about it
because he is
THE STUPID JERK I'M OBSESSED WITH
and he does anything he can to lend fuel to my fire
he makes a point
of standing, looking over my shoulder
when I'm talking to the guy who adores me
and would bark like a dog and wave to strangers
if I asked him to bark like a dog and wave to strangers
but I can't ask the guy to bark like a dog or impersonate
any kind of animal at all
cause I'm too busy
looking at the way
THE STUPID JERK I'M OBSESSED WITH
has pants on
that perfectly define his well-shaped ass
to the point where I'm thoroughly frantic,
I'm just gonna go home
stick my head in the oven
overdose on nutmeg and aspirin or sit in the bathtub
reading The Executioner's Song
and being completely confounded by the fact that I can see
THE STUPID JERK I'M OBSESSED WITH's face
defining itself in the peeling plaster of the wall
grinning
and winking
and I start yelling: "Hey, get the hell out of there, you're just a figment of
my overripe imagination, get a life and get out of my plaster and pass me
the next painful situation please."

But he just keeps on
grinning
and winking
he's THE STUPID JERK I'M OBSESSED WITH
and he's mine
in my plaster
and frankly,
I COULDN'T BE HAPPIER.

                                                           -Maggie Estep (March 20, 1963 – February 12, 2014)

When I first heard Maggie Estep, or of her, I was fifteen and sitting in front of the television watching a special edition of MTV's unplugged. I'm afraid I don't remember the exact poem she performed, but nevertheless I was captivated by her. She was introduced as a rock star of spoken word, and I could see why. She was witty, honest, and hilarious. She was someone I could look up to because she was doing something I would never imagine myself doing: performing (no, Judith Butler does not apply here). She stood up on the stage and, to the accompaniment of guitars and drums, performed. It was grungy. It was gritty. It was revolutionary, in a way I'd come to appreciate later in life. There was a punk rock quality to it. I wanted more of it. I needed more. She remained inaccessible to me until a few weeks ago where, in tandem with another thought about my uncle performing at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, wondered whatever happened to that lady on MTV. Her name remained on the tip of my tongue until that day, when I opened an anthology of slam poetry and BAM! there she was: "Maggie Estep (b.1963)." I was excited because she, according to the anthology, was still alive and probably still performing. YAS (no, it's not misspelled)! Unfortunately, after doing some basic googling, I learned that she passed away last year at 50. 50! From a heart attack, at such a young age!

A bit about the transcribed text and the performance herewith attached. They don't completely agree with one another. I procured a copy of the text through an anthology of spoken word poetry. By the good graces of Google, I found a recording of Estep performing The Stupid Jerk I'm Obsessed With. I find both the text and the recording to be fascinating pieces themselves. This poem is also performed on Estep's album called "No More Mr. Nice Girl." I haven't listened to that particular performance, and cannot make a comparison against the text as a finality. Therefore, you're getting both the text and the found recording of a performance.

Anywho, onto a bit about the poem. I would have let it go and been happy with the knowledge of the name of the woman on MTV, but the poem spoke to me. It spoke to my obsessive and possessive nature. We've all had our crushes, and they were our crushes, and you'd be damned if you had to share your crush with someone else. No, I'm not talking about some fan-girl celebrity crush here. I'm talking about a realistic crush. A crush on someone who is accessible. Someone who you hear, feel, and smell; not the Angelina Jolie or Chris Hemsworth crush, who are forever in the sacred golden pavilion of celebrity (and are married, so get over it already and get a realistic crush). I'm pandering to that crush. Aren't they stupid jerks? In the first place, they're stupid jerks for existing (how dare they? - violently shakes fists in the air-). Next, they're jerks for being everywhere, and I mean everywhere. They're in the shape of your peeling plaster, for goodness sake. You just can't stop obsessing over this stupid jerk. To make things worse, some other guy is probably thinking you're a stupid jerk he's obsessed with because the feeling is not mutual. Hot ass messes we all are (or maybe it's just me, but I highly doubt this is the case). 

In all seriousness, this poem speaks to an experience we've all experienced at least once in our lives (and if you say nope, you're lying to yourself or you were lucky and married your high school crush -confetti for you!): the bliss, yet madness we experience when we've found that jerk to crush over. 

Maggie Estep's NYT Obituary




-Luis

Illuminations 11.30.15


Journals

Warning: Alex is a protagonist(ish) in this post.

As if the self-absorption of a young human wasn't enough, sometimes I feel the overwhelming need to steep myself in more of myself for hours upon hours. I read my own word vomit from the earliest possible (2004, baby) to the present-ish. Here you go, quotes from my journals, with or without context.

9/30/2004
"Today I got a new stationery set. It has Mickey and Minnie Mouse on it. That's all for today. - Alexandra"

3/28/2005
"Alex"
I hereby declare that from this day forth, I shall be going by this nickname that makes people think I am a man. (I love it)

2008
Poor self image from age 8

NO writing from 2008-2010. No writing in my middle school years. In the process of bootlegging the other girls' identity (one collective identity of pop culture), I'd forsaken pen and paper for Edward Cullen and Tiger Beat Magazine. And Claire's. And Limited Too.


Except, wait.

1/27/2009
"The art teacher is a demon from hell." Ahh, those pesky artsy people! Not that I'd ever become one of those...maybe in the...near or so...future.

But other than that Pulitzer-worthy statement, nothing.

Then high school started and I started realizing what emotions were (as you do). I built myself back up and exorcised all traces of sparkly vampire and bitchy middle school white girls.

09/2010
"I felt bad for the guy. I wonder (if it's a nickname) why or how he had earned [his last name]. Was it because he's an annoying pest? Or has a really high-pitched voice? Whatever. It's not like I'm going to get to know the guy."
A real entry from Field Day (let's make all the freshmen get sweaty and competitive together!), speaking about my current boyfriend and his very unique last name (think insect). The irony in this is so strong it's beginning to oxidate with the air.

4/7/2011
"Why?"
Alex discovers what unrequited love is! Also, we celebrate the birth of Emo Alex at this moment. Starter pack: irrational promises, mediocre poetry, low self-esteem, and intense stares at trees.

07/2011
"Get over PHYSICAL APPEARANCES. IS IT REALLY THAT HARD?!"
I realized that my height did not necessarily give me an advantage in the field of romance. At this point, chopping off my legs was a viable option. Ah, the pains of high school affection.

2012
"Konnichiwa"
My short-lived otaku days. Written in a Hetalia notebook!
My personal art gallery
8/25/12

"I'm sitting at the glorious halfway point. And I may never leave."
Trout Lake, Yellowstone National Park.

2/2/2013
"LORD I'm so fat, but I love it!"

"...my hair covered my face and I shuffled lifelessly through the hallway..."
I told you Emo Alex was Emo.

"I have been having some problems"
Yes, yes you have.

2/18/2013
"I have lost my home. No, not figuratively, not metaphorically, but literally."
Little did I know that this was a threat going to be let out and retracted a billion times after this.

3/31/2013
"Does my argument sound reasonable?"
Since when did wanting to go out on one Sunday turn into me needing to be shuttled away from the world into a retreat house for two months to 'think about what I have done'?

Baby me is not having it
8/15/13
"Maybe I should write a poem about this...if I can."
No, no, you cannot.

An unhealthy obsession with banana stickers
Personal art gallery Part 2
1/8/2014
"Reminder: WRITE FOR IDIOTS!!"


Ask me later about the theory that I even wrote equations for!
3/6/15
"Could've been a summer day if I didn't step out of the house."

4/8/15
"...I need to be tucked away in the border-land, unconscious or not, because writing is a process of extraction."

Isn't it interesting who we choose to write to, if we do. At some point I stopped writing to the notebook and to a name. Just the name, not the person.

9/5/15
"Maybe I'm making unreasonable assumptions based on unreal feeling. Like I said, I couldn't tell."

10/6/15
"Gettin' hella deep here, shaka brah."


And I consider this blog post to be a journal entry. Isn't that nice, arriving at the end.

If this was too long and too confusing at times, I'm sorry. If me looking at myself sort of like a character made you vomit all over your device, I'm doubly sorry. Also, I'm not legally responsible.

But, as always,
Love,
Alex

Culture Corner 11.30.15


"It's a boy!" "It's a girl!" Those are the first words assigned to us as we enter the harsh light of day from the confines of the crowded comfort of the womb that carried us.

But it's not always true, is it? Sure, most of us may be genetically singular in our chromosomal gender, be it XX or XY, but the sliding scale of actual gender is remarkably complex. Add to that centuries of religiously entrenched gender roles, a deep-rooted fear in the "other," and centuries of imperialism which spread the very religions that demonized anything outside the typical binary gender roles, and the scale becomes overweight and off-tare.

However, many of the indigenous peoples of this continent see gender a bit differently. When we (Native Americans--from hundreds of tribes) are born, we are not a simple assignation of the exterior appearance of our sex. Instead, we are seen as a spirit which has a body, and that is not the determining factor of our gender. Our spirit decides that later on in our life. We are either of one spirit, meaning our inner self is guided by one manifestation of our soul, or we are two-spirited, meaning we are of two enmeshed spirits inhabiting a body, and can operate as one, the other, or both.

The colonial term for this phenomena is "berdache" or "passively gay." This is a pretty insulting term that many native people have since adopted for educational purposes, but it's a far cry from what it actually means to be two-spirited.

To be two-spirited can mean that a person is male with female qualities, female with male qualities, female gendered but male presenting, male gendered but female presenting, or any vast combination therein. Two-Spirited people in antiquity were often considered magical or "lucky" because of the acute understanding they have of people as a whole. To be in a relationship with one was considered especially fortunate because some tribes believe that communing with a Two-Spirited person in a sexual manner was to be gifted with the magic of the person themselves. In the Navajo tribe, to be TS is to be a gifted whole. Many TS Navajo are artisans and healers, making use of their special gifts.

This is not always the case. Not every tribe has a history of Two-Spirited people, and with Christian missionaries and Imperial Colonists came a diminished acceptance of the Two-Spirited people, and the marginalization of gay and trans indians.

In the last sixty or so years, a movement to come back to the earth and shun the religious proclivities of the white man has led to a resurgence of the acceptance of the TS people. That's not to say this hasn't been met with strong opposition from surrounding communities.

On June 16, 2001, Fred Martinez, a Two-Spirted or Nadleehi Navajo, 16, was brutally murdered in a hate crime off-res in Cortez, Colorado by Shaun Murphy, a notorious local boy who later bragged that he "beat up a fag." It was twice a hate crime. He was a person of color and transgendered. The acceptance afforded to him on the res was nowhere to be found just minutes outside the border. Not at his school, or even at his funeral, where there was a truck emblazoned with the words "God Hates Fags."

In addition to being two-spirited, Fred Martinez was also of a winged clan, so even though his spirit no longer inhabits a body, the Navajo believe that he's found rest in flight.

For more information, I HIGHLY suggest watching this documentary.

Here's a short clip from another doc.


-C

Canvas 11.30.15


**Warning: Spoilers ahead for The Beginner's Guide and The Stanley Parable**

"Christian, you've already talked about video games on 'Canvas.'"

I know. I'm sorry. But you know. Thanksgiving. And Black Friday. And Sales. And my desire to find a solid narrative in a video game that doesn't exactly fit into the normal conventions of narrative in media like film and literature. And sometimes things surprise you.

Now let me tell you, The Beginner's Guide caught me completely by surprise.


I've had my eyes on this game (if you choose to call it that) since its release, two months ago. I was really interested with its predecessor, The Stanley Parable, which turned the idea of narrative in video games on its head with its use of a kinetic narrator that told a story that you don't necessarily have to subscribe to; through different playthroughs of the game you can choose to defy the narrator and he reacts accordingly, sometimes trying to trick you to fall back into his narrative or sometimes downright punishing you with the only tool a narrator has, words. The Beginner's Guide promised something similar.


Now, don't go into the game expecting The Stanley Parable, I believe that's a problem a lot of people ran into when first playing the game. The Beginner's Guide sells itself as an exploration into a person's mind through their creative works, in this case, video games; the premise is more human and more personal, and the presentation is much more surreal than the first game. The game treats itself as art and plays a lot like poetry. It's well constructed in that it's linear and very directive, effectively becoming a guided tour. Much of it isn't meant to be understood but left for the player to feel. 

You don't know why you're in a train station, but it makes you feel lonely.
We start off the game with the narrator, Davey Wreden (also the name of the creator), telling us about a friend of his, Coda. Coda makes video games for himself that Davey finds very powerful. Through playing Coda's games, Davey believes that he can deduce something about who Coda is and what goes through their mind (the trailer says this much). It's an interesting start to something that's defined by the word "game." Now, I can go into the etymology of the phrase "video game," but since that's a whole conversation in itself I'll leave that comment as it is. What's particularly great about The Beginner's Guide is that it takes this premise and hits a range of topics that include but aren't limited to: gender identity, trust, depression, fame, anxiety, and artistry. *Big spoiler depending on how you look at it* I particularly enjoyed how the whole narrative was framed as a projection of Davey onto Coda; it ends up saying a lot about the idea of interpretation and as an English major who's whole college experience has been and will be full of interpreting I put a lot of thought into that aspect after finishing the game.

It's also particularly beautiful at times.
The Beginners Guide is split up into several short "games" and since I don't want to spoil the experience completely, I'll just go into a couple of scenes that I particularly enjoyed. It's a two hour journey at most, so it's not as much of a commitment as most games are; although I do suggest playing the game in one sitting.


There is a poem that you end up walking through in the second game. 

The past was behind her
But the future could not be seen
Why does the future 
keep changing?
When she stops and looks 
it becomes clearer
But if the future is always behind her
How will she find the strength
To confront it?

In this section you can only walk backwards and that restriction is meant to physically represent what the poem has to say. You're meant to feel the cumbersome passage of time as someone who dwells on the past. The game allows you to see where you're going but only if you stop yourself completely to turn around and see the path, but even then, the room morphs and paths you didn't see coming lead you somewhere else. The past is all you can see while you're moving forward.


Another game brings you into a warm cabin where your main objective is to clean up. The context here is that you're in the middle of a snow storm and you end up finding a cabin in the middle of your path and once you walk in, a figure stands in the dining room asking you to perform all of these chore-like tasks that feel more therapeutic than menial. You're meant to feel safe in a place that would otherwise be cold and dark. 

The Beginner's Guide tries its best to emphasize that darkness is a form of comfort, at least for the characters being portrayed. It tries to ruminate on ideas in the dark, looping back and forth between states and its very apparent in this game since the chores that the figure asks you to do repeat themselves until Davey pulls you out of the loop, telling you that at some point you will always have to move on despite finding yourself in a happy place. 


You find yourself in a class room at some point, and nothing seems out of the ordinary until you're placed in the perspective of the teacher. I found this to be one of my favorite games in The Beginner's Guide; there's a lot in a scene so simple: you have the nervous dialogue tree where you're given the option to say what you're supposed to tell your students (yellow text on the right) or to say what you're thinking (grey text on the right), you have the singular student sitting in class, you have the lamp in the back, which is an overarching image throughout The Beginner's Guide as a desired destination, placed where an exit should be, and unavoidably you have a black hole that vaguely resembles an eye menacingly taking up the back wall of the class room. My favorite touch is how there are two thoughts for each dialogue branch, presenting thought as overwhelming to the point where several thoughts can occur simultaneously. It's a nervous scene and it humanizes perfection.

I like to think that this is a poem.
The last game I'll talk about is one where you yell at a machine that I'm assuming is a generator. What it is isn't important. The machine's name is Coda and by the end of the scene you're forced to repeatedly shoot it until Davey pulls you out of the game. I guess I really like this image mostly because I have a similar image in a song I wrote and it has already been an important one to me. This scene mechanizes creativity and equates inadequate performance to malfunction. The machine doesn't work anymore and the player is then forced to apologize for the machine to the press; it's a form of scapegoating.

Those are all type writers.
Video games as an art form have been heavily debated for a while now and I don't want to say that this game is art because that label has a negative connotation in the community, but to me The Beginner's Guide is constructed almost like an art exhibit. Each game within this game hold similar motifs and tie together to portray a wide array of ideas. It has a lot for both the aesthetic viewer and the contemplative viewer and it doesn't stray from the idea that it's a game. It rests on video games' form of metafiction much like its predecessor, The Stanley Parable has, but even more so. You could probably say that The Beginner's Guide is a postmodern contemporary of today's gaming scene.

-Christian