Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Moderately Racist Comedy

A recent example of modern satire is seen in one of College Humor's latest videos, "The Guy Who Over-Pronounces Foreign Words". It's a bit self explanatory.

Basically, one man embarrasses his friends at a restaurant as he exaggerates pronunciations of countless foreign words and foods in what he believes to be the proper fashion, defending himself with a cheery "People like it when you embrace their culture, it's very respectful" as he goes right along butchering words.

I think this is both a form of hyperbole and verbal irony, as the video suggests the man's actions are respectful while clearly meaning the opposite as he endlessly over-pronounces words. The video effectively calls out those who mock foreign cultures, those who defend mocking foreign cultures, and those who get severely offended when witnessing racist behavior all at once without clearly taking a side or making a stand. The video makes us laugh at the expense of political correctness, like countless other manifestations of comedy today. Oftentimes in modern comedy racist remarks are a great source of material, so long as they're kept light or spoken by someone who could be accused themselves of the remarks they're making. Racist remarks with a proper disclaimer are usually laugh-worthy... the trouble lies in drawing the line between funny enough and just too offensive.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"There's nothing funny about serial rape...but-"

I love satire; I am not embarrassed to call south park possibly my favorite TV show and I am actively trying to lessen how sarcastic I am because it confuses my mom. However, I think it can get very risky. Jokes being ironic or funny to some is not an excuse for them being offensive. Specifically with rape jokes. It's a little baffling that there are so many comedians producing them and fans supporting them when they are so clearly triggering for rape victims. Humor, throughout history and more and more now, is crucial to the healing and happiness of a group or individual. A coping mechanism; for when your country is in turmoil or when you accidentally drive an hour in the wrong direction.

The idea of everything having the potential for humor is nice and  in my opinion semi-valid, and of course there are jokes that are just cheap laughs and ones that are more purposefully formulated, but even if only one victim of sexual assault said "hey I don't like this" nobody should be working so hard to defend themselves. In the comments on related youtube videos, thousands of people debate on whether or not these jokes are funny. What is the motive for someone to continue to defend a 40 second joke as funny and morally sound if somebody who is the butt of the joke is upset by it? Of course, the youtube comment section is consistently terrifying and confusing. It isn't a reliable source for what people really think as they are mostly looking for reactions, so they're not worried about the effects of what they say. The same could be said for some comedians being careless in pursuit of a strong reaction and attention. Sure, there is no bad publicity and I can applaud them for trying to advance their careers and be "edgy", but for what one joke may do to someone else, it's not always worth it. Author Molly Ivins said “Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. I only aim at the powerful. When satire is aimed at the powerless, it is not only cruel—it’s vulgar.”

I've never liked Daniel Tosh much and here is an example of a joke which trivializes something that should never be trivialized. This bit from Dave Chapelle may err on a slightly more acceptable kind of joke in that he does not ignore the psychological affect rape has and brings up that men can be and are affected as well which is seldom discussed.

Pride and Prejudice in the Facebook Era

Visit the Facebook pages for the following characters from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice:


Mrs. Bennett


Miss Bingley




Friday, December 12, 2014


Futurama has ranked as one of my all time favorite tv shows ever since I started watching it when I was in about sixth or seventh grade.  It is absolutely hilarious, and it owes much of its hilarity to satire.  The show is constantly poking fun at the way things are currently in the US often by portraying their long term effects in the future.  Here's an example: 
This minute long clip features Al Gore as a taxi driver, which I think can be classified as either hyperbole or situational irony.  It would be hyperbole because it is taking Gore's declining career and saying it's going to go as low as a taxi driver, which is probably not going to happen no matter how much relevance he loses.  It can also be argued that his presence is situational irony because when Bender gets in the cab, the audience expects some stereotypical cab driver but instead gets a famous politician.  The "Hybraxi" that Gore uses is a parody of Gore's interests in a way because he is an environmentalist, and his general incompetence behind the wheel is hyperbole that exaggerates his shortcomings as a politician and the general view of Gore to be a goofy guy.  Then there is the situational irony of the bridge, where the hybraxi goes up and then comes down the same way it came despite all of our previous experience with this tv/movie trope.  Finally, it ends on the 100 dollar gallon of gas line, which is hyperbole of rising gas prices.
That's quite a bit of satire for just one minute of footage, isn't it?  There's a point to it too!  The general statement of the clip is that we should listen to Al Gore (Well, maybe not specifically Al Gore, but people with Al Gore's ideas).  Despite the fact that he can be a tad buffoonish and shows severe maladroitness in the clip, we know that he was right about the environment and whatnot because a gallon of gas costs $100.  We shouldn't reduce his career to that of a taxi driver when he is correct about the direction of the planet.  Do you want to spend $100 dollars on gas?  The creators of Futurama don't, and neither do I thanks to their clever use of satire.


Along with Key & Peele, Saturday Night Live also uses satire heavily in their skits. Saturday Night live has been running for over thirty years and has gotten many awards so it is obvious that they are pretty good with satire. SNL often uses satire to mock current events, including a lot of political events. Here is a skit from around the time of the 2008 presidential election that mocks an interview Sarah Palin did with Katie Couric.

A Modern Proposal

Daniel Tosh is a comedian who has a show on Comedy Central called Tosh.0 and he also does stand up. Tosh's stand up show Completely Serious is a great example of satire. While on stage he acts like an entitled rich celebrity, but is actually down to earth and really smart.

Tosh's comedy is a little twisted and inappropriate, but it does have a purpose. Tosh gets people to look at how stupid some stereotypes are and how outrageous some things people do are. A lot of his skits on Comedy Central dig deeper into problems dealing with the government, race and feminism. It isn't obvious at first, but when you start to read between the lines you can see that Tosh is trying to teach people that stereotypes aren't always true and are usually just hyperbole.

Tosh himself is an example of how unreliable stereotypes are. On his show he hints at being gay, but then hints at being straight. Maybe he is just bisexual, or maybe he is trying to make a point. I think that he is trying to show how people automatically stereotype others even when they do not know the first thing about them.

Tosh is just one of many satirical comedians in today's day and age. Him along with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are paving the way for satirical humor.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Successful Satire

The 2008 presidential election inspired some brilliant political satire on Saturday Night Live. One of my favorite sketches is Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton's joint address to the nation. Not only does it feature the amazing comedy duo of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, but it also exemplifies satire's ability to address sensitive issues in a funny, but poignant way.

The essence of the sketch is in this dialogue:

CLINTON (POEHLER): But Sarah, one thing we can agree on is that sexism can never be allowed to permeate an American election.
PALIN (FEY): So please, stop photoshopping my head on sexy bikini pictures.
CLINTON (POEHLER): And stop saying I have cankles.
PALIN (FEY): Don't refer to me as a MILF.
CLINTON (POEHLER): And don't refer to me as a FLIRG. I Googled what it stands for and I do not like it.
PALIN (FEY): So we ask reporters and commentators, stop using words that diminish us, like "pretty," "attractive," "beautiful."
CLINTON (POEHLER): "Harpy," "shrew," and "boner shrinker."
PALIN (FEY): While our politics may differ, my friend and I are both very tough ladies.

The sketch certainly makes jokes at the expense of both politicians (granted Palin much more than Clinton) and the aforementioned dialogue received a good deal of laughter from the audience. This light, humorous approach allows the writers of the sketch to make serious points about sexism. Both Palin and Clinton were victims of society's discomfort with women in power during the election. The media portrayed Palin as stereotypically pretty and dumb and depicted Clinton as smart, but condemned her for her not conventionally attractive personality. Unlike male politicians, Clinton and Palin faced obsession over their appearances, personal lives, and fulfillment or lack of fulfillment of gender stereotypes. The writers of the sketch respond to this sexist treatment in a humorous manner, but also seriously address the double standard that all women face.

Sex, Scandal, and Satire

Mike Nichols's The Graduate follows the story of Benjamin Braddock and his attempt to discover adulthood and the options that are presented for him after college when he is intercepted by an affair with predatory neighbor Mrs. Robinson. An American classic, The Graduate effectively entertains its audience with multidimensional character developments between Benjamin, Mrs. Robinson, and Elaine, while also satirizing the the upper-middle-class society of Southern California during the 1960s. 

Mike Nichols, though often times too quick to jump to the easier one-liner, uses irony to skillfully parallel the almost childlike behavior of the adults in the film with the anxiety of the young bachelor (Benjamin) trying to work out his future. In doing so, Nichols projected a very loose and provocative environment that enabled the audience to understand the flaws in this adult society that perpetuated youthful and immature behavior. 

Benjamin served as the principle character that contrasted with the rest of the world around him, including his parents. Mrs. Robinson and her daughter, Elaine, represented the two paths Benjamin could have chosen as a graduate. By starting his affair with Mrs. Robinson, Benjamin unknowingly entered what he assumed to be the "adult" world, or rather the world that the adults in the film existed in. The humor, however, is that this adulthood that Benjamin experienced is actually quite childish. The adults in Ben's life are associated with luxury, parties, and relaxed attitudes. No one other than Benjamin seems to care about the future. Even so, sex was a rather new experience for Benjamin and therefore he is all to quick to see his affair with Mrs. Robinson as extremely scandalous for the upper-middle-class society, let alone a young boy.
Benjamin: Look, maybe we could do something else together. Mrs. Robinson, would you like to go to a movie? 
Then there is Elaine. Elaine serves as the promising adulthood that Benjamin sought out to acquire by the end of the film. Again, the humor is found where Elaine is the only other non-adult in the movie, yet she is by far the most mature individual in the film. If my explanation of the irony used is not enough, I advise you to watch the movie. It's truly hilarious. 

Though there are satirical elements found in The Graduate, I think that the concentration is not to make a large or very impactful commentary on society in the way most satires do. I think that surely Nichols and the actors tried to create a film that allowed the audience to connect in their own respective worlds, however the humor was majorly based on sexual innuendos and awkward interactions that were not constructed through satire. Therefore, this movie is more generally a romantic comedy with satirical elements, however most romantic comedies are that as well. 
Benjamin: Mrs. Robinson, I can't do this anymore.
Mrs. Robinson: You what?
Benjamin: This is all terribly wrong.
Mrs. Robinson: Do you find me undesirable?
Benjamin: Oh no, Mrs. Robinson, I think, I think you are the most attractive of all my parents' friends. I mean that!

Predictable and Cliche

When it comes to movie selections, romantic comedies are probably last on my list. As we were told to blog about one of our favorites or a discussion of a rom-com, my mind was truly blank. I could not remember the last romantic comedy I liked, more so even remember watching. But then it came to me that just last weekend, as my friends and I sat on the couch doing nothing, we put on a random movie on Netflix. I now realize that this was a clear romantic comedy, and as bad as the movie was, our boredom led us to watch the entire film. This may have been the most cliche and predictable movie in recent history, but nonetheless it was a rom-com. Camp Takota starts off with a mid-20's woman with a 'big' job opportunity coming up and her wedding in the coming weeks. But as a five year old could have predicted, everything goes wrong. She ends up losing her job because of a social media scandal, and when she comes home that day to tell her fiance, she walks in on him with another woman. But luckily for her, she had just walked into an old camp director on the street who offered her to go be a counselor. So good for her, she gives this lady a call after her horrible life changing day, and plans to leave for the camp the next day. As she arrives at the camp, it is a dud of a camp with only two other counselors and no cell phone service. But as she steps out of the car, she makes eye contact with one of the only two guys at the camp, absolute shocker. So as the movie continues, she becomes best friends with the counselors, and comes to know this guy she saw. Now, toward the end, she gets a message delivered that her boss wants to give her job back. Uh oh, Dilemma!! does she stay or does she go? Well she starts for the bus, but as she gets there, turns around and stays at camp. Now on the last night of camp, her and her new "boyfriend" are talking to the kids. Out of nowhere, the ex-boyfriend runs from out of the woods, wow. He encounters Elise, but her new boyfriend steps in, and a fight proceeds. The old boyfriend then runs away, and shortly after, it is clear that Elise and her new guy will be together for a while. This type of movie, the most predictable of all, seems to me a classic rom-com. Although somewhat entertaining, I would say rom-coms are not my favorite! Too predictable and cliche, almost all rom-coms like this one do not catch my eye. I feel like it is hard to make a memorable or unique romantic comedy. But as I am not a frequent rom-com watcher, I do not have many movies to base my characterizations on.

Silver Linings Playbook

While I am not the biggest romantic comedy watcher or expert, I thought that the movie Silver Linings Playbook was an interesting movie and transcends many of the negative connotations of romantic comedies that have been shared on the blog. The movie features Bradley Cooper, in the movie named Patrick, and Jennifer Lawrence, named Tiffany. While the movie opens with Patrick being released from a psychiatric hospital for his bipolar disorder, he moves back in with his parents and is determined to win back his former wife. In the process, he meets the widow Tiffany, who offers to help him win his wife back if he competes in a dance competition with her. Pat and Tiffany are able to develop an odd friendship through their shared neuroses, which progresses as they spend more time together. The plot immediately reveals the complexity in the film that many romantic comedies stereotypically lack. Although it may appear predictable of what is "inevitably" going to happen as Pat and Tiffany hang out more, their unique characters do not allow for a foreseeable ending. Casey mentioned on her post that despite the predictability in romantic comedies, they thrive in society because we are familiar with them and they are comforting. I feel as though Silver Linings Playbook creates the same intriguing effect, but with a story line that is not traditional to romantic comedies.

Additionally, while throughout the movie Pat is chasing his wife and he ends up leaving his pursuit for Tiffany, which may have been expected, I don't think it matters. Sure, maybe it fell into the stereotype of a romantic comedy, but it was funny and entertaining. I think that sometimes people get caught up in trying to evaluate what genres or stereotypes movies fall into and judging them based on that, often forgetting if they liked the movie or not. While Silver Linings Playbook was a unique romantic comedy, I think it was enjoyable just as a movie.

Tbt to the Trampoline

As many of you probably remember, last year a group of students issued their own form of satire, better known as the Trampoline. For those of you that don't remember, it was a pretty blatant satire making fun of the Trapeze, which for those of you that don't know, is our school newspaper (check it out). While it managed to poke fun at a lot of aspects of the Trapeze, the main message emphasized the fact that Trapeze does not cover the most relevant, relatable, read-worthy topics and stories. If you can recall, the "Point- Counter Point" of the Trampoline was something along the lines of "Should lunch table trays be orange or blue???" which describes it all pretty well. 

As an editor of the Trapeze, many people asked me if I was offended by this blatant message to which I  replied honestly that I was not at all. In fact, none of the editors were and this is mostly because we completely agreed with it. Satires have the ability to send a powerful message and in many cases to spark a reason for change. While the entire editorial board agreed and laughed along with the Trampoline, it made me wonder why our goal of making the Trapeze more socially relevant was so out of reach.  

Each month, we scramble to come up with new story ideas however, more often than not, we are limited to what we are able to write about because of fear of crossing a line that shouldn't be crossed. It's a constant battle that takes place whenever the topic of racial quality, politics, or really any other topic that is not completely safe and agreeable by the entire school. With the recent events of Ferguson, as a school paper geared to represent the diverse student body, we initially felt that this was an event that could not go unnoticed. But as an editorial board consisting entirely of white girls, we unanimously agreed that were not in a position to address it. No matter how strongly we felt about the recent news or how badly we desired a change, we couldn't pretend that we felt the same emotions as those who were suffering or even those that we in a much better place to relate to it than we were. And while I completely agreed that we can't for a second pretend that we can address these topics with the same level of credibility, I think that the fact that we are unable to acknowledge such profound and relevant issues says a lot more about the way that we address racial profiling as a society. As goes for a lot societal issues including racial profiling and gender inequality, acknowledgment is the first step to change. Change won't happen if only a select few feel comfortable talking about it but somehow, our ability to acknowledge something is limited by our race which can impede our ability to move forward in terms of a school newspaper or an entire society in general.

One of the best examples of satire I've ever come across probably wouldn't be funny to anyone who hasn't stepped (or known someone who's stepped) into OPRF's double doors at least one time in their life. OPRF's tumblr page was made by some anonymous hero who decided to make a mockery of our school bulletins on a daily basis. It's formatted in exactly the same way as the originals, but don't be fooled-there's not a single serious line anywhere to be found. The Clubs Corner section is filled with things like Time Travel Club gone missing, Arson and Book Burning Club, and Mustard Club (whose slogan is "we will cover this earth in a blanket of yellow"...) College Callers has had the College of Universities, the College of Mist and Shadow, Alcatraz, and the University of Michigan. Apparently we've just survived a Zombie Apocalypse, too. It just keeps going.

During class today we were asked to question why we were laughing at the things we were, and this site shows that satire often hits home because it's familiar to us, If I showed a post or two to a Fenwick kid they'd probably laugh at some of the jokes in each post, but they wouldn't be able to fully appreciate the page as they aren't familiar with all the Husky vices and virtues the author make fun of. They wouldn't understand the humor, so they wouldn't laugh as much. It's clear to see that satire is often rooted in familiarity.

If you haven't stumbled upon this site yet, PLEASE please go there. And we really should get the author a fruit basket. Or a Nobel Prize.

I Can't Believe Someone Hasn't Already Brought This Up

Two words: Monty Python.

Perhaps one of the most iconic, relatively-contemporary examples of satire is the famous and infamous Monty Python. His works, including Life of Brian and The Search for the Holy Grail have become legendary for their clever use of satirical humor, from hyperbolic plots to understated and sarcastic one-liners.

A few of my favorite examples are as follows, for those of you who need a reminder or have yet to witness the glorious satirical hilarity that Monty Python brings to the world:

1. During Life of Brian, at the end of the film, the main characters are being pinned to crosses to die. So, naturally, they begin to sing the now well-known song, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." Optimism and life while one is about to be crucified? If there's not a horrendous irony to that then I have no grasp of what irony is.

2. The great and fabulous King Arthur in Holy Grail traverses the kingdom while on his quest, and finds that the peasants have no idea who he is or even where he is from, and as he tries to assert his authority they question the fact that his "noble steed" is merely a lackey clapping coconuts together. Not only that but King Arthur consistently forgets the number three when he counts. This exaggerated view of royalty is not only amusing, but reveals the facade that is the royal system.

3. Later in Holy Grail is the scene known most commonly by its featured item: The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. This hand grenade is supposedly blessed by God and an elaborate religious speech is required to use it, before one "may blow thine enemies to bits, in thy mercy." In the movie, it is used to blow up a demon rabbit who annihilates all who challenge it in a bloody massacre. The rabbit is an ironic enemy, whose demise is brought on by the exaggerated and ironic Holy Hand Grenade in one of my favorite movie scenes of all time.

There are countless other examples, but I think if anyone is looking for a spectacular example of satire, Monty Python is definitely the place to look.

Rom Com? Or Tragedy?

In Shakespeare's time, at the end of a tragedy most of characters die and at the end of a comedy there is a marriage. So with this in mind, a traditional comedy would be a romantic comedy. As some other posts mentioned, people like rom-coms because they are predictable and familiar which makes us comfortable and happy. I agree with these comments but I think these characteristics can also apply tragedies.

The romance in tragedies  are also based on clichés as the romance in rom coms are. After Romeo and Juliette, stories of forbidden love from two feuding families have run rampant. So has the story of a couple dying for their love for each other.

So if romantic tragedies and comedies both share cliché stories, why does the comedy make us laugh? Well, there are different circumstances and the dialogues of characters would be more witty and funny. But I think also because of the satire included in romantic comedy. Situations are over exaggerated and there are various types of irony. Satire makes us laugh because we see the ways in which it accurately in portrays reality and how sometimes reality can be naturally comical. 

Rom coms end with the more optimistic option possible for the situation. Rom coms usually maintain an overall optimistic attitude throughout the entire story. In tragedies, there are moments of optimism but the outcome of the romance is usually a less optimal option . 

Although, romantic comedies share some structural similarities to romantic tragedies, the biggest difference is the way the stories make us feel.      

What are YOU laughing at?

In class we talked about "The Onion", "America's Finest News Source", and the pens "for her" (which if you act now, you ladies can get them yourselves for only $10!) and why we find things so funny. "The Onion" is a perfect example of a satire it makes fun of real news sources and makes up funny stories to make you laugh at how ridiculously true some of them are. One of their articles, "Teenage Girl Blossoming Into Beautiful Object", makes us laugh at how ridiculous, but sadly true, this article is. By exaggerating their points, people find things like this funny. I think it's because they laugh at how brutally honest this article is. Some of the theories that the above linked article mentions is:

  1. The Superiority Theory: "we learn a lot about humor on the playground, where taunts and teases produce laughter for the masses but shame and embarrassment for an unlucky few"
  2. The Incongruity and Incongruity-Resolution Theories: "humor happens when there is an incongruity between what we expect and what actually happens"
  3. The Benign Violation Theory: "we laugh when something is violated — like morals, social codes, linguistic norms, or personal dignity — but the violation isn't threatening"
  4. The Mechanical Theory: "inadaptability or rigidity — the repetitive nature of our personalities — that is the source of humor"
  5. The Release Theory: "Freud thought that hilarity and laughter were reactions we produce in order to release sexual or aggressive tension"

Culture or Stereotypes? & In Defense of Romantic Comedies

Culture or Stereotypes?

When we watched the clip from the Chappelle's Show in class, I wondered whether percussion plays a large role in black culture.  For the rest of the day, I thought about whether my comment in class asserting that it does was perpetuating a stereotype. I knew, however that the idea of a black culture did exist because I recently read Hilton Als's new book White Girls which includes essays on black culture (it also includes a response to the Virginia Woolf essay "Shakespeare's Sister" in the voice of Richard Pryor's fictitious, porn-star sister), so I wondered where culture ends and stereotype begins.

When I got home, I immediately looked up "black culture" and found a Wikipedia page about it.  The music section of the page mentioned that percussion is a central element of historically and culturally black music.  I was relieved when I read this but was then confused about what stereotype was being made fun of in the clip.  I came to the conclusion that it was "black people are unable to resist a beat." I think this was lost on me while viewing the clip because I was unaware of that stereotype. Please comment if you have anything to add because I still do not feel completely sure I am correct and wonder what other people think.

In Defense of Romantic Comedies

Romantic comedy films are often trivialized as "rom-coms" or "chick-flicks," the cinematic equivalent of the pejorative "clit-lit."  Because these films are often female-centric or because the films are more geared toward "feminine" interests, they are dismissed by our patriarchal society.  This is not to say that everyone who dislikes romantic comedies is a misogynist, but I think that on a larger cultural level, it is a valid explanation.  People dismissive of these films often suggest that the films rely on the same tropes and structure; that they are generic.  It is important, however to recognize the difference between a film being generic and belonging to a genre and to question whether romantic comedies truly are more often generic than movies of other genres.

The difference reminds me of the literary "genre debate," which is about whether there is a significant difference between genre fiction and literary fiction.  In the more conservative view, genre fiction is lowbrow while literary fiction is highbrow; genre fiction is not art while literary fiction is; genre fiction is easily categorized while literary fiction defies categorization.  This definition leads to the dismissal of books that are easily categorized as mystery, romance, fantasy, queer, adventure, science fiction, or crime novels despite their individual merits.  This is hard to navigate because many great novels fit into these categories.  Pride and Prejudice is a canonical novel that is easily categorized as a romance novel.  Does that mean it is an example of genre fiction?  Most people would say it does not.  It seems to me that at its core the "genre fiction" discussed in opposition to literary fiction is not fiction that belongs to a genre but rather fiction that is generic.  Unfortunately, by using the word genre, literatis have created a stigma around what really is genre fiction: fiction that either is not based in reality or is not of interest to straight males.  

Here are some of my favorite romantic comedy films (or maybe more accurately, films that are at times both romantic and comedic):
  • The Royal Tenenbaums
  • Jules et Jim
  • Harold and Maude
  • Stolen Kisses
  • Une Femme Est Une Femme
  • Broadcast News
  • The Lady Eve
  • Annie Hall
  • The Importance of Being Earnest
  • Something Wild


After talking about satire in class today, I couldn't help but to think of the Comedy Central show, South Park. The creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, are satirical kings with what they do with South Park. Although the show is extremely explicit, it has a lot of meaning behind all of the F-bombs. In one episode, they focus on the presidential election of Barack Obama in 2008. Specifically, using hyperbole of the general population to his campaign slogans "Change" and "Yes we can." In the episode, the entire town's democratic population is out partying on the streets with signs that say "Change." One of the main characters, Randy, cusses out his own boss saying that he doesn't need his job anymore because Obama is bringing change. The party eventually gets out of hand leading to the tipping of a cop car. So why is this funny to us? Although it is an exaggeration, it is kind of true. A lot of people reacted this way to some degree. I think this episode was made to somewhat criticize the whole country and how they reacted, both democrats and republicans.

In the episode, while the democrats are out partying the republicans are fearing that the country is doomed because of the new president. They are all trying to hide out in a bunker and arguing over who gets in and who doesn't; looking like something out of an "end of the world" scenario. Once again over-exaggerating the public's reaction to Obama winning.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I Object!

Aside from the generally formulaic story structure and predictable endings, it is shocking how many romantic comedies mistake creepy romantic gestures as actual romance. One of the biggest examples of this is the whole "running to stop someones wedding at the last minute to tell them that you love them" trope. It happens in so many movies. Just off the top of my head there's The Graduate, Shrek, Wedding Crashers, A Philadelphia StoryThe Sweetest Thing, Made of Honor, and Runaway Bride. It's not just a coincidence that this trope recurs so often in movies. In romantic comedies that climax is always the one main character finally working u the nerve to do some big romantic gesture and finally say "I love you" or "lets get married". This has lead to the popularization of the "Don't marry that person!" trope, because people see it somehow as the ultimate expression of love to destroy other love. As if love is somehow a finite resource and there's some sort of zero sum trade off dynamic in the world of romance.

In all these movies you have people all set to get married and start a life together, when someone rushes in and gives some big eloquent speech about how much they love the person who is getting married. As if that's all that goes into love, big sweeping romantic gestures. In romantic comedies you have people who presumably have had a relationship together for at least some time. They are happy together, so much so that they decided to get married. Yet they decide to throw it all away in an instant as if the only thing that matters in romance is who can express their feelings in the grandest way. The couple getting married has presumably already gone through some stuff together, they presumably love each other. Yet all of that is meaningless when some yahoo comes barging in shouting "I object!". When these characters, these "protagonists", storm into someone's wedding with professions of love it's actually really creepy.  They make it seem as if that is what a real relationship is and it isn't. A relationship is more about how you feel about someone the rest of time, when they aren't waxing on about how great you are. Anyone can be won over by some big speech but that can't be your entire relationship. That is what makes the trope so creepy. Somehow barging in and ruining someone's happy and presumably love filled relationship for some spur of the moment fling thing is seen as good, as romantic.

A Modest Proposal...

In 1729, Ireland was in an awful state due to its struggles with England. The Irish people were doing little to help themselves. Children needed precious food to be raised, and did not help the country when they grew up as they either emigrated or turned to a life of crime. Jonathan Swift saw the problem, and knew how to make it come to the forefront of the country's conversation: satire. Swift wrote "A Modest Proposal: For preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being Aburden to Their Parents or Country, and For Making Them Beneficial to The Public."

In case you don't feel like opening/reading that link, here's a quick rundown: Swift suggests that the solution to feeding the poor and preventing them from becoming a burden to society is to sell and eat the children. Of course he wasn't serious, he was satirizing the condition his country was in, and how little people were doing to fix it. While people were upset by Swift's suggestion-- arguing that killing and eating children was wrong-- they were simultaneously letting poor families, children included, starve.

While Swift didn't exactly solve the problems, and a ton of people died during the Great Potato Famine afterwards, his satire still attracted a lot of attention at the time. So yeah, pay attention to satire.

The Romantic Comedy Paradox

I have never really been a huge fan of romantic comedies, and after our brief discussion today it got me thinking as to why I have always strayed away from them. Megan’s post about clichés reminded me that almost every classic romantic comedy seems to have a similar plot. For example, two people who hardly know each other meet in some unique way. They fall in love and everything seems to be going great until something happens and these two people distance themselves from one another. At the end of the film, the couple runs into each other again (most of the time by coincidence) and they become close again.

I think this is why romantic comedies have never really caught my interest: the ending is usually pretty predictable. However, there are always going to be a few books or movies that stray from the cliché, which is why those stories tend to become fairly unknown (and don’t make as much money).

I agree with what Casey mentioned about familiarity leading to comfort. It seems like a lot of people like romantic comedies because they are predictable. We tend to stray away from things that are different but at the same time we look down on things that are the same. I guess what I’m getting at is that romantic comedies reinforce this paradox. A rom-com that follows the classic plot will make more money and have more success overall, but it most likely will not get as much appreciation as a unique one.

Also, I apologize if this post was all over the place (and if I offended anyone).

Black Ice

While we were watching the skit about Obama's anger translator today, it reminded me of a similar Key and Peele skit that hits home some of the same points. The Black Ice skit offers a satirical spin on some of the stereotypes that are prevalent about black men in Light in August and current events.

I think that this skit perfectly outlines some of the racial profiling that occurs today and that we saw happen in Light in August. The news reporters represent many members of the community in the novel. They viewed Joe as a threat, reckless, and as a savage. Similarly, the community members did their best to steer clear of Joe and whenever they were around him they felt threatened. Just like the reporters in this skit, Joe felt misjudged. He was viewed as a savage when he had done nothing to make the community think he was one.

This skit also outlines some of the racial profiling that happens today. When the reporters describe black ice as dark, scary, suspicious and evil, they are hinting at the way black people, especially men, are portrayed in today's society. The reporters highlight that many people in modern society are quick to judge others and fall back on a stereotypical narrative to justify their feelings. While society has certainly progressed, the recent headlines show that issues with race and racial profiling still exist today. While this skit offers no solution to the problem, I think it is a comical way to reflect on and analyze some of the issues that are prevalent in Light in August and current events.

Communities : Label Makers

A community is a world of its own.  It may have different opinions than those surrounding it or it may have similar beliefs but either way it is held together in a union of beliefs that are passed on to newcomers and imprinted into childrens malleable brains.  In society different communities have different cultures that establish language, opinions, and stereotypes that everyone is assumed to follow.  Some community’s work to dissipate the idea of stereotypes.  For example in the New Haven community they have a workshop for children to raise awareness of what stereotypes are and how to get rid of them.  According to an article in The New Haven Register, “The workshop will focus on how negative stereotypes of black people are hurting the children, how and why stereotypes were invented, and what parents and other caregivers can do to destroy those stereotypes and help heal the wounds they inflict.” In other instances communities hold on to the stereotypes given to race or gender and pass them on to their children, only to continue the vicious cycle.

Within Light in August community plays a significant role in shaping the thoughts of its persons.  In the town Jefferson, the two stereotypes passed down throughout the community are Racism and Gender relations.  In Light in August what I find interesting is the demonstration of how if one believes differently than the community how they are exiled.  Hightower believes and acts contrary to how the community believes and acts.  Hightower is said to have relationships with his black servants and has a unsuccessful relationship with his wife.  Both of these make an impression on the community and they respond by trying to make him leave.  Why does he stay?? Hightower is threatened, attacked, and shunned, yet he stays in Jefferson.  I think that his place in society has become his identity.  

Hightower takes on the identity of the outsider of the town, just as other identities are given to the different members.  When Lena arrives the community deems her the bad woman, just as when Christmas’s true racial confusion is addressed he is deemed as the violent black man. Both Lena and Christmas were judged upon only their physical appearance, Lena arriving with a pregnant stomach and no man, and Christmas with a slightly darker skin tone.  In Lena’s case her identity was less desirable whereas Christmas was struggling to accept an identity being racially mixed.  I think that Hightower, even though chosen to be an outsider, was comfortable in Jefferson because he was given an identity which is something that people strive to gain.  Within a community one might be searching for their identity however, once it is given sometimes it is less desirable.  Communities are organizations that label people with identities and stereotypes, it is hard to deviate from the path that a community has chosen for you if you remain there.

"Once Upon a Romantic Comedy:" Coming Soon to Theaters Near You

In her blog post, Megan mentioned that clichés, although somewhat bland, can connect people on the basis of shared experience. I completely agree with her argument, and it really got me thinking: why else do we use clichés?

For many people, familiarity equals comfort, and comfort equals happiness. I’ve been in my best friend's basement probably over 500 times over the years, so I’m familiar with the surroundings. Thus, I feel comfortable when I walk in- I know where everything is and I’m prepared for her cat to pop out from behind the couch any minute. Due to this strong sense of security, I’m happy when I’m there.

In my opinion, watching and reading romantic comedies processes in the mind in a similar manner. These types of texts have long been criticized for being giant clichés- the characters, the plot, and even the setting seem almost exactly the same in each one, compared with others made around the same time. Many Americans (men especially) ridicule these works, calling them “dumb,” “boring,” etc.

But why, then, are these books and movies so popular in America? Why did almost every girl at my summer camp in sixth grade say that 27 Dresses was her favorite movie? Why did my friends and I describe the young adult fiction novels we picked up at Borders as “the best book, like, ever?” Here’s my best answer: they’re familiar. We’ve been exposed to those cliché plots, characters, and settings so many times that they become permanently familiar to us. Then, exactly like stepping into your best friend’s basement the 478th time, we begin to feel comfortable with what we’re watching. We’ll know exactly what to expect and we can pretty much predict the ending within the first five minutes of the movie or five pages of the book. Thus, we’re happy while watching it or reading it- we can sit back, relax, and enjoy the dullness dancing in front of our faces, knowing that we’re not in for any surprises.

My guess is that filmmakers and authors know that our brains tend to work this way, and that’s why they continue to make so many darn movies and books that are laughably similar. They know making something familiar will make them money.


Feel free to disagree with me if you’d like, but it’s just my opinion. Also, I’m sorry if I insulted anyone’s taste in books or movies.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

'The Boss' Earned His Name

Since as early as I can remember, I've been a 'Bruce Fan'. Whether we were headed for the local supermarket or a long road trip to PA, he's been there with us. By the transitive property of mother-daughter relations, I've developed my mom's love for the Boss and his music.

However, it was not until tonight, as I watched the televised tribute to Bruce Springsteen with my parents, that I realized his brilliance beyond the world of music. We watched Jackson Brown cover Bruce's "41 Shots" from 1999. His single was inspired by the 1999 police shooting of Amadou Diallo. The familiarity of this case forced me to research a little more about the case itself. This is what I found:

The Shooting of Amadou Diallo occurred on February 4, 1999, when Amadou Diallo, a 23-year-old immigrant from Guinea, was shot and killed by four New York City Police Department plain-clothed officers: Sean Carroll, Richard Murphy, Edward McMellon and Kenneth Boss, who fired a combined total of 41 shots, 19 of which struck Diallo, outside his apartment at 1157 Wheeler Avenue in the Soundview section of The Bronx. The four were part of the now-defunct Street Crimes Unit. All four officers were charged with second-degree murder and acquitted at trial in Albany, New York.[1]

Diallo was unarmed at the time of the shooting, and a firestorm of controversy erupted subsequent to the event as the circumstances of the shooting prompted outrage both within and outside New York City. Issues such as police brutality, racial profiling, and contagious shooting were central to the ensuing controversy.

Then I found he performed the same song in tribute to Treyvon Martin. Here's what I found on this case:

On the night of February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida, United States, George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American high school student. Zimmerman, a 28-year-old mixed-race Hispanic man,[Note 1] was the neighborhood watch coordinator for the gated community where Martin was temporarily living and where the shooting took place. Zimmerman was accused of being motivated by racism[4][144] and of having racially profiled Martin.

And now, the issue in Ferguson.

Bruce's genius does not lie in the fact that he is conscious of the corrupt system in which racial profiling is the cause of death. Rather, it is in his music that his genius is illuminated. His music, containing beautiful and universal characteristics, alone acts as a symbolic resistance to the forces that divide our community. A master of his craft, Bruce has never failed me. Today, he inspires me to not be passive, and make a splash however way fits me best.

Don't Wanna Take My 6 Finals

I have six finals. Seniors shouldn't have six finals.

The ending of Light in August, for me, was actually pretty well done. It flowed well with the rest of the novel; including new characters, mentioning (or implying rather) sex, and traveling (or running away). The furniture salesman was an interesting yet incredibly random character to include, and it is this sense of randomness that makes Faulkner a solid writer. If a person were to read the first chapter and the last chapter of Light in August, they would think the story is solely about Lena. However, if you read all the chapters except the first and the last, you would have an altogether different view of Lena.

Of course race is a subject that can't be avoided when contemplating this book. Even in modern day America, the land of the "free", we find that our racial system isn't even remotely close to being perfect. Nor will it ever be. BUT, we can certainly try to achieve that goal in which people aren't judged for their heritage; or for that matter their sexuality, gender, height, hair color, sport, religion, fashion etc. The world is ever changing and ever terrifying- we should strive to make it a better and easier world for the generations to come.

Favorite Satire Ever (I don't even know if its satire, its just absolutely hilarious)

Insert Overused Title Here

Cliches are very unappreciated in today's culture.  They are considered to have less power in literature, film, and art.  No one wants to hear the same story again and again, copy-and-pasted with only new names for the characters.  And don't you dare write about a cliche in your college essays; it's a sure way to make yourself sound uninteresting, wallflower-esque -- basically unwantable.  But what about when I feel that a cliche describes my feelings perfectly?  What happens when hearing that hit pop song (despite not being my genre at all) evokes an eerie sense of deja vu?  Does that feeling no longer have power because it's been expressed countless times before?  Did Frankl's dependence on his wife's love alone lack power because of the lack of depth in his needs?

While I agree that we have to push ourselves to find new depths beyond the cliche, especially in the way we express ourselves through mediums like words and pictures, sometimes cliches actually are accurate descriptions no matter how worn out the concept is.  And it's not fair to only allow cliches in such extreme cases as Frankl's; in fact, what applies in the extreme cases should be insight into everyday life.  One of the reasons that people reject cliches is that they are not original, that they do not reflect the unique characteristics of each individual.  For that reason it's necessary to not solely rely on cliches.  However, cliches do reflect an undeniable shared human experience.  It's okay to grapple for deeper comparisons than cliches most of the time, but I think that ever once in a while it is okay to embrace them and to thus embrace the aspects of life that connect us to each other.

Affirmative, Yes. Comprehensive, Hardly. (Fixing Affirmative Action)

The Light in August is as profound an exposé on the inner workings of racial perception as any psychological treatise. While Faulkner seems to have debunked the great 'mystery of race', I struggle in class to understand how I can apply his revelations to my everyday life. I've decided to examine a current racial issue and attempt to apply Faulkner's genius...

America boasts freedom. Equally present -- but not so fun to shout about from your rooftop -- is the degree of inequality that results. Today, the United States' government takes steps to make up for these injustices.

By examining Affirmative Action in the college admission process -- one attempt at righting past wrongs -- I will address two questions: How are we currently seeking to remedy injustice, and how can we better this process?

Affirmative action has been in place in the United States since the 1960’s, when it was first introduced to enforce compliance with civil rights laws. The policy was intended to help minorities who have been discriminated against, especially in employment and educational settings.

Colleges throughout the nation favor those minorities who in the past, have suffered injustices at the hands of the United States' government. In this way, the government seeks to level the playing field by giving those who have been denied opportunities the chance to recoup their status.

We will overlook the arguments against Affirmative Action's practical fallacies (For example, favoring minorities presupposes their inferiority; opportunities are being taken away from qualifies members of the majority; these favored kids are unprepared for the rigor at the universities to which they are admitted) and focus on the big picture.

The basis of this system is far from perfect, and Faulkner sheds a light onto its problem. 

Here is the crux of my argument:

Faulkner pins race as the single most dividing quality in American history, because it's the most visual, clear-cut option by which people can be alienated. But he deliberately makes a point to emphasize that this is but one of many factors, including gender, religion, school of thought, and social status/wealth, based on which people differentiate themselves and discriminate.

Each one of these factors has been the basis for injustice in American history. 

So, in my opinion, the United States needs to either take all these factors into account (in proportion to their documented effect on need for favor in the college admission process) when evaluating need for favor in the college admission process, or take none. To only consider race is to deny the existence of divisions in society based on factors other than race.

On a more reprehensive note,

By failing to recognize the link between prejudice and those human differentiations other than race, the United States government jeopardizes the authenticity of the apologetic sentiment at the core of Affirmative Action. 

Affirmative Action has been enacted as a reactionary measure to appease 1960's civil rights activism.
If a government is unwilling to right wrongs other than those for which it has been vilified, is it truly seeking justice, or is it simply defending its reputation?

*I am aware that this 'all-factor' plan is quite idealistic.
As a step towards the 'all-factor' plan, an amendment that has a greater chance of being enacted is Affirmative-Economic-Need Action (ENA). While not as comprehensive as the all-factor plan, its measure of wealth in addition to race for the determination of need for favor in the college admissions process more adeptly evaluates need for favor than Affirmative Action because the biggest dividers in America today are race and class.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Jumping to Conclusions

As we have discussed in class, there are many unsettling parallels between Light in August, and the current racial problems in America, including Ferguson. The town of Jefferson in Faulkner's Light in August immediately believed that because Christmas had potentially black heritage, he was the murderer and not Joe Brown. The townspeople someohow instantaneously knew that he had done it, before they had evidence or details. Of course, it is likely that Christmas did commit the murder, but he did not do under the circumstances that the townspeople believed he did. In fact, it could be argued that he did so in self defense. But of course, no one would believe that a black man killed an older white lady in self defense. The question now is, how do we as a society avoid making the same erroneous conclusions?

Well, I would advise people to keep an open mind until all of the evidence is seen or heard. It is difficult to recognize some of the stereotypes that we have unconsciously internalized from an early age, but we must recognize them to be able to overcome them. Racial stereotypes play a large role in unfair racial profiling. Unfortunately misreading the situation due to prejudice can lead to innocent deaths, as seen in too many cases in the past few years. The people of Jefferson judged Christmas too quickly by the his alleged black heritage. The saw him differently when they were told he was a black man. They no longer saw him as a suspect, they saw him as a murderer. We cannot let America make the same mistake.

"Thank God You're Here Sir!"

   Think back to the last time you were walking down the street or driving in your car and saw a policeman. What thoughts were going through your head? Have you ever been genuinely glad that an officer was standing there? Or even been appreciative towards what they are doing with their service? This is where I believe the problem lies, that people are disconnected from the police specifically and enter situations with them in a negative way from the start, and for good reason. Fireman come and stop our houses from burning, ambulances come when we are hurt, and policemen come when something is wrong.

   But this disconnect stems from not just the recent actions of officers, but from the way they respond to them. Officer Wilson killed an unarmed black male in the line of duty, causing great uproar when he was proven not guilty of crimes. He then steps into an interview with George Stephanopoulos, and describes his actions, which everyone wants to hear. But not once did he express any sympathy for his actions, feel bad that he killed someone's child, even if he is backed by the law. Where is the human heart? You see plenty of videos now on facebook or twitter where an officer is shoving someone's face in the dirt or talking forcefully to someone. And what does this do? It makes them look like animals, beasts, the brutes themselves. 

  This idea of a separate group has been perpetuated throughout all the stories we've read this year. In Camus' The Stranger, Meursault is convicted of a crime and sentenced to death at the dismay of many. In Light in August, officers are shown as racist and simple through their decision and are quick in their murder of Joe Christmas. 

  So how do we deal with this separation? Officers need to show some heart. Not just individuals, but as humans. None of these official suit-and-tie-typed-up-by-another apology (see Ray Rice), but just say sorry. It does't have to prove anyone guilty or weak or a liar or anything, just see them as a person. People want to be right and strong but act stubborn and thick skinned through trials. 

As Aristotle once said, "The only stable state is the one in which all men are equal before the law."

Sunday, December 7, 2014

1930s or 2014?

I think it is incredibly fascinating, as well as massively off-putting, that as we read Faulker's Light In August, the world around us is experiencing the same racial binary that Faulkner emphasizes in a story written in the 1930s. The Ferguson story, as well as the death of Eric Garner in New York, have taken over media channels. News channels cover the story on repeat, and it has become the most prominent feed in some of my favorite shows, political satires like The Colbert Report and The Daily Show, in the last couple of months. Although I do acknowledge the fact that these stories deserve national attention, I feel as if the media has exacerbated the stories and brought upon an even greater level of frustration, especially in the case of Ferguson.

The riots that have destroyed the city of Ferguson, and have ignited protests all around the United States have been indicative of one belief-- that the racial binary continues to exist. The racial binary has expanded from just the typical WHITE/black binary to the LAW ENFORCEMENT/black individuals binary that has even received personalized attention in Soledad O'Brien's CNN documentary "Black and Blue", which covers the increasing sense of mistrust on behalf of black individuals towards law enforcement. Regardless of whether or not you believe the verdicts have been just or not, I think that most people can agree that it is disturbing that there exists a sensation that there continues to be such a widespread belief in the racial binary that Faulker illustrated in an early twentieth century novel.

Ultimately, the events of the past couple months have been unsettling because not only has the nation's racial dilemna been uprooted, but because there exists a strong connection between an early twentieth century novel and America today.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

It Feels Like a Friday

Dogmatic is a really good word. When I first read it, my mind went to religion. Actually, I went right to the Dalai Lama. I thought of a "dogma", which, according to the dictionary, is "a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true". I thought- why would my mind go straight to religion? Does religion cause this mindless obedience? In some ways, yes. However, religion is also a source of great prosperity and ultimately our world would not be the same with out the powerful influence of religion.

In Light in August however, this mindless obedience is seen in the face of racism. Without question people persecute and assume that the black people are automatically at fault for any crime- even if there is not one shred of evidence. Even if you are just 1/4 black, your heritage incriminates you.

It is this unjustified following that infuriates me. If you have evidence- if you have PROOF that a person is the criminal- punish them as you would anyone else. If you have a reason to follow a religious dogma, do so. However, don't push these beliefs or racist ideologies on others. Each person is entitled to their own opinion, so let them have one.

Also, today is Thursday. But it feels like a Friday.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Hidden Racism

While I was reading my group's assigned passage today, one specific paragraph stuck with me, which made me think about racism, specifically hidden racism. On page 288, Faulkner writes "Among them the casual Yankees and the poor whites and even the southerners who had lived for a while in the north, who believed aloud that it was an anonymous negro crime committed not by a negro but by Negro..." (Faulkner 288). I find it interesting that Faulkner doesn't include the group of people who would be thought of as the racists, which are the true southerners. He lists people who are from the north and or wouldn't be view as racist, but they are. 

I then thought of my History of Chicago class where my teacher told us that, after his visit to Chicago, Martin Luther King Jr. said that Chicago was the racist city he has ever been to. This, at first surprised me because Chicago is in the north and people from the north tend to be "less racist." But this hidden racism in the north seems to be the worst form of racism after all. Through this passage Faulkner is showing how in his time period, everyone was racist to an extent. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Battle of the Binaries

When I was young, in the same way that I wondered why twins couldn't be given the same name, I wondered why stories always had to have conflicts.  Now, of course, I understand that the conflict is what makes the story, what gives it substance and meaning in actual life.  Through conflicts and varying degrees of resolution, a story can make a point about life as we know it.  The most meaningful stories, if not all stories, have conflict based around a binary.  What often differentiates one book from another is its approach to a certain binary.

The difficulty comes in the most masterful stories - those that address numerous binaries.  People naturally wish to categorize and simplify everything, and that includes binaries.  Binaries involving binaries.  This conundrum could be described (at the unfortunate loss of being cliched) as binary-ception.  Which binaries are at the forefront of our attention, somehow garnering more attention and perceived value than other less dominant binaries?  When you think of Light in August do you immediately jump to the huge role of racial conflict and sometimes skip over the ginormous role of, for example, gender or family?  (Perhaps here we can demonstrate these binaries with a new level of punctuation: bold typeface).  I think that for me personally, I sometimes fall into the WHITE/black//MALE/female binary.  And in between those, I easily forget about the FATHER/son binary.  What's more, I'm almost positive that there are other binaries that I don't even remember well enough to realize that I'm forgetting them!

So how am I, a very simple human still given to many of my natural, faulty predispositions, supposed to choose which binary to talk about when Faulkner so beautifully addresses multiple?  Just as in the case of individual binaries themselves, awareness of our own failings and striving to overcome is the first (and at times only available) step.  The injustice of certain binaries resonates with each of us differently, and that's okay.  We just have to remember that there are always other binaries to recognize and discuss, and sometimes it's a good idea to step back from our usual focus and look at those too. 

The Apple Doesn't Fall Far From The Tree

While Mr. McEachern isn't the biological father of Joe Christmas, it's obvious that he played a role in shaping Joe as a child. At an older age, he is quick to act violently. He beats the woman in the shed before he is stopped by the other farmhands, and fights them as they try to stop him. He beats Bobbie the waitress, he smashes a chair over Mr. McEachern's head, he beats Joe Brown, and he trades blows with Joanna Burden. Joe continues on a violent path, eventually beheading Burden. Initially as a child in the orphanage, we see no evidence of violence from Christmas.

Christmas is adopted at the age of 5 by Mr. McEachern, who insists on using beatings to enforce his lessons. Joe is given an unreasonably short period of time to learn his catechism, and when he is unsuccessful he receives a beating. The beatings continue until Joe collapses. The extended use of McEachern's violence shapes Joe negatively, molding him into a brush fire waiting to happen. At the slightest pin drop, Christmas lashes out, just as McEachern would when a young Joe was unable to learn something immediately. Eventually, McEachern's methods led to his own death(I think) as teenage Joe retaliates and smashes a chair over his head, WWE style.

The Fifth Dimension

Perhaps Faulkner was more of a scientist than we give him credit for.

There are some theories that if there were to be a fifth dimension, it would be time. Time as a physical entity, or something that can be manipulated, is something that humans won't ever really be able to grasp, and thinking about it at great lengths just makes our brains go in circles.

Faulkner, however, enjoys moving fluidly through time in his writing and chooses to personify time or treat it as something that can be manipulated. It's as if time has a force of its own and can be acted upon.

Not only is this idea apparent through the way Faulkner changes time periods during the novel, utilizing flashbacks and backtracking from the perspective of different characters to return to the present point in time, but he writes at the beginning of chapter 6, "Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders," (Faulkner 119). Admittedly, I had to reread these sentences about ten times before I had any idea what their function was. He refers to memory as a subject, representing the subconscious knowledge of the past, and claims that it has an understanding of past events before the conscious mind's awareness of past events, knowing, can remember. He then uses believes as a verb and a noun, explaining how the mind has subconscious ideas constructed by the past that exist prior to actual recollection of events and even prior to the conscious mind trying to remember the past and analyze it.

Overall, Faulkner may be suggesting that humans can be, in fact, fifth dimensional beings who utilize time as its own entity; however, he explains how even though we may be able to conceptualize how time affects us, and can read a novel written from various time standpoints, it is really our subconscious mind that encodes the past and our consciousness is not developed enough to instantaneously process past events.

Whether five dimensions or not, Faulkner's use of time in his novel is compelling and philosophical in a way we only see in sci-fi novels now. So kudos to him.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

How to be a Bigot

One can find a very detailed tutorial on how to stereotype, hate, and label inside William Faulkner's Light in August. 

There are a many ways in which the town of Jefferson demonstrates these skills. They boil down to the imposition of a simplified narrative over a complex reality. 

This structure holds true for the townspeople and Hightower, for Mrs. Armstid and Lena, for the townspeople, the dietician, Bobbie and Joe, and ultimately... for whites and negros.

I see two main reasons people cast narratives: to understand, and to compare.

We cast narratives over complex ideas or objects or plaster them with labels to simplify them:

  • "This math problem is a substitution problem"
  • "That car is a sedan"
  • "There are GMOs in that food"
… and this is okay most of the time. Complex ideas, economic principles, variations of cars, brands of food need simplifying in everyday life for the sake of sanity and understanding. 

But when we start casting narratives over people, we take a step towards bigotry. People are all complex, and no one fits that story mold perfectly.
When you assume someone does, you take away from who they truly are.

Ultimately, you're rendering them into ideas-- objects.

  • "Mr. Smith is a bad teacher"
  • "She's a conservative"
  • "Billy is a smart-ass"
  • "She's a DB"
Here lies the seed of the problem: people want life to be easy and they want to feel good. 

To make life easy, people label other people so that they can understand.
To feel good, people label people negatively, so that they can feel like good people by comparison. 

Individually Isolated

While reading Light in August by William Faulkner I began to really think about Joe Christmas and what he was feeling. When I think of Christmas' experience, isolation immediately comes to my mind. I can't imagine how he felt being biracial in a town that was so racially divided. It seems as though Christmas felt like he would never fit in with either race and the only place he felt comfort was alone in the forest.

While analyzing this further, I found that Joe Christmas is similar to many characters that we have studied from past novels. He embodies the popular theme that individualism often times leads to isolation. Just like Meursault and Edna, Joe Christmas feels like he can't fit in with anyone and everyone views him as a psychotic outcast. He does not live up to society's expectations just like Edna and Meursault. While individualism is initially invigorating, after awhile characters feel the pang of isolation. Isolation is hard to come back from and I think Joe Christmas is beginning to realize this. He knows that he will never completely fit in with the white neighborhood or the black neighborhood and I think this takes a toll on him. This inner struggle and realization that isolation is bound to happen fuels Christmas' reckless actions and frequent outbursts.

Self Fulfilling Prophecies

Light in August is, without a doubt, a complicated novel with complicated characters.  So far, we have only really gotten to know one of them: Joe Christmas, the racially ambiguous psychopath who makes us feel confused about race.

On one hand, Faulkner seems to want to use Christmas as a way of showing how silly it is to have a society that constructs identity based on race when race itself isn't necessarily black and white.  Christmas doesn't fit in to either the black or white categories -- the white folk dismiss him once they find out he has "black blood" and the black folk think he's a white man, not to mention the fact that Christmas is completely opposed to the idea of being "black".  So Faulkner goes about his merry way, showing the reader how much people jump to conclusions based on race and how wrong that is.  Like when Joe Brown is telling the marshall about what happened to Mrs. Burden -- as soon as Brown mentions the fact that Christmas is biracial, the marshall immediately is assured that he is guilty, and us as the readers recognize that that's not a good thing.

But then, we find out that Christmas did kill Mrs. Burden (or at least it is heavily implied that he is the one who almost removes her head from her body), so we as readers ask ourselves, "What the heck is Faulkner trying to tell us here?  That stereotypes are true?  Is Faulkner just a really clever racist?"

I think the answer is not that Faulkner believes in violent stereotypes surrounding African-Americans -- rather, he is just trying to prove the true potential for harm these stereotypes carry.  We met Christmas as a young boy, and we see that from the age of 5 he is ostracized because of his race.  He is told that he is different, inferior, and should be ashamed.  I think that a lot of his violent tendencies are a result of this attitude towards him.  He is able to know both sides of the coin -- he sees how people begin to view and treat him differently when they find out he is not 100% white.  And so, that night when he probably killed Mrs. Burden, Christmas was wandering around town, feeling out of place in both the white part of town and the black part of town, driving him insane.  So insane that he (probably) kills Mrs. Burden.

So what I think Faulkner is trying to say is that racial stereotypes have a dangerous psychological effect on those they are assigned to.  While stereotypes are not based in truth (for example, look at the black folk Christmas encounters on his journey through Freedman's Town -- they are calm, peaceful, and very human), they sometimes have the possibility of becoming true for some due to their unhealthy nature.  I believe that that is what happened to Joe Christmas.

Us vs. Them: The North/South Cultural Divide

Upon reading the first couple of chapters of Light in August, I felt like I had just read a book with dialogue in another language - just as how The Awakening contained some French quotations from it's characters. It was difficult to think of the characters' odd dialect as being the same language I speak every day. Yes, the book was written around ninety years ago, but there's something more- something more telling- about this distance I feel. The characters are from a small, rural town in Mississippi, and I am from a northern town that is about as urban as a suburb could ever be.

When Mr. Heidkamp discussed our inevitable separation of ourselves from the narrative due to the strong geographical divide, it really opened my eyes to the cultural boundaries I, and all other students, set up in our minds. I began to wonder - would a teacher that assigned this book to high school students in a southern town need to have such a talk with them as Mr. Heidkamp did? Would the students even feel any sort of discomfort reading this novel, complete with language such as "I reckon" and characters with extremely narrow minds? Obviously, I can't answer these questions with full certainty, but I have thought of some explanations.

Many students in Oak Park have read The Great Gatsby, written around the same time as Light in August but set in the North. Many enjoyed it - the colorful language, the extravagant parties, the seductive plot, and the secret-ridden characters. Before we dove into the novel, did our English teachers feel the need to have a talk with us about the shock we might feel regarding these such aspects of the narrative? No. Would teachers in southern schools? No. But for Light in August, a book that looks innocent next to the controversial Gatsby, a binary makes its way into the demographics of the readers. People have viewed Gatsby as a representation of America as a whole - the rebellious attitude, the underground partying, and the motif of dark secrets are underlying aspects of American society. There's no discussion needed with Fitzgerald's work. But Light in August works the same way. It addresses prevalent issues such as racism, gossip, and violence. The thing is, though, as northerners, we inevitably think of ourselves as the dominant side of the NORTH/south binary, so we feel the need to address our thoughts when something feels "wrong," like when we read a book about a small, southern town. Southerners, though, would not have to think in such a way about their own society - it's what is "normal" to them. Thus, I highly doubt a teacher in the South would feel the need to have a similar discussion with his or her students.

While I may not be able to call myself a "Nabakovian" reader after bringing my judgements and values into the reading of Light in August, I believe that such bias is important for making my own meaning and interpretations out of the story. I'll never be able to let myself go and ignore the odd dialect and uncomfortable diction to fully obtain the "magic" of the story, but, hey, it's impossible for us to enjoy every story in the exact manner that Nabokov wanted us to.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Cultural Binaries

Jessica Benjamin and her ideas about binaries in our society and literature is back for more. In the passage with Joe Christmas running/walking through the town in chapter five displays some of the major binaries of the book. One of the binaries Faulkner explores is the classic WHITE/black binary. This binary can also be looked at as a LIGHT/dark binary. In the section, Faulkner writes how it was if "the black life, the black breathing had compounded the substance of breath so that not only voices but moving bodies and light itself must become fluid and accrete" (page 114). The contrast between the light and the dark/black consoles a deeper meaning. The black life seems to almost be lifeless and not breathing but the light is fluid and full of life. Also, Faulkner writes, "Now he could see them:.....on a lighted veranda four people sat about a card table, the white faces intent and the sharp low light, the bare arms of the women glaring smooth and white above the trivial cards. 'that's all I wanted' he thought. 'That don't seem like a whole lot to ask'" (Page 115). The "them" he is referring to in the beginning is the white people he has come across in the town, he sees them playing cards under a lighted table that has the connotations of life all over it. While the black life in the previous section is morbid and death related. Also significant in the chapter is the FAST/slow binary. In the same section of him going through the town, when he encounters certain areas, he changes his speed and attitude. All the times he increases pace or acts out, like with a razor, he is in a black area of the town. And every time he is relaxed and slowing down, he is in the white areas of the town. Benjamin's binaries never seem to leave our literary life, and for good reason. Her exploration of binaries allows us to enhance our knowledge of the passage and book and gives us key clues to the books overall theme or moral.

Edge of Society

Throughout Light in August there is a constant motif of characters that do not fit into society. An example of this is Joe Christmas and his constant struggles within society because of his biracial heritage. Lena Grove further exemplifies this motif with the reaction of the society she is in to her pregnancy. I have noticed that almost every book we have read as a class this year contians this same motif. Including Meursault in the Stranger, Edna in the Awakening, and even King Lear.


In response to a few posts published earlier, I'd like to present my abbreviated opinion of interracial crime and its importance in the media.

I don't want to discredit anyone's ideas or opinions by saying this, but I've always found it difficult to talk about race and white supremacy in a room full of white people. I remember last year when my English class took an online assessment to see if we had any racial preference towards whites/blacks (not to be confused, as it most commonly was, with actually being racist; this test was merely assessing our somewhat-subconscious racial preferences). It was not surprising that a majority of the class (including a few black students) tested for strong preferences towards white people.

Many questioned the credibility of the assessment to make such "preposterous" claims, however that can be discussed on a different day. I'm merely trying to point out that American culture favors the white man. It has for centuries and it shouldn't be a surprise. Society still struggles to find real social and economic equality among whites and blacks due to the repercussions of the past few centuries.

I cannot argue that Michael Brown was entirely innocent, but I can point out that it's all too common for a police officer to be notified of a crime (in this case a robbery, although it is still uncertain as to whether the officer knew of Brown's robbery or not prior to Brown's death) and immediately suspect the black man over anyone else. It has happened too often to be false, and if you think that the case we have on our hands is completely uncorrelated to race, then you're probably the reason why I find it difficult to take about race and white supremacy when I'm the only nonwhite in a classroom. Of course Michael Brown's death had to do with race. Of course Trayvon Martin's death had to do with race. Faulkner made it all too obvious that Christmas became a person of interest only when race was involved, and times really have not changed much since then. Yes, certain stories are blown up when interracial conflicts come into play, but that is because they say something about American culture. It says something about who gets to be an "American hero" and who has to walk the streets and feel like an outsider.

I guess this wasn't as "abbreviated" as I had planned it to be (although I could honestly go on and on about this topic) and I hope I haven't offended anyone by this post. I'm not trying to argue that everyone isn't entitled to their opinion or that anyone is uneducated about certain aspects of race and American culture, I'm just trying to bring in a perspective that I can bet is not often taken into consideration because of where we live and who we interact with.

Joe's Choices

In Faulkner's Light in August, Joe Christmas struggles with racial identity. He does not seem to fit into the WHITE/black binary that is very present in the society at the time because he his half black.

Jessica Benjamin wrote about how in binaries one half must assert dominance and the other half in some way accepts the dominance.  In his quest for identity, Joe can not seem to fit into either side of the binary but what he does know for sure is that he wants to be part of a binary.

Although binaries are uneven relationships, Joe seems to willing to chose either side of the binary just so he can belong. As he walks around Freedman town, he does not feel similar to the black people. He sees that they are "voices murmuring talking laughing in a language not his"(114). But he also doesn't feel part of the white community either. As he walks past the white people playing cards on the porch, he thinks "'That's all I wanted...that dont seem like a whole lot to ask'"(115). Feeling as though he doesn't fit leaves him lonely but Joe begins to make some choice of which part of the binary he is belongs to.

Joe spend years living with black people and "shunning white people"(225). He later says that he was trying "to expel himself the white blood"(226). Joe chooses which race he wants to be. In doing so he also chooses part of the binary.

Unfortunately, Joe becomes subject to the prejudices and stereotypes of the binary and his decision to accept his black blood leads him to be seen in different ways. Joe Brown uses the knowledge of Joe Christmas's black blood against him and uses that to blame him for the fire and murder of Ms. Burden. Joe chooses to belong but then must also be a subject to the binary.