Posts in: Block 7
Our last week of Women in Film revolved around films’ relationships to metaphors, meaning, and truth, as well as the division between those work above or below the line within the film industry. Through analyzing Maya Deren’s Statement of Principles, we interacted with the idea that what makes humans different from other animals is the ways in which they interact with matter and develop meanings. Through art, people come to interact with, change, and assign meaning. Art also forces audiences to come into contact with meanings, metaphors, or truths that they may have never seen before. Each of the five films from this week, Meshes of the Afternoon, History and Memory, Watermelon Woman, Wendy and Lucy, and The Fits, introduced identities that I have found to be misunderstood, misrepresented or underrepresented in film to the forefront. Each work employed a series of different stylistic choices and strategies, from narrative to collage to documentary, to introduce stories and truths that often go untold to audiences in an accessible way.
To finish out our class, we began to discuss how the work done by women in film “above the line” influences those “below the line” and how the women we have studied this block contribute to film and media activism. Those working above the line, like producers, directors, and actresses, repeatedly outshine those working below the line, like set and costume designers or intimacy coordinators. This is often because those that are above the line serve as the faces of film and the effort put in by those working below is assumedly nonprofessional or able to be done by anyone with a little training (which isn’t true). The women we studied this block have brought more attention to the importance of below the line workers and have begun the process of bringing balanced gender representation to the film industry.
Despite struggling to become used to a new schedule and taking class online, I have learned to love a number of styles of art that are new to me and appreciate the little things and simple wins a bit more. I’m looking forward to being back on campus and getting back to “normal” life, but for now, I’m grateful to still have the opportunity to learn while at home and I’m looking forward to seeing what else I learn while life is flipped upside down.
I attended an arts school for 7 years before college. Starting in the 6th grade, I spent an hour-and-a-half every day honing my skills as a filmmaker on top of taking my other classes for the normal middle/high school core curriculum. My peers were all artists as well, each focusing on one of 11 different art majors. Our teachers recognized the power of having a room full of artists and used this to enhance the learning that took place in each classroom.
It would be impossible to count the number of projects I had to do where I was tasked with taking the classroom material (be it the novel Jane Eyre or the Krebs Cycle) and converting it into some sort of artistic presentation. At the time, I think a lot of us scoffed at being told to mix our academics with our arts, but the skills I learned by doing this work still benefit me today.
In college, so many of our summative projects are papers or exams. A dry regurgitation of the material achieves the aim of assessing how well the content was absorbed, but often doesn’t task us to really contextualize our learning. When professors assign something more creative, they make space for students who process differently to flourish, and this often leads to the creation of really cool final products.
The final for this class is not an exam or a report but is instead an open-ended choose-your-own-topic presentation of material. I love it.
I jumped around a lot when it came to picking a topic and medium for my project. I wanted to do something that was fun and would introduce my peers to new information. At first, I figured I’d make a film since that’s where I’m most practiced. But without a film crew or time to animate, I thought maybe a website would be easier. As I started considering topics to study, I realized something visual was going to be extremely necessary if I wanted to tell my information in a way that was easy to understand. I ultimately decided to put together an illustrated book (I hesitate to call it a children’s book since the content is a bit complex).
This process has been so much fun. I spent an hour on Thursday just drawing detailed depictions of various shoe types (I promise it’s related to my project). I had the opportunity to play with art, narrative, and parody while also coming up with ways to explain a fairly complex mathematical concept. It was definitely a challenge trying to take what could easily have been a 5-10 page paper and distill it into less than 1000 words, but, as a result, I was able to gain a really solid understanding of the material for myself as well.
I wish more CC professors would offer open-ended projects like this. I don’t mean that we should get rid of exams and papers all together, but I do think more emphasis on finding the intersections between ideas would only help with student learning. That’s the point of the liberal arts anyway, isn’t it?
As we enter the third week of class, a pattern I’ve noticed in our discussions of white consumerism in hip hop is a consistent misconstruing of the racial navigation of white artists. I understand that’s a mouthful. To put this issue in context, let’s go back to 1986. It’s November. Artists such as the Sugar Hill Gang and RUN-D.M.C. have budded as early stars in the world of commercial hip hop. However, three white, upper middle class, Jewish kids are about to burst onto the scene and shatter any preexisting notions of what it meant to have a lucrative career in hip hop. Of course, I’m talking about the Beastie Boys’ debut album Licensed to Ill which would become the best selling of its decade. Boasting hyper-masculine frat boy personas and playing with their punk rock origins, the Beastie Boys rose to number one on the Billboard with their smash hit “Fight for Your Right.” Throughout its music video, the three emcees can be seen spiking drinks and inciting chaos at what was supposed to be a mellow party. The scene culminates when the entire apartment is destroyed with pies and sledgehammers. It’s hard to believe that Adam Yauch, known as MCA, would go on to become a devout Buddhist and protest U.S. foreign policy at the VMA’s after watching him set his meek party host’s issue of Popular Science on fire. Yet, after listening to more of the Beastie’s discography and listening to interviews I realized that these songs are more socially conscious than meets the eye. That’s not to say they’re not problematic for other reasons, but they become a jumping off point for my exploration of how white consumers often miss the forest for the trees when understanding how white artists grapple with their race in the historically African American art that is hip hop.
In order to understand this phenomenon, I need to first define what I like to call the cycle of post-ironic consumerism. Hip hop is a responsive artform. Songs such as Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s The Message use ghetto realism to speak out against the condition of the South Bronx. This is where the cycle begins: with an issue. For the Beastie Boys, the issue they spoke out against was the toxicity of what we might call “jock culture.” While they employed hip hop as a means to address this issue, their performance as larger than life characters used irony in a groundbreaking way to exaggerate the characterization of the group they sought to expose. These tropes include reckless violence and aggressive misogyny to name a few.
And so we reach the next stage in the cycle, responsive performative irony. This is the exploitation of the issue’s own imagery to expose its shortcomings. It is my view that the song’s chorus is evidence of its own self awareness. Between each verse, the three shout “You gotta fight for your right to party.” The pause between “fight for your right” and “to party” echoes calls to action in protest anthems like Bob Marley’s Get Up Stand Up and then turns it on its head by narrowing the scope of that call to white male youth. The allusion to the structure of revolutionary music A) recognizes its existence and then B) sets up the issues of its audience as frivolous, i.g., “your mom threw away your best porno mag.”
Where this issue comes full circle is a post ironic reception by consumers. Somewhere between the initial conception and final rhetoric, the message becomes more ambiguous and is interpreted in its literal connotation. The ironic tropes are effectively embraced with sincerity and therefore reinforce the original issue at hand. The climax of this can be seen during a 1987 concert in Liverpool the show was shut down within its first ten minutes due to a riot. MCA faced a subsequent assault charge which led the group to reevaluate their image.
While I do not believe the group wrote this song with malice, I also don’t believe they were prepared to deal with the monster born out of the idiocy of their fans. On the other hand, without their use of convoluted satire they would have never been able to build a fandom that included not only those who understood their music, but also the listeners who took their image at face value.
This may seem like an isolated happenstance, but around the turn of the century, we take another ride on the cycle of post-ironic consumerism. This time, the artist in question was none other than Slim Shady. In an article by Loren Kajikawa, she articulates that just as the Beastie Boys did on Licensed to Ill, Eminem navigates his racial identity through a critique of white middle class culture in order to not emulate, but show allegiance with the African-American community as well as brand himself as a working class underdog dissociated from his own white privilege.
To be a white rapper is in and of itself a niche. As demonstrated by the Beastie Boys and the downfall of Vanilla Ice, the key to being successful within said niche is having a unique image, one that speaks parallel to African-American voices, but within the parameters of one’s own race. While the Beastie Boys took on upper class chauvinism, Eminem ducked the question of race by criticizing white societal archetypes perpetuated by conservative culture. This disconnect from suburban life was marketed towards straight white men who grappled with their identities in a society that fails to racialize white people. My Name Is is an attempt to break from the constraints of the Tipper Gores of the world and give oppressed positionality to young men rebelling against their own comfortable lives.
While Em performs as the figures he loathes in the music video for My Name Is, he certainly was not appeasing them. His visual performance, perhaps better choreographed than the Beastie Boys’ struck a nerve with middle class white male youth who could laugh along with Em at images they’d grown up with like the Brady Bunch and a hypersexual President Clinton.
While the product of Eminem’s music was a generation of vindictive white men, the post-ironic consumption of his music comes not from the youth who understood his message, but the parents of said youth who only intensified their own allegiance to conservative values. This manifested particularly in censorship which Eminem was on the receiving end of and addresses in The Real Slim Shady. While the song stands by further unnerving of the same audience by calling on them to be “proud to be out of your mind and out of control,” it also objects to his critics through lines such as “Will Smith don’t gotta cuss in his raps to sell records (Nope) Well, I do, so fuck him and fuck you too!” and the chorus “I’m Slim Shady, yes I’m Slim Shady. All you other Slim Shadys are just imitating.” The former is taking aim at the same demographic he took on in My Name Is and the latter is an acknowledgement of the movement he’d created through his work. Regardless, just as with Fight for Your Right, the ironic representation of a targeted issue only served to antagonize and exaggerate it in a more roundabout way.
So why does this matter? The aim of this article is not to make accusations about ineffective delivery or to claim that consumers are stupid. On the contrary, it is to question the model which white rappers use to enter hip hop. I would argue that while self deprecating humor and ironic depictions of one’s own culture have proven to be valuable in the longevity of one’s career, they can also be limiting artistically and do more to perpetuate than correct faults the artist sees in society. The Beastie Boys struggled to escape the boombastic characatures they’d made themselves into as their sophomore album Paul’s Boutique flopped financially despite its critical acclaim. The following they had built wasn’t necessarily interested in pop culture references and the Dust Brothers’ use of funk samples. The group also spent the rest of their career rebranding as socially conscious, especially through the activism and lyrics of MCA who famously said on sure shot:
“I want to say a little something that’s long overdue
The disrespect to women has got to be through
To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends
I want to offer my love and respect to the end”
It was through their more direct verses that the Beastie Boys were able to not only speak on issues with clear intent, but also maintain relevance until the passing of MCA. Simultaneously, Eminem struggled in his own career when his album Relapse suffered from poor reception due to the dragging out of the same identity that he used to rise to fame. It wasn’t until Recovery that he was able to open up about issues with substances and his own emotions that rebounded his career. What’s evident through both the music of Eminem and the Beastie Boys is that while irony sells, it’s not existentially or artistically fulfilling.
Our focus for week two was looking at women auteurs, or women film creators who are considered the authors of their films and have injected their style into the works, whose films have moved beyond transnational boundaries. Our primary films for this week were Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Věra Chytilová’s Daisies, Agnès Varda’s Faces Places, and Nadine Labaki’s Caramel. Each one of these films was created by a female auteur who not only managed to push their films beyond transnational boundaries but reached elite status within the film industry. By analyzing these films and the statuses of their creators, we began to unpack questions surrounding why they are considered anomalies within their home countries and strategies these women use to share their films and work against gender norms and stereotypes. We also broke down some of the ways in which the auteur model helps directors, like granting successful creators a wide-reaching platform to reach larger audiences, and hurts the film industry by making it difficult for new creators to enter film spheres and for well-known directors to become separated from past identities, styles, and works.
One characteristic of the films that stood out to me most was that, despite employing completely different stylistic elements, each film shared a number of similar thematic concerns. It pushed me to think about how truly wide-reaching a number of social issues are. We are able to connect to thousands of others because we all must deal with specific social, political, or economic issues because of our gender, sexuality, race, nationality or economic status. One of the places where we begin to differ from one another is in our responses to these issues and the art we create as a personal reflection.
Image source: Film Inquiry
It’s 8:44 PM on a Sunday. The night has shaped up like most other Sundays past; I’m tackling a weekend’s load of homework while flipping through my liked songs on shuffle. My usual rotation of Action Bronson, Flatbush Zombies, and Mos Def is suddenly interrupted by something different. A steady four count and then…“Hey girls, B-boys, Superstar DJs- Here we go!” It’s Rock Master Scott & the Dynamic Three’s The Roof is on Fire. While the straightforward flow and simple beat are a universe away from the sounds I’ve heard during the last hour, there’s something compelling about the three MC’s rocking the crowd and gassing up their DJ. When I close my eyes, the sugaring houses and spruce tree farms of Walden, Vermont disappear and I’m within the sonic universe of the South Bronx forty years ago. After four minutes of steady head bobbing, Charlie Prince calls out to the crowd “The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire” and I can’t help but respond with the recorded crowd: “WE DON’T NEED NO WATER, LET THE MOTHERFUCKER BURN” My sister looks up across the living room
dumbfounded, both eyebrows raised. I’m back in quarantine, now awkwardly fidgeting with a stack of papers and trying to avoid eye contact. This contrast between the rhythmic breaks manipulated by early DJs and the dull tranquility of remote learning has been definitive of the last week of class.
The week began with greetings as well as a short lecture from Dr. Carson about Lil Nas X’s old town road and the politics of genre and charts dating back to the conception of the Billboard Hot 100 (then called the Hit Parade) in 1936. This investigation into the politics of popular music got our collective wheels turning and predicated Wednesday’s discussion of an article by Tricia Rose entitled “Flow, Layering, and Rupture in Post Industrial New York.” This article identified the three elements listed in the title to be the three fundamental elements of Hip-Hop in its core four manifestations (DJing, emceeing, graffiti, and break dancing). In each form, the artists’ abilities to establish rhythm (flow), compound or trump the work of their peers and predecessors (layering), and then breaking from said established rhythm (rupture) worked in harmony to shape the heart of Hip-Hop.
In groups, we then were sent off to investigate each of these four forms and analyze the way each piece incorporated the three elements of hip hop. I found this exercise to be especially eye opening in the way that I view visual art. When looking at a piece by Fab Five Freddy, I was able to see the way in which he transformed a subway car into a mural expressing dissent towards the canonization of protest art movements. What was more enlightening were the parallels drawn between my own analysis of graffiti and my classmate’s respective art forms. The project as a whole painted a holistic picture of Hip-Hop during its genesis.
Thursday was an opportunity for unwinding and expanding our personal playlists as we listened to and discussed our collective class playlist, which you can follow on Spotify! The listening party was demonstrative of our diversity in taste and what allured us all towards one genre. Sharing music allowed us to make connections and even bond over a shared love of artists.
As we transition next week from the Old Skool to the New Skool, I’m excited to learn more about the musicians I grew up listening to and further understanding their cultural implications.
Growing up, I always liked math. I enjoyed the challenge of being faced with a problem and trying to figure out the tools and method needed to solve it. It was cool getting to see how the world around me could be described through the lens of mathematics. Unfortunately, as I reached higher levels of math, the problems we were solving stopped being grounded in real-world problem-solving. Where math used to be asking questions about the speed of a rock rolling down a hill or the number of games played in a baseball tournament, it was now verging into higher dimensions and abstractions that had lost touch with the everyday problems facing people.
While coming into college I had considered being a math major, after taking upper-level classes, I found myself put off by math that seemed so devoid of life. I didn’t care about the volume of a 15th dimensional sphere or how to solve a Diophantine equation. Instead of pursing the traditional theoretical math track, I found refuge in the world of applied mathematics. Here, I was still allowed to ask questions about problems that were relevant to the world around me. I decided to pursue a mathematical-economics major in order to find compromise between my joy for math and my need to have my learning grounded in reality.
These days, I spend a lot of time thinking about the types of problems that people are faced with and the tools that they use to make decisions. I am given the task of trying to use existing information about people and predict their future actions. Math has begun to reprove to me that it is important to the world of real people. With a few relatively simple mathematical tools, I have been able to explore the value of getting a college education for future life success and the value of using the Electoral College to conduct US elections.
I think it is unfortunate that one of the few CC classes specifically focused on applying math to the world is billed as “Not Recommended for Math Majors”. What has been really cool about this class is the variety of experience that everyone brings to the material. Some of my classmates are Political Science majors, others are writers, others of us are here for the math, and some people have no idea what they want to study. Because we all have different ways of viewing the material, we are able to have really interesting conversations that would not happen in other math classes where people only care about the mathematical processes.
The prevailing narrative that math is a defunct subject that tries to be as confusing as possible is just not true. Anyone can benefit from thinking mathematically as is evidenced by this class. For me, the world of applied math has rekindled my love of mathematics, and I hope that for others it can show them that math can be relevant!
Last week marked the beginning of a series of firsts. Not only did 7th block begin last week, but I also started my first online class and began to transform my in-person college experience to an online one. Instead of having morning coffee with one of my roommates, getting ready for my chapter’s Big Little week, meeting with Kathy in hopes of figuring out my upcoming thesis topic, and discussing the film world’s greatest issues and puzzles in Cornerstone, I found myself in bed in my hometown, downloading Zoom, making Netlflix Party watching plans, and attempting to figure out how different taking an asynchronous class would be.
Luckily for me, Professor Seid has been making the move from in-person to online class as smooth as possible. Professor Seid is an Assistant Professor of English, with a focus on feminism, literature, and film, visiting from the Baruch College-The City University of New York. She has introduced one of her favorite classes to CC, Women in Film!
Our first week started out with us differentiating between women’s films and women in film, analyzing the relationship between entertainment, women, and feminism, and evaluating the role of pleasure and the gaze in film. We came to understand women’s films as a niche of films that assumedly appeal to women, while women in film are women who play an active role in the film making process. Our discussions of the films A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Stella Dallas, When A Woman Ascends the Stairs, and Dance, Girl, Dance were framed by Linda Williams’, Catherine Russell’s, Laura Mulvey’s and Claire Johnston’s writings. We discussed how a director’s gender, a film’s nation of origin or year of creation, and a film’s creators’ levels of success shape the ways in which a film influences feminist cultural politics and women’s filmic representation.
What does it take to be a successful woman filmmaker? What does it mean to be successful in one film sphere but not the next? Why are some female filmmakers considered anomalies within their gender?
I’m looking forward to further unpacking these questions this week.
If you’ve spent any time talking about American politics recently, you’ve probably heard about how the electoral college gives priority to certain voters or how some states make it harder for some people to vote than others. You may have even signed a petition promoting a national popular vote or rallied to enfranchise citizens who have been traditionally not allowed to vote. The idea that voting isn’t exactly fair is probably not surprising. What might be surprising is that, no matter how hard we try, we can’t actually design a voting system that is fair.
This block I am enrolled in MA110 – The Mathematics of Social Choice. This class focuses on how groups of people make decisions. The first week of the class, we examined a variety of different voting systems (which is a fancy way of saying ways to take people’s preferences and decide who wins an election). What we found out through exploration of these systems is that for elections with more than two candidates, no voting system is truly fair.
So what do I mean by fair? Before I list the criteria that we outlined in this class, I suggest taking a couple minutes to think about what you think a fair voting system might look like….. Okay, got your list? Now let’s compare.
Here are some of the things we decided should be fulfilled by a fair voting system:
- Voters should be allowed to rank their preferences for candidates however they’d like
- Every voter’s vote should be worth the same amount
- Every candidate should be treated the same
- Getting more votes should never hurt a candidate
- If a majority of voters like a candidate the most they should win
- If everyone likes one candidate more than another, the candidate that is less liked shouldn’t be able to win
- If a candidate would lose an election, removing them as a candidate shouldn’t change who wins
How does this list stack up to your list? Did we come up with any criteria that you hadn’t thought of or do you have any you want to add to our list? Hopefully, you’ll agree that these are some important things to have in a voting system. Here’s the thing though – there doesn’t exist a single voting system (no matter how hard you try) that will satisfy all of these criteria at the same time. There’s a whole Theorem (called Arrow’s Theorem) that proves why this is the case. Ironically, one of the systems that is closest to meeting these criteria is a dictatorship! (It only violates the ideal that every vote should matter the same.)
At this point, maybe you’re resolved that it might be okay to drop one or two of these criteria (though not the one that lets it be a dictatorship!). If you’re okay with that, then I do have some solutions for you! Check back for a later blog post with some ideas for voting systems that seem okay.