I went to a coffee chat with a CNN reporter last week. Its was fascinating hearing his perspective on various contemporary issues. First, we discussed the present distrust of the media and our president’s denouncement of traditional news organizations, and consequential endorsement of illegitimate news. He described covering a Trump rally in Phoenix. The large degree of hate being spewed by the roaring crowed made him fear for his life more than in the conflict areas he covered. This distrust of media organizations presents troubling prospects for the state of our democracy. What people consume in their news diet becomes reflected in their represented political action.
With regard to the refugee crisis, he described his experience covering refugee migration at the Norway-Russia border. The hardship of the experience revealed that while the differing viewpoints of the migrant debate are valid, the humanity of the situation is infallible.
I recently saw the movie Us. This is what I was able to draw from it. Spoiler warning.
Us makes a statement about income inequality in America. Each person has their creepy-underground clone version that, as we see in the movie, is inextricably tethered to the individual’s every move and action. This is supposed to illustrate how one family’s safety and comfort is often (unknowingly) at the expense of another’s. The clones living in abandoned underground tunnels is symbolic of America’s large degree of neglected and decaying infrastructure (think housing, neighborhoods, public services, etc.) that low socio-economic groups are left to. The later scene, showing the mother’s self-confrontation in an underground tunnel classroom makes a statement about how educational disparities are also at the root of income inequality and societal injustice. The twist at the end is meant to relay that the origin of the mother doesn’t matter in the end, as they are both equal in their humanity and existence. The clone mother being able to mobilize all of the other clones because of her ability to speak shows the importance of, and possibly pays homage to, activists fighting for the rights of oppressed groups who may not have the means to protest themselves. The clones all clad in red jumpsuits is indicative of the group’s lack of freedom (like a prisoner), but also emphasizes the importance of solidarity in mobilization.
When I was in Miami for spring break, I visited the Wynwood Walls, an outdoor gallery of graffiti art. There, one piece by Martin Whatson grabbed my attention.
The graffiti depicts a little boy, pulling open a dull and dismal urban curtain, to find a melange of color, creativity, and possibility. This “street art within street art” sends a powerful message of how artistic expression can transform marginalized urban communities. I was especially interested in how this art connected with readings from class, which described the influence (and discrimination) of architecture on communities. Although residents may not be able to change how their neighborhoods were designed, being able to uplift their communities through beautification and expression may help overcome some of the oppression built into foundation of their homes.
I recently went with my friend to a tattoo parlor. She wanted to get an industrial piercing, which is a small metal rod going through the ear cartilage. When I asked her why she wanted to do such a bold style, she explained to me that she was going through a quarter-life crisis and wanted to change up her look. And that was the first time I realized that I’ve reached a substantial marker in my life: that if I was back in high school gym running the mile around the track, I’d be a quarter way through. I remember doing those mile runs. The first lap would be so quick and easy, the second would be a little more difficult, the third would be tiring, and by the fourth lap, I would be panting and ready to finish.
Life goes by quickly, it’s not like this is news to anyone. But this mile-run analogy made me realize that I am the person who gets to set the pace of my life. As I discussed in an earlier post, the absurdity of life is not having any predisposed purpose. Lucky and Ponzo spend their whole lives waiting for Godot to show up, but they never achieve anything except waiting. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether I’m truly living or simply waiting. I guess it all comes down to the difference between wanting the industrial piercing and actually going out to get it.
The NYT article, “Netflix Is the Most Intoxicating Portal to Planet Earth,” describes how Netflix has recently focused on popularizing international tastes to global audiences, rather than selling American shows to foreign audiences. This means that international shows have been on the rise as Netflix has become more geared toward expanding international television. This phenomenon, in addition to being a blatant example of globalization, also has implications about television’s influence on popular perceptions of international events.
For instance, the article explains how Netflix encountered international condemnation for pulling the show “Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj,” which criticized the Saudi prince after the C.I.A.’s conclusion that the prince had ordered the murder of a dissident Saudi journalist. Netflix had been required to do so by the Saudi government. This demonstrates the increasing power of entertainment in influencing political views and brings up the question of how international corporations such as Netflix should act in response to authoritarian actions.
Domestically, satirical news shows such as SNL, The Tonight Show, and Last Week Tonight, have become large influencers of public opinion, and have become more popular to certain audiences than conventional news shows. As entertainment is expanding across international lines, what roles will foreign television play in shaping audiences’ opinions as global citizens?
Lately, I’ve been watching the TV series Westworld, which is set in the US during a time of peak technological achievement: virtually all diseases can be cured, transportation is effortless, etc. Technology is so advanced that robots can be mistaken for humans. Capitalizing off this technology, the Westworld corporation creates a 19th century “wild west” theme park, inhabited by these human-like robots, where the very wealthy can be immersed virtually any experience they want. Since the robots can be fixed and reset, the guests of Westworld can do whatever they want to the hosts, and the hosts’ memories can be wiped completely. However, as the show unravels, a few of the hosts begin to question their existences, and as the line between human and robot blurs, certain conflicts arise.
Watching this TV show got me thinking about what it means for me to be human. For all the hosts know, they are living, breathing people. However, their very existences are coded and engineered to serve purposes they did not choose. They may have dreams and desires, but they can never fulfill them, they can only stay is this stimulated theme park. This is a metaphor for each and every one of our lives. We often are stuck in a loop without even knowing it. And a lot of the time, it seems we cannot get out of it. We may find comfort in being surrounded by everyday pleasures and the people we love, but it doesn’t change the fact that our purposes may not be of our own choosing. I am well aware that this dilemma has been on the minds of philosophers for centuries. Two years ago, I read “Waiting for Godot,” a play with a similar theme: two men wait in vain for an unknown figure to give them a sense of purpose, but their only sense of purpose comes from the act of waiting. The playwright, Samuel Beckett, offers no solution to this void of meaning, only that we are left to face this absurdity of existing in the lack of intrinsic purpose. So, while the issues touched upon Westworld are essentially philosophical conundrums, I am excited to see where the show ends up as I continue to binge watch it.
When I went to Japan this summer with my family, we made an effort to immerse ourselves in as many urban and cultural experiences as we could. So, on our last night there, we made our way to an izakaya, a type of Japanese pub that Tokyo-dwellers go to for after-work food and drinks. Already, the thought of my family of four going to an Asian pub seemed laughable, but I was open to the experience, mainly to see my family get drunk. My mom had done her research on the best izakayas nearby, and at the dark and rowdy hour of 5pm, we headed out to dinner. We arrived at Andy’s Shin Hinomoto, an underground izakaya with a low, arched ceiling and humming LED lights. There was no music and only a couple of other customers. We apprehensively seated ourselves in the back corner of the pub and took our menus. It seemed so far that we would be spending the night (or should I say early evening) in a sketchy alcohol coffin.
However, I was soon proven wrong. Japanese workers wearing loosened ties started trickling into the izakaya, and gargantuan pitchers of beer began trickling into our glasses. That little pub served the best seafood I ever had. The size of the crab meat chunks were comparable to chicken breasts. Delicate fish slices of different colors and marbling were draped over pillows of rice. If I had to give up chicken nuggets for unlimited amounts of that place’s fried octopus, I would. That night, I learned that the initial appearance of a place (alcohol coffin) or situation I’m in (with my parents and brother) can be far from what the experience turns out to be, which in this case was a direct ticket to seafood and beer heaven.
Given the choice, do you bet on the underdog or the alpha-dog?
Seasoned Food Network chef Bobby Flay has made a splash in the cooking scene for years, rising through the ranks in Iron Chef America, hosting his own cooking show, and opening well-rated restaurants. He’s risen so high, that in 2013, the Food Network aired the show “Beat Bobby Flay,” a cooking competition in which successful chefs go through a series of rounds designed to try to defeat Bobby Flay. He rarely loses. It’s this lack of variation in the outcome that makes me always root for the other chef. Although I am knowingly setting my hopes up for probable failure, seeing the one guest chef triumph over America’s cockiest chef makes the rare defeat even sweeter.
The choices one has when watching the show could be constant, unexciting gratification with little losing prospects, or habitual vexation with singular moments of elation. So, what makes us choose one over the other? What makes us root for Daniel LaRusso over Johnny Lawrence? What makes the Patriots the most loved and hated team in the NFL?
I couldn’t answer those questions without delving into an extensive research project. But what I do know is that our society and democracy is founded on the underdog spirit. Who could ever forget the largest economic and military power in the world being challenged by people who hate taxes? So every blue moon, when the odds seem to be dismal, it may be worth it to roll the dice and bet on the guest chef.
This weekend, I wasn’t really productive, but I did eat a burger.
I’m sitting in class. My professor mentions something about supply and demand. Not listening. I’m grabbing dinner with friends. They’re fixating on the latest piece of drama. Not listening. My mind is in a different place, but not far away. My train of thought is stopped at a station two blocks from campus, The Tombs.
My mind drifts to where I was at 5pm last Saturday. The medium-done patty, blanketed in melted American cheese, sandwiched between two sesame buns. Truffle potato chips and parmesan fries fill the table. Nothing gives me greater joy than when the dinner group falls into a blissful silence and there is no expectation but the enjoyment of one’s food.
People these days complain how the art of conversation is dead. But sometimes, conversation needs to die. We all need to shut up sometimes. Because in the end, I just want to eat a burger.
Ding. “We need to hear this. America needs to hear this.”
I grudgingly unlock my phone. What Fox News article has my grandma sent to me today? It’s not like I don’t already see her posts on Facebook. However, I am slightly taken aback to see it’s not a video of Sean Hannity’s face, but a song link to R. Kelley’s “I Believe I Can Fly.”
Yes, Grandma, I think we’ve all heard this song before. It’s that song that plays on the radio when you’re on a road trip and can’t change the station. Sometimes it gets remixed and played ironically at clubs. In one of my elementary school assemblies, we watched adult deaf people perform an interpretive dance to this song. However, my grandma was oblivious to the song’s common perception and was instead moved by its genuine meaning:
I used to think that I could not go on And life was nothing but an awful song But now I know the meaning of true love I’m leaning on the everlasting arms If I can see it, then I can do it If I just believe it, there’s nothing to it I believe I can fly
The lyrics themselves convey the power of faith and self-confidence when facing life’s struggles. This applies to nearly everyone and can be interpreted on nearly all extremes, from a college kid trying to get through finals, to a worker trying to overcome poverty. The lyrics, paired with the slow build up to a high, ringing melody, reinforce the song’s universal message.
In our culture, “I Believe I Can Fly” has been popularized to a point where we tend to glaze over its content, almost like a white-noise effect. I realized that by taking this song out of the context I’m used to, it takes on a lot of meaning and inspiration. It’s sort of like the pledge of allegiance, something we used to kind of half-grunt when we’re barely awake at school. But if we were all to reiterate its meaning to ourselves, we could treat it as an opportunity to evaluate how well our nation is upholding its values.
In so much of our daily lives, little things with powerful meaning get washed away. A friend checking if you’re OK. A stranger holding the door. R. Kelley’s “I Believe I Can Fly.” We all need to look at life with the fresh eyes of Grandma. I text her back, “Love this song! Xoxo.”