Spoilers Part 1: The Spoiling

The Internet is a place full of spoilers, and I have spent a lot of time online doing my utmost to avoid them in any show/book/movie that I am involved with. But some wonderful people online have been persuading me to jump camps recently and I think I’m ready to make the switch. I will not go quietly (or screaming, as the case may be) away from spoilers into the night, TODAY IS OUR INDEPENDENCE DAY etc etc

Rethinking our hate spoilers means we need to figure out just what it is about them that bothers us so much. In personal experience, I have usually avoided spoilers in order to preserve plot points and narrative twists that would be way more impactful in their original context. Thinking back, my paranoia began after I had the major turning point of *Bioshock* revealed to me in a preview piece about *Bioshock 2*. It seemed as though I had missed out on an emotional connection with that particular scene that other players had formed. As my friends can attest, my fear of spoilers in A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones has been vocal, violent, and zealous.

Aside from the exposure to the plot rollercoaster, there aren’t too many reasons to stay away from spoilers – and, as a growing number of media theorists are finding, there might be some compelling reasons to actually embrace spoilers. PBS Idea Channel’s special on spoilers, for instance, breaks down an intriguing new theory that suggests that having knowledge about elements of a work before viewing/playing/reading it can actually aid in understanding and analysis of that work. My *Bioshock* playthrough, though lacking in the blindsiding plot twist department, probably ended up feeling more coherent and well-developed than a lot of people’s first runs.

Prior knowledge of something that goes on in a text results in more attenuated readings of that text and the particular elements that you know about. For instance <SPOILERS> knowing that Atlas was actually Fontaine the whole time and being aware of the whole “would you kindly” business helped me find all the cool foreshadowing and layered narrative elements that stack up to the eventual reveals </SPOILERS>. After all, a plot twist only works once, and the real thrill of a text is how you get from point A to point B, even if you’re fully aware of both points. How else would historical dramas and/or biopics work? We all know the story of Lincoln’s life, but we went to see the film because of Daniel Day-Lewis and Spielburg and everything else that made it a good experience.

Todd VanDerWerff over at A.V. Club wrote a fantastic piece on spoilers (SPOILERS FOR BREAKING BAD IN THE FIRST SENTENCE OF THAT ARTICLE BTW), noting some of the things I’ve outlined above while attacking more directly the problems with making plot twists the most valuable parts of a work. He makes a great point in that most people wouldn’t complain, for instance, about having a particularly good tracking shot in a film “spoiled” for them, even though they might sprint out of the room at the mention of a small plot point. Arguably, the film’s cinematography and other aesthetic elements are just as, if not more, important than preserving the first experience of a twist, but spoiler culture says the opposite.

Doesn’t that seem a little ridiculous? Just because we all know who Luke’s father is and whether or not Luke finds that to be impossible and oops where did his hand go doesn’t mean that we can’t revel in those beautifully crafted moments in *The Empire Strikes Back*. Spoilers in the internet age are more omnipresent than ever, and it would be a tragedy to stifle discussion about media texts in an effort to save people’s first viewing experiences. We should definitely respect the wishes of those who would prefer uninfluenced first readings/viewings/playthroughs, but maybe we could all do with a little more lightness on the matter. Who knows, maybe the spoiler will make you enjoy the experience that much more.

What do you think? Do you hate me forever for putting spoilers in this article? Are people who fear spoilers ridiculous? Drop us a comment below.


Double Take; How Do We Responsibly Respond To ISIS

Recently, I came across an article in the New York Times that stopped me dead. Entitled “U.S. tracks citizens joining ISIS”, it revealed how many Americans were joining the organization and how the U.S. was responding. Though we know what ISIS is doing, and though we are beginning to respond, we are not sure what the long-term plan should be. This article, and two passages from it in particular, provided a much-needed opportunity for discussing in a critical register how we are responding now; and once we can do that, we can begin to form a more coherent idea of what our responsibility here could be.

The first quote that struck me in this regard was:

“The F.B.I.’s psychological analysts at Quantico, Va., armed with court-approved powers, are increasingly monitoring the activities of Americans who have expressed extremist views in jihadist chat rooms and on websites.”

Instantly, I reacted with feelings of unease attached to the notion of a surveillance state. However, on closer inspection, I found some solace in the fact that the F.B.I. is keeping tabs with increased intensity on Americans who “have expressed extremist views.” This means that the F.B.I. is not keeping a closer watch on anyone who visits a jihadist chat room or website. People compiling research, say, on jihadist psychology themselves and visit appropriate chat rooms and websites as voyeurs are not going to be regarded with suspicion. Those who are being seen as conspicuous are not, as far as this article tells us, citizens who want to stay informed, curious to see how the other half thinks. Those whom the F.B.I. is watching are the other half, those expressing extremist views, presumably sympathetic to the aims of ISIS.

And yet, with all this in mind, the feeling of unease persists. Why? Because this is the qualification on increased F.B.I. surveillance for the time being. What’s worrying is what may come next, especially when we realize how ambiguous the term “expression” is in an age of media sharing. There are subtle forms of participation – for instance, if I share the video of James Foley’s beheading, am I expressing jihadist views? Am I propagating ISIS propaganda? We must have some sort of solid basis for discriminating between expressions of terrorist support and attempts to stay informed about a terrorist group and understand their character.

(And yes, the quote reads that the F.B.I. does this with “court-approved powers” – but are these courts open to the public? Will we have a say in where the line is drawn between one half and the other?)

And the second quote, found at the end of the article:

“New attention was focused on ISIS on Thursday when The Washington Post reported that the group had waterboarded at least four of its Western hostages. The hostages were tortured in other ways as well, American officials said, but the waterboarding disclosure was considered significant because the practice was used during the George W. Bush administration on detainees held in the fight against terrorism.”

We know that ISIS has waterboarded Western hostages; we also know that the group dressed Foley in Guantanamo Bay attire for his beheading. There is a definite system of symbols here, within which is a message aimed at the United States. And this language is horrific, using as it does the destruction of human lives as signs and signifiers. But the proper attitude towards these atrocities cannot be censorious. We must pay attention to what ISIS is communicating to us, which means that we must stay informed. The trouble is: if we feel that we could be judged a threat for viewing material disseminated by ISIS, if we feel that our search for information might be misjudged an expression of solidarity with terrorists, then we will be living in a cultural climate that actively discourages understanding. If we are to form an idea of what a long-term course of action in response to ISIS crimes should be, then we have to feel free to look at many sides of the situation without worrying that we’ll be put on some sort of list.


Image credit: Video still via NBC News



Book Lists and A List of Books

In case you have not noticed, I am quite the fan of making lists. This trait extends far beyond my presence here on The Independent’s blog, and is actually something that is present in my life on a day to day basis. From shopping lists, to homework lists, to lists of things I need to organize a list for, the idea of the list is central component to my daily functioning. Yet my favorite of these lists is my reading list, my organized collection of what books I read when in college, something that will undoubtedly be of great importance and use to my future self.

But why a list of books I’ve read? After all, don’t we have bookshelves and www.goodreads.com for that? There is a distinguishable quality of self-satisfaction that emerges when one commits pen to paper to record our literary successes. Not quite perverse, there is a clear sense of accomplishment and triumph when one looks down and sees the title of a book and its author written under the glorious header of “Books Read During [insert season] [insert year].” The reader has claimed ownership not of the novel, but of the time spent reading it. Years from now, we can look back at this moment and say, “Yes, during this time of my life, I embarked upon this collection of literary adventures.”

To provide a visualization of this phenomenon, here is the list of books I read this past summer:

  1.     William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope by Ian Doescher
  2.     So Much to Do: A Full Life of Business, Politics, and Confronting Crises by Richard Ravitch
  3.     The Spy Who Loved Me by Ian Fleming
  4.     In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson
  5.     Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  6.     A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  7.     Looking for Alaska by John Green
  8.     One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  9.     Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  10.  The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
  11.  Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn
  12.  Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn
  13.  The Last Command by Timothy Zahn

Actually possessing a physical list you can look at not only provides the pleasure of recording and marking the time with these novels, but also allows you to easily ensure you are reading varied assortment of literature. It also provides an easy way to compare what you have read at different times and challenge yourself to read a greater quantity of more complex works. But most of all, it is just a fun way to mark out your intellectual swim in the sea of boundless literary canon.


Image credit: az / Flickr

Christos Kotsakis / Flickr

The Five Stages of Coursework Denial


Stage 1  – Willful Ignorance:  The first, and most common phase of procrastination. Observed subjects are frequently seen socializing, consuming foods, watching videos on YouTube, or contentedly scrolling through Facebook. Most do not exhibit any physiological signs of stress or concern and behave as though no danger is present.

Stage 2 – Passing Concern: Subjects entering the second phase begin to show signs of distraction in whatever activity currently occupies them. Chats become more frantic and newsfeeds scroll aimlessly and erratically as the looming work begins to infringe on the subject’s worldview. Subjects have been seen to communicate to their peers, saying that they are “So totally fucked for Econ tomorrow, bro” or “Definitely working on that paper but just going to watch some OITNB first”.

Stage 3 – Intense Stress: After the first two phases, which are characterized chiefly by their capacity to redirect focus, subjects must confront the presence of approaching deadlines. Responses at this stage are extremely varied, but all subjects are seen to exhibit severe physical disturbances ranging from tears to severe sweat, and reach for some source of comfort, as with many subjects’ purchasing of yogurt-covered pretzels or candy bars. In their varied states of panic, most subjects remove themselves from potential social situations, isolating themselves in cubicles or classrooms and avoiding contact on social media.

Stage 4 – Caffeine-Induced Productivity: Though closely related to Stage 3, the fourth stage appeared in a large enough sample of our subjects that we thought it relevant to deem separate. This stage, though not always exhibited in subjects, takes a firm hold over any that do exhibit its symptoms. Seemingly unsatisfied with the speed of their work, Stage 4 subjects quickly move to vending machines, coffee houses, or markets to purchase large quantities of caffeinated beverages. The choice of beverage appears to largely arise from the preferences of the individual subject, but weather conditions seem to influence consumption patterns as well. Subjects rapidly drink their coffee, energy drink, or other fluid of choice, apparently increasing the speed of their typing and/or reading. Actual increased productivity remains a contested issue, as some subjects spent significant time taking repeated trips to restrooms.

Stage 5 – Existential Despair: The deepest and darkest phase of the courseload process, students enter Stage 5 as they suffer through multiple consecutive hours of work in the late evening or early morning, with deadlines rapidly approaching. Here, subjects seem to lose control of motor functions which normally support their posture and social consciousness shuts down, leaving them in a slumped state, isolated from the world. Subjects entering Stage 5 from Stage 4 typically experience a severe caffeine crash, sometimes accompanied by headache and serious lack of focus. Many considered consuming more of their chosen beverage but instead reported concerns that “There’s no way I’m paying another $5.40 for a pumpkin spice latte” or “I think four Red Bulls is probably too many in one day.” Subjects deep into Stage 5 may leave cryptic statuses on social media networks or email their professors asking for last-minute extensions. Exiting Stage 5 is a complicated process that involves, for many subjects, one or more of the following: finishing the work, claiming “Fuck it, it’s good enough”; extended periods of sleep; extended periods of alcohol consumption; consumption of a comfort food, frequently macaroni and cheese mixed with a healthy dose of regret-flavored Burnett’s.





Seal the Deal: Five Surefire Ways to Stay in School

Every year, Georgetown draws countless applications from driven, motivated students—just like you! And at $65,000 a year, you really need to make the most of your time here. Your parents worked hard to get you in, after all! Yet year after year, students fall by the wayside, never making it to graduation. A number of factors play into this: stress, family troubles, substance abuse, and the omnipresence of an enormous, graduation-ending seal at the center of campus.

Here at the Indy, we’re looking out for the next generation of Hoyas. That’s why we’ve crafted this foolproof five-step guide to make sure you don’t do something stupid like drop out, transfer, get expelled, or take the main entrance to most significant, iconic building on campus.

1. Don’t overbook yourself! 

Let’s face it, we all signed up for too many clubs at SAC fair. Doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman or a super-senior; if they have a slick t-shirt design or free food, you’re going to put down your NetID. It’s too easy! But once the year gets into full swing, you need to be careful about spending too much time with student groups. Better to focus on grades and stick with one or two clubs you really care about. Otherwise, you’ll be going to that Philodemic interest meeting and you’re dressed up and in a rush and even though you know the room is in Healy, you don’t think about it and you walk in and BOOM! You just stepped on the seal. Have fun explaining to your parents why you wasted their life savings!

2. Party smart!

Look, we’ve all been to that party where the jungle juice is way too good, or met that blonde girl who kept calling you a pussy for stopping at twelve shots. Maybe you got caught up serving liquored-up watermelon on the Village A rooftop. Point is, it happens to the best of us. But in order to succeed at Georgetown, you need to learn to pace yourself. Remember, alcohol screws with your motor functions and impairs your ability to think things through; if you decide to take that shortcut through Healy (always a bad idea), you might not even fully process the situation before you’ve waltzed right through the front door and HOLY SHIT REMEMBER WHAT’S RIGHT OUTSIDE THE FRONT DOOR??? Yep, you’re done and it doesn’t matter that you were inebriated — a seal is a seal. They didn’t make you do alcohol.edu for no reason!

3. Skip a class here and there!

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: what a hypocrite! But you don’t want to get too caught up in the monotony and routine of classes, day after day. You need to remind yourself that you’re in control! You don’t owe the school anything; in fact, you’re paying for those classes. Learn to enjoy them! And to do that, you need to know that you can leave. You can leave as much as you want, in fact. After all, that class might be in Healy, and that just amps up the risks of stepping on that pesky seal. The fewer classes you go to, to lower your odds are. Think about this: if your class is in New North, you might take Healy as a shortcut. Same if you’re coming back from class and you live in Village C! And one wrong step is all it takes. You know what? Just don’t go to class at all. It’s not worth it; too much risk.

4. Stay away from non-students!

Non-students are fun to hang out with. Whether they’re recent graduates or friends from other schools or pals from the office, it’s nice to talk to someone whose private bubble of existence varies from your own. But non-students are dangerous. They have weird friends you don’t know, they have money to eat places you’re embarrassed you can’t afford, and they do things that we Hoyas just find WEIRD. For instance, when you take them to campus they might mix up Wisey’s and Healthy Wisey’s (no, it’s not “Wisemiller’s,” go back to Foggy Bottom), or refer to Lau 3 as Lau 1, or walk on the Georgetown seal. Do you realize that they can DO that? Like it’s nothing! Nothing happens to them! If you’re not a current student, you’re out of the loop, and spending too much time with them might mean you pick up their habits. So just stop hanging out with them. That professor who offered to boost your grade? Not worth it. That friend you haven’t seen in ten years? He was always a loser anyway. Your mother? Meh, you’ll call her when you graduate. For as long as you’re here, every one of them is a threat, just waiting for the day you let your guard down.

5. Transfer!

You know what, just leave. It’s not worth it. No prestigious diploma or Deloitte internship is worth living four years in constant fear. So just drop out or sign the transfer forms or something. GW can’t be THAT bad… right?

Mortal remains of a Viking

Vikings and Women: Maybe Not Warriors, But Still Pretty Awesome

A few weeks ago, an article was published on Tor.com with the title “Better Identification of Viking Corpses Reveals: Half of the Warriors Were Female”. This “news” quickly blew up on sites around the web including Reddit, and was even picked up by publications such as the Globe and Mail. However, it was quickly revealed that the article was based on a misrepresentation of a 2011 paper by Shane McLeod titled “Warriors and women: the sex ratio of Norse migrants to eastern England up to 900 AD”. This article explained that many previous archaeologists had misidentified female Viking remains as male because they were buried with weapons. It asserted that many more Viking migrants were women than previously thought, and that women were sometimes buried with weapons, but made no claims about women’s presence on the front lines of battle.

Before people get too disappointed, though, we should remember that just because Viking women weren’t warriors as frequently as men doesn’t mean they were just sitting at home with babies, which the Tor article suggests is the alternative. Viking women could be quite powerful and influential in their culture—one of the most famous and lavish ship burials, the Oseberg ship, contained two women. Women were also held to the same standards as men in terms of honor; this can be seen in how they are portrayed in Norse literature. One saga where this is very apparent is the Saga of the Volsungs, which was written in late 13th century Iceland but based on earlier oral tradition. It contains the famous story of Sigurd the dragon slayer, but he only appears in about half the story; the saga is bookended by the tales of two women whose families have been killed by their current husband. Both women orchestrate the utter destruction of their husband and his followers almost singlehandedly, and are applauded for their actions, since they have fulfilled the societal obligations of taking revenge for their murdered families.

As a woman who also loves medieval history, I can see why it might be tempting from a modern perspective to propagate claims that women were out there pillaging and fighting with the men. However, as awesome as the idea of the empowered shieldmaiden is, it was not the norm—and we shouldn’t pretend that is was. But that doesn’t make actual historical women any less important or any less interesting, and we should respect their contributions to their societies, which were much more than just staying home and having babies. Until actual archaeological evidence confirms it, though, we shouldn’t allow wishful thinking to interfere with journalism or history.


The 5 Most Badass Historical Badasses In Movies

Whatever happened to the badass American president? The type of person who could ride a moose into battle and hoist the banners of freedom high with a bullet between the teeth! Theodore Roosevelt and Andrew Jackson are prime examples of such historical badassees. After all, Andrew Jackson let a man have the first shot in a duel just to be sporting. The stereotypical archetype of the badass has permeated throughout the film medium; what many might not know is that these film badasses are often based on historical figures that existed! Whether the individual is a hero or villain, audiences love a historical badass. Here are some of the ones that left the greatest impression on us.

1. Bill “The Butcher” Cutting (Gangs of New York, 2002)

Played by Daniel Day-Lewis in Martin Scorsese’s sprawling epic about Lower Manhattan’s Five Points in the second half of the 19th century, Bill Cutting is a gangster who rules with an iron first and dispenses justice at the end of his butcher’s cleaver. Cutting describes himself as a patriot and fervently believes that America belongs to those who fought and bled for her freedom, not to the newly arrived Irish immigrants. When he’s not monologuing about American honor, Cutting is juggling knives, engaging in urban warfare on the streets of New York, and drinking beverages that are on fire. His real life inspiration was William Poole, the leader of the New York City Bowery Boys gang who also was a boxer and leader of the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant Know Nothing political movement.

2. Maximus Decimus Meridius (Gladiator, 2000)

Played by Russell Crowe, Maximus is a Roman general turned slave turned gladiator seeking vengeance for his murdered wife and son. And the person he is trying to take vengeance on is the detestable Roman emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix’s performance inspired Jack Gleeson’s performance as Joffrey in Game of Thrones, so you know he’s a classic S-O-B)! Maximus does not take any shit: he is willing to kill those who get in his way and challenge the very conventions of the bloodthirsty Roman Coliseum. An amalgam of historical figures including Maximus of Hispania, Marcus Nonius Marcrinus, and Spartacus, Maximus is a hero for the ages. Russell Crowe’s Academy Award-winning performance filled Maximus, a character who may seem cliché on paper, with so much life, nuance, and overall untamed badassery.

3. Frank Lucas (American Gangster, 2007)

Denzel Washington’s perforamnce as Harlmen’s heroin kingpin during the 1970s is absolutely fantastic. The film follows Lucas’ rise and fall as he struggles to build and maintain his drug empire. Distinguishing himself from other gangsters and drug dealers by his usual restraint from violence and business-focused mindset, Lucas has to contend not only with the DEA, but with the ire of the racist Italian gangs and infighting with his African American constituents. Much like Bill the Butcher, Frank Lucas is not a model citizen, but the audience respects his way of dealing with problems and utter determination to succeed.

4. Moritsugu Katsumoto (The Last Samurai, 2003)

Before narrating Godzilla’s exploits, Ken Watanabe was kicking all types of ass in this historical epic. Based on Saigo Takamori, the leader of the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion, Katsumoto not only leads the rebellion and makes the necessary sacrifices, but also works to convert Tom Cruise’s character to the side of the samurai. The most badass moments of the film come from Katsumoto’s heartfelt acceptance of what he considers to be his duty for Japan, even if it will cost him and his men their lives and place him in direct opposition to the Emperor. A badass without parallel in the film, Katsumoto’s fully deserves his place on this list.

5. Leonidas (300, 2007)

This film may not be entirely historically accurate, but the last stand of Leonidas and the 300 Spartans has entered Western popular culture as one of the most historically significant moments of bravery and badassery, and the film adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel captures the popular feeling in Western mentality about this event. Gerard Butler plays Leonidas perfectly and stands out as a bona fide badass, serving up sass to Xerxes even when outnumbered and refusing to ever surrender. With many inspirational speeches about standing resolute and refusing to surrender, and the violent killings in battle to back up his words, the Leonidas of 300 makes up for any badassery his true life counterpart may have lacked.

The Land of the Buy One, Get One Free

I was reading up on last Thursday’s fast food workers’ strikes, the most recent in a campaign of protests and walk-outs dating back to November 2012 and organized primarily by Fast Food Forward, a group dedicated to securing collective bargaining rights for fast food workers. September 4th marked a significant turning point for Fast Food Forward, if you haven’t already heard; hundreds of protesters were arrested or detained while demonstrating for a wage increase to $15 an hour from the federal minimum of $7.25, on which many struggle to survive. I was all set to talk about the revitalized American labor movement, and then I was distracted by this advertisement.

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It appeared in the margins of this New Yorker article, an in-depth look at the fast food workers’ movement. It was positioned less than two inches from a heart-rending profile of a McDonald’s employee and single mother struggling to survive on a wage that is, in reality, a death sentence.

Now, my understanding of the internet is sketchy at best, but I’m pretty sure ads like this (unlike sponsored content) are randomly paired with webpages, making the juxtaposition deeply ironic rather than offensive. But it’s also revelatory about what we, as a culture, value.

Just look at what subtext is encoded along with this conventionally good-looking, racially ambiguous, 21 – 34-year-old man. In case you’ve been dazzled by his smouldering gaze, the point of the ad is that you can buy things faster with PayPal. But not just that you can buy things faster with PayPal. It’s couched in the language of our Declaration of Independence — you are free to buy things faster with PayPal. It is your inalienable human right to buy things faster with PayPal. Life, liberty and the ability to buy things faster with PayPal: it’s the American way. (It’s worth remembering that Jefferson did jack the whole natural rights business from John Locke, whose big three were life, liberty, and property.) Our culture is one of easy consumption, whether it’s online shopping or fast food.

But what if you can’t afford it? What if, like fast food workers making $15,000 a year, you struggle to pay your rent and feed yourself and your children, let alone maintain health insurance or — heavens forbid — buy anything for pleasure. How can you participate in the American dream then?

Maybe the notion that the American dream is fundamentally classist and based on a culture of consumption isn’t exactly a bombshell. But advertisements that so flagrantly conflate consumerism and patriotism are a disheartening reminder that while wage increases and collective bargaining rights are an important goal, they treat the effects of late-stage capitalism, not the cause.


How to Become a Weed Warrior (a.k.a. a Boss Ass Bitch)

Since it’s the beginning of the semester, you may be looking for some ways to expand your involvement in extracurricular activities and/or improve yourself. If you’re feeling uninspired about how to do this, just follow Nicki Minaj’s advice in her song “Boss Ass Bitch”. Nicki gives some clear steps that can be applied to pretty much any aspect of life; for example, if you love nature, you can use her advice to guide you as you become a DC Weed Warrior and help remove invasive species from local parks. Non-native plants such as English Holly threaten to overtake native species in local parks, such as Glover Archibald Park near campus, but the Weed Warriors are fighting back.

Following Nicki’s advice, here’s how you can get involved.

Step 1: Never let someone try to play you.

Obviously, these invasive species are trying to play you and make you think they belong in our forests. Don’t let that happen. You’re better than that.

Step 2: If they try to play you, sleep with their best friends and rub it in their face.

The alternative here for a Weed Warrior is to cut up the invasive plants with a machete, similar to the way Nicki Minaj cuts up her rejected man’s heart with her actions.

Step 3: Wear a lot of flashy jewelry.

There’s no rule that you can’t look fly while you protect the forest.

If this sounds appealing to you, which it definitely should, you can go to the District Department of the Environment’s website and find more information about how to become a Weed Warrior. It’s a fairly straightforward process–you have to take some online classes and then a field course where you learn how to manage non-native plant species. Just remember to embrace your inner Boss Ass Bitch environmentalist.


VHS Is the New Black?

Real-life surrealism alert: today in a FILM THEORY class a group of about 20 students STUDYING FILM uncomfortably dug through memories to find the first movie they had ever seen on celluloid. We live in the future now, because the first student who spoke up asked “Does VHS count?” followed in kind by the rest of us. Virtually none of us could tell if we had ever seen a movie projected through physical film, or if we had only been around for digital.

“Why?!?” you shout at your monitor, nearly flinging your coffee aside, “would anyone care about this?”

“Well,” I say, gingerly repositioning your mug, “maybe nobody should care! But, at the very least, isn’t it weird that I have no idea whether I’ve seen something on physical film or not?”

Because that’s the unsettling bit – it’s not that I was born too late, missed the celluloid boat – I honestly can’t tell if my first cinematic experiences were shot on 16mm or projected from a hard drive.

Also, “Something something ‘The medium is the message’,” says the film studies textbook, and I definitely agree with it. Watching experiences can be radically different depending on how and where they occur: my viewing of The Land Before Time on VHS on a tiny portable CRT on a childhood road trip is decidedly a different experience than Guardians of the Galaxy last month in digital 3D in theaters.

While I can’t personally tell off the top of my head whether or not my film memories are digital or analog, the experience at the time would have been different. Film strips need more dedicated projectionist work, portray color differently, and operate in mechanically different ways from a digital distribution. VHS works differently from DVD, even if the difference comes down to the “Be kind, rewind!” stamp on the top side. Remember, folks, Michel Gondry actually made a whole movie about that.

A whole bunch of critics and scholars have written a whole bunch of essays and books about this stuff and this is but a lowly blog post. But the relevant part in media studies is often spectatorship and audience experiences, so the stuff we see and think about matters. VHS is the new film strip and CDs are our vinyl, and that’s something worth paying attention to.