Reality TV: The Illusion of Real

Where does the “real” stop and the “fake” begin?

Reality TV is a defining facet of our era. Its emergence coincided with the beginning of television itself, and since has branched out into an innumerable amount of subgenres.

From game shows to survival shows, competition shows, dating shows, and many different variations on some sort of American family drama, each gives us a glimpse into the lives of different people. But how real are these perceived “glimpses?”

Not only are many popular reality shows scripted, directed, and heavily edited, these shows are carefully constructed to mimic a standard fictional narrative. Each episode has an overarching problem, a build-up, a climax, and a resolution.

The people that are portrayed fit into character roles that have been around since the beginning of storytelling: protagonists, antagonists, love interests, etc.

I began to question how much of the stories are fabricated.

Each show is clearly packaged in a way that makes them easy to watch, through the use of common story tropes and themes that the viewer can recognize.

This is fair enough, since most of us enjoy consuming media that does not require much critical thought or drastic change to our emotions. We watch it simply because it’s comforting.

Although we can accept that reality TV is a large part of our culture and used as a source of comfort for many people, it is important to acknowledge that reality TV is not a true representation of our reality.

Take reality TV show “Floribama Shore,” for example. A spin off of MTV’s classic “Jersey Shore,” the show features eight adults who live together in a house on the Gulf Coast. I’ve only watched the show in passing, but everything about it is ironically bad (especially the name), so much so that it reads as a parody of the original. But it’s not, and it checks all the required boxes of a reality show, and has a solid viewership.

Cast members Jeremiah Buoni and Gus Smyrnios play the roles of protagonist and antagonist respectively, with their rivalry extending through all four seasons. Smyrnios plays the black sheep of the crew, Buoni is the “hero,” who doesn’t shy away from confronting Smyrnios on his wrongdoings.  Cast member Nilsa Prowant fills the role of the sweet and pretty one, and Aimee Hall is the loud and outspoken one (you get the gist). The cast is branded as a family that, despite their differences, always make up.

We watch this in relation to our own lives, classifying the characters as their tropes and their actions on camera, and nothing more. But these are real people, and this is not how reality works, and using this as a source of comfort can be troubling to our perception of life.

Like the original, “Floribama Shore” has its fair share of drama, scandals, fights, secrets, and sex.

In fact, reality shows can only exist on the premise of ubiquitous problems. Shows like “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” and “Real Housewives” thrive off interfamilial disagreements and tumultuous friendships. Viewers would be generally uninterested in a reality show that had no conflict — so why is it that we love watching all these disagreements and in-fighting?

It can be said in this case that media must imitate real life to be of any interest to us, which is the exact purpose reality TV serves.  It capitalizes on the portrayal of our own insecurities and problems, and we consume it because it makes us comfortable with our imperfect lives.

Seeing someone make a fool out of themselves, or say something so tone deaf you choke a little just makes us… feel better.

The issue with reality TV, then, is that we perceive these people as real, as that is how they are portrayed. The stars are simultaneously characters and real people, but what we see of them is entirely constructed. By watching these shows, we accept that these people are just like us, because the lines between real and fake are completely blurred.

Although their problems might reflect on our own, the events are dramatized for the screen and therefore not a true representation of our realities. It is harmful to idolize these people for being real as they are simply an illusion of what is real.


Collage by James Fay


The anatomy of a girlboss scammer

The fraudulent feminist and fashion icon that is Anna Delvey

If you know about the story of Anna Sorokin, better known under the alias Anna Delvey, you probably have an opinion on her.

Her instagram comment section, full of people who either admire her or hate her, is jumping from “#DeportAnna” to “#FreeAnna.”

The Russian-German con artist and fraudster rose to fame in 2019 for going on trial after not only defrauding banks, financial institutions, and hotels by pretending to be a German heiress, but tricking New York high society into believing her scam.

After her story was made public by journalist Jessica Pressler in the New York magazine, she became an overnight sensation.

This fame also culminated into the hit Netflix series, Inventing Anna, based on the events surrounding her scamming activities and her trial.

Not only did people wonder how she got away with her crimes for so long, but they lusted after her opulent demands — some as tone-deaf as asking her defense council to hire a wardrobe stylist for her during the oh-so-famous trial.

From her designer-styled courtroom attire to her angelic and innocent-looking expression, people loved the idea of Anna Delvey because she embodied what some of us wish we could do: scam the elites.

Delvey knew what she was doing. Coupled with the fact that she coped with the stress of unpaid debts by continuing to live a life of luxury, her antics even made some of us think we must be too conservative in our side-hustles.

She did what the rest of us — trapped in a capitalist economy — choose not to do based on rationality: living in a fantasy world, where money is never a problem.

Although she was found guilty of attempted grand larceny, larceny in the second degree, and theft of services, many refuse to see her as a criminal. Instead she’s perceived as an embodiment of class struggle — she grabbed the American Dream in a chokehold, all without connections.

After all, the reason why she was able to keep up with the character of Anna Delvey for so long was the ease with which she navigated the world of the one per cent, just by knowing what to say, how to dress, who to hang out with, and where to be.

Her story pulled back the curtain of how the rich do not become successful based on natural selection but more so on the basis of whether or not one can “fit the part.”


Faking Old Money

She confirmed what many hypothesized about the elite: that it’s all a facade of appearances.

Delvey became one of them by seeing past what a regular person perceives wealth to be. Instead, she isolated a persona of the rich white chick that buys her t-shirts from The Row just because she can, not because it looks expensive. She saw the nonchalance and aloofness behind the rich — if you have that much money, might as well show it and don luxurious brands for people to respect you. And that’s how Anna acted.

This explains why so many of the people she scammed were embarrassed: how can a 20-something con woman with no degree and no connections screw us, big men of Wall Street in suits?

I would say, props to her for breaking through another glass ceiling.

As the character of Neff, a friend of Anna, in Inventing Anna said it best: “You are the real fucking deal.”

But not everyone could have pulled off such an act and still make a career as a #girlboss after serving her sentence.

We could easily compare Anna Delvey to the case of Elizabeth Holmes, who also was the muse of a fictional TV show, The Dropout.

Holmes was an entrepreneur in the biotechnology industry who scammed her investors into thinking her revolutionary method of blood testing could detect a person’s complete health profile, which turned out to be false.

Both of these scammers dropped out of college and were trying to pursue something bigger than themselves in fields dominated by men.

What differentiates Delvey from Holmes though, is that the victims of Delvey’s crimes were the common enemy of the average middle-class millennial: the rich.

On top of that, Delvey’s rich-girl-from-Europe-who-doesn’t-give-a-fuck style saves her from a comparison to Holmes, who claims to draw inspiration from Steve Jobs by wearing the same black turtleneck everyday.

Delvey tried to pass as an elite to scam them out of their money; Holmes tried to pass as a business tech mogul to scam the middle-class by making them trust her technology for their health.

In classic scammer fashion, both women changed their appearance, demeanor, and for Holmes, her voice, to fit their bigger agenda.

In the end, both women created characters; except Delvey’s was likable enough to grant her the respect and icon status that many grant her.


Collage by Catherine Reynolds


Kanye West and the mental illness of the rich and famous

How should we support someone struggling as the world’s watching


Over the past two weeks, Ye’s (born Kanye West) activity on social media — particularly the direct and indirect intimidation of his ex-wife Kim Kardashian and her new boyfriend Pete Davidson, which has culminated in Ye kidnapping and assaulting a caricature reminiscent of Davidsons in his latest Eazy music video  — has garnered a tremendous amount of attention from the public and the media alike.

While public discourse on the situation has fixated on Ye’s manipulative behaviour towards Kim Kardashian, the lack of coverage surrounding Kanye’s mental state during this period neglects a key aspect in understanding the situation.

In no way, shape or form do I condone Ye’s behaviour towards the Kardashians or Davidson, which is real harassment, but whatever the motivations and intentions are behind his actions are independent of the fact that clearly Ye’s mental health is deteriorating at an alarming rate.

I want to clarify that I have no academic or professional qualifications in psychology, and that this article should not be interpreted as a professional diagnosis.

Ye’s actions are eerily similar to the actions of those close to me that have had similar mental health problems. His use of cropped photographs, entirely capitalized text, and the lack of consistent timing between his posts are all things I have witnessed my loved ones do in similar situations.

The only difference is that Ye is one of, if not the, most public examples of an artist struggling with mental health issues.

It often goes without question that those who thrust themselves into the public eye do so at the mercy of the public — a public eager to strip you from privacy. But in any parasocial relationship, the extent to which we as the public feel entitled to private information and the ethical responsibility that comes with our access to Ye’s psyche has yet to be defined.

The fact that Ye has shared these details of his own volition complicates the issue, but this only shifts the ethical responsibility onto our individual and collective response. Ye has decided to make this situation public, but we have decided to make it a spectacle.

I noticed scrolling through Ye’s Instagram feed that the same people are commenting the same things on every new post. “Amen pastor Ye,” “Ye helping people more than the president. Ye 2024,” “Ye the GOAT no CAP!” Beyond these consistent “Kanye stans,” most commenters have been far less empathetic to Ye. The one sentiment that these Ye stans and Ye haters share is the lack of concern for Ye himself.

Maybe the Ye memes and “shit-posts” are reflective of the larger sentiment that those in positions of privilege and wealth are less deserving of our collective empathy. But if anything, Ye’s sporadic behaviour reveals that no amount of money can provide a substitute for a healthy support system.

On Thursday, Feb. 17, Ye posted a clip to his Instagram from a 2018 episode of Saturday Night Live, in which Davidson made the assertion addressed to Ye that “Being mentally ill is not an excuse to act like a jackass.” Responding to the controversy, Ye claimed that his latest actions on social media activity was payback for Davidson’s comment.

While I agree with Davidson’s sentiment to a degree, it begs several important questions: is support for someone struggling with mental illness contingent upon their perceived moral integrity? Does the movement to end the stigmatisation of mental illness apply to all, or to the select few deemed worthy?

I’m surprised that the videos of paparazzi provoking Ye to violence in the early 2010’s haven’t been re-examined in our current social climate, especially with the knowledge of his previously undiagnosed mental illness. Even today, headlines like “Kanye Off His Meds and Off His Rocker On Instagram” which are being published in the same era of the “Free Britney” movement, receive mainstream recognition.

It involves a tremendous amount of cognitive dissonance not to connect the two.  Both musicians’ struggles with their mental illness have been exacerbated by media coverage, but where Spears has received a sort of moral reckoning, Ye’s struggles are still seen as appropriate topics of gossip and scandal.

In hindsight, how much can the public’s perception of Ye as a primadonna figure be discerned from misconceptions and prejudices surrounding mental illness?


Visuals by James Fay


Netflix and Chappelle can’t play harmless

Whether they like it or not, media has always been influential

In 2021, it feels strange to still see debate around the influence the media has on real world events. I think of the 1994 movie Natural Born Killers, which was suspected to have inspired a slew of copycat crimes. I think of Stephen King’s 1977 novel Rage, which he allowed to fall out of print after incidents resembling those in the plot occurred after publication. And as a journalism student, of course I think of the industry’s mistakes. How perpetrators of mass violence have been sensationalized, then idolized and imitated. Or what about all the harm the media has caused Indigenous peoples, while ignoring the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirits, Even if a case is covered, the media usually perpetuates racist stereotypes through their coverage.

If you have any doubts about how powerful media can be, might I remind you about how misinformation helped elect Donald Trump in 2016, then caused a domestic terrorist attack at the U.S. Capitol? Or how about how misinformation about COVID-19 has led to confusion and resistance to public health measures? And, combined with centuries-long racist media, led to a spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

That’s why Netflix Co-CEO and Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos’s recent comments about veteran comedian Dave Chappelle’s controversial new Netflix special The Closer are so ridiculous.

Saraondo said, “With The Closer, we understand that the concern is not about offensive-to-some content but titles which could increase real world harm (such as further marginalizing already marginalized groups, hate, violence etc.) Last year, we heard similar concerns about 365 Days and violence against women. While some employees disagree, we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm. The strongest evidence to support this is that violence on screens has grown hugely over the last thirty years, especially with first party shooter games, and yet violent crime has fallen significantly in many countries. Adults can watch violence, assault and abuse — or enjoy shocking stand-up comedy — without it causing them to harm others.”

Chappelle’s The Closer spends a lot of time (more than you’d think for a 48-year-old straight man) talking about the LGBTQ+ community. Chapelle’s last special Sticks & Stones was similarly controversial, with jokes (or “jokes,” depending on your perspective) about the LGBTQ+ community, abuse allegations against certain celebrities, and his defence of admitted (but unprosecuted) sex offender and comedian Louis C.K.

Chappelle is undoubtedly influential. He’s an Emmy, Grammy, and Mark Twain prize winner, and arguably one of the most influential comedians of the 21st century. While The Closer does not encourage violence against the trans community, it is harmful.

He fixates on the private parts of trans people, mocks the appearance of queer people, uses slurs, and compares trans women to white people wearing blackface.

Chappelle jokes about rapper DaBaby, who recently made homophobic remarks about HIV/AIDS. Chappelle says DaBaby, “Punched the LBGTQ community right in the AIDS.” He goes on to reference an incident where the rapper shot and killed another Black man in self-defense, which did not negatively affect his career. Chappelle says, “In our country you can shoot and kill a n***** but you better not hurt a gay person’s feelings.” This is the self-proclaimed central idea of The Closer

“I have never had a problem with transgender people… my problem has always been with white people,” he says. But as Black gay activist and writer Kenyon Farrow points out, Chappelle is playing into, “a 30 year-old campaign carried out by Christian Right groups to use LGBT rights as a cultural wedge issue with African-Americans,” and forgetting how many people belong to both groups. Chappelle posits these communities against each other with stories about encounters he’s had with white LGBTQ+ people. He says he is jealous of the progress the LGBTQ+ community has made over a hundred years, and jokes that “If slaves had oil and booty shorts on, we might have been free 100 years sooner.” It’s clear to me that Chappelle is frustrated. I get the impression through his stories that he thinks the LGBTQ+ community is a way for white people to victimize themselves, get away with racism, and distract from the ongoing struggles of the Black community. I understand why Chappelle thinks this way given his age and the life he has led but it’s still unfortunate to see minority groups still be pitted against each other by white supremacist, Christian, and right-wing structures.

As the National Black Justice Coalition points out in their criticism of the special: “With 2021 on track to be the deadliest year on record for transgender people in the United States — the majority of whom are Black transgender people — Netflix should know better. Perpetuating transphobia perpetuates violence.”

It’s such a shame that Chappelle’s standup in the last few years has come to this. In his early career, Danielle Fuentes Morgan, who teaches a course on African American comedy at Santa Clara University, says that he “punch[ed] up, to speak truth to power, to focus his ‘attacks’ on injustices and institutions with discernibly more power than he had.” Punching up or down is a concept usually discussed in the context of comedy. Punching up means criticizing and mocking a person, group of people, or institution with more power than you. Punching down is the reverse. In Chapelle’s case punching up would be white people, the police, the government for example, trans people decidedly belong to a group with less power than the cis-het millionaire. In The Closer, Chapelle acknowledges that he’s been accused of punching down, and wonders what the phrase means. As Morgan writes, “In teaching Chappelle, it’s become increasingly important to address how a person can be marginalized while also marginalizing others.”

I’ve written about the real world impact media has on minorities before, but comedians are a special case. Culturally, comedians have a bit of an outsider/underdog complex that many can’t shake, even when they become famous millionaires. There’s even a common joke that comedians are themselves a minority group. And so they think they can joke about anything, forgetting they have influence, especially in the era of mass-produced, mass-streamed Netflix stand-up comedy.

Many have pointed out the irony and hypocrisy of Sarandos’ recent claims “content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm” even after the platform released Disclosure in 2020, a documentary about the impact of ignorant and inaccurate portrayals of trans people in American cinema. This is the same documentary Sarandos cites in statements following the Chappelle controversy about Netflix’s commitment to inclusion.

No matter what Chapelle, Sarandos, or anyone who whines about cancel culture says, art has impact. Jokes cannot just be jokes, especially not ones aimed at minorities. No, The Closer is probably not going to directly cause someone to go out and commit a hate crime, just like author J.K. Rowling’s trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) essay didn’t. But when hate and ignorance is given a platform, it is normalized and perpetuated and that is what leads to violence and discriminatory legislation.


Photo collage by Catherine Reynolds

Netflix’s dating shows have a sex problem

The streaming service’s roster promises raunchiness but delivers an antiquated scolding

Since the start of the pandemic, Netflix has been pumping out reality shows left and right. Once the place to go for high-concept prestige TV, with early titles like “The Crown” and “House of Cards.” In recent years, Netflix has cast a wider net, venturing into the murky world of dating shows. This move makes sense, as while in lockdown, many yearned to be able to go out and meet new people, with casual dating being risky at best. So, what could be better than absorbing the sexy, flirty, and even awkward experiences of strangers, right from the comfort of your couch?

Unfortunately, Netflix’s quarantine roster did not deliver on the fun raunch viewers have come to expect from reality dating shows. Instead, it doled out a heavy hand of sex-negativity and falsehoods on basic human attraction.

This trend is no more obvious than in the streaming service’s breakout hit “Too Hot to Handle.” In this show, so-called “sex-crazed singles” are lured to an island vacation on the false promise of all-night parties and uninhibited hookups. However, in what can only be described as a horror movie-esque twist, they soon realize that they are actually going to be judged on their ability to remain celibate, while under the pressure of a cash prize that decreases with every sexual indiscretion. The show’s Amazon Alexa-style robot judge posits this test as a way to force the contestants to foster “real” romantic connections with each other, rather than focusing on sex.

What results is a show with a perfectly serviceable amount of relationship drama, where the contestants learn to be “better people” through activities like wellness workshops, and break a few rules along the way. But, despite the moderate fun, always in the background is an impossible-to-ignore puritanical view that casual sex is somehow incompatible with a happy and fulfilling life.

“Too Hot to Handle” is not Netflix’s only show peddling this ideology. Both the recent “Sexy Beasts” and the early-quarantine smash hit “Love Is Blind” fall prey to similarly regressive views. In “Love Is Blind,” singles meet each other through an opaque wall, with only their conversations to connect them. The aim of the show is to foster relationships not built on physical attraction.

Similarly, in “Sexy Beasts” the romantic hopefuls can’t see each other. However, in this show, that is because the contestants are decked out in ridiculous animal and monster prosthetics for their dates. This renders them unrecognizable, and rather ugly. Both of these shows argue that when dating, physicality is the least important indicator of compatibility, and in fact, we should ignore it all together.

The issue is, this isn’t exactly true. For the vast majority of people, physical attraction is, if not very important, at least an influential factor in determining compatibility. While yes, there can be a point in which someone becomes vain or overly obsessed with looks in their partners, as humans, we generally experience sexual attraction as a fundamental fact of life.

With that, pairing couples up with either no clue what each other looks like or no experience with each others’ physical touch could lead to some awkward encounters later down the road when they realize they just aren’t compatible in that way.

But that shouldn’t be punished, right? Simply not being physically or sexually attracted to someone isn’t a moral lapse. All these shows try to convince viewers that the sheer desire to be with someone you find attractive is a non-sequitur to romance and we should try to learn to date differently.

While I think most of us would agree with the cliché that inner beauty is what really matters, and that there are some real issues with contemporary hookup culture, it’s impossible to take physicality out of the equation for the vast majority of people. It begs the question why Netflix’s shows need to demonize this fact of life.

Furthermore, on both “Sexy Beasts” and “Love is Blind,” once faces are revealed (spoiler alert), all the contestants turn out to be wildly conventionally attractive. So, if all the options were thin, young, clear-skinned, seemingly able-bodied people anyway, what sort of message is this even conveying? What are the stakes here?

These shows seem to have to convince the viewer that the show has a reason for existing. Rather than relying on the fact that many of us simply want to watch a bunch of hot dummies create drama with each other like we have for two decades on Bravo and E!, Netflix needs to convince itself these new dating shows are all “social experiments” made to uncover some hidden dirty truths about modern romance. Thus, no, a show where singles dress up in animal prosthetics to go on dinner dates can’t just exist for fun. It must now spoon-feed viewers a moral on the importance of inner beauty. This leads to a series of shows with convoluted rules and uninteresting storylines.  There’s obviously space in the culture for thought-provoking stories on love and relationships, but come on, can’t Netflix just throw us a bone for once?


Photo collage by Kit Mergaert


Google vs. Australia: the first battle for the future of the internet

Google threatens to remove its search engine from Australia

It’s no secret that traditional news media has been having a hard time. The balance of power between news sites and aggregator sites is a fight as old as the internet. In this effort, the Australian government proposed a law last year that would require companies like Google and Facebook to pay to link to news stories.

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the goal of the law is to “address bargaining power imbalances between Australian news media businesses and digital platforms, specifically Google and Facebook.”

It includes a set of rules for the publishers and social sites to adhere to, including publishing “core news,” maintaining editorial standards, and being primarily Australian in origin and intended audience.

However, Google did not take this lying down. About a week ago, a yellow warning sign appeared under the search bar in Australia that linked to an open letter from Google Australia’s managing director, Mel Silvia. They are threatening to shut down Google search from the country if the proposed law takes effect.

Google argues in their statement that this “puts Google’s business in Australia — and the services we provide more than 19 million Australians — at enormous risks,” and this monumental shift to how the internet works would lead to unforeseen consequences.

Google representatives did not respond to The Concordian’s request for comment.

“Many countries are contemplating link taxes or other forms of revenue sharing,” according to Robert Fay, managing director of digital economy at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI).

“In France, for example, Alphabet [Google] has agreed to negotiate licenses to pay for content,” said Fay. That French example is an agreement between news publishers and the Alliance de la Presse d’Information Générale (APIG), where publishers make a deal with Google to showcase their articles in search results for a negotiated fee, rather than just exposure. A similar program called Google News Showcase is in place in Germany and Brazil already.

The Australian law would force Google to pay for links to news sites, not for the content of the articles. 

John Hinds, president of lobbying group News Media Canada, thinks that the Australian model may be the way to go, and stated that “it’s the most effective model because it also has a code of conduct that also deals with some of the advertising issues beyond simply the idea of paying for content.”

The click economy relies on big services such as Facebook and Google to get eyes on pages. It was a mutually beneficial partnership for years, as news sites relied on the coverage that Google and Facebook could give them. In return, pages like Google and Facebook benefitted from consumers using their platforms by both finding and sharing articles. Both publishers and social sites take in ad revenue from the consumer looking at their respective pages.

Delphine Halgand-Mishra, senior fellow at CIGI argued that, “knowing that this article has a production cost to bring reliable information, then it is only fair that the media get a portion of the ad-revenue the online service providers gained thanks to users reading the article and spending time on the platform.”

Fey added that “Google’s concern is likely that if it agrees to what Australia proposes other countries will follow. That boat has left the dock. Google’s ultimatum is not in its best interest since, in the end, it would only lose market share if it begins to pull out of countries.”

This fight comes at a pivotal point in the information age (or misinformation age).

Traditional reporting has been falling on hard times since the internet became commonplace, not just in terms of diminished readership but also in the loss of advertising revenue. Ever since 2000, revenue for newspapers in both advertising and circulation has been unstable and declining, ad revenue dropping 44 per cent between 2006 and 2009 alone. Confidence in the news continues to be low, and layoffs in newsrooms only serve to compound the troubles.

The need for reporting did not go away, however, and reliable information has only since gone up in importance. The internet removed barriers to accessing information, while not proposing a way to pay for said information.

The path forward is not entirely clear now. These rules appear to be in defiance of net neutrality, the idea that the internet is a level playing field. Many different sets of rules are likely to be rolled out across the globe, with Australia and France perhaps only early forerunners of a larger movement.

“New problems could always arise from new legislation,” argued Halgand-Mishra.

“The devil is always in the details. No legislation is ever perfect. I think this legislation will mostly change the way Google pays news providers. Google will not pay in its own terms anymore.”


Graphic by Taylor Reddam


Brave New World and our dystopian society

Critical masterpiece Brave New World by Aldous Huxley outlines the components of a complicit society — one of pleasure and beauty and a drug called soma. Do we share anything in common?

Have you ever done drugs?

Let me dial back a few notches — what is a drug? Is it a substance that alters a state of consciousness? Something that shimmies around your brain chemistry and makes you feel good?

Are drugs something to be wary of? Like a thief in the night, coming to steal your body’s vitamin C supply, which is a common side effect of smoking?

In these strange times, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and its depiction of the drug soma is more relevant and frightening than ever. Our society enjoys drugs in the same way the citizens of the World State do, which is the governing society of Brave New World. This got me thinking: seeing as we are on the brink of complete societal collapse, what is the root function that drugs serve in both of these societies?

Whenever a citizen of the World State has a moment’s pause, or an unpleasant experience, they pop a “gramme” of soma and go on “holiday.” This leaves people with no opportunity or reason to sit and think. It preserves world order.

In present-day North America, we often go on “holiday” like the people of the World State, except in our case, it’s on a screen. We don’t even go number two without zoning out on “holiday” to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, or Youtube. These days, we don’t think critically about our society’s conventional wisdom and we don’t assess our own thoughts and opinions. Did I think of this idea myself, or did I hear it somewhere? Where did I learn this information? Is this source peer-reviewed? Who conducted this research?

Our soma is literally called Crave, could the message be any clearer? What do you call it when you’re up all night binge watching a show — a bender?

According to the digital Harvard Library, in the 1950s, British neuroscientist John R. Smythies researched the stroboscopic effect on “normal individuals.” According to literary scholar and philosopher Anthony Peake, the stroboscopic effect is when flashing lights create a “flicker effect” in front of the eyes — in other words, what a screen does every time it’s on, whether it be a cellphone, tablet, or computer.

In concluding his research, “Smythies compared the strobe’s “power of addiction” to the powerful drug [mescaline].”

News has become reality television and reality television is now scripted. Thirty-minute Netflix series now end in the middle of the story, and we end up in bed watching marathons instead of running them. Is it all a coincidence?

The hard lines of fact and fiction, of journalism and propaganda, of documentary and reality television, are fading. It’s a dangerous thing that, as more content becomes more accessible, more of our time is spent accessing this content. Commercials are now tied right into the series, as the protagonist breaks the fourth wall and nudges to the audience the shameless product placement.

Is this the holiday soma promised?

I’m left with more questions than answers, but maybe that’s a good thing. It’s important to be critical of our surroundings. How is it that a cellphone plan is now an easy $50 a month? I remember making my first budget when I moved out, and there it was, a $50 cut in my broke-berry pie. When did this become an essential cost of living?

This concept that we need our cellphone is a conventional wisdom of our time. You see the little note taped to your door that reminds you what you need before leaving: “Phone. Keys. Wallet.”

Do I need my phone? Or am I experiencing an addiction to the millions of lights flickering on the screen every time I check it for the time, or get a really well-timed targeted ad.

Isolation has only exacerbated the issue. For those of us fortunate enough to have the option to stay home and self-isolate, most of our communication is taking place on a screen. Hell, I’m writing these words on a screen, and you’re reading it off one. We’re now working from our screens, meeting people from our screens, taking exercise classes from our screens, even having essential services like doctors appointments from our screens.

With all this time spent staring at screens, it would be a good idea to screen the content once in a while. Consider the addictive nature of these devices and take a day off. Since the lights off our phones impact our brains like Mescaline, does that mean you’re getting high right now reading this? Soma promises the people of the World State a holiday, but all my screen promises me is a vitamin C supplement for $29.99, and yours can too if you act now.


Graphic by Taylor Reddam


COVID-19: reality or over-exaggeration?

It seems as though most people want to know what is happening where they live concerning COVID-19.

In times like these, the media plays a major role in keeping citizens informed.  However, some people, often ones who believe in irrational conspiracy theories, claim the media is exaggerating to scare the public. Others take advantage of this time of crisis to share false information and create more panic.

Journalists have been, and always will be, judged no matter what they do. If they report on COVID-19, they’re only making things worse and contributing to the panic. But if they don’t, they’re hiding something.

A journalist’s main purpose is to share the truth. And while some people might argue that what the media is saying is false, I would say that as long as they have enough proof to back up their claims, it’s the truth—at least for now. For example, there have been claims that COVID-19 was designed in either the United States or in China. There is no proof verifying the claims. We should only be trusting fact-checked information.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier François Legault hold daily press conferences to keep the public up to date on the COVID-19 situation, both in terms of its spread and in terms of measures to slow it. In my opinion, if they are doing this it’s because this is what citizens want. Besides, even if you don’t want to trust the media, don’t you think you should at least trust your government?

This is a rhetorical question, as I know some would say no.

Take my father as an example. My whole life, I have never seen him watch Canadian news as much as he does now. Every day, he turns on the TV and watches Trudeau and Legault live, then watches Radio-Canada in the evening, because he wants to know how the situation is evolving. It’s during these times of crisis that people need the media the most.

A Concordia University student, Hershey Blackman, created a public Facebook group called MTL Coronavirus on March 13, the day Legault announced that schools, CEGEPs and universities would be closing for at least two weeks.

Blackman explained that he thought it was important for people to have a place to “connect with each other,” and share information about the coronavirus, their feelings, as well as memes, to stay entertained. Every day, there are around 50 new posts, which shows that people on social media want to talk about the virus, whether it’s by discussing their concerns or posting funny memes.

This is another reason why we absolutely need to be careful with the information we see and share. Most people want to know what’s happening, and some are even willing to click on any link including the word “coronavirus” and share it. Always check the source’s credibility.

There have been many cases of false information circulating in reference to the virus—such as a French man who posted a 25-minute video explaining how he thinks COVID-19 was created back in 2004. Radio-Canada confirmed that what he published was false information.

A family doctor from New York City, Mikhail Varshavski, discussed on his YouTube channel how some news outlets and television networks are presenting facts in a manner that scares people. For example, National Geographic published an article titled “Here’s what coronavirus does to the body,” in which, as Varshavski noted, the writer tends to use scary sentences followed by more rationalized explanations.

For this reason, I think people should trust the media, as journalists continue to work hard to report on the situation. Some people will listen and some won’t, it’s that simple. Just like some people have been taking all the possible precautions, staying in quarantine and respecting social distancing, while others are still gathering in groups and leaving their homes unnecessarily.

I think the Montreal Gazette has been doing a very good job of presenting unbiased facts without inflicting anxiety and panic.

While it is a time of fear and anxiety, we must stay cautious about where we get information from. So in the meantime, stay home if you can, FaceTime your friends and family and get your news from credible sources.



Innate Islamophobia is Everywhere

The portrayal of Islam in movies and on TV is, to say the least, tricky.

Spanish hit-series Élite was the first time I saw Muslims on western TV that weren’t al Qaeda or some terrorist trying to bomb a train. At first, it was a breath of fresh air to see the character of Nadia as just another student. Until she goes into the principal’s office and they tell her that in order for her to stay enrolled in the school, she had to remove her hijab. (Remind you of anything… kinda rhymes with Pill Quincy One?).

The new season also showed Nadia without her hijab, and with a new makeover meant to impress her crush. A lot of people were outraged by that, and rightfully so. One, it does imply that she’s not beautiful enough with her hijab to be impressive, and two, there is an underlying theme of oppression and suppression connected with the hijab. It’s as if the headscarf is a metaphor for the ‘tyranny’ that is Islam. As if to say, “take the scarf off, you’re removing the metaphorical veil of oppression and, voila! You’re free.”

Let me ask you something, do you remember Billie Eilish’s campaign with Calvin Klein, where she said the reason she wears baggy clothes is so no one can tell what’s under, and thus not objectify her? My god, people just wouldn’t stop praising her for this amazing and wonderful stance that inspired millions of women! It was seen as a fight against the patriarchy.

Well, you’re all a bunch of hypocrites and are absolutely incapable of moving past built-in bias. No, seriously, people don’t have the ability to emotionally and mentally transcend Islamophobic bias set by years of unfair portrayal, and see it for what it actually is. The point of the Hijab is humility, and exactly what Eilish said. The problem didn’t start, nor will it end, with Nadia in Élite. The problem is you. It’s all of us, really.

Look inside you, people. Have you ever caught yourself looking pitifully at a woman in a niqab? That’s problematic. Looking at headscarves at the same level we do a woman or child with bruises over their bodies is fundamentally wrong, and although your intentions might be good, your lack of understanding that it is most likely a choice hurts more than helps.

Yes, in places like Saudi Arabia and Iran, women are forced to cover up. And yes, I’m against that, but that’s a cultural thing and not a religious one. The Quran gives general intrusctions, and the Hadith, the sayings and actions of the prophet Muhammad, gives details. It’s important to remember that what was written then doesn’t need to have the same interpretation today. Most muslim women choose to wear the hijab. Most muslim women want to cover up. I know at least three women who put the hijab on at a young age, and then decided to remove it. MY MOTHER REMOVED HER HIJAB AT ONE POINT. Granted, she put it on at 11-years-old and removed it about a month later, but the point remains that it is a choice; it’s a worldly representation of your Faith.

The word Islam literally means surrender, and letting go of worldly vanities is a step into surrender; like monks living in Kathmandu, or Sufis wandering and letting go of physical possessions. It’s meant to be a physical representation of what your priorities are: my appearance doesn’t matter as much as my intentions; ‘I will cover the outside so you can get to know me on the inside first.’

Some Middle Eastern cultures have let an innate patriarchy warrant a rather patriarchal interpretation of Islam. There’s an entire conversation that should happen about Islam being “anti-feminist,” because this is truthfully an atrocious lie.

There is a difference between religion and culture disguised under religious pretenses. The way Nadia was portrayed in Élite is just an example of how the media doesn’t distinguish between these two things. It’s time we learn to differentiate, and realize that what TV teaches you isn’t always what’s real – unrealistic beauty standards? Unrealistic portrayal of the hijab. It goes both ways.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


How drug use and addiction is covered by media

When I was a kid, I was told not to do drugs and the conversation ended there. If the “war on drugs” has taught us anything, it is that eliminating all drugs and forcing drug use into a specific box is both impossible and a drastic oversimplification. The rhetoric surrounding drug use currently leads to an unproductive and isolating conversation – a conversation missing one key player: drug users.

As reporters, storytellers and the ‘watchdogs of society’ we have failed time and time again at reporting on drug use. We reach out to medical professionals and policymakers, but there is a hole in this story. We wouldn’t report on someone’s art without reaching out to the artist or cover a house fire without speaking with homeowners, so why do we report on drugs without going to the source?

Harm Reduction Practitioner, Coordinator, Researcher and drug user, with the pseudonym A.C. Abbot, explains how media is missing the mark.

“The media basically doesn’t think of drug users as having opinions or expertise,” Abbot told The Concordian. They explained that we exist in a society where drug users are seen as “crazy” and “out of control.”

“The fact that drug users are denied authority and legitimacy when literally writing about drug use and drug users is telling,” added Abbot.

Journalists are feeding the biased narrative that authorities have painted for us. The media needs to approach the drug topic in a way that depicts the misconceptions of drug laws.

“Our system of drug laws is not based on scientific information about drugs,” Maia Szalavitz said, a writer from The Columbia Journalism Review. Jay Levy, the Deputy Director of the International Network of People Who Use Drugs (INPUD), explained that drug users are still being criminalized, without evidence that this attitude is in any way a productive one. Levy added that even though there are risks when using drugs, the main harm comes from laws and policies.
The judicial system, “along with their justificatory social construction and stigmas,” he continued, “are responsible for driving and worsening many of these avoidable harms.”

Portugal is often used as an example when talking about drug use and policy. The government decriminalised all drugs in 2001 and, according to the Guardian, “HIV infection plummeted from an all-time high in 2000 of 104.2 new cases per million to 4.2 cases per million in 2015.”

Although the change in law ignited a more productive conversation, it did not exist in a vacuum. Susana Ferreira, a Portuguese-Canadian freelance writer, explained that this recovery was more complex than just a change in the law.

“In many ways, the law was merely a reflection of transformations that are already happening in clinics, in pharmacies and around the kitchen tables across the country,” Ferreira wrote in a Guardian article in 2017.

A.C. Abbot thinks Portugal needs to go farther.

“It’s better to be stuck in a doctor’s office than to be stuck in a jail cell,” said Abbot, but then also explained that it’s important to be aware of the imperfect nature of medical care. Abbot said we must recognize that this environment can be a controlling one and does not always advocate for people’s autonomy. “The barriers are not only everywhere and holistic, but interweave and pulse with every other kind of prejudice.”

Although the world should be looking to Portugal in terms of drug laws, it’s crucial to continue to investigate the complexity of the situation.

“The questions aren’t just to transition from criminalization to medicalization, but it is to transition from stigmatization and problematization to autonomy,” said Abbot.

As a product of our society, I am guilty of stigmatizing drug users and drug addicts. I need to continue to push back against this stigma. This conversation leads to dehumanization and unfair treatment surrounding drug users and addicts. We must stop absorbing information at face value and learn more about the ethical discrepancies of the law. We must lean in and listen to harm reduction experts, drug users and others who are actively involved and affected by the drug stigma. We must let them lead the conversation.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


Climate change in the context of mental health

As an avid consumer of media, the knot in my stomach continues to tighten every time I see “climate change” in a headline.

There seems to be one heartbreaking news story after another, whether it is the fires in the Amazon or the floods in Sudan. This makes me think: I’m not the only millennial with a metal straw, reusable grocery bag, and a deep fear at the back of my mind regarding the doom of our planet, right?

I wish I could say that every news headline made me pick up a picket sign, donate to the World Wildlife Fund, and compel me to eat a vegan diet – but often it just makes me feel like a sack of potatoes. So if I care ‘so deeply’ about the environment, why is my anxiety not motivating me to do anything about it?

In hopes of validating my own anxious thoughts, I started doing some research and I found that I’m not alone in my woes. In fact, this is not a new development by any sort. According to, feeling desperate and helpless when it comes to environmental issues is a common psychological disorder called “eco-anxiety.” The American Psychological Association explains that this anxiety focuses on the feeling of doom and a chronic fear regarding environmental problems.

Thomas Doherty, a clinical psychologist in Portland Oregon, explained to that people are not taught how to talk about the climate issue.

“Up to a certain point, arousal — how alert or worried you feel — leads people to take action and perform better, “ said Doherty. “But overly high levels of anxiety can become paralyzing.”

As Doherty said, anxiety can cause avoidance. For me personally, I often shut down the conversation about climate change because on a global scale it feels like there is nothing I can do to help.

Susan Clayton, one of the lead authors of a climate-change guide by the American Psychological Association, told CNN that our human tendencies towards avoiding conflict and to feel fear, helplessness, and resignation in response to climate change is growing. She continued by explaining that this is limiting citizens from developing “psychological resiliency,” meaning they are not able to handle and conceptualize the reality of climate change.

I am slowly learning that the more dialogue we create regarding our own panic and uneasiness, the less alone we will feel in the world of climate anxiety.

“Treating climate anxiety in children is very similar to treating general anxiety,” said Rhonda Matters, a Child Psychologist in PEI, to CBC – she stated that acknowledging the anxiety goes a long way.

In an interview with CNN, Wendy Petersen Boring, a professor from Yale University, has said she has expanded her climate anxiety curriculum from one week of lessons, to two full courses. She now addresses the emotional and psychological toll of activism in 2019 with greater depth, as we continue to uncover the urgency of the situation.

I also think it is irresponsible to talk about climate change without talking about privilege. Although I’m aware this issue affects us all, I have to acknowledge my avoidant anxiety as not only an issue I have to actively work on, but also as a privilege. My socio-economic environment has protected me from many repercussions that other countries, cities and neighbourhoods are dealing with on a direct and daily basis. I am also privileged to live in a country with news outlets sharing truths about the state of our environment.

Well, as cliche as it sounds, “knowledge is power,” but learning how to cope with our own discomfort is also power. I must continue to voice my anxieties in the hopes they will lead to fruitful discussions with others, but most importantly I must stay aware and informed. As a society, we are blocked by the immensity of the situation. We need to continue to learn how to approach this issue in a productive and sustainable way. Perhaps Susan Clayton said it best, “We can’t just curl up in a ball and wait for the end of the world.”


Graphic by Victoria Blair

Climate change ads as partisan activities?

As we come to the end of a summer with some of the highest recorded temperatures, Elections Canada’s decision to declare climate crisis ads as partisan activities during the election period fueled a lot of reactions across the country.

Although Election Canada says it only applies to “activities or ads that specifically identify a candidate or party,” Dianne Saxe, former environmental commissioner of Ontario, argues that such regulations means the absence of science-based information.

“It’s absolutely outrageous. It’s wrong in law, it’s harmful to this election and it’s dangerous to public trust,” Saxe said in an interview with CBC Radio’s Metro Morning.

The decision came after the leader of the People’s Party of Canada, Maxime Bernier, made some remarks questioning the urgency and legitimacy of the climate crisis. As a result of such claims, any groups planning to run paid advertisements over $500 must now register with the government as a third party.

While there’s much misinformation and fake news threatening our democracy, declaring such an important issue as partisan is stopping environmental organizations from carrying the facts and helping Canadians make the best decisions throughout the election.

The environmental crisis is not an opinion. Nor is it a choice. It has become everyone’s responsibility, especially our leaders, to start making decisions that will positively affect our planet. And if we can’t even talk about it during elections, we are destined to remain blind.


Graphic by Victoria Blair

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