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“The class of life”: Concordia’s new Kanye West course

The university is offering a first-of-its-kind course examining the life and work of Kanye West

Concordia has never had a shortage of unconventional classes: Video Games and/as Literature, Science Fiction, The Movie Soundtrack, and Sexual Representation in Cinema are all examples of unique courses available to Concordia students that aim to put an academic lens to the world of art and pop culture. Concordia is hardly the first or only university to host classes such as these — the University of Victoria at one point offered The Science of Batman and The Created Medieval History of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth — but one of Concordia’s newest courses may truly be the first of its kind.

Kanye vs. Ye: Genius by Design will be offered at Concordia in the fall of 2022, in the faculty of interdisciplinary studies in fine arts. The course was designed and will likely be taught by Yassin “Narcy” Alsalman, a rapper himself, who has long taught courses centered around hip hop at Concordia such as Hip Hop: Beats, Rhymes and Life.

This is not the first time that Alsalman has centered a course around one particular artist, having taught classes on Lauryn Hill and A Tribe Called Quest in the past.

“I’ve always taught my hip hop courses using artists or albums as a central theme and seeing how much influence Ye had on so many of my students throughout the years — I felt this could be a compelling, interesting examination of one of the greatest artists of our generation,” said Alsalman.

Classes like this are Aslaman’s way of giving back to a culture that shaped who he is today.

“Hip hop is the most important culture of our generation. It requires to be studied and understood and respected. This is my way of giving back to a culture that birthed my entire way of being and sustenance,” said Alsaman.

The course will centre around much grander themes than just West’s own music and personal online hijinks.

“America and race, industry vs. artists, truth and consequence, media representation of the intellectual,” said Alsalman when asked about the course’s themes.

With a figure as controversial as West, the course is likely to elicit a multitude of reactions. This is something that Dr. Eldad Tsabary, the coordinator for Concordia’s electroacoustics department and unit head for the faculty of Interdisciplinary Studies in Fine Arts, is well aware of.

“As an academic course, I’m sure it’s going to be difficult sometimes and I’m sure it’s going to be emotional sometimes. But I think that’s also part of what Fine Arts is good at. You know, I like to study science. Arts is a really good vessel for exploring and studying topics that do have a multi-layered kind of nature to them,” said Tsabary, who played a role in approving the course to be taught at Concordia.

West is both loved and loathed by many, but Tsabary and Alsalman have both made it clear that this course is not about singing his praises, or tabloid drama.

“You can study any topic of interest from the point of view of curiosity and discussion, right? And there’s a lot to discuss. You know, it’s not about putting Kanye on a pedestal,” said Tsabary.

While he is a fan of West’s work, Alsalman is also aware of his problematic nature. However, he has said it is not something that worries him when teaching this course.

“I don’t listen to the noise. As a cultural practitioner and professor, I have to look at things in totality and not do the internet skip rope around narrative. I am also well aware of American media manipulation. That being said, there has always been problematic public moments with Ye and we will talk about those in a critical lens, as opposed to taking sides or blaming. I want to see why, not what,” said Alsalman.

“There is a lot of work that needs to be done around hip hop culture and representation of Black and Brown communities in our schools and I want to chip away at that at Concordia and help build the presence more and more through my work.”

Ava Weinstein-Wright is a third-year student at Concordia in Honours Sociology and Anthropology, who is signed up and is excited to take the course this fall.

“I think that music or TV shows or just even clothing and fashion can be a great gateway into further analysis such as political analysis, gender analysis, class analysis, like it’s really important.”

Even though she is excited to take the course, Weinstein-Wright has some concerns about it.

“My concern with this course is that people aren’t going to take it seriously considering the height and clout that it’s gotten considering it’s reached national news.”

The university has received a lot of media attention with magazines like Complex talking about the course – something that its future professor predicted, although not this early. “I thought this would happen while I was teaching but this was a pleasant boost and surprise,” said Alsalman.

When asked why students should take this course, Alsalman had one simple response, in a written statement to The Concordian.

“Because it’s the class of life (Kanye voice).”

Graphic by Lily Cowper

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Off with their heads…? It’s not that simple

Why abolishing the Canadian monarchy is easier said than done

If you haven’t heard from the landslide of articles, memes, and just general chatter on the streets, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry had a long interview with Oprah Winfrey on March 7, where they revealed all the juiciest gossip about the royal family.

Possibly one of the biggest bombshells that was dropped by Markle was the shocking revelation that her husband’s family is… racist.

You would think a family whose entire history is based on marriage with other rich, white royals and whose mandate for centuries was to conquer the lands of non-white people would be accepting and open to other cultures, right?

The other huge revelation was Markle admitting to having had suicidal thoughts because of the anxiety and pressures of royal life. No royal title had been discussed for her when she joined the royal family, her personal belongings were taken away, and her aides were forcing her to stay indoors at all costs — it’s no wonder she and Harry broke away from the family in early 2020.

This interview contributed to a massive decline in the Canadian public’s trust and loyalty to the British Crown. According to an online poll conducted right after the interview aired, 53 per cent of Canadians don’t think the royal family belongs in the makeup of Canadian politics.

That being said, a third of respondents said they think the monarchy should retain its symbolic place, and 26 per cent of Canadians sided with the Crown after hearing about the interview.

Over time, the British monarchy has become more a source of entertainment than a figure of authority in Canada, even though their place in our federal government is still very imposing. Although they’re only really there symbolically, the Governor General and Lieutenant Governors still constitutionally have the power to decide who our next Prime Minister or Premier is going to be, since they represent the Queen, our head of state.

But let’s talk numbers: our contributions to the royal family itself are minimal — it costs about $1.68 per Canadian annually to sustain the monarchy. However, the Privy Council Office, whose councillors are appointed by the Governor General, has a budget of over $140 million. Though its members advise the Prime Minister and help him make decisions, they aren’t democratically elected, and they are meant to represent the Queen in Canada.

The royal family is useless. It takes up a good chunk of our taxes that could go towards other severely underfunded federal activities, like Indigenous affairs or education; it represents an antiquated, classist system; and it doesn’t really have much political power except for its ceremonial roles.

But… the royal family is a whole industry of its own. It’s entertainment, and it generates a lot of revenue: in 2017 alone, it contributed over 1.8 billion pounds to the British economy.

Despite the increasing resentment towards the position the monarchy holds in our government, the truth is that it would be extremely difficult and costly for us to get rid of them. Almost everything in our constitution is tied to the monarchy, and abolishing it would require the Senate, House of Commons, and the governments of each province to vote unanimously on this decision.

Not to mention, it would require us to change our entire government system: instead of a constitutional monarchy, Canada would most likely transition to a republic like in the U.S.

I don’t know about you, but one of the few things I consider less compatible with modern Canadian culture than the monarchy is the implementation of an American political system.

We shouldn’t be constrained to keeping an antiquated and out-of-touch institution like the British monarchy simply because the politics of it would be too difficult. But we also need to be realistic about what can be passed and implemented successfully in a democratic way.

Abolishing the monarchy seems like a dream to many, but it’s a goal that stands so far away from us, even in 2021, that the most we can really wish for is to minimize its presence in our country.

 

 

Graphic by Taylor Reddam.

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Sia’s new movie is dangerous and offensive

Why activists are calling Sia’s Music ableist

Australian vocal powerhouse Sia’s directorial debut Music has finally been released, despite the fact that many wish it hadn’t.

The film stars Kate Hudson as Zu, a newly sober drug dealer who becomes the guardian for her autistic half-sister, Music (Maddie Ziegler). Over the course of the film, Zu learns to take care of Music with the help of Ebo (Leslie Odom Jr.), and musical sequences take place inside Music’s mind showing how she sees the world.

On the surface, the film might look like the perfect recipe for positivity, great musical sequences, and representation. After all, the autism community is typically portrayed in only one way: a savant white man who is awkward with women (Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory, Shaun Murphy in The Good Doctor). Sia also called the film “A love letter to caregivers and to the autism community,” and claimed she spent three years researching for the film. And yet Music, and Sia, are still being called out for ableism.

The most obvious issue with the film is the casting. In case you were unaware, Maddie Ziegler is not autistic. Ziegler and Sia first collaborated in 2014 for the singer’s viral “Chandelier” music video and Ziegler went on to star in eight other Sia music videos, tour with the singer, and perform with her on shows like SNL, Ellen, and The Tonight Show.

Despite this longtime collaboration, Sia said, “I actually tried working with a beautiful young girl [who was] non-verbal, on the spectrum, and she found it unpleasant and stressful. So that’s why I cast Maddie … Casting someone at [the character’s] level of functioning was cruel, not kind, so I made the executive decision that we would do our best to lovingly represent the community. … I did try. It felt more compassionate to use Maddie.”

In a video about the film, Paige Layle, a young autistic woman who has over two million followers on TikTok said, “What Sia should be promoting is accommodating autistic people,” and, “If you’re saying that anyone can act autistic, it’s just acting … you need to recognize your own ableism there, and why you think that autistics are not good enough at being autistic on their own, that they need to fit your level of what autism looks like and they need to perform to what you know.”

Ziegler’s performance has also been called a caricature of autistic body language. One Twitter user explained that:

“It is deeply reminiscent of the exaggerated mannerisms non-autistic people often employ when bullying autistic and developmentally disabled people for the ways we move. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the ways autistic people move, or the ways we make facial expressions. Some of us roll our eyes and put our teeth over our lips as a stim or just because it’s comfortable. But we do those things naturally. Maddie Ziegler does not. The fact thneoat Ziegler is not autistic, and the fact that her performance is so heavily exaggerated, turns the entire movie into one long display of mockery.”

On the first day of filming, Ziegler, who was 14 at the time, reportedly cried, worried that people would think she was making fun of them, to which Sia promised her, “I won’t let that happen.” 

The film has also been criticized for using the character of Music as a prop. David Fear for Rolling Stone called it “a sort of neurodivergent equivalent of a Magical Negro.” While doing press for the film, an interviewer even compared the non-verbal Music to an inanimate object, to which Sia agreed.

“There is a caricature of autistics which relies on depicting us as headphone-wearing, gaping innocents who are symbols of purity there to remind us of selfless sacrifice,” said autistic teen Niko Boskovic in an essay.

The other massive issue raised by activists has been a scene in the film that shows Music being forcibly restrained by Zu and Ebo who “crush her with their love.”

“[Music] doesn’t just promote harmful stereotypes about autistic people — it shows restraints that have killed members of our community as necessary and loving acts,” said Zoe Gross, director of advocacy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

In response, Sia promised that the film would add a warning ahead of the movie, and that future printings would remove the scene. She also clarified that the film does not condone or recommend the use of restraint on autistic people. Online however, people say that the scenes have not been removed and there is still no warning.

The film’s musical sequences also use strobing lights, bright colours, loud sounds, and quick camera movements, which are very overstimulating. As one online petition points out, “About one in four autistic people have epilepsy, so the movie can cause seizures and is also very uncomfortable for those without it. Despite making the movie ‘for’ autistic people, Sia has made it in such a way that a majority of us will be unable to watch it.”

Sia has not responded very well to her critics, personally attacking a few before deleting her Twitter account. When one autistic actor expressed their ability and willingness to act in the film Sia replied, “Maybe you’re just a bad actor.”

The singer also said, “I cast 13 neuroatypical people, three trans folk, and not as fucking prostitutes or drug addicts but as doctors, nurses and singers. Fucking sad nobody’s even seen the dang movie. My heart has always been in the right place.”

For the film, Sia also collaborated, to an extent, with Autism Speaks, an organisation that has been called “A eugenics-promoting hate group.” Over 60 disability rights organisations have condemned Autism Speaks. Sia could have learned that by simply looking at their Wikipedia page and yet she said, “I had no idea it was such a polarizing group!”

The singer also referred to Music as someone with “special abilities,” language generally found to be extremely patronizing and derogatory in these contexts. Sia’s resistance to the term disabled, which has been widely embraced by many autistic people, has also been called ableist because it implies that being disabled is a bad thing.

Sia eventually admitted to being ableist to a degree and said she’d learned her lesson, but also said, “I have my own unique view of the community, and felt it is underrepresented and compelled to make it. If that makes me a shit I’m a shit, but my intentions are awesome.”

Later, however, she said, “I realised it wasn’t ableism — I mean, it is ableism, I guess, as well — but it’s actually nepotism, because I can’t do a project without [Ziegler].”

Despite Sia’s seemingly good intentions and some supporters, Music remains at best problematic, and at its worst dangerous. Its nomination for two Golden Globe awards is both confusing and concerning. A petition for the Golden Globes to rescind the nominations currently has over 120,000 signatures.

In her video, Layle claims, “This was not for autistics. This is for caregivers, to feel like some inspiration porn, saviour complex.”

For full disclosure, I haven’t seen the film. The film’s reviews, messages from disability organisations, and videos and tweets made by autistic people have almost universally shared the same message: don’t watch this movie. It’s bad, offensive and dangerous. So I did not feel the need to waste $6 and two hours to confirm. Instead, I think I’ll look at the work of actual disabled creatives and I’d recommend you do the same.

Reframing Britney Spears in the cultural landscape

What can we learn from a retrospective look at Britney Spears’ time as a pop star?

What does Britney Spears have in common with a can of Pepsi?

They share the neuron that’s fired in your brain.


“A celebrity face may function as a reinforcing stimulus whereas the product is a neutral stimulus,” according to a study that analyzes celebrity product endorsement.

Translation: consumers with a positive association to a celebrity will generate warm favouring to the product they endorse, even when their stance was otherwise neutral to the product, as seen in neuromapping.

The recipe goes like this: place a celebrity next to the product in a commercial, and the product will tap into some of the happy memories you have of the celebrity, located in the cerebral cortex of the brain.

So, we see how this relationship impacts the product — Pepsi inherits the feel-good memories I have when I think of dancing to Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time” when I was five years old.

But how does this connection between product and person impact my impression of Spears?

Do we start to relate Pepsi more to Spears, or is it the other way around?

I’m talking about human objectification. I’m talking about concepts like “celebrity brand” and, its echo, “finding your brand,” which flips a profit off self-objectification.

On the page, this may read like a jump to you — the idea that self-branding is an act of violent objectification. But the brain doesn’t parse between “positive” objectification, like a lucrative advertising campaign, and “negative” objectification, like vicious online threats to celebrities.

The brain cannot tell that I am only self-objectifying, as in “branding,” in order to, say, sell myself to this company I want to work for. The brain only fires neurons.

The normalization and commodification of objectifying ourselves and others works to divert our attention from who people are to how people appear. This distinction facilitates cruel online “trolling.” It turns people’s suffering into memes. It rewards snappy hatefulness.

Objectification of ourselves and others is ultimately subversive to the age-old battle for women’s equality, as it reinforces systems of violence that exclude women from medical, legal, and financial independence. Example: Spears.

Reality check: Spears’ first hit single, “Baby One More Time,” with its super suggestive lyrics and iconic baby-doll school uniform, was first released when she was just 17 years old.

From a young age, we drank Spears like lemonade on a hot summer day. Her “brand” in the early days of her career — a girl next door type who played dumb half the time and spoke in a baby voice — made it possible; encouraged it even. As she grew up, our consumption of Spears intensified, with paparazzi following her every step for our benefit. I want to watch her personal life unfold. I want to know why Britney and Justin broke up — whose fault was it? As this objectification intensified, it did so with consistent sexist bias.

Our brains are elastic. They learn from repetition, reinforcement, and other sly tricks. The dawn of neuromarketing broke open a new day in the advertising world. Its repercussions permeate public identity, culture, celebrity fate, moral shifts, personal finance, and so much more.

Spears is the intersection point of all these other consequences.

A recent documentary by The New York Times Presents, “Framing Britney Spears” chronicles the experiences that have led Spears to endure a lifelong pursuit from paparazzi, suffer various mental health episodes before an unforgiving public, and to experience a conservatorship for more than a decade, which charges her father with managing her fortune, among other things.

Looking back, we can agree that what happened to Spears was unacceptable, and many who were ousted in the recent documentary have come forward with their own reckoning with the situation. I remember watching the 2007 “Leave Britney Alone” video in high school, tickled by the outburst, and completely oblivious to the rightful urgency of the message.

But the issue of objectification persists in mainstream culture and news. Jojo Siwa, a child celebrity who self-identifies as the first person “to be licensed as a brand,” is celebrated as a feminist icon for “owning” her brand.

Siwa is 17 years old, around the age Spears was when she first released “Baby One More Time.” These are people, who are literally children, celebrated for the relatability of their brand. People are congratulated for living an experience publicly that appears authentic while they treat their real life experience as a commercial, with products seamlessly embedded into their human experience. This is called an “ownable” brand.

The major distinction between Siwa and Spears is the latter’s sexualization for profit. Spears was sexually objectified from a young age, a phenomenon many of us can now agree is wrong (don’t ask someone whether they’re “still” a virgin during a televised interview!). Siwa’s team, in contrast, have managed to create a brand that exploits Siwa’s youth and bubbly — almost childish — personality, rather than cash in on her sexuality.

This distinction is not a feminist celebration. This is not a success. Spears is a living example that even the most talented and wealthy women can still be subjected to unimaginable harms and systemic oppression that excludes them from financial, medical, and legal autonomy.

Our brains can’t distinguish between “good” and “bad” objectification. The problem isn’t that sexual objectification, such as the objectification Spears endures, is bad, it’s that objectification in itself changes how our brains perceive the world, which then impacts how we relate to one another.

Humans were made to connect because together we are stronger. But if our brain no longer distinguishes a person from a product, then that weakens our natural inclination to bind at a granular level. It weakens our capacity to communicate effectively, to form meaningful bonds, to have each other’s backs.

For decades we drank Spears the persona and Spears the person.

Her manager says she may never perform again, and honestly I understand the decision. She expressed that she’s “taking time to be a normal person,” a rightful boundary that swells me with shame, as it should.

My brain registers Spears like a can of Pepsi: the person, the persona, the product — despite her humanity. Now it’s my job to rework that understanding, to retell her story with respect and compassion as I reflect on the times I danced to her music, soaking it up.

 

Photo collage by Kit Mergaert

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Playing games in Hunters: who is served by on-screen violence?

Depicting violence on screen is a tricky line to walk, but its impact is incredibly important

Whether we want to admit it or not, everyone is looking to be represented on screen to some degree. When we see people who look, behave, and think like us on screen, it validates our own experiences of the world.

As a cis, white Jew, I feel fairly well-represented by mainstream media. I grew up on all the Ashkenazi classics like Fiddler on the Roof and Seinfeld, and as an adult, I have my “problematic faves” in Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Schmidt from New Girl. Yet, despite seeing a good amount of myself on screen, when I heard about the new Amazon Original, Hunters, I was immediately intrigued. 

Hunters chronicles a fictional ragtag gang of Nazi-hunters in 1970s New York City who are brought together in response to Operation Paperclip, the astonishingly real U.S. program which scrubbed the records of Nazi scientists in order to bring them to work on the space race. Many of the Nazi-hunters in the show are Holocaust survivors. And as the descendant of survivors, I have become so sick of survivors’ depictions only ever being helpless, feeble victims. Also, it had been over a decade since the release of Inglorious Basterds, and with the rise of the alt-right around the world, it felt like the perfect time for another piece of mainstream kickass anti-fascist media. Yet, sadly, I quickly realized Hunters would not be that.  

From the get-go, I was struck by an onslaught of intense depictions of Holocaust violence in Hunters. It seemed like every third scene was a flashback to the camps, and every one involving more stylized killing than the last. Very few of these scenes even served the narrative as a whole. Additionally, I was jarred by the now heavily criticized scene in which the show depicts a completely fabricated “human chess game” run by Nazi guards at a concentration camp. This scene was so gratuitous and removed from reality that the Auschwitz Museum tweeted that it was “dangerous foolishness and caricature.”

So, if this sensationally violent chess game never actually happened, why depict it in a show based on the true events surrounding Operation Paperclip?

In my opinion, the unnecessary use of violence in Hunters exists to convince viewers of why the gang is in the right for hunting Nazis. The perception is that non-Jewish audiences need to be reminded of the atrocities of the Holocaust in order to understand the anger felt by the Jewish and otherwise racialized characters in the show. That is a major problem that lies within this show and many other historical dramas. These narratives are expecting their viewers to be apathetic. The baseline feeling is indifference, and viewers must be moved to anti-racism, rather than anti-racism being the default.

While some effective anti-racist media can exist to “convert” people and bring them over from a bigoted point of view to understanding, that should not be the majority of the content that is being made. When mainstream film and TV narratives expect their audiences to be antisemetic, for example, it perpetuates the idea that people are by default antisemetic and must learn to be accepting, rather than the reality that antisemitism, racism, homophobia and so on are learned ideologies. Thus, antisemitism, racism, and homophobia are thought of as “making sense.” Audiences should not need to be convinced why Nazis are the “bad guys.” And by using so much gratuitous violence to make that point, it opens up the possibility of bad faith, “both sides” arguments.

How to properly depict historical violence on screen is a difficult line to walk. On one hand, you don’t want to sanitize history and belittle the real horror experienced by many. Yet, you also don’t want to use violence in a way that dips into the waters of fetishism and exploitation.

This has been an ongoing conversation most notably when it comes to depicting slavery in the United States on film. The response to the 2013 film 12 Years a Slave exemplifies this issue. As Katarina Hedrén writes for Africa is a Country, some critics believed the film to be a “horror show” and devoid of the history of slave revolt and others believed it white washed history through having a “happy ending.” The debate over the use of historical violence in film is not an easy one to maneuver, but it is an important conversation to have regardless.

Ultimately, when writers insert unnecessary violence into their projects, it makes it more difficult for viewers to connect to their characters. No one wants to see themselves as the victim time and time again. Once I finished Hunters, though I had absolutely no business watching past the first episode (but hey, COVID boredom), I recognized that even though Hunters was about Jews, it wasn’t for us. I know the terrible history of violence my people have been put under since, well, the written word. I don’t need to see dozens of depictions of it on screen to understand. I just wish there were more narratives that show a more empowered image.

Graphic by Rose-Marie Dion

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Dear YouTube, mukbangs are a dangerous and deadly trend

Warning: This article contains sensitive material relating to eating disorders. 

If you’re an avid Youtube watcher like me, you’ve probably heard of or have been recommended mukbang videos. Before we dive into this topic, according to dictionary.com, the concept of a mukbang video is a ‘’livestream of a host who binge-eats large quantities of food as they talk to their audience.’’ These videos are often done in storytime format, where the host tells a lengthy past experience while eating and responding to comments from their fanbase.

These videos are also known as eating shows. Popular content creators include Nikocado Avocado, Trisha Paytas, Zach Choi and Stephanie Soo.

Mukbang has often been used by the hosts as an excuse for the abundance of food they consume. Mukbanger Livia Adams, also known by Alwayshungry, admitted to having had an unhealthy relationship to food, as written in The Odyssey. She has gone as far as congratulating herself for the number of hours she lasted without food in a day. Paytas has also admitted to starving herself for weeks to give entertaining mukbangs for her viewers. On Paytas’ page, you can read some seriously disturbing comments.

“I’m on a diet… watching this is giving me some sort of satisfaction like as though I ate, you know?” 

“I watch these videos because I know I physically can’t afford to eat like this because I gain weight too easily.”

“When having an eating disorder, watching Trisha’s mukbangs is sorta comforting in a way omg”

Let’s not forget that these people become famous and rich by starving themselves, downing nauseating amounts of junk food and promoting their self-destructive behaviours to younger audiences. It’s disgusting and disappointing that YouTube is monetizing eating disorders.

One of the biggest issues that I have with mukbang videos is the fact that these Youtubers eat junk food in large quantities—I can assure you that the most popular content creators aren’t downing a salad nor are they inviting their viewers to live a healthy lifestyle. They’re often eating heavily fried foods, fast food, chips or sweets. A lot of mukbangers only show themselves eating, and, since it’s not glamorous, don’t show how their bodies react. Why don’t they show what really goes on behind the scenes? No human being can be healthy and alright after consuming 10,000 calories in one sitting—by themselves—without any health repercussions, especially after starving themselves.

A study by Hanwool Choe, a sociolinguistics Ph.D. student at Georgetown University shows that many people resort to watching mukbangs to feel less alone while eating, provide a sense of community and sometimes even satisfy some fetish.

As stated by Medical Daily, mukbangs promote overeating and may be causing people to practice detrimental eating habits. We all need to hold Youtube accountable for the content they promote and monetize. It’s unethical for behaviour like this to be so openly presented on a website used by 1.9 billion users every month.

Why do people enjoy watching this sort of content, where people are witnessing the destruction of someone else’s body? Well… it’s actually a brutal human emotion called Schadenfreude, defined by Science News as the “process of perceiving a person or social group as lacking the attributes that define what it means to be human.’’

Schadenfreude, the phenomenon of online voyeurism and the strong influence of social media, all feed into the obsession of looking at others rather than working on ourselves. With one click, we are able to look through digital windows and learn everything about that person, even though it may be an inaccurate depiction.

In all honesty, mukbangs aren’t all created to cause harm, but they seem to be hurting more people than helping.  The internet should not be where people with eating disorders hurt themselves and inadvertently trigger those who see these videos. Youtube needs to care more about their viewers than the money they make.

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

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A trashy student reviewing a trashy show

Reality television is trash

That being said, there is a huge market for it, and it usually reflects what the people want.

The beloved “Bachelor’s” market profits off viewers watching attractive people “fall in love.” Although this show has remained popular, it’s clearly not checking all the boxes.

Netflix has jumped on the idea that unlike what we see on “The Bachelor,” people want authentic, less superficial love. That’s tricky for reality television, but alas they have tried to take it on, in the new reality T.V. show “Love is Blind.”

“Love is Blind” is a show where contestants talk to eligible bachelors and bachelorettes through opaque pods, in hopes to find their true love without actually seeing them. For the sake of this article, we are going to skip over the fact that every contestant is extremely attractive, every woman is wearing a full face of makeup despite not being seen and we are mostly only exposed to heterosexual desires because if we unpack that, I will get a migraine. A grain of salt … we are taking this with a grain of salt.

Before I continue, I would just like to admit that I am not a huge fan of reality television. I never understood the point of “Jersey Shore” or “Keeping Up with The Kardashians” (and, I feel like I may have just lost some readers). So, that being said, I am definitely not here to review the show. There are many more qualified pop culture experts who would do a better job than me. I do, however, want to look at why a show like this exists, and why dating in 2020 is always framed as a nightmare.

Is it really necessary for us to delete our Tinder apps and head to Atlanta, Georgia to find true love through an opaque wall? Is this really where we’re at, team?

The other day I asked my grandfather why he married my grandmother. He told me that she was smart, pretty and nice. They dated, and he thought, wow—smart, pretty and nice, let’s get married. My grandmother, of course, can tell you the exact shoes my grandfather was wearing on their first date, and how the hand-me-down button-up white shirt he had on was just a smidge too small. She just knew he was the right guy. A simpler time, right?

When I think about dating in the past, I always feel like it was easier. Wasn’t it just flowers, phone calls and drive-in movies? No texting, getting ghosted, emojis and definitely no swiping. What a dream.

Except that’s not necessarily fair. As society evolves and changes, so do relationships.

Dating apps get a bad rep, and I can tell you from experience they can be quite draining and discouraging. This being said, the world of online dating is complex. I mean listen, guys, some of my best friends are on the apps. Do you know how damn lucky you would be to swipe on them?

I think to completely write off online dating as a concept is quite difficult. Instead of hating on the apps completely, like the hosts on “Love is Blind” (even though it’s good marketing), we might benefit from a more productive conversation surrounding this dating strategy.

There’s something that smells pretentious to me when people say they would rather meet organically and not on the apps.

I mean, of course, it would be nice to have a smart guy come up to you on the metro, ask you about the feminist literature you were reading, take you out for coffee and spend it talking about how he has 2 sisters and loves his mom. But, as we ask our Google Homes to tell us the weather, and we shove two white plastic headphones that don’t even have a string in our ears, isn’t this just, like, the future? Isn’t finding someone on an app not that crazy, considering everything else we do using technology?

I know I’m oversimplifying the dark world of online dating, but I really just want to talk about the stigma. It’s okay to be vulnerable and try the apps, delete them 16 times and then redownload them—I think it is just part of our 2020 story.

There’s also space for you to disagree with me. I’m not even sure if I agree with me, it really depends on the week. Love isn’t one thing. It’s wonderful, devastating, exhausting and may very well include a little swiping.

Dating is hard at the end of the day, and “love being blind” is just a cheesy song lyric. 

 

Graphic by Sasha Axenova

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Michelle Williams, what do you mean “vote in your self-interest”?

Michelle Williams first won my heart not too long ago.

Her role in The Greatest Showman, more specifically her performance of “Tightrope,” embodied everything a complete hopeless romantic like myself feels when in love: faith, devotion through highs and lows, “mountains and valleys, and all that will come in between.”

The 2019 Golden Globes honoured Williams with a Best Actress in a Limited Series award for her role in Fosse/Verdon. Although I didn’t watch the show, reviews were great: Rotten Tomatoes gave it an 81 per cent rating, while IMDb had a 7.9/10 rating. Knowing her — loving her — I will say she deserved it, and that’s that!

Except that it isn’t.

Much like the popular tendency of celebrities to get political at award ceremonies, Williams took the opportunity to emphasize the importance of voting for women. She spoke beautifully about the importance of choice, and how thankful she was for being acknowledged for the choices she has made as an actress and as a person. She added that she’s grateful to “live in a society where choice exists, because as women and girls, sometimes things happen to our bodies that are not our choice.”

In a way, this is all anyone ever wants — to live where, once you look back, you recognize your own handwriting, as she put it. Now, I think it’s important to note that Williams was not at all addressing an international audience in her speech. She was specifically speaking to American women, encouraging them to employ their right to vote. Even more so, she urged women to vote in their own self-interest.

“Wait, what,” was my exact reaction. To this day I’m unsure if I misunderstood it, or she really meant it that way, but to me, “self-interest” should never be what fuels a democracy. A modern society is a collection of different people coexisting in the same place — asking each and every one of them to think of their own self-interest when it comes to matters that will unquestionably and unequivocally affect the other is not only wrong, it’s absurd. As Williams pointed out in that same sentence she preached for self-interest, “it’s what men have been doing for years.”

Since when do we want to do what men have been doing in matters of democracy and the world? I mean, two World Wars, literally countless acts of colonial violence, and abuse of power historically led by men, why would we ever want to do what they have been doing?

Women, exercise your right to vote. Do it so the world “looks a little more like us,” but also make sure that “us” isn’t just an inverted version of the selfishness and cruelty that a world led by white men has brought us. The world looks so much like men because they’ve chosen so selfishly that there was no room for otherness — instead of self-interest, how about public-interest?

 

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

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Mafia lords on TV and why we love them

When I traveled to Colombia this summer, I remember driving in front of a big property near the municipality of Necocli (Antioquia), on the coastside of the country. My father told me that the property, named La Virgen del Cobre, belonged to José Antonio Ocampo Obando, known as “Pelusa,” who was a member of the Medellin cartel during the time of Pablo Escobar. Pelusa was killed two years ago and his property was taken by the authorities.

When I learned about the history of the property, a part of me was impressed to find out that many drug lords had stayed there. Still, it was scary to find out that the land belonged once to a narco-trafiquant.

Why did I feel that way?

I had glamorized the image of an outlaw, while watching mafia TV shows and movies. I believe that sometimes, it’s nice to root for the villain that gets away from justice and takes it into his own hands. But the reality is different than what viewers watch on television. The industry has found a way for the public to sensitize with each mafia lord. It tells their tragic backstories. Therefore, viewers can sympathize with them, and their crimes become justifiable.

Also, there is the fact that mafia lords are the protagonists of the shows and movies.

Narcos, just like the Queen of the South, portrays a narco-trafiquant that is being persecuted. The public will most probably be on their side, since they are the main characters of the story.  Pablo Escobar, just like Teresa Mendoza, is on the run and ahead of the game.

The Godfather, just like Scarface, portrays certain aspects of the Italian mafia, but the movies glamorize and romanticize the ugly truth of mobsters. Sure, having worldwide businesses, houses, cars and parties all looks divine, but that’s not the case in real life. You can have a glamorous life, without doing the crime.

The mafia lords are portrayed on television with an intimidating attitude. People around them fear them. In some way, it portrays what a person would want to be like: confident, respected, and fearless. The audience can see TV mobsters as role models.

The reality is that we all love a bad guy. TV mafia lords live according to the rules they set, they are on top of the organizations, and know how to get to their enemies. Anybody would want to be this courageous. That is, if you’re brave enough to put your life at risk.

We have to be able to separate fiction from reality. The reality is that the mobster life isn’t the glamorous life. You can be successful without getting your hands dirty.  Being the bad guy of the story seems great, but let’s be honest: if we had the opportunity, we would run for the hills immediately.

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

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Hollywood’s girl next door or swift business woman?

I was never really a Taylor Swift fan. Sure, her songs get stuck in my head from playing on repeat on the radio, but Taylor Swift always represented something unattainable; a tall, blonde, blue-eyed, skinny, perfect girl next door loved by everyone who met her. Her attempt to be darker in her past albums seemed really comical to me.

In my opinion, her recent music video, You Need To Calm Down, tackles more than just the fight for equality. It seems to be shouting to everyone, “Hey! If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it!”

The music video and VMA performance featured cameos by several prominent members of the LGBTQ+ community, such as Ellen DeGeneres, RuPaul Charles, and several drag queens.

According to USA TODAY, after having won Video of The Year at this year’s VMAs, there has been a lot of backlash claiming the pop star is “using Pride as a fashion statement or marketing ploy.” But many in the LGBTQ+ community have her back, and her allyship seems to really benefit the community regardless.

In an interview with Insider, Tan France,  Queer Eye’s fashion guru, stated that he believes the community shouldn’t automatically assume that Swift is acting on self-serving motives. France added that even though the pop star hasn’t been a vocal advocate until recently, she has taken great strides in her allyship, concluding her music video by urging viewers to sign her Change.org petition in support of the Equality Act. The petition has since obtained over half a million signatures and counting.

The act has yet to pass in the U.S. Senate, and Swift hopes the petition will urge the Senate to proceed. If approved, the Equality Act would protect the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination, ensuring that all American citizens are treated equally.

With a net worth of over $360 million, Billboard stated that the pop star has made some very charitable donations to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD),  the Joyful Heart Foundation for survivors of sexual assault, and various Go Fund Me campaigns, among other things.

Her charitable actions don’t necessarily speak louder than her luxuries – what with her two private jets and $84 million real estate portfolio, according to a recent article in the Business Insider. We can’t forget that Swift is not just Hollywood’s girl next door, but a boss business woman doing her best to manage her extreme successes.

Swift released her new album, Lover on Aug. 23. Featuring radio hit “ME!” and “You Need to Calm Down,” among other poppy tunes such as “The Man” (where Swift imagines her life as a man) and “Soon You’ll Get Better.”  In the latter, the star sings “I hate to make this all about me, but who am I supposed to talk to? What am I supposed to do?” — her music is, after all, about her. She is the centre of her work, and she just happened to jump on the LGBTQ+ train. We can’t shade her for that.

In my opinion, although she could be doing more for other communities worldwide (ie, donating to Indigenous communities in Brazil affected by the fires in the Amazon), there is a lot of pressure put on Swift, and other celebrities, to be vocal allies. This makes them prime bait for public backlash – while these are figures that can use their positions for political advantage, they are not politicians, but privileged voting citizens. They simply have louder microphones than the rest of us.

 

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The absence of Montreal in pop culture

Exploring how the city’s French language hinders it from integrating with larger society

“Montreal? I’ve never heard of it.”

That’s what my cousin from the UK told me when I met her for the first time. She knew I lived in Canada, but the only Canadian city she knew was Toronto.

However, Montreal isn’t a stranger to the world—it’s Canada’s second biggest city. It’s the second largest primarily French-speaking city in the world, after Paris.

We have Just For Laughs, the largest international comedy festival in the world, held in Montreal every July. Dishes like poutine are known to taste better here than they do elsewhere. We’ve also got bagels and smoked meat, that are uniquely made here.

Despite its prominence, pop culture shies away from Montreal. It’s not commonly referred to as the best city in Canada. It’s not a cultural hub for food, sports or music. Why not? What does Montreal fail to offer that other major cities do?

It’s not a question of what the city doesn’t have. It’s what we do—French is what makes the city different, unlike any other North American city. Our official language makes us stand out from others, but it’s also the reason we’re excluded. Living in Montreal and in Quebec, there are things we don’t have access to because of language restrictions.

You won’t find some popular restaurant chains here, and I’m assuming it’s because their businesses don’t offer services in French. Red Lobster, Popeyes, and Nando’s are just a few of the restaurants that are English-based, and nowhere to be found in Quebec. The amount of money they would have to invest for translation purposes and whether these restaurants are in demand from Francophones is another issue to tackle. Not to mention, Quebec’s language laws, like Bill 101, which requires businesses to make French the most predominant language when offering their services.

In sports, we have the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens as a proud part of the city’s culture. The hockey team encourages sportsmanship, and brings people of different ages and backgrounds together to support a representative of Montreal. But back in 2012, Francophones protested outside of the Bell Centre for the exclusion of French-speakers in the Habs management––they had an English-speaking coach at the time and barely any Francophone players on the team, according to CBC News. Montreal is the only city in the NHL league that had to fight for language rights; the other teams are from American and Canadian cities, and are unable to relate to language being an integral part of a city’s culture.

Within the NBA, the only Canadian team in the league is the Toronto Raptors. Previously, the Vancouver Grizzlies existed but was merged into the Memphis Grizzlies. There are investors who’ve expressed interest to the NBA Commissioner in an expansion for a Montreal-based team, and even though the Raptors play an annual preseason game here, the NBA just isn’t French. Yet, according to Sportsnet, a Montreal team in the NBA would most likely be successful, based on a “market attractive index.”

In terms of local talent, Montreal is home to few popular artists. Sure, Leonard Cohen and Celine Dion are highly respected and have received notable achievements, and both called Montreal their home at a time in their life. But today, you probably won’t hear their music topping the charts. Popular artists in this generation are people like Drake, who shared his spotlight with Toronto and is credited for generating $440 million of the city’s tourism industry. Montreal, on the other hand, is lacking a comparable figure. Francophone artists seem to be more promoted than Anglophone artists. We see them given the opportunity to be on French shows like La Voix and Star Académie––opportunities the English-based artists wouldn’t have. The top two Montreal playlists on Spotify are French, with more than half the songs in French.

Pop culture is hard to define, but food, sports and music are just a few components of it. It’s more or less the same in different North American cities, but Montreal isn’t a part of western pop culture. I’m not saying this city lacks culture—I’m saying French makes it harder for us to integrate into larger society.

Graphic by Ana Bilokin

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You don’t need to shout to be seen

Why one student believes the media is sending the wrong message about shyness

Millennials are trying to ward off nerves like they’re a disease. Under the influence of celebrities who constantly show us their sass, we’ve become a flashy society that worships extroverts. Nerves have been pitted against confidence, and now, being shy is seen as a sure-sign of insecurity. Well that’s garbage. The truth is, you can actually be both super shy and super confident.

It starts by unlearning what the media has taught us about confidence. Pop culture promotes confidence as the ability to handle the spotlight. Confident people are those who easily hold conversations, address crowds and bring the room to life. According to this logic, the easier time you have expressing yourself face to face, the more confident you are. The problem with this definition is that it makes confidence all about your rapport with others, when truly, it should be about the relationship you have with yourself.

To me, confidence is less about how you talk to others, and more about how you talk to the person in the mirror. More specifically, it’s exuded through an ability to show yourself unconditional love. The keyword here is “unconditional.” Truly confident people are not those who never get flustered, but conversely, those who do mess up and don’t hate themselves for it.

Our generation underestimates the coolness of being shy. That’s right, I just used “shy” and “cool” in the same sentence. Here’s why: if you don’t automatically feel comfortable in every room you walk into, that can actually be a statement about how well you know yourself. The fact that you feel less comfortable in certain environments simply means you’ve explored your personality enough to know that other activities, topics and people interest you. By sitting quietly instead of trying to insert yourself into the conversation, you’re showing that you’re not a shapeshifter who molds their personality to fit in—and in a society of posers, that makes you a breath of fresh air.

Sure, eloquence and extrovertedness demonstrate some level of self-assurance. However, being bubbly in front of others doesn’t automatically mean you treat yourself with love and enthusiasm. Lots of effervescent public figures battle insecurity behind closed doors. They cannot bear the idea of messing up, and therefore, the belief they have in themselves is conditional. It rests on the requirement that they constantly control their nerves.

Except, the healthiest bodies are those whose organs don’t need to be manipulated; stomachs that digest without the help of an electrical stimulator; hearts that beat without the prompting of a pacemaker; blood that flows without the aid of a circulation machine. There are so many reasons to be grateful for our body’s intrinsic clock. Why on earth do we punish ourselves for blushing cheeks, accelerated heartbeats, and lungs that get short of breath? Society wants us to view nervous reactions as weird and embarrassing, when the truth is that they’re just as natural as the reactions keeping us alive.

For me, the most impressive people are those who refrain from gossip when they see other people’s nervous tics, and those who don’t talk themselves down for getting awkward. How wonderful it is when a person can get nervous, laugh about it or simply carry on with their day because they know it’s not a big deal.

So long as you can identify a few environments or specific individuals who bring out your more conversational side, you don’t have to feel bad about getting shy. You’re not chronically insecure, nor are you missing out. You’re simply an individual with specific interests and friends, who isn’t automatically titillated at every turn. In a generation filled with attention-seekers who require constant validation, that actually makes you quite rad.

Graphic by @spooky_soda

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