A Friday Afternoon Well Spent

This first year at university has been an eventful and wholly unexpected experience. From attending my university lectures to going to this year’s Coordinated Arts Program Conference (CAPCON), I’ve been experiencing academia in ways I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. CAPCON was a definite stand out, as it united many individuals who share a common intelligence and passion for our separate streams and studies. Of all of the discussions that were had, several held my attention. Aside from the ones that I’ve previously seen in my own Arts Studies 100 course and the beginning discussion entitled “The Bending of the Traditional Narrative”, one stood out from my friend who is in the Political Science, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) stream in CAP.

Natalie Cappe, a first year student at the University of British Columbia, is a dear friend to me and I only just discovered several days ago that she was part of CAP. An advocate for English literature and all things literary, she presented on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the use of sympathy and empathy in the story. Titled Unmasking the Monster, it sought to discover how sympathetic understanding cultivates relationships in the novel and in society.

Her presentation consisted of the audience closing their eyes and hearing a situation as it related to an unknown individual that Cappe described. Furthermore, as the description grew greater and more in depth, she asked us to open our eyes to reveal a photograph of a homeless man. Later, Cappe asked the question, “Who and what deserves our sympathy?”. Given the last exercise, the question definitely begged an answer. Scholars that Cappe used to research cited that it is only through repeated effort and an active accommodation of differences  that we allow ourselves to feel sympathy for other individuals. This hung in my mind as I slowly realized that it is in fact true given that we all participate in some form of effort and accommodation when it comes to understanding another individual, be it a family member or even a criminal on trial.

In order to accurately discuss the novel as it relates to sympathy, Cappe forwent the traditional definition of sympathy in favor of a research specific definition. She defined sympathy as “An instinctive action that adopts the unique perspective of the other and enables us to cultivate relationships” (Cappe). Accurate and descriptive, it opened the floodgates to another question that was asked in relation to the Creature in Frankenstein; why are we unable to sympathize with this creature? Simply put, by Cappe’s definition it requires the sympathizer to be put in a similar situation as the victim and also requires urgency for the like being involved. Like being, is defined again by Cappe as an individual who shares the same background as ourselves. Given this, we are unable to sympathize directly with the Creature due to our inability to find ourselves in a similar situation and aren’t entirely like beings. The Creature possesses consciousness and a conscience but isn’t a human being which is why we view him as a monster.

Cappe’s presentation brought together a core human trait and English literature in a very brilliant way that allowed for a greater discussion about dehumanization, empathy and who we are as human beings that will only inspire greater conversation as her scholarship remains in existence. Very brilliant job Natalie, I’m very proud to have listened and reported on your thoroughly well researched project.

The Greatest of All Time (So Far)

In our ASTU 100A class, we’ve taken up a wide discussions on comics, more specifically graphic novels. As a child, I wasn’t particularly social. I stayed in a lot, I wrote stories, played video games and read comics as a sort of release so to curb the tide of loneliness I experienced as a  young boy. One of the other things I did was watch old boxing videos such as  Sonny Liston and most notably Cassius Clay. I looked up to these men as an aspiration but also I admired their morals and the lives they led that defined them.

Recently, I finished reading King of the World by David Remnick, which functions as a biography of Cassius Clay. It functions as a modern tome of boxing as the opening chapters aren’t about Clay but about previous boxers who came before him. I refuse to spoil a good book, while the major events of Clay’s life are widely known, I found it particularly curious as to why Remnick includes a look at the major boxers in the heavyweight category. It was assumed on my first read through that his inclusion of Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston functioned merely as a a historical rhetoric to understand the evolution of modern boxing itself. In a biography about the man who redefined boxing I wondered about why he should be included. However, on my second glance, it functioned as more than that.

The inclusion of the two men in a biography about Clay served a socio-cultural function. Effectively, the three boxers represented three separate varieties of African American men present in an racially fuelled sport. Patterson, served as the “white man’s boxer” or a man who was a liberal’s liberal as written in such a way that gave Patterson the definite upper hand on Liston, not physically, but morally. Liston was written in such publications as a brute, a smoker and the archetypal “Negro” who was demonized by the press in the many years following the Patterson-Liston match up. LeRoi Jones, a poet based in Greenwich Village described Liston as “the big, black Negro inn every white man’s hallway, waiting to do him him in” (Remnick 24). Patterson, while still black elicited no response such as this due to his stance as the white man’s boxer; he exhibited no threat to the establishment due to his stance as  simply another black man, but an emasculated one who was funded by white financial backers. However, Liston represented the Negro that no one desired. He was a thug, unable to read a proper sentence and funded largely in part to Mob money. Remnick includes them in this biography because at the time, Black boxing was relatively new, and since the dictotomy couldn’t be placed between the color of ones skin, it had to be done between two ideals of the black man; one barred by influence from others and the other by his demons of his past.

However, he paints Clay in a completely different style than the other two. Remnick portrays Clay as the hardest working boxer, who abstained from all that could hurt his progress as a fighter, and most importantly was an independent pugilist who made his own choices and was conscious of what could come his way as a high profile individual. Remnick asserts that Clay was the only one who could represent the “truly independent black man” (Remnick 24). In many ways, Clay represented originality in the boxing world. He wasn’t a man who took counsel from others who sought their own gain, and wasn’t burdened to the IRS for taxes like Liston was. He was a brilliant man who served to fight and in his own words, “show the world how great [he] is” (Ali). Clay was in many ways America’s original boxer who represented the times; progressive, conscious and ambitious. Remnick places Patterson and Liston next to Clay as a sociocultural comparison, but it also served a chronological one, where his readers can witness how far we’ve come as a society.

Spectatorship, the Hypervisible and Invisible

Today in our ASTU 100A class, I witnessed some brilliant work done by my fellow classmates and the archival work that they had done over the past several weeks that really showed me how well they can flex their scholarly muscles. From infographics about the Chung Collection to an interactive website about the artist, Jack Shadbolt all found in UBC’s Rare Books and Special Collections archive, this project really showed the hard work of everyone in my ASTU class. For that reason, I have to extend a warm congratulations to everyone for finishing up their projects, I’m sure glad that stress is gone.

One of the recurring themes I took note of with the presentations, aside from the focus on Jack Shadbolt, was the focus on the marginalized in society. In my own group, we focused on Japanese Canadians before the evacuation to Internment camps, and in another group there was a focus on the Chung Collection, which touched on the Chinese involvement with the Canadian Pacific Railway’s creation and the resentment that was present in society against them. This theme of marginalization stems from the disassociation between social groups in society, creating a dichotomy. I first observed this with the different scholarly articles we’ve read for Arts Studies which have covered marginalized individuals such as those with disabilities that we’ve discussed through our with with Jiwani and Young.  One of the main reasons why I found this underlying discussion in my class so interesting was that the concepts we’ve discussed like spectatorship that Whitlock explains in her book, Soft Weapons. This application of these concepts during the presentations, while I didn’t know it was happening, enriched my experience of these presentations.

Considering this concept of spectatorship, after watching Through the Blue Lens, a documentary about the homeless in Vancouver’s Skid Row, these documentaries and films regarding impoverished or poor areas of cities are their own form of spectatorship. Furthermore, using Whitlock’s idea of testimony, individuals filmed on this dorm of media are actively seeking to become part of the affective economy. In a contrast to Whitlock’s Soft  Weapons where she describes the affective economy as being perpetuated by outside forces, these individuals on the Downtown Eastside actively use their own testimony and story in order to procure basic life necessities that they need to survive. They allow themselves to become part of the conversation by using their stories in such a way to create advocacy for themselves, when they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.

Another concept that is explored in Jiwani and Young’s  Missing and Murdered Women: Reproducing Marginality in News Discourse, is that of the hypervisible and the invisible. Their work, which is also about the downtown east side, highlights women who are sex workers on the Downtown Eastside as “invisible as victims of violence and hypervisible as deviant bodies” (Jiwani and Young). This same concept occurs with numerous men and women who are shown in Though the Blue Lens, because as homeless individuals, they are invisible as victims of other forces in their past, such as family troubles but hypervisible as impoverished individuals who fit a stigmatized caste in society. While Jiwani and Young’s conversation is focused toward women, it can be extended to men as victims of abuse who are the same as who they report on; marginalized and victims of outside forces.

While our ASTU 100A class focused on archival work in the past several weeks, an underlying theme was present in our work. The marginalization of whole social groups or castes was present in several of my classmates’ work and that drew me toward including this as my blog post for this week. The way I see it, through the application of scholarship to what we work on already or see in everyday life, allows constructive streams of thought to be formed which can benefit our work immensely.

The Inevitable and Final Use of the Race Card

As an individual with both Canadian and American nationalities along with African-American and European descents, I find it surprising I’ve found a place to act as myself in the contemporary age. One of our future readings is that of the  Race Card Project, which was created by Michele Norris in an attempt to distill the thoughts of Americans regarding race into six words. Since beginning in 2010, it has received tens of thousands of submissions from individuals of many races, leading to a forum where individuals can discuss their experiences with race or lack of experience regarding it.

Browsing the different submissions from users, I came across a post entitled “Only whites can end racism” by Gay White, a user from Michigan. In it, she notes that racism was driven “underground” by the Civil Rights Movement and it only resurfaced with the election of Barack Obama. This offers an interesting perspective as it implies that racism was exterminated during the 20th century. However, looking at the collective consciousness of colored individuals in America over that time period, racism seemed to be at the back of societies mind. However, it has been noted by many organizations such as Bloomberg that race relations have worsened since Obama became president, with over 53 percent of Americans disagreeing with the original question. While Bloomberg has stated this opposing figure, race relations haven’t actually increased at all since Obama was elected.

One of the statements that caught my eye from the Bloomberg article, was the assertion that Republican legislators have taken to disenfranchising voters, most notably those in poor regions of the South who are also of African descent. This is the goal of President Obama, as the renewal of a Voting Rights Act would help to encourage and protect Black citizens and their right to vote against others who would rather them not. As explored in this opinion piece by Jonathan Weiler, he openly states that such political parties that openly restrict the right to vote shouldn’t be in office at all. This is an almost completely Republican problem because of their motive regarding the situation. Republicans have a hard time getting individuals to vote for them when they would rather vote for a different political party. To negate this, Republicans try disenfranchise those who would vote against them. While this seems like a solution without a problem, I propose that the source of this “solution” comes from an area almost completely based in racism.

Gay White asserts that in order for racism to end and in order for real progress to be made, whites must address it. Republicans and those who are skeptical of Obama’s track record when it comes to race relations both draw their skepticism from the same pool. When an individual such as President Obama is placed into office, many Blacks around the country realized that moment as a realization of a dream. Others however, saw this as the strata of people who fought for their Civil Rights over the course of many years being rewarded. However, this strata is the same group of people who grew up just before the Civil Rights movement and were educated in a certain way. This way, turned out to be extremely narrow minded in nature, due to their socialization both in the south, where racism was all too kind and because of their parents who nonetheless reinforced the values society taught their children. In political science, this is called time lag, where attitudes formed during youth take a certain amount of time to form at the political stage.

This is exactly why racism is still prevalent in our society. It’s not because of the election of a new president, but it’s the revelation of ideology that took a back seat until someone in power who embodied what they were against showed up. While the Race Card Project is brilliant in it’s own right, I wonder what will occur in 50 years when those who were socialized in a certain way pass away, and the ideals held today will reign supreme. As Obama stated in an interview with NPR, we aren’t done with racism, but we can be in time.

Do Astronauts Dream of Cosmic Humor?

As with every week in ASTU 100A, we’re continuing on our discussions of life narratives. This week, we took a look at Facebook and the different ways we utilize the social media platform and how that results in our own engagement of the site such as advertisements being tailored personally for the user. However, I won’t be discussing Facebook in this post, I will be looking at the novel, The Martian by Andy Weir and the fictional life narrative of astronaut Mark Watney.

In the novel, Watney is marooned on the planet Mars after a storm causes his crew to believe he is dead. He miraculously survives and is faced with an even greater issue than death; surviving on Mars. The reason why I’m choosing this is because of the unique way that the character looks at his own morality as well as how he handles being alone on a planet that is 225 million km from his home. The way Weir portrays Watney is something reminiscent of Monty Python or Ryan Knighton in his memoir, Cockeyed. Watney’s opening lines are laden with vulgarities regarding his situation and can be arguably regarded as dark humor. We’re invited into his own thoughts and he routinely thinks not grimly regarding his situation, but in a jovial manner, determined to find the next puzzle to fix.

Notably in a parallel between Earth and Mars, Mission Control wonders “I wonder what he’s thinking” to which Watney thinks “How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.” (Weir) The way that Watney approaches the issues he faces, from explosions to having to create water tell us something about ourselves. Weir designed a character that not only remains unwavering in his plight to make it home, but he is lighthearted and humorous.  It has been stated by Oscar Wilde that  “Art imitates life” but I don’t believe in that. I believe that Weir created a character who is inventive and headstrong when it comes to solving his own problems so that the reader or viewer can adopt that mindset in their lives. The world currently is volatile and full of different issues that require not only cool heads in order to negotiate, but require different ways of thinking. Watney in the novel was a defining example of that ability; from the cool head to the inventive thinking. Do you think that Weir’s character was made so that others can negotiate their problems similarly? Is our own art beginning to take a position of values that we wish others to embody? I’m certainly hoping that it is, because we need that in our world.

Modern Aestheticism on Social Media

In our ASTU100A class, one topic that continually comes back to the forefront of my thinking is that of social media and the portrayal of individuals on social media. A common theme that occurs is the creation of profiles and feeds where they represent ourselves in such a way that is more indicative of what we aren’t rather than what we actually are. In this blog post, I’m going to look at the idea of a “aesthetic” and how it relates to an individual’s own life narrative.

On social media networking site such as Instagram or Twitter, a common theme  is that of an “aesthetic”. An aesthetic in everyday vernacular is a particular set of principles guiding the work of an individual or group, but only recently has been attributed to internet culture a slang meaning a form of acknowledgement on the common themes of one’s profile or page. An example of this can be a minimalist feed where little is posted, or one where posts about one’s life revolves not on what they see, but what they take part in.This can be linked to the creation of many Instagram accounts about certain topics, such as fitness, fashion and sports oriented sites which still highlight the individual, but have a focus on a certain aspect of the individual’s life. If an aesthetic by definition is to curate an guide a form of work, does that make those who focus on a certain topic in their lives artists demonstrating their craft?  In essence, many individuals treat their feeds as a piece of art, and carefully curate it to satisfy not only what they want it to be, but to how they wish to be perceived according to other people, which in some cases can be maladaptive.

To many this slang will pass over their heads but to a younger demographic this term is passed around often. We often define ourselves by our “aesthetic” directly linking the way we view ourselves to how others judge us, this has been found throughout human history. However, this term signifies the direct change of how we represent ourselves and our stories online to make them more of either an art form or how we wish to be perceived. This slang is fairly recent, so it was fairly difficult to find research and news articles related to it online, however in the future this might not only be a excellent topic for a research paper, but could be applicable to other disciplines such as marketing and sociology. This change of life stories to fit others and our own preferences in a way speaks not only to what we are, but what we want the most. Everyone wants an idealistic life and the changing and modifying of one’s life narrative to be more of what they wish rather than what it is, is possible with social media and the idea of aestheticism today.


The Self Made Man in the Last Great American Election

In our ASTU 100A class, we’ve viewed life narratives through many lenses, but I wanted to look at politics and the story of a man andideals he’s always fought for.

American politics is simultaneously the greatest show of democratic freedom and the biggest circus-like sideshow in the world today. It’s candidates, ranging from former First Lady Hillary Clinton to the controversial businessman Donald Trump have revealed the degredation to which the election process has suffered. It’s become a reality show, where we’ve become more interested in their hairstyles and emails than the actual issues at hand. However, there’s an outlier this election cycle and it’s his self-invention into a charismatic man who believes deeply in the equalization of the classes that grabs our attention and interests us in the issues at hand. The man in question is Senator Bernie Sanders.

Sanders was born in Brooklyn to Jewish immigrants in Poland in 1941. He was part of a working class family, and as a result of that began to involve himself in civil rights. Not only around his university but around the country, as evident by him being present at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Bernie has been quoted by the Guardian newspaper as seeing unfairness, which led to it being one of his main political inspirations. He’s been involved in political office since the 1970’s, only being part of the House of Representatives since the 1990’s, then switching to the U.S. Senate in 2006. Known for his status as an Independent as well as his own reverent ability to acknowledge the wrongdoings of both parties, he resisted against both Bush tax cuts and helped to advocate for a universal health care system.

While Bernie’s opinions and values seem to clash with other political parties and entire regions of the U.S., it’s his his continuing, endearing nature that makes many Americans, myself included, look to Sanders as the perfect candidate for this generation. His policies, actions, and history of advocacy against the economic elite make him the voice of college graduates, families, and young professionals from one coast to another. His record of voting against the status quo since the 1970’s allows us to trust him not only because we believe in what he says , but because of the evidence to affirm our own feelings.

Senator Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist, but in my opinion, I believe he’s a true democrat.  He is by definition a supporter of democracy in a society that I believe has all about done away with it. If Sanders is unable to receive the nomination, the greatness of the U.S. election system, it’s history as the once ideal system to which many other countries have modeled themselves is undoubtedly flawed, but nearly gone. It’s quite interesting actually, to see the self made man taking on the elites in what may be the last great American election where the restoration of democratic ideals may occur, or perhaps fade forevermore.


A Field Trip with the President and a Comedian

After a lengthy, tiresome trip to the UBC Bookstore, I settled upon a memoir written by the then U.S. senator from Illinois, now current U.S. President Barack Obama. This memoir being his second known as The Audacity of Hope, Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream  through which Obama highlights such understanding and bipartisanship that he believes is hopeful and can give Americans the best going forward. My eye was immediately drawn to the look of the book, and the stance that the President takes in it. He’s leaned over, hardly smiling, wedding ring prominent and without a tie, giving a semi- formal look about him. Furthermore, the term “The #1 New York Times Bestseller is featured on the front and back covers, not once, but three times. To myself, these two factors alone make for a best seller. Obama is youthful in this photo, his wardrobe and prominence of his wedding ring seems to make his audience the 18-40 year old range of people who can look at him and see many things that they see in themselves in him; from the readers marriage to his own, and his own semi-formal dress with the reader’s own relaxed attitude. Being on the New York Times Bestseller list, let alone being on the top of it makes this a memoir people will be attracted to. An authority such as the New York times, can assert it as notable, making this voice the one that’s heard, due to a well known, reputable media outlet endorsing this product, and causing many people to buy and read it on recommendation alone.

On the Internet, I chose to look at Bossypants by Tina Fey, due to its humorous nature as a autobiography from the SNL alumni, and also because the cover of the book. It’s pink hue with Fey featured with the arms of a much older man made me chuckle. However, it’s the reviews that stuck out at me the most. The reviews on indigo.ca are varied from ones who sing the praises of the book such as this one by sauceawesomest, who tells that the book is “The opposite of blerg” playing off it’s humor as well as comical stories. At the other end of the spectrum lies a review by an individual who states that it’s simply “disappointing” and “not very engaging”. These two reviews alone can sway a potential reader to either camp. By both existing at polar ends they draw in our attention, to those two extremes through the way they engage the buyer; they’re just far enough from the median that when read, they can help sway what the buyer will ultimately think of the book. This alone can help for Fey to get her narrative across without doing anything other than writing the novel because of the people writing what they think allowing for promotion to take place. It’s the reviews from others that will sell us on a book, and not just a humorous photo on the front cover.

An Introduction and Some Thoughts on a Life Narrative.

My name is Will Shelling and I’m a resident of Vancouver, BC. I’m a first year student at the University of British Columbia where I am studying Arts and would potentially major in one of the many social science programs that UBC has to offer. I am an avid fan of jazz music, in particular Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. I am also a fan of the San Francisco Giants baseball team, mostly due to my upbringing in America. I enjoy singing and acting in theatrical productions, and talking with friends about anything from politics to food.

One of the questions on my mind regarding the a life narrative is that of perspective. Namely, how does perspective play a role in the telling of a life narrative? It’s fairly easy for one to give a statement on their situation or major event in recent history, but how does perspective shape that narrative? Does it skew the story in the favor of the storyteller, or does it embellish on some facts that otherwise may have been considered “unimportant” or “irrelevant”. Many famous works such as the biography, 12 Years a Slave written by Solomon Northrup have provided an accurate account of social events and cultural norms in other time periods, but other forms of media such as film have changed certain facts about those instances. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/10565533/12-Years-a-Slave-why-the-book-is-even-better.html) The film version of 12 Years a Slave, has changed the narrative of the author’s life by not only changing the point of view from a first person one to a third person perspective, but by showing the entire situation. How does it change our view of Northrup’s life narrative and in essence, our own views on the time period?

Another question that comes to mind concerning life narratives is a social one. What is distinguished as important in our own life narrative and what isn’t? The advent of social media has made it significantly easier for people to comment on events in another’s life, but it’s also made it more complicated. We can easily post something on Facebook that we regard as interesting to ourselves, but the impact of that one single small event, can either make a brilliant change in our lives, such as the birth of a child, or can be more less significant, like a photo of a cat rolling on a table. Is the basis of a life narrative based in that of many small, seemingly unimportant events strung together in a temporal view that create our story, or is it several major events, spaced widely apart that showcase our individual changes as major, rather than gradual?