Kissing Strangers

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I don’t like to call myself a writer. Bearing the occupation is a double-edged sword. On one hand, I could own it. I make a little, but helpful income as a writer; specifically, ghostwriter. While I can’t disclose my clients, I have recognized my work elsewhere. I publish under my own penname and adjust my own prose accordingly to avoid plagiarizing myself since I’ve sold the rights to similarly created content. Moreover, my own writing earns exponentially less than ghostwriting.

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Which brings me to other hand: anyone can be a writer. Independent bestsellers are typically plucked from obscurity thanks to social media. Most of them lack middlemen or filters. If they don’t hire professional assistants or score a literary agent, they bank on shock value or cliqued networking; which requires a lot of time. It also requires patience and instinct. There may be distinct target demographics, but the public is altogether fickle—which is why things often change; why viral content that was once everywhere, palpable to everyone and everything dries up in a matter of weeks. People have a loose grasp of time in the market since they frame things in terms of immediacy.

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First impressions matter because gratification must be immediate. So, it’s unsurprising that fruitful figures tend to have a loose grasp of right and wrong; and even looser grasp of accountability, almost like children. They make little, if any sense of how the world turns and their place in it. I think this is why they people—buying or selling—never think to burn bridges; why they can go off the deep end only reel and reconcile. The only thing they seem to understand is that it pays to be popular, often by being provocative.

book2Fame is not unlike writing. It’s about quantity, not quality. Writers are seldom seen for their words, but their assets. Calling myself a writer inclines folks to ask not what I write, but what I’ve sold; and since I’m not really selling—at least, under my name—I don’t have any business calling myself one. The only things I have to show for my writing are a fat stack of manuscripts—novels, short stories, screenplays, an unfinished memoir—rivaled by an even thicker packet of rejection letters. A stray reader may leave a decent review. They have hope I can either improve or publish something to acclaim.

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I have bills. I have dependants.

I don’t have good sales skills, but I do have knowledge and a choice. I know that everything is for sale, even if money is not always the currency. I also know how invisible, impoverished and therefore, inconsequential I am. I know money is just paper and pieces of metal so, I have chosen to monetize this craft however I can to amass what I can of this constructed medium of exchange.

I have chosen survival.

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I’ve also just chosen one of many jobs. Ghostwriting is the ideal route for me since it’s simply supply and demand. It takes no time at all to get your feet wet as a content creator amongst classifieds. Each assignment affords you some scope to familiarize yourself with a client. More often than not, satisfied customers revisit your listing; and in a matter of months, you’ve built a recognizable and reliable client list. Rates climb slowly, but surely. The key to making the most of this is time management. You write off time for correspondence if you can’t schedule check-ins; if your subject requires research, you wade into whatever that may be. Most importantly, you spend time looking into your actual clients: if they have positive feedback, references, and good standing with their source of listing; which requires more time if you’re still building, shopping around.

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What sold me on ghostwriting is that it requires little to no audience engagement. I’m not on the prowl for potential readers; I’m not dangling freebies or swag on the prospect of sampler loyalties. If they haven’t found me already, my skillset is enough to solicit clients and earn me a guaranteed payment. This isn’t too unlike how regular jobs work: you clock in, clock out, and an employer pays you hourly; sometimes, a flat fee. The rate of pay is contingent on the economy and industry of your field. Time and pay coalesce when you work independently, albeit there are hurdles for entrepreneurs.

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Last Wednesday, two bills which were pitched to curb online sex trafficking passed the American Senate by a landslide. The Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act (SESTA) will criminalize the “promotion or facilitation of prostitution” and those who “facilitate traffickers in advertising the sale of unlawful sex acts with sex trafficking victims.” Overall, FOSTA and SESTA are initiatives which will screw over sex workers. These bills are poorly conceived because they conflate sex trafficking with consensual sex work. They have no clause that discerns between consenting and non-consenting sex workers and clients, which will result in gross exploitation and potentially violent working conditions for regulars whom evade their execution.

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In the realm of ghostwriting, think of these bills as equivalents geared to criminalize—I don’t know, bad writers. FOSTA becomes the Fight Online Bad Writers Act (FOBWA) while SESTA turns into the Stop Enabling Bad Writers Act (SEBWA). The problem with the initiatives of FOBWA and SEBWA is that while they aim to outlaw bad writers, they do not have clauses which specify, let alone define what makes a good writer. Rather screening or prosecuting bad writers specifically, these bills would instead outlaw all writing. While I’m not the greatest writer, these bills would be ridiculous for obvious reasons; and if legislators endeavored to regulate the business of writing in the wake of these bills, I would probably have a smaller pool of clients and likely see even less of a profit due to service fees.

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While I’m not equating literary work with sex work, I can appreciate the entrepreneurial and ethical threats FOSTA and SESTA pose to sex workers. Moreover, the absence of social networks which concern sex work altogether bodes badly for present and prospective sex trafficking victims. Networks are comprised of safety nets and public records [however informal] which include reviews and references. In addition to actual job listings: advisory boards and mailing lists which cover everything from ringleaders to bad clients, to workers practices, to precautionary prompts and check-ins will now be shut down.

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Respectability politics are also at play as there are others, including writers, whose platforms are being suspended or shut down for what moderators deem to be inappropriate content in accordance to FOSTA and SESTA. There are independent erotica writers whose books have been removed from Amazon, CreateSpace, and Draft2Digital; and academics whose references to sex work have been wiped from their cloud storage. In light of how popularity propels profit, however, I doubt those cuts will be made regarding traditionally published authors or famed scholars.

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Of course, the implications for how bills like FOSTA and SESTA may influence other countries to erect and enact similar legislation are also huge. The implications are huge because the world at large seems disturbingly comfortable with the fact that life as we know it is contingent to debt and depression under some pretext of one paying their dues. Bestsellers or success stories who strike gold are the result of unlikely albeit lucrative gambles and inherited wealth. Survival within a corrupt, capitalist economy that positively reinforces those whom oppress or shortchange is further hindered by policy and profit motives.

For more information on FOSTA and SESTA, check out #SurvivorsAgainstsSesta and the immense insight of Phoenix Calida

[stock photos from kaboompics]

Wicked Games

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So, I’ve been seeing a lot lately re: Amazon’s new review policy. Apparently, it’s cracking down and either banning or removing what it deems to be biased reviews. Book bloggers are predictably outraged, if not panicking.

I mean, I understand this from the bloggers’ POV since reviews are essentially their brand and a stream of income. However, as the writer I am, I’m kind of confused. Because, it seems like the majority of the reviews are “biased” in regards to the actual business model and how bloggers come by these books to review in the first place—which neither affects writers like me here or there.

Yes, I understand the algorithms and formulae wherein numerous reviews amplify visibility. I also understand that there’s something to be said as to how one actually “procures” or solicits reviews. For traditionally published authors, reviews are typically solicited from mainstream outlets; Publisher’s Weekly, for example. Independent authors can appeal to that circuit with the right contacts or sales ranks to “merit” folks take a gander, I guess.

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Independent authors may or may not hire PR, PA’s, or promotional platformers to distribute free copies of their books to reviewers. There’s no payment for this. They’re giving away free books for folks to review at their discretion. These reviewers also have the option of simply not reviewing as well, regardless of whether or not they’ve received the book. PR, PA’s, and hub sites with master lists of reviewers just distribute your book. They may guarantee a certain number of reviews too, but from whom?

Moreover, independent authors have to pay for all this themselves. They don’t get promo budgets to spend like traditionally published authors and all that stuff is expensive; and writers like me quite frankly don’t have that disposable income. On top of actually writing, we’re editing, formatting, designing covers, and working otherwise. Plus, some of us aren’t editing, formatting, or designing the covers due to information and technology gaps or limited access—which is another expense.

And after all of that, we’re still prompted to simply gift our products for reviews in an attempt to stymie the system or for “great exposure” and pay more money for the privilege of distribution. It’s uncompensated labor and something I find to be a rather ethically ambiguous dynamic.

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Of course, there’s the alternative of simply approaching bloggers and “gifting” them ourselves without the middlemen of PR, PA, or boutique review hubs. Either way, the odds of them at any point in time actually buying our books to review them is slim.

Which again, is why I’m confused and a bit nonplussed by the outrage. These reviewers are freely given the fruits of our labours. They aren’t buying our books to review them, but we’re buying or begging to be reviewed. Not to mention, these reviewers aren’t actual “experts.” We’re not exactly paying to be graced by literary legends or those whose prowess is in prose. These are just everyday people. They’re regular readerships whom monetize the reviewing system. Jolene with thousands of followers, visitors, and reviews under her belt is indistinguishable from Brenda who just enjoys romance and decides to blog her reviews as a pastime. Either can get onto a reviewers’ list (and pocket) relatively easily if they’ve consistently reviewed, use social media, and know the lore of the big leagues. There are some hobbyists who don’t charge, but the lot does.

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Reviewing itself has become another lucrative industry thanks to the algorithms and specs determinant of our visibility and success. Folks are compensated for their reviews and quotas in some cases. These reviews aren’t mandatorily “good” either. Regardless of whether you just asked or paid, or the fact that it was a free read at your expense: they can still pan the book in their review—which you paid for, literally and figuratively. That’s not biased in itself. Everyone’s entitled to their view. Unfortunately, given the aforementioned, not everyone is entitled to be acknowledged.

For writers like me, it gets kind of worse.

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Often, independent authors do not take priority over traditionally published ones. From what I’ve seen, it’s somewhat odd to see that reviewers seem likelier to actually buy books from the latter as opposed to the former. Reviewers may have reading lists stretching into next year and it’s at their discretion which come first. Whether the priority is chronological or otherwise, they’re likelier to be keen to traditionally published authors or bestsellers first simply because they’re familiar. They may also be getting bonuses or other incentives independent authors may not be privy to [afford and/or award]. Besides, common names or well-known authors are popular. They’ll drive traffic to their venture. Moreover, they’ll be the filler everyone else is talking about. Because, who mentions the unknown or little guy around the water cooler; especially when folks are already talking about somebody else, somebody known?

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Now, factor in the disparities somebody more marginalized overall fares against even if they make the cut. Think about the narratives reflecting that positionality emerge to the chagrin or bewilderment of many reviewers whose measuring stick is mainstream. Then, factor in any legit bias—which may manifest in any of the steps I just mentioned: of precisely how and why a reviewer comes by the content they review, and note how many have a disclaimer saying they got a free copy in exchange for one: good or bad. Think about the implications of capitalizing on the desperation of a creative demographic vying for visibility when they’re resigned to scream into a void regardless of their time or effort—only to selectively boost some and backlist or ignore others.

This is how marketing itself works. Trends are eventuated by folks playing favourites. It’s why the same story can be told a million times and progressively make bank. It’s why the need for “diversity” persists: because there’s little, if any space for variation. A number of marketers, social media specialists, and prosperous folks can speak to this too. It’s no coincidence particular people are visible, “viable,” & altogether supported while others…well, aren’t.

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Then, there are the actual reviewers: everyday people just reviewing. Similar to the hubs that offer services “a la carte” which include promo, most of them are just well-meaning albeit misguided social media users whom just snowball on your behalf.

Think of it like a team. If you want to win, you’ll want to have experienced players; players with your best interest in scoring a goal. Not folks who’ve never played or are halfheartedly, however earnestly trying to get in the game. Algorithms, formulas, and overall data collection that measure quantity over quality don’t care about good players. They care exclusively about goals. In theory, you could have lacking players and that’d be okay so long as they scored. And “scores” are indiscriminate, even if they’re foul goals; even if your team (or the very league) is riddled with penalties. No matter what, the more, the merrier.

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In the scheme of everything I just mentioned, reviewers are like your teammates—except their objective to score is questionable when you critically consider if they’re present; if they’re with you or actually rooting for bigger, better booksellers and tropes from other bleachers. While you essentially play by yourself for yourself (hardy-har-har). Ideally, your teammates may eventually indulge your personal objective—but what are the odds, especially when the time is now?

Remember, these reviews don’t equate or translate to sales. So, it’s a present-but-not-really game where you’re scratched onto the scoreboard by the end; while these teammates nonetheless proceed to plug other, popular names around the water cooler; and you’re the one paying the check.

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It honestly reads as somewhat sanctimonious and disingenuous when I see the lot arguing their right to review by saying Amazon’s new review policies are hurting independent authors; and that they [the reviewers themselves] are all for independent authors. Because if that were true, this dynamic of free books in exchange for reviews wouldn’t be so determinant. Moreover, if this exchange system worked, every author who “gifted” these free books would have returning reviewers and readerships based on good reviews.

Ask yourself, how many reviewers actually reinvest their compensation or pay these gifts forward to the independent authors for whom these reviews are crucial? How many reviewers leave good reviews and actually buy a book from the authors they review? When reviewers say “I’m looking forward to reading more from this author,” how many of them actually intend to read more by buying a book from that author versus expecting to just get more free books, and they’ll just write the author off if they don’t?

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Reviewers are not outraged because this new policy effects independent authors. They’re angry that it compromises their business and ongoing, free libraries. They’re mad that they’re suddenly disqualified as viable sources. They’re upset because in the game, Amazon has moved the goal posts and redrawn the boundary lines. They’re geared to play, but are now being smacked with requirements or aren’t allowed on field. In addition to that, every score they’ve made prior is being called into question. There are many whose reviews have been deleted and deemed “biased” under this new policy.

Whether this policy addresses actual bias in the reviews or the grapevine is something they can discern. They were right in a way though since the implications and liabilities of this are huge, particularly for independent authors—whom may demand refunds or whatever else to make up for this. Amazon isn’t on the hook, they are. Obviously, it depends on the terms between authors and reviewers per service though. In any case, this new policy has some potentials, good and bad. It can also be adopted by other platforms.

 

No Wonder in Wonder Woman

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Wonder Woman was the last Justice Leaguer I met when I was a kid. I spent most of my afternoons watching TVO, Fox Kids, and YTV: the latter of which featured debuts and reruns of the iconic DCAU Batman and Superman series. Between the stellar superheroines (even antiheroines) in X-Men and Spider-Man, I wasn’t exactly thinking too hard about the absence of women when it came to action and adventure; but I also wasn’t keen on the difference between DC and Marvel, the latter of which seems to have an endless erection for Wolverine despite its notoriously vast and diverse galleries of narratives.

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I met Wonder Woman in the early 00s when the Justice League animated series came out, and became more acquainted with her through cult coverage in documentaries or comic conventions. She seemed like a powerful character: a literal Amazon whose allies and nemeses were themed through Greek mythology, which appealed to me since I liked to read those classics in middle school. Her star-spangled costume with its trademark tripartite of red, white, and blue iconized her in the vein of Captain America: appealing to Americana and fashioning the heroism ascribed to the Allies whom ultimately won WWII whilst championing the USA. She was also strong and intent. Despite the chauvinism that marks faculty and fandom that surround a lot of canon, compared to her male cohorts, Diana was ironically less flushed or furious than forthright. What struck me about her story was how I felt it could parallel the X-Men [my favourite series tbh]. Her narrative was driven less by justice than discovery. Sure, she fought for ‘justice,’ but she was driven by a sense of urgency and reckoning that was yielded from an irresolute identity and past. She left Themyscira to war past and despite a realm of reservation, forged friendships, cultivated mortal enemies, and discovered the dynamics of being beyond duty.

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I’m sure there would’ve been an abundance of insight into that development and likely legendary enemies or allies added to her roster had she’d been picked up with her own DCAU series—but she wasn’t. Neither were a bunch of my beloved favourites, even if they did manage to earn the odd DCAU movie special or motion comic. Which is why the recent Wonder Woman movie was so ground breaking. Not only did it grant Diana her deserved debut to the big screen, it also reaffirmed the revelatory ethos she stood for and dignified her as a feminist icon: a beacon of light and strength amidst the otherwise all-male Justice League and spotlighted narratives. Wonder Woman was never a feminist idol of mine, although I did think she was a feminist and likewise represented feminism. I was keener to Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Zatanna when it came to DC; while Storm, Rogue, Jean Grey, Black Cat, and Calypso were my faves for Marvel. Wonder Woman was great, but I felt a bit conservative in how she emblematized Americana and idealism whereas my picks were pronounced through power, prowess, and prerogative.

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That doesn’t make Wonder Woman a ‘bad’ feminist or superheroine by comparison. It just means that I hold respect and space for Diana in a different way. Admittedly, I looked at her with new respect when the Injustice games came out. She not only mobilized the misguided Amazon army to rise above an autocratic regime against her evil twin, but she inclined people to discern between independence and interpersonality as well as pride. Her feminism was explicit rather than just implied according to her prior incarnates. She spoke directly of how men can convolute women: how misogyny drove the adoption the autocracy of Superman, and how any allegiance to him was self-destructive as well as superficial against the ethos and hubris of real warriors. And, she did actually say this stuff. Not word for word or quite as abstract, but there’s a portion where she declares these principles during the story mode. It was then my heart took a dive as she proceeded to emphasize ideas the clank of her sword against her shield, then knocked her evil twin out cold, and led the charge of her warrior sisters against Aquaman’s army. This Diana got me thinking. I could get into this side of Wonder Woman.

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Then, some years later, Wonder Woman was announced. Knowing that it was going to be run and adjunct to the lackluster series of films which comprise the latest DC hero franchise, I wasn’t exactly thrilled. For me, the recent movies—Man of Steel and Batman v Superman—bastardized any original character or canon which kind of undercut the source material. Not to mention we saw Superman and Batman on the big screen many times. Given the span of time, the frequency and continuance of their reboots was becoming more of a nuisance than a running gag; a lot like Wolverine. So, a Wonder Woman narrative which shared a similar budget and campaign was refreshing, if not surprising. It wasn’t just going to be great to see an alternate take; it was going to be epic because it hadn’t been done before. Yet, I still found myself mildly unimpressed with the promos and previews—and eventually, the actual movie. Diana was reduced to romance and rebellion rather than strength, urgency, and undertaking. Themyscira read like an afterthought to her fascination with the outside world. She embarks to eviscerate not because she can, but because of clumsy attraction. This Wonder Woman was nothing like the champions I’d read into or watched onscreen over the years, and she was the polar opposite of the star Injustice had made me fall in love with. I still don’t have the spoons to do a film review, but all I can say is that she was like a caricature: a witless warrior whose quest wasn’t to innovate or liberate, but to become one of the guys.

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Which is accentuated by Gal Gadot. She was briefly scandalized for being a Zionist, but people could’ve cared less once Wonder Woman broke. The movie captivated critics and was acclaimed by audiences as revolutionary. Folks fancied that it was a text which transmuted the mainstreamed misogyny and signal boosted ‘feminism’ as a matter of representation. Little girls and teens could now assumedly identify with this genre because it had afforded them a leading woman. As if Wonder Woman’s regalia hadn’t already afforded them that before this film. As if everything would’ve been undermined had it featured another actress.

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Consequently, Gadot was iconized akin to Wonder Woman by fans whom thereupon imposed their ideologies. She became an avatar of ‘girl power’ in light of her casting, and further assumed the role when she refused to work with Brett Ratner whose sexual harassment was exposed in the wake of callouts which followed Harvey Weinstein. I honestly don’t think much of celebrities when it comes to activism or advocacy, especially the declaredly ‘feminist’ ones whose social justice is operant upon their social capital. For me, Gadot’s Zionism and cult of celebrity discredited any likeness to Wonder Woman and feminism as I knew it. Because, the personal is political. Politics inform and reflect our worldviews, and their principles signify encoded values we abide and legitimate. Zionism is not merely problematic nor can it be divorced from someone’s personality; and given historical horrors and current events, I don’t think it should be taken lightly, especially when its assumed by a prominent celebrity who is cast as some symbol of feminism or revolution. I also just don’t think it’s wise or realistic to levy that much likeness upon one person or one text. The personae of Wonder Woman and similar heroines related as feminist are vast in and of themselves. Gadot and Wonder Woman are simply singular instances, however informed they purport to be by the whole.

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Which is why when this story broke, I was unmoved by the shock and outrage it has elicited from Wonder Woman and Gadot fans. Regardless of the script, Gadot’s correlation to Zionism spoke to a degree of amorality and antipathy which was evident in her deliverance of the role. I could also note that she seldom spoke of feminism or politics beyond that in real-time—which made all these assumptions of her feminist fervor all the more ludicrous, if not unfounded.

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When it comes to the hype of Hollywood and celebrity, prospects aren’t so much limited as they are sustained. If something is made, it’s bought. Its dislike doesn’t discount its dollars. Which is why Wonder Woman and others like her can be commodified and commercialized through any means. If their stories are ever dignified, they’re applauded. Their mere existence is seen as radical even if there is nothing particularly innovative in how they are delivered or conceived, even in considering their constituents or market objectives. I don’t know if Wonder Woman will ever get the diverse, continued cinematic treatment equivalent to her comic counterparts. What I do know is that I’m not the only one displeased by this one as it stands; nor am I the only one who discerns between the face of the character onscreen and whom or what that face belongs to IRL. Diana might not have had the profound, perspective feature film I’d hoped for; but she has had a good run and I won’t let Gadot or any other casting discredit that.

Hi, Society

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Back in 2007, I was bouncing from coasts between high schools for what was left of my sophomore year. Guitar Hero, synth-pop, leggings in lieu of pants, along with the prominence (and pervasion) of forums were all the craze. Haute was being subverted through kitsch avant-garde that was nonchalant and nihilistic, somewhat nostalgic of Warhol and the dystopian edge of the eighties.

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Social media was also taking on a new life and meaning. Platforms like Blogger, Myspace, and MSN faded out against Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram; the latter of which offered more immediacy and interconnectivity with clicked connections that enabled prompt, personalized content as opposed to tailored templates. Despite their more multiplex and expedient advances, these new sites and services were as accessible and user-friendly as their predecessors; but they were also as frenzied. The individualism was indulgent and immoderate, because there was—and still is—no oversight of this mass connectivity. People connected easily and swiftly, but not necessarily nicely.

The late 2000’s cultivated countercultures through cyberspace which were amenable to activists, but conversely bred toxic trenders and trolls; and unlike the live moderators or some semblance of staffers (however arrogant) of the ‘old days,’ amoral algorithms and unresponsive personnel then supplanted management or moderation. Which is why Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram operate as walled gardens whose fruitful objectives are more quantified than qualified. They’re bigger, better playgrounds, but there’s nothing or no one to prevent somebody—or if you’re targeted, legions—from dunking your head in the sand or cracking your teeth off the monkey bars.

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But, I could’ve honestly cared less back then. I was a sophomore, soon-to-be junior, then senior who was absorbed in aces and university applications. Social media didn’t really appeal to me either since I wasn’t keen on being social. I didn’t have many friends. Between relocations, burying myself in school and work, and what would become clinical anxiety: I couldn’t. I also just wasn’t into what was trending. Around that time, most folks in my generation (and some before) were swooning over sparkly, stalker vampires whose concept of romance was obsession—and that yielded an even creepier offshoot which nauseated me, and still affirms an apocalypse or the inevitable extinction [via self-destruction] of our species. These trends, however tripe, dignified the somewhat conspiratorial theories posed by the anti-tech crowds. The internet had bred the means and ends to not simply imposing insights and ideologies, but indoctrinating them. People became content creators who could—and did—cultivate and capitalize upon followings whose interests were not merely interconnected, but intertextual.

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Positively, this fractured the gatekeepers. Esteems earned through some establishment were no longer the exclusive determinants of merit or success. The con was pure, unadulterated populism. Free press risked the reverence and redistribution of rubbish. Catharsis could be captured, then consumed through clickbait. Our concept of that surplus, simulated connectivity bled into our concept of real life in very real ways. Society itself is social; but when media mitigates that, the social can wholeheartedly supplant rather than strengthen or subvert the personal and political. Everything becomes a spectacle: a matter of subscribers, shares, likes, hashtags, and filters in which an audience is amassed and applauds. Practice, pleasure, and personality become more performative because it isn’t about catharsis; it’s about a curtain call.

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The prospects and power of social media are well-known today, many of which have produced some notable celebrities; but it was only the tip of the iceberg when I was in high school. Social media could create social moments. Folks were eager and excited to navigate their news feeds and create their own headlines. The ludicrous albeit lucrative trends had entertained and inspired people to share, sell, and sympathize; because trends are temporal and definitive. And, these new [social] networks enabled some superfluous signs of the times.

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Maybe that was why Gossip Girl was such a hit. The series was created in the same vein as its producers’ prior hit, The O.C. which I was probably too young to get into when it first came out. It was based off a bestselling young-adult series of books, but moulded in the interests of teen angst which meant crucial, liberal departures for the sake of television. Families were drastically scaled down from their literary extensions as were the more marginalized identities of sexuality and gender fluidity, which made for a relatively tame cast of pretentious personalities. What made Gossip Girl distinct were its subtexts of classism, nepotism, elitism, and oligarchy. Most of the characters were woefully wealthy and wicked, whereas the poorer people were craven for acceptance. Everyone was envious, enchanted, and entitled to each other. Everyone had a story that simultaneously anguished and admired avarice and artifice—which was the tragic irony of it all.

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The eponymous ‘Gossip Girl’ was an online persona who ran a notorious blog devoted to narrating and knocking the lives of the main cast, for richer or poorer. Its surrealism is marked by its presence as operant as opposed to just existent. The blog was frequented and functional. It incorporated tips from onlookers which were substantiated by pictures, texts, or other messages, some benign and others malicious. Gossip Girl was effected as an equalizer who humbled its loathsome, lavish subjects amongst pessimistic peasants whom came to climb and rival their ranks. It provided a fictional, but resonant account of how real lives are affected by the ‘reality’ of social media; even if that ‘reality’ isn’t real.

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Which is why the recent #MeToo hashtag assumed a life of its own in the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s cancellation and comeuppance as a pig who weaponized his industrial interests and insights to extort sexual favours and rape with impunity. #MeToo went viral shortly thereafter to signal the solidarity of women whom had predominantly been victimized, antagonized, and otherwise objectified sexually by men whom had nonetheless prospered. Celebrities applied the hashtag to their own experiences in Hollywood, whereas others used it upon reflection of their overall assaults and ensuing traumas which were enabled by rape culture: a rape culture that social media has not only exacerbated, but aided in its venues which range from chauvinistic forums to crash dumps of revenge porn; all with faulty algorithms that discern offenders are somehow not in violation of Community Standards. Gossip Girl explored this briefly in some of its seasonal arcs, where the titular blogger is privy to sexts, sex tapes, and sexual histories of women whom are subsequently scorned or [slut-]shamed.

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I only watched Gossip Girl for Chuck Bass. He was suave, seductive, and surrealistically shrewd amongst the other moneyed misfits and hated the have-nots. He was also a rapist. The first season saw him as a misogynistic misanthrope whose toxicity is haphazardly implied to be justified by his unresolved Mommy and Daddy issues. After trying to force himself onto another character, he attempts to rape a freshman some episodes later—which is pretty much glossed over after he’s consequently punched and he somehow manages to become a redemptive, definitive personality of the overall series.

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Chuck was someone I related to family-wise and in the sense of how I internalized. I disliked people; and I was actively aware—sometimes, in awe—of how they could be airy and artificial on instinct, even to their detriment. My cynicism prevented any suspension of disbelief which was a requisite for imagination or immersion. I was more avoidant than escapist, but I preferred to take more than I gave. The difference is that I didn’t just take; and I exercised empathy in that I likewise felt wasn’t not entitled to anyone’s time or energy, because I knew (or at least, liked to think) nobody was entitled to mine. Chuck never quite got that. Maybe money, masculinity, misogyny, and misanthropy prevented him from making that leap. For all of the paltry politics and pretenses, he saw society and social media as walled gardens—and believed any- and everything were simply a means to sow his own oats. The more I watched him, the more I hoped he would change with each passing season.

But, he didn’t.

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Chuck’s progression was defined by his own permissions and parameters which would caustically, characteristically violate those of others’. The series stretched on for years and I started hating him, because his privileged, profound, and profane prerogative nullified literally any redeeming aspect. There would be glimpses of reflection, realization, along with some erratic, but earnest effort to be accountable—and it would be completely disingenuous.

Which now kind of correlates to the actor who brought him to life: Ed Westwick.

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Westwick was flying pretty high during Gossip Girl’s run, and lived relatively privately despite that while his cast mates were more in the public eye via their relationships or scandals. The only mention of him people really got were his rooming with co-star, Chance Crawford (Nate Archibald), and relationship to his co-star Jessica Szohr (Vanessa Abrams)—which only made waves since fans were annoyed he wasn’t dating his onscreen love interest, Leighton Meester (Blair Waldorf). Some other tidbits about his hobbies also surfaced. I vaguely remember folks mentioning him being a musician and theatre buff?  After Gossip Girl [colossally unsatisfactorily] ended, I think he just gradually faded out. There wasn’t any mention of his colleagues, co-stars, or confidantes in following projects; and the rest of the Gossip Girl cast had moved on with their lives in a comparably similar obscurity.

Now, Westwick has gone viral in real life akin to Weinstein and other Hollywood personnel whom have been divulged as predators.

And, I really can’t say I’m not surprised. Not because I link Ed to Chuck, but because this is a story I’ve heard before, one that I will likely always hear; one that I have myself told. Bad people can be those you’d least expect; those with an abundance of assets which are underlain with some fundamental flaw; and those you would expect given the premise of their positionality that prompts them to simply pluck or pain whom they choose. Westwick may be of either likeness in his own way; and I quite frankly find it unnerving that his response to such a grave accusation is a mere note—which oddly coincides with the concept of social media as a delineative, distributive, destructive, and sardonically disconnected force reality must reckon with, if not resolve.

UPDATE: Westwick now faces another survivor’s narrative. 

If It Isn’t Love

 

“Love” and Hip Hop

I’m seeing an old clip of Joseline Hernandez and Stevie J going off on Benzino and Althea at the season three reunion of Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta (LHHATL) resurge and go viral on Twitter. But, I find myself kind of numb rather than sharing the collective keke that echoed across the Internet.

I don’t know what other people were watching that season, but all I saw was trash.

For one, I never forgot this. Everything made sense afterward. Dee was never “overprotective” or comical. She’s one of those toxic mothers with internalized misogynoir whom coddle their sons’ rather than hold them accountable. I mention her because she “apologized” on Scrappy’s behalf; and proceeded to gently walk him through why men shouldn’t beat up on women, tit for tat, even though he had prior knowledge of Erica’s survivorship within other abusive relationships.

The cycle then extends to Bambi—who later went on to order an attack on Erica in a nightclub—whose instinct was to drag Erica regardless; as if expression of condolences was disrespectful, as if she’s responsible for Scrappy’s suspected indiscretions, as if she’s delusional and her attraction was unfounded, as if he did nothing.

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Then, there was Mimi Faust—whose sex tape with her then-boyfriend, Nikko Smith [London]—was leaked. Even though the slut shaming she received from her fellow castmates was atrocious, what hit me hardest were her ‘friends’ whom were less inclined to be supportive than sanctimonious. Which is innately contradictory to the emphatic declarations of “girl power” and “womanhood” the women in these series so earnestly and evidently, superficially cite. The condemnation and condescension she fared against from her ‘friends’ as if she were to blame for her violation; as if any resultant discrimination or abuse aren’t yielded from chauvinism and rape culture within society at large. Moreover, there’s the fact that if your friend does have a sex tape leaked, you don’t have to watch it. Nobody does. In fact, if it was leaked without their consent, your viewing is violatory. For me, there was little consolation in the fact that the video was ultimately staged. If anything, that fact just made me think of the more chilling prospects had it been real; how utterly unsupported and undermined a woman would be by her very ‘friends’ whom would rather condemn her as culpable in her victimization.

It all made me think of how and why I’ve always hated LHHATL the most: because, it’s got the ashiest characters whom reinforce the ashiest stereotypes. I know Love & Hip-Hop is already chalk full of slut shaming, internalized misogynoir, amidst the beckies and chads (and anybody else) whom blackfaced; but there’s something about LHHATL that I just can’t shake, and I feel nauseated whenever it comes on.

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It’s like a caricature of every toxic trope in a trash song: the serial cheaters; the fools who take them back time and time again; the other women or “side pieces” whom are dragged or demonized for the whole thing; the ignoramuses fighting over ain’t shit mates; and the kids who get caught in the middle, often sadly and naively encouraging their adulterous parents to reconcile. LHHATL has that on loop, and there’s no semblance of anybody remotely evolving.

I just think season three was particularly trash; between Scrappy putting hands on Erica, Mimi being slut- and body shamed for her leaked sex tape, likewise with Althea, and Kayo Redd’s suicide—all of which were glossed over, save for when they were gassed up for kekes or feels at the reunion. It makes me think of how much “reality tv” is divorced from reality, yet isn’t.

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These personas lead arrogant and airbrushed lives because folks tune in to see trainwrecks; and yet, their behaviours on meaningful issues reflect exactly what we’d expect from peers only we’re not as indulged or infantilized. We don’t have heaps of money to throw at our problems; and I have to wonder if anybody is truly as inclined to forgive and forget, as if materialism and exhibitionism can supplant intimacy in the wake of infidelity.

In the realm of performativity, are people just innately prompted to pretend when they’re being watched? Or, is it a defense mechanism wherein ignorance insulates us from painful reality? Moreover, what’s to be said about the truths translated by the lies: the simplicity that is irrevocably inconsistent and inapplicable to the reality, the enormity of life.

Perchance to Please

Late Night Viewing

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Earlier today, I managed to scavenge a laser printer and small stand which is enough to turn my room into a makeshift office—which is great, because my school doesn’t give us [its students] unpaid printer access or office space. Nor does it afford us access or discounts to textbooks and required reads that cost a small fortune. Not that I can think of other schools that do, but I wager others would do well to think about this the next time someone harps about how “nice” it is to have hard copy books and how their mood shifts to productivity on campus. Especially, when that someone happens to be a professor or upper-middle class. It never ceases to amaze me how folks subscribe to these “nice” notions from wealthy optimists; and how the avowal of alternatives is always lost on those with acceptance and an abundance of resources.

Maybe this relates to the subscription to social media and artificial intelligence—as in, indulging intelligence premised and operant upon artifice. Technology might have advanced, but life has always been more built than lived. Concepts like religion, law, and norms have imposed ideologies long before we constructed and comprised online worlds. However, there is just something distinctly indulgent and individualistic when it comes to new media; something cultivated through consumption and crowds whom command through quips and clicks, as they steal behind masks of coy and ‘cool’ personalities. Perhaps, this could account for the nervous laughter and expectant esteems that predominate; and why precedents are unspoken as well as unquestioned.

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No one covers these prospects quite like David Stewart. I came across him years ago, late one sleepless night when I’d plugged into YouTube to stay awake during revisions of a manuscript, when “Silly Boy” emerged in my recommendations. I heard something not only insightful, but immediate; and I hear this in his entire discography, which is what partially drove my first novel. Stewart is a distinct resolute, but reflective voice amidst the crass cult of celebrity. He manages to make singularity soulful instead of surplus and superficial. Every subject is simultaneously dependent and defenseless to their desires. No one is betrothed to bravado and there is no marriage to ignorance and idealism, but rather a sheer divorce from reality. “Silly Boy” ponders the purpose of pleasure in the present, however pretentious, and the absence of prospect should it be prolonged, which is thematic from the track’s album aptly titled Dark Side of Paradise. “Mirrors on the Ceiling” fixes to thrill with familiar, finite convictions which foster albeit limit likeness; “Play Love with the Devil” mourns how performativity prevents sincerity despite connectivity; and “Power” muses upon the flushed, but fading merits of the moveable and material world.

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Unlike the drugged, dispirited decadence of Dark Side of Paradise, Stewart’s second album—Late Night Viewing—evokes an erotic and existential treatment. The eponymous track, “Late Night Viewing,” sets the tone as Stewart stakes the earnest and empty, but exhibitory urgency of lovers that are ultimately aromatic albeit aroused; keenly aware that they are not alone in the universe. “Lay on the Bonnet” intones that intimacy is operant upon ignorance— “Yeah, I get that you don’t know me; but you’ve got the time to show me”—that obliging the world (and ourselves) at large devalues it. “Scream More” and “Blood Rush” convey carnivalesque carnalities, gushed and gamed, that crave candour even as they are resigned to conventionality. “Incredible” [which features Yasmin] ruminates upon a rueful, but rousing romance whose lovers are ambushed by attraction.

For me, this track bled into “Red Light” as a song that articulate the lure of liaisons which reject reason and transverse temporality; how compatibility can contradictory in our compulsion to contrasts as Stewart prompts the listener to “forget about pride” and “Make sure the Barbies don’t bring Kens.” The Grease-reminiscent “Woman in Lust” [with Wretch 32] and “Run the World” [with Example] are charged, decisive power trips which dishearten dissenters and endow eavesdroppers as impartial. “Heaven” [with Ed Sheeran] rounds out the rest of the tracks as it culminates in curiosity accompanied by anxiety and accountability; reflecting upon the repetition of mistakes, each done under the same pretext of a promised payoff, as heaven “is going to haunt us until it takes us”; while “Breathe Slow” is an airy, ambient cue of conclusion: the “party’s over” and one must “breathe slow” to internalize. Only given the immoderation imparted within the crux of the content, you’d think there was no point.

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Late Night Viewing is curious because it bears a lesson learnt in the absence of catharsis. Stewart fleshes out fine, but frigid feelings of being fulfillment: being full of nothing. He knows things won’t last, but those things still define us. Therefore, by some token, those things—however fickle—are worth whatever we expend upon them. Stewart effects this knowing that agony precedes afterglow; that indulgence and intuition are impractical, but cultivate our consciousness. We value and venture to small, sometimes hollow victories from battles we bereave in lieu of a war.

 

Reclaiming Joy Through Trial and Triumph

 

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These days, I seldom admit that I write. I don’t even call myself a writer since I doubt I can dignify the title—even though, Christ knows that must seem mighty modest considering that title is assumed by many mediocre magnates. I have always written, but I have only recently began publishing [either by myself or through independent publishers]; and I have very rarely profited off of it. The term “starving artist” took on a literal meaning for me once I invested in the venture of self-publication after traditional publishers rejected me for my indistinct niche in the market(s) and because I lacked the social capital or substantive endorsements that would’ve made me an asset. At first, I took that rejection very personally—and in some ways, I still do—but a bit of digging into the ‘success stories’ and otherwise prosperous platforms amended the slump I found myself sinking into. Because, I found that particular privileges played a prominent part in one’s ‘marketability’ and that “capitalism” is operant upon even abstract levels since there’s something inherently exploitive and exclusionary when merit is monetized, when success is more quantifiable than qualifiable, and when certain insights are inopportune.

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Which is funny because whenever I tell people about my overall life, they tend to think it makes an interesting story. I was already “starving” so to speak as a university student whose scholarships, grants, and [small] savings ensured my academic attendance while a rustic diet and the odd [inexpensive] splurge ensured my survival. Then, I was isolated from most by the time I hit grad school which exacerbated my paranoia and anxiety. Solitude surely strengthened my scholarly output, but it amplified my suspicions and self-consciousness—which already peaked during my stint in modeling that culminated in aesthetic and agented admonishments, depression, as well as eating disorders. Somewhere between my revelations in being racialized and protesting alongside students with whom I shared rage over rising tuition fees, I critically considered how life itself was a catalyst for my creativity and lack thereof. This was around the mid 2000s, when reality TV had just struck gold with a select few franchises—of which there are countless clones now—and existentialism began to wane in popular culture. Self-publishing had begun to flourish which simultaneously created and destroyed cumbersome celebrities. This was the time when social media users with millions of hits and followers were starting to be afforded endorsements, even reality shows of their own; where the lifestyles of the rich became flaunted and famous; and where the internet and personable publishing fashioned a permanency in which gossip could snowball into an avalanche.

This time would’ve marked me as an anxious preteen not so much coming of age as going with the flow. For reasons I have yet to fully explore, I developed and maintained severe avoidance issues which prompted me to disengage and depersonalize by any means possible. And, “any means” was always—and still is—art. I wrote, painted, danced, and piled on playlists. It never once occurred to me that these means were something upon which I could capitalize. When it did occur to me, I honestly didn’t care. I did art as a hobbyist and saw the advent of interconnectivity—forums, sharing sites, galleries, etc.—as beneficial for pen-pals and free access; not ‘marketing’ to a worldwide audience for coin. I only started publishing after I felt like I had a viable idea to actually market; and I was also admittedly arrogant in thinking the content that was definitive of present bestsellers and trends was somewhat banal as well as easy to surpass conceptually. Who wants to read the same story—the same, tired and [perhaps unwittingly] toxic tropes—over and over, especially in a purportedly ‘progressive’ world?

Well, pretty much everybody. Those narratives wouldn’t continue to define weight or sell otherwise. Plus, I doubt that people quite frankly can be bothered to invest in imagination or innovation given how they tasked they are with trials and tribulations. There is little, if any esteem in vision within a world whose successes are defined by expenditure—which is why being an artist or creative entrepreneur is more than a little uninspired. And, also why I literally “starved” once I invested into my creative outlet: which detracted from my thin budget and meant I was periodically and unromantically (looking at you, hipsters) fasting. But, I was no stranger to food pantries before that; and I’d met a number of other creatives going there, campus centres, as well as shelters. These places sometimes had lengthy lines, wait times, or just generally provided a piece of paradise amidst terrible weather conditions; and I had connected with a number of people in these places, many of whom I admittedly never saw again. However, each and every one of them reaffirmed my value of being cognizant of those around me no matter how substantial or superficial. I eventually realized that, despite my affinity and coping mechanism of avoidance, that I simply couldn’t ignore any- and everyone; that despite the enormity of the white noise, I couldn’t tune everyone out because I then would be unable to hear my own calling.

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And, I hear something rattle in my soul whenever I listen to Joy Conaway. I stumbled upon her through an oddly fruitful social media suggestion—a recommended page on Facebook—and I haven’t been able to stop listening to her since. Her EP, A Tale of Joy & Sorrow, is off the wall amongst an assortment of her other tracks. For instance, “Alone” is a novel and optimistic perspective on support and sentiment. It bespeaks the priceless proclivities of genuine pleasure, yet discerns that there is can be umbrage in unity in a prevalent praxis of simultaneous insensitivity and indulgence. “The Lion’s Awakening” is an acoustically driven beat avowing pride, perseverance, and personality which affirm there is no expense too great to dignify your own truth; similar to “Forever Song” that imparts the importance of invaluable, interpersonal insight despite its hardships. “Monsters” is a placid, poignant ballad conveying how we are our own worst enemies whom can be amended and astounded by love; if not, overcome by objective. While “Pretend” and “Deepest Fear” are reminiscent of the plucked peace that marked many contemporary artists of the 90s, whose tracks backgrounded the pensive dialogues and epilogues of heartland dramas; thematic of nascent, but noticeable turmoil driven by disclosure.

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For me, Joy Conaway relates to my own reconciliation of art, aversion, and avoidance. Her songs infuse light into the beacons I had burnt out from my childhood. Rarely do I ever hear such songs that are hopeful and optimistic without being idealistic. Conaway doesn’t profess that dreamers are beneficiaries on the virtue of simply dreaming, nor does she propose glory or principle in obliging some obstinate. She simply serenades the significance of sincerity and self-discovery. No track is nautically naïve or nonchalant, instead avowing anchorage amidst the sea of life and longing.

Moreover, Conaway’s craft itself is worth noting as she is a modest treasure with a small, select discography and promising platform. She creates quality content in the absence of quantifiable artifice. Her songs have soul, which is something that cannot be sold. Not that she isn’t worth investing in. The distinction is that she is a rarity whom cannot be replicated or consumed without question. Her sound has nothing formulaic or processed, which inclines one to understand that connectivity and visibility cannot and do not supplant actual value—and I believe that is also a core theme underwritten in her songs. Listeners are not only empowered by truth or triumph, but also by appreciating meaning as a matter of intimacy and sensation rather than rate.

Get Out, the Sunken Place, Slavery, and the History of J. Marion Sims

by Adiza Sanchez-Rahim ❦

 

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There’s plenty to be dissected within Jordan Peele’s social thriller, Get Out. I’ve personally read a handful of incredibly insightful pieces since watching the film—twice!

While each character had their own unique story, Georgina, played by brilliant fellow Juilliard alum, Betty Gabriel, is the most haunting character. With very few lines, Betty’s artistry conveys to the audience a deeper subtext—a tragic story of unspoken and untold Black pain, specifically that of Black women. Peele gives us a front row seat to Black horror in American history in a way that hasn’t really been done before, at least not within the film genre of a psychological thriller.

In more ways than one, Georgina is representative of the enslavement of Black women throughout history, but even more specifically, the Black women who were used as the human guinea pigs of  J. Marion Sims. As defined by Jordan Peele, “The Sunken Place means we’re marginalized. No matter how hard we scream, the system silences us.” In essence, both generations of women are trapped within the Sunken Place, shackled in either body or mind.

J. Marion Sims was a physician who was born in South Carolina in 1813. He is lauded as the father of modern gynecology. Aside from owning his own clinic in Montgomery, Alabama, he was also a plantation physician. From 1845-1849, Sims conducted a series of experimental surgeries on enslaved women sans anesthesia. He sought to perfect a technique to repair a condition called vesicovaginal fistula (abnormal fistulous tract). This basically means that there’s an opening between the vagina and the bladder, or rectum and usually occurs after traumatic childbirth. Having these fistulas meant one couldn’t bear children, nor could they continue working, which ultimately lowered these women’s value to their slave masters. During his experiments, Sims would use sutures in order to close up the opening.

One can’t quite imagine just how painful this operation must’ve been without anesthesia. There was a belief at the time that Black people didn’t feel pain in the same way that White people did, especially Black women. Sims did treat white women; although, he always treated them with anesthesia.

 

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Sims not only performed these experiments without anesthesia, he would invite other physicians to watch while he conducted surgeries on naked Black women. So, while we consider the physical pain these women experienced, we can’t forget about their loss of dignity and sexually exploited bodies.

Much like Georgina to the Armitage family, these women’s bodies were property to Sims. They could not consent to anything. I stress this point because we still have to remind white people that as a slave, you’re not afforded the privilege of self-determination. This means that you don’t do what you want; you do what you’re told.

People love to romanticize everything about slavery. So much so that enslaved women have now become “mistresses” to the white masters who raped them. Recently, the Washington Post published an article referring to Sally Hemings (an enslaved woman owned by Jefferson), as his mistress. In what reality can one engage in a consensual relationship when you’re the enslaved party? Hemings was born as Jefferson’s party and he started raping her when she was 14 and he just north of 40. Even by today’s standards, this is predatory grooming and statutory rape. For a person who legally could not say “No,” it is an even deeper level of violation. So, no: Hemings was not Jefferson’s mistress. She was a victim of rape.

Today, Sims is memorialized in statues in South Carolina, Alabama, and New York. When I think about these statues and the memorials to Sims, what I see is what’s not shown. Where does it say that this technique was perfected on the bodies of enslaved Black women? The medical advancements that all women are still benefiting from today, were obtained at great human cost. How many Georgina’s did it take for Sims to accomplish his great medical breakthrough?

Yet, our society refuses to even entertain the discussion. People would rather forget about Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsy. The character of Georgina acts as a staunch reminder of the generational trauma that we as Black women carry with us from the days of slavery. We carry it within our DNA. If we toss away these images, these women’s stories will be lost. I want to hear their stories. As Viola Davis said, “Exhume those bodies, exhume those stories.” It is our responsibility to make sure their names aren’t forgotten. We do not know what Georgina’s name was prior to her entering the Armitage house and becoming the slave of Grandma Armitage. Like Andre, later known as Logan, her name was most likely changed. Her body was stolen and her identity erased.

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There’s plenty to be said for how Black bodies have been conceptualized by the medical profession throughout history. Jordan Peele makes direct reference to this dynamic, along with the lack of agency Black people have had over our own bodies for millennia. It shines a light on the longtime legacy of Black female bodies repeatedly violated, and how we’ve been forced to carry the burdens of others.

While many would find it easy to say, “That’s all in the past,” I invoke the words of William Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Fury and Future

Fierce for the Night

The first time I heard disco, I was in early grade school. Even then, at that age, it was defined as a thing of the past: a relic, yet a reverberant realm of endless possibilities. With ambition afloat and airy affections, the genre still rings more supple than succinct. It was only until recently that I understood why I found it infectious and why its composition is a timeless treasure.

Disco deigns delight and desire where there is none; or rather, where it is dormant. It invokes insight and instinct that is not only repressed, but also agonizingly absent in the meticulous monotony maintained in daily life. Disco simultaneously drives and disorients us with our own emptiness, because it single-handedly encapsulates and articulates the esteem of every energy and emotion.

This is why one of its core, collective ideals was unity. It esteemed expression and androgyny, but it inclined coming together. Even though it could convey contrarianism, I think that it emboldened a more passive form of resistance. More or less, disco songs pride us as playmates in paradise; as opposed to casting us as militant or heated comrades as in genres that build more upon rock and stricter soul.

Which is perhaps why its popularity declined towards the eighties, a decade that roused a revival and nostalgia of the social justice activism and free love of the sixties. Rock was anglicized to articulate the anger and annoyance of the West, whereas more intellectualized and weaponized in the East.

A discursive dystopia emerged artistically as people somehow started to grasp that their futures were being not only driven, but dictated by woeful world events and paltry politicians. The sixties’ strides had elapsed with modern, morbid developments dedicated to the destruction of marginalized communities lest they mobilize again.

And, the advent of neoliberalism was the dissolution of unity. It corrupted the concord and sense of community disco had striven to invoke. People could no longer be appeased by a buoyant, boogie beat, nor could they honestly or wistfully aspire to the prospect of an airbrushed utopia.

After the pounding preclude of rock, brass ballads and new jack swing began to voice a sense of urgency and agency. The nineties then built upon that and culminated with loud, lurid resistance bespoken in the rage of rap and grunge; while carnalities and consorts were serenaded in smoother evolutions of new jack swing, R&B, and soul. Symphonic pop briefly endeared and empowered throngs, until existentialism emerged as audible apathy in later anthems of the decade while techno and house hailed the millennium with acclaimed avarice and excess.

But, disco was there through it all. You could hear it in the sequencers and synthesizers. You could hear it in the pensive lyrics that pined after paradise despite the droll of the daily grind and colourless corporates amidst the concrete jungle. You could hear it in the ironic inflections of craven, crestfallen hopefuls whom dared to dream despite their trials and tribulations. You could hear it, because you could know it; knowing that wanderlust led to wonderland. And, you could hear it in a like heartbeat that throbbed against yours.

Now, you can hear it in nu-disco: a generic derivative from the classic.

 

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Which is how I came to hear Virginia, a songstress from Europe whose latest album, Fierce for the Night, is currently the only reason I visit SoundCloud. Fierce for the Night is a comprehensive contemporary coveted by and within the classics. Virginia gives voice to an objective, optimistic confidante whose acumen comes not from academia or accomplishments, but from adversities.

The eponymous track, “Fierce for the Night,” is a blithe beaten track whose refrain—fierce for the night, fierce for your love—accentuates its powerful pulse. “Bally Linny” is a brooding, barred arrangement grounded by its gradual progression; “Funkert” is a raw, regretful rhythm reflective of the reality that love is not a game, but a powerful emotion whose trivialization yields intense consequences; “Follow Me” evokes the esteem of early electronica underlain with rave and breakbeat; and “Han” balances plausive percussion and a light, layered hymn to dreams.

“Believe in Time” is a tempered, trancelike tune musing into the mediocrity, monotony, and malignancy of the moment that transcends temporal space. Its verses are ventures that discern the ‘nu’ of ‘nu-disco.’ Because, unlike the classic’s confidence and camaraderie, the contemporary is rather disillusioned and dispirited, but not disconsolate.

“Subdued Colors” also enunciates a dearth of deliverance that afflicts hopefuls, the classic believers, who fare against a fiscal future. “Lies” uncovers the umbrage faced when one abides the ascriptions of artifice through a conventionality and gentility that are as functional as disingenuous; and “Raverd” declares a genuine connection that couples buoyant beats with echoed avowal, while “Obstacle” parries the principle and proficiency of perseverance against unlikely odds.

Fierce for the Night nods to the ascendant cadence of disco, yet parlays the pessimistic parameters of the present. It doesn’t discourage tact or tenacity, but it recognizes the reality and triviality of tropes and trends that are paced as well as practiced to procure capital. Virginia cautions us against living on the increasingly strained hope that we will someday be good enough instead of treasuring today, because poised pretension and performativity assures dark days ahead. She compels us to take a hard look at ourselves and the world around us; and to take an even harder look upon whom, what, and where we draw happiness.

And, she sounds funky doing it.

Of Chants and Chasms

Chained to the Rhythm

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Earlier this year, Katy Perry released new a single—“Chained to the Rhythm”—true to her signature sound of upbeat, nascent beats coupled with blithe lyrics reminiscent of the 80s. However, the single is surprisingly existential as it raises a handful of questions about not only the quality of life, but the meaning of it. Perry marries a buoyant beat to a myriad of uncomfortable universal truths reflective of how humanity is less subverted than supplanted by its increased reliance upon advanced technologies. Rather than abject anthem or content chorale, it rings like a Black Mirror episode. It dramatizes a dystopian narrative wherein rhythm allegorizes routines and repressors in respect to social norms that stilt imagination and alienate alternatives.

The song opens to invite us to critically consider our positionality in a spiritual scheme. The beat itself foregrounds any accusatory undertones, sparing listeners any guilt or conceptions of complacency, which makes for an interesting ideation. Perry isn’t the first (and won’t be the last) to liken the coveted picket fence as a prison, but her conveyance of interpersonality being transmuted by insatiability tickles my sociological prowess. This is a concept that occupies many character dialogues in my novels.

Perry’s perspective elicits a subtler, sinister sense however; which again, thanks to the beat, is moderated. The prospect of being depersonalized from your own identity due to its imperfections in order to ornament your dream life is unnerving, and something I admittedly find myself thinking about. The older I grow, the more established I stand to become, the more I realize that I condemn and censure certain pieces of myself; inconvenient pieces that don’t fit into the puzzle I can assemble.

Moreover, this compulsion to conceal the inopportune aspects of one’s identity is exactly what prevents honesty. The pretense outdoes the purpose, because relationships founded upon fictions ultimately prevent and dissuade genuine connections. It’s why the elites can have the world at their feet, in their pockets, and abide (and define) aesthetic hegemonies, yet maintain miserable lives. It’s why social media celebrities and platformers can have huge followings, but feel utterly disconnected. It’s why those whom we live vicariously through—whom appear to be living out our wildest dreams of fashion, fame, and fortune—are themselves disenchanted from the very thrall in which onlookers are spellbound. The pre-chorus quip that references rose-coloured glasses describes this vacuous visuality, wherein centerpieces and audiences alike are misled to idolize insincere tropes of beauty and happiness. It’s clear that parties are likewise accountable, as consumers and creators make a conscious choice to be ignorant through indulgent idealism.

This articulates the advent of modernism and capitalism being escapism driven by an illusion of individualism. Rather than connect through social media and technological advances, people are inclined to overstate their own personalities—which cease to be unique because collective representations and viral trends define the ways in which they exemplify their esteems. The populace is neither inimitable or happenstance, because it is operant upon uniform constants of memes, avatars, and other cultural staples.

The indulgence of the imagined individual scorns goodwill and prompts people to think wholly in transactional terms where the value of someone is determinant on their followers, likes, shares, or finances; and where ‘friendships’ are founded not upon understandings of reciprocity and affection, but upon tangible assets and abjection. This is why utopia is lonely: because it is ingenuine and impersonal, not sincere or sentimental. The perfect body, the perfect family, the perfection peeking through the picket fence: none of it is inhabited or indisposed, because it must be immaculate. Think of that display case in the museum full of costly collectibles that are pretty, priceless—perfect—also untouchable and unable to feel.

In our case, we are unable to show we feel. Perry peruses this in her second verse: “Are we tone deaf? Keep sweeping it under the mat. Thought we could do better than that. I hope we can.” To pine for perfection, to preserve pretenses, to fight against reality for the fantasy is to abdicate authenticity. Skip Marley’s verse explicates this quite plainly in the context of crafty corporates and Machiavellian elites, “the empire,” albeit closes on a somewhat optimistic note on the assertion of an inevitable uprising—which I think affords the masses too much credit. My own misadventures in grassroots activism and contending policymakers—in addition to, again, sociology—inclines me to be more pessimistic. There have been countless provocative speeches, essays that particularize pain, amidst many other incentives that illustrate inequality and abysmal artifice. Yet, here we are: still fattening the wallets of the rich, still forsaking our humanity in favour of painstaking performativity, and still priding profit over principle or people.

Although the song ends as it began, on a bouncy beat, the music video zooms in on Perry’s face. The character she plays is one who is exceptional to the rigid, repressive rhythm she describes and consequently concludes with an expression of agonizing realization. I’m not sure if this marks the beginning of a thematic arc where this character either overcomes or buckles beneath the luminous dystopia, but the sight alone conveys the crisis of one who is repulsed yet dependent upon their world.