When The Party’s Over

…if it ever started.

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I think a part of growing up in this day and age is discerning IRL prospects from fickle social capital. This may be part and parcel with the assertion: “High school doesn’t last forever,” a proverb engrained upon young student bodies by various adults; mostly career or guidance counsellors. The saying didn’t really resonate during the first half of the twentieth century since success and acceptance had been so politicized in terms of aristocracy and respectability. Since face was so esteemed, there wasn’t such a thing as outgrowing your class: literal or figurative.

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Then, “High school doesn’t last forever” was only alluded to in the sixties given the ascent of the middle class along with scores of rags to riches celebrities who became staples of transcendence, divination, and countercultures.

During the late seventies, it became a mantra to empower marginalized academics; people who were defined by isolation and scarcity with a penchant for STEM fields—who would go on to cultivate lucrative empires, some of which are revered to date. This carried on into the eighties where class divisions somewhat coalesced since students could be sponsored more openly as opposed to exclusively, if not painstakingly chosen or moderated by private benefactors. These ascensions would play into the innately contradictory pastiche of decadent albeit disillusioned yuppies and revellers. New drugs along with new cults [of celebrity and Darwinian sci-fi angles] bled into what became an antithetical outlook of existentialism and nihilism.

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What drove home the mantra was how everyone could relate to how high school was particularly hateful and hierarchal. Knowing it literally was only a matter of time was said as an assurance. What was ironic was that it had to be said in the first place, because it evinced the inaction of the adults who floated this consolation. The toxic cultures of high school were bred by the same people who sold this proverb as motivational. There were no callouts or interventions. No expulsions. Not much beyond a slap on the wrist. The very same people who swore the anguish wouldn’t last forever either ignored or idled by as it happened. Except in these decades, students had a firmer grasp of world events and a whiff of corporate politics. The wider range of press, peer groups, along with the seamless portals between nightlife and the high life shaped their emotive and intellectual landscapes—and with that came not only the cognizance, but reactions to adult hypocrisy.

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Of course, hypocrisy was nothing new; its awareness just materialized as a rite of passage. Pop culture monetized tropes of student solidarity on a local level. The villainous parliamentarians and warmongers were still screwing the world over, but students were inclined to note how they were otherwise antagonized; and to an extent, to note how their protectors [parents, guardians, voting or apathetic adults] had themselves played into the hands of the evil, elite overseers—whose legacy they would fare against once they grew up.

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The more they stewed and speculated, the clearer things became. The immediate adults didn’t have their best interests at heart which was even more of a betrayal than the tyrannous conglomerates. So, the objective became to overthrow, not merely outwit disgruntled parents and educators.

Even though ranks were clear, peer groups diversified by interest. There were still kings and queens, but also monarchies—which wasn’t too different from the real world. What marked the shift in the later decade was how one could not only climb ranks, but climb as high as they desired by any means possible to the chagrin of peers and elders. Growing up afforded the prospect of independence and outclassing anyone at anytime.

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Which would be great if life was only about reputation. The consolation that there are bigger fish to fry in the sea of life as well as possessing the agency to move with, lead, or even surpass the school doesn’t hold much water for the people who must swim against the tide. Everyday people internalized a morsel of that when they found themselves alienated; wholly investing in systems and socialites only to turn up short. The “cool kids” were everywhere and nowhere—the selective [back then, rare] social influencers, the glamorous heirs, the ingenious economists, the reclusive visionaries—all of whom were just as likely to be the gold stars or the odd ones out in high school.

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By the time the nineties rolled round, people began to notice that there was a distinct singularity of the real-time scene king or queen. They offered little, if anything of real value that was usually in the form of a single “circumstantial” asset. The royals were by default conventionally attractive which made their “good looks” unremarkable—something people invariably learned through the billion-dollar beauty industries which banked upon consumer insecurities, and the gatekeepers who absconded them. Beyond that, what was there? Contagious laughter? Comic “genius”? A golden arm or other appendage? Generous allowances?

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Whatever it was, it was always one thing. There was a range of depth (or lack thereof) in terms of personality or what made the cool kids unique as people in and of themselves; but when it came to popularity, all of that was insubstantial. While this fact wasn’t new, it struck home in the nineties for most of the same reasons students were inclined to think more critically about what did/didn’t set apart their peers and protectors decades before. The nineties just drew this out more because [of] most civil wars had been escalated or prolonged to a disastrous precipice; the hypervisibility and Othering of drug epidemics and state sanctioned brutality; the individualism and idealism which defined Generation X; and many people believed 2000 would be the end of the world.

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This decade also saw a break where adults could no longer assume an inactive or misguided whilst condescending stance for youth. What were understood to be adult ills found their way to high schools and afflicted students therein. Adults couldn’t simply sit back and assure students nothing lasted forever in this decade because by then, things had gone too far to the wayside on a grand scale. Surviving high school became a feat in itself. The drug use, gun violence, and a burgeoning attempt to acknowledge rape culture yielded too many casualties. I also think that a good chuck of adults in this era were also incentivized to act since they bore in mind their own youthful revelations and resistances. They had seen casualties firsthand of their own or of others. Grassroots initiatives and community outreach became transformative staples. Anti-bullying, anger management, and gun control (and education) campaigns emerged in the tragic wake of murderous spats between students. Active efforts were also explored to better suicide prevention. The derisive resolve of grunge icons and the underground also inclined folks against uncritically revering authority.

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And, that all gradually wilted once the internet flourished. There was the upside in enabling connectivity, insulating communities, and open access information. However, none of that outweighed the cons: cyberbullying, cyber-stalking, death threats, doxing, romanticism; and how the power of numbers is subverted to quantify rather than qualify merit, instead of uniting a working majority against a corrupt minority who control natural and monetary reservoirs.

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While people started to question and outgrow the popularity complex and the one-dimensionality of those at the top, the 2000s saw the internet completely transform the cult of the individual. Social media imbued users with a wealth of tools to assume airs. Unlike what folks came to see as the garden variety patrician IRL, online personae assume a sentience because of technological matrices. This is evinced in the disparities between the Kiki who gleans acclaim [by means of circulation and validation] from tens of thousands online, everyday people and celebrities alike; and the unremarkable mendicant who is ultimately faceless and penniless IRL.

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Truth or Die (also known as Truth or Dare) is one of many movies at whose heart is the confrontation of shifting positionalities and the culture shock of new versus old technologies. It follows the familiar setup of scores unsettled and bones unpicked premised through flashbacks which afflict what’s intended to be a friendly reunion. One of the integral conflicts sees a main character’s (Felix, played by Tom Kane) unrequited crush that sows discord—which would go on to ultimately hollow past and prospective relationships. While the character’s trauma remains in the foreground, a core focus is their deficit social capital as a result.

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While the murder mystery that unfolds is rather formulaic, what makes Truth or Die unique is the lens of it looks through. Reality hinges upon the fact that media and capital are at odds in how they serve to disrupt or fracture social networks. The main characters comprise a peer group whose members were popular in trademark fashion: the archetype one who is an optimist, the goof, the athlete, the rich, the rationalist—but nobody was ever more than one. The present day reunion makes for a contemporary past their former lives were set in, which informs the precarious rank they held over their nonplussed classmates.

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True to the adage, the group dissolves as time passed. They grow enraged, then estranged after a fallout. Most of them forget one another as they make new ties once they sever old ones. Felix’s brother, Justin—played by the handsome David Oakes [who has made me salivate since The Borgias]—orchestrates their reunion. He invites them to a dinner party; the occasion to celebrate Felix’s homecoming; the venue being a cabin on his family’s estate. While some might cite the lack of character development or back story could hamper the story, I find thats exactly what strengthens the narrative in respect to the theme of reunion. Whats past or present is inconsequential since these archetypes, just like those of high school realities, are genuinely unlikeable characters. It doesnt matter where they came from, where theyre headed, or what trials and tribulations they face. Theyre the cool kids. Their existenceand statusis contingent upon their often cruel subjectification of others. Nothing justifies that. No insight into their personal lives or catharses would elicit sympathy; which is what makes Justin’s creed somewhat identifiable, if not noble. This role also drives home Oakes’ virtuosity as an actor. At least, if you’ve kept up with his filmography. This is one of many characters which evince his mutability. His personae are superb since he’s totally believable as hero or villain, and he’s married the two in this latest crusade.

20This kind of rising action isn’t exactly new, but precarity is what marks this departure: how easily havoc can be wrought by ranks and media is what’s thematic of the overall film. I found Truth or Die more honest and grounded than similar series—Gossip Girl being the infamous example—in its dynamics and execution. Profound revelations bleed through point blank dialogue in the absence of cosmic or quirky coincidences. The lack of pretension redirects viewers to the actual plot rather than suspend their disbelief. And the cinematography that hones in on every subject through mostly mid to tight closeups emphasizes both literal and figurative faces. An expressive focus is further diffused by russet, sparsely furnished interiors and dark forest thickets which comprise the mise-en-scène.

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There’s also an element of surrealism as bites of a melancholic, transcendent narration muse upon both living and dying in the moment. Moreover, how the moment loses rather than retains meaning as new technologies emerge to record it. Truth or Die incorporates a dimension of mastery which motivates one’s compulsion to photograph, videotape, scrapbook, or otherwise archive; where one can always assume a degree of control—however small or significant—over a moment that technology can capture. It also relates to a generational divide; where antiquated technologies crystallize precious moments versus the profuse modern, individual histories which hang online through public archives and activity logs.

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However, Truth or Die falls short in its adherence to the archetype tale. Occasional campy exchanges and emphatic, spontaneous outbursts undermine narrative tension. This ends up reducing a chunk of reactions to stilt performances. Erraticism then minimizes the characters’ desperation as they try to bully out confessions and search for escape routes. It’s hard to believe they’re driven wholly by a sense of urgency as they saunter through scene by scene since they can’t be bothered to tread lightly. It’s even harder to believe they’re sympathetic as they turn on one another in a way that’s more flighty than callous.

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Then, there’s Felix as a framing device: the clumsy recluse everyone is so keen to demoralize. His credulity makes for an obvious red herring. The camerawork is also a bit shaky in parts where it shouldn’t be; and cuts which go from straight on to canted angles disjoint the focus, particularly in sequences with dialogue.

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And, the obvious thread that ties everything together here is that life does indeed beat beyond high school. Ironically, this is a pretty obvious element that tends to be downplayed or entirely overlooked in high school whodunnit reunion tales. The only explicit, fleshed out references to high school are ambivalent flashbacks that allude to potential murder motives or scenes within (or following) the climax when the culprit is unmasked. You’d think that wouldn’t be the case given the literal premise of these tales. It’s a shame because it’s such a simple, clever way to frame plot and character development—which in itself motivates why people have high school reunions.

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No matter how much times change, the saying that “High school doesn’t last forever” resonates on the principle that happiness and bragging rights await those who take playground politics in stride. People don’t show up to high school reunions to check in or rekindle friendships. They show up to show out: drive home how they’ve become “cool kids” in their own right; gloat over how the cold, real world of adulthood overshadows whatever twinkled at the centre lunch table or bleachers.

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The motive is petty in hindsight, but something most of us can relate to. I’m not exactly stewing over things everyday, every time, plotting in the wilderness; wearing a skull shirt and trench coat, resolving to enact vengeance—only to realize no matter what, it will always consume me long after the final execution. But I’m aware there are past qualms I’ve yet to suss out which have manifest in how I relate to things; and I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t feel the teeniest bit vindicated if I heard tragedy struck the monsters I knew in high school. Truth or Die acknowledges this not so guilty pleasure as it reinforces not only how far its circle of friends have fallen from glamorous graces, but how these falls serve as comeuppance. Nobody is perfect nor are they exempt from karma, but there are certain people who are duly dealt a distinct brand of just deserters.

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.

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.”

Off With Her Head!

The Reviled Royals of Versailles

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Life is a curious construct. Regardless of the colorblind Pollyanna people like to preach, we are discerned by positionality and praxis. Nothing conveys that better than media. Social media compounds this curiosity as it inclines individualism in its technologies. People pander through performative portals with not a sense of purpose, but profit as they negotiate using consumptive and innately corrupt currencies. The user objective is to platform more than resonate, and one’s capacity to succeed is determinant on their power.

Success isn’t about passion, pride, or principle. It’s about privilege. You create [sometimes, coercive] connections and exploit their esteems, even if it’s disingenuous. This is definitive of celebrities, elites, as well as the one percent. They attain acclaim through a friend of a friend. Their lives change thanks to a key contact. They’re plucked out of poverty and obscurity by idols or execs. The rest is history.

 

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Of course, the reality of superficial stardom makes for a stale narrative. Tales of luck or hard work downplay privilege in favour of selling passion and perseverance. The rhetoric is not simply remarkably romanticized, but also earnestly accepted because people strive to sympathize. Rather than argue against adversities and fight for a feast of fortune, people instead settle for scraps and uncritically revere hyper visible personalities. The knowledge that all the world’s a stage means that personage is a matter of patronage. Surveillance and surveying our social capital creates a compulsion for complacency. It becomes easier to idle insights, trivialize time, and force laughter as we fare against humorless hubris. Learning to lie is simpler than dignifying or tempering our truths.

After I did my first thesis, I started to see how conformity was connected to comfort. I read into Max Weber’s theories of rationality and authority, and hadn’t understood his focus on religion until then. Because, he wasn’t exactly interested in religion per se as he was religiosity. Most of his famous contributions revolve around the rationales and ways in which people worship. What struck me about Weber was that he noted that nothing was above conformity or more specifically, social engineering—which is why religions, theologies, and divinities can be sold to further man-made values. Anything can be sold. Nothing is sacred.

But, people like the think they’re special. Few can admit, let alone face their flaws. Everything has to be extraordinary or outstanding otherwise, hardly anyone avails the average. People are eager to glamorize excess and the salaried sloths whom lead lives of leisure, more than they are to thank everyday heroes. This is why people happily conform to a hive mind: because, obliging orthodoxy makes easier to reconcile the reality of life as an insect.

This was all I could think of as I watched The Queen of Versailles, a documentary chronicling the dissolution of a corporate empire and its blissfully ignorant home. The film follows the Siegels, the family whom own Westgate Resorts, a once booming business that the economic decline now renders a not so lucrative conglomerate of timeshares. I found the family like a caricature and the more I watched, the more I wondered if I was watching a documentary or a classist comedy sketch. Between David Siegel fulfilling the typecast elder patriarch with a penchant for cleavage and profit; and his wife, Jackie, whose divorce from reality overshadows their marriage; along with their bratty camp of kids: we’re afforded glimpses into the poignant perspectives of their hired help whom are simply resigned to the reality of the Siegel’s overindulgence.

The documentary was originally intended to cover the construction of Versailles, a palace property the Siegels were in the process of building and planned to move into, but the film ended up covering the family’s—and their business’—debility as the economic decline plummets their profits. David copes by closing himself off in his study, rummaging through stacks of papers, perhaps hoping to find something salvageable in the figure’s margins. The decline doesn’t deter Jackie although her smile cracks in accordance to the fissures in her family, notably when their shrinking budget forces them to halve their housekeeping staff. The younger children prance about as usual with the odd tantrum for toys, while the two oldest appear acutely albeit apathetically aware of the altered dynamic.

The documentary was originally intended to cover the construction of Versailles, a palace property the Siegels were in the process of building and planned to move into, but the film ended up covering the family’s—and their business’—debility as the economic decline plummets their profits. David copes by closing himself off in his study, rummaging through stacks of papers, perhaps hoping to find something salvageable in the figure’s margins. The decline doesn’t deter Jackie although her smile cracks in accordance to the fissures in her family, notably when their shrinking budget forces them to halve their housekeeping staff. The younger children prance about as usual with the odd tantrum for toys, while the two oldest appear acutely albeit apathetically aware of the altered dynamic.

Despite the avaricious abstracts, the characters in The Queen of Versailles have no catharsis. Jackie merely pines to perfect her plastered smile as faraway friends, acquaintances, and associates seldom call; while the more David’s tasked, the testier he grows. The children don’t make do, but continue to gorge themselves with gourmandise. And, most of the staff has either left to pursue their own professional ventures or manage their already modest livings in resignation to the Siegels’ surfeit. The dismal economy only prompts them to anchor themselves downward amidst an opulent ocean rather than rafting together, counting their blessings, or pragmatizing what’s left of their assets. Financial strains not only afflict, but define them.

Stripped of their security and surplus, they continue to treasure tenets instead of one another. All the more reliant upon the illusion of inimitability, Jackie remains airy and artless as her kids float around. She refuses to be grounded, localized or normalized. She lives to peddle and pacify her pedestal, musing on how seemingly callous her ‘friends’ are whom remain distanced or otherwise disengaged as her castle crumbles. Meanwhile, David begrudges his family as their overindulgence translates into overdependence; as they heedlessly spend instead of save. He stews in isolation to the chagrin of his wife and curious cohorts, and chastises his children for prodding into his private time. The only company he can tolerate is that of Jackie’s small show dogs, whose feces litters and moulds into miscellaneous points of the mansion since the lessened housekeepers cannot tidy up after them and the Siegels are apparently unable to clean for themselves.

However vacuous the Siegels seem, their umbrage and updates prevent viewers from gleaning any sincere satisfaction. They manage to retain and revalue their riches instead of dwelling on their depletionand the suicide (?) of their eldest daughter casts them in a sympathetic light as adrift advocates against bullying and for suicide prevention. The Siegel empire is salvageable enough to afford each child a sizeable inheritance and indefinite income, while the help still scurry behind the scenes, unappreciated as usual. Their immoderation remains idolized instead of critically considered. The Siegels’ story makes us coldly cognizant of just the inequalities in the capital world, where a sustainable and fair redistribution of wealth remains to be seen because we are blinded by the decadent bourgeoisie. One can’t help pondering the poverties of our world as the camera pans over the ruins of their still, far from unfinished Versailles palace.

The Queen of Versailles illustrates how waning wealth enrages the elites whom are already entitled, but parses how they are nonetheless upheld by meandering masses and paying personnel. The stuffiness is cyclical as craven consumers vie to live vicariously through fettering figures like Jackie or David, or even one of their bored and bratty children whom need only ask to receive. People figuratively and literally buy into the furnished façades of those like the Siegels despite the hollow, haughty and hawkish, personalities that lurk behind the mask.

Narratives like this are why I feel ambivalent about viral callouts, drags, etc. They’re often resultant of people getting fired and otherwise forced into being accountable, but they’re also relatively one dimensional. People guilted don’t become enlightened, just embarrassed and further vindicated in their hate as the wrath it yields from the masses or bandwagons that dug them down. Odds are their employers and the like will drop them to disassociate, but they’ll get a good reference nonetheless—and on to the next one.

Given the religiosity with which we hail personalities, I don’t think people really get how easy it is to recover from a social media demise; how not seriously these things are taken in the long run as nothing seldom changes. It’s never truly “one less racist,” “one less classist,” or “one less sexist,” etc. because these people lead lucrative lives beyond their profiles, and are upheld by a wide selection of peers (who likely share their views) as well general institutions.

This is why that biracial Black woman can go viral after taping, then sharing her ex’s rant full of n-bombs; and nonetheless, engage in antiblackness herself as she reaps social capitalThis is why tons of Black men espousing violent misogynoir can maintain a platform of followers and bounce back after deactivation. And, this is why businesses/corporations/companies manage to thrive and retain idealistic clientele despite low ratings. Because, it’s one thing to cancel someone or something, but it’s another to make sure they stay canceled.

Moreover, I always find myself wondering just whom and what gets to go viral. There are countless instances of discrimination that are shared online each day, countless trash cans, but only a select few are widely shared or acknowledged. I wonder what it takes to get that visibility or community wherein I can actually count on people to either share or shut down in solidarity, instead of just my being a nobody whose qualms or ventures go unnoticed.

Y’all are out here trending celebs and quirky catchphrases, and making it rain for hucksters or suits, while your disinterest or distraction is figuratively and literally starving those about that life; albeit you don’t think twice to reference or reap the benefits of their sacrifice.

While leadership matters, it ultimately doesn’t take a mayorIt takes a village. And, all these mansions and bridges being built for “the cool kids” and Spiegels of the world while those of us live in shanties makes for a crap village.

Which is why nothing can or will ever come of this “community.”

Of Parlance and Pastimes

Pisces

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Online and in real life, legions of romance fans claim that stylized stereotypes mainstreamed in popular media are all in good fun and totally harmless; and that dissenters are either imagining or exaggerating their cons. The same could be said for more of the intellectual perspectives regarding interpersonal idealism. Hyung-Tae Kim’s Pisces assumes a refreshing, riveting point of view that marries real and surreal.

Pisces centralizes Aeryun, played by Lee Mi-Yeon, a rental video store owner who loves movies. She is quiet albeit charismatic with her customers, often suggesting movies according to their personalities that further tailor tastes in film and culture. Dongsuk, played by Choi Woo-Jae [also known as the man of my dreams], is relieved by her recommendations as well as their many mutual interests in music, film, and fish. However, this seemingly ideal setup breeds inelegance, not intimacy. Any prospects of pleasure or realm of romance concerning Aeryun and Dongsuk shatter as their friendship falters.

The film portrays Aeryun’s descent from amity to infatuation, to obsession. Its resonance plays upon how often we are sold the stalking sensualist as noble or noteworthy, which realities of rape culture reflect are not fictionalized. Pisces bares the truth of this trope for the projection and paranoia it is. Its slow pace prolongs every painstaking, pathological detail which mirrors how these relationships work in real time.

Unlike the popular romance or drama setup, Dongsuk isn’t interested when Aeryun articulates his affection. Their shared interests and token chemistry aren’t enough to ensure a hookup or happy ending. Piscespresents the erratic, ‘endearing’ pursuit past refusal as ignoble and invasive. There is nothing adorable, persuasive, let alone rational about someone who doesn’t—or ‘can’t’—take no for an answer; and Hyung-Tae’s forthright literality of that personality appeals to viewers’ sensibilities as opposed to their sentimentalities.

While Aeryun represents furtive fixation, Dongsuk conveys common, abysmal ambitions that seldom come to fruition. He has a specific, grand sense of self that wilts against the greater society which constrains lower castes to servile livelihoods. Moreover, he is immodest albeit inconspicuous; something his gatekeepers sense and reference in their rejections. The audience sees this through his maladaptive dependency and drunken stupors of self-deprecation, notably when he staggers into Aeryun’s shop afterhours with slurred regrets over a failed contract.

In comparison, Aeryun is humble. Compared to Dongsuk, she has simpler ambitions as well as a smaller, stringent, and selective circle of friends. She is reserved, but resolute in addition to introverted; while he is gregarious. His charms and magnetism make him an unwitting extrovert; but his casual attitude eclipses those assets. He has dreams, but lacks foresight and resolution which prevents him from appreciating as well as acknowledging deeper meanings. In that way, he epitomizes the film’s greatest irony: dismissing the extol and extent of Aeryun’s feelings for him and life as they know it, whilst sympathizing with the profound principles in the movies he rents from her.

The PSYCH film scholar in me also takes note of how film itself is metaphorized as well as transmuted. For the audience, everything is evident to us in its entirety as onlookers. Everything is also identifiable, in the sense that we internalize the scenes in accordance to our worldviews and personal experiences—which is why we are not truly objective. The characters cultivate their own truths founded upon tropes of lies. This itself is a statement on the conscious and unconscious performativity through which we live vicariously and uncritically revere. Life is less lived than institutionalized, and the knowledge our mortality and humanity is of no consequence as we abide inequitable hegemonic orders. Pisces breaks the fourth wall somewhat, because it depicts characters who muse upon modal means that justify largely dead ends even as observers. Their capacity to watch films and sympathize with other likenesses don’t negate their imperfections nor prevent their mistakes.

The saying “You can lead a horse to water, but can’t make it drink” comes to mind as Pisces proposes we are privy to see senseless scenarios and abject antics play out over and over in film and elsewhere, yet we are ultimately unable to heed cautionary tales. Whether that inability comes from willful ignorance, rueful romanticism, or simply flaws attributed to human nature is a question Hyung-Tae—and Aeryun, and Dongsuk—leave open.