William Blake and Janina’s Legacies

William Blake was an English poet, painter, and printmaker who lived in England from 1757-1827. He was largely unrecognized during his life but is now seen as a prominent figure in the poetry and art of the Romantic Age. Blake was considered to be “mad” by his contemporaries and other people who worked alongside him, he later became highly regarded for his creativity and forward thinking. His goal in writing his poetry was to create change in the social order and in the minds of men. 

Blake’s views and goals for his work are very similar to Janina’s in Plow. Janina’s goal by writing this book and introducing us into her world was supposedly in an effort to tell her side of the story and state her distaste in regards to the accepted norms of their society. Her original goal was seemingly to speak out against the men who hunted and poached, which was a risk because those are some of the greatest values in their society. She was continually discounted and underestimated by men and authority figures throughout the book, similar to Blake. She was also called “crazy” and a “madwoman” and not valued, just like Blake. 

However, throughout the course of Janina’s telling of her story, she veers away from radical ideas and begins to act radically. She starts killing the hunters and the people who support and uphold the laws of society instead of simply writing and publishing work about her beliefs. While Janina’s original actions and motivation may have been similar to Blake and his experiences with society discounting him, Janina takes it a step too far. Because she murders and has given up on trying to change her society through peaceful ways, there is very little chance of her becoming recognized as a foundational figure in a movement or being considered a visionary like Blake. She couldn’t accept the fact that her ideas were being rejected by her society and so, unlike Blake who left his work to be found and researched to garner support and value after his death, Janina’s work and view have now all been overshadowed by the fact that she murdered people to prove her point. She wasn’t willing ro give the world a chance to grow and change and eventually come back to her ideas. Instead she took matters into her own hands and now her ideas and work have a dark shadow cast over them forever. 

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

Comedy, as Aristotle defines it, is a story of the rise in fortune of a sympathetic central character. The movie How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003), stars Kate Hudson as Andie Anderson, a writer for a female targeted magazine called Composure. After Andie’s friend experiences another breakup due to her over involved and over emotional behavior with men, Andie decides to write an article called “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” where she will meet a man and do everything “wrong” to try and get him to break up with her as quickly as possible to prove what her friend is doing wrong. 

Ben Barry is an advertising executive who is bored with his usual advertisements revolving around beer and sports. His new goal is to land a job with a prestigious diamond company. Ben’s boss questions whether Ben has the intimate knowledge of the “romance” it takes to make diamond advertisements because he is a known womanizer. Ben claims that he can get any woman to fall in love with him, so his boss gives him a 10 day time period to get a woman to fall in love with him before a company party. Ben’s two work rivals who also want the diamond contract point him towards Andie as the girl he should date because they have connections to Composure and know about the article she is writing. 

Both of them try to complete their quests with Andie doing everything she can to make Ben leave her: moving her stuff into his apartment, making a scrapbook of their future children, getting him punched at a movie theater for her talking during the movie, asking him to get her a soda during the final shot of a Knicks game, and many other overexaggerated mistakes she believes girls make when dating men. Because of his project, Ben sticks through everything and only breaks up with Andie after they get in a huge fight during Ben’s poker night. However, his friends convince them to go to couples therapy and they end up taking a weekend trip to Ben’s family’s home in Staten Island where the two fall in love. They both end up finding out about each other’s schemes, and after they argue and break up again, they ultimately come back together because of the endearing article Andie writes about her experience. 

This movie has all the hallmarks of a typical romantic comedy and Andie and Ben are both sympathetic characters in their own ways. Andie’s goal is to help her friend and she ends up falling in love and getting the best writing material she could have asked for. Ben starts off as a somewhat unredeeming character just trying to take advantage of Andie, but eventually we see how much he cares about his family, friends, and his career. They had both been unlucky in love in the past and then they met each other, fulfilling the “rise” in Aristotle’s comedy. 

This movie helps to enhance the absurdities of human nature and the combination of love and hate someone can have for a person. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days also addresses a lot of relationship and feminist topics and brings to light a lot of issues. Andie and Ben’s  world has been set up as pretty much every other romantic comedy, except the story is turned on its head. The boy is chasing the girl, albeit for a bet, and doing anything he can to be patient and understanding with her. Though in an admittedly convoluted way, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days flips the script in order to create a really compelling love story where both sides have said and done bad things to each other, but the admiration each character has for the other is ultimately what brings them back together. 
Critics of comedies will always point to the lack of substance that watching comedies over more meaningful bodies of work has. I concede that principally watching comedies is not the answer, but discounting them completely isn’t either. While on the surface How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days appears incredibly shallow and pretty un-feminist by today’s standards, I would argue that love stories like this aren’t meant to represent the real world. Comedy, in many forms, is a way to escape our life’s struggles and anxieties. Comedy allows viewers to be present in a world where the stakes aren’t life or death, and where things usually work out in the end. Being able to enter into this predictable yet satisfying world again and again is an invaluable way to escape the pressures of society that other forms of media cannot achieve in the same way.

Sean Spicer, SNL, and Satire

Saturday Night Live, commonly referred to as SNL has been a hallmark of late night comedy since its inception in 1975. The show features comedy sketches which are usually commentaries on politics, pop culture, and current events. Each episode starts with a cold open that ends with one or more actors breaking character and saying, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!” to officially begin the show. 

The cold open I will be analyzing is the Sean Spicer Press Conference Cold Open from February 11, 2017. The cold open begins with the C-Span intro and logo being played, immediately establishing the skit as a parody of the White House press briefings during the Trump Administration. Spicer famously gave many briefings that were unfounded, or controversial and created a hostile relationship between the press and himself. Spicer eventually resigned as the White House Press Secretary in July of 2017.  

In the skit, Spicer goes into the reading of the president’s schedule and mentions a meeting with a leader from central Asia whose name Spicer cannot pronounce. He is also unable to pronounce the country and city that the meeting is about. He ends by also being unable to pronounce the leader’s wife. Saying instead, “Lets just call her Connie”. 

This is a commentary on many of the Trump administration’s most prominent leaders being overtly racist and insensitive toward minority or non-American groups. While this comment is meant to be funny, it is truly a deeper commentary on the overt racism that was a hallmark of the Trump Administration.  By criticizing this behavior and unwillingness to accept anything deemed “un-American” SNL is making a deeper point about society’s preconceived biases as a whole but also the failure of the Trump Administration to act in a polite and diplomatic manner when dealing with leaders from foreign countries. 

Next, Spicer takes questions from the press including one from the New York Times where he insults and mocks the journalist. The next question comes from someone addressing a comment Trump made about a test for immigrants to see if they truly love America. Spicer addresses this comment by utilizing dolls to show American immigration workers and potential immigrants trying to enter the country. The first example is a Barbie who Spicer describes as a “Nice American girl, back from a dream vacation. We know she’s okay because she’s blonde! Do we understand that? Perfect. Now who’s up next? Uh oh. It’s Moana. Slow down. Then we’re gonna pat her down, then we’re gonna read her emails and if we don’t like the answers (which we won’t!) BOOM Guantanamo Bay!”. 

While these comments are an example of hyperbole through the extreme examples of Barbie versus  Moana and freedom in the United States versus internment in Guantanamo Bay, the underlying message of historically poor immigration policies in the US is being addressed by SNL here. Again, it calls on racial biases that many Americans already had, that were then reinforced by the comments and encouragement by the Trump Administration. If the goal is to call attention to the issue for further discussion, making a bold joke like this one is certainly a way to get people talking about true immigration reform. 

Overall, the sketch is outrageously funny, and in such an uncertain time people needed to laugh at the absurdity of what our leadership had become. SNL frequently takes the opportunity to criticize the government in this way. They make jokes that emphasize real issues like racism, immigration, poverty, sexual violence, etc. all with the goal of getting people to talk about these issues and not being afraid to call out prominent figures when they feel as if they aren’t acting in the most upstanding way. 

The Madness of King Donald Reflection

The article starts with an analysis of the opening scene of King Lear.

“We start with the leader’s outsize narcissism, his conviction that, whatever the country’s problems, he alone can fix them. He has no use for counsel, or compromise, or, for that matter, facts themselves.”

I thought this connection was insightful but also brings light to another topic we were talking about in class: innate respect. If we had lived in the 16th century, we might not have seen Lear’s total control and lack of counsel as anything out of the ordinary. It would simply be a king doing what he was born to do. However in our modern age, we are able to think critically and question why someone has a large amount of power, and if they are a good leader. We have a choice, and we essentially chose someone who acts as if he is an absolute monarch in the 21st century.

“Lear is mad,” observes his friend, the duke of Kent, and everyone else in court wants to say, Well, duh. But (with the exception of Kent, and daughter Cordelia) they hold their tongues, because in their far-off, unimaginable world — so different from our own! — it is more important to cling to power than speak the honest truth.

This quote struck me as particularly insightful because it really emulates how people felt about Trump and the American political system during this time. We went from electing our first black president in 2008, to electing a man who regularly spouts antisemitic, racist, and misogynistic fallacies on a daily basis. But we continued to insist that this was just a reaction to Obama, that the system itself wasn’t broken and on the verge of collapsing. We couldn’t. Because emphasizing the fact that the very bedrock of American politics was built for rich, white men who we continue to elect on ballot after ballot (with the exception of a few token BIPOC, female, and other minorities to check the “diversity” box and use as evidence that our system isn’t broken) would call for a questioning of our society as whole. We would rather cling to the structure of a system that gives the illusion of choice, fair leadership, and inclusion than speak the honest scary truth. If we don’t get to the root of the problem, we are doomed.

Just like Lear, our decisions can have a huge impact, good or bad. Let’s try to not make the decision that gets us, our three daughters, and many others killed.

Taylor Swift’s “Dear John”

On October 25th, 2010 Taylor Swift released her third studio album, Speak Now. The 5th track on the album was entitled “Dear John” as an ode to Swift’s short-lived and controversial relationship with singer-songwriter John Mayer. Swift has called the song a “last email” that you send to an ex, unloading everything that was left unsaid. Some also interpret the song to be representative of a Dear John Letter, an old expression used that refers to a wife or girlfriend writing to inform a man their relationship is over. The lyrics emulate the hurt and frustration Swift felt over how she was treated by Mayer, and how she ignored the warnings she received.

And I lived in your chess game, – But you changed the rules every day

Lines 7-8

This lyric uses the comparison of their relationship to a game, with Swift claiming Mayer changed the rules to suit whatever his needs were at the time. When she didn’t please him or follow his “rules” he would lash out at her creating an extremely toxic relationship. This use of comparison is powerful because it shows the manipulation and gaslighting occurring throughout the course of an entire relationship in just two lines. These lines invest listeners right away in their relationship, and give them a clear idea of the exact conflicts taking place.

All the girls that you’ve run dry – Have tired, lifeless eyes – ‘Cause you burned them out – But I took your matches before fire could catch me, – So don’t look now, I’m shining like fireworks over your sad, empty town

Lines 29-32

The use of fire and light imagery is used to show Swift’s feelings after breaking free from Mayer. Throughout the whole song she is recalling what she escaped and how she denied him the satisfaction of ruining her like he did in his previous relationships. Fire is often associated with knowledge and the entire song is about her knowing better now, repeatedly saying “I should’ve known” at the end of each chorus. Swift, unlike the other women, was able to escape Mayer before she completely lost herself. The last line is a sort of emphasis on the overall theme of the song, that she’s better off than he is, now knowing the extent of his corruption.

Don’t you think I was too young to be messed with? – The girl in the dress wrote you a song – You should’ve known, you should’ve known – Don’t you think I was too young? You should’ve known

Lines 37-40

The repetition of the line “you should’ve known” in this final stanza solidifies Swift’s overall message of reflection and regret, while also leaving the intended listener, Mayer, with a message: that he should have known better. This line diverges slightly from the previous iterations of the chorus which end with “I should’ve known” instead. She was 19 years old at the time of their relationship and he, twelve years her senior, certainly knew better. It is only at the very end, after Swift recalls everything Mayer did to her and the lessons she learned, that she flips the message on him. The repetition reinforces the idea that Mayer is in the wrong and now that Swift understands what she went through, she places responsibility on him, not just on herself. Over and over again she emphasizes the realization, she should have listened to the warnings and seen the signs, but ultimately the blame lies with him. It is at the end of the song that Swift emphasizes the growth she achieved after their relationship, no matter how painful it was to get to that point.

Women in The Stranger and Trust

Women in The Stranger are typically being acted upon instead of making their own decisions. The main character is Meursault, a man who views love and relationships as insignificant. Because of this, women are repeatedly portrayed in negative lights. Raymond’s mistress is painted as a cheater and weak because she is repeatedly abused by him. Women and dogs are repeatedly paralleled in the text, suggesting to readers that they are seen as less human than their male counterparts.

In the movie Trust, a woman, Maria is the main character. Most of the scenes center around her and the experiences she has over the course of the movie. She begins the movie in a “Stranger” sort of portrayal. A promiscuous unmarried, pregnant woman who has been rejected and ostracized from everyone in her life. However over the course of the movie she starts to make more choices that make her a more well rounded character. She takes it upon herself to change her lifestyle, become more educated, and more independent. Trust shows that women are able to break out of the binary Camus introduces in The Stranger and participate in a world where they have more agency.

The Elephant Vanishes and Missing Persons Cases

The vanishing of the elephant without a trace and the reactions that followed in the town and the media are extremely similar to the reactions when a person goes missing in a mysterious way today. There is an obsession for a short time where a plethora of articles, media, and conversations revolve around the mystery. In The Elephant Vanishes these reactions can be seen in the original article that the author is reading and the “bewilderment” and “unclear details” of the disappearance that are discussed in the article.

In both a missing persons case and The Elephant Vanishes, there is always the mystery of motive. Why would someone steal an elephant? Did someone truly steal an elephant? Or in the case of a missing person: Why did this person simply disappear? Were they taken? Or did they disappear on their own free will? These questions often lead into further speculation and an uproar of press and articles. “Who released the elephant and how? Where have they hidden it…Everything remains shrouded in mystery”. During this first period of time there is often a surge in searches and investigations. “Hunters carrying large-bore rifles loaded with tranquilizer darts, Self-Defense Force troops, policemen, and firemen combing every square inch of the woods and hills in the immediate area”.

Then, after time, the coverage starts to fade if no further discoveries are made. “Articles like this became noticeably scarcer after a week had gone by, until there was virtually nothing”. Interest with missing person cases commonly fades after a few weeks if the person has not been found, or if there aren’t any more developments. And sadly, after a few months the general feeling is that this disappearance wouldn’t really have “any impact on society”. When the shock and intrigue wears off, people begin to realize this thing that had commandeered their thoughts, media, and conversations for weeks had no true impact on their lives. “The earth would continue its monotonous rotations, politicians would continue issuing unreliable proclamations…Amid the endless surge and ebb of everyday life, interest in a missing elephant could not last forever”. This is where most people’s thoughts end up regarding missing persons cases. It may pop into their minds every once in a while but unfortunately many of them and their stories will realize the same fate as the elephant.

Semplica Girl Diaries and Bonds of Love

I see Benjamin’s theory heavily exemplified in Semplica Girls. I see how a dynamic like the SG’s could take place within a binary like those that Benjamin identifies in Bonds of Love. If a family believes so completely that they are saving these girls, and the girls “willingly” buy into this creation, then the two continue on identifying one another by being opposites: I have money so I buy SG’s. I am a poor person and as such, my only hope at a better life is submitting to the systems in place to “help” me.

Eva is the only person achieving mutual recognition in this story, or at least beginning to. She understands herself as a human, but she also understands herself to be no different than the SG’s. As such, she recognizes the girls as human beings, and so with that understanding she decides to let them free. As the reader of these diaries, we are meant to root for the family to succeed, we want them to gain some happiness in what we (or at least I) view as an abysmal livelihood. When Eva lets the girls go, the reader is meant to be so ingrained in the binary–that these people have the power and should be able to do and buy whatever they please–we can’t even fathom what she has done. Because what she has done is the one thing Benjamin argues is so extremely difficult to do: recognize yourself and someone else as human, and have those people recognize your humanity as well.