Janina and Animal Rights

From the beginning of the book Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, it is clear Janina is passionate about protecting life in all of its forms. She strongly believes the act of killing, especially killing animals, has been overly normalized and accepted in modern society. She struggles living in a town filled with hunters who view killing as sport and a tradition closely linked with their cultural and religious beliefs. 

Here in the United States, meat and consumers are far more separated. Most people will never go hunting or shoot an animal in their life. It is exceptionally easy to go to your local grocery store and pick up any type of meat neatly packaged up with little to no thought about the animal that was sacrificed. In many ways, this system is much worse. Most meat consumers are able to eat without thinking twice about animals, or the terrible industry that is factory farmed meat.

It’s easy to view Janina as crazy, and her actions aren’t condonable. The way she values animal lives is extremely different from the societal norm. But, while it is different, it isn’t necessarily wrong. She is correct in questioning this system and being confused why no one around her seems to care about what she views as mass slaughtering all around the world.

Meat and modern society is a difficult topic. The consumption of meat is entwined with the lives of many people and cultures. It is important to remember that when talking about this issue, as it brings up a lot of emotion. 

Eurovision and Comedy

In the movie ‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga’, Will Ferrell stars as Lars. Lars is somewhat of a disappointment to both his dad and town: he, despite being pretty old, lives at home and is still chasing his dream of being a famous musician in his Icelandic town. The movie is set up as a rom-com between Lars and his band-mate Sigrit, who is obviously in love with Lars from the beginning.

Throughout the movie, Lars makes many (funny) mistakes. He interacts awkwardly with fellow contestants, fights with Sigrit, and makes a fool of himself onstage countless times. However, no matter how badly he messes up, Lars ends up able to pull through and win. The movie ends with Lars winning the competition and marrying Sigrit, getting his perfect happily-ever-after.

At first glance, this movie is incredibly stupid. Will Ferrell is incredibly awkward and difficult to watch on screen as he makes countless dumb mistakes. Their songs, outfits and badly done accents make the movie even worse, although in a funny way. However, through this juvenile comedic style, the movie is able to convey some important themes and messages.

Lars is a normal guy, living in the town he grew up in and dealing with things like the loss of his mother. He faces relentless bullying from people in his town, but no matter what, refuses to give up on his dreams. He also has normal flaws, often being self-centered, putting his own wants before those of Sigrit’s and refusing to change his mind. While the themes and lessons the movie teaches are best suited for a younger audience, they can truly apply to anyone. The movie encourages its viewers to be authentically themselves, chase their dreams no matter how old you are and allowing yourself to be happy. This movie, like most other comedies, might be sniffed at due to its lack of seriousness. But, it is through that very lack that it is able to engage audiences and showcase cheesier themes that may otherwise get lost in the shuffle.

SNL and the Chinese Spy Balloon

In a recent bit on SNL that opened the show, a satirical sketch showcased a parody news anchor reporting on the Chinese Spy Balloon, while interviewing the balloon.

Right off the bat, the news anchor uses extreme hyperbole when explaining both the balloon and people’s reactions to it. She celebrates the ‘long national nightmare’ being over, highlighting how short the balloon was in the air. Then, a parody of an US army official explains how the balloon was popped, using a small handheld balloon that says ‘Happy Birthday’ to parody the event. He then ironically makes a comment about how they will stop every Chinese threat, even though China has all the information they need through apps like TikTok.

This sketch, through it’s satirical parody of a real life news story, reveals a lot about America. People throughout the country were extremely worried about the balloon and feared the invasion of privacy that it might lead it if it was collecting data or pictures. But, as this sketch points out, most US citizens carry around a phone and use social media apps that are known to sell data. If people genuinely are worried about their data being collected and used abroad, they should stop worrying about a balloon flying in the sky and start worrying about the phone they carry around with them everywhere.

Ultimately, the skit hopes to awaken people to the irony of their own reactions and get people thinking about what ACTUALLY is invading their privacy. In addition, the parody of the news show seems to critique journalistic interviews by showing the US army official using a birthday balloon and the interview of the actual balloon.

The Fool: the Best Unofficial Advisor

Within his first scene in the play, King Lear reveals he doesn’t take criticism or honesty very well. He wants the people who surround him to agree and support him, which to his downfall. There are only three people who ever are honest with him from a place of love: Cordelia, Kent and the Fool. But, Cordelia and Kent are both banished in Act I. Why is the Fool different? How does he consistently critique and advise Lear while remaining a trustworthy servant and member of his inner circle?

The answer lies in the Fools comedic timing. While Kent and Cordelia’s blunt honesty cost them the King’s favor, the Fool is more strategic. He hides judgement and predictions about Lear in silly rhymes, making them digestible for Lear’s inflated ego.

One example is in Act 1 scene iv, when the Fool says:

For you know, nuncle,

The hedge-sparrow fed the cuckoo so long,

That it’s had it head bit off by it’s young.

The Fool said this in regards to Goneril and Regan, long before the two betrayed their father. Hidden as a metaphor about a sparrow raising a cuckoo only for it’s head to be bitten off, the Fool warns Lear of what might happen. While Lear ignores this advice, the mere fact that the Fool saw the daughters scheming before it got too obvious, showing hims as an observant and truthful advisor to Lear.

As Lear continues to dig himself into a deeper hole, the Fool is the only person who is honest with him about his stupidity, saying things like “Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise” (Act I scene v). If any other servant had said something this blatantly rude, they would have been banished, or worse, dead. But the Fool, with his tricky metaphors and long-winded rhymes, is able to confuse Lear enough that he always escapes unharmed.

Throughout the play, the Fool continues advising Lear and predicting what’s to come, cleverly hiding his thoughts and disguising the truth through comedy. As we discussed in class, the best advisor is one who will always be honest and when I think of honesty in King Lear, I think of the Fool. He never holds back his opinions and is able to speak the truth, no matter the consequences.

Cleansing the Soul

TW: Depression and suicide. Bright Eyes songs are quite recognizable for one reason: their deep lyrics that seem to transport the listener into a unique moment and allow them to fully experience it. Like any poet, Conor Oberst allows his audience to feel as if they are one with the song they listen to. “Cleanse Song” is no exception to this, but a rather recognizable and powerful example of Oberst’s poetic nature.

“Cleanse Song”, as implied by it’s title, discusses a cleanse and rebirth of the narrator, specifically on the narrator’s journey of sobriety. The song begins quite chaotically,

See the new Pyramids down in old Manhattan

From the roof of a friend I watched an empire ending

Head it loud and long, the river’s song

Time marching on, to a mad man’s drum

Immediately, the listener is thrown into the chaos of New York City. One can feel the city moving quickly around them, and feel as the speaker feels stuck and left behind from the development while struggling with addiction. Quickly, the speaker begins to acknowledge that they need to make a change,

And if life seems absurd

What you need is some laughter

And a season to sleep

And a place to get clean

Maybe Los Angeles

These lines feel very honest and raw. The listener has finally accepted that their current life is holding them back from reaching sobriety. For many struggling with addiction, a change of location and even leaving behind an entire community that might remind you of your addiction can be a completely. The tone is also completely different from the first set of lyrics, which feel chaotic. Now, the tone is calmer as the speaker is coming up with a plan to get sober. The following two stanzas are perhaps the most powerful in the song:

On a detox walk

Over Glendale Park

Over sidewalk chalk

Some rope read “start over”

So I muffle my scream

On an Oxnard beach

Full of fever dreams that scare me sober

First off, the lines provide a physical location for the audience, both Glendale Park and an Oxnard beach, both locations in California showing that the speaker made the move and is also progressing on his journey to sobriety. The rope the speaker sees on his walk is very multi-dimensional. It physically tells him to start over, which to a struggling and recovering addict could be taken as a sign to continue going sober and push through the difficulties or to relapse, showing the constant battle that anyone who has had to quit something addictive has faced. Furthermore, the rope could also be taken as a symbol of the speakers depression and suicidal feelings. A rope is commonly used to represent someone ending their own life, so it’s appearance on the speaker’s walk could also reveal his struggle to stay alive. The themes of depression are further developed in the following stanza, where the speaker is screaming on a beach while facing ‘fever dreams’. When going through withdrawals, flashbacks and painful memories can be common. This is often why many people attempting sobriety quit. By saying that these ‘fever dreams’ scare the speaker sober, the speaker reveals that his past addiction was such a dark time that even the troubles he is facing while going sober are not going to scare him into relapse.

At first glance, the calming melody and title of “Cleanse Song” make the song appear to be a soothing song about beginning again. However, when the poetic lyrics are examined closer, a darker story of a man struggling with depression and addiction is revealed, with lyrics alluding to suicide and the cycle of substance abuse. The poetic songwriting allows for the multi dimensions of the song to shine through and heavy themes to be explored.

Social and Musical Norms

After focusing on The Stranger and then how various other works of writing and even films took inspiration from it, I began to think about music. If Meursault goes against social norms by doing things such as not participating in the systems of marriage, love and religion, what does music that doesn’t follow social (or musical) norms look like?

Music, like all things, has been put in a system, especially in the United States. Most ‘mainstream’ music sticks to a few keys, is played on certain instruments and due to other musical laws, has a certain sound. Therefore, bands that do not do these things stick out in a very unique way. One band that stuck out to me was the Dirty Projectors. On their early albums, the Dirty Projectors fight against many musical norms. Strange harmonies, instruments that don’t seem to go together and weird lyrics. Many found the music annoying , jarring and hard to follow. The truth is, by breaking many laws of mainstream music, the Dirty Projectors were bound to offend many listeners. Just as Meursault was driven out of society, seemingly inevitably, music that doesn’t fit the norm is hated on to an extreme.

The Elephant in the Room: Social Norms and Negative Feedback Loops

In “The Elephant Vanishes”, the elephant is able to disrupt society by simply disappearing. With media coverage, police investigations and the main character’s obsessive thoughts, the disappearance is the center of the story and causes a lot of excitement.

The elephant, by simply existing, shook up the lives of the town. The social ‘norm’ was a town that didn’t own an elephant. However, when every zoo refused to take it, they were almost forced into it. The main character’s entire life was also changed when this elephant disappeared. His daily routine shifted and he nearly got a girlfriend, something that was definitely not in his plan for the future.

However, as the story continues, these shifts are corrected, like a negative feedback loop. The big change of the elephant was fixed by its disappearance, and the town was happy to return to normal. They quickly began to forget about the entire event, bringing everything back to the normal baseline.

The main character also returned to normal, deciding not to ask the woman on a date and filling his time with work and ‘normal’ activities, without the elephant.

This entire story felt like it was exposing how difficult it is to truly breakout of a social mold and do something that is different. The people around you and even your inner self will do everything in their power to force you back into whatever societal expectation you have gone against, no matter how small.

Mutual Recognition and Capitalism in America

The entire time I read Benjamin’s theory, my mind strayed to the capitalistic system within the United States, and how it might fit into her theory that both sides have to participate in order for a binary to exist. At first, I questioned if this system even had participation on both sides. How were lower or working class people supporting the system? Why were the supporting the system? Were they even aware of it, and if they were aware, why would they willingly support something that kept them financially oppressed?

I began to think about the history of the United States. Our entire country was built around an idea of independence, especially financial. For years, this idea developed and deepened until it became the backbone of the Republican party. On the surface, it makes sense. Keeping the majority of your hard earned money for yourself, by lowering taxes and putting personal gain ahead of community growth, a person should theoretically be able to achieve the ‘American Dream’ and become very rich. In actuality, this practice has protected the upper class, keeping them rich, while portraying themselves as people who worked a little harder to make a little more.

This is where the bonds of love come into play. By fighting for lower taxes, a working class person might believe they are on track to achieving the ‘American Dream’. The upper class, however, continues to prosper and get further ahead, deepening the wealth divides, often while encouraging lower economic class people to support this system. Both sides contribute and keep this system in place, creating an endless cycle of wealth disparity with no end in sight.