Is she really “crazy”?

The notion that humans are the central, most intelligent beings on our planet is considered a given to most. However, in Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, Janina wholly rejects this idea in a multitude of ways. Religiously, socially, and physically, she moves to oppose the unjust hierarchy that surrounds her. Janina’s actions in Drive Your Plow illuminate the main sentiment of the book that humans are only one small part of our universe and their life is not more important than another species’ life. Additionally, it shows audiences all of the ways to fight against the status quo as Janina goes to multiple varying lengths to fight for her cause. Her commitment to her philosophy mirrors real-life groups that will stop at nothing to carry out their agenda; yet, many view her as “crazy” or “psychotic”. Why is this?

Whether or not her commitment to her moral beliefs and her resulting actions were right or not is something very subjective to readers. While I do not support murder (I do eat meat, though, so there’s one contradiction), I do applaud her moral continuity. She stuck to her moral compass so securely, something many are afraid or do not have the self-reflection to do. To me, she is no different from political radicals or rebel military groups that we see around the world and, while they may take violent action, in many cases, these groups arise in response to gross injustice. Whether their community has been persecuted or they are standing up for the voiceless (as in Janina’s case), these groups have often been ignored in their pleas for justice as those who they are pleading to gain something from the status quo. Those in power will most likely not listen to those who are asking them to change circumstances that benefit them. Therefore, these groups turn to violence to retaliate for being the victims of violence and for their pleas for equality being ignored.

Janina is not so outlandish in this instance when we come to understand that her fight for her moral beliefs is no different than the fight of other humans for their moral beliefs. To be persecuted and wanting to retaliate is something all humans can empathize with. However, Janina is fighting for justice for animals. As humans, we accept our own superiority over other beings, and the thought that one would take radical violent action to defend the lives of animals is completely abnormal. When Janina is revealed as the killer, those around her are shocked at her actions, and she takes this as further proof of humans’ perceived superiority. Because of this false perception, they view the abuse of animals as acceptable yet the abuse of humans in karmic retaliation is not. This hypocrisy fuels her anger and thus her killing and shows audiences the same glaring contradiction in our own minds. We must address this hypocrisy as a species if we wish to develop our moral and philosophical viewpoints.

What Alcoholism and Adolescent Stupidity Can Teach Us- Comedy and Rick and Morty

Rick and Morty, a sci-fi cartoon about a sociopathic grandpa (Rick) and his wimpy teenage grandson (Morty), pokes fun at every single aspect of the human condition while entertaining viewers with bizarre and intricate space adventures, character dynamics, and farcical jokes.

The “comic hero” in the case of this series could be exemplified by the two titular characters, Rick and Morty. Rick is entirely self-absorbed and resistant to any kind of emotion, yet his jokes about everybody else’s inferiority are delightfully funny. Morty is an insecure lackey to his grandfather, yet his naivety and optimism about the universe contrast with Rick’s pessimism to the point where to not have Morty is to have just a depressed, alcoholic grandfather.

The concerns of these two characters are nowhere near similar to the concerns of normal people. Whether Rick is being hunted for a war crime he committed or the duo is running from snakes who play jazz, their situations are anything but relatable. However, the comedic moments don’t come from silly aliens or outlandish time travel plots, they come from the stuff of “ordinary people”: the interpersonal interactions. Rick and Morty mostly remain regular, flawed individuals throughout the show. With the backdrop of fantastical space travel, their normality bites through what could be a show based solely on creative sci-fi concepts and is, instead, showing what would happen if one of the most problematic and intelligent people in the world could do anything related to the science fiction genre and was accompanied by his slightly stupid grandson.

The comedy in Rick and Morty is derived from character interactions, but that is also where the meaning of the show is derived. When we see the way that Rick disregards sincerity and attempts from his family to reach out to him, we can laugh at his resistance while also understanding that this behavior is toxic. Audiences can agree that Morty’s obsession with his high school crush is adolescent and hilarious, yet they also realize that changing oneself for another person is ultimately unhealthy. The actions of the characters of Rick and Morty make us laugh at the stupidity of human behavior, but also inspire us to act differently. By watching Rick and Morty fumble and fail in their social lives, we as audiences can understand how we do not want to behave in our own.

“I’m a cheerleader! I’m not like all of you!”- The Satirical Phosphorescence of But I’m a Cheerleader

Jamie Babbit’s 1999 film But I’m a Cheerleader follows high school cheerleader Megan as she gets sent to a conversion therapy camp. Her family and friends use indicators such as Megan’s music taste and her eating habits to “diagnose” her as being a lesbian while Megan is completely in denial. While dark in concept, the execution of this satirical film over exaggerates societal binaries and stereotypes of gender and sexuality to the point of surrealism. 

In the first 15 minutes of the movie, the fact that Megan is suspected of being a lesbian is due to her vegitarianism, her like of Melissa Ethridge, and pictures of women in bikinis in her locker. A scene of her making out with her boyfriend is also shown to audiences; her eyes are wide open as she passively participates. A mix of stereotypes and “suggestive” behaviors lead to her family and friends staging an intervention to send her to conversion therapy camp. This extreme action is taken based off of stereotypes, and is thus a critique on the sometimes arbitrary association between sexuality and certain aspects of culture. Irony is also at play here as Megan’s obliviousness to her own variation from societal binaries contributes to the comical nature of the situation (not the actual situation, but the way it is portrayed).

Once Megan arrives at the conversion camp (called True Directions), subjects are divided by gender and are dressed in all either pink or blue for girls and boys respectively. Girls are taught to cook and clean while boys learn to mow lawns and chop wood. Both “educational experiences” are overtly stereotypical and adhere strictly to the gender binary. While gender and sexuality can be closely linked for some, the association between sexuality and a cultural performance (gender in this case) is made once again. The thought behind the directors of True Directions is that if their subjects can stick to strict binary performance and behavior, then they will be “cured” of their queerness and can live as straight, cis, binary, “normal” members of society. The attempts of the homophobic and transphobic forces in the film are stunted by the will and seeming indifference of the True Directions subjects. Most of them seem unbothered by the conversion therapy, have relationships with each other (the bedrooms are divided by gender, a great use of irony), and sneak out to go to gay bars. 

These hyperbolic scenarios- being sent to conversion camp for liking stereotypically lesbian things, dressing in all pink or blue and doing activities that go along with the gender binary to “cure” queerness- work to reveal the stupidity of simplifying sexuality and gender to their association with certain aspects of culture, as well as attempts made to change sexuality and gender at all. In the end, Megan ends up running away with another female character who she has formed a relationship with. This happy acceptance of herself and her sexuality, as well as the resistance of the True Directions subjects, imbue the film with the ability to change society rather than just make fun of homophobia and transphobia. The ability of these subjects to continue their lives as their true selves shows the futility of attempting to change people to fit within the dominant roles of society.

“Forget About the Price Tag”- Excess and Acceptance in King Lear

Power can be a corrupting force, but paired with greed and a desire to get more than one already has inevitably leads to one’s downfall. This is the message exemplified by the characters of King Lear and the main message that the tragedy gave to me.

At the beginning of the play, Lear attempts to rationalize the actions of his two eldest daughters. The more he thinks about the reasoning behind their actions, the more he spirals into madness and hurt. Once he is locked out of his castle in the pouring rain, he realizes that trying to rationalize his current situation will lead him to more hurt and sadness, so he chooses to stop. He accepts that these terrible events have occurred and learns that basic necessities can make his life feel fulfilled and that excess should be shed. Lear has seen the way that greed taints those around them in his daughters, and this realization that you only need the basics has freed him from the limiting thinking he held before. 

The fact that Goneril, Regan, and Edmund all end up dead also gives audiences a message to take with them. Their power-hungry betrayals break the bonds of family and loyalty. Goneril and Regan seem to have continual competition in the play. The contest between the two sisters for King Lear’s land was the first glimpse we had of their dynamic, then the battle between the two for Edmund shows us that the objects of their desire seem to be more about power and control, and sometimes one-upping the other, but it’s never really about the object itself. They are always seeking more than the other, more than they already have. In regard to Edmund, we have seen that he uses the benefits of family whenever he sees fit, and discards the obligations of family at will. All of these manipulative and self-serving tactics go to show audiences that Edmund sees others as mere pawns to serve himself and give him more than he already has. These three characters are the main antagonists of the story, and they all have in common their quest for excess and the manipulation of the systems around them to complete it.

Lear’s interaction with Cordelia at the end of the play when they are about to be imprisoned shows the results of his revelation that he had earlier: that everyone with excess should give it up to those who do not have it. After all of the trials he has gone through, he simply wishes to spend time and talk with Cordelia. He no longer beseeches her or anyone else to flatter him in exchange for land, excess love in exchange for excess flattery, but he is content with the person he has in front of him at that moment. This being part of the final scene of the play is integral to the theme of King Lear. Audiences are left with the notion that greed corrupts and that we should acknowledge and appreciate all that we have because it could be taken away in an instant.

Spiritual Connection- Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”

Leonard Cohen, Canadian poet and songwriter, wrote his 1960s ode “Suzanne” (listen while you read if you want :)) about his friendship with a woman of the same name, Suzanne Verdal. The slow, hypnotic mood of the song draws listeners in, the world Cohen creates is enhanced by his artful lyrics. While many different interpretations of the song can be derived from the poetic lyrics, I believe that “Suzanne” examines Cohen’s spiritual connection to Suzanne that teaches him to have love for everybody around him. Throughout the song, Cohen uses rich description, point of view, and allusion to construct a picture of this relationship, and make the listener feel as if they are experiencing it as well.

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by, you can spend the night beside her
And you know that she’s half-crazy but that’s why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China

Here, our narrator is describing not only the setting he and Suzanne are in together, but small details about Suzanne herself. Cohen appeals to numerous senses in this section, placing us “near the river” where we can “hear the boats go by”, we can taste the “tea and oranges”, putting listeners in the same place as the narrator. Further, the fact that Suzanne “feeds you” these specific items “that come all the way from China”, as well as the implication that she’s “half crazy” are all little idiosyncracies that imprint a unique picture in audiences’ minds. We, as listeners, are immersed in the narrator’s experience through these details. Taking the experitential aspect a bit farther, Cohen uses 2nd person perspective in this song. Most songs may adopt 2nd person perspective when their story is directed towards a lover or an ex, but the subject in this case is the listener. Cohen is telling us that we think and feel the things that the lyrics are depicting. (Another layer of this song is how he says “you”, yet we also assume that the experience he is describing is his own, merging narrator and listener into one. This oneness contributes to the sense of community among humanity that Cohen comes to describe/imply later in the song, but I won’t go too in depth about this idea).

And Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching from his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him
He said all men will be sailors then until the sea shall free them
But he himself was broken, long before the sky would open

Cohen leaves the narrative of Suzanne to explore a biblical comparison. He refers to Jesus as “a sailor when he walked upon the water”, then depicts him on “his lonely wooden tower” (the cross on which he was crucified). As Jesus watched from the cross, He announced, to “drowning men”, that “all men will be sailors then”. The contrast between Jesus’s divine act of walking on water and the condition of those who are drowning seems to imply the superiority of Jesus over others; yet, Jesus still dubs ordinary men as “sailors”, a term also used to describe himself. This allusion shows how this divine, revered figure still considers his fellow humans as equal to himself. Additionally, when Cohen refers to Jesus as “broken”, it recalls Suzanne’s flawed personality (“half-crazy”). The reference to Jesus plays in directly to the second to last stanza, where “Suzanne takes your hand and she leads you to the river”:

And the sun pours down like honey on our lady of the harbor
And she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed, there are children in the morning

The sun pouring down “like honey on our lady of the harbor” gives audiences a sense of divinity that was brought up before by the allusion to Jesus, implying Cohen’s own spiritual connection and reverence for Suzanne. As Suzanne shows us “where to look” for the faces of others humans, “heroes” and “children”, within the river. The faces are among the most discarded aspects, “garbage” and “seaweed”, but Suzanne still sees the faces and shows us how to see them, too. Suzanne’s moral nature, superior to others’ in Cohen’s mind, yet egalitarian, is compared to Jesus’s by the similarity of their described circumstances. THis reinforces Cohen’s spiritual connection in their relationship. In both cases, Cohen, as well as audiences, are taught to see the humanity in everyone by these divine figures.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger

In both The Stranger by Albert Camus and the movie Trust (1990), the characters seem unaffected by the norms of the world around them. Meursault of the former appears to be detached and unconcerned with the happenings of society, and the actors in the latter portray their characters with deadpan expressions and unrealistic dialogue. As both of these pieces of media are commentaries on the restrictions of societal norms, the unrealistic and often unemotional appearance of the characters amplifies the social mores that are being critiqued.

In The Stranger, Meursault does not value the things that society tells him to value. The character of the people he surrounds himself with does not concern him, nor does the expectation that one should cry at one’s mother’s funeral. He does not follow the widely accepted way of living and does not care about what people think others should care about. His seeming indifference to the world is received harshly by his peers. During his court case, he is persecuted mostly for the abnormal way in which he acts. Through the harsh contrast between Meursault’s unemotional and uncaring nature and society’s (as shown through the jury) expectations of others, we see the ridiculous nature of imposed societal norms.

In Trust, the actors deliver their lines in a way that is lacking emotion that may make viewers cringe. This muted unrealistic performance of some is matched by heightened unrealistic performance of others in the film. The absurd behavioral patterns of Michael’s father and Maria’s mother compared to Michael and Maria’s subdued and abnormal approach to the world illuminates the strangeness of societal patterns and norms.

Breaking our Brains (The Elephant Vanishes)

In the short story “The Elephant Vanishes” by Haruki Murakami, our nameless narrator’s world is rocked by the absurdity of an elephant vanishing with no trace. He fixates on this event especially because he was the last person to see the elephant and his caretaker. In this time, he saw the elephant and caretaker impossible shifting sizes, possibly leading to the elephant’s escape.

The narrator’s regimented world of breakfast routines, reading the paper front to back, and selling monotonous kitchen supplies is entirely changed by this absurd, inexplicable occurrence. The rest of the world seems to follow suit. Newspapers cover the disappearance of the elephant and try to propose reasonable solutions to the event. However, no hypothesis makes sense, and people eventually lose interest in the story.

This story mimics our own news cycle. A terrible, most often complex, event will occur, the public will react, attention will gradually shift away, and the issue is left unsolved. Issues that require great critical thinking will be left untouched as people do not want to or cannot think outside of the binaries that the world has set into place. If an easy, readily available solution was given in response to the issue, the public’s unease would be solved. Because this is not the case, public attention wanes, news publications grow less and less involved with the story, and the issue is left untouched by those who are not dedicated to solving it.

Bonds of Love: Jessica Benjamin’s Theory of Identity

Benjamin argues that one becomes a subject by having someone else, who also recognizes themself as a subject, recognize you as such.

This differs from Freud’s model of identity as Benjamin’s centers one’s capacity “for agency and relatedness” rather than separation from another. Benjamin denounces Freud’s theory for the purpose of neglecting such connection as integral to one’s subjectivity. She argues we become more of an individual when interacting with other subjects and that knowing oneself “in the context of  knowing another” contributes to identity formation.

According to Benjamin, her proposed formation of identity (that recognizing oneself, recognizing another self, and being recognized by that other self) is necessary to eliminate hierarchy (which arises out of Freud’s model) and create equality. This hierarchy is evident in Freud’s assertion that one is an individual when they realize they are not something, implying superiority and centralizing one identity (i.e. a child is not their mother). Benjamin formed her theory on the basis that one’s identity does not rely on the invalidation of another self to become whole. If this hierarchy is not eliminated, Benjamin asserts that there will always be a power imbalance where one person controls the identity of the other.

An application of Benjamin’s theory may be a younger person wanting to sit at the big kids/adults table. To become a part of the “in group”, to be a revered, cooler, older person, the younger person must be recognized by the older folks, who the young person recognizes as subjects and have recognized themselves as subjects in sitting at the “big kids” table.

This illuminates the power dynamic between those already recognized, an “in group”, and those wishing to be recognized. There could be a faction who recognizes one another, but refuses to recognize someone outside of the group. This upholds a certain sense of superiority of the “in group”, and is exemplified in our society with systemic hierarchies in regard to race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion, etc. Those who hold material as well as non-physical power can control the recognition of another group as worthy of personhood or not.

To eliminate this superiority and hierarchy, one must always recognize another as a subject who wishes to be recognized and also recognizes you, as we are all humans who have no superiority or right to grant or deny subjectivity to another. Of course, I am contradicting myself by saying we have no right to grant or deny subjectivity so we must always grant it, but Benjamin’s theory is also based on a contradiction.