Orson Welles

Orson Welles was the original #fakenews and nothing will convince me otherwise.

I’m taking a sociology class on media and pop culture, and today we talked about the infamous “War of the Worlds” radio incident. On October 30, 1938, a radio drama—presented as a series of news bulletins—unfolded to tell the story of Martians landing in New Jersey. Popular lore says that so many people believed it that there was a mass panic, and even an exodus from the Tri-State area as people tried to escape the alien invasion.

It’s unclear how big this “panic” really was, but there definitely were some people who believed the broadcast was true and acted accordingly. Princeton researchers visited New Jersey soon after the incident to interview people who had heard it, compiling data about people’s perceptions and how they reacted. This shouldn’t be funny, but somehow it is: 30% of people who said they believed it was real also said they weren’t scared. Some quotes suggested that they assumed the end of the world was coming anyway, that they frankly weren’t that regretful about it, and that they were just going to eat the chicken they were saving for the next day now. Can you even imagine these people on Twitter? It’d be like… well, modern Twitter.

Welles claimed that he never meant to scare anyone, but his careful planning suggests otherwise. He was savvy to the power of this new media, and devised a plan to present it as a fake news show instead of a straight reading in order to attract more listeners. He strategically placed moments of silence for dramatic effect, a powerful and rarely used tool at the time. He knew that many people would be flipping around the channels after a popular puppet show ended, so he placed some dramatic action at the moment they’d be tuning in so they’d be hooked (and frightened) immediately.

It’s now generally understood that the newspapers exaggerated the amount of panic in order to discredit radio, which was stealing their audiences. At the time, newspapers were successful at significantly knocking back the credibility of radio, and would definitely never experience losing their audiences to new technology ever again.

This is a fascinating story for media studies, sociology, and many other disciplines, but the whole time we were talking about it I couldn’t stop thinking: Welles would have been such a good podcaster.

A Response to the Comments Section

I am as frustrated by the perpetual negative portrayal of YouTubers and YouTube culture as the next person, but some things are too egregious to even try to defend. Felix Kjellberg, more popularly known as “PewDiePie,” is the most popular vlogger on YouTube. He’s ascended to incredible fame, power, and success through his “Let’s Play” videos, and has branded himself as an “edgy” comedian who isn’t afraid to swear and cause trouble. If you even have a passing interest in online video news, you’ve probably already heard that he is currently under fire for using the n-word in frustration to insult a Playerunknown’s Battleground player during a livestream. He then said “sorry,” repeated the sentence with “asshole” instead, and then said he didn’t mean it “in a bad way.”

Yes, he did indeed interchange it with “asshole” and then attempt to claim it wasn’t “in a bad way.”

Like many other people, I am already tired of this story and generally fatigued with talking about Felix. There’s so much good that comes from YouTube, and the focus on people like Felix is demoralizing. However, he is the most popular personality on the platform. That means that even if he represents a poor side of YouTube, anything he does holds huge sway over how the community is represented overall. Also, people never cease to amaze me with the way they will bend over backwards to defend and justify the terrible actions of fully grown men. So here we have a list of excuses I’ve seen, and my arguments against them:

1. “It’s not that big of a deal.”

Come on, you aren’t even trying. Answer: no.

2. “He’s young, he made a mistake.”

It’s always funny to me when people use this excuse, because the person they’re talking about is almost always older than me. Also: no.

3. “He’s Swedish, and it doesn’t carry the same weight in Sweden.”

I’m not familiar with Swedish culture, so I don’t know if this is true or not. However, Felix has lived in the United Kingdom since 2013, and is definitely familiar with both English and American culture through his audience. The odds that he just didn’t understand the weight of the word are next to zero, especially since he immediately tried to correct himself on the livestream.

4. “(insert YouTuber here) says the n-word all the time, and no one cares”

This reminds me of the people who tell feminists that women in Saudi Arabia have it so much worse than them whenever they talk about an issue. If the only time you bring up another example is to try to shoot someone down, it’s not an effective argument. Now, if this was brought up as an argument that there should be a greater backlash for use of racist language by all people, not just Felix—I can agree with that. That brings me to:

5. “Calm down. People say that all the time when they get angry playing games.”

Who are you hanging out with??

A few points here. One, commonality does not equal morality. Horrific things have been common throughout history, and while we try to push our society towards more just social norms, there is never a point when “lots of people do it” is the only goal post that must be passed for something to be “okay.”

Also, I get angry when playing games, and I have never once in my life shouted a racial slur. I’m not trying to suggest that I’m somehow morally superior, I just think that should be the baseline for human decency. I’ve never yelled the n-word in frustration because I’ve never once said the n-word, and so it’s never the word that comes to mind. When people are angry, their reaction isn’t going to be a word they never say, it’s going to be something that’s in their vocabulary.

6. “This isn’t a big deal.”

I agree that there are more important things out there—climate change is worsening our natural disasters and causing irreversible damage, millions of children live in poverty, and the risk of nuclear war seems to be slowly ticking forward by the day. However, there’s also been a resurgence of racism and white nationalism in the mainstream culture of the United States, and that has very real and dangerous effects. It’s not “just words.” It’s contributing to a system of violence that enables people who truly believe that Black people are inferior, and causes real life harm in innumerable ways.

It matters because everything that contributes to a system of white supremacy matters, but it’s a big deal because Felix is the most popular vlogger on YouTube. I keep saying that because it is important, because he does have a huge audience, and because he commands a lot more power than most other people. A lot of people are complaining that Felix is receiving this attention when other YouTubers who say the n-word aren’t, but there’s a very good reason why he gets more attention: because, well, he gets more attention.

7. “He’s not really racist.”

I don’t know and I don’t care. “Racist” isn’t something you are, it’s something you do, and he’s doing it. I don’t care what’s in Felix’s heart of hearts, I care what’s coming out of his mouth, and it’s not pretty.

Youth, Art, and Aliebns

It’s easy to play “spot the difference” between “Burn All Night” and “everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too.” “Burn All Night” is an electrifying, immersive theater experience. The audience is thrust into the narrative and encouraged to dance as the actors whirl through the crowd, sometimes brushing against you as they dance with dizzying joy and intensity. The characters yell at each other in anger and passion, and even the rare moments of silence are piercingly bright and loud. “everyone’s a aliebn” is a book, deliberately designed to be as minimalist as possible. The drawings are in black and white and there is rarely more than a sentence or two per page. The story itself is quiet and unassuming, wandering through a small community with only a shadow of the driving narrative structure.

And yet. I experienced both pieces of art within 24 hours of each other, and was struck not by their differences, but by their similarities. While they chose different forms of expression, both works were grappling with the same questions. What is our place in this world? How do we deal with the knowledge that we are all going to die someday? Who are we, really? What does it mean to be a young person trying to “find themselves” in the twenty-first century?

It’s this last question that drives at the heart of what I find most striking about both creations. It’s common for art to be created for and about people coming of age, but it often misses the mark in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. From my perspective, it’s a mounting problem as technology and culture evolve at dizzyingly fast rates—there’s a small cultural divide even between me and my sister, who’s only two years younger than me. While older artists can write beautifully about what it means to be a young person, they can’t capture what it feels like to be a young person right now. The explosion in documentation and publicity, the accessibility and diversification of fame, the globalization of culture and humor and fights for civil rights—being an emerging adult right now means entering a world that is constantly connected, chronicled, and in flux to a degree that it has never been before.

Some shows, like “Dear Evan Hansen,” attempt to capture how modern inventions like phones and social media intersect with age-old issues of relationships, insecurity, and coming-of-age. But even though the show fits together, there’s something clunky about it. It’s too on the nose, too “look how in touch we are.” “Burn All Night” takes a different route. The performers use phones in multiple songs as part of their choreography, but never explicitly discuss social media. They cry out about how they must be documented to stay alive, to be immortal. Instead of making social media a pointed part of the narrative, it’s written the way our phones exist in real life: baked into the fabric of our experiences, entirely casual but always in view.

“everyone’s a aliebn” stretches the subtlety of this narrative to a new level. There is no content about social media; in fact, the world exists outside of phones, modern technology, and humans altogether. However, the author is Twitter personality Jonny Sun, and the form of the story itself is a modern construction. The book could have been divided into distinct vignettes, but instead each storyline gets a few pages at a time and the characters often run into each other. Sun described the narrative style as deliberately modeled after a Twitter timeline: instead of getting disparate stories, you experience gently intersecting narratives that weave through each other. The tales are about loss, uncertainty, love, and many more fears—everything that’s relatable to today’s teens. That sounds like a joke, but honestly, I don’t know anyone who couldn’t relate to Sun’s heartbreakingly simple writing that somehow soothes all of our deepest insecurities.

I could continue writing about these two pieces of art for hours, but for now I will end with this: I am so excited for this trend of media written about, for, and by emerging adults in 2017. As young artists earn wider audiences and break into more traditional media spaces, we will only see more of ourselves represented, not only in how we appear to outside observers but in who we really are.

“Burn All Night” by Andy Mientus and Teen Commandments just concluded its world-premiere run at the American Repertory Theater.

“everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too” is the debut book from jomny sun.

A Delay

Today, I was planning on writing a review of Burn All Night, a new musical at the American Repertory Theater. However, not even 24 hours after entering that show, I read Jonny Sun's debut novel "Everyone's A Aliebn When Ur A Aliebn Too" and attended his book event. Now, I am inexplicably writing a crossover review about media made by, for, and about young people, and the way these two pieces of art are so different but tackle many of the same incredibly important topics.

What I'm saying is, I'm missing a few days of proper posts (again) to work on this. The review will be out tomorrow.

Quinn RoseComment
Ambition

I can’t stop singing the word “ambition” in my head to the tune of “tradition” in Fiddler on the Roof as I write this, but that’s actually completely okay with me.

A few years ago, Reese Witherspoon declared that “ambition” shouldn’t be a dirty word. Too often the idea of “ambition” for women is associated with being cold, selfish, and unlikeable. It’s strange that a word that holds so much promise can be twisted with negative connotations: oh, you have big goals and are going to work hard on them? Must be a bi—

I love ambition. The very word is full of potential, a taste of the dreams that have yet to be realized. This may be connected to the fact that I’ve never concerned myself much with being likable. Do I want people to like me? Sure. Do I want to be the kind of person everyone likes? I know some people like that, and I like them (unsurprisingly), but I just don’t have it in me. I’m way too focused and way too mean for that.

Still, this continues to be a huge problem for women. Witherspoon wrote again about the gaps in careers and salaries, noting especially the abysmal disparity in media production. Only one woman has ever won an Academy Award for Best Director. One. Only three have ever won the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical, and six have earned a Tony for Best Direction of a Play. The gaps are even worse for women of color: every single one of those winners is white.

As a student surrounded by female classmates of all colors, the lack of representation is particularly contentious. I know that women are in training for these positions, because I’m working alongside them. Why, then, do they rarely reach the top accolades? Call me silly, but I suspect the answer isn’t that 99% of women are worse at directing than 99% of men.

On the other side of this coin, there’s the mounting problem of millennial women’s disillusionment with ambition. Growing up, we were told that wanting a spouse and children was oppressive, and a great career would make us happy. Now, women reaching their 30’s are discovering that a career (great or otherwise) is not enough to fulfill them. They should have never been taught that lie in the first place. Life satisfaction looks different for everyone, and turning off women from long careers by pitting them against spouses and children is just another form of oppression. I am primarily career focused, and I’d also like to have a spouse and fulfilling social life as an adult. The idea these are mutually exclusive has never been forced on men, so why is it implied that it’s a choice women must make?

These issues are huge, but there is progress being made. I’m heartened by the positive direction Witherspoon described in her article, as well as my experiences with my classmates. Ambition isn’t a dirty word, and it doesn’t mean you can’t be soft or kind or hard or angry or any particular dot on the human experience—it just means you’re going to do something extraordinary.

And if all else fails, I gladly bow to our new ruler.

Masculinity in Friendships

“The Big Bang Theory is the most popular show on television…” starts off the video “The Adorkable Misogyny of The Big Bang Theory,” a visual essay currently making waves around the internet. It’s a 21-minute breakdown of the way geek masculinity is used to excuse the sexism exhibited by the four lead characters. I was so impressed with the video that I started exploring some more of the channel, discovering that the creator (Jonathan McIntosh) focuses primarily on depictions of masculinity in pop culture. One of his most popular videos is “The Fantastic Masculinity of Newt Scamander,” which appreciates the way Newt Scamander is defined by his empathy and kindness, a rare decision for a leading man in a fantasy film.

As frustrated as I am by the portrayal of women in popular culture, I am still grateful that it is accepted and encouraged for women to demonstrate the full range of human emotion. Men are denied that right, told to be “strong” and “man up.” They continually get the message that vulnerability, pain, and even sensitivity to others invalidate their gender and make them less of a “man.”

There are some men who feel the need to cry extremely rarely, or who are naturally less prone to vulnerable conversations. However, they do not represent the entire range of male experience, and it’s sad that one version of masculinity is imposed on everyone else. This has a lot of terrible consequences, including a strain on male-male friendships.

I’ve had many deeply personal conversations with close male friends over the years. All of them found it possible to have a sensitive and meaningful conversation with me, and then lamented the difficulty in having the same kind of friendship with another man. There are certainly men who do have relationships in which they can express deep hopes, fears, and pain, but it’s striking how many times I’ve heard someone remark on how it’s “easier” to talk about that kind of thing with a woman. Beyond the implications that has for the amount of emotional labor shouldered by women, it’s just sad to witness cultural restraints on friendship.

I missed a few days of this writing project because I was spending time with a close friend who was going through a hard time. I live in a room with seven other women, a space that can turn into a group therapy/advice session in one text flat. The joy and affirmation of female friendship is something I appreciate more and more every day, as I lean on and provide support for a full network of women who feel comfortable being vulnerable with each other.

At the same time that I’ve learned to appreciate female friendship, I’ve grown more cautious of close friendships with men. While I value the deep connection I have with some men, I’ve learned that the barriers in male-male friendship mean they’re more likely to lean on me for emotional support early in the relationship, searching for a connection that they assume I can supply but other men can’t. Sometimes that’s a reciprocal relationship, and sometimes that’s an unfair burden. I hope that toxic masculinity in friendships can be broken down for the benefit of everyone.

Faces of Fashion

Lady Gaga is the new face of Tudor Watch's #BornToDare campaign, which also features athletes David Beckham and Beauden Barrett. It’s been noted in media coverage that she is the first woman to be part of this campaign. Being the first woman after only two men (and for a product that is relatively ungendered—while particular kinds of watches do cater to forms of femininity and masculinity, the watch itself is commonly worn by people of all genders) isn’t the biggest news in the fashion industry, but it is part a larger overall trend.

It’s a piece of the same story, albeit on an entirely different level, of CoverGirl announcing James Charles as their first male representative. (We can talk about the merits of James Charles himself later, but for now, I’m sticking to the overall trend.) More and more often, we see spokespeople of different genders for products that only a few years ago were “allowed” to have only one particular kind of representation.

On the other hand, we have the controversial Vogue cover story that declared Zayn Malik and Gigi Hadid’s fashion sense as a form of “gender fluidity.” It was swiftly attacked because no, Vogue, borrowing clothes from your partner’s closet doesn’t make you genderfluid. However, it does contribute to the growing movement that fashion should not be gendered, and that all people should be able to wear what makes them look and feel good. It’s strange that we live in a time when that statement is controversial, but fashion restrictions are still pervasive—especially for men’s fashion, where it is still perceived as abnormal to wear makeup and dresses.

Fashion campaigns aren’t the end-all, be-all of cultural conception, but they do go a long way in representing different fashion expression and expectations. Perhaps someday all announcements like this will be as unremarkable as Lady Gaga selling watches.

Questions for "The Eddy"

Damien Chazelle, the Oscar-winning director of “La La Land” and “Whiplash,” is executive producing an eight-episode series for Netflix titled “The Eddy.” Chazelle will also be directing two of the episodes, which will be written by Jack Thorne of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” fame. “The Eddy” will be set in contemporary Paris, focusing on the owner and house band of a club, as well as the city around them; the show intends to hire primarily French cast and crew. Interestingly, it will feature dialogue in English, French, and Arabic, exploring the multiculturalism of modern Paris. Oh, and the best part? It’ll be a musical.

I’m not sure how to feel about this project yet. On one hand, it’s a multicultural musical exploring (hopefully) interesting relationships in a vibrant city. On the other hand, it’s Damien Chazelle. While “La La Land” is beloved by many, it didn’t strike the right chord with me. I was disappointed by its focus on spectacle over story, slow pacing, and casting decisions. The music itself I liked, but I only discovered that through cover versions from singers that had more skill and energy than the original versions.

“La La Land” has also been criticized, rightfully so, for both its self-obsession and extraordinary whiteness. It’s a love story about Hollywood, is it any wonder that Hollywood rewarded it with so many accolades? Beyond that, however, it takes on an almost absurd level of nostalgia as both white leads yearn for a time past: classic Hollywood for Mia (coincidentally, a totally white Hollywood) and “real” jazz for Sebastian. While the movie features some performances from Black jazz musicians, the focus on a white man on a mission to “save” jazz without any real discussion of the racial history of the art form feels decided tone-deaf, and even deliberately brushed over.

All of this is to say, I have concerns about “The Eddy.” The inclusion of different cultures and languages seems promising, but will it be the story of a white man and how his personal life and journey are affected by his relationships with people of color, or will it reach out to fully tell the stories of different kinds of people? Will it remain a production team of all white men, or will they include Arab people in crafting these stories? Will they actually cast people who are trained in musical performance, or will we be stuck with another Ryan Gosling?

I’ll be watching the show when it’s released to find the answer to all of these questions, but seriously: don’t give us another Ryan Gosling.

#BEDS

Summer was fun, but it's time to get back to life, and back to work. I'm continuing production of Mixed Feelings and Corner of the Sky, bringing back Solidly Mediocre, and developing some new shows for release in the spring. Videos are coming back this week, with some series that I'm excited about.

Finally, I'm planning some big changes right here. I'm pushing my blog to be less personal and more oriented towards political and cultural commentary. I'll probably also release personal essays, but they will not be my main focus. This is a new thing for me, so it might not work out at all, but we'll see! To kick this off, I'm doing a "blog every day in September" project, or "BEDS" (an acronym I was delighted to discover).

Also, this blog has a twitter account now, so that's fun.

Summer Podcasting

I uploaded Mixed Feelings episode 38 yesterday, which means that I've officially finished every summer episode of my podcasts in 2017.

I recorded shows at 2am to match with my cohost's schedule. I drove to my friend's mom and my mom's friend's house to get good enough internet to record panel shows. I recorded shows even when I was sick (if you thought my voice was a little strange on the Relay FM bonus episode, that's because I was ill and recorded it laying down on the floor).

I edited shows in Maine, California, Montreal, London, Bath, and Edinburgh; I edited on buses, trains, and planes. I uploaded them in dorm rooms, AirBnBs, and hostels. I uploaded one at Google in Mountain View.

Some episodes were late. Some episodes weren't very good. But the only episodes I missed were when my laptop was broken. I'm proud of my work this summer, and I'm excited to keep making bigger and better things this year.