Swarthmore's independent campus newspaper since 1881

Tag archive

campus culture

The problem with promises

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

Swatties love to make promises. Whether it is promising that you will go support your friend at their game, read over a classmate’s essay, or finish your homework before midnight, we are all constantly making promises both to ourselves and to others. The problem is we aren’t very good at keeping them.

It is not that we are maliciously promising to do things that we know we cannot do. We genuinely think that we can do it all until we can’t. A combination of not wanting to say no to anyone and thinking that we can do everything has led most of us to overcommit.

It starts small, skipping one item on your to do list for the day, or promising yourself you will get it done tomorrow or this upcoming weekend. Maybe you get part of it done, but eventually something drops. This is usually at the very last second, not wanting to admit to ourselves before we have to that we misjudged what we could do. We send a hasty apology note to the friend, classmate, or professor and move onto the next thing on our inevitably long to do list.

This overcommitment culture goes beyond just the student body population to the professors and the administration. Professors promise they will get your paper back to you next class, which turns into next week, or two weeks. The administration promises that the Pittenger-Palmer connector will be done by the weekend, when in reality it is going to take two weeks. This leads to ramifications across the college. There’s always someone else suffering the consequences of unkept promises.

This community needs to take a step back and do some self-evaluation. When we unintentionally make empty promises, it decreases the weight our promises hold in the future. As we slowly get accustomed to making excuses for our broken promises we also become accustomed and desensitized to seeing other people exhibit the same behavior. How can we fault our friends for bailing on dinner when you bailed the week before? When you turn your paper in a few days late, it is only natural to accept it back a few days later than when the teacher originally promised for it to be back. It’s far too easy to condone these kinds of  broken promises from the administration when we ourselves are so accustomed to doing it ourselves.

While it is extremely important for students to engage with the administration if we want to see any lasting change, it is unsurprising that students choose not to because of the way we fail to follow through.  It is difficult to have a conversation to make an impact when both sides are accustomed to shirking responsibility when we inevitably overcommit. As we dive into midterms, we as a community should be conscious when committing to things, in an effort to practice self care and also change our expectations of promises in order to move forward collaboratively to enact real change.

 

Occupy A1, and F*ck The Fratriarchy in doing so

in Campus Journal by

There are few places on campus that the majority of the student body frequents.  A combination of necessity and convenience draws students back to Sharples everyday like thesauraus.com during a long and uninteresting paper. As much as students complain, they always find themselves back in the homey ski lodge-esque dining hall that is slowly becoming too small as the the student body is increases. Dining options have increased with the implementation of the OneCard, but Sharples is still the closest food option during dinner, before 8pm, and the only one that will take swipes before mealtime. Like any social space, everyone inhabits Sharples differently. Most people choosing to fall into the routine of eating in groups. Sometimes when there isn’t assigned seating in a classroom, people accept the challenge and sit in the same spot for the rest of the semester, finding solace in their unofficial official seat. With such an academically focused student body, why would Sharples be any different?

Some Swatties noticed that “the athletes” constantly sit together at, the same tables, at A1 and started talking about it. They felt that this was not okay and was representative of the “fratriarchy”, the manifestation of the patriarchy in anything affiliated with fraternities. They decided that something had to be done, something bold. Their plan? Step one, sit at A1 and other A tables. Step two, eat.

For those unfamiliar, many students use a grid system to easily identify which table someone is referring to. When in the main room, columns are referred to with letters, and rows are referred to with numbers. When you are standing by the bussing station looking out at the tables, the table closest to the compost is referred to as A1.

When asked how the plan to disrupt the Sharples norm started, Ploy Promrat ’19 talked about how it began with her and her friends joking around in Hobbs.

“Essentially, Morgin [Goldberg ‘19] and I were just talking about how it’s kinda funny that certain tables are sort of tacitly reserved for certain groups and we thought it’d be funny to mess with that dynamic a little,” Promrat said.

Goldberg ’19 shared about how the joke then became a Facebook event, which naturally  gained more and more interest.

“We did it because we thought, this would be funny. I made a facebook event and invited 10 people, my friends, with a lengthy description that was meant for humor and I said invite your friends … thinking it would expand to 25 people but in total I believe it expanded to 320 people,” Goldberg explained.

Sabrina Merold ’17,  who participated, shared her perspective of the event before it happened.

“From as far as I can tell, this started as friends talking about what Sharples might look like if typically male sports teams didn’t sit in A1, and then turned into a discussion of masculinity and the patriarchy at Swarthmore,” Merold shared.

Merold also shared, in retrospect, what it was like to sit with the many people who expressed interest in the event on Facebook. It started at 4pm and Merold said it gave her an opportunity to sit with people who she otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to interact with.

“I found it enjoyable that throughout the dinner, people would come and go at my table and I ended up eating with a diverse mix of friends from clubs and classes that I don’t usually eat with but have always wanted to,” Merold said.

Goldberg shared what happened from her perspective as she sat at the “A tables.”

“As people who usually sit in those seats came in, I expected people to be secretly mad, but the actual response, people were partially fairly openly angry and pissed off and threw their keys off at a different table,” Goldberg then further elaborated about what had happened.

“Some people were like, ‘haha okay we’ll sit somewhere else’, but then later around six o’clock the people who came in were pretty mad, people came up to me and were like, why would you do this, this is so petty and that was the point, it was petty,” Goldberg shared, expressing how surprised she was.

Merold described the initial confusion that many people expressed when they came to find the tables full of people.

“I did see some looks of confusion when some individuals who usually sit in column A came over and weren’t expecting to see the tables full,” Merold said.

Brendan Watson ’19, an athlete who normally sits at the tables at the center of the joke, commented about his team’s reaction to the entire situation.

“There was a lot of giggling by whoever was sitting at the usual ‘athlete’ tables, I guess they thought they ‘got us’ and made us look out of place by taking our usual seats. Most of us didn’t realize that people were upset over the fact that we sat at the same tables with the rest of our team everyday,” Watson recounted.

The group who organized the occupation of A1 were successful in proving, despite the “athletes tables” label, that the seating is open to any person choosing to eat in Sharples. The group of students took a stand, ate dinner, and disrupted the norm. Swatties were brought together and laughs were had, ultimately creating connections within our community while making students more conscious about their seating decisions.

Kitao proposes “Campus Arts Initiative”

in Arts by

Last Thursday, the co-directors of Kitao Gallery, Tara Giangrande ’16 and Deborah Krieger ’16, sent out a campus wide notice of Kitao’s proposal for a Community Development Grant for the 2016-2017 academic year. The proposal, titled “Kitao Campus Arts Initiative” outlines an ambitious plan for fostering the development of a student arts scene on campus. The next evening, Kitao held an interest meeting to discuss the proposal.

The foundation of this proposal is the belief that the Kitao Gallery, which will potentially be relabeled “Kitao Art House”, can serve a greater function for the artistic community of the college than it has in the past. Krieger identified some of the issues that have historically plagued Kitao, pointing out that in past years Kitao has seen very sparse attendance.

“We’ve been on the board since freshman year and our experience has been, if there was an opening  —  and there was wine and cheese  — then maybe 10 people would come. There were some really great shows that happened my freshman and sophomore years, and I would be sitting and monitoring — it would be during Arts Weekend, on a Sunday — and no one would come,” she said.

Additionally, the proposal finds a basis in the problems with the Swarthmore student art scene elucidated by Colette Gerstmann ’18 in the Phoenix Op-Ed she penned in December. As a result of the success of Kitao events held this past semester, such as the Paint the Walls Party and the Kitao Coffee Houses, the Kitao Board believes that, if given this grant, they will be able to address those issues.

The transformation of Kitao Gallery into Kitao Art House involves both physical and functional changes. One of the most significant proposed changes is that Kitao will be outfitted to function as a studio art space. The Kitao Board plans to stock various art supplies and provide a studio space so that instead of being limited to a place to display art, Kitao will become a place to create art. The Board also plans to refurbish the upstairs of the building, with the aim to create a better social space and facilitate collaborative creativity.

“We would like to start instituting open hours, so that it becomes not only a space that’s open for specific events, but a place where people can come through and collaborate together and be free do whatever their ideas are. The upstairs — there’s a room up there that we would really like to outfit as a cozy hangout/discussion/conversation space where people can go to collaborate that way. We definitely want to make a studio art component available,” Giangrande explained.

The proposal also outlines several planned events, the most prominent of which is the Fall Student Arts Festival, to be held in October. Giangrande explained that this event is meant as a display and celebration of student creativity in all forms.

“We envision it as an event that showcases student art in the broad sense, not just in the academic department sense because there are a lot of artists on campus who aren’t in departmental programs and we really want to provide a space for it to be shown. But also collaborating with the departments,” she said.

The grand plan for this event includes food, exhibitions, art workshops, live music, and more. This event would be a collaborative effort between Kitao and many other arts-related student organizations on campus, such as Olde Club and Oasis.

“Basically, we want it to be an all-day event where people are just in this area, having fun. Outside is going to be a casual space. We want to have easy crafts going on that people can come in and do as they want,” said Giangrande. “In Kitao during the day, we want to have more intensive workshops with guest artists. So, those would be an hour and a half, two hour long workshops during the day for people who really want to gain a skill.”

One of the many collaborating organizations would be the Women’s Resource Center. The Kitao Board has plans to incorporate the WRC into the Fall Student Arts Festival in a way which respects the mission of the WRC.

“WRC will likely be having an exhibition. There’s an art history course going on this semester, “Women in Art”, and we’ve talked to the professor of that, Patricia Reilly. Their findings would be exhibited at WRC,” said Giangrande.

On top of the Fall Student Arts Festival, the Board has proposed holding three Friday Arts Nights throughout the year. These events would be an expanded version of their current Kitao Coffee Houses and would also be a product of increased collaboration with the Women’s Resource Center, Olde Club, and other student artistic organizations. These events, along with Kitao’s new open hours, would allow Kitao to play a significantly larger role in supporting student art. Krieger explained the Board’s goals for the Campus Arts Initiative.

“There are often some really great things on display. We want people to get in the door, we want to prove that art really has a space on this campus that isn’t just in the academic realm,” she said. “We want people to feel that they can be a part of this space.”

How do we talk about speech on campus?

in Columns/Opinions by

The argument seems never-ending. Every news-conscious college student in the country, or maybe even the world, knows about the issue of campus free speech. Countless publications, professional and amateur, have offered their opinions on the issue of campus speech codes, threatened academic careers, PTSD, cultural appropriation, insensitive jokes, post-colonialism. It must be quite overwhelming for anyone who came to college to just get a degree and get the hell out. But sorry, you are at Swarthmore and you have to care. If you don’t comment on your friends’ shared articles about another disciplined professor or a withdrawn school judiciary sentence, get ready to lose some Facebook friends.

I’m joking (maybe not for some of you). But this joke is a good example of a kind of speech restriction that gets free speech advocates hot and bothered. Social pressure in a school environment is very real, and at Swarthmore, where everyone knows about everyone else. Your political leanings are public knowledge, especially if you are not on the left side of the Swarthmore spectrum. To avoid ostracization in an environment like this, one might be pressured to either concede to the opinions of others or to keep absolutely quiet. I have had personal experiences with this, often shying away from complex and emotionally heated issues such as racial violence and immigration for fear of social retribution. These issues are then framed in a one-sided manner by the interested parties, limiting opportunities for nuanced thought. Anyone who does not agree with them is labeled as “against us”, “bigoted”, and my favorite — “wrong”. As an opinionated member of the campus community, this has proved rather frustrating for me.

Yet, beyond this frustration, I realize that societal pressure isn’t something that any one person can effectively control. The only thing that can remove social pushback against certain types of speech is a cultural shift. We can be part of this cultural shift, either at Swarthmore or beyond, but we can never plausibly protect free speech completely from the clout of public opinion. For free speech advocates who feel discouraged by this, at least you can feel safe with the knowledge that, at Swarthmore, no one will be allowed to inflict physical harm on you just because of what you said. Still, there exist many people at Swarthmore who are open to discussing controversial issues. You just have to learn to find them.

However, there is one element, one that has been largely ignored by the existing commentary on the issue, that we have to keep in mind during our discourses — bias. This may seem strange, since biases are usually some of the first things we pick up on when reading opinion articles. A brilliant exception to this is a recent article by Nikita Redkar in xojane (My Indian parents are fans of cultural appropriation) which shows why exploring the distinct biases of different groups are so important in this discussion. So, why are the inherent biases of these articles not closely examined by commentators? In discussions about colleges and higher education, there seems to be a tendency for the authors to be from those very sectors. Academic writers often write with evidence and detachedness (the article by “Edward Schlosser” on Vox is peppered with examples), and thus counter-opinions tend to engage existing arguments on those grounds. While that is perfectly valid, it may serve us well to look at the biases of the authors. In the aforementioned Vox article, this pseudonymous Professor Schlosser writes as a fearful educator. He is afraid of losing his job, his source of income, and most of all the justification for his intellectual passions.  He blames this on the hypersensitivity of his supposedly liberal students and their “stifling conception of social justice”, and his suggestions mostly center around these students. But that might not be the issue at hand here. What Professor Schlosser describes may be instead a flawed and vengeful school system, where subjective and often problematic student evaluations hold strong sway in employment outcomes, where punitive measures are the main tools of problem solving, and where a previously enthroned pedagogical hierarchy is upset by the extreme skewering to be ‘student-centric’. Maybe Schlosser should advocate for reforms to faculty employment and protection instead of telling (not teaching) students how to think.

While these article writers get the most attention, the real influencers in the issue of campus speech are the students. And, lest we forget, we have our biases as well. At Swarthmore, almost all of us are in some sort of social, cultural, or political club. We look out for our interests, and justifiably so. But by being so invested in these interests, we may be prone to knee-jerk responses and emotive gesturing.

As I write this column on campus speech, I too have my biases.  Even though I am an ethnically Chinese student, I am different from Chinese-Americans. Growing up as the majority race, I have never felt exploited culturally or socioeconomically. Living in Singapore, I have seen the adverse effects of the restriction of speech rather than that of unbridled free speech. Due to my personal preference towards cultural transformation, I tend to see free speech as culturally beneficial even in its more controversial forms. But as I hope to have demonstrated above, I try to appreciate the nuances of discussion, even when they go against my personal preferences.

As sure as the beer runs out during Pubnite, there will be another speech sensitivity issue on campus sometime this academic year. When an email apology is sent out or when another “disgusting” Instagram photo is posted, rest assured that this column will be here for you to disagree with.

 

The campus culture conundrum

in Columns/Opinions by

I hated the college left before I even started high school. At the tender age of twelve, I began my political education in earnest, at the foot of what was then a novel portal into the wider world: the Internet. This proved to be much like learning chemistry from a pyromaniac. I picked up the jargon and ideology of every partisan with a message board. I was, in turn, an anarcho-communist, -capitalist; a 9/11 Truther, a Byzantiphile monarchist (there were dozens of us! dozens!); a Ron Paul rev-love-utionary; and a Zizekian socialist. While I occasionally embraced moderation (pretentiously terming myself a “radical centrist”), my teenage political imagination was mostly under the dominion of the esoteric. That esotericism taught me contempt for the campus activist.

To understand why this was, one has to understand that most Internet radicalism is fundamentally conservative. It is filled with keyboard warriors who can think of no battlefields more sublime than a Reddit comment thread. With a few notable exceptions (I recall some Internet libertarians moving to New Hampshire as part of the Free State Project), the would-be iconoclasts I associated with were unwilling to attempt to effectuate their political programs. Their politics were too obscure, the American mainstream too foolish and timid to accept them, or so they told themselves. As they had no path forward, they resigned themselves, consciously or otherwise, to a do-nothing contrarianism. While they could not substantially challenge the status quo, they could criticize it endlessly, all while making known their displeasure at the spinelessness and anomie of their mainstream contemporaries.

No one was more spineless than the campus liberal, who was caricatured as a devout reader of Chomsky, Macbook owner, latte sipper, and possessor of an unkempt beard and an endless reserve of white guilt. They were engaged in mock militancy, a sort of extended adolescent rebellion designed to upset their insufficiently disciplinarian fathers. They lacked any deep ideological coherence, supporting whatever cause happened to be fashionable at the time. Even the Internet Marxists tended to hate them: they had abandoned the class struggle in favor of the infantile disorders of identity politics and human rights activism. The college liberal was bratty, foolish, given to self-righteousness, and ultimately concerned only with the frivolous.

This stereotype of the obnoxious leftist extends beyond the imaginations of Internet radicals. It’s the standard vulgar-conservative appraisal of the inhabitants of America’s ivory towers. Political correctness, Obamacare, false rape claims — these are all creations of the useless idiots who wander the halls of our overpriced universities. One need look no further than a philly.com comments section or a George Will column to see that a rather large portion of the country has a special contempt for the contemporary college student.

I internalized this contempt, and I have been the poorer for it. While I have found myself increasingly intellectually aligned with the left, I have kept my distance from the front lines of activism. Or, less woodenly: my ass has remained firmly in its seat. I remember the first day of Occupy Philadelphia’s encampment outside of City Hall, back in 2011. On my way home from high school, I stopped across the street from them and stared at the growing tent city. I had never seen a large-scale protest before, not in Philadelphia. Sure, there had been the occasional Free Mumia rally, the summertime vigil of anti-abortion groups in front of Planned Parenthood, even once a silent, masked march down Walnut Street, protesting drone strikes in Pakistan. But these events were always small, more like hobbies than movements. Occupy was something else: it was the left – not the anaesthetized, party-line Democratic left, but rather a rag-tag, heterodox, youthful, and very pissed-off left — making its displeasure physically manifest. This displeasure was general: it was a challenge not just to a particular politician or policy, but rather to an entire economic and political system. It was against the malaise that gripped the country; it was in favor of something radical, though it never settled quite on what that something might be.

I wanted to cross the street and join them in their chanting and sloganeering. But I couldn’t: I was too embarrassed by their drum circles, their human microphones, their lack of policy recommendations, their iPhones, and their Gap jeans. I feared the mockery that would ensue if I crossed the line. Worse: I feared that I would deserve that mockery. I left.

That embarrassment has repeated itself throughout my time at Swarthmore. During the 2013 Spring of Our Discontent (for the non-seniors: a rather spectacular and important series of events that I cannot adequately explain in the space I have allotted to me), I recall watching the demonstrations outside Sharples at a considerable distance, feeling the same stomach-churning mixture of support and internalized embarrassment that I had felt a year and a half earlier, across the street from City Hall. My distance from this movement was not as complete as it had been in the case of Occupy: I participated minimally, mostly due to a personal friendship with one of the leading activists. But I could never quite shed my defensiveness. I was more interested in apology than solidarity.

During the divestment sit-in last year, a movement with which I did not have much of a personal connection, I made a point to tell people who asked that I was not in favor of divestment. I could offer reasons, certainly. I can hear myself now: “Divestment won’t actually solve the real issues of climate change, it’s a feel-good gesture…they should be doing this! Or that!” All this bluster was cover for the fact that I found the divestment movement’s tactics obnoxious and that I desired not to be associated with a group and an action that I found disreputable.

Certainly, there are good-faith reasons to criticize campus activists. They are often wrong, sometimes hilariously and offensively so. They are sometimes so wrong that their youthful wrongness will become the cause of scandal when they run for U.S. Senate in thirty years. They are sometimes so wrong that they come to resemble their conservative caricature, all self-righteousness and magical thinking. But I suspect that many Swatties behave like I did (and, if I’m being honest, still do), refusing to extend the proper charity and consideration to the activists’ arguments.  We, who are intellectually aligned with the left, are more than happy to share a trending Jezebel article or discuss cultural appropriation over an Essie’s dinner, but are far too lazy, or busy, or embarrassed to do anything about our views.  We cannot expect the world we desire to simply appear some day, as if it were a gift from the gods. If we take our views seriously, if they are to be something more than a temporary youthful affectation, if they are to count in the world, we must be willing to back them up with real action.

 

Are we all crazy for electing to do the Swat stress test?

in Acatalepsy/Columns/Opinions by

Academic rigor is something that all Swatties love to hate. More than pride, it is an intrinsic part of Swarthmore culture, perpetuated by misery poker and shirts proclaiming, “Anywhere else it would have been an A.” The most recent ranking by Cappex that marks Swarthmore as the #1 hardest school acknowledges what most students already knew.

Stress is no stranger to people on campus. Considering the high achievers that comprise Swat’s student body, students probably prefer some amount of pressure for motivation. as it allows them to achieve more than they thought possible. But like with anything, moderation is key. This is the paradoxical situation I sometimes find myself in, something I know I am not alone in feeling that I want to be involved in everything at once while not wanting to do any of my work, at times, overwhelmed by the number of commitments I’ve made.

Again and again, I’ve been told I have plenty of time in college to explore new fields, but each time pre-registration comes around, I find myself struggling to choose between this course or that one, because although four credits is not enough to satiate my academic interests, I know realistically that anything more would limit my depth of learning. From cultural to occupational to recreational, the endless list of clubs is astounding. Signing up is easy, but actually becoming involved is another story; only when several organizations decide to schedule their meetings all on the same date, at the same time, does it become apparent that there is never enough time to do it all.

Time is precious — a point emphasized in college. If one weren’t fully occupied enough with readings, essays, lab reports and presentations, there is still the never-ending slew of events on campus ranging from symposia to concerts to cultural events. Amidst a constantly stimulating environment when is one to rest? To take a breather? The onslaught of FOMO — fear of missing out — transforms what might have been a free hour of relaxation into a foosball faceoff with friends.

There is a distinct difference between a lazy day at home and a lazy day at Swarthmore. Between the 24/7 academic and social stimulation — burning the wick at both ends — the thought of free time is a misnomer that only freshmen would be fooled into believing. Even during breaks, there are tangible laundry lists of assignments that need to be completed, readings to catch up on, worksheets and essays looming. There comes a point when you realize that the usual 3 a.m. bedtime is, in reality, not normal at all. Burning out isn’t an option, it’s an inevitability — the only variable is when it will happen. Maybe you’re able to avoid it an entire year, using the pent-up academic boredom and frustration from high school to fuel your ambitions, so it becomes the generic “sophomore slump.” Or maybe high school senioritis slithers over so that YOPFO becomes a motto to live by.

It isn’t that you lack ambition — if anything, it is the opposite of that. The issue is that you are overly ambitious and want to capitalize on every presented opportunity: yes is more. But always saying yes is also not a sustainable lifestyle. How does one effectively deal with this? Complexity is something that compounds, and life only gets more convoluted with more factors, more history to complicate and influence every decision, so it’s best to figure out how to deal with it all now.

So, what does it really mean, that every student at Swarthmore has intentionally chosen to be in this high intensity environment? Are we all crazy or prematurely preparing ourselves for the future like the overachievers we are? Surviving Swat is a feat recognized by many. There is a reason that the name Swarthmore — no matter if you say it SwARTHmore, SwOTHmore, or Swat — garners an impressed pat on the back, raised eyebrows and bragging rights. More than merely being statistically difficult to be accepted, having a large endowment and employing a notable array of professors, Swarthmore is a mental test. It is having the willpower to struggle through the mountains of work. It is being overwhelmed with obligations and not knowing where to begin, but beginning somewhere anyway. It is knowing when to sacrifice what you want to do for what you need to do, and learning, as difficult as it may be, the power of no. Swarthmore is going to give us an education, but it’s also going to teach us to understand the value and long-term benefits over short-term costs of engaging in any given activity. By graduation, we will ideally be able to evaluate, prioritize, schedule and feel some semblance of organization and control over all the craziness thrown at us. Regardless of the grades we leave with by the end of four years, as long as we’ve successfully passed the Swat stress test, we should be prepared to handle whatever is going to fall upon us once the bubble pops.

Inter-web celebs

in Around Campus/Campus Journal by

In the late nineties, Evan Gregory ’01 created an SCCS website. The interface of the site is simple: the top of the page reads “Movies” and below are default-blue hyperlinks, all in Times New Roman, to fourteen videos with names like “Poop Movie” and “Pants Movie.” The website appears to be a primitive version of YouTube, minus the search feature and abundant Vevo ads. It seems prophetic that Gregory was responsible for creating a Swarthmore video website so strangely similar to YouTube because about ten years later, YouTube would be the platform on which he and his brother, Andrew Gregory ‘04, came to internet fame.

The Gregory Brothers came to be some of the first Swarthmore internet celebrities, given that they graduated as the internet was first surfacing as a space for networking and sharing media. True, “social media hotbed” is not the first descriptor that comes to mind when one thinks of Swarthmore. But even the seemingly impermeable Swarthmore Bubble has become entangled in internet culture, and with that entanglement has come Swarthmore’s own slew of internet celebrities.

Internet culture on campus revolves largely around Facebook. As one Instagram famous student, Moises Polanco ’17, noted, “When I hear about social media on campus, it’s usually on Facebook … I kind of unsubscribe from the whole ‘you can see everything that I’m doing’ that comes from Facebook. [With Instagram] there are two different personas.” Polanco’s ambivalence about Facebook reflects a thought trend amongst students on campus who are internet famous: social networks are for art, not for personal life.

The most popular sharing websites like VSCO, Instagram and Tumblr have a dual purpose as places to both create and disseminate that art. In this way, the internet has indeed become a place to define and promote “art,” cyclically and simultaneously. For the social media stars of Swarthmore, the internet serves the aforementioned purpose. As many of them were quick to mention, however, their fame defines neither their work nor their “real life” identity. Undeniably, though, their “real life,” artistic and internet identities give life to one another and are complexly related.

 Photographer Molly Lichten ’15, who has generated masses of followers on image-sharing sites like Tumblr and Flickr, became internet famous by accident. For Lichten, social media was the most convenient way to store and organize her photographs, but due to the social nature of the websites she was using, she quickly rose to internet prominence.

Lichten remarked on the role fame plays in work popularized by social media, saying, “I think it is easy to get caught up in the ever-elusive search for ‘fame,’ to find yourself compromising your art, vision, or aesthetic for whatever target audience you’re trying to reach, impress, or please. And while I think it is important to be humble, I think it is just as important to remember why you do what you do, why you take photographs or create art.” Polanco shared a similar sentiment, commenting, “I don’t have objections to fame, as long as it doesn’t infiltrate my work.”

There are other internet famous Swatties for whom artistic promotion via social networks was a more deliberate venture and less of an accident. The Gregory Brothers of the aforementioned SCCS website “Movies” are also the musicians behind the viral auto-tuned gem the “Bed Intruder Song” and several popular YouTube video series including “Auto-Tune the News” and “Songify This!”

The brothers were intent on having careers as musicians after graduating from Swarthmore, and the explosion of social networking sites in the early 2000’s was vital to their pursuit of musical careers. “Artists work in the media that are available, and our work was only made possible by tools and platforms that were developed very recently. We feel very lucky that developments like YouTube and accessible filmmaking software have allowed us to sustain careers as artists. Otherwise, we would be trying our hand at writing books about orphans,” said the brothers. For the brothers, YouTube and the videos that they produced via the website “were just an extension of us being musicians.”

The social media component of their work was essential to their success, but a love for music and performance underscored the importance of the medium and the fame that such a medium generated. For them, like many other internet famous artists, artistic drive triumphed over fame.

For others, like model Kyle Pierce ’14, internet celebrity was a corollary to a more traditional kind of celebrity. Pierce’s work as a model developed into internet fame more inadvertently. “I guess people who tried to keep their hands in men’s fashion would see an editorial I was a part of and then re-blog it. Oftentimes if a photographer released a shoot, then others would try and pick it up as a story,” said Pierce of his development into a social media sensation. Because of social media, art that is meant for a specific population of readers or consumers is now available to a multitude of audiences to whom it’d previously been inaccessible. Social media made art globally available, and in Pierce’s case, made his image famous.

Internet fame, naturally, generates a kind of localized Swarthmore fame. Lichten again emphasized the importance of art over fame, especially when managing fame at Swarthmore, remarking, “I don’t know whether or not people know about my internet ‘fame,’ but they certainly seem to know about my photography, and to me, that is what this is all about.” Even on a small campus, our peers’ artistic pursuits are relevant, hopefully not only for the fame that such pursuits has spawned, but for the art itself.

 In the post-Swarthmore “real world,” the Gregory Brothers have continued to encounter Swarthmore in the context — or not — of their internet fame. “One time I walked by Al Bloom (president of Swarthmore while the Gregory Brothers were Swarthmore students) on the street in the East Village and he was kind enough to pretend not to recognize me as being an internet-famous Swattie. Thank goodness, since if he had, I would’ve honestly been really embarrassed, and that’s not even taking into account the economic losses the city of New York would’ve incurred from traffic jams and having to send the police force and fire squad, etc. to escort me out of the neighborhood.”

There is a certain quality of humor and bashfulness that imbues conversations about internet fame. Perhaps this exists because the way one acquires internet fame is still unfamiliar, or maybe because of the precarious nature of the networks on which this fame is dependent, but either way, Swatties who are internet famous experience their art, fame and world in a way that we, the masses — the “followers” — cannot fully comprehend.

 

Go to Top