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Dirty Computer – Janelle Monáe’s Emotion Picture Shines

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It’s been 5 years since Janelle Monáe released her album “The Electric Lady.” The sequel to her sophomore classic, “The ArchAndroid,” it was met with positive but not overwhelming reviews. Since then, Monáe has been a fixture in the mainstream, appearing in a number of high profile films including “Hidden Figures” and “Moonlight.” It was a welcome surprise when “Make Me Feel” and “Django Jane,” the singles from Monáe’s newly announced album “Dirty Computer,” were released in February of 2018. The two singles were sharp, catchy, and widely different, giving fans no real indication as to the sonic direction of the new project, which was now being dubbed an “Emotion Picture.” In the weeks that followed, Monáe released “PYNK (feat. Grimes)” and “I Like That” before the release of the album and accompanying 48-minute short film on April 27. Varied, fiery, and fun, the album’s strong vocals and eclectic production make it Monáe’s best album since “The ArchAndroid” and one of the best records of 2018.

“Dirty Computer” kicks off with the title song featuring Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Sweet and short, the song functions as more of an introduction, with the first true song being “Crazy, Classic, Life.” The tune here is strong enough, and the vocal performance and production are both full of personality. The real issue here is that Monáe sells herself short lyrically, leaving listeners with a song that has plenty of charm but is short on ambition. The album’s first hit is “Screwed (ft. Zȯė Kravitz),” which has an infectious hook and a bunch of playful uses of the word “screwed” in the context of desire and power. The vocal harmonies at the end of the song transition seamlessly into “Django Jane,” one of the album’s breakout singles. Here, Monáe shows off her rapping ability over a hefty, trap-inspired beat. Hugely confident and commanding, Monáe’s delivery really shines through on this track as she raps about being a black woman in the music industry. “PYNK (feat. Grimes)” takes the album in a stylistic180, replacing the swagger of “Django Jane” with delicate, indie pop. Grimes’ involvement seems to have been more with general songwriting and harmonies of the track, but the Monáe’s timid vocals in the verses definitely carry a strong Grimes influence. Monáe isn’t shy about emulating her influences, as “Make Me Feel” is reminiscent of Prince’s “Queen,” the late star being a known friend and collaborator of Monáe’s. “Make Me Feel” shines as the climax of the album, splitting the album in two with its powerful vocals and huge energy. The album doesn’t top the spectacle of “Make Me Feel,” but the back half has a number of great tracks including “I Like That,” “I Got the Juice (feat. Pharrell Williams),” and “Don’t Judge Me.” “I Like That” is a slick R&B track with a relatively plain instrumental, but the vocals and lyrical content more than make up for it with Monáe belting out an earworm chorus and rapping in the second half about embracing her identity and style. “I Got the Juice” continues in the vein of instrumental variety and features a percussive and oddball verse from Pharrell himself. While it’s definitely one of the quieter moments on the album, “Don’t Judge Me” is sensual and smooth, featuring restrained but emotive vocals.

While not all listeners will choose to consume “Dirty Computer” alongside the 48 minute short film or “emotion picture,” it’s worth noting the picture’s few additions and alterations to the standard listening experience. The short film does very little to alter the music, weaving narrative skits in between music videos. However, the emotion picture version of “PYNK” features an extra verse from Monáe which adds another dimension to the already fun song. Otherwise, the picture situates the themes of the album in a futuristic setting not too far removed from the narratives of Monáe’s previous work.

On “Dirty Computer” listeners can really hear Janelle Monáe hitting her stride. With songs spanning a myriad of genres and styles, there’s something for everyone on “Dirty Computer.” Dealing with themes of race and identity, female empowerment, and vulnerability, Monáe couples her strong vocals with a number of thoughtful lyrics. Ultimately, “Dirty Computer” is one of the most versatile and enjoyable pop records of the year, and definitely Monáe’s strongest project since “The ArchAndroid.”

Crime and Intrigue: a Review of Forensic Files

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I grew up around Nancy Drew, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, and Sherlock Holmes. No, I have never met any of them, but I read about plenty of their adventures. I spent hours in the library picking out mystery novels, fascinated by the fictional detectives’ astute reasoning and resolute pursuit of justice.

My interest in true crime and detective work persists. Last summer, eager to discover new stories about true crime, I began watching the series “Forensic Files” on Netflix.

“Forensic Files”, first aired on The Learning Channel in 1996, consists of short stand-alone episodes that depict real-life crimes solved through adroit forensic work. So far, “Forensic Files” has more than 14 seasons with a total of 406 episodes.

While most episodes feature crimes within the U.S., there are occasional episodes about crimes in foreign countries, such as Switzerland and the U.K. A few episodes focus on cases where ultimately no foul play was found, whereas some others describe how convicted suspects were proven innocent. Each standard episode is around 20 minutes long, the perfect length for taking a break between homework assignments or other campus obligations.

From cold-blooded murders to bizarre illnesses and suspicious automobile accidents, “Forensic Files” covers a diverse range of crimes, some more complex than others. Episodes are cleverly named to hint at the salient clues in each. “Jean Pool”, a season 12 episode, describes how advancement in DNA testing helped police to analyze the DNA evidence on a pair of jeans left at the crime scene and capture the murderer of a college student.

What remains common across all episodes is the unique skill of various experts dedicated to seeking the truth behind heinous crimes. In every episode is an extensive array of interviews featuring pathologists, medical examiners, police officers, attorneys, blood spatter analysts, or even forensic artists and linguists.

Unlike readers of detective stories full of twists and turns, viewers of “Forensic Files” can usually identify the actual criminal among the pool of suspects presented to them. The satisfying part, however, is listening to all the experts describe how they gathered sufficient evidence to press charges in court. Some viewers may be put off by the formulaic structure of each episode, but for me, the different details in each episode help sustain my interest season after season.

To help viewers visualize what happened during the crimes, “Forensic Files” includes animations, models, and reenactments of the crime scenes. There are also photographs and videos of the original crime scenes, as well as the evidence collected, in each episode. These materials help viewers to interpret the crime scene through the perspective of forensic experts, enhancing their understanding of the methods used in forensic science.

“Forensic Files” also highlights the resourcefulness of those involved in crime investigations, even if they are not experts or professionals. The season six episode titled “Hunter or Hunted?” stands out in this regard. It describes an unorthodox solution to find the fatal bullet that killed Judy Blake Moilanen in the woods of Ontonagon, MI, in 1992. Dan Castle, an Ontonagon resident, used a slingshot to launch marbles at the spot on a tree where the bullet had ricocheted and left a mark. He followed the marbles’ trajectory to a grassy spot, where he found the bullet after much searching. Thanks to Castle, experts matched the bullet to a gun owned by Judy Blake Moilanen’s husband, Bruce Moilanen, who was eventually found guilty.

Despite the sensational nature of the serious crimes featured, “Forensic Files” steers clear of luridness. Instead of appealing to viewers’ morbid curiosity and schadenfreude, “Forensic Files” portrays the victims and their family with sympathy and sensitivity. Every episode shows photographs of the victims, usually taken during happier times, to remind us that behind many true crime stories are precious lives lost to premature, often brutal deaths. The interviews with the victims’ loved ones tug at our collective humanity; each victim lived their own joys and sorrows. Even the interviews with police officers and investigators — individuals hardened by careers in law enforcement — reveal their kindness towards the victims and their long-suffering loved ones.

For anybody with an appetite for true crime, “Forensic Files” is an intriguing peek into the often enigmatic world of forensic science. Behind every case of justice served is the work of countless scientists, law enforcement officers, attorneys, and even ordinary members of the public who serve as witnesses or searchers. But behind every crime also lies a lot of pain and grief. Although forensic science cannot heal the emotional scars inflicted on the victims’ loved ones, it can — at the very least — provide a sense of closure and an aide for justice. Among all the possible evils of the world, “Forensic Files” offers some reassurance that no matter how long it takes, wrongdoing can never escape the long arm of the law.

 

“La Haine” and Racialized Nation-building

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Two weeks ago, I watched the French film “La Haine” directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, which was released in the fall of 1995. The title translates to “Hate” in English. Kassovitz won Best Director at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival for the film, which features a throbbing French hip-hop score and grimy black-and-white cinematography. “La Haine” occurs during the violent unrest of the Algerian Civil War, in which systematically oppressed minorities rioted against a militaristic police force and against a society of nations that relied on racialized marginalization for ruling power.

In France, the summer of 1995 was violent and traumatic. France was beset by a series of shootings and bombings, which were connected to the Algerian Civil War and executed by Muslim groups who opposed the Algerian and French governments. The worst of the incidents occurred on July 25, when a gas bottle exploded at the Saint-Michel metro station, killing eight and injuring 117, and on August 17, when a bomb exploded at the Arc de Triomphe, injuring 16. The violent incidents continued into the fall of 1995.

The Algerian Civil War began in December 1991 when the popular Islamic Salvation Front party, or F.I.S., challenged the ruling National Liberation Front party in the national parliamentary elections. When first-round results forecast an F.I.S. victory, the N.L.F government cancelled the election citing fears that the F.I.S. would end democracy. The Algerian government banned the F.I.S. and arrested thousands of F.I.S. members, which impelled the formation of Muslim groups that began an armed campaign against the government. The conflict cost between 150,000 and 200,000 lives and ended with an Algerian government victory.

Between 1830 and 1870, France colonized Algeria through military rule. In 1962, the Algerian War of Independence, a decolonization war between French and Algerian — N.L.F. — military forces, ended with Algerian independence. After ceasefire, the N.L.F massacred Muslim Algerians who had served the French military and whom the French had denied repatriation to France.

The violence Algerian Muslim carried out against France in 1995 was a response to French governmental support of the N.L.F government and its military force.

The history of Algerian colonization is filled with racialized hypocrisies and the systematic and intersectional oppression of Muslims by French and Algerian ruling powers. The conflict between French, Algerian, and Algerian and French Muslim peoples is an example of the violent means and ends of racialized nation-building. The nation is a man-made geographic and sociopolitical structure. The nation is established upon the presumption of racial superiority, which is often white superiority, and the national systematic oppression of racialized peoples who are often called minorities and second-class citizens.

Before I continue, I must note two shortcomings.

First, I detailed a brief and incomplete history in order to discuss the process of racialized nation-building (I use the term racial and not ethnic, because ethnicities are often racialized). While it is possible to point out errors and inaccuracies in my account, I believe the process of racialized nation-building has repeatedly occurred as a pattern in numerous places and moments throughout history.

Second, I identify as a white, heterosexual, cis-male, Jewish American. I am writing from the perspective of someone who is privileged by not only American, but also Western cultural, political, and economic systems. I welcome critical feedback on the ways in which my thoughts are filtered by my perspective.

In Algeria, the French, operating under the presumption of their racial superiority, imposed the geographic and sociopolitical nation of Algeria upon groups of people who likely did not perceive the world as a map divided and governed by nations. The French believed they understood a better reality than the people who lived on the land the French called Algeria, which provides evidence of another belief: the French presumption of the racial inferiority of the peoples upon whom they imposed the nation of Algeria.

While the National Liberation Front won Algerian independence in 1962, they won the rights to a nation that was and is composed of racialized institutions, systems, and beliefs. In order to govern the nation of Algeria, the N.L.F. needed to shift the militaristic oppression which fuels the nation and its institutions to another ethnic group. On the day of independence, the N.L.F perpetrated massive violence against Muslim minorities in order to maintain the racialized nation and its systems. Furthermore, in 1991, the N.L.F instituted military rule in order to prevent Muslim governance in order to prevent the end of their democratic nation, a nation which relied on the violent interplay between superior and inferior racialized groups.

When Muslim groups attacked the French, they perpetrated violence against a power which maintained their systematic oppression. While the concept does not justify violence, it complicates the ways in which we consider terrorist attacks because, while perhaps under different names and guises, the violent patterns of racialized nation-building decorate the pages of Western history.

While I will be brief, I would also like to extend an understanding of racialized nation-building to include the United States of America. The U.S.A. was founded upon the presumption of white European superiority and the murder of Native American peoples and the enslavement of black peoples. While complex, Native American genocide and black slavery are both fundamentally connected to the founding of the American nation which created racialized systems of oppression that exist today. Structural American ideas were established upon the presumption of white male superiority and the oppression of racialized groups. For example, the infamous “All men were created equal.” In the modern day, the incarceration of millions of black people is the most visible institutional remnant of racialized nation-building of America.

The concept of the nation is racialized. Therefore, the institutions and systems which compose and maintain the nation are racialized.

I believe racialized nation-building is a product of weakness. We failed to do the hard work of empathy. We refused to understand the reality of others. We allowed our fear to become hateful violence.

“La Haine” is about three friends. Vinz is Eastern European Jewish, Saïd is Arab Muslim, and Hubert is black African; the friends are members of three groups who have been subjugated to the violent oppression of racialized nation-building throughout history.

They are children of immigrant families that live in in an impoverished French housing project in the suburbs of Paris, called la banlieue. The film depicts 20 successive hours in the lives of the three young men as they navigate the aftermath of a riot in which the police attacked their friend. They wander aimlessly through la banlieue, joking and arguing in search of distraction and entertainment. The friends find themselves subject to police surveillance which spreads hateful conflict through their home.

Vinz is filled with hate. He sees himself as an urban gangster. He imagines himself as Travis Bickle, from the 1976 American film “Taxi Driver” directed by Martin Scorsese; he aims a finger-gun at the mirror, and scowls. Hubert is musing and thoughtful. He contemplates la banlieue, wanting only to leave behind the institutionalized impoverishment and hatred which surrounds him, his friends, and his family. Vinz and Hubert care for Saïd, who seems younger, but mediates the antithetical perspectives which his two friends represent. Vinz and Hubert inherit the collective trauma of racialized nation-building and express their trauma through two opposing yet human perspectives: hatred and sadness, violence and escape.                 

The friends board a train to Paris, where they encounter further institutionalized hostility and distrust from the police and the public. A billboard reads, “Le monde est à vous.” The word “vous,” which to Hubert refers to the white powers, carries the collective trauma of racialized nation-building. The world is not his — it was constructed upon his oppression. Hubert sprays an “n” over the “v,” humanizing the turn of phrase: the world is ours.

Through the scene, Kassovitz highlights contrasting understandings of humanity: the status quo of is a racialized nation that enacts oppressive systems to maintain white superiority and racial inferiority and a hope, a dream, of a world without hate.

However, Kassovitz is attentive to the inescapability of the racialized nation, driving the audience to understand the naivety of Hubert’s hope. In the final scene, a policeman, holding a gun to Vinz’s head, accidentally fires. Hubert and the policeman aim their guns at each other. They both fire as the film fades to black.

Earlier, Hubert recounts, “Heard about the guy who fell off a skyscraper? On his way down past each floor, he kept saying to reassure himself: so far so good, so far so good, so far so good. How you fall doesn’t matter. It’s how you land.”

The racialized nation casts the three friends into a state of perpetual freefall, which ends only in hateful violence. They cannot escape it, for it is encompassing; it is the substructure upon which modern society is erected. “It’s about a society falling,” says the narrator, as the film ends.

I believe we need to deconstruct and analyze, in academic and conversational contexts, the process of racialized nation-building and the racialized systems which shape modern reality. Kassovitz’ depiction of a racialized nation in violent conflict deserves greater recognition as radical truth. Perhaps some will suggest that nation-building is uniquely human, but I will argue that racialized nation-building is the intentional refusal to empathize and the triumph of hate over the greater human capacity of love.

Isle of Dogs- Beauty, Sadness, and Man’s Best Friend

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My first thought leaving Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs” was, “Why hasn’t he done this sooner?” Anderson’s uniquely distinctive style — his love for symmetry, defined color palettes, and geometrically arranged shots — seems so obviously suited for animation that it’s a wonder he hasn’t worked with miniatures from the start. Set in a future Japan that is also endearingly retro,Isle of Dogs” begins with a prologue detailing the overpopulation of Megasaki City with pet dogs. An outbreak of “canine flu” turns the populace against their animals, leading to the rise of a white-suited, cat-loving demagogue named Mayor Kobayashii who exiled all the city’s dogs to Trash Island, a polluted dumping ground. The first victim is Spots, the loyal guard dog of the film’s human protagonist Atari — voiced by Koyu Rankin — a ward of the mayor. As the Island fills with roving packs of newly feral dogs who fight mercilessly over scraps, the plot picks up with the introduction of the Alpha Dog pack. Four dogs fallen from former heights, they are made up of stars (former dog-food spokesdogs and baseball mascots) and voiced by Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum, and Ed Norton. A meta-joke, given that these actors are longtime participants in Anderson’s movies. They are joined by the stray, Chief, an outsider voiced by Bryan Cranston in his first collaboration with Anderson. Rescuing Atari, who has escaped from the Mayoral household to find Spots, from the Municipal Dog Catchers, the pack decides to aid the boy, with extreme reluctance from the proud Chief. Back in Megasaki, a foreign exchange student, Tracy — voiced by Greta Gerwig — leads her classmates in uncovering a conspiracy to exterminate the dogs of Trash Island and a cover-up of the discovery of a canine flu cure.

 

But the plot, for better or for worse, fades away during the journey. While not quite as thematically gripping as his first attempt at stop-motion (and maybe even his best film), “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Anderson’s second movie featuring figurines is a visual triumph. The audience is left to wonder at the incredible work of animation director Mark Waring, art director Curt Enderle, and Anderson. Only Wes Anderson could make an island literally made of trash beautiful: a silver plane crash lands in a field of flapping white papers, polluted rivers flow sinuously through mountains of detritus, and the profiles of the boy and the dogs are silhouetted against the many colored glow of a pile of discarded sake bottles.     

 

Anderson is a confessed Japanophile, and while the film is more like his own private fantasy of Japan, the influence of Kurosawa, Miyazaki, and other Japanese filmmakers is apparent. The soundtrack liberally samples that of “Seven Samurai” and Atari’s silver flight suit is reminiscent of classic Japanese science fiction. Anyway, was anything more suited to Wes Anderson than the meticulous preparation of a Japanese boxed lunch, shot from above?

 

The dogs, however, are the film’s greatest achievements. Straggly, knocked-kneed, and all skin and bones, they are objects of pity and joy. Their faces resemble those of the actors voicing them, and the way the animators manage to make such small figurines have believable expression is very impressive. They look shell-shocked, somehow: wide eyes at once trusting and traumatized, their open wounds and matted fur reminders of the horrific treatment of their former masters.

 

The film is filled with the usual Wes Anderson idiosyncrasies: hand-drawn maps, precocious children, labels, lists, and the grand announcement of each part of the story. It opens with the line “All barks have been translated into English.” Notably, the Japanese is not subtitled, a choice drawing some criticism for the apparent sidelining of non-white characters, as Tracy and a TV news translator voiced by Frances McDormand are the only humans who speak English. The effect is that the dogs are foregrounded and made the center of the movie, which in my opinion is a good decision. Even the side characters are entertaining: Tilda Swinton plays a pug named Oracle, whose divine gift is really just the ability to read the news on TV, and Scarlett Johansson’s former show dog Nutmeg engages in a romance with Chief reminiscent of “Lady and the Tramp.”

 

But in spite of the silliness, or maybe because of it, the serious emotional core that runs throughout the film is effective. While the herding of dogs into camps and attempted genocide necessarily connotes Japan’s experience with war crimes, both as victim and perpetrator, Anderson does little more than uncomfortably acknowledge the parallels. However, the plaintive determination of the dogs to help Atari find Spots even when abandoned by their own masters is touching. Chief’s growing bond with Atari, whom he originally wanted to leave for dead, reminds us there is something redeemable in the harsh world of humans. Dogs were made for us, and we for them. As Johansson’s Nutmeg tells Chief when he asks why he should help Atari: “He’s a twelve year old boy — dogs love those.”    

The Generation Game

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The term “generation gap” was introduced in the 1960s to account for the differences between the baby boomers and their parents. What were people to make of their kids, who were so different, so unrelatable? In a sense, this conflict centered around the question of responsibility; was it the parent’s fault their kids turned out this way? Who was responsible for the rebelliousness of the younger generation? The question itself is not new as identities are constantly negotiated between generations, so some consider a generation gap unavoidable. The differences between us, between people, as seen through a generational lens is rife for exploration.

In a sense, this is the theme of all family sitcoms. Not only is it the theme but the source of tension, humor, and whatever life lessons warranted by a special episode. A voice cries in the wilderness, “We are not our parents!” In family sitcoms, tensions arise from everyone believing they’re right, so naturally, it’s refreshing that the newest—and perhaps a-little-too-late—show to arrive to the genre, “Generation Gap,” sets out to subvert these tropes.

The central conceit of Generation Gap is simple enough, although certainly more likely to crop up on SyFy than FoxX. We follow the Santos-Wu family, composed of Harper, Aidan, and their kids, Praline and Jess. The series begins with Harper and Aidan discussing whether Emily and Justin, Harper’s parents, should move in with them. In this way, it sticks close to the genre, following one family in a sea of nuclear families, which decides, for whatever reason to mix it up. The wrinkle—and it’s a big wrinkle—is that it’s set 50 years in the future, where not much has changed except that, through genetic treatments, the human lifespan has been extended indefinitely. The only limitation to the treatment is that, if administered to an individual past a certain age, it is ineffectual. Unfortunately for Emily and Justin, the discovery, development, and commercialization of the treatment came too late. The generation gap is instantiated here not only as a cultural gap but a biological one. For Harper and Aidan, who were raised knowing they would one day die, the discovery of the treatment came as a surprise and forced them to introspect. For Praline and Jess, immortality is their normal. The children live in a world where people effectively no longer die, a world which is strange and inaccessible to Emily and Justin. Harper and Aidan stand between their children and their parents, occupying a transitional space between the mortal and the immortal. Their positionality gives them privileged access to the worldviews held by their parents and their children. While their access helps them understand, it also serves to increase their indecisiveness as they see the issues inherent in both the “old” and “new” worldviews. Harper and Aidan lay at the middle of a culture clash and are, in some senses, “third culture kids,” as immigrants to immortality.

Is “Generation Gap” depressing? One of the central themes inarguably is death, which vividly conjures up negative emotions for most. However, Generation Gap, isn’t sad; it’s heartwarming. Every episode isn’t about death; in fact, the first time the topic comes up in a significant way (other than as the motivation for Emily and Justin’s move-in during the pilot) is in an arc that follows news of Harper’s aunt falling ill in the last three episodes of season one. You’re more likely to encounter quirky situations where Praline and Jess use their grandparent’s books to make a raft because they assumed the books would be waterproof like their digital tablets from which they read. Despite not being the total focus of the series, death is clearly the undercurrent.

Perhaps it sounds cliche, but death is employed as a lens to explore love. The journey that Praline and Jess must embark on is about choosing to love something impermanent in a seemingly permanent world. Of course, for us, this is a necessary part of living, but how often are we made to confront it except for when it is too late? We choose to love because, in some sense, we don’t think it will end. We buy that this time, just this once, it’ll last. This isn’t an option for the kids in “Generation Gap” as they become increasingly aware of their world.

“Generation Gap” is, to say the least, jarring. It skillfully interweaves genuineness and irony into its storytelling. It is beautifully aware of its source material, and it walks a fine line between an homage and a deconstruction. It’s a throwback to a time the writers clearly loved for what it was without the endless glorification that tends to come part and parcel with material reminiscent of the late 80s to early 90s. “Generation Gap” is what it is: a story about a family. It doesn’t try to be something it isn’t, but presents itself as a new take on an old idea, and it’s clear where its influences lie.

“Full Term” tackles graduate experience

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It’s rare that a show, in trying to capture a moment, comes to so clearly define the community which it set out to represent. For Silicon Valley, it’s “Silicon Valley” (coincidence?), for office workers it’s “Office Space” (a movie, I know) and for graduate students, it’s “Full Term.” Beginning in the late 90s and stretching into the mid-naughts, “Full Term” found an audience in night-owls, airing directly before the late-night offering of infomercials and remaining there for the first two seasons. It picked up a cult following, and the network noticed. It was promptly switched to pre-prime time and given an increased budget. Despite the increase, season three still feels like the preceding seasons. The late-80s-seeming graininess of the first two seasons remained at the request of the cast, who argued that it was essential to the atmosphere. Instead, the increased budget went into more sets and more actors, resulting in a less claustrophobic atmosphere than was present in the preceding seasons.

In the show, we follow a large group of friends and colleagues who all go to the same graduate school. It’s hard to pick out a protagonist because “Full Term” fundamentally succeeds as an ensemble comedy/drama. Yes, there are episodes here and there where it is clear that the viewer is going through the day of one character, but these episodes are rare and serve primarily to characterize unpopular characters. While it adheres to the sitcom formula, it’s clear that the writers don’t think of it as such. The humor isn’t constant; it’s not found in jokes or in interactions, but in exasperation and internal conflict. The characters we come to know share similar tensions, similar worries. Throughout the series, especially in the later season, it’s clear what questions are being asked. The simplest characterization would be to say that the theme is of immaturity in a mature world—but so is “The Big Bang Theory” and this clearly isn’t that. What does “Full Term” do differently?

It explores the relationship between maturity and expertise; the world looks at the characters as mature solely on the basis of their aspirations, despite the characters—and the audience—knowing the truth: that they’ve yet to live “out there” or “in the real world” for even a day of their lives.

One arc in “Potluck,” (Season 3, Episode 5), involves Wendy, who studies social psychology, being invited to a community potluck in a suburban neighborhood that she’s house-sitting and dog-sitting in. While walking the dogs with Tom, pursuing studies in cultural anthropology, and Antônio, who studies particle physics, a neighbor’s kid asks one of them for help moving a lawnmower. Wendy assists and the neighborhood boy invites her to a potluck that night, thinking she must have recently moved in. After parting, they head directly to a retro Whole Foods copy to buy ingredients for whatever it is one would bring to a potluck. The three frantically attempt to come together to form one whole competent person, so Wendy can go to the potluck she feels obligated to attend. Of course, the whole thing is unnecessary. None of them actually want to go, but they are compelled to because they feel a pressure from nowhere to prove themselves as “adults” (spoiler alert: they fail).

The show covers a lot of firsts, especially as the series progresses. It’s clear that the characters aren’t fumbling because they’re stupid, but the role of an expert comes with certain privileges. They were afforded a late entry into adulthood and aren’t expected to be as competent, though they firmly believe that people believe they are. Both the show and the characters acknowledge this privilege and use it as a source of humor, but far more often the humor comes from the irony of accepting the privilege inherent in one’s sadness and frustration, yet still feeling it anyway. In other words, the characters acknowledge their privilege, and are ashamed of it. Their shame ultimately leads them into contrived situations because they didn’t want to be honest as it would “out” them as frauds, as not-quite-adults. Nowhere is this clearer than family visit episodes, of which season three had its fair share. As soon as family appears, roles and expectations fade away, and we see the characters with their guards down, being teased by a sibling, or being scolded by a stepparent—but only for a minute before they desperately begin struggling to save face.

Is “Full Term” apt anymore? It’s increasingly becoming a norm for prospective graduate students to take a year or two off and live in the real world. For many, this does serve a great purpose. For others, however, the gap year is seen solely as a step towards graduate school, towards getting published. Defining it this way fundamentally changes the experience. The real world, for those living in it, isn’t thought of as a break. Still “Full Term” captured something, a transitional period, one which academia may still be in.

Review: Tiyé Pulley ’19 finds “The Way Out”

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Tiyé Pulley ’19 introduced his debut EP, “The Way Out,” by reading a deeply personal account of the recording process of the project. His note tells the story of the trials and turmoil that birthed this EP. Almost the entirety of the project was written in one week in the midst of mental breakdown and recorded in a single session. “The Way Out” premiered last Friday to a room of whoops and loud applause.

Pulley has been a strong presence in the recently revived hip hop scene at Swarthmore since his arrival last year. He parlayed his regular attendance at the WSRN show “Freestyle Friday’s,” performances at open mics, and variously sponsored Olde Club shows into a freeform jazz hip hop band last spring. That band, GOODGOODNOTBAD, went on to achieve considerable Battle of the Bands success, winning Pulley the opportunity to open for Tory Lanez at Worthstock 2016. Fresh off of that experience, Pulley returned home over the summer, where he recorded “The Way Out”.

In order to examine this project critically, it is important to establish a basis of comparison. Comparing Pulley’s EP to major label hip hop releases would provide an unfair and largely unhelpful metric for consideration. Fortunately, in this era of widespread access to the internet and mainstream popularity of hip hop, there ’is a wide variety of material to establish a more helpful basis of comparison. Pulley is not unique as a rapper in college, “college rap” is actually a reasonably well-established genre. Sadly, rap music associated with college or made by current students generally has an overwhelmingly negative reputation. Of course, there are exceptions. Kanye West’s debut album “College Dropout” contains many collegiate references and is both critically and popularly beloved. Additionally, many successful rappers, like 2 Chainz and J. Cole, hold college degrees. However, college rap as a genre, represented by figures such as Hoodie Allen, Asher Roth, and Sammy Adams, has often been both critically panned and widely considered corny.

Evaluated in terms of college rap, Pulley’s album is a clear standout. He successfully avoids college rap clichés and displays a far more intricate and adept flow than is characteristic of the genre. Pulley’s laid-back production and dense verses differ significantly from the pop-oriented party anthems that constitute the majority of well-known college rap. This represents both a breath of fresh air and a limitation on the basis of comparison. To resolve this limitation, Pulley’s medium of publication offers another metric for judgement: SoundCloud rappers.

SoundCloud rappers have nearly as poor of a reputation as college rappers. Although many of the best regarded and most upwardly mobile underground rappers publish their music through SoundCloud, the openness of the platform means that it is also hugely populated by much worse music. Ultimately, this has led to a reputation for SoundCloud rap characterized by rough closet studio singles.

Again, on this metric, Pulley stands out. The production on “The Way Out,” for the most part, shuns the modern trend toward EDM influence and draws from classic hip hop production, featuring samples, keys, strings, and drum beats. This is by no means rare for SoundCloud and neither is Pulley’s lyricism. What is remarkable, however, is the quality with which this project was executed.

All instrumentals in the “The Way Out” were made by a single producer, bergs~, which helped create a cohesive album while managing to avoid a sense of homogeneity. Pulley has impressive range in terms of flow, neatly sidestepping a pitfall for many amateur rappers. He displays his adeptness at both dense, lyrically intricate flows and simpler triplet flows. MF Doom is a clear influence, especially visible in the beginning of “diamond in the ruff interlude.” Pulley also bears rhythmic resemblance to OutKast at times, but his closest colleagues are clearly Chicago rapper Vic Mensa and Brooklyn trio Flatbush Zombies. The only feature on the project, BooG in “Falling,” is similarly well executed, although BooG does bear a remarkable similarity to Jay Electronica.

The cohesiveness of “The Way Out” extends beyond the production. The EP is lyrically and thematically consistent. Pulley is consistently able to bring his verses to life through vocal inflections and skilled impassioned delivery. Overall, this EP stands as an impressive and admirable demonstration of Pulley’s well honed skill.

“The Way Out” is not without flaws, however. The entire project is mixed more quietly than standard and the seven track EP lasts just over 16 minutes. While the latter is not necessarily a bad quality, it is likely the product of a noticeable lack of hooks and in some instances means that the individual songs do not have the time to develop much of an individual character, only allowing brief glimpses into the aural concept Pulley was trying to curate. Additionally, there are a few visible signs of Pulley’s relative youth and inexperience. While his bars, in many instances, snap perfectly to the beat, there are times when he holds a syllable or pause a half-second to long and it shows. Regardless of these relatively minor flaws, “The Way Out” is an impressive debut and signals good things to come from Pulley.

Pulley and BooG will both be performing at the WSRN Hip Hop Showcase on Friday September 30th, as well as the Student Band Showcase on Saturday October 1st, both in Olde Club as part of the Kitao Fall Arts Festival.

Review: Peter Pan and the Starcatcher at Walnut Street Theatre

in Arts by

A warm wash of light reveals an elaborate set. A number of four-by-fours erupt from the stage floor to create a second level. Miscellaneous objects — trunks, barrels, rugs, rope — adorn the stage. Simple chandeliers hang over the set. In the center of the stage, there is a lamp with a single light bulb.

Such is the top-of-the-show set for “Peter and the Starcatcher,” Walnut Street Theatre’s current running production. The play is Rick Elice’s adaptation of the first novel in a series by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, and takes place before the events of J. M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan.” The play explains how Peter Pan came to be the boy that never grew up, how Captain Hook lost his right hand, where Tinker Bell originated, and many other aspects of the original story by Barrie. The production is also notable for casting Swarthmore’s own Micaela Shuchman ’16 for the role of Molly, who plays a major part in Peter Pan’s origins.

Smoke begins to cloud the air, and the lights dim. As the show begins, the actors come out on stage and introduce themselves. Impressively, each actor begins and ends the play with the same intense physicality and high energy, rendering the performance an engaging one. This consistent level of energy also highlighted the play’s humorous elements, warranting multiple laughs from the audience.

While the play is comedic, it borrows many elements from Brechtian theatre, which is intended to obscure the audience’s emotional involvement with characters, and instead provoke reflective detachment. In the simplest of terms, this is accomplished not by breaking the fourth wall but acting as if there never was one to begin with. This might mean engaging with the audience, as Smee, played by Aaron Cromie, did when he flirted with an audience member.

It can also mean an assertion that the performance is just that — a performance. This assertion was made multiple times throughout “Peter and the Starcatcher.” At one point in the play, Molly and her nana, Mrs. Bumbrake, are having a conversation in their cabin aboard the ship “Neverland.” The rest of the actors lined up with their backs to the audience to form a wall mid-stage, swaying together and emitting squeaks to emulate the sounds and movements of a ship at sea.

“I believe that as people, we sort of lose the ability to play,” said Shuchman. “So, I really appreciated this play because I think at the heart of it is that question, ‘How do we keep the great parts of being children in our heart even though most of us have to grow up?’”

This central idea of playfulness is incorporated into the design of the show, specifically in the set. At first, it seems like the set features a conglomeration of objects simply to be used throughout the play. This remains true. Nevertheless, it soon becomes obvious through the actors’ engagement with the set pieces and how they are incorporated into the story that it is set in an attic, where children play and imagine stories amongst old furniture and trinkets.

Some choices made in the play — usually either by the director or the playwright — were questionable. First, Shuchman’s role was the only role played by a woman. Even Mrs. Bumbrake is played by a man, which the audience found funny; this in itself was a tacit dehumanization and devalidation of trans women as men in drag. Men dominated this performance.

“This was something I struggled with,” said Shuchman. “At the same time, I guess what I tried to do was make the most of what I had. I had to make my character as strong as possible and put out the message there about Molly and how strong she is as a woman in an environment with only men.

Additionally, the original story of Peter Pan includes an indigenous group living on the island of Neverland — though this is now cut out of most productions of the story. “Peter and the Starcatcher,” as the prequel to that story, also featured an indigenous group called the Mollusks. The Mollusks, garbed in colored leaves, safari hats, and cricket bats looked almost like marooned Englishmen. However, they spoke gibberish and had names like “Fighting Prawn” and “Hawking Clam” — which seemed to refer to the English translations of Native American names in a comedic way. The similarities between the cricket bats and the macuahuitl, a Mayan weapon, also seemed to play into this connection between the Mollusks and indigenous groups.

Tessa Chambers ’19, who is Native and a member of Swarthmore Indigenous Students Association (formerly known as Native American Students Association, or NASA), saw the play with the Philip Evans Scholars Program. She felt so uncomfortable by the portrayal of the indigenous group that she walked out of the show.

“It’s not my job to sit there and peacefully be complicit in racism against my own people,” said Chambers. “Even though it was based on a book, those were casting and directorial decisions … I think that when things are portrayed as forms of entertainment, people think that they can just digest it without being critical … It also has to do with how Native issues are never talked about.”

Shuchman also described the discomfort members of the cast felt about this portrayal of the Mollusks. They had hours-long discussions about it during rehearsals, but ultimately, the director made the final decision about what was depicted and how.

What we decided to justify it as actors was that the entire crux of the play was young children playing around in an attic,” said Shuchman. “So what we tried to portray was how a child would imagine mollusks or shells coming to life, playing with their voices and their language….But I’m not sure that was communicated in the best way at the end of the production.”

Despite these problematic directorial decisions, Shuchman noted that the rehearsal process was in general quite collaborative. Although Shuchman was the rookie thespian of the group, everyone respected her input and made her feel welcome to the world of professional theatre a world she hopes to fully join after she leaves Swarthmore.

“It’s been great to be able to do both of those things,” said Shuchman on being both in school and a professional theatre production. “I’ve been able to get the experience of what the world outside of Swarthmore is going to be like while also still getting to be here and see my friends and do the work I want to do here.”

“Peter and the Starcatcher” is running until May 1st on Walnut Street Theatre’s Mainstage.

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