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Author: David Ataide

Joker Movie (Event #3)

Earlier in the semester over Fall Break I went to the movie theater to watch the new Joker movie. Having heard so much hype (and some controversy) about the movie going into it, I was really excited to see an origin story about my favorite villain to my favorite superhero. Even more so, I was excited to see the movie because of the stance it took on the mental health crisis all around the world. To quote Dr. Bezio herself, the movie was a lot like watching trauma unfold in front of your eyes. Watching Arthur Fleck’s depressed life as he goes through several traumatic experiences from being mugged, being fired from his only job, losing his medication because of budget cuts, being assaulted again (which prompted him to murder his assailants), and then finding out that his mother had lied to him his entire life about his birth, it was truly horrible to see his mental health continue to worsen. This was truly the bad day (or several bad days) that Alan Moore referenced in his graphic novel “The Killing Joke.” The movie ends with Arthur falling into complete lunacy, turning into an icon for anarchy and murdering a talk show host who disrespected him on live TV. He is incarcerated in Arkham Asylum and now goes by the pseudonym “Joker.”

To me this movie brought to light something that people have been ignoring for too long. There is a serious mental health issue both in the United States and elsewhere, and not enough people are doing anything to ease it. People, like Arthur, who have lived their whole life ostracized and bullied by society are only addressed on the news after they have committed some horrible crime. While it is a good thing that we are discussing the issues of gun control in America, you cannot address that without also addressing the mental health concerns. The fact remains that in many of the cases of mass shootings in America, the shooter had mental health issues that had been ignored for too long. This is something that needs to change everywhere as people like this need the help they deserve.

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Brown Bag Discussion on Volunteering (Event #2)

Before Thanksgiving Break I attended a Brown Bag Discussion event that was about volunteering in the city of Richmond. The event was set up with a panel discussion, with each speaker representing a volunteer organization in Richmond and advertising about their respective programs. I found it very interesting to see how the different programs varied in terms of what groups they were targeting and how. Volunteering itself has been very important to me in my life. In high school I was a part of Habitat for Humanity, an organization where we would help build houses in low-income neighborhoods in Newark, New Jersey. It was so valuable to be able to give back to the community in this way.

In college I also volunteered at Overby Sheppard Elementary School on behalf of the volunteer assignment for Justice and Civil Society. This experience was incredible because I was able to work with 2nd and 3rd graders and assist them with reading and writing. Given their situations at home, school was the best place for them to grow as individuals, and I was happy to help with this process. Overall, I feel that volunteering itself is an essential way for people to give back to their communities, and I enjoyed hearing about new opportunities to do so in the city of Richmond.

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Culture Event: UD Cross Currents

This past Saturday I went to the University Dancers performance, which was in collaboration with a professional dance company as a part of the Tucker Boatwright Festival of the Arts. I attended this event because my friend Bella was a performer in it. The event was outside in front of the American Civil War Historic Tredegar Museum. It was about the James River and the history around that area. The performance consisted of dancers as well as a poet. She spoke about the scenery of the James River as well as common Richmond experiences. During the middle of the show, the music was unexpectedly cut off due to a technical difficulty with the music. The show started up again after the speakers were replaced. The University Dancers had sections of their own as well as a final piece with the professional dancer.

I really liked the choreography and I was honestly impressed that the dancers were able to dance in the cold weather. The audience was served tea to keep warm. There was one dancer that was standing alone in the cold when the speakers blew for 10 minutes before they told her she could go backstage. I was honestly freezing myself so I can’t imagine how she felt. Overall however, I really enjoyed the performance and was glad that I waited in the cold for it.

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The Slow Fight for Justice

This week’s readings on the history of Native American activism was very interesting to me because it related to my topic for a paper I am writing in Ethics. In my ethics class I am discussing the morality of colonialism, specifically the immorality and which parts of colonialism violated others’ liberties. But beyond that, I found this reading interesting because it brought to light an issue that isn’t often discussed. The fact is, the treatment of Native Americans by European colonists and later Americans is often buried and forgotten. People still celebrate holidays like Columbus Day and hold it up to a mythical standard as if it was a great discovery. Rather, they should be celebrating a day dedicated to remember all those indigenous cultures that were eradicated for the sake of aggressive expansion.

With all the atrocities in the history of American treatment of Native Americans, it at least brings me some consolation that the descendants of these victims haven’t forgotten by a long shot. Their voices are still being heard in an attempt to maintain what little freedoms they have been guaranteed. On too many occasions the government opts to support business expansion instead of supporting treaties they have made towards Native reservations. While today more and more people are discussing these issues, there is still a long way to go before we are ever doing them any justice.

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Moira’s Fate and the Jezebels

In this section we were introduced to the concept of the “Jezebels.” The Commander instructed Offred to dress up in a gaudy outfit with makeup in order to come with him to a secret club. The “club” is actually a hotel where Gilead prostitutes known as Jezebels reside. It seems like even in the harsh Gilead society there is leeway for accepting prostitutes as a means of pleasing the Commanders. It seems strange to me that a society that preaches such extreme oppression of women’s rights in the name of religion would allow this. The women that become Jezebels seem to do so as an alternative to being sent to the Colonies or being executed.

In this section we also learn the fate of Offred’s old friend Moira. After her escape attempt from the Red Center she was recaptured and faced with the choice I mentioned above. In this case, Moira chose being a Jezebel to the radioactive death that the Colonies present. I found it interesting that Moira said the Jezebels get 3-4 years to live. I wonder why this is. This section interested me though because it showed that despite the harsh rules of Gilead these women were presented with an option that seemingly grants them some autonomy over their bodies.

The last part of this section showed the Commander trying to enjoy “real” sex with Offred but she does not enjoy it. She forces herself to fake it and act like she was enjoying it. This doesn’t come as a surprise to me because how could she ever shake the image of the Commander as nothing more than her “boss.” The whole scene is just strange to me because the Commander wants more out of Offred than she is willing to give and it makes me kind of uncomfortable at times.

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Who Really Holds the Power in Gilead?

In this section of The Handmaid’s Tale, we were able to witness the birth of Janine’s (Ofwarren) child. While this ceremony was interesting, I feel that the most interesting part of this section was the interaction between Offred and her Commander. In this chapter, the Commander summoned Offred to his study, something that is highly illegal in Gilead, for something very simple: to play a game of Scrabble. Offred debates going because of the illegality of the act, but decides it is far worse to disobey a Commander than it is to follow the law. What follows in this scene isn’t some commanding punishment or order, but rather just the Commander wanting to play a game with Offred.

I thought it was very interesting when the Commander started the conversation with “Hello,” something that Offred herself acknowledges as being the “old way” of talking. Then when the game is finished, all the Commander asks is for a kiss. This scene was really sad in a sort of way because the Commander seemed to just be lonely or empty, and almost seems like he feels bad for how things are in Gilead. The most important part about this scene is that it really brings to light that just because he is labeled as a “Commander,” doesn’t mean he is the one who wields the power in Gilead. Rather, these Commanders are just as under the control of the laws of Gilead as anyone else. I am interested to see where Offred’s interactions with her Commander go from here.

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Paternalism to a New Extreme

The first four sections of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale paint a very descriptive image of a dystopian future world known as “The Republic of Gilead.” In this world that seems to be a future of what used to be the United States, true fundamentalism and paternalism rules. Women are demoted to roles and are considered the property of their husband. “Handmaids” live to bear the children of their “Commanders.” In this bleak existence, people in general are banned from sexual expression unless they are permitted to marry.

The first thing that popped out to me about this society was how they justify this existence. The Aunts tell stories about how things were before Gilead and describe it as a horrible place where women were constantly at risk of sexual exploitation. Using things like cat-calling as an example of how life was “worse” before Gilead is how they justify the oppression of women under this new republic. They claim that this restriction is for the sake of protecting women, and that they are better off being completely abstinent and separated from men than having to worry about protecting themselves constantly. This means of justifying a clear dystopia reminded me of how many totalitarian dictators justify their oppressive regimes by claiming that they are protecting their people from some outside threat.

Another thing that I noticed overall in this section is how this world reminded me of Persepolis, or more specifically, of fundamentalist Iran. The oppression of women in this fictional world seems like a dramatized version of how women were (and still are) treated in Iran. Given how this book was written in 1985, it makes me wonder whether Atwood was inspired by the treatment of women in Iran to write this book. Of course, women have been treated this way (usually under the justification of religious beliefs) for centuries across various different cultures. Whether the justification is in the name of Islam or Christianity, women have faced the same oppression throughout time. I am very interested to see where this story in Gilead goes.

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Marjane’s Homecoming

This section of the novel was very jarring for me. It was painful for me to watch Satrapi fall in love only to have her heart broken after investing everything in Markus. It was especially painful to see her become homeless after seemingly finding her place in the world. Watching her literally digging out of trash cans and sleeping on benches was sad but seemingly had a purpose. It is clear that Marjane never fully adapted to the culture in Europe, and despite her thinking she was fitting in there was always that voice in the back of her head that she didn’t belong. This was never more clear than when she found herself alone and homeless.

All of this said, it was sort of bittersweet when she made the choice to return home to Iran after all these years. Watching her don the veil again with a somewhat sad look in her eyes gave me mixed feelings. On the one hand, she was finally returning to her home with her culture and family. But on the other hand she was returning to an oppressed fundamentalist Iran. Her brief moment of freedom was now being rescinded. However, in many ways this part of the story is representing a “coming of age” story for Marjane. She realizes that she flew too close to the sun during her time abroad and has hit rock bottom. Now it is time to see how she rebounds from this and how her time at home in Iran impacts her further.

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Resistance to a New Authority

In this second section of Persepolis, I could immediately tell that the vibe of the story had changed. With the coming of the new Islamic regime and the war with Iraq, the atmosphere of Iran as depicted in the graphic novel had changed dramatically. Suddenly most characters in the story wore all black. The Satrapi family in particular came under heavy fire from numerous outside sources, both soldiers and neighbors, about their supposedly sinful behavior. Violence and verbal harassment have become a norm as radically religious people begin to berate those who they consider sinners for doing something as simple as wearing the wrong kind of sneakers. It was really alarming to see such a sudden shift in mindset in Iran, but it helped paint the picture and show why the country is the way that it is today. The thing that interested me the most is how the Iranian government would lie to its people about the daily war updates against Iraq. This in particular reminded me of the Kim regime of North Korea, and how they lie to their people about everything to keep them uninformed about the true nature of world politics.

All of this being said, I felt a huge theme of this section was the idea of resistance to oppression. This part of the story featured some of the strictest oppression that we have read so far in this class, but it was good to see that there was still some resistance from those who refused to simply accept the new changes. Examples include Marjane’s father who is adamant about resisting any religious fanatics who try to berate him. Even the children of Marjane’s class were rebellious against their new strict school policies because, as Marjane stated, they remembered a time when schools were secular. The end of this section included Marji dressing in Westernized clothing and blasting “Kids in America” by Kim Wilde in a blatant rejection of the religious fanaticism. It was comforting to know that people weren’t immediately accepting the new oppression and had some element of resistance.

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Satrapi and her Relationship with God

The first 71 pages of Persepolis illustrate the early life of Marjane Satrapi and her perspective of the Islamic Revolution that overthrew the Shah of Iran. When this section of the graphic novel ends, the new Islamic Republic is in place and already some forms of oppression are being implemented. Marjane’s parents are worried about the state of the country and are pissed off with the new government. Throughout this section of the novel we see the evolution of Satrapi’s relationship with God. I think this is the most important part of this section by far.

At the beginning, Satrapi is in love with God and wants to be a Prophet herself. She has discussions with God in private and is infatuated with the concept of God. This begins to change as she starts studying about the revolution and various Marxist works. She seems to have a detached relationship with God at this point, still having discussions but choosing to avoid talking about prophets and instead more focused on the revolution. This relationship finally reaches its breaking point when her Uncle Anoosh is murdered by the new Islamic government for being a communist. Her rage and distress at the loss of her Uncle is what sets her over the edge, and she finally curses God and abandons him entirely, because of the new government’s use of religion as a weapon.

This evolution over the 71 pages feels natural, and seems to reflect Satrapi coming of age in the changing world she was raised in. What started as a blind obsession, turned into learned detachment, and finally finished with rage. As the old oppressive government is replaced with the new religiously oppressive government, Satrapi seems to blame God, and religion as a whole, for the new violence and loss that she is experiencing. I am interested to see how her relationship grows (or further decays) as the graphic novel goes on.

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