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Author: Rachel Nugent

Apocalyptic Culture (Event Response #3)

About a month ago, I saw Zombieland 2 in theaters. I didn’t really think there would be much for me to write about but actually, the movie touches on an interesting topic in terms of culture. In the film, each of the characters uses their own methods to cope with the stress and terror of the zombie apocalypse. For Tallahassee, it’s things like cars, guns, Elvis, twinkies, and killing zombies. For Columbus, it’s a list of rules that he uses to feel prepared and therefore safer. In this sequel, we see Little Rock, the youngest of the bunch, become an adult and despite the zombies, she goes through the phase where she needs to escape her “parents” and feel like she has a life of her own.

This leads her to a place called Babylon (allegedly named for the song, not the ancient civilization), which is filled with a bunch of young people (probably 17-25 mostly) who have big walls to protect them from the zombies and don’t allow any firearms. In fact, they make you turn in your guns at the entrance and they melt them down to make metal peace pendants to give out. There’s a lot of music and bright clothing and it is definitely intended to imitate the hippie movement. Even though it’s presented in a bit of a silly light, I actually thought of the basis of the terror management theory, which explains the fact that we distract ourselves from the ever-present terror of death (and we learned further about how leaders present themselves as a protection/part of the distraction because of this natural tendency but that’s not as relevant here).

But it really made me think about how people use culture — even Tallahassee with his cars, guns and twinkies — to cope with certain things and to uplift themselves from tragedy. It’s why funny zombie movies (like Zombieland) are more relatable (I know, weird to call a zombie movie relatable). It kind of allows the viewer to think to themselves “oh, I might actually behave like that in a zombie apocalypse” rather than looking at Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil and thinking “well, I’d be fucked if that ever happened.” This response was a little all over the place, but I also recommend the film if you like zombie comedies! (I originally had something to say about how the women in the film represent archetypes — the dumb blonde, the rebellious teen, the woman afraid of commitment, the older debonair woman — but then the post got too long, so I’ll leave it as an additional thought if anyone wants to think about it while watching the movie.)

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Pure Confidence (Event Response #2)

This semester, I worked on the university’s production of Pure Confidence, a play by Carlyle Brown which tells the story of Simon Cato, a slave who works as a jockey and means to ride his way to freedom. Throughout the play, we see Simon’s conviction to earn money so he can buy his freedom. At one point, after the Civil War, Simon says, “I hear many a white man talking ’bout the price of freedom and never work a day in their life. I know what my price of freedom was. It was five thousand dollars, that’s what it was. And I couldn’t even get that. What’s your price for freedom Mister Reporter man? How much are you worth?” Simon says this in response to the reporter saying “the war was the price we all paid for Simon’s freedom.” This line always made me stop and think, no matter how many times I watched the play, because really, do any of us with the privilege that we have ever think about our lives with price tags on them?

In addition to the play, there was a pre- and post-show exhibit done by the dramaturgical team which was used to honor the 400th anniversary of African slaves first arriving on Virginian shores. Prior to each performance, a libation was made to the African ancestors, asking them to guide us in our mission of equality and social justice. The audience was also asked to participate by voicing agreement to each adage and most people seemed pleased by the ability to participate and feel connected to the meaning of the play and its message. It was a really fabulous production that I’m very proud to have worked on, and I think it did a very good job of honoring the 400 years of slavery — both slaves and their descendants — that it set out to acknowledge.

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The Missing Meaning in Music

What I found most interesting about watching the stories that these two music videos tell is that there is a lot of depth and purpose to the artistic choices that gets lost in translation if you never see the music video. I think people have a tendency to even miss the meaning of lyrics in songs. It’s all too easy to get caught up in a catchy chorus or a nice beat and miss the “point” entirely. In “This is America,” I think the musical shifts and the lyrics make a good basis for the point, but it really hits a different way when you see the music video and are really aware of the imagery that was chosen. With “Formation” as well, the lyrics tell their own story — and she’s addressing a lot of stereotypes of black culture — but there are images in the music video that support it and also bring up other topics, like police brutality (which automatically links to the BLM movement).

Staples’s “Just Walk on By” is a narrative that brings to life these themes of stereotypes that we see in both music videos. He tells the story of how he has to be careful just because of how he looks. It’s his responsibility to make people feel “safe” around him by whistling Vivaldi when in reality, it should be their responsibility not to stereotype him as someone who is going to mug or attack them just because he’s black. The music videos seem to be a more consumable way to address these harmful stereotypes, because people are often put off or not willing to accept first-hand accounts like Staples’s.

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The End of Handmaid’s Tale

After the scene of Offred’s “escape” (for better or for worse), I was feeling a little better about her story. In the sense that I thought to myself, “At least she got out.” Despite having not really cared much for Nick before the end of the book, it was a surprise to me that he called in people to help her at the end (or at least that seems to be the consensus of what happened).

That aside, the part that I have the most strong feelings about is actual the historical notes section. I just couldn’t stand the fact that she went out of her way, maybe even risking her life to do so, to record her story and then these guys find it and instead of treating her story like something worth hearing, they complain about how she didn’t give more details about the men involved in her story. They give a lecture not on the actual “document” (because they hesitate to even call it that) but on the speculation of who the Commander might have been and the impactful things the two men they narrowed it down to did for Gileadean society. What bothers me most about it is that previously in the story Offred talks about how “family portraits” were taken, but they never included the handmaids, which meant that in the future when someone looks back on their history, the handmaids will have been erased from it, forgotten. She tries so hard to make sure that doesn’t happen by telling her own story. She tells us it’s a story she doesn’t want to tell, but she does it anyway, because she knows how important it is. All of that, and these two dudes find her story just to talk over it and erase it anyway. Man, it was so disheatening.

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Handmaid’s Tale X-XI

I think Atwood has really brilliantly crafted the tension that exists in the Handmaid’s Tale. In this section, she has given us morsels to show that the people surrounding Offred may not be as against her as they first appeared. Specifically, I think of how Ofglen took a chance to comment and see if Offred was a true believer or not, and how the Commander openly shares information about the handmaid that came before the Offred we know without reprimanding her or denying her the information. However, I still read on, ridden with suspicion and paranoia that none of it is genuine, that at any second either one of these two people that Offred may consider something kind of like friends/allies/at least amicable acquaintances could betray her at any second. The constant fear of something turning horribly south is what makes the story so powerful and what propels me to keep reading.

I also think that the more comfortable Offred feels with the people around her (even if it is just understanding how to work around them better), the more she settles into herself and the ways in which she can push the envelope. It was very refreshing to me to see that when the Commander asked what she wanted, she asked for knowledge, because knowledge really is power in this story. It also reminded me of our conversation about the hierarchy of needs. She’s clothed, fed and sheltered, so her next greatest priority is attaining knowledge of what exactly is going on, so she can keep herself safe and have the power to make the correct decisions to further protect herself.

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Information Overload (Handmaid’s Tale V + VI)

There is a lot of information to unpack in this relatively small section of the book. It’s our first real interaction with the Commander, our first experience with the Ceremony, and there is a lot of flashback/backstory tidbits being dumped into our laps. It’s kind of a whirlwind of a section, in my opinion, but Atwood does a good job presenting information in a way that makes you think and doesn’t reveal everything at once, but gives you enough to not be helplessly lost and confused.

It’s strange to me how stark and cold all of the social interactions in the household are. It’s like none of these people are actually people anymore. We have Offred’s perspective and even she at times seems robotic (which makes sense when you think about the fact that she’s likely constantly dissociating from her experiences just to stay sane), but the way in which the other members of the household interact shows that no one really likes each other. It’s disconcerting to see how they all tamper everything that makes them human. I really am surprised any of them can upkeep this kind of pigeon-holing lifestyle without going completely insane.

Ignoring the horrible imagery of the “sex” scene, the parts that jumped out at me most were her memories. Because of how resigned to everything everyone is I never before entertained the idea that she and Luke had tried to get away with their daughter before all this. It was really heartbreaking to see that effort just to know that it obviously failed.

I’m very interested to see where this odd little ending scene with Nick takes her. We get Offred’s perspective on it as that desperate desire for human connection and I’m wondering if he will be the same and they’ll find themselves in a messy situation or if it’s going to come back to bite her that he found her sneaking around. It’s very powerful that something as little as leaving her room in the middle of the night is not permitted and is punishable. The book itself feels oppressive because it almost feels like just a stack of injustices, infringed rights and different methods of oppression just strung together by words.

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The Price of Freedom (End of Persepolis)

Trigger warning: mentions of attempted suicide

There were so many pieces to this final section of Persepolis that really jumped out at me. The first thing I found most jarring was how quickly we bounced back from the section about Marjane’s attempted suicide. On 272-273, she shows this remarkably sad tale of her attempt and then the consequences of it, and on 274-275, we see her teaching aerobics. It’s a very abrupt shift, and I know it’s meant to show that this moment very rapidly changed her life, but it was really something that stuck with me through the end of the story. It colored the way she both pushed herself with her small rebellions and how she accepted a bit of conformity. The way she conformed still served to further her ability to make her own decisions. It led her to have a bit more agency.

We really see Marjane grow into the person I think we’ve all been rooting for her to find throughout the whole story. She talks about how she is neither western nor Iranian right before her attempt, but then we see her begin to believe in herself, make decisions that are actually for herself, and take pride in some of her accomplishments. I was very struck by how she went to the graves of her grandfather and Anoosh before she left, but I was rather perplexed by how she chose to end the story. Not the fact that it ends with her moving to France, but the specific words she chose.
She tells us that her grandmother passes away a couple years later and she only managed to see her one time in the time that passes. And then she says “that’s the price of freedom…” I think the ending is left intentionally ambiguous in that sense. Does she mean the price is that she wasn’t with her grandma when she died? Does she mean the entire story? Regardless, the choice to end the story with “…” rather than a simple period really implies to me that the story continues. There’s not perfect moral or lesson to take away from the story. Each person can get what they want from her story.
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A Talk With Jennifer Tipton (Event Reflection #1)

On Wednesday October 23, I attended a talk with Jennifer Tipton at the Modlin Center. Jennifer Tipton is an acclaimed lighting designer for dance and theatre whose work has earned her a prestigious MacArthur award as well as two Tony awards. As I am currently working as assistant lighting designer for our theatre department’s main stage production, I was excited to attend and hear about her experiences and wisdom in the field. The talk was moderated and put together by Anne Van Gelder, director of dance at UR, and Maja E. White, faculty in the theatre department, lighting and sound designer, and my mentor. When Maja was young, Jennifer Tipton was one of her mentors, so it was interesting to hear from the mentor of my mentor and to see how the influence has trickled down to me.

She had quite a lot to say about how her experience has shaped but little to say in terms of specific advice. She talked about how being a performer (a dancer) made it easy to approach a piece from a performer’s point of view and that she only fell in love with lighting when she literally stepped back to look at the big picture. That was her first broad piece of advice. The second was to be rough on yourself. She didn’t really elaborate but I got the sense that she meant it’s okay to be your own worst critic because that’s how we improve.

Something interesting that came up was that Anne asked Jennifer if she had some commentary on how she felt being a woman in, what some might call, a male-dominated profession (lighting design or even just technical theatre in general). The interesting thing is that Jennifer didn’t really seem inclined to entertain that train of thought. She is of the older generation and the stereotype I have of that is that they say “that’s just how it was/is” or “I was discriminated against for being a woman” even if they actually were. And sure enough, what she said was that you get hired for your art. And maybe there were plenty of times that she wasn’t hired because she was a woman, but she could do nothing else but assume it was because of her art. I found a strange sort of comfort in those words. Kind of thinking about how I could either be bitter and assume I wasn’t hired because I’m a woman or I can assume they just weren’t looking for what I was offering and that somewhere else, they would be looking for it.

The last thing I’ll throw in is that I really related to a little anecdote she had that I found quite relatable. She talked about how when she moved from lighting dance to lighting theatre, the whole script analysis thing was very difficult for her. She didn’t understand the ins and outs of analyzing a script like a director would. So much so that for her first Broadway show… she didn’t even read the play.

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The Impact of Nothingness (Satrapi p. 135-206)

In this section of Persepolis, there was one thing that stood out to me more than anything else, and that was page 154. Or, I should say the lack of a page 154. It was so jarring to see the blank page after the completion of the section “The Dowry.” At first, I thought maybe she just left this page blank so she could start the next section on the right-side page, but sections have ended and started on the left page before, so why choose this moment to break the pattern of simply starting the next section on the immediate following page? It’s not as though the start of the new section would influence the end of “The Dowry” because you’d have to turn the page anyway. I then, of course, realized that this is likely where the story was split up into part one and part two. That being said, I think the effect it has is still valid.

Satrapi’s whole life changes at the bottom of page 153. She shows us this stylized image of her father carrying her mother away and lets the reader know she regrets looking back and seeing them this way. In this image, it’s less the image of her mother’s face that draws my eye and more the shadowed image of her father. Everyone else on the page is drawn “normally” whereas his face is drawn with black ink and white lining. It gives a horrifically somber look to the image. And the blank page on the opposite side has the same effect that it would had we finished the first Persepolis and were going to set it down. It has a note of finality, like we’re meant to linger here in this place. And I think that speaks to Marji’s feelings in this section about her time away from her parents. She’s still lingering in this place of comparing each guardian she has to her parents and wishing she were with them. She constantly thinks about things in terms of whether or not her parents would approve. And I think that’s a very natural thing for us in our culture as well. Even after reading another fifty pages after that, I still found myself thinking about that image followed by that blank page, so the effect it has really does carry forward, even though it might really be nothing more than just the practical fact that this is where the two parts were split up.

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Satrapi’s Story Through A Child’s Eyes

The first thing that struck me about this first segment of Persepolis is the fact that Satrapi is that the way the story is being told is through the lens of childhood, because that’s when it was occurring. Of course, some of the ideas presented and discussed are not child-like at all, but the truth is that she was exposed to them at that age. The way the story is told through pictures and through the voice of Satrapi gives it a lighter feel than you would expect from a discussion about revolution, imprisonment, torture and death. I found myself laughing at moments that weren’t necessarily funny, simply because the words were coming from a child. But when I stopped to think about it I realized that fact actually made it even less funny. A child making up games about torture might be funny in a fictitious comic strip, but not in a story that’s true. I just think it’s interesting that the story is kind of being filtered twice. Once, through this child-like perspective, but then again because it’s Satrapi writing about her childhood experiences as an adult. I think this contributes to the ease of the consumption of the book as well. I think less people would read her story if it weren’t for the fact that it’s presented in the form of a graphic novel and presented in a way that lightens it, even if just a bit.

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