NOTES for Nagaoka’s “Black Blood: Reckoning with Alaska’s Oil Dependency”

1 Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. “Trans Alaska Pipeline System: The Facts.” Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, 2013. PDF file.

2 Alaska History and Cultural Studies. Modern Alaska: Oil Discovery and Development in Alaska. Alaska Humanities Forum, n.d. Web. 26 May 2015.

3 The State of Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Research and Analysis Section. “Annual Components of Population Change for Alaska, 1945 to 2014.” The State of Alaska, 2014. Microsoft Excel file.

4 The State of Alaska Department of Revenue Commissioner’s Office. “Spring 2015 Forecast Adjusts Revenue to Reflect Lower Oil Prices.” The State of Alaska Department of Revenue, 3 April 2015. PDF file.

5 The State of Alaska House Special Committee on Fiscal Policy. Understanding Alaska’s Revenue. Understanding Alaska’s Budget, n.d. Web. 26 May 2015.

6 Knapp, Gunnar. “The Most Important Things to Understand About Alaska’s Fiscal Situation.” University of Alaska Anchorage Institute of Social and Economic Research, Jan. 2015. PDF file.

7 The State of Alaska House Special Committee on Fiscal Policy. Understanding Alaska’s Spending. Understanding Alaska’s Budget, n.d. Web. 26 May 2015.

8 State of Alaska, House Special Committee on Fiscal Policy. Understanding Alaska’s Revenue.

9 Murphy, Andrea. “America’s Largest Private Companies 2014.” Forbes, 5 Nov. 2014. Web. 26 May 2015.

10 The State of Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development Research & Analysis Section. Alaska Local and Regional Information. Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development Research, n.d. Web. 26 May 2015.

11 Smock, Dylan. Personal interview. 17 May 2015.

12 ConocoPhillips Alaska. Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS). ConocoPhillips Company, n.d. Web. 26 May 2015.

13 Murphy, Kim. “ALASKA OIL: Flow Has Slowed Through Pipeline.” Sunday Gazette [Charleston, WV], 15 Aug. 2010. ProQuest. Web. 26 May 2015.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid.

16 Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. “Trans Alaska Pipeline System.”

17 Murphy, K. “ALASKA OIL.”

18 Randall, Tom. “Fossil Fuels Just Lost the Race Against Renewables: This is the Beginning of the End.” Bloomberg Business, 14 April 2015. Web. 26 May 2015.

19 Nasdaq. Crude Oil: WTI (NYMEX) Price. Barchart Market Data Solutions, 2015. Web. 26 May 2015.

20 Knapp. “The Most Important Things.”

21 Associated Press. “By the Numbers: Alaska Budget Debate, Attempts to Fix It.” Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, 07 May 2015. Web. 26 May 2015.

22 Forgey, Pat. “Is the Permanent Fund the Solution to Alaska’s Budget Gridlock?” Alaska Dispatch News, 20 May 2015. Web. 26 May 2015.

23 Herz, Nathaniel. “House Bipartisan Budget Deal Appears to be Dead on Arrival in the Senate.” Alaska Dispatch News. 30 May 2015. Web. 8 June 2015.

24 Kreiss-Tomkins, Jonathan. “Ugh.” [Email], 6 March 2015. Web. 8 June 2015.

25 Cole, Dermot. “In a Blow to Fairbanks, Flint Hills Says It Will Close Down North Pole Refinery.” Alaska Dispatch News, 04 Feb. 2014. Web. 26 May 2015.

26 Ibid.

27 Buxton, Matt. “BP No Longer Sponsoring Fairbanks Midnight Sun Festival.” Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, 28 May 2015. Web. 8 June 2015.

28 Smock. Personal interview.

29 Murphy. “ALASKA OIL.”

30 Visser, Nick. “The World Has Pledged To Divest $2.6 Trillion From Fossil Fuels.” Huffington Post, 22 Sept. 2015. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.

31 Fairbanks Concert Association. Sponsor List. Fairbanks Concert Association, n.d. Web. 26 May 2015.

32 The State of Alaska Department of Revenue Permanent Fund Dividend Division. Historical Summary of Dividend Applications and Payments. The State of Alaska, 31 December 2012. Web. 26 May 2015.

33 Caldwell, Suzanna. “Fairbanks’ Empty, Decaying Polaris Building Looking for Love.” Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, 24 April 2011. Web. 26 May 2015.

34 US Energy Information Administration. Petroleum Chronology of Events 1970–2000. US Department of Energy, n.d. Web. 26 May 2015.

35 Ibid.

36 Alaska History and Cultural Studies, Modern Alaska.

37 Ibid.

38 Associated Press. “Alaska Faces Tough Decisions, Drastic Budget Cuts, Dipping into Savings as Oil Prices Plunge.” Fox Business, 18 Jan. 2015. Web. 26 May 2015.

39 Gutierrez, Alexandra. “Governor’s New Budget Cuts 300 State Employees.” Alaska Public Media, 5 Feb. 2015. Web. 26 May 2015.

40 The State of Alaska House Special Committee on Fiscal Policy. What is a Fiscal Gap? Understanding Alaska’s Budget, n.d. Web. 26 May 2015.

41 Fessler, David. “The Pros and Cons of Arctic Oil Drilling (And Why We Should Start Now).” Investment U [The Oxford Club], 15 May 2015. Web. 26 May 2015.

42 The Office of Senator Giessel. “Legislature Urges Seattle to Stop Blocking Alaska’s Economic Development.” Alaska Senate Majority, 19 April 2015. Web. 26 May 2015.

43 McKibben, Bill. “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.” Rolling Stone, 19 July 2012. Web. 26 May 2015.

44 House Special Committee on Fiscal Policy, What is a Fiscal Gap?

45 Goldsmith, Scott. “Alaska’s Petroleum Industry: Transformative, But is it Sustainable?” University of Alaska Anchorage Institute of Social and Economic Research, April 2011. PDF file.

46 Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Editorial. “Population Wobble Worrisome: Decline Not Portent of Disaster, But State Needs to Pay Attention and Act.” Fairbanks Daily News Miner. 13 May 2015. Web. 8 June 2015.

47 House Special Committee on Fiscal Policy, What is a Fiscal Gap?

48 Goldsmith. “Alaska’s Petroleum Industry.”

49 Walker, Bill. “Self-determination was at the heart of our quest for Statehood. Alaskans wanted to control the future of this state. Once again, Alaska is at a decision point. With oil revenue alone unable to sustain us, how do we chart a new course?” [Facebook post], 6 June 2015. Web. 8 June 2015.

50 Cole, Dermot, and Nathaniel Herz. “Fairbanks Fiscal Cram Session Leads to New Focus on Revenue, Spending, Services.” Alaska Dispatch News. 7 June 2015. Web. 8 June 2015.

51 The State of Alaska Governor Bill Walker, Building a Sustainable Future: Conversations with Alaskans. The State of Alaska, n.d. Web. 8 June 2015.

52 Walker, Bill. “Building a Sustainable Future.” Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. 31 May 2015. Web. 8 June 2015.

53 The State of Alaska Governor Bill Walker, Walker Kicks Off Dialogue On Fiscal Future. The State of Alaska, 4 June 2015. Web. 8 June 2015.

54 Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Editorial. “Population Wobble Worrisome.”

55 Cole & Herz. “Fairbanks Fiscal Cram Session.”

56 Goldsmith, Scott. “High Oil Prices Give Alaskans a Second Chance: How Will We Use this Opportunity?” University of Alaska Anchorage Institute of Social and Economic Research, Sept. 2011. PDF file.

57 Glowa, Tristan. “So it’s pretty inarguable that we need to transition to a clean energy economy rapidly if we don’t want to be screwed by climate change. Obviously, as an Alaskan, I depend on oil given that it’s funded my life here. Just because the system I live in unavoidably relies on fossil fuels doesn’t mean that’s the future I am working to create (which is a question of political economy, not individual purchases). Does that make sense?” [Facebook comment], 20 May 2015. Web. 26 May 2015.

58 Macalister, Terry. “Shell Abandons Alaska Arctic Drilling.” The Guardian, 28 Sept. 2015. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.

59 Visser. “The World Has Pledged To Divest.”


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Featured Image © Li Tsin Soon | Shutterstock.com

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Lifting the Lid on the Coffin: An Examination of Attitudes Towards Vampires in Popular Culture

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THEJAB | Shutterstock.com

by Jessica Garland
WRIT 1733: Examining Monstrosity Through the Lens of Media Ecology Theory | Professor Kara Taczak

INTRODUCTION
Vampires have pervaded popular culture across a wide range of media for centuries and continue to remain relevant, their popularity and appeal seemingly peaking with the recent Twilight novels and movies. Historical examinations of vampires reveal a significant change in society’s perception of them. Only recently in media have vampires occupied celebrated positions such as the emotionally supportive ally, the engaging love interest, and even the noble hero. Original vampire myths depicted the undead as repulsive, abhorrent, unholy creatures of the night. The stark difference between earlier “monstrous demon” imagery and the emotionally fraught protagonists that populate culture today reflects a dynamic evolution within our society. This essay investigates society’s evolving response to vampires, attempting to explain the two distinct stages of vampire portrayals and to explore the possibility of a newly developing third stage.

The first stage of society’s response to vampires can best be described in one word: fear. Originally, people believed that a messy death—such as deaths related to suicide, birth defects, and plagues—would result in a messy afterlife (Atwater 72). Cheryl Atwater, in her anthropological study of vampire evolution, examines how vampires were originally considered to be hideous, soulless, unholy, animalistic predators because they were manifestations of society’s fears of the ugly, the unnatural, the dangerous, and the abnormal (72). In extremely religious historical time periods, rejection of God or religious tradition constituted a catastrophe frightening enough to turn people into vampires. Hence, people believed that even the death of an atheist or a funeral performed without a priest could create a vampire (Atwater 72). Tracy Betsinger and Amy B. Scott, in their analysis of early vampire lore, notes how people believed that “those who were ‘great sinners’, the ‘god-less’, which included those of different, non-Christian faiths, and those who practised [sic] witchcraft were all considered risks for becoming vampires” (473). Religious fears attached to vampires spawned the concept that vampires were devoid of souls. In these deeply religious eras, soulless entities automatically represented pure evil. Thus, the vampire was treated as a purely evil or demonic entity.

Jessica 1

serpeblu | Shutterstock.com

The fear connected with soullessness manifested in a number of superstitions, including that vampires were unable “to see [their] own image in a mirror” (Hall 361). On top of creating superstitions linked with soullessness, fear of the vampire led to particular burial practices. Burial rituals in historically pagan and Christian regions, which emphasized the importance of the soul, were designed to prevent the rise of potential vampires by appeasing deceased people who might have turbulent afterlives, thus warding the dead from potential demonic invaders and “barricad[ing] the dead so they are unable to return” (Betsinger and Scott 470). Fear of vampires also resulted in an increase of strength within the Christian Church, as people gradually equated demons with vampires and thus relied more heavily on the Church for protection (Betsinger and Scott 474).

During this first stage of responding to the vampire with fear, vampires evolved to match society’s evolving fears. In times when society worried about extravagance, for instance, the terrifying vampire evolved to embody these fears by possessing excessive wealth. Similarly, in time periods concerned with promiscuous women, the wives of Dracula were often depicted as physically attractive yet repulsive to the human protagonist. In such narratives, as Carol Senf notes, “the voluptuous woman [was] transformed into a carnivorous animal” (41). Vampires characterized by their seductive and dangerously attractive features were categorized alongside vampires as animated rotting corpses since both were received by society with fear, suspicion, and caution.

The second stage of society’s response to vampires is vastly different from the first stage, in that society began to welcome the vampire as a fellow victim. Morgan Jackson expertly summarizes the second stage as populated by entities who “transitioned from mindless, soulless, and monstrous creatures into creatures possessing a conscience and having the ability to make choices between good and evil” (para. 30).  As the vampire’s struggle became internalized, the vampire narrative evolved to follow the emotional conflict and tragedy of the vampire. Most famously perhaps, this internal struggle manifested itself within the vampire’s need to drink blood in order to stay alive, despite how the vampire often despised killing. Angela Tenga jokes that the “troubled conscience” of a second-stage vampire weakens its monstrosity to such a point that the modern vampire “is more a superhero with special powers” than a monster (77). Due to the “advent of sympathetic vampires” and their depiction as tragic victims and noble sufferers, vampires were no longer depicted only as villains, according to Tenga, because now the monster was a victim of its own monstrosity (78).

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Stefano Cavoretto | Shutterstock.com

Anne Rice’s series The Vampire Chronicles is considered the turning point in vampire literature and the beginning of second-stage vampires, as one of her protagonists is praised as the first “sympathetic” vampire, specifically in Interview with the Vampire. The protagonist of Interview with the Vampire is one of the first vampires to intentionally struggle to stay human despite his nature because he “detests what it means to be a vampire” (Jackson). As the vampire is treated with increasing sympathy, the vampire hunters are “on the run for their lives, outed publically, and hated for their destiny of slaying demons” (J. Meyer 29). This new and complicated relationship between the vampire and its surroundings is also evident in the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in which a vampire is the love interest of a vampire hunter, and in the novel I Am Legend, in which the last man on earth realizes “that in fact it is he, the last specimen of humankind, who is the real monster” and the vampires are his victims (Smetana 175).

However, it’s important to note that vampires today are still characterized as
villains. Loathing for overly romantic vampires surfaced at the same time that Stephenie Meyer’s book series Twilight reached incredibly high levels of popularity amid widespread complaints that vampires had become too “soft” or “wimpy.” That’s not to say society is cycling back towards fearing vampires, but it seems to be growing bored with the emotionally tortured vampire of the second stage. I believe this marks a new, third stage in our cultural response to the vampire. If the first two stages were opposites of each other, then this third stage, if it exists, most likely represents a compromise of fear and attraction—in essence, the ultimate monster. Yet, before a third stage can be identified, public perception of vampires must be measured.

METHODS
To explore how society’s reaction to vampires has changed, society’s current reception of the vampire must be gauged. I used a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods in order to reduce the possibility that the medium of my research (i.e., a survey, an interview, etc.) would significantly influence the data towards a particular conclusion. This combination entailed a survey completed by fifty people across a range of ages, interviews with two professionals in the field of psychology, and observations of four students’ responses to vampire movies. The survey and observations were conducted to examine participants’ reactions to the entity of the vampire in media. The interviews were conducted to investigate possible explanations for society’s various reactions to vampires.

The survey was created online and distributed through Facebook and email so that, through ease of accessibility, it could reach a wide demographic. Fifty respondents, ranging from fourteen to seventy years of age, participated in the survey in order to document a wide range of generations and their responses to portrayals of the vampire. Though potential respondents were randomly selected, considerably more females participated than males (approximately 81% of the survey was answered by females and 17% by males) and the majority of respondents were between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine (58% of survey respondents).

The survey asked a range of questions so as to obtain a well-rounded picture of each respondent’s perspective. The styles and types of questions included demographic questions (specifically age and gender identity), questions rating levels of interest in traits of the vampire, questions pertaining to respondents’ favored depictions of vampires in film and television, and open-ended questions about interpretations of the vampire. An example of an open-ended question from the survey is “What is your favorite interpretation of a vampire and why?” Answers to open-ended questions about level of interest in vampire traits (such as attractiveness, emotional torment, predatory prowess, etc.) were sorted into various categories such as “positive second stage,” “negative second stage,” “positive first stage,” and “negative first stage” to delineate the relationship between first- and second-stage vampire reception. Though the distinctions between categories seem vague, a standard was implemented to consistently code open responses. For example, responses to open questions that only expressed dissatisfaction with the second stage were grouped into the “negative second stage” category, whereas responses that expressed dissatisfaction with second-stage vampires and satisfaction with first-stage vampires were grouped into both “negative second stage” and “positive first stage” categories.

As for the observations, I recorded the reactions of four individual volunteers during a seven-hour vampire movie marathon of three movies. The three movies—Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Interview with the Vampire (1994), and Fright Night (2011)—were selected for their unique portrayal of vampires and their relationships with human characters. The respondents shared different levels of familiarity with the films. Observations were conducted in the Projector Room in the Centennial Towers Residence Hall and a dorm room in the Centennial Halls Residence Hall, both of which are located on the University of Denver campus. Four University of Denver students, three women and one man (ranging from eighteen to twenty years of age), participated by reacting to the films they saw and reflecting aloud on the movies. This age demographic was chosen because the participants would have been raised during the second stage, but aware of the first stage; a younger demographic might have been less familiar with the first stage, and an older demographic might have been less immersed in the second stage. The four participants’ verbal, physical, and behavioral responses, as well as comments, were recorded on paper during the movie viewing event and during an informal interview, twenty minutes after the last movie was finished, to better capture responses to the vampire movies as they viewed them and after they’d had time to be affected. Though the observed individuals may have acted differently than normal because they were aware of being observed for a study, their actions seemed authentic and their opinions seemed genuine.

Two interviews conducted with professionals in the field of clinical psychology were also performed to ascertain possible explanations for the shift between stages one and two of society’s response to vampires. The two interviewees were females with doctorates in clinical psychology, Interviewee A specializing in mental illness and Interviewee B specializing in social relationships. One interview was conducted by telephone, lasting twenty-seven minutes, and the other through email. Interview questions were open-ended and centered on potential social and psychological factors that might reinforce or inhibit change in cultural response to “others” or “entities [society] believe are threateningly different than themselves.”

RESULTS
In the survey, the top three rated television shows were Buffy the Vampire Slayer, True Blood, and Vampire Diaries. The top two rated movies were Interview with the Vampire and The Twilight Saga, with twenty and eighteen respondent votes respectively; Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter tied for third place with fifteen votes. Shortly after the movie viewing, during an informal interview, the respondents each stated that Interview with the Vampire was their favorite movie of those that they saw, with Fright Night entertaining them as a “guilty pleasure.” It should be noted that respondents who had not read the original Dracula novel liked the Bram Stoker’s Dracula movie overall more than respondents who had read the original source material, yet none of the participants said that Bram Stoker’s Dracula was their favorite film during the movie viewing. During the interviews, both interviewees remarked that the increase of scientific knowledge within our culture likely played a significant role in the transition between the first and second stages, in that it combatted the superstitions that fueled the first-stage reactions.

Jessica 12.jpg

The Conmunity – Pop Culture Geek | Flickr.com

DISCUSSION
The primary research suggests that a third stage of vampire reception might indeed exist, as the survey and observations reveal clear yet contradictory trends; both the first and second stages remain influential and prevalent despite their seemingly exclusive nature. During the movie viewing, a few participants remarked that part of why they didn’t enjoy Bram Stoker’s Dracula was because of the movie’s interpretation of Abraham Van Helsing. In the original novel Dracula, Van Helsing is an eccentric but reliable professor enlisted to save Lucy from her mysterious illness. Van Helsing eventually identifies that her sickness is associated with vampires, and he goes on to help the main characters of the book defeat Dracula. On the other hand, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, in addition to portraying Dracula as a victim cursed by love and passion beyond his control, depicts Van Helsing as a less likeable character than in the book, with exaggerated eccentric behavior; he cackles, makes insensitive remarks about Lucy’s death, and even seemingly teleports in one scene. This second-stage adaptation of a first-stage book altered the characters so that Dracula becomes a noble and tragic character while Van Helsing becomes the erratic and violent entity. Jenna Meyer, whose thesis is on the evolution of the vampire, would most likely consider this a realistic symptom of movies that emphasize the sympathetic vampire, inherent to the second stage, because she remarks that “vampires have gained society’s sympathy, meaning the slayers are on the run for their lives, outed publicly, and hated for their destiny of slaying demons” (29). In a second-stage movie viewed during the historical second stage, the vampire and vampire hunter are at odds, often forcing the audience to align themselves with one side or the other; the audience members inevitably identify with the sympathetic vampire over the cruel hunter. The mediocre reception Bram Stoker’s Dracula garnered at the movie viewing, especially in light of the fact that the movie received impressive reviews in the past, could imply that society is beginning to drift away from the second stage and into a new, third stage.

Jessica 10

Brayan Esteban Esparza Gonzalez | Flickr.com

The responses to Twilight within the survey also reinforce the concept that society is growing progressively bored with the romantic vampire. Twenty-five respondents answered the question “What is your least favorite interpretation of a vampire and why?” with references to Twilight and the fact that the vampires were, in their opinions, too romanticized or tame. Respondent 30 remarked hating the vampires from Twilight because they were too “watered down”: “They were almost too human. They lost a lot of the primal characteristics that vampires normally possess, in a sense castrating their vampireness.” It should be noted that Twilight, despite its pervasive presence in pop culture, was excluded from the movie viewing event because several of the respondents absolutely refused to watch it, protesting that they’d leave the room for the duration of the movie if it were played against their request. The intense rejection of the Twilight series and the vehement criticism of the fact that Edward Cullen “defeats the purpose of a vampire, [because] he can go into the sun and sparkles which defeats the limitation on vampires’ strength” (Respondent 10) especially indicates that society is, at least partly, losing its fascination with the romanticized and very human-like vampire.

However, the decomposition of the second stage does not necessarily imply a resurrection of the first stage. The data hints at the emergence of a third stage, instead of a repetition of the first stage of fear, because the “romantic connotation” associated with the vampire is still popular (Atwater 77). In both the movie viewing and the survey, Interview with the Vampire received the most praise. Participants at the movie viewing all agreed that it was their favorite movie of the three shown and continued to quote the movie after it had finished, even miming scenes they found entertaining. In the survey, Interview with the Vampire was the most consistently picked movie when respondents were tasked with picking their three favorite vampire movies. This movie, celebrated as the initial movie (and book series) and epitome of the second stage, evidently still resonates with its audiences. The sheer popularity of this movie, in both the survey and observations, seems to signal that the second stage has not lost its potency.

The relevance of the second stage to society’s current perspective on vampires can also be potentially extracted from the responses to the 2011 remake of the movie Fright Night, a first-stage narrative in a second-stage time period. The main vampire does very little to hide his identity, and the audience receives nearly immediate confirmation that the protagonist is not only bloodthirsty but also predatory and remorseless. Just like the first-stage vampires before him, Jerry, the vampiric antagonist of Fright Night, is not a creature to be reasoned or sympathized with; he is a dangerous enemy to be killed for the good of the community. Participants laughed aloud several times and quoted funny lines after the movie had ended, as Fright Night had produced enough humor to generally entertain its audience. Yet, participants also emphasized that the movie was a “guilty pleasure” rather than an objectively enjoyable film. When respondents were tasked with choosing their three favorite vampire movies, the 2011 adaptation of Fright Night ranked 15th, which is considerably low as there were only eighteen positions. This data suggests that Fright Night’s close parallels to first-stage themes and absence of second-stage elements ultimately harmed its popularity. When the support and appreciation for Interview with the Vampire is paired with the mediocre and underwhelming response to Fright Night, the data suggests that the second stage is far from dead. Indeed, despite the complaints that Bram Stoker’s Dracula changed the characters to fit second-stage roles (Participant H looked confused as she stated, “I don’t understand why they did that, trying to make him relatable.”), the movie still managed to tie with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter for third place on the list of respondents’ three favorite vampire movies. Even Twilight, which was so vehemently rejected, came in second on that same list, reinforcing the idea the second stage is still quite prevalent.

This contradictory data is why I suggest that a third stage exists or is at least emerging. It seems that society wants both vampires to hug and vampires to kill. This appears evident in the popularity of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was ranked in first place on the list of respondents’ three favorite vampire television shows by a wide margin. In the show, some monsters are “creatures that must be destroyed or made into sexual fetishes” while other monsters are “potential ‘life’ partners and members of a community in which difference and the most extreme varieties of other-ness prove no barrier to companionship” (Poole 211). This interesting duality, a fundamental component of the potential third stage, is especially relevant to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series because the monsters shift between the two stages, with certain creatures seeking redemption after their acts of “legendary evil” and other relatable creatures lapsing into episodes of cruelty (Poole 211). In the survey, thirty-eight respondents ranked the series among their top three favorites, which is more than twice the number of the second closest competitors: True Blood and Vampire Dairies. All three of these shows combine relatable and sympathetic vampire hunters with vampires that are equally sympathetic and emotional, while also incorporating the evil, animalistic vampires. These shows, especially Buffy the Vampire Slayer, signal our society’s rising desire for dynamic vampire/human relationships in popular media.

Jessica 8

Daisy | Flickr.com

Though awareness of the stages is important for cultural research, the reasons for the transitions between stages are especially significant. If the stages changed for completely arbitrary reasons, then the shifting reactions of society to vampires would contain no deeper meaning. According to two professionals in the field of psychology, the evolving knowledge of science and increased globalization contributes to and continues to shape our responses to monsters; the fact that two psychologists with differing backgrounds ultimately came to similar conclusions about the causes for such a transition reinforces the credibility of their conclusions. Both interviewees remarked that empathy is a powerful catalyst for acceptance, and empathy is best attained through direct interaction. Interviewee B, a clinical psychologist specializing in social relationships, noted that, of the “people who have a bias against LGBTQ people, the vast majority do not have a single personal relationship with a person who identifies as LGBTQ” and asserted that “exposure to the ‘other’…[and] positive interaction with the ‘other,’ ideally maintained over time…has a very strong effect on changing opinions.” This concept also implies snowball effect, in which increased interaction with a minority group or “other” leads to more sympathetic portrayals of the other, which would in turn encourage further interaction.

The diminishing fear of the other or monster through interaction and exposure may also be reinforced through expanding scientific knowledge. Interviewee A, a clinical psychologist who specializes in mental illnesses, suggested that the decreasing influence of superstitions directly contributes to the shift between the first and second stage:

Early on I think these perceptions were fear-based and also spawned from ignorance. There was also a lot more magical thinking in the past when huge groups of people were dying from plagues, etc. I think they were trying to make some sense of what they were experiencing. These days, I think people don’t take these beliefs seriously (as they once did), so there have been variations created for sheer entertainment.

The prevalence of scientific mindsets over mystical beliefs affects the culture as a whole in that, as Interviewee A later addressed, vampires aren’t the only monsters to receive a more sympathetic makeover; popular plays and movies, like Wicked and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, portray their monstrous protagonists as misunderstood, well-meaning, and likeable characters trying to overcome a society that rejects or attacks them (Interviewee A). When the fear of witches and aliens is diminished, narratives with such monsters begin “breaking down the socially constructed barriers between people” and come to resemble the second and third stages of reactions to vampires (Interviewee B).

According to Interviewee B, scientific knowledge also contributes directly to society’s evolving reactions towards the vampire because science has allowed humans to live for longer amounts of time. The second stage of vampires may have started because “baby boomers have created that youth culture to deny death” and vampires are symbols of the undead (Interviewee B). Sympathetic, suffering vampires may have been born from the complex cultural state that is an obsession with immortality combined with the fear of loneliness that accompanies outliving your loved ones. Science has granted increasingly long life expectancies, and cultural movements, such as social media, may have caused a fear of loneliness since they keep everyone connected 24/7. Thus, “more and more people are seeing their own lives in the context of social isolation and in the context of the fear of growing old alone” (Interviewee B). The vampire, as Interviewee B notes, has become the “ultimate metaphor for social isolation,” while “the symbol of sucking someone’s blood…can [be] read as a desperate cry for connection.” Because our culture simultaneously craves immortality and fears isolation, the vampire has become a sympathetic and tortured character. According to my research, the cultural forces that affected the transition from the first stage to the second stage may include the youth culture of society, advances in science, and increased empathy toward others through expanding globalization and interaction.

LIMITATIONS
None of this data should be construed as conclusive. In addition to my own biases as a researcher, the sample size of fifty respondents, two interviewees, and four observation participants is much too small for any significant conclusions to be made about society’s reaction to the vampire. Along with expanding the sample size, further research should also incorporate more diverse demographics. There were an overwhelming number of females in each category of research (82% of survey respondents, 75% of observation participants, and 100% of interviewees) and though the survey targeted people from ages fourteen through seventy, 58% of survey respondents were ages eighteen to twenty-nine. In order for the survey to truly reflect the perceptions society as a whole, other gender and age demographics need better representation. It’s also important to remember that the primary research of the survey was conducted in a very limited period of time—fewer than four weeks. More time allotted to the primary research would likely produce more accurate and representative results, as the researcher could explore broader themes and investigate trends in greater depth. The researcher could conceivably ask more questions on the survey, target a more diverse and representative participant pool, include more movies in the viewing event, and interview more professionals in varying social and psychological fields.

With these potential limitations in mind, further research should be pursued. One extended research path might be to investigate small shifts within the two large stages, so as to better understand why, how, and when the first stage began its transition into the second stage. Another path of future research might be to link the progression of the response to vampires with widespread cultural movements, such as the trend of women’s increasing sexual freedom and its possible effects on sexuality within vampire narratives. Since an exploration and enhanced understanding of society’s reactions to its monsters are inherently a study of society and culture, further insight on this topic will ultimately contribute to a better understanding of society as a whole and the manner in which it operates. In essence, this research has pried back the coffin lid; it’s time to exhume the body.

Featured Image © Kiselev Andrey Valerevich | Shutterstock.com


A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
As a child, I was raised on science fiction and fantasy. I learned to read by slowly wading through the Harry Potter series. My favorite possession was a book on dragons, and I have very distinct memories of cowering under my sheets in elementary school, convinced the sound of my accelerating heartbeat was actually the increasingly rapid drumbeat of a horde of orcs from Moria drawing closer.

Science fiction and fantasy have shaped me into the person I am today, so of course I leapt at the chance to take a first-year seminar on monstrosity. In my very first FSEM class, I analyzed the more recent film Star Trek Into Darkness in relation to the original. Comparing the two iterations of the villainous Khan, I realized that he had evolved from a domineering and intelligent foreigner into a powerful terrorist, so as to better match contemporary society’s fears. This wasn’t a change that took place over hundreds of years and generations; this significant evolution happened in fewer than forty years, and yet both movies were praised by their generations as having excellent villains.

While the idea of monsters changing to fit their society fascinated me, I didn’t explore it further until my second course on monstrosity. In my WRIT 1733 class, we learned about media ecology theory and the concept that information is altered by the media that convey it—just as monsters and their cultural significance alter across time, media, and society. Society is the medium through which the monster narrative evolves, and we can measure cultural changes through changing responses to the monster.

I hope my exploration of the society’s evolving response to the vampire encourages others to consider the history behind their favorite monsters, and what that says about the culture they live in.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jessica BioJessica Garland came to DU from Greenwood Village, Colorado. She is a sophomore, pursuing degrees in English and Political Science. In her free time, you’ll find Jessica reading, writing, watching copious amounts of television, geeking out over movies, or hanging out with her friends. Fun fact about Jessica: she can sing the first fifty prepositions of the English language, in alphabetical order, from memory.


WORKS CITED

Atwater, Cheryl. “Living in Death: The Evolution of Modern Vampirism.” Anthropology of Consciousness 11.1–2 (2000): 70–77. Web. 25 Apr. 2015.

Betsinger, Tracy K., and Amy B. Scott. “Governing from the Grave: Vampire Burials and Social Order in Post-medieval Poland.” Cambridge Archaeological Journal 24.03 (2014): 467–76. Cambridge Journals. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Dir. Francis F. Coppola. Screenplay by James V. Hart. By Bram Stoker. Perf. Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, and Anthony Hopkins. Columbia Pictures, 1992. DVD.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Fourth Season. Dir. Joss Whedon. Warner Bros., 2003. DVD. Fright Night. Dir. Craig Gillespie. By Marti Noxon and Tom Holland. Perf. Anton Yelchin and Colin Farrell. DreamWorks Picture, 2011. DVD.

Hall, Robert L. “Ghosts, Water Barriers, Corn, and Sacred Enclosures in the Eastern Woodlands.” American Antiquity 41.3 (1976): 360–64. JSTOR. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.

Interview with the Vampire—the Vampire Chronicles. Dir. Neil Jordan. By Anne Rice. Perf. Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Christian Slater, and Kirsten Dunst. Geffen Pictures, 1994. DVD.

Jackson, Morgan A. “Mindless Monsters: The Evolution of Vampire Mythology in Modern Fiction.” The Alexandrian 1.1 (2012): n. pag. The Alexandrian (Troy University Journals). Troy University, 2012. Web. 25 Apr. 2015.

Matheson, Richard. I Am Legend. New York: ORB, 1995. Print.

Meyer, Jenna. “‘You’re a Vampire… Was That an Offensive Term? Should I Say Undead American’?’ The Evolution of the Vampire in Popular Culture.” University at Buffalo, State University of New York, 2010. ProQuest Thesis. ProQuest. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.

Meyer, Stephanie. Twilight. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2005. Print.

Poole, W. Scott. “Undead Americans.” Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting. Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2011. 193–217. Print.

Senf, Carol A. “‘Dracula’: Stoker’s Response to the New Woman.” Victorian Studies 26.1 (1982): 33–49. JSTOR. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.

Smetana, Erik. “Books with Bite: The Evolution of the Vampire in Contemporary Literature.” The Missouri Review 34.1 (2011): 173–80. Summon. Web. 25 Apr. 2015.

Tenga, Angela, and Elizabeth Zimmerman. “Vampire Gentlemen and Zombie Beasts.” Gothic Studies 15.1 (2013): 76–87. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Apr. 2015.

Whedon, Joss, dir. “Lie to Me.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Warner Bros. Network. 3 Nov. 1997. Television.


Appendix A
By completing the following questions, you are also granting consent for this information to be used as part of a research project that I am completing for a course at the University of Denver.  Your participation is completely voluntary.  The information you provide may be used in a project and may be published online and/or in print, but your identity will remain anonymous.  While profile information you volunteer in this survey may be included in my writing project (i.e. your age, sex, class standing, etc.), your name and identity will NOT be used or reported.  If at any time you do not want to answer a question, or do not want to complete the questionnaire, you do not have to.

1. Please select your current age from the options below.
Garland age

2. What gender do you identify as?
Garland gender

3. How interesting are the various traits of the vampire to you?
Garland chart

4. Select your three favorite vampire movies.  (Note: Some of these movies are related to books and television shows. This question only focuses on the movie-aspect so please only select your choices based off your opinion of the movies themselves.)
Garland films

5. Select your three favorite vampire television shows.  (Note: Some of these shows are related to books and movies.  This question only focuses on the television-aspect so please only select your choices based off your opinion of the shows themselves.)
Garland shows

Open-ended questions:
6. When you hear the word “vampire,” what comes to mind?
(Be as brief or descriptive as you want.)

7. What is your favorite interpretation of a vampire and why?  (This can be a creature from lore, movie character, book character, television character, etc.) (Be as brief or descriptive as you want.)

8. What is your least favorite interpretation of a vampire and why? (This can be a creature from lore, movie character, book character, television character, etc.) (Be as brief or descriptive as you want.)


Appendix B
Below are the three basic interview questions administered to both Interviewee A and Interviewee B. The phone interview had extra clarification questions to confirm answers. In order to maintain the confidentiality of the interviewees, the Informed Consent documents of each are located in a separate, private space.

1.Why are people capable over time of shifting their perception of monsters or entities they believe are threateningly different than themselves?

2.Are there other examples where a group of people altered its reaction to a creature perceived as an “outsider” or “foreign other?”

3.Are there social and psychological factors that prime or prepare people for accepting an “outsider” as similar to themselves and if so, what are these factors? Are there social and psychological factors that discourage this type of assimilation, and if so, what are they?


Figure 1
Below is a graph of the survey responses to the question “How interesting are the various traits of the vampire to you?” Respondents rated each trait as extremely uninteresting, uninteresting, kind of uninteresting, no opinion, kind of interesting, interesting, or extremely interesting (which corresponded with the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 respectively). Their aggregate numbers were calculated and averaged, as represented in this graph.
Figure 1

Figure 2
Below is a graph of the survey responses to the question “Please select your three favorite vampire movies. (Note: Some of these movies are related to books and television shows. This question only focuses on the movie-aspect so please only select your choices based off your opinion of the movies themselves.)”
Figure 2

Figure 3
Below is a graph of the survey responses to the question “Select your three favorite vampire television shows. (Note: Some of these shows are related to books and movies. This question only focuses on the television-aspect so please only select your choices based off your opinion of the shows themselves.)”
Figure 3

Acknowledgments

We are very grateful to Doug Hesse and the DU Writing Program for funding and supporting this project. We extend our thanks to the new members of our staff who have helped us expand and enhance this year’s publication: Madison Bolotin, Allan Borst, Jennifer Campbell, Carly Post, Polly Reid, Lauren Salvador, Blake Sanz, Angie Sowa, Kara Taczak, & Kay Takada.

2015–2016 Editorial Board

Managing Editors: David Daniels, Megan Kelly, Heather Martin, Juli Parrish, and LP Picard
Faculty Editors: Allan Borst, Jennifer Campbell, April Chapman-Ludwig, Kamila Kinyon, Polly Reid, Blake Sanz, Carol Samson, Angie Sowa, Geoff Stacks, and Kara Taczak
Student Editors: Madison Bolotin, Carly Post, and Kay Takada

© UNIVERSITY OF DENVER WRITING PROGRAM

WRIT Large is published by the Writing Program at the University of Denver.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the University Writing Program at the University of Denver.

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Spotlight on Student Editors

MadisonMadison Bolotin
I was born and raised in Darien, Connecticut, right on the shore of Long Island Sound. I have spent a lot of time on the water, but when it was time to make a college decision, I traded the beach for the mountains. So far, I have absolutely no regrets. Since moving to Denver, I have found a passion for hiking, skiing, and camping (basically all things mountain-related). I have also discovered my love for road trips, using the drive between Denver and Connecticut as my excuse for turning a two-day drive into a week-long trip, going out of my way to hit as many sites as possible. I am a sophomore and a Criminology and Psychology double major. Writing has always been a hobby of mine, and working on WRIT Large has been a great learning opportunity.


Carly PostCarly
Though I was born in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, I moved to La Cañada, California when I was eleven. I came to the University of Denver to foster my love of the outdoors—the mountains were calling, as the saying goes. I’ll never get tired of watching the sun sink below the silhouette of the Rocky Mountains. I couldn’t think of a better way to end the day—the sky, a flawless combination of pink and orange. Beautiful. I’m a sophomore in the Honors Program pursuing a double major in Biology and Psychology with a minor in Writing. Some of the best times I’ve had at DU include winning the championship game in intramural broomball, waking up before the crack of dawn to beat the traffic to the ski slopes, hiking to the top of Mt. Evans, spending a week hanging out with first-years as an Orientation Leader, and meeting some of the best friends I have ever known.


KayKay Takada
I am a second year biology major from Colorado Springs, Colorado. I like drawing and playing piano, and I absolutely love to read. When I was younger, I used to act out and film (pretty terrible) parodies of my favorite books, movies, and TV shows, because I have always loved stories and still definitely wish I had superpowers.


Featured Image © littleny | Shutterstock.com

Volume 5 Introduction

Every year, students at the University of Denver are asked to write countless essays, and we are proud to showcase nine of the exceptional few in this year’s journal. As editors, we are privileged to have seen these authors through the evolution of their works from first drafts to final, journal-ready copies, sharing in their pursuits, thoughts, and discoveries. We are pleased to present the culmination of their months of hard work.

In their essays, Monica, Maggie, Kengo, and Olivia explore various aspects of storytelling, appreciating it as a mode of communication and a medium to consider broader aspects of society. Monica McFadden considers the various facets of telling stories and highlights the way in which people use storytelling, in any medium, as a way to relate to and understand one another. Monica incorporates some aspects of her own personal history with storytelling and displays a unique perspective based on her role as an avid reader and writer of a variety of genres. In a narrative exploration of her own family history, Maggie Sava also uses her personal history to cast a unique light on another period of history: Hispanic school desegregation. This personal retelling serves as a rich and expressive reflection of this period in Denver history. In his piece, Kengo Nagaoka guides us through his personal struggle as a passionate environmentalist who was raised on Alaska’s oil revenue. This juxtaposition is highlighted by the realization that his environmental motives, specifically divestment from fossil fuels, could be extremely detrimental to the prosperity of his home state. Straightforward and forthcoming about her own struggles with body image, Olivia Hayes makes use of her personal history to call attention to our society’s unhealthy relationship with weight and appearance. Using both research and personal experience, she provides a critical look at the ways in which women develop insecurities and the dangerous consequences of this relationship.

In their research-based essays, Brian, Nick, Cameron, Aubrie, and Jessica offer in-depth explorations of a wide variety of topics. Rather than including personal anecdotes, these authors have applied their insight and personal passion for the subjects to imbue their pieces with a lively, unique, and personal feel. In his piece, Brian Goetzinger explores the electrifying dynamic of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, emphasizing the ins and outs of auditions, funding, and a very special relationship to the audience. Though his piece focuses mainly on the research that he conducted, it is enriched by his own personal knowledge-base, being that he himself is a violinist. During a ride in a taxi with a driver named Richard, Nick Lewis began to recognize the distinctive nature of taxis. In his essay, Nick references both his interaction with Richard and research to explore the taxi as a space both separate from, and yet still intrinsically part of, the larger city through which it journeys, allowing for a unique relationship to develop between taxi driver and passenger. Cameron Hickert brings to light a fascinating Buddhist practice called sky burial, evoking our sympathy with its long history of misunderstanding and highlighting the importance of protecting other cultures. His personal experiences studying abroad in Tibet permeate his research, embodying his work with a deep-rooted humanity and connecting us with other cultures. Aubrie Blevins discusses a popular trend known as ‘slacktivism,’ a practice that requires very little effort or involvement in supporting social or political movements. She gained interest in this topic through her pursuit to learn more about inclusive excellence, a concept often supported by slacktivist campaigns. Looking at another cultural phenomenon, Jessica Garland investigates the different stages of social response to vampires and offers insight into a possible third stage that is only just beginning to emerge. Her personal experience reading science fiction as a child likely piqued her interest in vampires, along with other mystical creatures. In her work, Jessica references her own primary research in which she investigates how and why she believes this new response has manifested.

Despite differences in genre and writing style, all nine of these authors add a very personal, even intimate, take on things. While editing these pieces, it was clear to us that each author feels a strong connection to their topic. Whether it has to do with their hobbies, in Brian’s case, or the battles they have faced in the past, like Olivia, every author writes with the passion of a scholar investigating a favorite field of study, and they pass this enthusiasm on to readers. We are thrilled to be sharing the inspiring work of these authors with you.

– The Student Editors
Madison Bolotin, Carly Post, & Kay Takada


Featured Image © Neale Cousland | Shutterstock.com

The Places In Between

My beautiful picture

by Maggie Sava
WRIT 1733: Human Rights/Humans Write | Professor John Tiedemann

She was at home playing with her four-year-old daughter, Jennifer, and her one-year-old son, Paul, when the phone rang. It was the fall of 1974, and her two older children, Randy and Julia, were at school for the day. After settling the kids, she answered the call to find a man on the line.

“Hello, Mrs. Atencio. My name is John, and I am a member of the Parent Teacher Association. I am calling you today to discuss a volunteer opportunity.”

“Oh, I see. May I ask what the opportunity is exactly?”

“Well, as I am sure you are aware, Denver Public Schools have recently begun integration programs that…”

She interrupted. “Oh yeah, I have been hearing a lot about that lately.”

“Good, good. Well, you see, we need parents to observe the schools in a monitor role to make sure that all students are receiving the appropriate treatment at their new schools. We are reaching out to you because we know how involved you have been in the PTA before, and we need representatives for Hispanic students.”

“You don’t understand. Atencio is my married name. I am not Hispanic; my husband is.”

“Mrs. Atencio, we are in desperate need of volunteers. We believe that you are especially qualified for this. It is just once a month. We really need your help.”

She paused. “Okay, okay. I am happy to help. What do you need me to do?”

∗  ∗  ∗

My grandparents, Cheryl and Sam Atencio, met when they were only 18 years old. Cheryl had moved to her parents’ new home in the new upper-middle-class development of Applewood, Colorado, after transferring from Hood College, a women’s college on the East Coast, to the University of Colorado Denver. Her background was about as middle-class as it could get. Initially, her parents bought a new home that was constructed after World War II, but they ended up moving from one suburban town to the next as her dad’s job required. Before Colorado, they lived in New Jersey, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Iowa. Meanwhile, Sam’s family settled in southern Colorado and New Mexico during Spanish colonization. Sam was born in Sante Fe shortly before his family moved to Denver to pursue better job opportunities. They settled in one of North Denver’s Hispanic neighborhoods.

EPSON MFP image

Cheryl after a new haircut.

Cheryl and Sam first saw each other at a bar in North Denver. Cheryl’s friend, who was pregnant at the time, begged her to go out dancing. Cheryl agreed, so they went to Denver and wound up at a rough 3.2 bar, since 18-year-olds could buy 3.2 beer at the time. There, Sam approached Cheryl and asked her to dance. Cheryl refused unless he danced with her pregnant friend first. He obliged, and from that night on, Cheryl and Sam were inseparable. When the two brought up the idea of marriage less than two months later, neither of their families supported the idea. At the time, the proposed union of the teenagers was considered a “mixed marriage.” Sam was even kicked out of his house and forced to stay at the YMCA. Despite the resistance, they wed in 1965, six weeks after they met.

Early on, the two had no money. They hopped from house to house in North Denver, one of their first being a dumpy little two-story house built behind someone else’s lot on Perry Street. Cheryl was always pregnant, so they had to keep moving as they outgrew houses. By the time they found themselves at the house at 3934 Tejon Street, they already had seven-year-old Randy, five-year-old Julia, three-year-old Jenn, and a fourth child on the way. St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, the family’s parish, was down the street from their modest house. Nearby was the fire station and the police station. Police helicopters flew over the neighborhood at all hours of the night, shining their spotlights through the windows in tireless searches. A bar or liquor store could be found on practically every block. Cheryl did not fit into the neighborhood. A fair-skinned, red-haired Norwegian girl with a middle-class background stood out, and the neighbors were suspicious of her until they met Sam.

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Christine Franck | Flickr.com

Across 38th Avenue, a busy thoroughfare, was the neighborhood elementary school, Bryant Webster, where Julia and Randy went to school when they were not being bussed to Gust Elementary School. Being Hispanic students in the 1970s, Julia and Randy were sent to a white school across town for half of the day as a result of Denver’s attempt to increase diversity and level the playing field for minority students. Although they were considered Hispanic, the kids did not fit into any category. Being half white and half Hispanic, Randy and Julia were stuck between two worlds. Cheryl cringed when her children returned home to tell stories of how they were called “honky” at Bryant Webster because they had a white mother and how, at Gust, they were referred to as “beaners” because their skin was brown. Fuming on the inside, Cheryl comforted Julia and Randy, explaining to them that those were not nice words and that they should not use them to refer to other people.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones,” she would remind them. “But words will never hurt me.”

My beautiful picture

Paul, Randy, Julia, and Jennifer in their Tejon house, 1975.

∗  ∗  ∗

Cheryl peered anxiously through the window, watching the sidewalk as the sunlight began to recede. Behind her, one of the babies began to cry, pulling her attention from the glass. She crossed the living room of the small house on Tejon Street, leaving her perch to check on her babies.

She took turns watching the front walk and working on dinner. Finally, she heard the shuffling footsteps of two kids on the front porch and opened the door to find Julia there with a neighbor boy. She was tired from chasing her toddlers around all day. Her fatigue was compounded by frustration when she noticed that the sun had mostly set and the city street was getting darker and darker. She thanked the neighbor boy who walked Julia from the bus stop each night and gave him some change just as Sam’s car pulled into the drive. Sam was coming home from his job at the Department of Transportation to have dinner with his family and rest for a bit before leaving to go to his second job as a valet at a country club. Now that everyone had made it home, Cheryl could serve dinner.

The concerns Cheryl had about her daughter’s safety and her difficult school day were not alleviated as she watched Julia struggle to keep her eyes open during dinner. Cheryl questioned why her kids had to be bussed forty-five minutes to a different school every day. Randy and Julia were not even on the same bus schedule. Originally, both kids went to Bryant Webster in the morning and Gust in the afternoon, but when Randy hit third grade, he was forced to change his schedule. While Randy went in the mornings, Julia went in the afternoons, and so he was not there to walk her home at night.

After cleaning up after the meal, Cheryl went to the living room, where Sam was resting. Suddenly, she vented. “How much good can they be doing these kids when they drop first-grade girls off at a bus stop two blocks away from their home at night?”

“Cher… .”

“I mean, think about it. They lose at least an hour every day. Julia is only six! Thank goodness there is that neighbor boy to walk her home.”

“I suppose they think they are doing them a service. I mean, they mix in all the students from the other school, so maybe they are getting a better experience. More diversity.”

“I hardly think they are getting anything out of this. Heck, I wouldn’t want to be going to either school! You wouldn’t believe what it’s like in Bryant Webster, Sam. It’s terrible. I saw it back when I visited Randy’s second-grade class. Some kids don’t even have shoes to wear!”

“What do you want me to say? Schools are falling apart around us, Cher, and the kids are taking the brunt of it. There are no other options, not since the redistricting from desegregation made us leave Smedly.”

“I still can’t believe they made us leave that school. Now the kids have to cross 38th with all that traffic just to get to school. It is so dangerous! That court order completely turned these kids’ life upside down. I just don’t know what to do. How are they supposed to make friends? At which school will they have a chance to play with the other kids? I just don’t think it’s good for them. Especially for Julia. She is so young and so smart. I don’t want her miss out on anything… .”

My beautiful picture

Julia, Paul, and Jennifer, 1974.

∗  ∗  ∗

At the start of desegregation, the schools needed to accommodate the new students, which required much preparation and training to explain new policies and ensure that they were properly applied. The school board used volunteer parent monitors to make sure that students were accepted into their new classrooms and treated equally by the school. The request made by the Parent Teacher Association for a representative for the Hispanic students was not one that Cheryl could comfortably turn down. She had already headed an effort to restart the PTA at Smedly Elementary, where Randy went before the redistricting. That challenging project made her well aware of the inner workings of the schools and all the help they needed.

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Cheryl’s PTA portrait

Like her children, Cheryl went downtown to a new school. Monitors were not allowed to volunteer at their neighborhood institutions, so she was assigned to a poor school that was close to the low-income housing projects near Colfax Avenue and Federal Boulevard. As the acting representative of the Hispanic population at the school, she had to drive there once a month. She observed everything intently, including classes and teacher performances, and filled out special rubrics that were filed at North High School. Cheryl was frustrated by the limitations of her position. As an unwanted visitor, Cheryl knew she could not see what the school was really like day to day. She suspected that teachers and students were on their best behavior during the monthly visits, and she did not have the chance to understand the true climate of the school. Try as she might, she could not get beyond the surface of the situation. Hispanic families were wary of her serving as their spokesperson, and with good reason. She was young and white, and she could not relate to the experiences of the students she was supposed to represent. During her days at the school, she was made aware of the glaring differences between her schooling in a middle-class suburban neighborhood in New Jersey and the urban Denver school in which she found herself. In spite of all the training and preparation the monitor organization provided and her Spanish surname, she never felt as though she had the clout to honestly speak for the students she believed needed stronger support and a better learning environment. Nothing was more frustrating to a young activist dedicated to bettering her community than knowing that she could not really help.

She found herself in the same, uncomfortable in-between space her children occupied at school. She was too white to fit in with the Hispanics at the schools, yet she still had a Hispanic family and was a part of the community. Like Randy and Julia, she was often reminded that she did not belong. One day, she was sitting at the back of a classroom observing when she noticed the teacher’s assistant looking her over. When Cheryl looked back at her, the teacher’s assistant said something under her breath in Spanish that made Cheryl blush. She may not have spoken fluent Spanish, but Cheryl had spent enough time in the barrio to know when she was being called a nasty name.

She once said, “It was like being a fish out of water.”

∗  ∗  ∗

My beautiful picture

Julia with her Aunt Margie for her first Communion, 1974.

It only made sense that Cheryl would volunteer as an advocate in the schools. Cheryl converted to Catholicism when she married Sam and became fiercely loyal to her faith. The couple served the church community by being on the parish council, kick-starting and running the food bank, and taking donations to be deposited at the bank after mass on Sundays each week. Being a young, poor couple, they knew what hard work meant. They were constantly striving to create better conditions for their growing family.

Cheryl and Sam’s civic engagement also extended beyond the walls of the church; they became activists for their neighborhood. Idealistic and hardworking, Sam and Cheryl were active in every way possible. As they became leaders in their community, their house became a meeting place. Their political work predated the 26th Amendment that lowered the voting age, which meant that they were laboring for the Democratic Party in their part of the city before they could even vote. As their activism increased, they garnered attention as a motivated couple that was excited about the new forms of cultural and political empowerment emerging in a number of different communities. Their own community was in the midst of the Chicano Movement, which offered people a new opportunity for self-identification. Hispanics were tired of being mislabeled and assigned stereotypes. Community leaders were giving Chicanos and Chicanas a voice. Sam and Cheryl saw these leaders speaking from the pulpit of the neighborhood church asking for support such as food donations for migrant workers. As long as it wasn’t okra. They were sick and tired of okra.

Eventually, Cheryl and Sam were elected precinct captains, and they attended all important meetings in Denver. They became involved with policy writing and platform organizing. Their dedication had them traveling through the projects to pass out materials and brochures, all with their little ones following along. The campaigns they organized and contributed to even helped elect Pat Schroeder, the first Congresswoman from Colorado.

Despite positive political changes and momentum within their community, Cheryl and Sam found their neighborhood becoming less safe and less welcoming. Big changes were occurring in the house on Tejon Street. The family welcomed a fifth child, Noah, into the world in the fall of 1975. The house was proving to be too small. Julia, Randy, and Jennifer had to sleep in a room in the basement, while Paul and Noah slept together in a room upstairs near the master bedroom. They were outgrowing the house, and the state of the neighborhood was a heavy toll on them. Across the street was a halfway house, and the helicopters still kept them awake all night. Two blocks down, a law office that served the poor community had been blown up by a splinter group of anarchists whose graffiti littered the neighborhood declaring, “Free Kiki.” Even the family house was not immune from the dangers of the neighborhood.

On one occasion, Cheryl and Sam woke to Julia and Randy banging on their bedroom door early on a Saturday morning. As they drowsily answered their door, the kids excitedly whispered, “Mom. Dad. There is a strange man sleeping on our couch.” Confused and alarmed, Cheryl herded the kids into the bedroom as Sam grabbed a baseball bat to confront the intruder. A heavily drugged man awoke at the prodding of the wooden bat, unwilling to leave his place on the couch. Sam had to call the police. When the policeman arrived, he assumed that the drugged man was a friend who had stayed over after a wild party.

“That’s ridiculous!” Cheryl exclaimed. “You think we would throw a party here? And then call the police to get rid of the guests?”

After much convincing, the officer finally believed that the intruder was a stranger and that he needed to be removed. Cheryl and Sam found out later that there was no follow-up from the police because the intruder was convicted and imprisoned for murder.

My beautiful picture

Julia and Jennifer, Christmas 1976.

The fear and painful awareness left by that incident led Cheryl and Sam to realize that no matter what good they were doing in their community, they could not let their family pay the price by raising their children in a dangerous place. After spending more than an hour on the bus traveling between schools, and then coming home to an unsafe neighborhood, the children were going to struggle to thrive in school. Without the means to go to the private elementary school on the University of Denver campus, Julia would not be challenged enough academically. As long as she kept bouncing between Bryant Webster and Gust, she would have to make up the study time she missed while riding the bus. Bussing could not address the young students’ needs, and the family could no longer carry the burden placed on them.

Their decision to leave the city was affirmed by a visit from a close family friend and Catholic nun, Sister Jane. She sat them down and advised them that their place was not in the barrio. They had to continue God’s work by raising their children in a healthy environment. Cheryl soon realized that the visit from Sister Jane was a gift from God, and because of a promotion Sam received at work—a second blessing after Sister Jane’s advice—the family was moved to a safer neighborhood in the suburb of Westminster, Colorado.

∗  ∗  ∗

At the time, housing equity was still an equal rights issue, and developers needed to demonstrate diversity in new building projects. The Atencios were seen as the perfect way to show such diversity. The builder of the Countryside development eagerly welcomed them into their community. The company bought their house on Tejon Street, taking the impossible-to-sell property off of their hands and making it possible for them to put a down payment on a newly built house in the Fox Meadows neighborhood. The relief they felt in getting the house of their dreams outweighed any frustration they may have had in once again becoming the token minority. One night, before the official closing, the family took the keys to their new home and camped out on the floor. They all felt as though they were in a mansion. They roamed the four bedrooms, three bathrooms, and huge yard in which the kids could play freely. They prepared beds on the floor and lay down to sleep. They were struck by the calm that fell over the home at night and the stars they spied in the sky through the window—the same stars they had never been able to see in the heart of the city.

“Mom, mom, mom! Look at the sky! It’s so pretty! Is that what space looks like?”

“Yes, Julia. Those are constellations out there. See that one shaped like a spoon? That is the Big Dipper. Isn’t this lovely, Sam? I don’t think the kids even knew what stars were before!”

“It’s beautiful. There aren’t even street lamps out here. I feel like we moved to the country. It is too quiet though. How are we supposed to sleep with all this quiet?”

“I can’t get over how much space there is either. And did you see all the neighborhood kids out playing today? They looked like they were our kids’ ages. It is so nice to see kids out in the neighborhood.”

“I bet they probably know some good babysitters too.”

Cheryl chuckled. “You’re right. I can’t wait to invite all of the parents over for drinks. You know, I bet there are a lot of young families out here. With the kids and all. And they have a neighborhood pool. Oh, Randy, Julia, Jenn, and Paul are going to love that. And Noah, too, once he is bigger.”

“It’ll be great. I can already tell.”

Of course, money was still an issue. They had to scrape it together where they could, not wasting anything. Every drop of gas was precious. Shower time had to be provisioned among the seven of them, with close attention to the use of hot water. Julia still could not attend advanced math classes because there was no way to travel to a different school every afternoon. Nonetheless, they weren’t fretting the challenges ahead of them just yet: their budget, the long commutes to work, and Randy’s appointments at the Colorado Hearing and Speech Center in Southeast Denver. Rather, they all anticipated that spring, when they would be fully moved into their new home in the suburbs, where Randy, Julia, Jennifer, Paul, Noah, and eventually Jill and Haileigh would be able to play and explore in the yard and throughout the neighborhood with the other kids.

Life was bound to change, and a family that was used to growing pains knew that it was part of the deal. Their Hispanic friends and neighbors from Tejon, with whom they would play cards and drink beer on weekends, stopped visiting. Cheryl worried that her friends believed that the family had sold out by moving to the suburbs. Of course, they still came for baptisms, communions, and other important family parties, but it was just not the same. Cheryl and Sam also found a huge difference in community activism. In the city, anyone with an interest and a willingness to work was accepted to the cause and could quickly climb the ladder. Out in the suburbs, there were fewer organizations, and involvement was more competitive because everyone wanted to give their free time to volunteer in the schools, churches, and food banks. Cheryl and Sam’s political life changed as well. Two of the most adamant young Democrats in North Denver left the party in the wake of the Roe v. Wade court ruling, when they were told that they were not true Democrats if they did not believe in abortion. Their faith led them to be shut out, and they were forced to adapt once more.

After adjusting to a hectic urban life, Cheryl found returning to the suburbs truly bizarre. It took a while to get used to the free time; however, she soon learned to embrace her new lifestyle as a stay-at-home mom like all the other moms in the neighborhood. They had a babysitting co-op, and Cheryl and Sam and their kids all found friends their own age. It was dreamlike for Cheryl—an extended vacation from the hardship and need she had witnessed in Denver. The family became outside observers of the transformations happening in the city, experiencing it all from a commuter’s distance.

EPSON MFP image

Countryside neighborhood

∗  ∗  ∗

Today, my grandmother, Cheryl Atencio, is still passionate and spirited. She is a loving matriarch. She leads her large family of seven children and thirteen grandchildren and our combination of fair-skinned redheads and olive-skinned, dark-haired cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. In Countryside, our family is still growing and changing: some kids leaving, some moving back, and now some grandchildren growing up in that very same neighborhood. For us grandkids, we have always known that we belong together, and the idea that we all came from a mixed marriage would never have occurred to us. However, my mom, Julia, and my grandma still take occasional trips to Denver, which bring back memories of those tumultuous times and give them an awareness of the many changes their communities have undergone.

∗  ∗  ∗

Cheryl gasped. “Julia, Julia, slow down. Do you remember when we used to live here on Perry Street? Probably not. We lived in that house behind someone’s back yard, behind their plot. It was before the house on Tejon. Goodness, do you see that house? It is huge! I have never seen such a large house on Perry Street before. But, you know, even down at the Sunnyside projects they are tearing down the plots and building an up-and-coming neighborhood.”

“Wow. Look, it’s for sale. Let’s stop and grab a flyer. Maybe they have an open house, too.”

“Oh, do you think Maggie will be upset if we are late to pick her up? It is almost noon.”

“Nah, she won’t care. She has things to do on campus anyway. Let’s take a look. They must have torn down one of the old houses. I think this new one takes up two of the original plots.”

“You know, your dad wrote a grant once to tear down some of the dilapidated houses. He wanted to use the space for the whole community, though. Maybe a community garden or playground or something. He just wanted to open up more space for everyone. It was so cramped here, you wouldn’t believe it.”

“That must have been a long time ago. I don’t think I remember that.”

“It might have been before you were born. Or you could have been a toddler.”

“I wish I remembered that. What I do remember is taking the bus for what seemed like forever. That was terrible. You know, Maggie still jokes about how I can’t spell some words. One time, she asked how to spell “squirrel,” and I just said, ‘squa-errl.’ It’s too bad I missed all those phonics lessons.”

Cheryl paused. “Yeah, that was a crazy time for us. At least we had the chance to move. I mean, the time to do those things is when you are young. Things get complicated as you get older. Do as much as you can when you have the energy and the time. That’s what I say.”

Images provided by author.


A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
When I received the assignment to write a historical narrative for my Honors Writing and Rhetoric course: Human Rights, Humans Write, I dove into the most human histories that I knew: those of my family. Perhaps it was an excuse to explore the stories that were shared around the table at family dinners. Nonetheless, I discovered the importance of the small stories contained in our individual lives and how they open up pathways into our shared history.

I will admit that there were some self-indulgent motivations behind this piece. In the name of research, I was able to interview my grandmother and discover details about her life I had not heard before. I called her on the phone, emailed her, and spent time at her house cooking with her. I was given special access to her collection of family photos and newspaper clippings, and through these I was able to share in the experiences of my family.

Beyond a new appreciation for all the experiences and hard work of my grandparents, my greatest take-away from this process is that there is no such thing as a mundane life. No person’s story is too “ordinary.” The amazing narratives of history are lived out in the everyday lives of normal people. From this, I learned that you can never know someone too well. As you delve further into the details of someone’s history, you start to find important novelties. It took me 19 years to fully uncover this part of my family’s past, and I am well aware that there is so much more to discover in their stories. I hope to carry these lessons with me, and I believe that these messages are at the core of my work as a student, reader, and writer.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sava bioMaggie Sava is a sophomore studying English and Art History in the class of 2018. She is from Westminster, Colorado. She enjoys reading, fashion, tennis, museums, art, and road trips. Maggie is also a huge fan of Fall Out Boy and tried to go see them at Magness Arena for her first concert. Unfortunately, she got sick just before the show, and although she insisted on going and convinced her mom she felt fine, she only made it long it enough to see the Plain White T’s. Maggie ended up going to the hospital, where she discovered that she had appendicitis and went into emergency surgery at 1am. She lived but has still, regrettably, never seen Fall Out Boy in concert.

The Revolution Won’t Be Tweeted (But Tweets Will Change the Revolution)

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Quka | Shutterstock.com

by Aubrie Blevins
WRIT 1122: Rhetoric and Academic Writing | Professor Angela Sowa

Public discourse has historically been a dynamic arena of social change. It has the power to define social norms as well as modify nationwide consensus. If enough audience members are reached, this form of speech has the potential to dramatically change the direction of a society. In recent years, activist groups have increasingly relied on the Internet as a means to efficiently deliver their respective texts to large, previously untapped sources of social capital. Audience members can now be delivered their respective exigencies with just the click of a button. In light of this recent advancement in communication, many organizations encourage their members to “tweet” and “like” online posts, to wear certain colors representing a cause, and to share and sign online pledges with the intent of creating mass awareness.

However, with the rise in popularity of this particular form of activism, many critics have labeled this type of advocacy as “slacktivism,” combining the terms “slacker” and “activism” in reference to the minimal amount of individual effort involved. Most slacktivism campaigns rarely require a significant financial commitment, much less any muscle movement. Yet these small acts do give satisfaction to the person who clicked “like” on Facebook or bought a t-shirt online; participants feel real gratification in “participating” in these causes. A few slacktivist campaigns have even given organizations the financial capital needed in order to flourish and instill real-world change through research and humanitarian missions. In an age where we are more connected than ever before, we must question the mindset that this form of advocacy doesn’t result in social change at all. The rhetorical strategies of activism are changing as communication has evolved with the advent of the Internet. Slacktivism is actively defining normative standards prevalent in American culture while simultaneously providing many organizations with the financial capital they need to flourish. The duality of these two functions in society has very different­—and often opposing—rhetorical implications. By shifting the power relations between marginalized groups with non-marginalized groups in our society, slacktivism often emphasizes not only whom a society is willing to fight for, but the values a society is willing to defend.

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Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures | Flickr.com

According to Geoffrey Mittelman, writing for social justice news website HuffPost Impact, we unconsciously weigh certain elements in order to determine how involved in a cause we will be. The first is “internal consistency,” or the fact that we want our self-concept to relate to our actions. The second is “moral balancing,” which suggests our actions tend to hover over a moral setpoint. If we surpass our moral setpoint by engaging in “good” deeds, then we feel we can engage in other, more self-interested behaviors. However, if we fall below our moral setpoint, we feel obligated to compensate by doing “good” deeds. Incidentally, these two concepts of moral balancing and internal consistency conflict with one another. We want to feel like good people through our actions, yet through the least action possible. For example, consider the narrative of churchgoers who donate thousands of dollars per year to their church, yet never attend services. This is a common, but quite real, cliché. In the minds of the churchgoers, the money replaces their physical presence in the church. According to recent research by Gert Cornelissen, as described in the journal Psychological Science, people with an “outcome-based mindset are attending to their moral self-image, or the disparity between the self they perceive and the self they aspire to be.” This research suggests that, in the example of church donations, the substitution of physical presence by monetary means benefits the church. The church is supported by the financial capital of those who don’t want to put in the effort to involve themselves physically, yet still feel they have a stake in contributing to the organization by attending to the two psychological factors of moral balancing and internal consistency.

This internal conflict doesn’t mean that we are all destined to be slacktivists. Often, those who participate in traditional activist groups do so because their identity is deeply rooted in their cause. Participating in activism strongly relates to an identity. Therefore, participants in more traditional activism have a much larger stake in participating than other groups do: it makes sense that an upper-class, white, cisgender male would not relate to a social cause in the same way as a queer, middle-class person of color would.

However, those who do not directly identify with a particular cause often do care. This sympathy has significant potential. Involved outsiders still share a small stake in helping support these traditional organizations through the interaction of shared values and the opportunity to engage in activities that engage the participants’ inherent moral balancing and internal consistency. The most successful organizations acknowledge that their constituents who don’t have direct stakeholdership through their identity still have the potential to be powerful modes of change. Organizations thus often engage in a symbiotic relationship between participants and the organization, using this framework to essentially sell units of perceived morality in exchange for profit.

Again, engaging the sympathies of non-marginalized groups can be just as powerful as having direct identity stakeholdership within a marginalized identity. Less than 0.009% of the population has ALS and are not affected by ableism in this particular way, yet The “Ice Bucket Challenge” was one of the most notable online slacktivist campaigns known to date. The rules were as follows: one must videotape themselves dumping ice water on oneself and challenge others to do the same. However, if one chooses not make a video, a $5 to $100 donation to an ALS research program is mandated, depending on the variation of rules. Not surprisingly, the challenge was met with criticism by many traditional activist organizations. It is inherently self-advertising (many websites even had competitions for the “Sexiest Ice Bucket Challenges”), and the act itself provides no greater understanding of ALS. The structure of the challenge actually discourages further self-education by rewarding this self-advertisement through “likes“ and the potential for Internet fame. However, in just a few months’ time, this campaign raised over 100 million dollars in funds directly towards ALS research. In appealing to the universal need for reassurance that one is a “good” person, this particular campaign reaped the benefits of people’s need for their identities to relate to their actions through internal consistency. Through mass self-advertising, individuals were able to show the world (and themselves) that they were, indeed, the good people they believed themselves to be.

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Fashionstock.com | Shutterstock.com

The Ice Bucket Challenge got another thing right: effort. According to two studies of compliance by Jonathan Freedman and Scott C. Fraser in 1966 and by Jerry Burger in 1999, there is a positive relationship between the amount of effort initially spent supporting a cause and the amount of support the cause will have in the future. For example, if you attend a marathon race to promote awareness of a disease, you are more likely to continue to participate in events with that organization in the future when prompted. In retrospect, it takes a lot of effort to orchestrate an Ice Bucket Challenge video, much more than simply clicking a “like” button and never thinking about the same topic again. Additionally, the Ice Bucket Challenge soon became a competition for whose video was the craziest, resulting in even more initial effort invested. This effort, in the long run, is likely what led to this campaign’s massive profit, as participants continued to take part in other events of ALS.

Similarly, despite the fact that only biological males are able to contract this particular disease and identify with this particular cause, the Live-Strong campaign gained massive universal support upon its insurgence. To date, the foundation has raised approximately half a billion dollars to support and education for those who have been newly diagnosed with cancer. Of those funds, 100 million dollars came simply from the sale of LiveStrong bracelets. This campaign was structured differently than the Ice Bucket Challenge, stimulating the subconscious volition to do “enough” good deeds, or attend moral balancing, rather than appeal to the egos of the audience. The “token object,” or the bracelets, were tangible, quantifiable units that went toward people’s allowance of good deeds.

Campaigns such as LiveStrong that combine ubiquity with minimal effort have the potential to be extremely successful. In a study conducted by Kirk Kristofferson, Katherine White, and John Peloza and published in the Journal of Consumer Research, subjects were offered token objects to show support for a cause. Out of the three groups, those who did not take the token object at all donated the least amount of money when asked later on. This trend suggests that these token objects continue to stimulate internal consistency as time goes on by also integrating moral balancing. Participants view token objects as a symbol of commitment to a cause and feel compelled to continue to donate in order to continue to feel like “good” people. The object itself, perhaps, presents a moral dilemma that participants feel obligated to rectify. Cognitive dissonance occurs when participants see the bracelet and are reminded of their commitment to a cause. When they view the bracelet, participants are forced to analyze their balance of “good” actions and self-indulging actions. Therefore, rectifying that discomfort can be easily attended to by donating money by purchasing more token objects. In fact, Kristofferson, White, and Peloza show that when the subsequent action [of donation] is closely related to the [initial] act of slacktivism, subjects were motivated to remain consistent. This structure, selling moral balance and stimulation of internal consistency later on, is the reason many of these token-centered campaigns are so successful. They powerfully integrate both strategies in an efficient and low-risk way that crosses geographic, ethnic, and gendered boundaries through simple and inexpensive means.

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Colin Harris ADE | Flickr.com

Slacktivist campaigns have clearly been memorable, and quite successful if we measure success solely by financial gain. However, basing success on monetary gain has created a few more serious problems. Through this strategy of selling individual units of self-gratification to as wide of an audience as possible, the time in which a campaign is effective (both financially and socially) is significantly reduced. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, the average person donates 3-5% of their adjusted gross income to charity at any point in time. This finding suggests that as people take on a new charity, they will very likely give up an old one. Slacktivism has made this turnover easier than ever. In fact, according to a 2013 study at Michigan State University by Lee and Hsieh, slacktivist participants often abandoned a cause if it was not consistent with the original act of slacktivism. This research suggests that there is a high risk of turnover associated with asking participants to do something even marginally different than what an original act of slacktivism consisted of. Therefore, as one slacktivist cause gains popularity, another cause will lose attention and its political force can be cut short quickly.

Modern charity groups have now begun to compete for how “bad” a problem is through the strategy of making a quick sale to as many people as possible, rather than employing a holistic approach. Instead of working to provide long-term benefits to a specific identity, modern activism has put an audience that does not directly identify with a cause at the forefront. Activism as a whole has greatly changed. Whereas it was once a process of steady, consistent growth with the intention of real-world impact, modern activism now prioritizes the rapid earning of profit by appealing to a large but unrelated group of people. Therefore, the charity industry is progressively transforming into a traditional market for goods and services rather than a political entity. As charity groups increasingly employ this strategy as their main source of income, the number of people whom charity significantly and more seriously benefits, has shrunk the symbolic, rhetorical value of activism itself.

The commoditization of activism by the emphasis on amassing generalized popularity has inadvertently resulted in narratives that place the group allegedly being helped at the expense of financial gain. One of the worst offenders continues to be breast cancer awareness campaigns. In order to resolve the dilemma of men’s lack of identification with this particular issue, campaigns often appeal to gendered stereotyping in order to gain popularity with a more universal audience. Often, these campaigns explicitly objectify the female body in order to gain popularity with heterosexual, cisgender males. In particular, the “Save the Ta-Tas” Breast Cancer Awareness campaign sells a variety of t-shirts, displaying slogans such as “Save a life, grope your wife” and “I love big Ta-Tas,” featuring hearts where the areola would be when worn. Photoshoots for this campaign do not feature a single cancer survivor; instead, they feature a cast of supermodels in lingerie. The focus on sexuality and not on the actual effects of cancer on the entire body results in the message that breast cancer is simply a loss of breasts. As our society has defined breasts as a definition of womanhood, this cancer results in a loss of womanhood and, therefore, a loss of sexuality. This campaign, then, explicitly prioritizes male sexuality over the life of a person. While these campaigns are quite popular, as they have gained hundreds of millions of dollars, they not only encourage participants to turn a blind eye to the reality of breast cancer but also explicitly to marginalize women. It is true that this particular campaign has financed scientific research into a cure for cancer, but it also sends the social message that the life of a woman is only valuable in terms of men’s desires, or for the perceived quality of a woman’s body parts.

This example is just one of many. Slacktivist campaigns’ tendency to target a more generalized audience has effectively subverted the power balance between those who are being helped and those who are doing the helping. Those who have no identity stakeholdership are given the power of choosing whom and what is fought for, receiving the privilege of deciding all of the logistics for social change. Often, only those causes that cater to the feelings of the socially privileged majority gain significant public support, which presents a risk of more contentious issues never being addressed. As it has recently become the main mode of activism, slacktivism’s tendency to reward unrelated behaviors to an unrelated set of people is effectively maintaining the status quo.

The definition of activism is changing. The intentions of slacktivist campaigns, such as the Ice Bucket challenge, LiveStrong, and even “Save the Ta-Tas,” are often genuine. But in the long run, as slacktivism becomes increasingly popular, marginalized groups are inadvertently put at the expense of mainstream popularity. This trend has given those who have no personal experience with an issue the power of deciding the political movement of a campaign. Allies can be beneficial. However, we must be aware that slacktivism’s appeal to non-marginalized allies effectively takes away the agency of those whose identity is truly rooted in a cause, and arguably, those who need activism the most.

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Anna Vallgarda | Flickr.com

Featured Image © slgckgc | Flickr.com


A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
Coming from a rural area of northern Idaho, inclusive excellence has always been an interest of mine. This piece was one of my first college essays, and I wrote it as I was becoming more involved with inclusive excellence on campus, but also when slacktivist campaigns really started gaining mainstream popularity. I realized that there was a huge dissonance between the two strategies—the traditional forms of activism that inclusive excellence promotes and campaigns such as the ice-bucket challenge. Therefore, I sought to resolve this issue by writing this piece.

I think of this essay as union of two essays, informed by writing instruction and self-education on social justice. The two essays that comprise this piece were assignments for my WRIT 1122 class. They were to be about the same issue but take opposing stances, demonstrating that one can manipulate the same information to make completely different points. Interestingly enough, the piece I didn’t agree with (the essay that argued in defense of slacktivism) was the one that was chosen to be in this publication.

In short, I didn’t want to have just that side of the argument represent me as a writer. I consider the other essay, which argues against slacktivism, to be the other half of this piece. It acknowledges that arguments for slacktivism often ignore the racist, classist, and sexist standards prevalent in American culture, which in turn, as you will read, bears significant societal effects.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aubrie bioAubrie Blevins is a second-year student from Moscow, Idaho. She’s studying biology at DU, and her interests include traveling and learning new languages. She notes that despite the fact that she’s a dedicated Italian minor, she’s unable to roll her r’s no matter how hard she tries!


WORKS CITED
Association for Psychological Science. “Do-gooder or Ne’er-do-well? Behavioral Science Explains Patterns of Moral Behavior.” APS: Association for Psychological Science. Association for Psychological Science, 7 Mar. 2013. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.

Bower, Bruce.  “Token Gestures.” Science News 186.1 (2014): 22–26. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.

Burger, Jerry.  “The Foot-in-the-Door Compliance Procedure: A Multiple-Process Analysis and Review.” Personality and Social Psychology Review 3.4 (1999): 303–25. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.

Essig, Kate.  “Activism Or Slacktivism? How Social Media Hurts And Helps Student Activism.” St. Louis Public Radio. University of Missouri-St. Louis, 2 Jan. 2014. Web. 23 Jan. 2015.

Freedman, Jonathan, and Scott C. Fraser  “Compliance Without Pressure.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 4.2 (1966): 195–202. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.

Gladwell, Malcom.  “Small Change.” The New Yorker. Conde Nast, 4 Oct. 2010. Web. 23 Jan. 2015.

Kristofferson, Kirk, Katherine White, and John Peloza  “The Nature of Slacktivism: How the Social Observability of an Initial Act of Token Support Affects Subsequent Prosocial Action.” Journal of Consumer Research 40.6 (2014): 1149–166. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.

Mittelman, Geoffrey A.  “Can Slacktivism Lead to Activism?” HuffPost Impact. The Huffington Post Inc., 8 Oct. 2014. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.

Lee, Yu-Hao, and Gary Hsieh.  “Does Slacktivism Hurt Activism?: The Effects of Moral Balancing and Consistency in Online Activism.” Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (2013): 811–20. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.

Rovell, Darren.  “In Numbers: Lance Armstrong Foundation.” Espn.go.com. ESPN, 24 Aug. 012. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.

 

A Bird’s-Eye View: Evolution of the Sky Burial in Practice

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beibaoke | Shutterstock.com

 

by Cameron Hickert
CHIN 410: Tibet and Buddhism | Professor Youli Sun

The history of the Tibetan sky burial is almost as unique as the tradition itself and is subject to an exceptional variety of influences, ranging from a barren environment to Communist oppression. Perhaps the most basic truth that aids in a historical analysis of the burial practice is one of the most fundamental facts of humanity: society is serious about death. This simple statement illuminates the tumultuous history of a practice that is seen as very gruesome to outsiders, but one rich in poetry to innumerable Tibetans. This path originates well before foreigners traveled to the region, and then winds through centuries of foreign disapproval and maintains popularity within the Gelugpa sect of Buddhism (the dominant school of Tibetan Buddhism since the end of the sixteenth century) the entire time. The sky burial continues to be of central importance within Tibetan communities, much to the intrigue of a growing body of foreigners. Quite literally a matter of life and death, the importance of this practice has carried it through centuries of explicit persecution into a current era of continued, widespread practice amongst Tibetan Buddhists.

The sky burial is “the deliberate, culturally countenanced, exposure of human corpses to carrion birds” (Martin, 1996, p. 353) as a means of allowing the body to return to the Earth after an individual’s passing. The “sky” component of the term originates from this tradition often taking place upon high points of ground, such as the tops of mountains or hills. The practice is central to Tibetan Buddhism but finds analogues “among the Zoroastrians in Persia (modern Iran) and in two Parsi communities of modern India” (Martin, 1996, p. 353). Its rarity may contribute to less respectful definitions offered in the past, including one that describes an affair “in which bodies are chopped up and fed to vultures” (United Press International, 1985, para. 1). These dismissive definitions provide insight into the condescension placed upon sky burials by foreigners for centuries. On the contrary, the Tibetan term for the word—rir skyel—does not mention a burial, preferring the respectful euphemism “to carry to the mountain” (Martin, 1996, p. 354).

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beibaoke | Shutterstock.com – Skyl burial site at Larung Gar (Larung Five Sciences Buddhist Academy), a famous Lamasery in Seda, Sichuan, China.

Sky burials are one of three principal ways Tibetan Buddhists dispose of those who have passed, the others being cremation and water burial (in which fish provide the decomposition services vultures provide in sky burials). The scarcity of wood on the Tibetan plateau has ensured that cremations are reserved only for the most important community members; thus, sky burials have long been popular. The practice is an individual’s final altruistic gift, one in which his or her final earthly possession contributes to the well-being of other living beings. This selflessness resonates deeply with Vajrayana (Tibetan) Buddhism’s focus on compassionate living. The culture does not highly value corpses; one Buddhist monk explained, “When the body dies, the spirit leaves, so there is no need to keep the body. The birds, they think they are just eating. Actually they are removing the body and completing part of life’s cycle” (Faison, 1999, para. 9). The body must be provided in smaller pieces to the birds, and bones are often crushed and mixed with barley flour for vultures. Neither task is easy and both are reserved for the sky-burial master, entitled “tokden” (Woeser, 2004, p. 93).

The historical origins of the sky burial remain mysterious, since early Tibetan works typically only describe “the interments of saints and kings, not of common people” (Martin, 1996). Typically, these few highly-respected individuals would have earned burial, entombment, or cremation. Indeed, the earliest written record of a sky burial “is an inaccurate account from a European traveler of the fourteenth century” (Martin, 1996, p. 357). Already, foreigners were ready to misrepresent the practice without first gaining a deeper understanding of the religious, historical, and cultural significance of the ritual. Written sources were likely to be the only ones of use: “Because of the nature of the practice, archaeological finds are probably incapable of providing evidence” (Martin, 1996, p. 357). This reality has ensured that the origins of the practice remain hidden, lost to the appetites of birds throughout the centuries.

Almost as soon as the practice encountered the outside world, it also encountered strong opposition. The 1793 Chinese Imperial Throne sought to end the practice, issuing an edict that “the carving up of the remains of the dead shall be strictly forbidden” (Qu, 1990; qtd. in Martin, 1996, p. 355). The edict condemned the practice with the description, “Sometimes the remains (of the human) are even chopped up and mixed with barley flour as food for vultures or dogs. These are bestial practices” (Qu, 1990; qtd. in Martin, 1996, p. 356 ). As a strong reminder of the observation that society does not regard death lightly, the government declared that anyone who encouraged or watched a sky burial would be sentenced to death, and those who used the sky burial technique for their parents would be executed by “slicing their bodies into small pieces” (Qu, qtd. in Martin, 1996, p. 356). The irony is that such a method resembles a component of the sky burial. Tibetans responded to this edict by taking “little or no heed of these notices” (Martin, 1996, p. 356). Once again, habits in disposing of the dead are not easily abandoned.

tibet map

Rainer Lesniewski | Shutterstock.com

The crusade against the sky burial redoubled in the mid-twentieth century, as Chinese interference in Tibetan affairs reached a zenith. The practice faced “attempts by Chinese Communist officials during the 1950s and 1960s to root out ‘feudal’ beliefs” (San Francisco Chronicle, 1991). Chinese officials regarded the sky burial “as a bizarre ritual of a primitive people” (Faison, 1999, para. 13) and fought to popularize cremations and underground burials in the region. This included an outright ban of sky burials throughout the 1960s and 1970s. This was a catastrophic encroachment on the rights of families, one that—for some families—surpassed rights-based concerns and bore more detrimental effects. Some Tibetans believed “the souls of those who did not go through the sky-burial ceremony could not escape from purgatory, and most probably became ghosts” (Woeser, 2004, p. 100), a fate that no one would wish upon departed friends or family.

Despite these pressures, Tibetan Buddhists persevered in preserving this ritual, and “Tibetans regained limited rights to practice religious ceremonies in the 1980s” (Faison, 1999, para. 13).

As the burial method continued, foreign disgust developed into a sort of morbid intrigue. Growth in tourism paralleled this curiosity, eventually presenting an unfavorable situation in which tourists would appear uninvited—and against the wishes of the deceased’s family—to observe the solemn spectacle. In 1985, United Press International reported that, “[t]his year more than 3,000 people have visited the mountainous region (Tibet), compared with 2,000 in all of 1984.” That very year, the Chinese government declared unwanted sky burial viewing illegal: “Visitors coming to Tibet are now banned from viewing sky burials, as a bid to protect the ancient Tibetan custom” (The Gazette, 1985). Whether this was born out of a desire to protect Tibetan culture or to prevent Chinese-Tibetan animosity is unclear, but such a declaration marked the first time that an outside government had taken measures in support of the practice.

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beibaoke | Shutterstock.com

Unfortunately, this modicum of support did not save the sky burial from an assault of tourists with easier access to the region: “Tourism is an officially designated ‘pillar of the economy’ in Tibet. The goal is to attract fifteen million tourists a year by 2015 in the so-called ‘Tibetan Autonomous Region,’ which has a population of only three million” (Sydenstricker, 2014, para. 5). The capital city is now connected by train to Beijing, and “In the first half of 2013, tourist visits to Lhasa surged by 36%” (Sydenstricker, 2014, para. 5). Pressures (which some critics have argued are governmental as well as economic) have pushed some monasteries to begin selling permission to view sky burials. Although it is illegal for tourists to watch the sky burials uninvited, a monastery (rather than the family, since the monastery is responsible for the burial process) can give permission for tourist viewing and, in at least one case, “The $5 tickets to the show come with a map to the site” (Sydenstricker, 2014, para. 4). This situation is clearly unacceptable and must be addressed to preserve the sacred solemnity of the tradition. The devil, of course, lies in the details; monasteries currently face tight restrictions—ranging from construction limits to strict management oversight to bans on certain images—and governmental and economic problems are not easy to overcome.

Despite these challenges, the sky burial remains surprisingly popular in the region. The Nationality Research Institute of the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences estimates that “[a]bout 80% of Tibetans choose the sky burial” (Xinhua News Agency, 2005, para. 6). Professor Nima of Tibet University places her own estimate at 95% of Tibetans; furthermore, she details that many of those who pass away in Lhasa opt for a ceremony to be held at a sky burial site that is about 40 kilometers outside of the city, near a large monastery. Like many religious practices so tightly woven with culture, the practice extends past strict religious lines. In a 2005 interview, the 20-year-old Lhasa native Zhaxi Toinzhub explained, “I would certainly choose sky burial after my death, though I’m not a Buddhist believer” (Xinhua News Agency, 2005, para. 2).

With the hope of shifting burial practices, in 2000 the Chinese government in Tibet constructed a modern crematory, but “it is not favored by Tibetans” (Xinhua News Agency, 2005, para. 17). Statistics certainly provide a clearer picture of the tradition’s popularity: “Tibet has 1,075 sky burial sites and 100 operators (those who conduct the ritual)” (Xinhua News Agency, 2005, para. 16). Once again, it seems that the cultural reverence for disposing of loved ones has ensured that the sky burial remains extremely popular, both among believers and non-believers on the Tibetan plateau.

While numerous cultural practices may seem odd to outsiders, the sky burial is particularly unique in the distaste it has attracted from foreign governments throughout the ages. This dislike has now become morbid tourist interest, but cameras used to capture the burial pose a similar threat to that of edicts from the past. However, mainstream Tibetan acceptance of the practice remains quite strong, and certain outside sources are beginning to favor the method. One scholar goes as far as to argue that “[i]t may not be too farfetched to speculate that, given an increased sense of ecological responsibility (even in the absence of Buddhist altruistic motivations), the world at large will learn to see the positive value of sky burial and perhaps eventually adapt it—assuming the birds will cooperate” (Martin, 1996, p. 367). While this perspective bespeaks a tongue-in-cheek optimism, the wherewithal of the Tibetan community in guarding this unique practice into the modern era suggests that the sky burial is far from being buried.

Featured Image © Fan jianhua | Shutterstock.com


A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
The University of Denver would like to remind you of how many of its students study abroad. More specifically, the giant banner that hangs off the first DU building when exiting the interstate will serve as that reminder. Through the Cherrington Global Scholars Program, the University of Denver ensures that each of its study abroad partnerships bristles with student resources. For students who studied in Beijing, China, we all (foolishly) felt that we knew what we would encounter, even if we had no idea how to go about adapting to it. Numerous chats with students who had previously attended the program provided this false veneer of surety.

Of course, we were all promptly reminded how many “unknown unknowns” the abroad experience truly holds, and one that most surprised me was the Tibetan Buddhist practice of the sky burial. The ritual—detailed in this paper—deeply intrigued me, driving me to research the tradition further. How could I not know about so widespread a practice that concerns a highly important topic: death itself, a topic within a region (Tibet) that every college student who has ever been to a coffee shop claims to care about? I realized that the story of the sky burial serves as a reminder of my own ignorance and that it is also a powerful illustration of the value societies place on traditions surrounding the death of loved ones. Additionally, sky burial is a solemn depiction of the cruelty that befalls cultural rituals when faced with closed-minded perspectives. This paper uses an historical analysis of outsiders’ interactions with the sky burial to provide insight into the latter two themes, with the hope of informing readers who find this practice unique, interesting, and new.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cameron Headshot Photo SquareCameron Hickert is a fourth-year student, majoring in physics and international studies. He is from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and enjoys hiking, exploring Denver, and sitting on rooftop decks. His dream when he was in the first grade (which he hasn’t given up quite yet) was to drink milk in space. He’s not sure why milk would be cooler than any other drink, but he thinks the idea of jabbing a straw into a blob of floating milk seems like the best thing ever.


REFERENCES

Faison, S. (1999, July 3). Lirong journal; Tibetans, and vultures, keep ancient burial rite. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/1999/07/03/world/lirong-journal-tibetans-and-vultures-keep-ancient-burial-rite.html

Martin, D. (1996). On the cultural ecology of sky burial on the Himalayan plateau. East and West 46(3–4), p. 353–370.

Ancient “sky burial” still popular in Tibet (1991, Nov. 28). San Francisco Chronicle, p. A 24.

Sydenstricker, P. (2014, January/February). The Disneyfication of Tibet. Washington Monthly, p. 11–13. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/january_february_2014/ten_miles_square/the_disneyfication_of_tibet048349.php?page=all

Knight-Ridder Newspapers. (1985, Oct. 16). The Montreal Gazette. Retrieved from https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1946&dat=19851016&id=DFUlAAAAIBAJ&sjid=6qUFAAAAIBAJ&pg=5082,2863416&hl=en

United Press International. (1985, Aug. 29). Tibet Vulture-feeding funerals off-limits to tourists. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1985-08-29/news/8502260498_1_tibet-autonomous-region-tibet-daily-tibetan-people

Woeser. (2004). Rinchen, the sky-burial master. Manoa 24(1), p. 92–104.

Xinhua News Agency (2005, Aug. 31). Sky burial lives on in Tibet as traditional way for dead. China Internet Information Center. Retrieved from http://www.china.org.cn/english/null/140297.htm

“You Talkin’ To Me?”

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logoboom | Shutterstock.com

by Nick Lewis
WRIT 1133: Writing and Research | Professor Carol Samson

1. The taxi driver, Richard, is driving my friend Cami and me back to our dorms.  It is midnight. Tired and satisfied, the two of us have been swing dancing at a local favorite, the Mercury Café in downtown Denver; as we ride, Richard describes the city, our city, to us from what he calls the “front row seat.” He reads Denver from street level, remembering when he was maneuvering the streets during the 1998 Denver riots after the Bronco’s 39-19 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, his cruising past the first medical marijuana dispensaries on Broadway in the mid-2000s. Tonight, though, he just pulled up to the Mercury Café in his Yellow cab, a late model Crown Victoria, and found us, Cami and me, and we became two new strangers in his back seat.  At first, all is ritual. Through the open plastic panel that divides driver from the passenger, Richard asks, “Where to?” But as we travel, Richard speaks of Denver flea markets, of construction projects that link Denver to the world, of immigration issues in our city.  Together we move through the winter night, and he becomes a narrator, an anthropologist, a sort of mythic Mercury, guiding us from dark level to dark level.

In time, I have begun to see how Richard, the cabbie, showed me to read the territory, and I now understand a taxi as a yellow box moving through a concrete city box. I can argue it as a translation of things both public and private and also because Richard pointed this out, as a certain kind of sacred thing.

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Arina P Habich | Shutterstock.com

2. I must admit, though, that even before my ride in the Yellow cab with Richard, I knew romantic and historic tales of the taxi.

Listen…

Thirty miles outside of Paris, the air was warm on the 6th of September 1914 until the weather began to change as a cold evening set in. Dew was forming on the open farm fields near the town of Meaux. Troops were tracking mud from the Marne River as the French Sixth Army, under French General Joseph Joffre, ordered the attack on the exposed flank of the German Army under the command of Alexander von Kluck. Meanwhile, a mere step away from this, the largest battle the world had yet to see, Parisian police officers were stopping cab drivers, telling their passengers to step out, instructing the drivers to head off to the Military College.

As many as three thousand Renault AC1 Landaulets, the most popular type of Parisian cab, each with the capacity to carry five men and with a top speed of 20–25 miles an hour, were transporting French troops to the world’s largest battle. In total, the Parisian cab drivers dropped off five thousand troops ready to attack the advancing German Army, aiding in this epic battle that ultimately blocked the siege of Paris and shifted the tides of war against Germany in the first Allied victory against the German onslaught (Hanc).

Yet, while the five thousand troops transported by taxis to the Battle of the Marne is significant, it does not come anywhere near to the one million men who fought in the war; and while the effort does make for a touching story of the power of a collective will, the taxi was, in reality, not the chief instrument in the French victory in the Battle of the Marne. It became, though, a story, a narrative that has persisted for one hundred years, one I learned in grade school and never forgot.

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 Pelle The Poet | Flickr.com

3.understand that while some of us may connect cabs to world history, most of us connect taxis to money, to cost. The word “taxi” comes from the German word “taximeter.” The taximeter was an invention created by Wilhelm Bruhn in 1891 in order to calculate the price of the ride determined by mileage traveled by the customers. The history of the taxi as a means of transport is, of course, much older and richer. It extends back to Paris in 1640 when the original taxis were horse-drawn carriages, vehicles created so that the rich Parisian nobility could travel from the theater and back home without needing to buy their own carriage or to support a driver of their own. In England, these taxis were actually more commonly referred to as “Hacks,” which comes from the word “Hackney”; we can trace its roots to the French word “Haquenée,” meaning a cart-pulling horse. The term “Hacks” or “Black Hack,” which is still a commonly used term in England today, can be traced at least to the 1654 Ordinance for the Regulation of Hackney Coachmen that regulated the quality and expectations of service from taxis in England. The history stretches all the way back to the mid-17th century. Although today’s taxis are relatively affordable and available to anyone, during the Battle of Marne in 1914, the soldiers were quite astonished to be riding in a luxurious Parisian taxicab which had been common practice since the first taxis and “hackneys” (English).

In terms of modern cabs, the first successful motor cab actually came from the same place the automobile itself originated: Germany. Karl Benz, of Mercedes-Benz, collaborated with Gottlieb Daimler, of Daimler Motors, to introduce a new model of car, the Daimler Victoria N, which was marketed specifically for the use as a motorized taxi and was paired with a taximeter, the same one designed by Bruhn. Though the 1915 cost of producing one was an expensive 5,530 marks, or the equivalent of $28,400 today, the first motorized cab was a commercial success, and within three years of operation, six more were built (English).1 The shift to modern cab design can be traced to 1907, with the start of the Yellow Cab Company, and to 1923, when the first Checker Cab rolled off the assembly line from Kalamazoo, Michigan (Kohrman). Taxis became an integral part of the city, where everyone’s eye was meant to be caught by the design of these cabs, a design that the Checker company is most famous for, which shifted the look of a taxi from a reserved and upscale “Black Hack” to the more playful and common “Yellow Cab.” And, thus, the icon was born.

Today, ridesharing companies are making big changes that give us new words and new concepts of charges and risks. We call an Uber or a Lyft for a ride by using an app on our phone, which connects us to a nearby freelance driver who can choose to pick us up and give us a ride. We ride in car-cabs owned by the drivers. And, thus, these new services have become serious competitors to private hire vehicles such as cabs and limousines. And even as we call for them, knowing these new services are ubiquitous, cheap, and easy, we are oblivious to a subtle, but treacherous, cost.

4. As we ride through the concrete blocks of the city in the back seat of his yellow cab, Richard is telling us about his theory of these new operations, the threat to his livelihood created by Uber and Lyft.  He is saying that this sort of ride sharing is dangerous mostly because it has the same dangers as riding in a taxi, but without the same insurance guarantees. Should something bad happen, Richard says, the traditional taxi company will insure the passenger and the driver against any injury or death and even supply additional insurance for others involved in the accident who may have not been in the cab. Over his shoulder, Richard tells us he once got T-boned by a driver who ran a red light and that he, Richard, is still going to the doctor for physical therapy. Yellow Cab, Richard says, is paying for all of it.

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MaxyM | Shutterstock.com

5.know now that ridesharing services have caused quite a stir when it comes to safety issues for both passengers and drivers. In Charlotte, North Carolina, the city government is thinking of making these services have more regulated and frequent background checks on their drivers as well as requiring a company logo on each car (Deery). This legislation was initiated because of an incident wherein an Uber driver was pulled over by the police and, after an ensuing search, the police found both a gun and a knife in the driver’s vehicle. Another concern that recently affected the Denver area involved an Uber driver who was pulled over for driving while under the influence of alcohol. As Richard mentioned, over and above the looser regulations on drivers who work for independent companies like Uber, the regulated taxi companies argue that they incorporate the best of fuel economy, safety, and ease of transport—all of which is backed up with well-padded insurance policies. While Uber and Lyft drivers are required to have individual insurance on top of the additional insurance from their respective companies, studies show that their insurance is not nearly as extensive as what a real taxi company must pay.

Though the taxi industry is facing some new challenges with ridesharing services, these are not the first obstacles the industry has faced. While being a taxi driver can be a really well-paying job, the industry has severe drawbacks. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration published a document, for example, that specifically details the dangers of being a taxi driver. Unfortunately, this occupation has the highest homicide rates of any occupation in the US. The article opens up with this sentence: “Taxi drivers are more than 20 times more likely to be murdered on the job than other workers” (“Preventing”). Taxi drivers—and ride share drivers for that matter—have to deal with the types of customers who are the most likely to get involved in a violent altercation due to known risks of the taxi job: working with cash, working at night, working alone, working in high crime areas, and working with people under the influence of alcohol. These factors combine to make the job far more dangerous than many other jobs.

6. While I did not hail Richard’s cab off the street, I did end up riding in his yellow American-made Crown Victoria, an American icon. On that night, I just needed a ride home, but I also knew that there is a certain level of mythology surrounding the taxi, that taxis are a strange presence in our lives. Take Taxi Driver, directed by Martin Scorsese, in which Robert De Niro plays the role of Travis Bickle, a Vietnam War veteran who suffers from insomnia and extreme disdain for the world and who makes his money driving a cab through the street of Manhattan. De Niro’s performance is one of the most iconic of all time, with the famous line “You talkin’ to me?” De Niro delivers this line when squaring up on his reflection in a full-body mirror like a madman and pulling a gun on his reflection, indicating his complete and total loss of touch with reality.  The film explores the darker and more taboo sides of 1970s New York through the eyes of someone who sees the city best, the taxi driver. In the opening montage—in beautiful, non-continuous style editing—the audience has a view of New York City from the outside and inside of Bickle’s taxi cab. The city’s “trash” mingles in the rain where a shallow-depth field lens focuses on an extreme close up of the side panel of Bickle’s canary yellow cab. From here the city looks out of focus, but the viewer follows the bright yellow contrast to the dark murky brown of the streets. At one point in the film, Scorsese allows the audience to peer into cabbie life as Bickle picks up an affluent man who cheats on his wife with a young prostitute in the back of the cab; and, in such moments, the director works to conjures up a deep, intricate mythos surrounding taxis.

Nick 5

William Martins | Flickr.com

7. As we move along through the dark Denver streets in our yellow box, Richard mentions that he loves his job because he gets a front-row seat to watch how the city changes.  Unlike De Niro’s Bickle, who abhorred New York, Richard speaks to the beauty of a bustling, prosperous city. He tells us, too, that another part of the taxi experience that is hard to ignore is its similarity to a confession box. While not every passenger capitalizes on this, Richard says many of his customers talk about heavy and personal things. Richard says that cabbies see and listen to all sides of life through strange, yet anonymous, passengers. The truth is, he says, unless you knew them beforehand, you’ll likely never see your cab driver again, so you can confess anything you want to them.

I find myself thinking of Frank Ocean’s song “Bad Religion,” which tells a story of confession to a cab driver:

Taxi driver
You’re my shrink for the hour
Leave the meter running
It’s rush hour
So take the streets if you wanna
Just outrun the demons, could you?

Here the taxi driver takes on the role of a priest as well as that of a psychiatrist, and the lyrics suggest how powerful and impactful a listener a cabbie can be. In the dark confines of a cab, a mobile confessional, some people open up and seek advice they need.

Then from out of nowhere, Richard is confessing things. He is telling us that being a taxi driver is his only source of income, which he does only on the weekends. He is saying that he uses the money to pay for his own place and to take care of his son who he cares for on weekdays.  As we watch and listen, Richard is reaching for something, a trinket he keeps in his cab, and he is handing it to Cami and me so we can inspect it.  It is a slightly worn $20 bill. You can tell just by looking at it, even under the dim cabin light, even at midnight, that this bill is a counterfeit. Richard is confessing that one night, he was driving some large men who kept arguing with each other the entire night. After he dropped them off, he noticed the bill they used to pay for their fare was a fake. Richard got out of the cab and chased these guys down. They responded promptly by drawing their guns on him; finding himself facing death, Richard realized that it was just a $20 bill and that he didn’t need that $20. What he needed, he says, was to get home to his boy. He keeps the counterfeit bill around, he says, to remind him what is important.

8. So I come, at last, to a theory by Michel Foucault who, in “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias,” argues that we live in an age of connectedness, of intertwined networks connected by sites which are “relations of proximity between points” (2). We live in a world where there are spaces that function within spaces like boats drifting on an ocean or taxis racing through a city. Some of those spaces become heterotopias, places outside of all places, places like cemeteries that define themselves as within, but different from, the space that surrounds them, places like museums that, filled as they are with artifacts removed from time and origin, take on their own interpretive meanings.

I see now that Richard’s taxi is just such a space, a dynamic heterotopia. It navigates the city, retraces patterns, and yet remains its own defined arena. It is a product of the city and a release from the city. As a passenger, I can ride in it knowing it as a public conveyance but also as a hidden and private venue. I can speak to the driver, or not, and I know that, if I do speak, we change the meaning of the space forever. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we ride in this modern heterotopia, this other space within our city space, and we meet a man like Richard who can open something inside us, make us ponder the taxi journey as both dangerous and soothing, the cab itself as confession box or Scorsese movie set.  When this happens, we come see the taxi windows as photographic lenses, its surrounding city an amorphous thing of beauty, and its small talk, spoken in the dark in a comically yellow-mustard-colored car, as not so small after all.

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John Tiedemann

ENDNOTES
1 My monetary conversion calculations from German Marks to USD comes from Professor Harold Marcuse’s Historical Dollar-to-Marks Currency Conversion Page using January 1915 conversion rates.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I would personally like to thank everyone who helped me with this piece, starting with my parents for pushing me to get the ball rolling. Thank you both, Mom and Dad. Next, I would like to thank my WRIT 1133 professor, Dr. Samson. First and foremost, you drove me to keep after this piece and helped me to write the best version of this essay, and for that I am grateful. Lastly I would like to thank Carly Post for helping me edit my piece and retain my voice.

Featured Image © pimpic | Shutterstock.com


A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
David Foster Wallace’s masterful interrogation of the Maine Lobster Festival, “Consider the Lobster” draws out the most fascinating and perplexing insights into all things lobster. As a Biological Sciences major, it had been about a year since material like “Consider the Lobster” challenged my “right brain” creative thinking skills, but this kind of thought was to be expected in WRIT 1133.

After reading pieces such as On Looking by Alexandra Horowitz, Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder by Lawrence Weschler, and “Consider the Lobster” by David Foster Wallace, my mind was challenged in new ways with a particular fascination on the grand implications of something as trivial as the lobster. For me, taxis were an intriguing relic, speeding along city roads, the passenger simultaneously separate from, yet unequivocally an integral part of the city at the same time. The passengers are isolated and connected in a paradoxical way. It was exactly these paradoxes that prompted me to write about the taxi, so please enjoy.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nick Headshot
Nick Lewis is a sophomore at DU pursuing a degree in biology.  He grew up in Arvada, Colorado, and enjoys skiing, swing dancing, rock climbing, ultimate frisbee, cars, music, and more skiing. Despite being on the pre-med track, Nick has always had a soft spot for film and cinema. Some of his favorites are There Will be Blood, The Dark Knight, Looper, Fight Club, Donnie Darko, and The Princess Bride.


WORKS CITED

Deery, Jenna. “Leaders Say Safety Standards for Uber, Lyft Not Enough.” WSOC. 13 Apr. 2015. Web. 14 Apr.  2015.

English, Bob. “Classic Cars: All Hail the Birth of the Taxi in 1897.” The Globe and Mail. The Globe and Mail, 23 Nov. 2012. Web. 20 Oct. 2015.

Foucault, Michel. “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias.” Trans. Jay Miskowiec. Architecture/Mouvement/Continuité. 5 (Oct. 1984). Rpt. Diacritics 16 (Spring 1986): 22–27. Web. 20 Oct 2015.

Hanc, John. “A Fleet of Taxis Did Not Really Save Paris From the Germans During World War I: The Myth of the Battle of the Marne has Persisted, but What Exactly Happened in the First Major Conflict of the War?” Smithsonian.com. 24 July 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2015.

Huet, Ellen. “New Laws Push Uber and Lyft to Bump up Insurance Coverage, but a Collision Gap Remains.” Forbes. Forbes.com, 1 July 2015. Web. 20 Oct. 2015.

Kohrman, David. “Checker Motors: Taxicab Makers.” Kalamazoo Public Library. Kalamazoo Public Library, May 2012. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.

Marcuse, Harold. “Historical Dollar-to-Marks Currency Conversion Page.” Harold Marcuse. University of California Santa Barbara History Department, 19 Aug 2005. Web. 20 Oct. 2015.

Ocean, Frank. “Bad Religion.” Channel Orange. Def Jam Recordings, 2012. MP3 file.

“Preventing Violence against Taxi and For-Hire Drivers.” OSHA Factsheet. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 2010. Web. 20 Oct. 2015.

Taxi Driver. Dir. Martin Scorsese. Perf. Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster. 1976. Film. Sony Pictures. 2007. DVD.

 

The Spinning of Yarns

By Monica McFadden
WRIT 1633: The Creative Inquiry of Research | Professor LP Picard

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

In November of 2006, SMITH Magazine ignited the six-word story craze. Inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s famous story, the magazine challenged writers to create their own six-word memoir. The legend goes that a few other writers bet Hemingway that he couldn’t tell a story in just six words. He wrote “for sale: baby shoes, never worn” and won the bet. It turns out this legend is not actually true; Hemingway didn’t pen this particular tale, and parts of this story have been discovered in sources that predate his era. That the origin of this craze is, in fact, a story itself only serves to fuel its impact. Many authors have attempted the six-word story, and the results are endless.1 They cover almost every genre, and there are even Twitter accounts for them (@sixwords and @sixwordstories). Some more comedic examples include Margaret Atwood’s “Starlet sex scandal. Giant squid involved” and David Brin’s “Bang postponed. Not Big enough. Reboot.” This trend demonstrates the draw of a simple challenge: stripping down a story to its core and exploring what it truly means to create.

Stories come in an ever-increasing number of forms but lie at the core of human understanding; stories are how we relate to each other. They allow us to live other lives and help others to live ours. Here, stories of all kinds will come together to take us back to our storytelling roots.

1 There are best-selling books (including Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure), Tumblr pages, YouTube channels, Flickr image galleries, and more, all dedicated to these stories.

IN WHICH PEOPLE BECOME WORDS
In 2003, writer and artist Shelley Jackson penned a 2,095-word story called “Skin.” It was never published traditionally. Instead, the story exists only in the form of tattoos on the skin of over 2,000 volunteers: a single word inked onto various participants to create one strangely connected, living and breathing story. It’s impossible to assemble the story completely; not only are the participants disparate, but one of them has even died. The only people allowed to read the story are the participants themselves. They’re sworn to secrecy, so no one else will ever know the narrative. This story has a tangible existence, though only just; the project itself isn’t even complete. But it does exist, the words moving around through life, unread, living on the skin of thousands of people.

Jackson refers to the participants as “words,” writing in an e-mail to the LA Times:

I usually call them words, or my words, as in, ‘I got an angry e-mail from one of my words,’ or ‘Two of my words just got married!’ […] Only the death of words effaces them from the text. As words die the story will change; when the last word dies the story will also have died.’ I am a word myself: the title, Skin.

To be part of an ever-changing story that no one will read screams “human!” in a singularly symbolic way. Jackson’s story is constantly evolving, just as our individual lives are, and very few can sit down and read the convoluted story that encompasses its many moving parts. It mirrors the messy way stories play out in our lives and the fact that we won’t ever be able to read the ways in which we are all connected.

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“Shelley Jackson documents another one of her words being tattooed onto a volunteer.” (left) “The author (also an artist) had a diagram on the wall and was keeping track of the placement of every word as they were tattooed on the volunteers’ bodies. Here she is adding ‘patch’ to the diagram.” (right)        Andy Pixel | Flickr.com

Stories don’t have to be tangible to leave a mark on us.2 The mode by which a story is told says a lot about the story itself and its author. Jackson wrote a story that can never truly be read. In this unusual case, the mode is more widely known than the story’s plot. One could even argue that the mode is the story, and that’s the point of this whole experiment to begin with. The form eclipses the content and takes on a life of its own.

One of the “words” in this project, Jess Zimmerman (“away,”), has written about her experience for xoJane. While the project is a fascinating concept as a whole, Zimmerman also recognizes the significance of the words themselves:

When I got my word, I had just decided to leave graduate school, and the man who’d been colonizing my brain for years was moving to another country. I had all the relief and vertigo that accompanies new freedom. That’s part of what ‘away,’ means to me, and thus what it means in the story. Every word we use has a story of its own, one that authors can make use of but that’s totally outside the realm of authorial control.

To think that each word we use has its own history, its own story outside of the one we’re telling, is exhilarating. These stories permeate our rhetoric in ways we rarely consider and give life to speech that usually only exists in fantasy. Suddenly, everyday language is elevated to magical incantations, but with the history and personality of individual people. In “The Magical Power of Words,” S.J. Tambiah explores the nature of words in ritual, sacred, and magical contexts and examines what gives these words their power. He argues that “sacred words are thought to possess a special kind of power not normally associated with ordinary language,” though he wonders how much this is “due to the fact that the sacred language as such may be exclusive and different from the secular or profane.” In the context of Skin, every word, no matter how ordinary, possesses this special kind of power due to the exclusive nature of the project. Each word’s sacred quality is shaped by its many layers of connotations.

Zimmerman goes on to say:

I turned out to know a “the” before I ever learned about the project, but only found out she was a word much later. I ran into “them” and “grows” on the Metro once. I got together with “memorious.” when I was giving a paper on “Skin” at a conference in grad school […] In the original story, our words are nowhere near each other, but in the real story—the story of what words do, alone and together, when they’re set free—we appeared in each other’s texts for a while. […] It isn’t really that [Jackson’s] turning people into her words; it’s that she’s turning her words into people.

Jackson’s tangible story is a unique one, that’s for sure. But in reality, it’s simply bringing to light the infinite interactions between ordinary people. Everyone is part of many overlapping stories, not just the one it seems they’ve been written into. People are messily bumping into one another, exchanging pasts and sharing futures. And when one dies, it does indeed affect many stories.

2 Pun intended once realized.

IN WHICH A BOY LOSES HIS STORY
Serial, a popular podcast hosted and produced by Sarah Koenig, tells the true story of the murder of high school student Hae Min Lee in 1999. Hae’s ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was convicted of the crime and is now serving a life sentence. However, the conviction of Adnan3 sits on a rocky story, with many elements that don’t add up. Koenig released the episodes in weekly installments, sharing information while she was still investigating and making listeners wait on pins and needles for answers. The mysterious nature of the story shot the podcast to fame.4 The popularity of the podcast5 led to Adnan’s story being pulled apart and examined by amateur sleuths. Adnan’s life story, as well as the other people involved in the case, has been appropriated by the podcast. Koenig portrays him in a mostly positive light, but Adnan has little control over his own personal story. Adnan offers his voice through phone interviews with Koenig from prison, but ultimately, Koenig and the producers have control over his representation.

This begs the questions: Who has the right to tell your story? As soon as you tell your story, does it belong to those who hear it? And do they have any commitment to the way you originally told it?

McFadden 2

Casey Fiesler | Flickr.com

This question of agency has caused some controversy surrounding the podcast. The experiences of Adnan, a teenager from a Muslim family, and Hae, daughter to Korean immigrants, are filtered through Koenig’s flawed ethnographic interpretation. Sociologist John Van Maanen writes in Tales of the Field that ethnography “rests on the peculiar practice of representing the social reality of others through the analysis of one’s own experience in the world of these others.” Koenig tries, but ultimately fails, to get a full grasp on the cultures that Hae and Adnan come from and the nuances of their lives.6 After all, Koenig is a white reporter for This American Life, which isn’t exactly the ideal candidate for analyzing a racially nuanced situation. Jay Caspian Kang discusses this in his article “White Reporter Privilege,” noting that “the listener is asked to simply trust Koenig’s translation of two distinct immigrant cultures.” Koenig reacts to aspects of their lives with naïve surprise due to the internalized stereotypes she has. In the second episode, Koenig remarks, “[Hae’s] diary, by the way—well I’m not exactly sure what I expected her diary to be like but—it’s such a teenage girl’s diary,” as if Hae weren’t actually a typical teenage girl.

Koenig also blatantly skips over one of the most prominent parts of the narrative—that the Baltimore criminal justice system in the late 1990s didn’t favor Muslims or black men. She’s surprised to hear that prejudice and racism might play a role in the arrests and doesn’t fully delve into that impact. As innocent as these intentions might be, attempting to tell a story you don’t fully understand is dangerous; it can severely warp listeners’ understanding of situations and cultures.

While Adnan is certainly the face of a case that is now being picked apart by the masses, this “story” didn’t just happen to him. It affected a whole group of people involved in the case, and their stories are also pulled into the podcast. Guardian journalist Jon Ronson spoke with Adnan’s family about their reactions to Serial. Ronson says that “Yusuf [Adnan’s younger brother] spends a lot of time online, lurking on Reddit, although he knows ‘it’s just toxic.’ [Ronson asks:] ‘Toxic because five million detectives are all studying Adnan’s voice for clues as to whether he’s a psychopath?’” This treatment of Adnan’s life as some kind of crime show plot to be solved by the public is exactly what’s making the strange fame so difficult, both for him and his family. Each member of Adnan’s family grapples with the stress of the coverage from the podcast in different ways; his father even suffers from depression but won’t address it. It’s not just a story for them; it’s their lives.

So are your experiences solely your own? Well, in Adnan’s case, apparently not. His story also belongs to his community, to Koenig, and now to the audience.

The problem with agency in storytelling is that what’s portrayed as truth becomes fact when it’s the only version heard. Koenig’s interpretation of the story isn’t all bad or necessarily incorrect, but it is what shot Adnan’s story to fame and is largely the only version that has been heard. When specific stories become the narrative for entire groups without their consent, the true understanding of people’s experiences can be completely lost. Adnan’s story may only affect a relatively small group of people, but how much of our history—our world’s history—is told through the warped interpretations of others?

3 I recognize that I should be referring to Adnan and Hae by their last names. I naturally call them by their first names in both writing and discussion, mostly because that’s how they are referred to in the podcast, which prompts an interesting question about using their first names. It makes them both more relatable to the audience, but at the same time it perpetuates the idea that they are simply characters in a story. I’m sticking with the first names here because I’ve become familiar with them, and “Lee” and “Syed” feel too distant now. However, the implications do create some food for thought.

4 Trust me, this story is addicting. I listened to the entire podcast, all twelve episodes, within about 24 hours. As a heads up, to spare anyone the disappointment I felt, the podcast doesn’t come to a definitive conclusion as to Adnan’s guilt (although he certainly doesn’t appear so). The podcast’s popularity inspired a group of lawyers, led by Rabia Chaundry (who appears in Serial), to return to the case. To follow this story, listen to the new podcast Undisclosed.

5 In an article about Serial’s success, CNN estimated that the podcast was downloaded 40 million times during its first 13 weeks.

6 Koenig makes a number of assumptions about Hae and Adnan’s upbringing throughout the podcast. She puts words in Adnan’s mouth about the struggles of his cultural upbringing; he uses the term “parameters” when talking about the constraints of his family life, and Koenig interprets this as “immigrant parents,” a term Adnan never uses. As Julia Carrie Wong argues in her article “The Problem with ‘Serial’ and the Model Minority Myth,” “every positive detail is surprising, while the potentially negative details are assumed.”

IN WHICH THE TROLLS ON MY SHELF COME TO LIFE AT NIGHT
When I was young and falling asleep in my lilac-painted bedroom, my parents would sit on my bed and tell me stories. My mom always crawled in next to me, regardless of the fact that there was little room in my twin bed with me and my battalion of stuffed animals.7 She would tell me “Amy” stories about a girl who loved to climb, the Empire State Building being one of her many conquered destinations. Sometimes we would do “fill-in-the-blank” stories in which I would excitedly start off, “Once upon a time there was a—” and anxiously await her sleepy reply.

On the other hand, my dad—often the more alert and willing one—would tell Troll Stories. They documented the nighttime escapades of the trolls (those squat, wispy-haired dolls from the 1990s) who lined my windowsill.8 Each episode starred Monica, who woke up in the middle of the night to discover that the trolls were missing. She would go downstairs to the kitchen and help them get food and supplies before bringing them back upstairs to the windowsill. Each morning, she would wake up to find them exactly as they were before, not knowing if it was real or a dream.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

David King | Flickr.com

These stories have left lasting impacts on my understanding of the world. Amy was adventurous and fearless, and went after her goals with determination. In the troll stories, Monica blurred the line between dreams and reality, and used creativity to help her friends. These stories stressed values that I still hold dear today, values that are important to my whole family.

Many people have similar memories and will be able to recall a popular bedtime story from their childhood, a favorite book beloved by the whole family, or a classic family event that grows more dramatic each time it’s retold. These stories lie at the core of human connection and help to build our ideas of who we are.

As a matter of fact, this act of oral storytelling is likely one of the oldest and most extensive traditions to date. As educator and author Dr. Michael Lockett discusses in The Basics of Storytelling, this practice has existed since the dawn of humankind. He identifies one of the oldest records of oral storytelling from Egypt (sometime between 2000–1300 BCE), where three sons entertained their father Khufu with spoken-word stories. Telling stories is an intimate way of establishing strong familial bonds with someone and has brought grandparents, parents, and children together for centuries.

Oral storytelling hasn’t been used strictly for entertainment. It has been used to preserve the narratives of entire peoples. The biblical tales of Abraham and Moses were the defining stories of the Hebrew people, helping them understand who they were at their core. For centuries, they’ve told the stories of their people, stories of perseverance and loyalty, history mingled with myth, tying each person together through a common narrative.

A common narrative can define thousands of people for generations on end or tell the simple story of a single family. The common narrative of my family is found through a past in Indonesia. My dad spent part of his childhood as a missionary kid living in Tomohon while my grandpa was a doctor. My siblings, my cousins, and I have all grown up hearing stories about our parents’ time there—climbing up the volcano behind their house, the pet monkey they had in their backyard, the giant beetles they would tie strings to and play with. All of these little windows into the past connect us to this distant place with which none of us have first-hand experience. Our parents’ and grandparents’ past in Indonesia is a way we all construct our self image; it helps us understand what it means to be a McFadden.

7 Fifty percent of the time, she’d just fall asleep. I inherited my atrocious sleep schedule from her, so now I understand where she was coming from.

8 This was a McFadden tradition, coming from my Dad’s side of the family. My grandparents had a whole shelf of trolls in their old house, and my cousins and I would play with them when we were young. Only looking back on it now do I realize how vaguely creepy they were.

IN WHICH SHIPS ARE NOT BOATS
Readers have always manipulated and adapted stories, but the modern practice of fan fiction is a new take on this. Entire sites are dedicated to fan stories set in the universes of fans’ favorite books, films, and television shows. Modern technology has made it easier than ever to create and distribute fan fiction. This subculture includes everything from horribly written stories in which the characters are nothing like the originals to brilliant writing that explores aspects of a story previously left unexamined. Fans write in alternate universes (AUs), set classic stories in modern times, or “ship”9 characters.

While digital technology has made it easier to produce and distribute fan fiction, the practice is not exclusive to this millennium. The Brontë children, including Charlotte of Jane Eyre fame, wrote fiction about the real-life 1st Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, and his two sons, Arthur and Charles. Charlotte and Branwell, the only Brontë brother, wrote in a fantasy world called Angria. In 1833, at age 17, Charlotte wrote a tale called “Something About Arthur,” the hand-stitched book measuring just three and a half inches tall and 25 pages long. Rebecca Onion, of Slate’s history blog The Vault, reports that, in typical Brontë fashion, “its plot follows two aristocratic brothers, one of whom narrates the story of the other’s romantic encounter with a poor, but worthy, peasant girl.” There’s no doubt that the Brontë siblings would have fared quite well in the world of Tumblr fan fiction, given that they so enjoyed documenting fictional tales of their aristocratic heroes.10

Classical fan fiction also includes E. Nesbit’s work The Magic World, part of which is heavily influenced by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Furthermore, elements of E. Nesbit’s The Magic World directly inspired works of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. One story in The Magic World, “The Aunt and Amabel,” follows a little girl who travels to another world through a wardrobe. It’s clear that the audience’s need to add their own voice to a story and to interact with those worlds isn’t a new desire. So why has this desire been a strong motivation for so long?

This deep interaction with stories can give the reader a sense of ownership over the story once they begin to create within it. This is completely different from simply reading a favorite book; fans change integral parts of characters and settings. As a reader of fan fiction, not a writer myself, my perception of these manipulations is that the writers are interested in changing the atmosphere around a character to see how they react. The interpretation of these characters depends on the author, and each one inserts a little of themselves into their fan fiction. Fans can also help a story continue after the film, books, or episodes end.

Until recently, fan fiction existed independently of the canon.11 Today, a web series called Kissing in the Rain has its own unusual twist on fan fiction. After each episode is released, any fan fiction reblogged by the creators on the official Tumblr of the series becomes canon. This is what makes Kissing in the Rain so innovative: fans become an integral part of the creation process. This turns the creator/audience relationship on its head and gives the fans a great deal of agency. Now, their headcanons12 and wishes for the story aren’t just buried in the depths of a fan fiction site; they’re laced into the actual narrative itself.

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Imagine Communications | Flickr.com  – ‘One Day More’ from the Toronto production of LES MISERABLES. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

After going through a distinct Les Miserables phase in high school, I read a decent amount of Les Mis fan fiction. The interesting thing about the world of Les Miserables fan fiction is that it exists almost entirely in modern AUs. This is mainly due to the fact that roughly 98% of the characters are dead at the end.13 Modern alternate universes allow the fans to fully explore the characters in different situations.14 Enjolras, the fierce revolutionary leader, might be fighting for racial equality and LGBT rights instead of for the freedom of France. Les Amis de l’ABC15 could be high school or university students ablaze with the passion of revolution all the same, regardless of the century-and-a-half time gap.

These characters have been entirely removed from their original setting and situation, and yet the writers still pull integral elements of their personalities from the book to flavor their actions. While it may be a very different story, I often find myself thinking that Victor Hugo might not be too opposed.16 Taking a narrative from the past and connecting it to the present is an important way for us to understand events and people in history. Our history is largely told through stories, and the ones that stick with us help us to see famous artists, revolutionary politicians, and even ordinary people from the past as clearly as we see ourselves.

Often, people’s perception of fan fiction is that it’s juvenile and strange and not real writing. But all writers are heavily influenced by their favorite works; fan fiction is just up front about it. Originality is somewhat of an illusion; many works are amalgamations of influences and previous ideas morphed into different forms and drawing new connections. We have a constant need to take our favorite things and adapt them to make them our own; we can’t just be passive readers but instead want to be co-creators and participate fully in the story-making process.

9 “Ship” or “shipping,” short for “relationship,” is a term used when fans pair certain characters in romantic relationships. While this can be a relationship depicted in the story itself, it’s often with characters who are not canonically together, such as Harry/Draco (the Harry Potter series) or Eponine/Enjolras (Les Miserables). These ships can also occur across fandoms, and, yes, can be as ridiculous as Anne Frank/Goku (Dragonball Z). A real person thought that was a good idea.

10 What I would give to see what the Brontë siblings would post on fanfiction.net these days. Do I sense a coffee shop AU?

11 The “canon” of a story is what’s actually part of the narrative written by the author. Fan fiction can be canonically correct (occur alongside the storyline) or go against canon (deviate from what’s published).

12 “Headcanon” refers to a particular belief or idea which is not part of a story’s canon, but makes sense to an individual fan. It is an individual’s “personal canon.”

13 A personal estimation on my part, though quite accurate, I think.

14 Like ones in which they’re not all dead.

15 The Friends of the ABC, or the Barricade Boys. The “ABC” is a pun—the French “abaissés,” meaning “lowly” or “abased,” is pronounced “a-be-se.”

16 This is partly due to the sheer amount of Enjolras/Grantaire fan fiction that exists, a pairing that cheeky Victor Hugo blatantly supported in the book. After all, the two die hand in hand.

IN WHICH STORIES DON’T CHECK THEIR WATCHES
The oldest surviving story is The Epic of Gilgamesh. Carved into a clay tablet by the Mesopotamians in about 2100 BCE, it is likely a written version of tales that had been previously told by word of mouth for ages. This ancient story follows Gilgamesh—part man, part god—through his encounters with many gods, monsters, and heroes. One major part of the story recounts a great flood sent by the gods to wipe out humankind. However, the god of wisdom warns one man of the plan and instructs him to build a boat to save his family and all living creatures. After the flood, the gods regret what they’ve done and promise never to do it again.

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Patrick Burgler | Flickr.com

Sound familiar? Many would recognize this as the story of Noah’s Ark, but all major world religions have great flood stories. The oldest surviving story continues to appear in modern culture thousands of years later.  Although under a vague guise, it’s still being adapted into cartoony children’s books and movies with Russell Crowe and Emma Watson.

Storyteller Joe Sabia explains in his TED talk, “The art of storytelling has remained unchanged. And for the most part, the stories are recycled. But the way that humans tell the stories has always evolved with pure, consistent novelty.” While the heart of the story may remain the same, the shifting elements and its form are always changing. This sentiment doesn’t only belong to Sabia. Christopher Booker explores this idea in his masterpiece The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories. Booker argues that we’ve been telling the same stories throughout history, from our oral storytelling roots to TV shows and movies today. While there are theories for why we gravitate toward these story arcs, nobody is completely sure.17 Joseph Campbell’s famous work on the “Hero’s Journey” illustrates this same idea—the same narrative of the hero archetype has been told throughout all of history, whether in Beowulf or Star Wars.18 It seems as though these stories are rooted in cultures around the world throughout the centuries because they’re rooted in human nature. Stories are a current running through all of humanity that can connect us to our past, present, and future.

Arthur A. Brown muses in his essay “Storytelling, the Meaning of Life,
and The Epic of Gilgamesh”:

We read The Epic of Gilgamesh, four thousand years after it was written […] because we want to know the meaning of life. […] There is an infinite continuity of meaning that can be comprehended only by seeing again, for ourselves. We read stories—and reading is a kind of re-telling—not to learn what is known but to know what cannot be known, for it is ongoing and we are in the middle of it.

This can all sound very philosophical and abstract, but what he’s saying is that reading old stories from history, like the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh, tells us something about ourselves, something inherent in us as humans.

Sarah Kay is a spoken-word poet who often works with youth to help them find their version of this meaning of life through workshops and lectures. In her TED Talk, “If I Should Have a Daughter…,” she describes her first experience with spoken word poetry at age 14:

My first spoken-word poem, packed with all the wisdom of a 14-year-old, was about the injustice of being seen as unfeminine. […] The first time that I performed, the audience of teenagers hooted and hollered their sympathy, and when I came off the stage, I was shaking. I felt this tap on my shoulder, and I turned around to see this giant girl in a hoodie sweatshirt emerge from the crowd. She was maybe eight feet tall and looked like she could beat me up with one hand, but instead she just nodded at me and said, “Hey, I really felt that. Thanks.”

That’s what this whole storytelling thing is about. It’s the reason we, as humans, rely so much on narratives in every aspect of our lives. Telling stories reveals something innate in us as humans, tugging at our need to relate and understand. It allows us to connect on a basic level with people from all different backgrounds and find a personal truth in the tales that have been told for generations. It’s about putting convoluted human experiences into words, a fuzzy mingling of truth and fiction, and having someone, somewhere, say, “Hey, I really felt that.”

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TED Conference | Flickr.com – Sarah Kay performing at a TED Conference.

17 One theory explored in Booker’s work, shared by many late 19th century writers, is that these stories simply served to explain and act as metaphors for natural phenomena that people didn’t understand. For instance, dragons and monsters in stories would stem from the discovery of dinosaur bones. Now, scholars tend to agree that there’s no one answer for why certain stories keep cropping up throughout history.

18 Campbell fully explores and details the Hero’s Journey in his revolutionary book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

Featured Image © David Alonso | Flickr.com


A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
When I was in elementary school, my older siblings taught me how to line the crack of my bedroom door with a sweatshirt to block the light, so my parents wouldn’t know I was up late reading. I suppose it goes without saying that I grew up an avid reader, something that was practically written into my family’s genes, especially given my mom’s career as a publisher. These days, I consume stories in any manner possible—books, movies, TV shows, web series, podcasts, or directly from the lips of a storyteller.

When it came to choosing a topic for a research paper, stories seemed like a natural selection, considering my background. You could say I’ve been researching this topic my entire life. This essay grew out of the variety of stories that had caught my attention and were tumbling around in my head at the time I began this writing project. My interest was piqued by the strange forms, unexpected effects, and incredible timelessness of stories.

Everyone has stories tucked away in the many parts of their lives. Hopefully this essay will bring a magnifying glass to the importance of these tiny narratives. The essay didn’t really fit any of the traditional formats, and so it took on a podcast-like form with distinct sections, each one revealing a different truth about the classic act of telling tales.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
McFadden bioMonica McFadden is a second-year student from Elgin, Illinois, who is studying Art History and Journalism at DU. She enjoys musical theater, exploring new cities, and painting. She considers herself a somewhat serious macaroni and cheese connoisseur, a position for which she’s been training since kindergarten.


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