This year in English we were required to write a series of essay and reflections on pieces of work that were aimed to give a new perspective. All of these projects fall under the category of a Narrative where we were challenged to either write from someone else’s perspective or write from our own.
You scroll through your instagram feed. Another post: “Bored of school, I want to quit”. Lucky, you say as you forget the feeling of walking those bustling hallways and listening to music as piles of homework sit on standby. You long for little things kicked to the dust by your friends. The sighs that previously described pain now become emulate a distant adrenaline.
What is pride without something to be prideful of?
Your mismatched colors become a bad sense of fashion rather than a spirited assembly. No rivalry games or school dances.
Instead, you lie alone in the hospital bed,
Gasping for a strength that’s accessible now only through prescriptions.
Your jean skirts and graphic tees regulated to the rag pile.
But did you forget? Along with school and field hockey team, you’ve been stripped of hair. You never fully realized the beauty in combing through each strand of your own, until it’s gone, and not to charity, for it has slowly fallen away as if detaching from your existence.
Your hair is not meant for you, you say.
But if yours is not meant for you, who’s is?
Piles of wigs tangle in the corner, while the blonde locks in the window flow in the summer breeze. But the worst part is that the privilege of returning to school after months of chemo-caused weakness disintegrated as you were then faced with the curious eyes that all seemed to point at
Your naked head,
Your naked face,
The falsely insecure always remain invisible, but not you.
You wonder if the drugs rearranged your brain to make you think no one is on your side.
You start wearing hoodies to school, wondering if you’ll feel like you again.
And what is it you want to be? They ask.
Like everybody else. You say.
Before the diagnosis, you were close. But never as close as you were once you were admitted to the hospital.
Can I come back again next week to see you? She says.
You thought she was a true friend, until one day, it stopped. Like the hair off your body she dropped you. I guess she reached her participation requirements.
You walk into class and the teacher asks for your assignment. The student in front of you receives a scolding, two questions, and an F.
But then he walks up to your face, looks into your eyes and says,
“Don’t worry, you don’t have to do this assignment.” He smiles and walks away.
You wonder if this was an attempt at empathy or just protocol.
Yet you still long, are longing for, normality, even mediocrity.
You think it’s all over until it’s not. Back to the hospital bed, Round 2. The doctors say it shouldn’t be as bad this time around, but that doesn’t matter.
You are still being visited by a past that you thought you’d slaughtered entirely.
You’re still tired,
You’re still hurting,
But one thing makes up for it.
After losing so much of yourself there’s nowhere else to go except to those around you.
You spend most of your time with those who make you forget you’re sick,
But make you remember that you’re more than normal.
Late nights out running around in the rain,
Laughter blossoms with the change in seasons.
But who are you to dismiss your invincible strength?
You moved mountains.
You’re not normal.
You’re strong and brave and that will always be your identity over everything else.
So you keep fighting, but you still cry. But this time, it’s not about being sick, it’s about schoolwork, and boys, and drama.
This is who you are.
You breathe out old worries and breathe in a new you.
Social and Civic Responsibility Research Paper
How Music Videos Have Influenced Obscenity in the Current Age
I believe that I can speak for most teenagers of Generation Z when I say that highly sexualized and profane content on the internet hardly even catches an eye these days. With the abundance of obscene music and media that is practically laid out for us on instagram, youtube, and any other social media platforms, it’s hard to escape the feeling this is the newly normalized standard for what is broadcasted to the world in our current age. Then the question arises: How did we come to this? Why is it less surprising that the youth of our generation is cursing and referencing crude content that they see online? Of course, the simple answer is the global expansion of media and publicity, but when did these changes begin to have a negative impact? For those living in the 1960’s, one memory is clear. History books today tell us that along with the 1960’s came the uproar of the “Sex, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll” phase. This early loss of innocence, per se, was only the beginning of a culture shock that publicized sex and appealed to the depths of human desire.
Understandably, as music became the new rage and began set the tone for pop culture, the industry was actively searching for new methods of expansion. The idea of music videos was explored by a few bands, the most iconic of course being The Beatles in the late 60s with instant hits featuring “I Am A Walrus”, but the evident success for The Beatles was not easily accessible due to its freelance nature. A few years and hundreds of failed music video attempts later, history was made. MTV, “the first 24-hour video music channel launched onto television sets” with the first broadcasted music video: “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles (Guerrasio). It seemed to become a multi-billion dollar business overnight, which came with consequences as videos became more of an art form with the use of more explicit content rather than a recording of the band’s performance. These protests caught the attention of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a government agency that sets regulations for radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable. Up to the present day, there has been much controversy between the FCC and MTV as their platform has widened from broadcasting music videos to the reality show hub that it is today. These controversies prove that pop culture’s opinions of what is perceived to be obscene has shifted heavily due to the popularity and publicity of viral sex-driven music videos throughout the last few decades.
Before the era of immersive technology and variety of new entertainment sources, there was a much simpler and exclusive way to stay updated with the introduction of MTV, the most recognized music platform in the history of music. MTV first made their mark when they became the first and only hub to watch music videos, a new sensational way to connect music artists with the general public. After speaking with my dad who lived through this evolutionary shift in entertainment, I understand that music videos became the new form of awareness in the modern world: “If you hadn’t seen the newest music video yet, you would go home after school and watch it right away” (Polcyn). This kind of mentality is what drove the popularity of MTV up from nothing to the biggest media platform. Music videos were a way for listeners to put a name to a face, allowing them to idolize their idea of a star. But most importantly, music videos were a sense of artistic expression for the artists themselves. The first music video that brushed the scene was “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles. This video captured a lot of attention for its irony in representing an era being ended by the upcoming of the music industry’s “next big thing”. Although this video changed the entire scene for artists only recognizable by their songs on the radio, Geoff Downes, one of the band’s accredited members, claimed that the song itself is still what provides for its longevity. But that was just his opinion.
These music videos ended up being the defining factor for how popular a band became because of their appearance and performances in their music videos. It’s possible that music videos could even break a band with a bad image. For example, “there was this rock n’ roll guy who had all this great music, and when you saw him on MTV, he wasn’t that attractive and he was bouncing around like a pogo stick and I remember those types of discussions going to school about us being surprised about the way he looked” (Polcyn). However, once more creative artists started coming out with new videos, it did wonders for their careers and their brands. A huge legacy that holds true to this theme is Michael Jackson, and he soon became a staple in the music industry after his music video for the song “Thriller” emerged in 1983. Once specific bands and artists clearly showed their dominance in the business, the styles portrayed in their videos started making their way into everyday wardrobes of thousands of Americans. From hair styles and mullets to Elvis-themed costume parties, significant names in the industry were truly making their mark. MTV was at an all time high. But with the skeptical minds of society, something was bound to strike a nerve eventually.
As MTV continued to stream music videos and even host interviews to gain behind the scenes information with popular bands, the issue of increasingly publicized obscenity caught the attention of parents, politicians, and powerful regulation officers from the FCC. A divide was quickly formed between music lovers who fully believed in the power of the first amendment, which addresses the freedom of expression in America, and those who concluded that the imaginary line between freedom and exploitation had already been crossed. In fact, printed in bold yellow letters as a headline of People Magazine in 1985 read “Has Rock Gone Too Far?” accompanying provocative pictures and captions about a debate surrounding violence and devil-worship lyrics. It’s clear that the increasing visual freedom of artist in the music industry was a heavy concern to some people. The Parents Music Resource Center, or PMRC, was a prime example of rebuttal back in 85’. They even came out with “the Filthy Fifteen, a list of 15 songs about sex, masturbation, violence or the occult from artists like Prince, Motley Crue, AC/DC, Madonna and Cyndi Lauper” (Schwarz). Soon, parents weren’t the only sources of concern. One of the members of the PMRC happened to be Tipper Gore, the wife of the senator at the time. Her connection to the world of politics brought in a legal force to take action, and soon enough bills were passed that required the labeling of albums containing offensive content. From these actions comes the famous censorship label titled “Parental Advisory”. Everything seemed to be fixed after this regulation was established, until it wasn’t.
In 1990, the Miami-based hip-hop group 2 Live Crew was reported for the lack of the use of the Parental Advisory warning on their new album titled “As Nasty As They Wanna Be”. After an investigation to determine whether this band violated the current standards of obscenity, they were actually arrested, along with a few other musical artists including Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee for mooning the audience at a performance. These few incidences seemed to spark another very political Obscenity War that would require some new ideas about how to keep artistic expression under control. As a result, MTV took many precautions to fight for their beliefs. The even partnered with a newly created organization for young people called Rock The Vote in order to promote the idea that “Censorship is Un-American” (Rock the Vote). Although MTV did carefully select the content that was broadcasted on their platform, they truly believed in the power of the first amendment, even if that meant that the work of music artists was offensive. Because of this outlook, they continued to be the center of many censorship-centered disputes.
Entering the early 2000s, MTV ran into major disputes with the FCC as campaigns for stricter decency standards were being promoted. Following a kiss between Britney Spears and Madonna at a 2004 Video Music Awards, seven music videos with instances of nudity and one music video singled out for political content: “Incubus’ “Megalomaniac” included clips of Hitler and people drinking oil”, were dropped from prime time (Cave). At this point, MTV was no stranger to cultural criticism. But in a way, they took the job no one else was willing to do. Without surprise, they even used the attention as a way to sell more: “The buzz surrounding videos such as Madonna’s Like a Prayer, a Vatican-condemned commentary on race and religion, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller, viewed as a metaphor for sexual awakening, reminded viewers to head out and buy albums” (South China Morning Post). Based on our values as Americans, the freedom of pop culture was bound to expand eventually, someone just had to stir up enough controversy to change the rules. If songs had regulations on what lyrics were appropriate or not, music would no longer have the power to bring people together because all of it would be ingenuine and tailored to a specific style. Without MTV fighting this future, music culture would not be anywhere close to what it is today, obscenity and all. To be fair though, sex sells doesn’t it?
To be able to fully address the underlying issues that surround the concept of obscenity in music videos today, it’s necessary to understand the evolution of society’s definition of obscenity and where the line was drawn between artistic expression and vulgarity. Parents were the first to take concern after airing profane music videos, and that has held true to the current day. Trying to compare the obscenity of music videos that included clips of Elvis’ famous pelvic thrust to Miley Cyrus swinging half naked on a wrecking ball while licking a sledgehammer is next to impossible. The common ground is still the question of how much is too much? Well these standards have clearly shifted due to continual pressure on the power of the first amendment.
Throughout time, music videos have been a spectacle of politics as their publicity has expanded. A clear example of this in the early stages of MTV was the controversy with 2 Live Crew. Today, a good example of eye-catching content in music videos is that of Childish Gambino with “This is America”, where he is shown in a series of politically provoking scenarios where African Americans are subject to mistreatment. According to many, artists these days actually stay away from creating any content that could stir up a whole storm of controversy because it could ruin their career. So for Donald Glover, a.k.a. Childish Gambino, to make this video with all its brutal violence and historical references was super brave and important: “Political edge isn’t a new addition to the art form by any means, but it’s difficult to imagine the recent deluge of videos exploring racial and sexual identity occurring in the MTV era” (South China Morning Post). Sexual liberation is also a theme in the arrival of newfound acceptance for obscenity through music videos like “PYNK” by Janelle Monáe, where Monáe was pictured wearing vagina pants to highlight comfort in female anatomy.
Videos like “This is America” by Childish Gambino and “PYNK” by Janelle Monáe are what seem to shape the political environment for this generation’s youth. The open promotion of this obscenity is what motivates and encourages the activism of younger people and their current goal for a more inclusive world. It even seems like the issues referenced in music videos wouldn’t be brought up or made important in the changing world unless artists in the music industry made them so. This new age of politically controversial music videos truly puts the power of our future in the hands of those we sing along with every day on the radio.
Because of the global expansion of technology and networking tools, MTV no longer holds it’s same prestige and glory. While recognized for the beginning of an era, it seems that the addition of reality TV shows and other entertainment has earned MTV a new reputation for being to go to hub for trashy television. Since 2011, there has been a 50% drop off in their audience within the 18-49 demographic, a huge blow to their ratings. MTV, once “the cultural touchstone for young viewers, has completely fallen out of touch with its key demographic” (Berg). Nonetheless, MTV will always remain the centerfold for an evolution of the fight for human rights and of visual literacy that had never been seen before.
As any social networking platform comes and goes, music videos still have an incredible impact on our society today and the way we view music. There will always be concerns from parents at the PMRC and regulations threats from the FCC, but these constants only create a bigger conversation for the topics at hand. Through music videos we learn about culture, history, unity, divide, and so much more. Engaging platforms like Youtube give us access to learn from whichever music videos we choose to watch, and our personal analysis of its meaning can lead us on a path in life otherwise discoverable. So the question today still stands in the minds of many: What is obscenity? Why has our opinion on it changed so much throughout the years? The simple answer is that obscenity is different for every individual. But taking into account the obsessive controversies and political attention received from each seemingly profane music video, it’s clear to see that we are all just fighting for our right to express our emotions to whoever will listen.
Analysis of Trevor Noah: Born A Crime
As humans, we experience an abundance of uncomfortable occurrences, to which we usually learn how to respond to as we grow up. Being young, we go through a phase of being self conscious about what others things of us, as we are exposed to the reality of human perspective. It’s common for people who are often targeted with jokes to have a few coping mechanisms to protect their own outer image of themselves. One tactic displayed by a lot of comedians and politicians today is the use of humor or sarcasm. Trevor Noah, a well-known comedian of the modern age, demonstrates a great understanding of this way of life in his memoir titled Born A Crime. Using comedic storytelling, Noah takes us on a trip through his adolescence, including stories to illustrate what it was like to grow up biracial in South Africa. It is clear that Noah uses humor to navigate his tough childhood and continues to showcase it under the great publicity of being a comedian. As we follow Trevor Noah on his journey through life, his resilience, lightheartedness, independence, and curiosity align to create a comical series of events that give us a deeper understanding of how his resilience has evolved to relentlessness in his current professional life.
The title “Born a Crime” signifies that it was not legal or acceptable for interracial couples to have kids during apartheid, leaving Noah a violation of the law. Because of this, he had to learn from a young age that his differences from all the other kids his age would make for a more sheltered life. Although being sheltered may restrict one’s persona and development of core values, Noah was able to learn from those around him and protect his identity proudly. In the beginning of the memoir, Noah portrays the quiet nature of his childhood through his mother’s actions and how this environment paralleled the person he became: “So I was kept inside. Other than those few instances of walking in the park, the flashes of memory I have from when I was young are almost all indoors, me with my mom in her tiny flat, me by myself at my gran’s. I didn’t have any friends. I didn’t know any kids besides my cousins. I wasn’t a lonely kid–I was good at being alone. I’d read books, play with the toy that I had, make up imaginary worlds. I lived inside my head. I still lived inside my head. To this day you can leave me alone for hours and I’m perfectly happy entertaining myself. I have to remember to be with people” (Noah 30). Growing up, it’s clear that Noah was alone pretty often, strengthening his independence since birth. This has translated into his adulthood, as he mentions that he still has to remember to surround himself with people. I believe that this sense of humans being naturally alone contributes to his reliability and authenticity loved by many today. It also shows vulnerability as being a “loner” typically has negative connotations. Being able to admit to this label shows that Noah’s thoughts and actions are all his own, unaffected by societal normalities. Additionally, the impression of resilience arises through this vulnerability in order to keep his mindset in check. Overall, this sense of young independence has carried on to his current character and had formed his other values of humor and resilience.
Noah repeatedly tells stories of his unexpected mischief that left him in a weird spot compared to the other kids. His rebellious curiosity comes out in many instances while he was a child: “From an adult’s point of view, I was destructive and out of control, but as a child I didn’t think of it that way. I never wanted to destroy. I wanted to create. I wasn’t burning my eyebrows off. I was creating fire. I wasn’t breaking overhead projectors. I was creating chaos, to see how people reacted” (Noah 79). He was always able to translate his negative actions into something that seemed more about his curiosity with the world. Testing limits became something that Noah took up as a hobby as he started to realize that he was punished differently than his cousins because he was a mixed kid. This more leniant approach to discipline from everyone except his Mother mostly fueled him to continue his rebellious tricks. Noah’s mother was the only one cut him zero slack, and it’s evident that her punishment was by far the worst that Noah had ever experienced. However, he still seemed to shine positive light on his pain: “If you think too much about the ass-kicking your mom gave you, or the ass-kicking that life gave you, you’ll stop pushing the boundaries and breaking the rule. It’s better to take it, spend some time crying, then wake up the next day and move on. You’ll have a few bruises and they’ll remind you of what happened and that’s okay. But after a while the bruises fade, and they fade for a reason–because now it’s time to get up to some shit again” (Noah 91). This mindset that bruises fade highlights his common habit to be resilient and forever driven to achieve what he had in mind no matter what others threw at him. For Noah, this attitude is how he survived in the harsh environment of South Africa as a child who seemed to stray from all societal expectations. Evidently, this mindset has carried into his current life, as he never gave up on creating or let anyone else stop him from doing what he was passionate about. These actions are a telling sign of drive and curiosity of creation.
Because he was constantly faced with judgement and confusion about his skin color from everyone around him, Noah learned to use humor in order to approach life in a lighthearted way as a sense of protection. Although it may seem too good to be true for a future comedian to start off using humor for a totally practical way, this is exactly what Noah had to do to survive. It’s typical for people to joke about things that would otherwise hurt them in order to stay positive. Also, in order to be resilient and relentless, it’s a necessity to use humor to avoid the assumption of being rude or straightforward. That’s why a lot of dry humor stems from sarcasm. This sarcasm for Noah got him out of trouble. He brings up a story about a time when a gang of guys walking behind him spoke in their native language, Zulu, about beating Noah up because he was white. Because of Noah’s diverse background and being surrounded by a plethora of cultures, he was able to understand most languages as another form of protection. With a humorous mindset, Noah turned around to the gang of guys and said, “Yo, guys, why don’t we just mug someone together? I’m ready. Let’s do it” in fluent Zulu (Noah 55). This immediately prevented anything violent going on between the guys and Noah. He reflects on this anecdote and others with a fresh perspective: “I became a chameleon. My color didn’t change, but I could change your perception of my color. If you spoke to me in Zulu, I replied to you in Zulu. If you spoke to me in Tswana, I replied to you in Tswana. Maybe I didn’t look like you, but if I spoke like you, I was you” (pg 56). Because of instances like this one, Noah’s resilience developed into a sense of relentlessness as he continued to find new ways to get through life unscathed. He gained knowledge throughout his adventures and contributed this to his strength in not caring about what others thought of his ethnicity. In order to become a comedian, one cannot be afraid of what others think of them, because most comedy is reliant on one’s openness about humility. Broadly speaking, there is a clear pathway from the values and morals of his youth to his current values. His proven relentlessness and vulnerability are two core characteristics that define his aura.
In conclusion, it is clear that throughout his life, Noah has developed a broad sense of resilience, lightheartedness, independence, and curiosity that has worked together to fuel his passion for making people laugh. He was able to show that his background actually allowed him to excel in his future path by gaining relentlessness and curiosity to create things that would otherwise be shunned.
Rankine and Biss Response
When we think of slavery throughout history, we continue to come back to the inhumane treatment that Africans endured, which carried past its abolition with the upcoming of racial discrimination, otherwise known as racism. In the American Lyric titled Citizen by Claudia Rankine, the topic of racism in present day America is explored in a unique form of poetry to make the reader feel as if they are in the shoes of a black person in America. Similarly, Eula Biss’s collection of American essays titled Notes from No Man’s Land, the author shares personal experiences throughout her life that give illustrative details about what it’s like to live in a post-slavery society that still displays this inhumane treatment on a daily basis. When examining both books together, it is easy to point compare the more poetic experiences of Rankine with the narrative storytelling of Biss to form an appropriate and insightful view into the complexity of racial identity in America today.
The first passage that I drew a connection to from Citizen was the passage accompanying the famous sculpture on the next page over called “Little Girl”; a deer’s body with the face of a child on it. This passage details the experience of one man who goes to meet his trauma counselor in person for the first time. Rather than a warm greeting, this black man was struck with aggressive taunts from the woman at the door, interrogating his presence on her lawn. He goes on to explain his appointment to which she apologizes many, many times. The main reason behind my interest with this passage is the way that the counselor dehumanizes the man simply due to the color of his skin; An occurrence that seems awfully similar to the effects of slavery. The passage from Notes from No Man’s Land that I drew a connection to was the first essay in the book, called “Time and Distance Overcome”. It talks mainly about the invention of the telephone pole, and how a lot of people were against it at first because of their fear for technological advancements. Of course at this time, Alexander Graham Bell was considered a pioneer for his involvement in furthering the technological literacy of all Americans, but that didn’t mean that he wasn’t fronted with a sense of hatred from traditional Americans. In the end, the use for these telephone poles took an unexpected turn as public lynchings were introduced. Biss repetitively exclaims the extent to which black men were hung and burned from telephone poles, giving them an inescapable past that is not well taught to this day.
In my opinion, these two passages bring together one specific point: the dehumanization of Blacks in America always finds a way to resurface due to the history engraved in all of our minds, ridding some of their pure mindset and introducing them to a new way to discriminate. It is more clear in the passage from Citizen, as the text is supported by the image of “Little Girl”, possibly to portray how this man felt when faced with a response he never would’ve expected from a trauma counselor who was presumably hired to help him through a tragedy. The telephone pole essay really went to show how an invention completely unrelated to such disturbing events became the figurehead of public lynchings. These events gave Blacks the look of objects as they were strung to these telephone poles and then burned for no apparent reason. The fact that something so positive could be used for the most utterly disgusting outcome goes to show how some traditionalists maintain an unchanged view on the history of our country.
The next passage from Citizen that I chose to examine was in Part IV, when the common topic followed a storyline of sighing and blocking out the world around you. The specific passage that stood out to me talk about how the past in something you can’t put behind you; “it’s turned your flesh into its own cupboard” (Rankine 63). The text then continues with a spontaneous outburst of questions about the origin of who said what, where, when, and why? This short passage was extremely powerful in describing that the past always does catch up to you, and as much as you question how it came about, its origin becomes irrelevant as you are reemerged in a reflection of your past. This part of Citizen reminded me of one of the essays in the last portion of Notes from No Man’s Land titled “No Man’s Land” to signify the name of the city that her and her husband chose to move to in Chicago. The main purpose of this section was to hear all the viewpoints of her close family and friends who warned about the dangers and fear tied to the town named Roger Park but more familiar known as No Man’s Land, or at least no white people for that matter. After their move, they then continued to hear negativity from their new neighbors who were surprised by their bold living choices, who then continued to blame them for the fresh introduction of gentrification to their hometown with new shops opening.
I feel that these two passages align to show that no matter how far along something comes, its past history will always be tied to the name. Although Roger Park most likely isn’t as dangerous as it is played out to be, the knowledge of its previous dangers is enough to convince people that it is still like that. Also, I felt that the questions asked in the passage from Citizen drew a nice parallel with the perspectives of everyone who preached warning to the new couple to the neighborhood. There will always be people talking and bringing up the past, but the only way to escape that is to write your own future in spite of what everyone else says.