Aaron

Aaron

Currently teaching first-year composition courses at a public university with an interest in pop culture, identity, and post-colonial studies.

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    Latest Articles

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    2

    Depictions of Processing Trauma in HBO's Sharp Objects (2018)

    Gillian Flynn’s debut novel "Sharp Objects" received a lot of mixed attention when it was released in 2006, but it was popular enough to recently be adapted to the screen by HBO as an eight episode mini-series that aired in 2018. With Amy Adams in the lead, she was tasked with delivering the difficult narrative of a woman processing great mental and physical trauma, and doing this through a visual medium is often shocking and difficult for audiences to endure. I found myself looking away during particularly graphic depictions of self-harm, and each time Adams’s body is put on display, with the plethora of words written across her in scars, I found myself gritting my teeth and squinting.

    I haven’t read the source material, but I imagine that the impact of a traumatic story of this nature would be more impactful through film or television, and my experience with the series (I was fully glued to the screen, binging the entire series) has driven me to ask – is this type of portrayal of the procession of trauma primarily beneficial for the general public? I imagine that the answer would be close to the consensus of shows like "13 Reasons Why" that are controversial because they can simultaneously help raise awareness while also triggering some viewers, but I’m particularly interested in this mini-series because it is far more graphic (due to the HBO platform, I’m sure) and handles the processing of trauma with greater complexity.

    I would like to see this topic explored with a specific look at the "Sharp Objects" mini-series, but references to similar visual narratives would be great as a basis of comparison and/or evidence to support the benefit or harm of depictions such as these.

      3

      Dealing with social acceptance themes in offensive, graphic, shock-based comedies

      The sub-genre of comedy that focuses on shocking sexual depictions, over-the-top jokes, and hyper-unrealistic scenarios seems to be going strong in 2019. Films such as American Pie (1999), Superbad (2007), and The Hangover (2009) cemented a place in the medium for these narratives with all of their try-hard humor and problematic treatment of identity (homophobic and misogynistic jokes galore!). Weaker off-shoots began to form as quick cash-grabs for studios looking to ride the wave of the main-stream comedies noted, and now the market seems to be saturated with them.

      My interest with this sub-genre has taken shape after watching Blockers (2018), a film in which two up-tight parents (Leslie Mann and John Cena) team up with a laid-back father (Ike Barinholtz) to prevent their daughters from having sex on prom night. While Mann and Cena have more obvious motivations – not wanting to see their children lose their innocence – Barinholtz’s goal is more nuanced. He’s fully convinced that his daughter is gay (something she is still unsure of herself), and he is concerned that she is being pressured by her friends to have sex with a guy in order to feel accepted.

      The set-up is the perfect representation of the interesting dichotomy that this film, and similar films in the sub-genre, present. While the plot is filled with ridiculous humor that is overly vulgar, graphic, and inconsistent, the "heart" or "message" of the film is clearly a positive one. In the case of Blockers, it’s incredibly blunt in addressing identity politics to differing levels of success, but I believe it would be hard for the audience to walk away angry with the normalizing way in which the gay character is casually accepted by her friends and family, acknowledging the next stage of inclusive progress needed in the U.S.

      My question for this topic is – does the graphic, vulgar, shock comedy sub-genre have the potential to encourage social acceptance, or is it a futile attempt that should be abandoned since the sub-genre has been pigeon-holed (by the creators and public) into a category of film that is designed to profit from being anti-politically correct or overtly offensive to shock the audience? I would love to hear additional thoughts on this topic as well as more titles that may fit into this small movement of shock comedies that are grappling with socially positive themes.

        7

        Broadening Representations of the Humanities in Film - Arrival

        Humanities graduates get a bad reputation in this time of increased attention being placed on STEM fields that will surely drive our technologically-advancing economy. Mainstream U.S. films have been a contributing factor to this poor image in representing humanities graduates as aloof and/or struggling writers that are haunted by addiction and manic spurts of genius or inspirational educators that set the bar unrealistically high for actual teachers. Titles such as Stuck in Love and The Dead Poets Society circulate these narratives of humanities graduates, perpetuating a single image of what these graduates can actually do in society. Arrival was released in 2016 with great critical acclaim, and one of the most interesting aspects of the sci-fi epic comes in the form of a humanities vs sciences debate between the two leads – Amy Adams as the linguist Louise Banks and Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly – a physicist. Banks makes it clear early in the film that they need to focus on learning to communicate with the titular arrivals before working out the physics of their space-travel, placing the linguist in a position of privilege, but does this narrative manage to correct the one-sided image of the humanities, or does it fall short of shedding a positive light on a field that has been traditionally relegated to narrow, stereotypical representations?

        • Though I get what you're trying to say, your argument is based on the flawed premise that "English majors" (or, more accurately, "scholars," since the term "major" typically disappears from self-identification after undergraduate study) and "Linguistics majors" are one in the same, despite being entirely separate fields with completely different subject matters and methodological approaches to such. Though it is not uncommon for Literary Studies and Linguistics do occasionally borrow ideas and practices from one another -- as was common in the Russian, Czech, and French schools of Structuralism in the early to mid twentieth century -- the disciplines themselves remain distinct. I had initially considered suggesting that this could be fixed simply by replacing the word "English" with "Linguistics," but the stereotyped image of English majors -- "struggling writers that are haunted by addiction and manic spurts of genius" as you've put it -- is not so accurate a description of the general societal impression of Linguistics majors. Honestly, I'm not sure if there even is such a thing as a mainstream personality stereotype of Linguistics students and scholars, aside from the occasional internet memes made by the majors themselves (https://i.pinimg.com/736x/64/52/db/6452dbbec053cf36476c1edfb68b68fd--linguistics-major-teaching-phonics.jpg). Perhaps a more accurate fix would be to replace "English" with the broader category of general "Humanities," since (as you've observed) the film's central question boils down to "Humanities vs Sciences." That said, being such a broad umbrella term for a vast array of disciplines -- from English to Economic, Geography to Gender Studies, History to Linguistics, etc, etc -- it might be difficult to represent that entire scholarly demographic with any one or two (or ten) stereotypical images. I'm just not sure what can really be done with this. Sorry. – ProtoCanon 3 years ago
          6
        • I understand the issues you bring up, and the phrasing was probably not the best. The subject is definitely a bit too broad for a focused study, but I was hoping to get some insight through notes to narrow it a bit. I realize that English studies and linguistic studies are separate fields, but I've personally seen the stereotype of those in the humanities who study language in some way being incorrectly lumped together under the umbrella of "English." This may be a personal experience that does not translate well for others, so turning our attention to the humanities in general may be a slightly more beneficial direction to take this topic. Having said this, I do believe that there is a trend in mainstream U.S. popular culture to view those in the humanities as the stereotypical "struggling artists" without taking into account the intricacies of the humanities such as linguistic studies, technical writing, etc. Thank you for the note; I believe you provided some very important clarifications to my initial topic. – Aaron 3 years ago
          6
        • Thank you *so much* for this topic. In an increasingly STEM-driven world, I sometimes feel as though everything I am passionate about is irrelevant. Sometimes I want to say to people, "You do understand you couldn't pursue STEM careers if you couldn't read, don't you?" And you're right, films don't help anything. I don't think I've seen a humanities-based film since Mona Lisa Smile, and that was what, 2003? Anyway...the topic should probably be narrowed down, but you have the seeds of something that will spark a great discussion. – Stephanie M. 3 years ago
          5

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        Latest Comments

        Aaron

        I see your point, but I think the political turmoil in the U.S., the prevalence of social movements (BLM, #MeToo, etc.), and the threat of climate change are going to be the markers for the 2010s. Only time will tell, but these are certainly the big moments that are sticking in the mind of my community. Thank you for reading!

        IT: The Filmic Kairos of King's Year and a Zeitgeist of Nostalgia
        Aaron

        Your point is really interesting because when I watch movies from the ’80s, I have that sense of nostalgia that I never experienced, but knowing the crises occurring at the time and the decade that followed, I see them as more tragic in some way. It almost seems as if filmmakers were attempting to provide an overly optimistic outlook for the future to distract from the current and expected conflicts (domestic and international). This is most likely hindsight bias kicking in, but I do enjoy a lot of ’80s movies regardless. Thanks for reading!

        IT: The Filmic Kairos of King's Year and a Zeitgeist of Nostalgia
        Aaron

        I couldn’t agree more! Thank you for reading, and thank you for your input!

        IT: The Filmic Kairos of King's Year and a Zeitgeist of Nostalgia
        Aaron

        We all react to nostalgia differently, and I know plenty of people that have a similar reaction when hearing about era defining trends, media, and/or movements. I would say that completely ignoring the time in which events occur and different media is released removes context that is necessary to fully understand them. For example, I don’t think iconic bands such as The Beatles, Van Halen, or Nirvana would receive the same accolades if they released their music outside of their respective decades. They may very well have been positively received, but the impact would not have been the same because the music industry and culture evolved into a form that was primed for their sounds. Again, I completely understand your reaction, but I think it’s important to consider timing when discussing or examining media. Thanks for reading!

        IT: The Filmic Kairos of King's Year and a Zeitgeist of Nostalgia
        Aaron

        I absolutely agree! We can see the same thing happening in other industries as well. It’s especially interesting with video games like God of War and The Last of Us that heavily rely on themes of parenthood and aging. Thank you for reading!

        IT: The Filmic Kairos of King's Year and a Zeitgeist of Nostalgia
        Aaron

        I think the changing norms of childhood that you point out are extremely important for this conversation because I’m sure they directly affect the ways in which we tend to indulge in narratives of the past. Thank you for reading!

        IT: The Filmic Kairos of King's Year and a Zeitgeist of Nostalgia
        Aaron

        Much thanks! Your breakdown is very eloquent, and I 100% agree.

        IT: The Filmic Kairos of King's Year and a Zeitgeist of Nostalgia
        Aaron

        Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it, and I believe it’s creating a good conversation.

        IT: The Filmic Kairos of King's Year and a Zeitgeist of Nostalgia