Playwright, director, essayist. Currently working towards a Masters in Theatre Theory and Dramaturgy at the University of Ottawa.
The School of Life's Philosophical War on Trump
Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, the London-based School of Life’s prolific YouTube channel (founded by popular philosopher, Alain de Botton, in 2008) released a video titled "Why Socrates Hated Democracy," outlining how the founder of Western philosophy opposed the idea of putting too much political power in the hands of the unqualified masses. On inauguration day, they released "Why Hegel knew there would be days like these," reminding their viewership of the dialectical nature of history, thereby assuring that this current dark chapter is not the beginning of the apocalypse, but rather a necessary antithesis on the way to a balanced synthesis. A week later came "Thoreau and Civil Disobedience," recounting the all-too-familiar horrors of the Polk administration to highlight the democratic necessity of resistance to morally dubious political policy.
Discuss how this unofficial trilogy of videos (as well as any relevant inclusions that may follow, presumably over the next four years) resists the current state of American demagoguery. How do they contribute to the over-saturated pool of political discourse? Are they effective at breaking through the noise and conveying their messages? How has the [not-so-]subtle refraining from using Trump’s name and face (aside from the occasional comic interlude video, such as "What America is Getting for Christmas," which is not treated with the same degree of seriousness as the others) aided in the potency of their rhetoric? In the climate of anti-intellectualism that many commentators have noted as being central to alt-right ideology, does the invocation of history’s greatest thinkers do anything more than preaching to the choir, without making any significant impact in those in need of conversion? Can their presence on YouTube allow them more potential for change than what is available in old media? Does The School’s firm lack of political neutrality in these videos impact the way we view the rest of their catalogue, most of which being entirely apolitical in nature?
The Little World of Liz Climo: The Aesthetics of Adorableness
Discuss the career and works of Simpsons-animator, children’s author, and web-comic artist, Liz Climo ((link) . What factors may have led to her success? What is it about her simple, one to two panel comics that makes them so cute and heartwarming? Are there aesthetic standards within the often-neglected form of one/few-panel comics by which her work may be critically evaluated? Where is her place within the long tradition of this form, among artists such as Hank Ketcham, Bil Keane, Gary Larson, Dan Piraro, and countless others? In what ways has her online presence contributed to her work and distribution, as well as the contemporary cultural understanding that comics in the 21st century can exist in spaces beyond the "funny papers"?
Dothraki Tribalism and the Ubermensch
"It is the right of the strong to take from the weak." (Martin, 758)
The sociopolitical structure of the Dothraki people is governed by the strong, with tribal communities gravitating around warriors who have proven their greatness in battle. This is seen most evidently when Khal Drogo’s khalasar is disbanded as soon as his strength begins to falter, prompting several of his strongest subordinates to name themselves new Khals to form new khalasars with whoever will follow. This ideology is the reason why none of the Dothraki had any respect for Viserys, who had no true strength of his own, but felt entitled to the Iron Throne by being a descendant of the old dynasty. Though the Targaryen reign was ushered in by the brute strength of Aegon the Conqueror and his dragons (a method of asserting one’s right to rule much in line with this Dothraki system), the establishment of a monarchy after the victory changed the game (of thrones).
Polyvocality in Literature
Trace the history and development of polyvocality (a work having multiple narrators, or following varied narrative voices and perspectives from different characters) as a literary form. From its humble beginnings in the canonisation of the Gospels – combining four distinct accounts of Jesus’ ministry and death by separate authors into one collected volume of scriptural authority – to the epistolary style of Samuel Richardson and Bram Stoker, all the way to Modern novels by William Faulkner, Lawrence Durrell, and George RR Martin. How have methods of polyvocal narration developed over time? What social and aesthetic factors may have given it more prominence at certain historical periods? How have these authors’ choices to present their stories from multiple perspectives been reactionary to the long tradition of single narrators, whether omniscient 3rd person or limited 1st person? How is this reflected in contemporary literary styles and trends?
Homoerotic Subtext and the Ben-Hur Remake
Regardless of one’s personal opinions of film remakes, there’s something rather culturally significant about making a new Ben-Hur in 2016. Since the release of the 1995 documentary, The Celluloid Closet, it has become well-known that Gore Vidal went into writing the screenplay for the 1959 film with the idea that Ben-Hur and Messala were former lovers ((link) which drove much of the subtextual conflict of the story. Though the audience of the day, via their substantially heteronormative attitudes and expectations, was predominantly unable to detect this secret inclusion, today it is viewed as a successful attempt at LGBT representation in the early days of film history.
Fast forward 57 years, to a time when society has progressed enough that homosexuality is no longer the social taboo that it once was and is not at all prohibited from cinematic representation. To remake a film like Ben-Hur at this time presents a world of possibilities, namely that the filmmakers are now able to present the homoerotic tension between these characters more explicitly and overtly than was allowed in 1959. However, based on the two trailers [the film has not yet been released at the time of my writing this], there appears to have been a conscious creative choice to make Ben-Hur and Messala adoptive brothers in this new rendering of the story. One might be inclined to speculate that this decision was made to exorcise the spirit of the story’s homoerotic past, thereby using "brotherly love" in lieu of "ambiguously gay duo" to unburden their hard-core action movie with something that they believe to have "non-masculine" qualities.
Discuss the differences between the two films in this respect. How does it reflect views toward LGBT characters in the film industry, particularly in the action genre? What might it say about the shifting standards for what can be deemed as acceptable and unacceptable film content? Clearly something is a little socially retrograde if a movie in 1959 is able to do a better job of including gay characters than its 2016 counterpart. Might the remake’s heightened religious emphasis have something to do with this? What other examples of recent films might exemplify this phenomenon? Furthermore, what value is there to remake certain films if not to better express aspects that can receive new meaning in our contemporary context?
Jerry Seinfeld's Crusade Against PC Culture
For the past while, Jerry Seinfeld has become quite vocal about his disdain for political correctness in comedy. Independent of one’s personal stance on this highly-contested issue, their is something strange about Seinfeld making himself a spokesman for this somewhat adversarial position, considering how tame his comedy has historically been in that respect. Discuss the nature of Seinfeld’s seemingly unlikely position, what factors may have led him to it, and what influence he has had in the debate.
Ambiguous Aliens and the Narrative of PTSD: Slaughterhouse-Five and K-PAX
In both Slaughterhouse-Five (1969 novel by Kurt Vonnegut, adapted to film in 1972 by George Roy Hill) and K-PAX (1995 novel by Gene Brewer, adapted to film in 2001 by Iain Softley), the main characters experience delusions of extraterrestrials. (Billy Pilgrim encountering the Tralfamadorians and Robert "prot" Porter believing himself to be a K-PAXian from the planet K-PAX.) In both cases, it is hinted, though never stated out-rightly, that these are coping mechanisms in response to trauma experienced by the characters: Billy’s witnessing of the fire bombing of Dresden during WWII and prot’s having lost his wife and daughter and subsequently killing their murderer.
Discuss the thematic link between these two novels? In what ways have they employed this trope similarly to one another, and how has K-PAX (being the latter of the two) altered it or taken it further? Why has extraterrestrial life been used by both of these authors as their go-to psychosis? What may have influenced their mutual decision to leave a final verdict on the aliens ambiguous, both having planted a small seed of doubt that the aliens may be real – and therefore everyone BUT the protagonist is "crazy" for not believing him. Furthermore, how does this compare to other abstract depictions of mental illness in literature and film? Are there any other examples of works that use fictitious aliens to in this way to shield characters from hard truths?
The Rise of Patreon: A Medici for a New Medium
The crowd-funding platform, Patreon (founded in 2013), has become widely used among a variety of different kinds of web-based artists, but perhaps most prominently among YouTubers. Those who subscribe to numerous channels have likely noticed recent plugs to become a patron by pledging money to support new content – many of you may have surely already become patrons to some. Being a medium that is only now truly beginning to carve out its cultural importance, the significance that Patreon has had in this YouTube paradigm shift cannot be understated. More and more artists are now being enabled to support themselves financially off of their web videos, which has allowed them the time and freedom to devote themselves fully to this work without needing day-jobs, and therefore the quality of their work has been able to increase. This has proven to be of particular importance since the recent changing of the rules for traditional YouTube Partnerships, to which the vast majority of creators have agreed that they are no longer being benefited, thus leading them to sign up for Patreon accounts.
Discuss the brief history of the company so far, the intricacies of its business model, and the influence it has had in developing and cultivating YouTube as a new artistic frontier. How is this method of fundraising reminiscent of past models of artistic patronage (from the Medici family of Renaissance Florence to the Nielsen rating system that has dictated the success and failure of television programming since the late 1940s), and how is it unique to the new online ecosystem that it is inhabiting? What might its rising success and bold legitimising of YouTube artistry mean for the future of conventional media channels, such as film, television, and print? Might there be long-term consequences to this format if it continues to expand at its current rate?
Given how new all of this is, and how rapidly the changes are occurring, it is especially interesting to analyse the implications of what has already happened in these early stages to attempt predictions at where it might lead.
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