Playwright, director, essayist. Currently working toward a PhD in Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies at the University of Toronto.
How "Wakanda" Became a Slur
Those who watched Obama’s Nelson Mandela Lecture (17/07/18) on YouTube may have noticed the added dimension of an adjacent comment section scrolling in real-time alongside the event — the medium being the message, and all that rot. One thing that I could not help noticing among the barrage of nonsense assaulting my peripheral vision was the frequency of comments saying something to the effect of "Wakanada forever," "Is this Wakanda?," or even just the single word, "WAKANDA." Evidently, the mere presence of an African setting is enough to be immediately equated with Black Panther’s residual impact on the popular imagination’s impression of the entire continent.
Though it may be difficult to discern whether this is the result of true malice or simple ignorance, there is certainly something to be said about the co-opting of the fictional nation to become a vehicle for such regressive discourse. Given that Black Panther has been unilaterally received as a moment of progress for African American filmmaking and Black culture in general, attention must also be given the unfortunate consequences of its omnipresence, particularly as it has been received by white (and especially conservative) audiences throughout the West.
This article should examine the subtle process by which the film’s iconography has acquired these less-than-favourable connotations, and what that may mean for its continued existence in this highly fractured media landscape. Does this fallout in any way negate the film’s thematic emphases on the legacy of colonialism and globalization vs. isolationism? In a real-world political climate wherein an American president refers to Africa as being comprised of "shit-hole countries," does the mass exposure received by a fictional Afro-Futurist utopia serve as a genuine antidote to these misconceptions? Where is the line between empowerment and sophistry? What impact might this cross-pollination between popular culture and current politics have on the advancement of the latter, as Obama’s lecture was undeniably meant to represent?
The Linguistics of "Wumbology"
Famously coined by Patrick Star (and, by extension, teleplay authors Jay Lender, Sam Henderson, and Merriwether Williams) in S03E05a of Spongebob SquarePants, the term "wumbo" has since become a fixture of the pop culture lexicon and fuel for countless internet memes. It is implicitly defined through its usage as being an adjective (as the opposite of "mini"), but subsequent explanation in the episode assigns it the qualities of a verb ("I wumbo. You wumbo. He/she/me wumbo."), and culminating in the academic discipline of "wumbology" (the study of wumbo, which is supposedly introduced in first grade curricula) thus indicating a noun form in order for it to be studied. Though obviously conceived as a simple joke — aimed at highlighting Patrick’s well-documented stupidity — there is a lot to unpack with regards to this seemingly nonsensical neologism.
Conduct a linguistic analysis of "wumbo" and its variant forms, using only the self-contained snippets of dialogue within the episode as a guide. Does it defy our preconceived understandings of linguistic morphology, or can a series of grammatical rules be devised to account for its inherently contradictory nature? If society were committed to accepting the term’s validity, what would be the parameters of usage under which it would enter our active vocabulary?
[Note: For the best quality article, it is highly recommended that this topic be taken up by someone with a background in, or at least a sufficiently deep knowledge of, linguistics.]
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.
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