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This year’s Met Gala opened with the theme of “camp,” and the Gala’s attendants made attempts at capturing this aesthetic, some more successfully than others. Sontag, a pop culture theorist known for defining the term, explains the eponymous theme as a love of “artifice and exaggeration.”As it were, an object or event is more likely to be campy when it is unaware of its exaggerated, “so bad that it’s good” quality.
The body is where things happen, and the body makes things happen. But in light of Sexual Awareness Month, I am thinking about how a body is also a burden. Your body is your heaviest baggage, bearing the scars of physical strain or perhaps even trauma — and in spite of that trauma, the body is daring to feel longing and lust. Everyone has a theory of their body whether or not this theorization is conscious. It comes from watching cinema, scrolling through social media feeds and simply existing. All of these activities happen in spite of and in relation to the emotional history of one’s body. Survivors of sexual assault often struggle with body image and the feeling of being objectified. But the sexualization of the female body, along with the reality that women are disproportionally affected by sexual assault, means that simply existing in a female or femme body is difficult even for those who have not faced sexual assault. So how does one live in a marginalized body with agency and without fear?
I began the year writing a manuscript about desire but quickly realized that words fall short of experience. One weekend away from the opening of the installation, “Dora’s Room: Digital Dreams,” at the Hopkins Center for the Performing Arts, I started to think about the practical implications of desire. People want to experience sex — not talk about it. Most adults remember having “the talk” with their parents when they were teenagers or having to sit through a sexual education course; these conversations were probably more uncomfortable than they were helpful. Given the national institutions that seem to oppose embracing sexuality and a collective desire to do just that, talking about it is more important than ever. This means that taking control of our own sexual health (both physical and mental) requires not just paying attention in health class, but also looking to media that acknowledges the aesthetic element to our bodies. While there are biological and scientific explanations for what happens to our bodies, there are emotional reasons for why these scientific occurrences are allowed to happen.
If Mapplethorpe had Instagram, would his account get banned? In museums, nudity and emotional expression are well-accepted. But the account @artwerk6666, which often features twerking and seemingly baroque iPhone photos of the nude body, recently got deleted at 69 thousand followers for about the 17th time. Featured on Vice, Dazed 100 and a couple of smaller culture websites, Alexandra Marzella, the owner of @artwerk6666, is an artist, selfie taker and feminist performance artist — so what’s the issue? Nudity. Nudity is crass and unsophisticated, or so digital admins would have you believe. Her account, however, is one of many that intentionally misuses social media to display an affect of rawness that destabilizes the idea of a polished public face. An Instagram feed with different variations of golden-hour selfies would be a boring place to be. Social media spaces should take the recent Tumblr regulation initiatives as a sign to take a step back, since feminist performance artists rely on social media to destabilize the image of the perfect woman for consumption.
My inner monologue goes something like this. “Get over it! Twilight came out 10 years ago. Wait — am I really that old?” Yes, Twilight the movie came out in 2008; 10 years, one English major and several French New Extremist films later, and I still am a Twi-hard. I enjoy Claire Denis’ “Trouble Every Day” as much as the next girl, or as much as the next girl who really wants people to know she has “good taste” in films. But there is something to be said for the unrelenting melodrama of a film like “Twilight.” One thing that many feminists and blatant misogynists can agree on is that, put simply, “Twilight” is trash. I do not think “Twilight” is so easy to hate because it is corny; many campy teen or kid flicks are met with little hate, such as the “Harry Potter” series and the television series “The Big Bang Theory.” “Twilight” gets hate because of the way it confronts the reality of emotion. “Twilight” certainly is no feminist rallying call, but the hate it receives makes evident how people (especially women) are stigmatized for embracing their feelings. The growing popularity of auteur culture led to an overvaluing of intellectual control over emotional vulnerability. But pop culture representations of love, in the broadest sense of the word, remind us to forget about being cool; instead, it acknowledges that idealistic emotion can be cheesy and politically problematic, but can bring people together through a now-rare idealism.
I recently purchased a tote on Instagram with the words, “The cyborg in me recognizes the cyborg in you.” With the enthusiasm somewhere between that of a hypebeast and intellectual nerd, I told my friends how it fell into my hands; the bag is sold by Instagram meme account @sighswoon, who created the phrase after reading a text by digital and feminist studies professor, Donna Haraway. My cyborg tote is one product within a larger trend of not only text-heavy apparel, but simple pieces that reference moments in high culture. Some fellow theory lovers have dismissed this as sad and reductive, while some of my more fashionable friends encourage me to resist the urge to read into it. But Theory Garb, as I’ll coin it, demonstrates the pop culture potential of theory when it does not take itself too seriously, and serves as a reminder that it is the beginning of a question and not an answer to one.
Together, the pages I follow on Instagram feed have two sides: emotional excess and visual excess. Everyone follows different content, whether it be food blogs, fitness pages or nature pictures, all of which carry their own trends. Because I tend to follow clothing labels, emotional meme pages, photographers and magazines, my media intake is a narrative that seems to summarize the contrasts between inner and outer feeling. The narrative of sexual liberation in popular personal pages and magazines compared to the shame that seems to pervade more emotional accounts suggests that, in general, the sexually explicit is more socially acceptable than what I might call the emotionally explicit.
“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is corny but good — a throwback to “Sixteen Candles” or “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” unlike what its misleadingly poetic title might suggest. Most of the online hype praises the film for including an Asian female lead while still remaining accessible to other audiences. It delves into high school issues to which other girls can relate — popularity or lack thereof, embarrassing gossip, complicated family situations, teen angst.
My favorite YouTube channel is “i’m cyborg but that’s ok,” named after a 2006 South Korean romantic comedy film called I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK directed by Park Chan-wook. The YouTube user edits feature-length films, mostly independent Asian or French new-wave cinema, down to two to five minutes and pairs the visuals with a song. Similar YouTube users who are less careful about acknowledging content rights have had videos removed. There is an art to splicing and editing, and copyright law should take into account the value of using found footage to allow for reflections of the fragmentation and intertextuality of modernity. YouTube edits create an aesthetic of transnational, transtemporal coolness — little-known gems of art from different parts of the world and different times that come together through a shared emotional core.
In April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a number of fraternities at Dartmouth closed their basements on the Friday of the first weekend. While their effort to stand in solidarity with those who have been sexually assaulted is laudable, such basic initiatives, including the #MeToo movement, fail to capture the complexity of the issue. These initiatives do draw attention to the prevalence of sexual assault, but they are relatively unidimensional and do not engage with issues about sexual assault that are harder to face, creating a false sense of resolvability. It is important that fraternities at Dartmouth College are acknowledging culpability for perpetuating sexual violence, even if only in a small way. However, limiting action to the physical space of a fraternity removes responsibility from individuals. Furthermore, this limited action does not address the fact that many assaults happen outside of basements and in intimate spaces with familiar people.
I used to pride myself on never reading digital copies of books, carrying multiple tote bags to the library in addition to my large backpack full of all the readings I needed for final papers. Over the course of several terms of traveling to and from Dartmouth between off-terms and breaks, I realized that it wasn’t practical to have a personal library on campus of over 80 books that needed to be stored in a giant rolling duffle bag. Instead, I took an approach of compromise, purchasing hard copies of only my favorite books, movies and music, and began cultivating my laptop’s online digital library. As somewhat of a Luddite who still believes in the value of art in hard copy, I learned to appreciate the minimalism of digitization. However, the potential in digitizing art that is consumed on a daily basis, like films, music and literature, goes beyond minimalism.
Finding myself nostalgic for mundanities like London’s crowded public transport, I still keep my Oyster card in the back compartment of my phone, so that I see it every time I pull out my Dartmouth student ID to pay for a meal. Most people, including myself, who take a study abroad term in a city like London often come back to Hanover yearning for city life. I miss my go-to coffee shop where the disaffected barista flashed me a nod of recognition with every visit, taking the bus to Chinatown late at night for a bite to eat alone and the ease of meeting people my age outside the university at which I studied.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about one in five adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness any given year. Sadness permeates our lives in varying degrees and ways, whether a fleeting melancholy due to heartbreak or a long period of numbness from sudden loss, the moodiness that comes with temperate changes or clinical depression that should be treated.
If you’re at all familiar with the niche meme community, you’re probably aware of the “I’m Not Like Other Girls” meme, which satirizes girls who go out of their way to distinguish themselves from traditional notions of femininity. “Starter pack” memes characterize these “unique” women as those who wear checkerboard pants, Kurt Cobain-esque clout goggles and Doc Martens. They identify “Lolita” as their favorite book or movie (a perfect combination of the ironic and subversive) and drink black coffee (black like their soul). Satirizing this behavior is an important critique of internalized sexism. Thus, it is also important to consider that some of the “feminine” characteristics that “I’m Not Like Other Girls” resists are actually worth resisting, and that there should be room for multiple femininities.
Hollywood actresses, including Asia Argento, Rose McGowan, Lupita Nyong’o and Mira Sorvino, recently came forward accusing producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault and harassment. The media regards these cases as milestone events that are “open[ing] the floodgates” to embolden women to speak out about sexual assault. In some ways, this is true, as many women have come forward on social media with the words “me too” as a way to highlight the widespread nature of sexual violence against women. But the reality is that the overarching issue of sexism against women in Hollywood and beyond was already apparent, but it was ignored until the relatively privileged started to speak up about it. Our slowness to realize the seriousness of the issue of sexual harassment in Hollywood draws attention to a greater problem — support for feminism in the abstract, but less so when it comes to reality.
At its surface level, the internet seems to be a website where marginalized communities and individuals can receive affirmation that their social worries are valid and comfort from friends who like their posts or offer compassionate comments. This is evident in trending hashtags about feminism, identity-based meme pages and long Facebook posts concerning individuals’ personal struggles. While it is important to have public conversations about sociopolitical struggles for many marginalized groups, the internet helps to disadvantage visibility-related issues.
Betsy DeVos’ changes to the sexual assault portion of Title IX is understood by many as a deterioration of an already flawed system for survivors of sexual trauma on college campuses. This legislative action, announced last week, follows critiques of Title IX from men’s rights activists and from lawyers of students who felt they had been wrongly accused. Considering President Donald Trump’s administration’s track record with women, there is no question that the assessment is true.
This article was featured in the 2017 Freshman Issue.
“He has gone to breathe an air beyond his own
“A sad voluptuousness, a despondent intoxication make up the humdrum backdrop against which our ideals and euphorias oft stand out...” In “Black Sun,” Julia Kristeva connected the euphoric sublime to Sigmund Freud’s notion of melancholia, elaborating upon two theories to understand how our environment and the people around us translate into effects immortalized in our memories. Sublimity was first defined by Immanuel Kant and later Edmund Burke as the greatness of man and co-opted by gothic and romantic writers to evoke grandeur and joyous exaltation of emotions in towering gothic mountains and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s scenes of nature. In contrast, Freud’s “Mourning and Melancholia” describes melancholia as a depressive effect that occurs due to an irreconcilable loss. By intertwining the melancholy with the sublime, Kristeva demonstrated the complexity of various aesthetic experiences, whether it be in the case of art or social interactions.