Looking Beyond Relatability of Character for the Real Meaning

By Brandon Butz A Traveler's Guide to Sustainability. Originally published at Brandon Butz A Traveler's Guide to Sustainability.

Rebecca Mead, staff writer for The New Yorker, writes the article, “The Scourge of Relatability.” The purpose of Mead’s article is to analyze overtime the term “relatability” and to question “[w]hat are the qualities that make a work ‘relatable,’ and why have these qualities come to be so highly valued?” She remarks:

“Since Freud theorize[s] the process of identification – as a means whereby an individual develops his or her personality through idealizing and imitating a parent or other figure – the concept has fruitfully been applied to the appreciation of the arts. Identification with a character is one of the pleasures of reading, or watching movies, or of seeing plays, though if it is where one’s engagement with the work begins, it should be where critical thought ends.”

Mead concludes that artists do not need to target or connect with their audience; however, it is the responsibility of the audience to reflect and think critically of the artist’s work. I both agree and disagree with her points. That said, I disagree with her first point. I think artists/writers/actors/TV and radio hosts etc. should think about their message and their intended target audience so that their delivery comes across powerfully, successfully, and genuinely. It is a disservice, in my opinion, for an artist/writer/actor/ TV and radio hosts etc. to simply write without any attempt to connect to someone. Ignoring the audience does not result in a win-win situation. For me, regardless of the forum used, the message is critical; the message should not be spoon fed to me but should make me think, reflect, and to challenge my personal views. Otherwise, why write? Moving on, I agree with the second point. It is important for the viewer/listener/reader to connect with what the person is trying to convey. The audience does not need to relate to the character but should attempt to walk in that person’s shoes. In other words, the audience should attempt to venture outside of the box. The process of stepping out of the box and into another person’s shoes enables someone to open their eyes more clearly and broadly and to think more freely and tolerantly. Gaining a new perspective by looking beyond relatability stimulates personal growth.

This new, perspective experience – looking beyond the relatability of the character(s) – happened to me after reading Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs. First off, I am not the intended target audience, a white northern woman during the time of slavery in the United States. Despite the fact that I’m not the intended audience, I am still able to relate to Jacob’s poignant themes and messages about abandonment, suffering, and freedom. It is a combination of these themes and messages as well as Jacob’s determination and her relentless desire for hope that surpasses the lack of relatability of her character, Linda Brent. Jacobs teaches universal truths about will power and self-belief as well as spurs political activism. From her writings about the harsh and the brutal conditions of slaves, I am able to connect more clearly with the abuses of others. The Life of a Slave Girl encourages me to question the morality and humanity of what is going on around me. Sadly, Ira Glass declaring “Shakespeare sucks” because “Shakespeare is not relatable, unemotional” misses the poignant point of reading/studying/watching Shakespeare and learning from it. In my opinion, it is not important to relate to Richard III per say but to identify right from wrong and freewill from fate as well as identifying and relating to the other themes and messages of justice, power, and manipulation. These concepts are not only pertinent today but also are relatable today. Again, similar to Richard III, it is not critical for me to see myself in the same mirror as the characters in the “Twelfth Night;” however, what is important is the concept that things are not what they seem.

It is hard for me to imagine that many people can personally relate to a person that lived over 500 years ago. However, their experiences, feelings, hopes, purpose, and legacies should be shared regardless of a personal connectivity. It is their message that is purposeful not their relatability.

Conversation with My Mother

By Brandon Butz A Traveler's Guide to Sustainability. Originally published at Brandon Butz A Traveler's Guide to Sustainability.

The Twine game – Conversations With My Mother – created by Merritt Kopas makes difficult and sensitive topics easy. Although my mother worries and cares for me, I still have issues discussing personal matters with her. I don’t want to disappoint her or to have her think negatively of me. With a click of this short, simple, hyper text-based interactive game, I’m guided through a no confrontational conversation. This game works as a means to “fake” dictate a convo with your parent. The game starts out, “I don’t mean to be intrusive, but I want to talk to you about,” and the user chooses between therapy, hormones, or makeup. It takes away fear, nervousness, or hesitation. This medium can aid as a practice session for an upcoming, real conversation.
Each choice – therapy, hormones, or makeup – has its unique advantage. The game choice I like best is therapy; it compares therapy to grieving. Grieving is a process of reflection and of moving forward. The mother adds that she mentions to a friend that you are (I am) doing very well. This statement comforts me because sometimes reassurance is what a child needs. The game that is most realistic, in my opinion, is makeup. The conversation flows easily. For example, the mother mentions how simple it was when she was younger when makeup was “natural.” Then, she adds that she will be sending skin care product soon. The mother desires to connect with her child’s makeup dilemma. The hormone game suggests that hormones do not discriminate between age and gender, and mother and child are more alike than they are different.
I enjoy the directness of this Twine game. In just a few clicks an entire conversation about a difficult topic is discussed in a non-controversial way. There is no yelling, arguing, or misunderstandings. Drama is definitely taken out of the game. The most uplifting part of the game is that it ends with, “I’ll let you go” and “I love you;” this replicates true emotions.
Other genres like an essay or short story might take pages to complete the same thought process as in Conversations With My Mother. Written works tend to give a lot on background but sometimes background is not needed. For example, the makeup game does not need the history of makeup or how the views of makeup have changed overtime. Instead, what is important is that makeup and skin care is a sensitive problem for teens so how does a teenager deal with it? It may take a chapter or pages to get across what makeup does in a couple of clicks.
Major drawbacks of Twine include it does not reach everyone, and it does not allow the user to thoroughly examine alternatives. In other words, the game can be pretty generic. That said, perhaps having the choice between two or three more “key words” would be useful. This would replicate a conversation more completely. Plus, it would allow the user to reflect on more angles of difficult situations to grow.

Trapped Behind the Yellow Wallpaper (Prompt 2)

By Brandon Butz A Traveler's Guide to Sustainability. Originally published at Brandon Butz A Traveler's Guide to Sustainability.

Charlotte Perkins Stetson – sociologist, novelist, poet, and lecturer – writes the short story, “The Yellow Wall-paper,” in the late nineteen hundreds after battling nervous breakdowns. “The Yellow Wall-paper,” is released in “The New England Magazine” in January 1892, and the short story highlights the women’s issue. During this time, there are two polarizing views regarding women: the domesticated, dependent view and the more progressive, independent view. Silas Weir Mitchell, a specialist in nervous disorders and the physician Stetson hires to cure her, demonstrates the traditional view. Mitchell prescribes his “rest cure” for Stetson, which includes living a domestic life and reducing intellectual stimulus. Stetson through “The Yellow Wall-paper” challenges Mitchell’s domesticated view of women and his “rest cure.” “The Yellow Wall-paper” reveals that women feel trapped when they do not think for themselves, create for themselves, or discover their purpose.
The idea that women cannot think for themselves is depicted immediately in “The Yellow Wall-paper.” The narrator and her husband, John, rent a mansion for the summer so that the narrator can get the needed rest to recovery from her nervous breakdowns. From the beginning, John takes control over his wife. The narrator does not even get the chance to pick out her own room albeit they are at the mansion to aid her recovery. The narrator feels a first floor room off of the piazza with beautiful chintzes and a remarkable view of the roses would be the most therapeutic room for her (Stetson 648). However, John feels the big, airy attic is the better choice for his wife’s recovery. Thus, the big, airy attic becomes their room. The narrator further explains that in addition to not being capable of choosing the ideal room, she is incapable of accurately reporting her medical condition. The narrator knows and states that she is sick, but John, does not believe that she is sick. Therefore, because John states that she is not completely sick, the narrator is not completely sick. To give further evidence that John feels superior to his wife, he treats her like a toddler. John laughs at her, carries her to bed, reads her a bedtime story, and calls her “little girl” (Stetson 652). John’s actions demonstrate that, in his mind, his wife is unable to think or to act for herself.
According to the narrator, women are trapped not only because they cannot think for themselves, but also because they are told by other men not to create or not to work. The narrator confesses that work is therapeutic for her: “I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relive the press of ideas and rest me” (Stetson 649). Even John’s sister watches over her to make sure she is not writing. To gather some intellectual stimulus, the narrator hides her journal. Only domestic chores – like housekeeping – are permitted and are appropriate for women according to John and his sister. Frustrated, the narrator tires living in a man’s world. Stuck without work or stimulus, the narrator asks: “But what is one to do?” (Stetson 648). According to the narrator, her lack of creativity causes her to go further into mental hysteria.
The narrator feels that women are denied an opportunity to discover themselves; therefore, women are trapped. The image of a woman behind the yellow wallpaper highlights the sense of entrapment in a man’s dominating world. This womanly image is continually crawling, creeping, and hiding behind the yellow wallpaper. The narrator attempts to free this woman by tearing down as much of the wallpaper that she can. After a chunk of the wallpaper is removed, the narrator notices that the woman is behind bars. She is a prisoner. To represent that the narrator finally discovers herself, she releases the woman from behind the bars. The narrator sums up her experience of living with John and being denied growth: “I’ve got out at last, in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the wallpaper so you can’t put me back!” (Stetson 656). This statement suggest that women just want to break free from the male dominated society that exists in the late 1800s and to discover themselves.
During the late 1800s, feminists pushed for change to liberate women. It is during this time that Stetson writes “The Yellow Wall-paper.” “The Yellow Wall-paper” highlights women’s issues by illustrating the mental dangers of treating a woman like a toddler and denying a woman intellectual and creative growth. Moreover, it sheds light to the deterioration of women, who are controlled by their husbands. Finally, it brings awareness to the inaccuracies of Mitchell’s assumptions about the role of woman and his “rest cure.” “The Yellow Wall-paper” describes the entrapment women feel when they are not able to think for them, to work, or to discover their personal gifts.

The Delicious Garden

By Brandon Butz A Traveler's Guide to Sustainability. Originally published at Brandon Butz A Traveler's Guide to Sustainability.

It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself secure ancestral halls for the summer. However, we lucked out and landed upon the most beautiful place! It is a Victorian beach cottage with classic wicker furniture and fluffy pastel and floral upholstery. It makes me think of English places that you read about, for there are hedges and walls and gates that lock. Off the veranda of this Victorian beach cottage is a delicious garden! I never saw such a garden – large and shady, full of box-bordered paths, and lined with long grape-covered arbors with seats under them. Near this delicious garden is our big and airy room, with pretty old-fashioned chintz hangings. Our southern view – the red rose garden – is absolutely as spectacular as the northern view. It does not matter whether we are looking north, south, or inside of our bedroom to find beauty. Beauty is everywhere! In our bedroom, as strange as it may sound, the wallpaper is spectacular. It is a cheerful, vibrant yellow like the color of sunshine and buttercups. This warm, yellow hue stimulates my mental facilities, and it awakens me with energy. Every morning, I jump out of bed feeling on top of the world! I love who I am, I love John, and I love our newborn. To celebrate my happiness, I grab John for our morning ritual: a quick dance in the rose garden. With all this love inside of me, I sit down and prepare to finish my romance novel, “Oh, What a Wonderful Day.” It celebrates life, joy, love, happiness, and tenderness. John says that with my imaginative power and habit of story making we can have a best seller on our hands. Oh, how delirious love can be!