Blog Post 8

By Looking into my thoughts.. Originally published at Looking into my thoughts..

I think growing up in a generation where we are consumed with social media and showing off everything – from what we eat to our daily selfies- we constantly crave attention and want to be relatable to our fellow peers. Personally when I think of the word relatable, I think of something that is ordinary or standard. I think being “relatable” to something has just categorized us into a narrow perspective on things. Just because you can’t sense a connection with an idea or thought doesn’t mean that its not credible. I agree with Mead’s thoughts on relatability and how rejecting a piece of work just because it doesn’t reflect us or our ideas is going to hurt yourself and be your loss because you fail to see literature from other perspectives. If we always felt like we agreed with a piece of writing, our minds would never be stimulated to question our differences.

Now looking back to all the literary pieces we read pertaining to tight spaces, there wasn’t a single one that I could fully relate to in a literal sense. For example, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, I could never relate to being an African American woman who struggles with slavery and the fight to live. However, this doesn’t mean that I think this novel isn’t credible. As you read through the novel and realize that she was abused at such a young age makes me want to not believe her life story- but I think I realized that her in order to relate to her pain I need to understand the circumstances she was in. I praise the perspective the novel is written in and although I can’t relate, I feel a strong connection of compassion for Jacobs. I believe that relatability doesn’t always have to be your mirror image, but something that you sense a connection with, have it be physical, emotional, or spiritual. If you can accept the fact that people are different than you can learn to accept that their point of view is relatable.

On a personal note, growing up as a first generation Indian I had some trouble relating to American customs. I still remember my mom giving me rice and curry for lunch rather than the usual Lunchables box. Being so young, I felt uncomfortable because I felt like I couldn’t relate to others, and felt like what I was doing was wrong. However, as I grow up I embrace my differences and realize that I will not be someone else’s definition of “normal”. I have my own identity, my own story and if people cant recognize my individuality than it’s their loss.

“That Movie Was So Unrelatable…I Loved It.”

By BECCA.. Originally published at BECCA..

For many individuals, relatability is a criterion searched for in determining favor of a book, movie, or anything viewed for an audience. People expect to sit back, be entertained, and immediately identify with the characters or plot of the story, effectively reducing the brain power required in finding these connections. “The Scourge of ‘Relatability’” opened my eyes to an argument that I was unaware had such validity. In the theories of Freud he postulates that yes, identifying with characters in a certain book or movie is an acceptable and even enjoyable process of experiencing any story. However, this should not be where our critical thinking ends. Oftentimes, I enjoy a movie or book so much more by the fact that I cannot identify with the main character. This new lens opens my eyes to an unfamiliar view, yet one I can appreciate and learn from. Gaining this perspective enhances my experience with the book or movie and results in a stronger appreciation of the story.
One strong example of a new perspective is in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. The protagonist, a young black woman sold and owned as a slave, is an unfamiliar identity that lack connection with. Though I am able to form some connection of the story with my heritage of the Jewish people and our oppression similar to the black nation’s, this is only a surface level connection. Her personal experiences of being abused and defying her master to free herself is an incredible story of determination and bravery. This story teaches me a lot about what blacks endured during this time as well as the universal lessons of will power and self belief. Such lessons may not have been learned had I chosen a novel where I immediately identified with the protagonist, thus limiting my active involvement and critical thinking in the story.
The article goes on to explain how being “relatable” came to be such a highly valued quality. I can easily think of Buzzfeed articles with titles such as “25 Relatable Things We Did as Kids…” or something along those lines. People are constantly trying to create a universal experience with one another, to find and maintain connections. Ultimately, we don’t want to feel alone. It is in our nature to identify with others and create a community and sense of belonging. Merging these ideas into books or movies is simply part of our nature to “be connected to some other thing,” as the article relates. An awareness for this phenomenon is crucial in improving our experience with books or movies. This new understanding shows us that despite constantly hoping to find connections and identifications, not everything will lend itself to connecting with everyone partaking in the experience. Lithgow tweeting, “Shakespeare sucks” due to his inability to relate to the plot shows his lack of understanding that a work of literature or media doesn’t need to be relatable to everyone or anyone it to make it a valid piece of work. Like in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, it is often the experiences we cannot relate to that force us to question, introspect, and reflect on the messages and takeaways of this particular piece of work. The next time we read a novel or watch a movie, we should actively try and not relate to the characters or plot; let’s see what we can learn.

Slaughterhouse Five (Extra Credit)

By Eduardo Armenta. Originally published at Eduardo Armenta.

Slaughterhouse Five plays with the idea of time, which greatly reminded me of the movie Interstellar. What struck me the most was the description of seeing time as the Rocky Mountains rather than one single moment in time. As the Tralfamadorians explained, they can see the past, the present, and the future and what they do is focus solely on the moments in time in which they are happy. They never actually die since once they reach death they just focus turn to the past.
The reason for why this reminded me of Interstellar is that they explain in detail that if we were able to see the fourth dimension (time), we’d get to relive moments as many times as we wanted. It would be as if we had a DVD of our lives and we could pause, rewind, and forward the DVD in order to watch what we wanted to see. The Tralfamadorians also explained how even though they can see the future, they can’t change what will happen for it has already happened.
In Interstellar we see the fifth dimension in which Matthew McConaughey can see endless variations of one moment in time and can affect them in whichever way he likes. This happens after he survives the black hole and is thrown into a moment of time and space in which he inhabits the fifth dimension and he can see the moment where he left his daughter and all the endless possibilities of events that could have spiraled from different courses of actions.
Being a fan of space and universe exploration (time and dimension theorems included, of course), getting to read about the fourth dimension and getting to watch a visual representation of the fifth dimension is very thrilling. The fourth dimension is mostly explained as a line you can see but every point of the line is a different part of time. So you can look at the point where the line begins or where it ends or at the middle; the thing is that you can just look at it like a regular line on paper, the difference being that the line is made up of an infinite amount of moments. The fifth dimension in turn is you seeing lines too, but each line is a possible outcome of one event. This is better explained by the movie as it physically shows what it’d be like.
Again, as I said, I’m a big fan of space and all the theorems involving it so I was pleased to see popular books and movies integrate these ideas into their story-telling. I already knew part of what had to be understood but someone who knows nothing of the subject has a lot to gain from reading Slaughterhouse Five and from watching Interstellar. We learn of theoretical consistency and the mind-shattering theorems of time itself. Any creature able to enter the fifth dimension or able to go even further would have God status. Imagine being able to see all of time and also being able to change it to your liking. Imagine going even further, because honestly I don’t think I can wrap my mind around what comes after the fifth dimension.
From all this theoretical talk we learn about the significance of human life in relation to the universe and time; we also find the limitations of humanity. We learn to understand the dimensions we live in and see. We also get to understand that the next step for the human race would be to achieve visibility of the fourth dimension. Time is a human creation though so it might all be nonsense. That being said, learning from these two stories to understand the current scientific debates is well worthwhile because you’ll also get to read an amazing book and watch an even better movie.

Relatability of art and its importance

By T A R I Q ATTARWALA. Originally published at T A R I Q ATTARWALA .

“The scourge of “Relatability” written by Rebecca Mead, a staff writer at The New Yorker, speaks about the appropriateness of “Relatability” as a “yardstick” to judge art forms. She is of the opinion that the changing meaning of “relatability” from “connected to some other thing” to “(describing) a character or a situation in which an ordinary person might see himself reflected” and embracing its repercussions on art, is the reason why relatable movies, T.V shows and plays seem to be more popular in recent times but ideally it should not be an element of evaluation. This according to my opinion is incorrect and I believe that “relatability” of art forms has been an important aspect right from the times of Aristotle who coined the term catharsis.

The main intent of most Greek tragedies was “catharsis”, which is to help the members in the audience undergo the emotions that the actors on the stage are portraying in order to purge their emotions and/or undergo certain emotions like fear to season and strengthen themselves. In order to help the audience to undergo an emotionally compelling experience, most plays would include contemporary situations and characters that the audience could “relate” to and hence picture themselves in place of the actor. In such cases, “relatability” needs to be taken into consideration and it would definitely be an important factor in judging the success of the play.

Also, based on personal experience, I thoroughly enjoy watching “That 70s Show” because I can immediately relate the protagonist’s friend circle to my friend circle back in India, and watching it makes me feel at home. For these reason, I believe that it is incorrect to say that “relatability” in art forms is a new concept and an invalid parameter of judgment, but I am also of the opinion that relatability is not the only or most compelling factor to assess art.

Art has the quality and power to talk to us about topics we are incognizant about, in times we will never personally experience. For example, in “Incidents in The Life Of a Slave Girl” by author Harriet Jacobs, I was able to get a glimpse of the lives of African-American slaves in the 19th century in the United States of America. Specifically, in the third chapter of the book, Jacobs speaks about the New Year’s Day for slaves. New Year’s Day usually relates to festivities, gifts and new hope for the future but in the case of the slaves, it is very different because on “hiring-day”, as the slaves called it, mothers had to part with their children because they were sold to other masters in far away towns. Jacobs specifically contrasts the New Year’s Day of “happy free women” to that of the slaves so that the free women due to their inability to relate to “hiring-day” start understanding the grievous hardships of the slaves and try to bring a change to it. Also personally, being ethnically Indian, living in the 21st century and being new to the American culture, I almost completely did not relate to Linda Brent or the setting she lived in but nonetheless, the book was eye-opening, thought provoking and definitely succeeded in its purpose and as an art form.

For the above-stated reasons, I disagree with Rebecca Mead who thinks that taking relatability into consideration has “circumscribed our own critical capacities” but in fact I believe that relatability is an additional and important facet to most art forms because it facilitates human understanding of it. Having said that, I am not completely one-sided and definitely condemn Ira Glass’ negative opinion and tweet about Shakespeare since relatability according to me is just one of the many facets of art and other criteria such as originality are equally important, if not more.

 

“Relatable”

By Sagar Agarwal. Originally published at Sagar's Thought Process.

In her article “The Scourge of Relatability”, Rebecca Mead presents readers with the transformation that the term “relatable” has undergone. In the 20th century, the term “relatable” was used to describe the existence of a connection between two things. Now, a 100 years later, the term has become nothing more than a reflection of one’s idiosyncrasies: you see someone in a sitcom drop a sandwich on the floor and you think to yourself: “Hey that happened to me too! Wow this show is so relatable!” Is this what the significance of “relatable” has come to? Can we not appreciate a brilliant piece of work simply because it is not “relatable”? Well, I stand with Mead when it comes to her opinions about this: in creating a new word and embracing its self-involved implications, we have circumscribed our own critical capacities. But, it is important to consider the other side of this: is the impact of the work on the readers more powerful if it is more “relatable”?

Let’s take a look at Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s work “The Yellow Wallpaper”, where readers are presented with both the political and social inequality that existed regarding the unequal status of women in the late 1800s. In the story, we see how the main character is slowly consumed with the fact that she is confined within the domestic bars of the community. Now at the face of it, this work is clearly not “relatable” to us about 200 years later. When was the last time you heard a story in the news that a woman was driven to madness because she thought someone was behind a wallpaper? Never. Before this story, you’ve probably never heard of that. But does this mean that we should reject the work simply because it is not a reflection of the lives we live? Absolutely not; the beauty of this work does not lie within the “relatable” aspect of the story, but rather its evocative nature. It provides a different means to portray the differences that once existed in the community. Even though we can’t see ourselves in the same picture, we have to realize that it doesn’t matter if we fit in the story or not, but if we actually see the story or not.

Now let’s look at “relatable” in another light. As Mead stated in her article, by identifying yourself with a character in a movie, a book, or anything else that tells a story, you are actively engaged in it. You divert all your focus on to knowing what is happening and what is going to happen next. For example, when you watch an episode of the sitcom “Friends”, there is at least one instance where you think to yourself: “Wow, I remember when I did that once”. It doesn’t matter how old the show is, the audience connects with it every single time, and it is this aspect of the show that has made it one of the most successful comedy sitcoms we have ever seen: it is “relatable”. We hear stories and we see ourselves in them, which isn’t a bad thing. It just means that evokes emotions, allowing us to connect with it better and delve into the story at a deeper level.

So is Rebecca Mead right or wrong about the term “relatable” and its significance in the 21st century? My answer lies somewhere in the middle of both of these options. Yes, it is wrong that we reject unique works simply because of the fact that we cannot see ourselves in them. But then again, for a work to be “relatable” in terms of an idiosyncratic reflection of ones character is not a bad thing: it just means that the story provides an active engagement, allowing us to place ourselves in the middle of all the action and see things with our own eyes. The term “relatable” has definitely transformed and changed over time, but it is the light that we shine it under that decides which side we are on.

 

My Critique on Mead’s Critique of “Relatability”

By The Fourth Child. Originally published at The Fourth Child.

Within “The Scourge of “Relatability,” Rebecca Mead critiques the common understanding of what is consider relatable. She also criticizes the public’s tendency to seek, “relatability,” in novels, articles, movies and other forms of media. Her position on what people consider relatable becomes clear when she writes, “But to demand that a work be “relatable” expresses a different expectation: that the work itself be somehow accommodating to, or reflective of, the experience of the reader or viewer” (Mead). Essentially she is saying that in order to achieve, “relatability,” something within the work must somehow parallel the past experiences of the audience. That’s not to say that isn’t true. If I were to define, relatable, my definition wouldn’t be far from her’s. Yet, Mead takes things a step further. As she describes one with this superficial understanding of relatability, she explains that the reader or viewer, “expects the work to be done for her,” and that he shall, “experience a work as a mirror in which he might recognize himself” (Mead). I don’t uphold that an audience dives into one’s work with the expectation that they might recognize, and “relate,” to one’s words or speech. I think most people read or view the works of others with the desire for a stimulating experience. In fact, I think most people seek the opposite of what Mead describes. Personally, I would prefer to seek novel information, as I find the unknown and unfamiliar so much more enticing.

Nonetheless, that’s not to say that there’s no value in reading or viewing relatable material. Being able to relate to one’s work allows the audience to recognize the deeper meaning behind it, because they themselves have experienced it. “Relatability” is a good tactic for engaging the audience, because you know it’s relevant to them, and it’s guaranteed to evoke their inner emotions. Within the “Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the audience might sympathize with the narrator circumstance. This woman is both separated from her child, and confined to her baby’s nursery. In this sense, an audience member might relate to the narrator if they have been distanced from their children. Or maybe they relate to the narrator’s feeling of confinement or mental distress. The ability to provoke this sense of “relatability” certainly holds some value in engaging the audience, but I don’t think Mead agrees.

Going further into the article, Mead continues to project the public’s extreme desire to recognize themselves within the work of others. And even suggest that this desire is so strong, the one might even reject work that doesn’t create this “mirror” effect. She upholds that people who seek “relatability” are thinking only of themselves, and that the work of others should accommodate their interests and reflect their past experiences. This position becomes evident when she writes, “the notion of relatability implies that the work in question serves like a selfie: a flattering confirmation of an individual’s solipsism” (Mead). But once again, I don’t think that people employ such a shallow method of self-stimulation. I also don’t think that writers employ the use of “relatability” to fulfill such a desire. I think they use it as a way of connecting with people on a deeper level, and to evoke the emotions of the audience. This way the writer can better convey their message and assure that their audience is engaged.

While I find Rebecca Mead’s argument interesting and noteworthy, I don’t fully agree with her positions on “relatability.” While I enjoyed reading her article, I think she spent too much time criticizing how other people define and use “relatability.” While she might of poked holes in the logic of other people’s definitions, she never established her own position on relatability, which I think diminishes her credibility. She only described what relatability is not, and never seemed to describe what relatability really is or should be. “Relatability” is not a shallow method of self-stimulation, but rather a writer’s tactic than can be used to engage their audience and evoke their inner emotions. There’s no harm “relatability.”

 

Works Cited

Mead, Rebecca. “The Scourge of “Relatability” – The New Yorker.” The New Yorker. N.p., 31 July 2014. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, and Dale M. Bauer. The Yellow Wallpaper. Boston: Bedford, 1998. Print.

The Unrealistically Amorphous Character of Time

By Andy Kim. Originally published at Andy's Blog.

Time travel is something that intrigues us all. Many humans yearn for the opportunity to transport themselves to a time period that is otherwise impossible for them to exist due to the relatively miniscule life expectancy of the average human. Such fantasies inspire many plotlines among literature in scientific fiction. Slaughterhouse-Five, an American classic written by Kurt Vonnegut, explores the concept of time from an unconventional method that even most humans do not think of when pondering about time travel. Another radical method of time travel was suggested by Albert Einstein in the early 1900’s when he published his theory on relativity. Comparing the two different concepts leads one to be shocked at how Vonnegut strays from reality but be mesmerized at its originality and deeper purpose.

 

Returning to the point about time travel, most humans envision time travel to be something we control. We can purposely travel to a certain time period, and only we would govern that decision to do so. Billy Pilgrim, the main protagonist in Slaughterhouse-Five, suffers the contrary. He has absolutely no control over his time: “Billy is spastic in time, has no control over where he is going next, and the trips aren’t necessarily fun” (Vonnegut, 23). Time is an essential aspect of this story as Billy experiences mental lapses and recurring memories switching frames sporadically throughout the progress of the early parts of the story. This key idea of time proves to be the distinguishing feature when compared to general relativity. It is also important to note that Billy can be transported to the past. Furthermore, many scholars have dubbed the characteristics of time as demonstrated in Slaughterhouse-Five as “cyclic”. Although this is an intriguing point, it is not a necessary component for the sake of this essay’s comparisons.

 

The whole idea of uncontrollable time is quite suiting for an incredible plotline for science fiction, especially considering the fact that Slaughterhouse-Five was published in 1969, well after Einstein general theory of relativity, which was published over fifty years prior. General relativity suggests that as one travels at a ludicrous, close to the speed of light, it can change how one perceives time depending on the point of referenc. Suppose one goes on a voyage on a spaceship that moves close to the speed of light for two years. Time in the spaceship, as perceived from the controller of the spaceship, proceeds as expected. However, from an outside stationary observer, time in the spaceship proceeds much slower. Conversely, from the spaceship operator, time back on earth is elapsing much faster. In other words, one can return from the voyage having aged two years, but rest of the human population could have aged twenty, fifty, or even more, based on how fast the spaceship was moving. For the sake of refraining from making this a college-level lecture on 20th century physics, I will only explain relativity up to that much. This whole scientific concept suggests that time travel to the future is possible, but the reverse is not.

 

The fact that Billy Pilgrim travels to the past already sets Vonnegut’s concept of time as different from Einstein’s. More important, however, is the fact that unlike in Slaughterhouse-Five, one can travel to any precise moment in the future by calculating the spaceship speed and duration at which the spaceship must travel. In other words, one has complete control over what time period he or she is traveling to, granted it must be in the future. This is by far the most intriguing difference between the two. Vonnegut incorporated the concept of capricious time as something different from conventional time travel. As Billy Pilgrim moves back and forth between the future and past, it is quite apparent that Tralfamadorian time debunks the idea of freewill, or the control over one’s actions. His life was laid out for since his birth, and the events Billy perceives to be from the future are in fact all events that had already happened. On the other hand, we have the freewill to impact our own futures. Reality gives us the freedom that so many people take for granted. We are responsible for making the right decisions with the will we are granted, and Vonnegut displays the horrors and displeasure the lack thereof can bring.

That’s Just the Way It Is

By Enigma. Originally published at Enigma.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut is a book about time travel, and with any book, movie, or show about time travel, there are some logical flaws. Vonnegut manages to dodge the typical and most serious logical fallacies by sticking to a “deterministic” view on time. Determinism is a philosophical view that I have had for as long as I started thinking about time travel, and is a widely accepted philosophical belief often carrying over into the realm of modern physics. Just as Billy Pilgrim learns from the Tralfamadorians, the future cannot be changed, the past, present, and future have always happened, are happening, and will always be happening. This is the same idea as determinism. So what if I went back in time and killed my past self? Well if backwards time travel was possible you wouldn’t be able to kill yourself, you wouldn’t even be able to meet yourself or else you would have the memory of meeting yourself. Another way of looking at determinism is to imagine an infinitely intelligent being. A being that can instantly calculate any physics, biology, chemistry, or other type of equation. A being that knows how to calculate the chemical reactions that go into producing a thought that leads to a decision. This being, according to determinism, would be able to predict, billions of years ago, that I would be sitting here right now at this moment writing these very words, it would be able to tell you how this paper is going to end before I could. This idea of things being set in stone is not to be confused with “fatalism” the idea that things are fated to be a certain way by mystical influences.

The idea of determinism conflicts with the idea of “freewill” something directly addressed in Slaughterhouse-Five. Billy Pilgrim asks a Tralfamadorian if this view of time means freewill does not exist, the Tralfamadorian responds, “”If I hadn’t spent so much time studying Earthlings, I wouldn’t have any idea what was meant by ‘free will.’ I’ve visited thirty-one inhabited planets in the universe, and I have studied reports on one hundred more. Only on Earth is there any talk of free will.” When I was reading Slaughterhouse-Five it was when I read this line that my views on time and determinism began to be challenged. I had always thought of determinism and freewill coexisting. I had believed that while my decisions could be predicted by some sentient being it is still my decision to make. I can choose to write my next sentence in gibberish. AAgk YUes inro yaag.

That was my idea of freewill before reading Slaughterhouse-Five, simply being free to decide things and those decisions determining my future. But now I stand with Kurt Vonnegut and the Tralfamadorians. Now I believe that freewill just simply does not matter; that freewill is a mere condition of thought produced through human interests. While yes I am choosing each and every word and in that sense have freewill, I also do not believe I can deviate my future from that predicted of an infinitely intelligent being and in that sense I do not have freewill. I do not think the problem in this logical fallacy lies in my conception of time, I think the idea of “freewill” is simply too ambiguous. Freewill is simply something created by humanity in order to comfort people who do not feel in control of their lives. The idea of your life being able to be predicted down to every last detail scares humans, so we convince ourselves that our decisions in some way “belong” to us. We tell ourselves that we could have chosen to do something different, but the thing is there are simply no variables or room for variation. If I go back in time a half-hour, everything will be exactly the same as it was a half hour ago, from the temperature of the room I am in to the very thought in my head. Every single time these things would be the same and I would therefore have the same progression of thought and the write this very same paper, down to every last word.

‘Poo-tee-weet’