Optional Blog: Slaughterhouse-Five Compared to LOST, Back To The Future, and Doctor Who

By WriteSideUp.org. Originally published at WriteSideUp.org.

1. Explain at least one idea about time offered by Slaughterhouse-Five. Compare that to the way time works in another piece of fiction (book, movie, etc.) or within a particular philosophical, scientific, or religious system. What do you learn from the comparison?

Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five details the experiences of Billy Pilgrim, a man “unstuck in time,” continuously traveling back and forth through time, experiencing his life in non-chronological order. While the topic itself is unique, time-travel is used heavily throughout popular culture, appearing everywhere from movies, such as Back To The Future, to TV shows, like LOST and Doctor Who. Despite its occurrences in all of these forms of media, time travel is never the same, with each appearance having its own set of rules and features. The four occasions above follow at least one of the following rules: 1. The person, themself, travels through time (Marty McFly in B.T.T.F., The Doctor in Doctor Who, The main characters in LOST), 2. The person’s consciousness travels through time (Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five, Desmond Hume in LOST), 3. Time can be rewritten (B.T.T.F., Doctor Who, LOST), and 4. Time is immutable (Slaughterhouse-Five, LOST (contains both)). Kurt Vonnegut’s usage of Billy’s consciousness traveling and having an unchangeable timeline creates a future that is set in stone, creating a non-paradoxical world, unlike the other above-mentioned usages.
When introducing a world where time travel both exists and can affect the timeline, problems and paradoxes present themselves. In Back To The Future, Marty McFly travels back to 1955, a time where he had never existed prior, and meets his mom who begins to fall in love with him, thus disrupting the timeline. While this is a fantastic plot for a Sci-Fi Comedy movie, it creates an unexplainable, circular paradox: If Marty travels back in time and disrupts the meeting of his parents, he will never be born, which means there will be no Marty to travel back in time to disrupt the meeting of his parents.
Doctor Who prevents paradoxes by describing certain time periods as “fixed points in time.” Some moments in time can be changed if they don’t affect the future greatly, such as the death of an insignificant character. Fixed points, however, include the death of The Doctor, or the destruction of the universe. The Doctor simply cannot travel back in time and change those, as the universe would create a paradox far worse than the occurrence.
LOST explains it as “course correction” and that “Whatever happened, happened.” Despite the efforts of all of the main characters when they travel back in time, they cannot change the timeline, and were always destined to reach the island. The only character that can change his or her own timeline is Desmond Hume, for reasons unknown, other than him being “special.” Rather than time traveling as a person, Desmond’s consciousness moves in time. His mind goes to where his body already exists, allowing him to experience events over, rather than for the first time. Desmond’s ability, however, only allows him to change how something happens, rather than something occurring in general. He decides to buy the ring for his girlfriend after not doing so originally, but his girlfriend still leaves him due to the universe “course correcting” itself.
Slaughterhouse-Five prevents the above problems by creating time traveling more as a “life flashing before your eyes” experience for Billy, rather than actually traveling through time and space. Billy can only react to his life as if he were watching a movie of it; he has no power to affect what happens in the slightest sense. Billy’s time traveling is akin to Desmond’s in the sense that it is his consciousness doing the traveling, and not his body; in essence, he never travels to a time where he didn’t exist. This also creates a paradox-free world where he never has to worry about running into himself in a location, as he is inside of the sole body that existed at the time. No incidents occur in this world that can occur in the worlds of Back To The Future, Doctor Who, or LOST.
In his novel Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut cleverly creates a world where the protagonist can drift freely in a non-chronological world without suffering the paradoxical consequences that come with most time-traveling stories.

Good scholarly talks on video

We’ve been talking about how a conference paper or public lecture is different from a paper intended for print, but what does that mean in practice? YouTube to the rescue.

Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (Professor of English at Emory), “Staring and Its Implications in Society”: Garland-Thomson is actually summarizing the argument of her book. Note how elegantly she combines neurological, historical, and aesthetic points, describing a universal phenomenon without resorting to generalities. (Except for “in society.” Don’t use that.)

Tricia Rose (Brown): “Hip Hop Wars”: A funny, passionate argument for taking pop culture seriously. There’s a 14-minute and a 40-minute version of her talk.

Arnold Weinstein (Brown), “Why Literature and Medicine?” One answer to the question of what we can learn about real bodies and brains by examining fictional situations.

In the series “Emory looks at Hollywood,” various faculty members deliver a short talk connecting a current hit movie to their own areas of expertise: The Hunger Games and Roman gladiator culture; Captain America and the ethics of war technology, Girls and our expectations about women on TV…. As you listen, pay attention to what points they make, and what they leave out. You shouldn’t hear any sentences like, “This movie is about…,” or “It was directed by _____ and released in 2014,” nor should you hear description for its own sake. Obviously, you can’t splice film footage into your own talk, so you will have to supply that information with your words!

“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.

Beauty in the Real World

By My Corner of the Internet. Originally published at My Corner of the Internet.

 

In school we are taught that those who work the hardest will become the most successful, yet some sociologists suggest that a person’s physical beauty can influence how far they get in life. Over the years, many researchers have studied the correlation between beauty and evolution, and how populations perpetuate the most beautiful and desirable genes that increase reproductive success. However, I want to take this a step further by investigating how genetics can effect economics and predetermine certain outcomes. I want to study what sociologists consider “beautiful” and to define what we categorize as “successful.” I will then analyze how people determine which candidates to elect into leadership positions and how certain media stars in Hollywood have achieved worldwide fame.

To accomplish the first part of this study, I will analyze the book “Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful” by Daniel S. Hamermesh. Hamermesh is a well-respected economics professor at the University of Texas-Austin, and has spent twenty years studying how physical appearances affect economic standing. I will determine if there is enough solid evidence to support the idea that those who are more attractive earn more.

Then, I will tie this into how people vote for our politicians and organization leaders. With the presidential elections looming around the corner, we would like to think that we will elect the person who is most qualified to lead our country. However, I will do a critical reading of the literary article, “The Looks of a Winner: Beauty and Electoral Success” to see if that is truly the case. I am curious to know if I can determine the winner based on how humans tend to vote in the polls.

Finally, I will look into the Hollywood industry, which famously shuns the perfectly normal woman and praises unattainable beauty. I will draw from Mindy Kailing’s memoir, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me and Other Concerns,” which details the impossibly funny life of a not-so-typical actress who makes it big in the TV industry. From humble beginnings, to international fame, I will see if looks are the main quality that makes humans attractive

 

 

Bibliography

 

Hamermesh, Daniel S. Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2011. Web.

 

Berggren, Niclas, Henrik Jordahl, and Panu Poutvaara. “The Looks of a Winner: Beauty and Electoral Success.” Journal of Public Economics 94.1-2 (2010): 8-15. Web.

 

Kaling, Mindy. Is Everyone Hanging out without Me?: (and Other Concerns). N.p.: Ebury, 2013. Print.

But does Juno even help?

By My blog. Originally published at My blog.

Conference paper proposal

How accurately is abortion really portrayed in Juno? I saw this film as one that articulated the unequal reproductive options available to different women from a pro-choice perspective.

Through my analysis of this film I am investigating whether or not the pros outweigh the cons in terms of shedding light on abortion and fertility options available to privileged women through this pro-choice perspective. Although this film advocates for women having autonomy over their own bodies, perhaps Juno’s failure to acknowledge the effect that socioeconomic class and race have on accessibility has weakened the pro-choice argument they are trying to convey..

Unlike the pro-choice movement, the pro-life movement does very little to help minorities escape cycles of perpetuated poverty. How much can minority women benefit take away from this movie on the choices of privileged women?

 

 

 

Although abortion and the use of contraceptives are legal in the United States that does not mean that they are accessible or even considered options for everyone. Scarcity of abortion clinics in low income areas, the prices of different contraceptives, policies like the Hyde amendment, and the overall racism and classism that surround reproductive politics contribute to the different priorities of pregnant women. Minorities are not given access to the same resources that white women have and are therefore more limited in the control they have over their bodies and futures. While it is one thing for the government to provide reproductive rights through legislation, this legislation cannot be justified if it doesn’t ensure accessibility as well. By not providing the same accessibility to white and nonwhite pregnant women, the government is not only supporting divisions based on race and class differences, it is also perpetuating a cycle of poverty in low- income communities. In order to break this continuous cycle of poverty in low income communities, minorities need to be given reproductive rights as well as reproductive justice so that they too can take advantage of the opportunities that will further them in this society. While the government has passed laws to protect reproductive rights, they have not done nearly enough to make sure U.S citizens have access to the resources that allow them to exercise these rights.

 

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.