Should We Relish Relatability?

By Hannah. Originally published at Wonders of the World of Writing.

I challenge you to think about your favorite book or movie. What are some characteristics that make it your favorite? How would you describe it to your friends? Is it funny, intense, intriguing? What would you say about the character development? Are the characters easy to connect with? Relatable?

In reading “The Scourge of ‘Relatability’” by Rebecca Mead, many interesting points are brought up about reliability in films and novels. According to the article, many would agree that one defining characteristic of a “good” verses a “bad” movie or book is how relatable it is. For example, critics will rave about movies that are easy to connect with, that tug on our heartstrings, such as those with romance. The article uses the example of movies based off of John Green books. Which the overall theme of young love is always present. An example from class is the movie, The Breakfast Club. Many of us have been through high school, and have seen the different groups with their specific interests. Maybe we haven’t met people from other groups while sitting in detention, but we can relate to the students and their personal stories. Many of the themes within the movie we can connect with, such as the pressure of social acceptance, the high expectations of authority figures, or the task of trying to define yourself. This movie has stood the test of time, and personally I think it is due to the relatability of the characters and their situations. Personally, I agree that many of the books and movies I enjoy are those that are in someway relatable to my life. In being able to, not only be sympathetic with the characters, but also empathetic you as the reader or viewer are able to establish a deep relationship with the characters.

This being said, Mead does present an interesting point. The characteristic of “relatability” is relatively new. The word “relate” has changed meanings over the years. Specifically, Mead brings up how during “Shakespearean time” relate meant “something that could be told” or “connected to another thing”. Recently, the meaning has been transformed into more of a personal definition. We say things are relatable when the reader or viewer can see themselves and empathize with the character or situation.

As much as we enjoy the feeling of connectedness through movies and books, aren’t there some times when we enjoy ones we don’t connect with, just as much? Mead argues that fabricating “relatability” as a criteria for some work to be “good” is very limiting. To an extent I disagree, however I do also agree with this. As an audience, we can’t always connect to the situation, but rather the circumstances may provoke us to see something in a different light, or to learn about a new experience. An illustration of this is Incidence in the Life of a Slave Girl. Jacobs writes this book with the correct notion that her audience would not be able to directly connect with her experiences. Sure, to an extent we can sympathize with her, but we will never truly know the horrendous predicaments she describes. We cannot say we have been treated maliciously as a slave, whipped, beaten, sexually abused. Despite not being able to directly relate with Jacobs, many (including myself) found this book to be “good”. Although it wasn’t “relatable” it was very thought provoking and eye opening.

Mead’s article looks at “relatability” in a completely negative way. I agree with her point, that sometimes relatability isn’t everything and that we cannot always judge the quality of a work by how much we connect with it. However, relatability is not a negative thing either. In saying this, we should be wary of how quick we are to judge a work and shouldn’t base our opinions on merely the “relatability” of it.

American Life-Traditions – Revised

By Ruth. Originally published at Expressions » English 181.

In 2003, the radio show, This American Life, hosted a segment called “20 Acts in 60 Minutes,” in which twenty stories from people across the country are told in just sixty minutes. In the span of sixty minutes, this segment succeeds in revealing the essence of American life, and anyone who is completely unfamiliar with American life can form a solid depiction of it.

In Act Three of the segment, Susan Drury recounts a time in 1997 after she and her husband relocated to rural Tennessee, during which they grew attached to the local radio station. Each night they tuned in to hear obituaries, weather updates, and their favorite show – a show where people call in to advertise and sell the things that they wished to get rid of. The host never commented on the callers and the things they sold – he understood that everyone goes through tough times and that “your business is your business.” This reveals that everyone has his or her own life with his or her own story and background. However, despite this, everyone is connected as well, whether it’s through work or school or the neighborhood grocery store. In this act, everyone is connected through the local radio show and through this system of commerce. Through this system, the people of this town are forming a community in which they are united by selling and buying their belongings to each other. They are connected in the fact that everyone through tough times – we all have that in common. These people are also united in this simple tradition of sitting around the radio every night with their families. Thus from this act, anyone who is unfamiliar with American life can conclude that Americans each lead their own lives but are united in certain aspects of their lives. They also place value in simple traditions like listening to the radio every night with their family.

In Act Fifteen of the segment, David Rakoff recounts the time he moved to Japan for a job at an advertising agency. At this job, his colleagues were using a “network” on computers to which someone could post a newsletter and others could log on and comment or talk to each other, as well as do research. David never believed this “network” would take off or become anything in the future. In fact, he never believed that Madonna would make it in the music business or that the book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus would become a best-seller. Contrary to David’s beliefs, the “network” soon became the Internet, and Madonna and the novel both became chart-toppers. This shows the fast pace, progressive nature of American life, and progression was always something that Americans strived for. American life is always changing, and people are always looking for new and better ways of doing things and of thinking.

However, Act Fourteen of this segment reveals one contradiction to this. This act is about a Chicago based sausage company that built a new factory in 1970 that was meant to replace an older facility. However, the sausages that were produced at the new factory lacked a certain quality that the old sausages at the previous facility had. After trying and trying to find the source of that quality, the owner concluded that it came from a single man named Irving at the old factory who had this elaborate pre-cooking preparation process for the sausages. Irving never transferred to the new facility, and the quality that gave the sausages their “snap” and color was lost. Thus, in a way, old was better. This story demonstrates that although American life is fast moving and progressive, Americans still have value in the old and outdated way of doing things – in traditions. Americans move forward at a fast pace, but everyone once in a while we pause to appreciate the classic, the traditions, the way things were.

 

Twine Game

By Outlooks. Originally published at Outlooks.

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I had the chance to play the twine game, Depression Quest, by Zoe Quinn. Within this game, I played the role of a depressed individual, making everyday decisions and experiencing everyday anxieties. I immediately found this interactive game to be quite relatable, as I have had numerous friends and family members experience depression, and I can recall how hard it was for them. Additionally, I am pretty anxious person myself, so I found many of these circumstances to be surprisingly familiar and relatable. Depression Quest was unlike any game I have ever played, as it centered around me and changed based on my decisions. The game constantly reminded me that the person being described was actually me, and that at all times of the day I was “depressed.” Which provided for a very real interactive experience. The game’s eerie background music and fuzzy images created an unsettling environment fit for the story’s topic. This combination of imagery, background music, and text, provided for a very unique experience unlike reading an essay or short story. When playing the game, I felt as though I was in a trance like state, and was nearly convinced that the person the game was describing was actually me. At one point in the middle of playing the game, a friend interrupted me, in which I took off my headphones and literally had to “snap out of it” to listen to him. The text within the game provided the same imaginary aspects of reading a book or short story, yet unlike a book, I was in control of the story, and every feeling described by the game was being experienced by me. While playing a game that centers on depression may not have been very fun or addicting, it evoked various emotions and was extremely effective in grasping my attention. It provided for a unique and stimulating experience in which I was able to experience what it’s like to be depressed first hand. I believe Zoe Quinn created this game to spread awareness for depression. Yet, awareness can often be insufficient. It is so common that a person reads a sad article about some tragedy, only to forget about it moments later and go on with their day. I believe that to actually compel people to take action, you must evoke their inner emotions and establish common ground. And what better way to evoke sympathy from the player of the game than to actually simulate depression? I believe the platform in which Zoe Quinn chose to convey this message could not have been more suitable.

American Life – Traditions

By Ruth. Originally published at Expressions » English 181.

In 2003, the radio show, This American Life, hosted a segment called “20 Acts in 60 Minutes,” in which the host decided to forgo the typical three or four stories centered around a theme each week and instead tell twenty stories from people across the country in just sixty minutes. In the span of sixty minutes, this segment succeeds in revealing the essence of American life, and anyone who is completely unfamiliar with American life can form a pretty solid depiction of it.

In act three of the segment, Susan Drury recounts a time in 1997 after she and her husband relocated to rural Tennessee, during which they grew attached to the local radio station. Each night they tuned in to hear obituaries, weather updates, and their favorite show – a show where people call in to advertise and sell the things that they wish to get rid of. The host never comments on the callers and the things they sell – he understands that everyone goes through tough times and that “your business is your business.” This reveals that everyone has his or her own life with his or her own story and background. However, despite this, everyone is connected as well, whether it’s through work or school or the neighborhood grocery store. In this act, everyone is connected through the local radio show and through this system of commerce. Through this system, the people of this town are forming a community in which they are united by selling and buying their belongings to each other. These people are also united in this simple tradition of sitting around the radio every night with their families. Thus from this act, anyone who is unfamiliar with American life can conclude that Americans each lead their own lives but are united in certain aspects of their lives. They also place value in simple traditions like listening to the radio every night with their family.

In act fifteen of the segment, David Rakoff recounts the time he moved to Japan for a job at an advertising agency. At this job, his colleagues were using a “network” on computers to which someone could post a newsletter and others could log on and comment or talk to each other, as well as do research. David never believed this “network” would take off or become anything in the future. In fact, he never believed that Madonna would make it in the music business or that the book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus would become a best-seller. Contrary to David’s beliefs, the “network” soon became the Internet, and Madonna and the novel both became chart-toppers. This shows the fast pace, progressive nature of American life, and progression was always something that Americans strived for. However, act fourteen of this segment reveals one contradiction to this. This act is about a Chicago based sausage company that built a new factory in 1970 that was meant to replace an older facility. However, the sausages that were produced at the new factory lacked a certain quality that the old sausages at the previous facility had. After trying and trying to find the source of that quality, the owner concluded that it came from a single man named Irving at the old factory who had this elaborate pre-cooking preparation process for the sausages. Irving never transferred to the new facility, and the quality that gave the sausages their “snap” and color was lost. Thus, in a way, old was better. This story demonstrates that although American life is fast moving and progressive, Americans still have value in the old and outdated way of doing things. In other words, Americans have value in traditions.

Choices, Choices, Choices

By Hannah. Originally published at Wonders of the World of Writing.

Life is full of times with forks in the road at which we must decide which path to take. Sometimes though, we are not in control of what we do, where we go, or what happens. One of those times where we are incapable of making choices is in reading literature. Normally, the work is written by the author with a specific purpose to accomplish. Whatever the author had in mind, you read. You, as the reader, have no say in what the work is, and little to no say about the interpretation of the work. However, there are mediums of writing which allow you to interact with the text, become a part of the story, and even influence the ending. Twine is a software tool that allows people to create interactive fiction by utilizing the visual structure of hyperlinks.

The Twine game that I played is called Coyotaje. Written by Joseph Domenici, a Stanford graduate in Psychology and Creative writing, Coyotaje tells the story of illegal immigration. Based on the premises of the Mexican cultural practice of hiring an intermediary, known as a coyote, to assist in illegally crossing the border into America, this story is “played” from the perspective of a hired coyote. You, the reader, must make choices of how to act or where to go, with the goal of successfully helping your employers across the boarder without getting caught, thrown in jail, or killed. Playing this game was pretty neat because unlike other mediums of literature, it was very interactive and you, as the reader, feel in control of the story’s outcome. I played this game many times for multiple reasons. First, because I thought the concept of a coyote was interesting. But also because the first time I played it my character was shot and the people I was assisting were caught and thrown in jail. Each time I played I clicked on the different options, sometimes purposely aiming for a certain outcome and other times clicking what I thought would make an interesting story. That is what is so intriguing about Twine games; they are not restricting and you as the player decide the fate of the characters. Twine games allow you to manipulate the story, unlike other forms of writing such as novels or essays, which are written solely by the author. The other forms of writing seem rigid and stiff in comparison to the malleable nature of Twine games.

It is also compelling to think about how this medium also allows the creators to be less restricted than in other genres. In other types of writings, such as an essay or short story, there is only one ending. However, the interactive style of these games allows the creators to write alternative endings with many different paths for their characters. As the player, you may feel like you have the freedom to choose what happens, however ultimately the creator is the one that already pre-planned out the possible endings. Twine games, unlike other forms of writing, allows both the creator to explore the many different scenarios of their story and the player to have the sense of control.

These games are interesting to play, however they are not always the best method of presentation of stories. The interactive aspect of this particular story has its drawbacks. One negative of using this medium is that the endings are very predictable. In this game, the choices given were very drastic in comparison. It was easy to tell which was the “right” choice and which was the “wrong” choice. In that sense you knew by which one you picked how the story would eventually end up. Another downside is the lack of character development. Since you act as the coyote, the character takes on whatever personality you have, but it is only shown through your choices. There are no personality descriptions about your character, or of any of the others for that matter. The interactive style gives the feeling of the writing as more of a game rather than a piece of writing you are reading. Rather than a story, it seems more like an objective you are trying to accomplish. This causes the story to lose its “story-like, narrative” feel.

Despite these shortcomings of using Twine, the interactive manner of these games give the player a sense of control and is very different in comparison to the static structure of other modes of literature.

Perception of Women in “The Yellow Wallpaper”

By Outlooks. Originally published at Outlooks.

Within, The Yellow Wall Paper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the narrator carries a definitive sympathetic attitude towards women. While the narrator is indeed mentally ill, making her words a bit untrustworthy, a discernable perception of women still arises from her thoughts and actions. As the narrator sits in the nursery and sulks in her “nervous depression,” she persistently complains about the way John treats her. She feels belittled by John in his remarks toward her illness and her “nervous” tendencies. She frequently avoids John and tends to only write in his absence. At one point she even mentions that she “fears” John. Accordingly, her fear of John causes her to seek comfort in women’s company.

The narrator’s favoritism towards women becomes apparent when describing John’s sister, Jennie, “There comes John’s sister. Such a dear girl as she is, and so careful of me!… she is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession. I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which made me sick! But I can write when she is out, and see her a long way off from these windows” (Gilman). The narrator is quite noticeably fond of Jennie, and clearly appreciative of the way she treats her. She often speaks of how she would like to visit Jennie, yet John always reasons against it. The narrator’s fondness of Jennie becomes increasingly more prevalent as the story progresses; “Jennie is good and lets me alone when I want her to” (Gilman). Because the narrator seeks comfort in writing, and only writes in secret, she prefers to be alone. Yet, she is almost always in John’s company, and thus she appreciates Jennie because she leaves her alone when she wants to be.

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Nonetheless, Gilman’s most significant allusion to the narrator’s sympathy toward women comes from her interpretation of the yellow wallpaper. Through her many hours of staring and analyzing the wallpaper, the narrator begins to perceive different layers within its pattern. Within these layers she sees a figure, “The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out” (Gilman). Within this passage, she claims to see a, “figure,” which typically means that it is a shape that resembles a person. Yet, a “figure” does not specify gender necessarily. Therefore the narrator perceiving the trapped figure as a woman is allusive to her desire to sympathize with women. As the narrator is a woman who feels trapped, she fittingly envisions a woman who is trapped within the wallpaper. Thus, she pities this trapped woman, and longs to aid her in her escape. This desire to help the trapped woman becomes quite apparent when Gilman writes, “As soon as it was moonlight and that poor thing began to crawl and shake the pattern, I got up and ran to help her. I pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled, and before morning we had peeled off yards of that paper” (Gilman). Out of sympathy for their parallel circumstances, the narrator makes a rash attempt to save the trapped woman by tearing down the wallpaper.

While the narrator is quite noticeably mentally ill, making her words a bit untrustworthy, it can still be inferred that her perception of women is quite favorable. The narrator persistently complains about the way John belittles her. And her frequent avoidance of John, and desire to only write in his absence implies that the narrator actually does “fear” him. Accordingly she seeks comfort in the company of women like Jennie. Furthermore, the narrator’s interpretation of a woman being trapped within the yellow wallpaper suggests that she subconsciously longs for someone to relate to and sympathize with. The mere fact that she perceives the trapped figure as a woman indicates that she finds women more favorable and easier to relate to. At the story’s conclusion, the narrator’s reckless attempt to free the woman “trapped in the wallpaper” prolongs the belief that the narrator favors women and prefers to sympathize with them over men.

“The Yellow Wallpaper.” , by Charlotte Perkins Gilman; Page 1. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Mar. 2015.

The Ugly Girl Powers – Remix Edition

By Outlooks. Originally published at Outlooks.

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In a woman’s world it is simply insufficient to solely possess such inadequate skills as languid dance, or the ability to carry oneself while in company. To distinguish herself from the crowd, a young woman must learn to row, swim, ride and even shoot. And those who lack grace and bear a heavy flat-footed stride in such a society must compensate with a beautiful face or a high fortune to keep any place in this world, no matter how noble her family, or how varied her abilities. Decent women in Germany will take up fencing lessons to develop sureness of hand and agility to establish such status. Yes, a young woman may even speak six languages like a native, or have played beautiful sonatas since she was seven years old, yet the importance of her skills is only relative to how applicable they are in society. A man welcomes a woman who can walk a mile or two to gaze at an interesting view, and take long journeys without holding them up. Men must be pleased by his woman’s graceful smooth motions, round arms and throat, head held straight, and tucked in shoulders. It is a mother’s job to inspect her daughter’s physique to see where improvements are needed, and to encourage her child to possess more beautiful limbs and figure. There is no better way to inspire a girl with a poor and undesirable figure than to take her to picture galleries, show her the faces of historical beauties, or the figures of Italian sculpture, and ask her if she would not desire the same fine qualities herself. A proper woman’s figure entails a straight line from the roots of her hair to the base of her shoulder blades, yet most do not reach such a high-bred and ideal figure. The best-born of all countries have this desirable set of qualities, this lance-like figure, and easy play of limb. Surely one can be educated to develop such proper thoughts and manners to ensure that one’s poise can be corrected. A young girl should be placed in training at the instant she passes from childhood into the retched stages of adolescent development. Only then can she reach a path of decency and gain respect in such a critical and demanding world.

Powers, Mrs SD. The Ugly-girl Papers: Or, Hints for the Toilet. Harper, 1874.APA