A Rat on Hind Legs
“Look at you, there’s no need, why do you do it?”
“Everyone has needs. Like you, the only need is right now, in your pants.”
“So that’s why you do it?
“To you, that’s why I do it.”
He raises his eyebrows, lets out a quick breath of air and an insincere “Have a good night,” before returning to his table of friends and judgments.
She’s a regular here. She knows which men are playing dress up and which actually have slips in the marina. It’s easy actually, just look at their shoes.
“Perdoname, but do you have a cigarette?”
Her drink is always half empty. She thinks it helps men approach her, but when her bar stool swivels, it squeaks.
“Oh Don Pedro, it’s gorgeous. The view—“
“Elena, let’s have a drink.” She bites her lip, exposing her smiling teeth as he strides toward a table by the edge of the terrace, lightly holding her fingertips.
She was never keen on receiving attention, ever since she was young, on the city beach, it lost its flattering appeal and quickly turned into a source of self-degradation. Interest without respect. She learned the finite nature of it. But when it became the only thing men provided her, she learned to cope. She learned to reciprocate their disregard. She learned that if they wanted to treat her as such, they had to pay.
‘People like us, hija, need to adapt. A rat will always survive because it has no expectations.’
“I don’t mean to interrupt, but I’ve seen you sitting here for a while. Are you waiting for someone?” Elena’s stern downward gaze doesn’t repel him.
“Well, if not, you are welcome to join my friend and me over there in the corner,” he says, gesturing with an open hand to display his Rolex.
“Sure, I will come over in a minute. But I need to use the bathroom.”
“God had a carpenter build this table just for you, look at you, a queen.”
“Do I look like Sara Montiel?”
“Oh please, everyone knew that woman never had a presence.” Elena glances over the glass boundary, which separates the terrace from the cliff.
“I’ve never seen the city from this high up.”
In the bathroom she looks in the mirror, practicing her smile.
“You belong up here. You know that?”
The two men perk up when she comes into sight, the percussive pattern of her heels cause the other lonely men in the club to stare, jealous she isn’t walking towards them.
“I ordered another drink for you, the same you were drinking at the bar.”
“Gracias. Señores, how is your evening?” she says sitting down in the secluded booth.
“Sure to be memorable,” says the second man. “I’m Tony.”
“And I’m Victor.” Elena presents her limp hand for each man to kiss.
“It is a pleasure to meet you two.”
“Are you from Alicante?”
After taking a sip from her martini glass, “Yes. It is a beautiful city, no?”
“Yes I quite like it here. Where are you two from?”
“Los Estados Unidos!”
Chuckling, Elena protests, “Well yes I knew from your accent, but what state?”
“Ah you are directors, surfers, or wait, hm, you,” addressing Tony, “are an accountant, and you,” turning to Victor, “hm, you could be his colleague, but you like risk, entrepreneur?”
Victor between laughs, “I’m worried how many men you talk to.”
‘But mama, I don’t wanna be a rat!’
“Since we’re only here for another day, would you care to show us around El Barrio?”
“We’ve heard such great things about the nightlife, but when we went we just wandered, quite unproductive.” The two men look at each other and laugh.
“Oh I hardly go there anymore. I’m not sure if I could be of any help.” Victor reaches into his gray blazer’s breast pocket and reveals five hundred Euros.
“Please, we’re not from around here. We don’t have high expectations.”
“Don, what am I to you?”
The night had arrived and the candle, a white stick jammed into an old wine bottle, made their faces shaky.
“What’s down there, Miss Tour Guide?”
“Nada in nada, let’s say you earn your money, eh?”
‘But mama, I don’t wanna be a rat!’
Her face is expressionless as her hands are pressed against the cement wall, the muffled thud of bass from a nearby club and exaggerated breathing fill the awkwardness. When she first started this business she would be overly animated. She got more tips then. But now the motivation is gone. “Fabulosa, senorita, fabulosa.” It’s like bodies bumping against her when she’s walking through crowded streets, just an inevitable consequence of city life. The men finish and compliment her more, “te gusta?”
The men walk away, laughing at something, but Elena doesn’t bother to know. She has no place to be, so she slinks down the wall where the deed was done and sits on the stone street. A restaurant worker steps out into the alley to smoke a cigarette. Elena, head in hands, doesn’t bother to look.
“¿Chica, estás bien?” She doesn’t respond and the man comes closer, curious, and repeats his question. “Chica?”
“No, pero lo no es importante.” He offers her a drag of the cigarette and she accepts, exhales aggressively, then stands to return the stick back to its owner. “Thank you.”
“No pasa nada.” Elena examines the man’s apron, with arbitrary blots of grease and blood.
“You are a chef, eh?”
“Sí, I prepare the meat for Cerveceria Sento.
“¿y te gusta?
“It’s okay. Hard work, but I didn’t go to University so I have to take what I am given.”
“But what about your future, what do you dream about? Will you work here your whole life?”
“Tranquillo chica,” smiling, “I can’t think so far ahead. I focus on today and try to keep my head down. Thinking about too much isn’t good. My cigarette break is usually what motivates me to keep working.”
“But in este ciudad, where the people tie their yachts and get drunk on Monday, aren’t you jealous?”
“Chica, it seems you’re the one who’s jealous. I’ve lived here too long to let it bother me.” The chef flicks his cigarette and leans against the wall, staring straight ahead, with Elena to his left. She squints her eyes at his face’s profile.
“Have I fucked you?”
“No, chica, we were neighbors. I lived on Calle Alona.”
“I never lived there.”
“Don do I belong here with you?”
“I brought you and your madre food when I was younger. You would sleep near my apartment and I felt so bad. I always asked my parents to help you. Remember when I invited you to build our neighborhood hoguera for the festival?”
“Jorge,” Elena says forlornly.
“Elena, don’t ruin the evening. Let’s just enjoy ourselves right now.”
“You don’t understand, I don’t want to live this life anymore. I love you Don Pedro, I want to be with you, not just fuck you and eat fancy meals with you.”
“It could never happen darling. How can I marry someone like you? What would my parents say, or my friends? You have a reputation in this city.”
“Then we can leave, stay in your Italian villa.”
“Señor, la cuenta por favor.”
Jorge reaches into his pocket for his carton of cigarettes, hits the box twice against his palm, then opens the lid and takes out two. He lights Elena’s first.
“I saw what happened earlier. Why do you do it?”
A Case for Regulation: Telecommunications and the Public Interest
The rise of the telecommunications industry through the latter half of the 20th century and the early 21st century has led to a consolidation of economic and political power, which negatively impacts consumers. Lack of competition in the market, considering there are very few major players in data, video, and telephone industries, has allowed for behavior that is harmful to the rest of the industry and the public. Regulation of the industry by the Federal Communications Commission has prevented some potentially harmful activities, but the levels of market power controlled by the major players remains unprecedented. Furthermore, the near impenetrable strength of the long-standing telecommunications giants has produced a level of market control, which significantly restricts consumers’ abilities to choose between services. This extensive economic and political power has restricted the ability of other businesses to succeed and oppresses the development of new and better media technologies. The lack of competition and innovation benefits the leading businesses, but mostly hurts the consumers with limited service and content options and high prices for these services.
The massive shares companies such as Comcast Corporation, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, and Verizon, among others, have across various telecommunications markets allows them the ability to conduct practices, which restrict competition and innovation. Smaller telecommunication companies fall victim to these practices, as the anti-competitive environment prevents them from getting a leg up. Video is one of the more diverse markets for service provider options, with online services such as Hulu and Netflix, which tops the market at 43.2 million subscribers in the United States. However, DirecTV (owned by AT&T) and Comcast, with the second and third most subscribers, respectively, still show their massive influence across services. Although, there is certainly overlap of online video services and cable, as in 2013 70 percent of people in the United States had cable, but 41 percent had Netflix.  Diversity of services in the video market have increased opportunities for consumers to choose among a relatively great variety of video. This trend is having an impact on major cable provides, with 15 percent of former cable video customers stating they have cancelled their pay TV subscriptions. Unfortunately, such an array of distinguishably different services is not as present in the other sectors of telecommunications. Wireless phone services are dominated by Verizon and AT&T, which each hold over 30 percent of the markets subscribers. Meanwhile internet subscriptions are topped by Comcast and Time Warner, by enormous margins, with Comcast holding over 40 percent of the subscribers and Time Warner holding 24 percent. In more competitive markets, such as video, innovative companies like Netflix and Amazon are licensing or producing their own unique programming. This provides customers not only with a range of options, but a range of prices, rather than just the steep prices of service bundles offered by telecommunications giants.
The average video, internet, and voice bundle in the United States costs $128, which “increased about 30 percent [between 2008 and 2013] while household incomes have declined.” The high cost of access to these telecommunication services presents a burden to low-income populations, especially considering the minimal options available when choosing a service a provider. One of the roles of the Federal Communications Commission is to enforce that communication services are available in the United States “at reasonable cost and without discrimination.” Considering low-income and lower education populations have distinctly less access to information and communication technologies, the high prices of video, internet, and voice services show a discriminatory burden on these populations. Additionally, access to internet services is distinguishably less in African American, Native American, and Hispanic households than in those of white Americans. Under these circumstances, regulation by the FCC or another entity would be reasonable to guarantee equal access across populations rather than having large companies profiting from the digital divide.
Consolidation of media ownership worsens circumstances in the telecommunications industry by allowing for anti-competitive mapping of service areas. It is common to have cities serviced by a single provider. For example, in 2011 Comcast provided cable services to 94 percent of subscribers in San Francisco.  A major step in this mapping of regional monopolies was a period in 1997, referred to as the “Summer of Love.” During this period, Comcast, Time Warner, TCI, and Cablevision exchanged “clusters” of cable subscribers. This allowed for companies to non-competitively service an area, rather than servicing an area alongside other large cable companies. This was beneficial for the profit of large cable companies, but likely hurt small or local telecommunications companies. With cable providers collaborating to establish themselves as the foremost providers in separate areas, these companies had less of a need to distinguish themselves in price or product. Such comfortably dominant positions are not conducive to innovation or functioning within the public interest, as profits would be inevitable and larger without risky capital investment or charitable spending.
Massive cable companies have the option and financial feasibility to greatly improve and expand their services in new ways. This has been demonstrated by companies such as Verizon and Comcast. These companies have also demonstrated a lack of willingness to invest or reduce profits in order to innovate or improve. An example of this is the group effort Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon put into preventing the expansion and success of Verizon’s fiber optic cable network (FiOS). FiOS was an advancement in infrastructure much needed to handle the significant data usage of the country. Its fiber optic cables have “unmatched bandwidth capacity” and “equally fast upload and download speeds.” This highly competitive service required funding a massive infrastructure development project, which was not appealing to shareholders. Therefore, instead of making progressive strides in the nation’s connectivity, Verizon decided to limit its FiOS service in 2010, ending any further expansion of fiber optic networks and in the end providing services to a handful of cities.  The following year Comcast and Verizon agreed not to compete any further in the realm of wired internet and would even market each other’s products, a deal that resulted in Comcast and Time Warner presenting Verizon with billions of dollars worth of spectrum. Prior to the deal, Brian Roberts, the CEO of Comcast had cited Verizon as its “one competitor,” but following the deal, consumer advocate, Mark Cooper assured the public on the topic of competition “This lays that idea to rest. They have a joint venture.” In this case, the acting companies essentially united the top tier of service providers, rather than participating in competitive business.Verizon’s distinguishing service, which was the top quality internet option available, was prevented from redefining accessibility and bandwidth standards in this country. Instead, these enormous companies collaborated to inhibit technological progress, disregarding their customers and making profit the end goal.
The data and access needs of the country are vast and increasing. Wireless data usage in the United States has been predicted to be six times as high in the year 2020. High usage already puts a burden on the cable and wireless infrastructure. Meanwhile, 18 million Americans do not have wired internet access and, therefore, rely on wireless access if they have any at all. While investment in wired infrastructure would be a powerful resolution to accessibility issues and the high traffic of wireless infrastructure, in 2010 the FCC approached this issue, claiming wireless expansion was the key to solving access problems. The FCC aimed to increase wireless connectivity by auctioning off excess spectrum. A limiting factor to wireless subscription and usage is data caps and usage based billing, practiced by Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T. Even for subscribers, such costs were deterring. These limits were not due to service providers lacking the capacity for high connectivity. In fact, AT&T and Verizon owned spectrum they were not using. Additionally, the data caps were designed to restrict usage to a point where new infrastructure would not be needed. These companies implementing data caps are, thus, projecting their burden onto their customers and hoarding spectrum. The ability to increase subscriptions is entirely possible, but investors’ fear of expenditure has largely blocked strengthening networks in the country.
Being a leading media or technology company does not necessitate that profits be put over customers. There are innovative, for-profit businesses that manage to still provide exceptional services to their subscribers. For example, Amazon, an online marketplace also working in information technology and video streaming, has worked especially hard to bring their customers the best products and services at reasonable prices. CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, has listed the approach of the company as being “to work very, very hard to be able to afford to offer customers low margins.” This approach suggests the importance of customers over profits. Similarly, Google continues to develop groundbreaking technologies, appearing to have most of its interest in the application of these technologies, not profiting from them. In 2011 Google unveiled Google Fiber, which it has brought to numerous cities throughout recent years. This service provides the fastest internet commercially available in the United States for $70 per month. A Time magazine piece on Google Fiber eloquently noted “Google Fiber has shown that internet and pay TV customer service doesn’t have to suck.” While the corporate form is geared towards profit, innovative companies have proven that profit does not have to be the only goal. In the age of information technology, the telecommunications industry is in a position to make leaps and bounds in progress for media and technology, but businesses must be willing to take risks and invest. If companies in the telecommunications industry will not function within the public interest it is the duty of the FCC to regulate the industry in the public’s interest.
The sheer size of the corporations at the top of the telecommunications industry may pose a threat to the public interest. In many areas they are nearly unavoidable when seeking services, while offering limited products at steep, highly profitable prices. Telecommunications companies that refrain from investing in development of new technologies are perpetuating the situation of underserved communities and internationally abysmal internet speeds. The diversity of products and content is lacking, even if consumers are given options to pick from. Currently, the United States needs regulation and technological development that will encourage competition and innovation. Lack of regulation and majorly consolidated markets will simply result in a growth of economic and political power, which allows the company the strength to function without regard for customer concern. This does not need to be the case, considering more diverse markets, such as video, encourage innovation, new platforms, and consumers to pay for only the products they are interested in. Without the widespread control of the markets, which telecommunications giants have, these companies may do poorly, as customers would be able to pay for the services they are most interested in, which provides the most for the money they are willing to pay, as opposed to the sole service that is offered.
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Verizon,. (2016). Verizon Fios Availability. Retrieved 6 February 2016, from http://www.verizon.com/home/fiosavailabilit
 SNL Kagan and Company,. (2015). Top 10 Video Subscription Services. NCTA.
 PricewaterhouseCoopers,. (2013). Cable Still Has the Edge Over Netflix in the U.S.. Statista.
 Leswing, K. (2016). Cord Cutting Has Started to Snip Away at Broadband Internet. Fortune.
 (2016). Wireless subscribers United States by carrier 2013-2015. Statista.
 (2016). US broadband internet subscribers market share 2011-2015. Statista.
 Crawford, S. (2013). Captive audience (p. 111). New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press.
 Figliola, P. (2015). The Federal Communications Commission: Current Structure and Its Role in the Changing Telecommunications Landscape (p. 2). Congressional Research Service.
 Council of Economic Advisers,. (2015). Mapping the Digital Divide (p. 1). The White House.
 Council of Economic Advisers,. (2015). Mapping the Digital Divide (p. 2). The White House.
 Crawford, S. (2013). Captive audience (p. 66). New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press.
 Crawford, S. (2013). Captive audience (p. 76). New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press.
 Verizon,. (2016). Verizon Fios Availability.
 Crawford, S. (2013). Captive audience (p. 78-9). New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press.
 Crawford, S. (2013). Captive audience (p. 113). New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press.
 Crawford, S. (2013). Captive audience (p. 78). New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press.
 Fernandez, B. (2011). Comcast, Verizon part of $3.6 billion wireless deal. Philly.com.
 CNBC,. (2015). Here’s how much mobile data you’ll use in 2020.
 Crawford, S. (2013). Captive audience (p. 241-2). New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press.
 Levy, S. (2011). Jeff Bezos Owns the Web in More Ways Than You Think. WIRED.
 Tuttle, B. (2015). Uh-Oh, Maybe Google Is Just as Bad as Comcast. Time.com.
INT BEDROOM DAY
A cool, overcast day in Northern MA. The room is sparse and small, with only a 1950s style secretary desk, a chair, and a neatly made bed. The home is of the Victorian era but has lost its grandeur; the wallpaper is yellowed, the ceiling is peppered with water stains, and the heavy old-fashioned oak door has the thick, bloated appearance that comes from many layers of paint. GIRL, 23, sits at the desk, humming along to “Into Each life Some Rain Must Fall” by Ella Fitzgerald and The Inkspots. She wears a long, dreamy white dress and a melancholy expression as she writes on a piece of paper using an old-fashioned nib pen. The PEN SCRATCHES above the music.
GIRL (Singing along)Into each life some rain must some rain must fall, but too much too much is falling in mine…
The Pen nib snaps and ink leaks all over the freshly written note. Girl sighs and reaches for another, but when she pulls open the drawer it’s empty.
INT HALLWAY DAY
The girl walks down the hall, now wearing a light jacket and a scarf. An umbrella swings back and forth in her hand.
VOICE (O.S.) Hey, don’t ya know you can’t leave when it’s raining?
The girl turns suddenly, startled, and is met with BOY, 25. He stands silhouetted in the doorway across from her own, wearing striped socks and holding a steaming beverage. He’s very collegiate-square glasses, sweater, khaki corduroys. His socks are eccentrically colored. She tucks a strand of hair behind her ear, nervous.
GIRL Is it raining?
The Boy smiles and nods.
BOY Oh yeah, just started.
GIRL Well, that’s alright.
(She holds up her umbrella)
The boy pushes himself out of the doorway, strides toward her, and examines her. She cowers.
BOY Didn’t the landlord give you the rundown?
GIRL The rundown?
BOY Yeah, you know, no pets, no incense, no going in or out while
The boy takes a long sip of coffee while the Girl stares wide-eyed at him. After a beat, she smirks and lowers her jaw to look up at him.
GIRL I don’t believe you.
BOY Believe me or don’t-it’s da rules!
The Boy grins but, seeing her skepticism, his face grows solemn. He glances behind him, up and down the hallway, and then leans close to her.
BOY Listen, I don’t know how long you’ve been here, but you’ve gotta believe me. The man’s unstable. If you walk out that door, you’d better be looking for a new place to stay.
BOY Trust me.
The Boy looks behind him and, after a drag of his drink, begins to walk back to his doorway. The Girl watches until he turns to her.
BOY And, I must say, you’re a vision in that dress.
The Boy winks and turns, walks back into his room and shuts the door. The Girl stands, awed for a moment, before she glances at her umbrella and then back to the Boy’s door. She backs up to her own door, eyes on the other door, until she twists the knob, backs up into her room, and shuts the door.
INT BEDROOM DAY
Girl sits at her desk, a deja vu moment as she scratches at the paper in front of her. She wears a flowing blush-colored dress and a small smile. The day is overcast, and she casts occasional glances at the sky through the small window beside her desk. MAYBE BY THE INK SPOTS plays in the background. The girl begins humming, until a small DRIZZLE picks up, and then suddenly a DOWNPOUR. She puts down her pen and eyes the door. As if on cue, a KNOCK comes, and she stops the music. She rushes to open the door and is met by the Boy, carrying a mug of steaming beverage in each hand. He wears a new sweater and an even more bold pair of socks, but the same pair of khaki corduroys and glasses.
GIRL I thought maybe you’d be in class.
GIRL Come, sit down.
The girl gestures to her bed, but the Boy takes a seat in her chair instead, placing the mugs down so he can pick up her notes and peruse them.
BOY I always wonder what you’re–
GIRL No, please don’t–
BOY “Alas,” really, alas? How melodramatic, “Alas, you begin this letter after I am finished–”
GIRL No, please–
The girl reaches for the note, but the boy is too fast and squares his shoulders against her onslaught.
BOY –for today, on this twentieth of October, I am planning to end my…
The boy stops, his face falling. He reads on silently without objection from the Girl. When he finishes, he looks up.
GIRL It isn’t what it looks like.
BOY It isn’t
GIRL No, I swear, just let me…
The girl opens a drawer in her desk to reveal a stack of similar notes, all written in ink on the same sort of paper. Their dates are all different, daily, like a diary.
GIRL I, it’s a hobby. A habit. Creative writing.
The Boy, skeptical, takes the notes from her hands. He glances down at them, looks back at her, and then back down at the notes. He starts toward the bed with a low whistle.
BOY Some hobby.
The girl sits down in her desk chair facing him, watching him.
BOY Why though?
GIRL I don’t know. It calms me.
The boy makes a noncommittal humming noise, peruses the notes for an awkward moment, and then places them gingerly on the bed beside him before he sprawls out across its entirety. The bed CREAKS ominously below his weight. He places his hands behind his head; the girl places her hands on the back of her chair and balances her chin atop them.
GIRL You promised last time that you’d tell me the story.
BOY What story?
GIRL About why he won’t let us out.
The Boy closes his eyes.
BOY Ah, that one.
He opens one eye to look at her, and she nods vigorously. He shuts his eyes and sighs.
BOY Well, if you really want to know, they say his wife drowned herself in the rain.
GIRL Oh, come on.
The boy shrugs, eyes still closed.
BOY You’re the one who writes suicide notes for fun.
GIRL You can’t drown in the rain.
The Boy opens his eyes, turns to lean on his elbow, and stares at her.
BOY Who says?
GIRL It isn’t possible.
BOY I don’t know, maybe she was real desperate.
The girl, still skeptical, turns from him to face her desk. She organizes her pens.
GIRL Desperate or not, it’s impossible.
The boy reclines again on the bed and shrugs. His eyes are
distant as he stares at the ceiling.
Nothing’s impossible when you’re desperate enough, kid.
Rain Script Treatment
Single Sentence Summary: Rain is a surreal short film centered around two love triangles, one implied in the past and one present, that both result in two parallel suicides by drowning in the rain. (The script is an excerpt from the following, slightly longer plot.)
Rain is set in the present, but takes place in a dreary Victorian home in which the past seems unable to die. GIRL, the 22 year old protagonist, lives mostly for the thrill of creatively writing suicide notes. She’s just moved into the Victorian home and, lonelier than ever, spends more and more time at her desk listening to music and writing her morbid notes. One day, as she listens to “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall” by the Inkspots, her pen breaks and she sets out to go buy another. Before she can leave the building, however, a stranger/neighbor (BOY) stops her in the hallway warns her that the landlord doesn’t allow anyone to leave during rainstorms.She laughs him off, but he persists; the intense and strange conversation disorients her, but he calls her “a vision” in her white dress and she is captivated.
In the next scene time has passed; Boy and the Girl spend every rainy day together trapped in her room. The Boy discovers her suicide note habit, which makes her uncomfortable but which he brushes off with incredible speed. Looking to change the subject, the Girl asks the Boy to tell her the story of why they are not allowed out in the rain. The Boy says that the landlord’s wife drowned herself in the rain. The Girl is skeptical, but the Boy tells her that the wife was likely desperate, and that Girl has clearly never been desperate enough to understand.
In the next scene the infatuated girl knocks on the Boy’s door on a clear day. He does not answer it, but she is instead met by the Landlord in a bathrobe. She is confused and returns to her room. The scene closes on her at her desk, fingers hovering above paper, unable to write. In the next scene, the next rainy day, the Boy smokes a cigarette in the Girl’s window and she asks if he’s the Landlord’s son. The Boy admits that he isn’t; he implies that he offers the Landlord sexual favors in exchange for his room and board. The girl is horrified, but the boy explains again that she’s clearly never been desperate. Angered by her judgment, he puts out his cigarette on a stack of her suicide notes and leaves her room. The Girl turns on the same song the film opens to, “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall”. She puts on her white flowing dress, scatters her suicide notes around the room, and exits. The scene cuts to the Girl exiting the building in her white dress, its weight increasing in the pouring rain; she opens her mouth wide. The camera ends in the blackness of her gaping mouth.
Equality for All (Including the Corporation?)
Comm 297, Essay on The†Spirit†Level
In their book The†Spirit†Level∫†Why†Greater†Equality†Makes†Societies†Stronger†, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett use social entomology to explore the ways in which more equal societies benefit from their equality. This approach to social science struck is a profoundly human one; it treats humankind as one unified human body vulnerable to “illness”, which allows for both valid scientific findings and for humanist scientific inquiry. While reading the book, however, and even more so while listening to Wilkinson’s lectures, I was haunted by the United States’ designation of the corporation as a “person” (especially in relation to Wilkinson’s study of social entomology) and what this designation implies about United States society. In the U.S Code Title 1.1. law states that: “ In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, unless the context indicates otherwise…the words “person” and “whoever” include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals.”
This state, called “corporate personhood” in a 1984 ethics article by Rita C. Manning, grants the nonphysical entity of a corporation many of the same civil rights as living, breathing American people. (Manning, p. 776) This allocation of legal rights is troubling when one delves into the contents of both Wilkinson’s speeches and his book. All of his graphs show the way in which health, both physical and mental, decline in unequal societies; but how can one measure the health of a corporation? How can one “diagnose” a nonhuman human? After reading Richard Wilkinson’s book and seeing his lectures, it is clear that in a truly equal society corporations could not be given the legal designation of “people”. In order to increase the happiness of our society as a whole, we must fight against unnatural attitude of the corporation, an attitude that partially dictates our “antisocial”(Wilkinson and Pickett, p.4) behavior.At the end of his lecture, Wilkinson stated that multinational corporations are a fundamental threat to democracy. The use of “corporation” in this paper refers primarily to the multinational corporations Wilkinson referenced in his lecture; large scale, global producers of goods made with cheap foreign labor. They then brand these goods and sell them to the American people who are groomed to crave and consume them. Corporations have a chokehold on the American landscape and are only growing stronger; in 2010 the conservative group Citizens United brought a case to the Federal Election Commision in which they argued that corporation spending should not be limited in an election, and should instead be treated as an individual expenditure. The ultimate decision favored the corporation, and allowed for unlimited campaign spending. The case also remanded earlier rulings that corporations are not subject to the First Amendment’s right to free speech. (Citizens†United†vÆ†Federal†Elections†Commission†, 2010) The more recent Burwell†vsÆ†Hobby†Lobby†case ruled that corporations had the right to restrict their employees’ access to contraception based on the argument that a corporation can have a religious belief. These are just a few recent decisions in a long history of the corporation’s growing legitimacy as a legal person. ( Burwell†vÆ†Hobby†Lobby†, 2014) Wilkinson emphasized in his lectures that humans innately seek out community and social interaction. In fact, he states in his book that the most powerful sources of stress that affect human health come from “three intensely social categories: low social status, lack of friends, and stress in early life”(Wilkinson and Pickett, p. 39) The corporation, however, is not a social animal (if it is an animal at all). While it sometimes behaves in a socially responsible way, this social interaction usually has an economic impetus. Corporations, therefore, do not act to sustain society but instead act to sustain themselves. This is revealed in the article “Why Would Corporations Behave in Socially Responsible Ways? An Institutional Theory of Corporate Social Responsibility”. In it, John L. Campbell states that, “Socially responsible corporate behavior is more likely to occur to the extent that firms belong to industrial or employee associations and engage in institutionalized dialogue with stakeholders.”(Campbell, p. 963) In this quote Campbell indirectly illuminates the way that corporations do not truly interact in a human social manner. Instead, actions are undertaken solely with consideration to employees and shareholders, who themselves have a vested interest in the economic success of the corporation itself. The corporation, in this sense, acts not as a social individual, but instead as an antisocial selfcontained group†of people who act not in a way that best benefits society as a whole, but instead ensures the economic success of the corporation.
In his scientific analysis, Richard Wilkinson approached the study of society as an entomological undertaking. While this approach works well for issues based in human social science, it approaches comedy when one considers analyzing the corporate “human”. The problem, at its root, is that the corporation has no physical body. In fact, the corporation is a “person” only in the symbolic sense. It is a mental creation, a person without substance Wilkinson cannot study it as part of his entomology, because it does not suffer the same byproducts of inequality as actual humans do. It cannot experience the physical effects of stress, it cannot be the victim of homicide, it does not have a life expectancy. It is strange, therefore, that corporations are thought of as “people” in the United States. They are, as Manning says in “Corporate Responsibility and Corporate Personhood”, not physical people but “metaphysical people”. (Manning, p. 776) While this concept is a theoretical that is upheld in courtrooms, this theory does not carry well into reality; while Wilkinson’s graphs show the mental and physical toll that inequality takes upon human health, the life of a corporation is based upon its economic success alone. Corporations fall outside of Wilkinson’s study because the human body metaphor his book hinges upon does not apply to the theoretical corporate body. Physically, corporations do not exist. They are physically inhuman.
As a metaphysical person, the justification of the corporation’s personhood truly stems from its mental human characteristics. In The Spirit Level, Wilkinson and Pickett discuss the way in which inequality acts as a detriment to the mental state of those in more unequal societies (as is shown in figure 5.1) As a human, however, the corporation’s mental state seems to even more firmly assert its contribution to our country’s growing feeling of antisocialness.
The corporation does not suffer “mentally” in our society, but instead causes mental and physical suffering in others. In the 2003 documentary “The Corporation”, Dr. Robert Hare, Ph.D., designated as consultant to the FBI on psychopathy, states “psychopathy in the individual and psychopathy in the corporation” can be easily compared. The documentary then goes on to list psychopathic traits, and argues that corporations indeed have the traits of any other psychopath. They include “callous unconcern for the feelings of others”, “incapacity to feel guilt”, and “failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors”. This comparison reveals the major flaw of corporations; while corporations may be legally considered “people”, they are not humans and do not function as humans. They do not have the human traits and emotions that actual people do. In this sense, considering corporations to be people forces our society into a state where the most powerful beings are psychopaths; the model of consumption without regard for its effects or impacts on others as it is praised by the corporate entity then trickles down, resulting in a culture of egoism and selfcenteredness that only exacerbates existing inequalities. With psychopaths as our rulers, our cultural values become those of psychopathy.
In his lecture, Richard Wilkinson spoke indepth about the way in which people struggle with these psychopathic consumerist values. He also spoke about the way in which consumerism fuels the fear of others judging us, a fear that stems from the old cliche of “keeping up with the Jones’s”. We are fueled by the pursuit of money and in doing so forgo our human nature as beings who are, as he phrases it, “fundamentally social”. In allowing the ideals of the corporation to influence us, we are forced into an unnatural situation; we reject our intrinsic needs for the extrinsic motivation that the consumer society seems to offer us. We do not recognize inequality because we focus on our own personal pursuits. Wilkinson’s book attempts to give us a wakeup call; he draws us from the selfcentered focus of the corporation to see the way in which our society’s inequality truly affects us as a whole.
With this in mind message of Wilkinson’s book and his lectures illuminates another truth; in order to have a happy, healthy society, we must abolish the structures that make us so very unequal. If we are told that corporations are people, we are forced to think of them as equals when we undertake any social change , a powerful position secured by their legal status as metaphysical people. Richard Wilkinson, however, was extremely hopeful during both of his talks, and faced all questions about the future of society with optimism. He said that we need to change the way we think, and become active in local organizations that promote more change at the community level. The selfishness that the corporate (and unsustainable) “ideal” produces must be disregarded and, Wilkinson said in his talk, mocked. He mentioned keying the cars of the elite while this is an amusing anecdote, it offers a valid metaphorical example. We must question the way in which our country is run, question “who” is in charge, and question the ideals that we hold to be so self evident. In a truly equal society, we cannot have corporations masquerading as people. The manufacturers of our current fears of isolation (the corporations themselves) are not really people; their power is imaginary. In his book The Spirit Level and in his lectures, Richard Wilkinson suggests that the real power lies in our hands as humans and citizens. We are the people behind the corporations, and we need to stop “bicycling”(Wilkinson and Pickett, p.1667) and hurting those beneath us in order to attain the goals of psychopathic entities. We need to reject the ideals of consumerism, question the “truths” that are portrayed as so unshakable, and embrace our power to operate as real, thinking, breathing human beings.
Burwell†vÆ†Hobby†Lobby†. Supreme Court of the United States. 30 June 2014. Legal
Information Institute. Web. 21 Apr. 2015.
Campbell, John L. Why†Would†Corporations†Behave†in†Socially†Responsible†Waysø†An
Institutional†Theory†of†Corporate†Social†ResponsibilityÆ†The Academy of Management Review,
Vol. 32, No. 3. (Jul., 2007), page 946967
Citizens†United†vÆ†Federal†Election†Commission†. United States District Court for the
District of Columbia. 21 Jan. 2010. Legal Information Institute. Web. 21 Apr. 2015.
Manning, Rita C. Corporate†Responsibility†and†Corporate†PersonhoodÆ†Journal of
Business Ethics, Volume 3, Number 1. (1984), page 776
The†Corporation†. Dir. Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abott. Big Picture Media Corporation,
2003. As Shown in Sut Jhally’s Class Comm 387.
U.S. Code: Title 11 BANKRUPTCY.
Wilkinson, Richard G., and Kate Pickett. The†Spirit†Level∫†Why†Greater†Equality†Makes
Societies†Stronger†. New York: Bloomsbury, 2010. Print.
Wilkinson, Richard G. ¢The†Spirit†Level∫†Why†Unequal†Societies†are†Bad†for†Everyone”Æ
Perspectives in Inequality Lecture Series. ILC Auditorium, UMass. April 7, 2015. Lecture.
Public Writing – “I Believe”
Freedom of Expression
I believe in the freedom of expression. Everyone should be able to express the feelings, emotions, and ideas they have openly within society, especially if that expression of emotions will dictate or change the way one lives their life for the better. However, the world we live in does not always foster the ability to be open minded. The reason I write this essay is because of my own experiences of this within my family.
When I was in middle school, my eldest cousin Joe, then a senior in high school came out to our family during thanksgiving dinner. Now this didn’t come as a shock to most of the family, and it didn’t change our opinions of Joe either, we all accepted him for who he was, except a few. My grandfather, who has since passed could not accept that his eldest grandson liked men. He was old school, stubborn, and set in his ways. This rejection by a member of his own family tore my cousin Joe apart inside.
Now there are two sides to this. One could say my grandfather is just as free to express how he feels about my cousin Joe, as my cousin Joe is to express his feelings and sexuality. However, when it comes down to it the feelings my cousin Joe expressed were real feelings, while my grandfather was just sputtering insecurities, and ideals he had learned that aren’t necessarily true in today’s world. My Grandfather’s opinion on the matter is definitely a freedom of expression, let’s not forget that, yet for the purpose of this essay i’m speaking of freedom of expression in the context of an expression that inherently and explicitly allows someone to live their life differently in order to be happy. Joe opened up to his family in order to be happy, and I believe that to be true freedom of expression.
Even though my grandfather was against my cousin’s decision, the rest of my family supported him to the fullest, including myself. Ever since Joe came out, he has been a different person, in the sense that he was finally himself, and he was happy about that. The reason I chose this topic is due to the fact that communications is all about expression and being able to express things, and seeing my cousin stand out, and be different, gave me the courage to live my life the way I do. Joe showing how he truly felt and being open and honest about who he felt he was gave me the ability to question authority, speak my mind, and not follow the path of mainstream middle America.
I believe in the freedom of expression because it is important. Being open and honest changed my cousin Joe’s life. Without freedom of expression then everyone is the same, and that is boring. The ability to express one’s self is truly the most important aspect of life in my opinion.
Everything Looks Worse in Black and White: Social Commentaries on 1950s America in The Last Picture Show
The Last Picture Show (1971) is a reminiscent and dusty coming of age story, the first major film of the then 31-year-old Peter Bogdonavich. The screenplay is based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Larry McMurtry, the first book in a trilogy chronicling the lives of teenagers Sonny, Duane, and Jacy, and their stumbling journey to adulthood in the setting of a dying Texas town. The novel takes place in Thalia, a place quite similar in appearance and history to Archer City, McMurty’s hometown. For the film, Bogdonavich renamed the city to Anarene to rhyme with the town of Abilene in Howard Hawks’ film Red River (1948). This was one of many subtle tributes in the film made to early classic directors. The Last Picture Show is often cited as a farewell to such film names including John Ford (Grapes of Wrath (1940)), and Orson Welles (Citizen Kane (1941)). Bogdonavich paid special tribute to Welles in particular, modeling much of the film around Welles’ 1942 film The Magnificent Ambersons about the phasing out of an earlier way of life in response to the automobile industry boom at the turn of the century. It is also because of Welles influence on Bogdonavich that the film was shot is Black and White, a first in the mainstream industry in post-60s film.
The basis of the film revolves around the lackluster lives of high school senior friends Duane, a likeable athlete, Jacy, a vain, seductive girl, Sonny, a serious and quiet friend, and Billy, Sonny’s mute and “slow-witted pal,” as they search for excitement and direction. They cling desperately to what sad offers the dying town gives them, spending their time at the local pool hall, watching movies shown at the small downtown theatre (the Royal), and finding escape in drinking, wistful dreaming, and engaging in messy and often exploitative sexual encounters. Looking to adult figures for guidance does them little good as they attempt to make sense of the bleak and suffocating world which surrounds them. Throughout the film, Bogdonavich not only tells a nostalgic coming of age story, but also manages to use the piece as a medium for critical social commentaries on 1950s ideals of prosperity, youth, and sexuality.
Themes of Prosperity
With the sad and dying town of Anarene as the backdrop for The Last Picture Show, prosperity is a prominent theme. The success of this theme translating to the audiences throughout the film is also due to the era in which the story is set. 1950s America, particularly the time between the Second World War and the Korean War, is often considered to be the pinnacle of American prosperity, success, and well-being. By the time of the film’s release, however, negative viewpoints of this era in American history were beginning to form, especially among younger generations. One poster for the film advertised it as “the picture show that introduced America to the forgotten 50’s.” The Last Picture Show challenged prominently positive and largely romanticized ideals of 1950s culture by exposing the history that often goes unmentioned.
Anarene is a fictional town named after the actual town of Anarene, located in Archer Country, Texas. At the turn of the century, Anarene became an industrial town, making its profit by transporting coal produced in a nearby mine. In the early twenties, an oil field was discovered nearby, taking away the town’s economy. Soon after, the population began to steadily decline. Soon coal production stopped. Within nine years the railroad station closed, and was eventually abandoned in, followed by the closing of the town’s post office in 1955. Plagued by the lure of wealth and the rise and fall of unsustainable industry, the real town of Anarene joined the ranks of many American towns that were abandoned when their industries failed them.
It would be no surprise to see the real people of Anarene in low spirits; tragically stuck in their ways from a time when much more seemed possible, and dreams of success, in business and personal endeavors, were surely within reach. Such an atmosphere is portrayed in the fictional town of Anarene.
The use of black and white film contributes an overall forlorn and nostalgic ambiance. The setting and atmosphere is crucial for telling the story and for allowing the film to function as a social commentary piece. If the town were lively, accommodating, and prosperous, then the characters would appear to be genuinely flawed, rather than as tragic products of their time. The only sources of social engagement are the local pool hall, movie house, and run-down café, which are all owned by Sam. Here the people of Anarene gather to gossip and talk with one another. By the end of the film, the movie house is closed, and the pool hall is set to close after Sam’s sudden death. Just like the actual town of Anarene, the fictional one represented in the film leaves its people desolate in the aftermath of dying industry.
Within the town of Anarene there are varying levels of prosperity. This can easily be seen by examining the difference between the characters of Genevieve and Lois Farrow. Genevieve is the café’s cook and waitress who works in her older age to pay for Sam’s medical bills. She is working a low wage job to support her male counterpart. In her apron and tennis sneakers, she is not conventionally attractive. Lois, on the other hand, is a beautiful and high-maintenance woman who married rich to satisfy her expensive taste. However, she is dissatisfied with her marriage, and resorts to drinking and extra-marital affairs with the local oil baron, Abilene, to make up for the unhappiness in her life. Although Lois has attained, superficially, all that a well settled woman could hope for in the early 1950s, she is spiritually and emotionally empty, as opposed to Genevieve, who despite living a hard life, is valued and loved by her husband and fellow townspeople.
Bogdonavich is criticizing the ideal of success that was defined by material wealth and industrial gains. This dichotomy between physical and spiritual prosperity is something that could only be appreciated in its totality through the lens of a culture shaped by a detachment from material obsession.
Themes of Youth
We are presented with a scene mid-way through the film showing Sonny, Duane, and Jacy riding in Jacy’s car. The scene is a nice introduction to the way in which youth is portrayed throughout The Last Picture Show. The teenagers in the film are endlessly searching for escape from the suffocation they experience living in Anarene. In this scene we see them literally trying to get out by means of transportation. The failure of this attempt is evident when they begin to sing their alma mater, proving that while they may be entering adulthood, they are never truly going to leave the confines of Anarene. They will never completely grow out of the people that the town has shaped them to be. Bogdonavich is making the point that while people age and grow, they never truly escape their younger selves; never completely mature.
This is exemplified again during Sam’s short talk with Sonny outside the pool hall. In the preceding scene, a group of local boys decide to hire a prostitute for Billy and coerce him to have sex with her in the back of a car. Sam, being Billy’s surrogate caretaker is appalled by this and expresses his disgust and disappointment with the boys. He tells the boys that he’s “been around that trashy behavior all [his] life” and that he’s “gettin’ tired of puttin’ up with it.” Considering that Sam is well into entering his older years, it is surprising that he would just now be coming to this conclusion. It becomes apparent that the same things the youth are hesitant to stand up to are the same things the adults cannot seem to take control over. They are as perpetually stuck as their moral compasses, providing little if any guidance.
Later on in the film, Sam has another talk with Sonny about his own adventures in his youth. Here we see a different attitude towards youth being presented. Sam reminisces about a past girlfriend who would go skinny dipping with him. He recalls a time when she bet him that she could beat him in racing horses across the swimming hole. “She bet me a silver dollar she could beat me,” Sam says, “She did… I bet she still has that silver dollar”. As Sam shares his past, he recalls the memories of spontaneity as the most pleasant and as the ones that he longs for the most. It is this side of youth that has left Sam and most of the adults in Anarene, leaving them with monotonous and dull lifestyles.
As it is represented in the film, youth is exciting and free, but something that cannot be held onto forever. In Graham Fuller’s paper, The Last Picture Show: In With the Old, he writes: “[…] people are often unaware that the times they are living are the best of times, that simple quotidian ritual and shared moments are what make the long journey tolerable.” Through the struggles of the teenage characters and the regrets and frustrations of the adults, we come to understand the value of enjoying youth, and the ultimately depressing results that occur in a culture that suppresses it.
Themes of Sexuality
Sex was a topic of chief concern in mid-twentieth century politics, culture, and film. Prior to 1968, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) was governed by the Hays Code, which imposed strict guidelines upon film makers. Under the code, only scenes portraying “correct standards of life” could be portrayed. After the code was lifted, filmmakers excitedly included in their films everything they could not before. The scenes showing sex and frontal nudity in The Last Picture Show are unapologetic and blunt, allowing Bogdonavich to make social commentaries without having to excuse the acts themselves.
In a later scene, Jacy is home alone and Abilene comes over looking for Lois. He instead takes Jacy out to the pool hall, which is closed, and rapes her. When Jacy comes back home after the incident, her mother somehow senses what happened. Instead of showing her daughter sympathy and/or help, she simply sits her down to tell her that this should be expected, brushing it off as if it is not a big deal. This reveals the attitudes towards sexuality and sexual mores in 1950s America. Also brought to light in this scene are social definitions of sexual assault, which virtually did not exist until the mid-1960s. It makes sense that these critiques were made in a 1970s film, a time when feminism was strong and finally working its way into mainstream culture.
Another important piece of the film’s critique of sexuality begins when Sonny does a favor for his high school athletics coach by driving the coach’s wife, Ruth, to the doctor’s office for an appointment. When the pair arrives back at the house, Ruth invites Sonny in for a “soda – if [he] can stand [her] for a few more minutes.” They awkwardly enter and sit at the kitchen table. Ruth suddenly begins to sob. Sonny does not know to react, unaware of Ruth’s neglect from her husband. Later on at the community holiday dance, Sonny spots Ruth in the kitchen doing dishes. He begins talking to her and joins her to take the trash outside. Once outside the camera captures the two as they kiss. Sonny excitedly tells Ruth that he will drive her to her next appointment. Their affair quickly escalates and continues throughout the film. It is one of the most analyzed aspects of the film, often critiqued for its oedipal themes.
Themes of prosperity, youth, and sexuality were important in The Last Picture Show for creating an entertaining and thoughtful coming of age story, yet also served as a means for the film to function as a social commentary. Many of the commentaries made were those that could be appreciated to their full extent because of the time in which the film was produced. It can now be viewed as a retrospective piece. The Last Picture Show lends an eye to the changing tides in American culture and cinema between the early 1950s and the early 1970s, and helps viewers understand the attitudes and conceptions we hold today that both romanticize and criticize the past.
Fuller, Graham. “The Last Picture Show: In With the Old.” RSS. Criterion, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2012.
“Safeguarding Artistic Freedom.” Motion Picture Association of America. Motion Picture Association of America, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2012.
Schmidt, Walter G. An Encyclopedia of Texas Post Offices: Texas Post Offices under Five Flags. Chicago: Collectors’ Club of Chicago, 1993. 38. Print.
Dirks, Tim. “The Last Picture Show (1971).” The Last Picture Show (1971). FilmSite, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2012.
It’s mid-summer and I’m driving-no, cruising- in my ’96 Toyota Camry.
It’s late in the day when the sun has begun to set but is still shining. It is a comforting and particular, almost nostalgic light. My surroundings are old, abandoned, and put out of use in exchange for the shopping malls on the south side of town. Classic New Hampshire farmhouses not lived in for years with large oak trees wearing frayed ropes no longer tied to tire swings. The road is bumpy and grey, and full of potholes. But under the pre-twilight sun, everything is like it once was, new and full of life. The few clouds still stuck in the sky are colored with a magnificent pink light making them look as if they are being projected against an iridescent sky.
I’m heading down old Route-111A- -no, cruising- which winds its way down from the residential neighborhoods in Nashua to the upper-class rural homes of Hollis.
I’m going to a spot in between, a hidden node off the side of the road. All that can be seen of it from afar is a small dusty lot where cars are occasionally parked. What lies beyond it is a small wooded area with a narrow path that leads down to the river nearby. Some time ago a metal plank was placed between the edge of the river and a small landmass that sits in the middle of the water. The plank has since rusted over, but still allows me to walk from land to the center of action, the turbulent world of rushing rapids and localized wind.
When I learned to drive, I would come to the lot skip school. I would never go out to the middle of the river, though. I thought I was badass enough to skip school, but was too afraid that someone might see me from Old Runnels Bridge. Instead, I would stay in my parked car and forfeit my sophomore English class to read the books I liked. Today I am determined. I want to be in the middle of the river with all the action. I want an experience.
In my car, I pass the field across from Bass Pond and notice that soft light again, grazing over the dusty grass. It reminds me of a flashlight passing over a beautiful but forgotten piece of furniture that is standing in the dark of an attic. Can nature hide this way? Who has put the world in an attic, and is casting an uncovering light over it now, at this moment? I feel a bubbling up of emotion but try to focus on driving- no, cruising.
My head is reeling and I take the curve faster than I mean to. I am not prepared for the shaft of light beaming down from the clouds. The light is superior to anything I have ever seen before.
My hands, which were clenched tight in anticipation, loosen their grip on the wheel. There is a sensation of weight being lifted, a weight that I never was able to feel before it was gone. It is hard to tell if I am in a moving car because time has become still. I feel at once both like a child again, scared of the dark, and like I will never be unhappy or lose confidence again. Tears well up in my eyes and I cannot make out the road. I rub them so I can see the sky again. A chill crawls up my spine that makes my ears tense up.
Light isn’t what’s coming out of the sky anymore. Instead two warm hands reach down and embrace all of me, the palms pressing safety and comfort into my back. It is soothing but I am still speeding down the road and now I become afraid of losing what has in this moment become essential to my being. I am reminded of the distance I used to feel between my bedroom and my mother at night. A voice like a song slides down invisible clefts to tell me that I will never be alone. This is it. This is the feeling. Hello, God.
The light turns red.
My car comes to a stop. Other cars pass by at the T-intersection.
I crane my neck my neck to try to see over the tops of the trees to see the sky. They are blocking my view. My hands clench around the wheel again. I can’t see the clouds or the light or the sky. It’s gone, and I’m hurt.
The light turns green and I hit the gas, spinning the wheel to the left. My view clears and I see the sky, the beams of light, and the clouds. But the feeling is gone. They are just beams of light and clouds and a pleasantly colored sky. From the road I can see the dusty lot that I was so determined to get to. I decide drive –no, cruise- by.
“Incoming,” cried the voice of the sergeant, as the faint whistling sound of an incoming shell slowly grew louder. I immediately fell to the ground and tried desperately to gain an inch of depth in the mud, in the brief seconds that I had, drilling my head into the earth as an ostrich would do. The shell missed us, and exploded a good thirty yards away, but the earth shook as if a giant were hopping on one foot. I lay still, feeling the mud slowly seep through my brand new uniform. I felt the cold seep into my body. I cringed as if the mud and the very earth were claiming me, but not yet. I had survived this round.
“Alright, you bastards get on your feet, for Chrissake, the Hun was just greeting you, that’s all,” shouted the sergeant. He spoke as if the shell was a welcoming hello, not a death knell that could have felled us indiscriminately. We got up slowly, trying to shake off the dense mud that clung to our clothes like slime to a piece of rotten meat. There were six of us; most were close to my age and like me had never traveled farther south than London, on a rare occasion. Living in the north of England and Scotland we accustomed to rain, but this place was something else. We were all geared up with equipment that weighed just as much as we did, and it made a big difference when we were trying to get up to the front. Before the mud, our uniforms were brown, while our equipment bags were kaki. Now everything, including our rifles issued new back at the supply depot, were caked in mud.
“Alright, come on you lot, we got to keep moving. Only a little more to go ‘til we get you to your home for the next six weeks,” shouted the sergeant, as he turned and started to march forward. He was caked in mud as well, but he looked as if he had been born of the earth. His uniform was permanently stained, steeped with the dark, black of the mud. And no amount of bleach could ever remove the filth. He wore only his ammunition belt, a canteen and a sheep’s hide to protect him from the cold and the rain. His face sported a black unkempt mustache. But his eyes were his most distinguishing feature. They had the look of complete exhaustion and indifference. Most men who had served at the front had those distinctive stare. They were haunted by untold horrors that had extinguished the light of love and warmth, perhaps forever. They seemed practically inhuman. Another element of man.
As we made our way through the mucky road to the front, I looked out in all directions for something the war had not touched, something that still remained of the old. But all I could see was miles upon miles of the dark mud; not a single tree, nor house still standing. The sun barely emerged from the darkness of the clouds, as if it wanted to avoid even seeing, through its window, what had become of this once beautiful land. It was quiet, except for the occasional explosion ahead, as a marker for where we were headed. I took a deep breath in to ease the stress, but I had forgotten the horrendous smell that permeated the air. It that could make one vomit, which it often did. The wind seldom carried the smell away. The stink of death engulfed us, like the mud, stuck to us.
We finally came to a deep ditch, a quagmire of mud. The only thing that kept us from falling into the undertow of hell itself was the rough planks lain on top to keep us afloat. “Alright, listen lads, we are about 200 yards from the front lines, so make sure you keep your bloody heads down, there are snipers all over the place scoping our lines to try and pick us off. Once we report to the captain, then well get you all sorted out. Be sure and follow the man in front of you. These trenches can be somewhat confusing.” The sergeant looked at each of us with those dark eyes, before turning and moving ahead, quickly and quietly. We did the same. While the trenches were meant to protect us, they seemed to me the gates of hell itself.
The walls of the trenches were planked with wood and lined with baskets that held the excavated dirt. There were also planks at the bottom of the trench, but they were rotted out from the rain and the muck it created. As we approached rats scurried out of our way. “Little bastards,” the sergeant growled. “You’ll kill more of them than Huns.” I remained quiet, unsure if he was muttering to me personally, or to the world in general. It didn’t matter; I was too focused on crouching to give his comment any real thought. We walked through the labyrinth of trenches. Sort of like the mazes you find in gardens, only the walls were mud and not shrubbery. After several minutes, we came to headquarters, which wasn’t anything more than a little hovel in the ground, identified only by crudely lettered sign. “Alright stay here and don’t move,” the sergeant said, as he went into the hovel. He came out a short time later with an officer. Who looked much like the sergeant, only he wore the insignia of a captain and he was clean shaven. He was not much older than we were, but he looked too old for his age. We jumped to attention and tried to give the best salute we could manage, under the circumstances. He paused for a moment and looked at us, as if examining food at a market. Finally he returned our salute and spoke not to us, but to the sergeant. “Is this it sergeant Rimms?”
“I’m afraid so sir. This was all they could spare.”
“Jesus, we were promised thirty men at least, not six boys. God, how are we supposed to attack, let alone defend our position when we are below half-strength? For Christ sake, you think…” the captain stopped and looked away from us, trying to collect himself. I had never before seen an officer swear like that, especially a gentleman. He turned and looked at us again, and looked at the sergeant “Take these recruits to Lieutenant Sandover’s platoon. He needs these replacements more than anyone else.”
“Yes sir. Alright you lot follow me.” With that, the sergeant made a quick nod to the captain and proceeded deeper into the labyrinth.
We followed; passing many men encamped in little hovels carved out of the side of the trench. Each one shared the same expression as the sergeant and the captain. They didn’t look up at us. Rather, they focused on what they were doing: playing cards, smoking, trying to light a fire or simply talking quietly to each other. They look almost dead, my famed regiment, renowned for brave men and many victories. Instead, huddled in their little groups, they were almost pitiful. I was very much sympathetic to their hardships. They had the look of sheep on my pa’s farm before we slaughtered them. “Jones, where is Lieutenant Sandover,” shouted the sergeant to a man hunched over, a blanket draped over him. Jones didn’t say anything; only pointed to a man sipping a cup of tea. The sergeant walked over and they talked for a bit. We didn’t catch the conversation, but by the look of the tea drinker, which I assumed was the lieutenant, it wasn’t going over well. Suddenly the lieutenant came over to us. We snapped to attention with a salute, but unlike the captain he didn’t salute back. “Jesus, Rimms. All the men must be dead. Now they’re sending us boys,” said the lieutenant. Although he shared our accent, his speech wasn’t as sophisticated or elegant as most officers. “My name is Lieutenant Sandover. I am now your platoon commander. It is my job to keep you alive for today, because tomorrow we’ll be attacking in the morning. In which case, you are on your own. Now you can take a break and get some sleep over there, near where Kingsman is sitting, but in any case you will not be needed, ‘til the morning. You will receive further orders from me. For now Sergeant Rimms will look after you, as best he can, as well as will the others in his squad. Sergeant Rimms take over.” And with that Lieutenant Sandover left.
“Sir! Alright you heard the lieutenant. Try to find a comfortable place to sleep because in 12 hours we are going over the top.” I could not believe what I was hearing: Our first day at the front and already we were being told to attack the Hun trenches. “Now Corporal O’Connell and Private Fowl will give you some tips on fighting. O’Connell! Fowl! Front and center,” boomed the sergeant as he called down the trench. Two men emerged from their shelter and trudged up to the sergeant. “What do you want, sarge,” spoke the biggest of the two.
“I was having a dream about an ocean paradise that was inhabited by beautiful women” said the shorter one who, wearing a hat with the symbol of the regiment on the brim.
“O’Connell, Fowl I need you lads to teach these boys how to survive the attack. Could you boys do that for me?”
“Bloody hell, Sarge” spoke O’Connell. Now closer, I could see the corporal strips dimly on his uniform. “These are replacements. God, they still have milk stains on their faces. We might as well dig their graves for them.”
“I don’t want to hear it O’Connell. Just do what you are told.”
“Will do, Sarge.” Satisfied, the sergeant walked away.
“All right Look sharp. Find a spot. Sit down, shut up and listen,” said O’Connell. Me and Fowl, here, are going to teach you to be killers. But first you need to know there are two types of artillery; ours and theirs. If you live that long, you will be able to distinguish between them, as well as calculate how far or near they may be. So when you hear them, hug the ground and pray to Jesus that you can gain an inch to protect yourselves.”
“But artillery is the least of your worries, because those bastards over there have a whole bloody arsenal of deadly weapons including machine guns, gas and all types of grenades that can kill a whole squad of men. Then there are the mines and the barbed wire that are all over the place. If you survive those, what you have to worry about is when you come face to face with one of those Hun bastards.” With that, Fowl unslung his rifle and gripped it with both hands. He hunched his back so we could have a good look at it.
“This is one of your best mates. Take care of it, and it will take care of you. This rifle holds five rounds and can stop a man dead at three thousand meters, maximum. It’s easy to load and fire. But it does you no good when you’re in close quarters. So that brings us to your other best mate.” With that O’Connell reached down and took out his bayonet. It was a good 14-inch long. He attached it to Fowl’s rifle.
“This,” Fowl said, “is the main tool of your profession. Granted, you have the firing power of rifle, but when you are charging a trench, you will not have time to reload because you want to get to your target as fast as possible. The longer you stay out there, the better target you will be. You have to sprint to the trench and when you get face to face with one of those fannies, you better stick this in him before he has time to stick it in you. Aim for the gut, rather than the chest, because sometime the bayonet gets stuck in the ribs. You’ll need it for the next one who will be coming over.”
After Fowl and O’Connell left, I cleaned my rifle to make sure it would not jam when I needed it tomorrow. I also sharpened my bayonet, making sure it could go through a man like butter. I tried to keep busy, but my whole mind was focused on what would happen tomorrow. Will I survive, or will I die? I didn’t expect it to be like this, the war I mean. I tried to keep calm and fall asleep, but my mind wandered. No matter what I did, my thoughts turned to tomorrow. I don’t want to die! I was so deep in my thoughts, that I didn’t notice the barrage of artillery that was shelling the positions we were to take tomorrow. I just stared at my hands and prayed to God that I would survive.
I was awoken by Thomas¸ one of the replacements, who whispered to me that we would be going over the top in 5 minutes. I looked around at the rest of my company. All of them were lined across the center of the trench, with the officers staring at their watches. Each man had stripped himself of all the non-necessaries, keeping only their rifle, ammunition, trenching tools, and their bayonets. I got up and took my place next to the Sergeant, who like everyone else, just stared at the ladder we had to climb. No one spoke. We just listened to the barrage as it grew even heavier. One man leaned over and vomited and I was close to follow. I just wanted to go. It’s the waiting that is deadly because it allowed fear to creep into your mind. I was absolutely horrified at what would happen. I tried to remember what Fowl and O’Connell said: that the only thing I had to worry about was the enemy in the trenches. This scared me even more, because I had never killed a man. Nor did I want to die. I could deduce that we would receive very little mercy, especially in the frenzy I expected to ensue.
“Fix bayonets,” came the call from the captain. We obeyed his order and every man took out his bayonet and stuck it on his rifle. I put on the cold steel on my rifle and made sure it was on and would not detach. I double checked that my gun was loaded and that my boots were tightened. I even made sure my scarf was in the right position. I checked anything I could to avoid thinking moment and what was to come. Then, all of a sudden, the barrage stopped and for a few seconds it was quiet. I could, for a moment hear a bird chirping, and for a brief second I was back home, in Yorkshire, with its green fields. I saw my mother, her golden hair, gentle eyes and hands, looking at me with complete love. I wanted her now. I wanted to tell her how much I loved her, how I had made a mistake by coming here.
But then suddenly and fiercely the officers blew their whistles and a deafening cry came from the men as they moved up the ladders and charged. They screamed as loud as they could, with the bagpipers in the back ground giving them courage for the fray. I screamed as well, letting my fears turn to anger and rage. I screamed, for there was no going back. I went forward. I climbed up the ladder as quickly as possible, as if I was racing against the others who were climbing beside me. As I came over the top, I saw, what looked like to be hell on earth stretching before me.
I ran as fast as I was able, trying to pick a spot to reach. But I couldn’t help notice what was happening all around me. Men who had been running beside me, were dropping as if their souls were suddenly snatched away and their bodies left behind. I didn’t want to look down at the ground, for it was covered with the corpses of fallen soldiers who were so alive only moments before. I heard the cracking of bones as I ran over them. The field was covered with dead trees that stood as lonely bastions. There were holes everywhere, filled to the brim with water. I kept stumbling and tripping on the mud and always tried to regain my balance. I had to keep going. I had to reach the trench and safety from hail of bullets that seemed to fill the air. I looked back and saw the bodies of soldiers falling amongst the old corpses, adding to the seeds of death already planted in the ground.
Sudden a huge force pushed me back to the ground. I reeled back and lay in the mud. I felt a horrendous pain, like someone had put a red-hot spike into my gut and left it in there. Oh god the pain. God make it stop. PLEASE, it hurts so much.” The more I struggled, the more it hurt. I reached down and touched the wound gently. But the spasm of pain was unbearable. I screamed and yelled– anything to relieve the pain. Please Mother. Make it go away, I don’t want to die. Please God, for Christ sake, don’t let me die. Tears rolled down my face as the pain got worse and worse. I tried to sit up, but the pain made that impossible. I tilted my head and saw blood on either side of me. “Oh god I’ve been hit. Help,” I cried, “help, for God’s sakes. Help me please.” I tried and reached out my hand, begging for someone to hold it, but no one did. I kept crying– the pain, make it go away. I closed my eyes, but the tears kept coming. My voice was drowned out by the cries of men and the shelling, which seemed to engulf the world in fire.
I kept crying, waiting for something to happen, but the pain grew worse. “Please someone shoot me, someone shoot me. Please end the pain. Somebody. Anybody!” I grew light-headed and my body grew numb. I tried to cry out but no one answered. Darkness slowly closed in on me and my voice drained to but a whisper. I lay there, in the blood and the mud, as darkness claimed me.
So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned, both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake, and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets the trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
The Power of Transgender Women
Transgender women, especially transgender women of color, are perhaps the most misunderstood and threatened sexual minority present in today’s culture, facing ridicule, injustice and violence from the public, the media, as well as law enforcement. Transphobia is widespread in our culture, which stems from the fact that transgender women provoke a discomfort in our male dominated society, and threaten their need to prove their masculinity and maintain their power in our culture.
Fear of effeminacy is at the heart of heterosexual masculine identity, which threatens males’ hierarchal privilege in our culture. Masculinity is a homosocial performance, largely policed and enforced by other males in society, and is defined in extremely narrow ways. Our culture holds a tremendous amount of pressure on men to prove their masculinity and to maintain their power in our world, and this pressure results in men acting out in violence, specifically because manhood is linked with violence, threat and intimidation. As social movements around equality gain momentum, whether they are focused on women, people of color, or the LGBT community, men feel pressured to reassert their power in our culture by using violence. At the root of violence against women is traditional sexism; men seeking to protect their power and control, and to enforce the notion that femininity is inferior. On the other hand, at the root of violence against sexual minorities are men attempting to protect their heterosexuality.
Transgender people expand gender boundaries in dress and behavior, shaking the definitions our culture has established as appropriate sexual identity and displacing fundamental assumptions people have about gender. Transgender women are especially alarming to a male-centered gender hierarchy, because they refuse the choices of socially constructed gender norms and that is threatening to men who have constructed their identity based on repeatedly proving and reasserting their membership of the male category. According to Julia Serano’s book, Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Women on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, anti-transgender discrimination starts with the rejection of binary gender norms, but is better described as misogyny; a way for men to dismiss femaleness and femininity (3).
Transgender women face an extreme level of misogyny that often results in violence and misrepresentation because they are proof that female and male are not mutually exclusive categories, that women and men are not “opposite” sexes, bringing masculinity and effeminacy on an equal playing field that lessens the power and control that is associated with masculinity. Transgender women face misogyny to a different extent, according to Serano, because they embrace their femaleness and femininity, while “trans people on the female-to-male spectrum face discrimination for breaking gender norms” but not for their expressions of maleness or masculinity (14). This is because masculinity is held to a higher degree of respect in our culture, and to ridicule expressions of masculinity “would require one to question masculinity itself” (Serano, 14). Perhaps the most threatening aspect of transgender women is the fact that transgender women, according to Serano, “who despite being born male and inheriting male privilege ‘choose’ to be female instead” (15). This in turn questions the power of masculinity, because these people choose to embrace femininity and relinquish their gender-based power, the epitome of fear in the culture of masculinity.
The power transgender women have in dismantling all that the notion of masculinity is based upon results in an incredible amount of injustice, violence and scrutiny around the their community. According to Laverne Cox, the homicide rate of transgender women are the highest in the LGBT community; over fifty-three percent of LGBT homicides in 2012 were transgender women, and seventy-three percent of those killed were transgender women of color. Transgender youth face incredible bullying and harassment; about seventy-eight percent of transgender children from grades K-12, all too frequently resulting in suicide (Laverne Cox, “Creating Change 2014”). In order to dismantle the threat transgender women have on masculinity, this community rarely sees justice as a result of the persecution they face. Laverne Cox brings to light a law enforcement system in place that makes transgender women disappear, profiling them as sex workers and arresting them simply because they are wearing short skirts in the wrong neighborhood or for carrying more than one condom at a time. Cases such as Cece McDonald, a transgender woman who was arrested and incarcerated after she was attacked by a white supremacist, or Jules Gutierrez, a transgender youth who was arrested after she defended herself against her harassers, are proof that we seek to systematically oppress this community (Laverne Cox, “Creating Change 2014”). Viewing transgender women as villains is one way our law enforcement system and the media maintains the masculine hierarchy in our culture, by painting the persecutors as heroes and the persecuted as violent people who choose to act as women in order to “prey on innocent straight men or to fulfill some kind of bizarre sex fantasy” (Serano, 16).
Transgender women face other cultural traumas besides being seen as villains in society. Another way the media maintains male-privilege is to portray transgender women as victims, which robs them of their strength in the public’s eye, because strength and power are first and foremost associated with masculinity. By doing this, transgender women are seen as weak, therefore more susceptible to the public’s scrutiny.
Along with instilling fear and pity onto the community of transgender women, the media has an important role to play in shaping the culture’s idea that the gender identity of transgender women is illegitimate. In order to combat the fact that transgender women embrace femininity, despite the fact that they were assigned as men at birth with the gender privileges that accompany that title, the media uses the tactic of dehumanization to portray transgender women not as people, but as objectified body parts accompanying the “wrong” gender performance. This not only spreads transphobia across our culture, but cissexism and oppositional sexism as well; the beliefs that transsexual’s identified gender is “fake,” and that the categories of female and male are “rigid, mutually exclusive categories” (Serano, 12-13). Transgender women are hyper sexualized and hyper feminized in the media, provoking the assumption that they are sexual deviants here for men’s sexual pleasure, and are subject to men’s gaze and objectification. By hyper feminizing and hyper sexualizing transgender women, our culture is continuously forcing the community into an extremely low hierarchal position in order to avoid threatening cis male’s position in society.
The media continues to dehumanize transgender women by focusing storylines on transition surgeries, whether or not they are passable enough to be “real” women; asking invasive questions that would normally not be presented to any cis female or cis male, because in society’s eyes transgender women are not people, but a type of science experiment we can examine, scrutinize and pass judgments on. To consider transgender women as real people in society, would mean that our masculine culture would have to confront the power this community has, as people, to choose their gender and how they perform it, without the reinforcement that cis males are so used to experiencing.
Masculine power is inherent in our society and has been for hundreds of years. Transgender women subconsciously tap into the fears our culture has regarding masculinity and maintaining its position in society. Through the media and its portrayals of transgender women, and our law enforcement system and its failure to serve justice to the transgender community, masculine power remains unthreatened in our culture. Transgender women continue to push gender norms and binaries forcing the culture of masculinity to face its fears surrounding gender equality and the elimination of a gender hierarchy that has been responsible for the pedestal men sit upon in our society.
Serano, Julia. Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. Berkely, CA: Seal, 2007. Web. <http://site.ebrary.com/lib/umassa/Doc?id=10447116&ppg=19>.
Cox, Laverne. “Creating Change 2014.” The National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change 2014. National LGBTQ Task Force. Houston, TX. 29 January 2014. Keynote Address.
Unidentifiable voice: No, no, no, no, no
Man: What the….
Girl: (stares over the body—looking down—panicked)
Man: What happened here?
Girl: (clearly traumatized) I…I…I
Man: Did you do this? Oh no, thats not possible. Oh you poor dear, come here, Ill help you.… (muttering to self) but how.. there’s so much blood (back to girl) go clean yourself up, try and rinse it away
Girl: (mumbling to self) I didn’t see, I still don’t know, I just need to know
Girl leaves scene
Man: How the hell did this happen? She’s just a girl ….
(Pulls out phone and begins to dial)… what on earth happened?
(receiver picks up) Hello, sorry to call at this hour. It’s just, I trust you and need discretion on this. (Pause) Uh huh… ya…. thanks. Mhm, Ill explain when you get here. … (Pause)… or try to.
Addressing camera directly
Have you ever thought about the heart?
(sound, heart beat)
I mean really thought about it.
Lying there still in his arms, I started to really think about it.
How fascinating it is.
One organ, keeping all the others functioning.
(crazed) No pressure right?!
(Calm) It pumps all that blood
(Sound, heart beat)
It never stops
(Sound, heart beat)
It never quits
(Sound, heart beat)
It never gets a break
(Sound, heart beat)
The heart never gets a break.
(with hands mimic a breaking heart)
I can’t wrap my mind around the heart.
Let alone the mind (chuckle)
What fabulous creatures we are
(deep breath) If only we were able to see inside,
to get just a glimpse,
Im just so curious, (trace question mark on cheek with blood)
I just wanted to get inside
Everyone is so damn close minded.
I don’t see myself as their equal.
How is it possible to be anything like me?
How could you have similar thoughts, the same anatomical makeup..
I get so dark, like I’m falling down a pit.
A pit I don’t think about climbing out of, let alone attempting to
BUT THEN (face enlightened)
then I’m out of it (snap fingers)
maybe I just adjusted to the darkness.
(Sound, heart beat)
There it goes again,
ceasing to stop,
never getting a break,
always being broken.
The anatomy of the heart is an amazing thing. All the valves, the veins, the capillary networks. It’s all so intricately perfect.
The symbol of the heart is also exquisite.
How did it become a sign of love…emotion…hurt.
(Trace heart on chest)
So many songs, poems, paintings… ART
About the HEART! (practically yelling)
(Sound, heart beat)
I forget I have a heart sometimes.
Going, going, going,
Never appreciating the rhythm,
that keeps me pumping… running.
And then when I do (looking down)
it’s so breathtaking,
it brings me back into the simplicity of everything.
Yet the heart beats the loudest
when it’s pushed to its limits.
(Smudging blood on face)
I pushed myself too hard.
The darkness closed in.
The light just couldn’t keep up,
neither could he.
We were yelling and fighting, and nothing was coming out right.
I just wanted to be heard.
I needed to know what was in his heart:
If he loved me, if he cared, if his heart beat could show me.
I Needed to know,
I needed to feel.
I needed to see.
Nobody tells you that seeing doesn’t make believing.
The thoughts tore at me…
Could my heart be in someone else’s possession,
whilst still beating within my own chest?
And if so, why wasn’t he being more gentle with how he handled it?
As these thoughts cluttered my mind, I found my crumbling heart begin to take over
Oh what pain I felt as it lept from my chest.
I wanted to see his, to see if he felt as I did.
To see if his heart belonged to me.
A heart to have and to hold.
(Sound Door Slam)
(Crescendo of Whispers)
Man: No, I haven’t had time to speak with her.
Woman: So you are involving yourself… and now me… in all this… well this crime scene, for no reason?
Man: You should have seen the look on her face, she was so lost, she needed help, I had to help her.
Woman: How is this helping her Daniel? We know nothing.
Man: She needs help.
Woman: Clearly (sarcastic)
Man: Sh… I hear someone, quick let’s finish up here.
Girl enters completely clean
Girl: What’s going on?
Woman: We were hoping to ask you the same thing.
Man: Did you see anything? We are trying to help
Woman: Hello?? What happened here. Hello? Can you speak? What did you see? What did you do? (fade out)
(Fade up into a shot of Girl sleeping. She jolts awake and takes a few quick breaths. As she begins to calm down, she looks complexed at what we believe to be a dream. Then audio plays “A heart to have”…. camera pans down to her hands which are bloody and holding a heart) “and to hold”)
The Internet is a continually evolving and rapidly changing piece of technology. The Internet has only been available to the public since 1991 and has since skyrocketed to be one of the most important and prevalent resources of the current generation, though this rise in power has not come without controversy. Nicholas Carr explains in his article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid,” that the Internet is replacing the knowledge that people have in their heads and it is causing many to lose focus and concentration (59). Not only has the Internet created this problem but all forms of media and technology have contributed. Americans’ eyes are stuck on screens, hands and thumbs are glued to smartphones, and our brains think through search engines. We live in a society in which immediate gratification is priority; people want things to be fast, easy, and efficient (Carr 61). What will happen when that is all there is to life?
The Internet is its own universe. There are wide arrays of information that can be found left and right throughout many different websites. People usually begin their online journeys or adventures on search engines, the main being Google. Google has become so popular that it has integrated itself into the English language. Go “Google” it. I’m “googling” it. I “googled” it. Carr expresses his concerns that “most of the information that flows through [his] eyes and ears” comes from the Internet, and we are turning to Google rather than using our own brains (59). This reliance on Google is creating dependence on the search engine itself and on the Internet as a whole. Carr observes that “Google is doing the work for the mind” and he continues to write that there is no need to completely memorize something if we have the ability to look it up (64). Google is becoming common ground in this generation.
The Internet is also pulling us away from other methods of gathering information. I personally can’t stand reading for long periods of time and I always find myself skimming. Websites such as Spark Notes or Cliff Notes give access to summaries and plot lines of books to avoid reading altogether. People even skim the summaries because of the desire for things to be short and simple. Both thoroughness and elaboration are difficult for some people because we generally want to get to the point. The desire for speed is stronger than ever. Why read a 300- page novel when you can read a ten-page summary that is just a click away? Research overall is becoming based on Google searches. Physical copies of encyclopedias, dictionaries, thesauruses, etc. becoming more and more obsolete. The Internet is much more accessible for everyone and it is composed of many different and useful resources. These online alternatives are shortcuts that make things easier and more simple and suitable for our speedy generation, but is it making things too easy?
There is more than just the purpose of finding information on the Internet. These other websites that are popularly used are simply “time killers.” Social networks, video streaming websites, picture websites, etc. are all as much a part of the Internet as anything else. It is extremely easy to lose focus while browsing the Internet with the links, advertisements, and subpages found all over each website (Carr 64). Getting carried away comes easy if link after link is clicked. I find myself scrolling through these web pages at eleven o’clock in the morning and, in the next moment, it’s time for dinner. This must be a contributing factor to not only Carr’s fidgeting and lack of focus, but to others’ lack of focus as well. Many others experience this phenomenon of getting distracted by the Internet and it is becoming a routine to lose ourselves in the great depths of the Internet. While I was reading Carr’s article, I found myself drifting off and reaching for my phone. I was worried I was going to miss some important status update or tweet, both of which in many minds must be read live and not at a later time. The great influence technology has had on us is remarkable, but its influential power over us is not over yet.
Though losing track of time on the Internet may be an accident for some, others may use the World Wide Web for the sole purpose and intention of killing time. Video streaming websites, such as Netflix and Hulu, have a plethora of users that will watch entire seasons of a television show in a matter of hours or days and I have also found myself in this position. Some also watch several different shows at the same time. These websites are promoting our binge watching habits through auto play and they are making eleven seasons of a show fly by extremely fast. Between all of the different pieces of technology we have, we frequently see people multitasking with a cell phone in hand while also watching a movie or writing a paper. Multitasking adds to the complication of distractions. People feel that they should always be looking at this tiny screen and it is very common to grab your phone for no reason even while you are doing something else. Whether or not it was intentional to stay on these devices for hours on end, the pieces of technology are enabling people to spend their precious time browsing the depths of the World Wide Web.
Carr has not been the only person to notice this change in the social media world. Rapper Prince Ea uploaded a video on YouTube titled “Can We Auto-Correct Humanity?” in September 2014. Not only has the Internet become a problem, but the entire technological world has become a problem. Beyond losing focus and concentration, we are losing contact and socialization. Prince Ea raps how it’s ironic that “these touch screens can make us lose touch” and it is one of the most accurate and mind opening statements. These social networks and cellular devices are supposed to aid in long distance communication and relationships and yet they have been putting screen barriers in between people. It’s not uncommon to see people at the dinner table with cell phones in hand because there is less of a desire for face-to-face communication. Even families use cell phones to communicate with each other when they are in different rooms in the same house. People are losing the ability to communicate without the safety of a screen in front of them. I am guilt of checking several different forms of social media during times when I shouldn’t be, whether those times be during class, at family dinners, or during personal and private conversations. Prince Ea pleads with Mark Zuckerberg to change description of Facebook from a social network to an “anti-social network” and this is evident in the decreased face-to-face communication that these so-called “social networks” produce. These pieces of technology greatly impact our lifestyles and are becoming the center of our world.
Technology is a blessing and a curse. The Internet is used for educational purposes, but a majority of the time spent on the Internet is used for fun, distraction, and “socialization.” Technology has opened many doors for our capabilities through educational research, medicinal research, economic research, and plenty more. These bountiful resources are not something we should dispose of to protect socialization, but the manner in which we use this technology is something we should think about. Technology is our greatest tool, but it also changing the way in which we interact. We use phones to lower pressure on ourselves to avoid conversation, partly because we’re losing the ability to have a conversation. We have easy access to these websites and it is much easier to chat with someone over a screen than to meet face to face. It is how we chose to use this technology that will determine the outcome of our social fate. We need to redirect ourselves because if not, we will quickly lose a lot of what makes communication social. We’re losing what makes us human and what gave us the ability to improve so much of our world is also unfortunately creating drastic changes for our generation and generations to come.
Carr, Nicholas. “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” 2008. Other Words: A Writer’s Reader. By
David Fleming. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt, 2009. 59-66. Print.
Prince Ea. “Can We Auto-Correct Humanity?” YouTube. YouTube, 29 Sept. 2014. Web. 13 Oct. 2014. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRl8EIhrQjQ>.