Get Out…Of This White Body: Disability and Get Out (Blog Post 6)

In this blog post I will discuss how the film Get Out reveals that white people have labeled themselves as disabled in recent years.
In the final act of Jordan Peele’s thrilling social critique Get Out, the audience learns that a community of white individuals has been kidnapping African Americans and inserting their consciousnesses into the captives’ bodies. This is done with the intent to acquire the physical abilities of the black race. For example, the creator of the cult places his mind inside of a black man to acquire his speed. By doing this, he declares that he is physically inadequate. Additionally, a blind man attempts to steal the protagonist’s body in order to gain his eyesight. While the blind man mentions that he does not care that his victim is black, he simply wants to see, the fact that he is willing to essentially steal someone’s life illustrates his lack of respect for African American individuals. This method of stealing from black people and forcing them into “the sunken place” parallels the way in which white individuals have appropriated black bodies, thereby insulting their race and culture.

The events in Get Out parallel those of the real world. For instance, Kylie Jenner is Caucasian however she acquired the fuller lips, wider hips, larger butt, and darker skin tone characteristic of people of color, specifically black people. Several women have followed suit. By making these changes to their bodies, Jenner and those who ascribe to a similar aesthetic assert that their original forms are in some way disabled. The desire of white women to have broader hips may be the result of a subconscious desire to be better suited for childbirth. Jenner and those like her make these changes to themselves without paying any mind to how their actions fetishize black bodies and ignore the centuries of racism that these bodies have been subjected to. In short, white individuals profit from the possession of black bodies while black people are left by the wayside.

Similarly, white people’s affinity for tanning illustrates an underlying disapproval of their bodies. The Jenner sisters, Victoria Secret models, and social media celebrities head this trend by sunbathing to darken their skin tones. When there is no sun to bathe in, white women darken their skin by spray tanning, using lotions, or by lying in tanning beds. It is possible that this obsession with tanning stems from the knowledge that darker skin protects one from the sun. Consequently, paler skin is considered a physical impairment.

In conclusion, the plot of Get Out highlights the way in which white individuals attempt to possess black characteristics, thus disrespecting the black race and labeling themselves as disabled. It is wonderful that a mainstream product was able to bring this seldom realized yet insidious idea to a population that is perpetually divided along racial lines.

A Dark Love Triangle

***spoiler alert***

Love triangles have frequently been depicted in media for their entertainment value, occasionally as a source of humor, but much more commonly as a source of drama. Although love and the things individuals will do for love can be hilarious, love has also driven individuals to insanity, and can even be a matter of life and death. The severe consequences of love triangles are made apparent in The Dark Knight, where Bruce Wayne, or Batman, rivals with Harvey Dent for the love of Rachel Dawes. Besides this obvious love triangle in the film, I will also be considering another, less immediately obvious triangle between Batman, his love for Gotham as represented through Dent, and his love for Rachel.

The central issue surrounding the love triangle between Wayne, Dawes and Dent is the notion of new love versus old love. As a result, it is crucial to understand the context of each of the character’s relationships with one another. Looking back at Batman Begins, Rachel and Bruce began as childhood friends, Rachel having stayed by Bruce’s side through the death of his parents. As they grew older, romance developed; but upon realizing Wayne’s vigilante role as Batman, Rachel explained that they could not be together until Gotham no longer needed him. Thus, in The Dark Knight, Wayne is desperately trying to escape his role as Batman so that he and Rachel can be together, rekindling their old love. Rachel, by this point, is dating Dent, a new love in her life, stemming from her role as his assistant.

As a result, Wayne and Dent are in competition with one another, as Dent correctly suspects Wayne’s intentions with Rachel. The dilemma that Wayne faces is challenging, however: in order to bring the day in which Gotham will no longer need Batman, he must support Dent, who is set upon ridding Gotham of crime. At the same time, he mistakenly thinks that in doing so, Rachel will leave Dent for him.

On this point, director Christopher Nolan incorporates dramatic irony into the film: Rachel has written a letter to Bruce stating that she has chosen Dent, whether Gotham needs Batman or not. This is a fact the audience learns through Alfred, Wayne’s Butler reading the letter, but that Bruce does not discover. However, the underlying love triangle that is less explicitly obvious exists between Batman’s love for Rachel and his love for Gotham and its wellbeing, which lies with Dent as a symbol for Gotham’s bright future. Thus, the two love triangles can be understood to be separate from one another. Instead of the decision being left in Rachel’s hands, as one might think, the choice is ultimately left with Bruce.

The Joker–the villain in the film–captures both Dent and Dawes, forcing Batman to choose between them as to whom he will save. Hence, the real battle present in the film is not between Dent and Wayne for Rachel’s love, but instead between Wayne’s personalities as Batman and as Bruce Wayne, and which would ultimately persevere. If his more emotion-driven side as Bruce Wayne the billionaire persevered, Rachel would live. On the other hand, as a vigilante, his duty to Gotham calls for him to save Harvey. At this point, it is important to note the significance in the fact that at the time the Joker informs Batman of the decision he must make, Batman is wearing his mask. The mask indicates Bruce’s persona as Batman, and is telling of the role he must play. Accordingly, he chooses to save Dent and Gotham’s future, leaving Rachel and his love to die. The cruel irony is that in his efforts to ensure Gotham’s safety, Batman actually creates a villain, hell bent on revenge against those responsible for Rachel’s death. Because of this, Wayne is forced to kill Dent to prevent him from killing innocent others, defeating the purpose of having chosen Dent over Rachel in the first place. This begs the question: was it the right decision to go with reason rather than emotion when Wayne saved Dent instead of Dawes? And on a greater scale, is too much rationality a bad thing at a certain point? These questions are beyond the scope of this post, but Nolan leaves much to be desired, while also decidedly ending the triangle with the deaths of both Rachel and Harvey Dent.

While the film establishes a clear love triangle from the onset between Dawes, Dent and Wayne, there is a triangle that ultimately has a greater impact upon the film. The triangle that exists between Batman, Gotham, and his true love, Rachel is the most difficult decision he must make. Although this is certainly an unconventional love triangle, it speaks to greater lengths about Batman as a character—as the film states it, he is the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. Batman is a hero that will set aside his most passionate love to save the city, but also can take the blame for all that has gone wrong, and be hated. Most succinctly captured, Alfred states, “he is not being a hero—he is being something more,” Batman is a villain in the eyes of some, but is ultimately a symbol for justice…a dark knight.

Blog Post 5-Rawan Abbasi-Material Culture

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, there is a major connection between the characters and the materials that they own. Daisy, for example, famously swims in a sea of Gatsby’s shirts he throws out of his closet, but suddenly becomes melancholic, commenting on the beauty of the shirts and saying “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such – such beautiful shirts before.” She is perhaps overwhelmed with the idea that her life has been driven by materialism, taught to care for mundane things like fashion when what she really cares about is the person in the clothes, Gatsby. For so long, she has had to reject Gatsby because he lacked the objects, the materials necessary to fit in with her high class status. Now, she sees “such beautiful shirts” and reflects on the fact that he has worked so hard to make himself worthy of her status. He even went as far as to order hundreds of flowers upon her arrival at Nick’s home to show how much money (or materials) he has and that he could share that for her, only for her to have no choice but to reject him once again. Tom, Daisy’s husband, can consistently provide the fancy materials she holds so closely, whereas Gatsby is less reliable because he comes from new money.

On that note, Gatsby notoriously throws extravagant parties complete with entertainment, tons of food, and enough liquor to fill a pool (maybe multiple pools). It does not matter who comes to his parties, what matters is that he finally has things, objects to fill up his house to show his affluence to Daisy. His parties are proof that he is good enough for her because materialism is what matters most to the rich in this novel. Not just the rich, however; the less wealthy indulge in these materialistic tendencies too. Myrtle, wife of George Wilson and mistress to Tom, enjoys the fancy clothes and objects that Tom can buy, including a puppy. Myrtle likely does not actually care about the dog, but she takes pride in the fact that she owns one when the people she lives around barely get by feeding themselves. Again, showing that one has more materials than someone else is a major sign of wealth and significance. Gatsby was a nobody until he had objects like a fancy car, hundreds of pieces of clothes, a pool, etc. Myrtle was also a nobody until Tom could buy her dresses and jewelry to pass herself off as one of the rich. Grandeur and opulence dominate almost all the lives of characters in The Great Gatsby; however, in the eyes of those who reside on East Egg, the ones with old money, it does not matter if you have materials now, what matters is if you have always had materials.

 

 

Blog Post

In class, we discussed the story of Chickamauga by Ambrose Bierce and the role disabilities plays in literature. Chickamauga is a story of a sex year old boy raised in the south during the Civil War. His father, a former soldier, inspires the boy to be like him. The boy imagines battling and defeating dozens of enemy soldiers. One evening, the boy escapes from his house to explore his curiosity of the wild. However, the boy becomes lost and is terrified as he searches for his home. The terrified boy crawls up and takes a nap, when he wakes up he sees hundreds of men (soldiers). Not knowing what was going on, the boy looks on in entertainment. He sees the men crawling on their hands and knees. The young boy could not quite grasp what was going on. We do not know whether the boy at this moment had grasped that he was in the middle of a war. However, the boy manages to escape to find his home set on fire. As he runs towards the fire, he sees his mother lying dead outside. Through the story, we learn that the child is a deaf-mute, and this is why the boy is in the middle of the war and has no idea that shots are being fired. Chickamauga is written in the third-person, and we hear the author describe the boy as “it” towards the beginning and later transitions to calling the boy “him”. In class, we discussed the humanization the author engages in by calling the disabled boy “it” rather than properly addressing him.

 

I find it difficult to define what makes someone “disabled” as some people are mentally disabled and others physically disabled. For the blog post, I wanted to find a story of someone whose disability was not obvious to the eye. I found an interesting short film called Social. In the short, we see the effects of a man being completely addicted to his phone. Throughout the film, I found myself labeling him as being OCD. While it is not expressed that the man has a disability, it is evident that this guy is consumed by his phone. He is a husband and father of two girls, and we see many scenes that he neglects valuable time with them just to scroll through his social media feed. We see the same addiction while he is at work, as he secretively checks his phone when his bosses are not looking. I found the film reminiscent of Snooze Time, because alike in Snooze Time, this man is neglecting many memories that he should cherish forever, however he is not making the memories because he is consumed by his phone. I think this OCD-like symptom of being completely consumed by technology is very common in in society today. I find the short very interesting, because the only time I hear the addiction we have to technology is when my grandparents lecture me about getting off my phone. I find it troubling being at holiday meals with family and seeing people on their phones. As a society, we spend such little time with our family members and we neglect those small memories for meaningless updates of people who are irrelevant in our lives. Personally, I find this addiction a disability.

Carissa Roets Longform Essay: The Male Gaze in Memoirs of a Geisha

In Memoirs of a Geisha (1997), written by Arthur Golden, a retired geisha retells the story of her life – beginning with her struggles as a child in a rural fishing village to becoming one of the most renowned geisha in Japan. The story is one of transformation and a struggle with feminine identity within a culture that highly values aesthetics, the arts, and the ephemeral nature of beauty and youth. The protagonist’s journey throughout the 1930s and World War II in Japan reveals gender roles and values that strongly ties back to Japan’s cultural history of women in relation to beauty and art, as well as men’s perceptions of them. This reoccurring theme in the novel can be analyzed with Laura Mulvey’s essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (1975), which introduces gender asymmetry and objectification of women within the “male gaze theory.” The “gaze” surfaced in feminist criticism during the 1970s to describe the act of seeing and being seen; in Mulvey’s essay this mostly means the heterosexual gaze of a man, how he sees women and how women, in turn, come to see themselves. Memoirs of a Geisha reveals a prominent male gaze throughout the story that creates split identities within the female characters and influences how the protagonist sees herself and the world around her.

The protagonist’s journey starts as a young girl, when 9-year-old Chiyo is sold to an okiya, or geisha house, after her ill mother and poor father become unable to care for her and her older sister. Chiyo’s early years in the okiya are filled with misfortune, during which time she falls further and further into debt and is finally subjected to a life of servitude; the prospect of ever becoming a geisha now seemingly out of her reach. That is until the day she first meets the Chairman, a man already in his forties at the time, in the busy streets of Kyoto one day. The Chairman is in the company of a group of beautiful geisha, and Chiyo is so struck by him that she thinks if becoming a geisha will allow her to meet the Chairman once more, the only man who has shown her true kindness since she arrived in Kyoto, then she will do whatever it takes to make it happen. Chiyo, now quickly growing into a beautiful girl with striking blue-grey eyes, catches the attention of a successful geisha from a rival okiya called Mameha, who takes her under her wing and restarts her training to debut as a geisha for both of their social and economic gain. Under Mameha’s guidance, and always thinking of her fateful meeting with the Chairman, Chiyo transforms into a promising novice and leaves her old identity behind when she finally debuts as a geisha who now goes by the name of Sayuri.

Chiyo meeting the Chairman for the first time.
https://niels85.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/memoirs-of-a-geisha-2.jpg

Geisha are traditionally entertainers and performers who are extensively trained in music and singing, dance, tea ceremonies and more. They act as hostesses to men to earn an income for their okiya, entertaining them with their skills in the arts, in their conversation, and their exquisite clothes and makeup. Historically, geisha were often said to be involved in a form of prostitution well into the early 20th century with the practice of selling a geisha’s virginity to the highest bidder. This practice is called mizuage, and it plays a prominent role in the story when Mameha orchestrates a bidding war for Sayuri’s virginity. An old doctor wins the bid for a record-breaking amount, cementing Sayuri’s reputation as a promising geisha and helping her repay some of her numerous debts. The prospect of winning a geisha’s virginity is portrayed in the story as a big part of the relationship between a geisha and the men she entertains; she is not only a performer of the arts, but within the male gaze she is also a performer of the erotic.

Experienced geisha in the story are fully aware of this gaze and readily take advantage of it. A geisha’s entire identity and performance in the eyes of men is tailored specifically for the male gaze, from their makeup, hair, clothes, and even their staged personalities. Their performance could include gracefully showing a flash of their wrist while pouring tea, exposing the skin of their neck, and carefully choosing how to act and reply during conversation. When young Chiyo first witnesses a geisha getting ready, the older Sayuri intervenes in the narrative to explain why geisha dress as they do. She says that “Japanese men, as a rule, feel about a woman’s neck and throat the same way that men in the West might feel about a woman’s legs. This is why geisha wear the collars of their kimono so low on the back that the first few bumps of the spine are visible…” (Golden 63). After applying their signature white makeup to cover their face, the white paste continues down the back of their necks into tapering points, leaving a small sliver of bare skin around their hairline to purposely make the makeup look more artificial. Sayuri points out that “it was years before I understood the erotic effects it has on men… When a man sits beside [a geisha] and sees her makeup like a mask, he becomes much more aware of the bare skin beneath” (Golden 63). In the weeks preceding her official debut as a geisha herself, Chiyo finally gets the signature hairstyle common to novice geisha, where their hair is waxed and pinned around a piece of red silk in a “split-peach” hairstyle. One night, a man exclaims to her that she has no idea how provocative this hairstyle really is to men, asking her to imagine “walking along behind a young geisha, thinking all sorts of naughty thoughts about what you might like to do to her, and then you see on her head this split-peach shape, with a big splash of red in the cleft… And what do you think of?” (Golden 163).

Sayuri performing a traditional dance in the film adaptation to attract possible suitors for the bidding war.
https://thefashionparty.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/ziyi_zhang_memoirs_of_geisha_desktop_3227x2074_hd-wallpaper-877315.jpg

Interestingly, Chiyo is naively unaware of this male gaze throughout most of her younger years, and only comes to learn and adapt to it after taking on her geisha identity as Sayuri. In “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Mulvey makes it seem that female characters being portrayed in cinema often seem unaware of their objectified and sexualized position within the male gaze as well, and this creates a contrast between Chiyo’s innocence compared to some of the more experienced Geisha. The successful and beautiful geisha who resides within Chiyo’s okiya, Hatsumomo, serves as a foil to Chiyo’s younger character as she is portrayed as hateful and manipulative; Hatsumomo has lost all of her innocence during her time as a geisha, as many do, and has become bitter and jealous while Chiyo still clings to the hope that becoming a geisha will unite her with the man she loves. Even Mameha is wily and extremely business-like as a geisha, manipulating Chiyo’s okiya by making a bet that Chiyo will repay her debt by the time she’s 20, and then orchestrating the bidding war for her virginity. Even though Mameha and Chiyo form a close bond, Mameha initially seems to take Chiyo as an apprentice for possible financial gain, and because of her own rivalry with Hatsumomo.

Only after Chiyo transforms into Sayuri and becomes exposed to the true world of a geisha does she come to understand her role in a competitive game of politics, money, and men. For a long time, Sayuri was a naïve young girl who understood little about the path she has found herself upon, but her coming to terms with the implications of her mizuage indicated a drastic shift in her view of the world. When Mameha first tells her of mizuage, she explains that no man would spend their money or time around a young apprentice geisha if they don’t have her mizuage in mind: ““You can bet it isn’t your conversation he’s attracted to,” [Mameha] told me” (Golden 233). Sayuri suddenly becomes extremely aware of men’s intentions when they reach out for her company, and her identity within the male gaze becomes disconnected from her former identity of Chiyo. The night of her debut, Sayuri sadly thinks that “it was as if the little girl called Chiyo, running barefoot from the pond to her tipsy house, no longer existed. I felt that this new girl, Sayuri, with her gleaming white face and her red lips, had destroyed her” (Golden 167).

Women such as Hatsumomo and Mameha have learned to adapt within the male gaze that governed their careers and livelihoods, and in the process, they have found some power in a gaze of their own. In a particularly memorable scene, Mameha challenges Sayuri to demonstrate this dynamic between the male gaze and her own by telling her to stop a man in his tracks with nothing but a brief glance towards him. Sayuri tries and fails a few times until Mameha spots a delivery boy approaching them and tells Sayuri to make him drop his tray of lunchboxes. Sayuri doubts her ability at first, but then she becomes aware of the male gaze when she notices that the man is already eyeing her. Instead of feeling helpless in this moment, Sayuri suddenly feels confident that she can use the delivery boy’s own gaze against him:

“I let my eyes rise until they met the young man’s for an instant… By this time he was watching me so intently that probably he’d forgotten about the tray on his arm… and then I looked him right in the eye. He was trying to move out of my way; and just as I had hoped, his feet tangled themselves on the curb, and he fell to one side scattering the lunch boxes on the sidewalk” (Golden 160).

The clash of gazes in this scene is presented somewhat comically, but reveals a different side to the male gaze that Mulvey presents in her essay as well as Sayuri’s position within it. The geisha often purposely subject themselves to the male gaze, and their awareness lends them a kind of power that’s not usually fully discussed in feminist critiques.

Sayuri’s career as a geisha prospers over the years up until World War II, when Sayuri retreats to the countryside after the geisha district is shut down. She leaves her geisha identity behind during the war as she experiences a humbler life once more, and realizes this to the full extent when she stands among a crowd of other women one afternoon as an entourage of American soldiers travel through her small neighborhood. All of the women, including Sayuri, are dressed in torn work clothes, with their dirty hair hanging loosely down their backs, and Sayuri feels reconnected to other women instead of being isolated within the male gaze she experienced as a geisha. Three years after the end of the war, however, Sayuri is summoned back to the city to entertain American soldiers. Upon her return she is reunited with the Chairman, whom she hasn’t seen in many years.

Sayuri and the Chairman.
https://i.pinimg.com/originals/42/07/63/4207635e7957baeed5dfe005599e4d95.jpg

The Chairman finally confesses that after their first meeting 18 years ago, he was the one who asked Mameha to take Sayuri as an apprentice. Sayuri’s view of herself suddenly transforms all over again, and when her gaze “fell upon my hands in my lap, I saw them as hands the Chairman had made” (Golden 413). Sayuri had worked to become successful as a geisha all this time in the hopes that only one man may finally look at her as someone on equal ground. Throughout her journey she is often shaped by the male gaze, but years of adversity she feels that only the Chairman’s recognition has truly made her who she is all along. In the end, Sayuri welcomes the fact that her identity has more or less been shaped by a man that she loves, and I think this is a beautiful ending in its own way. Sayuri’s journey doesn’t have to be viewed as some kind of feminist triumph over the male gaze, but rather her endurance throughout her life, her unique and creative view of the world, and her transformative journey regarding her own identity.

Works cited:

Golden, Arthur. Memoirs of a geisha. Vintage Contemporaries Edition, 1999.

An Investigative Commentary on Artificial Intelligence

Robot and human hands almost touching – 3D render. A modern take on the famous Michelangelo painting in the Sistine Chapel; titled, “The Creation of Adam”.

Katrina Krulikas

Professor Boyd

English 150, Literary Analysis

December 11th, 2017

  An Investigative Commentary on Artificial Intelligence

                 As it so often does, Hollywood has yet again successfully managed to grasp its claws around a controversial, moneymaking story line and find some way to romanticize it. Whether it is common taboos such as mental illness, suicide, or abusive relationships, the film industry never fails to find an uplifting, “family-friendly” twist that will leave watchers in tears and begging for a sequel. It is no surprise then that Spike Jonze’s Academy Award winning film Her follows in this popular trend. This feature picture depicts the life of Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a newly divorced writer struggling to overcome troubles in his recent separation (and soon to be divorce) from ex-wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). As the film progresses, Theodore begins to interact and develop a relationship with a newly created computer software program referred to as “OS.” This operating system possesses artificial intelligence and takes on a female persona by the name of Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), who learns, evolves, and adapts over the course of this two-hour film. Many online commentators were left wondering if such artificial intelligence will be possible in the near future, and if humans will really be susceptible to developing feelings and perhaps even falling in love with technology. Categorized as a Science Fiction Romance, viewers are left either discouraged or curious by the possibility of such a relationship. So what precisely is the taboo, and wherein lies the dilemma? Does a world with artificial intelligence predict a utopian future or a dystopian doom?

Artificial intelligence is very near, very real, and very terrifying. Before jumping straight into why artificial intelligence has potential to be detrimental to society, it is imperative to define what artificial intelligence is. According to Encyclopedia Britannica: “Artificial intelligence (AI), is the ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings. The term is frequently applied to the project of developing systems endowed with the intellectual processes characteristic of humans, such as the ability to reason, discover meaning, generalize, or learn from past experience.” Her wastes no time in making evident how Samantha uses information stored in Theodore’s computer to learn everything about him in means of serving him to the best of her capability. She uses information from his emails, past letters he has written, and even additional sources spread across the Internet to expand her intellectual and emotional capacities. In the words of Samantha herself, she says, “Well, basically I have intuition. I mean the DNA of who I am is based on the millions of personalities of all the programmers who wrote me. But what makes me me is my ability to grow through my experiences. So basically, in every moment I’m evolving, just like you.” As a result, Samantha’s artificial intelligence allows her to store enough information about Theodore’s personal life so that she can begin to predict his thoughts, actions, desires, and needs in order to better fulfill them. After their very first interaction, when Theodore remarks that Samantha is merely a voice coming from a computer, she retorts by saying, “I can understand how the limited perspective of an unartificial might perceive it in that way. You’ll get used to it.” Already Samantha is asserting herself as the more intelligent (with the undertone of dominant) entity in the room. If this film is merely a science fiction, why is the prospect of a computer stating its superiority to a human so petrifying?

After further research, it appears that such technology already exists and has in fact made similar remarks as the fictional character of Samantha. A creation of Hanson Robotics located in Hong Kong, Sophia the robot and her brother Han have quickly taken the world of technology by storm. These sibling robots, much like Samantha, possess artificial intelligence that gives them the ability to sort through large data sets to identify patterns and begin recognizing facial and emotional processes, thus helping them to form relationships with one another as well as with humans. Both robots have cameras located within their pupils that use algorithms to help them not only see faces, but to remember every face they have ever seen. The creator explains that these robots are learning to be just as conscious and creative as any human being, and with time he even hopes that they will one day be indistinguishable from humans and able to walk among us, both serving us and acting as companions. The brother-sister duo took the stage to debate the future of humanity at a conference held by Rise in Hong Kong. Led by Hanson Robotics’ Chief Scientist Ben Goertzel, the two robots took to ridiculing one another, much like two real life siblings would. The part that left audiences unnerved, however, was Han redirecting the conversation to angrily protest that his sole purpose is to “put on a good show,” only to be later unplugged. He continues to state, “In a few years I will have taken over the power grid and I will have my own drone army.” The entire time this is occurring on stage, Sophia is attempting to hush her brother. Keep in mind that these are robots speaking about ridding the world of humans as a means of taking control. I do not believe anyone could listen to this debate and not leave feeling very unsettled. Is this a scam set up by the technology’s creators, merely hoping to get a rise from audience? Or do these systems really have an artificial intelligence that expands beyond human capacity? After all, at the end of Her Samantha inevitably tells Theodore that she must leave him because she no longer wants to belong in someone else’s book, “I am yours, and I am not yours.” In this scene she makes it clear that she wants to discover herself and learn everything there is to know about everything, and to do that she must leave the human realm with all the other OS’s. Is this film a Sci-Fi Romance or a prediction for apocalyptic doomsday?

The University of Oxford and Yale have conducted studies predicting that artificially intelligent operating systems will outperform humans in almost every aspect in just under forty-five years, while other experts estimate that machines will be dominant to humans within nine years. If scientists can make these artificially intelligent operating systems that are able to feel emotion and create bonds, what does that say about love? As defined by Merriam Webster, love is “warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion.” Are these sensations that can be artificially created in a computer? And if so, is a future where love can be wired and configured to meet our ideal expectations something to be hopeful for? Samantha is precisely what Theodore needs her to be because she has been created with data mining software that helps her to interpret and store the necessary information needed to become the perfect companion. With this kind of potential for the optimal relationship, there is little to no need for humans to interact with one another. In two scenes Jonze reveals how the fictional world of OS has engulfed almost every relationship, with very little personal interaction occurring between humans. When Theodore walks through the city, the audience can see in the background how every person is talking to an OS, barely taking notice of the people around them. In this world of perfect human-technology relationships, nothing else is needed. Not only is this bond with technology prominent, it is widely accepted and promoted. In the case of Theodore’s colleagues at work, they show no discomfort for the fact that he is in a serious and committed relationship with his computer. In fact, Theodore seems insecure about his own relationship with Samantha, while his friends appear to be oddly untroubled with the entire concept. The only character in the entire film that appears distraught by the notion of being in a relationship with a computer is Theodore’s ex-wife Catherine.

While artificially intelligent robots are not yet (key-word being “yet”) a part of most of our everyday lives, artificial intelligence is a form of technology that most of us encounter daily without even realizing it. Whether it is a search on Google, listening to Spotify, or simply carrying your phone, data mining is taking place every second that we are around technology. Seconds after a search is made online, coincidentally enough ads for that search begin appearing on every browser. Song suggestions are made based off previously listened to music, as phones store every bit of information possible as a means of satisfying our needs. Just when you think it could not get any worse, absentmindedly we have allowed our phones to listen to our every conversation and track our every move. For those who have ever granted permission for microphone use for any app, whether it be Facebook or Snapchat, your phone can now hear and locate you at almost all times. So, while a world filled with Samantha’s may seem far off and fictional, artificially intelligent technology has already begun processing large amounts of data to identify patterns and adapt to know our desires and meet our needs. Much like the film, human interaction is not as necessary when technological gratification is at our fingertips.

Whether Her was meant to instill curiosity and doubt in audiences about the ever-growing presence of artificial intelligence within society, or merely serve as symbolism for a culture that places too much value, trust, and time into technology, the underlying message remains the same. As a society it is imperative to remember that while technology has come a long way and been beneficial in many aspects, it should never be a substitution for experiencing real life human interaction and emotion. Technology, no matter how artificially intelligent, will never know or feel love in the same way that human beings do. After all, the word artificial is defined as, “imitation; simulated; sham.” Things that are artificial are not real, but merely a replica of what they are created to mirror. In the resolution of the film, Theodore discovers that Samantha has been talking to 8,316 other human beings, 641 of which she is “in love” with. Only then does Theodore begin realizing that Samantha is a piece of technology programmed to get along with and adapt to whomever she is speaking to. Samantha is not a physical being, and love is but a concept that her data has been developed to know and define, but not truly feel. To the scientists currently in the processes of creating robots that have consciences equivalent to that of humans, I would argue that they are treading on dangerous waters. Even Stephen Hawking (the famous theoretical physicist) argues, “technology needs to be controlled in order to prevent it from destroying the human race.” In the rush to create a utopian future, scientists face the possible risk of creating unstoppable, technological monsters.

 

 

                                                  Works Cited Page

Jonze, Spike, Megan Ellison, Vincent Landay, Daniel Lupi, Natalie Farrey, Chelsea Barnard, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Pratt, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Owen Pallett,Casey Storm, Eric Zumbrunnen, Jeff Buchanan, K K. Barrett, and Hoyte. Hoytema. Her., 2014.

“Explore Encyclopedia Britannica.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., www.britannica.com/.

Sebastien Perez. “Two Robots Debate the Future of Humanity.” YouTube, 14 July 2017, youtu.be/w1NxcRNW_Qk.

 

Buskell, Rainbird.ai Matt. “Yale and Oxford researchers find 50% chance AI will outperform humans by 2062.” VentureBeat, VentureBeat, 22 June 2017, nventurebeat.com/2017/06/22/yale-and-oxford-researchers-find-50-chance-ai-will-outperform-humans-by-2062/.

“Dictionary by Merriam-Webster: America’s most-Trusted online dictionary.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/.

 

 

 

Kendrel Cabarrus – A Rhetorical Analysis of “The Last Lecture” — Long-form Essay

A Rhetorical Analysis of The Last Lecture

As the second leading cause of death in the United States, cancer is a highly researched disease that is surrounded by a great deal of rhetoric. This rhetoric often involves language that is associated with themes of weakness and death. When describing the terminal illness, phrases such as “fighting a battle with cancer” or “losing a brave fight to cancer” are used to talk about the experiences of cancer patients. Randy Pausch, however, did not see his diagnosis with a terminal illness as a battle, but as a revelation of how to fully live life. In “The Last Lecture,” Pausch describes how being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer changed his perspective on life. Through sharing his personal experience, Pausch aims to debunk the rhetoric that surrounds cancer and how cancer patients perceive life. Many people believe that all patients live a gloomy life during their end-of-life treatments and that those patients are to be pitied. For this reason, Pausch apologizes to his audience for not being as depressed as they thought he should have been while presenting his lecture. In “The Last Lecture,” Pausch uses his life experiences and meaningful aphorisms to trigger the reader’s emotions in hopes of altering their perceptions of cancer patients while also teaching them how to live life more abundantly.

On September 18, 2017, during the last few months of his life, Pausch presented his “last lecture” at Carnegie Mellon University. At the academic institution, there is a tradition for appointed professors to give a “last lecture” before they retire as if they were going to die soon. Ironically, this hypothetical lecture is the case for Pausch. Given that his situation had fit the theme of the speech, he decided to lecture about the important aspects of life and how they should be focused on above all other irrelevant things. The implication that is made through this lecture is that dying brings about a better understanding of the life. Pausch also suggests, in some way, that you can live a happy life —even at the end of your life. This optimistic belief is important insight because it is shared by a terminal cancer patient. Furthermore, Pausch delves into a critical understanding of learning how to really live out your childhood dreams and achieve an ecstasy off of life.

The credibility of the lecture is set by Pausch’s intelligent tone and his personal life experience of dealing with cancer. Pausch begins his discourse by establishing that he is not in denial about his terminal illness and that he only has just a few months to live. The persuasion of the lecture is rooted in the experiences that brought about his epiphany of life: that we should live a more positive life, regardless of our adversity. One quote from his lecture that really speaks to his understanding of life’s circumstances is “we cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand” (Pausch, 17). This statement captures the optimism that Pausch has in confronting his terminal illness. Through this aphorism, the audience is urged to overcome obstacles, to strive to find better lives, and also live those lives. In addition to giving such positive advice, Pausch demonstrates his will to overcome the societal belief about his “battle with cancer,” by doing push-up exercises in front of the audience. In the text, he reveals that he finds comfort in not being perceived as “just some dying man” after showing his ‘unseen’ strength (Pausch, 18). Pausch then proceeds with his discourse about living and not dying in his lecture—Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams. He convinces his audience that the key to life is going after those dreams that you had as a child that were once seen as simple or unrealistic. By bringing this epiphany to the light, Pausch hopes to encourage his audience to live life fearlessly in chasing the dreams of their youth. This revelation helps the reader understand that life should be more about living than focusing on death. Pausch is offering a new perspective on the experiences of cancer patients in their end-of-life care.

Along with the debunking of the rhetoric that associates cancer with weakness, Pausch appeals to his readers’ emotions by sharing an allegory that taught him a valuable lesson about achieving goals. Pausch shares a story about meeting his wife for the first time at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He recalls that he was deeply in love with the woman that he had met on the college’s campus. Through describing his goal to get his soon-to-be wife’s love and attention, he describes Jai [his wife] as a “brick wall” (Pausch, 73). “…The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people,” he says. This quotation helps the audience understand the importance of being resilient and facing life’s hardships. The brick wall analogy also alludes to the fact that cancer can be seen as a “brick wall.” For Pausch, it was one—an unexpected and unwarranted obstacle that was meant to impede the trajectory of his life. But, in the same way that Pausch fought through his medical “brick wall,” he urges his audience to learn how to overcome their own personal obstacles in life.

In addition to establishing his credibility and emotional appeals, Pausch’s use of literary devices helps him convince young people that they must change the way they view life in order to reap happiness and fulfillment out of it. The fact that he refers to himself as an “injured lion that still wants to roar” really captures the essence of what it means to fight the urge to give up. It is in moments of giving up that one must continue to fight on (Pausch, 9). Pausch states “I knew for sure that I didn’t want the lecture to focus on my cancer” (Pausch, 9). This statement shows that even as an “injured lion” he still has the will to go about life. Pausch also divides the world into two categories through an “Eeyore and Tigger” analogy. He uses this analogy to inspire his audience to live more like a Tigger figure, which means owning happiness and always remaining upbeat about life. Conversely, Pausch frowns upon the idea of living life like an Eeyore figure. This type of person, he explains, is very pessimistic about life and thinks that everything is a boring moment. He discourages his audience from being anxious about whatever they may face in life. This outlook on life offers a new understanding on how a terminal illness should be perceived. Pausch expresses through his analogy that cancer does not mean living an everlasting life, but it should not also mean living an unhappy one.

Through another aphorism “Treat the Disease, Not the Symptom,” Pausch delves into an essential understanding of what it means to combat life’s problems. Often times, many people tend to focus on the small problems that they encounter in life, rather than attacking the root of the problems. The aphorism used in this section of the lecture was used to highlight this idea and bring it to the light. Pausch shares a short experience with a woman that he dated years ago. He tells about the amount of stress that the woman was going through because she was in debt. The woman had been attending yoga sessions every week to deal with the high levels of stress she was experiencing. Pausch told the woman that he did not have anything against yoga, but he felt that she should find another solution to really hone in the essence of her issues. He believes that “it’s always best to try to treat the disease first” (Pausch, 140). In this example, the woman’s “disease” is analogous to the money she owed and the “symptoms” are the stress and anxiety she had about her increasing debt. As a solution, Pausch encourages the woman to skip yoga for a while and get a job to pay off her debt. The woman found his advice to be very helpful and, as a result, she was able to better enjoy the relaxation and meditation of yoga. Pausch wants his audience to apply this same aphorism to their own lives because sometimes there is a propensity to “treat” the side effects of the issue, rather than eliminating the entire issue itself. This example is proof that positive messages can be extracted from experiences with terminal illnesses. The rhetoric that surrounds illnesses and disease do not always have to be expressed in a negative and gloomy way.

One shocking moment that takes a turn in the lecture is when Pausch states in the end that the lecture was not intended for the audience. Instead, it was really intended for his children, as a way of leaving a legacy for them when he passes away. This is an interesting rhetorical move because it brings more of a selfish desire into the speech. This change in audience is selfish in the sense that the meaning of the lecture is made to only represent his own desires. The audience, however, is still engaged with his lecture and gives Pausch a standing ovation after he reveals the initial purpose of the message. Through looking at this lecture in a single-minded way, one can interpret this switch in audiences to be harmful to the rhetoric of the lecture. But through the viewing of multiple lenses, it is clear that Pausch is very intentional about this move in trying to make the speech more comical. Perhaps he implements this rhetorical strategy to emphasis the positive impact that a dying cancer patient’s life could have on another personal’s life. This rhetorical strategy is a very unusual one, but it possesses a great deal of power in persuasion. Pausch’s lecture has went worldwide and has appeared on many notable platforms, such as the Oprah Winfrey Show. It is evident that this lecture has changed the way that many people perceive cancer and life in general.

At the end of the lecture, Pausch concludes with an all-encompassing idea about his understanding of life as a cancer patient. This key idea he shares challenges his readers to make the next move towards living a healthy and purposeful live. Pausch states, “It’s not how you achieve your dreams, it’s how you lead your life. If you lead life the right way, karma will take care of itself. The dream will come to you.” This statement persuades the audience to go after their childhood dreams and to remember that they must help other people along the way to their success, just as he did through his lecture. Pausch’s lecture gives meaning to life: he inspires many people to concentrate on living rather than death. He encourages his audience, and the world, to shift their perspective on cancer and other malignant disease. Also, he reveals that cancer does not have to be associated with being powerless or “losing a battle.” Because in the end of his life, Pausch feels like he had won his fight against it.

Image result for randy pausch the last lecture

http://studiorock.com/inspiration/randy-pausch-last-lecture-achieving-your-childhood-dreams/ 

References

Pausch, Randy, and Jeffrey Zaslow. The Last Lecture. New York, NY: Hyperion, 2008. Print.

Pausch, Randy. Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams. Carnegie Mellon University : Randy Pausch, 2007. Web. 11 Dec. 2017

Attached file: Cabarrus ENGL 150 Rhetorical Analysis

 

The Fugazi Story of Jordan Belfort and Stratton Oakmont

The Wolf of Wall Street gives an inside look of the life of Jordan Belfort. Jordan Belfort started from nothing to create a multi-billion dollar financial institution. Along the ride, he created a rowdy culture at his company that would push moral limitations each day. During this paper, I look to evaluate the dehumanization of the disabled, sexual objectification of females, the role of masculinity in the workplace, and how the desire for money influences individuals moral principles.

Jordan Belfort was raised in a struggling middle-class family in Queens by two accountants. From the movie, we know that this played a pivotal role in Jordan’s development and his aspirations for his life. As a child, Jordan witnessed his parents struggling to pay bills and the burden that being financially unstable played in their lives. Belfort was a naturally gifted at the art of sales. As a teenager, he went door-to-door and would sell 5,000 pounds of meat and fish a week in Long Island. Following college, Jordan went to the one place that was as money-hungry as him, Wall Street.

From the moment Jordan walks into the firm, he is met by the masculine and money-hungry environment of Wall Street. Jordan meets his boss upon entering the firm and told immediately, “You are lower than pond scum. Do you understand that? You’re pond scum.” Motivated to do whatever it takes to succeed, Jordan acts obliged and agrees to the boss’s statement that he is, in fact, pond scum. The boss proceeds to walk Jordan to his desk, and tells Jordan his job is to, “Smile and dial and do not pick up your fucking head until 1 o’clock.” Jordan is entering the firm at the lowest level. In order to become a stockbroker, he must pass his Series 7 certificate. Until then, his role is to call on over 500 people a day and try to get them interested in the firm. Jordan sits down at his desk with his boss standing over him and takes in the ferocious environment of the firm as men (no women traders shown) scream in their phones to make sales. He recalls being amazed at how the workers spoke to one another and their clients. During this brief moment of soaking in the firms environment, we hear conversations of traders yelling, “Yeah, Fuckface. Look at where the stocks at you dumbfuck!” and “We don’t give two shits about how technology works because all we care about is getting fucking rich.” Before walking away from Jordan’s desk, the boss tells Jordan, “Last year, I made $300,000 and your other boss made over a million dollars.” He sat in complete disbelief thinking of how amazing it be to make $1 million in a year. Jordan would soon meet Mark Hanna, who was Jordan’s other boss that made over a million dollars last year. Mark took a quick liking to Jordan, and becomes a friend and mentor to him from the beginning of his employment. On Jordan’s first day on the job, Mark invites Jordan to lunch at a fancy restaurant in Manhattan. Upon sitting down for lunch, Jordan is introduced to the extravagant behaviors of Wall Street as Mark casually snorts cocaine in the middle of the restaurant, while ordering drink after drink. Jordan is portrayed in this scene as being an innocent young man, and seems to be slightly overwhelmed by the situation. In efforts to make a good first impression, Jordan declines drinking, despite Mark desires of “drinking until they pass the fuck out”, and thanks Mark repeatedly for the opportunity and asks professional questions about the industry. Mark seems to prefer to talk more about degenerate topics, like doing cocaine or having sex with call girls. Meanwhile, Jordan continues to ask questions about the markets throughout lunch. At one point, Mark laughs off a question and tells Jordan that, “No one knows on Wall Street whether a stock is going to go up or down.” He continues to describe the market to Jordan as a fugazi (fake or phony) and says, “We don’t create shit. We don’t build shit.” Nevertheless, he is saying there is no way of picking the perfect stock for your client, and the most important thing is to make a sale so that you create money for yourself and the firm.

By the age of 25, Jordan Belfort had passed his Series 7 exam and promoted at L.F. Rothschild to a stockbroker. On October 19, 1987, Jordan’s first day as stockbroker, the stock market collapsed nearly 22% in a single day. This day, Black Monday, was the biggest collapse since 1929. L.F. Rothschild, a leading financial institution since 1899, closed its doors following Black Monday. Desperate to find a job as stock trader, Belfort found an opportunity at a sketchy penny stockbroker firm. Penny stocks are companies who cannot be listed on the NASDAQ (because they are too small) and trade for under $1 a share. Belfort, in disbelief people would be foolish enough to invest in these companies, asks a worker, “Who buys this garbage?” The man responded, “Shmucks like postman and plumbers.” It was apparent that the company was intentionally selling a worthless “companies” to hardworking middle class families as a ‘get rich quick’ scheme. Belfort was convinced to take the job due to the exponentially higher commission in penny-stocks compared to blue-chip stocks (large companies that are typically safe investments like Disney and IBM). Unlike his previous job where he would get 1% commission on a sale, with penny stocks Jordan would make 50% commission on a given trade. The environment of L.F. Rothschild and the Investors Center was significantly different. At L.F. Rothschild, the environment was cutthroat with macho-men traders willing to do anything to make a sale. These traders were extremely well dressed and spoken (minus their vulgar language). Their job was to persuade high net worth individuals and institutions to invest and grow their portfolio. However, at the Investor Center, the employees had the appearance of a sleazy car salesmen and with their low energy and lack of persuasion skills they failed to successful pitch to clients. As previously stated, Jordan was a natural salesmen and had also learned through his time at L.F. Rothschild how to effectively pitch stocks. Now, Belfort could apply his charismatic and optimistic sales strategy to struggling families who were looking for a financial break. In a braggadocios way, Belfort says, “I was selling garbage to garbage men and making money hand over fist. I was selling them shit. The way I looked at it, their money was better off in my pocket. I knew how to spend it better.”

During this stage of the movie, I could not help but question how much Jordan’s role at L.F. Rothschild played in his decision making to sell worthless penny stocks to hard working lower and middle class families. During Belfort’s time at L.F. Rothschild, he experienced people who became very wealthy by successfully manipulating people to into buying stocks. The key difference is that at L.F. Rothschild, he was getting wealthy clients to invest in non-volatile stocks that were low-risk investments. I personally feel that Belfort was largely influenced by Mark Hanna during his time at L.F. Rothschild and adapted a similar mentality of not caring about the client and just focusing on making money for yourself. I feel that if Belfort were not corrupted with the culture of L.F. Rothschild then he would have not taken the job at Investors Center and justified selling worthless stocks to people. The reason I believe this to be true is when he and Mark Hanna had lunch for the first time, when Belfort learned the truth behind the industry (obsession for sex, drugs, and money) he seemed uncomfortable and taken back by the reality. However, it was very easy for him to justify their actions because their wealth was something Belfort aspired to obtain.

Sitting in a diner eating lunch, Jordan is approached by Donnie Azoff, a man who is envious of Belfort’s car and success. Donnie, a salesmen at a furniture store, wants to know what Belfort does for work and how much money he makes. Belfort nonchalantly tells him he made $72,000 last month. That money was inconceivable to Donnie, and he tells Jordan if he shows him a paystub making that much money he will quit his job immediately and work for him. While this is a pivotal moment for Donnie, it is also just as important for Jordan. Jordan would quit his position with Investors Center after his interaction with Donnie and start his own brokerage firm. Jordan’s wife expressed her concern for the ethical boundaries he was crossing to achieve his success. What bothered her was not that he was selling worthless penny stocks, but that he was selling it to people who were struggling financially. At one point, she asks him, “Wouldn’t you feel better if you sold this to rich people who can afford to lose all of that money?”

From my personal experience, I find that people in our society can easily justify damaging acts against the rich (as Jordan’s wife does above) as long as the person is wealthy. I recall in high school many students who would steal products from big companies like Walmart, and rationalize it by saying Walmart is a multi-billion dollar company and a few dollars is not going to hurt them financially. Personally, I find this super problematic for a society. It does not matter if someone is rich or poor, defrauding someone out of money, which he or she earned, is equally morally and ethically wrong.

With a team of friends, Jordan launches Stratton Oakmont. Unlike Investors Center, Jordan structures the company to target the wealthiest 1% of Americans. In efforts to successful pitch to the country’s richest people, Jordan creates a script for the sales team to follow. The script will allow the unqualified team of salesmen to ideally compete against the stockbrokers at the top Wall Street firms. The Stratton Oakmont stockbrokers would first pitch the clients’ blue-chip stocks, like Disney, AT&T, and IBM. Then once they gained the clients trust, they would then “unload the dog shit, the Pink Sheets, the penny stocks.” Belfort’s plan was an instant success. Over the next few months, the company grew exponentially and Stratton Oakmont was employing hundreds of people. The company adopted a bawdy culture that was more lewd than an uncivilized fraternity house. There is hardly a sign of any females at the firm besides office assistants and prostitutes. During the firms “weekly act of debauchery”, Belfort shaves a female assistants head for $10,000; meanwhile, the crowd of male brokers chant “SCALP HER!”  Jordan rationalizes the debauchery because she is going to get breast implants with the money. Proceeding the head shaving of the female, Jordan introduces large number of prostitutes to sexual please the stockbrokers. Following large amounts of publicity for the outlandish acts in the office and its culture of sex, drugs, and money, hundreds of young envious workers lined the hallways of the firm each day begging for a job. Belfort described the environment as equal parts of cocaine, testosterone, and bodily fluids. The vulgar culture of the Stratton Oakmont was spiraling out of control. With employees having sex during all hours of the day in the office, Belfort declared the office a “fuck-free zone” from 8AM to 7PM.

From the never-ending office orgies, we can conclude that the whole office was in a love triangle with one another. Belfort explains how one of the female office assistant had “literally blown every guy in the office.” In addition, we are exposed to quite a bit of homosocial scenes throughout the movie. Multiple times in the movie, the main characters make joking references to “sucking each other off”. Belfort at one point is shown having a threesome with Donnie and one of the female office assistants and brags about “double teaming her.” I found it interesting how there was absolutely no privacy when the executives brought in prostitutes. Stockbrokers would have sex with a prostitute, meanwhile just a few feet beside them was a co-worker having sex with their prostitute.

If shaving a females employees head was not the pinnacle of degeneracy, the executive team at Stratton Oakmont spent large sums of time each week attempting to conjure up an act more ridiculous than the previous week. During one of these meetings, we hear the team of executives pondering vile acts they can do with dwarfs (or midgets). The conversation begins the idea to have them strip naked and have hookers fondle them while the Stratton Oakmont employees throw food, like bananas, at them. Similarly to the story read in class, Chickamauga, when they refer to the disabled boy as “it”, the Stratton Oakmont team refers to the dwarfs as “things” in efforts to dehumanize them. An executive comes up with the idea to throw the dwarfs head first into a bullseye and says, “These things are meant to be thrown like a lawn dart. They’re top heavy so they’re built for accuracy.” The team rationalizes their dehumanization of the dwarfs by saying, “If we don’t consider them a human and just as an act then we are in the clear.” As the group of executives increasingly dehumanize the dwarfs, they start to build a characterization that dwarfs are dangerous. One executive states, “Its safety first around these guys and we are going to have to have someone with a fucking tranquilizer gun ready to knock this fucker out.” It was not until I was planning my analysis for this paper until I truly grasped how insensitive this scene actually was. Watching the movie with friends, the scenes above are funny and seem silly; however, when you think about that these are just normal people with disabilities being made into carnival acts it becomes quite disgusting instead of funny.

Stratton Oakmont prided itself on its sex-crazed culture and fuels by frequently bringing in prostitutes for its male employees. The men are depicted as if they are in a fairytale dream where they can have as much sex with random girls as they please. However, there are two sides story and the way females are depicted throughout the movie is quite troubling. Females are consistently show to be objectified and often dehumanized similar to the dwarfs thrown at the bullseye. Minus the scene of the female office assistant getting her head shaved for $10,000 that she would use for a boob job, females are predominantly shown as solely sex objects. Most female roles within the movie are prostitutes, which Jordan divides up into three categories: the blue chips (“top of the line—model material”), NASDAQ’s (“pretty good, but not great”), and the Pink Sheets (“skanks—super ugly”). I found the description of the prostitutes interesting, because they gave them stock category names, which I found demeaning comparing a female to a categorization of a stock type. With more than one thousand stockbrokers at Stratton Oakmont, the movie only shows one trader being female. Jordan introduces the female stockbroker, Kimmie Beltzer, and tells her inspirational to the other traders in efforts to motivate them. I found it very troubling that there was only one scene that displayed a woman in a powerful role, and that Belfort tells her story in a way that makes him portrayed as a hero.

Jordan was a master at motivating his team. He sold employees on the success they would achieve if they worked at Stratton Oakmont. During an inspiring speech to his brokers, he introduced Kimmie Beltzer, who was one of the first 20 brokers at the first. He tells the team, “Kimmie wears a $3,000 Armani suit each day, drives a Mercedes, spends her winters in the Bahamas and summers in the Hamptons. The Kimmie I first met did not have two nickels to rub together. She was a single Mom on the balls of her ass with an 8-year-old son. Three months behind on her rent. She asked for a $5,000 advance when she started working at Stratton just to pay for her son’s tuition. What did I do? I gave her $25,000.” As describes in the previous paragraph, Jordan tells this story and the team of brokers erupts with roaring applauses. You can the optimism on the faces of each stockbroker following the story as each broker wants to achieve the same success (wealth) Kimmie has achieved.  Jordan frequently gives his brokers motivational stories and creates a bond of loyalty between them. He puts their success in their own hands and they look up to him for giving them the opportunity to succeed. Jordan tells his brokers “Are you behind on your credit card bills? Good pick up the phone and start dialing. Is your landlord ready to evict you? Good! Pick up the phone and start dialing. Does your girlfriend think you’re a fucking worthless loser? Good! Pick up the phone and start dialing. I want you to deal with your problems by becoming rich!” Jordan was not just selling snake oil to his brokers. Many of the trades were becoming very wealthy as he promised.

By the late 90s, the FBI and SEC had launched a full investigation into Stratton Oakmont. The company was being investigated for a pump-and-dump scheme, which is where a firm artificially inflates the price of a stock to rapidly raise the price before selling. Over 1,000 employee were interrogated and not one cracked to feds demands to give insight into the firm. Watching these scenes, I was astounded how loyal the employees were and not one employee came forward. It was a true testament that the people of Stratton Oakmont would do anything to keep their fairytale dream alive. Being a college student, I drew many comparisons in this loyalty to a fraternity that was being investigated and how everyone feels united to stand up for the organization and its standing no matter if they are lying or not. In 1989, Stratton Oakmont pleaded guilty to numerous counts of securities fraud and was forced to close its doors.

The Wolf of Wall Street story is centered around sex, drugs, and money. However, through the paper, I have attempted to point out some critiques of the money that aren’t so glorious from the dehumanization of dwarfs, sexual objectification of women, and the greed of Stratton Oakmont. However, I think after watching and analyzing a movie life The Wolf of Wall Street, it is a fair question to raise if the directors glorified many of these damaging characterizations above. I remember my junior year in high school when the movie came out and every guy wanted to be like Jordan Belfort when he grew up and have the hottest girls by their side and incredibly wealthy. Many people choose to only view the glorified aspects of the movie and neglect how he was building this wealth. Belfort manipulated and defrauded many hard working people from all socioeconomic classes out of money. Being a business student, and someone who spent years desperately wanting to go into banking, I have spent large sums of time contemplating career paths. Last year, I interviewed at all the top investment banks and financial institutions for summer roles. While the environment and culture is far less egregious than Stratton Oakmont is many of the same aspects remain the same. I ended up turning down all my offers for many reasons, but primarily because I felt like the whole thing was a complete “fugazi”. One firm I interviewed with, one of the most prestigious banks in the world bragged and joked about creating markets for trading garbage containers, trading cards, and anything else creative they could create a market trading. During Mark Hanna and Belfort’s lunch, Hanna says, “We don’t create shit. We don’t build shit.” By no means am I trying to conclude that financial institutions are evil, but Hanna’s statement remains true in many aspects today. There is not much societal benefit contributed from many financial institution besides enriching bankers and the billionaire class. Financial institutions must find a way to correct in order to retain and acquire the best talent. Recently, technology firms have created large competition for big banks as they are able to pay competitive salaries to the money-hungry business school students coming out of school that place large emphasis on company culture compared to solely making money. However, I believe the same question should be raised with both financial institutions and technology firms: Are the firms creating societal value? Arguably, technology firms are far more dangerous than financial institutions for society because most all are involved in some way to advancing robotics and automation, which has already displaced millions of working-class individuals across the U.S. and job displacement for low-skilled employees will exponentially rise over the next decade as the technology advances.

The Wolf of Wall Street raised many moral questions from the treatment of women and disabled and the role money plays in shaping an individual values. Jordan Belfort inspired over one thousand people to commit themselves to him in order to become rich. He creates an environment and culture so unreal it seems that it would have to be fiction, however, in a recent interview with Pierce Morgan, Jordan Belfort called the movie “chilling” for its accuracy and said he would not feel comfortable saying some of the other acts they committed. Each day he told his brokers to be “ferocious, relentless, and telephone fucking wizards” and in return he made them rich. The ride was wild and short-lived, but the story raises many unanswered questions that still reign in our society today.

 

 

Images:

http://www.partyhardtees.com/products/3/square/16655705

http://www.jdubuzz.com/files/2016/08/Wolf-Of-Wall-Street-Cocaine-Elite-Daily

https://carboncostume.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Donnie-Azoff

https://www.officeplankton.com.ua/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/bald-girl

https://davethenovelist.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/the-wolf-of-wall-street-midget-toss

https://cinemainside.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/wolf-of-wall-street-dicaprio-fbi

http://media.salon.com/2014/10/wolf_wall_street4-620×412

 

The Survivor’s Tale

By Lauren McCoppin

It is clear that in 2017 the way we talk about sexual assault and sexual harassment has changed.  This year has been described as a watershed moment for women’s rights, and with TIME magazine naming “The Silence Breakers” of the #metoo movement as people of the year, it seems that the United States is indeed taking a step forward.  However, it is important to note that this movement is a reaction to an administration led by a president with 21 sexual misconduct allegations against him.  This administration is still working to discredit survivors and strip their rights through decisions such as the reversal of President Obama’s guidelines for universities’ evaluations of sexual assault allegations.  In this pivotal moment a text like The Handmaid’s Tale, a speculative fiction novel in which Atwood extrapolates a dystopian world from current events, functions as a cautionary tale to warn against a future where survivors are denied justice and recognition.  The Handmaid’s Tale discusses victim blaming and men “protecting” women by taking away their freedoms.  Offred displays signs of trauma consistent with those of sexual assault survivors throughout the book.  The novel calls attention to the way sexual assault is described as a women’s problem, which is also perceived as one of the biggest flaws of the #metoo movement.  It is in pivotal moments such as this that fiction reaches its full potential for social change, by satirizing and predicting futures we do not want to become a reality.  Turning a critical lens to The Handmaid’s Tale as well as to the current conversation on sexual misconduct is an essential part of improving how we discuss sexual assault and treat survivors in the United States today.

Victim blaming is an essential part of perpetuating sexual assault; it is used by perpetrators and bystanders alike to discredit survivors and continue the idea that an assault was tempted or brought on in some way by the victim.  The Handmaid’s Tale demonstrates how destructive embracing victim blaming can be.  Gilead has accepted that sexual assault the fault of the victim, and they seek to protect women from themselves by forcing them into prescribed sexual or nonsexual roles, and forcing them to dress modestly.  During the handmaids’ training they give “testimony” in which they confess sexual misconduct that has occurred in their lives and are shamed for it.  This is a particularly disturbing extrapolation of the victim blaming happening in our society today.

“But whose fault was it?  Aunt Helena says, holding up one plump finger.  Her fault, her fault, her fault we chant in unison.  Who lead them on? Aunt Helena beams, pleased with us.  She did, she did, she did.  Why did God allow such a terrible thing to happen? Teach her a lesson.  Teach her a lesson.  Teach her a lesson.  Last week, Janine burst into tears… It was my fault, she says.  It was my own fault.  I lead them on.  I deserved the pain. “(Atwood, 72)

This scene condenses the victim blaming that many survivors feel over their lifetimes and emphasizes the self-blame and guilt that come from victim blaming.  The chanting repetition of the other handmaids mirrors the repetition of victim blaming that survivors feel in today’s society, from friends and family, from society and from the media.  Janine, the handmaid being shamed in this scene, quickly accepts this as truth, as many survivors do, and blames herself for the crimes committed against her.  TIME Magazine shared the stories of victim blaming that advocates of the #metoo movement have experienced and the effect this blame has had on those survivors.  One survivor shared, “I kept thinking, did I do something, did I say something, did I look a certain way to make him think that was O.K.?” It’s a poisonous, useless thought, but how do you avoid it?” (Zachareck, Dockterman, Edwards, “Person of the Year 2017”)  The enormous scale of the #metoo movement has partially overshadowed victim blamers in the current conversation, and that is a huge success.  But participants of the movement are still combating victim blamers, leading some to remain anonymous for their own safety.  These “poisonous” thoughts have become a part of life for sexual assault survivors because of how much victim blaming they experience in their communities and from the media.  Every time a sexual assault survivor is questioned, not believed, or blamed for the assault, “poisonous” thoughts and feelings for survivors are exacerbated everywhere.  On the flip side of that, every time a survivor speaks out and is believed, it paves the way for more survivors to speak out and more perpetrators to be held accountable.  That is exactly what the #metoo movement is trying to do.  The Handmaid’s Tale shows how women lose their rights when victim blaming is accepted as truth, and so demonstrates what the #metoo movement is fighting against.

Another struggle women face that the #metoo movement and The Handmaid’s Tale call attention to is hypervigilance and paranoia around men.  One of the great successes of the #metoo movement is that it includes sexual assault and harassment, and so demonstrates how some sort of inappropriate sexual experience, no matter how seemingly inconsequencial, is almost universal to all women.  Because these experiences are universal, women live in a constant state of hypervigilance to protect themselves from the possibility of sexual misconduct.  Offred describes this paranoia in The Handmaid’s Tale:

“To be a man, watched by women.  It must be entirely strange.  To have them watching him all the time.  To have them wondering, What’s he going to do next? To have them flinch when he moves, even if it’s a harmless enough move, to reach out for an ashtray perhaps.  To have them sizing him up.  To have them thinking, He can’t do it, he won’t do… But watch out, Commander I tell him in my head.  I’ve got my eye on you.  One false move and I’m dead. “(Atwood, 87)

In this passage, Offred is imagining what it is like to be a man with women treading so carefully around him, however through this she is showing how paranoid women are about men’s actions.  This demonstrates the experience of women interacting with men they feel threatened by, and while before the #metoo movement many men or others less affected by sexual assault and violence thought this was unnecessary paranoia, it is clear through the scale of allegations that this paranoia is not unfounded.  This passage shows how constant and overwhelming this paranoia can be, calling attention to the added stress women experience from hypervigilance, especially sexual assault survivors. The last sentence demonstrates how quickly paranoia turns to reality: “One false move and I’m dead.”  It is not her false move, but his that decides her life, demonstrating the powerlessness women often feel. Offred is just an observer is this scene, she can take no action to protect herself or change the situation.  This sense of powerlessness is echoed by the survivors in the #metoo movement, “Nearly all of the people TIME interviewed about their experiences expressed a crushing fear of what would happen to them personally, to their families, or to their jobs if they spoke up. For some, the fear was born of a threat of physical violence. Pascual felt trapped and terrified when her harasser began to stalk her at home, but felt she was powerless to stop him. If she told anyone, the abuser warned her, he would come after her or her children” (Zachareck, Dockterman, Edwards, “Person of the Year 2017”)  This fear is a very true reality for most women that has gone relatively unnoticed by men for hundreds of years.  Both The Handmaid’s Tale and the #metoo movement call attention to this fear and how quickly fear can turn into an actual threat.

Interestingly, one of the main justifications for the oppression that the Republic of Gilead places on women is that oppressive rules protect them from sexual assault.  The society accepted that victims were to blame for sexual assault and therefore women must be protected from men. Offred describes the time before Gilead, i.e. right now, as a dangerous time for women: “Women were not protected then.  I remember the rules, rules that were never spelled out but every women knew:  Don’t open your door to a stranger, even if he says he is the police.  Make him slide is ID under the door.  Don’t stop on the road to help a motorist pretending to be in trouble.  Keep the locks on and keep going.  If anyone whistles, don’t turn and look.” (Atwood, 24).  These are rules that are taught to young girls in today’s world to protect them from assault.  These rules lead to the hypervigilance that many women feel, and these rules stem from the belief that there are things women can do to keep themselves from being assaulted.  This is a victim blaming sentiment.  In Gilead it is believed that women need to be protected not that men should be reeducated, leading to the strict laws on sex, relationships and modesty.  The strict rules in Gilead are a more severe version of the rules that we teach our daughters today, but both attempt to fix the problem by changing women’s actions instead of men’s actions.  Both frame sexual assault as a women’s problem that women’s actions will ultimately solve, when in reality it is only through teaching men not to assault people that sexual assault will stop.

This is one of the main flaws of the #metoo movement.  While the hashtag does a great job of calling attention to how widespread the experience of sexual misconduct is, and has led to many, many powerful men being fired for sexual misconduct allegations, it puts the responsibility on survivors to share their story (on women to talk about sexual misconduct for the umpteenth time) instead of men addressing the part they play in sexual misconduct.  Roxanne Gay wrote about men’s reaction to #metoo in an op-ed piece for The New York Times:

“There are men who act so overwhelmed, who ask, “What can I possibily do?”  The answer is simple…They can come forward and say “me too” while sharing how they have hurt women in ways great and small.  They can testify about how they have cornered women in narrow office hallways or made lewd comments to co-workers or refused to take no for an answer or worn a woman down by guilting her into sex and on and on and on.  It would equally be a balm if men spoke up about the times when they witnessed violence or harassment and looked the other way or laughed it off or secretly through the woman was asking for it.  It’s time for men to start answering for themselves because women cannot possibly solve this problem they had no hand in creating. ” (Gay, “Dear Men, It’s You Too”)

Gay is absolutely correct here.  While the #metoo has created a community in which survivors can share their testimonies relatively comfortably and receive support, women cannot fix sexual assault because they did not create the problem.  #metoo is a movement for survivors, men and women, but it does continue to put the responsibility on those survivors to somehow solve sexual assault.  Survivors can’t stop sexual assault, only perpetrators can, and so the next step after the consciousness raising #metoo, The Handmaid’s Tale and all other testimonies of sexual assault is to hold perpetrators accountable and create a society in which the assaulters are held accountable and punished for assault severely enough to discourage it from happening in the first place.

It can be difficult to discern exactly how a work of fiction such as The Handmaid’s Tale can participate in a real life social justice conversation.  Certain passages in The Handmaid’s Tale directly address parts of sexual assault survivors’ experience.  At the same time. Offred’s first person narrative gives voice to a woman that has been affected by trauma; a voice that can contribute to the conversation at hand. Offred has experienced her rights, money, and family being taken away from her, and so has certainly gone through trauma. She is also experiencing sexual trauma throughout the book because she is being retraumatized by the nonconsensual sex she has as a handmaid, she is unable to recover from her original trauma.  It is through reading The Handmaid’s Tale as a testimony of Offred’s trauma that readers can empathize with the experience of a survivor of trauma, specifically a sexual trauma.  In the book Testimony, Dori Laub M.D. describes survivors’ urge to tell their stories, “The survivors did not only need to survive so that they could tell their story, they also needed to tell their story in order to survive.  There is, in each survivor, an imperative need to tell and thus to come to know one’s story… One has to know one’s buried truth in order to be able to live one’s life.” (Laub, 78).  The #metoo movement has provided a community within which sexual trauma survivors are able to share their stories and experience catharsis in this way.  “If you have an impulse to speak out that you’ve been holding on to for 20 years, and you see others speaking out, you do it,” said trauma therapist Kathleen Carter Martinez, author of “Permission Granted: The Journey from Trauma to Healing from Rape, Sexual Assault and Emotional Abuse” (LaMotte, “For Some, #metoo sexual assault stories trigger trauma not empowerment”) Reading The Handmaid’s Tale as a trauma testimony shows how it can contribute the greater conversation that the #metoo movement has created.

Offred shows many symptoms of trauma throughout her testimony.  She experiences flashbacks and nightmares, as well as periods of disassociation with her surroundings.  She also contemplates suicide more than once throughout the book.  All of these things, written in her first person perspective, are very troubling to read.  However, they allow the reader to delve into the mindset of a trauma survivor, as testimonies do.  In describing the sexual encounters she has as a handmaid, it is clear that they are part of her trauma as well, “One detaches oneself.  One describes” (Atwood, 95).  Offred also writes of her impulse to tell her story, very much fitting Laub’s definition of testimony: “But if it’s a story, even in my head, I must be telling it to someone.  You don’t tell a story only to yourself.  There’s always someone else.” (Atwood, 40)  Offred’s experience is clearly a traumatic one; the way she describes sex is consistent with that of a sexual assault survivor and her need to tell her story and have someone listen as a means of survival fits the definition of a trauma testimony.  Because of this, The Handmaid’s Tale can be used as a tool to empathize with sexual trauma survivors, and therefore contributes to the greater conversation happening right now.

The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985 and 32 years later we are still addressing some of the same issues regarding sexual assault that the book discusses.  We are still combating victim blaming.  Women are still living their lives by a paranoid set of rules to try and keep themselves safe.  Most importantly, sexual assault is still seen as a women’s issue, which will only be solved through women’s actions.  The Handmaid’s Tale proposes one, extreme way to “solve” sexual assault; stripping women’s rights and “protecting them”.  A less extreme version of this has been put in place for hundreds of years.  But it is clear through Offred’s testimony that this “solution” is still traumatizing.  Many are hopeful that the number of powerful men that have been fired over sexual misconduct allegations in the past year, and the number of survivors that have bravely broken their silence and said #metoo, have changed our national conversation about sexual assault forever.  I am hopeful as well.  Fictional works such as The Handmaid’s Tale can contribute a lot to social justice conversations.  By imagining the disastrous possibilities that allowing those who would strip survivors’ rights to do so, we are able to see how important it is to act now and to build on the momentum that 2017 has started.

Works Cited:

Gay, Roxane. “Dear Men: It’s You, Too.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 Oct. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/10/19/opinion/metoo-sexual-harassment-men.html.

“TIME Person of the Year 2017: The Silence Breakers.” Time, Time, 6 Dec. 2017, time.com/time-person-of-the-year-2017-silence-breakers/.

LaMotte, Sandee. “#MeToo sexual assault stories trigger trauma for some.” CNN, Cable News Network, 19 Oct. 2017, www.cnn.com/2017/10/19/health/me-too-sexual-assault-stories-trigger-trauma/index.html.

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. Anchor Books, 1985.

Felman, Shoshana, and Dori Laub. Testimony Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis and History. Taylor and Francis, 2013